Thursday, October 4, 2012

You Can't See the Forest for the Trees

This has always been a great group of kids.  They were my favorite group of kindergarten students, back when I was teaching the little tykes.  They were easy to work with last year, even in our first months.  So when I think about how infrequently I deal with behavior issues, I've wondered:  Are these kids really this good?  Or have I grown so accustomed to their bad habits that I no longer notice them?  The problem is that I've been standing next to these particular trees for so long that I really can't see the whole forest.  I've been wondering about the "big picture" of our classroom culture, which is hard to see with my biased perspective.

We have a high school cadet teacher this fall.  His instructor stopped by to observe this week.  After a few minutes in the room he pulled me aside and painted the forest picture I've been wanting.  I asked Andy to write down his thoughts so I could share them.  Here's what he said:  

I am the cadet teaching instructor at DeKalb High School. In this role, I travel to 5 district schools and multiple classrooms. Recently, I visited Jane Foster's third grade classroom at McKenney-Harrison Elementary. My first observation was not focused on my high school cadet, but rather on the extraordinary behavior of the students. They understood procedures, displayed exceptional manners, engaged in positive dialogue with each other, and seemed perfectly comfortable with their environment. These characteristics are expected from students, but I was pleasantly surprised to witness them in September! There could be many factors at play here, but I'm sure that one of them has to centered around the fact that Jane has looped with these kids from second grade.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

This Never Happened

On Friday, the superintendent and principal stopped by during our reading block.  I was working with a small group of students at the time.  All other students were working on one of their Daily 5 literacy choices.  Both adults chatted briefly with a few students.  Here's the conversation between our principal, Alex, and Braeden (as reported by the boys):

Julia:  Hi boys.  What are you working on?
Alex:  I'm trying to figure out the genre of this book.  Can you help me?
Julia:  That's historical fiction.
Alex:  Umm...I thought you'd be like Mrs. Foster and say "what do you think it is."  I thought you'd tell me to go look at our genre posters.  I might get in trouble because you told me the answer.
Braeden:  Just write "HF" and pretend "nothing happened here!"
Julia:  Yes, let's all pretend nothing happened here.

I love soooo many things about this conversation.  First, I love the mischievous smile on Braeden's face when he recounted his part in the story.  I love our principal's sense of humor and the way she connects with the kids.  Most of all, I love that just four weeks into 3rd grade Alex knows exactly what I would have said to him, had he asked me the same question.

He's right, too.  That's exactly how I would have responded; in fact, I use the phrase "what do you think it is" all the time.  Because we've been together for so long, Alex knows my style, my methods, and my expectations so well that anything else is a surprise to him.


Thursday, September 6, 2012


Today was amazing.  I had tears streaming down my face as one of our special needs children sat in the author's chair during writing workshop.  You see, she came to kindergarden without language.  She could utter a few one word sentences, but didn't communicate verbally like other kids.  She also struggles academically--operating at around a kindergarden level in most areas this year.  She is one of the kids who receives classroom instruction but is also pulled out into the special education classroom to receive more instruction.  She also sees our speech pathologist with some intense work twice a week.  This has been her path for a long time. 

As a fifth grader, she is now able to use sentences to speak, but struggles to find a word at times.  She uses general words like "thing" and pronouns like "they."  Coming up with a specific noun is difficult and laborsome.  Socially, kids are kind, but it is tough for her to find close friends with so little in common and such vast differences in mentality.  She has never raised her hand to answer a question or spoken in front of her peers. 

Well, today was a HUGE landmark.  She has been in our classroom for instruction during the day more this year than last.  With some help from an assistant, she wrote a story about breaking her leg.  This is a big deal because she actually finished a piece.   But even more of a big deal is this:  today, as I asked if anyone had anything to share in the author's chair, she raised her hand.  The first time in a year for her to do so.  She got up there in the authors chair, read her story (written using her words and her handwriting) from her writing notebook, and beamed.  As is our routine, kids raised their hands to give her questions and appreciations when she finished.  She called each child by name, and each child stated something great about her story.  They used words like, "great description", "I could really see the cast in my mind", "the word choice of cabinet was good."  Ten children complimented her story.  Ten. 

I think she may share again...and maybe she will have a real audience in mind when she writes from now on.  Finding words may become a labor of love, rather than just a labor. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

First day... Kinda

Well, today was our first day of our second year together... And it was--by far-- my best first day ever!  I say this even though our bus transportation had a million changes, our attendance software was down, I forgot to take lunch count, my sciatica is acting up AND MY PROBOARD IS NOT WORKING...AT ALL!  We got right to work!  We did some work on our feature article summer assignments in writing workshop, studied a poem by Stafford in poetry workshop, did an affinity quality tool on defining responsibility in our mission statement, and tackled topic 1-1 in math (standard, word, and expanded form of numbers).  We were so productive and got along beautifully while we were at it!  Several parents have said that their children were more relaxed a out back to school, and I certainly concur.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

T Minus 21 Days

What I'm loving right now about getting ready for school:  Data notebooks are already in my room.  Making labels for all their stuff means changing just one name (for my one new student) and simply reprinting them.  My guided reading binder is ready to go; I left all my old notes in it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Channeling Sally

My first-ever job was working as a waitress at a diner, and the most significant thing I learned is that I look like Sally Fields.  Back when I was 17 this meant the "Gidget" Sally Fields, possibly even the "Smokey and the Bandit" Sally Fields, but definitely not the "Steel Magnolias" Sally Fields.  It came as a surprise to me--I really didn't see the resemblance--but after about the millionth customer commented on the likeness, I began to accept it as truth.

Twenty years later, Sally began her role in Brother and Sisters.  Boy did she remind me of my mother.  I should point out that I look an awful lot like my mom.  And really, Sally looks great for a 65 year-old, so I guess that's not a bad outlook for me.
During our final full week of school I sent home a parent survey.  The idea was that I'd ask easy-to-answer questions about our 2nd grade experience to improve any problem areas.  I asked parents to list three things they liked, 2 things we ought to improve, and a question about 3rd grade.  In my mind, all parents would be thrilled to be asked their opinion and would thoughtfully and promptly complete the short survey. 

I have 23 students.  I got 8 responses.  That's a mere 35% of surveys completed.  One student told me, "My dad said it was stupid and he's not doing it."  Another said, "My dad didn't know what to do with it."  A third survey got lost somewhere between mom's and dad's houses.   

So what does this failure to respond mean?  Well, the Emmy award-winning actress within me hopes they didn't respond because everything about our room is so perfect there's nothing to fix.  Every parent is so, so happy with every single thing I do.  They didn't respond because parents were too busy organizing the campaign to get me a Golden Apple Teacher award.  My inner Sally wants to cry out, "You love me, you really love me!" 

But the good teacher part of me, the reflective part, is still pondering this mystery.  Was the one-page survey too time-consuming?  Was it too close to the end of the year for parents to care?  Was it a stupid idea?

I'm wondering if, while my commitment to these particular families is stronger than ever, it might not go both ways.  Based on notes and comments I've gotten from parents, it's safe to say they are generally relieved to know their child will have The Flying Nun next year and are pleased that it's not an ogre.  Perhaps I need to remember what Sally told Tom:  Life is like a box of chocolates.  The survey may seem like a caramel to me, but covering a survey in the promise to loop doesn't mask the flavor of homework.             

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A second journey begins...

After Model Schools last summer, I was very interested in looping. Certainly there is a lot of documented research full of benefits to students... But honestly, it is a selfish reason which is paramount for me. Relationships are something I thrive on-- personal, social, and within my career. My favorite part of Rome City School was when I moved from 5th grade to middle school language arts. I had some of my 5th grade kids for four years! Talk about heaven for me! I love getting to know the kids and their families--think about how well I knew that bunch!? Even today, I write scholarship applications, proof essays, and keep in touch with this special group of kids. The growth I have seen is AMAZING! They have become remarkable young adults full of pride! And now, I will get that chance again! And what a group to begin this journey with! I look forward to the classroom community part of looping...having these same kids in the same community. Structures and processes and even simple terminology--we all created it and will continue it. And the journey has already begun! My benchmarking this spring is so much more meaningful! Already I'm creating strategy groups and guided reading group changes. I am annotating at the bottom of the record sheets in such a specific way. And the matrix we plan to try next year? Already trying it!!! Instead of easing out of 4th grade, we are easing into 5th grade. Behavior is is rigorous, and no one is giving up. I've never had an end of the year like this. Heck, I'm not sure how many days we have left!:)