April 18, 2017

My One Little Word for 2017 is walk. I have pretty much failed so far at the physical act of putting 10,000 steps on the FitBit each day and measuring miles per week. However, part of my choice of the word walk was for its other meanings. I’m thinking of the meaning of walk as a noun:

WALK (Noun: a discipline): the way to go, the course to follow, the line, the terrain, the path.

Leaders in the field of reading and in my district tell me that the way to go, the course to follow to build my school’s capacity to reach all learners is for me, as Reading Teacher, to become a coach of teachers and work side-by-side with them. Much has been written on the value of a coach in a teacher’s learning. Student achievement grows as teachers grow through the coaching process.

Truthfully, I am much more comfortable working with children than with adults.  I love Reading Recovery and the challenge of providing instruction that can help young students construct their own reading process. Supporting struggling readers is what I have done for many years. The idea of “coaching” has been a challenge for me to embrace. I just haven’t been able to see myself as a coach.

In a serendipitous set of circumstances earlier this year, I started co-teaching with teachers on our first grade team. This is a team of teachers I have known for six or seven years. I have met with their team weekly, and we have become friends. I have also provided intervention for many of their struggling first graders. But I have always seen myself more as an interventionist than a coach. Surprisingly for me, co-teaching is bringing about a shift in how I see myself as an educator.

I’m starting to walk the walk of a coach through the experience of co-teaching. The path to follow has taken me across plains (taught me curriculum), through forests (required my reflection), and beside running water (challenged me to solve problems). For each unit of study, I have planned weekly with one teacher and stayed in her class. Together, we shared the teaching, conferring, sharing, celebration, and assessment of first grade writers. It has been the most fun I’ve had in teaching in a long time.

Just as the old saying goes about a journey of a 1000 miles beginning with a single step, “coaching” began for me with my answer to a young teacher’s request, “Sure, I’d love to teach writing with you.” Just working alongside these teachers has taught me so much and allayed my fears about taking on the role of coach. Beginning the coaching walk was scary, but has turned out to be a very happy experience. I’m learning to be a better listener, a better asker of questions, and a better teammate. I might become a coach yet.

April 4, 2017

Who would think that a series of lessons on syllables and word parts would be a happy success story for 4th graders? I have a group of ESOL students who have been stuck for a while in their reading progress. They were referred to me as the Reading Specialist because our ESOL teachers were stretched too thin. I did some assessment and found that they all had weaknesses in decoding multiple syllable words. Further instruction revealed that they were not secure in knowing vowels or vowel sounds and were confused by the terms “consonants” and “continents.” That’s an important distinction.

It was a hard decision about whether to go full throttle on word study or continue to try to work word study into guided reading lessons.  Since I am their intervention teacher, I see them outside their Reading Workshop time. Knowing that they still have reading time in their classrooms, I decided to give intervening with word study a try. It has been a slow, sometimes painful process. But today it seemed like something clicked for all 5 students. They were able to identify syllables, name the syllable types in words, and try different strategies for breaking words. Knowing this discrete information may seem unnecessary to some teachers, but I think it might be giving them access to more options for word solving. At least that is my intention.

I’m so excited by this breakthrough and hope that in noticing words more closely, they will have more confidence in attacking words in continuous text. Next, I’m planning to reveal “The Mystery of the SCHWA!”

This process is challenging my notions of reading and writing and I do believe that you get better at reading and writing by reading and writing. However, I’m trying to trust that filling in some gaps in word knowledge will have a positive effect on their success as readers and writers. If today was any indication, I may have made a good decision!

March 31, 2017

It was a different day at school. Professionals from Morgan Franklin came to present “Junior Achievement Day.” The students had guest teachers all day, giving me some time to work and plan.

I spent about 3 hours reading and scoring at least 50 first grade “All About Books.” I had so much fun. Not only is it fun to see what topics first graders feel to be their areas of expertise, but it is also fun to see how they write and illustrate with voice and authority.

Here’s an example of why I adore first grade writers:

Cats

You just can’t make that up.

March 30, 2017

What have I learned this month? I’ve learned that writing my stories and thoughts and responding to other writers makes me happy. When I read your words, I am fed,

challenged,

affirmed,

stretched.

You show me new ways of seeing everyday experiences. You bring my attention to the details the way a bee values the pollen more than the petals. You teach me that there is power in small things.

While writing this I remembered a moment, the smallest of moments measured by time, a moment that is one of my most precious memories.

One day in October, 1995, my father walked me out to my car. I had been visiting my mom and dad with some of my children. I got them into the car. (I remember the air was soft as it sometimes is in Virginia.) I turned to say goodbye to my dad. I thanked him for the visit, and then I tried to put into words something more. I hoped he knew how much his love and presence in my life meant to me, and how deeply grateful I was that my children had a grandpa who loved them.

He loved them by attending their baseball and basketball games. He loved them by picking them up at school, when I couldn’t, and buying the special shampoo for head lice. He washed their hair before I got home. He loved them by taking them to Great Falls National Park and teaching them that they should “take only pictures, and leave only footprints.” He took their pictures over and over. He made the best egg salad sandwiches and grilled cheese sandwiches for our weekly lunch. He always had a clean handkerchief to dry tears. He often had a dollar or two to give them with the admonition, “Now, help your mother.”

On that October day in the parking lot of my parent’s apartment, he simply put his hand on my cheek. His large, thick hands were always warm and always gentle. We looked into each other’s eyes–his were blue rivers of wisdom.  No words were necessary. I felt peace; our hearts joined.

When he suddenly died a few weeks later, I knew peace, but my heart broke.

 

March 29, 2017

At 10:37 p.m., all I can do is count to ten. It was a long day for this grandma.

One spilled dinner.

Two crying grandchildren.

Three recent birthdays.

Four orders of kabobs.

Five adults at the table.

Six funfetti cupcakes served.

Seven, hmmmmmm.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Eight hours until I start again.

Nine grandchildren in all, soon to be

Ten.

 

March 28, 2017

Kindergarten

Kindergarten Orientation is always a nostalgic time for me as I remember the feeling of sending my first child to Kindergarten, and then my second, and on to my fifth. Now I have grandchildren who have crossed this milestone. Time marches on.

Tonight I tried to present a message to our new Kindergarten parents that we are partners in their children’s literacy development. I encouraged conversation, playing with names and letters, noticing print in the environment, playing outside, providing experiences that later become stories, reading aloud, going to the library, and drawing pictures. So many things were in my heart and mind. They all feel urgent. But mostly, I wanted to say how reading and writing are the hope of the future. It was hard to find the right words. Was my message strong and kind enough that some will consider doing just a little more of these things?

I looked around the room and saw many very young parents, older parents, maybe some grandparents, and siblings of new Kindergarteners. I saw toddlers with Legos, toddlers snuggling with mom or dad, and toddlers who needed to be walking/running around. I saw parents on phones, parents who looked tired and stressed, parents who looked concerned. What might I have said to offer comfort that school can still be a place to feel cared for, encouraged, and challenged? My message wasn’t front page news, but sometimes I wish it could be. Literacy is urgent. So much depends on what happens before children are 8, or 10, or 12.

I feel my own concern. It sounds cliche to say, “I want to make a difference.” But at the end of the day, that IS really what I want.

March 27, 2017

Ten reasons why I’m glad I have two sisters:

  1. No one else remembers the way it used to be like a sister.
  2. A sister sets you straight when you don’t quite remember the way it used to be.
  3. Sisters sometimes tell you what you need to hear instead of what you want to hear.
  4. Older sisters can help prepare you for the next stage of your life.
  5. Sisters make Mondays better by sending texts and emails.
  6. Sisters provide a ready-made book club without the deadlines.
  7. Sisters remind you why you want to eat cookies and drink Pepsi after school and why you shouldn’t anymore.
  8. Sisters let you try out new theories and might tell you when your theory doesn’t work.
  9. Sisters understand when words don’t cut it.
  10. Sisters are my best friends.

Like these three sisters, we hold each other up.

The-Three-Sisters-Szmurlo

Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three_Sisters_(Alberta)