Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Picking Up Three - From My Stacks

We're in our second week of taking a look at "Determining What's Most Important" as our thinking strategy of deep study.  As readers, we've been having the most interesting discussions.

I'm challenging learners to think about two guiding questions:

  • How does purpose affect the ways I determine what's most important?
  • What are the specific decisions I make as I determine what's most important?
Together, we're delving into our learning with these two questions as our guide. The beauty of posing questions like these is that the questions that readers are pondering personally are more intriguing, engaging, and purposeful than the two I proposed we study.  

Several readers are trying to think through how adding new words to their lexical system adds meaning to their reading and understanding.  Several readers are thinking through how their notebooks serve as a place to record their noticings about how determining importance affects their understanding.  Several students have been chatting about how knowledge of a specific author helps determining importance work more effectively.  Several readers are just grappling with the idea of stopping to ponder instead of barging through text (without disrupting meaning, of course).  It's been a grand two weeks. 

I've chosen the following three texts to use as "shared think alouds" as we continue on our journey.  Choosing texts that help define and redefine a strategy in the minds of young readers is one of my favorite parts of planning.

Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber

This book lends itself to determining what's most important for so many reasons.  The introduction alone leads to a grand discussion of how choosing just the right words can convey meaning with clarity.  I love the narrative interspersed with "bee" facts.  And, the "Save the Bees!" closing is perfect.  

I'll share part of this book with my students and then turn the text over to them so that they can devour it as individuals or in pairs.  I'm sure the room with hum with comments like "I think this is important, because..." or "This sentence carries a lot of weight, because..."  

Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins

Who doesn't love to be scared out of their wits by things in nature?  The short pieces in this book are frightening, yet intriguing.  To determine what's most important, readers have to pay close attention to the details on each page and find the essence of each short snippet of text.  

I see coupling each page with the nonfiction pieces in the back of the book.  Great talking points for readers about what's important and why.  And, these short snippets serve as provocative mentor text for writers as well.  I see us talking in pairs about a specific animal in the text and chatting about "What's most important... and why... and how do you know?"  

Passing the Music Down by Sarah Sullivan

I love this book.  Listen to the first lines... "Come August, with corn strutting high in the fields and tomatoes plumping out on the vine folks get to talking about tuning up and heading over twisty mountain roads to hear fiddle players and banjo pickers make music under the stars." 

Because it's inspired by two musicians, the author's note will help lead our discussion through somewhat unknown music territory.  This text might lead to a conversation about how our schema is related to determining what's most important and how we sometimes have to build it at the same time we're applying a new strategy.

I love couching our thinking in both narrative and nonfiction text (and poetry) as we student determining what's most important.  If we truly believe that these thinking/comprehension behaviors are what wise readers do to make sense of text, we have to offer students a chance to think in a wide variety of text.  These three texts (and others) will be used during the crafting portion of of reader's workshop sometime in the next week or so... and I'll offer them to students to read during their composing (independent) time.  It's always my goal to give learners a flavor of what's possible and then let them have a go.  As my colleague says, "Just offer them a little hook and let them go swimming in the bigger pond with support."

So... until next month, here's your homework.  Choose three books from your stacks.  Think about these ideas as you read (this may sound familiar):
  • How might this text fit into my current strategy study?  If it doesn't how else might I use it?
  • If I were planning a study of determining what's most important what might I need to investigate further?
  • Who might I run ideas by as I plan my next study?  Who will give me the energy to follow through?  
  • What ten texts might I use with my students as readers, writers, mathematicians, or scientists that would build the essence of this "important" thinking strategy?
  • What language might I use in my crafting that bests focuses the learners in my care on their own use of the strategy of study?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Rose, Is a Rose, Is a Public School Teacher

"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I've been thinking a lot about names lately.  Perhaps it's because we've been chatting with our daughter and son-in-law a lot about baby names, listening to them make decisions as they contemplate their baby boy's name, our first grandchild's name (can't wait until April).  A baby's name is important, it labels his identity from that first cry when he leaves the womb and is placed in his mother's arms or when the adoption agency hands a new dad his daughter for the first time... "Hush, little Baby, don't say a word!"  But a name doesn't develop the child's identity.  What develops the child's identity is the way he or she is treated, nurtured, loved, honored, nourished, cared for, respected!
In "Romeo and Juliet" Juliet argues that a name is just a name, but rather it's what lies beneath that name that's most important.  And we all know when Juliet says, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" she's just stating that she should be able to love who she chooses to love, despite his name.  Gertrude Stein's most famous quote is, "A rose, is a rose, is a rose."  In her staccato style, she used the phrase many times in her poetry (first in "Sacred Emily" in 1913) and she once said, "I'm no fool.  I know we can't go around saying 'A ... is a... is a...' and yet she used the phrase often (maybe she just liked the way it rolled off the tongue or her pen).  But Stein and Shakespeare probably pondered those words carefully before they appeared in their writing.  They probably read the words over and over.  And, so we name a rose a rose.
I was looking at the name of my blog this week "All-en-a-Day's Work."  A simple play on words that my son used on his projects when he was little and that I "borrowed" when I created this spot for me to share my ponderings.  When I looked up the meaning of "all in a day's work," I discovered it meant, "If something is difficult, unpleasant, or strange... it is considered to be 'all in a day's work," a usual part of the job."  But my blog isn't just a mundane, routine, or unpleasant part of my teaching life.  Certainly my entries can be sporadic, but it's an important place for me to contemplate my beliefs, my discoveries, my wonderings, my ideas.  It's a place for me to share a little of myself with whomever reads it, for whatever it's worth.  It's one place for me to give the thoughts in my head an identity.  It gives them a chance to develop.

I've been a public school teacher for 31 years.  I love my job.  I've said it before, I fell into my career when my wife gave me a copy of Writers: Teachers and Children at Work by Donald Graves.  That book changed my career path and changed my life.  I became a teacher because of little things that nudged me into my vocation.  The signs were all there and I believe it was God's plan for me to teach; the one who lead me to the public schools.  I take the name "public school teacher" seriously, just as I would if I taught in another setting (and we're so lucky to already have that choice).  It's more than just being called "teacher" for me, I am proud to add "public" to my name!  

My identity is not developed by working within "an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge."  My Identity is not developed by spending my days in "an entry level position."  My identity is not developed by what Graves calls in The Energy to Teach, "pundits who have never taught."  My identity is developed by passion - for learners and learning.  I love my career - with it's ups and downs, changes, mandates, and other "stuff".  But I try to focus on the joys, the celebrations, the exciting challenges.  There's nothing better than spending the day with children, except perhaps continuing to learn myself. 

I've developed my passion as a public school teacher by looking into the eyes of 25-30 kids each day.  I've developed my passion through hours of professional development, hours of reading, hours of watching others teach.  I've developed my passion by writing and sharing my thinking with others.  I've developed my passion by being the father of four wonderful children who have all attended public school.  I've developed by passion by being married to another teacher.  I've developed my passion by surrounding myself with colleagues and friends who care just as much about education as I do.  I've developed my passion by spending thousands of dollars on children's literature and professional literature that helps hone my craft.  I've developed my passion by talking to and learning from Stenhouse and Heinemann authors.  I've developed my passion by attending and presenting at conferences, working in schools across the country and in Canada, and spending countless hours talking about education on the telephone with grand friends.   

I've developed my passion as a public school teacher, because I have witnessed exciting, wise pedagogical changes in 31 short years (which is far less that the 150 years that we've recently been told there have been no changes).  And, I continue to teach because passion can't be easily extinguished.  After all, I am a teacher for goodness sake.

Names are important.  I'm sure my children would agree.  
Once you choose it, it goes public.  
And then you can help develop the identity of what you've named.

What's in a name?  
That which we call Public School Teacher.  
Boy, does it smell sweet!