Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Slice of Life: Skipping the Coffee

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

It was late, I was tired, and as I walked through the school's hallway, I was focused on the cup of coffee I'd make on my way upstairs to put on sweats, but then...

"Is that Melanie?" a voice called out from a classroom. 

I stopped. 

"Can I ask a couple of quick questions?"

A quick debate went on in my head as to how late is too late for that coffee. I was already on the brink of too late...

"Of course," I said. "I have time." (Ruth Ayers wrote about the importance of that line years ago. I have time is a powerful word with just about everyone I work with. #especiallydaughters.)

We sat and looked at some student writing. C is new in our district, and he arrived as a fourth-grader with little or no writing experience or writing willingness--it was hard to know which. When this teacher talked about him at the beginning of the year, he refused to write, and when he did, he'd then cross off, erase, or delete most of what he created. 

"He still has so many spelling errors," she said. "What do I do about it?"

As I read his stories (and I did write stories, as in multiple ones), I was impressed with the volume. He filled pages without erasures, without tears, without so many cross-outs that I couldn't read, and with legibility and bravery. Were there spelling mistakes? Yes. But so, so much good. 

I know spelling matters, and I told the teacher that. I even gave her a few strategies for some spelling development. But mostly, I complimented her because she has him writing. And there's so much we can teach once a child is brave enough to write. 

Turns out there are other ways to energize in the late afternoon that don't involve caffeine. 

Happy slicing,

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Slice of Life: Reflections From an Escape Room

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

"Everyone pause for just a moment," I said. 

At that moment, if everyone didn't groan, pause, or contemplate ignoring my request, then I'd be surprised. It was Election Day, a day of professional development in our school system, and I was co-presenting an escape room simulation to about 25 teachers. There were puzzles, brain-teasers, and problems to solve, as well as keys to win and a treasure box with prizes. 

Teachers are generally compliant, and most of them went along with turning their papers over temporarily in order to "spy on themselves" as learners, reflecting on the types of thinking and work they were doing insofar as it relates to 21st century competencies. 

One group just couldn't bring themselves to hit the pause button. 

The reflections were great, and after a short conversation, they all got back to work. Frustration in the room rose as one group experienced success and collected a key. Then others. One of the group collected another key...

"Pause for a moment," I said. 

Groans, eye rolls, papers turned. Except for that one group. 

We talked about engagement and how hard it is to be interrupted when you're on a roll. How you have to regain your energy for a task once it's been paused. And yes, how we do that to students. 

That one group ignored the conversation, trying to continue their work under the radar. (I can't say I was cheering for them to solve any of the puzzles. I might have even been secretly happy when they came up with wrong answers.)

By the end of the session, two of the groups had solved all the problems and gathered keys. They decided to split the prizes, then shared with the rest of the group. They also shared the answers, at which time one of the participants from my not-compliant-at-all group became visibly angry. 

"That's not fair," she said. "..."
"You didn't tell everyone," she said. "..."
"We would have," she said. "..."

At later times, many people apologized for her, but at that moment in time, her reaction also led to important reflections for the room. Our students not only need to learn critical thinking skills, collaboration strategies, self-directedness, and citizenship, but they also have to handle injustices and unfairness with dignity and resilience. 

And...our students aren't the only ones!

Happy Slicing,

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Slice of Life: A Walking Field Trip

Tuesdays are for slicing about life. Join us at Two Writing Teachers!

Last week, 62 second-graders followed their teachers and chaperones along the trail that led from their school to the town center. Equipped with iPads and clipboards for documentation, they were on a quest to learn about people in the town who make a positive difference, as well as ways people are acknowledged and celebrated for their accomplishments and contributions. Their new social studies unit centers on people who make a difference and they'd been researching people right in and from their own community. 

In the town hall, the town clerk greeted them and invited them to sit around the giant-sized table, as well as in the swivel chairs where the town's Board of Selectmen sit and deliberate. She pointed out the framed pictures of past politicians and volunteers, as well as the town seal and its meaning. As they filed out, she handed out goody bags with copies of the seal and small notebooks for more recording. "Wow," one child said. "This is as good as Halloween." High praise from an eight year-old. 

We headed to a small park that borders the Town Hall, one that none of us except for the leader had ever been into, and the adults on the field trip, including me, kept shaking our heads. 

"Who knew this was back here?" we kept asking. 

Right along the main street is this park with a gazebo and hundreds of named trees, shrubs, and perennials, as well as a map of where to find them painted on the ceiling of the gazebo. Benches line the pathways, and the students photographed the dedication plaques that acknowledged the work people had done and continue to do on the park. 

Our tour continued with stops at the firehouse where there's a memorial and bricks with names on them, at the cemetery where there are war memorials and special tributes to individuals who fought and died. 

All along the short strip between their school and town library, adults and children were surprised and proud of the history, contributions, and acknowledgments that exist in town. The students' clipboards were full of noticings and questions, and they had many meaningful pictures in their iPad albums. 

"I had no idea how this was going to be," one parent said, "but it was a really great field trip."

Sometimes we don't notice the great things to appreciate right in our own walking distance. 

Happy Slicing,