Sunday, July 28, 2019

School Supplies

Yesterday we visited with our daughter and her family at her house.  While we were getting ready to leave and saying our goodbyes she pulled me over and said she had something for me.  She handed me the cutest bag full of school supplies.  She is the best and she remembers all the times I purchased extra school supplies for students.  Even at 27, she is a teacher's kid.  

I love how community rallies around schools and students.  Parents and community members are always pitching in to help out with school supplies, or special treat days or cleaning up after reading night.  People will stay after to help stack up chairs after graduation.  It's amazing!  

And, I see this in all our area schools.  My cousin and her husband just donated two pallets of wipes to be distributed in her local school district to teachers to have in their classrooms.  We take care of each other and we make sure kids have what they need.  I could name lots of programs, like the backpack program that every school has.  Coats, clothes, toiletries... it's all there when needed. 

I have even noticed that college campuses are filling student's needs.  I see posts about clothes and food availability all the time.   It really warms the heart to hear about all the ways that everyone helps out.  And, having said that I know there are needs that go not met.  I know it's not perfect.  I wish it were.  

I hope we are doing our best.  I think we are. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Through the years...

Recently I was interviewed with three other veteran teachers about how technology use has changed over the course of my career.  I pointed out that I could see three different timespans, for lack of a better word. 

When I first began to teach there were typewriters and computers in the business lab.  However, as a classroom teacher, I did not have access to lab time.  Students wrote papers by hand and maybe typed a final draft if they had extra time in business class or if they owned a typewriter or personal computer at home.   Readable handwriting was very important. 

After about 10 years or so, there were more computer labs in schools, but I didn't use them a lot because I was still teaching students how to use the library for inquiry.  Magazines and the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature was still the most convenient way to get recent information each month when the news or sports magazines were published.   Students were, however, able to type things more readily.  

Fast forward to the past five years and the increase in the use of technology has become exponential.  So much, so fast is the best way I can characterize it.   I view technology as a tool for teachers to use.  Some say that it will replace teachers.  I don't believe that.   I was a librarian for six years and lots of people talked about how ebooks would replace libraries someday.  That hasn't happened, and I don't see that happening anytime soon, or at all.  Students need to hold books.  Students need to talk to teachers.   

I am headed out to a technology conference on Thursday and there are so many sessions on the schedule to pick from.  I really had to think about how I am going to use technology in my classroom and if the programs or apps being advertised would truly fit my vision for this year.  I ended up choosing a session about the Digital Public Library of America, notebooking and using technology to engage all students.  Those three seemed most like what I can absorb and really put into use.  

My vision for my students is that we will read books together and independently, write frequently about the books we read, ideas we research and people we meet.  And, we will communicate face to face.  Legible handwriting will be important, again.  Technology will also fit in nicely, as a tool to aide us in our quest for knowledge.   My goal is for a well-rounded student who doesn't completely rely on technology to get through the day.  

The summer is winding down.  August 13th will be here soon! 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

End of the Year, New Direction

I am returning to the classroom next year after six years spent as our school's librarian.  I am very excited about this.  Next year will be my 26th year in teaching and most people might ask, why would you leave a job like the library where there is no grading and lots of open time not committed to a specific class?  It's not too hard to explain.  I really love teaching reading and writing.  I really miss making connections with students in a classroom on a daily basis and continuing conversations that began the day before.  So, 6,7,8 ELA classroom, here I come!  

I have already begun to plan for next year.  I've been reading and re-reading lots of books from my personal library.  A few are pictured here.  I have to get back from another teacher my copies of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller,  Real Revision by Kate Messner and Book Love by Penny Kittle.  I definitely want to review those again.

I'm always looking for suggestions.  Please comment if you have any.    

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Just Write!

Writer's notebooks or journals have been around a long time in some form or fashion in language arts classrooms.  Today's model frequently shows up as a "composition" notebook like the kind found at the discount store for a dollar.  I have several of those filled up.  I recently found one that I used during a summer writing institute.  That was about 10 years, or so, ago.  I have enjoyed reading through it.

I write each day that my student's write, which is usually every day.  I just finished a class for writing teachers and I wrote a lot during that time.  I wrote with my students and I wrote for my goal for this class.  There are all sorts of things in my notebook.  There are reflections about things that are happening in my life.  There are reflections about books that I am reading.  There are frustrations.  There are lists.

At the beginning of the semester I had a new group of 5th grade students transfer into my classroom first hour.  The first day we began with writing in a notebook.  I gave them these notebooks with a list of 45 possible topics to write about.  The first few days they relied on these topics, heavily.  However, I'm noticing this week that they are relying more on their own ideas to begin writing.  They are beginning to think of themselves as writers.  Hooray!

I was asked by a younger teacher yesterday for some ideas about how to help some lower elementary students improve their writing.  I thought for a moment about that.  I was thinking about different programs that might be beneficial for her to use.  But, what I finally came up with was the suggestion to simply have them write each day.   Then, look at what they wrote and  figure out where their gaps are.  I think putting them in an authentic writing environment is the best way to help them become better writers.  They have to actually write.   I feel there are strategies that we can give them to help them develop ideas or to organize their thoughts.  But, I don't think that teaching them an organizational system to remind them to put things in a certain order is helpful if they do not write consistently each day.

After I came home, I thought about how I had given her ideas about what I would do, but I didn't point her in the direction of any resources. I knew that I should have some resources that I could share with her.  I went to my bookshelf and came up with two books by Ralph Fletcher and JoAnne Portulupi about Craft Lessons.  There was a non-fiction and a fiction version.  These are older. They were published in 2001.  But, as I looked through them, I realized there was some great information in them.  The lessons within the books give a skill and break that skill down into a lesson with practical suggestions about to teach it.  I hope she finds these books helpful.

The best way to get better at something is to practice.  I don't know of anything that anyone can get better at by just thinking about ways to get better at it.  Practice is the answer.  It's the key to athletics, FFA judging teams, quilting, typing, giving speeches or anything.  And, it's the answer to getting better at writing.  So keep writing! 

2006 -  Writers Notebook at OWP Summer Institute

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Finding Balance in a Technology Rich Environment

Schools are challenged with balance.  I ask myself continuously, "What's the right balance between hands-on-written and book-in-hand experiences versus online programs to enrich curriculum?"  I think that district leadership in all sizes of districts struggle with this daily.  There are so many resources available like Khan Academy, IXL and Spelling City just to name only a few that I know our district uses.

As a school librarian, I frequently get caught up in what I know teachers struggle with.   What's the best way to help students obtain skills they may be lacking?  This weekend while looking at data and trying to make decisions about where to go next with my 5th and 6th grade students,  I figured out that as the librarian there is one thing I can provide them each day:  time and space to READ. 

There have been several times when I have provided links to a new online program I discovered or showed them something that I thought might help with their classes only to be met with "We've already done that in Mr./Mrs. X's class."  That is not a bad thing.  Although it might be frustrating for me, I have to remember that  I am not their math teacher or their English teacher.  I am their librarian.  The one thing I can provide them with each day:  time and space to READ. 

Another discussion that sometimes occurs is about how to include health/PE, vocational teachers  and fine arts in the scope of learning to enhance what the core teachers are doing.  After all, these teachers have many things they are trying to accomplish within their own programs.  But, I believe logic and communications skills are relevant to all classes no matter the subject area.  As a librarian I can speak to primary/secondary sources.  I can have students communicate through book reviews or book trailers.  And, I can have them read informational texts and discuss tables and graphs that they find in those books.  Most importantly, I can give them:  time and space to READ.

You may be catching on to a theme... 

The library has much to offer within a technology rich environment.  Librarians can point students to databases they might not know about.  We can assist with inquiry in all classes.  We can procure resources for teachers so they can spend their time planning implementation.  We can be a hub of learning.  And, we can even have an expansive electronic library that can be accessed through their devices when they have:  time and space to READ.

The rules in education seem to be changing all the time.  What's old becomes new again.  This test is piloted this year and that test will be piloted next year.  And, that could all change.  But, that is a blog post for another day.   Right now, I have the time and space to READ. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Vacation Time is Near (to the tune of the Christmas Vacation theme song)

Vacation time is near.  Two more weeks left.  Is it just me, or has there been a lot of time between Thanksgiving vacation and Winter break?  I blame the calendar.   

So, what can you do with that time between the breaks?  Instruction, of course.  Winter benchmarks, you bet.  Christmas movies in class, frowned upon possibly... we just can't help ourselves.  I call it relationship building.  Nothing says "I love you class" like watching a classic movie in which a young child must fend for himself while his family forgets him when leaving for a Christmas trip and eating popcorn at 8:00 am in the morning. 

This is the time of the year when I always do a poetry project.  When I first introduced this, the Monday after Thanksgiving, a few of my students popped up and said, "April is poetry month, Mrs. Brattin."  First of all, I almost began crying because they knew that (they have been listening for the past five years)... and second, I explained that any month is a good time for poetry. In all my years of teaching, the time between Thanksgiving break and Winter break is poetry notebook time in my class.  

I have decided to approach the project a little differently this year.  I am putting more emphasis on poetry appreciation.  Students are writing some formula poems, but they are also doing more poetry research.   They have looked through poetry books and found poems they like.  They have completed research online to look at poetry websites for students.  Next week we are going to listen to poets and work on some poet biographies (sneaking in some primary/secondary source lessons here.) 

A month immersed in poetry, at least until the last two or three days... then, it's movie time!  Any month is a good month for poetry! 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Be the nice teacher!

How wonderful if every parent had this discussion with students heading back to school. Probably, most do. And, let's face it, we as adults need to repeat this mantra as well.  In fact it could be re-written to fit us as adults:

Some teachers are smarter than you.
Some teachers have nicer purses than you.
Some teachers are better dancers than you at school assemblies.
It doesn't matter! 
You have your thing too.
Be the teacher who welcomes the new teachers into the group.
Be the teacher who shares posters.
Be the teacher who listens to all the great vacation stories everyone has.
Be the teacher who doesn't chime in on the latest gossip.
Be the nice teacher.

It the beginning of school again.  Today is August 1st.  For me, once it's August 1st, summer is over.  I'm in school mode.   I think I'm the nice teacher.  All I know is  I CAN'T DANCE.  But, I do like to share posters!  

2018 begins my 25th year as a teacher!  2018, here I come! 

(Picture found on Facebook from a post by Myra Trimble Barnes. Thanks Myra for sharing.)