Exploration and Discovery

Exploration and Discovery
The Outdoor Classroom

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Wow it is already Day 4!

I had to wake up especially early this morning in order to make my blog entry. After the full day session, rereading notes, and doing homework, I have no more strength to comb through the entirety of what I learned and identify the most important or significant gem; there are so many. So this morning with my STRONG cup of coffee I can say that understand so much better what I have been doing well, or at least been on the right track with, in my teaching and where I need to be more intentional, but mostly, where I need to pick up the pace.

Lucy tells many stories of what it was like growing up with eight brothers and sisters and how there was no dilly-dallying in that house. If her mom wanted to get everybody to church on time, she had to set the pace. In my classroom I have 33 children at any given time, and I have got to set a much tighter pace if we are ever gonna "get to the church on time".

IN our whole group session yesterday we moved into essay boot-camp; jump starting with opinion, transitioning into persuasive, and diving right into literary essay. Unbelievable. Lucy emphasized a certain structure in essay for fifth graders, acknowledging that some very smart people who she highly respected didn't agree with her. She explained that her experience as a parent of children who went through middle school, high school, and beyond affects her decision; she knows the kind of writing that students will be asked to do in the upper grades and feels it is important to prepare them. As a parent of three boys, two in college and one in high school, I agree and know that is why I have done the same in my classroom since I became a classroom teacher three years ago. Lucy is confident that it is this emphasis on structure which has allowed the NY School District to embrace so much about Writers Workshop in that supports students success on high stakes testing.

Our home work for my small group session with other fifth grade teachers, led by Garrit, had required that I prepare a mini lesson on one aspect of writing narrative and be ready to pair up with a classmate to teach it. I found that creating stories to model the strategy was the most challenging part of planning the lesson. Lucy and Garrit had both made it clear that it was FINE to use the stories in the Units of Study to start with, but it is hard to tell someone else's story as my own, so I knew my lesson would feel better if I thought of a personal example. I am glad I did. I felt good about the way the lesson went; I known there will be times when I will need to rely on the script to improvise from, but I also know that over the years I will be developing my own stories.

I had my second workshop with Meghan Hargrave yesterday and was once again impressed by her style. I can only imagine how much her fourth grade students must idolize her. The previous day's workshop focused on Materials, Routines and Accountability. Meghan is incredibly organized and high energy, reminding me once again of the need to run a VERY tight ship with the kids. She shared her Powerpoint, but so far the file has been too big for me to upload- I will continue to try and incorporate a link here. Yesterday's session was instruction on how to run strategy based small groups. I volunteered to be one of her guinea students for demonstration and I am so glad I did; I had a real sense once again of the need to assess what the kids need, get them writing, and sending them back out to do their independent work.

Off I go to Day 4. I remember at the end of Day 1 being afraid that I would be so overwhelmed with information by Day 3 that I wouldn't be able to take anymore, but this moring I find myself afraid for how fast the Workshop has moved and want more, More, MORE. I am SO glad and grateful that I am able to stay for next week's Reading Workshop Training. The two are stronger together- the sum being an exponent of the parts.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Day One and we are off!


Seeing Lucy Calkins for the first time in the doorway was definitely a "Rock Star" moment. Being jet-lagged and overwhelmed by the number of teachers who already had their canvas bags in hand did not take away from the moment. After wending my way to the beautiful Riverside Church, sitting in pews that have witnessed many historic events, listening to her keynote speech I was even more impressed by the depth of this woman's knowledge and the generosity with which she shares it. 

My first session was Whole Group 3-5 and also led by Lucy- YAHOO- how did I get so lucky? We wrote, learned and laughed for nearly two hours. I won't try to summarize all that I heard and learned here, but I will link my notes after I have transcribed them. One image that stands out was her description of something that Katherine Patterson refers to as "pearling"> "cupping your hands around a moment and building a story around it" or "growing meaning around the grit", that it is this building significance from moments, lives, and texts that makes a writer. Lucy impressed upon us the importance of getting kids to write a volume of work, to have them writing fast and furious in order to for them to learn how to write with fluency, to write with an oral quality. Not only do I feel confident that I will leave this week a better teacher, I am sure of becoming a better writer. 

One key take-away for me yesterday was the importance of "staying inside a point of view" when writing narrative. Lucy told two versions of the same story of a young boy riding his bike down a huge hill, hitting a gravel patch and crashing: in the first telling the writer stayed inside the point of view and the other, after crashing the writer describes what other people, not the injured boy, are seeing. It was the first time I had so clearly understood why some student's story felt like they went off the road. As I continued to write for "homework", I was very conscious of each time I slipped out of my own point of view, and as a result the piece is more powerful and more personal. Thank you Lucy!

SO much more to share about the day- the small group session with Gerrit Jones-Rooy and the closing workshop, "Eight Books that can become CO-Teachers..." with Grace Chough, but it is Day Two and there is more to come.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

TCRWP Summer Intensive Here I Come.

I leave for New York tomorrow. I have been excited for months, looking forward to the learning and the change of scene. Now I am nervous. I don't know why. I am not afraid to fly, I love being in school, and I love New York. Whatever is causing this feeling of anxiety in my chest and stomach has to do with my expectations of myself in a learning environment; I hate being the least informed and I dread being a know it all. Somehow these are the only two ways I see myself.

In writing the proposal for the Fund For Teachers grant through the SF Ed Fund that would allow us this two week summer intensive at the Teacher's College Reading and Writing Program,
we were asked to explain why we wanted to go, why we were good candidates, and what we would bring back to our classrooms and school site. I both love and hate the exercise of articulating my thoughts and hopes about myself as a teacher and the importance of reading and writing well. I reread my reflections and thought they sounded trite and too universal. But I was sincere and earnest in trying to put into words what I hope to bring to the students I have the opportunity to teach.

SO, enough of the angst. We got the grant and tomorrow I leave for a two week adventure of learning at the source of much of what I have been reading and trying to absorb for the last three years. Wow!

Once we began the application process it became clear that if we were awarded the grant, we had better secure some affordable accommodations before everything was booked. Since the grant would only allow each of us $3300.00 for tuition, room, board and our flight, and I wanted to use SOME of that money for books while I was there, I knew we had to find VERY inexpensive housing. Fortunately, the New York Hostel, which is a one mile walk down Amsterdam Ave. from Columbia Teacher College, still had rooms for the full two weeks, and at $60 a night I wasn't going to find a cheaper bed at a place where I wanted to sleep. So I secured my lodging, taking my chances on losing a $50 deposit if worse came to worse. I was not as willing to book airfare in advance with tickets being non-refundable and non-transferable, so I waited to hear and watched airfares skyrocket as summer approached.

The day I got the good news about the grant, I booked my flight. Nonstop would have been wonderful, but the flights left too early in the morning or flew through the night, neither of which appealed to me for the higher cost. Virgin had the best fares, and the times weren't horrible even with a brief layover in LA; so I will get in late (10 pm), but I will have a few more dollars in my book allowance. According to the hostel's website there is an on demand shuttle with an 800 number that I call, and it will pick me up at JFK and take me to the door of the hostel. I will write in a couple of days to report how that goes.

TCRWP has been communicative, sending us emails about what to expect and what to bring. Now, if I can just wake up in time with the time difference, but that is another angst and I don't want to feed it.