Friday, February 11, 2011


Are they listening? When they decide to start listening will it be too late? What can I do to get them to listen more? Like most teachers, these are the thoughts that keep me up at night. Recently I had a moment with my class where I shared a few of the realities about being their teacher: long hours grading and planning, late nights worrying, and continued learning how to engage and inspire them. I would not change any of it, but I would love for them to respect and care enough to listen.

I teach reading and the majority of class time is spent reading. When I do have whole class 'lecture' time it is short and sweet. One because I know that their attention is short and sweet and two because I think that most of their time in my room should be spent reading (thanks to The Book Whisperer). A short mini lesson to start the class, maybe a brief interruption if a one-on-one conference sparks the need, and a wrap up at the end. But are they listening?

It is not everyone and it is not all the time, but it is enough to make me wonder why. Why are the kids not listening? A few answers might be: over indulgence, lack of interest, lack of motivation, inability to attend, immaturity, distractions... (I could continue...). The one answer I have that beats them all out is the idea of learned helplessness. I think that we (parents, teachers, churches) are perpetuating this listening crisis. We say it again (even after we said we didn't want to), give more than a fair amount of 'second' chances, micro-manage the lives of the children in our lives. Why do they need to listen?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Read, Read, Read!

Ok... Comma Queen! You are most definitely writing and posting more than me. I am really okay with that because we are one teacher separated at birth, but I have to share my proud teacher moment from today!

I have a struggling reader. When I say struggling, I mean she struggles to get meaning from what she reads. If you were to listen to her read you might not know that she is understanding little because she does read quite well.

For months, I have been drilling into my students the idea that the only way to be successful on the upcoming state reading test is to read whatever they want as much as they want. It will be my job, as the teacher, is to provide any test prep they may need in addition. They just get to read, read, read. (Aren't they lucky?)

Like my colleague, I too was meeting with as many students as possible this morning. When I had a chance to meet with the struggling reader mentioned above I noticed two sticky note bookmarks in her book. When I inquired why she told me that one was her bookmark and the other was her goal for reading that day. It looked to me to be about 30 pages of reading. I immediately asked her to tell me as much as she could about her book. She beamed and rattled off a ton of details and events from her book.

I could tell that the effort she was putting into my reading teacher demands was paying off. She was reading.... truly reading and understanding. She was also setting personal goals for herself that were above my own requirements.
I gave her a silent high five, told her I loved the way she challenged herself, and hoped she read even more tonight. I can not wait to ask her tomorrow what the guinea pig that acts like a dog does - Guinea Dog by Patrick Jennings is the book she is reading.

Love my job! I get to sharing the gift of reading! ~Lit Lady

For the Love of a Book

I am obsessed with Harry Potter. I adore Hermione and Ron. I believe that J.K. Rowling is brilliant. I love her books, I love her characters, and I love the journey that I’m on when I read books from the series.

I also get a thrill from sharing books that I love with my students. Mystery, history, humor, or realistic fiction – if I’ve read it and loved it, you can bet I’ve pitched it to my class and lovingly placed it in a growing reader’s hands.

So, quite naturally, I am overjoyed when a student shares a similar love of all things Hogwarts-related. When I make a Potter reference in class, those who have joined me on this literary journey laugh along with me (or murmur in disgust if I mention characters like witchy Professor Umbridge or filthy Filch). I love the feeling that we are all in on a big, delightful secret. It’s a great thing to share.

Not all of my students are Rowling fans, however, and that’s okay. We share similar loves of Sharon Creech, Rick Riordan, Avi, Deborah Wiles, Beverly Cleary, Katherine Paterson, and Scott O’Dell. I must admit, though, that a shared adoration of Harry Potter is special to me.

Recently, one of my students who all year has avoided Potter like the plague has succumbed to temptation and began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. He picked it up and within a couple of days, had reached the 400-page mark. “I couldn’t put it down!” he exclaimed as I commented on how quickly he was reading. I beamed with excitement, I’m sure.

Today, during silent reading time, this particular student was continuing with Sorcerer’s Stone as I walked around to conduct my daily reading interviews. It was quiet in the room as everyone was absorbed in his or her book. As I made my way around the room, I suddenly heard a hearty chuckle from our class’s newest Potter enthusiast. He looked up at me and grinned, and said, “I swear, I can totally see Harry doing that in my mind!” He laughed some more and went back to reading.

I have no idea what part of the novel prompted the laughter and the connection, but I was thrilled to see him so engaged in what he was reading. Yup, today was a proud teacher day for me. Proud to welcome a new Potter fan into the fold, but even more proud that another student is in love with a book.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

No, this is not an environmentally friendly post (although I fully support recycling, and fellow blogger Lit Lady is the Reigning Regal Recycler at our school). Today, I’m talking about what good teachers do.

LL and I have been reading lots of other teacher blogs. We’ve recently decided to start following great educators on Twitter. (Follow me on Twitter: @ACommaQueen)

As I read what all these other wonderful educators say on the blogosphere and on Twitter, I wonder about my own cyber future. The reason LL and I started this blog was to share our ideas, triumphs, and failures with other educators. We both feel it is critically important for us a profession to band together and share with one another in order to do our best as we prepare today’s children for tomorrow.

But after reading what everyone else has to say, I ask myself: Do I have anything new to say? Do I have a voice?

After I consider deleting all my profiles and accounts, I realize that we do what the best teachers do. We reduce, reuse, and recycle.

We reduce. Good teachers reduce the amount of fluff and stuff in their curriculum. They do what’s important. We do what’s in the best interest of our students. If it’s not going to help them be successful or help them to love learning, we cut it out. LL and I plan on sharing what we cut out to make our classrooms better learning environments. We hope you’ll share that with us, too.

We also try to reduce the amount of negativity around us. Teaching is hard job, and sometimes, a girl’s gotta vent. (Guys do too!) However, we should try to eliminate as much negativity as possible and realize that we are working in a very important and noble field. We must consider ourselves blessed to do so.

We reuse. Good heavens, I do a TON of this. I usually say that I steal ideas, but I don’t think stealing is the right word (or a nice one, for that matter). I love to read what other teachers are doing in their classrooms, and if it seems like something that I might be able to use in my classroom, just watch – I’ll try it within a few days. I LOVE idea-sharing! It’s the best!

We recycle. Every year when there is a new teacher, I hear a veteran saying, “There’s no need to invent the wheel.” The new teacher is then given stacks of stuff. This even happens between one veteran and another. A good teacher, however, knows how to take the stuff, aka “the wheel,” and recycle it a little to make it work for that teacher and her group of students. We take the old wheel and make it into a new one. We don’t need to start from scratch, but we take old ideas and make them fresh. We make them work for us.

As I ponder this teaching triad and how we, as educators, reduce, reuse, and recycle, I realize that I do have a voice. While most of my ideas are often inspired by other greats, they have value and merit in their own right as I blog (or tweet) about what these ideas mean to me. Take from it what you will, and feel free to reduce, reuse, and recycle any of it.

PS: Want to know whom I’m following on Twitter?

I will update you when I follow more!

Poetry Your Kids Will LOVE!

If you teach poetry, you M-U-S-T read Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech. I finished my poetry unit and realized I didn't use these books this year - gasp!

I started reading Hate That Cat to some of the kids today, and after 30 minutes of reading the poetry from this book, the kids got mad that I had to stop in order for them to go to art! I know, it sounds rather dubious, but they couldn't get enough of the book. As soon as we came back from art for about 15 more minutes of class before lunch, they begged me to read more.

It is the story of a boy named Jack, and he is a student in Ms. Stretchberry's class. He is writing in a poetry journal, and we see the thoughts (which he records in poetry form) that he writes to Ms. Stretchberry. It is apparent that the teacher writes back to him, but we only see Jack's entries. The teacher in me loves this for many reasons, but I especially love that it prompts my students to infer what Ms. Stretchberry has written to him. We've had some really thoughtful discussions about the missing parts of the conversation. 

Jack discusses poetry terms, poetic devices, poetry analysis, and his favorite poets. He goes on a wondrous journey as a writer, and a lot of the life experiences he writes about are incredibly relatable for students. As I read aloud Jack's thoughts about onomatopoeia and alliteration, they laughed! As he learns some hard life lessons, some of the students cried along with me as I read. As a teacher, it was a glorious part of my day.

I'm going to go back and read Love That Dog to the rest of my students. If you read these, start with this one, then move on to Cat. Your students, boys and girls alike, even big old fifth graders, will LOVE this book about poetry. My ten and eleven year old students thoroughly enjoyed it. We traveled along an emotional roller coaster with this story today. They were hypnotized by the ideas and rhythms in the book. Anything that can grab them and hold them so firmly is well worth reading aloud (and rereading, for that matter). I already have several students who want to check both books out of my library once I am done reading them aloud.

Read these books. Your students will love them. I guarantee it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It is because I CARE!

I have to continually ask my class why I demand that they pay attention? They show their growing frustration with me when I notice them staring, day-dreaming, picking (this is not on each other it is on themselves or their belongings), drawing, tapping, or otherwise not being attentive to my important (and short) lessons.

The reason is that I care! I generally care about them and about the adolescents they are becoming. I care that requiring them to be attentive to a 10 - 15 minute lesson is not too much to demand of a fifth grader. I care that their future motivation and successes in school may depend upon me pulling them back daily.

I care about them~all of them ~ we all do. Our kids need to to hear that more. They need to understand and internalize that we (teachers) are not the enemy to be brought down with any opportunity.

There are very few teachers that are dong this to show a gain on standardized tests. Teachers are not in this in order to practice their classroom management skills of unruly and unmotivated students at every turn. I am not sure I have seen many teachers that see the joy in filling out referrals or dreaming up impossible tasks for students to labor over. (I know that they are out there... but they are probably not reading a teacher post called 'Nerdy, Nerdy, Nerdy'.)

We care! How do we get them to care at all?

The unfortunate thing is that we have to make a few enemies on the way to show how much we care and to get them to care as well. Nobody likes the trainer at the time of training, but at the end of the race. Filling the savings and retirement accounts is hard, but at the time of retirement, we are more than thankful. Why is learning and education so different?

This all seems very obvious as I read it over, but I am going to post it as a reminder to anyone that takes time to read (or to any teacher that is feeling the sting of these tough times). We care and the kids need to know that is why we are who we are and we do what we do.