Sunday, June 19, 2011

Celebration of the Year That Was

Have you been asked yet if the year has started to wind down?

Of course to be asked this question you must have connections with people who are not in education.  No one in the business would ask you this.  They already know that it doesn't wind down.  It speeds up and spits you out on June 30, throwing you  against a brick wall that it takes most of the first week of July to peel yourself off of.

Trust me, I am not complaining.  I wouldn't dare.  My husband of 28 years (and we dated for 5!)  is still bitter that I get the summer off.  I love the summer and have not worked one since I was 21, but I am quiet about that.  It is a gift of epic and biblical proportions (source Sandra Herbst) ... I know that.  I also know that the ebb and flow of the school year, the start and stop that we do is both the greatest thing about being a teacher and one of the worst things about being a teacher.  The great thing is that we get to start all over again next year. The terrifying thing is that  we get to start all over again next year.  But before we do that, let's celebrate this year.  Let's really give this year it's due before we figure out how we're going to do it so much better next year.

So as the 2010-11 school year comes to a close, what are you celebrating?  Here are some of the things I am celebrating:

  • Collaboration: When  I started teaching you shut your door and did your job. At least you hoped you were doing your job. And you wondered what others might be doing behind their closed doors.  Now, if we can only embrace it, we can actually learn from colleagues.  We can talk in PLCs, observe each other and learn together.  

  • The great books I have found and shared this year: I can't thank you enough for indulging my passion for reading aloud.  You let me read to your kids and you let me read to you and for that I am eternally grateful.  From Lucy Calkins I learned that part of my calling is to care so much for great literature that others will care too.  

  • Book Cafe: For seven years a group of teachers has come together once a month, after school to talk informally about a professional book.  The group membership has varied a bit from year to year, has had very small numbers to astounding numbers, has read literacy books, math books, inquiry books and books focused on the importance of play.  But even the custodians know, when you see those checkered tablecloths, something important is happening.  :) 

  • The math conversation has changed:  We are not having the same conversations we had five years ago.  Together we have figured out what teaching through problem solving looks like.

  • The excitement many of you are expressing about the Daily 5:  We must get you together.  Such a range of teachers has been inspired by this book.  So many of you have come together to talk about this and to share ideas and to question.  

  • The Regie Routman Writing Project:  We began with four schools, Polson, SMP, Prince Edward and John de Graff and lots of talk about the reading/writing connection.  The learnings about what the gradual release of responsibility really looked like in writing... I do it, we do it, we do it, we do do it  really inspired our teaching.

  • The writing residency we had at John de Graff: Nancy McLean, a colleague of Regie Routman's and a big part of my last post, showed us what writing for real purpose and audience did for young writers.  She also demonstrated the power of celebrating writers.  

  • Reading Recovery:  We have two training groups at our training site next year and many more teachers in classrooms with this training.  This can only mean good things for our youngest learners.

  • ENIP:  Our second year in all 27 schools and all Kindergarten and Grade 1 students given the opportunity to have extra help in developing number sense.  

  • Andrea:  The best partner a person could have.  Someone who has your back, finishes your sentences and extends your thinking.

  • All of you:  You allow me to participate, eavesdrop and sometimes lead your professional conversations.  It is an honour and a privilege to work alongside you.  You know I love books so many of you share children's books, professional books and personal reading materials with me.  You invite me into your classrooms,  you ask my opinion, you ask me questions.  You don't expect me to have all the answers.  You just accept that I am a co-learner who cares about you and your kids.  What a job.  

Have a great summer.  Take care of yourself and the people you love.  

As they say in the song, see you in September.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Oh What a Week...

Last week I saw the transformative power of writing. I saw kids learning that writing has the power to change the world. I saw teachers exploring the power of students writing for real purposes and audiences. In a nutshell, I saw power.

And I want you to see it too.

Four of our schools have been engaged in the Regie Routman Project. A project that started in March 2010 with a session given by Regie Routman, renowned literacy teacher, coach and writer. Since then, the four schools have been meeting regularly in professional learning communities (PLCs) to view videos of Regie Routman teaching writing, trying out her process, sharing student writing and what they are trying in their classes. The piece de la resistance occurred during the week of May 22 when we had Regie and two of her colleagues in Winnipeg for a residency.

John de Graff School was the hub school for our division.

For four days they hosted Nancy McLean, a literacy coach from Colorado mentored by Regie


For four days they welcomed visitors from the other schools in the project to observe Nancy
teaching poetry writing in Grade 2 and persuasive writing in Grade 4/3.(Thanks to the
participants in our June Combined Classes Network who taught me to say it this way!)

For four days we were immersed in the power writing has to transform the students sitting in
front of us.

It was a magical four days.

What made it magical?

Nancy McLean, a most beautiful,skilled,respectful and generous teacher. I think it took all of five minutes for us... students, teachers, administrators and visitors, to fall in love with her.

John de Graff School for creating such a wonderful, welcoming and collaborative climate for us all. We laughed, we cried, we learned.

Ruth Gauvreau and Heather Fraser, the two teachers who shared their classrooms, their community of writers and their learning and thinking with us. Thank you.

The amazing Grade two poets who listened with poet ears and saw with poet eyes (their words, not mine)and wrote with an audience of twenty plus teachers.

The Grade 4/3 writers who wrote persuasive letters on topics of deep consequence to them... and granted us the privilege of listening in, in fact, were so engaged in those topics that they appeared to forget we were even there. More than twenty of us.

Most magical of all was watching Nancy with the children. Three things really stood out for me:

Having real purpose and real audience to write for is not as hard as I thought and is so much more valuable than I ever imagined.

Before the students began writing, Nancy told them that they were going to make a poetry anthology. She then asked them who they wanted to give a copy of the anthology to. They made a list that included teachers in the school, their parents, Grade 2 students from Colorado (Nancy's home)and libraries around the world. When you are writing for that kind of audience, you do not ask how long it should be. You just write.

In Heather's class they were writing persuasive letters on something they really cared about. The topics ranged from the personal to the global and will be mailed to the person or organization most directly. When you are writing to persuade someone to build more shelters for the homeless or to your grandmother to tell her how much you love her and wish she would stop smoking, a great lead, word choice and getting your sentences in the right order really matter.

A public scaffolded conference is another "we do it"

Regie Routman uses what she calls the Optimal Learning Model in her teaching. Our Balanced Literacy Framework was informed by her model and both are based on the gradual release of responsibility. Regie describes it as "I do it", "we do it, we do it, we do it..." , "you do it." After modeling a poem for the students, Nancy had a public scaffolded conference with one student. In this conference she asked the student what she thought she might write a poem about. She asked questions to help the writer focus more clearly on what she wanted to say and she jotted a few notes down on a sticky to help her remember. The whole time she kept asking the others if they were thinking about what they might write about or if they were getting ideas they might try.

Celebrating writers is not something you dabble in.

Before seeing Nancy, I thought I celebrated children and their writing. Now I know I was a mere amateur. When Nancy celebrates your writing you know you have been celebrated. After students had written their first pieces with her she began the next session with 3-4 celebration conferences. She read each piece four to six times and celebrated line by line. The writers were practically levitating in the chair next to her. Quoting Regie, Nancy told us you can't celebrate too much. She also pointed out that you are teaching while you celebrate, drawing attention to all of the things you want your writers to do.

The young writers at John de Graff learned about the transformative power of writing in that week. The power of writing to change the world.

I learned about the power of the writing teacher to transform the writer.