Monday, March 31, 2014

The Habit of Writing

I've always heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit.  I'm not really sure if that is scientifically proven or not.  I'll probably go research it online a bit after I finish typing my blog post.  But I do know that spending 31 days in a row writing a blog post has been a fun, challenging, and positive experience for me.  Each day this month, after work, I knew that whatever else I had going on, I needed to commit to writing this blog post.  Why?  Because I committed to it.  I promised myself I would do it.  I wanted to truly follow through, and see the fruits of that commitment.  Part of what drove me to fulfill this commitment each day is simply that I am a perfectionist in many ways.  I didn't want to fail at something over which I had control.  Another part of it is that because my class is (unofficially) joining me in this writing challenge, I didn't want to let them down, either.  But another reason I wanted to stick with this writing challenge is that I wanted to integrate writing into my life the same way that I do reading.  I realized that I make reading a huge part of my daily existence.  It's almost as natural as picking up my toothbrush and brushing my teeth every day.  I don't even really have to think about it; it's a no-brainer. However, with writing, it seems to be more of a hit or miss situation for me.  In my classroom, we are committed to writing workshop, but the fluency piece of writing voraciously, and expecting my students to do so on a consistent basis is not yet on the same level as reading.  So, I wanted to make it happen -- to put it on the same level as reading.  I've always believed that reading makes one a better writer, and that writing makes one a better reader.  The two go hand in hand.  I feel I just needed to step it up a bit more.  And, I'm so glad I did.

From this writing challenge, I found that:
*Commitment to something new is sometimes difficult.
*Writing every day is a wonderful opportunity to express yourself.
*There is no right or wrong blog topic; writing from one's heart is the only requirement.
*Meeting new writers is a pleasure.
*Writing every day has made me want to write every day.
*Like brushing my teeth, I didn't always want to write these past 31 days, but doing so has been positive.
*Writing helps me process my thoughts on teaching reading and writing.
*This writing challenge has been a way to further bond with my students.
*Participating in this challenge has made me want to blog more often than I did before.

Thanks to all who participated in this challenge, and to the Two Writing Teachers, who hosted this challenge.  Since it is my first "Slice of Life" Writing Challenge, I was a bit nervous about doing so.  I'm so glad I participated, after being on the fringe for a couple of years before participating.  I learned a lot, met some new friends, related to others, and gained a new sense of appreciation for various types of writing.

Writing connects us as individuals.
Writing is a wonderful way to communicate.
Writing is freeing.
Writing gives us avenues for expressing ourselves to an audience.
Writing freely is therapeutic.

I like the quote by Sean Covey: "We become what we repeatedly do."  Some habits are positive; other habits are not beneficial.  Writing is a habit I look forward to doing more and more often.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Reflection of Time

I realized today that we only have 44 days of school left in the school year.  Many teachers, at this point in the year, count it down to encourage themselves and gear up for the summer months off.  I'd like to think of it in a slightly different way. Today, I'll think of 44 more days to do positive things in my instruction, rather than simply a "count down to summer."

I have 44 more days to work hard to instill in my students a love of reading -- to guide them toward becoming lifelong readers.

I have 44 more days to encourage them in their writing pieces -- to gain confidence with writing voice, adding details, revising, editing, and exploring different topics.

I have 44 more days to help them and encourage them in their school work.

I have 44 more days to add to their positive self image.

I have 44 more days to make connections with them, to share with them, to laugh with them.

I have 44 more days to work with them on different math strategies, help them add explanations to their math thinking, and challenge them to grow even more.

I have 44 days to teach them about what it truly means when I say that "Character is who you are when no one is watching." 

I have 44 more days to help them feel more confident in their study skills.

I have 44 more days to work hard, assess, grade, learn, be there for my students, and encourage them as best I can.

Only 44 more days.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Random Thoughts

My head is full of thoughts today.  So I think my "Slice of Life" today will be a place just to express those thoughts...

I'm thinking that I truly hope that winter is almost over (despite the sleet and snow we got, even today!)...

I'm thinking about how I really don't have a very good "in between" wardrobe for this time of year...

I'm hopeful about a fresh start to the remaining weeks of school with my students...

I'm of course thinking toward testing week...

I'm preparing for a new round of reading conference times with students...

I'm thinking about my ever-growing "To Read" list, and how many books are on that list...

I'm reflecting on my students' next writing project, and how to best incorporate student choice with the required standards...

I'm wishing that spring break wouldn't end...

I'm feeling grateful for some extra sleep...

I'm feeling thankful for time spent with my husband over the week we spent together on house projects and spending some quality time together...

I'm very grateful for the Slice of Life month-long challenge...It has been a wonderful way to push myself to write each day...

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Value of Independent Reading

How important is it that we build in time for independent reading in our workshop schedule?  Do we consistently keep it as one of the most important elements of our reading workshop?  Or, is it one of the first things to go when the schedule tightens up?

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Dublin Literacy Conference.  This conference is an annual conference the school district hosts, and the purpose of the conference is for people to engage meaningfully in sessions surrounding literacy, in order to gain more knowledge about reading and writing instruction.  The keynote speakers are always wonderful, and the session presenters are informative and practical with their thoughts on ways to engage our students in the literacy world.  This year, we were able to hear Penny Kittle speak.  She's the author of Book Love.  She showed a graphic during her presentation, which indicated number of minutes that students read per year, and compared it to the number of estimated words read per year, and how that translated to a percentile rank on a standardized test score.  

The results were astounding....

On the graphic, there was a column listing the total number of words that students read per year if they were to read 90 minutes a day, for example.  Over the course of a year, that results to over four million words read per year.  If students only read for one minute a day, their total words read for the year is estimated at only 51,000 words per year.  And the percentile rank in standardized scores shows such a huge gap:  from 98% (reading 90 minutes a day) to 10% (reading 1 minute per day). That is absolutely eye-opening.

But are most educators seeing the value in independent reading?  Are they truly building in time for reading within their workshop schedule, consistently?  Though I also expect students to read at home, I don't always know if that is taking place. So, I MUST build that into my workshop schedule.  

I can't help but continue to ponder the information in this graphic, and be so glad that I honor independent reading in my classroom as a non-negotiable.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wild about Books!

I love those days when Amazon packages come in the mail, and the boxes are full of nothing but BOOKS!

I admit, my husband has gotten to rolling his eyes about my book buying habit, but I'm excited for this batch of books.  They are books I'm looking forward to reading and sharing with my students.  I hope to read one or more of them aloud to my students yet this year.

I'm so excited to read Counting by 7s.  This book, by Holly Goldberg Sloan, has so many awards and positive comments on Amazon, I hardly had to read the summary. 

This book, Stand in my Shoes, appealed to me.  I often feel that kids need more direct instruction about how to show empathy towards others.  I can't wait to share this book with my fifth graders after spring break!!

A colleague recommended My Weird Writing Tips at a meeting this year, and it automatically went on my Amazon "wish list."  I love the style of this book, and I think kids will really appreciate the way Dan Gutman writes in this book.  I'm sure that kids will see writing as a really cool thing to do, after reading this book!

I really enjoy Newbery books.  Though I've never taken a "Newbery Challenge" before (to read all of the Newbery books), I think Penny from Heaven will be a great read.  Set in 1953, it's about a girl named Penny and her life experiences during that time period.

I hadn't heard of Touchblue book before, so I am eager to read it.  It's by the same author of Rules.  I loved the cover.  I know, we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but it's still an okay reason to initially pick up a book...

I'm heading toward the tail end of my spring break...Will I read all of these books before the end of break?  No, likely not.  But I have lots of great reads ahead of me, and that makes me happy.

Excuse me, I think that is the doorbell ringing.  It might be another Amazon package for me.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Joy of Journal Writing

I just finished a historical fiction novel today.  It's one of the great joys about spring break = the ability to catch up with my reading!  The format of this novel was a journal.  Reading this book made me reflect on how much I loved keeping a journal when I was younger.  I still keep a journal, but I write in it less often than I used to -- mostly due to time constraints.  But the more I progress through the month writing these "Slices of Life," I realize that it's a choice.  Writing daily is a choice, and I have to see it as a commitment of time.  I always loved keeping a journal, for many reasons.  Though many of my journals are comical to read now, it was a very special place in which to write my thoughts, emotions, and learnings about life.  I have been motivated more and more lately to renew my journal writing habit.

There are several purposes for writing in a journal.  Some of these are:

*Writing in a journal helps me to capture the events of the day.
*Journal writing is therapeutic.
*Writing in a journal may not help to literally solve problems, but it's very calming.
*Journal writing is a stress reliever.
*Writing in a journal helps me to think through situations.
*Journal writing is a great place for list-making.
*Writing in a journal promotes a sense of peace and helps me to think positively.
*Journal writing is a place for writing deepest thoughts.  It's a confidant of sorts.  
*Writing in a journal is a great place for setting goals.
*Journal writing is comforting.
*Writing in a journal helps with further writing ideas.
*Journal writing is a place to share sorrows, hopes, and fears.
*Writing in a journal helps to tell a life story.

I encourage my students to sometimes choose journal writing as a writing activity in their notebooks from time to time as well.  I use the term, "Daily Pages," which is a term that Aimee Buckner uses in her book Notebook Know-How.  This is one strategy that students can use to describe their day, what they are thinking about, or just as an old-fashioned "What I did Today" kind of entry.  This type of writing doesn't take up the bulk of their writing in writing workshop, but I encourage students to write a "Daily Pages" entry every once in awhile in order to be reflective and thoughtful about their lives and daily happenings.

After all this talk about journal writing, I think I'm off to write an entry now!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Real World Experiences

We are currently doing some work in our house with attic insulation.  My husband is reading articles and is researching information pertinent to how to fix some of the air leaks in our attic, so we can try to lower our utility bills and help our house become more efficient.  Recently he is taking the time to read, study, learn, and go over notes he has made.  He takes his time so he can learn as much as possible about what works best, what materials to use, what tools he will need, and how long it might take him to complete the project.

It's a real world project in which he is using multiple texts and resources to help him learn what he needs in order to complete the project successfully.  So far, he has:

*Studied the attic space
*Taken measurements
*Read articles
*Viewed multiple videos
*Talked to experts at stores
*Taken notes
*Read more articles
*Viewed more videos
*Studied the attic space again
*Read more articles
*Taken more notes

When I think of how we guide our students to complete a variety of projects or writing pieces, I'm wondering:  Do I give them enough time, resources, and reflection opportunities?  Am I teaching them how to think independently, or am I teaching them to think about a topic too narrowly, so that they just graze the surface of the topic?  

I want my students to become critical thinkers, problem solvers, and doers.  Like my husband, I know the answer for my students won't come from one website, one video demonstration, or one short writing session.  The answers won't be immediate.  Sometimes, my students need to learn to persevere, research a bit longer, think deeply, and try again the next day.  

This house project gave me insight into how I might provide more time for students to examine topics, do research, and process knowledge.  Of course, not every project requires this kind of time or effort, but some things do require more time and reflection.  I'm glad to be able to take away nuggets of information from our real-world experiences and apply it to teaching situations!