Quiet Things: Slice of Life #22

I like quiet

Dreamy books whose words are soft and slow and sure

Spring flowers that calmly reveal themselves

The pale pink of the cherry blossoms

Falling on the sidewalk like pink snow when the wind picks up

Covering the mud and the cracks and the everyday gray

For those few magical hours

Willing everyone who walks there to be slower

Enchanted

I like quiet

White clouds that drift across the sky line

Not bothered that it is the slivers of blue that are celebrated

Branches that sway to a noiseless rhythm

Laundry on the line

A stack of books

A pile of leaves

One yellow slug at the beginning of the path

Quiet

Long scarves that wrap up like a blanket

Music that is a barely there blur

Rings that don’t clink but twist and turn

In habitual circles

Noticed or not

Tiptoes

Whispers

Expressive eyebrows

Knowing smiles

Quiet

Quiet like warm coffee that is drunk not slurped

An empty room before everyone shows up

Waiting

Knowing.

Remembering

Thoughts that lead you away and within

A watchful crow

Silent instead of squawking

Morning light that wakes the world

The smell just before it rains

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Chapter book Challenges: Slice of Life #21

This year, teaching a Grade 4 and 5 class for the first time ever has allowed me to observe readers at a new stage. In September, I had some children already comfortably reading chapter books but I had many who had never read a novel independently. There were many reasons for this.

A big one? They didn’t believe that they could.

Another? There had been little support to try.

Other things I noticed?

  • Many students didn’t know many authors or series and so they didn’t know where to begin with chapter books. The choices were overwhelming.
  • They didn’t know that they wanted to begin. Either they defined themselves as non-readers or they didn’t know that chapter books were now a possibility for them at their reading and interest level.
  • Students often made poor choices and then not surprisingly, didn’t like the books they chose. I began to get suspicious when the sixth child in a row told me that they loved adventure novels and then looked quite bored when I showed them some adventure titles. Turns out that we needed immediate instruction on genre. As soon as we spent some time learning about various genres, students could describe their reading interests with more accuracy. I have a class of mystery lovers, students who love suspense and many who are big into fantasy. As the year has progressed, many students have also realized they love historical and realistic fiction. Adventure fans? Not many.

There were also some very specific skills that many students needed to develop and practice. These included:

  • Developing reading stamina. We needed to work up to reading for 20 to 30 minutes at a time so that we could read at least a chapter in one independent reading session.
  • Enhancing visualization skills. Many students still relied heavily on visual clues as they had a healthy diet of graphic novels and early illustrated chapter books. They were strong readers that now had to be able to create their own images from descriptions provided by the author.
  • Making it through the first chapter. First chapters are hard. There can be multiple characters, confusing narration, elaborate setting details and hints at plot points that will later be developed. This is a lot to keep track of and often requires support.

What strategies do I need to support and teach?

  •  Most importantly of course, I needed to provide a wide selection of titles to choose from. Knowing many books across various genres is the way I have supported my students most of all.
  • I had to let students abandon books because they were learning so much about what kinds of books most appealed to them and many of their choices were not a  fit. But, I would first try to rescue the relationship between book and reader. Was this a true “not a match” or was this a comprehension issue that I might be able to support? Asking students to read at least 20 pages made a difference. So did ensuring that the story line and vocabulary were not too complex. Readers do need to know when a book is not for them whatever the reason so that their early experiences with reading chapter books is pleasurable.
  • When possible, I spent time going back through the first chapter with a reader. This wasn’t a word for word reread but a skim and scan for key plot points and to discuss characters, setting and narrator. I always reminded students that I reread the most during the first chapter as I get myself ready for the whole book.
  • Through whole class and small group book talks and mini-lessons, I teach students about different narrators, how the author sets the scene and story techniques like flash-backs. Students need a lot of support here.
  • Some of my students made character book marks. Quite simply this was a sticky note attached to their book mark where they kept a running list of characters with a key word or two like Kate’s brother or next door neighbour. This helped focus attention on characters as they began the story.
  • I encouraged reading breaks. Students benefitted from breaking up the independent reading period into chunks and taking a break from their novel to read a picture book or a section from a nonfiction text. At the same time, I encouraged students to have some longer periods of time to really develop flow and read a large chunk from their novel. Some books are easy to pick up and put down. With others, it is more difficult. This is also part of the learning.

I am still learning as my students are learning. I would love to hear from more experienced teachers at the Grade 4 and 5 level. What are the ways you support your students with chapter book reading?

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Writing cheats: Slice of Life #20

Writing cheats: Slice of Life #20

So any day now my writing “thing” is going to return.

Now, I need to cheat. Because all of the usual nudges are nudging me nowhere.

Scroll through photos for something that says something connected to something I have been thinking something about.

This actually works. But right now typing it, I just confused myself.

Move backwards and forwards through the day and stop when there is something to peel away or poke at.

Not happening.

Today was a day of procrastination cleaning, long drawn out packing, nagging children, wasting time.

I drifted through this day and never settled. Reorganizing the fridge, folding sheets, eating fruit so that it won’t spoil. These things offer me nothing.

I think I did it sort of purposely. If I am going to confess. Pushed myself to late night deadlines with nothing on the page. Just to see what I would pull out. Knowing it would be nothing.

This is now my blank slate. My nowhere place to walk from.

I can’t really cheat. I have to just write this.

This blah nowhere limbo.

It doesn’t even deserve a word. More just a sound. A kind of sigh. Half hearted and under-impressive.

Now there is only one way to go. Away from this and towards a story to tell.

Tomorrow I will stare at the ocean.

I will walk through a different city.

I will shake out my head.

Something will come.

I have no more words for nothing.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Missing words: Slice of Life #19

Missing words: Slice of Life #19

In this month of writing, there comes a point where strangely, I begin to miss words.

Writing requires the active arrangement of words on the page. We must come at it thoughtfully. There is no vague. It is about precise. Even in vague images there needs to be an exactness about directions the reader might go. There isn’t much room for breathing. We offer space between the words but we can’t take any of that space for our own. Breathe quick and find the next word. Lay it down. Carefully. Make a path. Lure the reader down it.

I am so tired of my words. I am bored by them. I am lost in them. It’s not calming. It’s irksome. It itches. It irritates. I want to pull a large blanket over my head and hide. I want to hear nothing from me.

I need to go read. Pages and pages of words that I don’t need to organize. Words that I can ignore or scrutinize. Words that can lead me away. Or lead me within. Or take me around and around and around and it’s okay if I end up nowhere and have only had the journey.

I am missing words. From other people’s stories. I want the time to step into another life. To turn around and look at it from multiple perspectives.  I want to be able to notice the amazing of word choice that makes a moment. I want the chance to not be conscious at all. To not be aware of why I was knocked over by a section of text that held me and spun me and whirled me around. I want to stagger away and be transformed.

Through words, I want to feel. To be moved. To become tangled up and not need to weave the way out.

I need time to be reading.

To be changed by a story.

The chance to forget to breathe. And then to cry. To feel everything inside someone else’s head.

I want to examine another life and know how little and how much I know.

I am missing words.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Simply easier: Slice of Life #18

 

Simply easier: Slice of Life #18

I am beginning to think differently about the more than two decades I taught in an inner city school. Well, not exactly differently but instead from a new perspective. About the work. The day to day. The experiences I shared. The realities I witnessed. Time and distance have made this possible.

It has been firmly established how I feel about the important work I got to do.

To fully honour it, I need to stand from a distance and look back. In the last weeks before I left last spring, I said this: If it is different somewhere else, I need to write about it. Not the different. That is another story. I need to find words to honour the challenges of the work I did. The work that is still being done. The difficulties we all experienced: those of us who worked there and most importantly, the children. The children whose lives are being lived out daily in those school settings.

Telling sad stories, that would be easy. I can lay those out one by one by one.  Those aren’t the stories that need to be shared. That pulls all attention to the children and not enough to the systems. When you witness the trauma and drama year after year after year, it isn’t commonplace or meaningless. You don’t become numb. But you know it too well. It is in your system. It’s impossible to stand aside.

Now, I am standing aside.

And this I know, as I suspected it would be: now, what I do, it’s easier.

Simply easier.

For me and on me, yes. For the children and about the children I now teach? Yes again.

In deep inner city schools, easier is not a word we ever used.

I need to find ways to talk about the trauma. To shine light on the resilience. To speak about the wonder of kids in ridiculous circumstances and the failure of our wrap around systems that don’t wrap around much.

I need to look beyond even further. I am now in a place where I am not so emotionally entwined. I spoke about advocacy then. I need to speak about it differently now.

I want to write about what could and should be in our inner city schools. I want to examine what is missing and what, I think, is just really wrong. I don’t think I have an answer somebody else has overlooked. But looking is worth it. Sometimes it is the same answer held up in many different hands that eventually makes the difference.

I am not there yet. I know what I can’t quite articulate. I need more time to think.

But then, I will hold it up.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Slightly Awkward: Slice of Life #17

How do we have those conversations with other teachers where the gist is basically this: There is some work involved.

And yes, you have to do it. 

It’s kind of awkward.

We all start from the same place. The same amount of time in a day. Our differences are sometimes vast and sometimes slight in these areas: experience, education, knowledge, time management, access to money, access to help, willingness to stick to or stray from a reasonable work day schedule.

Then there is the stuff some might call political. We get fired up about this and we should. Teachers should not have to spend their own money. A teacher’s workday can be endless. There needs to be some limits. There isn’t enough prep time. New teachers don’t get enough support. We need more time and structures to talk to and learn from each other.

But we can’t just dwell there. We all put time in beyond the teaching day. It’s impossible to do this job without that. And, of course, a full day is beyond those 9-3 hours. So, maybe we could start there. Can you sometimes dip into your planning, marking, communicating time and invest in some thinking and action that will result in changes to your classroom? Positive, healthy, inspiring changes. Changes that maybe, in the end, make things easier and better for everyone?

This isn’t coming from a place of judgement. It’s just what it is. We need to make changes to make our practice meaningful. The children we work with everyday need us to invest in our own learning to make things better for their learning. We need to acknowledge that there is always more to learn.

Yet. . . often when we talk about shifting practice, the response begins with “I can’t . . . ”

I am in the middle of prep for a presentation where part of the message is starting with change in ourselves. Change that will take time and effort. Effort over time. I am anticipating the “I can’t. . .” I am thinking about how to be convincing, about persuasive arguments and hard to dispute evidence.

When we make shifts, it is about turning on our own axis and really looking at something from a different perspective. It’s not about easy: a boxed program, an on-line lesson or a step by step guide without individuality. It’s about a little bit of information, some important evidence, a compelling example or two (or twelve) and a lot of individuality.

It’s in the individuality where the work comes in. We need to be responsive. Let things be organic to a certain degree. Embark on change knowing that watching our students respond might mean we need to tweak this and change that and sometimes begin some things again and again.

I think back to unpacking in my new classroom last summer. Everything had to be done to create a learning space that would be a fit for my students. I was sourcing furniture, organizing shelves and setting up during most of the break. I had it all figured out about ten times and it still took forever. Kids arrived. It shifted again. I am still moving tables. Clearing counters. Rethinking everything. I have it all together often. For about 10 seconds.

When I learn something new, I celebrate and I sigh because it means, yet again, changes ahead. I love being this old and comfortable with not having it all perfect. I embrace the work.

I hope I can share with others what I am thinking and gently nudge them towards their own work.

It’s always work.

Telling people so shouldn’t be awkward.

So why does half of my planning time seem to be about making the message more gentle?

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Mud: Slice of Life #16

Mud: Slice of Life #16

Okay, so what have I got?

Limited time and an entire blank page.

A head full of dreams fast becoming invisible. Strands of ideas not yet awake.

Blurry. Unfocussed. Not tangible.

There are go to structures. Make a list. Don’t give it a number. Just begin.

I can’t get past three.

Morning things: A house full of alarms. Blinds edged in light. Coffee.

Spring: Greens I forgot. Bird song. Mud.

Mud.

Mud.

Mud.

Words are stuck. Each one needing to be plucked, pried, yanked.

I uncover each one and we stare at each other.

There’s no satisfaction.

Just a pile of words.

Each

one

stretched

to

the

bottom

of

the

page.

Today, I got nothing.

Mud.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Capturing play: Slice of Life #15

Capturing play: Slice of Life #15

Click. Click. Click.

Looking through old classroom photographs, I am struck by how often I captured play.

Tall buildings.

Imaginary lands.

Towering structures.

Beautiful designs.

Camera in hand, I was drawn to the feelings in the room: contemplative planning, joyous giggles, cooperative negotiating.

I was also attracted simply by the results of play themselves.

The physical manifestations that resulted when there was time for play.

What was imagined?

How were invitations offered?

How did nature weave itself into stories?

Capturing play: Slice of Life #15

I love that really I didn’t have much to do with it. My role was peace keeper but that wasn’t a full time gig. I could be observer. Walk around and notice. While the children played, I learned. Saw things in new ways.

Noticed the light.

Felt the community.

I was gifted with time to wonder.

Capturing play: Slice of Life #15

It’s freeing to have no expectations of where things will go.

Then it’s all discovery. All impressive. All about risk taking.

Pure creativity without pre-imposed limits.

Capturing play: Slice of Life #15

There is more and more research to support the benefits of play on the social emotional well being and cognitive development of our learners. In our quest for the most meaningful learning opportunities for our students, we need to make room for play.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Sometimes Guilt: Slice of Life #14

Sometimes Guilt: Slice of Life #14

Yesterday we went grocery shopping at a store about five blocks away from the school where I worked for so many years. As I scanned shelves for mild salsa, I scanned the aisles for small people I might know. I wanted to see someone and I absolutely didn’t.

I would like to say I don’t avoid the area, but that wouldn’t be true. I don’t exactly avoid. I just work at finding reasons to not go that way. It’s too raw. It hurts to miss it. I wrestle with rushes of guilt. Rushes that come at me and then quickly fade away. Like ferocious stormy waves. Crashing in and instantly receding. Leaving me doused and sputtering. Checking to make sure I am on solid ground.

I had necessary reasons to leave. I mostly believe myself when I insist that that makes it okay. I stayed for more than two decades. Leaving to get away from poverty, to get away from hard, to seek refuge from trauma – those things were never going to be my reasons.

And they weren’t.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize when I have walked through a day without the intensity that deep inner city teaching brings. I feel the absence of pain. I am aware of my new found calm. I am deeply conscious of the pure ease of things that were never ever easy.

Sometimes, I just am aware.

Sometimes the guilt comes.

Soon, I think, I will be able to write about the differences. How it is really so very hard there. Hard to support the children. Hard to do the necessary work.

Not hard to love them. Not hard to care. Not hard to give everything.

Hard to bear witness. Hard to know. Just hard.

I miss it desperately. And, I am at a place where I am happy. Not happier. Happy different.

Recognizing the happy has been all about light. But it has activated the guilt. I thought I gave it away. Left it at least.

This is now the haunting.

I am letting myself feel it. It’s not scary. It’s full of remembering. Remembering all of it like it never really happened but at the same time like I am right there in it. It’s an enchanting, exhausting process.

This sometimes guilt is washing away. It won’t be here long.

It’s like how mud from a strong rainstorm is a mucky mess and then it gives way to beautiful.

I am almost at the beautiful.

But today, there has been a lot of pacing about in the mud.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

The little girl I should have taught: Slice of Life #13

The little girl I should have taught: Slice of Life #13

You would have been in my class. We both knew it.

I left before you arrived. I missed out. I know.

I remember you in Kindergarten, those big brown eyes of yours. The way they took in everything and missed nothing.

I remember when you came to my class as a little buddy. Your partner sat back and smiled when you took over. You read like a reader does. Part words. Part expression. Part interaction. All proud.

You would look up from the page with those big brown eyes and we would all be right there with you.

I admired your tenacity. Your striped socks. Your big presence in such a little body.

We were waiting for each other. I know.

You made me cards.

I posted them up.

You visited me.

Every morning.

I put aside special books.

You smiled big before sitting down to read them.

I stopped and listened to all of your stories.

You had a lot.

“I am going to be in your class,” you told me all last year. You would have been. I know.

I was waiting for you.

Before I had to go.

Before I missed out on teaching you.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.