Monday, September 30, 2013

Ask & You Shall Receive (on Self-Reflection)

Once of the best parts of my PLN on twitter is the opportunity it gives me to virtually collaborate with, and be inspired by, other really smart teachers. Last week it was this post from Pernille Ripp, which also inspired this post from Katherine Sokolowski...both of which inspired me and what I had my students do in class today.

As a teacher, one of the things I do most often is reflect on my practice and determine what went well, what didn't, what could be changed, what my students need, how I acted/reacted, and how to make things better for the next time. Being a reflective practitioner is essential to continuing to improve myself as an educator and to be the best teacher I can be for my students. And if self-reflection is such an important skill for adults in the workplace, it's a skill I should be helping to develop in my students as well. I loved the idea of a monthly self-reflection for students to complete as a wrap-up to the previous month, and a fresh start to the new month. I saw it as a way of not only reflecting, but also celebrating the accomplishments and setting goals for achievement in the month ahead. I took some ideas from Pernille's reflection sheet, and added in a few ideas inspired by things Katherine mentioned in her post, and before school started this morning, I crafted a Monthly Reflection Sheet for my students to use for self-reflection.

I included a line for students to share how many books were read in the previous month and which was their favorite, a line for how many they'd like to read in the next month, along with a few other things. But the most important one, and the one that was my reason for really wanting to do this, was this one:
I gained insight into my students a way I didn't expect and in a way that will be valuable to not only my teaching them, but also in cultivating relationships with them. Some comments made me smile, some made me laugh, some made me groan, some made me tear up, some made me cheer, some forced me to look a little more carefully at myself and how I've been approaching certain things this year...and really, isn't that what this was all about? Self-reflection not only for my students, but for myself as well. The more feedback I can get from my students, the better I can make my teaching, and sometimes it takes seeing it written down to really help me process it and figure out how to make things better. I look forward to continuing to use this self-reflection each month as we move through the school year as I know it's going to help me make things better and help my students reflect on themselves as well.

On a sidenote: So many students mentioned, in one part or another of their self-reflections, that they wished I would give more reading time in class. On the one hand, I love that so many are excited about reading and want more time to do it (and make no mistake, they already get quite a bit of class time to read!), but on the other hand, it worries me that they say that as it's also a way to avoid writing. A thought I will be continuing to reflect upon...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Being Encouraging

I'm sitting here staring at a blank screen trying to figure out what to write and getting stuck because I'm not sure what to write, and all I can think about is that my students must feel the same way sometimes as they're sitting in class having to start writing.  Today alone, I heard several times, "I don't know what to write." No matter how much modeling, instructing, and scaffolding I do, sometimes there will be kids who are still just stuck (like I am right now).

But then something encouraging happened in my classroom today. As I walked around and checked in with students on their first drafts, many of them commented that what they had wasn't good. Even as I reminded them that our first drafts don't have to be great because we get to revise them to make them better, they didn't seem convinced. That was the discouraging part. But then I had some conversations. I made sure those short conversations were focused on encouraging the student that his/her ideas were a good starting point to revise into even better or that the ideas they had were already good. And I saw faces change; I saw attitudes become more positive; I saw students more willing to work; I witnessed students being more confident in their own writing. All from just a few encouraging words.
And, gee, isn't it the same for me? A little encouragement goes a long way. Something to remember...especially when it comes to something as personal as one's own writing. I'm going to convince my inner critic to be more encouraging, I'm going remember to focus on keeping my talk about students' writing encouraging, and I'm going to look for those encouraging reminders for myself.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Making Something Out of Nothing

I'm skipping writing a blog post tonight. For numerous reasons: I'm exhausted, there are some things going on I can't talk about, I'm feeling a bit negative/worried tonight and don't want to put that out there, but first and foremost...I'm just not feeling it. I have a few ideas swirling in my head, but I can't quite get a solid grasp on any of them enough to make it into a whole post. (by the by, that's such a frustrating feeling) However, after yesterday's reflection on routines, I am forcing myself to type essence, to make something out of nothing. Why? Because if I at least type something I'm keeping that routine...even if I don't really have anything to really say.

So, I'll leave you with this final thought that brought joy to my day: 
THE REAL BOY by Anne Ursu released today. It's a book I loved and I hope you will too. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Thinking About Routines

I feel guilty.
I didn't write a post on this blog last Thursday.
I had gotten myself into a writing habit up until then.
I wrote a blog post every weekday when I got home from work.
I broke that pattern/streak/habit/routine on Thursday for good reasons.
I couldn't stop thinking about not having written a post.
I felt weird that I didn't sit down and write.
I never found the time.
I felt guilty.

I worked late and, when I got home, had to prepare for a weekend getaway to experience this:
I had a wonderful, much-needed, enjoyable weekend away.
But I still felt guilty. For not writing.

And here's the thing...I haven't been able to figure out if I should or shouldn't feel guilty about it. I haven't been able to figure out if I ruined my momentum by skipping that day. I haven't figured out if this is a necessary thing, or a detrimental thing. But I do know that even though I didn't write that day, I kept thinking about topics I could write about. Thoughts are percolating in my mind. That's a good thing.

But what I really came to realize is that routines are important. Even those days I didn't want to write, I did it. And it helped me see myself as a writer. It helped me feel what my students go through when they come to class and have to sit down and write. It kept my momentum going. So I'm pondering writing routines in the classroom...because if just a short time helped me get the ball rolling, it might help my students, too.

But I'm going to stop feeling guilty. And I'm going to make sure my students have time to write. And I'm going to make sure I try my best to stick to a writing routine, but if life gets in the way, that's ok. It happens. It's important. It gives me things to write about.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What is "real" Reading?

In helping my students think about increasing their reading stamina now that they're in middle school, I often look for ways to make it clear what reading behavior looks like in the classroom. I want to help them avoid the "fake" reading that often happens before they're fully into their books and to understand that I do realize it happens, but give them ways to try to become more focused so that they aren't distracting others and are able to make use of their reading time in class. I came across some anchor charts on Pinterest showing Real Reading vs. Fake Reading. I liked the idea of the chart delineating what each looks like, but as I started to make my chart I realized that I really disliked the idea of there being such a thing as "real" reading.

Something about that terminology just didn't sit well with me. I want my students to be motivated to read the books they choose based on their interest, and what I really want to see when I look around the room during reading time is a roomful of engaged students. Ones who are engaged in their books, instead of distracted by or distracting others around them. So as I compiled my list for the anchor chart to present to my students, I made a slight adjustment to the idea I saw. I talked with my students about Engaged Reading vs. Distracted Reading.

I introduced the chart saying that the distracted behaviors are ones I've seen in observations the first few weeks, but that they're also things I've occasionally done myself if a book isn't jiving with me or something major happens that distracts me that I can't stop thinking about. By acknowledging that it happens to all of us, and is something that even I (a "real" reader in their eyes) struggle with at times, I think it helps them be less worried about admitting they do it, too. They don't have to worry that if they sometimes do these things, they can't be "real" readers. But by presenting the engaged behaviors, it also gives them something tangible to try to do to move from distracted to engaged reading behaviors.

And whether engaged or distracted at a given moment, all of my students are real readers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Who Will You (Choose to) Be?

If you follow any teacher pages on Pinterest, you've probably seen this bulletin board idea.
Via Pinterest from Entirely Elementary's Be yourself theme 
I know I did. And I wanted to put it up in my classroom as a kind of mission statement for the school year.
The idea behind it for me is helping my middle schoolers have a visual reminder every day of what they're working toward as a member of our classroom community. Kids who are reminded to Choose Kind after hearing Wonder read aloud last year. Kids who have the Core Values of the school they're expected to demonstrate. But here's the thing...I didn't want to just put up another bulletin board that they might just ignore, or only read when they're bored. I wanted it to be something meaningful to them. I wanted them to take ownership of the idea. I wanted them to live this statement this year.

So why not have them create the words to fill the board?

I started with this; my mission statement for the year (+ above Be, I added Snail's reminder from our first day of school read aloud on bravery and friendship, The Story of Fish and Snail) on our classroom "Identity" board reminding us of what makes us who we are.
Then I introduced the idea.
I shared a read aloud of One by Kathryn Otoshi (a fabulous book with a powerful message - If you haven't read it, you should!)
I told them they would be filling in the blank: Be __________
I showed them my train of thought for what I chose: Be you. Be yourself. Be your best self.
I gave them some thought-provoking prompt questions: What matters to you? Who will you (choose to) be?
They had time provided to brainstorm a list of ideas.
They were encouraged them to choose the one that really spoke to them.
They discussed with classmates.
They showed me what they chose.
They got a blank piece of paper to fill in the blank in whatever way they chose.
They created a board that is better than any pre-created one I could have had...because it is meaningful to them. It is their ideas, and their classmates ideas, and their reminders of how/who they want to be this year.

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Favorite Moments of the Day

Some of my favorite moments during the school day are the impromptu, unplanned moments when I get to talk books with students. Why? Because when I see their enthusiasm, excitement, eagerness, and energy about books, authors, and reading, it lets me know I'm doing something right. It shows me that they are reading and that they are finding enjoyment in it, which we all know will lead to increased learning and engagement.

Some snippets from today (it was a good Monday)
Student rushing up to me as we're lining up for buses, "Mrs. Heise, I finished it."
Me: "Do you need to check out a new one before you leave?"
Student: "Yep."

Student: "Mrs. Heise, what was that book you were reading last week?"

Student: "Mrs. Heise, this book is really good."
Friend: "Wait, which one? I want to read it, too."

Student to Friend: "You read Crash already?!" turns to me: "Mrs. Heise, Where is Bang? S needs it."

Me: "Okay. Get to a good stopping point."
Students (at various times):
"No! Can't we just keep reading all day?"
"Can't we read for just 10 more minutes so I can finish?"
"Can we just read the whole class today?"
"No! I only have four pages left!" (My response to that one? "OK. Everyone read a few more pages so B can finish."

These are the kinds of comments that keep me going and energize me during the school day. I particularly love that this year these moments are happening most often at the start of the day and at the end of the day. Why? Because that tells me my students are reading at home. And I love that culture being built, supported, and embraced.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why Movies Can Be Good for Books

It's no secret I love reading and books. I also happen to like escaping into movies quite a bit. I mean, let's be honest, they're pretty related fields. And take a book I love, and make it into a movie? I'll be at the theatre to see it for sure. the sign in my classroom says, Don't judge a book by its movie. 

This rings so true to me because I do think the book is always better than the movie. However, I can appreciate that there is an element to movies based on books that serves as a really long commercial of sorts for that book. I've seen how it works for my and excitement builds about a movie...and the readers will come so they can be a part of it (Yes, Twilight, I'm talking about you). I always try to encourage my students to read the book before the movie comes out (I'm looking at you Hunger Games). I do this so they can appreciate the book more and make their own pictures of characters and settings in their heads before seeing what the movie's creators have envisioned. I know I personally get so distracted when I go to see a movie and the actor is so different from what I pictured in my head while reading the book (I mean, really, Jace in City of Bones? Not at all what I thought he should look like). But the reality it that sometimes it's the fact that a movie is being made that brings the readers to the books. *This is where I admit that I didn't really know about the Harry Potter books until I went and saw the first movie with my family. I loved it so much, of course, I immediately went and devoured all of the books that were already released and was one of the many waiting on my doorstep for each subsequent book to be delivered on its release day.* So Harry Potter is my perfect example of how a movie can help a reader fall in love with a book series.

Why is this on my mind today? Well, I've been talking book movies with my students. They all went on a field trip to see Hunger Games when it came out, so they're already asking me if we can do a school trip to see Catching Fire in November. I'm also anxiously awaiting the Divergent movie's release in March, and have been planning to use the book as a read aloud for our dystopian book club unit and then go see the movie on a field trip. It would create a fantastic opportunity to see the movie with my students to get their instant reactions, as well as providing a chance for them to create their own opinions on whether the book or movie is better. I feel a writing piece coming on.

So as I spent some time sharing book trailers with my students today, showing them the options for the first read aloud of the year and letting them vote to choose which one to read, I also chose to show the Divergent movie trailer after the book trailer. And, in what I bet will be no surprise to many, the winning choice was Divergent. I wonder if the movie preview had anything to do with that.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Today I Shared a Story

This morning I thought about stories. I shared a story with my students of events that actually occurred. I read aloud Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey. I've cherished this book since I first read it, and I value the way in which it tells the story, and also the focus it has on bravery and those who helped during this time. I shared this story because it is September 11th. I shared this story with 7th graders who were less than or around a year old at the time of the attacks. I vividly remember where I was and how I felt and what I did when I heard the news, but my kids don't. So how do we share the feelings of events with someone who wasn't there? How do we try to help them understand what it was like? We share stories.
Since the dawn of time, we have shared stories. When tragedy occurs, we share stories of those who were there and those who weren't. When we need to process events, we share stories of the causes and effects. When we want others to understand, we share stories from multiple perspectives. As I told my students, You may hear about the details in social studies class, but what do you think we'll do in here? They all knew. We would read a story.

I am so thankful for the authors who do the hard work of telling stories of real events. I asked my students to reflect on: When we read stories about things that have happened, how does it help us understand them better? Well, here's what I think: Stories of real events give me a way to help my students have a better understanding of the world. They give me a way to show my students other perspectives in a non-threatening way. They give me a way to show students things that have happened. They give me a way to talk to my students when I perhaps can't find the words myself. We share stories because they bring people together, they explain what has happened, they add the human element to events, they touch on emotions, they help us to understand. So today I shared a story, only one of the very, very many that there are from an event that affected and touched so very, very many people. But in all of that, we went back to the story.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Best Part of My Day: I Have Readers

The best part of my day today? 
It involves one of my book obsessions.
When walking back in from taking my homeroom to their buses, I heard my name called from a window. I stepped onto the bus questioningly. One of my 8th grade girls, to whom I had recommended one of my all-time favorite books (The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin),which I knew she was loving because we had discussed what she thought earlier in the day, was just checking to make sure that I would have the sequel (The Evolution of Mara Dyer) ready to give her tomorrow. I had to laugh because she was so eager because she knew she would finish the first book tonight and that my classroom copy was currently in another student's hands. I told her I would check for the library copy, but if it was out, I would bring my personal signed copy from home.

Why was this the best part of my day? It reaffirmed for me yet again in a small way that choice works.
I have readers. I have readers who are excited about books. I have readers who want to make sure the next book will be waiting for them when they get to class. I have readers who maybe weren't readers at this time last year. I have readers who advocate for themselves to get the books they want. I have readers fighting over books and racing to be first to the bin to get the sequel. I have readers sharing their favorite books. I have readers who are recommending books to each other. I have readers talking to me about the book they like. I have readers I can connect with because I've read the books they're reading. I have readers who take my recommendations and read. I have readers. Because I let them choose the books that they want to read that are interesting to them, because I don't force a specific book on them, because I allow them to try books and not read them if they don't work for them...I have readers.

Slice of Life: Saving the Good Things

This is my first official Slice of Life post...of what I hope will be many more. 

This weekend my husband and I went to the farmers market, for perhaps what might be our last visit of the season. One of the best things about Wisconsin and the midwest? Our summer sweet corn. We bought our corn, and then turned the corner and saw the sign for the one we've had before that we really liked, "You've tried the rest, now try the best." Love that slogan! Especially because it's so true. It's delicious, juices run down your chin, sweet bicolor corn that I wish I could eat all year. So we bought more than we can eat this week, knowing that we would be cutting some off the cob to freeze so we could enjoy the sweet taste of summer throughout the gray, dreary, cold days of winter.

And as I thought back to this weekend as we stood there scooping corn kernels into bags, I realized what we were really doing: saving the good stuff for later when we would really need it. And it hit me that I do that in many aspects of my life. It's more than just saving the best for last; it's saving those moments of joy or greatness or celebration for the times when I need to be reminded of them. Those nice emails from friends or family? Saved in a file. The kindest of the personalized signatures from authors I adore? Torn out of those books before taken to my classroom and kept in a file to be made into a display at some point for my library. Those sweet, laugh-out-loud, kind notes from students? Saved in a drawer where I can pull them out whenever I need a pick-me-up or reminder that they appreciate the work I do to help them be successful. And I'll continue to keep those reminders of the good for the times when I need the reminders. I'll keep the good corn and freeze it so it'll be waiting in those times when I can't get it.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Life's Too Short To Read Books You're Not Interested In (aka: The Charts We Made Today)

I stood in my classroom at the end of a long day trying to think back to decide if there was anything I wanted to make note of to write about today when I got home. It was an OK Monday, but there wasn't anything that really stuck out. But as I looked around the room, I realized there was clear evidence of the thinking my students had done today. It was really only our 3rd actual day of class (due to testing and field trips last week) so we're still working through some of the nitty gritty details about books and building our culture of literacy in the classroom. So today was the day of charts. For some charts I have all four classes brainstorm and we add to a messy copy of the list on the whiteboard throughout the day, which I then convert to a neat enough to put on the wall chart later on. For other charts, where it's more limited what might be on it, I'll go ahead and attempt a neat copy as we talk through things (although I sometimes still have to make neater ones if my spatial skills aren't accurate for what I think we'll need when I start). Today was a mix of both.

First up was What We Think About When Choosing Books and Reasons We Might Abandon/Pause a Book made with my 7th graders and shared with the 8th graders (because for them it's review from last year). Both of these are discussions I feel are important to have in the beginning of the year with my classroom reading community. I have students brainstorm in groups and then share out as I messily write their thoughts on the board. Some items we have to discuss more, clarify, question, add to, reword, or combine together as we go. But I strongly feel that to be effective in our readers workshop and choice reading classroom, students need to realize there is a process to choosing books and we do put thought into it, we don't just randomly pull a book off the shelf. And they also need to realize that it is perfectly OK, and in fact encouraged, to abandon or pause books that just aren't working right now. I tell them that life is too short to spend time forcing ourselves to read books that we're not into. That just doesn't work for my class or my teaching philosophy. Now, that doesn't mean that you give up on a book forever - it could just be that it's not the right book for right now at this time in your life or day or week, and that's why we also have the ability to "pause" a book. But in order to meet the goals of this class (reading more!), they'll always have to have a book that makes them want to read during reading time, and if the one they have doesn't do that, they need to put it back and choose a new one.
I loved the ideas my students came up with - it especially made me laugh (and think of Colby Sharp) when one boy started talking about abandoning a book because it is too "girly" - so I had to ask him to elaborate on what that meant, and he said if it has too many detailed kissy scenes. [Granted, we did talk about ways you could work around that by skimming/skipping those scenes, and that sometimes boys like to read the books that tend to be more popular with girls because that way they know what the girls are thinking/reading about {which one 8th grade boy thought was genius!} but that could be a valid reason for abandoning a book.]

Our other chart today was made with my 8th graders to explain book genres. It was a way for me to quickly assess what they remember from last year, and they essentially made the chart that will be shared with the 7th graders tomorrow. Today was the invitation to the 40/50 book challenge day, so it was important to bring up genre and form. 
We, of course, had to discuss the fact that some genres combine together in a single book and that sometimes it's not completely clear where one would fit, but they're at least getting the overarching idea of genre and where things might fit. {We also got into a very interesting tangent about where various superhero characters would fit. When students could defend their answers, "No, Superman is an alien, so it's si-fi," I knew they were thinking.} It's another example of me wanting my students to have the big idea understanding of something in a way that will be usable to them, as opposed to needing to memorize a specific detail. I do think it helps them to think about books in this way because it allows them to look more closely at what an author has created to determine where it might fall. Ultimately, if a student can tell me what genre they would categorize a book in, and can defend that with textual evidence, that's where they show me their thinking, and that's how I assess their learning. 

We didn't only make charts today. We also did our Independent Daily Reading (IDR), and read the week 1 poem from the Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (which for various reasons is happening on Mondays for us), and we jotted responses to said poem, and we set up our reader's notebooks, and we laughed and made it through our first Monday and first school day on a regular schedule. All in all a good day in middle school. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Slowing Down and Finding Joy

I was running late this morning. My hair wasn't cooperating, so I was rushing to get moving and get to school because I knew I had a couple of things yet to prep. I knew they would only take a few minutes, but I hate feeling rushed when I arrive to school in the morning. I opened the back door to the deck to let Dooley out, I had my breath taken away by a beautiful sunrise. It made me pause for a moment and I realized I wanted (perhaps needed) to take a few minutes to snap a few pictures. Because when you see something so beautiful, it's worth the time it takes to appreciate it for a few more minutes. And it calmed me down. It made me slow down a little bit. And it put my day, and my morning rushing, into perspective for me. That sunset made my day because it changed my whole mindset.
As I drove to school, I was still thinking about the beauty of the orange and bright yellow with the pink swirling into the blue clouds and how it forced me to slow down. I realized I needed to keep that calmer perspective throughout the day, and that I should take the time to appreciate the "sunrises" throughout my day when they came.

And they came...

First thing this morning a seventh grade girl came right up to me, "Mrs. Heise, I finished my first book!" This was the start of the third day of school, and she's already done with a whole book. And she's excited about it. And she immediately asked if I had the next book which we went to find on the shelves. That was a joyful moment. I slowed down to appreciate it and remember it. That helped make my day.

Looking around the room during Independent Daily Reading (IDR), I saw how much my students are enjoying the "poufs" I took quite a bit of time last week to procure for them to use during reading time to get more comfortable on the floor. Seeing them leaning up against them, sharing them, sitting on them, flopped over them...made it completely worth the effort I put into finding them. It makes me smile every time I see them using them so happily.
At the end of IDR time in the next class, a seventh grade boy walked toward me holding up I Am Number Four proclaiming, "This book is awesome!" I agree kiddo, and I have the rest of the series ready to hand you when you're done.

Because technology class isn't happening due to MAP testing, my seventh grade homeroom came back to me later in the day during that time. As they walked in, (keeping in mind this is only day 3 of school so they don't know me super well yet) this conversation occurred:
Student: "Are we reading?"
Me: "Yes."
Student: "Awesome!"
2nd Student: "Ugh."
3rd Student: "Wait, what are we doing?"
2nd Student: "Reading."
3rd Student: "And that's a bad thing?"
Me: *Walks in behind them with a big grin*

And finally, later in the day with my 8th graders, I asked them to "Get to a good stopping point," at the end of IDR time, and I received a chorus of groans and "Can't we just keep reading the whole time?"

I slowed down and found the joy in my day today (and it was so joyful to see these student reactions already!). Thanks for the reminder early this morning, Universe. I'm remembering to pay attention now.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I Wasn't Going to Blog Today, But...

It was a long second day of school. My students were doing their reading MAP test all day, so as I monitored, I also worked on checking in beginning of the year paperwork, and read some picture books I'm considering using in class later this year so I could assess how they might fit in, and I got to know my students better by reading their responses to the first day of school questionnaire I gave them (thank you so much for sharing, Katherine!), and I started inputting data on my overview sheet so I could get a quick glance of summer growth or slide. That was pretty much my day. And then I had to stop at the grocery store on the way home to get a few items to get us through the rest of this week (this is what happens when I don't go on the weekend). Sidenote: It's really time for me to get back into the school year routine. the time I sat down and could look at my computer, I was exhausted. And I'd had a headache since I woke up. And I'm hungry. And I figured I'd just skip blogging today. I mean, it's not like I made a committed declaration to blog every day. It's not like I have to blog. It's not like anything major happened to write about. . . . . .and there's the crux of it. See, now that I started this teaching/writing blog thing, I realize throughout my day there are moments when I think I could blog about that tonight. There are times during the day when I think Hmmm, maybe I could figure out my thinking about this by "talking" it through in writing. And the fact that I didn't want to write? It probably meant that I should. Why? Because how many times will I have a student in my classroom who doesn't want to write? Spoiler alert: Every. Single. Day. So many times my students probably feel like I do tonight. They're tired. They don't want to write. They have other things on their mind. They don't feel great. They don't have any idea what to write about because nothing happened. And there it is again. That crux thing. If I can't figure out what to write about when I don't have anything to write about, how will I ever be able to help my students through the same thing?

And then I remembered that lesson on small moments and how easily they can be made into something to write about. So I opened up my blogger window and started to write. Because I know I need to model for my students. And I bet I'll come back to this post sometime as an example of what happens when you just start writing even if you think you have nothing to write about. And you know what? This post kind of wrote itself as I worked through my thinking. I was going to talk about how much better I got to know my students through the questionnaire (what a great use of testing time for me!) and that I have a book recommendation for each of my new students jotted down and ready to go. I was also thinking I could share with you the most joyful moment of my day - it was when...oh, wait, maybe I'll save that seed to write about another day when I feel like I have no idea what to write about because, you know what? Somehow in writing about why I didn't want to write today, I have a blog post written.

Lesson of the day:

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Best First Day of School Yet

Today was the first day of school. It was my 9th first day of school as a teacher, and it was the best one yet. This was the first year that I didn't feel nervous the night before (which I did think was weird - I was actually a bit worried about that). I felt as ready as I could be (I had even blogged about it, which come to think of it might be part of the reason I felt calmer...hmmm, maybe there really is something to this writing thing). I was excited to see my students again - I had missed them. I read six picture books last night before going to bed (taking my total for the summer to 92!). I set my alarm nice and early so I wouldn't feel rushed in the morning. I laid out my clothes and shoes. I went to sleep (we won't talk about the three times I woke up throughout the night - this seems to be a common thing with teachers on this big night). I was still excited, and not nervous, when I woke up and got ready this morning. I had a feeling it was going to be a great day...and it was.

What did we do today? We talked books. We looked at the classroom library setup. We saw how Booksource's Classroom Organizer works. We chose our first books of the year to check out. We started reading. We got cool WONDER-themed bookmarks reminding us to "choose to be a little kinder than is necessary." We saw the awesome floor cushions and poufs that are the newest addition to the classroom (with more to come since they were such a hit, we'll need enough for everyone to have a pouf). We shared picture book read alouds (THE STORY OF FISH & SNAIL and BOY + BOT). We responded to those stories individually and then thought about the common themes and why they might have been chosen specifically for today. We started (or in the case of the 8th graders, continued) to become a community of readers in our classroom.
I needed a place to collect the students' jots of their thoughts responding to the read aloud books, so on-the-spot decided to have them stick them on the back cover. They loved it (and it worked so well)!
There is definitely something to this looping thing. Knowing that with my 8th graders we could just pick up where we left off and didn't have to do any of the get-to-know-you stuff was great. Being in a small school where the 6th-8th grades are on the second floor, so I knew all of the incoming 7th graders by face, and most by name, made for a smoother transition into the year with a new group of students. By the end of the day I was just so happy to have my middle schoolers to talk books with again. This community is what it's all about...because if it starts with that, learning will be the inevitable end result. We have lots of books to share, read aloud, and discuss. We have lots to write about.  I can't wait to see what the next 179 days brings.

Monday, September 2, 2013

As Ready As It's Going To Be

As I worked diligently in my classroom last week (for the hours I wasn't in meetings or retreating with the 8th graders) I started off my year overwhelmed yet again by my to-do list. Last year I got hired late in the summer, so some things were never fully unpacked and organized how I'd really like them, and at the end of the school year, I ran out of time and put things in closets thinking I can do it in August. Well, August has come and gone, and it's still not fully done. I was in my room on Saturday until the last minute possible. I left knowing that anything on my list that was computer work would be done this weekend at home and thinking Well, it's as ready as it's going to be. Then I tweeted my thoughts and got quite the response, and once again I was reminded of why it's so helpful to know I'm not alone.

I spent time in June reflecting on the year and considering student feedback and inspiration from edufriends' classrooms, and decided to change from desks to tables in my room - meaning I had to find enough in the building and rearrange computer tables in my room to make it happen. So, admittedly, there was some extra setup to be done this year. After a year in at this new school, I had a better idea of what to do with some bulletin boards, and curriculum prep, and we have PBIS implementation happening, and ideas I had from seeing things around the internet this summer, and it's my first time looping with a group (half of my students will be the ones I had for 7th grade now in 8th grade, and the other half will be the new 7th graders who I know a little bit from seeing them in around school in 6th grade). I'm exhausted just thinking about all of that. But you know what? I'm also invigorated. I love teaching. I love my students. I love thinking about how to set up a learning environment that will be comfortable, welcoming, inspiring, and give everyone in the room what they need. But at the same there any other job where one has to completely pack up everything in a room at the end of the year, then unpack it all again to start the new year? On the one hand I find it tiring and tedious at times, but as I stood on the side looking at my room rearranging in my head figuring out my vision for the year, I also realized what a unique opportunity it provides for teachers to reimagine and improve the environment each and every year. It needs to change a little for those students who are returning and to make adjustments for changing needs. And whatever wasn't completely finished off my list is nothing that can't be finished in the first week. It's nothing that will really affect the environment that much the first few days. It's as ready as it's going to be (because I can't get back in until the first day) it just needs students. I am definitely ready for Tuesday.

A few pictures as I worked (I didn't take any as I left because I had to get out before the doors were locked!)
The last day of class in June, I had my 7th graders write Words of Wisdom for the incoming 7th graders. Instant beginning-of-year bulletin board decoration and insight to help the new students be successful. Hoping it also builds community between the two grade levels. Plus it gives me something to display on boring cabinet doors near the door.
Bookmarks (inspired by Pinterest!) I will be giving each student the first day of school. Both grade levels had WONDER read aloud to them last year, so I'm hoping this will be a nice reminder for our learning community to start the year.
I've seen the "Be" bulletin board idea on Pinterest & wanted to incorporate it into my culture and identity board in my classroom where the school's Core Values are displayed. Instead of me just adding all of the "Be" words around it, I'm going to have students create their own at the start of the year so it becomes a student-created display and reminder for our community.
I can't have a blank "This year Mrs. Heise has read __ novels" window to start the year, & I wanted to share what I read over the summer, so I made a quick display of my summer reading novels. I was going to include all the pictures books, too, but since I read over 90, I didn't have time/space to add them. I did add a handwritten line sharing the number of picture books I read though.
At the end of the school year, when my students created their # of books read signs for pictures, I collected them back when they were done (unless one really, really wanted to keep theirs), so that I could display them to start this school year. Hoping it inspires my students to reach for a goal, and shows how we celebrate reading, and even if they don't meet the 40 book challenge goal it's ok. I also wanted to promote that message that In middle school, we are readers, since my school is K-8, and most kids walk by this board at some point going to specials classes. (Luckily, I had a student helper for a few hours one day, and he took care of putting this entire board up for me.) 
One final board I did, which I don't have pictures of, is a "These are a few of our favorite books" hallway board by the 6th-8th grade lockers. I made a sign myself that says "Mrs. Heise loved:" and have a couple of book covers of my favorite books to recommend right now. I'm going to have each student make their own sign to start the year, and then it will be an interactive board throughout the year that they can change or add to as they have a new book to recommend. Will promote reading throughout the building and serve as a way to share book recommendations student to student outside of our classroom.

How have you set up your classroom this year?