Wednesday, July 28

The Shyest Student is now "Loud and Proud"

This morning when I checked email I found this…

Hi Mrs. E.!  I hope you are having a fun summer.  Mine has been lots of fun so far.  I am at camp with all of my friends.  I bought a few Carol Marsh books. They are so good.  Check out the program my library is doing this summer.  I get to enter in a raffle every time I read for 6 hours.  The prizes are really cool.  I hope I win one. 

At first glance, it may appear to be a chatty little piece of correspondence, but it is so much more.  This is written by a student going into fourth grade. She was in my class last year and will be my student again in the fall due to looping.  She is extraordinary in many ways.

To begin with, she may be the shyest student I have ever seen.  For many years at our school, she did not even speak!  Eventually, she began to use a thumbs up or thumbs down to communicate, and with patience, began to speak in a whisper in her classrooms.  I was worried when I found out she would be in my class.  I have an “over –the-top” personality and I was concerned my enthusiasm and energy would intimidate her.

When she entered my classroom for our traditional “Hello Day,” she smiled at me, but would not move from behind her dad. I tried to be incredibly sensitive and not ask her anything but yes or no questions. 

As we moved through the fall, she became more and more comfortable with me.  She even began to participate and slowly revealed the most amazing sense of humor.  This kid was funny!  Granted there were times when I had to lip-read in order to figure out what she was saying, but each day we worked on speaking “loud and proud!” 

Not only did I discover how funny she was, but I uncovered an amazing intelligence.  She totally embraced the Reader’s Workshop approach and could not read enough books.  I had trouble keeping up with her.  Our one-on-one conferences were stimulating and invigorating.  Her parents could not believe how much she was reading and asking for books.  At home, she created a giant poster board that reflected all of the reading strategies I was teaching her.  She and her parents made a special trip to bring it to me.  She included verbatim many phrases I use. This wasn't an assignment; she did it on her own.

Our journey together was rewarding for me because I learned to adjust my teaching style and approach to help a student.  I didn’t change who I was (like I could ever be a soft-spoken, slow moving, graceful gal), but I learned to modify and recognize what a student needed to help her succeed.

I’m proud of both of us for the growth we showed last year.  I can’t wait to see what we learn this year.  

Her email was loud and proud!

Friday, July 23

Don't Be Afraid to Fly Solo to #ntcamp

I am a writer for, which gives me another venue where I can share my passion for learning and teaching.  I'm not allowed to include my opinions or use personal pronouns, so I hop over here to my blog to share what I think!  

I posted an article about #edcamp and #ntcamp where I described my experience and listed reasons for attending.  It was informative, and I hope, expressed the enthusiasm I feel. 

Many of you who follow my blog know how passionate I am about learning and teaching.  When I was frustrated and considered leaving teaching, I found Twitter.  It was the medicine my teaching heart needed.  This led to blogging and my attending #edcamp Philly.

When I first heard about #edcamp Philly,  I asked around and only one of my teacher friends wanted to attend.  She shares my passion for learning and is a dedicated teacher.  On the drive home it seemed as if we were both talking at the same time because we had so much to share.  We had trouble organizing our thoughts due to the excitement and awe of what we experienced. 

This summer I began to see the tweets for #ntcamp.  I couldn’t believe another un-conference was within driving distance.  I began to ask fellow educators if they were interested.  (The friend who went with me to #edcamp was away for the summer.)  The responses varied:

 “How many Act 48 credits does it provide?”
 “Sorry, not thinking about teaching this summer”
“Uh…. I’ll get back to you.”
“Seriously, Nancy.  Dial down a notch.”

No one was interested – and I’m a pretty persuasive gal.

Even though I was not planning to attend, I kept the #ntcamp column on my Tweetdeck and I kept reading the tweets.  Then, I began to feel like I did when I was reading the tweets from ISTE in Denver.  I wasn’t able to attend this conference for teachers and technology and reading the tweets made me feel as if I were missing the most remarkable event ever.  Was I crazy?  Then I read:

 @geraldaungst: Don't wake up next Sunday thinking, "Boy I wish I went to #ntcamp!" Prevent regrets by signing up now:

That was it!  I signed up for #ntcamp.  I made a promise after #edcamp Philly to take advantage of every learning opportunity.  I would not let myself be lazy about learning.  I knew I’d regret it on Sunday if I missed this.

So, even though no one wanted to go with me, I’m flying solo.  If you are reading this and do not have anyone who wants to go with you, come anyway!  Look for me!  Don’t be afraid to walk in alone.  Be brave in knowing that across the threshold are the kindest, most welcoming, most innovative, passionate educators you will ever meet.  

Maybe we can do lunch and discuss the magic that is an un-conference.

Friday, July 16

Validation through #elemchat

The topic on last night’s #elemchat on Twitter was: Differentiated Instruction: models, strategies, techniques and tools to deliver 'just right' learning.  Quite a mouthful!  Quite an experience!

If you haven’t had a chance to participate or even “lurk” on Twitter during a “chat,” it is an invigorating experience.  Information (the tweets) happens fast and furiously.  The best way to get the most out of the experience is to utilize a tool such as Tweetdeck or Tweetgrid.  These tools allow you to set up a “column” where you only see the #elemchat tweets.  Furthermore, you can easily review the entire chat to read any tweets you missed.  It happens that fast.

Last night’s discussion was inspiring.  If you missed it, you can read the transcript.  There was so much information, thoughts, and ideas that you came away breathless, yet filled with adrenalin.  Could you imagine if participating and observing Twitter chats were mandatory?  That might shake things up a bit!

Along with new ideas and new ways to look at differentiating instruction, I came away with something just as important.  Validation! 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this secret.  After nodding and agreeing to follow prescriptions that were mandated, I would close my classroom door and differentiate.  If anyone were to visit my room, it would appear as if I was very busy working with students using the required materials.  I became very adept at “setting the stage.”  As time passed, and differentiated instruction became more popular, I spoke up more.  I begged, pleaded, modeled, and brought forth all of my found research and proof to convince others!  No luck. 

Unfortunately, many teachers are leery (afraid?) of change.  They seem to find security in the “I followed the prescription, so it can’t be my fault if the students don’t succeed” defense.   They are comfortable teaching in the manner in which they were taught.

Last night, while I had always suspected there were kindred spirits out there, I found a plethora of educators committed to differentiated instruction. 

I came away from #elemchat last night feeling as if I found a soft spot to land; a home.  The passion that these excellent educators bring to their classrooms was evident through their tweets.  Their willingness to share and support one another – mostly strangers, was given freely with no expectation.  Everyone learned and gained. 

Validation means to support the truth. 

Thanks, #elemchat!

Sunday, July 11

Preparing teachers: learn to unlearn later?

I am a member of a fantastic email group based on the book, Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene and Susan Zimmermann.  Through this group, I find support for my passion for reading workshop.  The discussions are thought provoking, invigorating and most importantly, dedicated to “how to model and explicitly teach the strategies students need to become more proficient readers.”

Even though I may not always have time to post or participate as much as I would like, I consistently “lurk” and never miss reading the emails that I receive.  Currently, the group is discussing Donalyn Miller’s book, The Book Whisperer.  Members are responding to questions regarding the first chapter.  The passion in which the members are responding and reflecting on their early teaching experiences is enlightening.  Many began with basals and through hard fought battles, found ways to use the philosophy of Ellin Keene, Susan Zimmermann and Donayln Miller.

Then, I read this…

“To play devil's advocate, not all teachers come to the profession prepared to teach.  Put a basal in the hands of a less seasoned teacher and perhaps you'll have a chance at good instruction.   The more seasoned teachers do not need it of course.  I think this all speaks to the level of preparedness our teachers are coming out of university with.”

So, I have a few thoughts about this…

One: It frustrates me when people say “play devil’s advocate” as a caveat for excusing their opinion.  Just say what you think.  It makes for a weak argument to begin with this overused cliché.  

Two: I know that all of us in our rush to respond will make grammatical errors, but seriously, ending with a preposition also bothers me and weakens the argument. 

Three:  (This is my big one!)  I sent my children to a Montessori nursery school because I embrace the philosophy of “follow the child.”  Moreover, I believe children should learn something in the manner in which it works in the real world.  For example, my children learned how to hang their coats on hangers, not hooks.  They learned to pour water from a pitcher (even though it was messy more than once), use utensils properly and take responsibility for their environment.  The foundation they received set the precedent for future learning.  They didn’t have to learn and then unlearn later. 

When I hear that fellow educators think that a teacher should learn how to teach reading by first using a basal, well… let’s just say that I had a visceral reaction. This is the antithesis of all I believe.  Why would we teach them the wrong way to then have to re-teach them the right way? 
Furthermore, the teachers with whom I work will not put down the basal because they are afraid of change.  This is the way they were first taught to teach.  The teacher’s guide is like a security blanket.  Also, they see the amount of work I do rather than giving multiple choice tests. They are not comfortable seeing my students spread out all over the room: under tables and desks, reclining on the floor, propped up, etc.  It appears chaotic and can be like an obstacle course.  Along with this, my students meet with me daily in small groups or one-on-one where we discuss what they read along with reflecting their comprehension in journals. 

Breathe, Nancy!  This is a hot button for me. 

Once I re-read the comment and ignored the preposition, I realized that the writer had a valid point at the end.  Maybe we should address how we are preparing our teachers.  I am scheduled to have a student teacher this fall.  She was my observer for most of last spring, and fortunately for both of us, she is passionate about reading workshop!  I will teach her the right way the first time!


Thursday, July 8

Community of Teachers - Check out #elemchat

What a week…Three opportunities.

Early this week I received the news that I missed an opportunity by days.  This opportunity won’t come along again and I was really disappointed.  Then, another opportunity came my way and I wasn’t interested.  Finally, the third opportunity occurred and I took it.  This got me thinking about timing.

I’ve been reflecting on my teaching career and the various choices that I’ve made.  I’ve been examining patterns and the one consistent theme for me, regardless of the venue, has remained true without wavering.  My teaching theme is enthusiasm.  If I’m not excited about what I’m doing, I’m unhappy.

Granted this seems simplistic in words but in practice it means everything.  From my first backyard classroom to my first public school job to my head of school job to my current small private school job as teacher and reading specialist, I’ve remained committed to my passion for teaching.  My enthusiasm for learning with my students is not only who I am; it is why I teach. 

All teachers have experienced frustration.  Each of us has run into the brick wall called outdated practices.  We work with people who continue to do the same lesson plans for decades.  There are some administrators who seem out of touch with trends or are uninterested or unavailable to listen to our new ideas.  (Sometimes just unavailable.)  It can be lonely when you are a square peg that doesn’t fit in a round hole.
Conversely, we meet other educators that are so joyful it is contagious.  We attend new and exciting events called “un-conferences” where innovative ideas abound.  We join on–line teacher groups where support and advice are freely shared.  There are days so filled with excitement and joy that we are close to bursting!

Tonight I will participate in #elemchat.  Tania Ash (@tcash) started the idea and it has grown and grown.  We’re even fortunate enough to have @suzieboss from as our moderator.   (I want to brag that they chose my topic: Project Based Learning.)  Here is another opportunity for educators to share for no other reason but they chose to do so – on their own time.  How can anyone not "get" Twitter and all it provides?  (Another topic for another blog?)

So, while I was sad for a few days about the missed opportunity, I’ve rebounded and I am getting ready for the next one.  Do other professions continually support one another the way teachers do? 

The community of teachers with whom I engage are this cheering section that I hear in my heart that keeps me focused on what matters.