Saturday, October 23

The Funeral of Mr. Careless

So, I was feeling frustrated.  My class, who I love dearly and know well (we were together for third grade and “looped” and I have them for fourth grade) we’re making the most careless errors in all areas.  It seems as if this monster had taken over our classroom. 

One of my strengths as a teacher is personal reflection.  I monitor my teaching daily.  Did that lesson work?  Did I move to quickly?  Did I activate their prior knowledge?  Did I meet my goals?  What could I have done that would have been more thorough?  I’m my own worst critic, but I constantly strive to improve.  However, this “careless thing” that was happening was growing and growing. 

I nagged.  I pleaded.  I begged.  Nothing was working.  My students know that my philosophy is quality, not quantity.  If a student can’t finish an assignment, I evaluate why and what happened.  I’m the teacher at our school who will NEVER keep a student in from recess.  It makes my skin crawl for adults to expect a child to go the entire day without a break.  Imagine losing your prep periods and not having a break!  (Sorry, but this is a hot button for me.)  So, why were my students making so many careless errors?  I know I wasn’t asking them to work too quickly.

Next, I did error analysis.  The types of errors were copying the problem wrong in math.  The errors in written work were careless spelling errors.  Homework errors were from not reading the homework log.  All of these were preventable.  They were not related to learning concepts.  Something needed to change.  Without thinking, Mr. Careless was created.

Some of my best and most creative ideas come spontaneously.  I could never have planned for this.  During one of my rants about carelessness, (Yes, I am very dramatic in the classroom) I told the students that Mr. Careless had moved in and he wasn’t welcome.  For a day or so, each time I returned work, I talked about how powerful Mr. Careless was and that we had to “kick him to the curb.”  Well, imagine what happened next!  I said he had to die.  I didn’t plan on saying it; it just slipped out. 

Death is a scary topic.  To cover the moment, (and the potential flood of emails from parents) I said we needed a funeral for Mr. Careless.  We needed to say good bye and make sure he never came back.  An idea was born.  We planned a funeral.

Our funeral would be on Monday in order to properly prepare and reflect on why Mr. Careless had to be buried.  The students wrote good bye letters that listed the reasons he had to go and supported their thinking through examples.  They described their feelings – some students were really angry about Mr. Careless.  Next, we planned the food menu (every good funeral has a good selection of food) created his tombstone and practiced our fluency with friends to prepare for the eulogies.  Of course, we were going to make a movie!

The day of the funeral arrived and the students loved the flowers and candles.  Each one read their good bye letter to Mr. Careless and placed it in the “casket.”  (We painted a shoe box.)  We worked on being appropriately sad, but the giggles took over.  We had a special invited guest (the principal) who attended and paid their respects.  Their favorite part was holding the tissues and pretending to cry.  (I love that they mimic my dramatic tendencies.)  It was a great funeral.

The good news is the parents loved the idea and I was flooded with supportive emails.  Since the funeral, there has been an improvement in avoiding careless errors.  If someone has a careless error, we laugh about Mr. Careless haunting us.  Admittedly, careless errors have not disappeared, but we created a very special memory and had a blast.  I also turned it into a multi-paragraph writing assignment. Most importantly, I modeled for the students that quality work is important in a very fun way.

Wednesday, October 6

A Moment of Grace at Lunch

At my school, we eat lunch with the students.  Obviously, this requirement has its pros and cons.  I don’t get to share with my colleagues over a meal, but I do get to eaves drop on some interesting student conversations.  It is amazing what a child will share over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Yesterday the conversation took my breath away.  I had to use every ounce of self-control not to participate and just keep listening.  At first, I wasn’t even sure I was actually hearing what I thought I was hearing!  The students were discussing  reading strategies!  Yes, they were actually discussing the reading strategies they are taught in Reading Workshop.

The teacher I am mentoring is using many of my Reading Workshop techniques.  It has been a joyful experience sharing with her the passion I feel for literacy and she has eagerly embraced the philosophy of Reading Workshop.  We both have our “Metagcognition” umbrellas hanging in our classrooms.  She is busy introducing the strategies to her third grade students during the first six weeks of school and I am busy reviewing them with my fourth graders.  We both refer to this visual cue throughout our teaching days.  (We hang an umbrella in the room with “Metacognition” on the top and all of the reading strategies hang below to represent how we “think about thinking.”)

During lunch, some third graders joined my fourth graders and I noticed they were pointing to the umbrella hanging over their heads.  They were sharing with each other what strategy they worked on during their mini-lessons that morning.  Then, they began to share which strategy was their favorite and why it was their favorite.   Not only were they saying things such as, “I like visualizing.”  They were explaining the reasons to each other.  For example, “I like how creative I get to be with my own visualizations.”  I also over heard this one, “I like text-to-text connections because I think of the bridge and bring my thinking together.”  Can you believe it? 

This continued for a good fifteen minutes with a group of students.  Now, imagine me not jumping into the conversation.  Imagine the restraint it took for me to observe and not try to make this into a teachable moment.  I wanted to jump up and down with enthusiasm for not only were they stating favorites, but they were explaining why a strategy was their favorite.  I was so in awe of them, but my instinct was not to interfere.  If this discussion happened naturally, it didn’t need me.  I was so afraid I would make them self-conscious.  I kept my mouth shut and tweeted it on twitter instead.  (I knew a blog was coming!)

This was a magical moment for me.  It was a moment of grace.  Listening to my students discuss not only what they learned, but how they felt about it not only made my day, but further inspires me.  Most importantly, maybe, just maybe, they will keep this passion for thinking about thinking and keep on reading well after I’ve stopped eaves dropping.

For me, this is everything.