Monday, February 21

The Reading Teacher becomes a Math Teacher

I am passionate about reading and more importantly, teaching reading. When I’m working with
students, time ceases to exist. I go to a magical place where that all that matters is helping a student become a great reader as well as helping them discover the joy of reading.
Oh, and I teach math, too.

This is basically how I have always viewed my teaching day. Math was something I got through so I could get to reading.

My philosophy for teaching reading is individualized. I use Reading Workshop where students choose what they read and I work with them to insure comprehension. After I do a mini lesson, I set them free to apply strategies and read! They’re good readers not only because they get a chance to read, but because they work with me one-on-one or in small groups. Also, I constantly change the dynamic so strong readers work with struggling readers and vice versa. It is a time of concentration, learning and joy.

I have never had a passion for math. Without a burning desire to teach it, my math instruction is minimal at best and the students typically learn in spite of me. Yes, I follow the teacher’s guide and pull out the manipulatives. I do everything the math teacher’s guide says to do, but it is dry and lacks imagination or any of my personality. When I reflect on who I am as a teacher, I see a plethora of amazing reading lessons that are alive, creative and memorable. I never see math – ever.
So, I thought I should change this. Don’t good teachers look for ways to improve? Maybe it was time to look at math.

When I think about my philosophy of teaching reading, one word jumps out! Individualized! Why couldn’t I do this with math? How would I do it? Could I do it? When I hit long division in the text book, I realized it was time for a change. It seemed to be a pivotal moment.

It all fell into place for me. There was the group that easily and seamlessly grasped concepts and needed a much faster pace. These were the students who effortlessly applied the skills to problem solving. They were bored.

Next, there was the group in the middle. These were the students who moved at a consistent pace and only occasionally struggled.

Finally, there were the students that were overwhelmed and confused and needed more instruction, but were usually embarrassed to need help so much of the time.

It was time for a change. To implement grouping and individualized instruction, I used what is After mini lessons, the students have “to do” lists and choose the order in which they will complete tasks. During this time, I pull kids to work with me. No one ever sits and waits; they know what to move onto if I’m busy or they are finished.

During this time, I started pulling kids and working with them in math. They were a bit surprised, but easily adapted to whatever I told them we would work on together. By the end of a week, the students were accustomed to me pulling them to work on both reading and math.

I was individualizing both reading and math. Granted, the students figured out that some of the students were accelerating in math, but they also know the rule in our room. MYOB! Mind your own business. Everyone learns at his or her own pace and we celebrate each other’s milestones.

While working with my struggling math students, I noticed they asked more questions and displayed less stress. They felt safe because we were working together without feeling intimidated by the other students. We also laughed and smiled more. Math was fun. I was finding my way to creativity because I put down the darn teacher’s guide!

Lately, we find ourselves exclaiming more and more, “Where did the time go? The morning is over already?” Our daily “to do” list includes our math work so that the students who can accomplish tasks easily, finish and move on – no more waiting or boredom. The other students are feeling more comfortable without the pressure of a “set” math period and know I will work with them for longer periods of time, if that is what they need.

Does it always go well? Nope! I have days where I feel overwhelmed by juggling it all, but in the end, I know it is best for my students. Will I ever love math the way I love reading? It is a good bet that I won’t, but the students deserve the same level of commitment from me.
Now, when I think of who I am as a teacher, I’m a math teacher, too.

Friday, February 11

One year later... What I learned from blogging

I was greeted this morning by a Google reminder that said it was one year ago that I started blogging. It is amazing how quickly a year can pass. More importantly, I'm in awe of how much I learned in one year.

I re-read my very first blog and I remember the enthusiasm and nervousness I felt the first time I hit the "Publish Post" button. One year later, I still get excited to hit that button. The moment is filled with: Will people understand? Will it be worthwhile? Am I making a difference? Did I spell check enough?

Admittedly, many of my first blogs were cringe worthy. Some of them reminded me of bad fashion choices in the eighties... You know that feeling you get when you look back at old photographs and say, "What was I thinking?" I tried a little too hard to be amusing and I hadn't really found my voice. As I tell my students, writing is a process that develops over time. Be real! Let your writing show who you are! I didn't always do this.

Some of my blogs were popular and the comments and re-tweets generated an addictive adrenalin rush. I couldn't believe the time people spent writing comments. It became a priority to me that I return the favor. I've made it a goal to respond to comments more efficiently. I hope I'm getting better at this.

Throughout this year, I have read and read and read other teachers’ blogs. My email subscriptions and Google reader overflow with the words and passion of educators. I read voraciously hoping to improve and learn from my cyber colleagues. Teachers share their experiences in a manner unlike any other profession. I hope I am paying it forward. I consider it an honor to read and emulate them.

When I reflect back on the past year, the most important thing I hope I accomplished was sharing how much I treasure teaching. I may stumble along the way, but I am unwavering in my passion for education and learning.

I am a teacher who loves to learn.
I can't wait to see what I learn in the next year.

Tuesday, February 8

Student Blogging Turmoil

My students fell in love with blogging. After a slow start on my part, once I implemented this new
adventure, the excitement was palpable. I will always treasure the day they discovered comments. I could barely contain them they were so excited. Now, I’m stumbling.

I’m struggling with time!
Writing happens all day long in every area of my curriculum. I even have my students write about math and how they problem solve. Why can’t I get them on the computer to blog? What am I doing wrong?

I have checked out numerous classroom blogs via and I’m in awe of how many entries some students have posted. Why aren’t my students blogging more?

I will not, under any circumstances, assign blogging for homework. I do not want the students to view it as another item to check off on their homework log. Blogging should be something that
inspires them and beckons them.

Again, what am I missing?

Maybe I am being too controlling? I work with my students one-on-one for every writing assignment. I change the color of my pen every time I meet with them and it turns into a rainbow of colors on their papers. The students enjoy the attention and encouragement, and they have learned that writing is a process. We are never “one and done.” Currently, we are working on multi-paragraph speeches that describe their hopes and dreams for their jobs, families and contributions to society. I don’t consider these blogs… but should I?

Perhaps I should just allow the students to cycle through our classroom computers and write whatever they want without me checking for proper paragraph construction, grammar and mechanics. On the other hand, I would never post a blog without proofing and editing. Plus, I have people who I have told to email me the second I make an error so I can fix it. It is a reflection of me. Shouldn’t I teach good habits from the beginning?

So, I’m in turmoil. Do I let them write whatever they want without hovering and set them free to mass produce? Do I focus on quality vs. quantity?

There must be a balance somewhere!

I would love to hear how others are managing classroom blogging.

Thursday, February 3

The Angry Boy

I’m tutoring a first grader who is struggling in school. In order to protect his privacy, I won’t reveal too much. Suffice it to say, there is a two inch binder filled with the various testing results and a cacophony of other professionals who are working with him as well. My role: improve his reading.Let’s call him Dan.

I’ve rarely seen so much paperwork on a 6 year old. I’ve sat in on a number of team meetings. His parents are supportive and passionate about providing Dan with everything he needs. Dan is one angry little boy.

Due to the number of support services that Dan receives, I work with him after school in my classroom two afternoons a week. By the time he gets to me, the poor kid is exhausted not to mention the ADHD medicine is wearing off. I’ve noticed that our sessions are inconsistent and I’ve pulled out every trick I’ve learned in 29 years. It is a challenge to say the least.

Yesterday we had a late arrival due to an ice storm. Then, the schedule was adjusted and then re-adjusted and overall, the day was chaotic. When Dan arrived for tutoring, I had a sinking feeling that it was going to be rough session. My instincts were accurate.

Dan was belligerent, uncooperative and downright mad! I’ve established a routine of tasks so he knows what to expect when he works with me. I had to do some quick thinking.

First decision: throw out the routine.
Next, I pulled out new things from my box of materials to entice him to learn/work. No success.
Second decision: stop trying so hard and wasting time. He wasn’t buying anything I was selling.
Then, I thought we would have a “talk.”
Third decision: Stop asking questions! Angry kids will shrug more and not share when you keep asking questions so stop!

Just when I was ready to throw in the towel and make the call to the parents, I had an idea. I remembered what I do when I’m frustrated – I write it down.

So Dan and I wrote a story. We called it “The Grouchy Boy.” I did all of the writing and only
provided small transition words as prompts. I would say, “Next…” or “Then…” His story unfolded. I tried to make little eye contact and kept writing everything he said. Dan described a little boy who was frustrated and tried everything to escape. The little boy in the story finds his powers and takes control of the people and events around him. By the time we finished, my arm was cramping from trying to keep up with him. Dan was laughing and talking and reading with me. I have this “habit” of re-reading and I was struggling, so Dan helped me.

Now, Dan and I have decided to turn this story into a book. We discussed adding more characters, details and illustrations. Dan stated at the end that when the book is finished, he wants to share it with ALL of his teachers. He said, “ I can’t wait to work on our book again.”

I think Dan has great ideas.
I sure learned a lot from Dan yesterday.

Tuesday, February 1

Coping with Winter Weather in the Classroom

We are having an extraordinary winter. Rather than checking emails and twitter each morning, I greet the day with the weather forecast. I've learned the difference between winter watches and winter warnings. I can scroll through a school closing list in record time. I've learned how to adjust my morning routine to include clearing off my car and still make it to school on time.

I was wondering how this winter is affecting my students.

We've had so many schedule changes. I've noticed that people seem to have a clenched jaw lately. They also seem to have their shoulders closer to their ears. Both signs of stress. It is only natural that stressed out parents and teachers create stressed out kids. Everyone is trying to cope.

I've put into place a few strategies to help my students as well as myself. First, I acknowledge the stress of it all with my students. We talk! I give them a chance to vent and share what is happening. We have ground rules for being respectful, but some of the stories they share about their parents are hysterical. Most importantly, the students get to verbalize.

Another strategy is our homework logs. We set up the entire week in advance. Along with
giving them the big picture, which provides a feeling of control, they can see the plan clearly. We write in contingent plans in case of snow/ice. This fosters responsibility and the habit of checking. When students know what is coming next, they are calmer.

During disruptions, students need reassurance. Our "team" feeling resonates in all areas. The students know that I want them to shine. They trust that I will be fair and I reassure them that we will tackle one hurdle at a time. The feeling of "we're in this together" facilitates harmony and a willingness to adjust.

Finally, we focus on the learning; not the finishing. My students know that my goal is meaningful and authentic moments and not the product. If a student arrives late due to transportation issues, I adjust the work missed. I focus on quality and not the quantity.
This pre-set expectation brings forth a student entering the classroom calmly rather than with that deer-in-the-head-lights look of "Oh, no! What did I miss? How will I catch up?" This approach guarantees a successful day, even if it is only a partial day.

As a person who prefers 70 degrees or warmer, I'm trying to be cognizant of my own stress level. Typically, if I feel stressed, the students usually feel stressed. My self-awareness seems to help during this extraordinary winter. My goal is to keep my sense of humor, be flexible and help my students cherish moments of learning.