Thursday, December 11, 2014

If You Believe It....

Ch. 14

As I was reading pg. 374, I was reminded of the cliche, “Rome wasn't built in a day,” and yet, as the author acknowledges, “Our fear makes us frenzied and impatient,” and “because the test is looming, we simultaneously look back over our shoulders to see if the education critics are closing in.” I could relate to these feelings of insecurity caused by pressure to score well on the tests. While I am not naive to the fact that this year's Common Core ELA test will be more challenging than the 5th grade writing PSSA I was responsible for preparing my students for before, I am a bit glad that the instructional responsibility no longer lies entirely on my shoulders. It also makes me sad to say that. In the past, a vast majority of my students scored proficient on the writing PSSA, but it was a very rare occasion that any 5th grader at our school earned an advanced score. While I respect and feel supported by my principal, I admit that she made her awareness of this statistic known to me on more than one occasion. I suppose that is why I appreciated the seven beliefs that Spandel urges us to cling to. Thank goodness someone believes in us!

I was most drawn to belief #3 with it’s key points supporting choice, time, resources, and real revision. Sometimes I get a bit down on myself about the amount of time a writing project takes, especially with my 4th graders, but they are really learning some important fundamentals, and honestly, it does take time. Currently, we are working on an argumentative piece where they have to use evidence from an article to support their chosen claim of whether cats or dogs make better pets. We have spent a week on the pre-writing planner. I find myself getting impatient. This chapter was just what I needed to read right now. Writing is messy and time-consuming! And, then on top of our hard work, we beat ourselves up about it. I need to stop this mental self-torment.

I also felt re-inspired and validated when I read the recommendation pg. 380 about using the book The Dot to encourage students that they all have a writer inside of them...I have and use this book with my own kids! It is a great little ditty with a powerful theme. I have found that even older kids like it!

This chapter reminded me of this letter sent home to students in the United Kingdom, which I came across over the summer. I loved it because it reminded students that the tests did not define them as unique individuals. As the administrators of this school remind their parents and students, “There are many ways of being smart.” Why aren't we doing this too?!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chapter 14 - Journal - Leonard

Bethany Leonard
Chapter 14

Students learn and succeed in different subject areas and parts of school in various and unique ways.  Creativity can be lost along the way when taking tests that are designed to examine student's achievement on content based knowledge. Also, high stress situations can cause some students to question and rethink answers that they normally would have answered correctly.  Page 374 of  our texts states, "A single assessment cannot tell us whether a student can write or whether a teacher can teach".  In the library, I try to use a variety of assessments and work choices to best accommodate all learning styles.  This is challenging for educators when it comes to the standardized tests that students are required to take every year.  It is frustrating for both the teachers and the students. I like the Roald Dahl example that shows how one student can be judged by one teacher and deemed "an illiterate member of the class" and continue on to be an extremely successful author.

Believing that all students can write is another key to teaching writing successfully.  All students are able to write, if given the proper options, connections, choices, guidance, and sometimes assistance to succeed.   A little encouragement goes a long way, just like one unkind comment can last a life time. Our book also stresses the importance of creating a safe writing atmosphere.  I always try to create a safe encouraging environment for my students so that they think of the library as a fun safe place to learn.

What I think this chapter really comes down to is believing in your students and believing in yourself as a teacher.  We are all on the same team to succeed.  Connect with your students to get to know their strengths and weaknesses as writers and as human beings.  We all became teachers to help our students succeed and provide them with the best education possible.  Don't forget why you became a teacher and get caught up in testing and grading your students.  They may not remember getting an A on their spelling test, but they will remember the activities and comments you left on their papers that spoke to them and created lasting memories.

It was great meeting everyone!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Erin Earle
Recess IS Test Effecient!!

                Test, test, test…this is all school districts seem to care about. They fret about how to improve test scores not about which students may not have had a warm place to sleep or food since they ate last at school. They also don’t seem to really care about why behavior referrals are through the roof at such a young age. It seems that they want test scores to go up but don’t really want to look at the things that are holding test scores down. One of the several issues at hand is the lack of recess or the lack of taking a break from structured academics. Administrators and school officials need to take a page from preschools and allow more free play time. Preschool administrators seem to be reading and adhering to the research that stresses the importance of free play even through the adolescent years and quite frankly, adult years. Who doesn’t benefit from a mental break? Everything is about cramming as much academics in to a school day as possible and at the expense of recess and specials (music, art, physical education, library, technology). Academics is obviously the most important aspect of the school day but is it the most efficient use of time to not allow mental play breaks. I know that when I take small breaks from work, I am much more focused on the tasks at hand.
                Those that specialize in the wellbeing of children outside of the educational realm, aka pediatricians, seem to know and understand the importance of recess. In the article “The Crucial Role of Recess in School” in Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the contributors write of how recess “affords a time to rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize.” Recess allows children to develop social skills that are not developed during structured classroom time (Crucial Role of Recess in School, 2013). Studies show that it does not matter where recess is performed, indoors or outdoors, just that it is because this break helps students to be more attentive and productive in the classroom. This is what all educators want, for academic time to be utilized well.
                Research from the Scholastic journal Instructor article, “Recess Makes Kids Smarter” also supports the continued implementation and even an increase in recess. It states that recess benefits students in the classroom by allowing them to be less fidgety and more on task, have improved memory, more focused attention, develop more brain connections, learn negotiation skills, exercise leadership, and are more physically active before and after school. Teachers are in support of all of these things and all of these things add to the overall wellbeing of children. It would stand to reason that when a child is able to make more brain connections, be less fidgety, and have more focused attention that the precious test scores that school administrators are in search of would be more attainable.
                There is concern that with the unstructured time of recess comes behavioral issues and possibility of injury. Coming from an educator standpoint both of these concerns happen at school regardless. It is safe to say that millions of students of the past have survived school-time recess to become adults. School officials should implement and enforce appropriate boundaries for recess time but allow the students and the teachers to reap the benefits of recess. The administrators will get their coveted test scores

Monday, December 1, 2014

Leonard- Chapter 13 Journal

Chapter 13 discussed a very important topic, communicating with students.  I think many teachers tend to forget the impact they can have on a student with only writing or speaking a few words or the lack there of.  Even now, I can't wait to see what a professor thought about a paper I have turned in.  Waiting for an assignment to be returned can be torture, especially if the assignment is returned late. Also, a grade with no comments at all can be equally frustrating.  With that said, I have been guilty of leaving only a few words when I have been rushed to return journals to my students.  I try not to write negative comments, but instead I will write, "come see me".  
Negative comments can stay with students for a long long time.  I can remember my 6th grade teacher being frustrated with me for not understanding how to complete a writing assignment.  Compounded with the fact that I was extremely shy and soft spoken annoyed her even more, because I did not ask for help when I should have.   Previously, she had taught my sister, who was very outgoing and honestly tended to pick things up academically faster in those days. She seemed to be rushed and finally barked out something about how I would never go to college and it didn't matter anyway.  For the rest of my life, I will never forget that experience and it is what I remember the most about that teacher.  While going for my undergrad in education, I used her as an example of what a teacher should not be like. 
The chapter also pointed out that teacher comments, especially when they are very vague, can be misunderstood. Positive comments can actually be taken in a completely negative way.  I think the example on page 354, 13.1, involving what a kindergarten student enjoyed about the school year is excellent.
I love the two minute conference idea as well as the conference topic suggestions.  Conferencing with students about their writing is definitely something I need to do more of in the library.  The two minutes conference will give me a way to do it, but I still think I may struggle.  I will not be able to conference with every student on every writing assignment, as I only see them once a week for about 40 minutes. That does include book checkout time. Peer response groups may also be another way I can go to save time, but I also must model it correctly and define the student roles clearly!

Parent involvement with reading and writing is always a good idea and I like how the chapter encourages parents to read and listen to their children.  A parent writing with their children is probably not as often practiced, but something parents should still do. Teachers can help guide these experiences by sending home good examples and suggestions for writing at home.  Maybe this could even be a topic for open house or parent teacher conference night. 

Ch. 13 Reflection

Ch. 13 Reflection


When conferring with students, Ralph Fletcher might say it best, “We must speak to our students with an honesty tempered by compassion: Our words will literally define the ways they perceive themselves as writers.”

When I read some of the negative comments students recalled being written on their papers, I literally cringed. Talk about pulling the rug out from under someone. I have students who would completely shut down if I wrote any one of those negative comments on their papers. Fortunately, I think those comments were extreme; I don’t personally know any teachers who would make such heartless remarks on a student’s piece of writing. Whew!

I believe a lot of effort has gone into training teachers to choose their words carefully, using phrases such as, “It’s ultimately your choice how you revise because this is your piece of writing, but what do you think about some of these revision ideas?” We all know that, so many times, the cliche of It’s not what you say, but how you say it holds true. Writing is very personal for our students. On page 352, I found it interesting to read the internal dialogue responses of students to specific teacher comments. On page 353, the comment, “Good feedback causes thinking” was powerful for me. 

To me, this means we don’t just tell students HOW to revise, we point them in the right direction, model some strategies, give them options to think about and choose. This technique, is more aligned, I believe with teaching students how to help themselves even when we are not with them. The ‘showing vs. telling’ way of writing also holds true for teaching writing.


In 4th and 5th grade, I find that my students often need some specific ideas about how to improve, “va-goo” (vague) comments aren't enough to stimulate growth. One of the most powerful revision tools I have come across, is asking a student permission to take a look at their hard work in front of the class. Most of my students love being in this spotlight. I can scan and import the writing onto the Promethean Board. As a class, we can develop a collective consciousness about how to respectfully praise and revise work. We can pool our thoughts together in a whole class discussion of a single student’s work. If we identify an area where we would like the student to “stretch it out” and add more detail, or maybe change the wording to assist with fluency or reorganization, the students can simultaneously attempt the same type of revision within their own piece of writing, right then and there….mini-lessons in action. 

I have to admit, I try to use this teaching technique more than one-on-one conferences because I feel that this models and reaches more of my students, also keeping more of them on task. However, I think the “two-minute” writing conference topics on pg. 356 could be very helpful in alleviating my own anxiety about establishing a meaningful purpose. Perhaps the students could be given a similar list ahead of time, choose their own purpose, and come to the conference ready to share their progress or ask questions about their self-selected topic. On pg. 368, Spandel again shows her advocacy of teaching the traits “through revision and editing practice - not through teacher correction that has no true impact on students’ skills.”


I like the idea that you can choose to focus on and grade only one or traits at a time. This reminds me of the freedom I felt when I first learned about Focus Correction Areas with Collins Writing.


I would like to improve with my own parent involvement with student writing. Once in awhile, I will ask students to take home their rough draft, my model, and the rubric to self-assess with a parent as their homework. I don’t think I do this often enough though. I would like to send home a letter to parents that contains some of the suggestions on pgs. 368-369 along with a summary of the writing traits.