Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Lost and Found

I have been looking for an important object in my house for a few weeks now.  The search for a special napkin ring nags at me at strange hours of the day and often times interferes with my ability to think.  I fear sharing these thoughts with others because it really seems such a silly thing to fret over.  But it’s not really the missing object, rather, it is the memories and the sentiment the object holds. It’s the table set with a special ring for each person marking their place at the family table.  It’s the countless dinners prepared and eaten together.  It’s the person that carefully slipped the ring off the napkin and shared a meal with us all.  Yes, that napkin ring is important.  What truly amazes me about the missing napkin ring is the amount of time spent thinking about where I could have lost it.  This napkin ring has truly interfered with my thought processing.  It makes me understand the connection between social-emotional concerns and learning.  How can my loss of an item halt my learning and thinking?  How do I move forward and help loosen that block? I fortunately have choices. I can simply buy an identical napkin ring and pretend it is the original and move on, or I can choose to let go.  
Some of our children come to school missing more than a napkin ring.  When our children come to writing (or school for that matter) how do they cope when there is a lost item, or other social emotional block?  How do they let go of their missing things and move on? What choices can they make to move forward?  
I don't think I have real answers to these questions, but as I think about how my simple napkin ring caused me to lose my focus, I have become even more sympathetic to those children with much more important items lost in their lives.


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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Creeping Towards a Goal: Teaching Lessons from My Granddaughter

Every Tuesday I join the community of writers at The Two Writing Teachers page where I post my Slice of Life story.  Thank you for offering me a forum to guide me and help me to hone my writing skills.



Creeping Towards a Goal: Teaching Lessons from My Granddaughter

This weekend I was doubly blessed to see both grand-babies and sit back in awe over how quickly they are developing their personalities. And as they grow into themselves, I am discovering that they are helping me think about teaching and learning in new and different ways.  
Sunday I was watching my granddaughter enjoy a little tummy time on my living room floor in hopes we could see her make movements towards crawling.  We placed a book just out of reach of her grasp and watched and waited. She stretched her long arms but she couldn't quite reach the book. This grandma wanted to push the book closer to her long fingers, but her mama wanted her to try for one more minute.  Her attempts and reaches got her ever so close to touching the corner of the cover and her grunts and fusses became louder. I wondered whether she had reached her point of frustration yet and whether this would propel her more or turn her off. When do we give that little push towards the next step? These thoughts were churning in my head when my daughter in law patiently edged the book closer to her and my granddaughter responded by reaching further, touching the book but not quite getting to her goal and still no leg or knee action. Finally, her mom placed her hands behind her feet and pushed her legs forward to give her the sense of forward movement.  At last, she reached the book and the smile on her face showed pride in her accomplishment.  
I paused to reflect on the steps we took to move her towards her goal without frustrating her: pushing the book closer, then closer still so that she could just barely touch the book and finally pushing against her feet to help propel her forward, tiny scaffolds to guide her towards success.  I likened these baby steps to what we do in the classroom when our students encounter trouble. We see a child approach a new skill with a little bit of frustration.  We want to swoop in and take over the task for the child, hand him/her the book so to speak. That is the easy way.  But we need patience and we need to take baby steps towards the child’s success.  So instead we inch the book closer with lean prompts like: What’s wrong?  What should you do next?  What have you tried and what else could you use? When those prompts don’t work we lean in a little closer and ask if s/he has any charts to look to for help. And finally we might place a little pressure on the feet and nod towards a wall where the strategy chart is hung. We take these slow and calculated steps towards the goal, gently guiding the child and making sure they are doing most of the work for that is when the learning takes place!

I know that my granddaughter will be crawling in no time.  Just like I know our students will master that strategy in no time. In both cases, we need to be patient and slow down by offering lean prompts that give our students every opportunity to crawl towards their goal on their own!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Time to Make the Donuts: Playing with How To’s

Every Tuesday I get to join the community of writing "slicers" on a blog hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I am grateful for this community of supporters.

Time to Make the Donuts: Playing with How To’s

My niece's baby shower brunch was last weekend and I offered to make homemade donuts. I have an old time favorite recipe from my mom that I like to use so I proceeded to make them.  As I was cooking the donuts I heard my mom whispering little tips to me.  Since I am relatively new to living a writerly life, I started thinking about how those tips would look in a how to text so I decided to have a go at it.

How to make Donuts:

You Need:


Donut batter (made from an old recipe)
Cooking Oil
Heavy pan
Candy Thermometer
Paper bag filled with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg


First fill a heavy pot half-full with cooking oil and heat to 375 degrees
While the oil is heating up, make the donut batter according to the recipe
Using two spoons, drop a spoonful of batter into hot oil
Remove the donuts from the oil and place immediately into sugar mix
Serve warm


Tips from my mom:
Do not flip the donuts over in the oil. They will flip themselves when they are done on that side.
Use a slotted spoon to remove cooked donuts from oil.
A paper bag for the sugar mix helps absorb the hot oil making the donuts less greasy.
These donuts taste best hot, so eat immediately.

If there are any leftover donuts, heat them up in a toaster oven.



When I started envisioning this what this "how to" would look like on the page, I imagined creating a 6 page book, one page listing the ingredients and the other 5 pages for each step.  I humorously thought it could be cute to draw my mom speaking to me from a little angelic cloud at the top of the page whispering the tips to me at the appropriate times. 

What a fun experiment this was!  Now that I have had a chance to play with this genre a little, I appreciate "how to's" so much more!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Poetry ala Georgia Heard’s Heart Map

I picked up Georgia Heard's Heart Map book at a conference a few weeks ago and opened the pages to read: “Heart mapping opens the door to literacy for all writers - including reluctant, struggling, and blocked writers.” (Heart Maps p. 6)  My mind instantly went to a very reticent student that froze during any written task.  I had to buy this book and read more.  
Upon returning to school I immediately shared the heart map book with a colleague in hopes we could reach that reluctant writer.  She was more than interested in collaboratively planning a lesson.  The class was just starting a mini poetry unit the following week so we decided to introduce heart maps to her class as a way to inspire nature list poems with her first graders.  Here’s how it went:
  1. Share a nature walk through a picture slide show.  
    1. Share pictures
    2. Point out interesting features
    3. Remark on feelings throughout


  2. Project the related heart map
    1. X marks the spot - beginning of walk
    2. Discuss how map contains drawings and words
    3. Make note of what’s happening in the heart
  3. Take class nature walk - in rain
    1. Discuss what we see
    2. Hear
    3. Feel - what's happening in the heart
  4. Class creates heart map
    1. X marks the spot
    2. Add drawings
    3. Words
    4. Feelings
  5. Use prompt:  I opened my eyes and what did I see… (as suggested in book)
    1. Share my poem
    2. Starting at X - if they so choose
    3. Encourage describing words with feelings
    4. Illustrate


We were both amazed at the success of their first poetry writing of the year.  Most children were able to put pencil to paper quickly to write their first poem of the year in a carefree manner.  My reticent friend produced a nice heart map of our nature walk, but couldn’t transfer his thoughts to the poetry paper. I was able to take steps towards conversing with him about his map, and judge that was the first step towards building a trusting relationship. After all writing makes one vulnerable and you have to trust your audience.  



Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting the Slice of Life blog area each Tuesday. Through this site I learn and grow from writers across the continent.