June 27, 2014

Who Would've Thought

I've undertaken a lot this summer.  The largest being a month long commitment to writing.  I was graciously asked to apply to, and then accepted, into North Star of Texas Writing Project's Summer Institute.  My co-ninja, Kelly, has been a part of NSTWP for years now and she has been after me for at least as long to accept writing as "good and not evil".  I was positive that it was just not part of who I was.  But it happened, she was finally able to brainwash me into feeling the need to go and become a part of this Writing Project.

I went.
Dragging my hypothetical feet like an insolent brat.
I complained most of the first week, or maybe it was two weeks.
So don't tell her that I am actually enjoying it.  I knew I would learn a lot, but I never in my wildest ideas thought I would end up thinking like a writer. I am the READING NINJA for Pete's sake!

But alas, I have been cursed with now having the brain of a writer.  I can't see something odd or unusual and not think "Oh! I should write this down!" or "That comment would make a great blog post." (I am looking forward to writing about my experience this morning while at the hair salon!) Most of those will end up on my personal blog, due to my "adult" sense of humor.  No matter; the fact is, it now seems that I must keep track of everything because I might want to write about it someday. I am constantly writing intros and hooks in my head, seeing how it sounds, for days or weeks before I get it on paper.

I've been listening to David Sedaris's newest book on my iPhone as I drive the hour and a half north to get to these classes.  He writes little personal vignettes about things he's seen or noticed.  Most of them are small, but then he connects them to another event in his childhood or to when he was a young adult. I think he's hilarious, and as I was writing the other day I noticed I was modeling my writing after his. My own mentor text.  Hmmm - who knew I'd someday think like a writer?  Ok - who besides Kelly.

June 22, 2014

Reading - It Really Works

About 3 years ago my co-ninja Kelly showed me this great book she was reading; The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. It forever changed how I "do reading" in my class.
If you're not familiar with Miller's work, you should be. This is not a program or a set of lesson plans. It is a way to get students reading, willingly.  Studies abound in the benefits of reading, so why are we still falling behind as a society in this area? I think it's partially due to the fact that we have convinced ourselves that if it seems "too easy", it must not be effective.  Compared to finding a "fun" activity to teach each and every TEKS, teaching students how to choose a book and read it on their own seems too easy.  Granted, I do feel it's easier than painfully cramming TEKS piece by piece down the students' throats, but it is definitely effective.  
I began teaching using Miller's idea of free choice four years ago.  All I had to do was guide students towards my larger than usual classroom library and help them get a book.  Then I kept notes to make sure they were reading.  I took page numbers every morning and before we left for the day to make sure they were making progress, I attempted to talk to students about their book choice and how they were enjoying it.  I still offered occasional mini-lessons, but not in so much detail and without the constant assessing.  That first year, I watched their QRI data move upwards; this has continued to be the trend in my class.  
As soon as testing rolled around I became extremely nervous.  Watching other teachers make huge packets of reading passages followed by questions, I wondered if I had done the right thing.  Just because their QRI levels were going up, were they still going to be able to be successful on the state test? Did I just waste an entire year of "fun" and "enjoyable" reading?! Fortunately for everyone the year was not at all a waste.  Our reading scores on the state test were great and have continued to be top in the district ever since.  
So does just reading actually help students enjoy books as well as learn enough to pass the test?  In our classroom, yes.  Is it "easier" than planning out detailed instructions for teaching point of view and character analysis?  Absolutely. Don't get me wrong, I didn't do it "perfect" from the get-go.  I have changed how I run my reading time every year, adding one-on-one reading for my less fluent readers and changing how I keep track of students' reading progress. These are just a few of the strategies I use in my class to help every student become a better reader, but the gist of it is, reading more makes better readers.  Harder is not always better.   

June 9, 2014

Why I Teach

"He went to bed and took his book with him! I just about fell out of my chair!"
"He had his nose in that book all weekend! I've never seen him so interested in a book!"
"She came home and said she was going to read the next 2 chapters because it was her favorite chapter book ever. She has NEVER offered to read a book on her own before!"
These are just a few of the comments I've received from parents in the last few weeks.  
I had to admonish one of my kids for reading while we were working on another subject the other day. This happen to be the same child who pretended to read the first 4 weeks of school and had the potential to be "that" student.  The one who makes you want to go work at Wal-mart (not that there's anything wrong with that.) The boy that wouldn't do anything but draw all over his papers and disrupt others. Getting onto him for reading? Best day ever.
So why were these parents in such awe? What made there kids want to read? Magic fairy reading dust. And maybe some other stuff I did in class.  Whatever it was, I hope it never runs out.