Welcome to a place to share your thoughts, teaching experiences, and feelings as the new school year begins. It is my hope that this page will be a writing and sharing tool for all of us to learn and grow with our students. Poetry, excerpts from your days, humor, concerns, and celebrations of your teaching and learning will be welcomed.
SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE
If you have a suggestion for a blog post that you would like to share on this site, please EMAIL IT TO ME. I would love to hear about your teaching and/or parenting experiences when you engage the heart and mind
One of life’s hidden treasures is the innate ability to write! Whether we choose a daily journal, playing with poems, writing letters, or creating short stories, we are honoring a natural and very creative aspect of ourselves.
There is one significant problem for many of us. We lack confidence in this ability. I vividly remember the red pen marks, splattered on school papers in elementary school. My intentions are not to criticize the schools, but along with red marks there needed to be colorful purple, green, and yellow scratches praising our ideas and encouraging us to use our imaginations.
Children, much like sponges, easily absorb novel concepts and are unafraid to share their thoughts and feelings. As parents and educators, we need to seize this innocent time and assist our children in this creative blossoming! Inspired writing, much like reading, not only enhances all academic areas, but it opens up those creative channels releasing ideas and allowing the imagination to blossom.
I recently read in the newspaper about an Indianapolis school system incorporating an authentic evaluation format this fall to assess children’s writing abilities! This is a wonderful tool to enlist, but it is of no value unless children are excited about writing their experiences on paper! Educators and parents appear to promote creative
writing, but what we struggle with are test scores, teacher accountability and performance objectives. There is academic pressure at the administrative level, in the classroom, and in our homes. We have become very impatient in our endeavors to create the “desire” to learn. The creative component is swept under the carpet and ironically, the very exercise or habit of writing is stymied because we do not utilize this ability everyday. Much like the muscles we employ in physical exercise, our imaginations and self-confidence become weak and ineffective without daily use.
As a former teacher of fourth and fifth grade students, I remember the defiant and apprehensive responses expressed when I asked for a writing assignment of their choice. “I can’t think of anything!” “This idea is dumb!” “Everyone will laugh,” were a few of the most common replies. With a bit of prompting and much encouragement, the ideas would soon begin to flow. Many times, we began this creative assignment by simply sharing ideas and discussing our feelings and thoughts as a group.
Today I am still teaching but the setting and the number of students has changed! Actually, I am more of a facilitator to my 18, 16 and twelve year old. Story telling and make-believe were as much a part of our lives as meal time! When Regan was four she was always pretending and concocting a story. Thankfully, her defense mechanisms were not quite developed so her enthusiasm, innocence, and confidence in her abilities were plentiful, and even invigorating. Unfortunately, the innocence and confidence in imaginative play diminishes as school age approaches. This is developmentally appropriate, yet as parents and teachers I feel it is our responsibility to keep the enthusiasm for learning and inventive thinking alive and thriving!
We so readily encourage reading all through the school years, acknowledging the benefits and rewards! Creative writing is just as important and beneficial. Theories, philosophies, inventions, and monumentous achievements are unearthed from the inherent abilities of taking quiet moments and putting these ideas on paper! Our dreams often churn endlessly in our heads, as we tell ourselves that we don’t have the time; or the idea is too vague or I don’t know where to begin. Creative writing teaches us how to actualize our dreams and put our best effort forward. Children, who acquire these skills, not only advance academically, but they generate self-confidence as they begin to discover and uncover who they are.
How can we create the time in our schools and homes for inspired writing? How do we fit our physical exercise and meal times into our days? The question, which I ponder, is … How can we afford not to?
There are many vehicles for instilling creative writing. I would like to share a few of these activities that both parents and teachers can implement in the classroom and at home. I have divided the activities into age groups, but depending upon the maturity and life experiences of the child, many of these exercises may overlap.
- Home made stories- Verbally create your own characters, places, and their experiences by drawing the story with crayons or markers. These stories can be told aloud or placed into notebooks or sketchpads.
- Family or Group Writing- One person begins a story with a thought or sentence and the next person adds to the beginning. It becomes more challenging to remember as the story progresses.
- Changing the Story- Take a familiar story and replace the words with those of your own. My children love this game and not only do we exercise our imaginations, but also we laugh until our stomachs hurt!
- Scribble Scrabble Writing at the computer or with pen and paper
- Object Description- Take any object such as a rock and bring it to life! Describe its shape, colors, texture, and give it a name. The rock can have a story to tell all of its own.
- Name Game- Pick out your favorite name! Create a description of this person. Where are they from? Who is their family? What are their interests and hobbies? This activity can also be accomplished within a group! Each person writes a sentence when their turn approaches. The story can then be read aloud to the group.
- Cartooning- Cut out the comics or create your own. In the bubbles, use your imaginations to create conversations between the characters. This is an excellent way to study social skills and nonverbal communication.
- Color Descriptions- choose a color and list everything you can possibly think of that encompasses that color. Using your list, write a color story. (This is a personal favorite!)
- Feel Away! – We all experience many emotions throughout our day. What better way to express ourselves than to place these feelings in drawings or stories? Angry- What does this look like? What color goes with anger? What made your anger appear today? What can you do tomorrow so that the anger diminishes or is replaced by another feeling?
- Dream Weaver- What did you dream about last night? What is a dream that occurs over and over? Draw your dreams or decorate them. Maybe a bad dream wakes you in the middle of the night. Maybe it is time to write a happy ending for your dream!
- Crystal Ball- Write or draw your goals for the future! What do you want to be someday? Where will you live? Pets? Children? What will be your hobbies?
- Journals- There is nothing more gratifying and therapeutic than keeping a journal. It is your personal diary, filled with thoughts and feelings of your life experiences. It is also rewarding and fun to look back over the months and years to see how you have grown and how problems have been worked through. I believe that journaling is an activity that is fun and beneficial for the whole family. Whether you write once a day, once a week, or whenever you feel the need; a journal becomes a friend who is trustworthy and always there for us.
- Taking a character from a story and compare and contrast the ways you are alike and different? What if the time period of the story was 2010, how would the story change?
- You are off to the college of your choice. Write about your first your day, week or month. What are your classes like? What is different about college than high school? How will you make a home for yourself?
- You have been given 30 days and enough money to travel to the place of your choice? Where is it and why did you choose to go there? What does it look like, feel like? Could you make a home there? Why or why not?
- You have an opportunity to see and talk with someone that has died in your past. What would you say to them? How would your conversation be different than it was when they were alive? What questions would you ask them? How would it feel to be with this person one more time? How would this conversation affect your life today?
- You have been given a day to be with the President. How would you spend this time? What would you share with him? How would your life change from this day? Create a platform of changes you would like to see in this country? How would you present this platform? What would you do or what plans would you make to ensure these changes would take hold?
- You have a choice to become anything or anyone you want to be and do in the world. What is this career? How will you create this? Describe the goals and a plan of action for arriving at this profession.
- You have been given 3000 dollars to give to a service organization or charity of your choice? Where will you give the money and why? What is it about this organization that you feel pulled to give? How will the money be used? How will it affect the lives of those in this organization?
Lori L Desautels, Ph.D.
School of Education
– Lewis Carroll
There is no use in trying, said Alice; One can’t believe impossible things.
I dare say you haven’t had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
DAN MEYER -TEACHER EXTRAORDINAIRE
Below is the website of an incredible math teacher who truly understands the teaching and learning process.
Dan Meyer teaches secondary math but his philosophy is about so much more than equations, cold calling, and giving out techniques that still promote one path to an answer or one right solution. He strives for math reasoning, allowing the students to formulate the problem while invoking patient problem solving! It is no coincidence that I found this link and watched his video on TED . My students will have a fabulous day Saturday learning from this teacher… Enjoy!
Holly Boerner Teach For America second year teacher Reflection
October 14, 2010
As I continue to learn more about my students this year, their personalities, greatest strengths, and greatest needs, it is all reflected back to myself- my personality, my own strengths, and ultimately everything that I need to improve for their sake. I have seen drastic improvements in most of my students’ confidence levels in the past two months, which is so far what I consider to be their greatest accomplishment. My hope is that confidence will push them to sharpen their reading skills on their own, so that they are teaching themselves and not solely relying on myself and their other teachers to teach.
Aeriana is my fourth grade student who started the year at a first grade reading level. The first time I met her she told me, “Ms. Boerner, I’m just going to be honest with you and tell you that I don’t like reading.” I replied that I liked honest people the best and asked if she wanted to share more. “I’m just not good and there’s so many crazy rules like silent e’s and weird letters together.” Now she goes home and is reading multiple books every day, listening to them read to her, reading them to her grandma, and taking quizzes on them. She has moved up two levels in two months and continues to push herself. It was eight weeks into school before she ever read anything to her fourth grade teacher. The following week she read two sentences to her small group in that classroom- the other students clapped for her when she finished. In two months she isn’t where she needs to be. She isn’t in a different place in life or with an entirely new skill set. However, my hope is that the small changes that she has made in herself would transcend into the mindsets and skill sets that will allow her to truly do and be anything she wants to be later in life.
Every day that my students visit my classroom, I probably learn more than they do. I learn just how unfair many things are in our education world: most of the reasons they are so far behind their peers were never in their realm of control; for every rule they might recognize and start to apply, there are an infinite number left to learn; at the same time they are working to catch up with their peers, their peers are pushing ahead… I learn how inadequate I am as their teacher because they deserve much more than one person trying to be the best teacher for them this year… They deserve multiple teachers for every year that they have been in a school that will do everything to push themselves as teachers, push their students as learners, and push the rest of their school to do the same. That is not I at the moment, even for the one year that I have them, yet that is what they need from me.
Lunging into October, infamously known as the darkest month for teachers, I recognize that all of the downfalls and challenges in my classroom are stemming from the teacher. I know that, and I am trying to figure out how best to fix it. They need someone who can explicitly teach them phonics, who can lead their brains to thinking more critically about what they read, who can guide them to decode words independently, who can ensure that everyday they are twice the reader they were the day before. That needs to be me. I’m working on that.
Teach for America
Second Year Teacher
Reflection – October 17, 2010
With the school year already a quarter of the way through, it still amazes me how long it takes for students to settle into the year at high-need schools like mine. Even with very consistent protocol in the classroom (far more consistent than anything I offered my students at the beginning of the year last year), some students still struggle to enter the room, turn in their homework, and start working. I feel that over the years in low-performing schools, many students grow accustomed to low expectations placed on them and also become comfortable with “just showing up”. By the time they reach middle school, or even high school, their general work ethic has become so weak; reversing it is a monumental task. How do you convince a student that all of a sudden, hard work is going to pay off for them? How do you convince them that the intrinsic reward of completing a difficult task is something to strive for?
This year, with a more directed focus on standards-based instruction, I have seen more students look to give up on a concept rather than hunkering down and figuring a concept out. I realize now more than ever that my job as their teacher includes me being their coach as well. I cannot just deliver the instruction and expect them to take the wheel and drive (unfortunately). My job also includes the pushing and prodding to encourage the students to accept the challenge of learning new material, practicing it, and hopefully, mastering it. It is no small task. Relationship building plays a huge part here. Last year, I had the opportunity to work with small groups of students (albeit struggling ones) and it was a lot easier to build relationships with each one of them. This year, with larger classes, I have found it harder to make the meaningful connections with each student that are so necessary to moving them in a positive direction both emotionally and academically.
I have also found so far in my second year of teaching that I have raised my standards for what my own teaching should look like. After a year of experience, my vision for success has become clearer, but I have found it more difficult to reach that level of teaching day after day in the classroom. My planning has become more detailed, my checks for understanding more deliberate, and my expectations for student performance higher. With higher expectations for my students, I have also become less tolerant of the lackadaisical behavior that some of them continue to exhibit.
I actually had a pretty interesting reflection this past weekend at a bookstore. I saw a book titled, “Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching” by Robyn R. Jackson. Perhaps I will actually purchase and read the book as some point, but at first glance, I had to chuckle at the irony of the title. I even joked to my wife, “If I took this title to heart, I would never prepare for a single lesson!” Oftentimes, I feel that if I am not working ten times as hard as my students, they will not have a chance to experience success in the classroom. A lot of that has to do with what I perceive to be a lot of the students’ poor work ethics. Perhaps the book’s title makes a valid point, though. What good is all of my hard work if the students never recognize the value of hard work? Why would they appreciate everything that I am doing to give them a great education if they have never had a vision of that to begin with? I can see why teachers in high-need schools wear down and even wear out. Many times, it feels that for every two steps forward, there are three steps back. Yet, if we all give up on these students, what chance will they ever have?
Now that I have made it through the first quarter with my students, I will be looking to push the level of rigor and engagement. I have my middle school students at a tough time of the day (the last two hours of every day), but I cannot continue to use that as an excuse for their behavior or my performance while teaching them. I need to ensure that when they come into my room, the culture is positive yet stern, rigorous yet supportive. Also, I need to make sure that I am spending enough time helping my struggling students stay on top of their work. It is easy to lose them in a bigger classroom and I really do not want to see that happen over the course of the year.
My classes also have to become more interactive for the students. The days where they have something that has them up and moving, working together, or producing an activity, they seem to be more focused. It is the days when my instruction tends to go too long that they start misbehaving and losing interest. It is a unique population that I work with. I have to understand the needs of my “customers” and tailor my instruction accordingly. Of course, all of that takes extra time and effort on my part. Planning for four different classes is no easy task to begin with; making each one interesting and engaging for the students takes even more work. Long term, I think I could be even more effective as an educator if I was teaching only two or three different classes. It would certainly free up a little time for me to be more creative.
I really do feel that a lot of my frustrations this year have been indicative of my growth as an educator. It also shows that I truly do care for my students and the outcomes that they achieve under my instruction. I refuse to give up on them and I refuse to give up on myself. I know that what I am doing for them is more than a lot of educators have done for them in the past. I just need to remain committed to constant improvement and reflection on what is working and what is not working in the classroom.
My middle school students are my most challenging classes. My goal for them by the end of the semester is to have them at 80% content mastery on all of the standards that I will have taught up to that point in the year. Also, from a more qualitative standpoint, I want them to be invested in working hard and becoming better students and people. Perhaps by the end of the first semester, they will be feeling optimistic about their ability to do great in my class and will come back from break refreshed and ready to push towards ISTEP. If I have learned anything, teaching students is a marathon and not a race. It takes baby steps with the occasional steps backwards. And I will never reach every child. I just have to make sure that my energy remains positive and eventually, the majority of them will buy into my compassion for them.