Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Reflecting on the School Year

As my students took their second NWEA test of the week today, I watched and thought. I looked at each one and brought myself back to the beginning of the school year when they first entered my room. I teach fifth grade, but they were still fourth graders that warm August day. I don't feel as though fifth graders are true fifth graders until around October when they have adapted to the routine, expectations, and workload.

The first time we give the NWEA is the second week of school. This test allows me to see where the students are academically and how much they have lost over the summer. I don't like standardized tests but I like this one for two reasons. First, it is pretty accurate. It gives a true reading as to where a child is. Second, I have the scores immediately. I can see where their exact weaknesses are and alter my plans to help fix that.

But at the beginning of the year, these new students don't know my philosophy about school so they tend to put forth little effort, and I really have no idea what their true ability is.

As the days turn into weeks, and the weeks into months my students understand what I expect. It has nothing to do with grades but the effort that is put in. My saying becomes our saying: Always give 150%.

I firmly believe that if I instill this in my students, they will take this with them into middle school and life. I often give "talks" when I start to see the effort sway. And I am usually fired up about it. These talks always come back to my school experience as a struggling student. I did the best I could and ended up with C's. My parents were never upset because they knew I was giving it all I had.

That is all I want as a teacher. I don't care about the grade or score, just the amount of effort that is put in.

So today, as I watched my fifth graders put forth more effort into this test than I have seen  them give this school year, I thought about all the success we had in the classroom.

Here are a few of my favorites...

Sacred Writing Time: This has changed my teaching. It took months for my students to trust the process and understand that I just wanted them to write. It was here where they found a safe place as writers. A place where they could experiment with grammar, punctuation and style. Sacred Writing Time created a community of writers within the four walls of my classroom. It was my absolute favorite time of day and one where my students found their voice. I turned reluctant writers into students who love to write.

Tell the Teacher: This was one of our Sacred Writing Time topics and it turned into a weekly occurrence. The students would write down one thing they wished I knew on an index card. Some were random things and others a little more serious. It opened up a door for conversation and allowed me a peak into their lives.

No Assigned Seats: I student taught in a fifth grade classroom and my cooperating teacher did not assign seats. I was fascinated by this model but couldn't figure out how to make it work for me. I still didn't know how it was going to look on the first day of school but I enlisted my students' help and we made it work for us. Each Friday the students would choose a new seat to sit in for the following week. The conditions were you had to choose a seat at a completely different table than you were previously at and you had to sit by people you didn't know. Then each Monday we would spend a few minutes talking to our new friends. It ended up building a great classroom community. One I wasn't expecting.

The Pequot War: I teach social studies to all three sections of fifth grade. We spend two days talking about King Philip's War and the Pequot War. For the lesson on the Pequot War we watch a reenactment video and it really stirs up a lot of emotions. The students' empathy really shines through, and they begin to question whether or not our country was founded in an honest way. After showing the video to my homeroom, one boy was so upset and crying so hard, I couldn't understand him. I pulled him into the hallway and asked why he was so upset. He said, "Why did the English do that to the Pequot? It was so horrible." You can't teach empathy. You can just create lessons that you hope will help it show through.

Slice of Life Challenge: I had 15 out of 27 students write for 25 days or more during the Slice of Life Challenge in March. And the best part about it was they wrote at home. In a notebook. I loved listening to what they wrote about the night before as I checked them in each morning. I introduced challenges from blog posts I had commented on and shared my own writing from the challenge.I was grateful that at this time in the year the students were not afraid to try the challenge and be okay with it if it didn't work out. I was also grateful that so many joined me for it.

Today as I watched my fifth graders take their second NWEA test of the week, I realized they are prepared to be successful in sixth grade. They will be okay without me, and they are ready. Ready to move on.

I just don't think I am ready to give them up yet.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Eighteen Years and Some Change

Right before Mother's Day in May of 1998, my mother was saying good-bye to her children. She had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer years before and the cancer, once gone, had returned and wasn't looking back. I remember being in her room at U of M as she told me she loved me. She barely spoke above a whisper for she didn't have the strength. I thought that was the last time I was going to see her alive.

But the next day when I arrived at the hospital, she was up, walking around, and full of energy. We talked, and apparently, she wasn't ready to go yet. That was my mom. Always determined and did things her way.

My mother didn't have the greatest childhood. She was the youngest of three girls born to Italian parents. Her sisters were a bit older than her. She didn't grow up with a lot of toys and when people did try to give things to her, my grandmother would donate them to the poor. I think this kind of upbringing shaped the woman she was and the kind of mother she would become.

She went to college and became a social work and later a teacher.

She married my father in 1968, she proposed, and had her first child in 1969. Four years later, I was born and not far after that, my youngest sister. She was a stay at home mom until I was about six or seven, when she decided she was going to go to law school. I have memories of her studying at night for the bar exam and remember the day she passed it.

She studied law for quite a while and when we moved to Ann Arbor, she obtained her realtor's license. She worked as a real estate agent until she decided she wanted to own her own company. She started a title company and used her realtor and lawyer expertise to get her feet off the ground. She was good at it. I worked for her one summer and remember her "training" me. It was her way or the highway. She was a hard worker and did things thorough and well. If you weren't going to do it the way she wanted,  you weren't going to do it.

I was in college when she sat my younger sister and me down to tell us of the cancer. We were in the living room sitting on the brown couch that we had at the time. It didn't phase me.

Yes, it was cancer, but cancer didn't know my mother.

She was going to win this fight.

And she did.

Until she didn't.

Soon after she came home from the hospital in May of 1998, I realized that this strong and courageous woman was losing the battle. It was the first time that I believed there was something out there stronger than she was.

According to my father, on the night of June 5, 1998, my beautiful mother told him that Sally, her older sister, her mother, and father were there for her and she was ready to go. He told her he loved her and she him.

She gently closed her eyes and went with her family, all of whom had passed away many years earlier.

I don't know why, but I find comfort in that story. It tells me that she was reunited with those she loved well before me.

So on the eve of this Mother's Day, I want to say thank you to a woman who was gone too soon.

Thank you Mom for teaching me how to be kind, strong-willed, independent, and determined through the way you lived your life.

I will forever miss you.


My mother at 26.






Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Simple Thank You

When I was younger, I had to write thank you notes. For everything. As I got older it seemed to be ingrained in me that this is what I should and needed to do. 

Then.

I had kids. 

And the idea of "having" to write a thank you note seemed like one more thing to do. 

So I stopped. But that didn't mean that I wasn't appreciative of things that were given to me. 

As a teacher, I am given a lot of things. 

By my students. 

All the time. 

They know my favorite candy bar is Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. There is a story to that. I blame it on my mother. 

I get a lot of Reese's. 

I have every intention of writing thank you notes for all of those gifts, but it seems to be a chore for me rather than something genuine. So I don't do it. But I still say thank you. 

Today though, I am writing thank you notes. Because I need to and want to. I want to thank the students who took the 31 day Slice of Life Challenge with me. They need to know that I appreciate their willingness to write every day. Or almost everyday. At home. On their own. They need to know that I value their writing and that it is important. 

Today I am writing thank you notes. Because it feels genuine and right.

And the thought of how they will feel when they receive a card in the mail from "their teacher" makes my heart smile. 



  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Silver Linings

I have always seen the glass as half full. My mother was the same way. It's probably where I got it from. I remember the day she told my sister and me that she had cancer.

She was matter of fact about it.

She was going to have surgery, chemo, and that was that.

She would get better.

And she did.

Until it came back.

She was going to fight it out.

And she did.

Until she couldn't fight anymore.

I often think about her when things are thrown at me as they were today.

My son woke at 4:30 in the morning with a fever of 102 degrees. I knew he was starting to get sick because he wasn't feeling the best the last two days. So I was on the phone with the doctor at 8 a.m, with an appointment at noon for a strep test. I am glad I listened to my intuition because he tested positive. Instead of complaining about this, I felt appreciative that he got sick over spring break instead of a school week, so I could spend time with him.

As I woke up, a few minutes before eight, to the pitter patter of feet upstairs, I quickly realized our basement had flooded. The carpet at the edge of our room was soaked. I woke my husband who quickly started moving things out of the other room, where most of the water was. I helped him move what I could but only after I had called the doctor for my son. Then my husband started tearing the carpet out. We have wanted to figure out why the basement  floods when we get A LOT of rain and this was the last straw. Over the course of the day, I have sucked  up the water out of that room more times than I can count, but now we know where the leak is coming from and have a plan to fix it.

It seems to me that things happen in threes. And if you are keeping count, only two things have happened so far to me today. Well here is the third.

Right after I took all the wet clothes out of the washer this morning and put them into the dryer, the power went out. Keep in mind this was after I called the doctor and my husband tore out the wet carpet. There was no big storm or high winds, just a lot of rain. I was quite surprised because our power hasn't gone out in a few years. After a bad ice-storm years back, the electric company has been proactive and on top of everything so this surprised me. I could have sat and complained about all the things that needed to be done but instead my girls and I played a lot of board games.

I have had a busy day. It seems like it was just one thing after another. But my son is now on the mend, my daughters spent four hours playing outside with a new friend, the power came back on, and well, that basement. It will be dry in time.



My mother, who always saw the glass as half full. 





Friday, March 31, 2017

Bittersweet

Today, after an amazing assembly at school, I had my students write their last slice for the challenge. I wanted everyone, even those who only wrote a handful of times, to write. I had them all write about the assembly.

After they wrote their slices, I asked for a SOL reflection.

No rules.

Just reflect.

 Positive.

Negative.

Anything.

Here they are:

Seth S.: What I think about SOL is it was challenging, hard but fun. SOL really helped me put more detail in my writing. I also like SOL because I get to practice on my handwriting. Sometimes it is hard to do because I have practice and homework so I don't have enough time to do it.

Aubrie: I am really sad that Slice of Life ended. I loved participating in it. I loved how Mrs. Waugh would show us the different types of writing, and how she challenged us to go home and write in that style. I wish we could do SOL for the rest of the year.

Bradley: I had a lot of fun doing the Slice of Life challenge. It was awesome. You should do this again with the other 5th graders. I had a great time.

Haley: I liked doing it everyday. I did it but on March 15th I forgot to do it and ever since then, I kept forgetting to do it. But now I want to do it over spring break. I really do hope that I do not forget to do it because my family might go to Legoland during spring break. And my mom and dad have the whole week off of work to go. The challenge was fun to do but I kept forgetting.

Josh: I really did not like the SOL because it stressed me out and at night I get so tired. My favorite part was where we got to share. I shared when I went to Zapzone. Mrs. Waugh really encouraged us to do our best. My second favorite part is that we are rewriting one SOL and putting it in a book.

Sklyar: My slice of life reflection is something I was hoping to do. I wrote for every single day in March, that is 31 days. I am happy that I managed to write EVERY day for that long. I remember almost falling asleep without writing. I can't believe I will get a pizza party and some prizes. It's hard, not really, to know that I guess I'm "free." I don't think that is the right word but, still. Last night, I just wasn't going to write, but then I thought of Hanna; she really wants to do the pizza party, so I got up and wrote. This month I accomplished my goal, and learned that I CAN accomplish a goal that I have.

Drew: I enjoyed doing SOL because it made me not skp any days, and I wanted to do all 31 days of it. I completed 31 days of Slice of Life or the whole month of March. SOL made me think more and it made my handwriting better. Now I put more detail in my writing. I think you should do this next year Mrs. Waugh.

Seth B.: The slice of life I didn't really like it because it was kind of boring to me. I think other people liked it though.

Hailee M.: I like writing in my slice of life because we get to write about our day. I like to write and write about our day at school or anything. I like the slice of life challenge. I think that you should do slice of life challenge every year. I think the kids will like it as much as I did.

Ceili: I loved the SOL challenge. I missed just one day. That seems very impressive, but it was nothing. It was a little hard, though. Going through 31 days of writing, at least eight sentences everyday was hard, especially because I'm not a very responsible person! The SOL challenge was super fun, and I would do it again.

Savannah: The challenge was ok but sometimes I was so tired I did not want to do it. It got annoying sometimes when I had no homework but that. Sometimes I just couldn't wait for it to be over. But sometimes it was fun. I got to express myself on bad days or good days. I got to express my feelings so I did not have to hold them in. Sometimes I was really excited. Sometimes I just didn't want to do it but it helped me a lot for writing for 31 days. Because I know it helped me to be a better writer.

Avree: I really liked doing the Slice of Life. It was like I had somebody there to talk to. I loved when I got to tell you about my day. It makes me feel like somebody cares. My parents are there for me too and I love how they pay attention to me and ready my stuff. And how they help me when I need help. Thank you.

Hanna: What I liked about this Slice of Life challenge is that it helped me write a little better and helped me express myself because I don't really talk about what I do and about my life. But right now I am really excited about the prizes and the pizza party!

Kaylee S.: I didn't really like Slice of Life after the twenty-first. I don't like talking about what I think or do after or during school. But when we first started, I loved it.

Chrissy: Slice of Life made me feel good! Some things I didn't want to talk about. Those days I wouldn't write. But some days I just couldn't get enough out. I just wanted to write and write to tell how I was feeling. Slice of Life was good for me because I could express my feelings and not hold it in. Also, my teacher could know what is going on!

Abbi: I really enjoyed doing the Slice of Life challenge. I like that Mrs. Waugh did it with us. I liked sitting down and writing my favorite part of my day. Sometimes I couldn't think what to write. Those times I wrote poems and did crazy things. I wish we did Slice of Life every month.

Chesney: I didn't do much for the Slice of Life challenge. I wanted to, but I kept forgetting! After missing too many days to reach my goal, I kind of gave up. Not only that, but nothing interesting happens to me at home. I usually just write stories, draw and watch anime all day (after homework). I didn't enjoy the Slice of Life challenge only because I never remembered to write! I had fun the days I did get to write though.

Kaylee F.: My reflection of Slice of Life is that I really liked it but I only participated six times only because I forgot to write in it. I thought it was really fun to do it because we got to test out different styles of writing. I loved being able to share what happened to me at home or at school. I loved being able to share my slices that happened during the day.

Ashley: Slice of Life was sort of fun, but sometimes exhausting. That was because I had NO clue of what to write about. Once Mrs. Waugh said we could do poems, it was so much easier. When I had not homework, that's what I did. I am kind of glad it is over because it took a lot of thought and time. I want to do another challenge sometime. I think I am going to write for a few more days when I have time.

Duncan: I like the SOL challenge even thought I did not reach my goal. It was fun and hard, but I pushed through  it. Do you you know why it was nice? Because you can write every day and if you like it you should do it every day. But me, I would not because that's just me. But be yourself and if you want to keep doing that. Do it!!!

And for the seven kids who were absent, I will get their reflections after spring break.



Thursday, March 30, 2017

Noticings

This morning as I was checking in my slicers it dawned on me that we only have two days left of this challenge. As I was thinking it, I must of said it out loud because one girl said, "Thank goodness."

I said, "What?! You aren't going to continue writing?"

She replied with a quick, "No."

I said, "I think I am going to continue. Although it is work. I like it. I feel like I am telling my story."

Another girl chimed in and said, "I think I am going to continue too."

At the start of the challenge all 27 students participated but by the end of the week, they started dropping off. I currently have about 15 who have written every day or close to that.

And here is what I have noticed.

They get what a slice is and when a student didn't understand what the word anecdote meant, I was able to explain that it was fancy word for a slice of life.

Some students who have done no homework for me all year, have written in their SOL notebooks every single day.

Their voice. Their voice is coming out in everything they write, even their science research papers.

They love to write. A week or so ago during practice for student led conferences I overheard one student telling another, "When I started the year, I hated to write. Now it is my favorite thing to do. I love it."

They love telling me what they wrote about, and I enjoy listening to them.  I am able to make a quick connection with them, which is important.

They are experimenting. I have been sharing my blog and those that I make comments on to give them ideas.

They feel successful. And there is no grade tied to it.

As I reflect over this past month, I just swell with pride. For them and me. This is what I needed to get myself back on track with my writing. Not only have I developed a style, I feel as though I have found my voice. I am going to publish my month long slices on lulu.com, an online publishing site.

And my students are going to publish their favorite slice as well. I can't wait for them to see the finished product. If they don't feel like authors yet, they will when they see their book.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Operation 1,000 Days

For the past two years, in honor of 9/11, my social studies students have brainstormed ideas for what they could do for a service learning project. I then take five of the project ideas that I believe to be doable and open up the project to volunteers. I hold a meeting to give more information about how the project works. Any interested student stays on and the ones that don't feel it is for them, leave. Once I have my group, I put up the five ideas and we vote.

Meetings happen once a week during their lunch and recess time. This year I have 32 students involved; this is one third of the fifth grade.  They voted to help with the Flint Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan. If you are not familiar with it, the Detroit Free Press put out a powerful visual essay on December 17, 2016. You can watch it here.

My students wanted to help another elementary school in Flint. I knew of a high school teacher in Flint who was doing student work with the crisis and reached out to her.  She connected me to her brother who works in the after-school program at one of the elementary schools. He gave me the contact information for the principal at Neithercut Elementary. I called the principal and talked with her. I explained what my fifth grade service learning team wanted to do and asked her what she needed.  She explained that the students in Flint still cannot drink the water. The Flint Coalition provides bottled water to the students every other day and another organization provides fresh fruits and vegetables. All the students receive breakfast and lunch daily. What they needed, she said, was healthy snacks and books to help reverse the damage the lead has already done.

These students have lead in their blood due to the water supply. The lead has caused a lot of problems including headaches, stomach aches, rashes, anemia, and behavior problems. It also can affect brain development. Can you imagine not realizing that something you need for survival is actually causing you pain?

When I told my students what the principal had said, we created a plan. The students created flyers to send out to the families at our school asking for donations, wrote business letters to community businesses requesting donations, and called companies that make healthy snacks asking for food donations.

And yesterday I was made aware of an award that encourages students to pay it forward. It is called ePIFanyNOw. The deadline is April 10th, the day we get back from spring break. Since this is something that I think they could be win, I called an emergency meeting during lunch. I explained the award and told them what was involved. Today they answered the two essay questions and tomorrow they will create the video. If they win, they could receive between $500-$1,000 towards the purchase of healthy snacks for the cause.

The first essay question was easy for them to answer. It was an informative one about the project. The second, however, was a little more difficult. When I asked them "Why should your project win the Y-PIF Award?" They all looked at me.

Nobody raised their hands.

I then said, "This service learning project was open to every fifth grader, and you all showed up. Each week you give up your recess and eating in the lunch room to be a part of this. Why?"

Then.

Then a stream of hands went up.

This was their response: " Our project should be picked because it has been over 1,000 days since the residents of Flint have been able to drink water from their taps. We feel fortunate that we can drink fresh water and bathe without thinking about it. We want to help these kids because we want to make a difference. We can't imagine what it would be like to not have clean water and the water we did have, poison  our bodies. Sometimes we take what we have for granted and others aren't as fortunate as us."

They get it. 

They deserve the award.

But we will let the board of directors decide that.