Friday, May 18, 2012

Get REAL About Writing

I saw a blog post recently on real reading vs. fake reading. Ugh! NO kidding!

This blog post got me thinking about other ways my students can be FAKERS!!! Daily 5 Work on Writing came to mind immediately. I have a few students who are highly proficient in working through the writing process and set mini personal goals to get to
where we need to be to publish their writing.

Today, I was thrilled at my students' astuteness in talking about what it means to be a fake writer (which was what we started with) as opposed to being a real writer. I framed it like this: "There are times when everyone is supposed to write, but kind of fakes it, right?" They thought this was funny, but I love that the relationship piece of my teaching is strong and students feel safe to share answers to tough questions like this with honesty. The kids were EAGER to share all of the ways they have been fake writers or ways they have seen classmates engage in FAKE WRITING behavior. This was fun and helpful. We learned that understanding how it looks to be a fake writer will help us be better at being a real writer. They also see that Mrs. Schmidt is not to be fooled! CACKLECACKLE!!

I look forward to hearing your feedback and to follow each other for more rich experiences for our students.
Have a fantastic day!

The Blind Can Read

One message I drive home hard with my students (no matter the age level I have taught) has been to understand what READING is. I begin by asking my students which body part they believe most essential to be able to read. Never fail… kids say, "Eyes!" Very good. We explore a little and I ask if they know whether or not blind people can read. Some students have a little bit of prior knowledge about braille (not typically the vocabulary), so we learn a little about that! They love it!

So if blind people can read, then what it the most important body part for being able to read. I lead them to … dut dada DAAAAAA! 

THE BRAIN! It doesn't take long before kids know that their brain is the most essential body part to being a reader; however, if you've worked with readers for any length of time… 20 years, 20 minutes, or anything in between, you know that applying that knowledge is a whole new beast. Perhaps you feel like this…
So… I was thrilled to incorporate into my teaching (sometime around 2001) what we dubbed: Active Reading Strategies.
BTW- this was 6th grade, where we developed these strategies.  Within the year, we decided that naming these strategies Active READING Strategies might be counter-productive to what we want. We changed it to Active Thinking Strategies, made some revisions, and caught the attention of our Learning and Teaching department to adopt and implement (in various forms) K-12 in our district.  It has been maintained over the years. 

Even when I moved from 6th to 2nd grade, I used most of this language to help students understand how to interact with text. I modified them a bit, though, and make it more accessible to my students.

While using Monitor Meaning as the basis for good reading, I focus heavily on Question/Connect/Predict in September and October. 

These are revisited throughout the year on a cyclical basis as well as in response to formative assessment results.

You may be familiar with  Decoding and Comprehension strategies that are aligned with Beanie Babies. Oh how I just LOVE these!

Beanie Babies are a great thrift store find-- but beware… if you're looking for specific ones, best of luck to you (I must've visited 5 thrift stores and all of the regular and grocery stores too). I never did find the right spider, but the bug I did find, works just fine.

I organized the babies into decoding and comprehension strategies and that worked fairly well for a year, but I started noticing that my students were more enjoying reading with a BB friend rather than using the strategy represented by that baby. SOOOOOO, I made some necklaces. On the front, I put a picture and the name of the BB and on the back, I put the description of how to use the strategy. 

As a former frustrated reader, I had to figure out how to enjoy reading. Monitor Meaning was the absolute KEY to this! My problem was that I could rarely remember what it was that I read… just horrible comprehension. I figured out (in my 30s) that the problem was my lack of engagement with the text. ATS was the key to this and most specifically so-- MONITOR MEANING!

 I love passing this life lesson of my own to my students. I teach my students to stop reading frequently to review in their mind what they've read as well as use one of our main three ATS: question, connect, and/or predict. We ask questions about the text and look for answers in our reading. We connect to our lives, to what we've heard of or seen (including text to text, text to self, and text to world), and we look for answers in the text to questions and predictions.
Praises because my students see that this is one way to make reading FUN! I love when they say things like, "We're already done? NOOOOOO! That was too fast!" These are the days that I just love love love luhhhh--uvvvvvv my job!

I look forward to hearing your feedback and to follow each other for more rich experiences for our students.
Have a fantastic day!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cinco de Mayo

I believe it is critical to know your students-- where they live, what kinds of things they like to do at recess/outside of school, what areas of learning come easiest and most challenging to them, etc… For me, knowing my students includes knowing who they are culturally, linguistically, and socioeconomically.

Our school district has 7 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, one mainstream high school, and  a wonderful high school to meet the needs of students who have found the challenges of mainstream high school doesn't quite fit their learning needs-- my passion for that school is a whole separate blog post, but suffice to say I am ashamed of our local voters for not recognizing the value of this fantastic program and funding these students' learning as an equal priority to our others students'. Ugh! ANYWAY!!!

Knowing my students culturally (where I live) is a minimal challenge because we have just two main cultural groups-- Caucasian (easy for me… that's my family heritage) and Hispanic (I grew up with many Hispanics [San Diego] and studied Spanish in college). I  studied in Mexico and traveled to Spain and have extended Argentinian family. Over the last 16 years, I've learned more and more and am fluently bilingual and bi-literate. I'm certainly not near bi-cultural-- living in a household of two Anglo parents, but I make it my job responsibility to know my students' culturally. My dear friends (The Guerreros) and a bi-cultural family and I just love love love LOVE that for the past 13 years, we have grown as family and I get Mexicans-- don't get me going, but YES… it IS in fact okay to say the word, "Mexican." It is not a bad word-- just ignorant people have made it that way. Mexican describes a culture… a people who happen to be from Mexico. I guarantee that if someone used the word, "American" like I hear some people use the word, "Mexican," I'd be… not okay with that. Wow… guess I'm feeling feisty today. This was supposed to be a post about Cinco de Mayo. Ugh! Sorry.

So, attitude adjustment here…

Cinco de Mayo is often thought of as Mexican Independence Day. Pat yourself on the back if you already knew that's not the case (and give yourself a hug if you're even still reading this post… thanks for hangin' in there)! Cinco de Mayo marks an historic day in Mexican history, but it's not related to Mexico gaining independence.

In late 1861, France started a war with Mexico.  Nearing May 5th of 1962, the war was in the state of Puebla. There were between 6,000 and 8,000 French attacking two forts guarded by 2,000 Mexican soldiers (under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza).

On May 5th, one of the forts was destroyed and more than 1,000 French soldiers were killed.  The Mexicans had won the battle.  This battle is known as the Battle of Puebla. Unfortunately, the victory didn't last long, but it was a significant accomplishment on that one day. Within a year, the French had overtaken Puebla, but three years later, with the help of their neighbors to the north (yaaaaaay USA), Mexico reclaimed Puebla from thence forward (forging a positive relationship between the United States and Mexico).

I find it disheartening how few students know about the significance of cultural celebrations and national holidays, so each time one comes along, I take a little extra time to be sure my students have the opportunity to deepen their understandings.

We have been trying to write more and more in my L2 English Literacy group. On May 4th, I decided to incorporate our need to expand English vocabulary, write in English, as well as learn about our cultural heritage (100% of this group's families are of Mexican descent-- many years other countries, such as El Salvador and Guatemala). Here are some samples of student work.
My sweet stepson shares my passion for crossing cultural barriers. We're so proud of him for playing in the elite mariachi group here in town!

They were so thrilled to be writing so much today (though they've written more on other days), but I think that's because they had a deep hunger to really understand.

Now, something I have learned about Cinco de Mayo is that it is much more widely celebrated in the United States than it is in Mexico.   The state of Puebla rejoices on this historic day each year, but across the rest of Mexico there are few observances… come up north to the USA, though… and aye mamí… Cinco de Mayo is a major community event in many many cities.

I look forward to hearing your feedback and to follow each other for more rich experiences for our students.
Have a fantastic day!