As the year draws to an end, I feel the PRESSURE to get back to my blog. Beginning in a new position in July, the reflections and stories form in my mind, but the publish button is never reached. So again, I will recommit to one post a month in 2015.
Let's end 2014 with some positive thinking. I am fortunate to work with Cal Middleton at Smithville Primary Elementary this year. His background includes horse training, but due to a back injury, he has taken a full-time position working with a student. I know Cal as a smiling, patient, and caring adult in our building. He always has a book in hand that will better his craft and a kind word to share with any student or adult he meets.
The following piece was written by Cal and is posted here with his permission. (My first guest blogger!!) As we pause for the holidays, this is a great reminder to share the best of ourselves with those we teach and love everyday. Thanks, Cal, for these thoughts and friendly reminders to smile, keep life in perspective, and stay positive. Happy holidays!
Positivity - The Ultimate Holiday Gift
By: Cal Middleton
One sure fire idea I have learned over the years is the idea of staying positive while working with your horse. Positivity is powerful in many ways, and is a very under used tool when working with any animal. We all know that horses, cattle, dogs, and other animals as well as people, definitely respond to the energy of others. If you didn't know this, now you do. Energy flows from us freely to those around us, just as it does from us to a horse or to another pet. So, knowing that energy is flowing directly from you to those horses and people around you, you better make sure it's the energy that you want them to absorb and grow from. I've met so many people on planes over the years of traveling. I tell them what I do and they all have a similar story, "I rode a horse once, and he ran me into a tree, I think he knew I was scared of him". The truth is that the horse didn't know anything of the sort, but the horse sure responded to the nervous and anxious energy that the rider was emitting. Be sure your energy is positive rather than negative.
THEORY: Why is positivity important? Training young horses, just as teaching children; is about ideas, emotions, attitude and energy just as much as it is about the turning, stopping, math or reading. They have to learn to focus on good things to end up good. A child, just like a horse, will not learn correctly when consistently scared, mad, or in a bad mood. They must be in a teachable mentality in order to actually learn something. That trainable frame of mind that we want them to be in, first has to start with us as the trainer/teacher. If the teacher scolds the class before each subject matter, the chances of actual learning drops tremendously. If you get your horse out each day and start off by spanking him around and you get after him for each maneuver that he's struggling with, it won't be long until he quits trying. Even if you get him "trained", he will not be a horse you can count on and trust consistently. Instilling fear in a horse or a child is never a good thing. We have to learn to use positive energy rather than negative to train our horses. We must embrace the philosophy of helping our horses rather than correcting them. Focus on what you want instead of what you’re getting. Tell them what to do, rather than what not to do. Direction NOT Correction.
APPLICATION: So how do you make sure your energy is positive? There's a lifetime of knowledge to be gained on this subject but there is one simple thing you can do that will really get you on the right path; Think Positive Thoughts and Say Positive Statements! Really? That's it? Yes, really. Tell yourself and those around you that you have a good horse and he tries hard. When you get on your horse expect that he will be good, give him the benefit of the doubt. Each time he struggles then improves, forgive him in your head without holding a grudge. If you expect the worst, you will definitely get it. Saying positive statements to others will help you stay in a good positive mood. Too often I hear people tell me about some stupid horse that always does this wrong and that wrong and never gets better. Wake up, you are getting what you expect. A good teacher will never say how stupid a child is. A good teacher might say a child is struggling with a subject, then will find a way to help them through it. Remember, in each situation, to find a direction to give your horse, rather than a correction. Always focus on what you want your horse to do, instead of what you want them not to do. It's no different than good positive teaching of a child. Instead of saying "No" to everything that they're doing wrong and then ignoring them when they're good, try ignoring them when they're bad, and then giving them attention as praise when they are good. What they really want is positive attention or none at all. Sometimes the only attention a child gets is when they do something wrong, so they naturally keep doing it. This is no different than a horse. Sometimes a horse keeps jumping right because each time he does you kick him with your right leg, and it's that struggle/attention that he keeps looking for. Do not wait for them to act up so you can correct them. Instead, keep asking for what you want, then reward them when you get it. The key is to remember to keep a good attitude and think positive thoughts as often as possible.
EXAMPLE: People, Dogs, Horses. Remember when working with children the word “NO” alone, should only be used as an answer to a question. The statement “NO” has no meaning otherwise. When a child is doing something you don’t want them doing like picking up your cell phone, rather than yelling “No!”, just tell them what you want them to do, like “Put that down, please.” or “Walk back over here to me”, then thank them politely and let it go at that. When a dog is performing an unwanted behavior like jumping up on you, instead of saying “No!”, use already understood direction words like “lay down” or “kennel”, and then reward him for completing the task; or simply move him into the next room then give him a chew toy or a treat once he is there. When you’re standing next to your horse and she starts to paw or bite at your clothing or rub her head on you as if you were a scratching post, instead of whacking her as a correction (as if saying No!), just tell her to move her feet by applying firm but kind pressure to her halter, face, etc, then release as a reward when she moves her feet. She is merely asking you what to do by trying these different unwanted behaviors, so tell her what to do, instead of just telling her to stop. Never focus on the negative behavior. Never imagine the worst case scenario or expect a battle. There are times a discussion is necessary, but a fight is never a good choice. Sometimes a horse, as well as a child, may be expecting a fight or even looking for a fight. It’s your job to not give him one. I always teach at my clinics that It takes two animals to fight. If your horse wants to fight and you don’t, there will be no fight. Peter Campbell says “A horse cannot go through something bad and come out good”
Also remember, when an animal is frustrated, mad, scared, etc, back down a step, be sure to take a deep breath and control YOUR emotions first. Stay calm, move slowly and visualize the outcome that you are striving for. Just like a child, our animals learn to handle their emotions by the way we handle OUR emotions, as well as by the way we handle theirs. In short, keep your energy positive
If you’re like me, money is tight this time of year, and sharing a gift with everyone I know would be great, but a little impractical. If only there was something I could share with all of my family and friends, as well as my animals, that didn't cost much and would help keep me as well as everyone around me in a great mood, and would last longer than any other gift; something that isn’t full of calories, something that makes a great impact and is easily passed on again and again. Oh wait, I've got an idea....... how about positivity? Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Until next time, ride smarter, not harder. Email your questions to email@example.com. More info at www.calmiddleton.com.
With recommendation from my principal, I recently read Rafe Esquith's There Are No Shortcuts. Mr. Esquith, or "Rafe" as the students call him, teaches in an elementary school in Los Angeles. Violence, poverty, and little English are what his students know. Rafe has chosen this job, this school, and these children to make a difference. It is his passion to do everything within his power to assist these students in developing their potential and seeing the possibilities for their future.
Rafe's passion for students is very honorable, but I found myself feeling anger towards him and his actions while reading. While I respect the work of this phenomenal teacher, I have to describe him as INTENSE. I am afraid I would never measure up if I were the teacher next door. Rafe goes in debt because of supplies, resources, and trips he funds for his classroom. He exhausts himself to the point of vomiting blood (while being the only chaperon on a camping trip for students), and he cannot afford to replace or fix his old car, so he puts himself in dangerous situations while traveling to and from school daily.
I made of list of adjectives that describe Rafe. I came up with exhausting, relentless, and excessive. Then I was forced to consider his "why". He does all of these things FOR HIS STUDENTS. His "why" is beyond deserving! I was forced to ask myself what I would sacrifice for students, colleagues, and families that I serve. This led me to discover the inspiration in Rafe's stories.
1. Be a freethinker.
2. Teach students to believe in a growth mindset.
3. Be selective about the text you read to/with students. Choose authentic challenging text that you personally love.
4. Explicitly model and practice correct behavior and provide exemplars to demonstrate correct behavior for different environments.
5. Differentiate instruction for students and adult learners.
6. Provide extra time that students require to learn. (There are no shortcuts!)
7. "Pretty good" is not good enough. Have high expectations and reach for greatness. Place the same demands on yourself that you place on your students.
8. Teaching kindness has to be part of the class mission.
9. Grow from the pain or the mistakes learned from teaching.
10. Let your students know that you will always love them and believe in them. There is nothing they can do to make you stop caring.
11. Be the person you want your students to be. If you want your students to work hard, be the hardest working person they know. If you want your students to be kind, be the kindest human being they ever met. Teach by example, not lecture.
Rafe describes teaching as the easiest job in the world. You can let the administrators tell you what to do, let the teaching guides tell you what work to assign, and let the veteran teachers help with forms and classroom management. Within the ease of teaching you can also head home by 3:00 daily and take a 3 month vacation. On the other hand, if you care about teaching and make sacrifices for your students, teaching is the hardest job ever! There are no shortcuts!
It's for students and adult learners!
The power of positive intention should drive our learning. Rather than dwelling on the struggle sometimes associated with learning from the Units of Study, our attitude should intentionally be positive as we approach this as an opportunity to learn something new and think creatively to engage students in real writing experiences. If we intentionally set out to be positive, accept and give grace throughout the learning phase, and set small attainable goals everyday, our teaching and student writing will improve.
On the blog "Two Writing Teachers" Elizabeth Moore (one of the Unit's writers) recently posted tips for reading a unit of study. She discussed teacher autonomy within teaching the intended lessons and building the unit to meet your students' needs. Her most powerful idea includes choosing a lens or focus with which to read the units. This will change from year to year as you reflect on your lessons and improve. She also suggests and models the use of post-it notes to plan out the components of each lesson (connection, teaching point, active engagement, and link). The post can be accessed at this link:
What words come to mind to describe how you were taught math?
What words do you want your students to use to describe math class? ...EXPLORE
This year I had the pleasure of learning about classroom Number Talks from Chris Esch and Pam Wilson, consultants from Math Solutions. Their trainings are based on the book Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computational Strategies, by Sherry Parrish.
A Number Talk is a daily 10-15 minute routine that occurs outside of the math block. The goal is to develop accuracy, efficiency, and flexibility when solving computational problems using purposeful conversations. Students work to make their thinking visible when presenting and justifying solutions to problems they solve mentally.
There are several suggestions to successfully begin a Number Talk:
For more information on Number Talks, see this article: Number Talks Build Numerical Reasoning, by Sherry Parrish.
THE BOOK that hooked him...
This is a story that I share with great pride. Brady, my son, has entered the world of constant nose-in-the-book reading. It started last summer as he transitioned to middle school. It wasn't that he disliked books or reading before this, but he did not participate in independent reading on his free time without necessary force or consequence threatened by me, his mother. (MS Ed. Reading is part of my credentials, so choosing to be a non-reader in our home was pretty much hopeless for this boy.)
Completing a FABULOUS 5th grade year (thank you, Mrs. Caywood), where a love for reading and a belief in student reading choice was embedded in the classroom culture, started him on this trek as a motivated, independent reader. On the first day of summer school (a middle school transition clinic) he was naturally drawn to the school's library media center and there he found THE BOOK.
The Last Thing I Remember from The Homelanders series by Andrew Klavan was written for my son! He came home talking about how he was unable to stop reading once he captured the first line, which he made me read. He recommended the book to me and his older sister (Yes, he held a "book talk" in our kitchen!!) and insisted I order the next books in the series so they would be ready and waiting for him. From this moment on my son's 6th grade year was full of reading!!
His 6th grade ELA teacher, Mrs. Goulding, shared in his excitement over books and celebrated his reading success at the end of the year with this picture that depicts some of the books he completed over the school year. He befriended his school librarian, Mrs. Martin, and made suggestions for books that should be ordered for the middle school library, accepted her book requests, and engaged in meaningful discussions about books...like a real reader.
This a success story that I wish for all hesitant readers. As educators and parents we must continue to help our students find THE BOOKS that will hook them. Brady's world has opened up in so many ways now that he is an avid reader. He found his connection in middle school to caring adults that support him, and his reading level has grown, which has also influenced his vocabulary, comprehension, and motivation for discovery.
This summer my plans include feeding this boy's need to read!! Read on, Brady...I will celebrate you and share your story as your proud momma!
I received the GREATEST text today that confirmed my belief in growth mind-set...
Individuals with a growth mind-set depend on mentorship, experience, and practice over time to develop their intelligence, talents, and abilities. They are willing to step out of their comfort zone and take risks, realizing that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. According to Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University and author of the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, those with a growth mind-set persist to accomplish the following:
AND THE RANDOMNESS OF BARBARA WALTERS IN THIS POST ;)
Last night I was watching the final interview with top female news correspondent, Barbara Walters. In one piece of the segment, Barbara's "go-to-questions" were highlighted. "I ask questions that make you think…questions that you haven't heard before," Barbara stated. My thought was these questions would elicit, as Barbara expressed, "…thoughtful…and sometimes surprising answers" with our 4th and 5th grade writers. These questions can be used in the first unit where students are working on collecting some initial entries or seed ideas in their writer's notebooks:
This lesson can possibly begin with a short (appropriate) video clip of famous people being interviewed by Barbara with these questions. Students can then move to their notebook for a quick write and have a chance to answer 1 or more of these questions. This seed idea might lead to a longer piece immediately or sometime during the school year. Voila! Inspiration from Barbara Walters!
This week I stopped in a 4th grade classroom where writer's workshop was underway. Students were intently scattering from the meeting area to continue work on their feature articles. As I scanned the room, each student had a calendar with their writing work. When I asked a student about the calendar, this author let me know that with only 3 weeks left in the school year, each student had created his/her own deadlines to complete the phases of writing and publishing for this unit of study.
One young author was very excited to share his work with me as he planned out the lay-out for his piece on "TS". (He informed me that TS is Tourette's syndrome, which is a condition that he has.) His goal is to build awareness of TS by printing 100 copies of his feature article to distribute. This young man's calendar included weekend work that he had set for himself to meet the target date.
This student and I celebrated his hard work and commitment to this project. I was invited back to check in on his progress and receive a final copy of his publication. I gladly accepted this invitation!
Less than 20 minutes had passed when this author found me in my office as I gathered supplies for a PLT meeting. He was excited to report that because today's work had been so successful, he was ahead of schedule. We shared another small celebration. I mistakenly judged that he would be able to take the weekend off and pick up with this writing piece next week. With a smile, he informed that this work was important and a break would not be in his weekend plans. He received no arguments from me…in fact, as a co-learner I was reminded of a valuable life lesson...meaningful work keeps the student engaged and increases the motivation towards success.
When planning to model a workshop lesson for a teacher, it is necessary for me to project every piece of the lesson, from the layout of the anchor charts that will be created with the students, to explicit talking points in mentor text, to my own thinking as a reader or writer in my notebook. Projecting a lesson through a detailed process allows me to think about how readers and writers will authentically demonstrate the standards and skills that are being taught. I can perceive possible difficulties or ideas that will cause students to struggle, and I can be explicit about thinking aloud to demonstrate how I tackle these possible struggles.
Breaking it down for myself, so I can break it down for students...
Recently I had the opportunity to visit several 2nd grade classes who were beginning memoir units in writer's workshop. In two classes, I had the honor of "kicking off" the unit on day 1. In order to make these successful lessons, it was necessary for me to decide on the mentor text to be included in the stack to be studied, and I needed to deeply immerse myself in these text and chart my noticings. This work then framed my planning with teachers and the teaching points and anchor chart completed with students during a think aloud early in the immersion phase.
Following the immersion phase, where students noticed that a memoir contains a BIG memory from the author's life…an event that may have changed them as a person or taught them an important lesson….the students closely studied the author's craft in memoirs and began generating ideas and writing rough drafts of their own memoir picture books. While conferring with students, one teacher identified that elaborating on important details was difficult for her students. I was again invited to model a lesson to help the class with this skill.
Because I had closely studied the memoirs in the stack, I knew my next step was to model with my own memoir writing piece. I am a writer who relies on emulating mentors, I noticed that Vera Williams adds details to her story A Chair For My Mother (a memoir in my stack) in interesting ways. Early on in the story, the reader learns that Rosa and her mother are saving money in a jar. The process of putting money in the jar each evening is outlined in great detail. These details are a great example of "show don't tell" for the reader and emphasize the importance of this evening routine with the characters.
This craft move made me consider what part of my memoir contained a significant event that needed to be detailed by explaining the steps in a process. Looking further in this mentor text, I noticed that as the character begins her flashback or memory, she describes events using short and long sentences. This technique keeps the story lively while adding details around another event. The third move that caught my eye includes opposites in a sentence to highlight details. The sentence reads, We tried out big chairs and smaller ones, high chairs and low chairs, soft chairs and harder ones. The opposites create a rhythmic sense to the story.
After this work of practicing how I add details to important events in my memoir, I was easily able to plan my talking points and anchor chart for this lesson:
Although this was a long process of planning to arrive at my 15 minute focus lesson, the planning did ensure that I was able to speak to the challenges of this skill through a think aloud demonstrating how, as a writer of memoirs, I stand on the shoulders of published authors to emulate techniques and persevere in my memoir writing. My work also carried me through 4 conferences and allowed me to use share time to revisit important teaching points.
The workshop ended with a celebration when one young writer shared his memoir of camping with his father. He detailed the steps in the process in his writing to help his reader visualize the tent being set up. Within the steps of the process, he also threw in a sentence of opposites as he described the size of the tent's poles. We asked him to reread this part of his memoir several times. I gushed that this second grader had taught me something new…I never thought to include 2 of the techniques together when bringing details into a memoir! His smile lit up the share circle, and my hours that went into carefully planning this lesson and projecting this unit paid off!
Blogging Slow and Steady!
Blogging is a new experience for me. One that I am excited and nervous in which to participate. Excited to author my ideas, yet nervous to have my writing and thoughts open for all. Like students, I require mentor text to emulate. I have studied the blogs of those in this field that I trust and admire, noticing their structure, choice of ideas, and writer's craft. I have stressed over this blog I have created and ignored, and now I am ready to "get over myself" and just write!
Day 1: Sharing a Book Idea
Dr. Rena Hawkins
I am the Principal of Maple Elementary School in Smithville, MO. I am passionate about teaching and learning while supporting a school environment that promotes a positive climate. My goal through this blog is to be a constant "learncacher", or a learner who is engaged in reflection and eager to share ideas. I am on the hunt for ideas that support exciting and authentic learning opportunities for students and staff.