beginning of the year round up

oh, august. the sunday night of the summer.

our hope is that this august has brought rest  and summery things rather than frantic prepping for the school year ahead. and, if you’re in a place that school doesn’t start until after labor day, we hope that august starts to slow for you a bit and you soak up every minute of freedom left. to those of you who have started or are starting in the next two weeks: we hope the start has been smoother than anticipated.

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using textbook amy krouse rosenthal with kids

we recently had the opportunity to attend a writing retreat hosted by choice literacy. this was the second writing retreat with choice literacy we’ve been on, and they’ve both been inspirational as well as both relaxing and productive (the writing retreats are seriously the only times we can think of that we’ve felt both relaxed and productive).

this writing retreat, we were gifted a copy of textbook amy krouse rosenthal and encouraged to use it in specific ways to inspire our writing throughout the two days we were together. we knew of amy from her children’s books, and hearing of her passing this past spring, but didn’t realize she had a few books for adults, too. and, the more we learned about her through reading bits and pieces of textbook amy krouse rosenthal, the more we grew to love her.

when the book was gifted to us, we were told that it’s a book you can pick up and read bits and pieces of, and that’s been true for us. we were also told that part of the reason we were using the book now was because brenda, choice literacy’s founder and the host of our writing retreat, felt that in light of what’s happened since were together last (namely, the election and the effects of it on all of us, still), it was important to focus on our writing in a sort of back to basics, more personal sort of way.

today we heard news of the president’s ban of transgendered people from the military, and watched glennon doyle melton’s family meeting video of her response to the president’s announcement, in which she said that we always have three options when we encounter something like this that we don’t agree with. the first two options are fight or flight. the third option, the option we know is the better one, the one we want for our kids and also ourselves, is “putting something else out into the world, offering another invitation.” and so, while we started this post a few weeks ago, today’s events reminded us of it and what amy krouse rosenthal seemed to stand for. and so we’ve returned to finish it.

like glennon, amy worked to create beautiful things. while we’re still reading and learning about amy, we’re confident that one of the driving forces behind her desire to put more beautiful out in the world is that it’s a world filled with so much hatred, a world always in need of more beautiful.

on the writing retreat, and as we’ve continued to work through textbook amy krouse rosenthal since returning home, each open of the book has has inspired us somehow – caused us to look more into something mentioned in the book or encouraged us to think about and try something new in our writing or made us think how we might use her book in our classroom.

we’ve started a list in our notebooks of the ways we want to be sure to use her book in the upcoming school year, and thought we’d share our growing list with you here. we promise they’ll lead to more beauty in the world.

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why workshop?

we aren’t just teachers of reading and writing workshop. we’re believers in reading and writing workshop. we also believe anyone who has the chance to visit a classroom using the workshop model would be believers, too.

the reality, though – and we know this from experience – is that doing workshop well is hard. it takes time and a lot of learning to feel confident. it’s easier and maybe, therefore, tempting at times to assign everyone the same book or hand out a worksheet to practice a writing skill. like all (almost all?) hard things, though, workshop is worth it.

it’s worth the years (for real) it will take to feel confident you’ll find teaching points when you confer with readers who are all reading different books. it’s worth the constant reflection and adjusting of your teaching and responses to students so that you move from feeling like the independent work time part of workshop is chaotic to feeling like it’s productive for students. it’s worth the loss of control you experience when you hand the decisions over to your students so that they become empowered.

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when met with struggle, focus on strategies

we’re sure that many of you are like us and have hung on carol dweck’s research on the benefits of a growth mindset for your students  – benefits for them as people, as learners, but also benefits for your classroom community – and looked for ways to help foster this kind of growth mindset in your kids.

in a recent article we read, dweck addressed some of the misunderstandings of her research around mindsets. one area that stood out to us was the dangers of praising the effort when a student is struggling or failing. dweck said, “teachers were just praising effort that was not effective, saying “wow, you tried really hard!” but students know that if they didn’t make progress and you’re praising them, it’s a consolation prize. they also know you think they can’t do any better. so this kind of growth-mindset idea was misappropriated to try to make kids feel good when they were not achieving.”

it’s well-intended, and feels good, to offer a student who’s struggling, and even failing, some praise, often in the name of boosting her confidence. dweck got us thinking, though, that we certainly don’t want to be encouraging our students to continue doing things that won’t lead them to growth or success. our goal is to have students accept challenge and failure as a chance to grow and do better, to see challenge and failure as a chance to change and improve.

what, specifically, can we do to support students who are struggling? what feedback or prompting is beneficial for us to give?

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they’ve got this – encouraging independence.

we are big believers in independence in our classroom. independence is important for practical reasons (we become more effective in our jobs if we have twenty kids who are pretty independent), but even more important for our kids as people long-term. we take our role in creating independent thinkers and doers seriously.

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building a classroom culture

at the start of the school year, one of our very first community building exercises goes like this:

we grab a box of band-aids and ask students to pretend they have an injury somewhere on their body. then we ask individual students to come up to the front of the classroom and no matter where or what their injury is, we react exactly the same way. “oh you broke your leg? here’s a band-aid for your arm. next…ooohhh… an upset stomach? band-aid for your arm. anyone else…?”

we go on like this for a couple more students and get the anticipated giggles as students catch on quickly to the routine and the response. usually (and hopefully), one student will say that the band-aid on his arm wasn’t what he needed for his injury or, if everyone is happily receiving band-aids on their arms for their injuries, we’ll eventually ask, “where do you think you would need a band-aid for that injury?” before putting it on his arm so it’s the same as everyone else’s rather than the place that he named he needed it.

this little activity helps us to launch into what is a major precept in our classroom and sets the stage for the rest of the year (and we hope the rest of their lives). it defines our core beliefs about differentiation and, more broadly, the work that will be going on in our classroom. in our class, fair isn’t everyone getting everything the same. fair is everyone getting what they need. and, since we’re all different, we need – and should expect – different things.

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