Thursday, July 30, 2009

Are You Excited?

Some of you are getting ready to go back to school next week for in-service and making your nests before students come in. Others have a few weeks before the rush. Now is a great time to get recharged and enthused about the new year.

Let me suggest a few "start off on the right foot" ideas for any age:

Have your children write a "writer's autobiography" one of the first days of school. Right away you get an idea of their writing abilities and you learn something about your students' attitudes and experiences with writing. You can even ask parents to write a "writer's biography" about their child, just a simple paragraph to gain their perspective (oh, and by the way, later you can use these to teach "point of view"). Do you know about the National Council of Teachers of English's Day of Writing October 20th? Check it out and become a part:!

Create a new bulletin board that highlight books students found this summer. Let them be creative (a TV guide summary/review, a conventional book review, a pictorial recommendation). If you have some kids who weren't readers during the summer, give them a hall pass to visit your media center briefly and, with the guide of the media specialist or a helper, explore the new books in that collection before anyone else. Be sure to put your own picks up there and make sure there are a few copies of at least one of those in your classroom library.

And by the way, kiss your media specialist. She/he can be a great resource and help while you are focusing on reading and writing skills. After all, the aim of education has got to be to create lifelong readers if they are doing to do more than pass the test.

Visit again soon!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Let's Have A Chat

Do you realize the power you have to influence and engage learners of any age with conversation? Whether it's a book or content area discussion, a debate about current events, a prediction, a sympathetic ear, or a "heart-to-heart" with a student everyone else has given up on -- you are in a position of great power.

I've been thinking a lot about what conversations look like in classrooms and would love to hear from real teachers. Here are a few thoughts of mine:

In his book, Life in a Crowded Place: Making a Learning Community, author and researcher Dr. Ralph Peterson points out that “in everyday life, talk is the primary medium for learning, and for that reason, talk is an essential part of a learning community’s life.” For it is when we move beyond the rudimentary layers of thinking, from knowledge to comprehension, to application, analysis, evaluation, and synthesizing (Bloom, 1956). If you want to do more than shuffle papers, record test scores, and push kids on to the next level, you must make space (both literally and figuratively) for conversation in your classroom.

Are you talking at students or talking with them? The distinction reflects on your abilities as a teacher. Yes, we must all "correct and direct" but strong, interesting conversations raise the percentage of time students are actively engaged in learning. Carefully crafted words can open doors for students in understanding and peer conversations can build background knowledge.

A big part of effective conversations is vocabulary. Do you use the same dull, everyday words when you talk with students or are your conversations purposefully embedded with key vocabulary from content area learning, new words introduced in writing, spelling or read aloud times? A version of Reader's Digest's Word Power is a quick way to reinforce and grow your students volume of words. Did you know that only 10-17% of students' vocabulary comes from direct instruction. The rest comes from incidental learning and conversations are a great place to accomplish that.

I'll be back next week after visiting the AL Kindergarten Conference. Steven Layne is keynote speaker. If any of you are close to Huntsville, AL, I believe there is still time to register. This is a great regional conference (we had Mem Fox last year!).