Beliefs Drive Instruction

While in Austin last weekend at ILA, I attended “Planning a Year Around Workshop Teaching,” a session presented by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle.  I have had the opportunity to attend individual sessions by each at conferences in the past and I always walk away with new insights into literacy instruction.

They began by stating that “beliefs drive instruction.”  This theory comes directly from Peter Johnston’s Choice WordsBeliefs is something that I have really studied and thought more about this past school year, so right away that spoke to me. Kelly and Penny “believe that teachers must be agents of change.” The motto for ILA this year was “Changemakers.”  It is our time.  It is our turn.  We must be agents of change for our students.  Too many students are falling through the cracks or failing because we fail to see our responsibility as an agent of change.  We must change the trajectory for these students.

Pedro Noguera, a professor at UCLA, says that we continually ask the wrong question: “What can we do to raise student achievement?”  Instead, we should ask, “What can we do to challenge, stimulate, and engage our students?”  When we re-frame our thinking around student achievement, when we realize that change begins with us, when we change the narrative and give our students voice and remind them that they matter, then we will begin to see results.  Because, when we believe in our students, when we believe they can achieve at high levels, when we believe they have a purpose and a voice to share, they will rise up!

With these beliefs in mind and heeding the call of “agent of change”, I have spent the better part of today rethinking the reading block for the new school year.  With Kelly and Penny’s guidance through their book,  180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents I have begun to develop a way for elementary teachers to plan units of study around topics that matter to students.

I hope to stay on top of this thinking this year and share my learning here.

©2018 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Change Begins with Us! My Reflections on ILA 18

I just spent time in Austin at the International Literacy Association’s Annual Conference.  I return refreshed, rejuvenated, motivated, and ready to get back to work.  I’m not going to lie.  Our work in education is hard.  But it’s necessary.  Now more than ever.

The Opening Session speakers were powerful and just what I needed to motivate me to keep going.  I am saddened by the state of education today.  I love my job and know that I am where I’m supposed to be, but every day gets harder and harder. And I’m not in the classroom.  I’m on the periphery trying to support our teachers who are on the front lines.

Adan Gonzalez began with a story about his name. I am paraphrasing, but he said, “Mi nombre is more than letters and vowels put together. Mi nombre is the blood, sweat, and tears of my parents. My parents are not drug dealers, gang leaders, or rapists. They are Mexican immigrants.”  He continued to tell us about a child who became a criminal at 8.  The child was playing in the community park and was asked to leave by police officers because he did not have a permit.  The more years that passed, the more experiences that child had that shaped his life of criminality.  The life of criminality that was created because the child did not look like the white police officers.  The life of criminality that was created because the child spoke Spanish.  Adan was the 8 year old child.

“I am a criminal because I highjacked the pursuit of happiness. The system did not want me to be successful.”                                                                                                                                        ~Adan Gonzalez

I just love Cornelius Minor.  I have followed him on Twitter for the last year or so and admire his passion for equity, specifically his call to action to break down the oppressive barriers that hold education hostage for students of color, language learners, and/ or based on a student’s socio-economic status.  I hold Cornelius up with Glenn Singleton and Zaretta Hammond as my mentors for equitable education.  Cornelius spoke to using literacy as an equity tool.  We need to hold ourselves accountable to the belief that all children have the right to be taught to read and write, because teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.  As such, we need to remain vigilant in ensuring that all of our students receive the education they have the right to in spite of, or perhaps because of, the disparities that exist in our education system today.

“To know that these conditions have nothing to do with children and everything to do with a public that has simply gotten used to certain kids getting less, is to know irrepressible rage.  I will never be used to this.  We can never be used to this.”                                                                                                   ~Cornelius Minor

Dr. Nadia Lopez “opened a school to close a prison” and she is unapologetic in saying that.  She saw a need and she acted, opening a charter school in one of the poorest zip codes in the United States, Brownsville, Brooklyn.  The average income is $11,000 and the cost of living in NY is $45,000.  Just look at the disparity!  But, through her school, she is working to change the trajectory of her student scholars.  She reminds them that their “zip code doesn’t have to determine [their] destiny.” She takes them on field trips to Harvard and other Ivy League schools and shows them that one day they too, can be a student in these colleges.

“Changing the narrative gives our children voice and reminds them that they are visible.”                                                                                                                                                                                ~Dr. Nadia Lopez

Change truly begins with us. We must confront our implicit biases, reflect on our inherent beliefs, and create a vision for the change we want to see.  We can’t wait any longer. The time is now.  Our students are counting on us.

The Storyteller’s Project/Proyecto del Cuentista Lesson #4

I realize it has been awhile since I have written a post, let alone shared another lesson in The Storyteller’s Project.  Rest assured that we have been working on this project throughout the year and I had the opportunity to share with educators from around the state of Maryland at SoMIRAC two weeks ago.

In the fourth lesson, we explored our given names and what they meant to each individual.  As always, we reviewed the mentor texts (The Matchbox Diary, My Name is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River, and Six Words Fresh Off the Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America) we had previously used and the theme of collections first.  We also reviewed the meaning of “memoir.”

Then, I read aloud the vignette, “Name” from The House on Mango Street.  After a brief reflection on how the narrator felt about her name, students wrote their own reflections on what their names meant to them.  I then gave every 5th grader their own copy of The House on Mango Street. This was one of three books that I was able to purchase for our students through the grant I received.  I used the grant money to purchase books through First Book.  I’m thankful that through the SoMIRAC grant and First Book, I have been able to give our students three books of their own!

Student reflection on her name
Students show off their new book, The House on Mango Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©2018 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

 

Family Fun Nights

IMG_3620Last year, I wrote a post about “last times”.  In it, I reflected on the sadness that I feel when participating in “last time” events with my kids.  A few weeks ago, I developed a visual of my 18 for 2018.  One of the items on my visual is “Family Fun Friday Night” once a month.  That is one of my ways to make sure that as the kids get older and want to start doing things with friends, that we have one Friday night a month that is for our family.  We are each responsible for planning the evening for three different months in 2018.  Each person is able to plan Family Fun Friday for their birthday month and then we are randomly choosing the remaining two months.

Chloe chose January and last night was our first Family Fun Friday Night!  She did a great job in planning. She decided that we were going to have an evening in and she told us that we needed to wear our pajamas (my kind of girl!).  Then, we had game night.  She had us play three different games, and even though her brother complained about having to spend so much time with us, I think that he secretly enjoyed himself, too!

Our schedules are so crazy these days, and my friend Donalyn Miller once said that we make time for what is important — she was talking about reading, but I have a feeling she will agree that family is important, too! It is with that attitude that I wanted to create something where the four of us set aside the outside world for a few hours and just concentrated on bonding as a family.  Our first evening was a success!  Clark is in charge of planning the February evening, because February is his birthday month.  I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us!

 

 

The Storyteller’s Project/Proyecto del Cuentista Lesson #3

In the third lesson of The Storyteller’s Project we continued to explore identity.

We began by reviewing our study of the theme of collections.  We discussed the mentor texts we have read so far (The Matchbox Diary and My Name is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River).  We remembered the writing that we accomplished with each lesson (Heartmaps and I am poems) and how each time we write in our writer’s notebooks we are adding to our collection of memories.

Then we looked at the word “memoir” and determined what it meant.  I shared this video of a 5th grade class’ Six Word Memoirs and explained that we were going to begin by writing a six word memoir.  I shared some examples from this mentor text, Six Words Fresh off the Boat: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Coming to America.

Students then wrote their own six word memoir to add to their collection of memories in their writer’s notebooks.  Here is an example of one student’s six word memoir.

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©2018 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

The Storyteller’s Project/Proyecto del Cuentista Lesson #2

The second lesson in the Storyteller’s Project series related to identity.

Screen Shot 2018-01-07 at 12.20.20 PMI read aloud a poem, “The Photograph” from My Name is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River by Jane Medina.  We tied the idea that the author wrote about a photograph (a memory) to our over arching theme of collections.

I played two short pieces of music and students identified how each piece made them feel.  We discussed how poetry was about feelings and emotions and how poetry was similar to music in that regard.

Students then wrote “I am” poems. Along with their heart maps, their “I am” poems are kept in their writer’s notebooks so that they have a place to collect ideas for future writing pieces.

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©2018 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.

Management vs. Leadership

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On Thursday, I read a blog post by George Couros, the author of The Innovator’s Mindset.  In it, he revisits (he originally wrote about this topic in 2011) the idea of moving from “classroom management” to “classroom leadership.”  In 2016, I began thinking about, re-evaluating currently held beliefs, and developing my own ideas around leadership vs. management through my coursework for my Administration and Supervision certification.  George validates my thinking when he paraphrases Stephen Covey, “you manage things, but we lead people.”  How true that is! People don’t want to be managed.  This is true for adults and children, alike.  Instead, if a person is inspired, they will do great things.  They will want to do great things!

As I reflect on this topic, here are a few things I believe:

  • People, in general, will rise to the expectations set before them.  It doesn’t matter if we are the leader of a school or the leader in a classroom, if we believe in the people around us (no matter how young they are), they will rise up!
  • We need to be cognizant of the language we use.  If we are always sending messages of deficit thinking, our students will internalize and believe that about themselves.  Wouldn’t it be better if we sent messages of affirmation instead?  Children will internalize those positive affirmations and will be inspired to do great things!  Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 11.58.18 AM
  • We have to be willing to re-frame our thinking.  And maybe even to change it.  Does the word “teacher” equate to an adult standing in front of the classroom sharing their knowledge day in and day out?  Or could the word “teacher” equate to an adult learning beside his/her students through the facilitation of active learning opportunities? Does “learning” equate to students receiving the messages the teacher is sending verbally (i.e. the content and curriculum)? Or could “learning” equate to students actively constructing their own meaning of the content in a way that works for them (creating, reading, writing, viewing videos, etc.)?  Is it necessary for a classroom to have desks set in rows, inhibiting conversations amongst peers (great for management)? Or, could classrooms become places of discourse and hubs for the empowerment of students (building leadership)?

As parents, our legacy is not just how we raise our children, it is what our children become because of the way we raised them.  If my children are inspired to give back to this world in some way, if they go out and do great things, I will consider my parenting a success. The same holds true for our other “kids.”  The children that walk through the doors of our classrooms and schools on a daily basis.  Our legacy as educators does not lie in what we do in our classrooms every day, it is in what our students do as a result.

©2018 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.