Slice of Life - Writing With Young Children

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  Join us each week and come to love this awesome writing community.

For the past several months, I have been seriously thinking about ways to encourage children to write. I have particularly focused on students in grades K to 2.  This isn't the first time that I have pondered how to encourage and support writing in the younger grades, but lately I feel a bit obsessed. Children need to have a voice and a way of expressing themselves.  They need to be able to advocate on their on behalf, as well as, express their unique ideas and learning.   Not only should this communication be orally but in writing as well.

But how do you best do this as a teacher when you have large class sizes and many students who are English Language Learners or who do not have strong role models for reading or writing?

It is not that I am opposed to writing prompts or sentence starters or using graphic organizers or other techniques to support students, but somewhere we lose sight of the real goal - providing students with a voice to share ideas, and stories, and feelings.

Sometimes I feel like the ideas coming out of some schools of thought do not adequately address the challenges in writing with children in urban settings.  Other times, I feel like the ideas created specifically for children who are English Language Learners are too restrictive and do not produce the results that we hope for. Where is the happy medium? What is the best technique for the kindergarten teacher with a very diverse classroom of nearly 30 young students?

So, I am reaching out to my on-line Professional Learning Community and asking, what has worked for you in teaching and nurturing young children to write? What techniques or strategies have been particularly helpful? Have you tried these ideas with diverse populations? How does it fit into your daily routine? Any other thoughts?

If you can leave some of your thoughts in the comment area, I would love to read them. And thank you for being a responsive sounding board as well.

Slice of Life - One Little Word - #slice2014

Last summer, I was hoping to participate regularly in the Slice of Life challenge at Two Writing Teachers.  Then life got in the way.  I keep hoping to post regularly.  At this point, I seem to post when I have something that feels important.  If you want to participate, you can link up at their Slice of Life Story Post on Tuesdays or you can just head on over there to check out other people's stories. For more information on what a Slice of Life post is about, you can go here.

For over a year now, I have noticed friends posting One Little Word posts.  I decided to explore more about this and purchased the book, One Word That Will Change Your Life, Expanded Edition by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton, and Jimmy Page.  I decided to give it a whirl and see what word would be my word.

The perfectionist in me struggles with something like this.  I know I need to unplug and focus and yet my mind seems to fill up.  I panic and generate several dozen words. I am blown away when I share the book with a close friend and her kids come up with really powerful choices for their own words in no time at all.  And all through it, I keep thinking that it will be July before I find a word.

I am pretty certain that it shouldn't be this hard.

Tonight, I gathered in the living room with two of my good friends. We decided that we would embark on this journey together and be a support to one another.  I listened and commented on what each of these women had to share.  We asked questions, and offered encouragement.  As we talked, I pulled out my journal and the list of words that I have been fretting over. I admitted that I had no idea where to start or what I needed. My friends started asking questions. Slowly, clarity came.  Where at first, I could see only a bunch of words, some patterns arose.

Along with a pattern came a heartfelt concern.  A few months ago, I wondered if I was suddenly plucked out of the current time continuum would anyone notice? Did my life have any significance or did it really matter? As I shared my concerns with my girlfriends, I became pretty emotional. Maybe I did have a word and just didn't know it.  Was purpose my word? This still didn't seem quite right.  One of my friends said that it seemed like perspective was an issue.  Then I began to cross out words that seemed less connected and started to see what was left. A cluster of words began to form.  I started to look up the definition of the words matter, significance, and meaningful.  Not so surprising all of them were connected.  This felt right.  It also meant that no matter which of those words I selected they were somehow connected to one another.  

Though I will be sitting with these words for a bit, I suspect that my one little word is the word - meaningful. Now to see what happens when I let this word sink in and grow and transform.   

Designed by Apple in California #slice2013

Every Tuesday, Ruth and Stacey, host Slice of Life at their blog, Two Writing Teachers.  This is a very supportive and encouraging community.  If you are interested in participating, you can link up your posts on Tuesdays. (Pssst...I know that it isn't Tuesday, but it has been a crazy week.  Sometimes it is important to still do something even if you missed the day.)

You can watch the Official Designed by Apple in California Trailer below:

One morning as I was starting up my computer and opened up my web browser, the Apple page came up.   My first week back at work was already super busy. However, there were a few words and an image that caught my eye before I had time to open up another window for my work email.  When I clicked on the image, I could read the whole statement.  I took a screen shot and posted it on my facebook page.  However, I knew I wanted to say more. 

The two images below make up Apple's Mission Statement. 

As an educator, I have never once thought of education as a business.  Others do, and I will let them have their thoughts.  For me, it has always been about the children.  In the first half of the mission statement, I was emotionally struck by the following lines:

Who will this help?
Will it make life better?
Does this deserve to exist?
If you are busy making everything,
How can you perfect anything?

As I am looking towards the start of a new school year, I can't help but ask myself some similar questions.  Will the programs and instruction that we present help the students that we are teaching?  Will it make their lives better?  Will their lives be better because of the time spent with us?

Ponder that for a moment.  Then move on and ask...

If you are busy making everything, how can you perfect anything? 

Wow!  There are times when I find myself feeling pulled in many directions.  New curriculum.  New initiatives. New teaching techniques.  New compliance requirements. New paperwork. Am I so busy with doing everything that I am failing to do the most important thing? Perfect the craft of teaching so that children grow and learn?

When looked at through that lens, do I have to plead guilty?

And Apple doesn't stop there.  Keep reading.

When I got to the line, there are a thousand "no's" for every "yes", I could almost hear the collective agreement.  Apple has always taken their time to put out a product.  Do we take our time so that every interaction we have with a student enhances each life it touches?

Teachers are just as much engineers and artists, craftsmen and inventors. Though those outside of education may rarely see what we do, and we may not always see the results of our efforts, we leave our signature on every child that walks through the door of our classroom or shares an interaction with us.

This year, I am going to be working on a District-level overseeing programs for English Language Learners at our Elementary Schools.  It is so easy to get overwhelmed by all of the needs of the students and the teachers and the families.  What will be my "no's" and "yeses"?  Will I maintain a focus on what is critically important to making a difference?  

Over the next few weeks,  I can plan to check off things on my "to-do" list or I can plan with the goal that every idea (and lesson or training) that I develop will enhance each life it touches

Slice of Life - 7/16/13

Every Tuesday, Ruth and Stacey, host Slice of Life at their blog, Two Writing Teachers.  This is my second week participating in Slice of Life, and I am hoping to make it a regular feature.

One of the reasons I wanted to participate in Slice of Life was to give myself an opportunity to write more freely.  I began to realize that most of the writing I did was technical. A letter to parents, a proposal regarding instructional materials, newsletters, and more have made up my regular writing.  Even my blog was primarily technical - book reviews. Yet, it would seem that coming up with what to write about is more of a challenge than I expected.

I wonder if this is what writing is like for the students that I work with? If I as an adult with reasonable writing abilities struggle to find the words to put down on a page, how is this any different for my students, especially for those who are English Language Learners or the others ones with special needs? Maybe when they stare out into space or play with their papers or lean over to talk with a peer, it's similar to my staring at a computer screen praying for words or thoughts or phrases to come. Maybe it isn't a lack of what to say or even the lack of words, but the struggle to decide on what is  important enough to talk about?  Do they wonder if their words are valuable enough to put down on paper or that others would want to read those words?

This will not be a long post today.  I just don't have the words I need to put my thoughts down in a coherent manner.  Maybe next time.  However, I hope I remember this moment and that the reminder of it will help me discover ways to provide my students with the understanding that what they have to say is important, that others do want to read their words, and that there are ways to support their journey as writers. 

Slice of Life - Learning to Say No

Every Tuesday, Ruth and Stacey, host Slice of Life at their blog, Two Writing Teachers.  This is my first time participating in Slice of Life, and I am hoping to make it a regular feature.

My summer plans looked something like this - a pile of books, lots of time to read, and six weeks of time to myself. As an introvert, I was really looking forward to down time.  However, I am three weeks into my summer and life is looking nothing like I had imagined.  Yes, the pile of books is still glaring at me but I haven't made as big of a dent in it as I hoped.  Also, it seems that my goals to relax and reflect and consider where I want to go in the future are quickly being crowded out by other demands.  One of those demands includes two on-line courses I did not expect to be taking. 

Another challenge, my saying "yes" when maybe I should say "no".  When I am saying "yes", it is often for good things.  Work will ask me to pick up an extra project that they really need me to work on or my sister thinks that when I say I want to just hang out and do nothing, I must really mean that I want her to plan out activities for us when I am visiting my family. 

A friend asked me recently, why I am afraid to say "no".  In part, I want to be there for family, friends, or work.  If I could do something, shouldn't I? From another perspective, I don't want to disappoint those that I care about.  However, when I snapped at my sister today, I wasn't being there for her and I certainly disappointed her. 

Today was the perfect storm.  Assignments were due for class, my sister showed up to hang out, and I had too many things to do.  And this was supposedly my vacation.  Big fail on my part. 

My assignments did get turned in.  I did find a way to spend time with my sister and aunt, and I am crossing things off my "to do list". However, what was the cost to me and others?  When I snapped at my sister, I certainly didn't feel good, and I know she didn't feel good.  Sure, she now has a better idea that when I say I really just want to do nothing, I mean nothing.  Yet, I really envisioned that conversation happening differently, and not like we were teenagers again.

There are three weeks left of my summer vacation. I cannot change my commitment to the two classes but I can plan out differently how I work on my assignments.  I have four more days left with my family and I will find a way to apologize to my sister, while hoping to help her understand that when I say something I mean it.  And I am going to find polite ways to turn down any extra requests that are made on my time.  I am also going to find a way to build in some space into my schedule.  Just because the calendar does not show an appointment or a commitment does not mean that I should fill it in with one.

And if anyone is looking for me, I am currently off with a glass of iced tea, a book, and a "do not disturb" sign.