Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Teaching is Messy when You're on a Quest

My one little word continues to grab me and won't let me go. Just once I wish I could scream, "Leave me alone."  I am not ready for another quest.  But then there is life and life gets messy as my friend Ruth Ayres writes about so many times,  I appreciate her honesty especially with those posts.  My messiness is in my classroom this year.  It's with an amazing group of 27 learners. It's really my messiness that I haven't wrapped my thinking even after seven weeks and 1/2 way through our first trimester.

My quest has been for flexible seating, workshop model in all subject areas and most of all visible student learning.  Lyndsey, our literacy coach, saved the day a week ago. I don't even know if she knows this.  But I was totally overwhelmed, and I asked her for more advice. I don't remember anything  except, "You jumped in with both feet in all subject areas."  I didn't even consider that affect on my overwhelming feeling of being lost several times in my quest.  

Fast forward to moments of pure joy... there have been several of them this year.  I believe they are breadcrumbs that help keep me moving forward on my quest.

There two girls are reading The War that Saved my Life.
They started before recess reading in the hallway.
Almost 100 students went to lunch walking by them.
I walked into the hall five minutes into recess, and they were still reading.
"We can't go to recess."  Can we please finish the book?
YES you can :)  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Celebrate: My OLW (Quest)

It's been a long week in fifth grade.  Long meaning several conversations about how we are going to choose where to sit.  How we have to share the couch, stools and moving tables.  How I am not willing to have a sign out for all the seating preferences. Yes I played the teacher card.  Two weeks ago at our Friday class meeting, the students decided that you could only sit at "special" seat once during our rotation of five subjects a day.  

Fast forward to yesterday's class meeting.  An extremely shy student raised her hand and said, "Mrs. Caplin everyone isn't following the class rules about open seating."  I responded, "What should we do to solve this problem?"  Conversation continued similar to the past two Fridays.  I just listened and did not solve this problem again.  

I'm celebrating my quest on not solving the problems for the learners in my room this year. I don't respond when I'm asked

  • how to spell---- 
  • where's Massachusetts
  • how do use multiplicative form with 433,320.21
  • can you tell me the attribute for Anna in Capture the Flag
You get the point.  It's a huge transition for me.  I am no longer the gate keeper of answers.  I am the gate keeper of the questions, so they can find the answers.  It's been a hard process to break old traditions, but it's been an amazing quest for the first four weeks of school.  

I'm celebrating with my colleagues.  Thanks Ruth for helping me to remember to search for celebrations.  Happy Saturday :)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

#DigLitSunday: Reflection

Margaret asks us to reflect for this week's DigLitSunday.  Reflection was my #OLW (one little word) in 2012.  My #OLWs have impacted my life both personally and professionally. I really never have any idea of where my #OLW will lead me. 

Reflection is ever changing.  There are moments especially in the car driving home for 20 minutes when I have the waves of rollercoasters reflections. The ups and downs of reflection. I tend to lean more on the harder side of reflection when things aren't going well.  But I'm learning to be softer with myself. I think that is why I chose my #OLW Quest for 2016. Reflection is crucial for me especially this year as I embark on a new journey in my classroom (flexible seating along with inquiry learning) Blogging is an important part of my reflection. There have been moments when I wasn't sure if I should hit "post" and what's interesting those posts are the ones that tend to have the most comments. I'm thankful for reflection I always believe I'm better educator. I'm thankful for my PLN of friends who are everywhere from Maine to Montana.  I'm thankful for colleagues at BES and friends that support me.  Most of all I am so thankful for my family. Thanks Margaret, Reflections of Teche, for encouraging me with your weekly tweet to post on #DigLitSunday.

Sunday, September 11. I still remember where I was 15 years ago.  I was teaching and the first attack happened during my plan time. I gathered with my team members, watched silently, cried and had to walk into my classroom to teach.  I'm not sure how I made it through the day, If I'm honest I know how I made it through that day.  Prayers and knowing that I had to maintain composure, so my students' parents would be the ones to tell their child about what happened on 9-11.  I remember.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

#DiglitSunday - Motivation

Margaret gathers #DigLitSunday posts at Reflections on the Teche.  I appreciate the invite every week to post; however, I haven't taken the opportunity to post.  I always enjoy learning along with others who post on Sunday. When I saw the tweet about the topic for this week: motivation. It hit me right in the heart.  Motivation for my students is where my first thoughts flew too. But then I paused and thought all day Saturday about motivation for me.  Margaret has chosen extremely smart topics for #DigLitSunday.  Topics that are relevant at the start of the school year.  Motivation.....where do I start....

I took this photo several year ago on a trip at Lake Erie.  The quietness of the lake and the time to relax with my husband ended up being one of those moments caught in time for me. Motivation evolves for me.  Motivation ebbs and flows.  Motivation unfortunately is sometimes based on who is around me.  I believe that is why I love my PLN group on twitter and blogging.  Those colleagues are the shoulders I lean on even when I can't physically be with them.  I'm learning about Voxer and hearing their voices has made a huge difference in my motivation.  

As Margaret asks me to consider motivation, I realize that it also comes with my energy level. Summer motivation is huge and I believe I can conquer the classroom especially with power lessons, huge inquiry probing questions and differentiation. Three weeks into the school year with 27 students motivation is weening.  Moments in the classroom take over because all of a sudden I know my students and am beginning to know their needs.  Motivation shifts to meet 27 individual learners.  Teaching is going to be different this year with the shift in flexible learning as well as teaching and implementing new focus areas. Motivation will continue to be on the forefront of my learning.  Happy Sunday my friends. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Celebrating: Messy and Rockstars

Each week I am constantly thinking about my celebration. It really makes a huge difference with my attitude several times a week with my students.  It's been a bumpy rocky start to the school year. We have completed our second full week and we've found a little corner to start heading toward a smoother path. I am excited to Celebrate this week and thanks Ruth for encouraging me to find a little celebration everyday.

I'm celebrating messy.  Messy learning as well as messy lesson plans.  With the encouragement of my math coach, I have totally revamped the start of our math class.  We didn't jump right into 5.NBT.1 (which just reading it) you might understand why she nudged me gently to start the year "Thinking as Mathematicians" and discussing the  Mathematical Practices as my guide.  Well it's been a journey, one I wouldn't change, but one I would say hasn't been easy for me or the students.  We're truly learning together. The photo above is from a "Rich" math problem about a trip to the beach.  The students had several calculations and one of them involved long division from the old school of thought; however, most students didn't have any idea how to do it YET.  After 20 students said, "Mrs. Caplin,I need help." I put on the breaks and offered the banks (play money) and all of them tried to use money to solve the problem.  It was even crazier for me because all of them were withdrawing different amounts. However for them it was the absolute best choice.  After two days of working on the same problem. (That was another coachable moment for me) They got it.  Math is 70 minutes, but yesterday it was 110 minutes, and every child succeeded including time for a snack. 

I would rather "know" authors than anyone else who might be famous. I told my students as we were discussing our favorite authors.  After namedropping a few that I "know" I started reading conferences. A. told me he loved Cynthia Lord and his favorite books are Shelter Pet Squad. A. doesn't really like reading because it's hard.  After I posted this on my face book page, Cynthia graciously offered to send an autographed bookmark. She wrote a lovely encouraging note and as we opened the envelope you could have heard a pin drop.  A's smile was huge and he instantly told me I had to laminate both things so they could last forever.  Authors are rockstars especially when they give so graciously and have such a huge impact on our students' lives. I celebrate Cynthia Lord for having such a kind heart. Thank you.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Celebrating First 3 Days

Wednesday, August 17 9:05 AM
Welcome to my 29th year of teaching. First day. Envisioned my new classroom for at least 6 months prior to this date.  Several conversations with my principal, coaches, self-talk, colleagues. I had it perfect in my mind.  Open seating, no set desks, space for supplies, and tons of open floor space. Enter 27 students.  I felt like a rookie.  I had never taught a day in my life.  I looked up from the carpet and wondered what had I done.  So many things I never considered.  

Thursday morning, 1:00 AM
What had I done?  How do I learn their names when they don't have assigned seats?  Even though we spent all day building community - I've made a mistake. My husband reminds me, "You've got this."  I am reminded of the sweetest comment after I called MP the wrong name twice, "It's ok Mrs. Caplin, it's a lot easier for me I've known you since kindergarten and you didn't know it." 

Thursday, August 18 7:05 AM
Couldn't sleep,  Couldn't get to school soon enough. Turned on my Jimmy Buffet CD to remind me of summer.  Took a deep breath. Sat down on the couch and looked around.  Changes have to be made.  Moved one table out.  Moved three desks out.  Moved "typical" chairs out. Stacked the nesting table. 27 students arrived - more space.  Better job with names (two hours looking at their first day photos last night really helped).  Built bridges with pennies had a tremendous Thursday.

Friday, August 19
Starbucks Friday! Class meeting.  Students share about their week.  "Love open seating." "Couch is the best."  "Never had nesting tables."  "It's not so crowded."  "I've never had a class pet."  "Thanks Mrs. Caplin."  I guess I still got it.

Thanks to Ruth Ayres for encouraging me to Celebrate.  I sure couldn't have celebrated on Wednesday, but now I realize I had three days of growth. 

Building bridges #happyfaces
#happylearners choosing their own space

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Shift #3: Classroom Conversation

Shift #3 will be the toughest challenge for me.  I had the opportunity for coaching last year, and it really helped me to notice my talk. Classroom talk is a two way street and in the past I have been more of the director of conversations. My other guilt is that I tended to be the answer keeper (not all the times) but especially when I was rushed for time and for sure in math. 
Compliments of Google image

I'm excited about this shifting teacher talk to include more question because I believe it could be the game changer.  I have read several articles, chapters and twitter chats to help me change my thinking.  I am going to have a cheat sheet index card to help me the first few months of school.  It has a huge question mark and a few prompts to remind me to stop and ask questions.  My go to questions include

  • Explain your thinking NOT explain your answer
  • Justify your answer with support from your notebook NOT show me your work
  • Turn and talk with a friend who has a different answer/solution NOT just turn and talk
My biggest learning happened in math the past few years.  I needed to make changes with how they responded with answers. I have shifted from: What's the answer? to Which strategy did you use to solve the problem?  It's a double dip question both the answer and the thinking. This change was important because I used to want the "right" answer. Focusing on strategies which are crucial for math since there are so many different ways to solve a problem. Our conversation is centered around the strategies and their thinking not just the answer. 

Shift #3 will be a year long commitment. I have been thinking about gentle reminders to help me remember these changes. I'm getting excited about implementing my thinking from the summer when school starts in two weeks. I appreciate the comments because they always help me grow as a learner.