The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Archive for October, 2016

Author Visit

One of the many reasons I look forward to the Illinois Young Authors Contest, with its accompanying Young Authors Conference in Bloomington each year. is the opportunity to meet published authors from across the state of Illinois. I have written about several of these authors in the past and the Skype chats they have done with my class.

Last Friday, we had the chance to meet another one of these authors who was visiting as part of the Illinois Youth Literature Festival. Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of several books, include an awesome biographical picture book called Josephine. She visited with all of the fourth and fifth grade classes and then visited second and third grade.


During her presentation, she talked about the writing process, shared two of her stories, and answered questions. I was impressed by the quality questions my students asked. I was particularly grateful to hear Ms. Powell talk about the amount of time she spends on editing and revising her work.

It was a great visit and a wonderful way to finish the week! I hope at least some of my students were able to go to the literature festival over the weekend so they could meet other authors and learn more about some of the great literature resources available in our own community.


Recognising Limitations

I hate when I am forced to come to terms with my own human limitations. I am the kind of person who always hopes I can find a way to do everything I plan on doing, even if there are simply not enough hours in the day to do them. I stretch myself thin, I sneak in brief moments to tackle different tasks, and I strive to find a way to make it all work.

But sometimes I have to take a step back and acknowledge that I can’t do it all. I can’t be everywhere and do everything that I wish I could do. I have to prioritise and perform goal-setting triage to cut out the parts that aren’t necessary.

It is especially frustrating when I find myself doing that in the classroom. There is just so much I want to do and do well! I read lots and lots and lots of books, I make mental lists of all of the best practices, I go to workshops and listen to TED talks and converse with colleagues and say to myself, “Yes! I am going to do it all! Because that is what’s best for my students! If it is a best practice, I will find a way to do it!”

Unfortunately, many best practices rely on unlimited resources or environmental factors I can’t control. It is a best practice to keep a group limited to 8-12 individuals, as that is when they are most effective; I have 22 students. It is a best practice to conference with students individually to provide instant feedback, to use small-group instruction on targeted skills, to group students by specific needs and not by broader categories. I only have about seven or so hours in the school day to do all of that, and at some point I have to have time to teach everyone, to allow for independent practice, to allow students to inquire and to explore, and to let them play.

Oh, how important it is to let students play! It is through play that they learn how to interact with others in pro-social ways that allow them to be part of a larger community. It is through play that we learn to problem solve, to think critically, to explore, to imagine, to cooperate, to challenge, to help, to grow.

So what am I supposed to do when I realise I can’t do it all, when I come face-to-face with my imperfect limitations? I have to tell myself that it is okay. Good practices, while not best, are better than no practices. Which means that I have to be okay with not doing scheduled guided math groups right now because we are all learning Eureka Math together. I have to be okay with not doing everything I hoped to do every single day as long as I am doing things that are meaningful and valuable. I have to ask myself, “Are my students learning? Are they growing?” If the answer is yes, then I need to be okay with that.

Here’s to not beating myself up for not being able to do it all!

Weekend Writing

It has been a long-time goal of mine to help my students write more authentically. Authentic writing, for me, is writing that is real–not realistic, nor based on reality, but real as in from the heart and mind of the author. Authentic writing is something you mean and something you intend. This can be challenging when you are being told what to write and when to write, but I believe it is possible. To borrow a phrase from a book that I read this summer, I want my students to write pieces that they want to write and that the audience wants to read.

I was expressing this goal to my district’s elementary literacy coach and she had some ideas. Students often tell us they have nothing to write about or they don’t know what to write about. Her strategy for helping them overcome this writer’s block is to do something she calls “weekend writing.” I have no idea if this was an original idea she developed, if it was something she adapted, or if it is a strategy she lifted directly from another teacher, but I had never heard of it before and was excited to try it out with my class, as it seems to get at the heart of authentic writing.

After discussing and planning, we arranged for her to visit my class today to introduce the topic. She showed the students the graphic organizer for weekend writing and modeled how she would fill it out. I assisted in the process. After the organizer was completed, she and I had a conversation about what was written. This is a key component of the writing process that often gets overlooked. If students can talk to each other about what they did or what they think, they can write about it!

Once we had modeled it for the students, we gave them the graphic organizers and set them on the task of jotting down some ideas about what they did over the weekend, writing things like who they were with, what they did inside, what they did outside, what they ate, and where they went. As she told one student who said he had nothing to write, “Everyone was with someone and ate something over the weekend!” He realised this was true and immediately wrote far more than he had in previous weeks!

Students then turned to their elbow partners to discuss one single thing they recorded. As they talked, their partner asked probing questions such as “why did you do that?” or “what did you think about it?” Then students were given just five minutes to start writing. Instead of claiming they had nothing to write, each student was able to write something about their weekend that was important to them.

Tomorrow we will revisit weekend writing and explore how we can use these brief ideas, or “small moments,” as Writing Workshop guru Lucy Calkins calls them, to develop longer passages of authentic writing. I am hopeful that this writing will then transfer to students’ other writing as they think about ways to capture brief ideas and expand on them.

Oh, and the highlight of my weekend? Making a perfect batch of pumpkin French toast on Saturday morning! (Friends and family who are connected with me on social media have seen this picture already. It is too fantastic to not share. Click on the image for a link to the recipe!)