The Magic of Read Aloud

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#sol17- October 17, 2017

This quarter has been tricky- lots of days off, which sounds lovely, but has made it hard for us all to find our rhythm. Today (Tuesday) is our last day of school as we then have a 6-day break (5 days for teachers) that spans Deepavali. After this break, we have a solid chunk of time teaching in the second quarter. Some students began their break early and most of the staff at school who are of Indian descent took leave today to prepare for their holiday. The excitement was definitely in the air!

Two of my colleagues were leaving right from school to catch a flight, so I offered to take their classes for the last few minutes of the day so they could leave quickly. In our classroom, as we finished cleaning up we welcomed the other students. As we waited for the last class to join us we talked about what we were reading and what we would read over break. My class had already had an extra book shopping time to load up their backpacks with some extra books to read.

All found a place on the floor and settled in for a story. I began the routine that my own class knows well- undressing the book, looking at the end pages and getting our minds ready for the story. Only one student knew the book already, yet they were all buzzing excitedly as we began. I told them that it was the first of four books with shared characters.

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Throughout the reading, the giggles and groans told me that the students were totally hooked. As the dismissal bell rang we closed the book and gathered bags to go home. It was a perfect ending to a rather frenetic day and a great way to celebrate our love of books!

 

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This I Know

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#sol17- October 10, 2017

After two busy days of three-way conferences (parent-teacher-student), my brain is a bit sizzled, so tonight I reflect on what I know (or know again) after this round of conferences:

  • Some students are exactly the same at home and at school, so parents nod and smile a lot
  • Some students are so different with their parents there (some sillier, others more serious)
  • Most students took the conference really seriously and wanted to show their best
  • It is a different kind of tired after two days of talking to parents all day
  • Conferences should never be at the start of the week- we teachers are exhausted now and the kids have just had a 4-day weekend, so we are at a disadvantage in terms of energy levels
  • The reflections they wrote before were so honest and spot on- these kids know themselves well
  • It is harder to be a third grader now than when I was a kid (the level of reading, writing, and math they are expected to achieve really is remarkable, no wonder we teachers feel pressure too)
  • Many students are operating in a second or third language all day at school and they really have double the effort when they face home language work when they get home
  • Having the time to talk with parents gives you a new perspective on the students’ lives outside of school (on so many levels)
  • While the conferences set purpose is to reflect on progress thus far and set goals they also help me to know my students better
  • I am grateful I have this group of students this year- with almost one-quarter of the school year behind us we have lots to look forward to!

 

**** Zhi Hong (student from last year) keeps slicing!

Community and Faraway Family

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#sol17- October 3, 2017

A few weeks ago I got an email from the mom of one of my students. Until that point, it had always been the dad who emailed, as he is the stay at home parent. She was letting me know that her husband was going to be back “home” for three weeks helping take care of a family situation. Living here in Kuala Lumpur, Canada is very far away,  but thanks to technology the father and son were able to keep in close touch.

This student loves to chat and often works his way to the front of the line at the end of the day so that he has extra talk time with me. Yesterday he was a little disappointed- his dad was supposed to be home on the weekend, but had to extend his time away.

Then last night I got an email from the mom- her husband’s father had died, he just did not recover from the heart surgery he had recently had. She let me know that her son would be in class today, but that they would then be flying to Canada and not return until after our October break. She said that she would work with him a bit on schoolwork while away.

In my response, I, of course, started with expressing my condolences. I let her know that I knew that family time was the priority at this time, but promised to keep her son informed. I also let her know that today if her son wanted some quiet time during any of the recesses he could just stay in class.

First thing in the morning he came on up. “Was it the grandfather that you write and talk about so much?” I asked.

“No, this was my other grandfather- he was my oldest grandparent,” he said and after expressing my sympathy I showed him how to access his email, Google Drive, and Google Classroom on a computer that he had not previously used (as his school computer stays at school). I promised him that I would write him from time to time and keep him somewhat up to date on what was going on.

As the day went on he kept dropping hints to his classmates that he was not going to be at school for awhile. “Are you sure you do not want to say anything?” I asked.

“Okay,” he said, “at the end of the day.”

Then in the next minute, he said, “Okay, you can tell them now.”

After I told the class the reason he would be missing many students commiserated and told him stories of their grandparents who had already died (and in some cases their unedited versions of how and why they may have died).

It was heartwarming to see the natural and open way the students spoke to him and the relief he seemed to feel after sharing his news. We will miss him over the next three weeks, but I know that the students will welcome him back when he returns. Although his biological family is in Canada, his school family is here for him too.

 

 

*** Former student, Zhi Hong, keeps slicing.

 

Voice!

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September 26, 2017-#sol17

Thanks to Jennifer Laffin (@laffinteach) for starting the hashtag #DWHabit I am back to writing daily, something I know I should do (and enjoy after having done it). She sends out a word each day and says you can use it or not. Today I had no idea what I was going to slice until I read today’s word “voice”.

“Ms. Victor, my box from Heather Lang is here,” L. stopped me in the hall this morning.

“Oh, I can’t wait to see it- come by and show me if you have time,” I answered.

“Maybe at lunch recess,” she said.

L. was a student in my class last year as a third grader. She started at our school at the start of second grade without knowing a word of English and the progress she has made is truly inspirational. She is a girl who always has believed what she had to say mattered and she is happy to speak to a group or write her thinking. I used to get notes from her left on my laptop and I remember that she and a few friends stayed in at recess one day to write “Merry Christmas” notes to each of their classmates and all of the teachers in the grade. She definitely saw the power of her words. Last year her opinion writing work focused on shark finning. She added research to her beliefs and sought out the address of people who she considered changemakers that she could send her letter to.

As luck would have it last spring Liv (@thelivbits) and Heather Lang (@hblang) announced a contest (#artforsharks). I shared it in my class and in the end, two students entered. Early in September, the winners were announced and L. was the runner-up.

At lunch recess she brought up her unopened package and I watched her tear into it. There she found the books If Sharks Disappeared, Smart about Sharks, and Swimming with Sharks. Heather had autographed her book for L. and of course, L. was thrilled. Heather congratulated L. on her art and the blog post she had shared where she published the letter she had written. It was great to see her see that other people valued her voice! I love when students have real opportunities to share their writing in a way that matters to them.

 

*** Speaking of voice, here is another former student, Zhi Hong, still slicing!

Lucky Traveler!

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#sol17-September 19, 2017

Something I am trying to get used to is traveling alone. Nearly two years ago I sort of started. By sort of started, I mean that I joined a group traveling to Vietnam. I went back and forth with the company trying to choose my trip, as I did not want to be the only person not in a couple- not that I was looking for a match, but I do not want to always be the third wheel. I spent an absolutely fantastic 15 days traveling, using all sorts of transportation, met a great group of people, and gained courage.

Last year I spent a couple days In Luang Prabang, Laos sort of alone. I knew that a colleague and her husband would be there at the same time, so I figured I might run into them a bit, but we were in separate hotels, arrived on different dates, and so I knew that I would have plenty of alone time too. In the end, it was another successful trip!

Next month we have 5 days off and it was time for my next solo venture. I hemmed and hawed, trying to decide what my priorities should be. I decided that I am the kind of person who copes better in cities while alone because there is always something to do in a city and my aloneness might not be so visible. Just last week I finally booked my trip- a return trip to Hoi An, Vietnam. It was one of the stops on my trip two years ago, but definitely, a place I wanted to return to (small city, very scenic, delicious food, the chance to get clothes made for me, very walkable- all plusses for me). This time (as far as I know) I will not know anybody traveling there, nor will I have any “tour group” to travel with- really on my own, but I am fine with that.

My older son, currently living in Korea, has definitely inspired me in that he jumps at any chance to travel and is totally okay traveling on his own- if he can do it, then so can I! In fact just today I got word from him that I am meeting him in Nha Trang, Vietnam for three days over Christmas (as he only has 3 days off I let him choose where we would meet) and I am currently debating the rest of my break, which at this point looks like another solo adventure or two, as he only has that time off. I know I am so lucky to be able to travel like this and I am not going to let not having a travel companion keep me in place!

I would love to know if any readers have tips for solo travel. So far I feel like it is something I can do, but not yet something I love (although I do always love the freedom part of being on my own time).

 

 

*** Former third grade slicer, Zhi Hong (now a 4th grader still slicing).

 

How’s It Going?

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#sol17- September 12, 2017

It has been a crazy busy start to the school year for me (I am sure most of you can relate)! As a self-confessed PD junkie I have had lots of opportunities already this year, including a four day Adaptive Schools Seminar  (near the end of September), 2 day Numicon training (last Friday and Saturday on a long weekend), and now, this week we have Carl Anderson visiting for 3 days. All of these were at our school and the first two were totally optional.

This morning our team had two hours with Carl Anderson and I thought I would use his tag line (“How’s it going?”) to synthesize some of my learning (any errors are mine):

  • It’s going – we are in year 2 of using the Teachers College Units of Study as a primary resource and our discussions and observations of Carl conferring with some of our students was a combination of affirmation and stretch. I loved how simple his routines for working with students were. An “aha” was that the student goal, to really be worthy and developed, has to remain in place for some time- otherwise, progress is unlikely.  Somehow we get caught up in new goal, new goal, new goal- he reminded us that if they achieved a goal after one conference it probably was not something they needed to work on.
  • The stretch for me was pushing my area of weakness. I told Carl at the outset that I default to telling/reminding not teaching in conferences. With his use of mentor texts, having the student start the work right then and there, and checking in with the student after the very next conference to make sure they are trying out the new learning right away makes the student more accountable, but also demands that I follow up right away. My problem in the past has been that I never really knew whether students were trying out this new learning- now I will know and can recalibrate within minutes if I see it is not working out. No more “butterfly” conferences, just checking in- real work to be done!
  • We got to see a range- Carl conferred with 4 third graders and we got to see a range- both in terms of content and in the level of the writers’ work. Observing his work with one of my more reluctant writers was powerful because I could see ways to frame conferences better so that they are more productive.
  • My next step- no excuses– the majority of writing conferences is for teaching, so I have to be ready for that. I already have a small stack of mentor texts we have used in class (and I have student examples and my own writing I can pull from as well), so I have the basic tools. I am going to follow Carl’s advice in terms of schedule: conference 1, then scrawl notes, conference 2, scrawl notes, check in with child 1, conference 3, scrawl notes, check in with child 2, etc. I have a chart I am happy recording notes on (used it last year too), so that part is already easy too.

After a few weeks of lots of PD it is time for me to pause for a bit (although that is never really true- case in point I am involved in the Voxer book club for Feedback That Moves Writers Forward). I need time to more fully absorb all this recent learning and try it out to make it mine (which is, I guess, what my students feel with all the input they are getting every day). So, what it comes down to, is, it is going well. I am happy to be continuing to learn and grow!

 

 

*** Zhi Hong keeps slicing!

I Was Going to Write About…

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#sol17- September 5, 2017

Yesterday I did the unheard of (for me)- I drafted my slice a day ahead, knowing that today was the first day of my After School Activity and from there I would be dashing to Pilates and then home inspired me to draft a day early (it was all about my double pink eye this weekend).

Then today happened and I loved my ASA (Josh Funk, you would LOVE to know how some of my students from last year came rushing in to ask “Did that stinky stench book that the guy we Skyped with last year read to us come in yet?” They then proceeded to huddle on the floor and read it aloud to each other- and that was just in the first five minutes).

But then I continued my frustration from yesterday trying to book a few days away in October. I have finally decided where I want to go, found the flights, and the hotel, but I am stuck with the payment. Yesterday when I tried to pay I kept getting an error message saying the bank’s certificate was invalid. It was a holiday, so after a few attempts, I gave up. Today I called the bank to report the problem but turns out they can only check out problems from that day, so I had to hang up and try again. After trying again, no luck Called again and was told everything was okay on that end- everything should work,  No luck- called again and was told to disable the pop-up blocker- no luck. Restarted the computer, because that often needs to solve problems, no luck. Tried another credit card (through the same bank) – ugh, no luck! Tried another browser- no luck. Restarted the computer again, no luck. Sprinkled in here intermittently I made phone calls to the customer service office of the bank again. They keep maintaining that it is not their system that has the problem. Finally, I call again and by now my voice may have given away the frustration I was feeling. “Ben” listened patiently to me, checked “two different systems” and said it must be the vendor’s website problem. When I reminded him that by now I had tried two different websites using two different browsers with two different credit cards (and a debit card by now) and all came up showing that it was an invalid certificate on the bank’s part he paused. Then he said he was going to check one more thing and call me back within 10 minutes.

Less than 5 minutes later Ben was back on the line. He said IT from their side had said nothing was wrong, but he wanted me to try one more time. He patiently waited while my super slow internet connected and as I slowly went through the process of bringing up my flight booking I was feeling defeated. Screen by screen I advanced and we got to the payment screen and it accepted my payment after sending me a code!!! “What happened? Why did it work this time?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he responded honestly. “I deactivated your phone number from the account and reactivated it, that must have triggered something.”

After thanking him profusely I hurried to add the hotel to my trip!

So although I did not blog about my pink eye or my fun after school activity this story too had a happy ending- but who knows why!?!

 

 

*** Zhi Hong keeps slicing!