It wasn’t my fault!

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March SOLC–Day 20
A huge thank you to  Anna, Beth, Betsy, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
twowritingteachers.org

Grades close today and I really, really, really wanted to get all my comments written this weekend. But after hour after hour of work scoring and entering grades on Saturday, I just couldn’t pull it off. Apparently, two days of disciplined work in a row is beyond my capability–at least on the weekend. I worked a bit, got a good chunk done, but completion was not within range. And now that I think about it, it’s really not my fault. Here’s what I blame:

  • Basic human physiology and maybe the hens: The cupboards were bare: We needed food. I had to get to the grocery store. The fact that this was a preferred activity today means nothing! It still wasn’t my fault that we needed groceries. So what if I chose the longest route, drove slowly and listened to my audio book?  After I returned, I had to unload the groceries, and put them away. Then I noticed I needed to clean out the fridge and that necessitated a trip out to the compost pile.  On the way I got distracted by the hens, remembering I needed to collect the eggs …
  • DSCN9407.jpgOne very cute squirrel: I watched this little guy play in the snow under the feeders for quite a while. He was playing peek-a-boo in one of my footprints as he scavenged for food. He literally made me burst out laughing one time when he popped up with a sunflower seed hanging askew from  his mouth. Adorable! Of course I had to take pictures. Then I had to download them and, of course, share them on social media. And not responding to comments is just rude…
  • Sun and snow: The skies were blue and the sun was reflecting light like a neon invitation to get outside. So, never one to turn down an invitation (again, rude!), I went for a walk and enjoyed the crazy snow textures and the winter scenery. The fields of snow have a sheen that is just incredible! (This could also be interpreted as the fault of my Fitbit, as I did want to rack up a few steps.) The whole picture thing happened again…DSCN9430 (1).jpg
  • TWT: I read and commented on blogs–this is really TWT’s fault. I mean did you have to have a commenting contest this weekend??? 😉 I also needed to start writing today’s blog…
  • My Family: I hung out with my husband. Then I made some phone calls and messaged with my kids for a while. Also, my sister was sick and I had to check in to see how she was doing which led to a long chat…maybe it’s her fault?
  • Human physiology again: I roasted veggies and prepped salads in a jar for my lunches this week and steel cut oats for my breakfasts. This is really productive, right? Prepping also necessitates clean up, another major time suck…
  • A westward facing window over the kitchen sink and the sunset: I was finishing up in the kitchen, preparing to get back to report card comments, when I looked outside. Is it my fault the window faces west? Who can resist a light show like that? I raced out back to watch the sunset and take a few photos. I returned to get back to work and darned if the lights didn’t change into a whole new color spectrum. Of course I had to run out again. Then that whole photo thing happened again…

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Bottom line–I’m not finished with my report card comments and it wasn’t my fault!

 

Backyard Surprise

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March SOLC–Day 19
A huge thank you to  Anna, Beth, Betsy, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
twowritingteachers.org

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The blue skies and relatively warm temperatures beckoned. After a long focused day of scoring, grading and writing report card comments, I slipped outside to take a walk.  I enjoyed stretching my legs, feeling the sun on my face and breathing in the chilly air. It had been a long stretch at my desk! I snapped some photos here and there, rejoicing at early signs of spring. On the way back home, I noticed an interesting formation in a snow bank at the end of a neighbor’s driveway. I stopped to take some more photos.

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“Hey! You wanna see some interesting snow?” a voice called out.

I straightened up quickly to see an elderly homeowner standing on his side porch in his socks, looking at me. “Oh,” I stammered, “Hi! I’m just taking some pictures of your snow bank.”

“Yup. You wanna see some more interesting snow…like a snow castle?” he asked.

“Um… sure,” I replied.

“Come ’round back,” he said, pointing. “I snow blowed a path. It’s just in the backyard.”

I stepped around the snow bank and into his driveway, pushing back a few random thoughts of harmless-looking psycho killers. As I made my way toward the house, the man and I exchanged comments about the weather and the interesting snow textures in his yard. I reached the side porch and again he pointed to the snow blown path that led behind the house, saying “Just ’round there.”

Crunch. Crunch. I stepped off the pavement and onto the snowy path. I took a few more steps forward. Then, with a lot of curiosity and some trepidation, I peered around the corner. Whoa!  There it was…a full blown castle wall!

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“Wow!” I said, “That’s great!”

“Ayuh,” he said, “We just built her this afternoon. That’s how I get my pictures of the birds.  I look out the bathroom window and take pictures of ’em feeding there.”

I looked more closely and noticed bird seed topping the crenellated wall and scattered along its base.

“This is wonderful!” I said, “I love taking pictures of birds, too!”

We introduced ourselves and chatted for a few minutes about cameras, birds and photography. Thoughts of psycho killers retreated. If his castle bird feeder hadn’t already tipped me off, our conversation would have: this man was a dedicated photographer and bird enthusiast. He was looking to share these passions. After some over-my-head references to cameras and some general bird talk, we said our goodbyes and I retraced my steps down his driveway.

I wonder what else is going on in my neighbors’ backyards…

 

 

Strikes and Strokes to My Ego

 

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March SOLC–Day 18

 In fourth grade we spend a lot of time learning how to write essays: personal essays, persuasive essay, literary essays. We’ve learned about forming a thesis, finding reasons to support it and then providing varied evidence for each reason. We’ve also considered addressing countering arguments to make opinion writing stronger, starting with phrases like, “Some people might think…”, and then going on to offer a counterargument. Students in my class have really gravitated toward the structure of this genre and enjoy voicing their opinions and providing reasons and evidence for them.

We’ve had a couple of opportunities for some free writing time lately (highly unusual!) and many of my students are choosing to write essays. One essay I received a while back argued persuasively for a pajama day the next day. (Wish granted!) Another essay  was waiting on my desk after I returned from a sick day (I sliced about that here). Yesterday, a student handed me her essay with a big grin. It was entitled: “Mrs. Hogan is a good teacher.”

“Will you read it while we’re at specials?” H. asked.

“Sure,” I said, smiling. “Thanks!” So sweet!  After walking the kids to the Library, I headed back to my classroom to read the essay. I looked at the title again. A good teacher?  Hmmm…that’s a pretty tame claim. I mean, good’s good. But just good? In C’s essay I was the “best” teacher.   Laughing at my own thoughts and my ego, I started to read, looking forward to a feel-good moment. As I read, I had two different thought trains going. One focused on the actual essay structure:

She’s got the structure down pat. Hmmmm…Clear introduction…She’s got three reasons and decent evidence but she relies heavily on examples…

The other was channeling Sally Fields in her famous (infamous?) Oscar speech:

She thinks I’m cool. She thinks I’m helpful and nice! And fun, too! Oh, good, she likes me! 

 

(Ok, I know that being liked by my students is not the ultimate goal, but I’m only human!)

And then I got to the conclusion:

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POP! My puffed-up ego precipitously deflated. So much for my feel-good moment!  I burst out laughing. Well, she’s definitely working on including that counterargument!  Now channeling optimism, I’m opting to believe that she’s not using it skillfully yet and not really indicating that there’s an ongoing student (or, God forbid, parent!) conversation about me not being a good teacher. Ugh! Now I’m not going to be able to get that thought out of my mind!

Luckily, a former first grade student of mine,now in second grade, arrived to save my day. Skipping into my classroom, she gave me a hug and handed me a St. Patrick’s Day card.

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“Best teacher alive!” Now that’s a superlative! …though it does make me wonder how those contrasting dead teachers were performing.

One Winter Morning

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hMarch SOLC–Day 17
A huge thank you to  Anna, Beth, Betsy, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
twowritingteachers.org

In every season I spend a lot of time watching the birds, squirrels and chipmunks who come to enjoy my feeders.  Their visits entertain me and inspire many posts and poems. Recently I spent some time watching a grey squirrel feed and preen in the garden.

One winter morning
Spotlighted in a golden patch of sun,
the large grey squirrel
pauses beneath the dangling feeders.
It twitches its silver fluffy tail,
nibbles delicately on a few striped seeds
then scampers away
to gather rose hips
from the tatters
of summer’s blossoms.

Molly Hogan (c) 2017

A Timely Reminder

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March SOLC–Day 16
A huge thank you to  Anna, Beth, Betsy, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for all that they do to create a supportive community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
twowritingteachers.org

Across the curriculum we work a lot on making claims and supporting them with evidence. Yesterday afternoon I was checking science notebooks to see how this was going in science.  Were students clearly stating a claim? Were they using data from our experiments and observations to support their claims?

What I found in this student’s notebook was evidence of a growth mindset and a timely reminder to embrace the learning process with all its ups and downs. Priceless!

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Perspective

 

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March SOLC–Day 15
A huge thank you to  Anna, Beth, Betsy, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for all that they do to create a supportive community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
twowritingteachers.org

“Do you mind if we stop and check out the waterfall?” I asked my daughter.

We’d been running errands and were finally heading back home. Earlier, on the way to town, we’d noticed that the cold temperatures had worked some icy magic on the waterfall down the road from our house. I wanted to get a closer look and hoped to snap a few pictures.

“I’m down with that,” she said, so shortly afterward I pulled into the icy parking lot across from the small park and we got out.

“Ugh. It’s colder than I realized!” I complained and burrowed further into my coat. “Let’s try going this way. Maybe we can get a better view.”

I love to visit this waterfall in all seasons, but it’s very difficult to get a good vantage point to capture its beauty in a photo. This time I was determined. I led the way across the road and around the fence marking the edge of the park area. Below the fence, the land was roughly terraced and covered with brush, trees and patches of ice. It sloped markedly toward the water. After ducking and dodging through branches and slipping and sliding a bit on the frozen slopes, I quickly realized the risk wasn’t worth the possible payoff.

“I don’t think this is going to work,” I said.

“We could try over there, up by the fence,” my daughter suggested, pointing up the hill.

We backtracked through the tangle of branches, grasping at bushes and trees to avoid an unplanned descent toward the water. Back in the fenced area, we crunched through the frozen remnants of snow and approached the fence. The waterfall roared in the frigid air. Water coursed over, around, and through the frozen falls of ice and churned at the base. I focused on the falls, taking picture after picture, frustrated by the branches that prevented me from taking a clear shot and generally unsatisfied with my attempts to capture the beauty of the moving water amidst the tumble of vertical ice.

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“Mom,” my daughter suddenly said, “Look over there!”

She pointed slightly to the left and I turned my back to the waterfall to look. There in the dark water, miniature icebergs swirled like frozen lily pads. They bobbed and circled in a mesmerizing aquatic choreography driven by the currents generated by the nearby falls. Looking at this new view I noticed that here, the “intruding” branches actually augmented the scene. It was absolutely beautiful!  I took a few pictures and we stood for a while together, watching the hypnotic movement of the ice.

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When I looked at my photos later that day, I was struck by how different they were and reminded how it always helps to have another set of eyes, a different perspective. Without my daughter there, with my single-minded focus on the falls, I might have missed the beauty that was right before me, slightly to the left. I wonder how often this happens in my daily life and in my classroom…

 

 

 

Thoughts on writing

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March SOLC–Day 14
A huge thank you to  Anna, Beth, Betsy, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for all that they do to create a supportive community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
twowritingteachers.org

During the March challenge I scour the saved drafts on my blog for seed ideas. Often I start writing something and run out of time or steam and then save it as a draft to come back to later. Also, I like to let my ideas simmer a bit.  So, right now I have 75 drafts on my blog! Many are only a sentence or two, or an inspiring quote or picture, but some are a few paragraphs, or even half-finished. Sometimes I forget all about posts that I’ve started.

While browsing the other day, I found this post that I’d written this past fall. I’m not sure why I didn’t publish it, as it was essentially complete. I suspect I was concerned about sharing my vulnerabilities as a new fourth grade teacher, and I didn’t necessarily love the idea of advertising my feelings of inadequacy in a relatively public forum. Don’t we all worry about being judged when we share ourselves in writing?  I’m still feeling vulnerable , but when I reread this post, I was struck by how much it captured my concerns and by how relevant this remains to me. I know that writing involves risk-taking so, I’m opting to share it now.

Fall Flashback (unedited):

I read a blog post this weekend and it has stayed with me, crystalizing some concerns that were lurking beneath my conscious notice. The author, Vicki Vinton, posted here about her daughter’s experience with writing and why she, herself, loves writing and her daughter does not. She ended with these final words: “How many other children, I wonder, might come to hate writing as well because they never experience what made me want to write: not just the pleasure in creating something out of words, but the sense that my perceptions and perspective were valued? I actually shudder to think. So let’s remember why we write: not just to master a set of skills but to give voice to our unique take on a text, a topic, an issue, the world.”

In all honesty this year, as I’m learning the curriculum, my focus has too often been on preparing for and getting through a lesson, in other words, teaching students to master skills. We’re writing essays at the moment and there are several students really struggling with engagement and volume. The impact of one day off-task is significant –if you don’t have your evidence prepared, it’s tough to start writing your essay. If you haven’t written your introduction yet, it’s tough to revise it. So, I’ve been feeling a bit more like a taskmaster than a cheerleader, and I don’t like it.

I read through all of the comments, eager to see what others had contributed to this conversation. One poster commented, “I’ve come to believe that there no children out there who “hate to write”, there are only teachers who make them hate to do so. We take away choice and the option to discover voice…how can writing be fun without either?”

Ahhh!  Am I going to be that teacher?? I’m attempting to learn the curriculum as I teach it, and have certainly not mastered how to incorporate choice within its seemingly inflexible boundaries and within the filled-to-the minute schedule of our day. How do I encourage and support students who are passionate about writing fantasy or fiction when they have to write realistic fiction and essays?  How do I highlight the joy of capturing one’s thoughts with the perfect phrase, when I’m struggling to make sure I’ve covered the teaching point, “deftly” woven in a mid-workshop point, and followed up with a meaningful share? That doesn’t even begin to build in the work with students who are actively resistant to writing, who already do not see themselves as writers. How do I encourage them to dip their toes into this rewarding water when I’m choosing how they have to do it?  Negative thoughts come first–there’s no time, there’s no choice, this is overwhelming, this is impossible!

My comment to Vicki Vinton was this: “This post will linger with me. It has me thinking again (and worrying) about the long-term consequences of the limitations we impose on our students’ writing.  In particular, I worry about the year-long genre restrictions that come along with a set curriculum that must be taught “with fidelity.” New to teaching fourth grade, I have much to learn about that curriculum and about how to nurture passion and choice within it. There has to be a way, right? Your post reminds me that finding this way is work that cannot be postponed until I’m more comfortable and confident within the framework of the curriculum. The idea that a student will leave my class not liking, or even hating, writing horrifies me.”

But the overriding thought is clear to me: I refuse to be the teacher who makes a child hate writing. So, what am I going to do?

Reading through the comments again, I realized that there’s a common thread. I need to take the time to make clear how much I value each writer’s voice and perspective. I need to emphasize explicitly that writing is a vehicle for communicating and clarifying thoughts and ideas. I can’t just share my enthusiasm for writing, I need to actively generate that same enthusiasm within my students. This isn’t news to me, but somehow these ideas have been displaced by the heavy learning curve of fourth grade curriculum.

Back to today—I’m still working on this balancing act. Sometimes I feel better about it. Sometimes not. But overall, I’m so glad I reread this post. It reminded me that I still have work to do in this area but more importantly it reminded me why I write –to process, to reflect, to share, and to remember.

Now, let’s just hope I don’t regret pushing publish!