What Is It That You Do Again?

Teaching is simultaneously instilling in a child the belief that she can accomplish anything she wants while admonishing her for producing shoddy work.

As I read these words in a blogpost by Dennis Hong, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Here in less than 25 words is what we do every day, every year in our classrooms regardless of grade level.

This week, I found these words to be of a particular truth. There are many stories of perseverance and of failure in every classroom of an urban school such as the one in which I work. One child may flourish despite the traumatic challenges in his life, while another cannot function.

My challenge – the one I take most seriously – is to lift the curtain so that kids can see it doesn’t have to be. That yes indeed, they can graduate high school – some days it is indeed just that basic.

In my white, middle-class upbringing, it was always assumed each of us would go to college and go on to a career. We would make our contributions to society. There was not doubt in anyone’s mind that we were going to do this regardless of any obstacles. I have had third grade students tell me they weren’t sure finishing high school was something they cared about. How sad is it that a child in this day feels that a high school diploma is OPTIONAL? That, to me is unacceptable thinking. So yes indeed, for me teaching is about instilling not only the belief that a student can accomplish anything she wants, but also to show that there are many possibilities.

Shoddy work. I catch myself on this often. Giving kids a bye on quality work is not doing anyone a favor. Education – and homework – is frequently not a priority for some families, and while I understand why, I feel a need to redirect children – without denigrating parents – to make it one. Tricky? Sure.  Worth it? Definitely.

To be a teacher is a series of what seem to be contradictions. In Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov says

Teachers must be both: caring, funny, warm, concerned, and nurturing – and strict, by the book, relentless, and sometimes inflexible. Teachers send the message to students that having high expectations is part of caring for and respecting someone.

Isn’t that the truth?

D5 One Day at a Time

We have been in session with our students for 3 days now. At one point yesterday afternoon I came to the realization that these third graders are funny and likeable and want to learn. Being somewhat superstitious I’m a little nervous about saying that out loud so early, but there you go.

We started our journey with the Daily Five on our very first day of school – just like the Sisters advocate.  I picked out one of my favorite read alouds, Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems and began by asking students about the ways they thought this book could be read. That resulted in a blank look that telegraphed, “Lady, if you don’t know how to read a book, we’ve got a big problem here.”

It took some coaxing, but we finally came up with 2 bullet items to add to our anchor chart. We tried reading the pictures for Knuffle Bunny first and then I modeled reading the words. I have quite a few students for whom reading is a challenge, the permission to read by pictures gave them a sense of accomplishment — just as the Sisters said it would.

We continued building the anchor chart for 3 Ways to Read on the second day of school by adding “Retelling the story”.  We’ve been talking about good fit books and will continue to develop that concept over the next week.

Working on developing the I-Chart for “Read to Self” was quite an eye-opening experience for me. It took a bit of coercing to get kids to realize that reading to yourself can be fun — but it also makes you smarter.  That’s a term I use a lot with my students as I am a big proponent of using attribution theory in developing habits of mind for effective effort. So instead of “becoming a better reader”, I’ve tweaked the sense of urgency to get smarter by reading.

As teachers, I think we assume that children intuit that we are working hard when they are working hard. my students had absolutely no clue what I might be doing while they were reading to self… really.  Blank stares followed by tentative guesses that I might be walking around the room.  So we stopped and took the opportunity to talk about teachers listening to students read, coaching students to improve their reading, and meeting with a small group.

I’ve paid close attention to the purposeful use of a good model and a  not-good model of nearly every routine we are working on. What a powerful way to get my barometer kids to buy in to successfully participating in focused and meaningful reading activities!

I find it is challenging to resist the urge to just dive into a fully developed schedule; I want to get everything rolled out all at once, but I know that doesn’t work. This year as I implement the Daily Five more purposefully, I am resisting the urge to rush building stamina and go right to sustaining a block of reading for 15 minutes. I learned from experience last year that even though I felt like the kids could sustain their attention, in reality, they could not. We’re up to 5 minutes as of today; five minutes when they are truly independent, when they are truly employing those 3 ways to read a book, 5 minutes when they are totally ignoring me because they are focused on reading. Awesome!

So far…. so good.