Category Archives: Education

Where Relationships are Made and the Magic Happens

 Home Visits: Where dinners become walks and relationships are formed
A young lady  sat silently in my front row the first week of school.  I greet her like I greet every other student with a hug and a “Good Afternoon.”  She accepts my hug with a small smile.  However, she barely raises her hand when the class is asked a question about Wonder, the book our 4th graders are reading during shared reading. It’s the first week of school and all students are shy.  That is to be expected.
During Writing Workshop on Friday of that week,  Ireri wrote a wonderful piece and I encouraged her to read it to her teammates.  She spoke eloquently and really shared her thoughts.  During dismissal, I saw her mom to tell her about the shock that I had that this young lady was able to share so effectively with her team.  Her mom was actually shocked, because she said her daughter is very shy and never talks. I was surprisd because that was not what I saw when she stood in front of her teammates and presented her ideas.  After having this discussion with the mother,  I laughed and told her that I am sure that this is the year of change for this beautiful child.  As a teacher in my past life, that would be the end of our communication until another dismissal or parent teacher conferences.  Luckily for me, this was the perfect time for me to ensure that I could schedule a home visit for Ireri and her family.
One of the key levers to excellent teaching is having a relationship with the students’ families.  One of the things I have learned to love about being a teacher at Rocketship is being privileged to be invited into our childrens’ homes to see them in another element.   It is a time to really get to know our families and the goals they have for their amazing children.  It is also a time to get to know the parents because without parents our work would be so much less effective.  Home visits may really be the best thing that happens to us as teachers.
During back to school night the second week, I spoke to Ireri’s mom about how proud I was of her amazing daughter.  After finishing our conversation, she said, “Make sure that you don’t eat, I want to cook for you”.  I’ve had some impromptu dinners and have had some  good food during these amazing home visits, but when a family tells you that you are going to eat, you really get excitied.  I went with earnest expectation of that night.  I was greeted by a myriad of hugs (mom and dad know I am a hugger from the Welcome Barbecue and have accepted it).  That night was full of family games including speed puzzles (timing to put together puzzles) jokes, and then dinner.  Before that day, I had never had a tamale and it was amazing.  After dinner and questions, it was the perfect segue to go.  As I prepared make my exit, Ireri asked me if I would go on a walk with her family to the Washington Park.  Still in my heels from school, and looking at the time, my first reaction was an honest no.  However, upon thinking about this evening’s conversation and how important it was for Ireri to trust me, I enthusiastically said yes.  At around 7:30 I walked with my student and her family to the park.  I sat and played with the children I also talked a little to some people from the community.  It was the most humbling experience I’ve ever had.  Not only was I getting to know this family, but I had conversations with people in the community.  It was a blessing and it was really amazing.
The aftermath of that home visit and many others have allowed me to be the best teacher I could for the children in front of me. I began to teach with their families in mind.  Students like Ireri began to give their opinions on the day’s readings and take initiative in group and classroom projects.  The coolest thing about this, it is only September.  I cannot wait until December.  The relationships I formed during home visits that I have completed like with this student and the other 20 (and more to come) have been the driving force in my instruction this year.  I am so happy that home visits were something that I was asked to do.  It has renewed my passion for eliminating the achievement gap.
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The View from the Other Side

“Life is messy thats how we are made. You can waste your life drawing lines or you can live your life crossing them. If you are willing to take the chance, the view from the other side is spectacular. “

 

Man is the view from the other side spectacular.  Imagine you have the opportunity to pick up your entire life and just start over.  You aren’t just starting over, you are joining a movement bigger than yourself.  The movement forces you way out of your comfort zone.  Opportunities are yours only if you are willing to take them.  Everyday is the biggest blessing that you could ever dream.  For me it meant moving across the country and joining an amazing team of dedicated and humbled individuals.  I have only been here for 6 weeks and I can honestly say that I have amazing friends some of whom I can consider family. There are no pretenses, I can be myself: quirky, smiley, friendly and just plain silly and no one looks at me sideways.  It is amazing because I am truly living life outside of the box and the lines drawn and I can see the possibilities.  

These past few weeks have also pushed me to ensure that I give the same love and support to my students.  I am working a place where my strengths are celebrated and my weaknesses don’t really matter.  Even the things I am not so good at do not define who I am.  In my classroom the same happens.  I try to focus on what my students do well.  The LOVE to talk.  We celebrate that they love to talk and give them the room to talk to each other. It is a REQUIREMENT.  If their supposed weakness is silence then we work towards periods of silence.  They are getting better.  I think that it is important that my students use their quirkiness and silliness and childishness to their advantage.  It will enhance their learning. They begin to trust each other and maybe they will learn to trust me.  

My life has changed from a year ago, but the more radical change happened 6 weeks ago when surrounds with amazing people.  I hope this is the year of their radical change from the other side 🙂 

 

Why library cards are still exciting

Getting a library card is still exciting

Today my mom sent a photo of my two nephews who got their first library card. When I was younger, getting a card meant that you had access to a world of books. You were allowed to get lost in a book, and most importantly, you can hang out wherever you wanted in the building away from your parents. Having a library card meant having power. Let’s be serious, you don’t have much power, but in the hands of children like my nephews, it was the best moment of their lives.
In a world of tablets and e-readers it is a little difficult for your emerging reader to know the Amazingness of print concepts (how the words are supposed to go on the page), smelling the new pages (an intoxicating smell all people should encounter, or most importantly how many books by an author they’re really are). Having a library card heading to the (now endangered) bookstore is probably the most magical experience for any emerging reader. Physical books and being in libraries give students mastery in ways that teachers and e-readers can not.
Today’s professional development focused heavily on the shift of our network to the Common Core State Standards. As a reading specialist, I AMA shocked at how even thought they were written in 2010, how outdated an somewhat unattainable some of these standards are to master considering our information and technological age. For example, how beneficial is it for a student to know how to look up a word in a dictionary when my e-reader, smartphone or other gadget gives me an attainable definition just by my clicking on the word as I read? Skills that helped you and I through college, are no longer a factor in my nephews’ world. It is the equivalent of you and I having as a standard to manipulate a microfiche machine.

As a person who has seen the coming of age of technology, I think, but what if they become an awesome researcher and the only sources are in print, or even worse there is no wifi connection. Those skills are still relevant. In order for them to stay current out children still have to go to the library and peruse through the print. Dictionaries and guide words are still important in their development. I mean if you think about it, it is still less expensive for a school to buy 100 books than 100 e-readers. Practicing what is like to pick out a book. To be engrossed in the the pages. And smell the places its been (when they are not smells that cause nausea) will support your child in their adaptation of the rigor that is coming from their classrooms this year.

As an educator, I am excited for the direction of my instruction. As an aunt, I worry about my balance between technology and print resources. It is easier to download the book on my iPad, than to buy the book, which closely aligns with their classroom experiences. Please don’t think I am against e-readers, (I carry my kindle as if it were my wallet) I just would love it if we can preserve the innocence of print resources until, like microfiche, it is no longer relevant to the world of research and achievement. We also preserve the innocence of childhood as I saw today with my 5year old nephews with their new library cards.

First comes love

To be honest, it is love.  To be a teacher, to draw knowledge from young and old humans alike, you first have to show love

–Edulovereading

Someone asked me how I get my students to be so engaged.  They seem so eager to read and participate in class they said.  I told them that the answer is simple, okay it is not that simple, but it is simple enough, the answer is love. The school year starts really soon, so now I am reflecting.

On the first day, it is important that your students know that you will still accept them even if they fail.  They know and understand that the first day of learning something new can go two ways, either it will go really well or it can suck.  The idea here is to understand persistence that even though it sucks you can always get better with practice and admitting your defeat.  When it goes well they should know that they can not be complacent that they can always do better, challenge themselves and help others to do the same.  When they make a mistake they should know that failure only comes when they decide to take that mistake and make it into something great.

You as the teacher should know that  making students  feel bad about that mistake can actually make the mistake a failure.  Children should learn from their mistakes above all things.  When students feel the love and know that it is okay to fail, they will reach more success over time.

That is the beginning of learning to read.  First comes love.

 

 

 

Reading and Speaking really matter

Reading and Speaking really matter

In my post Yes Reading Matters I wrote that it was important for newborns to be read to as it helps their vocabulary and brain function.  I recently found a NYT article on the importance of reading to newborns for the same reason.  So if you haven’t read Proust and the Squid, this NYT article has almost a Reader’s Digest version of some of the research.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/us/pediatrics-group-to-recommend-reading-aloud-to-children-from-birth.html?ref=education&_r=0

Proper Grammar

As a Language and Literacy student at Harvard, I learned that there was a such thing as African American Vernacular English (AAVE).  In a nutshell, the research stated that African Americans especially those who are from the south combine the Southern dialect and African dialect carried from slavery time that translates into everyday speech.  Growing up, my mother would call it speaking improper English (or ebonics) and academia would classify it as a colloquial language.  It is not language that you would use to write a formal letter or paper, in short this dialect should only be a dialect among peers and familiar friends.

My concern is that this research has given a pass to some educators to not correct this dialect because they dear that they are being insensitive to the African American culture.  By not requiring students to enunciate and use the correct verb tenses, they are being more sensitive to how students speak at home and respecting the student and their family.  Personally I think by not requiring students to speak with proper verb tenses and enunciation, we are actually doing them a disservice.  If at a young age  they do not hear the correct verb tenses and correct pronunciation of words, they run the risk of sounding uneducated as they get older because it is no longer cute to not know.

As a reading specialist it is a problem because this improper grammar ultimately affects a child’s ability to read  and comprehend.  The better the grammar or the knowledge of the correct way to speak, the better students are able to understand lectures and books way above their levels.

I do agree that students should be able to express themselves in anyway they choose when they are not in an academic setting, however we must draw the line during presentation and speaking to adults in school.  This is the same idea as using emoticons and texting abbreviations while writing a formal paper.

How do we draw the line between sensitivity and academia? Should grammar just be a lesson in code switching as Delpit asserts?

Leave your thoughts.

 

~Say

Candy is good sometimes…

Read all of it before you come with pitchforks!!!!

As a self proclaimed bibliophile, I have bookshelves upon bookshelves of books from my early childhood well into my various college and graduate courses.  My parents were amazing and even have the box of all of my papers from kindergarten and first grade.  Some may say it may border on being a hoarder, but it really pains me when I think of families who throw out outgrown books like old clothing.

Imagine that first book that you loved so much when you were a child.  It got you interested into reading. It is timeless, it was your gateway book.  For some people, you don’t know what book that is until you get much older.  You know what book that is because you have read it so much that you need tape and other mediums to keep it together.  During my presentation, one of my families stated that they would throw out the Junie B. Jones books that his daughter reads so much that she doesn’t read anything else.  The teacher in me says sure, “Go ahead put the book away,” but the bibliophile in me says “NO!!!! PLEASE DON’T!!!”

When a child finds the book that gets them into reading, it is always good to keep the book around.  It reminds students of where they came from as a reader and should be kept as a memento for when they are reading five million text books.  Books are a part of her childhood.  By throwing the book away instead of just putting it away you are forcing them to lose a piece of their innocence.

The early chapter books and comic books are like candy to reading children.  It may not be helpful to their reading levels, but it will help sustain their love of reading.  They revisit those books when times get hard or need a familiar adventure.

Should they be reading  these books every night?  Probably not.  It is okay for them to indulge in these books once in a while.  You would never feed your child McDonalds or Chick-fil-a for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but you could give it to them once in a while as a treat.  It is a reward.  Reading a comic book or other book is like candy or McDonalds (Chick-fil-a), they are a reward, however you don’t have to do away with them completely.

 

So please, don’t throw out books just because your child has outgrown them. Let them decide which books are timeless and make them excited to read.  Ultimately it will help them to keep their childhood.

 

Happy Reading

~Say

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Balanced Diet

This weekend I had the pleasure to present to families about the habits of great readers.  I love doing these developments because I am able to really talk in depth to a family about their child and their work especially as it relates to reading.  We started by talking about how we would eat properly and have a balanced diet of food.  I took the idea of the now defunct food pyramid and related it to reading.  Something told me that this would make this sticky for our families.  They loved it.  Here is the graphic.  This week I will unpack what this all means.  Let me know about your thoughts.

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Enjoy

~Say

Reluctant vs. Avid Readers

So imagine this, your students come to your class early, grab their reading discussion books and just start reading…to each other. No directions were on the board, in fact you aren’t even there yet, however no one would know because these children are reading and facilitating their own discussions without adult hand holding.
Any classroom teacher would say it has to do with the routines and procedures. They would say that I must set them up early on in the year and gave them the expectations. To be honest, I would say it had less to do with routines, and more to do with how much these children love literacy. They love to discuss it with each other. They love to read to each other and justify their answers. In order to be successful with their discussions, they had to read the night before to participate or they would be lost. They have such high investment because of the discussions. They get to to talk to each other not to me, their teacher and let me tell you it just overjoys my heart.
For most children it takes one book that gets them to read forever. For my children it was a series of books. The group of children I work with are what educators would classify as reluctant readers. There are a series of interventions, prescriptions, and plans for getting them to read on grade level. I think what made me successful with these amazing readers helping them to read and access books that they can fall in love with. They are excited to come to class to find out what happens next and now that they can take the book home they just want to ensure that they read some more, even beyond the requirement.
The difference between a reluctant reader and a avid reader is the keystone book or author. As educators, parents, or friends who have friends who have children, it is important to keep introducing children to keystone books. They make the most of difference.

Do we have it mixed?

What’s the difference between being racist and classist?  I came across an article that discussed the problems that minority children had with assimilating into preparatory high schools.  The author suggested that the schools, though they may provide an excellent college ready education, they make minority students feel uncomfortable because they are not able to participate in the extracurricular vacations and activities that are costly such as graduation celebrations in the Bahamas.  The author then goes on to say that the minority students find solace with the minority population at their school.  Furthermore, they always exist outside of the majority community. 

So then the question is how much is that class separation not race separation?  I can not really say that there are middle class white families who can easily afford to send their 18 year old on a trip to the Bahamas knowing that college costs are looming.  On the flip side I know some upper class “minority” families who can very well afford to send their 18 year old to the Bahamas after paying for a private high school and prestigious 4year university.
My issue is that there is this assumption that all minorities who attend these private schools and hang out with each other must be poor and exists outside of society.  Actually the sociologist in me says that people gravitate toward others who are in the same socioeconomic class as themselves.  Often times those people are the same race.  It isn’t enough to say it minorities, but rather it is people of a certain socioeconomic status.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/nyregion/for-minority-students-at-elite-new-york-private-schools-admittance-doesnt-bring-acceptance.html