Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Creative Chaos

O.K., yesterday was definitely chaotic in my classroom. I was inspired by Debbie Miller to think about my philosophy and purpose of teaching and then design my room around it. I already had a room I was happy with, but like with most things I hadn't invested my self completely. When the custodian complained about using the overhead on the floor, I moved it back up to a stand, when she complained about my rug, I put it away...you get the picture. (My custodian is great and I appreciate what she does everyday)

So I had my husband load an antique oval wool rug in the back of the minivan and headed to school. We had our spring fling last weekend. My room had hosted Ski Ball so all my furniture was moved to one corner. I thought it would be a great time to make the change. I could have come in over the weekend and done it, but I thought the kids should be involved in the change. Many of my kids have changes in their home life frequently. They have no say or warning about these changes. I want them to view school and particularly my classroom as a safe place in which they have a say in decisions.

So as they arrived in the A.M. they were a little shocked about our dishevelled room. We all sat in the corner of the room on the floor and discussed what I was thinking. I asked about what areas we needed. They came up with: A community area (we have had one all year but, decided to move it), a place to listen to stories on the tape player, a place to publish books, our tables so we could do many different activities, an area to read in groups where I could have shelves for "all your junk, Mrs. K" , and plenty of open floor space for indoor recess (twister, legos, and polly pockets are the activities of choice lately) I will not lie and say that I hadn't already planned most of these areas in my head, but if they had come up with a radical idea that made sense I think I would have included it too.

So we, 24 students and I, began to move furniture and clean (the amount of dust-bunnies I had let gather was a bit ridiculous). My fellow teacher Stephanie helped me move the two pieces of heavy furniture, but the kids and I managed the rest. I had decided that I could spend the time before morning recess on setting up the classroom. I have to say, by 9:15am I was feeling pretty good about the whole venture. I really like the way the room looks and the kids really feel like they had a part in the transformation.

My lesson for the day was picking a "just right" book. We adopted Making Meaning this year and I have been trying to follow the order of lessons for the first year. (I normally would have taught this earlier in the year.) Up until this time, I had been giving each table a large box of books at varying levels to use for a week at a time. After teaching this lesson and remembering that a coworker had mentioned reading that you should let the kids separate and label books themselves, I decided I would dedicate some more time in the afternoon to organize the books. My assistant and I took all the books out of my levelled baskets and placed them on the floor. I talked with the kids about my idea that they separate the books into categories and make their own labels for the baskets. Then, I let them go...

After a very busy afternoon we have about 3/4 of the books I gave them in baskets labelled and on our book shelf. It was so interesting to watch the process! One of my girls made a basket for "nonfixshun makit books" (nonfiction make-it books) One of my boys made a basket for "trabelling" (modes of transportation). We also found out that we need more 1st grade level books about frogs and lizards. (Thanks Ben, for directing my attention to this).

I have to think that anyone passing my room probably thought that I was : a.) crazy b.) disorganized or c.) unconscious in the corner. I have to say it was a hectic crazy day, but I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Taking the Plunge

I have been resisting this step for a while. I started reading other teacher blogs a couple of years ago, but have been too scared to start my own. So what has changed?

I'm not exactly sure. I think it is my realization that I have to "talk" my new thinking. I need to say, or in this case write, about new methods and practices before I put them into action in my classroom. I also realize that other teachers ,and certainly my family, have become bored and tired of me ranting excitedly about readers workshop, Debbie Miller, or Making Meaning.

I attended an awesome workshop last week. (Thank You Debbie Miller) I have become energized again. I want to dive back into the deep end of readers workshop. I had retreated into the shallow end, after a rocky start this fall. You see, I had started doubting myself. I have some "energetic" kids in my class this year. My classroom doesn't always look like the serene learning environment that I picture in my head. I was also beginning to feel guilty about not having weeks' worth of lesson plans done ahead of time. I began to doubt myself. I began to question my methods.

I will give you a little background so that you can understand where I am coming from. I went back to school again 7 years ago to get an elementary teacher's degree after working part time and staying home with my kids. I taught reading recovery for one year at the same school my children attended. This school is very old fashioned. All students read out of a basal reader. This school relies heavily on Accelerated Reader and Accelerated math. I was unhappy with the methods, but needed a job and was lured by the thought of teaching in the same district my kids attended. I did not receive a job offer after my temporary year of teaching reading recovery.

I was contacted by a school district 17 miles from my home that spring. I interviewed and was hired. My new district was very forward in their thinking and methods. I tought 5th grade that first year. I moved to 1st the next and have been teaching 1st grade since then. I love my new school. We adopted Making Meaning this year. We use guided reading and writers workshop. I have dallied with readers workshop in the past 4 years, but have never been fully committed. I am now, by beginning this blog, fully committing myself.

This first entry is plenty long. I think I will stop now and add more later. I haven't given the address to anyone so I am, so far, just talking to myself.