Banning Books

          September 25th starts “Banned Book Week” in the United States.  Canada has a similar week called “Freedom to Read Week” held somewhere between January and March each year.  The purpose of this week is to bring awareness to the censorship of books in schools and community libraries.  Some books that have been banned in Canada include “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “McLean’s Magazine”, “The Bible”, “The Giver”, “Underground to Canada”, “Goosebumps Series”, and “Huckleberry Finn”. (Taken from www.freedomtoread.ca)  There is currently a movement in the U.S. to have the novel “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson banned.  It is the story of a young girl who is raped and her struggle to find a voice to tell someone about it.  This novel was originally published 11 years ago.  It has helped many children find their own voice.  I encourage you to listen to the author read the poem “Listen” inspired by the letters she has received from readers in those 10/11 years about the impact “Speak” has had on them.  You can watch the video here:

          Do I think that this is a book that everyone should read?  No.  It is not my place to say that this book is right for everyone.  However, I don’t believe that one person should have the right to ban me (or you) from reading it either.  So, in protest, I bought two copies of this book today.  I will keep one for myself to read, and to lend as others are interested.  I will pass the second one on to someone else (I have in mind the mother of 3 teen and tween girls and 1 teen boy).  I encourage you to pick a book that has been banned and do the same.  We have the “Freedom to Read” and I will “Speak Loudly” in support of that freedom.

           If you wish to have more information about the debate surrounding the novel “Speak”, you can follow the hashtag #speakloudly on Twitter, or you can read the author’s blog post here  or another blog post here that is collecting posts on this subject .

K-5 Technology Lessons

I was reading my Google Reader this evening and came across a website that has listed computer, technology,  and word processing lessons for each level from K-5.  This website, seen here, lays out lessons from turning computers on and off in kindergarten to Internet Safety in grade 3 to creating and publishing an independent multi-media project in grade 5.  The lessons incorporate language arts components such as proper capitalization and punctuation, writing and formating a friendly letter and creating a proper bibliography.  They also incorporate math concepts such as data collection, addition, averages, and graphing.  It seems like a great layout that brings children along, right from the beginning of their school experience, to appropriate and effective integrated use of computers and some other technologies.

I got to thinking if this was possible at my school.  We do not have a computer lab, as such.  Instead, we have four computers per classroom and one class set of laptop computers.  They are working on the wireless access for the laptops.  They need to be able to connect to our system wirelessly for the students to log in.  It is spotty right now and it often connects and cuts out in my classroom.  I do not think that I would be able to teach these lessons with this school set-up unless I did a group lesson using my SMART Board and then rotated the students through the four stand-alones while the rest of the class is doing other things.  However, I am the only teacher from K-5 that has a SB in their room.

I absolutely think that it would be valuable to have a set of lessons laid out like this.  Since each classroom teacher is responsible for teaching computer and technology in their own room without any direct curriculum, it would help guide those who feel like they, themselves, lack knowledge. It would also help to ensure that the students develop knowledge each year from K-5 so that they go into the middle years with a solid set of skils.

How would you go about ensuring that students learn some of these skills?  Do you like the idea of a set of lessons laid out or not?  How would you suggest teaching these skills to younger students without access to a computer lab?

How I “Survived” the First Week

This weekend, I came across a blog post that really touched me.  I kept it open in my browser all weekend, reading it and rereading it.  I knew that I wanted to respond or comment in some way, but wasn’t sure how.  You can read “No, I Didn’t Survive…” here.  After much reflection, I decided to write my own blog post instead of just a comment.  Here is what I thrived through, and “survived” the first 7 days of school:

  • Students exclaiming how I have such cool books in my classroom library and literally squealing with glee when I told them that they could take the books home to read.
  • Students begging me to hand out their Reader’s Notebooks so that they can start tracking their reading.
  • Students reminding me that I forgot to give them an H (hand shake, high five or hug) on the way out of the classroom.
  • Students who were so proud to show their parents how to use the SMARTBoard during parent night.
  • A student on behaviour contract being able to identify his negative behaviour one day, then stop himself from doing it the next day, beaming with pride.
  • A student from last year’s class who cried the first day of school because he was “so bad at math” telling me that he loves grade 4 because he “gets to do math every day, like in grade 3!”
  • A parent thanking me after “Meet the Teacher” for my obvious love and commitment to the students in my class, then later posting on Facebook that she wished she was back in grade 3!
  • 25 students going out of their way to welcome and help 2 students who are new to our school and our class.
  • Students laughing out loud while I was reading “Flat Stanley” out loud to them.
  • Having a lively class discussion about which books were better than their movie adaptations and vice versa.

I think that I survived pretty well.  How did you survive?

A good day into a great day… Blessings

It is the second week of school and I am pretty excited about it.  I have to admit, the first week is not my favourite.  I feel like I do most of the talking, setting the routines and procedures, showing and telling how I like things done and run in my class, and even being a bit on the “mean” side about it.  It has served me well over the years, with well behaved and well run classrooms.  However, I much prefer the second and third weeks when we get to start learning together, sharing, exploring, asking questions and finding answers. 

So, I was looking forward to today.  As per usual, when I am looking forward to something, I didn’t sleep very well last night.  I went to work feeling tired and sluggish, but still looking forward to getting going.  The day went well.  It was a good day.  My kids were engaged, and sharing, and learning…  There were no tears with my first math diagnostic like there were last year…  The kids were up and using the SMARTBoard…  It was a good day.

But, three things happened today to turn it into a great day.  The first is that at least four different people told me that I looked good today and that I had really nice legs.  It kept me smiling all day!  Then, the second thing that happened: in the last hour of the day, my principal called me into her office and asked if she could share some of my work with another teacher because it was so well layed out, and spent 20 minutes asking about how I planned and asked for advice to share with another teacher on staff.  I felt just peachy keen!  Wow, to be asked to share my stuff by my principal, what an honour.  Then, this evening, I got home to find a message from my former intern from 4 years ago.  She said that when things don’t go well with her class, she often things of me and the encouragement that I gave her.  She thanked me and wanted me to know that I made a difference…  Wow.  Another great honour to hear.

So, I started thinking about other good things that have happened this year already in such a short time…  First, the director of my school division shared the story about me that I blogged about here in his first Communique of the year.  So, I have been congratulated many times over.  Then, I developed a French writing unit about Narrative Texts that I shared with some other teachers.  I received very good feedback from it.  In fact, our Learning Resource teacher said that she loved it so much that she would love to team teach it with me! 

I have felt so blessed in my job so far this year!  What has made you feel blessed?

What Twitter has done for me

This year has been a complete transformation for me professionally.  It is hard to pinpoint what exactly has changed, but things definitely have.  Here is a Wordle of this blog post:

Twitter_blog

The biggest change, I think, is in my confidence and my attitude.  Twitter has opened me up to a world (and I do mean WORLD) of teachers who are are doing some of the same things as I am and are paving the roads to new teaching options.  I am a high school trained teacher teaching grade 3.  I will be entering my 8th year teaching at this level.  Up until this year, I have always said that I am a high school teacher teaching grade 3.  This year, I found myself saying that I am a primary teacher.  I think this change came in a round-about way from my participation on Twitter.  I found a community of people who validated what I was doing in my classroom while challenging me to try new things.  So, not only have I started to consider myself a grade 3 teacher, but I have started to consider myself a really good one!  This change was obviously noticed by others as well, because I will be mentoring my new grade 3 teaching partner.  Upon finding out that she was teaching grade 3, she approached me for help.  Both my principal and vice-principal have mentioned that they were glad I could share my expertise with a new teacher.

Another change that came from Twitter is my desire for and pursuit of professional development.  Although I have always liked to attend conferences, I usually only picked conferences that my friends also attended and that took place in my home city.  I also rarely, if ever, did any professional reading.  Since joining Twitter, I have attended a technology conference held in another province, by myself I might add, and my list of professional reading has grown exponentially.  I have read all sorts of books about teaching reading, writing, using technology.  However, I have expanded my definition of professional reading to include blogs and wikis, and yes, Twitter itself.  It is amazing what you can learn in 140 characters!  My professional reading has also come to include reading books that my students would be reading.  I read them so that I can “talk books” with my students, suggest books that they might like, and learn what books I can incorporate into my own teaching.  This attitude towards children’s literature being important professional reading came from Twitter too.

I have participated in many professional discussions on Twitter.  Our division has placed heavy enphasis on Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in the last 5+ years.  Twitter has offered me a living, breathing, ever-changing PLC (or PLNetwork).  I have participated in #edchat, during which 500+ teachers tackle a different question facing global education each week.  I have participated in #elemchat, a chat focused on issues facing elementary teachers specifically.  I have participated in #ellchat, a chat focused on students and families whose first language is not English.  I have participated in #ntchat, a chat that brings together experienced teachers with new teachers to share advice and answer questions.  Often, we are not sure which participants are which since we all seem to learn!  I have participated in #ptchat, a chat that brings together parents and teachers to share the different view points on different topics in hopes that we can help each other.  I have participated in #ecosys, which is mainly USA teachers who are working for change in public education, but I learn a lot about the teaching situations of my colleagues outside of my little Regina world.  I have participated in the #blacked chat, which focuses on issues facing minority students.  I have participated in the #bookaday challenge, where we shared thought and reviews of books we are reading.  Finally, we know that exercise does wonders for the brain, so I have joined the #temt group on Twitter as well…  The Twitter Exercise Motivation Team.  This is a group of (mostly) teachers who are helping each other get out there and move!  All this learning and discussion from a social media website!

I’m sure that I am forgetting something, but oh well!  So, this is what Twitter has done for me.  What has it done for you?

Where are all the readers? (Part deux)

Last week, I was priviledged enough to be a part of my sister-in-law’s wedding in beautiful Waterton National Park. 

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The week before I left for my vacation, Tess Alfonsin (AKA Reading Countess) wrote a blog entry called “Where Are All The Readers?”  You can read it here.  As I packed my suitcase and backpack full of clothes, shoes, and many many books, I was determined to see how many readers I could see on our trip.

Well, Tess, out and about, I saw one child with a book and one adult with a book.  However, it was interesting to look a little deeper.  During my trip, I had the opportunity to stop in a bookstore in a little tourist town that is four square blocks.  I, of course, picked up many non-fiction books for my classroom about animals.  However, there must have been at least 5-6 families buying books while I was in there.  So, while I didn’t see them reading, they must have been reading those books somewhere!  Then, I had the unique opportunity of being on vacation with 120 other people who came to this destination wedding.  I got to go into campers and hotel rooms and EVERY ONE that I went into had at least one book beside their bed.  It got me thinking…  I know that I read 2 adult books, 7 children’s books and a few picture books on my trip, but I’m not sure anyone but my husband actually SAW me reading.  On holidays, I tend to read at night when I’m winding down from the day or in the morning before I go out.  I read in the car when going from place to place.  So, maybe it is not surprising that we don’t SEE people reading on holidays.  However, if I ran into John Schu on holidays, I’m pretty sure I would see him reading!  Check out how he does reading on holidays here.

So, what are your holiday reading habits?

Teaching or Technology? Can’t we do both?

          I am currently working on my Master’s degree. I am taking a class about research methods. Each assignment that we do is to guide us through the process of writing a research proposal for a Master’s thesis. Our prof created on online forum to which we were supposed to post our research problems and questions, and through discussion, he is hoping that we can refine the focus for our topic and research.
          It has been very interesting reading about others’ topics and the suggestions from others have helped be clarify my own thoughts. My topic was inspired both by discussions of my PLN on Twitter and by my own personal experiences this year. This year I have experienced a true transformation in my teaching. I truly believe that I’ve always been a pretty good teacher, but this year, I have become a very good teacher. Getting my SMARTBoard has pushed me to do more exploring and reading about technology, technology integration, and the balance of tech and true teaching/learning. I have found a PLN that includes experts at all levels of the education system from K-University, and in all subject areas that have pushed me to question, change and adapt the way that I teach. I also started my Master’s this year. Along with those classes have come copious amounts of reading language, literacy, and educational research and theories. These too have changed how I teach. In this vein, my topic for this research proposal is studying the effects of using student blogs on writing ability and attitude towards writing in a second language.

          I know that writing my own blog this year had lead to some deep reflection. Knowing that others are going to read it has also added an element of pressure to make sure that it reads well, sounds intelligent (or at least partially so) and that my grammar and spelling are correct.  At the same time, I know that I am more likely to post to my blog about these reflections than to a notebook because there is the chance that I might get some feedback to my reflections.  And for anyone who has a blog, you know how exciting it can be to receive that message that a comment has been posted!  I am curious to know if these same things that I have experienced this year writing on my blog could work to my advantage with my students when trying to get them to write in their second language…

          So, what prompted today’s post? In the forum for my class, one of my classmates posted a response to my idea that, although I’m sure he had no intentions of doing so, got my blood boiling… He made comments about how using technology in our classrooms (and the technology available to students at home) has “has really trumped human skill development” and that we, as primary teachers are doing the children a disservice by not teaching handwriting, how to write in notebooks, teaching math facts (by using paper flipcards), and other things… He suggested that I somehow bridge handwriting and technology in my research. This was my response:

          “Good point. My focus for the study would be less about the actual technology itself, but more about using it as a means for introducing an authentic audience to their writing (other than just the teacher) and the opportunity for reflective feedback and interaction amongst students through their comments. I have no intentions of taking away the idea of the writing process prior to posting on the blog, in fact, it is a big part of what I intend to do.

          Just as an aside that has nothing to do with my project… In primary we still teach printing and cursive writing, still use flashcards, write our math in notebooks, write paper letters, and use many of the “old” methods of teaching. However, we have kids in our classrooms whose world already looks different than ours did, and with the rate of technology change we are faced with now (see any of the TED talks for some of these changes) we can’t even imagine what their world will look like when they become contributing adult members of society. I feel like it is my job to try to prepare my students for their own futures, and that means teaching them how to integrate technology in their learning.

          Thanks for your response. What is your topic?”

          What do you think? I hope that I didn’t come across too preachy or angry. I mean, I teach. I use technology to enhance my teaching, but in the end, I still teach. Without me, the SMARTBoard, data projector, laptop and desktops in my classroom would just be pretty dust collectors.

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As a follow-up to this post.  I received an answer to my response from my classmate that was in a completely different tone than the first…  He was both respectful and praising of my response and what I am doing in my classroom.  I guess my response was a good one!