Friday, September 16, 2016

week 4 in review

Four weeks of school have flown by already, it's crazy how fast it goes! Here are some of the things I was thinking this week as time continued to keep movin' on by...

I'm so thankful for my new area rug for the kids to read. It takes a lot of feedback to get them to read without disturbing others, but how cool is this view from my conferring table at the present moment? :-)

Our school is putting forward 9 focus areas across the building. One of them is note-taking, so this was one of my demos of Cornell Notes. I had a video playing and was taking notes as students watched me. Then, I had them share out about what they noticed I did. Then they tried on their own. It's working so well! They are finally getting that copying notes from a teacher involves no thinking. They have to do their own notes!

We also worked on getting vulnerable in one of my classes. I asked students to share their notes to fill in things they may have missed, but they wouldn't even move close to one another. So then I said, "Slide your notebooks together, look at one another's work. Talk about it. Trust me, I know it's hard, especially when you're unsure that you even did it right in the first place. I know I'm asking you to do hard things, but just trust me, and go with it." And for the kiddos who still wouldn't move their notebooks together, I did it for them :-)

These girls at the basketball game, I love it. This was after a crazy rant by me to my ELA class a few hours earlier. I super love teaching, but when you are teaching kids what behaviors are okay and what are not, you usually come off to them like you're yelling all the time. I'm not actually yelling, just talking in a stern voice about what is and what is not acceptable. So, after that tough class, it was nice to unwind with these kiddos at the game...until the fire alarm got bumped!

I'm super strict about assignment notebooks with my 6th grade homeroom. I am training them to be organized and create to do lists to make sure they get their work done and stay out of the Working Lunch classroom. And it's working. All by stickers, and these puffy emoji stickers for a week of writing all their homework down! Who doesn't love stickers?!

My classroom is coming along much slower this year because I'm waiting on all the work of the kids to decorate it! I finally finished up the Nerdy Birdies - It's a great book that I read to my homeroom on the first day. Then I had a few kids do blackline masters of a few different birds, copied them, had the kids color them, put them up, labeled them, along with the quote driving my school year:

A bird is safe in it's nest but that is not what wings are made for.  
-Amit Ray

Here are a few close ups:

One more thing on this - A week ago I got some super cute buletin board birds in the mail, except I didn't remember ordering them. I was thinking that I was getting a little irresponsible with my online shopping, so I went looking for the online orders. Couldn't find it. So I posed on facebook and found out my bff sent them :-)

And last, ASU once again named most innovative, and I totally feel it's true in education, with the amazing instruction I got with Reading and Writing Workshop and a social constructivist philosophy with heavy influences from Paulo Freire. So thankful I'm the teacher I am today because of Arizona State. Now we just need to win some football!

How was your week?

Friday, August 26, 2016

best week ever

No, seriously. You guys, now I'm back in middle school and I have a few of my own classes to teach. It's been three years without! I'm so happy!

Here's my homeroom on the first day. We're already a little classroom family and I love it! I can't wait to share our homeroom theme with you, it's not ready yet, but hopefully in the next week or two!

They're super cute as they learn the big middle school systems. They've done so well this week, I can't wait to see what comes next for them!

I'm teaching two classes: Challenge Based Learning and English Language Arts. This week, I've been working on two big things: Quick Writing & teaching kids to talk to and listen to one another.

Quick Writing
I learned Quick Writing from Penny Kittle's book Write Beside Them. It's prompted writing that happens in three minute spurts. There are three rules:

Rule 1: Write for the whole three minutes. Give the kids a prompt and then tell them that when they run out of things to say, that they need to listen to the talking in their mind and just write whatever that is saying. Main goal, to write furiously and not quit till time is called. Tip: Don't ask a question when you prompt, instead, give a sentence stem. Here are a few I used this week:

  • What I like/dislike about this classroom is...
  • Poetry is different than fiction/nonfiction because...
  • Something I'm looking forward to doing this weekend is...
Rule 2: Don't let your head tell you what you're writing is crap. We all have that critic inside, but writing is messy, thinking is messy! In quick writing, the idea is to get it all to come out, and it doesn't have to be organized or correct or perfect. When you can't think of the next work, put a line to save the spot and keep going! Just don't stop writing.

Rule 3: Relax, have fun, play. Quick writing is meant to be the writer's playground. It builds stamina and fluency for writing, and it also allows a writer's voice to come out. But it has to be done consistently. One other point to note, if a kid has a great thing going after prompt #1, they can skip prompt #2 and stick where the writing is hot. It's recommended!

Quick writing is not collected or graded. Kids do the work, not the teacher. Even if we're not checking it, kids are still reaping the benefits. This week, on an exit slip, one student said this:

That was after session 1 of quick writing. Imagine the confidence they will have after a month of it!

Speaking & Listening
In the three years when I didn't have my own classroom, I read a lot of stuff without a space for application. This week I finally put some of that information to use! I read somewhere that when a teacher repeats what a soft-spoken child says, the message it sends to the other kids is that they don't have to listen to the quiet kid, because the teacher will just repeat them.

I no longer repeat anyone.

If a child shares to the group and is too quiet, I turn to a student on the other side of the room and ask if they heard what the soft-spoken student said. If they say no, I ask the second student to ask the quiet student to repeat themselves. It forces kids to speak up.

I'm telling you, my Challenge Based Learning kids thought I was insane the first day. There were like 50 times when I had to facilitate them listening to one another, but the underlying message here is so powerful: Each person's voice is important and deserves to be heard. So we're going to speak up!

I'm also having them work on eye contact, that rather than having it go from students to teacher and then back from teacher to students, it's one person (student or teacher) to everyone else. So that feedback sounds like this: "You did an awesome job speaking loudly, but can you say it again, and this time, instead of just making eye contact with me, say what you're saying to everyone?"

We will just keep practicing, but I know that the conversations in my classes this year will be wonderful, from kid to kid to me to kid to all the other kids and on and on. I just love it!

Not ready
This is the first year I was not ready - like, I'm still waiting on furniture and my new rug, I didn't have my bulletin board stuff until after the first day, my plans were written on a day-by-day basis, my library wasn't totally unpacked (in fact, 2/3 of it is still in my basement in a storage closet I'm afraid to go in bc I'm sure there's 100s of spiders in there!) And you know what? It was all ok. It was okay that my first day was more about making sure I remembered their names than showing the perfect power point presentation about rules. It's okay that there's a huge empty spot where a rug will soon be, it's okay that I only had planned for the few hours ahead of me. Every kid knows they matter to me, and that's the most important thing.

That being said, I can't wait till my room is ready for the blog reveal! It's coming along, day by day. I'm hoping that in the next three weeks it will be ready for a photo shoot to share with all of you!

That's about all on my end. My heart is seriously so full, I'm so thankful for the opportunities I've been blessed with. Working with kids puts me in that state of flow - you know, where there's nothing else getting at you, you're not stressed about anything, you're not thinking about missing out on anything, you're just living every moment and enjoying the ride.

How was your first (or second) week of school?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

do hard things.

I've been involved with our local teacher's union for the past two years. This year, I've stepped into the new role of Social Media Chair, so I'm excited to stay connected. Additionally, this year, our co-presidents asked me to give the welcome address to our membership. I said yes, because I knew it would push me. 

They asked me just a few days ago. On the drive home that day, I was thinking about how I could go back and decline, and I could sit in the audience and just be passive and not have to stress. But in my heart and my gut, I knew I wanted to give the speech. So I said to myself, "Okay, just wait and see how you feel in a few hours."

Well, I still felt the same, but I knew I had already said yes, and I've been working on doing what I say I'm going to do, to show integrity through my words and actions and not go back on something. So I just stuck with it. But I was nervous. Up until about noon on the day of (my speech was to be around 2:30) I was fine, I could set the nerves aside and just go about my buisiness. But then from around noon -2:30 (including when I did a practice read with a good friend) I was so nervous. Sweaty palms and racing heart nervous.

But then I got up there and did my thing. When you do the hard things, it's exhilarating. And it's rewarding.

I wanted to share my speech with you and also some of the tweets and texts I got, not because I am trying to brag, but because I want to encourage all of you to do the hard thing. Do them! If it's hard, it's making you grow, and when you do those hard things, you are rewarded in ways you can't imagine.

So, here is the speech, and after, the notes from friends.

Hi there! Welcome back to the 2016-2017 school year! My name is Michelle Brezek; I’m a teacher and Literacy Coach here at Heritage and the Social Media chair for the South Berwyn Education Association. On behalf of the SBEA, it’s such an honor to welcome both returning and new teachers and staff to our amazing school district!
As I was thinking about what I was going to say to you today, I got to thinking about who were are, that is, the teachers in D100. We are passionate and dedicated educators, innovators on a global stage, and sometimes school supply junkies. We are multicultural, bilingual and inclusive of all. We are writers and shoe-tiers, mentors, and coteachers. We are athletes and coaches. We are sometimes or always obsessed with our craft. We are nurses with cough drops and social workers listening ears. We are researchers and problem solvers. We are jokesters, too, we want to have fun! We believe that in teaching and learning, anything is possible, especially when you look at it a different way, perhaps with a different mindset. This year, we will create possibilities and a future that no one has yet to dream, and we’ll be able to do that because of the talent, excitement, and knowledge that returns to our district each year.
Which brings me to you, new teachers. It’s only the opening institute day, and so many of us have yet to meet one another, but I’m sure I can speak for all when I say we are so happy to have you here. We can’t wait to uncover the gifts you will bring to the lives of our students and everyone here in D100.
Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.” I couldn’t agree more. As the year unfolds and our relationships grow, we will have so much to offer - to our students, to one another, to ourselves. It’s when we are united and working together that our efforts really flourish, with huge returns in student achievement and teacher engagement in the work we love so much.
In the spirit of collaboration and unity, I hope you’ll take me up on this proposal: Open your classroom doors this year. Invite your team over to watch you teach. Get into other classrooms in your building and around the district. I know that it’s easier to not do this, you know, because sub plans are just another thing to do, but I can promise you, you’ll come back to your classroom refreshed with new ideas, new perspectives, and new energy.
In addition to collaboration, dream those big dreams, but don’t stop there. Don’t save a hope or a dream in your head or your heart for one day, some day. Tell your friends about them! Write them down! Tweet it out to the world! It’s when we enroll others in our hopes and dreams that they become so powerful we’re able to manifest them into our lives and the lives of our students.
Let’s make this the year we are all open to something new. Let’s look at things in a new light and consider different perspectives. Let’s dream new possibilities, declare them to be true, and then take action to achieve them. Together we can make this our best year yet!

It's so not easy to do the hard thing. Colleen, thank you for capturing the moment for me and always being one of my biggest cheerleaders!

These friends are always in my corner, it's a big part of the reason I can say yes to the scary, hard things:


And two texts from two of the other Literacy Coaches in the district. Has anyone told you recently that they are proud of you? I mean, perhaps your parents have, and while that is amazing and rewarding, the feeling you get when a colleague or friend or even a significant other tells you that will blow your mind! And a request for your speech to be published? I am so thankful for such a supportive community here in my district!

It's a new school year. I'm in a new building - I'm back at the middle school! I'm teaching a 7th-8th grade ELA class and an 8th grade section of Challenge Based Learning. I'm also a homeroom teacher to some awesome 6th graders and have I have some coaching periods too.

I'm once again out of my comfort zone, working with new people and actually team leader, too, which I haven't done before, and I don't even realize the things I'm missing. But I'm doing the hard things, so I know I'm growing.

What are the hard things you're setting yourself up for this year?
Leave a comment and let's keep the conversation going!

One last thank you, to our keynote yesterday, Dave Stuart for an awesome speech, about writing, about teaching, and about keeping life in balance. "Do hard things" was all him, applied easily to my life, and I'm sure, all my reader's lives, too!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

archived 'about' page

My first 'about' page, just to keep as archived.

When I was a little girl, even before I had a great teacher, I always knew I wanted to teach. The summer vacations never occurred to me at the time (but it's such a great perk!) All I knew was that I would ask my teachers for extra worksheets so I could play school at home with my sisters and cousins.

I never liked to read. I remember being in middle school with a huge basal reader. We had to read stories and then answer the questions at the end of the story. Sooooo boring. I never read a great book and was never "turned on" to reading.

I went through high school not really feeling anything special about reading but finally had a teacher worth remembering my senior year. She was my government teacher. It wasn't the content of the class that made me remember this teacher so, it was her. Ms. Thompson was great. The reason I remember her so fondly is because she knew stuff about me. The way I remember it, she helped orchestrate the relationship I began with my boyfriend that year - a guy who was my total opposite, but we really liked each other. She talked to me about my personal life - I knew she cared. And that made her one of my favorite teachers. 

I went to undergrad at Northern Arizona University. I worked toward a Bachelor's of Science in Elementary Education with an ESL endorsement. My classes were taught on an elementary school campus and very practical. I had another pair of teachers my senior year who were much like Ms. Thompson. They were great with the content and they were another pair that really influenced the kind of teacher I am today, because like my fave teacher senior year, they also cared and were interested in their students. I took my first group on a field trip to NAU and we got to see each other. How cool for them to see the fruits of their labor (me!) come back with a group of kids!

I began teaching during the 2003-2004 school year in the Creighton School District in Phoenix, Arizona. This school district is approximately 95% free and reduced lunch and mostly Hispanic. I taught sixth grade at Creighton School - Language Arts and Social Studies. I had a great foundation to work with from undergrad and I LOVED my first group. I didn't really know what I was doing content and assessment-wise, but what teacher does her first year? All I knew my first few years is that if I cared about my middle school kids the way my favorite teachers cared about me, I could basically get them to take risks and learn with me - whether that meant singing about transformations, reading a shared text together, or sharing our writing.

Because I didn't love reading as a kid, I asked for suggestions from my librarian of great books to read with kids. She suggested Because of Winn-DixieJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyStargirl, and The Giver. So, I read these books with kids and it was such a great experience. I saw how powerful reading could be (imagine if I had done this when I was in school?!)

At the conclusion of my third year, I switched to another school in our district - Excelencia - to work with this guy:

Damon Twist was my AP at Creighton and he had moved over to Excelencia, and I wanted to go there with him. So I packed my things and went over there, remaining in sixth grade. It was about this time that I realized I would get kids who didn't know how to read - and I had no idea what to do about it. So, I applied for a program at Arizona State University with an emphasis on Language and Literacy - this would be my Reading Specialist certificate. I learned all about Reading and Writing Workshop and finally figured out what I had to do to get middle school kids reading and writing. I implemented so many strategies into my classroom and saw great results. I finally used all those books in my classroom library - sorted them, taught kids how to use the library, and enjoy reading books. 

After three years at Excelencia and the completion of my graduate degree in 2009, I moved to Chicago. I didn't have a job, but it was time for a change.

I was lucky to find a job at Heritage Middle School. I didn't feel like I was ready to be out of the classroom, so I took a Language Arts position. I was placed on a seventh-eighth grade loop with a great team of teachers. In this school, all teachers were teachers of Reading, so I taught only one period of Reading and four periods of Language Arts. It was great, but I thought I should be teaching all of the kids on the team reading, so for my second loop, we switched it up. I began teaching all 85 students reading and then each of the team teachers (and I) taught a section of Language Arts.

At the end of my fourth year at Heritage and my tenth year of teaching, I decided that I was ready for a change yet again. I love teaching middle school, and I LOVED my was so hard to leave, but I knew I was not loving grading papers anymore. A position for literacy coach opened up at an elementary school right in my district and I felt that it was time....

That brings me to Emerson Elementary. I'm not sure just yet where this journey will take me, but I'm excited to learn, grow, listen, implement, and share ideas with a new group of colleagues!

I hope this blog serves as a record of the great work we will do with literacy at Emerson and also a place to learn and share ideas together.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

bigtime blogging challenge month-in-review

Hey all y'all! It's the BigTime Blogging Challenge. I'm writing every day in July to celebrate my blog's three year anniversary! Join me - write your post, link it up with mine, leave some love for blogging friends in the form of comments!

I've had so much fun writing with you all for the past month! Sometimes I had a bunch of friends writing with me, sometimes just a few, and one day I didn't even post, but it's all good.

Few things I am taking away with me for the new school year:

  1. Kids need to write on a consistent basis. I'm definitely going to have the kids I work with next year consistently use the Quickwriting strategy that Penny Kittle discusses in Write Beside Them. I think it's the balance of the prompt writing - because with quick writing, you do prompt kids, but if they land on something 'hot' as Penny says, then you tell them to stick with it.
  2. Some days you just don't feel like it. I mean, for me, I was *not feeling well at all on one particular day, but it's true, sometimes you just don't feel like it. I think we need to remember that with kids. That being said, the more you write, the easier it gets, so skipping it often is also not a wonderful idea.
  3. The posts you are most scared to post - those are probably your best ones. We need to take risks with our writing, and in life in general. I just started A Mindset for Learning and I think the traits that they offer are going to be so helpful for students I work with next year!
  4. It's crazy how you can inspire others with writing. It's true that a word after a word after a word is power (Margaret Atwood). While a lot of what I write is crap (see #5 below) there are some gems there, too, and sometimes, other people are inspired from my work.
  5. Crap. Lots of crap and nonsense here on BigTime Literacy, too. But with reading Use Your Words, I am seeing that the real writers have to sift through years of writing, and lots of it crap, before they can really get anywhere. And along the way, you probably get some great stuff too, but it's a lot of junk as well. So if you're one of those people who don't want to hit publish because it isn't perfect, remember that perfection is the enemy of completion. Just. Click. Publish.
Have you been writing lots in July? Take-Aways? See you back in the coming weeks, but also for the 2017's BigTime Blogging Challenge next summer!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

review: use your words

Hey all y'all! It's the BigTime Blogging Challenge. I'm writing every day in July to celebrate my blog's three year anniversary! Join me - write your post, link it up with mine, leave some love for blogging friends in the form of comments!

Good morning! I'm so awful - I didn't post yesterday. But I just couldn't. Have had friends in town all week and all the "fun" finally caught up to me!

Today I'm back with a little reivew of Use Your Words: A myth-busting no-fear approach to writing by Catherin Deveny. I got about 2/3 of the way through but there is still so much to share from it!

First of all, her voice is awesome. She's straight to the point and peppered with explicatives. One chapter is called, Thinking your writing is sh!t, and in it she says, "You level up as you grind." You get better at writing as you do it. So important to remember, especially as teachers. We have to create space in our classrooms where kids are practicing writing daily, because with practice comes growth.

In another chapter entitled Don't Take Directions from Anyone she says, "When you find yourself longing for feedback, remember: you probably just want someone to say, 'It's brilliant, you're a genius: just keep going. Tell yourself in stead.' This one stood out to me because I was just reading in a book about *teaching writing that kids are with their work alone 95% of the time, and that we have to teach them to be more self-directive. And here the author is telling us the same thing. We have to cheer ourselves on and keep on grinding with the writing. Kids too.

By far, the best chapter I read is chapter 15: Stop Fetishising Books and the Printed Word, which goes on to say:
Literacy has always been used to enforce class distinctions and preserve privilege, encouraging in-group loyalty and out-group hostility. The educated elite have access to power, decision-making, money and leisure. They support those like them and ostracize those outside their circles to protect their privilege. It's not privilege if everyone has it. Think about it: historically, women, the poor, and the non-Caucasians have been purposely excluded from or disadvantaged in the education system. They were often not permitted to go to school - or not for long - meaning fewer of them learned to read or to write, let alone got published. In the case of women, education was seen as a waste as they would end up having babies, keeping house, and basically being slaves and incubators for the patriarchy.
She goes on,
The  education system's obsession with rote learning, spelling, times tables, and 'staying inside the lines' has been a huge waste of our brainpower and educational time. And a massive obstacle to creativity and innovation.
Seriously. Have you read Literacy with an Attitude (Finn)? Says some of the same, how school can be a place to create compliant citizens who don't question anything (just wrote about that from a Taylor Mali book) or we can create schools that liberate and empower children - empower them to be creative, to innovate, to share their ideas and thoughts with the world, to question things that seem off, to become active involved citizens of their communities, which begins by creating a classroom where students are active and involved.

That's my goal as a teacher. Empower students to be active members of their communities.

Please check out one more post I did about this book: motivation follows action. I was so inspired a few weeks ago I had to write!

This book was/is really great. I'm excited to read the third part next, about the writer's tools. I'm sure she'll have a lot to offer, to me, and to any students I get to work with in the coming school year!

What have you been reading lately? Share about this book or another!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

what teachers make with #d100bloggerpd

Good morning! The BigTime Blogging Challenge carries on and I am here today to write though about a topic different from the prompt. I'm so thankful to work in such a forward-thinking district where there are a bunch of teacher bloggers! We have all banded together to do some projects, including today's post which is one in a series of posts about Taylor Mali's book What Teachers Make. I bring you content and commentary on chapters seven, eight, and nine.

Surely you know of Taylor because of his classic spoken word poetry... and if not, you're in for a treat!

This went on to create a book that is subtitled In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, and although I am slightly biased, I couldn't agree more!

Let's get to it!

Vignette 7: Keeping your eye out for the teachable moment
First, take a look at the poem that goes with this vignette:

So beautiful. Let me teach like the first snow falling. My, how I love that line. And so, when we launched this book study, we actually we so lucky to have a Twitter Chat with Taylor Mali, and I remembered this beautiful string of words, and mentioned it to him, but times-are-a-changing, and so is teaching:

As teachers, sometimes it is okay to be doing the mini-lesson, demonstrating for students, as we *are the best readers, writers, and mathematicians in the classroom. But even more important is to set students off to do that difficult work, to be patient problem solvers who don't get stuck, who persevere and learn through doing.

Yes, that's true, but all that aside, from a writer's eye and heart - Let me teach like the first snow falling - just exquisite.

Vignette 8: In praise of thoughtful uncertainty
Another poem to share with this little chapter:

You know when you read something and you just gloss over it, not really taking much away? I must have done that last time I read this chapter, because after going back and *rereading and *rewatching this poem, I love it more than I ever have, because it reminds us of our purpose in education.

Some people say that schools are meant to create compliant citizens, and I think, depending on the way that you're teaching, whether or not you are encouraging your students to question things, whether or not your students have choices and can direct their learning in some ways, whether or not the classroom is run by one teacher or by an entire class of students plus one teacher - I'm trapped in a run on sentence but what I'm trying to say is that classrooms where students have voice and choice are classrooms where students are being taught to be citizens who don't just fall for anything and speak with conviction of thoughts. I think we need to empower all our students to be engaged with and knowledgeable of their world, rather than just taking everything for fact.

Vignette 9: Encountering Genius
"Teachers shouldn't make the mistake of always thinking they are the smartest person in the room." Preach.
As a Literacy Coach, I always keep this front and center, because the teachers I am privileged to work with are so smart on so many different levels. Each person brings years of experiences, not just education related, but life related. And so it is for our students as well, that sometimes, like Taylor experienced, our students are just smarter than us, and their way of thinking is luminous and we should let them shine in their moment, to help the greater good of our classroom family.

If you like what you've read here, grab a copy of Taylor Mali's book What Teachers Make, and definitely watch all his spoken word poetry on You Tube. You can also check out a post I wrote a few years ago after I saw him here in Chicago. In this post, I shared my favorite five poems of his!

Be sure to stop back for the #d100bloggerPD next Tuesday for Theresa's review of chapters 10, 11, and 12.

And none of this would be possible without such inspiring work from Taylor Mali - Thank you for Twitter chatting with us and following our blog study!

Hey all y'all! It's the BigTime Blogging Challenge. I'm writing every day in July to celebrate my blog's three year anniversary! Join me - write your post, link it up with mine, leave some love for blogging friends in the form of comments!

BigTime Blogging Challenge friends, hope you enjoyed today's post and I'm looking forward to reading yours!

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