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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

making small groups work in the middle

I'm 15 years into teaching and I've finally figured out small groups in the middle school classroom. Of course, I've been seeing small groups in some way or another over the years, but they haven't been as systematic as I've finally figured out this year.

In the past, I'd get kids learning with the activity and then I'd bounce around haphazardly, usually helping kids who were struggling, and leaving the higher-performing kids to their own devices...with no anecdotals about anything I was accomplishing. It was the best I could do at the time, but now I'm able to see all the kids in my class in a smaller setting over the course of 4 sessions of class.

I am lucky to teach on a block schedule, which affords me 88 minutes of ELA every day. We've got a lot of different things going on in 88 minutes, but no matter what we do, I try to save time for workshop: mini-lesson, workshop, and share time:

As much as I'd love my pacing to go like this, it just doesn't always work out that way. The past two weeks, my coteacher, Andrea and I were teaching the Signposts from Notice and Note - those are not mini-lesson lessons - they take a lot of time to teach and model. But this week, we've finally released that work off to pairs and small groups, which is happening in that 12:30-1:00 time frame.

There is one other important routine I set in place to make this work, too: Accountability Buddies, which I originally learned about on this blog post. Cliff's notes is that kids pick a partner that they want to work with for the long term. When we read poetry, they work with this partner. When they get confused and a teacher is unavailable, they go to this person. And, when Andrea and I are seeing a small group, we make sure a pair is either split between the two of us or both independent, and we require them to work together.

Side note about these buddies: when I was evaluated last year, I saw a small group, and my principal observed the buddies asking so many high level questions to one another about their task. What I love about this system is the long term partnership (and choice in the buddy) creates a lot of trust which allows for risk taking. I had no idea that this would be one of the many awesome results of this forming these long term pairs!

So after I have the buddy system set up, and after we have the routines down, and after I have explicitly taught whatever is the thing we are learning, when we're ready to release work to kids, then we are able to follow the pacing guide above. When we get to workshop time, I let the kids know where they will be working on a rotating basis, so each day I show them one of these charts:

Side notes about the charts if you want to try: Make them different colors - it will be easier for you and the kids to see the differences. Also, I prefer to name these "Conferring Day 1, 2..." instead of by the days of the week. Biggest reason is holidays - We probably miss a lot more Mondays than any other day, so this system just uses an ongoing, rotating basis for the groups.

With this schedule, every other day kids are working with a teacher. On the days away from the teacher, they have their Accountability Buddy as a support. They are taught they cannot interrupt a small group, and they don't! It's been great getting into a routine with this schedule.

And the best part? I get to see kids in smaller settings. All kiddos in my group get very specific feedback about their work, which I can see easily as they sit with me at the horseshoe table. They use guided writing practices (Jan Richardson) to orally rehearse the notes they are about to take. They learn to share to their small group (rather than just to me) and ask for clarification to the small group (rather than just from me). The quiet kiddo speaks up. And when awesome predictions or comments about theme or plot are made, I have the ability to take anecdotal notes that inform my knowledge of what kids know and can do.

Win. Win.

Of course this isn't the only way to make this happen...what are you all doing out there in teacher blog land? Leave a comment below with some ideas so we can keep the conversation going!

Happy Wednesday!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

who is brezek, really?

Talking identity this month in ELA. So here's what I'm thinking about that....

First thing that comes to mind is CHEERLEADER. High school was where it all began and that was so fun, and then even ever since then I haven't changed much. Always rootin' for people and doing little dances and cheers and high fives on the sideline of whatever they are working on. Love to make people happy and let them know I think they can do the hard things. So first one, cheerleader... especially for the Sun Devils, my fave team!



Next, I'm an AUNTIE! Here's a pic of my niece from long ago...



Love to spoil her and my other nieces and nephews and spend some time with them in the summer. I wish they lived closer than Charlotte, but Caitlyn gets to come visit me every summer for a week, just her and I. Caitlyn and I are always talking books too... she texts me for titles and I LOVE THAT! (She's currently reading Nicola Yoon, highly recommend!) Here's a more recent pic of a special kiddo who makes me Auntie.



BEST FRIEND. We all have the special people in our lives that make us who we are, who understand us and love us even thought we're SO STRANGE. Love my group of BFFs, they are the family that I choose!
Also Identity: Sports Fan. Go CUBBIES!

Next, WORLD TRAVELER. I love seeing new places, and really I LOVED SPAIN. Like I think I need to change my identity and become Spanish and move to Madrid! I've been to London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and a few other cities in Spain, and I can't wait to go to another continent again! (And cities here the states, too!)



You guys, of course, TEACHER. Year 15. I totally love it. Especially kids who look at me, with that expression of disbelief and ask me, "Did you really just do that?" Yes, yes I just did speak in acronym to you, and you understand it, *and you like it. Plus, I get to do the things I love every day, reading and writing, and teaching kids why reading and writing are so amazing and perfect and wonderful. So teaching, my identity (and, I've known this would be part of my identity since I was in third grade!!)



Okay lastly, I'm an ELA RESEARCHER STALKER. Don't judge me but I love reading books about teaching ELA and it's awesome when I get to meet the writers of these books IRL. Like Kelly Gallagher. You can thank him for Article of the Week and reading lots of Just Right books! And, I met him in person with our ELA Squad from HMS. Don't be jelly!


Well this is a start for now. Pretty sure I'll be adding onto this list in the coming years - like wife and mom! Until then I have bunch of "kids" in room 230.

What's your identity? Write your blog post and leave your link in my comments so we can share!

xo,

Saturday, August 26, 2017

in love

It has been my dream for years to have a 7/8 combo ELA class where the seventh graders loop, a la Nancie Atwell. My dream is beginning to take flight this year!

Last year I had a combo class, but it was small. Mostly 8th graders, with three seventh graders. Those seventh graders are now in eighth, but my new combo class is a 50-50 mix of seventh and eighth, including my three from last year. The brilliance behind this plan has been found already, just in week one.

In four short sessions of ELA, I can already see the potential for this combo class design. This week, we began some procedures that will turn into daily routines. The first one is poetry, which is another recommendation from Nancie Atwell. Have kids study poetry every day because it packs big meaning in short text.

So there I was sitting with the kids in our meeting space, and after reading our first poem, Human Family to them, I asked them to partner read with their Accountability Buddy (long term partnership chosen by kids). The kids of mine who were with me last year knew exactly what was coming, and so it was such a delight to have them get right to work by prompting their partner to begin.

The choral reading of the poem we did, no complaints this year, no feelings that it was weird, because I had kids who were already accustomed to this practice. If I have just three kids looping this year, imagine the impact when I have 14 models next!

It's just the beginning, and I believe in my heart that this is such an effective way to deliver ELA instruction! I can't wait to see what other little insights I'll have as we move forward this year.

And to top it all off, on an exit ticket, one of my seventh graders wrote this:



"The highlight of ELA was being with the 8th graders."

Totally, #allthefeels.

Does anyone else have a combo, looping class? I'd love to hear more about your experiences!

Happy Saturday!

Friday, August 11, 2017

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"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."
-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Trust. I trust that I really do not need another new planner for the year. Here's the thing - I buy them every year, sometimes super expensive ones from Erin Condren, but then I don't use them. I use my iCal pretty consistently for meetings and appointments and I use a notebook all the time to process my thinking in PD sessions and in meetings. So, even though there was a super cute planner at Home Goods, I resisted. I trust I will not miss it!

Gratitude. Feeling pretty thankful for a great new coteacher. We spent some time yesterday in our room purging a bunch of crap from eons ago and deciding what we will do with the room. It's going to be a great collaboration, and I can't wait for this year with her!

Also feeling thankful for my super thoughtful friend who has sent me not one, but two little polaroid on-the-go printers. This one works really well for pictures, this one is better for text. I used the one that does good text to design my new Writer's Notebook. It's going to be my goal to write every morning before work, and meditate. Now that I've got a beautiful notebook, I can't skip it!



Inspiration. There are so many teachers on Instagram that inspire me; I have been loving following the back to school journeys and seeing all the classrooms. Especially flexible seating options! Sitting on the beach gives me inspiration, too. While I mostly sit on the Fresh Coast where the waves don't roll in as big as on the East of West Coasts, it still feels pretty great to clear my thoughts there. Inspired by the app Calm - did you know they will give educators a free account to use their meditations with students? Check it out! Anyways, I have been meditating now for four days, and it really makes a difference in my day being able to label emotions but not flying off the deep end with them. I've been thinking about how I could use this with my students....

FaithI'm having faith that there's something better out there for me. I'm about to put a final end to a relationship, one that isn't serving me, one that I know I am better off without. It's so hard though, especially when you can see potential. Especially when you can see all the good, and even when you are able to put all the bad stuff over to the side and move forward. But people do not change because anyone wants them to, they only change when they want to. Who knows when or even if that would ever happen? So, it's sad that there's going to be an ending, but I am having faith that something better is just around the corner.

Feel like bringing some joy to your life? Write a TGIF post and leave your link in my comments so I can be sure to check it out!


Happy Friday!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

writing joy

New chat in town, #TeachWrite. Last Monday was their first twitter chat, and it was awesome. It's specific to a special group of people, us teacher writers! And, they've taken it to the next level, by offering up an invitation to write after the chat. This month the topic of conversation is JOY :-)

There are many reasons writing brings me joy, but here are just a few...

It's cool to create stuff. I didn't consider myself a writer until a few years ago, but to be a part of a group that is creating content is amazing. One of my teacher friends, Kayla just published a post about how to make your desktop look cuter. I watched her video tutorial, and then spiced mine up. All of that happened because of blogs, because of creativity, and I can't tell you how much joy my new desktop, and the conversation around it on Twitter and Instagram, has brought me!

Writing brings me joy because when it's on a blog, it's not this solitary task, it's social! I've made new friends online, and some I've even met in real life! Relationships are so important to me, so to have more friends because of writing is something I definitely treasure.

Writing is joyful because when you are writing in a public format, you see that you are not alone. When others read your work, they sometimes leave comments, and to know that you are not the only one to experience things makes you happy. I am so thankful for the interactions that have come about because of my blog.

Writing and students... My students do a lot of writing. We quick write or journal write almost daily, they publish blog posts, and of course we write more formally, too. Because I do the work with them, I'm better able to coach them at writing. I understand that it takes vulnerability to put your writing in front of someone else, to wait to have them critique it. Mem Fox said it best...



But to the point about students and writing and joy - sometimes, there are a few students who end up loving to write. Without my sharing of it with them in an authentic way, they may have never realized that. If each year even one student considers a writing life, that's enough cause for joy.

Sharing about my writing life with teachers brings me joy, too! Tomorrow I'm teaching a small PD session to a few teachers who are interested in beginning their own blog. To share something you love with others, to inspire them, to be their cheerleaders, all excellent reasons to feel joyous about writing.

How has writing brought you joy?

Be sure to check out Teach Write, their website, their twitter, and tune in the first Monday of every month for a Twitter Chat. They *even set up a remind account for text message reminders for their chat, so smart!

Friday, August 4, 2017

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"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."
-Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Trust. I'm trusting that these cool Chicago temps are just a nice break from the heat, but that summer is still upon us. That the universe actually does have my back and is working behind the scenes to create amazing things. That I'll get to see my BFFs all together sometime in the near future. That there is a Goldendoodle puppy in my future, sooner or later.

Gratitude. Thankful for the easy summer days where I wake up slowly, coffee in hand, blogging happening at 8:15 in the morning. For my nieces who sent me the cutest cheer up note in the mail after a day I had been feeling pretty sad. For my friends who call, who share, who lunch with me, who listen. For a job I love so much, with kids who are amazing and funny and like coming to ELA, at least most of the time. For Arbonne: products that are toxin-free, but more so, for the community of friends who cheer me on every day.

Inspiration. Inspired by my nephew, Jackman, who is the cutest kid I've see, always cheesin' for the camera. 



By Beers & Probst and their book, Disrupting Thinking. By the teachers and bloggers who keep producing writing and sharing their lives with me. By Brené Brown and her work, that I've been immersed in all summer - so much that the format of this blog post comes from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. By all the teachers on facebook and Instagram, and their beautiful classrooms that are coming together as we speak.

Faith. Faith that this school year will be the best one yet. That I will keep myself balanced with work and personal obligations, and fun! That my single friends and I will find our way in romance, but knowing that we'll have other until then (and after, too!)

Feel like bringing some joy to your life? Write a TGIF post and leave your link in my comments so I can be sure to check it out!


Happy Friday!

Friday, July 28, 2017

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This week I read Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection... it was so good! I'll save the book review for another day, but loved this idea she had about a gratitude blog she used to write on Fridays, called TGIF:



In her research, she found that she could create joy in her life by practicing gratitude. She uses a metaphor of Christmas lights to explain:


"Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments - often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we're so afraid of the dark we don't dare let ourselves enjoy the light. A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy. That would eventually become unbearable. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith."

And so I bring another blogging format you might like to try out for yourself... TGIF: trust, gratitude, inspiration, faith.

I am trusting that Amazon really is going to show up with my next two books, Posted and The Universe Has Your Back.

I'm trusting that my family and friends understand the intent of my choices and behaviors is always positive, even when they could be interpreted another way.

I'm trusting that even though I feel that I've not done enough work for the coming school year (read: any work) I will still get things together in time enough for a great 15th (!!!) year of teaching.

I'm trusting that I'll find the perfect first day picture book to read to my class...any ideas?!

Feeling gratitude for my new mani-pedi. I was so in need, it had been like 6 weeks!

Feeling gratitude for the twinkle lights strung in my living room, that remind me to continually cultivate joy in my life by practicing gratitude.

Feeling gratitude for cool summer days with a breeze through the windows and amazing evening light on the bedroom side of my apartment. (idk my directions in Chicago!) 

Feeling inspired by Brené Brown, today, and always.

Feeling inspired by the amazing teachers I follow on social media, and my bffs who are teachers, too.

Feeling inspired by my friend Rachel who made a pie... from scratch. It was beautiful and smelled delicious and I think she saved me a piece!

Having faith in those I love most, that each one of them will find the things that bring them much happiness.

Having faith that I will make it to another Cubs game before the school year begins!


Having faith that my half sister, who I haven't been in much contact with, will decide that she'd like to build a more solid friendship with me in the coming years.

So, what did you think? I'd love to read your TGIF post! Write one and leave the link in my comments!


Happy Friday!
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