Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Involve Kids in Changes

In the spirit of the theme of change today I am using a different font! After a long and harrowing first day back from winter break, complete with pouring rain and no recess all day, I thought I would share about one thing that seemed to work well.
Yesterday, I bravely changed the seating chart in my classroom. I know.. "So what!" "Is that such a big deal?" Well, trust me. In Kindergarten, change can be a very big deal.
I decided to try something new. Normally when I rearrange kids' seating, I do it myself, telling students beforehand and introducing them to their new spots the next day as they arrive. This time, I decided, with the assistance of my awesome student teacher Meredith, to let the kids be a part of the process. I wondered if they would adjust better if they actually physically moved their own "stuff" to their new desks.
We had our new chart ready, gave them some time to clean out their desks, ( ooh and that was fun!) and had them bring their "stuff" to the rainbow carpet. Table group by table group, ( there are 5 colored groups in the classroom to match the rainbow carpet) I called them back to their new spots. Students put away their things, greeted their new neighbors and looked around. "Look around, take a picture in your brain of where you sit now." "Ch ch, click", and all sorts of pretend camera sounds filled the air. I celebrated the moment with real pictures of each new table group and will post them today to help the transition.
As the day progressed, I noticed that in contrast to past changes in seating ( in former classes),
everyone seemed to be adjusting well. No one forgot their seat after recess or after lunch. No one really seemed disoriented or confused. Success!
It might seem minor, but this slight change in my approach highlights a trust in myself as a teacher to follow my intuition. I believe, deep down, that kids have the capacity to thrive when we can give them just the right amount of responsibility.
As we were talking about the difference between being at home all week on vacation and being back to school with 22 of us crowded together in one classroom, a five year old wise girl remarked, " Yeah, we have to be much more responsible!" And she is so right. :-)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Beautiful Heart Girl Turns 21

As I have mentioned, my kids are the greatest bearers of joy to my life. They probably wouldn't like to hear me say this next part, but I must. If I died tomorrow, I would know that my life's purpose was complete; my kids have blossomed into beautifully loving and giving individuals who are pursuing lives based on meaning and strengths. Yes, they are flourishing! Stefanie, pictured here smiling as she enjoys the beauty of nature, is about to turn 21, and has the world at her feet. She is working hard at college, studying, writing papers, taking exams, hiking to beautiful places in between! and trying to decipher the path she will take to find, as Tal Ben Shahar writes about in "Happier", the intersection of meaning, pleasure and strengths.
Much of what I have read lately about flourishing and well-being points to an important factor in my kids' development. Although I have often felt guilty that sometimes my choices as a single parent did not necessarily reflect the desires of my kids, I do know that their life experiences have made them stronger and more resilient. Surely they must have had fantasies of a happy family reunion, where their father and I would reunite and all would live happily ever after. They were babies when we divorced, and only knew that they had two loving places to call home. We did our best to parent as a team, though we had our different styles, for sure. My kids and I moved many times in the early years, trying to find the most affordable safe place to live. This was not exactly easy in Orange County, CA. I tried to keep consistency by not changing their schools,when possible, which seemed to help a bit too.
The bottom line, I suppose, is that I did not, and could not, spare my children from experiencing hardships. I surrounded them with loving extended family members, worked hard as a cashier in a supermarket for 15 years as I returned to school for my M.A. , encouraged them to openly share their feelings, and fostered their strengths and interests as best I could.
Today, I admire the results in my beautiful daughter: ( you can read bout my son in a prior post) creative, insightful, smart, kind and committed to making this world a better place. She cares about issues and causes I have only just learned about. We talk several times a week, typing frantically to each other online as our ideas bounce back and forth, pondering life and the complex dilemmas facing our world. Stefanie is evolved and genuinely interested in finding her place in addressing the complicated future we face.
Yes, I am undeniably proud of her and filled with hope that she will lead a rewarding, fulfilling life. I love her beyond what words can adequately express.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Encourage Kids to Rate Their Effort and Outcome

As a teacher, all day I am approached by enthusiastic kids parading their papers in front of me, seeking my approval for their work. I humorously refer to it as "the paper parade." One day, in a flash of genius ( haha..sometimes in the teaching world, we call those moments genius!!) I told a student to ask himself how he thought his work rated. I modeled the questions I wanted him to ask. I held the paper up, gazed curiously at it, and asked these questions of myself, pretending to be a student.
Is this my best effort?
Does my paper look like the sample paper? ( can be adjusted to rubric in older grades)
Did I write my name?
Is there anything I can do to make this even better?
How many smilies does my paper deserve?
I encourage my young students to self-evaluate and begin to recognize the difference between work done with effort and work completed carelessly. They are thrilled to determine the number of smilies and write their rating on their paper, with special markers reserved for this process.

Teach a New Skill Through Meaningful Content

Through my tutoring/coaching work with older kids, I have often encountered a resistance to using new ways to study and master understanding of new material. Some of this resistance arises out of a time crunch; kids feel pressured by the voluminous demands of homework. Many kids use the same old method of reading and re-reading to study for a test and don't think they have time to learn a new skill.
A recent encounter comes to mind. As I worked with a student, N. on note-taking last week, I encouraged him to use a mind map or graphic organizer to complement his natural visual style of learning. Of course my enthusiasm didn't mean much, as N's goal was to get his notes done in the least time possible so that he could continue his other homework. As he worked, outlining and defining the key words ( bolded in the text) as his guide, N. seemed to be writing verbatim from the book. He was receptive, however, to my suggestion of using some note-taking symbols like @ for at and w/ for with. I asked him the purpose for the notes and was surprised to hear that he can use them during the test. Ah, even more reason to use my strategy, I thought. So I went in.. for the sell.
As N. worked on his outline of terms, I mapped out the chapter in a mind map format, linking key ideas together and condensing definitions. I expected N. to be interested in my solution as I saw how it would be easier for him to use on the test. He glanced at my organizer, mumbled politely, "oh, that's interesting" and announced that he was "done with his notes." N. had absolutely no interest in learning a new tool. And knowing what I know about him, it was not the right time to press my agenda.
It was then time for me to quiz him on the material, an activity I hoped would illustrate the benefits of my note-taking strategy. N. did fairly well answering about the key ideas. Where he broke down, not surprisingly, was in how the ideas linked together to form the main idea of the chapter. He needed to refer back to the chapter for such answers and here was my opportunity to show him the benefit of different strategies. My student was less than thrilled as I demonstrated how my mind map gave me a more solid big picture of the information. I realized in that moment that he "wasn't thrilled" for a big reason. He didn't really care about the content information he was taking notes on.
As I look back with hindsight, I now know that I will need to teach the mind-map strategy using a subject that this student finds interesting. If I teach him how to mind map a story of a science project he has done, or a historical account in his life, or an interesting chapter of a book he is reading, I may hook him on the technique. Just as advertisers must convince consumers that a product will change their lives for the better, a teacher must show students how utilizing a new strategy will make his life easier, especially by shortening study time and increasing test scores.
Not only does using meaningful content help in engaging the student, so does using a strategy that incorporates and highlights their learning strengths. Each learner is unique, so we must not adopt a cookie cutter approach to study skills and strategies.
Teaching is surely a work in progress.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Individualize and Nurture the Passions

It's not always easy to help kids figure out their paths to success in this complicated world. I think back to my own kids, pictured here 17 years ago, and wonder how "what I know now" could have helped them then. I suppose I instinctively encouraged their strengths somehow in allowing my son Nick the space to explore his "creative" interests, even though it often led to inadvertent property damage as something was ground into the carpet, or propelled into walls. Nick loved to build: legos, Knex and just about anything else he could get his hands on. As he grew older I recall his changing voice beckoning to me, "Mom... can we go to Radio Shack? I just need a couple parts.. it will only be a couple dollars!" Of course, wanting to encourage his scientific exploration, off we went to Radio Shack where, yes, the transistors, resistors, whatever they were called! cost me only a couple of dollars. Of course then there was the negotiation for larger, more expensive items, and Nick worked his magic on me. He is the only kid I know who could negotiate a proposal for a birthday/Christmas gift months before the event. "Come on Mom... then you won't have to buy me anything for my birthday.. "
Nick also loved music as he grew up, and at times, loved to sit at the piano, playing by ear. His musical gift comes from both sides of the family, and brings him joy, even now though it is mostly only expressed through his "guitar hero" playing down at UCLA.
Nick has discovered his passions in life, and at 22, is more highly evolved than his mother for sure! Today he awaits his acceptance into the top engineering graduate schools in the nation. He will be the first PhD in our family. And the coolest thing of all, at least for me, is when he says, 'Hey Mom! Why don't you go to school with me? We could get our doctorates at the same time!"
Yes, I am a proud mom.
P.S. And yes, I am equally proud of my beautiful bright daughter Stefanie as well, and will dedicate a future post to her and her quest for discovery. ( with her permission, of course :-) )

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Capture the Moment

I had a great lesson today in seizing the teachable moment! I was teaching my students the sight word, "she" and we had just sung the song with my Silly Songs for Sight Words CD. Since last week we had marched to our word of the week, this morning as I drove to work I had a brainstorm. I thought it would be fun to do a conga line with our "she" pointers. The students cut out their she's and made their pointers, eager to get in line with me. We chanted together "S" "h" "e" , "SHE!" and repeated it as we did the conga line chanting and dancing with our pointers all around the room.
The best part was when we came back to sit on the carpet. I asked the students why we use these activities to learn. One girl raised her hand, " So we can have fun and learn?" I told them all that fun leads to remembering and so they could help themselves learn by being interested and playful with learning. Someone even said, " so we will like to learn?" and another asked, " so our brains are awake?"
Someone's been listening to my soapbox :-) Even 5 year olds can learn about how to learn.