Monday, August 1, 2016

Brotherly Love

Ethan and Jackson
"CANNONBALL!!!" Swimming is a family favorite at the Reuter home.  My boys, Ethan and Jackson, would swim daily in our pool if the weather and our family schedule presented them with the opportunity. We have a pool prep routine: suits, sunscreen, toys and rafts in the pool, and then, "SPLASH"! They enter the cool, blue water with such grins on their faces.  Ethan picks up Jackson, and they move around the pool in unison.  They giggle and laugh as they discuss the next toy they will use. I am always impressed by their love for each other and the teamwork they exhibit.  I decide this behavior must come from my brilliant parenting skills.  I start to dream about sharing my methods with Parents magazine, as I am sure that other parents would want the same level of devotion to their children.  
As I continue to watch them interact, I am touched by the sweet conversation and loving interaction, when suddenly…"MOM!!!!!!!!!" I hesitate for a moment to see if this is the boy who cried wolf, like so many other pleas for help, or if this is the real deal.  Ethan tries to calm the screaming beast that is 4-year-old Jackson, but to no avail. He swims away, like any frustrated 11-year-old might do, trying to avoid the kicks, slaps, and pinches from Jackson's flailing limbs. Ethan looks at me as if to assure that I knew this was not his fault. This move by Ethan anger the beast more and throws him into full tantrum mode. "MOM!!!! Ethan is mean!" howls Jackson. What follows are yelps and wails of pain and anger which are heard throughout our neighborhood.
As my dreams of the feature in Parents magazine slip away, I put on my mom hat and decide how I will intervene.  I pause and think, what if I don't? As I contemplate my next move, I can't help but think back to my childhood experiences with my brother. What did my mom (who was also a teacher) do when it seemed like my brother and I were on the path to the point of no return?

This thought took me back to Three Lakes, WI where I spent almost every childhood summer at our cabin.  Looking back, I realize how lucky we were to have a special place to visit as a family that allowed my brother, Jayson, and me to fish, ride bikes, explore and swim in beautiful Big Stone Lake. The first thing Jayson and I would do after we helped my parents unpack was head to the lake. We would start at the top of the stairs, run the length of the pier, and with an excited screech, we would dive into the water.  The time of year and temperature rarely mattered since we just wanted to swim. We would spend hours in the lake.  A few favorite activities included diving contests, searching for smooth, colorful rocks to add to our collection, and finding clams and catching crayfish using old pots and pans. As you can imagine, all of these activities required communication and teamwork.  We proudly counted our rocks, clams, and crayfish, always wanting to find more.  We knew if we combined our treasures from the lake, we would exceed last year's totals.  Whenever I see a smooth rock ready for skipping, or a crayfish moving its way through shallow lake water, I can't help but smile and remember those happy times with Jayson.

Unfortunately, not all interactions in the lake were filled with love and compassion.  I have plenty of memories of fearing for my life while in the water.  My brother, who is two years older, liked the fact that he was bigger and stronger than me. He was better at diving off the pier and reminded me of this fact every chance he got.  He also thought it was hilarious when he jumped off the pier and tried to land on me.  If he were really in the mood, he would only push me down and hold me underwater until I couldn't breathe.  Not cool. Finally, his preferred means of torture was to push me off the end of the pier before I was ready to enter the chilly water. When these events happened, I would look to my mom for help. I, like Jackson, would scream "MOM!!!!!"  What I remember is she rarely intervened, but when she did, look out.  It meant she had enough of our petty conflicts, which usually meant we needed to get out of the lake, sit on the pier, or head up to the cabin.  Over time I discovered I needed to weigh my options before screaming.  I learned to defend myself and fight back, or simply swim away like Ethan did.  There is nothing bully bros hate more than victims who are brave enough to stand up for themselves.  Each summer was a new opportunity to grow and reflect, and also develop bravery, strength, and resilience.

More splashing and screaming returned my focus to the escalating situation in the Reuter pool.  I get up from my comfortable perch in the lounge chair and move closer to the pool.  My primary concern is always the safety of my swimmers, so I assess Jackson's "real" level of need.  I observe that he is safe on his noodle and all of his screams stem from his want of attention from his older brother.  By this point, it seems that Ethan has realized the same thing. Ethan lets out a "sigh", and then swims back towards Jackson.  "Jackson, will you be nice to me if I come back and play with you?" questioned Ethan.

"Ok….." whispers Jackson.

Ethan asks, "What do you need to say, Jackson?"  

Jackson hesitates and says nothing while looking down at the water moving past his red face.  Ethan patiently asks again, "What do you need to say, Jackson, if you want me to play with you?"Jackson finally looks up at Ethan.  The anger has drained from his face, and there is a look of remorse.

Jackson finally looks into Ethan's eyes; slowly and quietly whispering, "Soooorrrry, Ethan." Ethan assures Jackson that he is forgiven, and asks Jackson for a hug.  Jackson throws his little arms around Ethan's neck and holds him tight.  Ethan begins to carry him around the pool again, and within a few seconds, I hear giggles coming from Jackson.  Ethan and I look at each other and start to laugh as well.  I return to my perch on the lounge chair and hope that this calm will last for at least a little while.  

As I reflect on this day, as well as my time spent with my brother, I realize how important a sibling can be to a child and an adult.  Not only do you hopefully have a life-long friend who lives in your home, but you also have someone to share your success, failure and family crisis.  Do siblings always celebrate these achievements and treat failures with care? Not always, but we can learn from how siblings treat each other. Siblings, on their best day, can exhibit love, compassion, teamwork, and communication.  Siblings prepare you for school, work, and life situations in the future.  On their worst days, they are mean and hurtful to each other. Siblings teach us other essential skills needed for school, work, and life.  These are patience, strength, reflection, and the importance of crucial conversations to repair relationships.

My husband, who is an only child, reminds my boys and me how lucky we are to have a sibling to share these moments, at both times of pure joy and unresolved conflict. My hope for you is that you have a sibling to share your life.  If not, find someone who loves and challenges you as much as a sibling would.  You will be better for having someone in your life that can be both your teammate and opponent based on the situation. I leave you with a quote about siblings that touches my heart,  "The greatest gift my parents ever gave us was each other." So true.


Jayson and Julie
Mom, Jayson and Julie    
My boys and I


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Growth Mindset, Motivation and Digital Writing

My passion for growth mindset teaching and learning began a few years ago when I read Dr. Carol Dweck's book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  One of my biggest struggles as a Writer's Workshop teacher is watching my learners who don't like to write.  No matter what I tried, there were always one or
two students who were not motivated to engage fully in the workshop process with the rest of the class.  If I did not have 100% participation, I felt like I had failed. I discovered that my struggling learners may very well have a fixed mindset about writing.  Until they believe and understand they are in a safe environment where mistakes are encouraged, and with hard work and perseverance they can succeed, they can't change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset about writing.

Last year, I decided to make it my mission to integrate growth mindset teaching into my Writer's Workshop class.  Fortunately, I discovered Mindsets in the Classroom by Mary Cay Ricci early in my journey. Ricci's book was an excellent resource as I began introducing my students to the idea of growth vs fixed mindsets and perseverance. We start each year with personal narratives, so I shared my own story of perseverance and the fear I had of cycling with my family that summer. They had so many questions about my experience. They returned to their notebooks and wrote their own stories of perseverance and couldn't wait to share.

Another way we kicked off our year as growth mindset writers was to decide how we would be "Brave as a Writer this Year in Writer's Workshop?"  We listened to the song Brave by Sarah Bareilles first to get the students excited about the concept. The words to the song have a very powerful message (See my previous post). Each student posted their goal to our Padlet as a reminder and we revisited them often.


One of my favorite, quick, and what I believe to be the most effective growth mindset strategies I used last year, was what I called my "daily dose of growth mindset".  Each day I started workshop with a quote or image on the screen for students as they walked in the room.  It became the topic of conversation each day and the transition to our mini lesson. I especially like the one above for many reasons... but most importantly I can proudly say J.J. Watt attended the Pewaukee School District. This is an example of hard work and perseverance at its best, but in the words of J.J., "rent is due every day".  It motivated us to get to work, and for those who weren't totally motivated, it was hard to argue with J.J. Watt on the board.  I noticed students would push themselves, and each other, a little bit harder than I had seen in past years. I also noticed students using the mindset language in pair shares.  Students would also share and email me quotes or images they found on their own and asked if I would share them with the class. Priceless.  

Mentor texts with a growth mindset message was also a wonderful way to inspire my writers and I could teach my mini lesson in the process.  JoEllen McCarthy has put together a great set of mentor texts to help teachers start their own classroom library. I have used over half of these already in my classroom and my students love them.  Peter and Paul Reynolds Going Places will always be a top pick.  Another must have text in a growth mindset classroom is The Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak, PhD.  It is important for our students to have an understanding of their own brain and how it works.  My writers and I read The Fantastic Elastic Brain together and reflected on how their own brains can stretch and grow

Reflecting on growth, celebrating success, and learning from our mistakes was all part of our process this past year in Writer's Workshop.  I had students set growth goals for our Fall conferences and present them to parents.  For our Spring conferences, students created digital portfolios which were completely student-led conferences. When students and I would meet for a conference during workshop, we would end each conference by setting a growth goal for our next meeting. I would make note of it in my Confer app and the student would keep the slip. When we met again, we would check the goal and celebrate the perseverance, or discuss what we needed to work on in order to meet the goal for next time. This strategy worked well because students had the sheet in their binders as an accountability tool and something to work towards.  I also made sure it was an achievable goal that could be measured the next time we met.  Other goals we set were mid-unit growth goals.  These became crucial for me to get a pulse of where my writers were truly at as we moved through our units of study.  It was powerful to watch the improvement in the posts as the year went on.  My students were not only becoming better writers, literary essayists, and journalists, they were able to communicate and reflect their own growth and learning the more time we spent together as a group.  This was true for the celebrations at the end of the units too.   Research-Based Celebration and Reflection   Theme-Based Celebration and Reflection

The group communication, collaboration and support was key to our growth mindset success. Each year in Writer's Workshop I have my students create their own personal learning networks. Their personal learning networks might be students in the class, teachers and parents.  PLN's can be anyone who will support them in their learning journey. My blog on Student PLNs  will share my resources and rationale for this powerful process at all grade levels. The reason why this is crucial for growth mindset is because students need to know they have a support system in place to help them persevere. They also need a group of "like learners" in their PLN who will challenge them.  When you create PLNs, you need to remind students to pick people who will push them and tell them the truth about their work and take the time to help them be better. I will never forget when I was at Teacher's College and Colleen Cruz, author of The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, told me to be "sharp" in one-on-one conferences. She was right. Our students need our honesty about their writing if they are going to improve. Start with a compliment, but then we need to be sharp and teach.

These are just a few of the mindset activities I used with my students last year.  You will find these and many more on my website. I will continue to share as I try new ideas with my students this year.  Mary Cay Ricci also came out with a book of Ready-to-Use Resources for Mindsets in the Classroom, which I highly recommend.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What Did You Learn at School Today? What Will YOUR Students Say?

Every new school year I begin my planning ritual.  I type my class lists, revamp my website, and change the number of years taught on my teacher profile.  Then, I reflect on my summer of learning.  I always start the summer with a plan to read professional texts to improve my quality of teaching the following school year. This summer was quite the gift because not only did I read some new gems, I also revisited many books I read previously. I have so may ideas in my head, but my hope is to fit the philosophies together to deliver the best learning opportunities to my students this year. I will highlight these texts in future blog posts since each author and topic deserves its own moment to shine.  I also believe it is important to share how I will or have used the ideas discussed in my own sixth grade classroom.

One of the texts I revisited was Thinking Through Project-Based Learning by Jane Krauss and Suzie Boss. This is one of my gems since I recently used it as the textbook for a university course I taught for teachers called, "Project-Based Learning and STEM".  Even though I know this book well, I often revisit the chapters on inquiry. These chapters are wonderful reminders to teachers that project-based learning doesn't have to fit a specific mold. It meets the needs of our students and the learning targets. It also reminds us that project-based learning is often interdisciplinary, which can range from several days to weeks depending on the content. As a writer's workshop, science and social studies teacher, the interdisciplinary approach to meeting the learning targets are ideal.  Students are able to integrate concepts and ideas from other disciplines. I am always reminded that most careers are interdisciplinary, just like teaching. We need to create experiences in our classrooms that are modeled the same way.

This is especially important this year.  Last year our 6th grade schedule allowed a time for science, social studies, and project-based learning.  This year, project-based learning will be integrated into our science and social studies time.  Fortunately, I teach with an amazing group of teachers who value the importance of inquiry-based learning.  We have already looked at our schedule and our learning targets to make sure we are able to integrate our PBL opportunities appropriately, as well as look for new ideas.

As luck would have it, my husband welcomed Suzie Boss to present at Franklin School District on Project-Based Learning.  Of course I jumped at the chance to attend.  Meeting Suzie Boss in person, walking through the project planning process with her, and being able to ask questions was such an amazing experience. I like to select project ideas from headlines or local issues and I noticed my writers and scientists do as well.  I was glad to hear Suzie use examples she called, "Ripped from the Headlines" in her presentation.  She also shared the great resources from the Buck Institute for Education. I love the graphic below because it shows the design elements, as well as the role of the teacher.


My goal this school year is to continue to create inquiry-based experiences for my students in all subject areas.  If they are seeking knowledge through research and asking questions, they will acquire a deeper level of knowledge. This means my mini lessons need to be shorter! (Reminder to myself.) My time is better spent as a facilitator and conferring with my writers.

If each experience is not memorable due to student voice and choice, inquiry-based and personalized, will students retain the learning?  Will they look forward to what you have in store for them tomorrow? Most important, will they leave empowered with the skills to recreate the experience on their own? My hope is my students will end each school day with a new piece of knowledge, maybe even a gem to inspire a Passion Project during the school year.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thankful


Teaching is a unique profession that those not in education often do not fully understand. People ask me all the time, "Why are you a teacher?" Each day I have a different answer to that question based on an experience from the day. I am a teacher and I am thankful.  Maddie, a former student, wrote a beautiful essay about me and I earned the honor of B93.3's Teacher of the Month Award. This month was filled with compliments, stories and memories about the award, my students, and my profession. I always teach my students the importance of reflecting on struggle, growth and celebrating success. I have had more than my share that led me to this point of overwhelming gratitude. I am especially thankful for my students, my family, and my professional growth.

I am incredibly thankful for my students over my twenty years of teaching.  The relationships I have built with them will be remembered for a lifetime. I treasure all the notes, visits, and updates from my former and current students. I have discovered that being a Language Arts teacher is a special gift because you are able to learn more about students through their writing, blogging and one on one conferences. My 6th grade students have always mentored younger students with writing and technology.  When I moved to Pewaukee School District, a few of my former Merton students who were experienced bloggers mentored my new 6th grade students and continue to comment on our blogs.  They are dedicated writers and mentors, and wanted to share their experience with younger students because they knew they could teach their skills to others.  I am so proud of them.  They were willing to do this for students they didn't even know at a different school.

I have also discovered that my students are the ones who help me stay the course when my life seems upside down personally or professionally.  My classroom is always a place I feel at home and accepted.  I hope my students feel that way too.  It was a hard decision for me to leave Merton after 19 years, and I wasn't sure how my students would take the news.  They understood and respected my decision and said all the right things. Students seem to find the solutions to problems that adults find complicated.  I love that about them. They take risks, innovate, collaborate, talk, smile, laugh, cry, create, fail, try again, write, all with me throughout the day.  Why am I a teacher? I am a teacher because of my students and I am so thankful for the time I get to spend with them.


Teaching is a profession that takes an enormous amount of time and dedication. You need a family that supports and understands your level of commitment to your career, but also find a balance between work and home.  I am so thankful for my husband, Chris,  who is my biggest supporter and holds our family together. He does this along with his professional role of Middle School Principal.  We have two amazing boys, 9 and 2, so our schedules are crazy.  I am grateful that he values my role as a teacher just as much as his role as a principal. We are equals, personally and professionally. The time he spends with our boys allows me to work on my professional passions. Chris is not only a great leader at work, but also at home.  I am so thankful our boys have a role model like him.

I am thankful to be selected Teacher of the Month in November for personal reasons as well as professional. 10 years ago, my mom passed away in November. She was also a teacher who made a difference in the lives of many middle school students in West Bend, WI.  Her birthday was also in November. Being raised by two dedicated educators, and now following that tradition with my own family, I am filled with pride. Why am I a teacher? I am a teacher because I have a family that supports me and has taught me the importance of education. I will always be a lifelong learner, and I hope that our boys will value education as much as my husband and I do.

Professional growth and change is something I always considered a necessity in education.  Not everyone agrees with me, but when we consider the fact that our world is ever changing, we need to look at our practices as educators and realize that professional growth and change should be ongoing.  This year I am thankful for the Pewaukee School District because they believe in professional growth and change. I have found a wonderful home at Horizon Elementary School.  My new leaders, Pete Gull and Jodi Swanson, start our staff meetings with "appreciations" for each other.  I leave our meetings with all I need to know about standards-based grading and SLO's, but I also feel thankful knowing more about my colleagues and all the great things they are doing.  I miss all my teacher friends I left after 19 years at Merton, but was welcomed by new friends at Horizon. Change is scary because it seems unknown, but if you are in a position where you are no longer growing, it's time to move on.  I am so thankful I did.  Teaching is the ultimate opportunity for professional growth and an opportunity to follow your passions.  Why am I a teacher?  I am a teacher because I believe in the power of learning and growth.

As teachers, we all have days and lessons that don't go well.  We have students who don't like us. We have parents who disagree with a decision we made. I admit that I am one of those teachers who take those criticisms to heart. I wish I could "Shake It Off" like Taylor Swift advises me to do in such a wonderful sing song way, but instead I obsess over it. I want to be the best teacher I can, and any criticism is hard to hear. That is why I wanted to write this today.  To remind myself how lucky I was to be recognized by Maddie in November of 2014, along with all the other letters, cards and emails I have received over the years.  As educators we should be thankful to everyone who supports us, celebrate, remember all our hard work, and do our best to shake off the occasional criticism.







Sunday, August 17, 2014

Just Keep Pedaling

Bike...check. Helmet...check. Fear...check. Anxiety...check. For many people a bike ride is something that brings joy and happy memories.  But for me, cycling  is a dangerous sport and not something an uncoordinated person like myself would prefer to do, especially on a family vacation.

I love the sport itself.  I always enjoyed watching it on TV, the Tour de France, the dedication of the riders, and what it takes to be a successful cyclist.  My family takes the sport very seriously and rides often.  This is what motivated me to finally want to get a bike of my own and overcome my fears.

I started to think about why I felt a pit in my stomach towards a sport everyone else loved. I looked to my childhood bike rides. They were very different from today.  Our bikes were cheap, we had no helmets, and I was not a skilled rider. Our homes were far away from our destinations in West Bend, so that meant that we needed to travel far distances on country highways.  I remembered the horror of the cars speeding past me at 55 miles per hour. The dangerous rides were never worth the trinkets or the candy we purchased at the stores once we finally arrived, especially since we had to turn around and ride the same distance home. Luckily I survived and found other forms of exercise that were more enjoyable and less dangerous.

A few years ago, cycling tried to bully me into giving it another go on a girl's weekend in Shawano, Wisconsin. There were many women who were there to relax, but others wanted to use this time to take on new challenges.  I was torn, because one of my dear friends and role models, Jolie, arrived. She was a skilled cyclist and was going to try the infamous bike trails nearby.  I was so inspired by her. As she got her bike ready, she shared her fears with me.  I love that about her.  Even though she is so talented, she is not afraid to express how she is feeling about what she is about to do.  I watched her ride towards the wooded area and I admired her so much.  I wondered if I could get past my own fears and try this myself. While she was gone, I sat in my chair and read my fashion magazines with such mixed emotions. I was enjoying my relaxing time, but was also jealous that I wasn't getting down and dirty on those trails and facing my fears on that bike.  A while later, I saw Jolie walking next to her bike.  She screamed, "Julie! I scraped my leg!"  I ran up to her and saw she had torn her leg open.  There were left over artifacts from the trail remaining in her open wound.  I was heartbroken for her.  The trails were so tight that riders could barely fit through.  It must have been so painful.  I was so proud of my brave friend for even attempting to tackle these treacherous trails, but I was once again convinced that there are better ways to exercise and spend time with friends outdoors.

I was able to escape the cycling curse a few more years until we started a tradition of taking a trip to Door County each summer with my brother's family.  The first two years I was in the clear because one year I was pregnant and the second year Jackson was too little to ride.  This year there were no excuses.  Everyone was hitting the trail, including me.  John, my father-in-law, gave me his bike which was in wonderful shape and my sweet husband got me all the other equipment I needed.  He got everything else ready for our boys too.  As luck would have it, a few days before our Door County trip I had dinner plans with Jolie, so I could talk through my fears with her and ask her some coaching questions that I didn't want to ask my husband (all you married people out there know EXACTLY what I am talking about).  One thing that worried her was my pedals.  I had clips on my pedals.  She suggested I get rid of those.  It really helped to have this time with Jolie before the trip to not only ease my mind, but also build my confidence.  I will be the least experienced rider, and I don't want to let anyone down.

We arrived in Door County and we were blessed with beautiful weather. Everyone was excited to get on our bikes and head out on the trails, including me! I couldn't decide who I was ultimately doing this for. I felt such mixed emotions as I headed out on the trails.  I wanted to prove to my entire family of skilled riders that I could do this too, but I think I really wanted to do this for myself.  I have gone through a lot of changes personally and professionally lately so I wondered if achieving this small goal would replace the feelings of loss I have felt.  At first I was uneasy on the bike. I didn't understand the clips on the pedals and I had to think about the gears. Soon, I felt the wind off Lake Michigan and the sound of the birds. I forgot about the pedals and I listened to the crunch of the wheels on the trail as my speed increased and my heart raced.  I found myself giggling and hoped that no one could hear me.  I loved it.  It was a sport where I could take it all in and enjoy the time with my family, and most important, my computer was at home.  I had no way to work except to just process in my head. I finally got it.

I was feeling so confident that I had accomplished my goal that I forgot that I was an inexperienced rider. We were coming to a busy road. I suddenly stopped and forgot that I had clips on my pedals.  I couldn't get my shoe out fast enough and my bike tipped over.  Of course it was at a spot where other riders were also stopped.  I quickly picked up my bike and examined my scraped leg.  I had flashbacks of Jolie's leg as I heard Ethan say with a concerned whisper, "Mom, are you ok?"
I held back the tears, and said, "Yes buddy, I'm fine."  Physically I was fine, but emotionally, I was crushed. I could have cared less about all the strangers who just saw me fall.  I tell my students all the time to take risks and not to worry if you fall.  I truly believe that.  But what broke my heart was that my boys just saw me fall.  I don't ever want my kids to think that I can't accomplish something I set out to do.  I know that sounds silly, but I want them to believe Mom can do anything, at least for a little while, and I just fell.  I, of course, wanted to scream at my husband since he put the clips on my bike, but it wasn't his fault.  It was just one of those situations where you need to brush yourself off and get back on your bike and keep pedaling. So that's what I did. As I look back on that day I realize that this is a better lesson for my boys to learn. More often in life we remember the imperfect bike rides, not the perfect ones.  I want them to remember both, but I want them to know that if they do fall off, it's ok!  They should just brush the trail off, get back on the bike and keep pedaling.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Tribute to My Last Loop



For the last 12 of my 19 years of teaching at Merton Intermediate School I have looped 5th to 6th grade with my students and loved it.  It gave us a chance to continue our curriculum, relationships, and the 4C's (communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking) for two years.  I was heartbroken by the decision to end looping at Merton knowing how beneficial it was both academically and socially for students. Luckily, I found comfort in the fact that I would be ending looping with an amazing group of students who I will never forget.

I still remember the first weeks with my class in the Fall of 2012. I quickly discovered that this group was a handful. They were chatty, easily distracted, innovative, and wanted to be challenged. Our Principal, Mr. Posick, always joked that I had a room full of me.  He was right. I knew that once we had our classroom routines and procedures established, we could soar, and we did.

We started by learning about the 4C's (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity) since they would be the foundation for all activities throughout our two year journey together. As we experienced a 4C in a lesson, we would celebrate the experience by posting them on the wall of our classroom.  We not only learned the 4C's, but built relationships within our classroom community.  We created PLN's (Personal Learning Networks) so we could benefit from the expertise and advice of our classmates during pair shares and conferences in Reader's and Writer's Workshop. At this point, we were ready to expand our audience to a global community.

When I introduced blogging to this group of talented writers in 5th grade, I couldn't imagine we would be where we are today.  Our 6th Grade blog on Kidblog has had 23,285 visitors this year.  We have blogging buddies as far away as New Zealand, and we have had comments from famous authors Tom Angleberger, Ralph Fletcher and Peter and Paul Reynolds.  The reason for our success?  Student buy-in to this wonderful educational opportunity.  We learned about digital citizenship and expectations, and my students followed them carefully.  They entered the global community anxious to reach a larger audience, and treated this gift with respect and kindness.  The writing talents in their blogs shined through with the help of Writer's Workshop.  They turned their small moments into reflective, relevant blog posts. Enjoy our last blog post, "Here I Come 7th Grade!"

My students were always willing to mentor other Merton students, especially in the areas of literacy and
technology.  We had buddies in Kindergarten, 1st grade, 3rd grade and 8th grade.  We proudly expanded our PLN and shared our Chromebooks with our Merton Primary students so they could learn from us and share our 1:1 devices.  It also allowed us to share our published pieces from Writer's Workshop and they could share what they had written.  The more we celebrated and expanded our audience, the more purposeful our classroom experiences became.  I was overflowing with pride as I watched my students teach their kindergarten buddies about text structure and features with their nonfiction books.

Like every other class, we had our tough times, too.  We didn't always want to work hard and treat each other with kindness. I decided it was time for our class to "Be Uncomfortable".  This idea came from Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers. She reminds us that if we do the same things every day, we are not really growing.  We only learn and grow when we are challenged to expand our comfort zones. I challenged my class to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and to remind themselves that their brains get stronger every time they challenge it.  We rose to many challenges this year and built some strong brains in the process.

Our class went through some personal successes and losses which we shared with our class.  We had undefeated Chiefs football players, Lake Country Lacrosse players as well as baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer and basketball players.  We have many talented singers and musicians.  Our tech gurus amazed us throughout the year with app creation and Passion Projects. One student was even part of a  World Record Waterski Pyramid. We also had our share of sadness with loss of pets and family members.  I lost my Grandmother this year, and found comfort sharing memories through small moment stories with my students.

We were extremely fortunate to have wonderful parent support the last two years.  Parents were always there to help us with homework, class parties, treats, fieldtrips, and photos.  The photos from Celebration Day were taken by our "class photographer" Mrs. Bossell-Mehling. Thank you parents for all you do!

I am always proud of the teamwork and sportsmanship demonstrated by my class on Celebration Day. Both years my class worked together on the events and congratulated the winning team afterwards.  They made the most of the day and had fun, even when we lost an event.  This year our teamwork paid off and we won! We had the opportunity to play dodge ball against the teachers at the end of the day.  I hope this is a memory they will always cherish.  I know I will.

I started this year by asking my students to "Be Brave in 6th Grade!"  I kicked this off by playing the song Brave by Sara Bareilles at the start of each Writer's Workshop class to inspire us to take risks in our writing. We took risks in our writing, and so much more.  Many students took unbelievable risks on the rock wall and high ropes at Camp Minikani.  They dissected animals in science, which for some students required a lot of bravery!  We also had student-led conferences, independent blogs, friendship issues, and many more changes and challenges throughout our year that required us to be brave.  We did it, with the help of our classmates.

Now its time to be brave as we venture towards a new chapter in our lives.  When we wrote memoirs earlier this year we learned about how Australian Aborigines go on "walkabouts".  It's time for us to go on our "walkabouts" and head out and follow our own paths.  For the past 19 years I have sent my students off to 7th grade knowing that I am still here at Merton as a safety net in case they need me.  This will be the first time that I won't be. Are they ready?  Am I ready?  I know the answer is yes on both counts, but the tears still come. The connections we have made over the last two years make it difficult to part, but also give me the confidence knowing my students are going to 7th grade with a toolbox filled with skills, passion, and joy.
To my magnificent learners, you are truly going places!  In the words of Peter and Paul Reynolds, don't forget to always go above and beyond in everything you do.  Take care of each other and remember the relationships we have built over the last two years.  Keep reading!  Notice small moments and share them in your writing. There will always be an audience interested in your work.  Most of all, celebrate who you are today and everyday.  You are a gift to be treasured.

Merton Awards Assembly Selfie




Thursday, May 8, 2014

Wanna Hangout? Google Hangouts for Education


I am always looking for ways to create opportunities for my students to experience an audience outside of our classroom. I want them to know that their work will reach a global reader via our blog, Padlets and Google Apps for Education.  The development of our global audience started when I joined Twitter. My students loved reading the comments from other students, educators and famous authors. These connections gave us valuable feedback and we enjoyed building relationships with new digital learners and adding them to our PLN (Personal Learning Networks).

We enjoyed connecting through our writing, but we wanted more. Who were these people, really? What did they look like? What was their classroom and school like? So many questions. My class is a group who likes to talk, a lot! I am amazed by the conversations they have during book clubs, conferences, pair shares and strategy groups during Reader's and Writer's Workshop. They want to talk to their new friends in their global PLN. Honestly, so did I. I decided to look for opportunities to connect with our buddy classes via Google Hangout.
Two years ago my students had a Google Hangout with Adam from Google about 1:1 Chromebooks.

Merton was one of 3 districts in the country that implemented the first round of available Chromebooks. My students shared with Adam what they liked about the Chromebooks, and what concerns they had. Adam shared some troubleshooting suggestions and gave them a "sneak-peak" into what was coming next for some of the tools, like Google Presentation. My students left that Hangout inspired and knew that they were part of the future of Chromebooks for Education.


Our first Hangout this year was with Steve Pratt's 6th Grade class. We connected for Digital Learning Day via our blogs. We both did comic web site review blog posts and had our students comment on each other's posts. We decided to have our students meet via Hangout. I set up a Padlet for Mr. Pratt's class so they could prepare some questions ahead of time so we would be prepared for our Hangout. On the day of the Hangout, my students were so excited. I projected the Hangout and we dialed Mr. Pratt. When his face appeared on the screen, my students screamed and jumped out of their seats. Mr. Pratt and I gave the students a few minutes to chat and just enjoy the new experience. Next, they started asking each other questions about their classroom, school, and learning opportunities. Finally, it was time to say good bye. We ended our Hangout and my class and I reflected on the experience.

Our next Hangout was for World Read Aloud Day on March 5th. Jill Barnes and I connected a few years ago on Twitter and our students have been blogging together. We are always looking for exciting, innovative ways to connect our readers/writers. We decided Google Hangout would be the perfect way to have our students read aloud to their PLN's on this important day. It was a wonderful collaboration. We finally "met" each other digitally, and celebrated the right to read and share our stories.

Our most recent Hangout was for our Passion Projects. I was introducing Passion Projects for the first time this year, so I decided to contact my friend and expert, Paul Solarz. Paul and his students have been working on Passion Projects all year, so I knew they could give my students some advice to get started and help them form their own essential questions. Paul's students were so helpful. I requested that Paul's students post advice to our Padlet so we had some direction before our Hangout. We wanted to make sure our time with Paul's students was valuable and we asked important questions that would help us with the next steps of our project. This Hangout was different than the others because it was a project think tank session. One class shared their knowledge and excitement about a topic while the other group took notes and asked questions. The collaboration and communication between the students was so energizing, and they just met! This motivated my students to dive in and get started on their projects. I know that I could not have created this experience myself. This was the result of Paul, his extraordinary learners, and Google Hangout.