For someone who's brain never shuts off you would think that reflection would be EASY PEASY. But it's not. Ah I said it... and the world didn't end. I am constantly thinking about school, about my students, about what should be happening next, or how to get to the next land mark. But the process of actually stopping and thinking about what is working and what was an epic fail doesn't happen much.
As soon as school ended my little fam, hubs.. the kids x2.. and MIL, packed up the pull behind camper and headed west. My oh my what 40 something hours in a car will do for you and your reflection! LOL... and no we didn't drive that much at one time. While in the car I did some light reading and some deep thinking. I've been reading Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller and it's been eye opening!
What exactly was so earth shattering? reflection! Miller talks about how at the end of her school days she would sit down with student work and a note pad and reflect on what had happened, what needed to happen next, and what her role needed to be for each child. WOW! Really? sit down each day!?! my mind literally exploded with the idea "but I'm so tired that I can barely move!" and " there is NO way that I can do this daily, when would I clean up and get ready for the next day?". Don't worry Miller had had similar thoughts (or responses from teachers) and suggest starting with 1 or 2 days a week. Ok that sounds more do-able. Actually that sounds really good. 2 days where I set everything aside and focus that "it never shuts off brain" on my kids.
Another idea that I loved from Miller is the idea of teacher notebooks on each child. She is talking the mini type like this:
I really think I've seen them in small packs at the dollar store. Each child gets a notebook with their name on it. Then when Miller was walking around conferencing (another big goal of mine- conference more!) she would take notes, quick notes, notes that help inform instruction AND document differentiation in the classroom! We have a teacher evaluation system called PTAS that is based on Charlotte Danielson's work. My only problem with this system is the level of documentation that I am asked to keep and the number of hours that I spend doing something for an evaluation and not necessarily for my kids. I think that these mini notebooks might be a way around that! Millar also talks about using a larger notebook to document things that kids say during whole group instruction. This type of whole group documentation might be a way to make anchor charts later. I'm beginning to wonder if it wouldn't be a better way for me to document some of our deep thinking since K students aren't necessarily ready to write those thoughts our independently. Do you see what I'm thinking? I need a better way to show what my kids can do. A way to document their deep thinking. Linda Dorn, in one of her many books, talks about the progression of oral language to the ability to write about ones thinking. She basically says for a person to be able to write about their thinking they first have to have a deep understanding of that thinking. And the #1 best way to get kids to a place of having a deep understanding is to let them talk!
I have a strong believe in oral language development being vital to reading and writing development. I believe that children who can talk about a topic can later write about that topic. This believe is rooted in my own children. My thing 2(now 13) started life with a speech issue. He was unable to correctly make sounds, his mouth just wouldn't form the sounds correctly. Our speech therapist said that we HAD to get him taking! She said that every time he asked us "why" to flip that question and say "well what do you think?" I believe that this lead to his playing with language and working through his thinking. Once he reached school, he was able to think deeply about topics and express what his thought were. He was then able to write ideas beyond "I like" when he started writing. He had had time to process language and had a better understanding of what he wanted to say, he was able to focus on the mechanics of writing. For years I stubbled with figuring out why learning to write was so easy for him and so hard for me to replicate in the classroom. I guess thing 2 was in about the 4rd grade and I was talking to his teacher and she made the comment that he was able to think so much deeper than his peers. That would have been about the time it all came together. He had spent years working on his oral language, years and years before he ever dreamed of picking up a pencil! That is the key people... oral language MUST be in place before a child is ready to write.
Another think Miller really impressed on me was this... if you believe something then you should see evidence of this in the classroom. That is if I say I believe oral language is paramount but I never give my students a chance to talk out ideas, do I really believe that oral language is important? Am I letting something over ride my personal belief? What systems can I put in place that support my belief? Miller said that she spent a long time developing her beliefs and that she worked with a group of teachers who were doing the same thing. They would spend time reading research, talking, and observing each other to see evidence of those beliefs. So as I was reading, I got to thinking about my room. How does it show that I believe in oral language? Can someone who doesn't know my belief walk in and tell that is my belief? I am still thinking through those questions and looking for ways to make this belief more evident in what I do daily. (so thinking this might develop in to several posts).