Here is your link to our 2017/8 parent survey. If you are one of our patrons at Cecil Floyd, please take a moment to complete the survey during our parent conferences. Respectfully, if you are not one of our patrons, please refrain from participating in this survey.
Yesterday, we tried something new - improv. We utilized a little of the acting exercise as a stealthy little prewriting tool. That is to say, after some explanation of the "rules", I pulled volunteers to try out some short planning "shows" in a game called "Yes, And".
As the performers did their thing on the stage, the rest of the class watched. We found out two things:
Surprise! The next part of the exercise allowed just that: if students thought they could do better, now was their chance. And they were eager to get started - writing, that is.
More about Improv can be found in my book for teachers, There's No Busyness Like School Busyness.
I've often wondered if we use the words mistake and failure to interchangeably. They are not, after all, the same. I once bought a poster at Cape Canaveral that featured Apollo 13's most famous line: Failure Is Not an Option. After some thinking, I decided that failure is an option.
Of course, more thinking brought another reversal in that area. Once again, failure is not an option. Mistakes, however, are.
Steve Wyborney writes:
To be fair, there are times when failure does include a sense of finality. Sometimes, as with failing a final exam, missing a scholarship or admissions deadline, or burning the Thanksgiving turkey as the guests are arriving, failure represents both a last chance in the moment as well as an opportunity to embrace a rich learning experience. Sometimes, it's possible to return to those specific experiences and try again. (It happens all the time at the Department of Motor Vehicles.) Other times, while we may learn from our mistakes, it is too late to try again. For example, the burnt turkey cannot be undone.
I think we need to distinguish between the two. Mistakes are not failure, and if we allow our mistakes to become failures, we've made some wrong moves somewhere along the way. As educators, our task is to train our students to accept mistakes and move past them.
However, when the learning is strong, when the classroom community is resonating, and when we feel an intense sense of purpose, we may feel less inclined to reflect. Yet this may be the perfect time to stop and evaluate what is working and why. These successes may represent attaining some of the very goals for which we have been reading, which makes these times of achievement very significant. This is an especially important time to take note.
We often miss opportunities to learn from successes. Sometimes we focus so much on our mistakes that we fail (Failure is not an option!) to learn from our successes. I like this concept from Steve Wyborney in his Writing on the Classroom Wall. Focusing so much on mistakes and failures is a pretty negative way to live life. We must remember that we have strengths, as well.
Once again, balance is the order of the day.
Report cards will be distributed at this Wednesday's and Thursday's parent conferences.
I just discovered that the last principal I had in Oklahoma City passed from life, last spring. Gary Blevins was the principal at Buchanan Elementary School in Oklahoma City, when I was there, ending in 1995 - the year of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Gary is the person who gave me more responsibility at the school, even naming me as lead teacher for my last two years there. He gave me decision-making authority, resulting in me being the person in charge of the school on April 19, 1995 - the person responsible for locking down the school when Timothy McVeigh detonated the bomb that killed 168 people.
The first thing Gary did when coming to our school was to repaint one wall of his office - John Deere green - and put pictures of tractors up. The office looked terrific. We had long, candid conversations in there and elsewhere about the school.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his infant twin sister, Sharon Gwen Blevins; and a grandson, Logan Hodge.
Gary was not only an educator, but also a farmer, a deputy sheriff, and an auctioneer. It was his family that made him the most proud. I certainly came to appreciate Gary's worth ethic and his dedication to his wife. He frequently told me that he could not live without her. I hope that Mrs. Blevins is able overcome such a concept as she is now without her long-time husband.
In 1995, my wife and I moved to Joplin, Missouri, and I had to say goodbye to Mr. Blevins. The last time I saw the man, the school had just received an irregularly-shaped piece of marble from the Murrah Building. Gary used the heal of his cowboy boot to knock off a small piece of the marble to give me. "You were the one who protected the school that day," he said. "You deserve a part of this."
I've missed Gary for a long time, but his passing makes me miss him in an entirely different way.
There is a silent call for teachers to create Individualized Educational Plans for every student in the classroom - whether a student has learning disabilities, gifted inclinations, or neither. This will be entirely too cumbersome from a record-keeping standpoint, and will gum up the system so teachers have no more time for creative ventures (like lesson and project planning, for example).
Yes, teachers must know the needs of their students, and yes, teachers should fashion lessons and classroom design to address those needs, but there is no need to get so bogged down in the swamp of data collection and individualized plans in order to get that done.
I would call for a more balanced, "common sense" approach to empower our teachers (and students). I enjoyed reading these observations from Mr. Wyborney in his book, The Writing on the Classroom Wall:
Adequately personalizing a lesson for each and every student is nearly impossible when I try to contain the personalization within my own abilities. However, what is possible is empowering students to seek connections between the content and their lives.
Exactly! Wyborney hits the nail squarely once again. Teachers and students are not programmable in a strictly scientific sense, and yet, this is the result. The discrepancy between these ideas - humanity and programming - becomes a fault line that eventually shakes the spirit of the school.
The challenge remains. How do we still strike a personal chord with each student without creating even more uniformity? How do we foster personal relationships?
This year, we want to work on uninterrupted classwide conversations. This is something new that I've implemented as a part of our regular schedule. I've also asked our administrators to observe us when we conduct some of these conversations.
Students will be expected to follow the guidelines of our uninterrupted classwide conversations. They will:
The teacher will initiate a conversation. This will involve one of the following:
This process, if explicitly taught and practiced, should support other areas (i.e., academic, social, emotional). I would like to increase stamina and decrease interruptions in these conversations as the year progresses. I also need to get more students involved in the conversations (as there are some who like to dominate).
As I have read the last chapters of Steve Wyborney's book, Writing on the Classroom Wall, I've also realized that I can apply some of his thoughts to student conversations. Wyborney finds value in giving the class the answer to a problem, removing that part of our expectations and placing more emphasis on process. In addition, Wyborney suggests offering problems with multiple solutions, broadening the conversation.
I hadn't designed our uninterrupted classwide conversations with Steve Wyborney's words in mind, but it has been nice to see that his book supports many of the things we do.
For more commentary about Writing on the Classroom Wall,
see my Professional Publications Commentary page.
The Veterans Day program is less than a month away (Tuesday, November 7).
We will perform this program twice -
once in the daytime and once in the evening.
Eight students will have solo singing parts,
including these incredible Hoggatteers:
JOSIAH, CADENCE, and MACIE.
Writing is extraordinarily powerful!
Thank you, Mr. Wyborney. As a writer, I have long believed that the Writing Process is a bunch of made-up mess. Unlike math and science, there is no set process to writing. Writing is very much an art, and as such, it should be acceptable for writers to select their own processes.
I, too, believe there are some fundamental standards in writing as far as sentence construction and plot development are concerns, for example, but I would discourage efforts by instructors to provide too much guidance in the writing process. Wyborney describes the process by which he came to the conclusion that prewriting is overrated - or at least misapplied.
Unfortunately, as I guided my students through a detailed writing process, I often found that the funnel of creativity seemed to narrow. The open-ended power of prewriting seemed to cultivate curiosity and creativity, and then the rest of the writing process seemed to mow it down to an unwanted uniformity.
That phrase - "funnel of creativity" - resonates with me. Indeed, funneling creativity through smaller holes stifles it at exactly a time when it should be flourishing. As some point the prewriting must end. In fact, there are many times when I pass over any form of formal prewriting just to get something started.
"Prewriting," I realized, did not take place before writing. Prewriting was not preparing to write. Prewriting was actually writing. Initially, I thought the different forms of prewriting...all shared a common feature: the recording of thoughts...
Prewriting is something that I blend, in my own writing, into writing itself. Mr. Wyborney is quite eloquent in the presentation of his thoughts on the matter. Personally, I have never followed any three- or five-step process in my writing, choosing instead to blend the steps - somethings stopping to return to the beginning for editing and revising - made all the easier with the invention of the computer - sometimes stopping to think of options for the next portion of a story or the next chapter of a nonfiction manuscript.
As I continued to write and to work with students, I eventually realized that the act of writing involves a massive intrapersonal exchange of thinking. The refinement of thinking is spurred on by recording thoughts (in any form), and those recorded thoughts, which may come in micro-moments, continually fuel and inform the thinking.
You said it!
Some of my best thinking occurs as I write, not before I write.
The next statement is true, as well:
No wonder I felt such a sense of dissatisfaction as I guided students toward mowed-down creativity that yielded highly similar products. I was failing to acknowledge an extraordinary process.
How many times have I advocated for just about anything besides viewing our students and teachers as products on an assembly line? Too many to count. Rather, I wish for my pupils to produce high-quality, creative, and one-of-a-kind products. Why must they all write the same three-point paragraph about a particular subject? Why can't they use their independent voices to present their latest tale?
For every student I squeeze (figuratively speaking), a different juice should drip out (Mayhaps that's not a great metaphor after all.). Actually, I don't have to change anything that Mr. Wyborney has already written when he says the following:
As a teacher, I find that there is an unusually strong temptation to try to "make meaning for the students" by talking. Yet when I compare any attempt to "make meaning for the students" to the power of student writing, I have a difficult time making sense of any approach in which I spend a majority of the lesson talking.
Once again, we tend to forget. In writing, I've struggled to develop what I know about other school subjects. In math, science, history, and reading, I keep asking my class to report about what they notice. I quickly also ask the class to identify what they wonder.
But when it comes to writing, we often have a different approach. We forget to ask students to notice and wonder, and we fail to engage and empower them to blaze their own trails.
I am learning to resist the temptation to make meaning for the students. I am learning to remove my voice from the conversation and to provide space for the students to be the makers of meaning.
Wyborney goes on to observe that writing can come in shorter bursts of reflection throughout the education process. While there's usually not enough time in the day to write about every little thing, we have tried to address some of those thoughts through our daily (ish) blogging. We take notes throughout the day to support students' blogging, and they always have something on their minds to share with the world.
May we continue to see the steps of the writing process, but may we also understand that writers must apply their own quirks, eccentricities, and idiosyncrasies, and habits to their art!
It wasn't something I learned how to do. I just did it. And I think it makes a difference for students who find respectful responses less intuitive.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. The video above addresses this concept.
It's a bit of a no nonsense approach.
I must admit, I still say please, but my voice indicates that my request for action from my students comes with a different tone. No lilt at the end. My please comes with more of a command than question.
I never ask someone, "Would you mind doing this?" A question like that makes it sound like the activity is optional. Keep it simple, I say. If what I want students to do is not optional, I need to make that clear. If what I want them to do is a required activity, I should not be using the word please. Again, please implies a choice.
While we endorse good manners and respect, there is definitely a difference between a request and a command. I often hear teachers deliver instructions as if they are begging for compliance. They speak to children is soft, lilting voices, pleading with them to please do the work. Please. And soon they find themselves in negotiations with backtalking students. They respond to a child who backtalks, rather than address the disrespectful backtalk.
They lower themselves to the level of backtalking the backtalker.
What kind of citizens are we producing?
I believe we do a disservice to children when we do not clearly communicate our expectations - with urgency when necessary, and with choices when possible.
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