Charlotte's Web

Saturday, September 28, 2013

     This web was in front of my house this morning.  My husband, son and daughter came running into the house to tell me that I just had to see the spider web that was outside.  It was like Charlotte, herself, had spun that web with love.  The glorious masterpiece was a sight to behold, until my four year old walked right through the few supporting strands that connected it to the ground, and in a second the web was gone.  I actually, in a moment where reality blurred with literature, almost forgot that it wasn't Charlotte and I started to tear up a bit.  The moment faded as quickly as it had begun, as my son shouted, "Let's ride bikes!" and started running to the driveway.

     This moment happened a week after I walked into Mrs. Flowers' room and she happened to be reading Charlotte's Web.  I really do love that book.  I had thought of it this summer, when trying to prepare for my close reading workshop.  In my research, I found many references to how important it is for readers to use their prior knowledge and their emotions when reading.  It is very hard to have an emotional response to a book without using your own text to self connections.  If we take text to self away, will anyone still cry over Charlotte's Web?  Will the common core make us all clinical readers, where our own response is not important?  Text dependent questions could take the emotion out of everything.

     I have come to the conclusion that we need to make a connection to the events that are happening in the book, and the emotions that we can relate them to.  Students don't need to tell us, in great detail, all about how they saw a spider web, too.  They need to know how it felt when their pet died.  They need to know how if felt when they were totally alone and friendless on the playground.   They need to know how it felt when someone else cared about their success.  Because, if they did, they would cry while reading that novel.  They would fall in love with a great book, and that love will last beyond Read Aloud time.

     I came into Mrs. Flower's class, and she asked if I would read a chapter to her class so that she could see how I discuss theme.  I was reluctant, because they were nearing the end of the book, and I always cry.  She reassured me that they were still at the fair, so there would be no tears.  But, as we read about how Wilbur and his family felt about the pig next door winning, and how Charlotte had just laid eggs and was now exhausted and sickly, and how Fern had moved on from her primary concern of Wilbur and his life, the themes of life and death and friendship were abundant.  Those third graders and I had a great conversation about more than just the book.  I was blown away with the maturity of the conversation we had.  And then, I got to the part where they made the announcement that there was a special prize for Wilbur and they started to pack up, and knowing that Charlotte couldn't come with to see it...  I had to pass the book to Mrs. Flowers to prevent the tears from flowing.  I held it together, and told the kids that good books make you FEEL.  If the books they were picking for Read to Self did not make them feel anything, they should find something different the next time they book shopped.


     Books can change your life if you let them.  They can reflect your life in many ways.  I am a better person because of the lessons I learned as a kid through novels like Charlotte's Web.  Thank you to my own teachers for those experiences, and thanks to the 3rd graders who reminded me of it again.

YOU are at the Magic!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

     There is so much change going on in the educational world, and with change comes anxiety.  We all want to do what is best for our students, and sometimes we struggle trying to figure out what that is.  What will make the difference that matters?

     I participated in a webinar this week with my new favorite guy, Christopher Lehman.  He co-authored Pathways to the Common Core and has a new book coming out that I am very excited about.  But, he started the webinar with a simple statement that made me fall in love with HIM, not close reading.... (even though his new title suggests otherwise).

     The standards are not enough.  Historical, empirical evidence suggests that standards alone have little effect on American students' achievement.  The standards are not magic.  WE ARE.

     If we ourselves are nervous in our classrooms, with new protocols, new programs, new everything, we are nervous about doing things right and are less effective.  The common core is supposed to help us align as a country, not dictate how we teach.  The standards alone are nothing.  It is what we, as teachers, do with the standards that make the difference.

     Believe in yourself.  Get support from colleagues.  Ask questions.  Teach others.  Use what you know works with your kids.  Follow the standards to improve your classroom instruction, but remember that YOU are the magic.  Believe in the effect you have.  Believe in your students.  Be confident in what you can do, and what difference can be made when you collaborate with others.  Be optimistic that the path we are on is the right one.  We are in this together, Hiawatha.

     And, remember, when you get overwhelmed (daily) and you are stressed out (constantly), find the things that bring you joy.  The pride students have in their new accomplishments, chocolate, and pumpkin spice lattes are the magic recipe for me.  Those things, coupled with the knowledge that I work in a fabulous place that makes a difference in the lives of almost 500 students every single day.  

     YOU are the magic.

Shared Reading/ Close Reading/ ???

Sunday, September 8, 2013

     This week, at 4 different grade level planning meetings, a question arose about shared reading.  While the conversations were slightly different, they all came down to this- What are we supposed to do during shared reading time?

     On our SIP plan, it is written that we have 15 minutes of shared reading time.  It is described here:
This definition of shared reading also incorporates close reading, which is a much more complex type of reading.  Marilyn sent me a blog post about it today, and I thought it was a pretty good read.
Here is the link:

     Why am I sharing this with you?  Because he is right!  Whenever there is a new trend in education, we try to fit the term into our day, assigning a new term to things that we already do.  Shared reading might be something that we already do.  Close reading, however, is not.  I would imagine that close reading will be a new type of reading in most classrooms, and it is a type of reading that our students probably can't do right now.  Before they can tackle that, they need to "run the marathon" a bit more.  They need to get more scaffolding, more guidance, more experience, and more practice.  They need more time.  If we know that, then we can call the 15 minutes that we are doing right now shared reading, and eventually within that time we might get to close read some pieces of the text.

     How can we get our kids into the race?

  • I have been making the suggestion of practicing close reading on photographs or images.  Getting the kids to make observations (use the text details) to infer new ideas (gather meaning from the text) prepares them for the type of thinking that close reading requires.  
  • Use the shared reading time of your day to perhaps unpack the common core standards.  The type of learning that is required in the standards will lead to the possibility of close reading in the future.
  • Model, model, model.  I do, We do, You do.  Remember that if you model some deeper thought now, we might be able to see deeper thoughts from the kids later.  
  • Even though the kids can't really close read just yet, they can do shared reading.  Have it in your schedule now, and as the year progresses so too will the type of lessons you will do during that time.  If we don't reserve the time in our schedule now, we won't have anywhere to put it later.
  • Perhaps use the current shared reading time to build science/ social studies schema using grade level texts.  We have a large ELL population, and giving them shared experiences with background knowledge and vocabulary might be just what they need right now. 
     Remember, don't panic!  We will all get there.  In the meantime, let's keep planning as grade levels on the best way to get to the finish line.  One step at a time...