CONVERSATIONS · elementary school · slice of life

Holding My Breath

Obligatory First Day of School Photo Taken in Front of Our Temporary Home’s Door. Isabelle wouldn’t let me take her photo in front of our house that’s being built since she claimed she wanted two different doors in her third grade photo. As much as I wanted to take her photo there, I wasn’t about to let my desire get in the way of her need.

What’s the longest amount of time you’ve ever held your breath? 30 seconds? One minute? TWO minutes? Today I held my breath for nearly seven hours… and it was hard.

Today was Isabelle’s first day in her new school. It wasn’t just a new school. It was a new school, with new kids, in a new city. Yes, she met a few kids at day camp who would be in her school. Yes, she took a new school tour. Yes, she met her teacher a week-and-a-half ago. But none of those things are the same as walking into a school where you know everyone, which she’s done for the past three school years.

Even though I was holding my breath all day, I had a feeling it was going to be a good day. Every person I’ve interacted with at the school and in the district office has been helpful and friendly. However, what I worried about were the typical parent-of-a-new-student fears. Would the kids in the class be nice? Would Isabelle feel comfortable with the noise level in the cafeteria? Would anyone play with her at recess?

Isabelle was the first child lined up a the dismissal door this afternoon. I wasn’t sure what that meant so I took a few deep breaths. I spoke softly and asked her how her day was. Unfortunately, she started admonishing me, “Why are you talking so slow? Why are you asking so many questions? Why don’t you think I’m okay?” I stayed calm because I have found that a steady demeanor gets better results than matching her frustration.

We walked to the car and she climbed into her seat. Quietly, I looked through her bag to see what she brought home. I acknowledged her empty water bottle and made note of the thick school-to-home folder of “homework for mommy.” I asked her to get seat belted and walked around the car. Once I pushed the starter, I turned around and said, “When you’re ready, I’d like you to tell me how your day was.”

I began to drive after her seat belt clicked into place. First, Isabelle told me about a mini zip line on the playground. Then, she told me lots of random things. I learned that her teacher began reading Charlotte’s Web. We talked about how she already knew that story since her teacher read that book aloud last year. I asked some questions like, “Did you do any writing today?” to which I was told, “I wrote some words.” Oh. My. Goodness. THAT answer didn’t please me, but I continued with my calm line of questioning. I got bits of information that didn’t add up to much. But, finally, Isabelle paused and told me, “I think I’m going to like this new school.”

That was it. I was done questioning. I could finally breathe.

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consulting · elementary school · slice of life

Slicing Students

I walked into Angela’s fifth-grade classroom this afternoon and discovered her 20+ students intensely typing on Chromebooks. Since Angela emailed me in advance of our lab site I knew what her students were doing: they were writing slice of life stories.

Angela and I chatted briefly while the kids finished up their slices. She invited me to talk with her students to tell them a little bit of the history of slicing. I asked her if it would be okay for them to share a little bit of their writing afterwards. Angela said “yes.”

Once the class finished writing, I walked over to the meeting area and chatted with the kids. I told them a bit about how the challenge began and asked them how long they’ve been slicing in their Chromebooks. The kids did some mental calculations and realized they’d been at it for 16 days! (They started in February since they’re doing the challenge on their Chromebooks rather than on blogs as part of the Classroom SOLSC.)

Next, I asked the kids to highlight their favorite sentence from the writing they did today. Once each student highlighted a line, s/he gave me a thumbs-up. Once everyone had their favorite line, I asked for ten volunteers. Hands shot up so I selected students and wrote their names on the board and one-by-one each of the students who volunteered shared their favorite sentence. At the end of the share — which took just a couple of minutes — I asked the kids what all of their pieces had in common. After they turned and talked, we came back together and I highlighted the ordinary nature of their slices. While one student had written about his birthday (today), the rest of the pieces were about visiting family members, bus rides, and interesting moments from the school day. I was proud of them — and of Angela — for staying true to the essence of the SOLSC by writing about things that were of current and personal importance to them.

With that, I handed the class back over to Angela who shifted gears and taught a minilesson on conclusions. I smiled as I returned to my seat since it was thrilling to witness kids engaged and excited about slicing in someone else’s classroom.

elementary school · slice of life · vision therapy

Flexible Seating Options

Last week, I spent a couple of days working with third, fourth, and fifth-grade teachers on conferring and small group work. Even though I was focused on helping teachers with those areas, I spent time noticing good minilessons, strong classroom management, and differentiated learning environments.

I walked into a remarkable third-grade classroom that seemed to scream “everyone gets what they need” from the moment I crossed the threshold. After the minilesson, the students made an oral plan with their writing partner and went off to their focus spots. I looked around the room and noticed kids working in the following places:

  • At their desks sitting in a four-legged chair.
  • At their desks sitting on exercise balls.
  • By a bookshelf while writing on top of it.
  • On the floor or carpet with their writing sprawled out alongside them.
  • On a park bench (Yes, there was an actual park bench in this classroom!) with the writing beside the child.
  • In scoop chairs with the writing on the child’s lap.

I admired the way the classroom teacher honored each student’s work style. She knows every child is able to focus when they’re working comfortably. It was clear every student’s needs were met with diverse seating options. (NOTE: The class had 21 kids and there was not a single instance that I noticed of a child taking advantage of the flexible seating options. Impressive!)

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Numerical saccades practice was more tolerable while standing.

On Friday afternoon, Isabelle was more fidgety than usual when it was time to do vision therapy homework. She couldn’t keep her tush in her chair. I invited her to stand up, but she kept one leg on the chair at all times, which meant the wiggling continued. As a result, her posture was off, which meant her Harmon Distance (i.e., the distance between a person’s elbow and middle knuckle on the middle finger) was incorrect. Hence, her ability to concentrate on the vision tasks was degraded. Yesterday, I made a suggestion: either sit or stand. She opted to stand. As soon as I moved the chair away, I noticed an immediate difference. Therefore, I gave her the choice to sit or stand again today. Again, she decided to stand. Since she had some practice with standing and completing the tasks yesterday, I noticed a marked difference in her ability to focus on the vision therapy tasks at-hand today. In fact, she finished quicker today than she had all week!

There are times kids need to sit. Sitting still is a skill we need to be successful in life. However, sitting still isn’t something we have to insist upon all of the time. As a parent, I often forget my child doesn’t learn and work like I do.  I was reminded, thanks to this third-grade teacher’s classroom filled with flexible seating options, that I can meet the needs of my own child by providing her with what she needs when she needs it.

…..

To read more about flexible seating options for students, check out “Grab a Seat, Grab a Pen, & Get Appy” by Deb Frazier over at Two Writing Teachers.

slice of life_individual
Head over to http://twowritingteachers.org on Tuesdays for more slice of life stories.

CONVERSATIONS · elementary school · slice of life

A Shared Disdain for Gym Class

If Isabelle didn’t look like a miniature version of me, then I’d doubt she were my child. Her demeanor is vastly different from mine, as well as my husband’s. 
When she used to do something outrageous (behavior-wise), I’d look at my husband and say, “she must get this from you.” He’d shake his head and swear up and down he was a well-behaved kid (True.) and that he didn’t know what would possess her to do whatever it was she did. Hence, I stopped trying to shift blame to anyone for Isabelle’s antics about a year ago. She’s her own person — plain and simple. 

Yesterday morning, the three of us were eating breakfast together. I asked Isabelle if she had any specials other than P.E. on Mondays. She shook her head sadly. So Marc told Isabelle P.E. was one of his favorite parts of school.

“I don’t like P.E.,” Isabelle told him.

He probed for a reason. He tried to sell her on the merits of the games they play in gym class. (Apparently he liked dodge ball!) He provided compelling reasons for the importance of P.E. participation.

“I’ll do it, but I don’t like it!” Isabelle said firmly.

“What specials do you like?” I asked.

“Not P.E.,” she said.

“I didn’t like P.E. when I was in school either. I was more of an art and music kid,” I declared.

“I like art and music! And computers! I like computers. We drew silly faces on the computer the other day. I like my computer teacher too,” Isabelle stated.

I smiled and looked at my curly-haired, blue-eyed mini-me. Perhaps she is my daughter after all.

elementary school · growing up · slice of life

Gradually

I walked Isabelle into her Kindergarten classroom on the first and second days of school. By day three, I stopped down the hall from her classroom and let her walk the rest of the way on her own. She allowed me to do that on the condition I would check on her a few minutes later. I did. She was beyond fine. She unpacked her snack and had already asked her teacher where to put her Home/School Folder.

Watching my kiddo walk herself to class this morning.

This morning, which is her fourth day of Kindergarten, I kissed her goodbye in front of the office while she navigated her own way in the hallways to her classroom. Just as I suspected, she was unpacking herself when I arrived a few minutes later.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll say good-bye from the front door of the school. If she wants me to check on her, then I will.

By Wednesday morning I intend to drop her off in front of the school building so she may walk to her classroom on her own. I am not planning to check on her that day. Friday will be the sixth day of school; it’s my hope she’ll understand she can walk to class on her own.

Wrapped presents for Isabelle. As an only child, I didn’t know having these things on-hand was a thing until Tammy encouraged me to make sure I had something in case someone showed up to our house with a present for the baby only.

Just as I’ve been gradually releasing responsibility to Isabelle for getting herself to class, I’ve been gradually getting ready to give birth. (My due date is less than a month away!) Last Friday, I itemized my business expenses for the year so I won’t have to work on them this winter with a newborn who may or may not be a good napper. As of this morning, I’ve wrapped all of the “big sister” presents Tammy Mulligan suggested I get Isabelle. Tomorrow, I’ll begin putting the items I’ve laid out into my suitcase so I’m ready to go to the hospital. On Wednesday, I’ll exchange the original outfit I bought for my son’s Bris — since I’ve decided I don’t like it — for something I like more. With the exception of a work-day I have scheduled with my dear friend and colleague, Lynne Dorfman, this-coming Friday, I’m pretty much finished with work until the new year. I’ve written and scheduled all of my Two Writing Teachers blog posts. The final one for 2016 will go live on Labor Day (pun intended), which is a week from today.

Bit-by-bit and day-by-day I’m getting there. I’m beyond uncomfortable, but I know discomfort is part of the final weeks of pregnancy! (Apparently my son is cramped up in my belly. I had an ultrasound this morning, which showed him balled-up with his hand sandwiched between his knee and cheek.) I know he’ll come when he’s ready, but let’s be honest, I’m ready to meet this little man!

Head over to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com for more slices of life.
Head over to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com for more slices of life.

bedtime stories · elementary school · slice of life

Hopes & Dreams

I’ve been in the business of thinking about “hopes and dreams” ever since I completed my Responsive Classroom training a decade ago. I’ve asked fourth and fifth graders to write about their hopes and dreams. I’ve invited parents/guardians into school and asked them to share their hopes and dreams for their child’s school year with their child. I’ve even written hopes and dreams for my students as they got ready to leave my classroom to move to the next grade.

Tonight, I will share my hopes and dream with Isabelle since she starts Kindergarten tomorrow.

Despite the fact that I was unsettled about Isabelle starting camp back in July, I’m remarkably at peace with the fact she will begin elementary school tomorrow. Her teachers are nurturing people with many years of experience as educators. They’ve taken the time to talk with me on the phone and meet with me in person to discuss my concerns based upon everything she’s overcome in the past few years.

Tonight, in lieu of one of her bedtime books, I will share the following letter with Isabelle. It contains two hopes and a dream I have for her for the upcoming school year. While these aren’t all I hope and dream for, they’re the things that are most important to me when I think about what I want her to get out of Kindergarten. It’s my hope (No pun intended!) that these words stay with her as she closes her eyes and drifts off to sleep tonight.

Click on the image to enlarge.
Click on the image to enlarge.