Jumping In

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This week, at Keuka Lake, New York my forty-nine-year-old husband enjoyed swimming with the kids–jumping into the lake off the dock repeatedly. When he emerged from the water in a state of pure euphoria, he announced, “It doesn’t matter whether you are nine or forty-nine…jumping off the dock into a lake always feels the same.” I couldn’t agree more.

Yet, I remember that as a nine-year-old staring down into the smooth, glassy deep water—I couldn’t bring myself to leap. I was too afraid.

Eventually, I overcame it. Maybe it was my father, who patiently waited at the end of the dock for me to jump in, promising to catch me if I went under. Maybe it was my mother, who waded in the water with me until I gradually gathered the courage to swim in the deeper water. Maybe it was one of my brothers and sisters, who jumped in laughing, making it look like such fun. So now at forty-seven, I can leap right in laughing and shouting; I have learned to override that split-second tinge of fear—but it nevertheless remains an element of the jump.

For me, like jumping off the dock, plunging into a new year of teaching brings back childhood sensations. The distinctive, soapy-rubber smell of fresh school supplies, the click of a new lunchbox fastener, the early morning dew on the grass, the fog lifting as we set off. The first day of school has a sensory experience all of its own—clean, smiling, hopeful.

How will the first day of school 2014 actually feel for teachers, parents and students? With so many school rules and procedures to convey, paperwork to complete, and “rigorous” curriculum to deliver in preparation for state testing, we may be tempted to dive in mindlessly. However, in her book, The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other, Harvard University Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot discusses the powerful role that childhood experiences have in forming teacher and parent attitudes toward school. In parent-teacher conferences, she observes:

There is something immediate, reflexive, and regressive, both for parents and teachers, about their encounters with one another, a turning inward and backward, a sense of primal urgency…The adults come together prepared to focus on the present and the future of the child, but instead they feel themselves drawn back into their own pasts, visited by the ghosts of their parents, grandparents, siblings, and former teachers, haunted by ancient childhood dramas. (Lawrence-Lightfoot 4)[1]

This observation reflects a crucial understanding that the innate responses formed by our own experiences of school—positive and negative—have profoundly deep implications for our children now and in the future.

The truth is that on the first day of school, while many of our children celebrate “jumping” into a new school environment, others may not. For educators, it takes patience and time to encourage those who hesitate to adjust to the “deep water” of new relationships, expectations, and challenges. Consequently, external classroom demands that tempt teachers to hurry, “toss the students in,” and mechanically tread water to keep afloat with curriculum and testing schedules may result in a learning experience that doesn’t even get our toes wet. After all, when it comes to both school and deep water, “It doesn’t matter whether you are nine or forty-nine…jumping off the dock into a lake always feels the same.”

[1] Lawrence-Lightfoot, Sara. The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. New York: Random House, 2003. Print.

 

Keeping “Calm on Core” Standards

Ah…summer! A perfect time to pour an iced tea, reflect and luxuriate over next year’s lesson plans. In this leg of my teaching odyssey, I am a blissful lotus eater. On my summer island, the Common Core State Standards, this year’s new PARCC Assessment, and the new teacher evaluation process seem like a dream…

But these are reality for teachers, even as debates about the Common Core rage on.

In fact, last year, we “unpacked” those Common Core Standards. (“Unpacking” is Eduspeak for, “We read them closely to figure out what they meant.”)  So, now that I have an idea of what these Standards say, the next step is to find a way for my students to meet them.

As I review a couple of the Standards, I note that my 6th Grade Reading students will need to do such things as “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says…” and “[i]ntegrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.” [1]  This means that my students will need to read closely and understand what authors say.  Also, my students will need to be able to analyze different texts and media to learn something new.  Important stuff for kids who will be writing the news someday…and voting.

So, it’s time to keep calm, pour another iced tea, and try some of the following:

(1) Surf the Internet and Twitter for some insightful professional conversations and resources related to the new core standards.

(2) Become familiar with school district resources and any new Common Core teaching materials for my classes that are accessible to me this summer.

(3) Identify which of the Common Core Standards are addressed in existing lesson plans and how they are assessed.

(4) Make notes about Common Core standard objectives that are not met through the current lesson plans, and brainstorm ideas to adjust and differentiate existing lessons for student success and engagement. (These can be discussed and developed with colleagues in the fall.)

(5) Develop tools to help students track their progress and reflect on their learning.

(6) Discover some meaningful ways to integrate technology for 21st Century Learning.

It’s a long summer…so why panic?. . . Pass the sugar and the lemon.

[1] See Common Core State Standards Initiative http://www.corestandards.org/

Math-Magical Ropes

Last spring in elementary school, we had “Dress Like A Teacher Day.” Several of the girls showed up dressed like me–the long skirt, the glasses, and the cardigan sweater.   These girls had the ensemble down: I’d actually be delighted to wear some of those outfits!  But the accessories my elementary math students sported were befuddling — short pieces of rope they called “math-magical ropes.”

Why ropes?  I had no idea why the kids were carrying ropes!

At last someone told me the answer:  Apparently one day in class, I was explaining a math concept.  But the children were not listening.  Instead, they were gazing at a crane with a dangling, rope-like cable operating just outside the classroom window.  When I followed their eyes and saw the apparatus, I exclaimed, “Wow!  There’s a math-magical rope!”

That was it.

The students may have forgotten that day’s lesson, but they sure remembered the math-magical rope.  Students have an astonishing capacity to carry around words that their teachers forget.

It’s helpless.  We teachers may never be able to math-magically reverse the number of forgotten words.  But we can definitely try to choose the ones that are light and easy to carry.

 

 

 

Summer “I Spy” for Parents

Summer is here, and it’s a great time to watch your child in action. In the classroom, I find that simply observing is one of the best ways to learn about children.  So, if you are looking for some new ways to keep your child geared up for learning, a little bit of friendly “spying” may tip you off!

1). Observe your child typing.

Yes. Typing. How long does it take your child to type a sentence? A paragraph? To search the keyboard for the “n” key?…With the dawning of the new Common Core State Standards, by fourth grade your child should “demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.” By sixth grade, this expectation increases to three pages.

Increasingly, students are completing classroom work on computers. Now, look at your child typing.   Would a few minutes of daily summer typing practice be helpful?

2). Observe your child playing.

Is it difficult to do this during the long, summer months of camps, swimming lessons, and structured activities? If so, get rid of some clutter and give your child some play time to explore, dream up creative activities—and to deal with finding their own solutions to occasional boredom.

When there is nothing to do, does your child head straight for the television and video games? Try giving the screen a day or two “off”—It’s amazing how creative children can be within those limits. Challenge them to find something fun, inclusive, and safe to do or create on their own “electricity”!

3). Observe your child reading.

Does your child avoid reading new books and stories, and continually go back to the same, comfortable reads? It may be time to “shop the library” together for some new stories.

Do you observe that your child starts reading, finishes part of the first chapter, and then gives up on a story? Try helping your child discover a new story by reading the first few chapters of the book aloud to your child. Once engaged, he or she may find it easier to pick up the book and finish reading it independently!

 4). Observe your child using mathematics.

Does your child need to add and subtract when playing board games, talking about sports, buying an ice-cream cone, or measuring ingredients to make instant pudding? Observe your child’s math use during the summer, and let your child know that you notice. Also, share how you are using mathematics in your daily life.

…What if you do a great job spying, but you find that your child is not using math? Look for opportunities to enjoy mathematics that are easily within reach. Bake a cake; try some origami; plan a lemonade stand; build a fort; design a container garden; play Monopoly; track the number of miles walked in a week; map and create a budget for the next family outing; clip coupons and see what you can save together for an “end of the summer” treat…