The Vulnerability of Time: 26 hours, 48 minutes, 33 seconds

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26 hours, 48 minutes, 33 seconds was the amount of time it took to travel from Austin, TX to Pontiac, IL. It was Addison and Elijah’s 4th train ride with the other three rides being no more than 2 hours long. Trains have that nostalgic feel where you go back in time; when time goes just a bit slower than usual. I was hopeful I would catch a glimpse of time truly slowing down.

While planning this train ride, I was curious at how this trip was going to work out. Would my children enjoy it? Would they hate it? Would they want to do it again? Would my body survive sleeping at very odd angles? What I was sure of was the certainty that within two hours, the swaying, back and forth, back and forth, the motion would lull two children to sleep. WRONG! The reclining seats, foot rests, and tray tables were just as mesmerizing 5 1/2 hours later as they were the first minutes when leaving the station. And the bathrooms… obsession is what I would call it. At one point, Addison started pressing buttons. That’s when I noticed she pressed the ‘Call the Attendant’ button. When I asked her why, she calmly stated, “Mom, it says press here. So, I did.” I went on to explain to read above the button, below the button, even around the button before pushing anything the next time. She saw the same button on the way up the stairs, and restated why we push the button. Luckily, an attendant never came. At least I think that was luck.

We gave the kids mini iPads for this trip and for our soon to be subsequent trips. Both children were ecstatic, not for the games I preloaded, but for the camera and options on the camera. This was the opportunity for me to see what children see through their eyes. A glimpse of what they found interesting, weird, question, love, and fascinating.

Addison was taken with all of the graffiti. At least 200 pictures of the shapes and colors that represent to me defamation of property. She saw the raw beauty and artistic aspects of the words and symbols. Something that I knew deep down is Addison is my noticer. She sees details and remembers every things I have lost within my mind. She is a connector of knowledge and experience and to people. She is also a visual learner. As I create learning experiences and share expectations for her throughout her life, this is what I must keep in mind. These are her strengths.

Capturing Eli’s attention was the architecture. Buildings and towers capitalize his photographs. A tough cookie to crack, Eli is very reserved and shy. He looks at the world quietly; yet deeply through analyzation, reflection, and a fierceness for right and wrong. He sees things as black and white with nothing in between the two. This is my biggest challenge as a parent and an educator.  Teaching him the difference between fairness and equity requires a good deal of conversation often met with debate during the day. However, it is at night after deep processing throughout his waking hours, the questions come and the conversation turns to learning and understanding the world. As an educator, I normally would not be able to help him process this way simple for the reason most educators do not live in the same home. Yet, as his mom, I can provide the time. I must build in this precious, precious time for his growth to mature. His deep thinking and fierceness are his strengths.

Being vulnerable to time means taking time to really  listen, to watch intently, and be in the space my children need me to be. This is one of the greatest challenges of all by taking a different perspective. Being vulnerable to time is, in actuality, a great gift.

Vulnerability of the Unexpected: A Different Perspective

Summer.

Summer used to be a time for looking at the stars sitting by the camp fire, frolicking in the sun, and lazy afternoons. Now, it seems this season is filled with camps from sports to music to anything, but playtime under the sun.

This year, our family decided to forego t-ball, swimming” lessons, and the sports camps. This summer we are traveling by planes, trains, automobiles, on foot, and maybe a bike or two to Texas, Illinois, Washington D.C., Spain, and France. We wanted a very different experience, for our family, for ourselves as adults, and more importantly, our children. We want to create experiences that are different, unique, and inspiring. We want that special something that resonates with their hearts, develops empathy, and allows them to see the world differently than ever before.

From an educators perspective, I am attempting to forget the traditional methods and teaching frameworks I utilize successfully. This will be a great feat. Beginning with the first few weeks of immersing myself with my own children’s learning experiences, the eyes of my 7 year old children will guide me along a very different path. I simply need to intently watch, listen, and allow them to lead me. Neale Donald Walsch wrote in his most recent book, “Being a leader is simply going first.” In allowing them to lead me, great, new moments will inspire me to be enlightened as a teacher, parent, and person. Here’s to vulnerability of the unknown.

Nothing Else Exists

Evan the Comic Writer

4th Grader, Evan, engaged when allowed to choose what he wanted to write. Immersion took hold and Super Squirrel evolved.

You know the feeling. That one moment, the moment your students are so enthralled. You could walk out of the room, grab a cup of coffee, hang out in the hallway for a few minutes and never be missed.

Immersion isn’t only what’s posted on the wall. It is a frame of mind when the intensity of the project is so enveloping, nothing else exists. Lent (2006) refers to immersion as the experience. The experience of losing one’s self in the task at hand.

How do you get there?
1. Motivate through choice.
2. Set goals and outcomes that are purposeful.
3. Publish the project, writing, or task somewhere-somehow.
4. Connect, connect, connect with your students.
5. Create an environment that speaks of students’ successes – all types of successes.

Expectations

I belong to a mom’s group, called Darling Doubles, a group for twin moms. This group is a nonprofit group of woman who are strong, untiring, and not a force to be reckoned with. After each meeting I am amazed and awed at the talent, energy, and vision of these woman. We come from all walks of life focused on one common goal – bettering our lives and the lives of our children by helping the world become a better place.

In January, I committed to running a half marathon with this group of women in late May. I mapped out my training schedule knowing I could begin the 13 week training schedule the last week of February. In my head, that little voice was saying, “Why not? You’ve completed two marathons before. 13.2 miles won’t be anything.” Three weeks late, I began training this past Sunday. It was rough and incredibly slow.

After I returned home from my two 20 minute miles, I was disturbed and a bit down trodden. My expectations of myself were quite different from how I had actually performed. I had to take a step back and look at what I was really expecting of myself-running a 7 minute mile like I had at peak performance in the Chicago Marathon? I don’t think so. This was my first go at it in a while and I needed to begin with baby steps.

In the classroom, we have to set expectations for our students’ learning, much like I need to do in my running quest. Setting expectations of what students’ will learn throughout the year focuses the teacher and student along a path to success. One of the easiest ways to set expectations is to have students create their own goals in incremental steps toward the end goal. As students first begin the process, their goals are superficial. Yet, with coaching and demonstrating goals become intrapersonal and right on target.

One of my colleagues uses the strategy of goal setting on a daily basis. At the beginning of class, Julie asks her students to open their notebooks to their goal setting page, and write what they will do to be better mathematicians, writers, readers, scientists, or historians. Each student begins with, “A goal I can set for myself is…” Julie then asks a couple of students to share out their goals with the entire class.

I love this strategy. Students are taking responsibility for their own learning. Julie’s expectations resonate in her classroom with the belief that all students will learn, use their strengths, and build a wealth of strategies to be successful throughout the entire year.

Now, let’s go back to what I need to do to be successful in completing the half marathon in May. I need to set my expectations of running a 7 minute mile when May comes. In the meantime, I need to continue to practice and refine my workouts, stamina, and shear willpower to succeed in meeting that goal.

Happy goal setting!

Demonstrations – The Powerhouse

Kindergarten Demonstration Click here to watch the video.

Last week I was demonstrating a math lesson using pattern blocks to build spatial understanding in a kindergarten classroom. I was asked to do this particular lesson by the teacher because the students were struggling with showing an understanding of the concept and she wanted to know how to support her students’ success.

As I planned the lesson, I kept thinking of one of Cambourne’s Conditions for Learning, Demonstration. When I explain demonstrations to people I explain it as a conversation with myself. Everyone does this. They ask themselves questions and answer them all the time in their head. It is the same thing when a teacher uses this strategy, only there is an objective and her students hear the conversation. Based on my conversation with the teacher, I found that there were two previous lessons where the information was introduced and taught. This lesson was the third and presented the most rigorous of patterns students would encounter. I decided to incorporate a number of short, precise demonstrations throughout the lesson allowing students time and opportunity to see what exactly I expected them to accomplish giving them small snippets of information at a time in order to build and apply their learning.

The video is the introductory segment of the lesson. I wanted students to make connections to the real world and begin using their background knowledge to make sense of why shapes are so very important. By taking the part/part/whole approach, I demonstrated how a triangle and hexagon created an ice cream cone. When students were released to work on this portion by themselves, rocket ships, cats, ice cream cones were just some of the examples. However, one in particular was quite interesting. The little girl looked like she was just putting shapes together without purpose. Here was the conversation…

Jill: Tell me what you are making.
Abigail: A hill
Jill: A hill? That looks like a really big hill! Tell me more about the hill. What made you make a hill?
Abigail: I went sledding in Thermopolis this weekend. It was so much fun.

Abigail had a purpose in what she was doing. She made the connection that shapes created objects in the real world. She knew that by arranging shapes in certain ways would give her the sledding hill where so much fun took place the previous weekend. So often, students miss the connection to the real world and why we ask them to do what they are doing. My objective was met in such short time, four minutes, because of the demonstration I utilized. This particular demonstration allowed the students to think beyond just individual shapes. What I found out later was that the teacher had demonstrated a rocket ship the first time she introduced the lesson.

Demonstrations are powerhouses that give students the expectation of what you want from them. There are NO hidden agendas for students to figure out. NO wondering what does this look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like? What am I really suppose to be doing?

So I leave you with a question. How can you use demonstrations no matter what type of age of the learner you work with?

Demonstrations are powerhouses.

How Do Students Engage?

Some months ago, I attended a conference where I picked up the book, Engaging Adolescent Learners A Guide for Content-Area Teachers by Releah Cossett Lent. What I didn’t pay attention to was who wrote the foreward. I found this exciting piece of information when I returned home and began reading. The foreword was written by the esteemed Brian Cambourne.

Dr. Brian Cambourne developed and tested the theory known as Cambourne’s Conditions for Learning. What excited me was the fact that this theory was alive within my own classroom. Before I could even deliver a lesson, I had to think of the seven conditions and the evidence each one showed. Here are some of the questions I would ask myself.

1. Immersion – What have I posted that will support my students learning beyond the lesson?
2. Demonstration – How has my metacognition provided my students with a way to become a patient problem solver, as Dan Meyer so eloquently states.
3. Expectation – What are my expectations for my students? Do I have preconceived notions of what they can and cannot learn?
4. Use – Am I allowing my students to use what they know through meaningful practice? Or am I jumping in to quickly giving the answers?
5. Responsibility – What choices should I provide that will scaffold student learning and teach in the whole context in order to make connections that further higher levels of thinking?
6. Approximation – Is my environment risk-free with room for imperfection? After all imperfections are where the deepest learning takes place.
7. Response – Is my feedback timely, specific, positive, and encouraging? Does my response focus on what the learner can learn next?

So the question for you is…how are you promoting student engagement in every lesson, every day?

Wicked in Chicago

Usually I am a stickler for reading the book before watching the movie or attending a theater production. However, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to see Wicked in Chicago before I read the book. The production was AMAZING! Enamored with the storyline, I became engrossed in the start of the Wicked trilogy. Flying through Wicked, I was engaged and mesmerized by the setting, characters, and perspective of good versus evil. I knew when I picked up Son of a Witch, the read would be just as delightful.

It was February of 2011 when I began Son of a Witch. I tell you this because I finished this book in late December of 2011. Not because the storyline was bad or boring or disinteresting, but because I was furious with the main character, Liir. I was so angry with his actions I couldn’t even think to read more until this anger subsided. Obviously, it took a while.

As I reflected on why I was so angry at Liir, I realized Gregory Maguire drew me into the story of hardship, triumph, life, and death. I felt as if I knew this character from the time he was born into his adult life. I became invested in who he was to become.

As I relayed this story to a friend of mine, Janeen asked me, “You weren’t upset with the author? You were angry at the character? Interesting.” I was taken by surprise by her comment because I never blamed the author. It was always the character. I was intrigued and engaged by Liir. Janeen’s question brought me to some other thoughts. How do our students engage in reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies? How do we engage our children in our classroom in this ever changing world? How do we continue to build a foundation of learning with enthusiasm for greater understanding of the world around them? How do we intrigue student learning? How can we empower our students to be pioneers of learning through responsibility, expectation, and desire? How do we help students engage intrinsically like I did reading the Wicked trilogy?