Monthly Archives: March 2017

#sol17 March 31 A slice of the last slice.

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

My students filed in, sat down and started their slices.

“It’s the last day!” Someone said.

Another student’s face fell, in puppy dog sadness. “I’m sad that it’s over.” she said, and then paused, shook her head a bit and added, “Well, sad and also kind of happy too, you know?”

Yep. I know.

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#sol17 March 30 A slice of marching

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

One of my favorite bulletin boards this year is my “What Would You March For?” board that we made from a collection of the things that my 6th graders think are important issues. This was part of a larger activity from our celebration of Martin Luther King Jr, and watching  Teaching Tolerance’s The Children’s March.

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I love it because the kids were so genuine when they made their signs, and I love that we happened to make the signs on Inauguration Day. I love the memory, even though it broke my heart a little bit that day.  After watching my students write that they would march for LGBTQ rights, The Environment, The Animals, Global Warming, Freedom, etc., I was reading news of White House taking down website pages protecting some of those very same things. But, it gave me hope to see my students thinking about things that were important to them.

Now we are just a few days away from starting our state assessments. All of us at school are trying our best to comply with the rules of what we need to take down and cover up in our classrooms and hallways. Obviously, we can’t have students looking at charts that will help them write Text Dependent Analysis essays, or charts of literary definitions… but not everything is so black and white. I’ve taken to just covering up almost everything with words on it, because the manual says something about covering things that could help students with the test. (Ironically enough, getting my students to use the charts and resources in the room when I WANT them to use them is challenging… thinking of them using it during a high stakes test is laughable. But, I cover everything anyway.) My students, like every year, walk into the classroom after I have slapped colored paper all over and go into mild shock. They ask me why, and I tell them that the PDE wants to make sure they don’t use anything in the classroom to help them, or to cheat. They look confused, asking me “How could we use the sign that says ‘read’ to help us on the test?” I just shrug my shoulders.

Our hallways need to be free of hints as well, so the other day as I passed the “What Would you March For” bulletin board, I stopped to comment to my friend, “Maybe we should just replace all of the protest signs with signs that say “No More High Stakes Testing!”

But, because I like my job, I asked our team para to cover the board instead.

Walking by it today, though, I shuddered.

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Our marchers. Silenced.

Today one of my students looked up at my wall, where I have a little banner that says “THINK.”

“Ms. Feinberg! You better cover that up. It might give us a hint of what we should do during the test.”

I love sixth graders.

 

#sol17 March 29 A Confession Slice, and some poems

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

Confession Slice. 

I wrote a poem slice.
But the rhythm was off.
So I started over,
and that one stunk too.
So here, I’ve written a few:

Today: Bulletin Boards

I had to cover bulletin boards today,
So my students won’t cheat on their standardized tests
I might not agree, but it’s what PDE thinks is best.

Today: My Dog

My dog wouldn’t take a walk with me
Even though I had my sneakers on, and treats in my pocket.
Even when I cheered “Let’s go!”
All he did was stand there, unmoving, saying “NO!”
So I took him to the dog park, where he ran and played
Tired out, I took him home, where he chewed and lay.

Today: Writing

As soon as I start writing,
the dog is no longer tired.
He wants to play tug of war,
Now he seems so wired!

He wants to chase, and chew, and tug
Now he probably wants a walk!
But it’s bedtime for the human kids –
I mean, just take a look at the clock!

I’m not trying to bore you with my griping
It’s just that I’m not so good
at playing chase or tug of war,
at least not while I’m typing.

#sol17 March 28 A Slice of March

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

What does March mean to you?

As a kid, March was full of crafts with little yellow lions, and cotton puff lambs.

In 1990, March was all about waiting for my baby sister to be born. I was 12, and an only child.

In 1998, March brought a proposal. Mr. Thought and I had been together for 6 years, high school sweethearts. He proposed in the Pontiac, on the way home from a visit with his family.

In 1999, March meant the sudden passing of Mr. Thought’s dad, Al, just shy of 3 months until the wedding. In a haunting video from the previous summer when we took family to see the wedding location, Al is shown saying, “I hope I’m alive and well.”

In 2003, March was spent waiting for my own baby girl to be born. Life was about appointments, preparations, baby showers — and I just remembered this — patiently waiting for the next Harry Potter book! (Which I had time to quickly read that June right before L was born.)

In 2006, March had me hiding the fact that I was pregnant with H. I was nervous that I’d have another miscarriage, and feeling so very sick!

In 2010, March… An early spring…me on family rearing leave with my  3 kids. That March was filled with taking L to school,  H to preschool and trying to get newborn E to nap anywhere but on me.

In 2011, it was my second March at home, on leave. I hadn’t yet figured out how to get napping to work, though! (Although when E started at a babysitter that fall, he easily napped for a few hours a day for her!)

In 2014, I started my first Slice of Life March challenge!

In 2015, I sliced for all of March again.

In 2016, More slicing. Although, what I remember about March 2016, is my 14 year old cat, Billy dying. He was so sick, but still his death seemed sudden and unfair. My children were there for his last breath, and I arrived just a few minutes later.

And now, March means once again, a month of noticing, of reflecting, of writing.

What does March mean to you?

#sol17 March 27 A slice of not making sense.

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

It doesn’t make sense. 

I’m not sure why I’m helping my daughter pick out classes for High School.

She was just a baby.  How could a baby be expected to take Geometry? How could a baby decide between English 9, and Advanced English?

I’m not sure why I’m helping my daughter pick out classes for High School.

It doesn’t make sense.

 

#sol17 March 26 A slice of Standardized tests… (You knew this post was coming…)

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

“I know what the PSSAs really stand for! “Pretty Stupid School Assessments!”

I can’t help but laugh, but I try to hold it together. After all, I’m having a small group teaching some test taking strategies. I shall not let my personal bias show. I shall not let my personal bias show. I shall not let my personal bias show.

Last week my test prep copies arrived, and I stacked them on my desk. I had ordered them because I want to make sure my students have an idea of what kinds of questions they will get on their standardized test, but the sight of them on my desk has caused me and them a fair amount of stress.

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“What are those, Ms. Feinberg?” Students have asked with a grimace on their face.

One of my girls pretended to try to to sneak them off of my desk and into the trash.

When I look at them they seem to mock me. “Think of all the things you haven’t taught yet.” 

I’m supposed to understand that testing is a part of academic life. So, I tell my students that they will be taking tests for much of their academic life, and it’s good to just get used to it. After I say that aloud, I can’t believe myself.  In a recent post on ditchthattexbook.com, Sir Ken Robinson says, “Don’t think someone is the system. You are the system,”

Cornelius Minor at TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion last week said, “Systems don’t change because we know about them. They change because we disrupt them. To not be a thing is to be complicit. You have to be anti-the thing.”  Now, Cornelius wanted us to look at systems in our classrooms that create unequal outcomes… he told us to look at our “Realm of influence, not our larger realm of concern. But, his point is still on my mind today. Standardized tests are in my realm of concern, but I’m not sure they are in my realm of influence. Or are they?

I tell my students, “You can do this. You’ve got this. You’ve learned so much this year!” and I look over at the pile of practice packets, and It mocks me. “Think of all the things you haven’t taught yet.” 

This week, I want to  dive deeper into the nonfiction work we have started. We have just started to scrape the surface of the idea of not believing everything we read. We are using Jennifer Serravallo’s strategy from The Reading Strategy Book, page 245:  Perspective, Position, Power. I don’t think we’ll have time for this important work though. We need to practice Text Dependent Analysis, and closely reading multiple choice questions.

I’m supposed to understand that standardized testing is part of academic life. But, my students are 11 and 12.

I’m supposed to understand how lucky we have it. And, we have it lucky. My district still has art, and music. We are encouraged to work towards big understandings, and test prep isn’t really this huge, mandated thing. It’s just me, wanting to give my students a little bit of a reminder and practice so they feel less stressed about the tests. But I’m not proud of myself when I do it. There are schools, I know, where test prep is all year. Where the time spent on preparing for the tests takes so much away from real learning. But just because I have it better, does that mean I have to be okay with it?

I’m supposed to concede that we need standardized tests. That it’s how we do things. Problem is, I don’t think we need these tests. I think there are better, more authentic, less costly (in money, time, and social justice) ways to assess learning.

I’m supposed to agree that we get good data, that we need the data. That it’s how we do things. Problem isI think there are better, more authentic, less costly kinds of data.

I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut. That’s how we do things. Problem is, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. I have a hard time with doing things just because that’s how we do things. 

Lucy Calkins asked us last Saturday, “What would you teach with just one (year/month/day) left?”

With just one year left, I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t teach. I wouldn’t spend even one minute on standardized tests.

 

 

 

#sol17 March 25 A slice of friendship

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

celebrate-image I’m also Celebrating today with Ruth Ayres!

Celebrating Friends*

so much depends
upon

friends with relaxed
traditions

wearing comfortable clothes
talking

sometimes tears, mostly
laughter.

* A La William Carlos Williams 

#sol17 March 24 A slice of a love note. 

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

Dear Students, 

My head is in my hands. It’s true. I can’t believe that some of you are having such a hard time not distracting yourself and others. You are bickering! Stealing silly objects from each other. It’s annoying, and the rest of the class is having a hard time concentrating. I am having a hard time concentrating and helping students. 

What do I need to do? I’ve already asked nicely, had a few heart to hearts, moved your seats, told everyone it is silent work time, and let you know that continuing will mean an office referral. 

“She’s actually mad.” I hear one of you say. 

And I realize that’s not really true. I’m not mad. 

The class is distracted for sure, but it is 15 minutes until the last class bell on a Friday. The atmosphere here is not heavy with defiance. It’s just odd. 

A few of you are still working, but most of you are watching your classmates who are acting up and me. You are wondering, I guess, what I wil do. 

“Her patience is running out, guys.” I hear someone say. 

This isn’t really true either. Although patience isn’t exactly my best quality.

Something strikes me in this moment where I am rubbing my eyebrows and trying to figure out what my next step is.

I realize that I really do love all of you. 

“I love you all,” I say, “And I’m so glad it’s Friday.” 

“You’re just saying that because it helps you get through the year with us.” One of you counters. 

“No. She does. I believe her.” Someone argues. 

“It’s true.” I say. And I look all around so you all know that I’m talking about you. 

“Would you risk your life for us?” You ask. 

“Yes.”

I know you know I love you. Yesterday when asked who an ally is, I heard you say “Students, teachers…especially Ms. Feinberg. ” 

I wrote that down on a little post it note. I’ll take it out later when I’m having a bad day. 

This is not a bad day. 

Now I look around, I smile at you, and ask you once again to get back to work. 

There are 14 more minutes of class left, and we have work to get done. 

Love,

Ms. Feinberg 
 

#sol17 March 23 A slice. I don’t know what to say.

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

Oops. This is yesterday’s post… which posted as a page for some reason. Just trying to put it in the right spot. 

March 23. 

I don’t know what to say.
You probably don’t care that I’m currently making myself some decaf.
Or, that I plan on putting a little bit of vegan creamer in it.

I don’t know what to say.
It doesn’t seem to really matter that my demonstration notebook is broken.
My big sketchbook, where I keep my reading and writing work, a la Kate & Maggie.
Will I be able to fix it? Do I need to redo all those teaching charts?

I don’t know what to say.
Did you know? It’s the anniversary of my cat Billy’s death.
Facebook is good for reminding us of anniversaries.
Death anniversaries aren’t fun, and pet death anniversaries seem to just pass on by.
No one wants to read a depressing slice like that.

I don’t know what to say.
Should I mention that I made my class hold their compare contrast essay mentor texts up,
Look at them with adoration and sing “You’re the inspiration!”
And would you be interested to know that we wrote found poems about dung beetles,
In order to showcase our understanding of nonfiction?
Teaching is fun.

I don’t know what to say.
Next week I’ll start covering my bulletin boards to make sure
My students don’t cheat on the PSSAs by accidentally looking at something that reminds them of the work we’ve been doing this year.
But I’ve written about standardized test PSSAs before and although I’m feeling angry
about the system that puts data before kids, I’m not sure how to disrupt that system.
I wonder if Cornelius Minor wants to come help me figure that out.

I don’t know what to say.
 It’s late, but if I had more time I’d find the perfect article to use tomorrow in class.
 Today we talked about not having to believe everything you read.
 We talked about perspective.
 We talked about position.
 We talked about power.
 But we didn’t have a great article to practice with, so the lesson fell a little flat.
 Felt a little flat?

I don’t know what to say.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll have things to slice.
I don’t know what to say.

#sol17 March 22 A slice of A Kate Roberts TCRWP session

Slice of LIfe

 

 I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for bloggingwithstudentsall of March.  You should do it too!  Thank you, Two Writing Teachers! Readers, check out their site, and start slicing!

 

Kate Roberts. If you’ve been to Teacher’s College, and you’ve seen her sessions, you know what I’m talking about. You don’t even need to read my slice, because you just know.

She’s our “must see.” On Friday night we start planning our sessions. We circle our first and second choices, and my friend Kris and I can be heard saying things like, “Well, as long as we see Kate Roberts.”

Today, facebook reminded me of the first time I met Kate. I wrote about my first TCRWP session here.

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How can you not go to a session called “Differentiating when you have a million students?” How can you not want to listen to a presenter who starts by reflecting, “How am I going to get my arms wrapped around these kids?” 

“How am I going to get my arms wrapped around these kids?” 

In teaching literacy, there are things I’ve wondered, and  things I know but don’t think about, or know but don’t know I know, or know and ignore… I can count on Kate to present about all of these and more. I leave her presentations shaking my head and saying, “of course!” to myself, and my friends. My friends, the ones who have to listen to me say “Well, Kate Roberts said…” over and over. (After the Summer Reading Institute, I trained myself to say, “At the Teacher’s College they had this idea…” just to stop myself from constantly saying “Well, Kate Roberts said…”) (Good friends usually give me a look and I admit, “Fine, it was Kate Roberts.)

Writing about  a Kate Roberts session feels a little weird. I can give you the soundbites:

“How can I set kids on a trajectory of learning that is matched to them and still meet the needs of the whole class?”  

“Accept that it is going to be a struggle. It will always be messy. Accept the mess.”

“Believe in differentiating? Keep your mini lessons short.”  AKA,  Just Shut Up!

But I don’t think that captures it quite like being there, watching her honesty.

When she suggested giving kids main missions (whole class work) and side missions (individual responsibilities) I just looked at Kris and raised my shoulders. “Duh!” Why have I been calling them “class goals” and “independent goals.” That’s not inspiring!

When she suggested having students color code their missions by using different color post-its or pens, I just couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of that. We use post its all the time. We color code so many things! Duh!

When she talked about giving the kids high fives, I reminded myself to be more encouraging. When she talked about her over the shoulder observation assessments, I made a note to myself to start doing those again. She showed a quick way to collect data: Draw a quadrant on a piece of paper, write the skills in each section, and record student names where they are ready to work. I have these notes from the summer. I’ve done this a handful of times, but it isn’t a habit. Yet.

When she told us to just do small groups — that doing a bad small group is better than doing no small group, I nodded my head: She’s right.

You leave Kate’s session ready to bring new life to your worksop.

Yesterday, I collected my students literary essay introductions. As I read them and commented on them, I wrote names on a little grid with headings like structure, missing theme, elaborate, and  too much information.  Last night, I created a micro-progression for introductory paragraphs. And then, I went to bed. Nothing I had worked on was perfect. But, it was past my bedtime.

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Kate said,”Embrace your mediocrity! The alternative is no differentiating.”

So, this morning during writing, I timed myself. I did my mini lesson with my micro-progression in less than 10 minutes. Then, I started calling groups over. I’m not saying these groups would have been full of great teaching to observe. I have no idea how much I helped my writers. But I did meet with them. I had a focus. I shared some strategies, I coached a little. I basically said “Here’s what you are ready for – here are some things to try.”

Is it hope I feel when I try just one or two things that Kate talks about?

I think it is. It’s a reminder that I can embrace the imperfection. It’s a reminder that I will keep growing, that there are always more things to learn. It feels like hope: Next lesson, next day, next week, next year… I’ll be a better teacher. 

Thanks, Kate!

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