I am participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge: A slice a day for all 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.
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.
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.