Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fun with Odes

We have not finished our school year yet.  I know that many of you have completed another year and I am a little jealous.  My students' last day is June 8 with teachers working until June 12.  This is the time of year that testing is almost over (we have re-tests the rest of this week), but I want to make their last days a meaningful learning experience.  Writing always comes to the rescue!

We have been studying odes in poetry.  We have looked at several and discussed what we notice about how the author puts the poems together.  Students have done a bit of brainstorming in their notebooks and we are now at the drafting phase for most but with some ready to begin revision.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from the Slice of Life Challenge in March is that I must write with my students.  They must see me as I struggle through my own writing process.  I have written an ode which is on draft number 5!   They thought it was "good enough" back on draft number 3.  I wasn't satisfied with it.  Over the course of drafting, they have seen my poem evolve into this :

Ode to a Book

A rectangle that seems ordinary
Opens onto a new adventure, 
a new place, a new friend,
a new enemy
A book

Endless letters,
those sticks and circles and zigzags
Help me capture ideas
Escape my troubles
A book

When I slow down
get comfy with my fuzzy red blanket
and peek between the covers
the World opens its arms
makes me Feel
Calms me, Angers me, Humanizes me
Offers me laughter
and healing tears
I am not alone
A book

I'm still working on it.  There are a few more changes that I am playing around with as I continue to draft.  We will complete these by Friday and then celebrate!

I have learned so much from participating in this community!  Thank you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Just a Number

Today we had our End of Grade Reading Test in North Carolina in Grades 3 through 8.  In seventh grade, this test consists of nine passages--fiction, nonfiction, and poetry selections.  There are sixty two multiple choice questions to complete after reading these passages.  Students are given 140 minutes to complete the test, but may take up to 240 minutes to finish the test if they need it.  Does it really take a test that lasts from two hours and twenty minutes all the way up to four hours to figure out what a student knows about reading?  Can it show what a student has learned in a year's time?

As I watched my students take the test today, I was hopeful that the things they learned during read aloud, during thinking about and responding to their independent reading, during conferring, during sharing and discussing what they read together would translate into a multiple choice, one day test that will be used to determine if they are on grade level or not.  

Sadly, I am afraid that some of my students will say when they get their scores back, "I'm not good at reading." They will base this belief on this one test regardless of how they have grown and what they have accomplished in seventh grade in the time between August and May.  

These kids aren't just a number!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Student Voice


     Today I was looking back at some of the work my students have completed on their Google Docs Reading Response Logs.  I have 7th graders and sometimes quite often I can only shake my head at their thinking and writing about what they read.  These students have so many things going on in their lives. "Drama" is a synonym for most 7th graders!  However, many students have real talent in writing about their reading which unfolds as the year progresses.
     A. is one of those kids.  She is not at the top of the "A" honor roll each six weeks.  She has a tendency to procrastinate sometimes quiet often.  She is also one of the most creative students I have ever seen.  She's a thinker!
     We had Extend 2 testing going on in our building today.  This testing is an assessment that certain kids in our special education program take instead of the regular End of Grade tests.  Teachers had their homerooms for over two hours this morning!  We worked on many things during this time.  Regular testing begins next Tuesday with the Reading EOG.  Of course, we are all feeling the stress and pressure of the testing.   I needed to take a look at my Reading Response Logs for evidence that my students were ready for two hours of reading selections (9 passages) and answering 62 multiple choice questions.
     I was reminded that sometimes I need to look at the big picture of the growth over the course of the entire year.  A.  sometimes quiet often always makes me smile!  I do not worry about her or her ability to ace any Reading test thrown her way.
     A.'s voice and  personality shine through in her writing about her reading.  I hope you enjoy these excerpts from her Reading Response Log and I wish you many students that bring you joy during this Teacher Appreciation Week!  Thanks for all you do!

     When I look at her work, she is authentic and thoughtful.  She has areas of need and areas of tremendous strength in her thinking about her reading.  Sometimes Quiet often I am so glad to be in a classroom working with these awesome kids!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Last Saturday

     I slowly headed in, dragging myself into the building to sign the book.  The black ink flowed smoothly across the page.  Standing with the other people there, I pulled my Kleenex from hand to hand, stretching it as far as I could without ripping it as I kept hold of the papers.  Voices sounded around me; some talking softly, others too loud in this quiet place.
     We moved along slowly.  Me, dreading my arrival at my destination.  Was I doing the right thing?  Was this the right time?  Questions chased each other around in my mind.
     My heels felt strange on my feet.  It was a beautiful Saturday evening and I only wore them to church or to special occasions.  I really did not want to take another step forward.
     It was finally my turn.  I reached the platform.  So many things hit me at once--the large screen displaying pictures of a little boy with blue icing covering most of his face then looping to another picture of this same little boy but a little older, portraits of a smiling young man out by the ocean with the waves tumbling to shore in the background, and two weary people, Gina and Burt, standing beside a small, brown casket with a beautiful spray of twelve perfect white roses on top.
     " I'm so sorry," I whispered through a throat suddenly closing up with tears.
     Gina lifted her arms and placed them around me.  "Thank you for coming.  What I wouldn't give to be walking him into your classroom again, Ms. Cress."  I squeezed her tight and moved back a little.
     "I brought this for you.  I thought you might like to have it." I handed over the rough draft and memoir that Josh had handwritten in October.  She took the sheets of paper and quickly hugged them to her; tears rolling down both her cheeks.
     Burt, Josh's dad, looked at the papers filled with some of the last words Josh was able to write on his own. His arm came around me on one side and Gina's arm came around on the other.
     "Thank you so much,"  Josh's parents quietly said and smiled.
     After one last quick hug, I moved across the platform and out through the crowd.  I looked down to see my Kleenex tattered and crumpled in my tight fist.  I relaxed my hand.  I think I did the right thing.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my student, Josh, who lost his battle with cancer on Wednesday, April 25, 2012.  He was 12 years old.  I wrote about Josh earlier in the March SOLSC.