Student Clues and Cues

Last week when I finished a lesson on writing in a grade five class, a student blurted, “I want to keep learning!”

I smiled in the moment and probably said something like, “I’m so glad.” But even now, five days later, his comment has stuck with me. As a teacher, perhaps there’s no better compliment than an exclamation like his.

So what was it that had him so engaged? What did I do on that particular day that motivated and excited him?

I think my use of mentor texts and the intentionality of the lesson contributed. I also think the students felt empowered as writers because I gave them specific tools to help them revise their work. That day, writing became manageable for those grade five students.

When do your students express the most excitement over their learning? How do you know that a lesson has been effective? What clues and cues do your students give you?

Expert Jugglers

This week I was reminded of the realities of classroom life: indoor recesses, kids throwing up, nosebleeds, artists-in-residence, assessments, interruptions, more indoor recesses… oh, not to mention regular classroom instruction.

Teachers are amazing. They juggle all that is thrown at them day after day. And somehow, amidst all else, they manage to teach the curriculum and do so with enthusiasm.

This week I was also reminded that sometimes the most important lessons are outside of the curriculum. The hug and the “I’m so glad you’re here” to the student who perpetually arrives late. The impromptu classroom basketball game with a balled up piece of paper initiated by the teacher. The reassuring “I knew you could do it” to the student who needs to hear it most. The grace of the teacher casually continuing to teach even with a child’s breakfast on her shoe. The search for a missing student during a cold, winter evening. The sharing of a lunch to a student without.

There is no doubt: teaching is love in its purest form.

Revision: A Mindset

Have you ever noticed what students do when they finish writing?

Typically, they close their books, or hand in their papers, and announce, “I’m done.” Not only have they not revised their work, often they have not even read it!

Revision is a mindset. I teach students to get their ideas on paper first and then work to revise and improve their writing afterwards.

This mindset is not a one time lesson but an ongoing conversation throughout the year. I begin the conversation by showing them the early drafts of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White included in the book Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White. We discuss the types of changes White made to his early drafts. Students have the opportunity to observe the revision process of an effective writer.

But that’s only lesson one and not enough to change the behaviour of most student writers. It’s simply the beginning of an eventual change in thinking.

Once, while I was teaching a grade five class about the process (and the power) of revision, a student said to me, “It’s like my Rubik’s Cube. I try something and if it doesn’t work, I try something else.”

Exactly, Lloyd. Exactly.

My 2020 Reading Goal

Those of you who know me, know I love to read. Last year I was challenged to read 52 books. The challenge made me more intentional in choosing to read when I could be doing something else.

I tracked my reading on Goodreads. Did I reach my goal? Sure did! 54 books in fact: some shorter, some longer. According to the Goodreads stats, I read 14 634 pages. (And no, that doesn’t include the countless picture books that I read in classrooms…)

Does this reading matter? Did these 54 books affect me?

Consider this: “Reading broadens the mind, heightens the senses, and enlivens the spirit.” (Richard Branson, A Velocity of Being)

And this: “Reading is for the brave among us. It teaches us how to love people we don’t know and will probably never meet. It teaches us that we too deserve that same sort of love.” (Thomas Page McBee, A Velocity of Being)

And this: “Reading startles you. Reading upsets you. Reading takes apart your world and expectations and rearranges them. Imagine the last few years without the books you have loved–it would be a much flatter, sadder experience of living.” (Naomi Wolf, A Velocity of Being)

I was both lost and found within the books I read last year. I relished in the sentences and stories crafted with beauty and care. I walked journeys with the disadvantaged and the privileged, with outcasts and with heroes. These journeys caused me to reevaluate and reconsider my place and purpose in our world. So, did this reading matter? Did these 54 books affect me? Most certainly.

This year my reading goal is 60 books. (Too ambitious? Time will tell…) Join me in setting a goal by creating a profile on Goodreads!