Archive for February, 2012

Private Conversation

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

Last Conversation PieceSo, I’ve been thinking about the conversations I had with each student back before winter break. (I explained the source of my idea here and then fleshed it out more here.) First of all, I have to give myself a pat on the back for having 19 individual conversations in about 2 weeks while everything else was going on. I didn’t get to pawn off my lunch, recess, or dismissal duties on anyone or anything like that. I just made time for each student.

It was a fun experiment. I heard a lot of interesting facts. Some of the students were thrilled from the beginning to have my undivided attention, none of that silly sharing of the teacher we have to do in class. Others were apprehensive about being on the spot and didn’t really believe that these talks were not going to be about school and work, as I claimed. And, then there were those conversations that I had to work pretty hard to get going. Finally, it was so worth it. I really got to see everyone in a little sharper focus. It forced me to pay attention to each child for that time and nothing else. I had to feign interest in a few things, but that is what we do for people we care about sometimes, right?

Well, it’s been a while now since those conversations. We are hitting the long, winter haul to spring break. It’s a time in which it is easy to get frustrated with the silly stuff-the missing homework, the talking during assessment, the  interupting-all of which is just part of 5th grade. I think it’s time to have another go round. We have parent teacher conferences in early March (wow those are coming up soon, gulp). I’d love to get in another conversation with each student before then.

Last time I didn’t really talk at all about school with students. This time I might have the converstation be more school centered. I don’t want it to be negative; I do want it to be a conversation about what each student thinks he or she is doing well or in which areas he or she sees improvement. By now I think most of the students are comfortable enough to have this kind of conversation. I wish we were doing this a month or more ago.

Where does the time go?

(Creative Commons licensed photo of Juan Munoz’s sculpture “Conversation Piece” by Cliff1066)

So, I’ve been thinking about what is in my closet. My school closet-not my clothes closet. There are clearly too many shoes in the one, and a lot of work from previous students in the other.

I rearranged my classroom, again, just a minor change this time. That means that I have  a spare small book-case that I planned to put in my supply closet to try to help manage the mayhem in there. I know there is at least one teacher at my school whose closet looks like a little office; a student can actually work in there. This is in my closet. So, to get the bookcase in, I had to take a lot of stuff out first. Post clean-out it is looking mighty fine. Anyway, the point is I got to look at a bunch of old work and it got me thinking about what I do now and what I did then. This is my seventh year at this school and in this grade, which honestly I cannot believe. At my old school in Chicago I never taught in the same grade more than 2 years in a row. My principal moved people all the time.

When I started pulling things out of the closet, I found some old assignments that I want to remember. I also found some old assignments that I would like to forget. It’s not that they were bad; they weren’t. They just didn’t need some of the coloring and artsy bits to them. Before anyone gets upset here, let me say that I LOVE art. I used to teach art in an after school program; in my fantasy life (the one where I have green eyes and go to yoga classes regularly) I am a sculptor. At my old school I used to give art time as a reward for my class because they had, if everything went perfectly, 1 brief art class a week. Now, however, I teach at a school with a great art program. The projects they do and skills they learn add to the curriculum. I don’t have to make up for anything.

works in progressSo when I look back at some of the webs that students did that they colored and decorated, I wonder what I was thinking about when I asked them to do that. It was certainly not necessary. For some, it did add to the final ideas, but mostly it was decoration, pure and simple. I had a few students, girls, that first year who loved to color and draw on their webs and they looked so nice that I think I just added decoration as part of the assignment. It should have been optional if it had to be done by hand. It must have been SO tedious for some students. And, for what end?

Well, they did look great in the hallway!

In the years since, I have been moving more and more away from craft projects that I can’t justify educationally. I still love art when it is art. I just don’t think that having fifth graders make a paper puppets of book characters, for example, is good use of language arts time. Now, if we are making a scale drawing of the classroom or some historical structure that’s different. There’s a lot going on: fractions, measuring, researching, etc. I know that a lot of those crafty projects are stereotypically “girl” projects. I teach in a co-ed school with lots of artistic students. And, in non-art classes I think it is up to me to encourage, insist on, facilitate, and model creativity in the broadest of terms. So, while traditional art and craft are part of that, so are inspiration webs, glogs, skits, blog writing, and on and on. As a teacher of all the students in my room, it’s up to me to make sure everyone has a way to access creativity, not just the colorers. So, there are crafty options, but there are also creative, non-crafty options, which means that not all of them make for exciting bulletin boards.

Mostly, I think that’s progress.


(Creative commons licensed photo by Quack the Wooley Duck)


Read down a little and then imagine this scene with teachers (so more women) and better snacks and some comfortable chairs

So, I’ve been thinking about EduCon and conferences. EduCon is always in Philadelphia at SLA. I live in the area and can get there easily. So, even if not every session I attend is earth shattering, and really that is a lot to expect, it’s worth it to me for a number of reasons: ideas, interesting people, good conversations with people I don’t see everyday, short travel time.

I’ve been trying to read what others have written about their experiences at EduCon. Shelly Krause (@butwait) keeps an unoffical collection of blogger reflections here. There is a real range. Some people can’t get enough of it. Other attendees found the conference not different or ground breaking enough. Personally, I was looking for great conversations around what to do better and I found that in many (not all) sessions. I don’t think it’s that I had low expectations. I expected to hear some new ideas. I also expected to have to bring something to the discussion myself. The attendees at this conference are generally not people who haven’t done a lot of thinking already. The low hanging fruit is gone. If even half of the several hundred people in attendance could be truly innovative on command, the last weekend in January, in the midst of whichever dramatic weather Philadelphia is featuring this year, then the world would be a very different place.

I think I might feel differently if I were traveling a long way and paying lots of money. Last year I went to ISTE, which was also in Philadelphia. It’s not free, but my school covered registration and a little more for train tickets. So again, a no-brainer for me. However, this spring ISTE is in San Diego. So, let’s see– registration $, flight $$, hotel $$, food $, extra childcare and babysitting while I am gone $$. That’s approximately $$$$$$$$, which I could ask my school to help cover. However, as I was talking with Hadley Ferguson (@hadleyjf) about it she made some good point. First, it’s a lot of money (well, this was not new information, but she got more thoughtful as she went on). Second, she said that she didn’t need more ideas so much as to implement the ones she already had. Isn’t that the truth!

Let me be clear: I am sure I would find new and more ideas at ISTE this June. And yet, I haven’t even made sense or sifted through all the ones I got last year or ideas from the many edcamps I have attended. I have some ideas that I have been meaning to implement for a while. I got to thinking about what kind of PD I really need. Here’s what I decided.

I need the following:

  • Dedicated time, duh, and not an hour here or there, but a whole day or days.
  • To do some pre-sifting of ideas before this dedicated time begins.
  • A group of colleagues who want to meet and collaborate. A lot.
  • A space with good wifi, power sources, and proximity to food, water, and bathrooms.

Here’s my idea:

  • I don’t go to ISTE.
  • I do meet with some amazing, interesting, and interested teachers during that time.
  • We come with ideas that we want to evaluate and/or work up into units/lessons/game changing events.
  • We meet in groups and work on whatever projects grab us.
  • We meet some more and revise what we did.
  • We share this with whoever cares to listen/read.
  • Some of those ideas that we have so many of, turn into action.

Who’s in?

I’m thinking Phila area around the time of ISTE. I can work on a location. I have ideas a plenty and energy to commit. What can you contribute?


(Creative Commons licensed photo by Johanna Kollmann)