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Please use this button on your site for DigiLit Sunday posts

 

I know “pantser” isn’t a real word.  It’s derived from the phrase, “flying by the seat of your pants.”  I’ve seen this term used in reference to writing style, “Do you plot or pants?”

This tweet from Ralph Fletcher during the Two Writing Teachers Twitter chat jump-started my thinking about this idea.

I started thinking about my first week of teaching and how often I veered off the plan. Pantsing it is where I find my creative teacher self. It’s when my students tend to respond more authentically.

I understand the purpose of planning, and I am certainly capable of falling into a planning zone when I’m writing my lesson plans for the week. I research to find the resources I may need to use. I write out an outline of this, this, then this. But once the day starts and there are real live children sitting in front of me, I begin to fly by the seat of my pants.

Actually I like the phrase, “Go with the Flow” better. As a teacher, my calling is to respond to the needs of my students, or to the creative flow they direct.

This is a silly example: I bought a chair at Goodwill that had an exercise ball in it. I spray painted the black plastic part orange. I brought it to my classroom. When we had writing workshop and were ready to share, the students brought out the ball chair to sit on. I said, “This is our new author’s chair” like that was my plan all along. The kids called it a snail. I said, “Author’s snail” which became “Arthur the author’s snail.”

I wanted to have a soft start to the day this year. This is the kind of thing that if you don’t start on day one and continue, it won’t happen. The planner in me put on some quiet music (I had carefully selected and downloaded it to my phone), and we all read silently for 20 minutes. I read, too, which felt like a joyful rest from the rush of getting to school.

Then my pantser self kicked in, but only because I had read Dynamic Teaching by Vicki Vinton this summer. Following the quiet reading session, I asked my students to take some time to write about what they knew so far and what they were wondering about. Then to turn and talk to their neighbor about the book they were reading. This started meaningful conversations about books that have continued all week.

Being a pantser comes with experience. I have lots of strategies in my tool bag just waiting for the right time to be used. I think it’s time for me to stop feeling guilty when I run off the lesson plan. Actually, I want to embrace my pantser self and bring her out more often. That’s when the real teaching happens.

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This summer I have been nurturing myself.  I know that’s a good thing, but in doing so, I lost some of my stamina.  I always do.  During the summer months, I sleep a little later, linger a little longer, and relax into a slower pace.

When school starts back up again as it has for me this week, I have to build my stamina for getting up before the sun, going longer between meals, and being alert.  Our kids have to build their stamina, too.

 

Nurturing myself this summer included yoga classes.  Yoga is all about stamina, sustaining a pose for minutes at a time, all the while your muscles are vibrating and telling you to release.  When I stood in warrior pose on Saturday, I thought about how this relates to my school year.  The instructor said, “In warrior pose, you are both guarded and open.  Your arm shoots straight out like a drawn sword while you stand wide legged and open for attack.”

I will be a warrior for my students.  I will guard them and be open to them.  I will honor their presence and push them to new limits.

When I learned that I would be teaching some new students and different subject areas, my sword went up, and I resisted.  But once I started delving into the content, I felt my stance relax.  I got this.  My focus shifted to the thrill of planning for new learning.  I hope this will happen with my students as well.  Once they get into the swing of things, their focus will shift, their stamina will rise, and they will become warriors for their own learning.

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Don’t forget to join us Monday, August 7th at 7:30 Eastern for the new #TeachWrite chat. Questions with times are available here.

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Saturday morning yoga, my instructor, Susan, says “You should not tell yourself that your body can’t do something. Challenge yourself to try, and your body may just surprise you.” So when she said we were going to do head stands, I stopped the “No way,” and said, “Ok. I’ll try.” I opened myself to her knowledgeable instruction. She guided me step by step. And when I was upside down, I felt powerful, giddy, invincible.

I want to take this learning into my classroom and into my teacher-self. Our school year begins on Wednesday. Scheduling is a nightmare for anyone who has to look at a master schedule and plan for all the various pull-outs and special classes. I am one of those teachers that messes up the master schedule. This year I will be servicing three schools. Three different schools with three different schedules pulling out gifted students in 5 different grade levels. I know you must be saying by now, impossible.

Teachers, isn’t that how we roll? Turning impossible into possible. Whatever it may be, a move to a new classroom, grade level, or position, a new administrator to get to know, a crazy schedule to make work, we put on our super hero capes and take off, letting the winds of self-doubt fly past us. Flexibility is in our stride.

 

If I can do a hand stand, I can go confidently into this school year. But just in case I need a guiding mantra, I made a Canva poster out of Cornelius’s charge and my friend, Dani Burtsfield’s photo from Glacier Park in Montana.

 

 

Be sure to join me in the new #TeachWrite chat on Monday, August 7th at 7:30 EST.  For more information and a list of questions, go to #TeachWrite Chat.

 

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Not really, but I didn’t get the DigiLitSunday post up this morning.  I have my excuses.  Don’t we all?  But the basic reason was self-doubt.  I battle this as much as anyone. Even some of my favorite authors go through this, so why would I expect anything different of myself?

I’ve been trying to keep up with #cyberPd.  This group is reading and responding to Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading by Vicki Vinton.  This week’s posts are around chapters 7 and 8.  I just now finished chapter 7, so I didn’t do all of my homework.  I was reminded by a friend that this is a self-made assignment and if I don’t want to do it, nobody will care.  That is true, but then I had to re-assess why I am reading and writing in the first place.

I want to be a better reader, a better writer, and a better teacher of both reading and writing.  I believe that I should practice what I preach.  So, for better or worse, here I am.  If you did write a digilit post, link up below.  It’s not too late.

Chapter 7, Creating Opportunities for Readers to Interpret, begins with this epigraph:

We search for patterns, you see, only to find where the patterns break.  And it’s there, in that fissure that we pitch our tents and wait.  –Nicole Krauss

Readers do not build interpretations on what is obvious in a text.  We sit in the fissure of broken patterns, wondering, questioning, testing out our theories, and peeling away the layers the author has set up for us.

I feel I have done a disservice to my gifted students in not helping them understand that we don’t always understand.  Julieanne Harmatz wrote in her reflections about Chs. 7 & 8 that we must embrace confusion as part of learning.  Vicki Vinton shows me how to honor my students’ thinking and hold onto it in order to promote engagement, a sense of agency, and ownership.  They need to understand that not knowing is part of the thinking process. And what’s wrong with going back to the text to re-read?

Have you ever had an Aha moment while reading, and turned back to say, “Oh, that’s what that was about!”?   Of course you have.  Because that is how authors grab us and make us want to read more.  By focusing on the process rather than the product (test, essay, whatever), we can mold our students into problem-solving thinkers.

Reading is a transactional act.  The text comes alive in our minds when we interact using our own interpretations and our own hearts.  Then a story becomes real and meaningful.  We can encourage this flexibility of thought within our classrooms.  Vicki Vinton helps show us how.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Along with many others, I am reading and reflecting on Vicki Vinton’s book Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading.   This week’s assignment in #cyberPD is chapters 5 and 6.  In these chapters, Vicki gets down to the nitty gritty of reading instruction by taking us with her into a classroom and watching her guide students through a read-aloud. So often we are given theory without practical application. In this book, I feel I am a fly on the wall in Vicki’s classroom.

We are invited to use a Notice/ Wonder chart.  A few years ago when I participated in the Global Read Aloud, this was the way I had my students enter into a Voxer conversation with other classes.  By using notice and wonder, students can engage in the text without the stress of “text-based questions” or a “literary essay.”  It’s low-stakes reading.

Ralph Fletcher makes a case for low-stakes writing in his latest book Joy Write.  Low-stakes reading, like low-stakes writing, is necessary to build critical thinking skills as well as to honor our students for who they are as readers and writers.  All ideas are accepted so all become active participants in the discussion.

In chapter 6, Vicki writes about low-stakes writing prompts for fiction.  She gives a list of the values of this kind of writing.  I want to add to this list.  I agree that the writing can give you a glimpse into the minds of the students, but I contend that the act of writing itself helps to solidify that thinking.  By writing down thoughts about reading, students engage their core thinking.  They focus and process at a higher level.

Turn and talk can become open and write.  Adding the low-stakes writing component will help me build my students’ muscles for longer high-stakes writing.  I require a reader response each week about independent reading.  Some students struggle around what they should write.  By using read-aloud and low-stakes writing about reading alongside notice and wonder, my students will be able to practice writing about reading.

Curiosity puts the brain in a state where it is ready to learn, according to Albert Einstein.  Vicki goes on to say that curiosity is nurtured in a classroom from the inside.  No outside motivators will make this happen.  We must cultivate a classroom atmosphere that welcomes questions.  Wonder should be at the forefront.  Perhaps my daily journal prompt should be “What are you wondering about today?”  Keep curiosity alive around reading and students will lead themselves to the joy of learning.  You can just stand by and watch.

cyberpd

 

 

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CyberPD got well underway this week.  All over the globe teachers are reading and discussing Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading by Vicki Vinton.  I began reading this book back in June and wrote about my first impressions here. 

I understand Vicki’s frustration with the way reading is being taught.  In order to meet the Common Core Content Standards, we have whittled down the process of reading to extracted strategies.  These strategies help teachers deal with gaps that tend to follow children through their learning career; however, they deny the full process of reading, the experience as a whole.

I am also reading Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.  I find the theories in both of these books parallel.  The two books profess that we have taken out not only the whole meaning making process from reading instruction, we have also removed the joy.

Joy of reading is the only thing that will create lifelong readers.  By moving students through the act of reading without addressing how the text makes them feel, we rob them of the experience of seeing themselves in a book or becoming empathetic with someone who is different.

Vicki Vinton professes that we should shift the focus of reading instruction away from text dependent questions to the actual thinking that the reader does.

If our ultimate goal is truly independence, we need students to do much more thinking that highly scaffolded approaches ask of them…students build their identity and sense of agency as readers when they’re the ones doing the work. (p. 23)

At the end of chapter 2, I have highlighted an entire bulleted list of things to remember when planning for more complex reading and thinking.  I paraphrase the list here.

  • Reading is an education of the heart.
  • Meaning is the purpose of reading.
  • Consider how much the author hasn’t said explicitly, problem solve.
  • Help students build their identities as readers.
  • Every student is more than a level. Consider social-emotional needs as well when recommending books.
  • Nothing replaces your own personal judgement about what students need.

As a teacher of gifted students, I find the strict strategy based curriculum does not meet the needs of my students.  My students need more from their reading experiences.  They do not need to be confined by levels or forced to read material that doesn’t interest them.  They rebel against these strict practices.  Vicki’s ideas reflect my own philosophy of teaching.  I know as I continue to read, I will find more connections and ways to enrich the experiences of reading for my students.

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DigiLitSunday will be back on July 9, 2017. In the meantime, take time to enjoy the sunsets.

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