I shared these on my other blog as well…
Other plot generators on the Internet–
Okay, so there are some non-negotiables at the beginning of a school year and one of those is school wide reading assessment. Oooh, my favorite.
They have the kids march down to just outside the reading room and squirm and writhe on a cold, hard [and not-so-clean] floor, armed with a book and an understandable antsiness. Is that a word? It should be.
Anyway, I was ready.
Step 1: I brought blankets.
Step 2: I had the kids bring their journals for sketching or writing.
Step 3: I brought playing cards, which were used for either quick addition or multiplication ‘face-off’ [I don’t use ‘War’ to name the game; call me a ‘pacifist’. Even ‘face-off’ carries its own level of aggression, but I show them a face-off in a hockey game, well, I could go on and on trying to calm the waters…]
Step 4: I brought a box of books and assigned to Beth and James the role of ‘circulation director’. Kids could exchange books as needed.
And all went fine. For ten minutes.
And then I found something better .
The library—within ten feet of the reading room—was available! Not sure why that wasn’t offered to begin with, but I marched them in and figured I’d weather any possible blowback later. A library with tables and chairs and comfort and quiet. Seemed like a better lead-in to a reading assessment.
Okay, again, slight exaggeration.
But when I started viewing this school year through a different lens, I asked myself what else I wanted to do differently, what else I wanted to see happen in the classroom.
First answer: Writing.
I want my kids to write more. And I’m rarely going to narrow them down to what the teachers edition or, lord help me, scope and sequence dictates. Writers don’t think that way, if you ask me.
And so there we were on Day 1 and writing–even before the classroom redecoration, in fact. [My thinking: If we’d redecorated first, that would have been too easy a topic for them to reach for. I wanted to see how they responded to a few writing prompts or some self-selected subject.]
And yes I kind of blew them out of the water because a fresh new notebook [all of 18 cents apiece] sat on each student desk and we were writing before we even started the school day–school year, actually. I did give them a pep talk about writing, that it would be more difficult for some than others, that writing was like a muscle–that it needed daily exercise and practice.
But here’s the catch:
*I* have to write as well. I hadn’t quite thought that through. Of course, I figured I would do a few journal jottings, but nope, all the good books tell me that I have to be the model for the students. In the case of Day 1, I treated the front whiteboard as my personal journal to illustrate how a writer’s mind can wander and, during Room 36 journal time, that is just fine.
I also suggested that they sketch out a cartoon-type character, someone with whom they can converse on paper. More on that later.
It would be tempting for me to skate a bit on the writing…but there is one set of eyes fixed on me. Beth. Beth Carson.
She lets nothing get by her. No change from last year, in other words.
“Now, in groups of six, take down what I have up there.”
I loved it. First day of school and the walls are now bare. Thanks to the kids.
Really, what was I thinking? I’d slapped up stuff that was going to become background visual noise in a matter of a week, if not sooner.
So I formed the groups and down everything came.
“Now, it’s time for your group to plan a theme of what you want up there. And we have an hour to finish.”
Gotta give kids constraints, I figure.
Soon, one wall featured a ‘land’ of video game characters one wall featured kids’ birthdays [which was one of the themes that had been taken down, but I preferred the kids’ ‘create your own bday poster’ approach], and another was solar system-based, but with a kid’s twist, with all kinds of traffic control and speed limit signs and Taco Bell and SPCA billboards [shrug], and garage sale posters.
And then one group just asked for a large sheet of blank, yellow butcher paper.
“It’s for graffiti!” they told me. “Kids with a pen or pencil can write or draw what’s on their minds.”
Whoa…open-ended. I can learn plenty from these kids…
I convinced Emma, one of my fourth-grade teaching partners, to lobby Mrs. Nix to let me be ‘self-contained’ for the year. Note: If I had brought the idea to Mrs. Nix, she would have found some not-so-valid [i.e. lame] reason to keep me in ‘the system’. [Sounds like the prison industry, doesn’t it? Again, falling prey to exaggeration, but still…]
So, I went with my ‘Emma plan’. I knew she was a devoted member of the unofficial ‘morning group’ that coffees with Mrs. Nix. [yes, ‘coffee’ can now be used as a verb. Hey, my rules.] And so she had the principal’s ear. [That’s always been an interesting culinary image…having someone’s ear.]
Emma, ever willing to separate herself from what Mrs. Nix had in the past termed ‘my uninspired delivery’ and build her own reputation as a solid rule-follower, as she hopscotched her way past actual classroom experience toward that first coveted administrative position.
And she was willing to consider my arguments:
1. “We’re barely in the same zip code out here. Think of the time lost just shuttling kids back and forth for reading and math.”
2. “This will free you up to innovate…[within the confines of the publishers’ expectations, of course. I didn’t vocalize that last part.]
3. “Planning between two people will be much easier. You don’t need me as a third wheel.”
Heaven only knows what else Emma threw at Mrs. Nix, but it worked.
Her exact words: “Ms. Page, I’ve decided to experiment with a return to the self-contained classroom. And I’d like you to be the pilot teacher.” [I stopped being ‘Joanna’ to her right around year three.]
Room 36 will be self-contained for the year. Yes!!
She didn’t actually have to say it, but it appears my devoted leader, Mrs. Nix, has lost confidence in me. I think it was her repeated hints last June about teaching positions at other schools in the district that clinched it. Well, that and the fact that I’ve been ‘relocated’ out to what I would charitably call ‘the back 40’. Officially, we are Room 36. [Might I add that there is no Room 35…or 34…or 33. And Room 32 is for storage. So there you go…]
So this will be an interesting school year, starting with my acceptance that I am figuratively [and now, literally] out in left field. [Thought my brothers would probably suggest I’m in right field, since that is customarily where baseball teams ‘redirect’ their least able player.]
Not easy to describe being banished…
Okay, let’s try this: The principal would be happy to see me elsewhere.
And rickety old Room 36 is about as ‘elsewhere’ as you can get.
So, I’ll just do my best. What ‘best’ will look like, however, remains to be seen…