In the classroom, I’ve been working with kids to look for themes that can be found across their books. Is that just a theme in this part of the story or does that carry throughout the book? This classroom work got me thinking about my day, Saturday, when I attended the 94th Saturday Reunion at Teachers College. I’ve been thinking about the theme that wove the day together? To do that, I need to start at the end of the day keynote given by Lucy Calkins.
Lucy jumped right into story. If you’ve never heard her tell a story, she is masterful. The overarching theme was about the importance of human connection. She said, “Paying attention to each other and seeing each other. I think that’s a big deal.” She went on to recall moments from her life when she experienced these connections. Her Dad going out into a storm to use a payphone, knowing she was expecting a call. Her mom returning to work to make good on the promise of an orange soda (my friend Peter captured this story really well in his slice yesterday). A look from a teacher encouraging a student to say “yes” in a moment where yes really mattered.
Towards the end of her keynote, Lucy shared that people always ask her and her staff how they do what they do. How do they give so much? It was then that she quoted Siddhartha. “The definition of love is when the line between giving and taking is as thin as it will ever be.” Lucy said, “I think teaching is the same way.”
I loved this quote and think it sums up Lucy’s message beautifully. I’ve since gone back to reread my notes from all of the sessions I attended throughout the day to see if I could find a common thread. Here is what I found…
First, I saw Katie Clements present a session on using checklists and learning progressions in writing workshop. She shared that the greatest impact on achievement is feedback. Checklists and progressions can help us as teachers to give feedback to students and also help students to grow their own writing. Katie stressed the importance of giving kids checklists where they were able to check off “Yes, I’m doing that,” rather than a checklist where they would have to check off “not yet” for every category. Then working with students to take some of the boxes where they checked “Starting to” to turn into goals, places where it would be easy to grow strengths. I think that all of these examples relate back to the greater theme of connection and knowing kids. By knowing our students and their writing, we can help them to set attainable goals that build on their strengths. Working from a place of “I’m almost there,” versus “I can’t do this.” We can help kids to develop a vision of what is possible by believing in them.
Next, I went to Mary Ehrenworth’s session that was all about building bridges between social, academic, and assessment language. She made the case that the language used on the newer state tests is really challenging, not something our kids are confronted with in their day to day lives. If the first time they see this type of language is on the test itself, it can be really daunting. It was when Mary said that we should be “coaching kids into smart behaviors versus compliance” that I found the link to the theme of connection. To teach kids to be learners rather than compliant. So instead of teaching to the test, teach kids to be resilient and flexible. To see the bridge between concepts and applications and in doing so, give them power to persevere.
In my third session, Natalie Louis, talked about meeting kids where they are as it relates to literacy. For instance, if we encounter a new student who may speak a different language, we can’t jump right to teaching them how to write a thesis statement. Again, it matters when we really get to know kids and help them grow from where they are. By doing this, we show kids that we care about them and believe they can do the work.
For my fourth session, I had hoped to learn about nonfiction toolkits, but that session was full by the time I found my way. I randomly ended up attending Colleen Cruz’s workshop on using digital tools to support students with IEPs. I’m so glad I happened upon Colleen and this group. I’m not sure how she opened the workshop, but when I snuck in, participants were sharing challenges they face as special educators. Colleen kept asking, “Is that a student problem or a school issue?” She later went on to describe that students with special needs only have special needs at school. School is the obstacle. We need to shift our mindset “to think about how we can offer access instead of how they (the kids) can change.” This had me thinking about kids back at school and students from my past. How often had I pushed them to fit the mold, to fulfill my vision? Could I find ways to create greater access to help students compensate for some of the challenges they face? How differently some situations could go by rethinking the access point. I could easily see this making all the difference for students. The difference between success and defeat.
What I love about The Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College is that they are always one step ahead of the latest research surrounding literacy instruction. Yet, at the heart of the literacy is always a student. A student that matters, that deserves to be known, and to grow. That’s a thread I’ll keep working to spin.