It has been a year since I've posted.
And what a year it has been.
My last post was letting everyone know I had decided to move to Kindergarten to give it a shot. It might have come as a shock to a lot of people I have connected with over the years, and it was a bigger shock to some of my colleagues. Feeling like I wanting to try more inquiry and have a more student-centered space are big factors that drove my decision to move.
And it took getting to Kinder and trying it out to make me realize just how much of an upper grades teacher I really am. I wanted to push myself to try something new. I was able to and I did. I am lucky enough to be in a district that lets me explore things I am interested in and supports me when I try to grow as a teacher.
Kindergarten was fun. It was fast paced, it was engaging and loving, but it was not for me. My own daughter was in my classroom this past year and there are so many things I wish I would have done differently. I feel in my attempt to not show her special treatment that I missed out on a grand opportunity to actually show her special treatment. I savored some of the chances, but overall with me being so new, I couldn't give it my all. I was pulled thin and our school just did not have the support system in place that we needed. It's all okay. I am glad for the opportunity to learn and grow, but it's time to get back to what I really love doing.
Our incoming fifth grade class is one of the largest groups in our building. I am moving back to fifth grade (remember that really awesome "last year" with my looping kids in fifth?) to teach reading and writing. I could not be more excited -- well, actually I probably could be if this COVID-19 Pandemic wasn't a thing.
We still aren't sure what the new school year will look like. For now, I am working hard on finishing up my Masters presentation. We present in about a week and a half and then I will officially be finished with Graduate School! I am also spending my time thinking and reading about how to engage kids virtually. I am looking at the resources I've used in and out of each year and working on making them available digitally. Honestly, I don't want to be all online, but I feel that it's the safest option for us at this point in time. I do not think it will be available for us, but I wish it was.
Keep an eye on this space as grad school slows down and I am able to go back to sharing what we do each day in the classroom. I hope you all are well and safe!
There have been many things that I have wanted to do in my fourth grade classroom. Some things I have been able to do, but others I have not. There is a piece of me that truly wishes that fourth grade was more developmentally appropriate. I wish my kids did not have to switch classes, and I wish that the Common Core Standards took their development more seriously when composing standards that they (and their teachers) must use as a guide.
A piece of my heart will always been in fourth grade, with 9s and 10s, but the time has come for me to take a break. The spark in the eyes of fourth graders is there. But so often, it is diminished as quickly as it arrives, by a teacher saying "hold that thought!" or "we can come back to that later," "maybe look into it at home!" I do not want to be this teacher anymore. I want to be able to run an inquiry based classroom, a tiny world filled with wonder without worrying about having to stop reading because I have to start word study.
If and when I possibly return to upper grades, I hope this new adventure will help with my own ability to cross the curriculum in more meaningful ways. My teaching life has been departmentalized from the beginning- and for seven years, I have worked in nice neat little boxes. For me to stay on my toes and keep learning in new ways- I need to get out of those tidy little boxes and find something new.
Next year, I am teaching Kindergarten. I could not be more excited about it! And I know this is an opportunity for me to truly take on a position following what I believe to be the best way that 4s, 5s and 6s learn. There are five other Kindergarten teachers in my district. They all are the experts in their classrooms, they all have been doing the same grade level for years. Only one other teacher will be new like me- and luckily for me, her and I see eye-to-eye on so much when it comes to learning and learning spaces. I am willing to learn from others around me, but also, I am willing and ready to take a chance on the learning I see in my mind. The kind I want for my own children.
There are so many great educators that I have followed and learned from for years. So many people that inspired me along the way. So many people that have encouraged me to try to implement Reggio based learning in my upper grades classrooms. I am thankful that these educators share their work, and I am eager to share my own work as I start this new journey. I understand that it will be filled with new obstacles and challenges, but I welcome them.
If you have any Kinder teachers that I must follow, please share their contact information below. I have included a slideshow of some accounts that I love so you can see the type of learning I am talking about here.
I have been finding a lot of inspiration from homeschooling accounts, educators and interior designers and the spaces they create. If you have any other recommendations, I welcome them.
I spend most of my day sitting next to kids on the carpet, on the floor.
I spend most of my day being hugged by kids that aren't as tall as me.
I spend most of my day having kids come up to me and touch my hair, my pretty skirt, or my shirt or my necklace because they are about to compliment me.
I spend most of my days being approached suddenly from behind with big hugs or arm casually laid on my shoulder- "Hey Mrs. Riedmiller!"
I spend most of my days letting my kids know that they have a voice and that they matter. Not just when they are older, but they matter now.
I spend most of my days helping children learn about the injustices of the world, helping them build empathy by humanizing groups of people that have continuously been dehumanized.
I have spent some of my days being physically threatened by children.
I have spent some of my days seeing children throw stools across my room. During those days, I see the looks on the faces of the other children in my class. Fear. Furniture can do that.
I have spent some of my days giving worry stones to some of my friends with anxiety- the ones who are a nervous wreck almost all of the time.
I have spent some of my days consoling nine and ten year olds who are hysterically crying because something is out of place. A paper, a pencil, something is not right and it feels like the world is over.
Sometimes my own children get to visit my classroom. My youngest runs through a carpet full of nine year olds to get to me quickly, she jumps in my lap suddenly.
You- do not get to tell me that I should carry or have a gun in my classroom.
Add a gun holstered to my waist or under my arm to any of these situations and perhaps you will see how dangerous that could possibly be. Add in the traumatic experiences that some kids have already had with guns in their short nine or ten years of life and perhaps you will see how dangerous that could possibly be.
You- do not get to tell me that I should carry or have a gun in my classroom.
You- do not get to suggest training me, arming me and then expecting me to shoot and kill a child, possibly a current or former student of mine, in the midst of a high-stress situation.
You- do not get to tell me that we all of a sudden have some money that we can find for guns and teacher training.
Where is this money when kids spend their weekends hungry, when they come to school with no supplies, when our kids sometimes don't have roofs over their heads, or when every teacher I know spends a small fortune of their own money on their work, in some capacity.
Where is this money when teachers need training and time to hone in on their craft? Where is it when we need books for our classroom libraries? Where is it when we need CERTIFIED FULL TIME LIBRARIANS IN EVERY BUILDING- but instead get NONE?
You- do not get to tell me that I should carry or have a gun in my classroom.
Do not try to compromise with me, do not try to open a discussion in which your objective is to change my mind. My post does not serve the purpose of civil discourse on this topic- not today, not ever.
Because I will not refuse to sit on the carpet, on the floor, next to my kids.
Because I will not give up the daily hugs.
Because I will not bring more worry into our space.
Because I will not stop talking to kids about how their voices can and will make change.
Because I will never point a gun at a child and pull the trigger.
In our fourth grade classroom we use TCRWP's Reading Units of Study. The units are broken down by grade level, each grade level has two literature and two informational units. The kits also come with If, Then units that help you add to your curriculum. I say all of this first to let you know what I currently use as my curriculum.
We just began our first informational reading unit and session three has us introducing text structures to students. Last year, my students struggled with this. I knew this session was coming and I was checking out the TCRWP Reading Units of Study Facebook Group and this great comment sparked the idea. A teacher shared how she helped show her students text structure by using a scene from The Sandlot.
I started thinking about some of my own favorite scenes from The Sandlot. Then, I created a post on my personal page asking friends to help throw out some movie ideas after I knew I wanted to use The Sandlot, Jumanji and Home Alone.
This work was perfect for today because yesterday we went over our pre-assessment (see The Units of Study) and one of the questions is always about how parts of a text fit in relation to the whole text, another asks students about the author's craft and technique. All of the student samples, student checklists, etc. have students using the language of text structure.
Here's how it went when I took it to my classes today.
"Alright readers. Do you remember how questions number two and three were super hard on that pre-assessment? Some of you were looking at me like 'Mrs. Riedmiller, what is technique?!'...
Readers nodded in agreement.
"As nonfiction readers, when we move from "waiting for the dentist" nonfiction reading to "reading to learn" nonfiction reading, we have to get the whole picture before we dig in. Wednesday we talked about previewing texts, and I told you that I needed to see the whole pizza before I decided which piece I was going to take.... well when we know how a text is organized we can take our previewing and ultimately understanding of the text to the next level, we read with the big picture in mind."
"Today I want to teach you that nonfiction readers think about how texts are organized. This helps us move from "waiting for the dentist" nonfiction reading to "reading to learn" nonfiction reading. Here are some of the ways that nonfiction texts can be organized: chronological order, cause & effect, compare & contrast or problem/solution."
I gave the students some keywords to look for in each category. Once I gave them the short handout it was time to watch the clips.
"I am going to show you four short videos and I want you to decide if you can figure out which videos pair up with the four text structures."
I showed the kids four videos, asking them to jot down which structure they thought each matched up with. Then I played each video a second time AFTER telling them the correct structure.
"Now I will tell you the structure that matched each video and this time as you watch the clip, I want you to see if any of the key words pop out. I want you to really pay attention and think about how that structure fits with each clip."
This is just an example of the language I use with my kids. Here are possible clips to use:
Ham Shows Smalls How to Make S'mores (The Sandlot)
I Suppose You're Gonna Fly (Space Jam)
Making Friends With a Dragon (How to Train Your Dragon)
Gotta Go (Spider-Man Miles Morales 2018)
Cause & Effect:
Roll the Dice (Jumanji, 2005)
Smart House (Annie, 2014) Thanks, Britt!
Dangerous Book (The Neverending Story)
Tra La La! (Captain Underpants)
Bull in a China Shop (Ferdinand)
First Fight at the New School (Little Monsters)
Compare & Contrast:
Wingardium Leviosa (Harry Potter)
They Named Her Matilda (Matilda)
Grandma VS Mariachi (Coco)
Kevin Sets the Traps (Home Alone)
Quick! Call 911 (The Little Rascals)
Indestructible Gnomes (Goosebumps)
I am still on the search for great clips to share with my learners and it’s important to make this note: students should be able to prove how each clip fits with the structure. I am always ready to hear proof and examples from my kids. Choosing between cause & effect and problem/solution is tough work. If a learner can back up their reasoning or thinking I am more than willing to hear them out. Be open, be willing to see if some of these clips fit MORE than one structure because many do.
I hope this lesson turns out as successful for you as it has for us. Happy nonfiction reading!
I'm popping in to let you all know how Literacy Studio is REALLY going. We have been living in the space for a few weeks now and I finally feel comfortable enough to say that we have worked out some of the kinks and now we have some new ones to work on.
Engagement has moved to Empowerment.
Students are motivated beyond what I had ever imagined. They look most forward to their 30 minute independent block. Students are sharing their work with others and even printing out books left and right to add to the classroom library and to give friends and other teachers.
Balance needs work.
The kids are struggling with striking a balance between reading and writing. I figured we needed a place where they could keep track of their weekly work. I wanted this to include a space for reflection. In the complicated work that we have taken on as of late (BEING BETTER HUMANS) we have realized that it is easy to get caught up in the work and lose the sense of original intent and purpose for the task. This will require some explicit teaching on my part, but I know once the kids have tried it a couple of times that they will call it their own and perhaps even give me suggestions for making it better. You can find this form here.
They value what you value.
Since starting my masters program and taking on writing workshop, it is no secret that I have a new found love for teaching writing. If you knew nothing about me, you would know this by walking into my classroom. With my shift, I have felt the learners shift as well. I learn more, do better, they learn more, do better. It's all excellent and fun and engaging, but I need to be very intentional with my own balance. I am working on not overly praising writing and leaving my beloved reading in the shadows. I will say this, my understanding of the marriage between reading and writing strengthens the understanding that my students take away, and I fully understand that is not a bad thing.
This format fully supports social justice and inquiry work.
Daily, I have been trying to contain myself and my excitement for the work my kids are doing. I can't put it all in one post, but my dear friend Jessica Lifshitz has Voxer message after Voxer message about the insane things these kids are taking on. It. Is. Brilliant. I know I am late to the social justice game, but I am beginning the work now and I will not stop. Inquiry work is easy with this set up because the workshop time lays down the groundwork for empowerment and more often than not students are asking me questions like: "Do you think I could do some research on Ramadan during Independent time today?" "I want to write a story because I need a mirror for myself. I need to tell my story, can I do that during Independent time?" Or one of my favorites: "My grandma is filipino and I am going to interview her about her life for the book I'm writing during Independent time."
Hold onto your hats. It has been great so far.
This is the start of a new journey for me and my students. My professional mentor text has been Jessica Lifshitz’s Blog: Crawling Out of the Classroom. I use Jess’s blog because a professional goal of mine has been to more towards a more equitable, social justice serving classroom space. Her blog constantly provides the layout of this work although she teaches fifth graders while I teach fourth. Using this mentor and the personal help of Jess has helped moved my work from a far-fetched dream to reality. This post is the one where she lays out the work for Literacy Studio, how she learned about it and how she is trying it with her kids. This post also contains the great conferring forms (more about that later) that I have been using. Jess- I cannot thank you enough for helping me through every step of this journey.
I began the week by telling my students that I was thinking about how often we finish a reading mini lesson and set off to work and I am quickly approached by someone asking me if they can finish a “personal story they are working on.” Or how often we finish a reading mini lesson about our realistic fiction work and they are burying their noses in an informational text immediately after. Noticing their wants and involuntary questions had made me rethink our time and I had to share an idea with them. An idea that I believed would offer a good solution to this really excellent “problem” to have. They were intrigued. I wanted to change class a little bit? I noticed that they wanted more time to finish their Fox Detective, Lost Unicorn and Sports Comics? I had their attention.
They were beyond enthusiastic about the change! So, we got straight down to business and figured out how much time we have together in class and how that time SHOULD be used to help us do these core things: become stronger writers, become stronger readers and become stronger citizens (social studies). We messed around with the schedule until we achieved what we believed to be the ultimate path to achieve these goals. Each day would look like this:
Reading Workshop (30 minutes)
10 minute mini-lesson
20 minutes independent reading (in the unit genre, teacher picks goals)
Writing Workshop (30 minutes)
10 minute mini-lesson
20 minutes independent writing (in the unit genre, teacher picks goals)
Independent Studio Time (30 minutes)
30 minutes (read OR write, any genre, any format, student chooses goals)
Social Studies (20 minutes)
Once a schedule was in place we decided to try it out. My students are already accustomed to conferring with me during reading and writing workshops each day. I explained that the independent portion would be a third time that I could confer with them during the day. My first class had a lot of students who chose to write during that independent block, and my second class had quite a few that decided to read. No matter what they chose, when I met with readers and writers, I had a conversation with them about how they would decide to balance their independent time. Some students decided on an every other day schedule, some said it would depend on the day of the week and how excited they were about their current book or writing piece (I love this response, by the way) and some students knew that the balance piece would be a struggle for them. We decided we would continue to work on it as we went on.
First off, there wasn’t ONE student who wasn’t engaged during this independent time. Everyone had a plan for what they wanted to do during that time. Students worked during the whole time because they had full choice over the piece or the book. Again, my kids are used to this with books, but opening it up for writing was a game changer. I always noticed kids wanting to write fantasy stories during realistic fiction and this was finally their opportunity to get to have full choice when it came to class time.
We are about three days in and I have already noticed a big difference in my students. They are even more excited and enthusiastic about class time. They also are setting their own goals with ease because of the form I am using from Jess's post. It breaks down conferring time by asking kids what they are noticing in their books and what they are proud of in their writing, once students do this part the teacher names what they are doing so students are much more likely to try doing the work again. My kids have responded to these forms and this teacher language in a positive way. Instead of basic summaries, conferences are turning into more like this: “wow, I don’t know if you know this but what you just did was explain character change. That is deep reading work.” Then students decide which noticing or proud moment they want to turn into a personal goal. They decide how they will keep track of the goal and when they want to meet with me again. It was unreal to hear my kids talk about their reading and writing in the ways that they did this past week. I told a colleague that I wish I had actually videoed a couple conferences so I could look back and remember that charge of excitement and EMPOWERMENT in their voices! My Intervention Specialist and I have already decided that we will use these student-created goals to have students rewrite their IEP goals. We then plan on having them track their work in their reading and writing notebooks and use them as their trials and evidence of work towards those goals. How powerful, right?
This outline moves me towards my goal of more student choice and agency in my classroom. It lays down a foundation for some serious social justice work that I want to take on with kids. A possible change would be reconsidering letting students work in partnerships. They are now and some are using them well and some are not. This is an area I know I’ll need to be flexible and willing to intervene on. I am leaning towards not turning them down with it comes to partnerships because think of the critical thinking and problem solving they are doing within those spaces! Something else to keep an eye on is my consistency with conferring. I have to be willing to use that great chunk of time to really get in there with kids and help them improve their reading and writing.
Using this format allows me to stay true to the workshop format and some beloved units of study in both reading and writing, dip my toe into inquiry based learning, social justice standards, and Kristi Mraz's Mindset work all while remaining true to my core heart belief that student choice and voice should rule the day.
I am excited about this new layout and I am already impressed with the ownership out of my kids. I can’t see how much further they take it!
This summer, I had grand plans.
I had read The Curious Classroom, Comprehension & Collaboration, Disrupting Thinking and more. I was ready to take on the world. I was inspired immensely by seeing Jessica Lifshitz speak at one of the Scholastic Reading Summits. I had brushed up on the amazingness that is Kristine Mraz. I had plans to pull it all together, but it kind of never happened.
Enter the new school year, enter new curriculum, mandates, committees and all of the other "stuff" that adds to our never-ending to-do lists. The stuff started piling up and I couldn't see over it all. The "stuff" was blocking the important stuff. The work. The work that I want to do.
This revelation I had this summer might shock you, it shocked me. The revelation I had is that my life's work has shifted from helping children love reading and writing to helping children change the world. This is what I felt in my bones. Not that the work that I have been doing, studying and living wasn't important, but that it was a stepping stone to the real work I wanted to be brave enough to do.
While the weekend workshop I just took had many books, strategies and ideas that I have already explored or read or worked on by myself, it taught me something else. Something I didn't expect to take away. I already live by the if it's a great idea, try it out tomorrow motto, but I have never been willing to completely go off the beaten path. I've never been willing to in the middle of the school year, ditch complete units and start over, but it is what I will do, starting tomorrow.
Reading and writing workshop is great. It's an entry point into workshop work for me and it has served my students well. We will continue the structure and continue with some of the work the fabulous Units of Study have laid out.
But I'm done with letting the "stuff" get in the way of the work I really want to do. The inquiry work. The work that gets messy, the work that has no clear path, the work that starts here and ends up someone totally unexpected. The work that empowers, not just engages.
Here goes nothing!
You can find a copy of my Reading Conference Google Form here.
It is easy enough to come across those perfectly pinned posts online. With titles like Things All Great Teachers Do, Top Ten Habits of the Best Teachers & What All the Best Teachers Are Doing, it's easy to start comparing oneself to the sea of many. We often think about experience, tenure, types of districts served, and possibly test scores when thinking about if teachers are doing their jobs.
Lacking, however, are the posts written by children. The students. I am a firm believer in asking the kids. We spend time in the teacher lunchroom or meetings making decisions about children, often not including them in the conversation. So, I have decided to pull another chair up to the table. One to be occupied by our most important critics, our kids.
I gave some of last year's students this prompt: what is it that makes a teacher good? What you find here is their responses. Published to this blog for all to see and savor. The first in this series is from a student I know I will never forget. His sharp wit and curious imagination is exactly what you would want in a student. He is wise beyond his years and in my humble opinion, has a writing career ahead of him if he really wanted it. He is the famed author of The Chicken President series that took our fourth grade classroom by storm last year. If you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, this is not the first you are hearing of this series. Here is Cameron's response to his teacher's summer writing prompt.
What Makes a Good Teacher
Basically it is caring. A teacher who doesn’t care won’t develop a good relationship with their students, causing a problem. A teacher who is willing to put in the time, effort, and commitment to his or her job is more likely to bond with students, creating a safe place for students to come in time of need.
As a student, I really felt that my teachers were there to help me. I know they watched out for me because they pushed me to be my best. The good thing about having a teacher like that is that when you are struggling in the classroom, you always have somewhere to go for help.
Though teachers should care, they shouldn’t always go “easy” on you. Perhaps the best thing that makes a good teacher is pushing you to be your best. Like my teachers say, “when you think you have finished, go back, because there is always something else you can add.’’ I love that they will always push me until my work is 100% perfect.
Also, a teacher who will actually listen to their students will be better off. Lots of teachers are great, but some go above expectation. From personal experience, my teachers have been great, but to the ones that can meet this criteria, i’d give you an A+.
Check back for more student responses, and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section. I know the kids would love to see them.