Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Past

    Today, I ventured downtown to the post office.  I groaned as I looked around for a parking spot that did not require parallel parking.  I thought about how nice it would be to send this enormous envelope from my house.  (I'm sure there is a way to do this, but I don't send these envelopes often enough to know.)  I parked on a side street, grabbed my purse, and headed into the post office.  As I glanced around at the small buildings, I felt as if every step took me back in time.  I imagined those black and white pictures of how the town looked hundreds of years ago.  I marched up the concrete steps, and grabbed the metal front door.  Then, turning the corner, I pulled on a massive wood door.  As I stepped in, I noticed the wood plank floor and the old building smell wafted past my nose.
     Then, I began to wonder about that time, years ago, when the post office was the only way to communicate.  A time when the post office was probably the most important building in town.  A time when staying in touch with friends required immense effort, compared to today.  A letter or card sent days, maybe weeks earlier meant that you had crossed someone's mind.  You had crossed their mind, and they had taken time to sit down and write a letter for at least 15, maybe more minutes.  Talk about dedication!   Whenever my mind drifts to life in the past, I long for that slower paced life, free from my obligations.  
      As I started dreaming of that uncomplicated past, I wonder if our students look back on their years before beginning school with longing.  Those years when life was a grand experiment with language and movement.  When learning was something they did with desire and determination.  So many times, my 4th graders start their year already burned out by 4 years of being critiqued and criticized.  They have no desire or determination because they have been knocked down so often.  I always want our year together in 4th grade to be a year that they can look back on with pride, just as they look back on their home videos of baby chatter and wobbly feet.  My goal is for them to look back and see how far they've come, not in what they have failed.  I want them to regain the determination and desire that they were born with.  I want them to feel that exhilarating first baby step with every new investigation in their academic lives, and I want to be the one holding the video camera cheering them on.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Searching for Mentors

      This week, I began a journey.  During our weekly staff meeting, I sat with a group of teachers ready to study the teaching of mentor sentences.  After several teachers shared, we determined to split the group.  Some wanted to work on a scripted lesson structure for using mentor sentences.  The rest would begin searching texts for mentor sentences that coordinate with our Indiana standards and the Common Core Standards.
       I chose to search for sentences, since I've never been great with a script.  One other teacher, our literacy coach, and I began the process of creating a suitable document to hold this information.  In an effort to work more collaboratively, we formed our first Google Doc.  The three of us sat at our individual computers contributing to the same document of information.  Bizarrely, we worked on that document like kids playing a new video game.  There were several squeals of delight as we began combining the standards on this amazing tool.  We finished with a loose document that night, but it has taken on another form since then.  Each day we would check in with each other to see how it could be tweaked, changed, modified to ensure this information would be easily accessible. We're finally happy with the document
        In the process of all these modifications I have a better understanding of the concepts included.  With this new awareness I began sharing picture books with my daughter.  My goal is to pick one book each night to read with her.  After I put her to bed I'll then return to that same book to look for those mentor sentences to match each standard.  Tonight, we read The Old Woman Who Named Things  by:  Cynthia Rylant.  I cleverly chose this because she had told me that they read a story today by the author that writes Henry and Mudge.  So, she was really excited to read another Cynthia Rylant.  I found 8 mentor sentences that I placed with corresponding standards, and I'm sure there were several more I didn't notice.  It wasn't difficult.  I read with my eyes wide open.  Now that I've begun this journey, searching for mentors, I can't wait to look at more books with this new perspective. 

Here are two of the sentences that I found in The Old Woman Who Named Things.

Using Prepositional Phrases:
    " The old woman was sitting in Fred reading a book on everlasting flowers when she saw the puppy through her window." 
Using Relative Pronouns:
     "And every night Roxanne was sure to make herself plenty wide enough for a shy, brown, lucky dog--and the old woman who named him."