reflections · teacher of writing · writing workshop

Reflections on the 2008 – 2009 School Year

On Monday, June 29th, we will begin our summer posting schedule. Therefore, I wanted to take some time to reflect, publicly, on my school year, which ended yesterday at 11:00 a.m.

  • Challenges
    • I’m delighted to have hosted the Slice of Life Story Challenge (SOLSC) this past March. It was fantastic to “meet” so many new people. I continue to enjoy the weekly SOLSC and look forward to the Third Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge in March 2010.

    • After writing in my online writer’s notebook daily during the Challenge, I also realized that I enjoyed the physical act of writing my daily entries much more than writing online. (I’m a little different than the student you’ll read about in the reluctant writer reflection, which follows a few bullets down from here.)
  • Leaving the Classroom
    • My colleagues who gave me farewell notes during the final week of the school year reassured me about my decision to leave the classroom to become a literacy consultant next year. While I’m extremely excited about helping other teachers implement Reading and Writing Workshops, it is still hard for me to believe that I won’t be putting together a classroom this fall!
  • Notebooks
    • I no longer feel that kids should keep a five-subject notebook and a small idea notebook, which is how my students lived during from September 2007 – March 2009. By March of this year, I came to realize that it was too confusing to have two different notebooks. Hence, my students began using their “Idea Notebook” as their sole “Writer’s Notebook,” which meant that plan boxes, daily entries, and writing that helped to nurture their in-class assignments was all in the same place. At first it was hard for me to sift through what was what. However, I got over that (in about a week) and no longer cared if my kids were flying through Idea Notebooks since they-were-writing-a-lot!
      • I’ll be posting more about this once I muddle through this a bit more, in my mind, later this summer.
  • Online Collaboration
    • I’ve continued to enjoy working with Ruth. The only thing I don’t love about our e-collaboration is the distance. 872 (and soon 565) miles apart is just too much! That being said, I am a better writer, teacher, and person because of Ruth.
    • I’m delighted that we’ve had the same “Disclosure Policy” ever since the beginning of our e-collaboration. The bottom line is this: We don’t accept any form of advertising. This key element has allowed us to write without feeling beholden to anyone. We haven’t made a dime off from writing our blog. We never have and never will accept any form of advertising since that doesn’t align with the mission we created when we started blogging two years ago. It feels good to work Ruth, who also believes in blogging for the sake of being a more reflective teacher and to connect with other educators across the globe.
  • Poetry: The Missing Genre
    • This was the first year I didn’t teach poetry in Writing Workshop. At first the idea horrified me – for weeks! However, the decision was not one I made alone. The reason I didn’t teach poetry this year was because my colleagues and I felt it was important to teach a unit, which turned out to be about four weeks long, on conventions. When I graded my students’ research-based essays this past Tuesday morning, I realized the unit of study on conventions was well worth it. Their writing is stronger now that they have a greater hold on when, where, and how to write with proper conventions. It was exciting to see this kind of growth.
    • Originally poetry was slated to be a unit of study. We retooled, mid-year, to include a unit of study on conventions. Had we initially planned for this unit, I think it would have been possible to teach poetry. However, hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it? Thankfully, my students and I read a lot of poetry (e.g., a “shared poem” each week, 42 Miles, and Locomotion), so at least the children were exposed to a variety of poems.
  • Probability & a Former Reluctant Writer
    • Student D (Click here to see who “Student D” is.) wasn’t into writing AT ALL at the beginning of the school year.  As you know, I dubbed him a “reluctant writer” and pulled him into the weekly Writing Circle.  By March I told him, “If you can write for an entire month straight, then I’ll help you set up a blog.”  He did and therefore, at parent-teacher conferences, I set up a blog for him, with his mom’s permission.  I taught him about online safety, which is why I’m not linking to his blog, and figured that the novelty of having an electronic writer’s notebook would wear off in about a week.  BUT IT HASN’T.  He posts a piece of writing every night, except for the nights Edublogs is down, which is a rare occasion.
      Student D turned-down the notebooks I gave out on the last day of school because he prefers writing on the computer. This online forum gives me a way to communicate with him by using the comments feature.  We often go back-and-forth in comments, which led to deeper conversations in school.  To that end, once I leave Rhode Island, his blog will be a fantastic way to continue our teacher-student relationship.

      Last week, I talked about likelihood within the context of probability.  I was trying to teach the kids the difference between impossible and unlikely.  For unlikely, which I said had about a 0.25 chance of happening, I stated, “It’s unlikely that Student D will not write a blog post tonight.”
      He piped up immediately and said, “No, it’s impossible!”
      I said, “What if you have a computer problem?”
      He replied, “I don’t care if my computer crashes, then I’ll go to my uncle’s house and write it there.  It’s not unlikely, it’s impossible!”
      “C’mon,” I said.  “What if your uncle isn’t home or there’s a blackout?”
      “Then I’ll write it in my notebook!” he said with a duh tone to it.
      “I see your point, but honestly, it’s not impossible.  It’s just very, very, very unlikely that you’re going to not write on your blog tonight, okay?” I said trying to get him to realize that there is a fine line between the highly unlikely and the impossible.
      “Fine,” Student D said, “I can live with very, very, very unlikely.”

      A reluctant writer withered away this year. A writer was born.

  • Record (of Sorts)
    • I read Maribeth Boelts’ When It’s the Last Day of School to my students as soon as we finished watching “Akeelah and the Bee” yesterday morning. Once I finished the final page, I prompted my students to turn and talk about what they were looking forward to once the school day ended. We were scheduled to have a cake party right after the turn and talk, but once we came back together, one of my students raised her hand and said, “Congratulations!”

      “On what?” I asked, seeing as the kids were just talking about the things they’d do once they left school at 11:00 a.m.

      “Congratulations! You’ve gone five years without anyone throwing up in your classroom!” she declared with a huge smile.

      “You’re right!” [I have this unofficial rule that the kids should bolt from the classroom, with their hand over their mouth, if they feel like they have to throw up. In my mind, I’ve never understood why a child should ask permission to leave the room when they need to throw up. (Additionally, I get nauseous when someone else throws up. Blood I can handle, but vomit is another story!) Therefore, I tell this to my kids on the first day of school each year. So far, in five years of full-time teaching, no one has ever thrown up in the classroom. At the threshold of the door? Yes! In the hallway outside of the classroom? Yes! But never inside of the classroom!]

      Everyone laughed.

      “Wait!” I said. “It’s 10:15 a.m. I’m about to serve you cookies, cake, and juice. Do you think we can really make this a five year record?”

      The kids said yes.

      No one got sick.

      The five year streak remained in-tact!

  • Writing Projects of My Own
    • I’ve done some freelance writing this past year, of which I’m proud. I’m in the midst of writing another article for Instructor, which is due next week. Additionally, I published my first journal article this year. I look forward to continuing to take on these kinds of writing projects in the year to-come. (I have a big writing project in the hopper, which I’ll announce soon.)

4 thoughts on “Reflections on the 2008 – 2009 School Year

  1. Mrs. V.:

    I obtained permission from all of my students’ parents to use their names and pictures on our class blog and on our Picasa Website. I did not obtain permission to use their images or likenesses on this blog since I didn’t feel that was appropriate. Therefore, when I mention a student, I either change his/her name or refer to them by a letter. Finally, I don’t link to my students’ blogs since they’re unlisted in public searches. While their blogs aren’t private, I have cautioned them about appearing in blogrolls and such.

    In terms of how do I decide what’s safe, I tend to think about it in terms of this:
    If someone were to read my student’s blog, would they be able to figure out:
    a) his/her name
    b) where s/he lives
    c) the name of his/her family members
    d) what s/he looks like
    If the answer to all of those questions is “no,” then they can pretty much post whatever they want.

    Does that help?



  2. Congratulations on a reflective year. Next year I want to start an edublog for my class. I just showed the site to my new partner teacher, and we are both excited to look into it. I also thought about having it be an option for students to start their own blog.

    When I was looking at your blog I noticed how you have pictures of your students, and you brought up Student D having his own blog and about Internet safety. Do you have any suggestions on public blog guidelines? How do you decide what is safe for your students? I saw another blog that had the students’ individual blogs linked to the teachers but it seemed like they used codes rather than names. It did not look like yours was linked though.


  3. Hello. I am new to blogging but I hope that in two years I will be able to blog like you do now. It has been frustrating especially with images that I want to use. I am one who follows copyright laws and it seems nothing out there is availabe w/out strings attached. Well, I just wanted to thank you guys for this blog. As an educator it is important to me to be able to share my own knowledge but to also learn from others. Thank-You and I wish you the very best as a literacy strategist. P.S. Have you ever met Stephanie Harvey? I want to go and hear her speak someday!


  4. Wow! You’ve been busy!

    I’m impressed by a lot of this. I understand why you left poetry out of the curriculum. Many students struggle with conventions more than anything. Only through years of reading did I pick it up–and even then, I needed a lot of rules laid out for me.

    Good job with student D. That must be a great feeling. Also with the freelance writing; I know that’s not exactly pie.

    I also agree that throwup in classrooms = misery & horror. =D



Comments are closed.