Sunday, July 28, 2013

I'm Blaming It ALL on Common Core

Do you ever just feel stuck... sort of like that Winnie-the-Pooh image of being half in and half out of Rabbit's window?

And if I didn't think the copyright police would hunt me down and kill me, I would post a Winnie the Pooh image to give you a visual... Instead, I will provide this image:

I haven't blogged in weeks. I just don't know what to do with myself. I start a blog post. Then I read a blog post. Then I follow a link to a book on Amazon. Then I check Pinterest. Which brings me to another blog. With another link. And that's not even counting Facebook! I can't seem to stay focused on anything because my mind is spinning.

I'm blaming Common Core. You should know this about me: I've been blaming "them" for everything lately. Today I burned not one, but two batches of chocolate chip cookies. Charred beyond recognition. Why? Because I was mulling over Common Core.

Distracted driving, incomplete conversations, bumping into people in stores, spilling my coffee, getting up in the middle of dinner (or the middle of the night!) to investigate or write something down. Yes, I'm blaming Common Core for all of that.

California, in general, and my school and district, in particular, are just getting their proverbial feet wet with Common Core. In fact, it is safe to say that at my school, we have only put a few toes in the water.

I began the summer delighted to have time to "learn all about Common Core" in order to be ready for the "switch" in September. A few days later, my delight turned to mortification and things have been headed downhill since then. Common Core is beginning to haunt my thoughts. Why? I think I can synthesize my concerns into three points (Or twenty-eight points, but I am going to let you choose...)

1. This is my thirtieth year of teaching--as in three followed by zero or three groups of ten. Yes, I am that old. Thanks to Common Core, I feel like it is my first year of teaching. It's as if I don't know what to teach. Or, worse, how to teach. I've been reading (or, in some cases, just BUYING) numerous professional books... all related to Common Core. I've become obsessed with mastering the "new" way to teach reading, to teach writing, to teach math. And I remain solidly bewildered. I haven't learned too many specifics, but I do know this: Heaven help you if everything you do isn't discussion-driven, pre- and post-tested and grounded in the real world!

2. I am more than a little concerned about the suggested texts from Appendix B! I gasped when I looked at those texts. I was so excited when most of my sixth graders finally decided they liked to read! For some of them, it was not an easy acquiescence. How did it finally happen? By finding books they loved... Whether it was Dork Diaries or How to Train Your Dragon or Conspiracy 365, my struggling or reluctant readers needed to find a book they loved enough to try on another. They needed a portal into more complex texts. Matching books to kids is a delicate business. One of the suggested texts in Appendix B is Steinbeck's Travels with Charley, a book I read in ninth grade. And I won't even go into my dismay over "Churchill's Address to Parliament on May 13th, 1940." While I applaud the integration of literacy and science/social studies, we don't generally (okay, never) cover Churchill during our focus on ancient civilizations. I understand (and applaud) the goal of deep reading and I applaud the intended rigor! But I fear for my reluctant readers. What if they decide they don't want to become better readers. What if they get discouraged? What if they stop wanting to read?

3. Some of my math standards are pretty tough. Here's one that I've been pondering:
  • Use variables to represent two quantities in a real-world problem that change in relationship to one another; write an equation to express one quantity, thought of as the dependent variable, in terms of the other quantity, thought of as the independent variable. Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables, and relate these to the equation. 
Yeah, okay. I have had many sixth graders who are up to that level of thinking. But I have had several sixth graders who couldn't count by fives and an increasing number who don't know their multiplication facts or have the stamina to use a system to access them. Oh, I don't think that I missed the real-world application part.

The one thing I have always appreciated about "my way" of teaching math is that we have lots of fun. We eat pie on Pi Day and we eat "dirt" when we examine d=rt (calculate distance by multiplying rate by time). Don't worry: We don't really eat dirt. But the kids think that I am eating dirt when I have a bag of potting soil in front of me, and I take a bite of what looks like dirt, but is actually crushed chocolate wafers with a few pieces of parsley strewn about for good measure. In the end, we all have a treat sprinkling the dirt on top of ice cram. And kids come back years later saying, "Remember when we all ate dirt..."

See, I'm rambling about dirt. Why? Because I am worried about Common Core! What if the kids become math phobic (again) because the content seems too hard? (I'm always worried that a new system won't allow "catch up time" for those who haven't been taught the "new way" and are, therefore, behind.) What if so many new things at once make it too difficult for kids to have fun and enjoy math. What if I really can't figure out some of the new standards and what if there isn't a structured curriculum to help me teach math well enough to engage kids while I am still a little (or more than a little) confused? I think I am so afraid of failing at Common Core, I've lost my way.

I don't mean to misrepresent myself: I understand my role in scaffolding and differentiating and making it all work. I WANT to learn. I WANT to be a better teacher. I WANT my students to be successful in school--and in life.

I just want Common Core to stop chasing me in my dreams.

So after three weeks of pondering (thus the absence of a new blog post!), I have made a decision.

I need to make peace with the Common Core. I cannot be responsible for teaching myself everything there is to know about Common Core and learning how to implement it across all subject areas by September! I can be curious, I can be motivated, I can even search/buy/read whatever I can, but there will always be more to learn. And I have to have faith that, in time, my school, my district, my state will step in and help me along.

And I have to remember that teaching is more than standards and curriculum. The "heart part" about teaching has always been--and will always be--the greatest priority for me.

So... I am letting go of Common Core for a little while. It is time to start readying my classroom for the new school year... and my new sixth graders. It is time to think about buying new Sharpies and organizing my library and putting those new purple bins to use. And I will begin planning for that first week where we learn routines, and build community and maybe, just maybe, start talking about Common Core a little bit.

This is my turning point! This week I will start posting about Getting Ready. In fact, I've got a blogging plan... You could even call it a "mini-series" detailing my organizational strategies. Ahhhh. Now there is something I know how to do.

And if you've made it to the end of this woe-is-me saga, thanks for "listening." I hope you will leave a comment about how you overcame your Common Core fears or about your plans to get ready for the new year. And for those of you who are already back, Congrats! Your adventure is already underway. Good for you!

JOY! My energy is renewed. My focused has shifted... Time for ice cream!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Show Us Those Piles... Linking Up to Share the Truth!

Today I am linking up with Christina Bainbridge for a linky party to confess the obvious: Teachers tend to create piles of belongings wherever they are!

I have to admit I'm a little starstruck. Christina was one of the first bloggers I ever followed (when she had bunting in her classroom, but not in her blog title!). Even though she teaches younger kids than I do, she has wonderful ideas for classroom organization and design and I always get great ideas when I visit her blog.

Everything Christina does is cute! Look at that button. So CUTE!

So here we go...

I have always been a... "collector" of all things school-related. I have hundreds (maybe even thousands!) of books and I cannot resist an office supply store. (I even visit them on vacation!) I always have ideas in my head for projects which seem to get started (and rarely finished) usually on my dining room table. I love creating and planning on my own time, at home, so let's just say I need to have a lot of things at home to get things done. How's that for an excuse?

This linky party invites us to show off the piles of "school stuff" that have accumulated during the summer. For me, this means that the piles have spread to other rooms!

Here is a pile ready to go to the garage. The blue box is full of things to shred, the pink box holds the leftover beads from a craft project, the spirals were a donation and the binding machine just looks dangerous! (But having one of my own means that I can finish a project at midnight in my PJs!)

There are always boxes of books at my house. Increasingly, these books have Common Core in the title... Currently these are in front of the door to the patio!

At the moment, there is a pile of items sitting next to the dining room table. I have to sort through the boxes of math manipulatives. It's amazing the things I find in there: erasers, old assignments, an occasional love note... It's always an adventure! I'm not sure what is in the other box... aside from the laminator and the stuffed pig (She's our mascot for a math game... and is currently in need of some sort of cleaning!)

Sometimes I try to "sneak" piles into corners. As if anyone sitting in (or near!) the rocking chair isn't going to see the pile of boxes from my literacy centers. These need to be readied for back-to-school. I'm just not mentally ready to tackle that challenge yet!

Doesn't everyone have nine plastic milk crates taking up half of the space in their guest room? These house the math tools and other center materials in my classroom. I'm going to try to sneak them into school tomorrow. (Sshhhh. Don't tell.)

An hour before this photo, they were found here...

Yep! That's the bathtub! My room has the playground on one side and a dirt field on the other side. Needless to say, everything needs to be dusted, vacuumed and or washed... often!

So that's how things look in my house. Halfway through summer I am always dying to take a few car loads to school just to free up some space. However, once I arrive in my classroom, I often find something else to bring back home!

So, what about you? Are things piling up in your house? Do you have a laminator, a binding machine or a paper cutter somewhere other than your classroom? Have you hit the back-to-school sales and started piling up plastic bags in a corner?

THAT'S OKAY! You are not alone! And no one is going to call the Hoarders Hotline or stage an intervention. (That's another great thing about the blogging community: We don't judge--We share!)

Come on! Join up! Click HERE or on that sweet button above and head over to Christina's blog. Then grab your phone or a camera and share some photos. You'll be in good company--and you might make a new friend while you're there.

Sending you wishes for happy sorting, creating and organizing...

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Five for Friday (UN-linked)... and a Bear or Two...

Doodle Bugs Teaching is on hiatus... but my Five for Friday post (from last week) was already finished when I discovered that bit of information. So, I am posting this unlinked and alone... but with sweet thoughts toward Doodle Bugs just the same.

When I left off on my travel saga, we had left San Francisco to begin our camping adventure. Here's our sweet little tent...

We were camping in the southern Sierras, and the weather was cool and lovely. We even met a nice ranger who directed us to examine this...

And then we took a careful look at this...

Which would have all been nice precautionary information had the ranger not continued with a detailed description of the bear that had been in the campsite the previous evening, snuffling through the area and trying to remove the doors from cars in search of a late night snack.

Which meant I went to sleep with some "tools" right next to my sleeping bag...

Fortunately, the noise-makers remained unused, and we moved on to our next camping adventure... although I sort of felt like I was living a cause-and-effect essay!

Our next stop was a campground next to the Kern River. It was warmer, but not too hot. I was feeling more-than-proud when I put up the tent all by myself., (Of course, then I wanted to drive back to civilization and get ice cream!)

It was just beautiful sitting next to the river... {sigh}

Isn't that just lovely?! Of course, it wasn't long before the campground host came by to inform us that a bear had been spotted roaming the area...

Needless to say, I was already prepared! And, fortunately, we heard nothing but the peaceful sounds of the river and woke up to a gorgeous (bear-free) day!

 I brought some professional books (carefully enclosed in plastic bags, sandwiched between cardboard to keep the corners from getting bent... OCD anyone?) and I loved reading them in the quiet sunshine. It was heavenly!

And here's a little secret: I remembered that I had downloaded a movie on my iPad. And, just because I could, I watched it in the tent! FUN! (Does this contraband technology disqualify my adventure as "camping"?!)

I finished a novel too! If you haven't read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, it's a great book. This is the sequel, The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, and it wasn't quite as good, but entertaining nonetheless. If you like mysteries, you'll love the adventures of Flavia de Luce, an eleven year old with a love of chemistry, disdain for her sisters, and an uncanny ability to put together details in order to determine the culprit in a murder in her little village in the English countryside.

The day after we got home I had to scurry back to school to finish cleaning my classroom. I know, I know, many of you are getting ready to go BACK to school, but I am always behind, so my classroom had remained semi-disastrous. (Don't I have the most forgiving principal and custodial staff on the planet? After all these years, I don't think they were even surprised to find I was the last one to check out...)

The first thing I saw when I walked into my room was one of the programs from our sixth grade promotion. I am still missing my last group of kids... I generally love September, but June often tears at my heart. And the chance for a Do-Over is always a good/bad thing about teaching!

And then it was time to start getting things in order. As I cleaned my classroom, I filled up my car with things to sort, clean and organize.

I love to go back to school with everything already washed and scrubbed and clean-smelling. I clean out my cupboards and drawers in advance so that I can return to my classroom and focus on the new year. I haven't tackled my library yet. That is always the hardest task for me to accomplish. And I have a lot of books to sort and label.

But, for now, I am still in summer mode... reading, planning and thinking--and enjoying it all.

I am sending you happy wishes for at least a little more summertime before you have to return to the classroom...

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth... Along with a Blog Hop to Follow...

I feel like I have been waiting forever to use this cute star paper! It's from Teacher Wife's "Pretty Papers" set (HERE on TpT). Isn't it festive?!

Even though it is summer vacation for me, I thought that today I should behave like it is a holiday... A grill-your-dinner, sit-in-the-sun, watch-a-movie "vacation" day. Even though all the other days are "vacation days," I still feel compelled to get things done. Today I am trying a little harder to relax...

I have been doing some professional reading during the past few weeks. I am almost finished with Productive Group Work by Frey, Fisher and Everlove. Reading this book has reinforced that I have a HUGE role in making cooperative group work successful. There are certain things I need to say and do to make the learning more efficient and I need to be strategic to be sure that everyone is making academic progress. Nothing about it sounded easy--but it all sounded true!

In my last post, I commented about following me on Bloglovin. I finally "borrowed" a button designed by sweet Melissa at Common Core and So Much More. I hope that you will click on the button at the top (right) of my blog to follow me with Bloglovin.

Here is some awesomeness for you: Melissa is willing to share the button with you too--she even has a tutorial on how to install it... right HERE!

And if you'd like to link up with some other bloggers on Bloglovin, Sidney at Teaching is Gift is having a Back to School Blog Hop and she is giving away some adorable posters with a chalkboard theme. She's hosting the hop along with A Teacher Without a Class who is holding a giveaway for a laminator that looks mighty wonderful! Enter through rafflecopter on her site--What a great back-to-school present to yourself!

Teaching is a Gift

So click on the graphic above to read more about the Blog Hop. You can even have the link up on your site if you choose! And when you get there, click on the bloggy-buttons at the bottom of the post to find some new connections. Isn't summer the BEST time to make new friends?

If you are not following my blog, I hope you will add me to your list. And if you are, thank you so much for sticking with me through the changes from Google Reader to Bloglovin--or whatever other "reader" you choose. I am honored to be a part of the Blogging Community and truly value the fact that people stop by my blog to visit and/or comment! (I still get teary-eyed when new comments pop up. Truly!)

So, Happy Fourth, Happy Thursday, Happy Summer. Wherever you are today, I hope that you are enJOYing what you are doing...