Rethinking Ability and Intelligence

As a special education teacher there are many moments that I can draw upon where I can feel proud of the experiences I take part in with my students. Although the students I teach are young, I watch how over time they develop some very grown-up characteristics. I have seen my students develop independence, self-awareness, empathy, and responsibility in a very short time that year after year amazes me. These memories are incredibly rewarding because I know that I am a big part of how they develop in the time I spend as their teacher, coach, mentor, and most importantly someone they know they can talk to.

I just viewed the sensational TED talk titled “Bring On The Learning Revolution!” by Sir Ken Robinson. I have viewed it before and probably by now I have watched it or referenced the transcript about a dozen times. If you haven’t yet seen it, please do. You will not be disappointed! Each time I watch Sir Ken Robinson speak I am uplifted about the possibilities that exist in education. Although there are many challenges in schools today faced by educators I think that holding onto the notion that positive change can occur is so incredibly powerful.

In this talk Sir Ken says,”At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and of intelligence”. Too often the focus in our public school classrooms is the ability to produce results within the academic areas of literacy and math. While I find these content areas extremely important I know that some of my students excel in other areas too. Many of my special education students are right-brain dominant learners. They prefer group activities, drawing, role-playing, and active learning strategies. The traditional classroom setting can be a difficult one for them to navigate in but I intend to always provide opportunities for them to succeed by supporting them as they develop in my classroom. Kids need to feel that they are important to succeed and I want each of my students to feel that their strengths are purposeful, important, and worthy. 

Raise the Praise, Minimize the Criticize

I first heard the adage “Raise the praise, minimize the criticize” while in an undergraduate class. It has stayed with me since I first heard it six years ago. While the saying was meant to frame the way in which we interact with students, it is also an effective way to live your life.

When we focus on what is positive we can grow in tremendous ways. We allow ourselves to be freed from restrictions we can put in our own way. Thoughts of “I can’t” can quickly become transformed to be “I can” if a positive attitude is adopted into all arenas of our life. The same is also true about how we think about and speak to our students. Rather than focusing on the gaps we have yet to meet with our students, we can reframe our thinking to consider all that they know so far.

One of my favorite TED talks features teacher and motivational speaker Rita Pierson who exemplifies an admirable model of someone who roots for all of her students despite potential shortcomings. Her TED talk can be featured here. During her talk she presents a truly poignant question, one that I am sure I share with many educators which is, ‘How do I raise my student’s level of self esteem while at the same time raise their level of achievement?’ Interestingly enough I believe that these two elements are directly related.

When students receive praise for all that they are and feel good about themselves, their level of motivation to become more will follow the same positive trajectory. Now wouldn’t this be an amazing thing for all of us to believe in leading our own lives? So here’s to a little more praise, and a little less criticize.

 

An Opportunity to Grow Professionally

I recently finished up a great year-long professional development opportunity that was offered to me by my school district. Towards the end of the last November I was nominated along with several other colleagues in my district to participate in the Strengthening Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (STLE-D) Grant funded by NYSED. The STLE-D Grant funded projects to principals, teacher leaders, and aspiring principals to provide schools with the resources that are necessary to focus on improving curriculum and expanding instructional strategies. Each participant was encouraged to create a signature practice that would enhance not only the entire school community, but also refine personal leadership skills. Learn more about the grant here.

I focused my efforts on improving pedagogical practices and creating a shared vision around literacy practices. I wanted to take a space in our school that was dedicated to housing our guided reading materials and re-envision the space to become more organized, accessible, and more effective to teachers. Over the next year I plan to take our school’s “Book Room” and transform it to become the “Guided Reading Lab” where teachers can access guided reading materials and students can have access to digital tools to further their learning about different topics they are reading about. My goal is to create a space for teachers that is more inviting than our current space that stores our books. I want teachers to openly dialogue about their own best practices and to share their ideas about literacy lessons that have proven effective in their own classrooms. Books are such a valuable resource in the lives of our young students and to strengthen their importance is something I feel very strongly about. Over the next year I’ll share the progress that our Guided Reading Lab is making and how my grant project has taken shape in my school.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a teacher, blogger, and author, shared some great thoughts on classroom libraries and their value in teachers’ and students’ lives. She says, “I believe that a classroom library is the heartbeat of a teacher’s environment. It is the window into an educator’s own personality, and it reflects the importance of literacy in the classroom. I believe that every teacher — no matter what subject he or she teaches — should have one.” If this is Heather’s thoughts on a classroom library, imagine the power that a school book room can unlock for teachers and students; this is what I hope to do for my own school.

Libraries are the heartbeat of the classroom.

Libraries are the heartbeat of the classroom.

Classroom Celebrations

St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated today in my 1st grade classroom and the students got extraordinarily creative when we asked them to create traps in hopes to capture a mischievous leprechaun. It was great to see how they used household items to build something that they designed. After building their traps they each had the chance to explain the process to the class. We all offered compliments and questions. It was really fun to take the time to have them explain their thought processes in making something that they felt so proud of. Afterwards we set the traps in hopes that they would catch a leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day Eve. Below are just some examples of the creativity that was celebrated.

This student used mirrors and shiny items to lure the leprechaun into his trap.

This student used mirrors and shiny items to lure the leprechaun into his trap.

All this leprechaun has to do is climb up the ladder to find his gold.

All this leprechaun has to do is climb up the ladder to find his gold.

No leprechaun can resist the temptation of Skittles!

No leprechaun can resist the temptation of Skittles!

Inviting messages will surely capture this little leprechaun!

Inviting messages will surely capture this little leprechaun!

Popsicle sticks were cleverly used to devise this trap.

Popsicle sticks were cleverly used to devise this trap.

A colorful rainbow path leads this leprechaun into a  trap!

A colorful rainbow path leads this leprechaun into a trap!

Unfortunately those leprechauns were too sneaky to be fooled by our traps, but they were kind enough to leave behind a small note and a chocolate treat for everyone. IMG_0064 Although he did leave behind a small mess… IMG_0072 Classroom celebrations are great opportunities for students to demonstrate their creativity and imagination. Let’s continue to foster those skills that captivate the eyes, mind, and heart of others. Disclaimer: No leprechauns were harmed during this classroom celebration. 

Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Seuss

DrSeussCam-0001

Today marks what would have been the 111th birthday of Theodore Geisel, or better known to most as author and cartoonist Dr. Seuss. In celebration of his life and famous works of children’s books today begins the week-long celebration of Read Across America in schools across the country. Read Across America is a program started by National Education Association and is in its 18th year of creating life-long readers by finding innovative ways to inspire a love of reading and learning.

As I walked around my school building today I witnessed so many wonderful activities that celebrated the clever drawings and catchy rhymes that are so characteristic of Dr. Seuss’ work. An ESL teacher conducted a read-aloud of my all-time favorite Green Eggs and Ham followed by a mini-lesson to teach rhyming words. Another teacher used the Cat in the Hat Camera app to take photographs of her students dressed in the costumes of iconic Seuss characters. Later in the week teachers and students  will take part in “Character Day” to bring literary characters to life by getting dressed up in their favorite book’s characters. My first grade team members couldn’t help but to dress up as characters from The Cat in the Hat.

One of my first reading memories I have is of me sitting proudly in a small wooden chair in a public library in the Bronx. I held Green Eggs and Ham in my arms and asked my father and sister to sit across for me to act as my audience. I remember holding the book eagerly just as I had seen my teacher do. I opened the book and out flew the zany, wild, laughable rhymes. I can recall how easily I had read the book just as fluent readers should, and just the way I ask my students to read now – with expression and ease.

I remember this reading memory so fondly just I am sure so many others can identify with his books. This moment is such an important part of what helped to build my reading life and for my love of reading. Thanks to Dr. Seuss for helping me to continue to foster a love of reading and learning in my students today.

Do you have a favorite Dr. Seuss book?