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The View from Saturday #7

A quick classroom behavior update, and then I’m not going to talk about it any more this week:

  • Monday: Not good
  • Tuesday: Horrible
  • Wednesday: Better, and in Class Meeting we were able to get all the way around the class sharing “How do you feel when it’s too loud to focus and work?” Responses ranged from feeling disrespected and hurt, to frustration and feeling like people don’t care, to the calmest, most respectful and responsible girl in class saying, “I just feel the anger rising up inside me until I’m about to burst.” What? I thought it was just me… It seemed like a possible turning point day, but only time will tell.
  • Thursday: OK
  • Friday: Not bad


We had our very best Reading minilessons this week. We finished reading The One and Only Ivan aloud. I’m still using Lucy Calkins most of the time, and her end-of-the-first-unit “He remembers…” celebration worked wonderfully. Students were quiet as they wrote their memories of Ivan, and good listeners as their classmates shared. It was emotional and important.

The next day, we continued the same “He remembers…” theme to reflect back on our reading lives so far this year. It didn’t have quite the attention or depth of our Ivan memories, but it was nice, nonetheless. I do love to talk with them about the power and responsibility they have to create their own reading lives.

Writing, unfortunately, hasn’t quite clicked yet. These students just don’t have the stamina, motivation, or desire, yet, to sustain their writing projects over time. It hasn’t helped that Writing is our loudest time, which means it is my most strained time managerially, which means I’ve had very, very little time for conferring. This week, I checked in with all twenty-eight students about where they are in their writing. I hoped to do it in one day–it took three. And it was so, so frustrating to hear things like:

“Well, I didn’t like that story, so I started over.”

“OK. That’s fine. Can I see your new character chart and story arc?”

[Blank stares]


“How is your writing coming? Are you nearing the end of your draft?”

“Well, I think I’ve got maybe two or three pages to go.”

“Well, what scene are you on? Where are you on your story arc?”

[Blank stares]

Gah! Have you been listening at all? We had an emergency minilesson about using what they are learning. At the beginning of the year, they wrote like third graders. If they are still writing that same way, then they are still writing like third graders! Time to start thinking and writing like fourth graders!

There is no real sense of pride in their work. They are much more interested in product, than process, but not in a sense of “I want to make this my best finished work,” but instead, “I want to make this finished.” Sigh.

So, writing has been pretty challenging, and as we move to within a month of conferences, I’m worried about the progress we’ve made and how I’m going to show it. My conferences are student-led, and some of these kids are…not close to being able to explain their progress as writers.

So, some good parts of the week, some real struggles. Some moments that we might look back on in four months and remember as a pivotal event…or an anomaly. We shall see.

I’m glad you’re with me.

The View from Saturday #6

It’s still Saturday, right? Right? Baaaahahahahahah I wish.

Though this is supposed to be a reflection series on implementing Reading and Writing Workshop, it’s turned more into a reflection on classroom management and student behavior–since that is what is giving me the most challenge.

This week started off very, very rough. All the promise of last week seemed to have disappeared. Monday and Tuesday were long, frustrating days with many, many more side conversations than learning going on. By Tuesday afternoon, I was at the end of what was left of my wits.

I sent an email to my principal and assistant principal. Here it is:

I’ve tried pretty much everything I can think of, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the challenges of this class are beyond my capabilities and knowledge as a classroom manager.

Would it be possible to set up, with one of you, a weekly or twice-a-week after school meeting? I need your expertise and advice, and I need it in a way that can help me improve my practice, rather than just “survive the year.” I’ve never been a great classroom manager, but this class is killing me.
I am willing to read books. I am willing to set goals and monitor my own progress. I am willing to try anything, because what I am doing is clearly not working.

Though I am very honest and forthcoming about the things I need to work on as a teacher, it is different to send an email like that. And it was partly a relief to make it very public and clear that I needed help, and part depressing, of course, that I can’t seem to get a handle on things myself. We teachers put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do right for our students.

My principals wrote back quickly, pointing out the important things they saw me doing for my students–guiding them, pushing them toward being more independent beings. I appreciated the noticing. And we set up an after school meeting for the next day. Pleasantly, both principals spent a lot more time in my room during the rest of the week. Observing, taking notes, having their eyes opened a bit about the challenges of some of these students. And they spent more time in the other two fourth grade classes, too. All three of us have been having a hard time of it.

I had a phone call from a parent on Wednesday afternoon, letting me know that her daughter came home Monday and Tuesday crying. She couldn’t focus because of the noise in the classroom (me, neither), she felt like the recess time we use to make up for wasted time is not fair to the students trying to pay attention (she’s right), and she was having a hard time learning. Oh, it crushed me, of course. Because it isn’t fair. Because it hurt me that a student was coming home feeling the same way I felt some days. Because school should be a place of joy and learning, and we’re having a hard time getting there.

The end of the week was better. I tried some things my assistant principal suggested. She offered to be the “jailer-teacher” (I don’t know how else to explain it) one day, and take any students I wanted to kick out during Math. I tossed four before the rest of the class settled a bit. It made a difference, though closer attention is partly giving those students what they want.

But! We are one lesson from the end of the first Lucy Calkins Unit of Study for Reading. I wonder how much has sunk in, and how much of a reading life has really been built. Some students have. Others are still working on it. I’m curious to hear what students share during the end-of-unit celebration/reflection. It’s something I’m looking forward to next week.

And it helps to get emails like these, from a parent of one of the loudest, most self-centered of students, after an exchange in which we discussed homework, independence, responsibility, and my firm stance on students taking control of their own learning.

I am so happy you are her teacher!!
I’m happy, too. Most of the time. It will feel so, so good when things finally get right. They will get right? Right?
I’m glad you’re with me.

The View from Saturday #5

I am particularly cheery today.

No, things are not noticeably different in my room. We still seem to spend equal time learning about Reading and Writing as we do learning about How to Be a Fourth Grader. I am improving my frustration-induced, patience-drained anger issues. I hope I’m not just “getting used to things.” We’ll see.

But I’m not here, today, to tell you about any of that.

I’m here to tell you why I’m cheery.

During the first week of school, as I acquainted myself with some of the more openly hostile members of my class, I met A. On that first day, as we perused our shelves for a book to start the year, he stated, quite plainly, “I don’t like reading. I don’t like chapter books. I only like books with pictures.” Hmm. Fine by me. I can work with that. I’ve actually already told you about him, back in View #1. Here’s what I wrote:

A little anecdote from Reading Workshop. I had a student who refused to read. He “didn’t like chapter books.” I gave him Squish and he devoured them. Lunch Lady and he consumed them. He checked out a chapter book at the library and stalled out. Too resistant to even read a page. So scared of anything without pictures and over 100 pages. So I sat with him and read the first two pages to him. The book was How to Survive Middle School, by Donna Gephart. Instantly, we meet a boy who is short, has a hamster, and loves TV. Well…guess what was true about the boy I was reading to? He got excited and agreed to read it for the rest of workshop. He took it home. Success! He came back to school not having read another page, and saying he just couldn’t do it. Almost a success. Almost. “I just don’t like reading,” he says. “Not true!” I reply. “You ate up Squish and Lunch Lady! That is reading! You do like reading, when you find the right books.” He is currently swallowing up Mal & Chad, and I’ll keep working him.

After he finished Mal & Chad, he sort of stalled out for a couple of days. I think he might have read Zita. Then came Banned Books Week, and I book talked Captain Underpants. He found it instantly appealing. Despite taking a liking to it, he often avoided getting started during independent reading time. Bad habit, I think. Once he got going, he was into it. He read the four I have in my room, and picked up more from the library.

I complimented him on the fact that several of them were well over 100 pages, and that one of them even broke 300. He seemed to be proud and surprised at himself, at the same time. “See, you do like reading, A. You can’t read as much as you have this year if you don’t like reading.” All books counted, A has read 14 books in about six weeks. Success? I am cautiously optimistic. Even with all that reading, though, he would often come in on Monday morning saying, “I didn’t read at all this weekend.”

So then, today. During reading, A needed a new book. He headed to the library for another Captain Underpants and came back with Book 7, Captain Underpants and the Big Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 2: Revenge of the Ridiculous Robo-Boogers (I just had to write the whole title). Then he noticed the “Part 2.” Having not read Part 1, he was reluctant to start.

To the book bins!

I started with Spaceheadz, a book I had tried to give him before. He recalled trying it and feeling really confused, so he rejected it. Thinking about books with enough pictures to not turn him away, but maybe less than Captain Underpants, thinking about the fact that A is a smart kid who enjoys humor, thinking about Snap! I have to find the right book or this is going to take forever!, I picked up The Templeton Twins Have an Idea. I read him the first prologue, which just says “The end.” and then has “Questions for Review,” and part of the second prologue. I gave him some quick info about The Narrator and his cranky, snobby style. He seemed intrigued and amused. I let him go.

He came up to me several times, mostly to show me the third and fourth and fifth prologues. But the best came later.

We headed out to the buses. I gave customary “See you on Monday”s, and half-hugs and goodbyes. For A, I held out my hand for a high five. He gave it, and said, “You know I’ll be reading this weekend, Mr. Shaffer!”

I’m glad you’re with me.



The View from Saturday #4

On most days, there are moments when I wonder if it would have been best to turn away from Reading and Writing Workshop when I discovered the “nature of my group.” Some days there are just a couple of moments. Some days it seems like one constant moment. But then, it doesn’t seem fair to teach in a way I don’t believe in, just because the students aren’t on board…yet.

I’ve realized that, while I’m, technically, attempting and reflecting on my first true foray into Reading and Writing Workshop, for most of this class, we are not working on Reading and Writing, exactly (too many commas!). For a lot of these students, what I’m really working on is being responsible, being respectful, being kind, being independent, and caring–about themselves, about others, and about learning.

I rearranged the seating this week. Now I have two groups–four students each (actually, one group is just one student, since two of them are now SpEd pullouts, and one was suspended…)–that are the talkers, the off-taskers, the out-of-their-seaters. And five groups–four students each–of students that are capable of working independently without too much of my hovering oversight.

We will see how it goes. Hopefully, I can devote some very focused, very firm energy and instruction on the “tough” groups. And then, again hopefully, that will pay off and I will actually be able to confer with students during independent time, instead of just managing. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not the best manager. But I’m certainly getting a lot of practice.

I’ll be calling some parents this week. I’ll be setting goals with the tough groups. I’ll be working on staying patient and calm (which I always was before). I’ll be working hard to get everyone on the same side–the side of learning.

But first, I need a long, quiet time to myself. Maybe a book. Maybe a nap. Maybe just closing my eyes and letting the quiet surround me and calm me and become me and refresh me.

I’m glad you’re with me.