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The View from Two Days Ago, Which Was Saturday #14

Well, that one slipped away from me. Just some quick reflections here.

Though many in my class are still infuriatingly inattentive and jabbery, I saw signs that students are learning and growing. In Writing Workshop, we’ve started our unit on opinion. I kicked things off with a little pep talk about work. That workshop depends on them listening, thinking, sharing, and trying things out. When I give them a strategy and say, “Today, try this in your writing,” then I mean actually try it in your writing. Some of them are starting to get it.

I really liked the prediction work we did in Reading Workshop last week. One, it allowed me to expand our paltry 10 minute read aloud slot into our Reading minilesson. And two, students seemed pretty engaged with envisioning and jotting predictions at different points. Most students, at least. There are a few I need to talk to…

This week is disrupted and disjointed, with a tour of our new school, a holiday concert, and assorted other distractions. I’m looking forward to a longer reflection time during my sixteen days away from fourth graders.

I’m glad you’re with me.

The View from Saturday #13

Warning: Just a bunch of sad mope-iness today.

Maybe thirteen is unlucky.

It was  a hard week. One of the hardest. Shouldn’t the hardest be in September/October, and not December? I don’t even really want to write about it. I just want to pretend it didn’t happen.

Not because of Reading and Writing Workshop. Just because of…students. Or, really, because of me, and my inability to motivate/tolerate/manage/help those…students. How do we get to December with these same problems? What am I doing wrong, and how can I make it right? How can I help students see the impact of their choices, and want to change to make them more positive?





I know why new teachers leave.

But I’m not a new teacher.

Next week is a new week.

I’m so, so glad you’re with me. I couldn’t make it through this without you.

Also, if it’s going to be this cold, can’t we have some snow?

The View from Saturday #12

We managed pajama readathon.

We finished our narrative unit and will start opinon/argument on Monday.

We will resume our character unit in Reading Workshop on Monday.

A four-day weekend is a great, great thing.

‘Nuff said.

I’m glad you’re with me.

The View from Saturday #11

I’ve made it to the number eleven. Eleven is the first two-digit palindrome, you know. So is my room number in the new school, 212. So that’s exciting.

It was an odd week for Reading and Writing Workshop. Very modified, and then the early release conference schedule started, and things got even more messed up.

At the beginning of the week, I co-opted a large chunk of workshop to use for preparation for student led conferences, which started on Thursday. We had to make sure we had enough time to prepare, so I didn’t do Reading Workshop minilessons and didn’t do Writing Workshop at all. We had independent reading time, with me conferring, and then worked on our conference prep (which involved a lot of writing and thinking and planning and reflecting).

Once conferences started, I started up Writing Workshop again. I want to finish the first Unit of Study before Thanksgiving, so we can get right into the next thing during those three weeks before Winter Break. We’re on schedule to do so. This last section of Calkins is about independent writing projects, and how you can use your own writing, the books we read, and more, as “teachers” when you write independently. It fit right in with the reflecting we were doing for our conferences.

Though we weren’t doing reading workshop, I took advantage of the early release schedule to read The Real Boy for 30 minutes a day, instead of 10. Important not just because it is a wonderful book, but because the Calkins Reading unit we’ll dive into after Thanksgiving is about characters, and I wanted to get a little farther into the book, so the class can really know Callie, as well as Oscar.

I’ve been encouraged by my first 12 students’ conferences–they are thinking carefully about what they need to work on most. I told them, “If you don’t bring it up, I will,” and I think a lot of them decided that things were better coming from them. I was worried we wouldn’t be prepared enough, but things have gone smoothly so far. Some of the tough ones still to come, so we’ll see.

So smoothly, in fact, that I feel like I want to reward them with my annual day-before-Thanksgiving pajama readathon. I have never not done this, and I’ve talked a lot with the class about how on the edge we are. I cannot allow it if we can’t read independently for 20 minutes–how would we handle two hours? But our independent reading has been better, and the conferences have been such a pleasant surprise, that I want to do it. I’ll let them know on Monday, but I’ll also let them know that they can certainly change my mind with their choices during the first two days of the week.

It has been encouraging. Having them for only half a day makes for a generally easier time, though I do try to cram a lot in. I’m ready for four days off, and ready to dig into new writing, and ready to explore the characters we know so well (and learn new things about them!).

I’m glad you’re with me.

The View from Saturday #10

Well, it was a weird week.

No school Monday, substitute all day on Tuesday for an ESD thing, substitute in the afternoon on Wednesday for district literacy curriculum adoption “meeting,” I made it to school the whole day on Thursday, and then The Iza was sick so I stayed home for the morning on Friday. Lucky for me, and my students, I was able to have the same sub every day.

Throw in that we started preparing for student-led conferences, and it hasn’t been the normalest of weeks. Next week won’t be much better, since we will be continuing our conference prep on Monday and Tuesday, then have a half day on Wednesday for district things, and then conferences start. Whew.

Anyway. My students have been much better with independent reading, allowing me conference with a lot more students per day, allowing them to have a choice in their reading responses, in turn allowing me to spend less time responding to letters every night. It seems like a win all around. I’m happy about it. Happy enough that I am leaning toward our annual day-before-Thanksgiving-pajama-readathon, which I didn’t really think these students would ever be able to handle (I’m still not convinced, but I’m getting there). We’ll see how it goes moving forward.

So let’s talk about literacy curriculum adoption, instead. Though I don’t use it–I’ve been learning/working/reading/reading/reading Lucy Calkins–my district on its last year, hopefully, of Open Court. This curriculum is thirteen years old and needs to go. It’s taken us as far as it can. So, we are in the process of selecting something else. Our curriculum director brought three programs for us to look at: JourneysImagine It! (the new version of Open Court), and Wonders (brand new–not out until 2014–but maybe someone is piloting it?). Anyone use these? I have a biased and curmudgeonly view of them–I would really, truly love to hear people’s thoughts about them. Do you use them? What do you like or not like about them? Please let me know in the comments. My students depend on your honest assessments. To me, just my impression, is that they all seem like they run on the “worksheet” model, instead of the workshop model–just shinier, newer versions of Open Court (literally, in one case). Our reading scores have plateaued–I feel like we’ve gone as far as we can with these types of curriculums. Non-responsive reading programs, with writing slapped onto the side, are not a fix for what we really need in my district.

Here’s what I want: I want us to not pay for Accelerated Reader, and use that money for books. Why is our picture book collection so lacking? Why is our nonfiction collection boring and outdated? Because we’ve spent thousands of dollars on something that doesn’t give us anything. I want us to not pay $50-60,000 for a curriculum, and instead spend that money on quality professional development around literacy. Invest in teachers and books, not scripted programs. Who is AR really for? It’s for teachers and librarians who want to (a) not read the books their students are reading, (b) not talk with kids about what they are reading, (c) not help students find the perfect book for them, or (d) all of the above. Who are these scripted programs for? They’re for (a) districts who don’t want to spend money on authentic literacy PD, and would rather give teachers a book that tells them what to do, (b) teachers who just want someone to tell them what to do, (c) publishing companies happy to make a buck, or (d) all of the above.

Neither AR nor scripted programs are for students. You know what are for the kids? Harry PotterElephant & Piggie, Captain Underpants, Sisters Grimm, One for the Murphys, The One and Only Ivan, Bink & Gollie, Wonder, Bigger than a Bread Box, Babymouse, poetry, nonfiction picture books, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Marty McGuire, biographies, Smile, Amulet, Bone, Squish, Percy Jackson, Dork Diaries, Popularity Papers, Origami Yoda, book clubs, reading aloud, reading with a friend, reading and reading and reading every day, writing and writing and writing every day, Counting by 7s, The Real Boy, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Tuck Everlasting, Hugo Cabret, celebrating writing and writers, Hatchet, #teambear, #teamrabbit, wordless picture books, The Year of Billy Miller, teachers who read, teachers who write, principals who read, principals who write, librarians who read, librarians who write, Jerry Spinelli, Christopher Paul Curtis, Sharon Creech, and gosh I could go on forever.

Let’s invest in that.

understand that is harder. I understand that it is more work. I understand that it might be more money up front. I understand that it is scary and change and uncertain and new and different. I understand. I just don’t care about that.

I care about kids. I care about my students. So let’s get started.


I’m glad you’re with me.


The View from Saturday #9

Maybe, it was one of the best weeks of the year. Maybe, we are getting somewhere. Maybe, I won’t completely lose my mind this year. Maybe.

Any week when I give myself a break from Lucy Calkins is like adding an hour of free time to every evening. Of course, that hour quickly gets filled up with everything else. I like the Units of Study, but I don’t mind at all taking days off from all the reading required to prepare for those lessons.

This week, we made anchor charts for responding to reading with a sketch/drawing, book review, and story mountain. My students held up their end of the bargain–I was able to confer with 18 students, three more than our goal. So next week 2/3 of them will get to choose how they respond to their reading for the week. I’m glad the class was able to do it. I’m looking forward to seeing how students use their new choices. I’m nervous about the weeks that we don’t meet my minimum conference requirements.

In writing, we finally had a sharing day. Six students turned in a published story for inclusion in our Volume 1 anthology. The stories weren’t the best–one was entirely dialogue, the rest had essentially no dialogue–but the class loved them and the writers enjoyed the attention. I think it will motivate students to work harder and more quickly on their writing–a lot of them will want to share next time. Hopefully, students will also be motivated to revise and improve their own writing after hearing what their classmates are trying.

The dialogue-heavy story is a good example. The author wrote some really wonderful dialogue–very natural, very funny–and read with wonderful expression. I think it will lead more students to try to imagine natural dialogue and put it into their stories. I need to meet with the author separately to talk about including setting, action, etc., but it was great for him to share and for students to hear.

Next week, we will commandeer Reading and Writing Workshop to work and prepare for student-led conferences, which start on November 21.  I’m busy grading on-demand writing so that students can have time to reflect and set goals and think about what they want to talk about with their parents. I’m curious what they will say. We’ll be spending some time learning about having a growth-mindset.

I’m glad you’re with me.

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 #3

It’s time again
to look back
while stumbling

Here’s a milestone for you: This was the first week that didn’t end with me completely exhausted, completely overwhelmed, and completely frustrated. Sure, I’ve had my small successes, but it’s been rough, as you know. This week felt better, even though it might not have looked better.

This week began three guided reading groups, one of them led by me, and two led by able assistants as part of our school-wide Title 1 program. One of them will end next week, as our Special Ed teacher has decided, and I agree, that a couple of my students are fully unable to function at the independent level required of Reading and Writing Workshop. She’ll stop leading a group and work with them on her own. Maybe in a few years, if I get this thing down, that wouldn’t be necessary. But for now, I think it is best for those two students.

Management continues to be the big struggle. I’ve been trying to decide if this really is the most difficult class I’ve ever had, or if it just seems that way because of all the new things I’m trying to do.  I’m leaning toward most difficult. If I think back to every class I’ve had before, I think I’d rather have started RWW with any of them. But I didn’t. And I’m here now. And we’re doing this thing, whether I like it or not. And whether they like it or not. I’m not one to give up. I tell my class, “I believe in you. I believe you can do this work.” I believe in myself, too.

So management. It’s been so, so hard, because I find that I have to manage our independent work so much, which sabotages my ability to run groups and confer. Conferring was pretty much nonexistent this week (Ack!). I checked in with several students about their Reader’s Notebook letters, but that was it. Argh! Actually, thank goodness for those letters–they give me at least a little interaction with each student, each week…though not face to face. Ugh!

Still, slight improvements this week. Slight. Too slight to list, maybe too slight to notice, even. But enough to make me feel OK when Friday rolled around.

We also all made a learning goal and a behavior goal. Two reasons for this: One, I started student-led conferences last year and intend to continue them this year. The goals will be talking points for the students during Fall Conferences. And two, we need them. I made–and shared–them, too. My learning goal had to do with tracking missing work, which I needed to improve but wasn’t quite relevant to students. But my behavior goal was about what I wrote last week–my sudden lack of patience. I made it a goal to be more patient and get angry less by taking a deep breath and counting to five in my head. I demonstrated it several times this week…

A teacher across the hall said, “I heard stern talking and I thought, ‘Is that Adam? Always so level-headed and calm? He must be joking.’ I peeked in and saw ‘Oh. Nope. He’s serious.'” She was surprised. And nervous, I think–she’s a fifth grade teacher. If these fourth graders are making me crazy, then…

Sigh. I hope my blood pressure’s not going up.

I’m going to stop writing this now and not go read student letters and not go read Units of Study and not enter grades or correct work. I’m going to go finish my book.

Thanks for reading. I’m glad you’re with me.