Saturday, August 1, 2015

I used to think___, but now I know___.

Earlier this summer, I spent two wonderful weeks in New York City at Columbia University's Teachers College Reading and Writing Project learning more about the teaching and learning of reading and writing.  Just yesterday, in my home school district, our week long Teachers College Homegrown Institute of Reading and Writing came to a close.  Three weeks of my summer "vacation" was devoted to becoming a better reading/writing teacher and literacy coach.  Now, sitting on my cozy couch, coffee in hand, staring out my front bay window at San Francisco's continual foggy summer, I finally feel I am in a place to quietly think and reflect upon all that I learned this summer.  

So much literacy learning took place this summer at Columbia
University's Teachers College in New York City!
To end our Palo Alto homegrown institute yesterday, new Teachers College staff developer (and all around inspiring and great gal!), Dominique Freda, asked our teachers to stand up and share, "I used to think____, but now I know____."   

As I listened to many of my colleagues share their growth and realizations, I became inspired to think of my own.  This summer was truly a time of learning, growth, self-realization, and understanding for me.  I now understand that it's perfectly fine to think one way and then change my mind based on something I learned.  In politics, they call this flip-flopping. They discourage it.  In education, we call this smart, thoughtful reflection and growth.  If only our politicians adopted our values in education- Sigh... I digress... 

So, in reflecting on my summer of learning with Teachers College, and in thinking of my own beliefs and understandings in education, here are a few things I used to think and what I now know. 

  • I used to think the phrase, "When you're done, you've only just begun," was the best thing to say to a student writer when they declared, "I'm done!"  Now, I know that I need to honor the efforts that it took to create that piece of writing- regardless of its length or content.  Always honor the effort and work that a student put into a piece- even if it isn't truly finished just yet.  Revision can come the next day.  It doesn't have to come during a student's moment of pride.  Thank you, Colleen Cruz.
  • I used to think teachers should spend more time with and plan more in-depth small groups and conferences for student readers and writers.  I now know that spending less time with students and meeting with them more often will have a much bigger impact on learning.  The frequency of our conferences should increase while it's perfectly ok for the length of the conferences to decrease.  Shorter conferences, more often is the new goal! Thank you, Dr. Mary Howard by way of Amanda Hartman.
  • I used to think that spelling was pretty much unimportant and overrated when teaching writing. Now, I know that there are effective methods to incorporate spelling into the workshop classroom. This can be done through songs, games, short bursts of explicit instruction and practice, shared language activities, shared writing, interactive writing, and so much more! I feel I should write a blog post on this alone.  Thank you, Rachel Rothman.
  • I used to think that end of unit celebrations were just that- ending celebrations.  Now, I know that celebrations are also the perfect time for our little readers and writers to set new, attainable goals.  If we make a big deal and celebrate goal setting, so will our students.  Thank you, Amanda Hartman.
  • I used to think that I had to constantly type and Tweet out everything I learned. I used to think social media was the best way to connect with other educators. Now, I know that the more time I spend connecting with other educators by sharing online and staring at my phone, the less I am connecting with those in my life and sharing in-person (Don't worry- I'm not abandoning sharing on-line.  Rather, I'm going to be more conscientious about when I do it).  In-person always trumps on-line. Always.  "As we focus more and more on screens in the two-dimension, we are living less and less of our lives in the real world, in the three dimension." Thank you for these wise words, James Howe.
  • I used to think that silently nodding and smiling was the best way to listen while someone was talking or explaining their thinking. Now, I know that this is truly a passive form of communication. I now know the best way to listen and bring out better understanding is to continue to nod and smile, but to also ask questions like, "What makes you think that?" or "That's interesting. Tell me more." Thank you to the late, great educator Grant Wiggins via Mary Ehrenworth.

Truly, I could go on and on about what I used to think and what I now know. Learning and growth is all about being open to having our minds and our ways change. What did you used to think? What do you now know? Imagine the power if we all share this notion with our students. Learning comes from being open and knowing that we don't have all the answers. It also comes from knowing that our current answers may not be the best.

The fog is lifting here in my beautiful city, and I see the sun! It's time to disconnect for the day to head out into the 3-D world to celebrate all the great people and beauty around me. Thank you again, James Howe.

Happy learning & living, friends!

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