WONDER

Starting the School Year With Wonder

Last year, I completely rethought the way I handled the first day of the school year.  This year, I hope to keep many of the same elements in my first day of school plans because I love the way they started my year off and the messages that the activities sent to my students.

But there is one thing that I want to change.  I want to leave space, on the very first day of school, for wonder.

This summer, I had the absolute privilege of attending a workshop all about informational texts run by my incredible literacy coach (and a very dear friend of mine). She is brilliant and her message was brilliant as well.  As teachers of reading, we have a responsibility to share not just wonderful works of fiction with our students, but also to share wonderful works of nonfiction. And if we choose these works of nonfiction wisely, then they can spark wonder and joy and passion within our students. If you are interested in seeing her wonderful recommendations of nonfiction texts, I put them together in a Padlet that you can find HERE.

When I think about my past school years, as a teacher of reading and writing, I do not remember sharing any nonfiction books with my students until much further into the school year. Yes, I read them nonfiction books as a part of our science and social studies work, but in reading and writing I just don’t ever start my school year off with nonfiction books. And often this means that I am missing incredible opportunities to start my school year with wonder.

And that is a shame.

So this year. On the very first day of school (or maybe the second since I always seem to run out of time) we are starting with nonfiction books and we are starting with wonder. Because I think that one of the most amazing things that can come from sharing more nonfiction books with our students is that they can reignite a sense of wonder that is too often lost in the early years of a child’s life.

I see it with my own child. My child is a quintessential toddler. She is feisty and energetic and she just doesn’t ever stop. Ever. And that goes for her questions as well. A walk to the park takes five times as long as it has to because we have to stop every few steps for her to ask, “What’s that?” And it is amazing. She is so curious about the world. She is so interested. She wonders all the time. Every second of every day brings new discoveries for her. And it is incredible to witness.

And it is also exhausting.

And sometimes, the exhaustion gets the better of me. Sometimes, I don’t want to answer one more question. And so sometimes, I tell her to stop asking questions. Or I tell her I am only going to answer one more question. It is often at the end of a long day. Often as we are reading our final books before bed. Often as a moment’s peace is so close I can hardly stand it. It is understandable. And it is also just so sad.  So quickly, as adults, we start to suck the wonder right out of our children.

I do it with my own child and I do it with my students. Because often we are in such a rush. We are in such a rush as parents and we are in such a rush as teachers. We have to get through this lesson, we have to get through this unit, our mini-lessons are only supposed to be so long so we have to keep moving. We have too much that is important to us that sometimes we forget to stop and listen to what is important to our children, to our students.

And whether we realize it or not, we often stop leaving any space for wonder in the craziness of our school days.

So I want to make a promise to myself. And I am sharing it here in the hopes that it will keep me accountable. I want to leave space for wonder in my classroom this year and I want that to start on day one.

My plan, for the moment, is to start a Padlet wonder wall on the first or second day of school.  This is a brilliant idea that I first heard of from the inspiring Katie Muhtaris on her website Innovate, Ignite, Inspire. I will introduce the Padlet to my students as a way to share with them my hopes for wonder in our school year.

Then, I am going to share with them the book Just a Second by Steve Jenkins. This is a book filled with fascinating facts about the amazing things that happen in the span of just a second or slightly longer periods of time. What I love about the book is the way a quick snippet of text can lead to incredible conversations. I also love how many questions the text leads to.  I want to read the book with my students and just allow them the time to write up their wonders on our wonder wall. I want to give them the time to talk about the things they learn from this book and the things that this book makes them want to learn more about.  I want to give them time to wonder. From the very first day of school. So that my students know, from the beginning, that in this classroom their thoughts, their ideas, their questions, their passions are valued and worthy and will have a place in our time together.

From there, I am not sure where we will go. I hope that our wonder wall starts to fill up and that it will be a place that we can return to. From this wall, I hope to find investigations that we can dive into together as a class. From this wall, I hope to grow more wonders. From this wall, I hope to find authentic reasons to seek out new nonfiction texts and journey together into inquiry and research. From this wall, I hope to grow a larger space for wonder in our classroom and in our school year.

I can’t wait to try this plan out. I can’t wait to see where my students will lead me. I can’t wait to fill our room with wonder this year.

Accountability

If you have ever been on Weight Watchers (don’t worry, this post is NOT about weight loss) you know the power of being held accountable. The central idea of the weight loss program is that you are held accountable for your weight loss by attending weekly meetings where you get weighed and then discuss your progress.  It sounds awful, and mostly it is, but the thing is…it also works.  Knowing that you have shared your goal with another person. Knowing that the people who you have shared your goal with are actually going to see the progress you are making. Knowing that you will be struggling right along with a whole group of people who are wrestling with the same demons. All of that works. People lose weight.

In many ways, that is the number one reason that I started this blog.  No, not to lose weight, but to be held accountable. I have really big goals for myself for this coming school year.  I didn’t like the way that I ended this past school year.  I felt disconnected from my students. I felt like I had settled.  As I wrote about in my first post, I felt like I had gotten comfy in what I knew and I was happy just to stay there.  And I made a promise to myself that I was going to change that.  I was going to push myself to be better. I was going to push myself to do better for my students.  But the thing about a promise to yourself is that it is really easy to break.  There are relatively few consequences for breaking a promise that no one knows about.

Enter this blog.

I don’t even pretend that a whole bunch of people are going to read this blog and hold me accountable.  That’s not the point.  The point is that I am putting it out there.  I am setting my goals for anyone who happens by to see.  And by sharing my goals, I feel more accountable.  You, whoever might be reading this, have now become my Weight Watchers weekly meeting.  You know my goals. Perhaps you have struggled along similar paths. Perhaps you are even currently struggling along with me.  All of that matters.  All of that makes me feel like I am going to reach these goals, at some point in the future.

So before I end this post. I am going to spell out my goals.  I am going to list them clearly so that I can be held accountable.  I am going to make myself vulnerable by sharing goals that I am not sure how exactly I am going to meet, but I know that if and when I meet them, my students will benefit in major ways.  Here they are:

1) Give more power to my students. Trust them more. Let them teach each other. Let them learn more on their own and then teach me.

2) Bring technology into my classroom in a meaningful way. I will attempt to experiment with blogging, Twitter and Skype.

3) Connect the kids inside of my classroom to people outside of my classroom to help my students become global citizens.

4) Create more authentic learning experiences with more meaning and more purpose.  Provide authentic audiences so that my students know that they are contributing to the larger world with the work that they do.

So there they are.  I have some ideas. I am searching for more.  It is both scary and reassuring to post this list.  I look forward to encouragement, support and ideas along the way!

This is my contribution for today to the #engchat’s ongoing #100words100days challenge.