The March Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers .
Bonnie Kaplan, fellow slicer and dear friend, visited room 202 yesterday to document our year of slicing. It’s always a big deal to my kids when Bonnie comes to visit – she’s cool (way cooler than Mrs. Smith), and she comes with lots of cool video gear. “She’s a pro,” one of my kids once commented, as he checked out Bonnie’s high tech cameras and video equipment, and they are always ready for a visit from this pro (plus, she asks great questions that make them think).
We were working on revising our slices about a special place; in my attempt to sneak the dreaded test prep into our every day reading and writing routines as unobtrusively and naturally as possible, we were slicing to a prompt about a special place. Some of my kids wrote beautifully about cabins in Maine and Grandma’s house at the beach, but some of them had missed the task entirely – one wrote extensively about bagels and lox, and another about his Grandpa’s riding mower (although, to be fair, both these slices did start in a specific place before they lurched off in other directions) – so, it was time to regroup and figure some writing stuff out.
Bonnie came armed with coffee, which was desperately needed, and her usual enthusiasm and willingness to engage in the nitty gritty of the teaching process. It’s April, testing season is upon us, Spring Break is just about cancelled, and I am feeling rather burned out…my teaching thinking has flatlined. So, we talked through the process. How to empower my kids to take another look at both the writing prompt and their writing? I shared what I had done with my morning block. We tossed ideas back and forth. Bonnie questioned. We worked together to figure out the best approach that would lead my kids to make their own discoveries about their writing pieces and how these could be brought back into focus – what was the task? how can we respond to the task with beautiful writing? And then, clarity – we had game plan.
Once my kids were back in class, we chart talked our way through the prompt, then revisited our slices and made new writing plans. Finally, we read a beautifully crafted mentor text, and re calibrated our writing plans. Now we were ready to re-craft our slices!
At day’s end, as I was clearing away our chart papers and the usual classroom detritus, I replayed the afternoon writing workshop and the brainstorming session that preceded it. What a difference it made to have someone to talk over the game plan with! How wonderful it would be to have sessions like this on a daily, on-going basis! Teacher talk in my building, across the hallway, with my colleagues… what would that even be like?
…upon further thinking…I think what I miss in my teaching life is true collaboration within my building. I wonder what it takes to foster this, to nurture and grow this? And, as we find ourselves deeper and deeper in the testing morass, with SGO’s and SLO’s and assigned numerical evaluations, I beleive that what gets lost is the ability and desire to collaborate. If the purpose is to race to the top of our departments and school districts with high student test scores for our individual students – the students in our class and assigned to us, where’s the pay off in collaboration? What is really fostered, I think, is a spirit of competition.
But, perhaps this varies from building to building. Certainly, whenever I am at TC, I see teachers collaborating alll the time. And, at NCTE, I was literally tripping over collaboration – both in the sessions, and in hallways, over dinner, all over the place! Teaching is such an emotionally and intellectually draining business – it’s very much like a combination of air traffic control and performance art. We need to support each other, build up each other…SHARE. Thank goodness for my online PLN…and for my “in class and physically presesnt PLN” in the shape of my friend Bonnie.