Slice of Life March Challenge: March 26th., 2014 – Teaching with Bonnie Kaplan

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The March Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers .  

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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.

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20 thoughts on “Slice of Life March Challenge: March 26th., 2014 – Teaching with Bonnie Kaplan

  1. What a treat to have Bonnie in your classroom thinking beside you. Sounds like a lesson we all could have gotten a lot out of. I think even when we have great colleagues that care and could help, it is hard to stop and move out of your room into another’s and ask. Hard because it invites exposure and hard because some don’t feel they can give the time. It takes a special colleague who is willing to give time and open up, to stand beside you and work through the nitty gritty.

  2. What wonderful sentiments you have about the challenges of teaching writing. It’s a shame we have to “sneak” in the curriculum and that we have to speculate on what it would look and feel like to be able to WORK WITH OTHER TEACHERS! Great job thinking on your feet, even though you’re tired. I am too!

  3. Bonnie has been regularly documenting the work? That will be magic when she is done. She is a pro, with a deft touch on capturing the story of the moment.
    Kevin

  4. I love to hear you come alive when you describe talking with Bonnie! “…we talked through the process…” and “What a difference it made to have someone to talk over the game plan with!” Having thoughtful, creative, and inspiring teachers working with us is a gift!! So glad you and Bonnie got the chance to collaborate! 🙂

  5. I so enjoy reading both Bonnie’s and your posts about this collaboration! You are so right when you state that having someone to talk over the game plan makes a huge difference. Sharing and chatting with another teacher who shares my passion about writing gives extra fuel to my life as a teacher.We all want a “Bonnie” or “Tara” to come to our classroom and share with us!

  6. Teaching can be lonely, especially when you are the sole teacher of certain content. Just to talk through a lesson, gives new insight. Bonnie is cool, and I can only imagine how she can ignite your sixth graders.

  7. It would be so wonderful to work with both of you, Tara. We’d never stop talking! Love hearing your thinking here, taking the students through the process of revision together. Thanks for taking the time to capture yesterday. And, can’t wait for Bonnie’s video, too!

  8. I spent the majority of my time in my position at the district office trying to encourage and facilitate collaboration. I’m shocked at how difficult it is, but I continue to make the effort because, like you, I think it is so important. The thing that makes the difference.

  9. I strongly agree that collaboration is a key ingredient in teaching. We were lucky that where I taught we had a 1/2 hour team meeting scheduled in our day for every other day. Although it was the entire sixth grade team and not just the Language Arts Department, it was great to bounce ideas off of each other.

  10. This resonates with me: “upon further thinking…I think what I miss in my teaching life is true collaboration within my building.” I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I actually had it. We are working on collaborating. Truly colloborating around teaching and learning. However, I realize that while we are not competitive, we are all working so hard to get our kids ready for this test, we are all filled with anxiety because no one wants to be the teacher that drags the scores down. In the mist of all this we are missing opportunities to truly evaluate student misunderstandings. I think as we continue to grow and learn as a staff our collaborations will be more meaningful and transformative. I want a Bonnie moment! They are so valuable! I am glad you had time with Bonnie because it sounds restorative. Hopefully, more people in your building will want to come together.

  11. How wonderful to have her come and get such a welcome reception from your kids! I love how you describe her entrance, “her usual enthusiasm and willingness to engage in the nitty gritty of the teaching process” I hope that I do that for all the rooms I enter!

  12. I love your line: Teaching is such an emotionally and intellectually draining business – it’s very much like a combination of air traffic control and performance art. That is exactly what it is like!! And without collaborating with like-minded people, I have decided it is too hard and almost impossible, which is why I am contemplating changing school districts to be in one that values reading and writing workshop. I turned 50 this year and I decided enough…I believe too strongly in RW and WW and if I must be working at such a taxing job, then I must be in a building where I can collaborate. My fingers are crossed that an opening in a school that does collaborate and does follow the workshop model has an opening and picks me for next school year.
    Hang in there…you are right to question and desire a more collaborative environment.

  13. Teaching is “very much like a combination of air traffic control and performance art.” What a great analogy! There are so many obstacles to true collaboration! In my building the biggest one is time. Some people are resistant to new ideas, but I’m so lucky that, for the most part, our collaborations are going well. So glad that you and Bonnie are having so much success!

  14. Your post made me a little sad, Tara, because I am sure that your teaching thinking has not flatlined, but it sounds like things are pretty competitive in your world when collaborative would be so much more helpful for everyone, especially the kids. You write about all of this so eloquently and reflectively. Thank you for reminding us all of the value of working together!

  15. Tara, so, so, so agree with you. Teaching is such hard work. And it’s sooooo much better when there is a caring, passionate, reflective, growing colleague. I love the teachers in my building, but I long for people who are really passionate about books and teaching reading and writing. How great that you have Bonnie as a friend and fellow thinker!

  16. Tara, I agree with Catherine about your statement: Teaching is “very much like a combination of air traffic control and performance art.” This is a great visual for me that illustrates two important roles of the teacher: organizer and artisan. Collaboration is at the heart of best practice because ideas shared are cultivated in talk and carried out with passion.

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