Saturday, May 31, 2014

Friday Free-Write

Sometime around November I implemented "Friday Free-Write" in my classroom. I started to get tired with teaching structured writing and wanted to give the children more opportunities to explore their passions and creativity. It immediately became a hit and many of my students did their best writing on Fridays.

The reason I am writing about this is because today I got into a lengthy conversation with a parent at a  baseball game . This parent mentioned that their child struggled with writing in the past, which made them dislike the subject. The parent then went on to say that this year their child was coming up with some very creative and engaging stories. Most of the stories the parent was proud of were stories that I knew the child had worked on during Friday Free-Writes.

I usually write 3-4 prompts on the board during Friday Free-Writes for the students who have trouble coming up with their own topic. As the year progressed, less and less students used my prompts. Additionally, I always allotted 5-15 minutes for the student to share their writing. Sometimes these sharing moments would include the students finding only their favorite paragraph to share with three different people. Sometimes I would allow them to share their whole story with a partner. And sometimes, if there was time, I would allow a couple kids the chance to share their story with the whole class.

Giving the children this opportunity allows for them to strengthen creativity, play with words in a different way, and value their writing more- all because they have a choice.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Being Imperfect is OK

Three years ago I was just about to finish my first year of teaching. That year was one of the most stressful of my life. I remember arriving to school hours early, leaving school hours late, and then going home to do hours of school-related work. I had a stretch of  months where I came home and told my wife that I was going to find a new profession. Now, the thought of leaving this profession doesn't cross my mind. I have come to realize that I am meant to be an educator. Part of this transition began when I read the book "See Me After Class" by Roxanna Elden. This book helped by showing me that other teachers have struggles in their own teaching lives. It helped me to build confidence by giving me a new perspective; other teachers make mistakes, too.

I feel the majority of experiences educators share are their successes and great ideas. We often hear the highs and rarely hear the lows. I believe this can create a competitive, instead of collaborative, atmosphere. Instead of growing with each other, we are trying to display our A+ products to outdo one another. Sharing our trials and tribulations makes us very vulnerable and set us up for judgement and possible humiliation. But, it also humanizes us and gives us opportunities to relate with each other and grow from our experiences. When we share our shortcomings with a teacher who listens with a nonjudgmental ear, a lot of positive outcomes can happen:
1) It could help us to talk through the situation for a quality reflection.
2) It can create a collaborative atmosphere where both parties can help and learn from each other.
3) It can create a trusting relationship where both members are more willing to share challenges about their classroom.
4) It can help us to build confidence in ourselves.

We all know the positive effects of a student who has a confident attitude in the classroom. A teacher who has a confident attitude will be better equipped to help his or her students. I want to call for a shift in how we communicate. I would like to hear more teachers sharing their daily struggles to peers in a comforting atmosphere. This calls for better participation from the listener as well. We need to stop saying what we could have done better. We need to stop breaking down our peers when they confide in us their problems. We need to start connecting and exposing our human, imperfect selves.

Here are some things that I know I don't do perfectly
* Lessons- Every day I have lessons that don't go as well as planned. Many of them absolutely bomb!
* Preparation: I have had many times where I didn't have time to prepare a lesson that way I would have ideally imagined. 
* Management: I have kids that talk in the hall when I'm not paying attention. I have students who will find time to play around during independent work.
* Promptness: Everyday I am late to a special, or lunch.
* Time-Management: I have had numerous days where I just didn't have time for a certain subject, or two, or three... Don't tell my boss.
* Instruction: There are days where I speak for too long and all my kid's eyes are glazed over. 
* Conferencing: I have the hardest time managing who to conference with, for how long, what to conference about, do I conference individual or in groups, how long do I conference for, and how do I individually meet with everyone?
* Student Excitement: I know that I have kids who aren't always thrilled about being at school.

When I began this blog a goal of mine was to share some of the struggles within my own classroom. I plan to do that periodically in my future entries. I hope maybe it will inspire some other educators to do the same. I believe this will give as all another outlet to learn and grow from each other.

Until next time, just remember this: it is OK to be imperfect. :-)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Little Voices, Big Potential

Earlier this year, the Kiwanis Club of Woodhaven had a writing contest titled "If I had $100 to give to a charity I would choose __________________ because _______________." I told my students that they were welcome to take part in this optional writing piece if they desired. I was astounded when 27 of my students said they wanted to write a letter to assist a charitable cause.

After this competition, one child was gratified with the ability to grant a check to the Kids-Talk Child Advocacy Center in the amount of $100. I was so proud of this student but didn't want the other 26 kids to feel like their writing was pointless. I wanted to let them know that their actions have the ability to make great differences. After tossing around a few ideas with my principal, we decided to ask my students if they would like to write to the specific charity that they were intending to help. Most of the 26 students were still looking to help and jumped at this opportunity.

I sent these letters out with little expectations of what would happen next. I figured a few kids might receive a thank you note in the mail, but that was about it. After a few weeks, I started getting responses electronically and in person. It became extremely exciting to check my email/teacher-mail to see what surprise I might be able to share with my little philanthropists.

I heard from the Michigan Humane Society, Trenton Humane Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, American Heart Association, Panthera Save-the-Tigers Foundation, Miracle League, and the American Cancer Society. Each of these foundations responded by sending hand-written thank you notes, certificates of appreciation, wristbands, booklets, pictures, and even surprise visits to our school.

A representative of the American Cancer Society (ACS) called me a couple of weeks into the excitement and mentioned that she was almost in tears after reading the letters that were sent to her. She was so moved by what she had read  that she wanted to invite my girls to speak at an opening Relay for Life ceremony. Together, we invited the families of the two girls to our classroom so they could see the girls reactions when being offered this tremendous opportunity. Needless to say, the girls were beyond thrilled. The rest of the day they both had an ear-to-ear smile on their faces. Towards the end of the day, one of the girls said to me, "Mr. Bezeau, was I looking pale during the presentation? I was shocked and could barely believe this was happening to me!"

Two months ago, this assignment wasn't even a slight consideration in my teaching plans. But now, it will be a priority that all my writing assignments are planned to have a more meaningful outcome. This opportunity taught every child in my classroom that their words have meaning, that they can leave a positive mark on the world by following through with their passion,and that they have a voice worth being heard. As a teacher, what else would I want?