In Collaboration We Trust

wind turbinesCollaboration is something that is frequently on my mind. If not for teachers that have been willing and welcoming my input none of the projects that I have worked on so far this school year would have been successful. This level of collaboration first and foremost requires trust: the teacher’s trust in my abilities, knowledge, and motivations, my trust in the teacher to allow and value my input, and the student’s trust in me and in the classroom teacher-librarian partnership.

I am two days into student teaching in an elementary school library and I have experienced the importance of collaboration and trust yet again. The teachers feel completely comfortable coming to the school librarian (my cooperating teacher) and asking for input and partnerships on various projects. I find myself being a bit overeager at the prospect of getting in on these collaborations. Yesterday a first grade teacher mentioned getting her students more acquainted with the available print and electronic resources and I immediately jumped in on a scavenger hunt idea. Then today when a 2/3 grade teacher asked for help with a project on frog habitats I was all over it – maybe a little too much. I compiled a list of about eight web links and was instantly forming a mini-lesson in my head on those sources as well as the sources available on the library website. (Was I thinking that I would have the class for half the day?) Fortunately, I realized that I was going overboard and scaled it back to three web links and two resources from the library site. Two classes ended up coming to the library for froggy help, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The librarian started out with a video on habitats from BrainPop Jr., then she and the classroom teachers graciously allowed me to do a little piece on introducing the sources. It worked out really well, but I definitely need to be more patient and build up the trust.

Kim Cofino, in her blog “Always Learning,” talks of the Collaboration Cycle in her post from August 2008 called “Going Full Circle.”  She writes of collaboration in terms of mentorship, coaching, and professional development. While that is an extremely important part of teacher collaboration, it seems to me that there is even more to it. When professionals come together to share their ideas there is the potential for a metamorphosis of those individual ideas into something far more superior.

Image attribution: “wind turbines” by the russians are here,

It’s a wrap

ribbonThis school year I have had the opportunity to work on some amazing collaborative projects. Some of the projects that I have written about are the K12 Web Archiving Program, the Exquisite Prompt Writing Challenge, and the Global Partners project with the 5th grade teacher, Kindra DeGregorio. After Spring Break I begin my full-time student teaching at Willamette Primary School and will not be able to devote much more time to these enriching projects.

The archiving program is about wrapped up for this school year; just a survey, party, and one more web/tele-conference to go. The students have learned so much about the importance of preserving their digital heritage and the transient nature of it as well. They have also learned a bit about copyright and how to work with each other as a group.

The Exquisite Prompt will be completed by the students and classroom teachers. My final contribution to that project will be to help scan and send off the writing. I have learned much about how to break down the writing mini-lessons into further mini pieces for the 1st graders. The 1st graders learned about using webs for brainstorming and the importance of rough drafts and editing.

The Global Partners project is well on its way. The 5th grade class in Thailand posted some great videos of themselves saying “hello” in their native language — Kindra’s students had the opportunity to learn some bits of new languages. Just this past week I helped Kindra’s students record their own introductions. As a class we brainstormed some different ideas of what to use to introduce the Edy Ridge Elementary School students to the International School Bangkok (ISB) students. It was decided to have the students interview their parents and grandparents to find out their ancestry. Kindra and I thought this would be a great way for her students to make a connection with the students in Thailand. The hope is that in finding similarities through ancestry, or just making the discovery that their backgrounds are varied as well, they will start to form a better understanding of the world as one global community.

The experience, understanding, and knowledge that I have gained while collaborating with the teachers and students on these projects has been invaluable. I absolutely plan to continue with these types of projects in the future. I am excited to begin my next chapter of learning.

Image attribution: “ribbon,” by Anders Ljungberg

Declare it a success

monopoly go“Declare it a success and move on.” Those are the very wise words of one of my professors, Dr. Ken Peterson, at Portland State University. Initially when he said that he was speaking of the importance to always have a back-up plan for lessons that may go awry and he was also stressing the importance of certainty in a teacher.  At that time we all kind of chuckled as we found it a little humorous that instead of honestly admitting failure to the students that we would actually tell a fib – to make us look better? No, I get it now.

This past Thursday I did lesson #2 for the 1st grade class for the Exquisite Prompt Writing Challenge. I decided to work on the idea of the rough draft and also introduced a mind map for brainstorming. They all got the idea of the rough draft, but the mind map concept was lost on about 85% of the class. As I was modeling the mind map/brainstorm process I could almost hear, “Wah wah wah.” Would they have benefitted from me stopping and saying something like, “Well, that didn’t work.” Definitely not. I powered through, cut it short, and we moved on – all with certainty. (Thanks Ken!) The students taught me so much: the need to break it down to the simplest form, model a process, walk them through the process step-by-step, and still expect most to not completely get it. …and it is okay. At first I wondered if my time in the classroom benefitted any other than myself. The answer is most assuredly yes. They were exposed to new concepts, they are writing, and they will continue to write.

I certainly appreciate the classroom teacher, Mrs. Nelson, for inviting me back to her class and allowing me to take up some of her teaching time. Just the simple act of allowing me into her classroom to teach a mini-lesson takes a great amount of trust on her part.  My sincerest thanks!

Image attribution: Monopoly Cowboy by therichbrooks,

Just Exquisite! Take 2

Exquisite PromptTwo things I learned from last week’s “Exquisite-ness:” 4th graders are old-hats at writing by late winter and 1st graders think that anything they write is a finished product. Last week I had the opportunity to introduce the level II and level I prompts for the Exquisite Prompt Writing Challenge to Mrs. Miller’s 4th grade and Mrs. Nelson’s 1st grade class at Archer Glen Elementary School in Sherwood. After discussing some ideas with the 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Miller, it was decided that the students would be required to choose one prompt to write for, but they could choose whether or not to have it submitted for the contest. This class does quite a bit of writing; 4th graders in Oregon have a big state writing assessment every year. Along with the variety of writing they have worked on in class, they have also discussed poetry and various writing conventions. So, my role was to simply introduce the program, the featured authors, and the prompts. The prompts for this level this month are relatively short – one is writing a poem and one is writing neologisms, new words and definitions. Towards the end of the hour the students had the chance to begin brainstorming ideas for their poems or their new words. They seemed to have fun with it and the teacher is going to work with them for the revisions and final copies.

Mrs. Nelson, the 1st grade teacher, and I met the day before the lesson for planning. Her class gets very little writing time — the required math and reading blocks along with other requirements leaves very little time for this important skill development. We decided to not offer the choice of two prompts and went with the prompt that offered more depth of writing. With this class I decided to first work on some basic ground rules for classroom management. From discussions with the teacher and my own observations from other visits, I have found that there are many students in this class that are preoperational and taking this extra time definitely paid off. I then read the story that the prompt is based on, Phoebe’s Revolt. We had some whole group discussion, pair-sharing, and then transitioned to their desks for the writing prompt. During the planning session, Mrs. Nelson had suggested that some transitions would be good so that the students wouldn’t be sitting in one spot the whole time. This suggestion was, of course, spot on.

The first graders were instructed to try some brainstorming using the ideas from their earlier group and paired discussions, and maybe begin a rough draft. We talked briefly about what was meant by “brainstorming” and “rough draft” but it was clear when I visited with individual students while they were working that these ideas were not completely grasped. I noticed some beautiful handwriting, I was asked for correct spelling of words, and some even declared that they were all done! It was a terrific experience for me – I learned from the students and enjoyed the visit thoroughly. They are a bunch of curious, eager, and bright 1st graders. I am visiting the class again tomorrow, and yes – we are going to spend much time on the idea of brainstorming and rough draft.

Just Exquisite! Take 1

Exquisite PromptTeachers who are looking for an easy way to add some fun writing to their curriculum will love The Exquisite Prompt monthly writing challenge from Reading Rockets and Every month, from October 2009 – June 2010, two new writing prompts, inspired by a variety of children’s authors, are released. Some of the inspirational authors so far have been Jon Scieszka, Katherine Paterson, and this month’s Natalie Babbitt and Nikki Grimes. The prompts are accompanied by author bios and on-line resources to help with the writing.  Not only do the students get the opportunity to learn about authors, explore new avenues of writing, but they also get the chance to win great prizes such as an autographed copy of one of the author’s books. This week I had the opportunity to work with two different classes on this writing challenge. Read my next post to find out how this worked out!

Image from Reading Rockets