The Fourth Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking

ChalkboardWhile the first day of school is still a week away for schools in my neck of the woods, I know many of you are already back in classrooms with a new bunch of learners — or if you’ve looped up, with familiar faces that have grown over the summer. And as I’ve done for the last four years (yikes!), I’d like to celebrate the start of a new school year, by once again sharing some of the inspiring and probing thoughts that educators have left on this blog over the last twelve months.

As happens each year, it was a challenge to choose a half-dozen comments from those left by members of what I’m convinced is one of the most thoughtful blog readerships out there. And as has also happened before, I think there’s a pattern that runs through many of the comments this year that reflects larger concerns in the field – this year, a renewed attention to process over product and to helping children develop what Mark Condon calls, in his must-read post, each student’s ‘UNcommon core’:

“An UNcommon, TRUE core for every child, is their own intrinsic engine that drives them to learn. If we teachers don’t help our youngsters to develop personal tastes and personal interests and personal goals and a reservoir of personally enriching experiences, then they will be ill equipped to handle the dizzying choices life offers them.”

Here, you’ll see that I’ve set each reader’s comments next to an image that links back to the post they were responding to (and if you click through to the post, you can read other comments by scrolling down to the bottom). And for those readers who also blog, I’ve embedded a link to their blogs in their name, which I urge you to click on as well for more wonderful food for thought. And now, without any more introduction, here are some words that reaffirm my belief in thinking teachers:

Shitty First Drafts“This discussion about process versus product is huge. I love your point about the fear of reducing the art of writing into a flash draft. Like you, my process is slow and thoughtful. I do obsess word by word. On one hand, I can understand the need for assisting our students in getter over the fear of writing by offering them the opportunity to flash draft, but on the other, I am dually concerned about the message we may be sending, and I worry that we are not spending enough time developing the craft of writing.”  Laurie Pandorf

If You Had to Teach Something“There are so many things worth knowing and ways of knowing that cannot be verbalized (and perhaps should not be reduced to words)…a painting, a jazz riff, an equation, an “elegant” line of computer code. But we don’t allow much for this type of knowing. And when we do, we feel the need to verbalize/analyze rather than “know” through the language of color, form, line, rhythm, number or whatever language the creator has used. . . Naturally, the written and verbal word are paramount — that’s our common way of communicating (and the way we expect kids to learn). But there are other ways and levels of understanding perhaps more natural especially for our youngest learners – I’d argue that’s true for all learners but we squelch it earlier and earlier . . . To focus on the child — to focus on multiple ways for students to make meaning and to make their understandings visible would be such a welcome change of pace.” Lisa

Hemingway on Writing“Such a timely post as we’ve had this discussion lately that includes, “How many final published pieces of writing should a student have?” I’m leaning towards the answer from the ‘cheap seats’ – ‘It depends!’ I think there is a definite need for balance when we think of confident, competent writers. Writers themselves need to be aware of their metacognition and how writing plays out for them. Environment? Quiet or Noisy? Handwrite or Keyboard? Think or Draft? But more importantly are the issues about WHAT to do when stuck . . . keep writing, go for a walk, try a different approach. Writing is so complicated. Good writing even more so. It really is not as simple as just putting words on paper!” Fran McVeigh

MIND THE GAP“’…an essay in which the writer inquires into and explores a problem, a question or one or more texts, with the goal of adding his or her own unique perspective and ideas to the ongoing conversation about that problem, question or text.’ I’m trying to remember a time when I either asked a student to engage in an ongoing conversation or was asked to participate in one. Yikes! I love the idea of being part of a grand, ongoing conversation! That really knocks me, as teacher, off center stage and suggests a community of thinkers. Yikes! I am reminded of a student essay I read recently that compares the onset and growth of ideas to drops of water coming together, from creek to stream to ocean, to make something more powerful than their individual selves. A grand conversation! Delicious!” Faynessa Armand

calvin-hobbesLow-stakes writing has such high value in our classrooms, and in reading your piece, I couldn’t help thinking of equating this type of writing to the idea we talk about in reading of “imaginative rehearsals.” When we read material that explores areas of emotion or psychology that we have not fully explored in our lives, it better prepares us for when we have to deal with those events. Writing in low-stakes forms, allows us to explore similar things; we get to practice new ideas in a space that is non-threatening. Essentially, we get to play with thoughts, ideas, and words that may or may not become part of our thinking later on, when it may matter much more. Patrick Higgins

Don't Try to Think“Your discussion of writing as an unfolding event is resonant. Writers need to trust the process, the struggles, the to-ing, fro-ing, ebbs and flows which lead to breakdowns and breakthroughs. Sometimes the biggest challenges produce the most rewarding products (as I am discovering with my PhD). . .  I think the struggle is what results in good writing and robust ideas. Deb (a.k.a. The Edu Flaneuse)

Of course now that I (Vicki) have typed this up, I see another pattern: I seem to have unconsciously chosen quotes that I, as a writer who’s had her fair share of breakdowns and breakthroughs over the last year, need to hold on to and remember. I’ll share more about that journey in an upcoming post, but for now here’s hoping that whether you’ve already started or are still gearing up, the new school year will be filled with lots of joyful learning, fascinating questions, delicious thinking and regular celebrations of all of our UNcommon cores!

First Day of School


16 thoughts on “The Fourth Annual Celebration of Teacher Thinking

    • And I’ve missed you & blogging, too! So much so that’s I’ve recommitted myself to blogging more. The good news, though, is that I finally, finally, seem to be getting your blog & have been loving reading about the beginning of your year. Keep ’em coming!

  1. I too was excited to see you had posted on your blog! I didn’t realize you do this annually. I love seeing familiar names and their writing here. So much depends upon the work we do with our students each and every day. Thank you for your voice in the conversation. Looking forward to reading you again and again!

    • Thanks, Dayna! And OMG! I just clicked through to your blog and see that you’re now a principal—and you went to Paris! I so love the idea of you leading a school and can’t wait to hear more. So here’s hoping that you’ll still have some time to share what you’re learning on your blog!

  2. Honored to be selected for inclusion in this blog. We’ve been having a parallel conversation about “How many books should the kiddos read during a year?” Ever cautious about “killing” reading as it becomes this monstrous “chore” with routinely assigned tasks. I’ve been grateful for our “Writing about Reading” group where we have been “doing” the tasks we ask of our students. Continuing to think about how literacy can be learning and fun, about choice and authenticity . . . not just “doing school”!

    Looking forward to seeing more posts!

    • Do you think we keep having these discussions because it’s much easier to assess quantity than quality – despite the fact that “Not everything that can be counted counts, and that not everything that counts can be counted”? Personally, I’d much rather have a student have a truly meaningful – and authentic – interaction with one book that rush through 25. The challenge is always how to change the conversation so that depth & real engagement is what’s valued, whether it’s in reading or writing. And having just caught up with some of the #WabtR Storified chats, I think part of the key is always that we do the work we ask students to do in order to better understand the different between “doing school” and authentic work.

      • Accountability = “counting” in many minds and it’s so much easier to count books than to think about reporting out on ideas generated and depths of conversation. “How do I know the student has learned ‘x’?” and “How do I justify a grade/mark for this child?” are the two tough questions that seem to be causing teachers to revert back to “counting” something!

        And I so agree that we (big people) must do the work that we ask students to do because then the arbitrary chapters/prompts feel different when we are Readers and Writers!

  3. I was honored to have my comment posted here (if You Had to Teach Something What Would You Teach?)
    The funny thing is I always use a pseudonym (LIsa – my kdg bfff) when posting as I’m so paranoid about my opinions, especially written points of view coming back to haunt me as a public employee. I guess that’s a topic that could fill a blog of its own!
    Best wish to all for an awesome year of letting kids think, explore and come up with some questions of their own.
    And thanks Vicki for your thought provoking essays.

    • Ah, the mystery is solved! I actually noticed the disconnect between your name & email when I was going through the comments – and also realized that I may not have replied to you all those months ago. So I’m really glad you caught this! I say, keep the opinions coming as I’m sure it will be music to some teachers’ ears.

  4. Hi, Vicki! I am wondering if you remember me. I did say I would connect with you through your blog. Hoping all is well and I did enjoy your work on finding patterns in the quotes you collected as well as the link on the ‘uncommon core. I have but a few connections left to my former life and am happy to hang on to this one. My blog reveals some of the new directions I am taking. Be well and have a great year.

    • Not only do I remember you, Holly, I missed you dearly on my last trip to Sweet Home & and am so glad to hear from you here! From peeking at your blog, I see that you’re doing well & have been busy pursuing old loves and new ones. And I noticed we have something else in common, beyond a love of reading and writing: hubby photographers! Anyway, do stay in touch and enjoy your new thrilling journey!

      • You are very kind. I was/am very much a supporter of you and your work. I feel like a late bloomer with most everything in life including the reading/writing connection. But now, I am a student of the work and take with me all that I’ve learned and continue in new avenues, as you’ve noticed, but refer often to that professional work. I am hoping my blog reflects my love of literacy (as well as knitting) and that my writing is somewhat acceptable. In the meantime, my hubby is a photographer (with his iPhone only) to please his wife. He needs much prompting and I bribe him with food. I look forward to continued thoughtful posts from To Make a Prairie.

  5. Pingback: A Book Is Born (Well, Almost) | To Make a Prairie

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