We just returned from a “bucket list” trip to China! Our days were packed with sight-seeing, people-watching and eating new foods. As we returned home and began to share our stories, we were asked two questions:
“What was your favorite part of the trip?”
“Would you do it again?”
First, our favorite parts. Many of our favorite moments were the planned experiences. Walking a section of the Great Wall without any other tourists was a highlight. Visiting the Terra Cotta warriors and considering the ego of a leader who had them built so people would remember him was overwhelming. Looking at the shattered pieces and realizing the patience needed to recreate these statues was humbling! These experiences had been planned far in advance and lived up to our expectations. There were also some spontaneous favorite moments. Meeting a young local girl in line at Shanghai Disney and trying to communicate about Elsa from Frozen was an unplanned delight. Getting lost on a rainy night in Shanghai while searching for the second tallest building in the world is another unplanned, and now favorite, memory.
Would we do it again? While we will choose other places in the world to visit before returning to China, I would certainly encourage others to take the trip! I would also have ideas on “must see and do” places and experiences for those thinking of visiting China.
As the new school year creeps closer, I find myself reflecting on these same questions as I look back on the past school year. Having been away from school for a month helps me put the past year in better perspective. I’ve been making a list of “favorite learning engagements” from last year and answering the question: Would you do it again?
Here’s a portion of my “things to do again next year” list . . .
· Implement Writer’s Notebooks – a definite do again! These notebooks are an invaluable organizational tool for both my students and me. This year I plan to add an Anchor Chart section, where students can keep individual anchor charts for easy access after we have completed them together.
· Expand Student Vocabulary, with a tweak – We have been collecting new vocabulary words in our Writer’s Notebooks, but I’m not sure that system is working as well as I had hoped. The students have simply written the words as they found them, resulting in a disorganized list. Next year we are going to organize the words by topic. For example, all the movement words will be collected together. We are also going to study words by word origin or roots, looking for commonalities.
· Focus on Academic Vocabulary – Next year I will continue to embed more academic vocabulary into student directions and writing prompts. The goal is for students to become used to deciphering and understanding directions prior to beginning a task. For this to be effective, my students will require explicit vocabulary instruction. A great resource for teaching academic vocabulary is Teaching Academic Vocabulary K – 8: Effective Practices Across the Curriculum, by Blachowicz, Fisher, Ogle and Taff. www.amazon.com/Teaching-Academic-Vocabulary-K-8-Curriculum/dp/1462510299
· Read aloud every day – This is my favorite time of day with my students. In our high-tech days, it is so important to expose children to the joy of listening to an engaging book read aloud.
· Look for areas to encourage student choice – Last year students loved choices, from where they sit to how they present their learning. Although I do not have the newest flexible seating furniture in my classrooms, I allow students the freedom to work in the area that is best for them. Instead of telling them that every assignment must be completed the same way, I’ve learned to present the students an expectation or rubric for an assignment and then allow them to choose the presentation method. The increased engagement and enthusiasm has been exciting to watch! Last year, a student asked if she could type her narrative into google slides, putting each portion of her story on a separate page. This idea spread throughout our classroom and greatly increased the students’ understanding of parts of a narrative. Click on this link for past blogs on teaching narratives. writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-one
· Follow the spontaneous learning moments – Just like the spontaneous moments that happen when we travel, I look forward to those spontaneous learning moments in the classroom. We never know what comment or thought may turn into a learning moment. We all spend time creating lessons and are eager to share them with our students. It can be difficult to put those aside and spontaneously follow a student question or inquiry. Yet, these unexpected paths can often become our favorite moment of the year!
We would love to hear from you! What items are on your list? What was your favorite part of last year and what are you looking forward to doing again? What goals are you making right now to improve your learning environment?