The longer I spend blogging with my students, the better I understand why I do.
I am a 4th grade dual language teacher. We are just a few weeks shy of taking our first STAAR test, our first of three State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
In addition to preparing students for the genre of testing in writing and reading, this week I prepared to rate over 150 writing samples for TELPAS (Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System), another Texas assessment. The total number of writing samples came closer to 266, which is the result of collecting one writing sample each day, from each student, for the past two and a half weeks. This collection is accomplished just a few days after giving students their first experience with a writing benchmark. While grading 38 fourth grade writing benchmark compositions, giving individual feedback through student conference, we began preparing students for their first 4th grade reading benchmark. With that preparation, we again worked to assure that each student receives the specific individualized testing accommodations required by law, in addition to making sure that students who are testing online have had enough practice testing online to understand the intricacies of online testing. At the same time, teachers must continue with the individualized attention needed for every student, to be accomplished both in small groups and individual student-teacher conferences, which then must stop mid-swing to complete a 2-3 week period of running records or testing of reading levels each 9 weeks.
Aside from TELPAS testing, in a dual language classroom, all of this is done in two languages.
The list of responsibilities noted above are only a few of the big ones. There are many, many more. And sometimes the challenge to accomplish that insurmountable “to do” list goes well beyond the physical limits of one human being. It can be enough to drive a teacher out of the classroom. And for many teachers… it does. When schedules are overloaded and precious time to inspire students cannot be consistently cultivated, no amount of “working smarter” applies.
After all that must be accomplished during a school day, two days a week, I have Hour of Blog.
Hour of Blog
The best way to describe this time of the week is… magic. Hour of Blog is our after school writing club, our writing community―a time to cultivate our writing and blogging abilities. During this unique academic time, we practice 21st Century skills without the confines of testing and grading. Here, we learn for the sake of learning. Nothing else.
These are my favorite days of the week.
Just a Bit of Our Blogging History
In the spring of 2017, my class and I discovered blogging. Grown out of a desperate attempt to find a novel learning experience, before the intensity of test prep inhaled the classroom, we found Kidblog (@Kidblog), and it changed our lives.
Since then, each year, a few of those kids, those first Hour of Blog bloggers, return to their old elementary school classroom for Hour of Blog. Watching them become is an incredible part of our blogging journey.
A Matter of Becoming
Now in the sixth grade, with schedules fully loaded, these bloggers dedicate time to come back. They are in the process of becoming the kind of leaders, which for us, may not yet exist. As writers, they have grown a powerful passion and understanding for the value and freedom of choice, purpose, and agency.
Their level of learning and the uninhibited speed in which they maneuver through it, is at times foreign to me. There are moments I feel ill-equipped to be their guide. They are the outliers, the dreamers, “the rebels… the ones who see things differently… “ They are, each one of them, different. Each one of them, equipped with the skill to reflect and adjust in a world now rooted in continuous change.
There is raw treasure in these, sometimes messy, learning experiences. I see that now. And, so… just as my Hour of Blog bloggers continue to plant their feet onto new ground to continue learning and growing, so do I.
They, my 21st Century students and bloggers, are not the only learners in the room.
Positive culture matters. Environments can change how humans learn, thrive, and grow. They can be places driven by possibility, creativity, and passion―where inspiration is birthed and purpose overrides time; places where humans feel safe enough to try, fail, succeed, and then given the freedom reach for more.
Do you ever wonder about that feeling you get when you walk into a room? It just might be the culture of the space or the "temperature" of the room―the one established by expectations, values, ethical decisions, habits, and social behaviors. Culture tells us how people are treated and how we are expected to treat others.
The culture of a work or school environment can be the difference between a space that thrives on success or one contaminated by conflict and struggle. Humans work better in places where they have a sense of agency and purpose; where they can make an impact and make things better for the group and themselves.
Positive culture matters.
Listed below are 20 mindful ways to cultivate positive culture. All engage natural reciprocity and can help shift the entirety of an environment.
Years ago, I caught sight of boy’s fist flying into the stomach of a much, much smaller boy. Focused on that single hostile action, a mother-bear voice came bursting out of me from somewhere deep inside. My reaction can only be described as an innate response to serious threat. I was in charge, they were my students, and it was my job to keep them safe. In that moment, I was pushed into my brain stem.
If you’re a teacher, you’ve probably heard the term “brain stem” before. It’s often used to describe a child who cannot be reached because he or she is in a state of fight, flight, or on few, but painful occasions, in a state of total shut down. All of it connected to our innate struggle for survival. We are trained to give these students time, give them space, and let them cool off.
What happens when time to cool off is not enough? How do we help students begin to feel safe, learn, and move forward?
Before we can help, we must first understand.
Diving deeper into our favorite blogging activities.
Click here to listen.
As I write this, I take a breath and wonder… how did I learn to love writing? I’m certainly not that great of a writer, so how did words become for me significant impactful drivers of language, communication, and passion?
Was it a worksheet? Ummm… no. Simply no.
Worksheets do not grow writers. Authentic, meaningful, purpose driven writing grows writers.
So, how do worksheets fit into this space? Well, they don’t really… not really. At least, not the “drill-and-practice” kind. There are some worksheets that do well to support the process of a writer, and then, there are those that absolutely, unequivocally… do not fit.
Is there really a difference? Yes. One benefits the writer, and the other does not.
In the summer of 2017, I attended the Heart of Texas Writing Project Summer Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. It was at the completion of my 12th year of teaching 4th grade dual language, in College Station, Texas. What happened that summer was simple. I learned to become better at what I already loved. I learned to become a writer, a stronger guide for the learners in my classroom, a leader for my district, and a growing voice in the world of education.
I was not always a teacher.
About two years ago, I began blogging with my students. The experience changed my classroom. It changed the way my students took on learning. It changed the way I took on learning and teaching those kids… you know them… the ones who have and use technology as almost an extension of who they are.
The experience impacted all of us.
Kidblog: Dual language podcast, listen to student and teacher perspectives!
Full podcast HERE:
I keep a quote wall in my classroom. It holds quotes by some of the humans I most respect in the world. On it are the words of Aristotle, Einstein, some Chinese proverbs, along with the words of some of my former students. Hanging above our classroom pet snake, Fluffy, is a quote by one of those former students. It reads: “I’d like to go to Harvard, but I’d rather go to Hogwarts.” It is a sweet reminder that we are all obligated to make our own path to push and learn more.
Last week, one of my former students and I accomplished our first podcast. It was one of the most challenging and extraordinary experiences I have had the pleasure of having.
The experience exhausted me, both physically and mentally. It was amazing to have lived it… all eight plus hours of it. The best part was inviting a former student and author of the Hogwarts before Harvard quote, Josefina, to join me.
Podcasting is only one of many experiences that grew out of our adventures into blogging. What we learned most from blogging was much more valuable. We learned to grow.
Published March 21, 2018 on
Teach Write, LLC #TeachWrite Chat Blog
Find it here:
Marina Rodriguez (@mrodz308) is a California native, National Writing Project, Heart of Texas Writing Project Teacher Consultant, dual language teacher, and Kidblog Ambassador living and teaching in Texas.