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24 February 2014 @ 09:26 am
Forest or Trees? What keeps us from the big picture?  
If you have not read Donalyn Miller's brilliant post at the Nerdy Book Club blog, head on over there first. Read the post and the comments, too: http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/around-the-campfire-by-donalyn-miller/.

I love her realization that sometimes rules might get in the way of engagement. Here is the piece I read and then reread: "Our classroom community matters more to me than enforcing rules for the sake of having rules. Does it really matter that my students aren’t sitting like good soldiers during read aloud? When I made our read aloud more like school and less like hanging out with our tribe, we all enjoyed it less." It is one of those AHA moments, not just for Donalyn, but I hope for us all. And it took me back to a classroom visit by an administrator who was doing a walk through. He noted on my form that a couple of kids had their heads down on deaks, some kids were doodling, and others had their eyes closed as I read aloud during his brief visit.

How I wish he had stayed a bit longer to see the response from the kids when I closed the book for the day. Groaning, whining, demands for more. They were listening. But they listen differently. Some need to have pen in hand; others need eyes closed, etc. I had already had seen colleagues do much the same when I would read aloud in a workshop. Why not permit kids the same freedom? I tend to be the doodler/listener. There is something about having paper and pen that focuses my attention more sharply. I do not know why, and it really does not matter one whit, does it?

We need to keep our eyes on the larger picture here. What rules matter? I remember being told never to start a sentence with "and" or "but" and never to end a sentence with a preposition. But what about those rules? Are they hard and fast? Do they apply to blogs and tweets, and Facebook posts? Are there times when we can ignore the RULES and simply write? Does having a mountain of rules sometimes get in the way of putting words on the page? This past weekend, I read with my ears. I cooked dinner, straightened up my book stack, and even played some Bejeweled while I listened. At other times, I closed my eyes. Most of the time Scout was in my lap being pampered and petted. Was I engaged? I think so. I managed to catch instances of lost attributives, juicy mouth, and sibilance. I also enjoyed the stories being read aloud to me.

Let me pull back to Donalyn's post, though. This is the best kind of reflective practice. Donalyn allows us to see her thought process, her decision-making, her interactions. It is tough sometimes to find the time for reflection on our practices. And I think that is how we sometimes lose sight of the forest for the trees, lose the bigger picture for the tiny details. I have had some time this semester to reflect on some of my choices for assignments and texts. I see some changes I can and will make because of taking time to reflect, to read student comments, to see how students approach a situation/assignment. As Donalyn notes, no matter how many years I teach (and I am coming up on 40 years soon), my students teach me something.

I had one of those AHA moments just last night. My students are required to join in #Titletalk during the semester. So, last night was the February #Titletalk and my students were online for the chat. I was so pleased to see their participation, their eagerness to share, to learn. You see, I always think of them as my students. Sometimes I forget that they are all teachers as well, teachers doing incredible things in their classrooms. I saw that last night. It remonded me of how much I CAN and SHOULD learn from them. My eyes are a bit more open today.

Thanks, Donalyn, for letting us into your classroom.
 
 
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