Thursday, September 5, 2019

many tools are greater than two

I just finished listening to Emily Hanford's podcast entitled, "At a loss for words, what's wrong with how schools teach reading.

I feel agitated. 

First, at the heart of reading is meaning. If you read an article or a book, and then someone asks you what it was about, and you have no idea, did you really read it? I teach my students that this is an example of fake reading. If I pulled one of these kids to confer with me, I may listen and hear them read all the words accurately. If they cannot talk about what the author said, I do not believe they read the text.

This point - the comprehension of a text - was not discussed in the podcast. How can we leave that out?

Second, reading is a problem-solving endeavor, and sounding out a word and memorizing sight words should not be the only two strategies a child uses to solve a word. I'm so irritated as to why the teachers in this article call everything that is not sounding out or sight words "guessing." What about using phonology, morphology, and etymology (which, if your curriculum uses a phonics program under a balanced literacy framework students have this knowledge) to solve words? What about prompting a child, "Check the end letter in that word. You said /k/ but there's a 'ch' in there. Try it again." What about asking a child, "Does that make sense?"

I think the using the three cueing systems (Meaning: Does that make sense?, Syntax: Does that sound right?, Visual: Does that look right?) as cues to make meaning are just a few of the ways good readers approach text. Teachers who use the cueing systems are prompting students to get metacognitive about their reading. Ultimate goal? A child is reaidng on their own, and then thinks, "Huh, that sounds wrong," and then backs up to reread. That's a win in my book.

As I mentioned above, primary readers need phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. They also need to build their vocabularies. They need a schema bursting with experiences. They need to have positive feelings about reading, be able to name favorite books, and will be thoroughly invested if their teacher sets up partnerships or book clubs where children read the same books as their friends.
Which leads us to balanced literacy, which I believe is a model great reading teachers follow. Keep that going, sis.

Here's a bigger problem I see: our universities are not teaching reading as thoroughly as they should in undergraduate programs.

When I graduated in 2003, I began teaching sixth graders in central Phoenix. I would have some kids come up to my classroom, and they wouldn't know what to read, and I had no idea what to do, except follow the curriculum I was given.

The day the textbook told me, "Make XXX inference," and I didn't make that inference was the day I started to question things. Shortly thereafter, I began my graduate studies at Arizona State in Language and Literacy. Without that work, I would have continued to not be prepared for my students and their needs.

But the biggest takeaway? Teachers MUST trust their professional judgment, and seek out peers and mentors when they are stuck and unsure what to do. Since graduate school, teaching for me has always been kidwatching (Yetta Goodman). I watch my students and respond to what I notice. I build my instruction with my resources and my knowledge of what kids demonstrate to me. I do not blindly follow some curriculum or some resource or some report from some form of assessment as my only way to make decisions about kids. I am the trained practitioner. I kidwatch, use the resources available to me, and I make decisions as to what is next for my students.

I think I'm just a little put off as to why the attack of the three cueing systems. They are just ONE TOOL our readers can use. They can also use their knowledge in phonics, and the picture clues, and the schema they bring to the text to form their specific transaction to the work they are reading.

Reading is not black and white, and it instead lives in this really large grey area. As long as we are working together with our colleagues and continue learning, I don't think we need to throw out a bunch of tools (like LLI, which I have personally seen do amazing things for readers!) because they don't fit into some new idea about how reading instruction should be thoroughly changed.

Let's trust ourselves as professionals instead, and lean on our colleagues, coaches, and instructional leaders when we need another opinion.

Let's send some feedback to our undergrad education programs and get some advisory boards going so we can have teachers stepping into their first year much more confident and knowledgeable than I was.

Rant over :-) hahahhah

But seriously though, drop a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, August 12, 2019

back to school vibes

Another school year is upon us! I'm not going to lie, last night I was feeling the Sunday Scaries pretty bigtime. Coming back after a two-month hiatus isn't easy, especially when you've been on beaches with friends and family, at day games at Wrigley, staying up all hours of the night (when I say this, I mean 11pm, ha!) and redecorating your apartment. Even for those of us who have been doing this a long time, that transition can be difficult.

But then I came into Heritage for a team leader meeting this Monday morning, and was flooded with hugs, and catching up, and the excitement amongst the new teachers and I was reminded again WHY i've been doing this for 17 years... and still feeling happy about it.

First: Relationships. You guys, it's all about the people. Some of my VERY BEST FRIENDS I've found because of teaching. 17 years worth of students that have crossed my path have made it so much fun to learn as I go. I've had excellent admistrators and our coaching staff is on point. I could never do a job that didn't involve other people, it's all of them that bring so much joy to my day-to-day work.

Second: Balance. This one was a little harder to come by; I don't feel like I really started to master this until like year 6, and then in the past few years I think I've gotten really good at it. Teaching can feel kinda hobby-ish for some, myself included. That coupled with the fact that I get OBSESSED with things (reading and writing workshop) can make a teacher live teaching only. It's so importnat to find hobbies and interests outside of education that are really fun, because just like any great relationship, you have to get away from it a bit in order for it to really flourish. Want to chat more about this? Come to the Self-Care Roundtable at iEngage with Gorz and I!

Third: Creativity. It's so cool to start fresh every year. You get to try new things out and set new goals. You can modify really great lessons from years prior and create totally new ones. You can work with new people and read new books. This year I have a few goals: to amp up the anecdotal notes on my coaching log, do a little hand-written journaling in my agenda each day, and to coteach with a bunch of teachers in my building. I'm also toying with the idea of a Young Authors club - I am not teaching a section of ELA this year, so I feel like I have to get some kid time that is JUST MINE in some way. If you've ever done this, please let me know!

There's obviously so much more to a year of teaching, but we'll just keep it short and simple, which is what I recommend to all the new teachers starting their very first year! As I saw on Twitter the other day, YOU are your classrooms greatest resource, so don't go hard all day every day in your classroom in the week(s) leading up to the kids return. They need you fully rested and refreshed when they get there, so go to the beach instead!

What makes back to school best for you? Leave a comment and let's keep the conversation going!

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

original gangsta

This isn't even my slice to tell, but it was so funny, I had to post it.

My ELA class is a combination of 7th and 8th grade students. They stay for two years, so our current eighth graders are on year two with us. It's cool, because they become the mentors to the seventh graders.

Yesterday, when I was home sick, I guess one of the seventh graders told one of the eighth graders that he needed to rename the turtle (the stuffed animal turtle that sits in the window and is used as a talking piece sometimes during discussions).

She replied, "You aren't even an OG in this class, you can't name the turtle!"

My coteacher told me she overheard this conversation yesterday and meant to text it to me last night. Kids are so funny, especially when they use language like this in the perfect context!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

good news

This is a model from writing I picked up watching Rachel Hollis on Amazon Prime in Made for More. Before they start their training, they ask the crowd to share good news. This news could be simple things like "I found my fave new shoes ON SALE" or bigger things like, "My cousin beat cancer." All news is good news, so here is some from me today.

Good news:

I got a huge chunk of my To Do list completed on Thursday.

Good news:
The weather in Chicago is creeping up into the 40s. It's a heat wave!

Good news:
My class's behavior was ON POINT Thursday. Like, so much that I offered 15 minutes of free time tomorrow (first time all year) if they could do that again. It was BLISSSSSSS.

Good news:
I saw Aziz Ansari the other night. SOOO GOOD.

Good news:
The last of four book club books came in and our new 7th grade book clubs are all set in poetry: The Crossover, Brown Girl Dreaming, Bronx Masquerade, and Home of the Brave. Can't wait to get started with these after spring break!

Good news:
After days of indulging on not-so-healthy food choices, it's always great to return to routines and add health back in via densely nutritious protein shakes and detox teas.

Good news:
We rolled the clocks back so the daylight will stay with us even longer now. Summer is on the horizon!

Saturday, March 9, 2019


Every year my friend, she's so kind, takes me to the Avani Spa in Fontana, Wisconsin. We get a massage and hang out in the pool area all day. It's lovely.

My fave location in the whole place? The steam room. I had never been in one before coming here, but I love sitting in there.

Just Thursday I finally caught a cold, so to sit in a room that's like a giant netty pot is THE BEST. (Minus the gross part of the netty pot.) I swear, my skin is so conditioned every time I get to spend some time in this little, it's-a-good-sweat room! Wanna go sit in a giant humidifier? Yes, please!

Friday, March 8, 2019

when lunch stinks

I am a meal planning person. Every weekend I make a bunch of lunches and some dinners and portion them up so I'm good to go daily with healthy food to keep me feeling well throughout the week. This week I made a Portillo's Chopped salad (it's delicious) and homemade dressing.

The dressing consists of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and a bunch of spices.

Fast forward to yesterday, I ate in my classroom alone. Was much in need of some quiet time. Salad was delicious, I ate at my conferring table. And as the kids came in for block 4, I haphazardly threw all the dishes into my lunch bag, but didn't close up the containers. I didn't realize how strong of a scent that particular dressing had.

Block 4 began, I was working on some other things outside of my room, but ran back to my space about 45 minutes later to grab something. I come in to Israel shaking his head. "Ms. Brezek. Why?" He, along with a few others, were working together with their teacher at my conferring table. Israel continues, "That smell, it's terrible. What was that?"

I had no context for what he was talking about. I must have looked confused, because his teacher chimed in. "I moved your lunch bag over there and also dropped a few drops of lavender essential oil. The kids were really distracted by your lunch."

Israel continued, "Yeah, it smells so bad. What *was that?"

Feeling a little embarrassed, I realized I didn't wash the dishes or or even close the lids. "Oh yeah, sorry guys, it was salad dressing..."

Israel interrupts again, "It's like, I just can't focus. It's so strong." He's shaking his head, clearly distraught.

At the time, I didn't realize how strong it was. But that night after school, I didn't go home, I had another commitment. And on my way there, I slammed on my brakes, my lunch bag flew to the floor, and the scents got all wound up again. I picked it all up, but when I got into my car that evening after about 3 hours of time, it did smell. It totally stunk, and I could feel Israel's pain.

How is it that I can have a delicious lunch and the remnants are just miserable?!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

on being a mom (kinda)

So did you read my post about Annie a few days ago? If not, start there.

Today I saw her during block 4 and I don't even remember what she was talking my ear off about but then I interrupted, "I wrote about you and Adam on my blog."

"AHHHHH, MS. BREZEK! WHYYYYY?" She paused, then continued, "I gotta read it."

Lauren was overhearing this and says, "Oh, on bigtimeliteracy? Let me pull that up." (Lauren did her first slice of life challenge in 4th grade with me, FOUR years ago, nbd.) :-)

She does and reads it. She tells me, "You write so descriptively."

My heart swells. Because (1) she compliments my writing, but more so (2) she can appreciate descriptive writing.

Annie walks back over to me, all smiles. Kinda embarrassed, but also kinda appreciating the attention. "You're like my mom, Ms. Brezek." She's smiling, kinda laughing. "Like, she does stuff like this. I don't know, you're just kinda like her."

(I honestly don't remember anything she said after the comparison.)

Mostly I was just feeling like I got the best compliment ever.

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