Joey Joins

My schedule is constantly changing. Ok, not constantly, but in order to be responsive to what kids need, I am always at the ready to adjust groupings or times. These adjustments are always made in collaboration with the classroom teacher.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Ted and Ozzy, two second graders. These two have become readers and Friday mornings are a time for them to be writers. Our goal is always independence and transfer of phonics skills to writing. This week, a first grader writer, Joey joined them. Joey was demonstrating the same strengths in the support setting and in the classroom as Ted and Ozzy — he too, was a reader. He also, needed continued work on using and transferring his first grade phonics skills to his writing independently. I figured, why not try a small multiage writers group.

So Friday morning, my day began with Ozzy and Joey. Ted was absent. The boys settled into their writing. Both first and second grade were in a non-fiction writing unit. Ozzy jumped right into his All About Football book and Joey dove into his How to Make a Paper House. “Joey, do your remember the tip you are working on using?” He looked at me expectantly. I held up a small gold pom pom. “Yes, pom pom spaces.” He took the pom pom from my hand, clearly ready to implement his tip. I bounced back and forth between each writer, whispering in when necessary, reminding each writer of digraphs, or vowel teams, or lower case letters. I supported the ideas and offered momentum when necessary.

I sat. I observed. It’s a gift to watch a writer at work. Ozzy was rereading his own writing, gaining his own momentum. “Offense is when you are trying to get the football so you can get a touchdown.” In this moment, Joey was also watching. He was watching Ozzy at work. He was watching and listening, like writers when they are in the company of other writers. When Ozzy had finished his line, “so you can get a touchdown” there was a brief moment of silence that was broken by Joey. His voice was so soft, neither Ozzy or I heard it. Completely curious, I asked, “What did you say?” “Next you should say what a touchdown is.” “Oh, yeah, that’s a good idea.” There it was Ozzy, the second grade writer, receiving feedback from a first grade writer.

Thirty years ago, when I was baby teacher, I was surrounded by veteran, experienced teachers. I remember thinking that part of my job was to learn as much as I could from them. I quickly learned, thanks to our Community of Teachers Learning study groups, that those same veteran teachers were still learning. They were open to learning from each other as well as me. I believe in working to create communities, whether they be writers or teachers, where, no matter the age or grade, we are all learning from each other.

13 in 35

I looked up and over the heads of the four children near me. Joey was whisper reading from his stack. David was putting a post it in his book. Isla was on her way over to the round table to work with Susan. And Jen, was at the corner of her kidney table watching two kids work. I turned my attention back the group before me and listened in as they practiced flexing their vowel sounds. The next thirty five minutes flew by. After some targeted phonics work, I sent my first group off with a new book and called a second group over. Waiting for the kids to join me, I soaked in more of the scene. Susan finished with Jane and called another friend. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jen the two kids she started with settle back to independent reading while two different kids made their way to the table with Jen. “13 kids in 35 minutes.” I whispered to no one as I walked out smiling, proud.

This was how my week started. Every week, I have the privilege of working in all four first grade classrooms twice a week for Reader’s Workshop. Over the years, our collective goal, has been to maximize teaching and learning by meeting with small groups. Typically, we plan for these groups each week. However, this year, due to the unexpected “happenings”, our planning time hasn’t been as consistent as we’d like. But what has been consistent is our conversations and questions. Whether we are talking at a grade level meeting, an RTI meeting, in the halls, or early in the morning before the chaos of the day sets in, we talk. We share our questions, our wonderings. We talk to gain clarity and confidence to be better. Through all this talk, we strive to be better, to make the vision of our collective goal reality.

Last Friday morning, Jen and I actually had the time to plan and fill out her planning document. (you can read about this document in Jess Carey’s, Planning for Small Groups) When we were done plugging in all the names, Jen looked at her week, counted the kids to be sure each child would be met with at least twice. “What do you think?” I asked, curious about how she felt about executing the plan. “This is great. This is what will help me keep it all together, keep me focused.” “Your workshop is calm and settled, now onto small groups.”

This morning, I walked into the tail end of morning meeting in Jen’s first grade room. Her morning meeting seamlessly flowed into the mini-lesson for Reader’s Workshop. Before I knew it, the kids were off and settled in their reading spots, Susan whispered, “Can I take Jane, or will you be meeting with her?” “No, you can meet with her first, I’ll pull the other group.” In no time, the room was full of teaching and reading. The planning we had done was coming to life.

The orchestration of what happened this morning didn’t happen by accident, nor did it happen over night. It happened thanks to the shared vision for what our first grade workshops can look look. It happened thanks to the collaboration and trust that we have in each other (teachers, specialists, paraprofessionals, coaches). It happened thanks to ongoing conversations all over school. It happened because the classroom teacher believed it could happen, and it did.

Ode to Our Garden

It’s October 28. I’m eating lunch at my table. I break the lunch into bits and sprinkle the grated parmesan generously on. I scoop up a bite, a perfect balance of eggplant and tomatoes. I let the flavors meld in my mouth and my mind goes back.

It’s May 15ish. It’s officially growing season in Connecticut. Billy and I have just come back from Ganim’s. We’ve unloaded the car full of plants and seeds and made our way back to the garden. The spring sun has softened the soil and our hands are ready to be dirty. Billy digs the holes, making sure they are deep enough. I gently take hold of the plant from its’ base, close to the soil. I squeeze the plastic container sending the root filled dirt up and out. I turn towards the prepared bed and fill the hole with a baby eggplant and freshly turned soil. One by one, the holes are filled with baby eggplant. Once the bed is filled, Billy and I move onto the next bed. And the next. And the next. By days end, we can see that growing season has begun. We know the months ahead will be for watering, tending, and admiring. We know we’ll have to battle some varmints. We know the work that lies ahead and we know it’ll al be worth it.

The August harvest was abundant. There was plenty to share with neighbors, friends and family, and there was plenty to cook and freeze.

One mid October day, I pulled out a bag of frozen eggplant, dated August 22. As the eggplant thawed, I pulled some late season tomatoes from the windowsill and began to slice. I spent the next twenty’ish minutes layering eggplant, tomatoes, cheese creating what Billy and I call, Garden Surprise Lasagne.

The last bite of my lunch sits in my mouth, I remember where we started, appreciating the work and the time it took for this farm to table moment. Then, I swallow, the flavors linger and already I’m looking forward to May 2023.