Thursday, April 28, 2016

It's a marathon! (Or at least a half!)

This past weekend I ran my very first half marathon! Three of my close friends and I spent the night in a lovely little downtown Galveston apartment, and woke bright and early on Sunday to prepare. We adorned our best running shoes, packed our water belts with honey running goo to keep us going, and we were out the door, ready to take on the day!

When we reached the race location, the sun was just peaking out from the clouds. The sunrise was beautiful, and the temperature was PERFECT! There were probably a few thousand people standing around giddy with excitement, but I was far from excited. As they began lining us up in waves, (we were in the 3rd, and final, wave), I started feeling that pit in my stomach. You know the one. That feeling you get when you absolutely HAVE to accomplish something, but you also know you haven't really prepared as well as you should have. That was me. I knew I could definitely get through the first 8 miles, but any mile after that was going to be iffy.

It felt like we were standing there waiting our turn to start running for an eternity. My mind started thinking about a million things in life that I am never fully prepared for, but have to push through and do the best I can. I started thinking about my own kids and what they learn from me. I thought about my students and what I had taught them about running the race of life.  Our students need to know that there will be times in their life where they will not be 100% prepared, and it's okay.  That becoming an adult is also understanding that life isn't just about growing physically, but also about growing your mind, friendships, careers, and relationships. I think we should be teaching students to train for the full marathon of life...which is far greater than half! Not for school, but for LIFE we learn! That has always been my class motto, and still is at the core of my beliefs as an educator.

So how did I do? Well, I stayed up pretty well with my team mates until around mile 10 1/2! I am really proud of that!! I did have to slow my pace, and finally ended the last two miles in a nice brisk walk. But, I'm okay with that. I accomplished my goal, and that's what truly matters. I'm growing as person, going out on very shaky limbs sometimes, but it'll all be worth it if I've absolutely tried my best, even if I wasn't absolutely prepared!

(and I just might run another half someday!-might!)

B J Gates
"Not for School, but for LIFE we learn!"

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Moving out of the classroom is NEVER easy

I'm back!!!! I can't believe I haven't been on here in 2 years. In my last post, I mentioned that I had accepted a new position at a junior high. Wow!  What a crazy professional change I made! Moving out of the classroom proved harder emotionally than I ever expected. I miss my sweet kiddos, classroom and the opportunity for professional development. I guess you can say I went through major withdraws...and still am! 

What I REALLY want is to be a principal, or an assistant, of course, to start off. I miss interacting with students, parents and other teachers. I knew acceptance of testing facilitator was to be a stepping stone, and I do believe it has been, but the road has not been easy! I have a nice little office far way from all the chaos, but I LOVE chaos!! I hardly ever have to interact with kids, but I LOVE kids!  And I rarely have to go to professional development, but I absolutely, (I know it's weird!), LOVE, LOVE, LOVE workshops, conferences and book discussion. It's fuel for my soul! 

So, where do I go from here? I'm in a strange transition time professionally. I'm applying for AP positions while still fulfilling my job as a testing facilitator. I've always believed as a teacher to "teach students to teach themselves".  With that mindset, I continue to make sure I am "fueling my soul". Every time I hear a buzz about a book, I buy it and read evey word, trying to stay in the loop. (Check out my updated book list!). I'm on Twitter and try to stay up with all the latest and greatest articles and technology. I'm constantly watching...observing the admin team, IC's, and anyone else that I can learn from. 

I don't have my own classroom at this time, so for now, I want to share some things I've discovered about the education field from outside the classroom, so stay tune!For now, I want to leave you with this first article that really inspired me to get back on here. I hope you take the time to read it!

A great article I read this morning by George Couros, "5 Reasons to have a Collaborative Blog." If you have the time, and like to blog, read it. 

B J Gates
"Not for School, but for LIFE we learn!"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

How can I make Reading Workshop work in the upper grade levels?

At the end of this past year, my teacher friend that I miss DEARLY, sent me an email asking me how to explain what Reading Workshop would look like in the upper grades. She teaches Jr. High reading/writing. It took me a while to think it over, (plus I'm changing positions at my school, so I had to pack my room up! Yuck!----but Yay for a new position!!), but I finally came up with this lengthy, VERY lengthy suggestion if anyone needs it:
(And just FYI, I'm a HUGE Book Whisperer fan! :)
Okay, so I've been thinking about this and began to think about how I would do this in my classroom if I had a 50 minute block for each class. I would be focusing on the "concept of the week" with each class (ex. main idea/character analysis, etc.)

Students would self-select books after I've discussed HOW to do that (even junior high kids need a reminder and how to choose a Good Fit Book, and some may not even know how.)

We would probably spend the first two-three weeks of school JUST choosing books and discussing with one another books we love, making recommendations, building a love for literacy in my classroom. Part of each day would involve "Reading to Self" with me visiting and listening/discussing books with students until I know each child is reading an on level book they are interested in. Some "book clubs" may NATURALLY form if I have more than one copy of title. (This happened with my 4th graders this year, and it it was amazing to watch!)

After the first 2-3 weeks of school-which has given me enough time to focus on what my students' needs are- I begin to pull 3-4 students back to my table and discuss the focus of the week. It DOESN'T  matter if they are all reading the same book or not. What matters is that we can all have the same conversation about a specific TEK, or simply discuss Text to Text/Text to World/Text to Self. It's also a PERFECT opportunity for readers to share their books and allow other students to become interested in what they're reading.

GRADES: I would take grades from: SHORT passages given as "Bell work" with ONLY 5-6 specific questions, Reading Reflections from their Reading Journals (design a rubric of what you're looking for and have the students self-evaluate, or give themselves a grade. This grade could count as a daily grade.), and 3 week/6 week/9week assessments.

So here would be my daily class schedule...let's say it's my 1st period class and it is 8:30-9:20:

8:30-8:40 BELL Work (This might be a quiz, filling out your self-evaluation, or simply making sure you have your Good Fit Book and you're settled and ready to read for the day).

8:40-8:50 Read to Self (This is a time for you allow students to "get into" their books before you start to pull small groups.-or you could start pulling right away. This might ALSO be a good time to do a SHORT mini lesson on the focus of the week.)

8:50-9:15 Pull two small groups, or one-on-one conference with students.****Other students are doing one of the following: ---Reading to Self
                                           ---Reflecting on Reading
                                           ---Peer reflecting (Have beforehand made specific comprehension questions that students can use as they sit and discuss their books with each other.)

My personal expectations would be that they MUST reflect on reading twice a week because they have to submit a self evaluation on Friday. :)

9:15-9:20 Get ready for Dismissal-closing Remarks

Hope this helps! Laying this out kinda makes me want to teach it!! The time will go by REALLY fast, and you will feel like you're not "getting to everything", but you ARE! If you lay the foundation of teaching them to self reflect, then you can easily give a short lesson on what you want them to reflect on and reenforce it in a small group.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


We used magazines to find contractions and their derivatives. Students glued them into their Word Study Journals. It was a mess, but great learning was reinforced!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Digging Deeper

One of the phrases my students have gotten used to me saying this year is:

 "Dig deeper with your thinking!"

I don't, (I won't!) allow my students to stay on the surface of their thinking any longer!

Here is our "Digging Deeper" Character trait poster:

We then took our "deep thinking" and applied it to the main character in the book Tiger Rising. Each student came to the board and contributed to the class anchor chart.

We REFUSE to do the minimum!! We will ALWAYS do the MAXIMUM!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Pushing Our Thinking"

"Pushing our Thinking"

This is my new favorite saying....

My students are now used to me asking, "Are you doing the MAXIMUM, or the MINIMUM?" This is coming from Lucy Caulkins, but I have really tried to take it the next level. I truly believe our students are, 95% of the time, doing only the minimum-what we ASK them to do. see..I'm TIRED of that!! I don't want my students to JUST do the minimum anymore! I want them to PUSH their thinking! I want them to DIG DEEPER! Think like no other student has thought before! JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU ARE FINISHED..YOU HAVE JUST STARTED!

Please, please, please don't tell me, "I'm done, Mrs. Gates."! No, you are NOT done! You have just begun!

I have a student (and I know you all have this SAME student!) that gets finished with the minimum of what I've asked...aka... "I did exactly what you asked, but not a bit more." He then gets out his huge chapter book that he can't put down (don't get me wrong, this too, is wonderful-but NOT during WRITING time!) and begins to read while he waits for me to move on to the next mini lesson or meeting. Noooooo!!!! I don't want you to read during WRITING time! I want you  to keep pushing yourself-

-What else do you have to say about this idea?
-Can you write something else about this topic?
-Can you try this technique as a writer again with a different idea?
-Can you stretch your thinking on this topic?
-What other opinions do you have? Why do you think that?
-Can you take this idea and turn it into a personal narrative?
-Can you take this personal narrative and write it as an expository essay?
-Can you abandon this idea and think of something else to write about?

The questions are endless!

Monday, November 12, 2012

"Becoming Essayist"

Familiar with Lucy Caulkins? I wasn't until I started teaching in Katy. At first, we were given this "kit" (don't ya' just love "KITS"!), and expected to read through it and use the great ideas.

My first instinct: When am I going to have to time to do this? (Looking through Book 1... "she goes on and on...") Set it aside and think about it later.

Sometime mid-October: We've taught personal narrative and realistic fiction narrative with good success using our own past experiences as teachers and past, no-fail, lessons. We've taught an essay, "What I want to be when I grow up..." with moderate success---(the same 'ole boring essays that every kid can write if they follow the formula.)

End of October: I start reading Lucy's books. I jump to "Breathing Life into Essays" and start to think, "Maybe I'm rushing it. Maybe I'm trying too hard to get them to follow a formula." I decide to follow Lucy, mini-lesson by mini-lesson. (An action research approach!).

Wow! I truly think I'm getting it, and so are my students! We can write about the same topic as a narrative OR as a non-narrative! We go outside and find simple, unimportant topics to write about. We turn them into GREAT topics to write about! We PUSH....yes PUSH our thinking!!!!

We ask ourselves, "Are we doing the minimal, or are we doing the maximum?" We can be AMAZING writers if we CHOOSE to be!

This is going to be EXTRAODINARY writing, and we haven't even written a roughdraft yet!