Teaching

Independent Reading and a Mala Bracelet

For the past four months, I’ve worn the same bracelet every day to school. It is fairly chunky so it is jewelry that is hard to miss. After a few days of wearing the bracelet, my students noticed the repetition and asked about why I was wearing a new, wooden bracelet. Eighth graders are naturally curious and since they had taken an interest in my “fashion accessory”, I decided to explain to my classes what my new bracelet meant and why I was choosing to wear it every day.

In February, I started a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training at my yoga studio. On our first day together, every trainee received a goodie bag and one of the items in the tote were Mala beads. (Mala beads contain 108 beads and are used for prayer and meditation and as a reminder of a person’s intentions.) I’d worn Mala beads before but always as a necklace. When I left Yoga Teacher Training that weekend, I made the conscious decision to wear my Mala every day until my teacher training was over and I was a certified yoga teacher.

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On my first day back to school after my intense training weekend, the red of my Mala beads clashed with my outfit. As a confident person, I suppose that shouldn’t have mattered, but for those who know me – it did. I realized that I couldn’t go back on my intention, so I wrapped the Mala around my left wrist.  As I went through the day, I loved the feel and sound of the beads. My students got used to the rustling and clanging of my bracelets as I presented mini-lessons or sat with them for reading conferences. After a few weeks, the Mala became part of my identity and routine just like the routines of my classroom, like starting each day with choice independent reading.

One day in early April, I forgot to put my Mala on when I dressed for work. I noticed it as soon as I got to school, and I almost called my husband to request that he bring them to me. I felt a little exposed and out of sorts as the day started. Guess what? My students in every class noticed right away that I didn’t have my bracelet. I heard “Mrs. Honeycutt, where’s your Mala?” and “Hey, did you forget your bracelet today?” and “What is going on with you today, Mrs. Honeycutt?”

My forgetfulness disrupted our day. The slip in one small routine caused a stir among each class. I’m not sure why I was surprised. My classroom environment is built solidly on routine. The most important one to my students is that we start every day with ten minutes of choice reading. Everyone (teachers, administrators, parents, and even students) know the importance of reading. It is well-researched that the more students read, the more their vocabulary grows and the more they are able to understand and process text. Independent reading has been a sacred routine in my language arts classroom for more than 20 years.

On days that our schedule doesn’t allow for independent reading, which is very RARE and only on special odd days, the students walk into class, look at the SmartBoard, and protest. “We don’t have independent reading today?” or “You’ve got to be kidding me! I want to read today!” It isn’t even a question that independent reading time is precious in my classroom.

In a 50 minute class period, some may say that ten minutes is a lot to give up each day for reading. I never feel like I am missing anything by spending those ten minutes suggesting books to students or having individual or small group conferences.

Obviously, my students don’t either because they are upset and flustered when the reading time is missed. Unfortunately, sometimes the ten minutes in class are the only reading minutes a student has in a day. Even my most reluctant readers would tell you if they have a good book, they like to read.

I’ve learned that like forgetting my Mala bracelet – independent reading time and that routine – are important and precious things. My job as a teacher is to protect the independent reading time each day for my students. It is important to them like my wearing a Mala bracelet is important to me.

Environment

Getting a classroom ready for school to start

Last evening, I attended a local festival which is very popular in Dublin, Ohio – the Dublin Irish Festival. As I walked around and listened to wonderful music and talked with many friends,  I am sure that I had at least twenty people ask me, “Are you ready for school to start?” I could tell by some of their faces that they were surprised by my reaction – “Oh my gosh, yes! I am so ready for school to start!” I’m not sure why people assume that teachers are sad or disappointed when the school year is upon us. (Unfortunately,I would imagine that there are some teachers who are not excited for school to start – I’m not judging…people are in different places/stages of life.) This is one of my favorite times of the year because I get to organize books and add new purchases to my bookshelves, I also get to talk with colleagues and “plan” for what’s to come, and I get to create a bulletin board – wait, actually, that is my least favorite thing to do at this time of year.

 

So today, I spent four or so hours in my classroom in order to start preparing for the start Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 3.19.06 PMof school. (I did put paper on a bulletin board and a boarder…no idea what else is going on it yet.) I used to wallpaper my walls with cute posters, but I don’t do that anymore. I have a “Reading” sign and a “Writing” sign on my back wall. As the year progresses, chart paper and other posters will be displayed as they are created by my students and myself as we learn, think, and reflect. (I’m sure I saw this idea on Twitter, but I am unable to remember who shared it – sorry!)

 

My “Word Wall” is also easy to put together since it only says “Word Work” on my cabinets. Each year the words that will make it onto the wall are different because my Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 3.19.13 PMstudents are different. The words that we discussed and studied last year will probably not be the same ones as this year. I love the fact that our wall is unique to my current students and based on what vocabulary words they need and not the work I assume they will need.

 

I added two new bookcases to my classroom this year and spent some time rearranging books. My preference is to organize my books my genre. I never seem to Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 3.19.21 PMhave enough space for all the books! Since I am an “old” (maybe a better word is “veteran”) teacher, I have hundreds of books that I have purchased or that my district and principal have generously purchased for my classroom library. As I reacquainted myself with the books,I couldn’t help but think about former students and what books I shared with them or recommended to them. I also couldn’t help but envision the students who will join me in two weeks and wonder what types of books they will like or want to read. Such an adventure is awaiting me!

 

Finally, I moved a few bookcases around to create a “meeting space” for us. (For those of Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 3.19.29 PMyou who know me, this was a difficult task. I tend to be a creature of habit, and I moved two bookcases to partly cover my bulletin board – gasp!) The last few years, my students have crowded into a rather small area for read-aloud time. It is difficult to convince growing and gangly eighth graders to cram into a little corner of my library to listen to picture books or have discussions about short texts. My new “meeting space” isn’t big, but I hope that it encourages a little more willingness to gather and chat without sitting in traditional desks and tables.

 

My room may look a little “sparse” for the start of school, but I know that soon it will be filled with students and the thoughtful learning that we will do together. I hope that Room 241 will be a safe space for the 130 students I see each day to talk, read, write, process, struggle, learn, and reflect together. I’m ready!

 

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Two other pictures I had to share:

My only other “poster” – who would argue with a quote from Wonder adorning the wall in a classroom?Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 3.19.36 PM

 

First book to book talk is on my chalk tray and ready to go!Screen Shot 2017-08-15 at 3.19.49 PM