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Learning at its Best

What I Know Best

This blog’s been percolating for a bit…so the “today” I mention really happened in early November. I actually thought I had published this already, so thanks, David, for the nudge! Here goes…

I’ve been having trouble blogging lately and I think I’ve figured out why.  I think somehow, somewhere along the line, I began looking at blogging as inciting something rather than sharing what I do and reflecting on what it is I do. Today something got pushed into my mailbox and I saw this blog, which ended with this statement: “I believe blogging is a central part of what academics have to offer the world.  It’s about taking all our hard-earned knowledge and sharing it with broader circles than journal readers and conference attendees.  What could be more important than that?”

I do believe it’s important for us to share what we’re doing in our classrooms as we figure out how to use social media, get kids thinking globally and encourage them to think for themselves.  This fall, I’ve taken on quad blogging, redoing our learning space to accommodate movement and flexible areas, pushing my various years of wiki kids to connect across years (I have a 7th grader who volunteered to help younger kids with their wikis) and I’m actually using a wiki that I share with parents to organize my teaching of both my math group and my literacy group. I haven’t had a literacy group in years, and I am struggling with keeping up with the prolific readers I have. I am spending nights and weekends reading princess and fairy books, adventure and realistic fiction, as well as historical novels and historical fiction. I love historical fiction myself, but many of these kids have read little of it–though they are professed history lovers.They just haven’t had someone do book talks about historical fiction enough, I don’t think.

I come in on Mondays after my what-are-becoming-every-weekend-visits-to-my-cheap-book-store with books–and hand them out to the kids I was thinking of when I picked them up.  Kids are loving my choices–but even more they are enjoying finding out about how I think about questioning, worrying about asking them at the high level of Bloom’s taxonomy and getting them to think deeply about their reading, the connections they can make through it, and the thinking they do.  (We recently had a lesson on those levels, where I described them and we analyzed a typical set of questions I found online about one of the books we were reading. Kids were blown away by the number of low level questions versus the higher level ones.)  What they don’t know is that now that they understand the levels, they will be asked to make up questions for themselves that are high level–I hope to deepen their ability to question, not only what they read, but themselves and their thinking as well!  My emphasis is more on the questions they ask than the answers they give.

I don’t want to impart knowledge…only, as many believe is the job of “teacher.”  I want to share thinking and questioning, and re-engage those lifelong learner habits and attitudes these kids came to Kindergarten with. I love having the individual conversations about books with kids–and probing to find out why they like the genre of books they do–or how they choose books.  I had one kid tell me she never picked out good books for herself–so she was just going to let me do it all year for her since I did it so well.  What???? Nope, she and I go to the library and I talk through my strategy of looking for books as I do it, with her standing right by me. In my Monday book talks, I share what intrigued me about the books I chose and why I thought of Johnny or Susie, or Petey as I looked at that book. They know I listen to them and try to figure out how to share stuff so they become more passionate and knowledgeable and thoughtful people.

So why haven’t I been listening to myself and sharing online more? There are lots of reasons, and frankly, I just quit trying in many venues, backing up to do it in my classroom, with my parent community and with trusted critical friends…but today’s push into my email box–the comment I began with, “I believe blogging is a central part of what academics have to offer the world.  It’s about taking all our hard-earned knowledge and sharing it with broader circles than journal readers and conference attendees. What could be more important than that?” reminded me we need to push through that reticence when we feel it.  We need to speak up and share–whether that be as a match or a slow flame, burning to ignite–or nurture–the fire of learning in others.  What I know best, I need to share–and what I know best is what I do with my kids.

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


10 thoughts on “What I Know Best

  1. Thanks Paula. I love this post on a number of levels. I am a sharer by nature. I often share too much, but I think it is one of the reasons I want to be a teacher. I have been playing with the idea of Teaching as Concierge. A role of a teachers as experts in the needs of students, but requires the developing of relationships, but good sharing only happens when you know your students. This type of personalized learning can help students experience things they might not know exist or might not pick for themselves…but would learn or enjoy if present to them…

    I also like your point about then, sharing the process with the learner, since it is not about power or control but to truly help student find the learning they need.

    Your voice is one of my favorites at the Coop, and I smile every time I get to read your wisdom and insights!


    Posted by dloitz | November 26, 2011, 7:13 pm
    • And you, David, are such an inspiration to me–you never let me give up on myself. Thanks for always being upbeat, encouraging and pushy as well. You do it just right!

      Love the idea of teacher as concierge. Has many of the qualities cited in some of the references in my next post (coming Tuesday), Making Private Practice Private No More. I think you’ll love looking at and digesting the links about expert teachers.

      I believe, too, that a teacher’s job is to widen horizons and experiences, so totally agree when you suggest we can help them with things they might not know exist or might not pick for themselves. I wish I’d had more teachers who really stretched beyond the curriculum… thank goodness I’ve had mentors like that as a practitioner.

      We all need to be pushed beyond our comfort zones at times–the trick is knowing when to nudge..and we need to know ourselves, our students and each other well to know that.

      Thanks for ALL you do for the coop!


      Posted by Paula White | November 27, 2011, 4:42 pm
  2. The first thing (not the last thing) I want to do when I read a blog post is find the story that drives the post. If that is happening in the classroom then perhaps that is the best place for it, but…your voice matters and that means that you should let us hear you. I trap myself for months at a time with the thought that no one could possibly be interested in my voice. It keeps me from speaking and writing and sharing outside my smallest circle, then I smack my forehead and remember–there is only one voice like mine. There is only one voice like yours with your history and your experience and your place in time. So…reticence be damned, full speed ahead even if it only a one sentence comment or a one paragraph post or a small collection of tweets from your week in the wrestling den we call school. It is a damned risky business this teaching gig, but maybe these little risks are safeties in disguise.

    Posted by tellio | November 26, 2011, 9:34 pm
    • My personal blog was begun with stories of reflection, and stories from my classroom. The story that drove many of those entries was change in a kid…big insights into themselves… or amazing connections they made from our classroom work. I found that writing easy, but certainly got away from it as I became more and more connected globally. It was much as you say–trapping myself with the thought that my voice isn’t as …whatever… as others. Thanks for the reminder there IS only one voice like mine. I know what I do with kids is pretty different from a lot of other classrooms, so I do need to share it. I think one powerful thing I do is exactly what you describe in your reply to Bill–you say “I need to model how learners act.” If every teacher did that, imagine how differently our kids would learn. Thanks for that thought, and kindred goal–it’ll impact how I think about what I do with my kids this week, for sure.


      Posted by Paula White | November 27, 2011, 4:54 pm
  3. Very glad to read this, Paula – we are nurtured and ignited by your presence and sharing.

    I really admire your description of teaching – how do you help parents understand how you teach?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | November 27, 2011, 3:58 pm
    • Chad, you ask–how do you help parents understand how you teach?

      That’s an interesting one…my kids do a lot of it for me, as they talk about what we do in class. Ask Emma..or Sam..or Alex why he cameot my room for lunch when I never taught him as student. They’ll probably say, somewhere in their description, “She let me…” I simply get out of their way a LOT and I don’t overburden them with rules. Parents who are looking for something different for their kids understand some of my goals as they hear their kids describe our work, and this year, I have added a wiki as well for my lit group ( I also have “Learning Labs” for my parents, where I get the kids to show the parents what we’re doing, or I actually do an activity with them that we have already done in school, so that they see the depth of thinking and learning in our work. The communication is key, and talking to the kids frankly about my goals is crucial too. My kids can talk about metacognition and why we study themes in literature and why I don’t believe answering questions on a worksheet for every chapter of a book is necessary. I have them read teacher articles explaining my viewpoints…and I encourage them to share those with their families. We have discussions frequently reflecting on activities, and what worked and what didn’t–so the kids understand almost nothing is set in stone–we can always work on our work to make it better. They tell me whether their learning was deep and what could have helped them focus more or delve more deeply into a topic, or whether it was just pretty much a waste of their time. Ownership is theirs much of the time…so when I say we’re all reading THIS book this week, they do it willingly–because they respect that they’ll get their choice back when we finish it and they know I have specific reasons for all of us reading the same book at this time. My problem is I find too many books/articles/websites I want to share!

      Come watch sometime…I’ve got amazing kids and it’s a fun place to be.


      Posted by Paula White | November 27, 2011, 5:09 pm
  4. Paula, I have longed to see this here since I first read it…in early November! And today.

    In this I believe…you have so much to share with the world and when you don’t blog here, I don’t learn as much from you. Many of the things you’ve said here have become critical parts of how I am thinking about schooling now, and your wisdom as a teacher inspires me.

    Thank you for stepping out here and speaking.

    With hugs and respect,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | November 27, 2011, 4:09 pm
    • Kirsten,
      You’ll be happy to know I have two more already written and scheduled for later this week, then! 🙂 I’ll be at conferences for the next two weeks, so will be tweeting the sessions I go to…hoping to have time to reflect and blog as well. I kind of feel like I’ve gone through an “Occupy Paula” movement in my head. LOL

      Hugs back–will you be at Educon again?


      Posted by Paula White | November 27, 2011, 4:30 pm
  5. Yes Paula, and this time we’re drinking.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | December 2, 2011, 3:34 pm

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