Rocks and Rekindling

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Rocks and Rekindling

During my elementary school years, a rock tumbler in what we called the “front room” provided a steady rumble throughout my childhood home. Never acquiring the knack for hunting arrowheads like my parents, I settled on rocks. From a desert rose quartz to glinting “fool’s gold,” I adored the challenge of finding various rocks. Most of my finds were accidental, but, as with many of my life pursuits, I preferred happy accidents to searches that ended in disappointment.

In June of this year, my husband, my son, and I vacationed in the Big Bend area. The home in which we stayed featured several outdoor sitting areas. One of my favorites was under the carport, simply because of the mesmerizing specimen of fluorite the owner had placed on display. Every day, I found respite from the heat in that spot, and every day, I imagined finding a beautiful piece of fluorite like that one to take home from our travels.

Eventually, I found my rock. Browsing through a local shop, The Cheshire Cat, I spotted various rocks for sale throughout the store. After explaining my search to the store owner, she led me out back where I finally found my take-home rock.

A long forty years had passed from the last time I had tumbled a rock as a ten-year old to a search for a rock as a 51-year old. That one specimen of fluorite had reawakened my love of rocks, and I’m beginning my second collection of a lifetime.

It’s never too late to take up something one loved as a child. With that in mind, I think of the students in my high school classroom, particularly those students who loved reading and who loved writing as children. It’s not too late for them to rekindle that love for words.

By providing a plethora of Young Adult (YA) literature in my classroom and encouraging free-choice reading, I witness the daily re-discovery of the love of reading. No, sophomores and juniors don’t have the same amount of leisure time that elementary or even middle school students do; nevertheless, my students are learning to creatively carve out time to read. Some that have been successful at snatching those moments say they find time to read as they are going to sleep, right after they do their chores, immediately after football practice, and during school when they finish assignments. It’s amazing how creative students can become with their time when they realize I expect them to be readers. At the end of each week, I have a reading conference with each student. By this point in the year, the students are often leading the conference: telling me about their book, the surprises they’ve had while reading, the way they’ve found time to read, and their goal for the following week. I’ve added a place on my reading form for each student to initial and for me to initial, validating our shared goals for the amount of pages to read and their dedication to carving out time to read. Individual reading record sheet 3rd week 2014-15

Except for a handful of students who balk at the thought of reading outside of school, 95% of them are experiencing gains in the amount of reading they’re doing (time spent and pages read), their enjoyment of reading, and their goals for themselves as readers (knowing the next book they want to read, increasing their “pages to read” goal, and desiring to branch out into varied genres.)

Writing almost daily and providing one-to-one verbal feedback assists students in rediscovering their writing voices. Writing is hard work, but, by incorporating choice into our writing routine, it becomes an opportunity to enjoy the creative process of forming words and ideas. During the first six weeks, I allowed students to choose their writing topics. I provided a list of suggestions which were mainly based on what they were reading, but we also had a weekly topic on the board. Students add to the white board throughout the week, providing writing possibilities for other students. Some students stop me before or after class, asking if they may write about something they care deeply about.

The last week of the first six weeks, I asked the students to select their favorite draft to revise and edit. After two peer editing opportunities, students met with me individually for about 10 minutes to set final goals and expectations for their final product. I was able to quickly reteach writing mini-lessons from the past weeks as well as teach more sophisticated writing strategies to students who were ready for those.

Upon completing this blog post, I will return to reading my students’ final drafts and marveling at how they have cleverly crafted sentences, seamlessly integrated figurative imagery, and gradually rediscovered their love of producing written language. Like my rekindled admiration for rock collecting, my students are rekindling their love of reading and writing.

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About Katrina Gonzales

Having taught almost 30 years, I have a wealth of knowledge to share about the field of education---some good knowledge, some not-so-good knowledge, and some knowledge that might just blow your mind, or not. I decided to name this blog "Mining the Magic" as a tribute to those magical moments that surface often unexpectedly in the classroom. After this much time in education, however, I realized that those magical moments are never random; lots of planning, hard work, and the establishment of a community of learners precludes these extraordinary, and seemingly magical, times in the classroom. Currently, I "mine" the "magic" in Room 320 at Sonora High School. In the past 29 years, I've been known to teach Early Childhood Handicapped, 8th Grade ELA, self-contained elementary, and even adults as a consultant at Education Service Center XV. While I am turned into a claustrophobic mess at the thought of actually spelunking in a natural cavern, the lovely formations that occur in the classroom fascinate me. It's with this eye for a "jewel" with a student that I set out to explain how to "mine the magic."

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