In the Zone.

This must be what Cam Newton feels like now that the Panthers clinched the NFC South Championship title and are off to the playoffs this weekend against the 49ers in Charlotte.

I’m feeling good — I’m feeling very on top of my game. I don’t know if this is because I just spent two weeks literally doing nothing related to school and now I’m back in the classroom ready to go, but whatever it is, I’m thankful for it.

I’m not necessarily ahead with my plans, nor am I behind; I set a goal to leave by 4pm every day this week and stopped working on school stuff at a certain cut off point, too (this is part of my new year’s resolution — look at me, trying to take back my personal life!). I’ll take some time tomorrow and other days to try to get ahead, especially since I’ll be gone next week at a conference, but for right now the priority is my sanity and relaxation.

It’s only been two days back from break, but we are just moving right along in Room 40. We’ve started discussing the elements of a story, and I’m really excited about this fiction unit we’re starting called “Following Characters into Meaning.” The non-fiction unit we did right before break was great and we made some pretty incredible projects to show our learning (evidence here – check out the blog post from December 7!) , but I think I like fiction so much because it’s so imaginative. As an adult, I know I read way more non-fiction than fiction anymore, but I think there’s something magical about fiction to a child.

I’ve taught them about the exposition, rising action, and climax so far this week — tomorrow we’ll tackle the falling action and the resolution. Then we’ll discuss the plot and conflict, and how the conflict and the climax are different. The kids are doing a really incredible job plotting their stories on plot diagrams, and they’re getting just as excited as I am for this new unit! We’re having a blast with our TPR activities, and I think they feel super smart saying the word “exposition” instead of “beginning” (because hey, who doesn’t love learning a new vocabulary word and proceeding to show it off to everyone you know?).

This week I’ve also decided to not pull any groups. I’ll be out of town Monday-Thursday of next week (Ocracoke, C and I are comin’ for ya!), and after that I’ll be testing for middle-of-year benchmarks until the very end of January. I decided to just cool it with the groups so we could ease into our routine a bit this week, and I think that was a very good decision. The last two days, I’ve been able to take time with individual students who need help. I can walk around, make sure the kids are actually understanding the elements of a story, and check in with everyone. I’ve also been able to take time to just talk to kids about their books, and I’m targeting those kids who usually wouldn’t get more individualized attention. I know a lot of my time when I’m with groups goes to the kids who are reading below grade level (which is mandated), and so there are some kids who I generally don’t see as often, and it’s been amazing connecting with them and hearing them talk about their books.

When I was scanning the room today, my heart felt really happy seeing so many young people divulging in books — good books, too! Books that they’re choosing, books that they’re reading, books that they’re writing about.

I noticed a girl (ARD) on the carpet who is in one of my on-grade level groups, so I called her over to my table. Now, this girl was one of the first to finish her plot diagram (she had a prime spot on the carpet for reading), and she did a beautiful job writing about the rising action and climax of her story in her journal. ARD got to my table and showed me the book she was reading, and it was a book about mummies.

NERD ALERT: As a child (and kind of to date), I was really interested in mummies and ancient Egypt (still my #1 destination in the world I’d like to go someday) and the history/tradition behind mummies. Actually, for my senior year spring break, I spent a day at Discovery Place in Charlotte with my dad at this mind-blowing mummy exhibit. So. Cool.

ARD started telling me about the book and how she was really interested in it, and I decided I would do something about her interest — I decided I would foster some passion and drive her curiosity about the subject. The two of us looked through the book together, and I asked her if she’d like to do an independent project about mummies.

Her eyes got wide and she asked me what I meant.

I told her that if she wanted to learn more about mummies, then she could! She could finish reading that book, and during center time next week when I’m gone she can read articles online about mummies and take notes and whatnot. She was thrilled and we discussed what her final product would be — she came up with questions she wanted to answer and decided that she would compare the mummies of Egypt, Europe, and South America in a triple Venn diagram.

How awesome is this? REAL LEARNING AT ITS BEST, Y’ALL. This child is truly reading to learn, and she’s legitimately enjoying it.

I never want a child to not want to pick up a book. I never want them to be scared for life in regards to required reading and meaningless book reports. I, as a child’s teacher, am in that classroom to cater to his/her need while educating him/her in the most effective way possible.

I’m 100% in the zone. I don’t feel like I’m teaching to standards or a test right now — I just feel like I’m teaching, like I’m connecting with my kids, like I’m doing my job. I’m getting my kids SUPER PUMPED about reading fiction and understanding stories on a deeper level, and I’m cultivating a love for literature. That, to me, is something really beautiful and fulfilling and encouraging. I really wish I could explain it better (I swear, I’m usually more eloquent); it’s so easy to see someone like an athlete when (s)he’s in the zone, and it might even be easier to see a business person in the zone, too. It’s all quantifiable — points, goals, sales. But teaching is something so intangible and complex — it’s deeper than what we see.

Part of me is really bummed that I’m missing Monday-Thursday next week. It’s been such a stellar transition into 2014 with my kids, and I wouldn’t trade my time with them for the world. Here’s to hoping that 2014 keeps up to gold star par!

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