A New Adventure

I am on my way down a new path in my teaching career.  Three weeks ago I made a last minute decision to apply for a Math TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment) position.  I had heard about the position last month, but thought against applying.  I have so many things going on in my life, and I felt going for the TOSA job would be too much.  However, the day before the application was due, I decided to at least apply for it.  The process would be a good learning experience for me.  After reading the book Mindset, by Carol Dweck.  I am trying very hard to embrace the growth mindset.  The problem was that I made the decision to go forward with applying the night before I was to turn in all the paper work.  Fortunately, I was able to gather all the necessary papers and recommendations and turn my application in to the District Office by 4:00.  A few days later I received a phone call for an interview.

The interview went well, I felt.  I had prepared by thinking of possible questions I thought the interviewers would ask me the night before the interview.  I got to my interview a few minutes early so I could go over my notes and meditate before-hand.  I was calm, and I was ready when I was called into the little room.  There were four people on the interview panel.  It helped that I knew two of them.  It’s always nice to see a friendly, familiar face when you are in these stressful situations.  I was able to answer the questions thrown at me.  Then, I was asked to watch a short video clip and provide feedback.  I thought that was interesting.  I liked that there was a task involved instead of just answering questions.  The interview ended, and I was told that we would hear who was selected the next week.  I forgot to ask how many people had applied, but I knew they were going to select five to serve as math coaches for the district.

The waiting game is difficult. It was Tuesday afternoon when I decided to just go home early from work.  I was exhausted, and I wanted to spend some time with my three kids.  I am normally at work until about 4:30, but on this day I left work around 3:15.  I think I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t heard anything yet.  I arrived home, talked to my daughters and helped with homework.  The house phone rang at around 4:00 and my youngest daughter, Allison, picked it up.  I was thinking to myself, “Who is calling me at 4:00 on the house phone?”  Most friends and people I know call me on my cell phone.  My daughter handed me the phone and it was one of the interviewers calling to tell me I got the job.  🙂  However, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about making it just yet.  Things had to be completed on their end and a formal announcement would be made.  When?  I did not know.  So, I went to work the next day unable to tell my friends.  That was the most difficult thing to do.  I was so happy and wanted to share my news.  When they would ask me if I heard anything, I had to say no.  My friends were starting to get a little angry about them not letting me know anything.  Finally, an email was sent to the whole district announcing who the math coaches would be, and I could share my story.

Wow!  I still can’t believe it.  This means I will be spending next year out of the classroom.  Instead I will be coaching other teachers and supporting them with their math instruction.  Because our district is focusing on the Math CCSS, they are trying this new model of math coaches.  I don’t think it has ever been done in my district this way.  I explained at my interview that I did not profess to be a math whiz.  In fact, I was a bit of a math phobic as a kid.  I saw math as a set of rules and formulas that I had to memorize and remember.  I could never remember!  It was only as an adult, when I took my math methods courses in college for my teaching credential that I understood how important the conceptual foundation of teaching math was.  It began to make sense to me.  Even though I am not a math guru, I love teaching math.  I know. . . strange.  My husband joked with me when I told him I had applied for this job.  He said, “You do know this is for MATH.”  He knows math is not my strong suit.  However, I am thinking I won’t necessarily be teaching math concepts.  I will be coaching other teachers on best mathematical practices.  I am just guessing, because I don’t really know yet.

Now the hard part really begins.  I have to pack my classroom up.  I have 25 years of stuff to go through.  The good news is a few years ago, I moved from one classroom to another and got rid of a lot of things.  But, now I have to dwindle it down even more.  I have already been told by my husband that I cannot bring my boxes home.  There is just no room at the inn!  🙂  I don’t know what I am going to do.  I may have to think about renting a storage unit.  The other thing I am wondering is how this is going to affect my work with the San Diego Area Writing Project.  Since I am no longer in the classroom, I will not have a chance to practice writing strategies with students.  In my interview, I explained to the panel that writing was another passion of mine.  I am hoping I can incorporate what I have learned about writing instruction and merge it with math instruction.  I am going to work hard to accomplish that.  I think it will be just as beneficial for the teachers as it will be for students.

The position is only for a year.  After that, I will have to return to the classroom.  But, who knows?  I will be done with my administrative credential work (I hope!).  Then, I may be on an altogether different path in my teaching career.  For now, I am just so happy to be on the path I am at the moment.  I can’t wait for all the growth and learning that is waiting for me.  It will be hard work, but I am also hoping it will be fun and fulfilling.  We shall see.  🙂


Wanted: More Technology

Picture this scene.  The bell has rung.  Students are filing out of the classroom to head to the playground for recess.  One of my students lags behind.  He is one of my reluctant writers.  Before heading out, he utters the words that any teacher would like to hear.  He says, “Mrs. Kozak, I want you to know that I love writing.  I am having fun writing about my animal.”  That comment really warmed my heart.

As a teacher, I try to approach instruction with excitement and enthusiasm.  Some days are better than others, if I must be honest.  For the past few weeks, my students have been working on informative writing.  They have been working on writing animal reports.  I have had to alter my plans a bit since we do not have access to the computer lab this month.   I had plans for students to type their report in the style of a news article with pictures and captions.  However, the computer lab has been closed so that 3rd through 5th grade students can take the Smarter Balance Assessment.  This means my 2nd graders have limited access to technology.  We are unable to do any research, word process, or blog about our learning.  It’s gotten to the point where I have invited my students to bring in their own devices to work around the issue of no computers.  It is frustrating at times, because only a handful of my students have a device to bring in.

Tonight in one of my Twitter chatrooms, we talked about the SAMR model.  It’s a way to integrate digital learning that leads to high levels of student achievement.

SAMR Model

The basic level is substitution.  The highest level is redefinition.  It is difficult to get students to redefinition when you don’t have the technology to do it.

That’s why I value the comments my students make about their learning.  Even with limited technological resources, we are making do.  I wish I had a cart full of iPads or Chromebooks, but I don’t.  Somehow, I have got to give my students a 21st century education, but I am lacking the tools to do so.  I was given one iPad to use with my group of 26 students.  I am still trying to figure out how to utilize it so all my students can get their hands on it.  If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear it.

My students are so amazing.  There are so many things we could accomplish if only we had the resources.  I am ready to show them how.  All I need are the technology tools.  In the meantime, we will keep plugging along.  I will have to find other ways for my students to show their creativity.  That means that I will also have to get creative!  Am I up for the challenge?  I hope so!


SDAWP Spring Conference 2014

It was a cloudy March morning.  A threat of rain was imminent, but about 150 participants attended the San Diego Area Writing Project’s Spring Conference at the University of California, San Diego.  The conference opened up with a discussion about fear and courage.  Christine Kane, co-director of SDAWP, shared information about how the brain is affected when confronted with fearful situations.  She shared evidence based on scientific studies that the way you can come to terms with fear is to put yourself in those situations that trigger it.

At this point, I was thinking how apropos it was that fear was the focus of Christine’s talk.  That is what I was feeling at that moment-FEAR!  The main reason for this was because I was presenting in the first session of the conference.  I knew right after Christine’s opening, it would be my turn to address the room.  So, I can’t say I was fully engaged with her at this time.  I was thinking about my presentation and hoped it would go smoothly.

The other reason I was experiencing fear was because I was trying to get my iPhone to connect to the wifi in that particular room.  My presentation was going to be in this room and I needed to be connected to the wifi.  My iPhone was a remote control for my iPad.  Both of my devices had to be on the same wifi in order to communicate.  Secretly, I was panicking in the back of the room.  The wifi would connect and then disconnect, connect and then disconnect, connect and then disconnect. I was getting frustrated.  Kim Douillard, director of SDAWP, recommended I go outside the room to connect and then go back inside.  I did that and then, when I walked back into the room, the wifi would disconnect.  Ahhhhh!  My presentation was in 5 minutes.  I had a backup plan, but you always hate when Plan A doesn’t pan out.

Fortunately, I was able to connect and stay connected for the duration of my presentation which was entitled Using Mentor Text to Lead our Primary Writers.   I talked about the writing process in my classroom and the journey I took using mentor text with my kids to craft leads for informative pieces.  As I continue with this journey, I realize that the particular leads I shared with my students can be used across text types, not just with informative writing.

I think the presentation went well.  At least, that is what people told me after the fact.  One thing did go wrong, however.  I did not have enough handouts for the people who went to my session.  I felt bad about that, but I just have no way of knowing ahead of time how many people will show up.  Oh well, I will be more prepared next time.  If there is a next time!  🙂  Here is a picture my friend, Margaret, took during the session.


I was pretty happy with my presentation.  Just like Christine said earlier, I put myself in a fearful situation this morning.  Hopefully, the more I do this, the less fear I will have.

For the second session, I attended Stacey Goldblatt’s presentation entitled Supporting Student Writers:  One Paragraph at a Time.  Here is a picture of Stacey proclaiming to be a rebel.  She is so cool!


Stacey shared a formula on how to get students to write strong paragraphs.  This formula was called AXES (assertion, eXample, explanation, significance).  In conjunction with mentor texts, she uses this formula to get her students to expand on their writing.  Even though the formula acts as a frame for students, their final pieces do not come out sounding exactly the same as one another.  Using the AXES process, students have choices and can use their voice when they write.  Stacey had many great ideas on how to teach the 4 parts of an effective paragraph.  She starts out with students writing about their personal truths rather than opinions.  Then, she shared a great way to use transition words in writing.  Oh, and it involved Popsicle sticks!


All in all, it was a fantastic day.  I learned so many practical things I can use in my classroom starting on Monday.  My brain is on overload.  I also learned something about myself.  I can do anything I set my mind to.  I need to have more confidence in my abilities.  Thanks SDAWP for continuing to push me out of my box.

Let’s Try That Again

Have you ever had this experience?  You try something out, and it just doesn’t work?  Well, this happened to me the other day.  I had a lofty idea that my students would be able to take one of three leads that we had worked with before and revise a lead from a story they wrote in their journals previously.  I had them rewrite a lead using mentor text we had seen before.  My students assured me they knew what to do.  However, when I checked their work, it turned out they were all confused.

I decided to take that failed lesson and use it to my advantage.  I realized that I had released the responsibility too early. I took the training wheels off the bike too soon.  Today, I worked with the students to analyze the mentor text we used for leads.  We looked at each example more closely.  Each student had a copy of the sample leads.  We wrote notes in the margins of our paper to help us think about the author’s plan.

After analyzing the different leads, I gave the students a story to read about a park ranger.  As they read, they were to highlight all the info that showed the perks of being a park ranger.  Then, we brainstormed all the reasons that supported our topic.  We actually put evidence to that effect on another sheet of paper.  After much discussion and brainstorming, it was time to write.  I felt that this went smoothly.  Students could take information from their brainstorm sheet and include it in their writing.  Since we analyzed the leads and talked about characteristics of each, I felt like the students had a better understanding of how to start their opinion pieces.

At the end of the writing workshop period, I asked the students to sit at the meeting area to talk about this writing experience.  They liked the idea that we looked closely at each lead.  We read sample leads and we analyzed them. We looked at the author’s moves in each passage.  The students wrote notes in the margins of their copy of the leads.  My students also liked the idea that I had retyped the story about park rangers so they could highlight and mark up the text.

We are still working on these opinion papers in class.   Tomorrow, I will collect them and see what the students come up with.  I felt great about this lesson.  But, more importantly, the students felt good, too.

I’m Still Here

I realize I haven’t posted anything to my blog this weekend.  I basically wanted to just pull the covers over my head this morning and stay in bed all day.  Of course, this is not what I did.  However, I did take the opportunity to sleep in this morning.  I even started reading my book club book.  I wanted to go for a run, but my strained hamstring is still bugging me.  My hamstring is feeling better, but it is still sore.  Running is out of the question for a while.

I know why I am feeling tired today.  Yesterday I had class for my administrative credential.  After class, I had a meeting to discuss my presentation on March 1st for the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) Spring Conference.  When I got home, I had some homework to complete and then, the rest of the evening was devoted to organizing my notes and my Power Point presentation for the conference.  At one point during the evening, I decided I just needed to save my work and turn off the computer.  I decided to pour myself a glass of wine and enjoy the coverage of the Winter Olympics.

I needed to take a break.  I needed a moment to shut my brain off.  Unfortunately, that meant taking a break from writing on my blog.  I did write, but it was for other reasons.  I am glad it is Sunday.  It’s the start of a new week.  Time to start all over.  Time for new ideas.  Time to get moving again.

Opinion Writing

This month I have been exploring the opinion/argument text type with my 2nd graders.  For the most part, my students know the difference between fact and opinion.  We have written several different types of opinion pieces.  I started out with writing a product review.  I brought several board games into my classroom for the students to play.  After they played with a particular game, they had to write a review of the game.  We used several reviews I copied off the Internet as mentor texts.

Now, we are concentrating on writing book reviews.  We have written a book review all together, but now I want to see if the students can attempt to write one on their own.  I took a break from book reviews because I was absent for two days the week before last.  And, instead of having the substitute attempt book reviews, I had the students work on something else for writing.  I had the substitute read The Perfect Pet, Margie Palatini.  It is a cute story about a girl who is trying to convince her parents that she needs a pet.  Instead, the parents get her a plant.  She finally ends up getting a pet, but it is pretty unusual.

I had my students write an opinion about the kind of pet they would like to have.  They had to come up with at least three or more reasons as to why their pet would be the perfect pet.  My second graders know the frame for writing an opinion piece.  They know they need an opening statement that includes their opinion.  Following this, they know they have to write their reasons.  And finally, they know they are required to have a closing statement that is related to their first sentence.  All my students understand this, but man, are their pieces boring.  And, they all sound the same.

I received some wonderful ideas from my SDAWP friends last Saturday.  So, I am ready to try something new tomorrow.  I went to TweenTribune for grade appropriate articles and I found one entitled, Would You Eat a Giant Worm?  I am pretty sure the majority of my students would say they would not eat a giant worm.  First, I will show them the picture at the beginning of the article, and then brainstorm ideas why they would NOT want to eat the worm.  I figure these ideas could be used for counterarguments.  Then, I would have students read the short article and highlight all the reasons why someone should eat the worm.  Finally, I will have them write an opinion piece based on the evidence from the text to support their reasons.  I don’t know if any of this will work, but my hope is that the students can see there are other ways to write an opinion piece.  I will let you know how it goes.

The Cowardly Lion

I was thinking about this character from the Wizard of Oz today.  He wanted to see the Wizard to ask him for some courage.  I don’t need courage as much as I need confidence.  This is because I have known for a few weeks that I would be presenting at this year’s San Diego Area Writing Project Spring Conference.  At first I was honored and excited that I was selected.  Then, I felt nervous and anxious about the whole thing.  However, it didn’t really hit home until this morning.

This morning I attended a follow-up meeting with my summer cohort.  We did some writing work in the morning.  Each of us participated in an activity where we shared resources, ideas, and experiences with everyone in the room.  We did this by writing on a piece of chart paper that was divided into 4 quadrants.  Every person in the room had a page that we passed around the room.  In the first quadrant was the issue we wanted help with.  Mine was on how to get my students to write opinion pieces with more substance.  As the pages were passed around, each person wrote something down in one or more of the sections.  We kept passing until we eventually got our chart paper back.  I really enjoyed that activity.  I believe it is something I could do with my 2nd graders.  When it was all over, I received some wonderful ideas on my chart that I could try in my classroom next week.

Next, I met with the four other teachers who will also be presenting on March 1st.  We received coaching from Christine Kane, co-director of SDAWP.  I looked around at everyone in my group and marveled at their confidence.  Why am I so nervous?  Why can’t I just be cool and relaxed like the other four?  Maybe my brain is not wired for that.  Perhaps I am missing some chemical in my brain that can help relieve my anxiety.  I suppose I am nervous because I don’t want to let anybody down.  My cohort believed I could do this, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone.  Public speaking is not my forte.  I was not expecting to be selected as a presenter.  I am more of the set up the chairs and tables kind of person.  I like working behind the scenes, but I also know this experience will be good for me.  It is something I have always wanted to do.  I have attended many workshops and presentations and wondered if I could do that.  Now, I have a chance to find out if I can.  I think it’s just like with everything I attempt for the first time.  I become more comfortable after I get the first one under my belt.  This is the same feeling I get when I am participating in a triathlon.  The swim portion always makes me nervous even though I have done it many times before.

I know I can do it.  I just need to remember to breathe.  There is no wizard to give me the courage/confidence for this.  I will need to find it in myself, just like the lion had all along.  Maybe I will have to take a shot of liquid courage (Tequila?) before the presentation to help me through.  No, that would not be good.  I guess I will just wait until after my presentation is over to take that shot.  🙂