Early last fall, Tracy Sharp shared with me the KonMari method, a way to banish clutter from your life by focusing only on that which brings you joy and holding onto it while letting go of the rest. Ever eager to minimize the number of piles of papers, books, and laundry decorating my home, I gave it a shot. I filled bags for Goodwill, I folded the clothing I cherished in ways I thought the clothing would feel cherished (Yep, I did. Really.)
I rid our bedroom of excess papers, books, folders, and more. However, the first load of laundry that finished at 10:00 pm on a school night, I decided maybe “just this once” I would cram some clothes in drawers and not worry so much about how that shirt “wanted” to be folded. Who would ever see inside my dresser drawers?! I wanted to sleep.
As it turns out, even though I value having a clutter-free home, I didn’t ever figure out a system that worked to support that goal. I felt productive because I was busy folding and reorganizing drawers, but I never saw a real impact in the rest of my home or in my day-to-day decisions. Then, I felt guilty and promised to find a system that worked this summer. (Well, we’re well into summer and that hasn’t happened.)
As a teacher, I often found myself in KonMari-like predicaments. I started off a school year with systems in place to support my goals: ways to track writing conferences, revisions, next steps for small groups and individuals, etc., but by December, some of those systems had fallen away. I was left with guilt and the drive to “do it differently” next year.
In reading Calkins’ One to One: the Art of Conferring with Young Writers, she believes we forget or let go of record-keeping systems because often we don’t find them useful (36). We can become so busy with the work of filling up a records chart, that we forget to ask ourselves if we value what we are taking note of and if it will help students learn better or help us teach better.
Record keeping should matter since it has the power to “channel the mindwork that will surround the split-second, on-our-toes thinking that we do as we move among children” (37). The forms we use have the power to focus our attention by requiring us to record whatever it is we want ourselves to notice and to think about as we listen to and watch kids (37).
Focusing Our Attention
Records of conferences, small groups, and observations can reinforce “thinking as the currency of our classroom” and can help students develop their identities as readers, thinkers, and problem solvers. What messages do we want to send in our conferences with students: “Will we tell a single story, a story that holds out comprehension as an “it” that a student gets or doesn’t, that puts us in the position of knowing and the student in the position of not knowing? Or will we tell stories that highlight how students know what they know, showing them the dynamic, flexible thinking and problem solving that is the essence of reading” (Barnhouse, Readers Front and Center, 41).
-As your teams design record keeping forms for conferring and small groups this fall, what values do you want reflected in them?
-Check out the “Orientation to the Unit” for the first unit in Calkins. How might the section on “The Intersection of Reading Development and This Unit” (primary) or “Supporting Skill Progressions”(intermediate) help us notice and name the powerful thinking students are already doing in order to grow their thinking?