Summer Conference Reflection 1: Rick Wormeli

A few weeks ago I attended the Olathe Summer Conference in Olathe, Kansas.  This conference is offered through my school district to provide some professional development at the end of the year.  It is optional to attend, but I don’t understand why anyone would turn down the opportunity to listen to a great speaker.  So with two pens and a spiral I attended some excellent sessions.  I used one color pen to take notes of the sessions and one color to make notes of ways I would incorporate this into my classes. 

The blog post this week is more for me than anyone else.  It is my way of processing the information from the sessions.  It may be interesting or it may not.  If anything it might give you insight into how I process after a conference like this. 

The first session I had the opportunity to attend was Dare Disturb the Universe: Get Students Thinking Critically! session presented by Rick Wormeli.  At the session I primarily learned ways to get students to think outside the box and look at things from a unique perspective.  He pointed out that one of the greatest guides for students should be doubt.  It’s important to teach students to question everything and formulate their own answers/solutions to life’s questions.  Students should learn that it’s ok to fail multiple times before they can succeed.   That’s ultimately my goal as a teacher.  I want to teach kids to find their own solutions.  There will be so many questions in the future that don’t even exist yet, so how could I ever provide students with all of the answers?  Instead I want to teach them to question everything and find the answers for themselves.

Another thing I learned is to teach students to know when a writing model is appropriate to use and when it is OK to break the rules.  Often they need the foundation first, and then they can feel comfortable breaking away from that.  When attacking a text students need to use multiple approaches including (defining words, looking at transitions, and looking at signal words).  They need to have a wide arsenal of strategies at their disposal when they come to something difficult. 

It was also interesting to see the visual showing creative thinking and critical thinking having many overlapping areas.  Creative thinking and critical thinking both involve deep thought about a topic and represent a quest toward an answer.  Creative thinking works with “yes and…” statements, and critical thinking works with “yes but…” statements.

The point that sticks with me the most is that students need to do both sense making AND meaning making.  The sense making helps clarify what they learned.  The meaning making helps lock it into memory.  To do this it is important to prime the brain before learning happens.


Here are some things I would like to implement into my classroom this fall:

  • Students will practice writing the same essay to several different audiences and note the changes
  • Students will write sentences that break a grammar rule, and then explain how it breaks the rule and why
  • I want to make a poster of the 10 Rules of Advanced Thinkers and hang it up in my classroom
  • I will pose more questions like the one in the study.  Give students a challenge and let them come up with a creative solution
  • Students will memorize poems next year
  • I will incorporate at least 1 piece of art with each novel
  • I will use more attention getting prereading strategies (one of my favorites was rewriting the “boring” background knowledge in a more interesting narrative form)
  • I will incorporate at least 1 primary source speech with the World War II novel unit
  • Students will memorize and identify text structure traits
  • Students will practice narrowing down topics until they get a good focus (narrow to 4, then narrow to 4 more, etc.)
  • Students will memorize more prefixes and suffixes
  • I will put the verbs list by my desk
  • Students will use the Line Up strategy to lineup as characters from True Confessions of Charlotte Doye according to how morally sound the character is
  • Students will write 6 word memoirs about Brian from Hatchet

Letter of Appreciation

I just wrapped up the school year a little over a week ago, and I thought I would share a letter I gave to my students at the end of the year.  I don’t share this with you to say “look at how great I am for writing this letter.”  Instead I’m sharing this with you with the hopes that you will take the time in the near future to appreciate those around you.  Take a little time and let people know how much their work and effort are valued.
I gave this to the students on the last day of class, so I’m not sure what impact it had in their lives.  However, I know the process of writing it and thinking about all they had accomplished was rewarding enough for me to make it worthwhile…
Dear students,
You are awesome!  And I don’t mean that in the “I’m your teacher so I have to say that” sort of way.  In fact at this point I’m pretty much not your 6th grade teacher anymore.  I don’t have to say anything.  I’m not required to write this note.  I’m writing it because I want to and because I think it’s important that you know that YOU ARE AWESOME!
Every year I get a new group of kids to work with and mold.  Hopefully I can have an impact on their lives.  Sometimes I think I do, and other times I know I haven’t made enough of an impact.  But you need to know that regardless of the impact I make on you, you will always have an impact on me.  Every day on my way home from school I think about all of you.  I worry about things that may be bothering you.  I stress over lessons you still haven’t grasped completely.  I celebrate every victory no matter how big or small.
As your teacher it is my privilege to share 50 minutes every day with you.  You help me grow and improve as a teacher.  I love seeing the spark when something finally clicks.  I love the pride you get when you succeed at something.  I’m amazed at the challenges you overcome and obstacles you don’t let stand in your way.  This year I set the bar exceptionally high.  I set challenges in front of you that many people would think were too difficult to overcome.  But you met every challenge and exceeded every expectation.
You will leave this building at the end of the year and no longer be 6th grade students.  You will be 7th graders.  You will be the leaders of the school, the ones my new batch of 6th graders will look up to.  Be the leader I know you can be.   Gandhi once said “be the change you want to see in the world.”  Be the change you want to see at SFT.  Make this school the greatest, most welcoming place you can.
And always know this, I will always be there for you if you need me.  Once a member of Team Confidence, always a member of Team Confidence.
Thanks for being you.  You are AWESOME!
Mr. Stock
6th Grade Language Arts Teacher