Wednesday, June 5, 2013

My Literate Life... plus a GATE-way to Depth and Complexity!

--> My fascination with literacy is almost innate.   It has been a huge part of who I am since the very beginning. Some of my earliest memories involve “teaching” my fuzzy pupils at a small table, reading Golden Books and my illustrated Children’s Bible, putting on “plays” for my parents, and writing notes to my family members---scrawling my rudimentary thoughts onto every surface imaginable, including a dresser. Apparently my mantra was: “Communication at all costs!”   I had a burning desire to learn to write like my mom, so my “cursive” loops and squiggles showed up everywhere!
My mom says that I hit most of my milestones early, so it wasn’t too surprising to them when I started reading before kindergarten.  I wasn’t a preschool kiddo, but I credit a lot of my early literacy development to Sesame Street and supportive parents.  Rumor has it; I used to watch Sesame Street over and over again.  {I was a total PBS kid!}  I also have very early memories of reading Dr. Seuss in the doctor’s office and scoping out Highlights every chance I got.  I remember digging into my Uncle’s collection of Nova and “reading” about mummies and space explorations until I made it through every single one. The picture-rich texts were empowering and satisfying!  I think that may have been when I really fell in love with history.  It was a definite turning point.
As the years passed, my incessant chatter rang through the hallways.  My desire to gab and talk at a break-neck pace led to the nickname “Motor Mouth”.  My mom joked that I never stopped talking, and I am certain that I didn’t.  {My husband would say that I still don't.}  I couldn’t wait to come home to tell my parents all about my friends, and what I learned at school.  I gave a detailed report on a daily basis. 

Sometime during early elementary school, I was identified as “gifted”.  I remember being vaguely aware of the label, and I remember paying special attention to my “above grade level” results on standardized tests  (I was pretty data-driven, even as a kiddo, and I was very motivated by little certificates I could earn for having the highest percentages in my classes.  I always had a strong desire to achieve.)  When I think back though, I really don’t think being “gifted” affected my educational experience whatsoever.  In our elementary school, gifted students were not pulled out for any special services.  In fact, I am not sure that we were given any real opportunities to stretch at all.  Money was hard to come by in coal country, and our teachers scraped by with the minimum more often than not.  I enjoyed school, but truthfully it was probably because learning came easily to me and I got nearly everything right.  Again, I was all about fulfilling goals and checking things off of the list, even as a child.  Being “right” felt pretty good to a somewhat pretentious elementary student.
     However, I do recall feeling lots of frustration as well… for other reasons.  I remember finishing tests fairly early, and waiting for what felt like hours while the other students worked at their desks… sometimes with nothing to occupy my mind or stimulate thinking.  I would occasionally flip through stale stories in outdated “Weekly Readers”, but that was all I was permitted to do, and so I sat quietly like I was expected to do.  I also remember loathing our round robin reading time, not because I was worried about reading aloud, but because I felt bad for the kids who struggled through the text and disliked the huge amount of time devoted to it.  It just never seemed to end.  More than anything else, I was frustrated by my teacher’s frustration with me.  I was inquisitive, eager, and curious.  I asked a lot of questions, and I caught a lot of slack for it at times.  As an educator, I now realize that I was asking too many questions at a time when teachers were the ultimate questioners, and I was simply expected to regurgitate answers.  

Around this time, my parents purchased a lot of nonfiction books that allowed me to discover how Velcro was developed, facts about presidents, and how various Native American tribes lived.  They also bought a set of encyclopedias that I devoured in large chunks.  I also enjoyed working with flash cards.  I particularly enjoyed learning the state capitals.  I just couldn’t seem to learn or read enough.  I read magazines, signs, cereal boxes, comics, and tons of books.  I regularly begged my parents to take me to the library.  As a second grader, I tore into The Babysitters’ Club series and of the variations of Sweet Valley books.  I brought home five or six at a time then I would totally immerse myself in the stories.  Soon, it would be time for another trip to the library.  I would simply repeat the process.  Fortunately, I had very supportive parents who encouraged me to read and talked to me about the value of an education from a very young age.  

Outside of school, my reading life was rich and full.  I honestly don’t recall falling in love with too many stories from our basal series.  I actually don’t remember even one.  I DO remember being captivated by James and the Giant Peach during a read aloud and checking The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales out of our school library multiple times.  I just LOVED the clever interpretations of old tales!  Despite the fact that many stories in our anthology were uninspiring, I found solace in words.  I fell in love with language, and I just couldn’t wait to share new words with my parents.  I remember writing new words down and saying them repeatedly.   I would say the words in isolation and use them in sentences… trying to etch them into my memory forever.  It’s funny; because I still do that mental rehearsal to this day, and I can still remember where I was the first time I encountered certain words like “crestfallen”, “tintinnabulation”, and “ambiguity”.  Words have always invoked a lot of feelings deep inside of me.
A pivotal year in my life was my sixth grade year.  My dad took a job three hours away, and we moved to a new region of the state.  I was the new kid with an Appalachian accent, and for the first time in my life, I was acutely aware of dialects and alternate pronunciations, and the kids in my class were sure to remind me every chance they got.  I did not want to be different, so I intentionally altered my speech patterns and abandoned words like “spigot”.  I also changed my pronunciation of words like “home” and “compass”.  When you’re twelve, the last thing you want to be is different.  I also felt “injustice” for the first time.  Since I was tested with an alternate assessment in my old district, I didn’t get accepted into MEGA, the pull-out gifted program.  I sat in class and did routine seatwork while some of my classmates went to a creative, innovative thinking-haven.  After being given a medal for a 4.0 one nine-weeks, I remember asking my teacher why I didn’t get to go to MEGA even though my grades were better than my classmates.  She said, “Well, it’s because the kids were tested last year.”  I later found out that my previous school used an alternative assessment my new school apparently didn't accept, and since I came a year too late, it was too late to be tested.  That didn’t ease the blow… or my boredom.  I LOVED my teacher though (in fact we are still in touch to this day).  My teacher really was amazing, and I am sure her students adore her just as much as I did.  I loved reading The Phantom Toll Booth and doing readers’ theater with her.   Luckily, she still found ways to pique my interest & stretch me inside of the regular classroom.  I also wrote several poems that were published in the school newspaper about cats and nightmares and other assorted topics.  I wrote and I wrote and I wrote... and eventually went on to middle school.  :) 

I can totally see how every experience I had in elementary school stretched my My ultimate goal every year is to make my students fall in love with reading and writing.  I realize that my perceived passion is contagious, and the more my students see me as a literate, voracious reader, the more they will be able to see the importance of reading.  The more we discuss stories and strategies, the more they will begin to make that language and those skills their own.  The more I share my own writing processes and compositions, the more the students will internalize the joy that can be obtained through communicating your thoughts and making them permanent and tangible. 

As I look forward, into my future, I also find myself peering into the past.  It’s not too difficult to see how my own educational experiences have shaped my career.  Earlier this year, one of my students raised her hand in the middle of class and said, “Mrs. Nickerson, sometimes I feel like I’m a Mini-You.  I love reading lots of books too, and I think words are fascinating.  You said that you love to write, and I do too.  I love writing all sorts of things like poems and stories.  I just love school and learning sooo much. I think I want to be either a teacher or a veterinarian when I grow up.”  Honestly, that little earnest comment struck a nerve. It made an impact. This little gifted kiddo is identifying with me.  She sees herself in me.  I owe it to her to be the best teacher I can me, and should she decide to be a teacher too, I owe it to her future students as well.  I’m definitely up for the challenge!
So, with all of that said, I wanted to share a new bundle with you called "A GATE-way to Depth and Complexity"!  {That is, if you're still reading this after my super nerdy rant about how much I identify with my kiddos and want to be the best I can be.  Ha!}  I am so excited to use these icons with my kiddos to help them become more strategic thinkers and infuse my lessons with more depth and complexity.  :)  I am excited that I will have such a cute resource to help them associate certain mental tasks with an image.  That's so powerful.  :)   So, here it is:

Here are some "action shots"...if you will.  I have already started the process of printing and cutting.
These are my D&C Jot Spots.... awaiting sticky notes from eager kiddos!  :)  I left text off of each page so that they can easily be adapted to use in any subject in a variety of different ways.   If you look at the following pictures, you can see how I created thinking stems or suggestions as a starting point for each set of Jot Spots.

These little beauties are for anchor charts.  I plan on using them to code our thinking when we make graphic organizers or other charts.  :)  I may even make them into necklaces to assign roles when we are working on a particular text.  I am intentionally trying to keep this flexible so I can use it a variety of different ways throughout the year.

These are posters that include key words for each icon.   I plan on displaying them in our classroom!

These mini-posters will be utilized on a ring as a reference material in our small group area.  :)

I think that pretty much sums it up!  It's been a long day for me... writing SLOs for Language Arts with other teachers from our county has wiped me OUT!  I believe it's time to relax and unwind with my hubs... because THAT'S what summer vacations are all about!  Right?!  Have a good one! 


  1. WOW!!! This was a powerful entry. I am struggling with how to teach my reading groups. I tried a variety of things this year and doing literature sets (especially with my struggling kiddos) was the most successful. As I sat looking at all of my objectives and trying to figure out what to do today, I got overwhelmed and put it away. I just opened up your blog and feel inspired by you. Thank you for putting your heart and passion out there for all to see and learn from. I love what you have done and hope to use it in my classroom. Thank you for encouraging me at this critical time.

  2. Your monologue reminds me of myself in school.
    And I'm glad to see your packet - because one of my frustrations is how to sufficiently challenge or push my higher students - especially since my daughter is a gifted student - I don't want to leave those kids out. Looks like a great packet! Sara

  3. You timed these perfect for me! Our school will be starting the Cambridge Primary program next year and I will be teaching the 3rd grade class. I will definitely be using these.

    Learning's a Hoot

  4. I got a student in February who was identified as gifted at her old school and I felt really intimidated. I had zero experience with gifted students (there have been some I suspected) and it's like our district doesn't recognize they exist. :S I mean, we're expected to differentiate to "the top and the bottom," and there are supports for students on IEPs for learning difficulty, but nothing really in place for gifted students.

    Fortunately (for me!) she's very polite and quiet, and she's been content with the challenge work our math series provides. But I do feel like in other areas the work has been too easy for her. I'll have to look into Depth and Complexity this summer!