“The Choice is Yours” by Black Sheep.  I used to love this song, and still do.

My favorite part of the song was/is the following:

Engine, Engine, Number 9
On the New York transit line
If my train goes off the track
Pick it up! Pick it up! Pick it up!

It’s Easter time, a time when Christians celebrate a black sheep of his own era, Jesus Christ.  And it’s Jesus who gave the parable of the lost sheep to teach about God’s love for us.

Here it is in Luke 15:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

As teachers, we are shepherds.  Good teachers are good shepherds, willing to lay down their lives for their sheep.  My mind sadly thinks of the Sandy Hook teachers who exemplified this.

Although all teachers thankfully won’t be put in this position, all teachers will have their own lost sheep.  

On this topic, there are students who get lost socially or emotionally, but in this blog post, I’d like to touch upon some of those students who get lost academically.

Most of our users utilize Chronicle for R/W workshop conferring notes, which of course is one of its intended purposes.  But before discussing how Chronicle can be used to pick up some of our own lost sheep in order to keep student learning on track, I should first provide some background.

My students use Google Docs as a digital reading notebook, utilized primarily for their written responses to their nightly reading.  I will often have them copy and paste these responses into a Google Form, which allows me to capture their responses at a glance, as opposed to either a.) going into each of their files one by one; or b.) walking around the classroom and looking at each of their screens one by one.

During some recent comprehension work (assessed via Google Forms), I realized my students needed some work identifying the tone of a text.  Consequently, I taught a whole-class lesson on tone/mood, and I asked my students to apply the lesson to a previously encountered text, “The Growin’ of Paul Bunyan.” I wove this text into our Making Claims Across Genres unit while simultaneously getting in some PARCC practice work.  Two birds, one stone.

Students were to find matching text evidence to support the claim that the text describing Paul Bunyan in the beginning of the story had a prideful tone, later to be replaced with one of humility as Paul Bunyan learns that growing something “ain’t so easy.”

An “on-the track” response:

The tone in “The Growin’ of Paul Bunyan changes from prideful to humble throughout the story. I think that this is so because in the beginning of the text Paul chops down all of Johnny’s trees. He says that it took Johnny 6 days to plant them all and it only took him 3 days to chop them all down. This proves that Paul thinks that he is so much better than Johnny because he chopped down all the trees. Though, at the end the tone is humble. Paul becomes humble when he realizes that growing trees is hard. You have to water it, make sure it has light, keep the rabbits away and make sure it doesn’t freeze. It really is hard. So, Paul then realizes that he was wrong when he said that growing trees is easy.

An “off-the-track” response:
First Paul feels pride because he cut down all the trees and then feels humble when he finds out how hard trees are to grow.

A lost sheep.  A student who fell off the tracks.

Time to pick this student up.

I met with this student, and I soon discovered that the reason for the response was that there were no directions, which was news to me because, well, I included directions.  I drew the student’s attention to about a half inch above when his/her eyes were, and asked this student to read the text.

“Oh, the directions.”

I continued to probe further and also discovered that the “RATE” (some may know it as “RACE” or “RACER”) response format I taught in the beginning of the year had vanished like a thief in the night.

So I retaught this student that good readers support their thinking by citing text evidence, whether directly and/or indirectly….yada, yada, yada.

As this student was in front of me, I entered a conference note and asked the student to grab his/her reading notebook (traditional marble notebook, which we use to take notes and jot down thoughts and such the old fashioned way – a way that I feel is especially important to maintain in elementary school).

This notebook couldn’t be located.  Oy vey!  A piece of paper would have to suffice.  I instructed the student to apply what I had just taught.  Returning to me after a quick rush job, I sent the student back to work on the task again.

After returning for the second time, I was able to take a before and after pic.  This helped to:

  1.  Highlight the difference between the two attempts, allowing the student to better understand what was missing.
  2. Set expectations.
  3. Show he/she is capable of completing the task!

Below are a few screenshots:

All pictures of student work are stored within each note so, if needed, they can be easily accessed for future purposes, such as:

-Progress reports (We have two related report card descriptors: “Follows directions” and “Shows evidence of active reading through written responses”

-Parent communication

-Child study team meetings

And even if the conference note isn’t used for any of the above, when a student sees a note being entered, the process itself proclaims:  “Hey, my teacher will know.  My teacher will follow through. My teacher values my learning.”

This helps to hold students accountable.

But we as teachers are also accountable, aren’t we?

Accountable for our sheep.

Our students.

For we are to know when they’re lost.

We are to pursue them when they’re lost.

And it’s those times when our students fall off the track, we’re to…

Pick em’ up! Pick em’ up! Pick em’ up!

Happy Easter!