Saturday, April 27, 2013

Building my Writer's Habit with the Magic Spreadsheet

Sounds like a crazy title, right? If you're not interested in writing, you may not be interested in reading this post, but my writing friends may benefit.

I've previously shared that I have a dream of publishing a professional book and that I've even done some fictional writing that I'd like to get published so I've added some writing podcasts to my Morning Professional Development (listening to my iPod while getting ready each morning).  So far, the best podcast I've found is I Should Be Writing, by fictional author Mur Lafferty. In one of her podcasts she talked about how the Magic Spreadsheet gave her the motivation to write for 100 days.  I was intrigued and wondered what could possibly be so magical about a spreadsheet?  When I listened to how she and other writers use it, I knew it would totally be the magic I need.

I am the kind of person that likes to see progress in action. I like to mark a star on the calendar when I work out (ok, that was actually pre-ipod times for me), I liked seeing my weight chart go down in my fitness app when I was losing weight, I use the app Simple Goals to tally many of my daily goals, so the Magic Spreadsheet did look magical to me!

The idea of it is just a basic spreadsheet in which you enter the number of words that you write each day, with the goal of writing 250 words.  I have found that 250 words is really quite easy...just a couple of paragraphs in about 15 minutes.  Each day that you write 250 words or more, you get a point, but also an additional point for each consecutive day of writing.  So, on the fist day you get 1 point, second day-2 points, fourth day-4 points and so on. Stop a day of writing and you break the chain having to start with 1 point the day you write again.  The folks in Mur's writing network have actually gamified this so that they are entering their daily words into a public google spreadsheet and have all kinds of additional bonuses and can "level up" (like increasing their daily 250 word minimum to 400).  I was a little overwhelmed seeing their spreadsheet (and couldn't even figure out how to join in), but could easily figure out how to download the individual spreadsheet and get started.

It has been a week and I have used the magic to write for 7 consecutive days with a total of 2,787 words.  I was worried that it would be too soon for me to post this, but I have never written for 7 consecutive days so I think I'm in the clear. Within these seven days I had 1 day of the flu  and 2 days that I was so dead tired that I didn't think I could write 250 words, but did, because I didn't want to start over with 1 point...and I'm just "competing" with myself!  (Sidenote-This made me wonder if this could be something for students to develop a writers' habit? We may possibly be 1:1 with iPads next year, so Google Drive will need to add the word count feature to the iPads!)

Do you want to find the Magic Spreadsheet?  Go HERE  for the podcast. The link in the description takes you to their google doc, but the first person's comment in the post has a link to download the individual spreadsheet.

If you're a writer in my PLN and know how to turn this Magic Spreadsheet into a public google doc like Mur's writers did, please let me know, because I would love to do so (just couldn't figure it out!)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Changing Behaviors to Change Beliefs...A Personal Reflection

I recently had to give up drinking coffee due to chronic pain issues.  This was very hard for me to do, because I drank three cups of coffee a day (sometimes more).  Coffee was a staple of my life that I relied on for waking up, getting my ideas going, a pick-me up during the day, my energy when the day's work was tiring, a stress reliever and just the comfort of a warm cup in my hand.  When students at school draw pictures of me, they often include a coffee cup in my hand!  If you, too, are a coffee drinker, then I'm sure you can imagine my reluctance to give it up.

It was not easy, but I did what I was told while dragging my feet, not believing this could possibly help my situation.  I looked for decaffeinated teas to try to trick my brain by still having a hot cup in my hand, but it was so disgusting to me it was no substitute.  On mornings after a late night I struggled to get moving, thinking, "maybe just one cup wouldn't be so bad" but then mentally slapped my hand at the thought.  One day my self-control lacked and while on a drive to a meeting, my car was an auto-pilot and swung
through the McDonald's drive through to get my favorite mocha frappe as I always do without even realizing it until afterwards.  I'm not one to waste money, so I drank it knowing it was a dumb idea, and later regretted it (both mentally and physically).

Why am I sharing this? Not to whine, complain or get empathy...I promise I'm done with that aspect of my story! I share this, because it made me think of teaching practices, beliefs, and change.  It is often our beliefs
that drive our teaching practices and our experience leading to changes in our beliefs that changes our practices.  But what about when a change is given to us and we don't want it?  No matter what the change is, change is hard.

As I think about changes we have made in our building over the years, they haven't been easy.  I recently had a conversation with a teacher in which he talked about how much he hates change and didn't want to teach with Daily5/Cafe, but now loves teaching reading and writing.  He didn't want to teach with our new math program, Math Expressions, but now loves it.  Why?  Because he sees the incredible impact that both have had for student learning and enjoys teaching both subjects much more now.

If change can be good, then why do we resist change so much?

Most of us want to continue with what we already know, what we are comfortable with. It is easier that way.    It is what we believe to be "right."  I think some of my mornings could be much more enjoyable if I grabbed a cup of coffee, but then I remind myself of why I had to stop.  As a teacher, it is easy to revert back to old teaching habits or drag your feet on a new initiative, because what you are used to doing is already habit, is easy, and is what you know.  When we stick with the change and then see a positive change in student learning or student behaviors (or changes in whatever the initiative was meant to address), then we are convinced and become believers of the change.  For many of us, we need to change our behaviors to see the results that will impact our beliefs.