rattlesnake footprints

raccoon tracksMay 10, 2017

Recently there was a news story about a child and his stepfather who were lost in a nearby woods.  When interviewed the child (around 8) said there weren’t any rattlesnakes or anything, but there were a lot of animals with feet.  

Isn’t that just like all of us children and adults,  we are looking for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad and then right in front of us is something amazing and inspiring? In my conjecture,  I suppose either the child was frightened and then realizing there wasn’t anything that was going to immediately kill him, began to enjoy his surroundings noticing footprints or the adult senses fear explained that there weren’t any rattlesnakes and did he notice those raccoon tracks.

So,  in our classrooms who is doing the noticing?  Are we bringing the horses to water and waiting for them to drink?  Do we understand the gradual release? Are we keeping in our minds and in hearts… and in our words where we are trying to go?  Are we keeping ourselves open to the possibilities?  Are we always the ones who are driving the instruction forward or are some of those amazing possibilities coming from our students?

 

Posted in challenges, content literacy, elementary, literacy, reading instruction, Uncategorized, writing instruction | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Every Word, Every Person, Everyday #sol17

IMG_8880Every Word,  Every Person, Everyday  #sol17

May 9, 2017

I usually post some sunny anecdote that puts me in a positive light and wraps coaching up in a neat package.  The truth is that day after day there are a lot of tasks,  a lot of humans, and frankly,  a fair number of problems.  I feel like my desk and my mind are an unfinished pile of ASAP to-dos.   Assessment season is upon us and 35 days left of school make the urgency of the work take front and center on the burners. But I digress.

One morning last week,  our superintendent sent out a yearly teacher appreciation email. He said we should highlight the amazing work that we have collectively done as we are a people who tend to focus on what hasn’t been accomplished yet.  Yep,  it’s not my accomplishments that keep me up at night, it’s those nagging what-ifs and so-should-haves.  Which brings me to my not-my-best-moment slice.

Last week was full of tough moments in the way that most days can be, along with funny moments and honestly, some WOW that-was-awesome moments, but one moment is hanging on me this morning like my own personal dark cloud.  In this season of assessments, my second grade intervention groups have taken the hit.  In the past month I have seen them a handful of times. Last Monday was a rare day when everything lined up.

I was explaining to the group about why I hadn’t seen them and why I wouldn’t in the future.  My head was clouded with the frustration of those words and thoughts when one of the students said, that’s great,  I don’t want to see you.  It’s boring to come here.  I’m more sensitive than I seem.  I sent him back to class.  I told him if he didn’t want to be here, he could return to class.  He was stunned.  He back tracked.  He said he didn’t mean it.  I sent him anyway.  He returned in a half hour, sent by his teacher to apologize.  I was with another group and sent him away again.  The next morning he came down before group and asked me,  am I coming with you today?  Of course,  I said… if you want to.  He returned and that was that.  So why am I writing to you about it today?

Friday,  I got it between the eyes from a teacher.  She said you used to care about teachers, now you care about students.  I was stunned then, but in the light of Tuesday, she’s partially right.  I care about students.  I wasn’t particularly caring to that second grader last week, but I care about students.  Can I care without being caring?

Last week,  I thought momentarily that I was helping that student to be kinder by showing him that his words affected me.  I was wrong.  What I should have been is receptive to his criticism, asking him to tell me more about that.  So many things about that…  I like to think I learn from my mistakes.  I like to think I accept that I make mistakes.  I hope that I try to break that mold of teacher in charge, quiet students.

What about the disquieting thought that it’s either/or  caring about teachers or students?  I probably do care about the students success more in some ways.  I can be the bridge across teachers for some students.  As our building faculty grows,  it’s harder to be there for all of the teachers.  I reach out to some.  I let others come to me when they want.  I generally let the student needs drive my collaboration with teachers.  But that teachers words, you care about students more than teachers, will stick with me.  I’ll be thinking about what that means for a long time.

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View from the Balcony #sol17

BalconyA View from the Balcony

May 2, 2017

I’ve been rushed lately or at least I feel rushed, like my to-do list is too long and I’m just racing through the days.  But today something slowed me down.  Today I was able to take in a view of our intermediate classrooms from the balcony so to speak.  I accompanied some consultants that were taking a quick view of our intermediate literacy block.  It was amazing to watch the reading workshops in action without having an agenda… or a role to play.   Clare referred me to an idea called ‘ watch from the balcony, lead from the floor’.   Think about how much we could learn, observe, think about when we just move through the classrooms and watch.

So today I moved through the intermediate classrooms in our building for just an hour or so during their reading workshop.  I moved quickly not staying too long in any one spot, but returning to see a little minilesson, small group, and a little independent work.  Most of these rooms, I’m in every single day.  During those days,  I have a purpose, a mission, goals.  Today,  I just watched.  Just looked.  The teachers were interested in what the consultants noticed.  No one asked me what I noticed, so the gems are my personal treasure.

I knew you all were amazing teachers but today I noticed…

Your students are listening.  They’ve learned the talk of reading workshop.  They can turn and talk, and really turn and talk.

You teach with ease.  You’re light on your feet.  You’re enjoying yourselves.  You know your stuff.

Everything in your rooms shows who you are as a teacher.  You treasure your anchor books you’ve shared.  You have a place for students to give feedback to you and each other.  You’re sharing yourselves with your students.

There’s trust.  The students trust you,  you trust them… and you all trust me.  No one hesitated for one second when I came and went from your room.  You smiled, the students smiled.  I smiled.

My smile was real.  I see the work that you’ve done.  The work that you’ve done with your students.  The work that we’ve done together.

I feel filled up.  I hope to take more of these side trips and I’m going to make sure you can take them too.

Posted in coaching, elementary, literacy, reading instruction, team spirit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

small batch coaching #sol17

Smallbatch-300x300 Small Batch Coaching

April 18, 2017

I have been thinking a great deal about instructional coaching of late; having a coaching cycle in place in my role as a literacy specialist:  teachers I meet with weekly,  co-teaching in place with a few teachers to varying degrees of formality, PLCs I meet with regularly and semi-regularly.  Those are all great and working well, but this past week I was thinking about ‘small batch’ coaching.

So small batch can come in a few different forms, most successful  it has a connection to your underlying goals in your building, with your team, or in some cases, with your hidden agenda.  I admit it. Sometimes I have a not-so-hidden agenda.  I will say it outright when asked.  Here’s one example of a small batch/not hidden agenda.

I dropped by one day as a intervention teacher was lead teaching in a classroom.  My purpose was to ask her about intervention with a student for a conference later that day.  When I arrived in the classroom the class had just completed a read-aloud of The Mouse, The Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, a perennial classic for kindergarten.  IMG_8594That was wonderful, but then…  I saw this.

IMG_8592 I think it’s safe to say and will not surprise anyone who has worked with me that I immediately started thinking how I could suggest a change-up in this activity or even shift the students’ thinking myself.

The probable goal of this sheet was sequencing and the students all sat at tables coloring the paper waiting for permission to cut and then glue .  I said to the teacher,  I love this book!   … Another thing  you might have done is let the students interact with the book, create props and do a retell on their own.  Perhaps that would have gotten to your objective too,  sequencing strength.  Well, maybe next time…or words to that effect. 

I went on about my day and then as the students were going to lunch, they stopped by the literacy center.FullSizeRender

There before me were dozens of little mice complete with mouse ears and a very large construction paper strawberry.   The teacher had thought about it and given it a go right away.  The students were thrilled and eager to share what they had done.

Now, do I wish that the students had made the ears and the strawberry, and had props and such from the beginning?  Yes.   However, changing our practice, changing our stance, shifting our outlooks takes time.  Much like we scaffold and linger and try out with our students, we should be willing to move at that same pace with their teachers.

So here’s to small batches of coaching, gentle nudges.  May they be casual chat over coffee, a notice of something wonderful tried, an interesting website/article/video sent with a quick note, a drop in, and encouraging smile.  After all,  we are just giving it a go too.

new-slicer-badge

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for coordinating the Slice of Life Community.  Join or read more here.

Posted in challenges, coaching, elementary, reading instruction, Slice of Life #SOL17, team spirit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

A Lesson Learned in Time #sol17

testSo make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time   Green Day

April 4, 2017

This is state testing week in fourth grade.  I have had my own little bunch to proctor, so it’s given me a little bit of technology free time to think as I watch the students work through the ELA assessment.  This all led me to contemplate scaffolds vs. rescuing,  student agency and the like at 11:30 or later last night.  I’m the one with test anxiety.  So in my fitful near sleep I hear Green Day do this.

Green Day  singing Camp Town Races to the tune of Good Riddance.  

The actual words to Good Riddance are these:

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why
It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time
It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right
I hope you had the time of your life

Green Day was singing Camp Town Races,  I was hearing Good Riddance.  Green Day has probably sang Good Riddance more than 1,000 times so adapting the Camp Town Races lyrics to the Good Riddance score might not have been difficult for them.  Our students daily have to adapt what has previously been taught to new experiences.  And they do.  With or without us,  they continue to learn.  Some of what they learn is adaptive behaviors.

So when presented with the challenge of a generic grade level assessment taken on a computer, can they remember the tune and adapt it to new lyrics.  It seems easier than it might be.  Memory might make this task more difficult.

As I watch them working through the test questions, I think about the opportunities that we have given them during this year to ‘wallow in it’.  To get down into a problem and think their way out.  I begin to ask myself questions about my instruction.  Do I let them sit in it?  Do we work for their questions instead of answers to mine? During this year,  I’ve read many books and articles about scaffolding and rescuing.  Who is creating the space for students to think?

So here’s the question for us.  What do we do every day to prepare students for ‘the test’?  The test of new situations, problems to solve, new learning.

Posted in challenges, coaching, Slice of Life #SOL17, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

#IMWAYR Opening Day Edition

It’s Monday What are You Reading:  Opening Day Edition

April 3, 2017

I was raised on baseball and have lived in baseball towns most of my life.  The St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and White Sox, and now  Boston Red Sox are dear to my heart.  As a teacher, I have yet to be at a opening day, though I have enjoyed  the ritual of spring training.  Here are some books to celebrate opening day wherever you are.  

Here are some terrific baseball books in no particular order.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.04.54 PMBaseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuk

A beloved book by teachers and students alike,  this book looks at baseball in a completely different light.  Baseball is the turning point in the poignant book.  Wonderful for character interplay and story arc discussions as well as its historic perspective.

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.25.05 PMZachary’s Ball by Matt Tavares

Every New England child’s dream,  catch a fly ball at Fenway Park… and something magical happens.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.52 PMFenway Foul Up by David A. Kelly

 

I love all of the Ballpark Mysteries including  Wrigley Riddle.  This early chapter book is the beginning of a series about ballparks in the tradition of Ron Roy and Matt Christopher.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.41 PMTeammates  by Peter Golenbock

 

Jackie Robinson and PeeWee Reece teach more than baseball in this beautifully illustrated picture book.  A mainstay in strategy work.

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.29 PMPoem Runs by Douglas Florian

 

Poetry, baseball, and Doug Florian- a winning team.  

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.19.09 PM

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.19 PMThe Littlest Leaguer by Syd Hoff


Syd Hoff,  the sentimental favorite and a really great book. Easily read by our youngest fans.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 8.24.07 PMThe Field Beyond the Outfield by Mark Teague

Perhaps only available in my personal library, Mark Teague can do no wrong.  Aliens and baseball, a winning combo.  

Posted in elementary, It's Monday, What are You Reading?, literacy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Take Me Out

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 5.58.40 PMApril 3, 2017

Today our fun loving school friends created an opening day feast complete with steamed hotdogs with all the trimming,  popcorn, and cracker jacks.  Here’s a little poem in honor of that indulgence.  

 

Ballpark hot dogs

In that amazing cooker

the warm sun

laughter

cracker jacks

peanuts

it takes us all back to a

sunny summer day when

all was well and we

were the kings and queens

of the world

or perhaps princes and princesses

when all our dreams came true

in the crack of a bat

thanks for that feeling

May it carry us for many days.

Posted in team spirit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Sweet Dreams are Made of These #sol17

Contents of my Bedside Table
March 31, 2017
IMG_8555Philosophy or Reading or philosophy of reading.     xxoo

IMG_8436 (3)31-day-streak-with-border

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and the March Slice of Life Challenge Community for inspiration and encouragement.  Read their amazing blogs here.

This is Day 31 of 31.   Comments I’ll cherish are clipped into a folder.  My blog fodder journal remains in my handbag. My heart is full.  Read some of my inspiration here.

Where’s the Joy?

Assessment in Perspective

Reading to the Core

Midwest Heart in Dixie

Melanie Meehan

Cast of Characters

 

Posted in coaching, elementary, literacy, Slice of Life #SOL17, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Writers are Readers #sol17

IMG_8534Reducing Cognitive Load by Pairing Reading/Writing Work

March 30, 2017

Lucy Calkins says in the The Art of Teaching Reading that reading and writing are like ‘running from one side of the boat to the other’.  Thinking about that movement from one side to the other and I’m searching for balance.  Previously, I thought that students were wonderful readers and then they became writers.  Perhaps it is because that is how I remember it for myself.  Reading, Reading, Reading.  Talking, Talking, talking.   Then struggling to write.   

What I’ve learned from a year of collaborating in writing and reading through the units of study is this.  Reading and writing should not be separated.  They are the peanut butter and jelly of learning.  I have upended my thinking and believe that writing is the easier craft, even if that might not be true for me.  What I’ve noticed is that writing work scaffolds the reading work.  When we teach into informational writing and then begin a unit in informational reading a few weeks later, we can teach into the strategies we are using to write and the style of the mentor texts we have examined as writers to teach into the reading strategies in informational reading.   I can say to a student, remember in writing we were working on text features to teach different aspects of our topic.  We can use what we know about writing text features to examine what the author is trying to tell us in our books.  If you are thinking about poetry these days,  this teaching move makes sense.  Teach into the writing of various types of poetry,  then give the mentor texts double duty  as readers,  read and reread those poems.  The more we write poetry, the more we understand the reading of it.  The more we read poetry, the better our writing is.

Writing provides a lot more room for error.  It’s slower paced.  We can edit and revise to our heart’s content.  In writing,  the pressure is less.  So while I still have student who are doodling on the paper,  they are getting the sentences written as well.  They have wait time and think time.  They are constructing as constructivists.  Writing scaffolds reading in so many ways that we knew.  Practicing phonics skills while spelling during writing strengthens decoding skills in reading.  Deeply studying a genre of writing strengthens predictive skills needed when reading particularly genres which are unfamiliar.

Studying reading and writing in the same genres keeps underlying truths in the same zip code.  As in our biography study where we used our narrative arc writing structure to describe the composition of the subject’s story,  using our writing structures explains new or different reading structures to students.  After we have taught text structures in second grade writing, when these students read informational text, they notice the text structures and anticipate the author’s meaning and purpose.  We apply the narrative writing structure to clarify theme, purpose, and determine importance.

As when I am looking for connections  I see them everywhere,  we have connected not just reading and writing in a grade level, but now see connections across grade.  Creating those connections across grade, content, and genre provides a platform for students to move to deeper thinking, richer work, and increasing confidence.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and the March Slice of Life Challenge Community for inspiration and encouragement.  Read their amazing blogs here.

Posted in coaching, elementary, literacy, reading instruction, Uncategorized, writing instruction | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

It doesn’t add up 

 

Calendar with pushpinsApril Calendar Math

April 1, 2017

11 weeks of school

14 more days of bus duty

13 more schedule child study meetings

1 month missing from intervention because of:

10 days of MCAS administration

10 days of benchmarking

6 vacation days

3 days of data meetings

2 conference ½ days

1 field trip
Not enough time

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