Collection #sol19

Collection #sol19

July 23, 2019

I was torn between my appointed slice writing this week and a looming library book deadline.  You see nothing is more frustrating to me that an unfinished, long-anticipated library loan squandered by poor reading planning on my part.  Truth be told, Susan Orleans’ rambling, loose, though not quite long, The Library Card, has sucked me in after 79 pages and six chapters and I don’t want to leave it behind until I see where she might be going with this.  Plus I have waited for this book since early June.  Having listened to Jennifer Serravallo’s podcast yesterday about comprehension and the differences between an actual book, a ebook, and audiobooks,  I am deeply unsatisfied by this ebook.  I gave the beautifully presented mysteriously red bound book to my son’s girlfriend for Christmas and of course, have wanted it for myself ever since, a problem we can discuss another time.

So here is my compromise, a story slightly like The Library Card, rooted in a moment in the past, carried through decades, and finally, the stuff of not only family lore but mission.

The Smashed Pennies

Sometime in the late summer of a year in the late 1990’s, my husband and I decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary, perhaps fifteen years, with a trip to San Francisco for a long weekend.  Not as much of a commitment distance-wise from the midwest as it would be from New England, leaving two young sons behind with their grandparents gave me enough worry to leave a typed note in my chest regarding their care should something happen.

After much hustle and quiet a bit of bustle, we arrived in downtown San Francisco with the long list of must-sees that only two over-educated, ever-learners could compile.  I could tell you about all of those amazing first sights and experiences, alleyway fortune cookie making, tea gardens, Ferlinghetti’s favorite book store, and fancy coffee shops before the rise of Starbucks, but that isn’t this story.

This little slice is about smashed pennies.  If you haven’t seen a smashed penny, it’s just that, a penny that has been rolled through a machine until elongated and flat and pressed with the imprint of its current locations.  They, of course, cost fifty cents along with that penny to roll them through the machine.  However, this story begins before we had ever seen one of these marvelous penny smashers.

San Francisco was full of amazing sights and people.  As we were taking in all end, we saw a young man with a tube contraption nearly as tall as he was.  Noticing us, he said this is the only portable penny press in the world, I designed it myself.  Using his arm and body strength,  he pressed the penny until it was stamped.  Having never seen a smashed penny before and taken by his ingenuity, we were sold.  Then he told us there were many, many machines around the city operated manual with a crank.  For the low price of half a dollar and a shiny penny, we could have a souvenir from each of our travels.   In the age prior to ready phone internet access, we were off on a hunt to locate these machines around the city.

Thus began our collections of smashed pennies.  These days, silly collections might not be in vogue. They seem so old-fashioned, the machines, the pennies, the impressions stamped upon them. Each son  collection remains on their childhood dressers in decorative boxes with the other ephemera of their childhoods.  They are a condensed travelogue of all the places we saw when they were young, dozens of zoos, aquariums, parks, and ships.  There are ones from New Salem and something called The Sixth Floor Museum.  There is a penny from Wall Drug and The Alamo,  The Grand Canyon, and The Sydney Opera House.  As I look through, I am reminded of all those halcyon days.

To this day as my husband and I travel around here and there, from habit or nostalgia, we stop when we see one of those old penny machines, and press one again for old times sake.

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Test Day #sol19

Test Day #sol19

April 23, 2019

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Today is state test day for the third graders.  I would like to say that it’s just one piece of data.  I would like to say that it’s insignificant to my work, our work.  I would like to say that I haven’t been thinking about how the students will do.  I cannot.

I’ve been thinking about test day for over a month.  Every literary essay we craft with the students makes me consider if we’ve helped them own the narrative tasks.  Every time they misstep in character work or parts of speech or planning for writing makes me consider every way I’ve coached teachers and students in literacy.

If you asked me outright,  I would say that what I see in student writing, in independent thinking, in character analysis by NINE YEAR OLDS has been nothing short of amazing. Yet, on the practice test, they asked the students to write a story from the perspective of a rat instead of a snake and they were thrown.  I understand the test creators may ask point of view questions for students to show how they understand character development in relationship to stories.  Perhaps the students are thrown because the stories are not as complicated as the ones they read every day.

As I arrived at school, I realized that we worry about the state tests a few days coming up to them, on the day as student ( and their parents) react to them, and on the day that the scores arrive.  These tests are our currently reality.  We should think about how questions are asked of students and how students respond to them.  We also should continue to teach literacy in the context of life skills and citizenship, connections and inferences,  deep thought and collaborative talk.

I hope that all we as a staff have facilitated for our students will shine in these assessments.  However,  if it doesn’t, perhaps we should consider not just our presentation, but the test design. Allowing ourself time to teach students how they will be tested now and throughout life.  Contemplating how to respond to tests and how to succeed.

For now,  I wish all of us a peaceful, productive day.

 

 

 

Thursday Reflection #OLW #sol19

For the month of March , I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol19) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.

unnamedThursday Reflection #OLW #sol19

March 7, 2019

I chose a word in January to guide some choices that I made throughout this year.  It’s the eight year that I have chosen a word.  This year’s word is reflection. Reflection.

I wrote a few days ago about a entry from my collaboration journal where I encouraged strongly two of my collaborative teachers to chuck the scripted assessment for the end of the Information Reading/Writing units (third grade) and take up slightly modified ideas that more closely aligned to the work they were doing in their classrooms.  You can read about my initial idea here.

The first idea was to use an information topic that individual students were working on in their genius hour projects to have the students do a flash draft in information writing. The plan for this assessment was to inform their genius hour progress and complete an end of unit assessment in informational writing.  In hindsight,  I should have coached into two things that we consistently do when writing.  The students should have had an opportunity to turn and share everything they were going to write with their writing partners.  We know how important the oral rehearsal is, especially with our school population.  The second reminder is also completely on me,  even though we wrote about something specific to the students, we should have introduced the task with the same assessment directions that we would have used in the writing progression work.

Please keep in mind that you’ll have only this one period to complete this, so you’ll need to plan, draft, revise, and edit in one sitting. Write in a way that shows all that you know about information writing.

“In your writing, make sure you: • Write an introduction. • Elaborate with a variety of information. • Organize your writing. • Use transition words. • Write a conclusion.”

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exemplar text from UOS

I hope the teachers were informed about many things in the students’ written essays, especially thinking about them in comparison to an exemplar.  I often think we are expecting too much of some things and not enough of others.  Few of the writers used parts or sections in their writing.  Many of them used transition words, expert words and had an introduction and conclusion.   Mostly success.

 

The second task we tried was more complex.  The teachers selected a text that they had read often and used as a mentor text.  Carter Reads the Newspaper for one class.  Harvesting Hope for the other.  Both of these texts are lengthy picture books with complex ideas new to all of the students.  We typed the text so it would be presented in  format similar to the testing protocol and other assessments. We considered presenting it through google classroom, but in the end used paper copies.  Through Newsela, we located an article at a third grade level that was related to the popularity of black history for Carter Reads the Newspaper, a book about Carter Woodson, the driving force behind Black History Month and an article about the continued plight of farmworkers in the United States to go with Harvesting Hope, a picture book biography of Cesar Chavez.  The first day the students summarized the informational article and the second day, the writers used cross-text synthesis to examine either black history or the condition of farm workers.

Perhaps the teachers would have gotten a cleaner assessment from the easier narrative nonfiction text provided in the unit paired with an equally easy informational article, but those articles were about roller coasters.  The students thought about the development and promotion of black history and what has contributed to the rise in popularity of civil rights sites and other related black history museums.  They thought about how little the conditions of farm workers whose products we eat has changed in the nearly sixty years since the Farm Workers March.  Their conclusions rang of so what and now what in a way that I don’t think writing about roller coaster would have.  They will walk away from these days with more than a thought that they wrote for two solid writing workshops.  Perhaps they will consider both of these topics for a long time to come.  I hear Lucy Calkins reminding me that we are raising citizens.  I know I’ll consider how we introduced a timely, important topic to them.

3/31 From My Notebook: Third Grade Assessments #sol19

img_1716-1For the month of March, I will be participating in the Slice of Life Challenge (#sol19) sponsored by Two Writing Teachers. I will be slicing each day for 31 days inspired by my work as a literacy specialist and coach, my life, and my fellow bloggers.  

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 9.02.40 AMFrom My Notebook:  Third Grade Assessments in Literacy #sol19

Through my work as a literacy coach,  I have teachers that I meet and collaborate with throughout the week.  Usually these meetings are at 7:30 a.m. on a scheduled day of the week. I  meet with each teacher or team for 1/2 hour keeping notes of what we are working on.  Our school is an UOS of Study school following the work of Lucy Calkins and colleagues in this our first year of full implementation.  Most of our meetings are in their classrooms. Some teachers will come with questions, sometimes we plan out what we will work on the next week, sometimes I have a teaching technique or skill  I’ve noticed or a suggestion.  I keep a journal entry of each meeting to keep me thinking.  I am thankful to Tammy Mulligan, Teachers for Teachers, for assisting me in working on offering a menu of ideas during this coaching time.  This is still after years a work in progress.  

The Third Grade is ending their information reading and writing units and moving into character studies.  The Massachusetts’ state testing is looming large on the horizon.  Though I would like to not give it much importance, it’s there.  The ending of a unit and assessing  then beginning a unit and assessing is a process while beneficial in many ways  can seem to derail the learning process and give the teacher information that seems disconnected from their day to day work.  This week in my third grade collaborations I suggested combining the idea of flash drafts or quick writes, the narrative task (MCAS), and assessments.

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 9.02.00 AMThe four questions on the assessment are meant to be written in a 45 minute reading workshop using two text, an informational text and a related narrative nonfiction text.  I suggested that the teachers use a known narrative nonfiction perhaps one of their mentor texts for the narrative nonfiction sessions in bend 3 and then find another text that relates to that text that is an informational text.  In one classroom this might be the narrative nonfiction book,  Carter Reads a Newspaper, typed as a narrative and a newsela article, Interest in Black History Is Growing .  Day 1, the teacher pairs the narrative task to similar work the class has been doing, summarize the text Carter Reads a Newspaper and briefly write about one idea that you have grown from the text.

We had previously completed both whole class and small group work in part to whole using these two TCWRP resources.

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this is modified from a larger part to whole model

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The second text, the informational text can be read on another day with a summary of the informational text and then cross-text synthesis of both text.  This allows for two days practice in reading text online and flash drafting writing about reading.

For the post assessment in nonfiction writing,  two possibilities might be helpful.  Using a topic in science or social studies, or having students use their genius hour topic have students complete a nonfiction article about one of these topics.  This writing is completed during a standard writing workshop time. Using nonfiction writing checklist,  the information writing task from the Writing Pathways, and the nonfiction writing tips from the information writing task will be helpful for students along with a quick teach to their writing partner before they begin writing.

These gentle adjustment to the assessment tasks allow for the writing to feel more natural to students along with carrying a deeper connection to the work of the room.

The Stuff They Carry #sol19

The Stuff They Carry  #sol19

February 26, 2019

I am definitely not the art teacher, but I appreciate the work she does with our students each day and admire the fruits of that labor as I walk down our main corridor each morning.  This morning I was thinking about a completely different blog when this display struck me.  0-2

All these smiling faces. Well maybe except that one very hipster looking young lady in the bottom row.  But then,  I noticed this…0-4

This young friend wasn’t thinking about one thing.  He was thinking about more than one thing at once.  Perhaps he couldn’t decide about the one thing or maybe that is how his brain works, lots of things in there at once, quite possibly very revealing.  I This first grader’s thinking is a mystery to me.  I like his wide smile and bright eyes. I can tell that on the right he’s considering a basketball and a football. I’m not sure about the left.  I am reasonably sure that our wonderful art teacher discussed each artist’s thinking as they worked away in her sunny art room.

This made me think about a focus conversation I had midday yesterday.  A teacher and I were discussing a student’s current progress.  She had set an executive functioning goal along with his reading goal for the student to maintain independent work for ten minutes.  She sighed.  I don’t think he can stay focused at all.  But then we dug in,  could he restate the directions?  He could.  That takes focus.  Maybe the task was too big or too daunting for him right now.

I was thinking about that conversation and that student when I looked at the self portraits.  What would be his self portrait?  He seems sad and tired when I am with him in reading.  Does the work feel too difficult?  Is he silly to avoid the difficulty?  So today when I was with him in his class,  I looked with new eyes.  What might we do to help him?

0-5.jpgOur Art teacher had a plan when she did these self portraits with the first graders.  Still when I chatted with her about them today,  she said there were a few who struggled with creating that self view.  One was worried about failure before he began.  As she talked and drew with him,  he didn’t see himself as successful and anticipated criticism.  At his request,  she didn’t display his self portrait.

Other saw themselves like the happy girls I shared at the beginning.  Covered with hearts, I hope this is the life view they are carrying now and into the future.  What can we as educators do to keep that happy spirit afloat?

My young sad reader has had a lot of trauma in his young life.  I imagine risk taking and difficulty are something he would understandably like to avoid.  What tiny steps can we take that will germinate that seed of success?  I offered a token idea up to him today full of choices and encouragement, hoping to create in him a self portrait of a happy reader.   He was tentatively open to it.  We’ll try that first step tomorrow.  download.jpg

 

 

Data Meetings: Planning for Growth

IMG_2586Data Meetings:  Planning for Growth

October 8, 2018

What comes to mind when I say data meeting?

Not looking for the benefit of data or meeting together.  Just thinking about when we sit at that table in that room together.  What are we trying to accomplish? Backward glance? Problem Solving? Correcting course?

Do you have a plan in mind?

Many meetings have identity problems.  Data Meetings are constructed with the principal, our grade level team, a specialist or two.  Data meetings have limited time. Educators arrive with varying amounts of data having spent varying amounts of time examining it.  Individuals think in divisions: students that are ‘on track’ and students that are ‘behind’. Cheers for how well they got it. Cheers for our teaching.

Data meetings are available three times a year.  In the fall, educators are getting to know new students and assessing summer loss.  In the winter, educators may review students acclimation to grade and their mid-year progress.  In the spring, educators may reflect on progress toward goals.

The developments from the meetings can varying.  When educators have clear indicators they are looking for in the data, they come to the meeting prepared to future plan, both for the immediate and the long term.  When indicators are less clear, either from the team or the leadership, meetings feel like show and tell. These meeting have potential. Potential to drive not just particular teachers, not just particular grade levels, but whole learning communities forward.  If we only ask,

What did we want to learn?  Did we learn it? How will we use this information to reflect, to move forward, to improve?  

Do we and can we finding meaning in this work,  the work of data meetings?

I know what you’re thinking,  sometimes these meetings are just a waste of time.  As a person who goes to a LOT of meetings, I’d say meetings are exactly what you make them. I’m sure in some places, people trot out their “data”, test scores, assessment levels, attendance even,  and praise each other for how far students have come. Educators race to complete assessments and hair on fire arrive at a meeting with the ink proverbially still drying. We rarely have time to think about what the data might be telling us beyond the scores.

But, we can do better.

When we began data meetings, we were just thinking in the meeting about what new assessment data was telling us.  We were learning about the assessments, considering interventions. Considering the data together. Even then, we thought about and discussed how timing affected students,  which students might need another go, how else we might assess these skills, what skills we were assessing and their importance. Even then, we were searching for solutions to whole class and individual student difficulties, thinking always about how we could assist each other. The data was drawing us to empathy and  to collaboration.

So here we are, eight years later.  What are we going to do with our data meetings?

Are they OUR data meetings?  We extend the time. We reduce the data.  We extend the discussion. We think more about the pedagogy.  We shift our thinking regarding intervention. Still stuffed to the breaking point, squeezing all the assessments in a small window and peeking in.  

And we still wonder what it is we see.

It all really goes back to those simple questions:  what do we want students to learn and how are we going to ‘teachfacilitate it.  Working through our backward design long before we collect the data, deciding together what we are looking for and how we will know it when we see it.  Planning for planning. Planning for talking. Taking those assessments out of the drawers and into the light. Considering the purpose for each assessment and consequently each lessons.  How can we reteach? What will we reteach? Does this data tell me what I need to know to make these decisions?

This seems like a lot of work,  time spent giving the assessments, time spent examining the assessments,  time spend aligning the assessment to the curriculum. It may be that the more time we spend on these elements, the less we will need quarterly meetings to discuss them.  The more growth we will see in students as the instruction becomes focused on need.

Yes,  we could eliminate a meeting.  But sometimes, it is beneficial to talk about how we’ve grown and what we will do next.  

 

Hidden Benefits #sol18

IMG_7993Hidden Benefits #sol18

Today is the first day of benchmark assessment for the school.  While I talk a great game, the night before I’m usually worried about logistics:  class lists,  class preparedness,  timing.  Some of these things are not under my control.   Worry as my grandmother would say only borrows trouble. We have a team and I’m the coordinator.  The team is awesome and smart and capable. Most of the time,  everything is relatively smooth. We start with the upper grades.  I tell the team that I give us an easy day to start.  We smile.

Today,  I’m thinking about the big picture and then… the first student sits down next to me. I pause and notice the student who is my partner for the next two minutes.  Usually a teacher will send one of a few profiles my way:  a student she is concerned about, a student who is easily distracted,  or a student that could be both of these things and is familiar with me.    The first fourth grader turns to me and says  I had a sad weekend.  At that minute the timer freezes,  the test can wait,  the schedule will work,  all bets are off.  Do you want to tell me about it?  He did tell me about it and then,  I listened to him read.  So many things about that moment.  I’m touched that he could confide in me.  I’m glad I asked.  I am happy I remembered,  people first.

The next student wasn’t sad but he needed a minute too.  He wanted to celebrate his wrestling victory with me and explain how and why.  I believe in the assessments but I also believe in these minutes.  And other minutes as well.

When the team sits down to assess a class, we become partners,  partners with each other,  with the students, and with their teacher.  It builds our building community.  We take notes,  we share responsibility, and we care about what happens in those minutes.  Those minutes are just indicators.  They aren’t the whole picture.  Sometimes those minutes confirm what a teacher is thinking.  Sometimes those minutes give us pause.  Sometimes those minutes are a celebration.  Occasionally,  those minutes are a question mark.

In the life of a school community,  there are a lot of precious minutes:  Our smiles in the hall,  the greeting of the humans we pass,  the assistance we give each other.  The only precursor is that we have to notice…  Notice when someone needs a extra moment, notice who we are when we are present,  notice who they are when we are present too.

So today,  I remembered how much more those assessment minutes can be.