Books to Spotlight Small Moments #IMWAYR

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Examining Small Moments and Personal Narratives in the Workshop

December 4, 2017

In our building, we have been spending some planning and instruction time examining small moments, both in reading and writing workshop.  Having a few small moments or personal narratives to examine in writing workshop was never a problem.  We have our favorites:  Shortcut, Fireflies, Come on, Rain.  Small moments are easier to find perhaps than personal narratives.  What if the personal narrative isn’t exactly personal?  Some of my favorites:  Roller Coaster, The Snowy Day, The Relatives Came aren’t really told in the first person.  Does that diminish their usefulness as a mentor texts to our aspiring writers?

Here are a few things to consider when teaching small moments and personal narrative. Remembering that the purpose of small moment writing is that the writing is finite.  This gives our younger authors the ability to write in detail showing character’s small actions, dialogue and internal thinking.  We are working on stories becoming more and more cohesive with greater and greater detail.

What is our purpose for using a particular mentor text?  Are we working on watermelon/seed ideas?  Then texts like The Snowy Day, Blackout, and Roller Coaster are wonderful, inspiring text for our students to think about their own small moments.  I also use small books in their levels to tryout thinking.  In our Fountas and Pinnell  Leveled Literacy collection, The Muddy Mess is one book that are definitely about a small moment that many kids might have.  Soccer Game in Scholastic Hello Readers!  uses descriptive words to talk about just one soccer game.  This book is written in the first person and could be used as a interactive read aloud.

IMG_0424To pair a simple book like Soccer Game!  as a mentor text in small moment writing,  we could think about another game, perhaps one on the playground where we would use descriptions to go part by part through the game.

In Joy Cowley’s The New Cat,  the words are simple, describing the action in the pictures.  The pictures may help explain our younger readers and writers  thinking,  while the words describe a particular part.

Many other books might show real photos while explaining a child’s exploration of shopping, the aquarium or other places.  These books are wonderful for interactive read aloud or mentors for interactive writing so students can see themselves reading or writing themselves.

In a focus lesson, we can work with our students in a more difficult text.  One, where when we are the readers,  students can do the challenging thinking work.  In Owl Moon, a great text for 2nd grade, students can imagine why Jane Yolen chose to write this book while contemplating the small moment of going owling after dark.

In Sophie Was Really,  Really Angry or No David!,  students can use illustrations to think about the small moments along with strong feelings.  While No,David!  tells the story from the author’s point of view,  Sophie Was Really,  Really  Angry using third person.  Could we discuss with the students what words we might use if we were writing about feeling this way ourselves?

IMG_0421Sometimes,  books are long(ish),  after sharing the book in a read aloud, we might just use a page or a two-page spread to talk about a specific aspect of writing.  In The Relatives Came or Yard Sale,  we might stop at a page and talk about descriptions or stretching the moment, or making a picture in our minds.

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Sometimes,  we might use a completely different type of book, perhaps one that is a familiar read,  to focus on one aspect of an author’s craft:  clever endings,  strong leads,  rich details.  These books are endless and part of your natural library.  In my use, I try to limit these books to have human characters, thought it is particularly hard to avoid using the wonderful richness of Kevin Henkes’ and Lily’s Plastic Purse and others for small moments.

So,  my advice,  relax.  Sometimes we will have focus lessons and this won’t be work students are doing in their independent reading.  Sometimes,  we pair or double pair students up to do focus lesson work in picture books that we have chosen for the group. Sometimes, we won’t.  Perhaps, we will work through small moment, narrative arc work in interactive read aloud and we will have students look for a particular aspect, for example,  rich details, in all the text they are reading.  Whatever work we are doing,  it should be reflective our standards,  our formative assessments,  our student needs, and be an rich experience.

 

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Path Change #sol17

Path Change

November 21, 2017AlcoveSprngsWagonSwales DIles

They say there are nine places in the United States where you can still see the marks of the Conestoga wagons.  As you may predict,  most of them are in rural areas of the western edge of the midwest to western states of Kansas and Nebraska.  These ruts represent so many, many families and individuals that followed the exact same path out to what they hoped was fortune.

In education,  we rarely have the luxury of a known path.  We often have our path changed for us or realize because of situational phenomena,  it’s time to change ourselves.  The good news is that disequilibrium strengthens your core.  It’s true or so I hear.  The school building is full of yoga balls to strengthen our cores and heighten our engagement.  So a little change is good.

A little change is good, but often change isn’t little.  Several curriculums change at once,  your class changes,  your room changes,  your colleagues change. A lot changes.  So what do we do when change is hard?

They say that an unexamined life isn’t worth living and so perhaps is our attitude toward change.  We are all positive about teaching our students flexibility and positive mindset and ‘not yet’,  but when it comes to our own little patch in the sun,  we struggle sometimes.  I say, that’s ok.

Growth is a messy, imperfect process.  If we weren’t out there experimenting with change and new and a little scary,  what kind of example for our future innovators would we be setting?

So just for today, this week,  this month,  this school year, let’s take some teaching risks.  Let’s move away from the ruts of the paths of the past.  Let’s try some new things.

It’s a good time to think of that kindergarten book we used to love.

13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.  

Robert Fulghum

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and my fellow slicers for the forum and the  encouragement.  Read more slices here.

 

The Gift of Time #sol17

IA11_Web_ArtistInResidenceGENHdrThe Gift of Time #sol17

October 17, 2017

A few weeks ago I heard an interview with the artist Bharti Kher  She was discussing the time she spent in residence at a wonderfully quirky Boston museum,  The Isabelle Stewart Gardner.  Bharti Kher said that the gift of living for a time at the Gardner was “the gift of time“.  She explained, “what you go away with is not immediately apparent.  Things emerge over time because as artists, we collect and build on our own libraries (in our head) over time.”

We’ve been talking a great deal in our district recently about the idea of instructional coaching. In an effort to further strengthen our tier 1 instruction, assist the transfer of discrete skills, and support the development of new curriculum, we’re blowing the doors off our old model of five time thirty minutes intervention.  On the surface,  this seems like truth, that changing our model away from a seemingly successful structure to a much more wavy one seems… well risky.

But I think of Bharti living in the Gardner,  sitting in the amazingly beautiful courtyard, spending real, real time looking at a single painting and in my core I believe, if I can create that gift of time, for myself, my colleagues,  the students,  then this new model stands a fighting chance.

When I thing about what you go away with is not immediately apparent,  I know that visit after visit, I might catch glimpses of things a teacher won’t remember to tell me in the literacy center or in a early morning collaborative conversation.  When we can talk with students together, get messy in the process in real time,  I believe we can affect real change, fundamental, practice-changing kind of change.

When Bharti says things emerge over time because as artists we collect and build things in the libraries in our heads over time,  I think of our community of artists in learning:  teachers,  students, and even me taking the time to collect ideas and experiences,  building practice and relationships through and in our experiences.

So I’m going to be there before school, having coffee and dreaming about change with the teacher in our building.  I am going to spend every spare minute, reading a few pages with a student, listening to a story, and sometimes teaching or reading aloud.  I’m learning along with the community.  Trying things out,  getting messy.  Does it seem like a free fall?  Not at all.  We know and trust each other.    So  let’s see what we can do when we give each other the gift of time.

 

 

 

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Always inspired by Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Community.

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Reasoned Understanding of Evidence #sol17

Reasoned Understanding of Evidence

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October 10, 2017

Last week,  Rainer Weiss, the chair of the physics department at MIT won the Nobel Prize for Physics.  This probably isn’t that much of a surprise, though Dr. Weiss said his chances were about 20%,  MIT has had 32 Nobel Prize winners.

What struck me in Ray Weiss’ interview on NPR was that he said what was important was the reasoned understanding of evidence.  A happenstance that Dr. Weiss fears is in jeopardy.

I was thinking that day (last Tuesday) and the days that followed about what a reasoned understanding of evidence might be.  I think of it in light of the fairly substantial amount of evidence we collectively collect regarding students in the fall of each year and in the shadow of examining that data together in our teams.  What does it mean to have a reasoned understanding of evidence?  As literacy professionals we looked at the words reasoned understanding and we take them to mean  comprehension of evidence based on well thought out logic and good sense.

We are fortunate at our school to take the time to carefully construct understandings of the assessment measures,  the results of those assessments, and importantly triangulate that information with what we have found out in other ways:  observation, practice, and other assessments.  We triage results and take the time to return to reflection, recording, and more conversation after our initial meetings.

In the best scenarios and honestly often,  we come to a new understanding of students and a new plan for moving forward, considering what might be the bedrock skill to begin with, miraculously considering all of the variables of planning, grouping, materials, motivation, and sometimes, sheer will.

I read last week that teachers have to make more decisions during the day than brain surgeons.  Some estimates are 1500 decisions.  But these decision,  how to group students, what to instruct whole class,  what to revisit, what goals to set, what questions to ask,  determine the instructional underpinnings of the students in our view.

So when I meet with teachers over the next few days, weeks, months, years,  as a coach and a collaborator,  I want to be a catalyst, a cheerleader, a co-conspirator, a sounding board.  Rai Weiss had a long struggle to that Nobel Prize.  He dropped out of MIT one time and his research on gravitational waves spans 30 years peppered with missteps and false starts.  We might have similar missteps and false starts, however we’ll start together. I want us to say together what Rai Weiss said when he was interviewed last Tuesday after he made that reasoned understanding of evidence,  ” It’s very, very exciting that it worked out in the end.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating, maintaining and inspiring this platform.  You can read some amazing slices of life here.

 

 

 

So Many Questions #sol17

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August 29, 2017

Yesterday we had our district-wide kick off.  Today we had our ‘kick-off’ staff meeting.   In my thinking, they both centered around questions.  Questions we should ask ourselves to prepare for our year.

Yesterday, our def Poet speaker, Regie Gibson,  rallied us to distill our contribution to society (our students) into one word.  One word to convey all that our essence brings to the proverbial table of our classrooms.  My word came to me quickly.  Many, many individuals say this about me.  Sometimes I suspect it isn’t a compliment… to them.  To me,  it is my core strength.  This thing gets me to rise in the morning, work long through the day, and continue year after year.  The district sent us a wordle of the collective words.  It took me a few minutes to find my word.  It’s not the largest or the next largest.  I wondered if any one out of those other hundreds of educational professionals said the same word.  Then I thought it’s my word.  I know what it means to me.  I have a good idea what it will mean to the teachers,  students and parents that I will cross paths with this year.  I feel good about that.

Today, we watched a video of Dean James Ryan of Harvard University delivering a commencement in May 2016.  He says it much more eloquently that I do. My teacher and parent friends will enjoy especially the first question,  “Wait!  What?”.   Of course, this goes to understanding.  The second questions figures prominently in our current teaching, I wonder why.  This question prompts our curiosity.  The next question helps unstick the stuck,  Couldn’t we at least… Offering a gentle, gentle nudge, a place to begin. The fourth question, How could I help? is the basis of all good relationships.  This one thing is a strength of mine,  the ability to help.  The subtlety of the question is important.  How could I help?  Giving the recipient the opportunity to maintain the control of the situation and your assistance.  The last question is echoing in the blogs I follow,  the books I read,  my reaction to current times, and my own musings.  What truly matters (to me)?  When we understand this one thing, we can share so much.

So there you have it on a Tuesday.  Some questions to ponder as you celebrate a new year.  I hope that they will keep you up in a good way,  light your path,  and spark your conversations.

 

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This slice of life is inspired by many more found here and by Two Writing Teachers who may in fact have changed everything I think about myself as a learner, as a writer, and as a member of a vast community.

The New Norm(al) #sol17

The New Normal

LETS.jpgAugust 22, 2017

The weeks before school start are a blur of activities.  One of those activities this week was to join a new PLC group.  The members of the group are very familiar to me, but we haven’t worked together in this configuration or these roles before.  As in most PLCs, one of our first tasks was to set our group norms.

Usually group norms are “low hanging fruit” as my current principal would say.  Easy things that make sense when you are working in a group.  Be respectful,  give everyone a voice, come prepared.  But today, in this moment something nearly magical happened.  People started speaking about things they hoped they would do.  Things that are challenging sometimes for them.

Some of the ones I loved best were gently spoken from heart and tenderly received by the group.  One person hoped we would be flexible.  One said that we should embrace our changing school and the contributions that all of our many new teachers bring with them to our work.  I am particularly enthusiastic so I said that I hoped to give wait time in the way I do with the students so people had time to fully complete their thinking.  

There were a lot of suggestions involving being positive and assuming positive intent in others. And then for me, it all turned a corner.  Some one said stay focused on the work and then… seek to understand.  All of my Seven Habits thinking came back to me and I thought, yeah,  this is it.  Seek first to understand, then be understood.

Then I thought of the secret sauce of this group… synergy.  We are so much better together than the individual intentions of our separate selves.  This is what makes me look forward to meetings,  to chats,  to days,  to weeks,  and to years with these people.

Here are the rest of our norms to encourage our work and perhaps yours too.

 

-Be OK with messy (embrace mistakes)

-Stay in the present

-Embrace change

-Emphasize the process

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Slice of Life and the Slice of Life Writing Community is a product of the nurture of Two Writing Teachers.  Read some amazing blogs here.

 

 

Pushing the Season #sol17

IMG_9463Pushing the Season

August 7, 2017

Not sure when it happened but all of the stores have Halloween candy.  The end of July, fall leaves and a few pumpkins started showing up.  I imagine next week there will be full-on costumes.

I’m guilty as well.  While I never completely step away from school during the summer, I make it a fairly hard rule not to actually step foot inside the building from July 1- August 1.  This is a hollow promise as I read email, respond, and generally spend a few hours a day working on school related things.  I’m not alone in this…

Paula Borque (litcoachlady) wrote a wonderful blog recently, Why I Want My Child’s Teacher to Vacation.   Her point was that teachers need time to recharge, discover new things, and have separation from the students and their classroom.  Read it for a more eloquent telling.  Paula was standing near me at Heinemann last weekend when Vicki Boyd said that teachers need “a long cool drink” to refresh for the coming year.  We do need it, but when the calendar turns to August 1st, we start thinking about getting ready.

After 35 years, it should not take me a month to get ready.  In my defense,  I was preparing for new teacher bootcamp next week.

All this anticipation of pumpkins, candy, and bulletin boards, made me think of my “new school year” resolution,  let the students lead the learning.  Let the students lead the learning.  Anticipation is good.  I want to have enough paper, pencils, markers, dry erase boards, seats, and sunlight for everyone.  Let’s be aware and ready to get to know each of them as people and learners.  Let’s design activities for the first weeks that highlight getting to know them,  them knowing each other, and them knowing us.  Let’s linger in that time because it will pay off through the months.

So this year,  let’s keep our anticipation to a minimum.  Let’s think about a unit of study, but plan a week or maybe even a day at a time.  Let’s work in some time as Ralph Fletcher says in Joy Write for greenbelt writing, free range kids writing for the sake of enjoyment.  Let’s go to lunch in the teacher lounge and chat with our colleagues.  Let’s take our planning and visit each other’s rooms.  Let each day be the day I’m thinking of and my thoughts of tomorrow are saved unit at least after lunch.

I’m not good at this.  My grandmother would say I liked to borrow trouble.  I am pledging to give it a go.  Be warned the people in my radius,  I’m going to encourage you to do the same, probably on a daily basis.

So take this week to enjoy the sunshine, a novel, a new discovery, a long walk.  You’ll be better for it in December.  I’ll do the same.  However,  you might want to buy some Halloween candy to eat right now.  It’s a bargain.

In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. That means we have 1,440 daily opportunities to make a positive impact.

Les Brown