Time Well Spent #sol18

IMG_1182

Time Well Spent #sol18

July 17, 2018

One day last week,  I spent the day in a classroom with a teacher reorganizing her classroom library.

 

LOTS of Books

There were lots of books there.  I estimate that this teacher had 800-1000 books in her collection acquired from inherited books left in her classroom by the previous teacher, her childhood or friend’s childhood books, recent acquisitions, and gifts.  Her books had been leveled into general themes and reading levels.

Game Plan

Make a gathering place for each reading level band:  A/B,  C/D, E,  F/G,  H/I,  J/K,  L,M, and above. Then possibly sort into narrative and information books.  Finally group in loose themes to create book bins of twenty or so books.

 

Begin at the Beginning?

This is my sixth or so library overhaul with a classroom teacher in the last two years.  My goal is to have some ideas but to give the teacher lots of room to think through her collection his or herself.  I initially try to start in the middle of the collection.  As a first grade teacher, that would have been around a F/G level  using Fountas and Pinnell’s Guided Reading Level by Month Chart. She had many unleveled picture books in subject categories, so we began there.  That project was four hours in this classroom.  Two things contributed to its length.  She was evaluating texts as she went.  What to keep and what to purge. I might have kept all but the most glaringly obvious mismatches and then weeded at the book bin sort.  Eventually we developed a rhythm going along that she looked quickly through and made a brutal cut and then I leveled and reread some books suggesting uses for a few such as mentor text for certain aspects of reading or writing and book progressions.

Interestingly in this sort,  our ages became an obvious difference in selection.  There were many books in her collection that I had used as a teacher or parent.  Of course these books are twenty-some years old now.  For her, they all seemed ancient.  She cut nearly all of them.  While jarring at the time, it might not have been a bad move.  Many things have changed about our teaching,  our read aloud, and the way books draw students.  Unless I saw some emergent storybook potential in these books,  her decisions stood.

Picture Book Sort Tip

Think who will read?  Why read?  What is this books potential use?

End of Stage 1

At the end of stage one,  all the books were divided into reading levels.

Reading Level Tip

You might not sort all of the books into reading levels.  Some might be freeform in a very appealing sort of their own perhaps series or topic.

General Library Regroup Procedure

  1. Divide all the books into Reading Level.   Some you won’t be able to, in that case, approximate.  Use a strategy here, either pitch as you go or create a pile to look at later.  Don’t let that pile get too big, twenty books no more.
  2. Categorize those leveled books into subsets.  She used narrative and information.  In the bins I made for the book room,  I just used general feel of going together.  The teacher says I’m loose with those categories.  I might be.  It’s nice here to start thinking about categories that are going to go across levels for partner reading, leveling up, or whatnot.  Some categories that work might be: pets, dinosaurs, problems, favorite characters, or funny.  This is a good place to consider mentor texts at levels and emergent storybooks.
  3. Make a decision about how high your library should go.  As is common,  her library skewed high.  She had many books in the above level M category and very few at Level A/B.  Perhaps she won’t need those kinder levels in her class, but it’s something to consider.  She ultimately decided to offer to upper grade colleagues high level books that she didn’t think held an appeal to first grade.
  4. Notice what is amazing about your collection.  This about book progressions.  A student wants to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Would Diary of a Worm be a first step? What books are glaringly missing?  I definitely need more Fly Guy.  This may take some thinking.  This doesn’t have to happen today.  You can look at a level a week during the year as your kiddos use them and adjust or make a buying/finding plan.
  5. Create sort system.  This could be bins of certain colors, color dots, bin numbers, labels or names.  The point here is to make the subject the focal point, not the book level.  However at first grade,  book level will be important.
  6. This is the tricky level.  Live in the library.  Watch how the students select or don’t select books.  Notice what draws them, what books they request.  Find a way to let students create book bins of their own with their partner or as a group.
  7. Resist the urge to buy a lot now.  Borrow library books.  Try out new series or characters.  Scouring blogs and bookstores.  Ask colleagues.

 

So in the end,  these 1,000 books took about six hours to sort, categorize, and weed.  She had some glaring gaps in her library.  Information books, some series,  book pairs, book club offerings, some levels.  Knowing that she can borrow some from the book room, the library,  and begin her acquisition plan.  My assistance is available for the next teacher, but I believe hers is as well.  I did pocket the Icky Bug Alphabet book from the rubbish pile and saved Mossy from oblivion by comparing it to A House for Hermit Crab.

 

Special thanks to Clare and Tammy and their amazing book, It’s All about the Books for inspiring this teacher and myself to rethink libraries.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM

Advertisements

The Dilemma of Two O’Clock Writing: Who’s hair is on fire?

The Dilemma of Two O’Clock Writing: Who’s Hair is on fire?

July 16, 2018

True Story:  Two o’clock writing workshop is the pits.  Even I think so. But I let that two o’clock writing get into the students’ heads and into mine.  They would write more about how they couldn’t write at 2 p.m. than about whatever they were intended to write about day after day.  Chaos broke out. How they couldn’t write filled their thoughts and they no longer focused on what and how to write. My co-teacher and I discussed all the things we might do to engage the students in writing.  Nothing really worked. Why?

What we Hear: The teacher is the key.

We as educators get a great deal of coaching these days about motivating students.  Teach like a ______.  Teach like your ________ is on fire.  It’s all about what we do, how we can change.

Recently,  I’ve been coaching more about letting students be in the struggle as they work, no longer jumping to rescue them.  A quick reference here for those who are wondering about this idea.  (Scaffold or Rescue)  Moving educators away from compliance tasks to inquiry stance.  Thinking and practicing carefully crafted mindset motivating language.

Is it Skill or Motivation?

The questions still lingered.  What is holding us back? The idea seems straightforward: skill or motivation.  With a deeper look, it appears. What are the criteria for success? How can I get there, and why would it be important to arrive?  So this year, as we prepare for fall, let’s think less about being entertaining and more about authenticity, focusing on these questions.

Why? Why might success be important to an individual or the group? What is the nugget of this exercise?

For example,  in writing an information article, the writer is teaching someone something. We routine show students examples of this writing in the wild; real world applications.  Still students routinely stare at the page and state I have noting to writing about.  Why?  Perhaps the students believe that their audience shares their same knowledge.  Perspective might be the motivator in this case. No one else is going to tell it your way,  from your perspective.

Helping Students See  Purpose and More

Ok,  perspective, but then what?  Let’s press pause here and say to the kids: yes,  then what?  Why do you think this might be important/relevant/something you want to do? Then painstakingly wait.  Wait past the I don’t know, the silence, the distractions.  Just like Field of Dreams, if we build it,  they will come. All the while, subtly reading Pink is for  Blobfish.  Filling heads with ideas.  Noticing ideas for your objectives as you wait in line for music, listen to a podcast, read aloud another book.  Noting casual comments of kids and bringing them back to so what.

Here is the place for our energy.  The subtle, elusive steps to success.  Sometime we rush in this place. We’ve got four weeks to finish this writing unit.  We want students to write two information pieces a week.  WHY is the kid still on page one?!?!? Breathe in and breathe out.  Here we land at strategic planning.  This is the place our energy and their motivation lie.   Step by step we plan as an architect plans a building for we are architects of this learning.

Plan for Success= Success of the Plan

First, what are the skills needed to be successful in this task at any time.The skeleton of the activity.  In order to be there, it’s helpful to read A LOT of mentor texts, write a lot, experiment, rehearse, practice.  When we put ourselves in the time, the barriers, the thick of the activity and consider how will I explain success.  The students can be part of this: looking at resources, reading, developing exemplars, forming the statement: if successful, we will…

Knowing that struggle will happen,  how will we notice the first signs? What might we do when that struggle occurs?  Again, we go to the students. We know as educators, we might go back to the success point for most students.  Rewind talk. Remember when we… How did we…    Find this in your…     Explain it to your partner.   

Wait for lightbulbs.

Next, we want to…

Don’t fill in… Lead.  Let student think it and talk it through. Try it out together. (active engagement) Go of to try in a specific place. Explain or show a partner where.  Listen. Keep stragglers on the rug to rework. This method will work for whole groups, strategy groups, and conferring. Then share out. What did you try?  I noticed Sean tried this… Can we see?   Post idea or success as mentors.

Specific Plans

Time for specifics. These specifics will develop in the fray including conferring, strategy groups., mini-lessons, micro-progressions, reworking mini-lessons, reteaching in the whole group and in strategy groups, and very carefully chosen and strategic sharing.

What will we look for in independent work time?  Evidence of current lessons. When preparing for conferring have on hand a list of recent topics or strategies revealed, exemplars of these strategies, mentors, and specific tools to teach quickly in.  Leave with a plan remembering whose plan it is. You might offer choices. Will you try this or that?  Be specific.

From these you might plan a number of things for your current independent work time.  A strategy group or class reteach could go back a step or two to a place of success. A share could reinforce what most get scaffolding to the next step.

Coaching Tip:                                                                                                                                           If more than 50% of your students are in the weeds, reteach.                                                   If 25%, form strategy group(s)                                                                                                          If 10%, confer 1:1.

Develop your sweet spot. Feel your way to what percentages feel right for you.

Think of your developed criteria.  Notice three specific things to work on.

Perhaps this is a place for love in the real world.  To work on word solving and fluency with a student recently, I spent fifteen minutes a day listening to him reading Dogman to me.  A student who loves Dogman might write stories and sequels in that graphic format.  Our news feeds are filled with inquiries from other teachers, what are your read alouds.  In that place, read aloud, where we figuratively and sometimes literally stand on our heads as educators.  We struggle for the perfect mentor text, the just right beginning, the book kiddos will fall in love with instantly.  That will come once the students find their flow.  The key ingredients: time and clarity. So next time and all the times that struggle occurs, let’s ask ourselves, who’s hair is on fire? 

This idea was first revealed to me in Terry Thompson book, The Construction Zone.  For more on this idea, also see Who’s Doing the Work by Burkins and Yaris.

Book Rise #sol18

IMG_1510Book Rise #sol18

June 19, 2018

Yesterday morning, way before school began,  the literacy center buzzed with the activity of the first grade teaching team chatting, planning, reading, and laughing as they plotted for the book selections they would reveal to their students today.  Yes,  three days left at school and these teachers are helping their kids shop for new books.  A cart was located and the four teachers with 600 or so books divided by reading level in the subtlest of ways made their way down to the first grade hall  chatting away about how the kids would shop for their book rise.

Just three weeks ago when I proposed this book rise plan to teachers,  I think it is fair to say that it was met with skepticism.  Our school has 500 or so students and that is a lot of books to move through the building to 26 classes,  remain there for the summer and then mid-September make their way back to their home base.  But the principal and I had a vision.  A vision fueled by those book-writing, coaching troublemakers, Clare and Tammy. Student would be excited to show their reading selves to their rising teacher.  Their rising teacher, in turn,  would have ready-made book bags for the launch of workshop. The teacher would get a glimpse into their individual students’ end of year reading lives and their reading joys.

Back to yesterday morning.   As I arrived in the first grade wing,  the hall and the classrooms were abuzz with excited talk about the books the students were choosing.  Quick discussions ensued to encourage just perusal not full scale reading of the books.  Teachers noticed which books were being taken and which sections we needed to supplement with more books.

A few students make the trek down to the book room where the main collection lives.  These students knew exactly what they were looking for:   a specific Nate the Great to continue on their series reading, a book about snakes, a book with a dog protagonist.  Some of these books came from the literacy center collection and a few came from my personal stash.

In other grades and classes throughout the school,  students have been making book choices as well.  Yesterday morning,  I conferred with some third graders about the book glimpse they were giving their fourth grade teacher. We discussed novels that they were currently reading and what they wanted to read next.  Chats were had about mysteries, biographies, book-alike novels.  Some students honestly revealed much about their future thinking, their engagement in book choice, and  their reading lives even to us who have been working with them daily.

img_1473In the library,  students came for a book talk on broadened book choices.  With their help of our librarian,  the students with their teachers,  heard about new series to love, book-alike to their much read popular book cousins, and new characters to love as they rise to a new grade.

Throughout the school during the last week,  skepticism began to change to acceptance.  My hope that some of that evolved to enthusiasm.  I know that there was an abundance of student enthusiasm.

img_1471On Thursday,  those books will travel in their bags with those readers to their new class. Their new teacher will read one of his/her favorites to her new students. Then those carefully chosen books will wait patiently there until school starts in August. We will have to wait until fall to see if the vision really arrives at its fruition.  Will those kiddos arrive in their new classroom, those familiar chosen books will be waiting.  Can’t wait to see the reunion.

img_1716-1Slicing along with the Slice of Life community each Tuesday.  Read more amazing slices of life at twowritingteachers.org

Coaching for the Distance #sol18

Coaching for the Distance

May 22, 2018

 

Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 7.40.47 AM

Christopher Lehmann,  Foreword to Reading Wellness

In the frayed, worn edges of the school year, with the clock ticking down, our district and many others continue to do the tough work.  We are in a trifecta of growth:  adapting the curriculums,  considering assessment, and now we arrived at the third leg, coaching into these changes.

I’ve been asked in a team to consider what is valuable in coaching, what are institutional features, and where we might go next.

Listening to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher read from their 180 Days book on the Heinemann Podcast today,  it struck me what I really think about coaching.  Kelly quotes Chris Lehmann from the forward to Reading Wellness.  I paraphrase here.  Our best work happens when we align our coaching to their instructional decisions, when their work becomes the curriculum (of coaching).

I fill my desk with inspirational quotes and hope they guide my words and actions.  I believe we are only limited my the limits we put on ourselves. I believe we can’t really teach anything, just help folks to discover it within themselves.  I believe that 25% of coaching is encouragement,  25% is listening,  25% is a flood of ideas, and 25% is rolling up your sleeves and getting into the thick of it.

Encouragement comes in many forms.  My favorite form is noticing.  Just taking a photo and tweeting it out to say,  wow,  that was something that happened right there.  Much like our work with the students,  noticing and naming is strong.  When a teacher or a student is in the weeds, it’s difficult to see where the flowers are blooming. Sometimes I just notice in the moment.  I find that this encourages teachers to tell me about moments I’ve missed that were great too.

Listening… can be a challenge.  My personal favorite time to listen is at 7:30 a.m. before the rush of the school day.  Just a little chat over coffee about a particular thing or perhaps many little things.  These I schedule.  They are an amazing way for me to launch the day.  These meetings spark ideas, generate excitement, and set the tone for the entire day.  4:30 in the afternoon is good too.  These meetings are relaxed, punctuated by the personal, and can often turn into a field trip or a scavenger hunt for a book or a lesson.

Flooding the room with ideas has to be entered carefully.  I usually start a meeting, a year, a relationship with a teacher by just saying I’m going to be putting a lot of ideas out there.  Most of them come from my head, my reading, my experience, what you’re saying.  Use what you will.  Leave what you want.  It’s all good.  Sometimes this flood of ideas will help someone try something they might not have.  The comfort of a fall back ideas is that if the original doesn’t work,  I could try this other idea.  This is the power of constructing something…together.  It’s just what we hope for with the students as well.

The last and most important part of coaching to me is rolling up your sleeves and getting in there.  I spend the majority of the school day in there.  Yesterday our principal and I were standing in our courtyard garden admiring the view.   I lamented that I hadn’t taken a picture of the space before we started the transformation so many years ago.  We were both new to the building then and it was a wonderful neutral project to work with the team.  The infamous cookies and cakes just a way to say I’m here for you.  Covering for a teacher when she is in a meeting,  finding a book,  conferring with a student,  doing some running records,  there are so many ways to be there in the work.

I think coaching is best when it is student centered.  More than that,  coaching is best in the fabric of a philosophy of education.  We are all constructing knowledge:  the coaches,  the teachers, and the students.  We help create an environment for experimentation,  for learning, and for growth.  We assist in getting the tools in place and helping people learn how to use those tool.  It’s true,  we can’t teach people anything.  We can only help them discover it within themselves.

5f9e283f-67af-4f49-b354-801430caeed6

Thank you to some powerful coaches in my life including my slicing community and Two Writing Teachers.   Read more from powerful educators at twowritingteachers.org.

The (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

imagesThe (Not So) Secret to My Success #sol18

May 8, 2018

No one has ever asked me the secret to my success, but given my advanced teaching/coaching/intervening years,  I have a few tried and trues up my proverbial sleeves.  I can talk a good game.  I can make a joke at my own expense.  I can notice when someone needs a hand, an encouraging word, or a five minute pause. So here for what it’s worth are  six of the secrets to my so-called success.

The first secret to my success is that there isn’t always success but usually there is movement.  I’d like to say I’m always a success in intervention, in coaching, in picking out the right shoes, but sadly it’s not true.  However,  I do continue to keep swimming.  My philosophy is somewhere near:  Hey, we can learn a lot from mistakes, and failure is only an opportunity to give it another go.

The second secret to my success is to listen more than you talk.  This can be a real struggle for me.  Most of the time, folks need someone to hear them more than they need someone to tell them.

The third secret to my success as a literacy coach is to have an agenda, but go with theirs, meaning whomever it is that I’m working with.  They know what they need and especially what they want.  I’m prepared with some ideas, some resources, and most of the time that’s what they want and need, but sometimes it’s not.  In those times,  I have to be willing to take a detour or the long way, whichever path gets presented.

The fourth and perhaps the most important advice I have is to carry the water.  People need real things to be success:  found books, copies, a person to read the story, a person to tag off with a difficult friend, someone to sort books with.  The list is literary endless.  While providing most of these things, it can be a good time to a:  listen (see #2) and b:  go with their agenda (see #3)

The first secret to my success is one you’ve heard before,  bring gifts.  Bring ideas,  but also bring along a book,  the occasional batch of cookies, or Hershey’s kisses.  Nurturing folks feels good to you, but it also feels good to them as well.  I have been known to work years on this stage before moving on to another.

The final secret to my success is know other things about people that aren’t school related.  Maybe you know their favorite color, what’s in their Netflix queue,  birthdays, coffee addiction, their dog’s name, and even what their favorite cookie is.  You get the idea.

It’s not complicated, but it’s critical.  Several years ago,  the International Literacy Association published a research article on best practices in literacy coaching.  Level 1 of coaching is building relationships.  The article included the usual thinking:  establishing convimages.jpgersations, schedules, developing norms of communication, studying things together.  Those things are important, but in order for them to work,  real kindness opens the door.

My most successful conversations happen in three places:  at 7:30 am before our day starts,  at 4:30 pm when the building quiets down, and over the bent, working head of a student we both care for deeply.  Each of my 7:30 meetings, every day of the week, is different.  Some people have a list of things to talk about,  some wait for me to say something I’ve noticed,  some feel like the kind of conversations you might have any day over coffee.  What they have in common, I hope,  is trust.

The days are long.  The stakes are high.  A classroom of students can be isolating.  We can be the bridge,  the sounding board,  the boost.  All we have to do is take time and notice the small things. After all,  we have at least 180 days to get it close to right.

5f9e283f-67af-4f49-b354-801430caeed6

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers and my faithful writing community for being all these things for me, so that I may be some of them for others.  I’m forever grateful for you.

The Voices in My Head #sol18

main-qimg-7a46ec5dc79bcac79744edd8eaecf8f0-c  The Voices in My Head  #sol18

May 1, 2018

I have a lot of great mentors.  Some of them have never met me.   I walk among giants, but occasionally those giants are on a podcast, a tweet, or in a book.  Those giants have changed everything about the way I approach education, coach, interactive with students, conferring, and see myself as an educator.   Here are some of my favorite voices.

hmn-logo-podcast-1.png

 

The Heinemann Podcast accompanies me to work each morning and sometime home as well.   I listen to mine on a podcast app.  This podcast is a great way to try out professional texts and kick the tires before you buy.
static1.squarespace.jpgColby Sharp  is how I want to blog when I grow up.  Colby’s quick patter and teacher heart can direct you to your next read aloud.   Just looking around his room in the videos makes me smile.  An amazing advocate for kids and books,  follow him on twitter and youtube.

 

 

 

In addition,  The Nerdy Bookcast,  The Children’s Book Podcast, The Yarn.
Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 5.28.08 PM.pngTwo Writing Teachers have changed the way I teach, I coach, and write.  Ok,  maybe just my volume has improved. 🙂

So many blogs that I follow.  Tweets that I read.  Books that I read.  They all add up to wonderful mentors that encourage me, challenge me, and teach me.

Tom Newkirk says we only have to get 5% better each year.  By the end of our career, well, amazing things can happen.  Today,  I’m just going to try this one thing I read…

 

5f9e283f-67af-4f49-b354-801430caeed6

 

 

Indecision #NPM2018

Indecision

April 3, 2018

I might stay here in the light of this room

or I might go away as perhaps I should

I might take a walk with a dog or alone

Unless it rains, in which case, stay home.

I might read a book or

The piles still grow

I might have a talk or

Maybe stay still

I might tell you more

And perhaps I will

I might carry through

With all of these plans

I might stay here

Or I might go