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

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Coaching for the Distance #sol18

Coaching for the Distance

May 22, 2018

 

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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.

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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.

In Charge of Celebrations #sol18

In Charge of Celebrations #sol18

May 15, 2018

I’ve been neglecting my responsibility.  The person who never comes to a meeting with out cookies, muffins, or slices of cake has forgotten to celebrate success.

As a coach, there’s always a subject or subjects dujour.  One of the elements of literacy I have been deeply coaching into this year is process over product.  What I know that to mean is we don’t have to over edit writing, make a fancy laminated cover, and make sure all the mistakes are corrected.  We can celebrate what happened live.  I say that,  but I haven’t lived it.

There’s a great deal of new content in my school and district much of which is literacy based.  That is the nature of elementary school.  New ideas are coming at us at a breakneck speed.  We are rushing along with them.  We have a map and we are moving along it.

I started thinking about losing celebrations as I collaborated with a teacher in a third grade class some weeks ago.  She was bemoaning the fact that the students she worked with never finished their writing pieces.  The words were floating out of my mouth that it’s the process,  they are just learning the techniques when I examined those words as they floated into the room.   Something in the back of my mind replied, it does kind of matter if they never finish.  How will they celebrate their accomplishments? 

Those thoughts continued to rattle around across some other grades. In first grade, we were quickly finishing fairy tales and moving on to nonfiction chapter books.  In second grade we were moving from nonfiction chapter books to poetry.  In third grade, we were finishing our literary essays and moving on to persuasive speeches.   We needed a stop along the way.

I was just getting ready to say something to someone.  I copied some first grade nonfiction chapter books.  I had the kiddos read me their books as they finished.  Then a second grade teacher had her class read their nonfiction books to their reading buddies.  The third grade teacher wanted to spark her students and helped them go back and type their literacy essays for a gallery walk.

So now,  still process over product.  Not perfect products, but writing to celebrate.  Finishing still might not be all that important, but certainly celebrating is.  So in the face of a avalanche of content,  take time to savor the writing.

 

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and my Slice community for always giving me an opportunity to celebrate writing.

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.

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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.

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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.
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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…

 

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What I Learn From Other Slicers #sol18

IMG_0944.jpgWhat I Learned From Other Slicers #sol18

March Year 2 Edition March 30, 2018

The intimacy of sharing a writing community and reading someone’s writing each day across time and place is profound.  Images and ideas stick with you long after you have left.

I have learned so much from so many bloggers this March. Last year I was so focused on just getting the writing done I didn’t allow myself enough space to just enjoy other writing and other perspectives.  This year I let go other reading to really read blogs consistently, reading between 20-25 blogs every day and sometime more than that.  Reading deeply in one genre gives you a stronger understanding of craft.  Here are 10 highlights from a month full of so many, tucked into my blog journal, my electronic folder, and my reading list. They will remain there for some time. 

From Alice Nine I learned about many different types of poetry, my favorite of which was golden shovels, My Daddy’s Golden Shovel.  In addition,  Alice has a wonderful way of weaving teaching techniques into her blog and respond to comments in a way that continues to teach.   To everyone else that wrote, explained, and taught me poetry techniques I am truly grateful.  Special recognition to Fran McVeigh, Lynne Dorfman and others.

From Lanny Ball and Stacey Shubitz, and others,   I learned true slicing,  those truthful everyday moments that hold so much meaning and sentiment.  Stacey let us into her little family and allowed me to peek at moments in young parenting that are long past for me. Last year, Stacey taught me how to make those watercolor illustration for my blog.

From humbleswede and Fran Haley, and others,  I learned that my dog could have a say which leaves the possibilities open for so many other things.  Lily still hasn’t gotten her say, but she has received honorable mention.

From Darin Johnston &  JCareyreads,  I learned that we can be PLN friends,  share ideas, and strengths, and hopes with each other.  Their honesty and thoughtful responses are the hallmark of what makes this challenge so meaningful.

From mbhmainepersistence and pedagogy,  and others,  I remembered about the variety of the slice techniques. So many of these techniques are squirreled away for a Tuesday.

From comments  like those from ureadiread and others, I was affirmed, supported, and taught.   5 star commenting from Brian Rozinsky for this whole solid year.  ( I have still yet to learn brevity from him)

From ebgriffin, saavyteacher and others,  I learned that we can talk over virtually what we are thinking, rehash what we wished, and have a virtual redo.

From mrspalmerponders and others,  I thought about the true depth of mentor texts.  Her How-To about blueberry picking will stick with me.

From my friend,  Clare Landrigan,  I continue to learn that you can accomplish what you set your mind to, that encouragement means everything, and you can know a person, but learn a lot more from their writing.

From my little welcome wagon tribe,  I learned that affirming someone else feels pretty great.

Bonus:  There were so many blogs that I truly enjoyed like this one from Anita,  Frog, Toad, and Vygotsky  I hope I told each of you when you wrote them.

This year blogging after school and posting in the AM worked for me as did reading  blogs throughout the day.  This technique was encourage by my welcome wagon crew being spread across the country posting at all different times. 

I learned a few things about myself too,  but I’ll save those for day 31.  

img_1405Day 30 of a 31 day challenge.  Writing with my writerly friends as part of the Slice of Life Challenge.  Read even more of their amazing blogs at Two Writing Teachers.  Thanks to Melanie, Stacey, and Lanny for coordinating so much for so many and encouraging me personally.

Writers’ Workshop Live #sol18

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Here am I trying to nudge students into their ideas rather than summaries in literary essays by sharing some peer craft moves.  Alongside,  my assistance conduct their own writing conferences.

Writers’ Workshop Live

March 28, 2018

As part of my role as literacy specialist in an elementary building,  I co-teach in several classrooms in either reading or writing workshop. My primary role is to support fragile learners, but as all teachers,  I support whomever comes along.  This bunch of third grade learners have known me since their kindergarten days and their teacher and I have worked together often, though not in this consistent role until this year.  The teacher and I meet weekly to discuss assessments, student progress, planning, resources, and all things related to third grade literacy.  I join the student during their writing block in the afternoons for 40-45 minutes a day.  As all classes,  it is a mixed bag.  

Chapter 1

One day a few weeks ago,  I was away at a meeting in the afternoon and wasn’t able to go to third grade writers’ workshop.  This conversation ensued in my absence.

Protester #1:  This is the worst 15 minutes of my life. 

Patient Teacher:  The worst?  Really? 

Protester #1:  Ok, Top Three.   Stitches,  Waiting for Stitches and This. 15. Minutes. Right. Now.  (dramatic sigh, head on desk)

Protester #2:  Who invented writing anyway?

Protester #3:  I don’t know.  Mrs. Kennedy?

Chapter 2

Last week in writers’ workshop, the third graders were working on persuasive pieces as the lead up to their baby literary essay unit.  They brainstormed some ideas together, but around six students decided to write their persuasive essay about how we shouldn’t have writing at 2 p.m.  Their basic arguments were that they were smarter in the morning, their brains were less full, and an “easy subject” like reading could be moved to the afternoon.  They became quite vocal about it and I think began to believe that we could change writing time.  Because of the specialist schedules in her room (not mine),  the teacher has to have writing at this time which she has explained.  Finally on Monday, she told the kiddos,  “I’m just not going to listen to this anymore.  Get to work.”

We read the book, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon and began the work of growing an idea  about a character and supporting in with three details from the text.

Chapter 3

Today in writers workshop, the teacher did the introduction and most of the kiddos stayed on the carpet to finish their second paragraph or move into their third.  I moved a stool onto the rug and began rehearsing sentences with protester #1.  Writers came up to have me read their work and approve it. Why do they do that?  Because I keep letting them.  I say,  what’s up?  Can you read this?  Sure.  I read it and hand it back. What do you think you might do now?  Is it good?  What do you think?  Have your writing partner confer with you.  or I’m done.  Sure, did you use some of our expert sentences?  Did you use some evidence?  Do you have a full paragraph?  Student slowly backs up. Hey kiddos,  remember, we are writing our fresh ideas, not the ideas of our character or summarizing.   But then,  I started reading some fresh thinking.  I send those kiddos off with the line that’s forming and they become the assistance.  misspell and pun intended.  

Toward the end of workshop I say to the teacher, I’m not sure I want to say this out loud, but it’s going pretty good.  Did you check out some work?   She says, yes,  good.   The assistants are into it.  But I have to tell you something.  I told them you were sad and you wouldn’t come back to workshop unless they worked hard.  

I guffawed.  How did that work? 

What really worked most likely is lean prompts, loose scaffolds, and mentors, both the book itself, and essays shaping up about book along with other students sharing ideas.  There were four adults in the room.  A para-educator working with student who have writing support plans.  A therapist working on ‘writing in the wild’,  the classroom teacher, and me.  We are currently teaching an If/Then Unit in Calkins’ Writing,  Baby Literary Essay.  We are on week 2, having taught a week of persuasion.  This unit is timely, as state testing is coming up. We keep it real knowing this is the type of writing these students will be doing the rest of their academic careers.  We find picture books great prompts.  The classroom teacher was using No David as an alternative text for a fragile learner.  She has a basket of great mentors for character change at the ready.  If you use the Calkins’ Units,  this unit has been reworked just this past fall and is available in the general information section of the third grade writing units online resources on Heinemann.com.  

My response to the classroom teacher’s tweet.

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Though now that I think about it,  I’d rather be Patricia Heaton.  She plays a convincing midwesterner in The Middle.

img_1405  Just your average writing teacher,  slicing every day for 31 days.  This is day 28 of a 31 day writing streak as part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Read some fascinating blogs here at Two Writing Teachers.