Launching Books #IMWAYR

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Mentor Texts for the Beginning and the Long Haul

July 17, 2017

Every summer  I find a back to school mentor text.  Usually,  this text is a uplifting mentor about mindset for learning.  This year’s choices are no exception to that.  It’s the right way to go for the first few days.

Being a teacher for a number of years,  there are a lot of first days books in my library.  This year,  the hunt is different.  Let’s make these books go the long haul.  I want to return to them for meaning work, construction work, beginnings, endings, author’s moves, and theme.  That’s a lot to ask of one book.  However, the more familiar the story,  the more meaningful it is as a mentor tool.

the thing lou couldn't do Many of you will already be familiar with The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do and by its author,  Ashley Spires, author of the amazing, The Most Magnificent Thing, another well-used mentor text.  Without reading,  we can already do so much work on the cover,

lou thingloucouldntdo insert

right?  Essential Questions, Predictions, Foreshadowing.  This book doesn’t hold back,  Lou knows she can do the thing.  She avoids it.  She negotiates with it.  The best part is that (spoiler alert),  it doesn’t all work out in the end. It has a perfect Carol Dweck moment.  Read to find out.  Ok, all well and good but what else.  Taking just three ideas from Calkins UOS Reading 2nd Grade Authors Have Intentions, we can talk about theme.  (this will work for any grade)

Here’s where my practice is shifting.  I don’t have to have these questions answered to ask them.  The students often have better, deeper, richer ideas.  I think I know, but that’s not important.

jabari jumps cover

I couldn’t wait for my next title to arrive, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall.  Reviews were awesome and LOOK at that cover.  So much to talk about after summer break!

But then there’s the first page,  and we can talk about Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 8.30.37 AM.pngor  details in the story or crafting an ending. We can use dialogue.  I can use the preview of the book video to notice, and wonder with the class.

 

My last book is purposeful.  I’m committed to add an Amy Krouse Rosenthal book to as many lists and as

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many demonstrations as I can.  This book isn’t new like my other two choices and honestly,  I may have used it for back to school before.  The video of The OK book will be how Literacy Bootcamp  begins this year.

 

 

Because in the world of must be amazing,  it’s ok to be ok while you’re figuring it out.  Illustrations, simple repetitive text, a thoughtful ending.  One great mentor.

inside the ok book

Happy hunting for your mentors.  Remember to make them go the distance.

Technique Thursday: A Change will Good You Good

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A Guide to (Teacher) Self (Workshop) Improvement

July 6, 2017

Let’s say you (or I) want to improve upon our writing workshop,  what might we do?

Apply anything you want to change to this model. 

When we think about getting better at anything, there are so many metaphors for improvement.  Insert your best improvement metaphor here.  What made you want to improve?  What did you notice that you didn’t like?  What could you keep but improve?  Make a list right now…

It’s difficult to target what might be getting under our skin about the workshop.  The workshop has 3-4 components:  minilesson,  guided practice which includes strategy groups and conferring,  and independent practice.  I would include share and a quick tip time too.  

In his book,  The Construction Zone,  Terry Thompson writes about focus, flexibility, responsibility (by student), and feedback.  The focus is our road map.  I often talk to newish teachers about ‘trying to teach everything’ until they have a solid vision of their destinations.  I want to amend that in light of clearer, more concise thinking.  If I could envision what I wanted it to look like and sound like,  what would that be?   Maybe you are in a place where you can picture that.  If not,  here are a few ways to get there.  

Reread  The Guide to the Writing Workshop by Lucy Calkins.  

Think about each part of your workshop:  minilesson,  gradual release, conferring, conferring notes, goal setting, independent work,  interactive writing, and share.

Think about how to leverage your reading work with your writing work

What strong minilessons and gradual release/strategy work do you have in your reading workshop that gets to author’s craft/technique/mind work?  For example,  if you can teach structure in informational reading,  it’s not a long journey to informational writing.  

Watch

Watch videos (TCRWP VImeos are great),  other teachers,  your students.  Have someone teach your students, video your own workshop, or watch someone else teach.

Plan

For me, planning is about assessment and observation.  IF you’re planning now for an unknown future class,  what did your last class succeed/struggle with?  One thing I’ve noticed is looking at the grade before and ‘pre/reteaching’ is so helpful.   It’s also helpful to do a quick/flash draft to see what your students are starting from.  Use a checklist or rubric to see what techniques you want to focus on?  

Learn

What is the most difficult thing for you?  For me,  it’s narrative.  Read blogs,  read books, practice,  write… One blog is key, Two Writing Teachers

One last word about success,  change,  and getting it right.  Generally,  if it feels wrong,  we should think… is this fun?  My friends,  Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan, reminded me last week to keep a playful stance about the WORK.  Good advice.  

Breaking Up is Hard to Do #SOL17

Hobie-Sailing-St.-Thomas-1200x800Breaking Up is Hard to Do

June 6, 2017

It’s that time of year again.  The number of school days is dwindling down to small double digits.  This is when the student begin to break up with us.

A veteran fourth grade teacher I know says each of them finds their own way to break up.

It’s not a conscious thing, but it’s necessary, inevitable, and kind of hard.

Each year that student’s homeroom teacher spends the better part of the year learning each of her student’s learning profiles,  making them feel comfortable, pushing them to their discoveries as  learners and then we tell them to get out of the car.  There really isn’t another choice in the matter, but breaking up is hard to do.

A little preschooler after visiting the kindergarten class wipes out for days on end.  I don’t want to go to kindergarten he says.  What he means is,  you made it warm and comfortable here.  I know how to try here.  I know where the edges are.  I’ll have to learn them all over in my new place.

The fourth graders ask questions of the middle school counselors.  Will my teacher know me? or a fourth grade version of that.  Who will help me if I need help?  We say, You’re ready!  Look at you!  You’ve got this!

Did we prepare them for life beyond us, whomever the us is?   Did we teach them that they are their teachers?  Did we show them that they know how to figure out what needs to be figured out when it needs to be figured out?  Did we teach them how to let go and how to grab on?  And my favorite question,  how will we know when they have learned it?

So as we let go,  let’s talk to them, all of them, about letting go and moving on… about strength and grit and how much they are ready.  But let’s ask them,  how will you know you’re ready?  Because they are the captains of their own boats and it is time to set sail.

Hard Stop.

the-end-is-nearHard Stop.

May 24, 2017

 

I not a big fan of summative assessments.  I tend to look at everything formatively.  This is partially due to the fact that I’m not really ever finished with students until the go to middle school.  

What I have been thinking a lot about lately is the Miracle Question.   If your students accomplished this,  what is the first thing you would notice?

When I begin to collect the end of year data,  I seem to approach it in a different way each year.  Maybe it’s the lens I have at the moment, perhaps it’s a reflection of my goals for the year.  This year I’m thinking about curriculum changes, staff changes,  focus of instruction changes.  How well does the data reflect that?

As a school and as a district,  we have benchmark summative goals for grade levels.  They are arbitrary, but based on sound developmental data.  Certain reading levels, fluency levels, your standard benchmarks.  That’s what worries me.  That we view all of this data in our rear view mirror.  A hard stop.  The end.

What a big huge waste of time!  So…  perhaps we should get from it what works for us.   What works for us as practitioners.  What works for us as facilitators.  What works for us as learners, both teachers and students.  So what works for us?

When looking at the developmental reading assessment or any other assessment that gives us a reading level, fluency, miscues, and some level of comprehension,  let’s look at the individuals and make instructional recommendations based on what we notice.  Also let’s look for classroom trends.  What do we notice that makes us consider our instruction, exposure, and opportunities?   What would it look like to master these measured skills in the “wild”?  What do each of these missed components tell us?
We could travel across all of the assessments in this manner, but let’s make the journey one of inquiry and not tedium.  Not a hard stop, but a comma.  A pause for reflection.  It’s so difficult to make time for that at the end of the year, but it’s precisely when we should.  Think about those next students and what we have learned that will benefit them.  Think about those current students and what we might send them on with to their new homes.  If you students accomplished (fill in the blank)  what IS the first thing you would notice?  

rattlesnake footprints

raccoon tracksMay 10, 2017

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

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

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

 

View from the Balcony #sol17

BalconyA View from the Balcony

May 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

small batch coaching #sol17

Smallbatch-300x300 Small Batch Coaching

April 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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