The Truth about Teaching #sol19

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The Truth about Teaching #sol19

October 29, 2019

This morning, I had a plan, a plan to join some third graders as they began to explore persuasive writing and speeches.  A wonderful new book on my desk, I began to reread to plan out my stop and talks.  It occurred to me after I had read about ten pages that this particular book wasn’t really going to work.  #hatewhenthathappens   All my other persuasive text for the most part were loaned out.  What to do? 

I dug out another book.  Screen Shot 2019-10-29 at 1.52.47 PM

Truthfully,  I’ve been thinking about a way to use it.

I arrive at the class with a sharpie, my big notebook, some index cards, an anchor chart and this book.  Ok, kiddos, I say.  You were writing opinions yesterday right?  (mediocre answers) . So today,  let’s see how this author tells us his opinion.  

The book is amusing, full of side comments by the bears.  5 pages in I ask,  what kind of book does this seem like to you?  The kids look at me incredulously. Perhaps they think their thinking isn’t quite right.  Finally a brave students says, it seems like informationalYep, I said, the author is telling us a lot of facts about bearsWonder why?  Let’s see if we can figure it out.   We finish the story and I ask again, what was the author hoping we would do?  Again, hesitantly they say,  he wanted us to know about bears and teach other people.  Why? I asked.   Silence… then… he wanted us to help the bears.  Why?  So they would have food and some place to live.

Then I ask them, is there something you could teach me about that would make me care more about it?  Some students stayed on the bears.  But two stole my heart.

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So Grandpas don’t get embarrassed.  

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People should close their trash cans so plastic doesn’t go into the water and turtles can be safe. 

They may need finesse, but I’d say these people know how to have an opinion.

As I circle the room, one student is writing facts down about guinea pigs.  Hmm, I say, are you thinking people should own guinea pigs?  In my old school, I had a guinea pig.  You did?!?!  the table group erupts.  We should have a class pet!

We sat down as a group to have a chat about the opinion we should have a class pet.  First they want to discuss what kind of pet. Rattlesnake, monkey, dog, cat, guinea pig. They think about the pros. We can pet it when we are sad.  It will be something to talk to.  It will make kids want to come to school more.   And then,  one student says, there are reasons why we shouldn’t have a pet.  Sure, I say.  What?  We have to clean up after them.  People are allergic.  Counterargument.  Not taught, just caught. Messy, all over the place, student led learning.  Do you think we can really get a pet? they ask.

 

Total Effort #sol19

Total Effort #sol19

Just arrived. I’ll set up

I sent this text this morning, but it could have been sent most mornings over the last 20 years to be honest.  Wildly overcommitted… today.  But today, the overcommitment mentioned above created a sandwich with a very satisfying day of professional development for our staff.  Each grade level, an hour and a half of deep discussion, planning, and trying it out.  It’s a perfect combination.

It’s also messy.  Here’s a small story of today’s mess.  Our staff developer has worked with us for two years.  This is her first year with the primary grade teams, but she is well known to me.  We planned out the skeleton of this learning day last week.  As a team, we work well together and are willing to give most lessons with most students a try at the drop of a hat.

A small story about that attitude.  Often this drop-of-a-hat planning requires a quick trip to the literacy center for any number of books, office supplies, grand conversation notebooks, mentor texts, or notebooks.  Today, we got the idea (her, not me) that we should use an actual Big Book instead of a document camera or a picture book.

Aghast,  I said,  I didn’t purchase any of these books.  They’ve been here forever… I’m not sure.  But we were committed to Big Books, so she began to riffle through the collection.  Finally, she began to sort books out onto the literacy center floor and I noticed that they were books that we probably both used when we first started teaching.  Ones that we remembered fondly, but haven’t looked at in quite a while. See where this is going. 

So we brought the books back to the training room and lined them along the chair rail around the room.  I noticed then that they were all by a particularly famous author of guided reading texts, all decades old.

One by one the teachers encouraged by us, picked up a book to read and then fairly quickly returned them to the shelf. This book is weird, they said.  Hmmm. We read a few.  They were odd in that out of date sort of way.  The two of us undaunted, chose one to read ourselves and demonstrate to the class. (First Grade) . The book was filled with animals, when one laughed at the other, the other would threaten to eat them and then do just that.  Page after page of one cantankerous animal being eaten by a slightly larger one. That dog can’t eat the cat. said one very astute first grader.  As you might guess at the end of the story, the alligator gets the hiccups and much like that little old lady, all the animals rejoin.  In the end, all the animals go happily off with each other.  Crazy, inappropriate book.

The students were astounded that we offered up this crazy tale, but by page 2 were reading along noticing word endings and becoming more and more fluent.  All of us enjoyed the reading, not because the book was great, but because the company was.  A passel of first graders, some enthusiastic teachers, a moment of time, and a sketchy plan with a purpose.  A almost perfect combination.

How does this relate to my wild overcommitment or my last minute searching and planning?  Perhaps this is what they mean by not letting the good get in the way of the great.  We didn’t need a perfect book, a perfect plan, or even a perfect amount of time.  The readers showed what they knew,  we gave them a chance to try out their skills, and the two adults (and perhaps the observers) had a jolly good literacy experience.  Next time, a teacher will try these ideas out.  That teacher might have a better plan.  She might have the tools all perfectly set out.  He might have a better book. (I hope so… I’ll be buying some this week).  Or maybe they won’t.  Maybe they will get the idea to try this on their way to school,  they will read through a book they have quickly, plan out a lesson in ten minutes, and artfully deliver some magic all before lunch.

I hope so.

I’ll be wildly overcommitted tomorrow as well, but if you have a wild idea to try, I’m all in.

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.

 

 

 

Reflection: The Fuel #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.

Reflection:  The Fuel #sol19

March 27, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-03-26 at 8.59.58 PMFeeling a little tired after facilitating a curriculum meeting yesterday after school yesterday, reflecting on my retired colleagues’ happiness displayed over dinner last night, and three  problem solving meetings before ten,  I am definitely out of sorts.  Not an acceptable way to be in an elementary school.

Heading down the hall after missing a few groups this morning,  I stop by the door to pick up my 10:20 appointment.  His whole face lights up with a smile.

Here I am, he says.

After sending him back to fetch the book we are discussing together, we head off down the hall.  I haven’t noticed yet but my mood is already starting to lift.  We sit down head to head to catch up with Sugar and her chicken squad.

Chapter 6?  I say.

Chapter 7! my companion says assuredly.

I flip through the book pages, reading our thoughts from the preceding days. Sugar is the kind of chicken who likes to make plans that help herself.  Sugar is the kind of children who takes charge.  Sugar is the kind of chicken who has lots of ideas.  I remind him that we are the kind of readers who want to solve the mystery, but know our work for this book is to think about the character and how she changes.  We read another chapter together, whispering when the character whispers, being loud when she is loud.  Soon it is time for our final thoughts and back to class.

See you tomorrow, he says.

Can’t wait, I say.

Off then to another third grade where they are comparing two books,  Nerdy Birdy and A Bike Like Sergio’s.  One of our writers exclaims that he can’t possible write or remember all of our thinking…  Give it a try, says his teacher.  Practice with Mrs. Kennedy.  Soon my time with them is up,  then on to the next class, where we are tackling a story mountain considering Peter’s motivation for running away from home and returning.

By the time I return to the literacy center,  there is a spring in my step, happy thoughts fill my head and a smile graces my face.  The intervention teacher working in the center turns to me and smiles back.  Oh, I sign,  I need to remind myself that the cure for everything is a little while with the students.

Yes, she says, you do need to remember that.

Monday Bookshelf: Smaller Bite Books #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.

Monday Bookshelf:  Smaller Bite Books  #sol19

March 25, 2019

If you are reading this, you might have the same problem I do.  Bookshelves bursting at the seams and an organization system that works one day, but not the next.  Welcome to my Monday bookshelf, where I will organize a stack of books within a category.  Hopefully this stack will resonate.

Living in Character Studies across the grades and working on book clubs.  Some novels take a lot to get through, a lot of reading, a lot of thinking, a lot of time.  We are also deep within pretest season where short and dense are definitely the stars.  How to teach deep into character, climax, solution, lesson, and story arc while keeping the reading and talk more management.  Denser picture books may be the answer.  I find myself returning to picture books more and more as a strong contender when I am looking for mentors both for teacher use to keep lessons short or student use to keep engagement and learning high.

When I sat down with one of the third grade teachers a few weeks ago,  we brainstormed books high in character work, perfect for considering in mini literary essays.  Now encouraging teachers to use familiar books seems right.

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Some of these book are well known for character work in third and in the lower grades.  Considering them for literary essay work when students are familiar, lightens the comprehension work and increases their ability to consider the story.

As an extra push, consider having the students make connections across books are to thinking about situations in their own experience that are similar in change or life lesson.  That makes for some really strong essays.   I also like narrative nonfiction biographies for this thinking, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Jabari Jumps, front and center, has become a go-to book for many grades.  I often carry it in my conferring bin.  If you are unfamiliar,  Jabari faces the dreaded high dive.  He thinks he is ready to jump, but is he?  The stretch out of the story heart with illustration elaboration will fit nicely to teach into how an author shows us what is important through craft, illustrations as a craft move, and the social emotional aspect is a wonderful bonus.  Screen Shot 2019-03-24 at 5.05.51 PM.png

The Rough Patch, a Caldecott honoree,  is an emotional wringer for adults, though I find students are pragmatic about the crushing blow our fox friend takes near the beginning of the story.  His reactions are great food for discussion and the turning point helps illustrate how authors teach us.  Be ready for a grand conversation with this book.

If the Shoe FitsThose ShoesA Bike Like Sergio’s , Stand Tall, Molly Lou MelonThe Invisible Boy are standard fare for whole class talk in character change and lesson learning.  Turning these familiar books back on the students for their consideration in small group shows them what they already know about this genre work.  They stand the test of time.Screen Shot 2019-03-24 at 5.32.34 PM

For students who deserve a challenge consider, Beekle, The Last Stop on Market Street, and Come On, Rain.  While story arc might be clear here,  lessons and character change require deeper thinking. For students that need a simpler text, consider No David.

Think about your class, students, or school focus,  books like Ruby the Copycat,  The Recess Queen, and The Bad Seed, The Good Egg, and There Might Be Lobsters have the lesson and the characters front and center to show clearly the work of the author we are considering.

Some of these books are shifting at this time of year from other earlier year bins.  Keeping a story across grades and across the year shows the students how the work weaves together and how we can look at craft with new eyes.

Notebook Saturday: Drop In #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.

Notebook Saturdays

Through my work as a literacy coach,  I have teachers that I meet and collaborate with throughout the week. 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. 

Notebook Saturday:  Drop In #sol19

March 23, 2019

She rushes in the book room, paper in hand. Do you have a few minutes? she asks.  I turn from my computer, my head full of other thinking.  I hesitate, only for seconds.  Sure, I say, What’s up?  

She places a carefully constructed sheet on my table.  I scan for a moment.  Oh,  new strategy goals…  She has been very careful.  I wish I remembered her carefully constructed titles for the groupings.  In my mind I was already translating them… word solving, ok.  Two word solving groups.  (Middle word)   Now I’m remembering… Mind Movies,  Dialogue.  I called one Fluency.  Oh yes,  she called it sound like talking.   There’s one cryptic group that I’ve called LL.  Hope she remembers who and what.

Looks like you’ve got it thought out. 

I don’t know how I’m going to fit it all in.  

(Sigh) (This is a talk I can do on the fly)  Let’s talk it out.  Let me get a piece of paper.  Legal pad sheet ripped off the pad.  Stickies.  Pencil.  Let’s go. Ok,  how many groups can you fit in a workshop?  Two? 

I think I can fit three, she says.  Hmmm.  I quickly draw a grid, talking as I go.  Let’s plan for four days and then you can have an extra for things you notice that week or just whip around conferring.  I pause…  Let’s start with your word solvers.  

We begin working through groups talking strategic times, timing, configuration, methods as we go. My paper begins to look like a football play book.  (As if I’ve seen one of those)

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Quickly we work through the groups. Perhaps start the week with Word Solvers.  Maybe this word solving group can be seen by your partner teacher and you can just do table conferences.  

On we go.  Four days a week for the word solvers. She’s been running a shared reading group with them.  I suggest a gradual release. 2 minute teach, 8 minute watch and coach.  Then later in the week, run both groups at the same time, centering herself and going back and forth.

She’s ready for a stretch in technique.

Her Mind Movie group and Dialogue group perhaps two days each.  That might be a good try for Shared Reading.  Interactive Read Aloud, she says.

Mind Movie group?  What level?  Lish?   You could teach into story mountain.  Time line? she asks.   Four squares.   Maybe a little higher level character work.  Iris is the kind of person who…character trait.   

We talked through book club ideas quickly.  Double partnerships, book club talk.

We include a bonus slot for research or teaching into current unit lessons.  I draw a poorly executed trash can fire.  She looks up.  Sometimes fires happen.  You need space for that.  

Then I say something off the cuff in closing. That’s a mantra, she says.  Write it down. 

IMG_3800 (1) Laughing,  I write it down as I say it again.

Off you go.  

 

My apologies to Jennifer Serravallo for my fast edit of a technique I learned from her.  You can read more about this grid planning technique in Teaching Reading in Small Groups.  

Monday Bookshelf: (Un)Flat Characters #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.

Monday Bookshelf:  Character Study in Intermediate Edition #sol19

March 18, 2019

If you are reading this, you might have the same problem I do.  Bookshelves bursting at the seams and an organization system that works one day, but not the next.  Welcome to my Monday bookshelf, where I will organize a stack of books within a category.  Hopefully this stack will resonate.

We meet up on Friday mornings at 7:30 and co-teach with each other through the reading (writing) block each day.  Sometimes we chat on the fly before I go to my first class at the beginning of her planning.  Sometimes she stops me on my way down the hall.  Sometimes I drop in as I am walking by.  We talk a lot.

Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.50.31 PMThis week we are talking about what it means to be in a book club and the dreaded flat characters.  I won’t mention the flat characters.  You know who they are.  They lurk around in easier chapter books or series where the author keeps that main character as flat as a pancake. When you say something brilliant like

develop a theory about a trait of your main character and use evidence to grow that idea, 

that darn old flat character really won’t give up one single thing.  He or she just sits there on the pages moving forward with not a real emotion one.

Help me!  I have some real emotions. 

So here we sat with this problem along with another problem… Harry Potter.  Now I love Harry Potter, not as much as the next person, but I do think he’s pretty special.  HOWEVER,

itsgoingtobenearlyimpossibleforthatnineyearoldtopickonecharactertraitandevidencefromaSEVENHUNDREDpagebook. 

First my recommendation for books with characters for third graders who love Harry Potter.  patentpending

Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.49.30 PMBeastologist.   Ok, the actual title is Flight of the Phoenix (Nathanial Flood, Beastologist)  This book is short.  This book is easy.  This book is filled with villians and twists and surprises and magic and… an orphan.  I know,  WINNING.  Also a series.

Another similar short book is Spiderwick.

If you want something in the same vein, but a harder read,  Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos will fit the bill.  Again a series.  Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.49.13 PM.pngThese books are for your HP lovers.

The flat character lovers need something else.

Screen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.49.00 PMFor Lovers of the flat character books,  perhaps Ellray Jakes is Not a Chicken.  The character isn’t much less flat, but he does learn something.   This is also a place where I might insert Alvin Ho or Calvin Coconut who seem much less flat.  I insert male protagonists here because I am thinking about certain flat characters.  If your flat characters are perhaps fairies,  I think Spiderwick might work or perhaps you could work in some strong girls like,  Lola Levine or  Dyamonde DanielsJasmine Toguchi, or Sofia MartinezScreen Shot 2019-03-17 at 8.47.35 PM

definitely a theme here

All these books are not expensive.  They are relatively easy to read and find.  They are part of a series.  And… we will be book tasting them very soon in a third grade near me.

So my teacher colleague and I read and talked about some books.  Some fresh books will come and be loved by her friends.  Some old flat friends will stay and we’ll work through those skills with short text and picture books.  We will pick up that story another time.