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.

Monday Bookshelf: Fairy Tale(ish) Edition #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:  Fairy Tale(ish) Edition #sol19

March 11, 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.

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 4.31.28 PM.pngStack 2:  Fairy Tale, Folk Tale, Fable, Traditional Tale… Any Book with Strong Archetypes and a Lesson

Being a little tired of most fairy tales where the female character is at the whim of the male power character,  I branch out to other books that have a traditional tale feel without actually being one.  All except The Three Little Pigs, which could be either gender and seem to work with every demonstration lesson ever.  (Don’t believe me.  It’s Tammy Mulligan’s theory.  Give it a try)  For that story,  you don’t need a book.  Every single person knows what happens.  Here is a collection of books with a strong lesson, strong characters, and character change. 

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.28.17 PMA Camel in the Sun inspired by a retelling of a traditional Muslim hadith, or account of the words or actions of the Prophet,  this is the story of a camel whose owner only realizes his selfish ways when the Prophet appears and tends to the camel humanely.

 
Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.27.05 PMThe Wolf, The Duck, and the Mouse   This is a crazy tale where the victims change the tables on the villain.  Who is the bad guy in this story?  Perfect for the student who loves a twist.

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Little Tree  The little tree stubbornly refuses to let go and faces the consequences.  There is a strong message here about change.   Very simple text and beautiful illustrations.

 

Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.24.39 PMThe Uncorker of Ocean Bottles   I’m not sure what kept me from this book until now.  The Uncorker has the solitary job of retrieving bottles from the ocean and delivering them to the appropriate persons until one day…

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Horrible Bear   As in many of Ame Dyckman’s books,  the obvious bad guy just isn’t.  Misjudged,  the bear isn’t the one with the lesson to learn  See also  Wolfie the Bunny and Misunderstood Shark

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Chopsticks  I kind of want to include an AKR book into every category I make.  They can be used for so many.  Chopsticks think they can only work together, until… See also Spoon and Exclamation Mark.

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Bloom  is a fairy tale with an anti-hero.  She’s the solution that no one wants.  She doesn’t have to be the one to save the day,  she can give her powers away. Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.20.31 PM

 

 

 

 

Also in the Stack:    Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.58.55 PMThe Princess and the Pit Stop a delightful mashup of many tales where the heroine definitely makes things happen  Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 3.59.55 PM

After the Fall    a familiar tale with a much more satisfying ending

 

 

and  Screen Shot 2019-03-10 at 4.01.26 PM.pngWe Don’t Eat our Classmates

I have never seen this problem in a classroom and yet, I think we can all relate

 

Thursday Reflection #OLW #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.

unnamedThursday Reflection #OLW #sol19

March 7, 2019

I chose a word in January to guide some choices that I made throughout this year.  It’s the eight year that I have chosen a word.  This year’s word is reflection. Reflection.

I wrote a few days ago about a entry from my collaboration journal where I encouraged strongly two of my collaborative teachers to chuck the scripted assessment for the end of the Information Reading/Writing units (third grade) and take up slightly modified ideas that more closely aligned to the work they were doing in their classrooms.  You can read about my initial idea here.

The first idea was to use an information topic that individual students were working on in their genius hour projects to have the students do a flash draft in information writing. The plan for this assessment was to inform their genius hour progress and complete an end of unit assessment in informational writing.  In hindsight,  I should have coached into two things that we consistently do when writing.  The students should have had an opportunity to turn and share everything they were going to write with their writing partners.  We know how important the oral rehearsal is, especially with our school population.  The second reminder is also completely on me,  even though we wrote about something specific to the students, we should have introduced the task with the same assessment directions that we would have used in the writing progression work.

Please keep in mind that you’ll have only this one period to complete this, so you’ll need to plan, draft, revise, and edit in one sitting. Write in a way that shows all that you know about information writing.

“In your writing, make sure you: • Write an introduction. • Elaborate with a variety of information. • Organize your writing. • Use transition words. • Write a conclusion.”

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exemplar text from UOS

I hope the teachers were informed about many things in the students’ written essays, especially thinking about them in comparison to an exemplar.  I often think we are expecting too much of some things and not enough of others.  Few of the writers used parts or sections in their writing.  Many of them used transition words, expert words and had an introduction and conclusion.   Mostly success.

 

The second task we tried was more complex.  The teachers selected a text that they had read often and used as a mentor text.  Carter Reads the Newspaper for one class.  Harvesting Hope for the other.  Both of these texts are lengthy picture books with complex ideas new to all of the students.  We typed the text so it would be presented in  format similar to the testing protocol and other assessments. We considered presenting it through google classroom, but in the end used paper copies.  Through Newsela, we located an article at a third grade level that was related to the popularity of black history for Carter Reads the Newspaper, a book about Carter Woodson, the driving force behind Black History Month and an article about the continued plight of farmworkers in the United States to go with Harvesting Hope, a picture book biography of Cesar Chavez.  The first day the students summarized the informational article and the second day, the writers used cross-text synthesis to examine either black history or the condition of farm workers.

Perhaps the teachers would have gotten a cleaner assessment from the easier narrative nonfiction text provided in the unit paired with an equally easy informational article, but those articles were about roller coasters.  The students thought about the development and promotion of black history and what has contributed to the rise in popularity of civil rights sites and other related black history museums.  They thought about how little the conditions of farm workers whose products we eat has changed in the nearly sixty years since the Farm Workers March.  Their conclusions rang of so what and now what in a way that I don’t think writing about roller coaster would have.  They will walk away from these days with more than a thought that they wrote for two solid writing workshops.  Perhaps they will consider both of these topics for a long time to come.  I hear Lucy Calkins reminding me that we are raising citizens.  I know I’ll consider how we introduced a timely, important topic to them.

The Gardener and the Chef #sol19

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The Gardener and the Chef #sol19

February 19, 2019

Happiness is cultivating your garden- Voltaire

exact quote at the end of Candide,

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”

In my year of reflection,  I keep my journal close, listening like a writer perhaps.  Today, I was watching the Netflix show, Chef’s Table-France,  and considering how the classroom is like a kitchen and the teachers are similar to great chefs.  Taking the amazing materials that show up in the world, with the students, from the synergy of thought and creating daily masterpieces.  Some the beautiful oops, some works in progress. So if the role of the teacher is the master chef, what is my role as a specialist?

One gardener said about his relationship to the chef, my job is to give the chef what (he) needs.  Give the chef what the chef needs.  The chef said that having your own garden, your own gardener, changes your way of seeing things.  

So here I am,  the gardener. What is the garden that needs tending?  The produce that will be presented to the chef each day?  What will grow in the plot of proverbial land that is that space between the literacy center, the library, and the classroom?

A gardener is a person who tends and cultivates a garden as a pastime or for a living say Merriam-Webster.  Gardens take time. Gardens take careful planning. Gardens necessitate thoughtful tending and attention to details… most of the time.  I have had a messy garden or two that produced the most glorious yields. Some completely and utterly serendipitously.

But this garden,  this garden of literacy curriculum and resources,  of advice and suggestion, of borrowed and tended, is cultivated mostly with care.  This year of reflection, I created the book bins with a teacher’s heart, their words whispering in my ears.  The students fingers imagined as they looked and read and shared each book. This year of reflection, I touched each book in the garden of the literacy center imagining who might use this book and how,  stopping to read and think. Organizing them to suit a literacy plan fresh from the pages not quite dry.

When I pluck those books from the shelves, pages tabbed or copied, and carry them bundled in my arms down the hall to a classroom, I’m aware they won’t all be loved or used.  Some will be returned to their places to wait for another chance. But some… Some will be savored. Changed. Created into new ideas that I haven’t thought of by that master chef and her crew.  Some of those books may change thinking for the future of a reader or a listener. Some will be returned to again and again to show a thought, a technique, a character, a story arc.

Some will join with other books, some for children and others teacher resources to change the course of that classroom, that teacher and those students (student) not just for today, but later,  they will remember that book and that feeling and those words and say… that was the moment, everything changed.

So am I a specialist?  Perhaps, I do specialize in words.  Am I a coach? I do encourage. What am I most?  I am the gardener.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM  Looking forward to our month of writing.  Join with us.  More information at Two Writing Teachers.

Reflect #sol19

0Reflect #sol19

January 1, 2019

My one little word from 2018 was notice.  I take this last look at what I noticed in 2018 and reflect on what I’ve taken away.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed in this last 365 days is the power of the struggle.  I read once that the broken places are where the light gets in and also that the person doing the work is the one doing the learning.  But honestly, when you get down to it, it’s always about giving power to individuals, allowing students, teachers, co-workers, and ourselves the room, the tools, and the time to figure it out.  It’s a fine line the struggle, but so often it results in break-through learning, self-reflection, and growth.  Letting others see their own strengths is where positive mindset really comes from. This idea is the strongest thing I took to my bones this past year.  I hope it’s the strongest coaching I did as well.

One of the reasons that this struggle resonated so fiercely with me is the commitment I made to read the Calkins Units of Study from cover to cover. The cover to cover approach strengthens the global view of the units and allows for flexibility to match student needs and experiences.   I haven’t made it through all of them yet, it’s my commitment for this school year.  Seeing the units vertically facilitates closing the gaps, strengthening outcomes, and envisioning the purpose.  Each one I read gives me a deeper understanding of the verticality of literacy skill development, the connections between the learning progressions, the reading and writing processes, and the logic of helping students see what is essential in reading and writing.

Some simpler things resonated this year when I took the time to notice.  Tools can be simple and flexible.  I can travel with some stickies, a composition book, my phone, and a few go-to books.  Along with tools, visuals can explain a lot!  I used so many drawing this year to show connections, steps, big ideas broken down, and planning.  Traveling lighter seems to facilitate flexibility in thinking on my part.

In human interactions, I noticed that partnering strengthens us.  When we reach out, listen, give great wait time, and talk regularly,  our work is stronger and more consistent.  Nothing takes the place of scheduled talk time or taking unscheduled time to talk.  While visuals and tools can be electronic,  I have found more than ever that emails are limited and limiting.  I’m still prone to using picture books, drawings, read-alouds and cookies to smooth, explain, and develop ideas.

The final reflections that I have for 2018 right now are that giving yourself some quiet time to think over problems, situations, and plans is essential.  Nothing replaces time in working things out.  I’ve written many a blog when I first wake up in the morning or sitting in the quiet literacy center before or after school.

Here’s to the partners that helped me learn those lessons this year.  Some were in books like Debbie Miller, Jennifer Serravallo, Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan,  Ralph Fletcher.  Their books published this year were eye-opening and practice changing.  Here’s to the blog writing practitioners that encouraged me through difficulties in writing and practicing, my instagram troop, twitter pals, and facebook groups that shared so much of what works for them. Here’s to my morning partners, each day of the week I learn from you and with you.  Here’s to my day partners mostly under 10 who make me a better learner, explainer, and experimenter.  In 2019,  I’ll be reflecting on what you teach me.

 

It’s All About Approximation #sol18

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It’s All About Approximation #sol18

Our district is in the midst of an overhaul… in a good and also messy way.  We have an interim superintendent, an interim assistant superintendent for curriculum & innovation, a new reading curriculum, a new writing curriculum, a new reading assessment and at my school, we have a interim principal…  That’s a lot of new(ish) stuff.

The absolute truth is that new can be really, really messy.  It can be full of starts and stops, trial and error, and especially misunderstandings and enlightenment.  Messy can be beautiful and a marvelous learning experience if you fully embrace it with a clear vision of the why.  It can also be exhausting… sometimes not in a good way.

Like many in my PLN, I spent the day on Saturday at Teachers’ College.  I look forward to it for half a year,  drive through part of the night and the dawn to get there,  absorb like a sponge all day and then process all I have heard for months afterward.  For years, when I went to the Reunions,  I was catching up…  I didn’t quite understand the visions, the nomenclature, and the rhythm of the talk.  But somewhere along, I began to keep up.  The talk makes sense.   I see the connections between things.  I’m actually in stride.

So… how do these things go together.  You just have to suck at something for a while.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s tiring. It is definitely not the easy path.  In the fray, it’s hard to see the route.  Our district was high functioning.  Students were making adequate progress for the most part.  The need for a new curriculum wasn’t mandated or even needs-based.  It was about innovation.  Thinking about a future we don’t quite see for a generation that’s on their way there.  Changing the narrative and the practice from teacher directed to student led.

Unfortunately,  the vision setting,  the dream-casting,  the history of change is frequently communicated in short hand and at the wrong frequency.  Someone compared our work once to rebuilding the car while driving down the road.  The image of that is truly terrifying, but yet we coach teachers into that in a room full of elementary students every single day of the week.  Unpredictably, uncontrollably, sometimes unmanageably every solitary day of the year.

It took me five solid years to have a vertical vision of the Calkins’ reading and writing curriculum.  Every day I learned additional components, interpretations, and resources.  I’ve breathed, discussed, and attempted these ideas most days over the course of those years and still… I’m back in the books, reading more, going to more reunions.  Learning, questioning, adapting more all the time.

Where does that leave us right now?  In a glorious place!  If we are growers, learners, and innovators every day, it leaves us open to encouraging growing, learning, and innovating in our students.  If we struggle, we are closer to their struggle.  If we have to work things out, try and try again, we exhibit growth mindset in the realest, most authentic way.

I never was that good as an educator, administrator, interventionist, or coach to make things really look easy or perfect, but I know many who can.  I always admire that perfect looking space, those creative bulletin boards, that neat writing in student portfolios, but now I admire a narrative that sound more like approximation.  We’re so close… My students are nearly there.  We tried this today and it bombed, but tomorrow we’re going to…  I noticed… I wonder… Man, today was HARD… 

So here’s to the disequilibrium that comes from change and attempts and deep, deep learning.  I have to go to bed earlier, but I’m very excited to get up in the morning.

 

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thank you to all of the writers who encourage me to say I don’t really suck at this anymore including all of the voices behind Two Writing Teachers.  Read some amazing thoughts here.

Data Meetings: Planning for Growth

IMG_2586Data Meetings:  Planning for Growth

October 8, 2018

What comes to mind when I say data meeting?

Not looking for the benefit of data or meeting together.  Just thinking about when we sit at that table in that room together.  What are we trying to accomplish? Backward glance? Problem Solving? Correcting course?

Do you have a plan in mind?

Many meetings have identity problems.  Data Meetings are constructed with the principal, our grade level team, a specialist or two.  Data meetings have limited time. Educators arrive with varying amounts of data having spent varying amounts of time examining it.  Individuals think in divisions: students that are ‘on track’ and students that are ‘behind’. Cheers for how well they got it. Cheers for our teaching.

Data meetings are available three times a year.  In the fall, educators are getting to know new students and assessing summer loss.  In the winter, educators may review students acclimation to grade and their mid-year progress.  In the spring, educators may reflect on progress toward goals.

The developments from the meetings can varying.  When educators have clear indicators they are looking for in the data, they come to the meeting prepared to future plan, both for the immediate and the long term.  When indicators are less clear, either from the team or the leadership, meetings feel like show and tell. These meeting have potential. Potential to drive not just particular teachers, not just particular grade levels, but whole learning communities forward.  If we only ask,

What did we want to learn?  Did we learn it? How will we use this information to reflect, to move forward, to improve?  

Do we and can we finding meaning in this work,  the work of data meetings?

I know what you’re thinking,  sometimes these meetings are just a waste of time.  As a person who goes to a LOT of meetings, I’d say meetings are exactly what you make them. I’m sure in some places, people trot out their “data”, test scores, assessment levels, attendance even,  and praise each other for how far students have come. Educators race to complete assessments and hair on fire arrive at a meeting with the ink proverbially still drying. We rarely have time to think about what the data might be telling us beyond the scores.

But, we can do better.

When we began data meetings, we were just thinking in the meeting about what new assessment data was telling us.  We were learning about the assessments, considering interventions. Considering the data together. Even then, we thought about and discussed how timing affected students,  which students might need another go, how else we might assess these skills, what skills we were assessing and their importance. Even then, we were searching for solutions to whole class and individual student difficulties, thinking always about how we could assist each other. The data was drawing us to empathy and  to collaboration.

So here we are, eight years later.  What are we going to do with our data meetings?

Are they OUR data meetings?  We extend the time. We reduce the data.  We extend the discussion. We think more about the pedagogy.  We shift our thinking regarding intervention. Still stuffed to the breaking point, squeezing all the assessments in a small window and peeking in.  

And we still wonder what it is we see.

It all really goes back to those simple questions:  what do we want students to learn and how are we going to ‘teachfacilitate it.  Working through our backward design long before we collect the data, deciding together what we are looking for and how we will know it when we see it.  Planning for planning. Planning for talking. Taking those assessments out of the drawers and into the light. Considering the purpose for each assessment and consequently each lessons.  How can we reteach? What will we reteach? Does this data tell me what I need to know to make these decisions?

This seems like a lot of work,  time spent giving the assessments, time spent examining the assessments,  time spend aligning the assessment to the curriculum. It may be that the more time we spend on these elements, the less we will need quarterly meetings to discuss them.  The more growth we will see in students as the instruction becomes focused on need.

Yes,  we could eliminate a meeting.  But sometimes, it is beneficial to talk about how we’ve grown and what we will do next.