Books to Spotlight Small Moments #IMWAYR

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Examining Small Moments and Personal Narratives in the Workshop

December 4, 2017

In our building, we have been spending some planning and instruction time examining small moments, both in reading and writing workshop.  Having a few small moments or personal narratives to examine in writing workshop was never a problem.  We have our favorites:  Shortcut, Fireflies, Come on, Rain.  Small moments are easier to find perhaps than personal narratives.  What if the personal narrative isn’t exactly personal?  Some of my favorites:  Roller Coaster, The Snowy Day, The Relatives Came aren’t really told in the first person.  Does that diminish their usefulness as a mentor texts to our aspiring writers?

Here are a few things to consider when teaching small moments and personal narrative. Remembering that the purpose of small moment writing is that the writing is finite.  This gives our younger authors the ability to write in detail showing character’s small actions, dialogue and internal thinking.  We are working on stories becoming more and more cohesive with greater and greater detail.

What is our purpose for using a particular mentor text?  Are we working on watermelon/seed ideas?  Then texts like The Snowy Day, Blackout, and Roller Coaster are wonderful, inspiring text for our students to think about their own small moments.  I also use small books in their levels to tryout thinking.  In our Fountas and Pinnell  Leveled Literacy collection, The Muddy Mess is one book that are definitely about a small moment that many kids might have.  Soccer Game in Scholastic Hello Readers!  uses descriptive words to talk about just one soccer game.  This book is written in the first person and could be used as a interactive read aloud.

IMG_0424To pair a simple book like Soccer Game!  as a mentor text in small moment writing,  we could think about another game, perhaps one on the playground where we would use descriptions to go part by part through the game.

In Joy Cowley’s The New Cat,  the words are simple, describing the action in the pictures.  The pictures may help explain our younger readers and writers  thinking,  while the words describe a particular part.

Many other books might show real photos while explaining a child’s exploration of shopping, the aquarium or other places.  These books are wonderful for interactive read aloud or mentors for interactive writing so students can see themselves reading or writing themselves.

In a focus lesson, we can work with our students in a more difficult text.  One, where when we are the readers,  students can do the challenging thinking work.  In Owl Moon, a great text for 2nd grade, students can imagine why Jane Yolen chose to write this book while contemplating the small moment of going owling after dark.

In Sophie Was Really,  Really Angry or No David!,  students can use illustrations to think about the small moments along with strong feelings.  While No,David!  tells the story from the author’s point of view,  Sophie Was Really,  Really  Angry using third person.  Could we discuss with the students what words we might use if we were writing about feeling this way ourselves?

IMG_0421Sometimes,  books are long(ish),  after sharing the book in a read aloud, we might just use a page or a two-page spread to talk about a specific aspect of writing.  In The Relatives Came or Yard Sale,  we might stop at a page and talk about descriptions or stretching the moment, or making a picture in our minds.

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Sometimes,  we might use a completely different type of book, perhaps one that is a familiar read,  to focus on one aspect of an author’s craft:  clever endings,  strong leads,  rich details.  These books are endless and part of your natural library.  In my use, I try to limit these books to have human characters, thought it is particularly hard to avoid using the wonderful richness of Kevin Henkes’ and Lily’s Plastic Purse and others for small moments.

So,  my advice,  relax.  Sometimes we will have focus lessons and this won’t be work students are doing in their independent reading.  Sometimes,  we pair or double pair students up to do focus lesson work in picture books that we have chosen for the group. Sometimes, we won’t.  Perhaps, we will work through small moment, narrative arc work in interactive read aloud and we will have students look for a particular aspect, for example,  rich details, in all the text they are reading.  Whatever work we are doing,  it should be reflective our standards,  our formative assessments,  our student needs, and be an rich experience.

 

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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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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for coordinating the Slice of Life Community.  Join or read more here.

Writers are Readers #sol17

IMG_8534Reducing Cognitive Load by Pairing Reading/Writing Work

March 30, 2017

Lucy Calkins says in the The Art of Teaching Reading that reading and writing are like ‘running from one side of the boat to the other’.  Thinking about that movement from one side to the other and I’m searching for balance.  Previously, I thought that students were wonderful readers and then they became writers.  Perhaps it is because that is how I remember it for myself.  Reading, Reading, Reading.  Talking, Talking, talking.   Then struggling to write.   

What I’ve learned from a year of collaborating in writing and reading through the units of study is this.  Reading and writing should not be separated.  They are the peanut butter and jelly of learning.  I have upended my thinking and believe that writing is the easier craft, even if that might not be true for me.  What I’ve noticed is that writing work scaffolds the reading work.  When we teach into informational writing and then begin a unit in informational reading a few weeks later, we can teach into the strategies we are using to write and the style of the mentor texts we have examined as writers to teach into the reading strategies in informational reading.   I can say to a student, remember in writing we were working on text features to teach different aspects of our topic.  We can use what we know about writing text features to examine what the author is trying to tell us in our books.  If you are thinking about poetry these days,  this teaching move makes sense.  Teach into the writing of various types of poetry,  then give the mentor texts double duty  as readers,  read and reread those poems.  The more we write poetry, the more we understand the reading of it.  The more we read poetry, the better our writing is.

Writing provides a lot more room for error.  It’s slower paced.  We can edit and revise to our heart’s content.  In writing,  the pressure is less.  So while I still have student who are doodling on the paper,  they are getting the sentences written as well.  They have wait time and think time.  They are constructing as constructivists.  Writing scaffolds reading in so many ways that we knew.  Practicing phonics skills while spelling during writing strengthens decoding skills in reading.  Deeply studying a genre of writing strengthens predictive skills needed when reading particularly genres which are unfamiliar.

Studying reading and writing in the same genres keeps underlying truths in the same zip code.  As in our biography study where we used our narrative arc writing structure to describe the composition of the subject’s story,  using our writing structures explains new or different reading structures to students.  After we have taught text structures in second grade writing, when these students read informational text, they notice the text structures and anticipate the author’s meaning and purpose.  We apply the narrative writing structure to clarify theme, purpose, and determine importance.

As when I am looking for connections  I see them everywhere,  we have connected not just reading and writing in a grade level, but now see connections across grade.  Creating those connections across grade, content, and genre provides a platform for students to move to deeper thinking, richer work, and increasing confidence.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and the March Slice of Life Challenge Community for inspiration and encouragement.  Read their amazing blogs here.

content driven literacy #sol17


IMG_6218“Without systematic attention to reading and writing in subjects like science and history, students will leave schools with an impoverished sense of what it means to use the tools of literacy for learning or even to reason within various disciplines.”  
Pearson, 2010

Brain Friendly Content Driven

March 29, 2017

I want to slip literacy, reading and writing, into content instruction the way spiralizers are slipping zucchini into my Italian cooking or perhaps the way I used to slip carrots into my meatloaf. With time is in short supply and content learning literacy is dense,  it’s critical  to slip parallel literacy in content teaching or content learning into literacy workshop.

When I first arrived at my K-4 school, I had much more experience in the primary grades.  In an effort to tie intervention to authentic work in grades 3-4 and provide support to struggling readers, I began to assist during content area instruction.  Initially,  I just shadowed the teacher and scaffolded the content literacy. Soon we began to collaborate on many different aspects of literacy in content area.

The most straight forward and the most difficult is providing rich text that is accessible to all students regardless of reading ability. Without too much detail, we have found much success with Newsela, which provides content at many reading levels.  We also use and save Scholastic News at many reading levels.  Often stories will appear in one grade level and be simplified in lower levels.  These are easily moved seamlessly between whole group, small group, and intervention. Wonderopolis is a daily and also searchable site for many ideas that student might research.  Try teaching them to use tags as described in Still Learning to Read.  I am also fascinated by the idea of creating a digital bin as demonstrated by Clare Landrigan here.  We continue to search out, share, and save content reading materials.

As with our informational reading,  the use of simple note taking organizers generated by students are  best.  We use box and bullets for main idea and details throughout grades 1-4 with gradients of detail.  Applying lessons we have learned about informational reading to content during other times of the day, scaffolding students to use techniques they have learned in reading workshop, frees up that working memory for content which many students are unfamiliar.  Using multimedia in primary sources, visual records,  and video assists students in accessing content and scaffolding vocabulary.

We began to explore ways for students to respond to content learning.  Inspired by the work of Beers and Probst in Reading Nonfiction  and Sunday Cummins’ Close Reading of Informational Text, we first tried paper and pencil tasks such as one of our favorites called Did You Know?  It’s a simple format based on the pages of this book,  Did You Know? We originally created the projects for our third grade study of the American Revolution.  This can be adapted to any science or social studies topic.  Here’s the simple sheet we created here.  We quickly moved with some students to google slides.  We like creating video presentations using QR codes to archive presentations.   These are also helpful for students to review content or share content with absent students.  We found these templates to be especially supportive for our more fragile learners.  Content area is a place where technology can be leveraged in a way to balance the accessibility of materials for all students.  Recently, we have begun experimenting with Seesaw as a digital portfolio tool with easy access for parents.

Remembering to keep the structure of how to read, of writing, and response to reading from workshop present in content instruction,  we can reduce cognitive overload for students and facilitate the access of content for all students.  Blurring the edges of content vs.  workshop can support student learning as well.  Reading aloud content connected texts, using historical fiction, informational books, and internet sources for small group work, and using the same nomenclature across all the parts of the day, strengthens students schema, capacity, and competency.

 

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thanks to Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis for first introducing me to content literacy.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for 10 years of the March Slice of Life Challenge.  This is day 28 of 31.  Access many, many wonderful blogs here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brain Friendly #sol17

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Reducing Cognitive Load in the Workshop

March 28, 2017

One of my students is having difficulty learning to spell high frequency words.  She reads them with ease, but when it comes to spelling, she still struggles.  After thinking and talking and trying lots of things, it was so simple.  I took the word solving strategies that we had applied to reading to our spelling with a few twists: see the word in your head,  give it a go,  does it look right?  It’s not rocket science, but it is brain research.  

Our working memory can only keep 6-7 things at a time.  As David Souza points out in How the Brain Learns,  this might not be a bad thing.  Having a small amount of items in your brain may allow things to be more easily associated with other things. So if I am teaching steps in a process in writing, reading, spelling, or even math,  I had better keep the steps down to 5 or less. Our visual memory is stronger than any other memory and current research show that visual memory is getting stronger.  So those simple strategies  help our young speller use a technique but where else in literacy learning is brain research facilitating.  

Our working memory is also temporary.  Most reports say less than 20 minutes.  If I am trying to maximize brain use,  I am switching activities every 15-20 minutes.  Think of a 15 minute mini-lesson, 15 minute small group,  15 minutes increments of independent practice.   When we write focus phrases, as outlined by Terry Thompson in The Construction Zone,  I am creating short kid-friendly mantras with students that they can repeat to themselves during the scaffolding process.  Check over my spelling.  Circle words that don’t look right.  Then go back and correct the spelling.

If I know students have enhanced visual memory,  I may start a lesson with a short video of the subject or review with BrainPop, Kahoot,  a drawing or picture.  I also am thinking about reducing the visual load in my classroom.  I read once that after a very short time (one week) anchor charts become visual wallpaper to students.  Using them through the I do and We do phases and then moving them to a student size chart or a photo on an iPad for students who still need the scaffold during independent work, is an effective strategy.

Other things to keep in mind.  Routines reduce cognitive clutter.  If the structure of our routines stays relatively constant that frees up cognitive space for critical thinking and deeper learning. Practice matters.  Moving from listen, watch, to perform helps move concepts from working memory to long term storage.  How do we get thinking from working memory to long term storage?  Two questions seem critical.  Does this make sense?  Does this have meaning?  

My final thought is to think about the depth of the stairs.  If those stairs are steep, carrying the groceries is really difficult.  Making the moves from concepts easier by bridging ideas.  Take care in moving through the gradual release, lingering in shared practice.  This is not just for primary students.  Finally,  give wait, think, processing, and practice time.  

To think is to practice brain chemistry– Deepak Chopra

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Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. This is day 28 of 31. Read more slices here.