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.

Simple Tool Hall of Fame #sol18

uc1923.jpgSimple Tool Hall of Fame #sol18

Elementary Literacy Edition  Part 1

March 22, 2018

In our age of media peddled teacher tools and instagram worthy sights,  I rely on a few simple tools to get me through the day.

 

Here is my Elementary Literacy Simple Tool Kit Part 1

(in no particular order)

  1. IMG_09041×1 sticky notes.  Simple right, but have you cut a square into the middle of them so a student (or you) can highlight a word in a text,  book, or writing sample.  These words could be snap words, high frequency words,  content or domain specific words, or repeated words.  Though I don’t usually teach math,  they also work to highlight numbers on a 100 chart.
  2. IMG_0905 (1)Thinking/Writing Organizer #1  Informational   Box and Bullets.  This tool is not usually taught in the lower primary grades but the idea is strong .  Box for thesis (main idea) or heading,  3  bullets for details or subheadings,  bottom box for conclusion.  Can be drawn on anything, anywhere,  anytime.  Sometimes I just use my palm and fingers.
  3. Thinking/Writing Organizer #2  Narrative  Any size paper past 5×8 folded into fourths.  Top Left- Trouble the story,  two boxes for story arc,  bottom right-resolution.  Great for retell and especially planning.  Simple but can even get an intermediate student going.  I suggest no initial labels, but students can draw and/or write in boxes if necessary.  IMG_0907
  4. Writing implements:  Frixon erasable highlighters and plain old number 2 pencils (heavily sharpened)  Truth be told I usually carry a eraser for those kiddos that just have to keep on erasing.
  5. Paper(ish):  index cards, aforementioned stickies, conferring notebook/composition book that I use to write example, draw a simple diagram, teach first graders to draw an elephant, or whatever comes along.

Bonus:  weird things that were originally for something else:  rings, excellent for holding index cards together;  unifix cubes or discs for phoneme segmentation;  phone for recording kiddos to watch later, taking photos in classrooms for twitter or blog, note application, and google for everything else.

 

These are the staples of my simple toolkit.  Used over and over again, day in and day out.

 

 

img_1716-1Day 22 of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge.

GPS in Place #sol18

Winding-Road-300x225Classroom GPS #sol18

March 7, 2018

Big Question for Today (everyday?)

How do we expect the kids to get in the car, if they don’t know where we are going?

Before we turn to beautiful projects, anchor charts, and even books,  we have to look at those little kiddos in front of us and think what are we going to teach you.  In order to think about what we are going to teach them,  we have to think about what they already know.  In order to think about what they already know, I am sorry to say friends,  we have to have assessments.  And that is the house that learning built.

It isn’t about  a learning objective posted on the wall.  It is this… hey,  kiddos,  today I’m going to teach you…I know this seems simple, but it speaks volumes.

When I explain to the students quickly and succinctly what we are all about in this time, this month, this year,  as a educator,  I do so many things.  I respect them.  I say we are partners in this work.  I set the table.  I frame the learning.  I make the ground we stand on very firm.  We all need that.

When I say remember yesterday we were….. now today we are going to …  I remind us that we are not starting from scratch.  We are building something here.  There are steps involved.  I think you’ve got this.

When I keep my focus lesson short,  I remind all of us that the time the students are doing the work is the most important time.  I remind them that I want them to have the maximum amount of time to read,  write, try things out, and learn.  I remind all of us that I don’t think the learning happens when I am reading a story, talking or explaining.  The learning happens when they are DOING.

When I have time that is dedicated to students doing the work,  trying it out,  when I am just a coach on the side most of the time,  when I ground my talk in the focus lesson,  I keep the lanes steady.  I make it clearer to see what we are working on,  what we are working towards, and what it will look like when we get there.

When I think about making connections across the day, across the school, across the week, across the year,  I am building thinking skills.

When lessons fail and they do, it’s mostly because we didn’t use the GPS.  We didn’t think where are we going.  Those first years of teaching are tough.  You only can see as far as your headlight beams.  You haven’t had enough experiences to know where the potholes might be or the best place to stop for coffee or even the most common traffic patterns.  In those times and many later times,  we can rely on conversations with our colleagues and our students.  We can rely on the standards,  our assessments, and our observations.  We can rely on the GPS.

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.  Lao Tzu

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Introductions #sol18

IMG_9597Introductions #sol18

March 2, 2018

Just like me to skip over introductions the first slice and dive right into whatever fleeting idea comes through my head.

So…  by way of introduction… and backtrack…

Here I am in my capacity as one of the literacy coaches for my Massachusetts school district.  One of my favorite activities,  the yearly new teacher literacy induction annual selfie.  One of these years I’ll buy myself a selfie stick and this will be much better looking but perhaps not nearly as fun.

I refer to myself as a literacy coach these days, though others might use reading, specialist, or intervention in my descriptive title.  I answer to all, but my heart is in coaching.  I want to be a coach.  Coaches are funny, inspiring, tough with a soft heart, and mostly successful.  Coaches get right in there and inspire others to their best selves.  I don’t wear a whistle, but I have been known to sneak some sneakers into my daily look.

I’m in transition.  My principal says I can’t say I’m in transition anymore as I have been in this position in Massachusetts for eight years. However,  I left at least a good portion of my heart in the Chicago suburbs.  My wagon wheels still long for the ruts that were comfortable there including some trails to amazing pizza and frozen custard and hot dogs… and people.  I left behind our family including my man-child oldest and so many educators that formed by beliefs and watched my back.

I’ve been an administrator, but my passion is kids.  I am energized by them.  I adore their talk, their thinking, and their honesty.  I have a desk in our literacy center, but you’d be hard pressed to find me there during the school day unless it’s to find you a book.

I consider myself a reader first and never until recently ever entertained the idea I could be any type of writer.  I’m not sure what scarred me in my youth, but I’m guessing it was the five paragraph essay.  I remember in my undergrad and several rounds of graduate school laboring over writing anything.  I wanted to write like I talk and thank goodness this seems to give me an outlet and a forgiving audience to do that.

Technology is my partner.  I don’t know what I did before IPads and mobile phones and laptops brought me amazing things like word press and instagram and TWITTER.   I was experimenting with text-speech this morning in my car because there is so MUCH wasted time between that commute and when I’m in the shower WHEN I THINK OF SOME REALLY good ideas.  It’s frustrating.  My handbag and book bag and desk are full of notebooks for blogging, conferring, conferring with students, planning, scheming, and generally keeping track of my day.

So that’s me in a large nutshell.  Looking forward to a month of writing with you.

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Day 2 of 31 day writing challenge. Thank you to my fellow bloggers for inspiration and encouragement and to TWO WRITING TEACHERS for creating this opportunity.  Read more amazing blogs and join the writing here.

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.

 

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?