The Dilemma of Two O’Clock Writing: Who’s hair is on fire?

The Dilemma of Two O’Clock Writing: Who’s Hair is on fire?

July 16, 2018

True Story:  Two o’clock writing workshop is the pits.  Even I think so. But I let that two o’clock writing get into the students’ heads and into mine.  They would write more about how they couldn’t write at 2 p.m. than about whatever they were intended to write about day after day.  Chaos broke out. How they couldn’t write filled their thoughts and they no longer focused on what and how to write. My co-teacher and I discussed all the things we might do to engage the students in writing.  Nothing really worked. Why?

What we Hear: The teacher is the key.

We as educators get a great deal of coaching these days about motivating students.  Teach like a ______.  Teach like your ________ is on fire.  It’s all about what we do, how we can change.

Recently,  I’ve been coaching more about letting students be in the struggle as they work, no longer jumping to rescue them.  A quick reference here for those who are wondering about this idea.  (Scaffold or Rescue)  Moving educators away from compliance tasks to inquiry stance.  Thinking and practicing carefully crafted mindset motivating language.

Is it Skill or Motivation?

The questions still lingered.  What is holding us back? The idea seems straightforward: skill or motivation.  With a deeper look, it appears. What are the criteria for success? How can I get there, and why would it be important to arrive?  So this year, as we prepare for fall, let’s think less about being entertaining and more about authenticity, focusing on these questions.

Why? Why might success be important to an individual or the group? What is the nugget of this exercise?

For example,  in writing an information article, the writer is teaching someone something. We routine show students examples of this writing in the wild; real world applications.  Still students routinely stare at the page and state I have noting to writing about.  Why?  Perhaps the students believe that their audience shares their same knowledge.  Perspective might be the motivator in this case. No one else is going to tell it your way,  from your perspective.

Helping Students See  Purpose and More

Ok,  perspective, but then what?  Let’s press pause here and say to the kids: yes,  then what?  Why do you think this might be important/relevant/something you want to do? Then painstakingly wait.  Wait past the I don’t know, the silence, the distractions.  Just like Field of Dreams, if we build it,  they will come. All the while, subtly reading Pink is for  Blobfish.  Filling heads with ideas.  Noticing ideas for your objectives as you wait in line for music, listen to a podcast, read aloud another book.  Noting casual comments of kids and bringing them back to so what.

Here is the place for our energy.  The subtle, elusive steps to success.  Sometime we rush in this place. We’ve got four weeks to finish this writing unit.  We want students to write two information pieces a week.  WHY is the kid still on page one?!?!? Breathe in and breathe out.  Here we land at strategic planning.  This is the place our energy and their motivation lie.   Step by step we plan as an architect plans a building for we are architects of this learning.

Plan for Success= Success of the Plan

First, what are the skills needed to be successful in this task at any time.The skeleton of the activity.  In order to be there, it’s helpful to read A LOT of mentor texts, write a lot, experiment, rehearse, practice.  When we put ourselves in the time, the barriers, the thick of the activity and consider how will I explain success.  The students can be part of this: looking at resources, reading, developing exemplars, forming the statement: if successful, we will…

Knowing that struggle will happen,  how will we notice the first signs? What might we do when that struggle occurs?  Again, we go to the students. We know as educators, we might go back to the success point for most students.  Rewind talk. Remember when we… How did we…    Find this in your…     Explain it to your partner.   

Wait for lightbulbs.

Next, we want to…

Don’t fill in… Lead.  Let student think it and talk it through. Try it out together. (active engagement) Go of to try in a specific place. Explain or show a partner where.  Listen. Keep stragglers on the rug to rework. This method will work for whole groups, strategy groups, and conferring. Then share out. What did you try?  I noticed Sean tried this… Can we see?   Post idea or success as mentors.

Specific Plans

Time for specifics. These specifics will develop in the fray including conferring, strategy groups., mini-lessons, micro-progressions, reworking mini-lessons, reteaching in the whole group and in strategy groups, and very carefully chosen and strategic sharing.

What will we look for in independent work time?  Evidence of current lessons. When preparing for conferring have on hand a list of recent topics or strategies revealed, exemplars of these strategies, mentors, and specific tools to teach quickly in.  Leave with a plan remembering whose plan it is. You might offer choices. Will you try this or that?  Be specific.

From these you might plan a number of things for your current independent work time.  A strategy group or class reteach could go back a step or two to a place of success. A share could reinforce what most get scaffolding to the next step.

Coaching Tip:                                                                                                                                           If more than 50% of your students are in the weeds, reteach.                                                   If 25%, form strategy group(s)                                                                                                          If 10%, confer 1:1.

Develop your sweet spot. Feel your way to what percentages feel right for you.

Think of your developed criteria.  Notice three specific things to work on.

Perhaps this is a place for love in the real world.  To work on word solving and fluency with a student recently, I spent fifteen minutes a day listening to him reading Dogman to me.  A student who loves Dogman might write stories and sequels in that graphic format.  Our news feeds are filled with inquiries from other teachers, what are your read alouds.  In that place, read aloud, where we figuratively and sometimes literally stand on our heads as educators.  We struggle for the perfect mentor text, the just right beginning, the book kiddos will fall in love with instantly.  That will come once the students find their flow.  The key ingredients: time and clarity. So next time and all the times that struggle occurs, let’s ask ourselves, who’s hair is on fire? 

This idea was first revealed to me in Terry Thompson book, The Construction Zone.  For more on this idea, also see Who’s Doing the Work by Burkins and Yaris.

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#summersusan #sol18

#summersusan #sol18

July 10, 2018

Every summer I make a plan.  The plan is often too ambitious.  The plan has several essential elements:  self-improvement in the form of professional reading and/or workshops, home improvement,  and life improvement.  More fresh air, more exercise, purging closets, reading, reading, reading are key on the agenda.  This year is no exception.

This summer didn’t get started until June 30.  I don’t think I’ll ever quite adjust to a summer that doesn’t start until after the first official start date of summer.  Come on, people!!   I think we can all agree that summer, no matter where you are, is a pretty exceptional time of year.  Restorative, inspiring, spirit-lifting.

Here are some of my professional goals and how they are moving along.

Writing, Writing, Writing

I’ve taken to heart the notion that in order to be better writing teachers we have to write.  To that end, I am enjoying four weeks of summer camp with

Jennifer Serravallo’s  Writing Camp.

IMG_1972.JPG   The first week, narrative had me write a couple of stories about small moments.  I have a list of more ideas for narratives I might write in the company of students in the fall.  The second week, poetry, explored so many ideas including repetition, line breaks, and sounds of poetry.  Just to show I’m brave,  here’s my poem displayed in celebration.  Couldn’t we display so many poems that students (and educators) write so many places?


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After studying the first units of reading and writing for the fall with the second grade literacy leaders to kick off my summer, I realized how beneficial it is to read

a unit through from cover to cover.  To that end,  I am trying to reading the beginning units in reading and writing for each of our school’s grades kindergarten through fourth grade.  Last week I read kindergarten and am enchanted by a revisit to Emergent Storybook Reading.  Beth Moore explains it magically here.  I immediately created my bin of storybooks for loving in the fall with any kindergarten that will have me.  Speaking of book bins, thanks to Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligafor continuing to inspire me. Read more in It’s All about the Books, which I read right before school was out.

Finally,  I have a tall stack of reading about writing books which include: The Unstoppable Writing Teacher (reread), Enticing Hard to Reach WritersJoy Write, and The Power of Grammar.  The Unstoppable Writing Teacher encouraged me to explain more to parents about writing workshop, consider carefully celebrating each writing unit with the students, and remembering on frustrating days that there is no such thing as lazy, only fear.  That last idea applies to so much. Especially inspired by my Connecticut friends to read Joy Write after their amazing posts throughout this year following their study of this book last year.

Nothing makes me smile more than a glass of tea and lemonade on my porch or patio with an amazing read filling my head with great thoughts. I know I’ll return to school in the late summer ready for the challenges and successes a new year will bring.  Hope you’re having just the summer you want as well.

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Thanks for my encouragers in the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge for always writing alongside.

 

 

Writers’ Workshop Live #sol18

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Here am I trying to nudge students into their ideas rather than summaries in literary essays by sharing some peer craft moves.  Alongside,  my assistance conduct their own writing conferences.

Writers’ Workshop Live

March 28, 2018

As part of my role as literacy specialist in an elementary building,  I co-teach in several classrooms in either reading or writing workshop. My primary role is to support fragile learners, but as all teachers,  I support whomever comes along.  This bunch of third grade learners have known me since their kindergarten days and their teacher and I have worked together often, though not in this consistent role until this year.  The teacher and I meet weekly to discuss assessments, student progress, planning, resources, and all things related to third grade literacy.  I join the student during their writing block in the afternoons for 40-45 minutes a day.  As all classes,  it is a mixed bag.  

Chapter 1

One day a few weeks ago,  I was away at a meeting in the afternoon and wasn’t able to go to third grade writers’ workshop.  This conversation ensued in my absence.

Protester #1:  This is the worst 15 minutes of my life. 

Patient Teacher:  The worst?  Really? 

Protester #1:  Ok, Top Three.   Stitches,  Waiting for Stitches and This. 15. Minutes. Right. Now.  (dramatic sigh, head on desk)

Protester #2:  Who invented writing anyway?

Protester #3:  I don’t know.  Mrs. Kennedy?

Chapter 2

Last week in writers’ workshop, the third graders were working on persuasive pieces as the lead up to their baby literary essay unit.  They brainstormed some ideas together, but around six students decided to write their persuasive essay about how we shouldn’t have writing at 2 p.m.  Their basic arguments were that they were smarter in the morning, their brains were less full, and an “easy subject” like reading could be moved to the afternoon.  They became quite vocal about it and I think began to believe that we could change writing time.  Because of the specialist schedules in her room (not mine),  the teacher has to have writing at this time which she has explained.  Finally on Monday, she told the kiddos,  “I’m just not going to listen to this anymore.  Get to work.”

We read the book, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon and began the work of growing an idea  about a character and supporting in with three details from the text.

Chapter 3

Today in writers workshop, the teacher did the introduction and most of the kiddos stayed on the carpet to finish their second paragraph or move into their third.  I moved a stool onto the rug and began rehearsing sentences with protester #1.  Writers came up to have me read their work and approve it. Why do they do that?  Because I keep letting them.  I say,  what’s up?  Can you read this?  Sure.  I read it and hand it back. What do you think you might do now?  Is it good?  What do you think?  Have your writing partner confer with you.  or I’m done.  Sure, did you use some of our expert sentences?  Did you use some evidence?  Do you have a full paragraph?  Student slowly backs up. Hey kiddos,  remember, we are writing our fresh ideas, not the ideas of our character or summarizing.   But then,  I started reading some fresh thinking.  I send those kiddos off with the line that’s forming and they become the assistance.  misspell and pun intended.  

Toward the end of workshop I say to the teacher, I’m not sure I want to say this out loud, but it’s going pretty good.  Did you check out some work?   She says, yes,  good.   The assistants are into it.  But I have to tell you something.  I told them you were sad and you wouldn’t come back to workshop unless they worked hard.  

I guffawed.  How did that work? 

What really worked most likely is lean prompts, loose scaffolds, and mentors, both the book itself, and essays shaping up about book along with other students sharing ideas.  There were four adults in the room.  A para-educator working with student who have writing support plans.  A therapist working on ‘writing in the wild’,  the classroom teacher, and me.  We are currently teaching an If/Then Unit in Calkins’ Writing,  Baby Literary Essay.  We are on week 2, having taught a week of persuasion.  This unit is timely, as state testing is coming up. We keep it real knowing this is the type of writing these students will be doing the rest of their academic careers.  We find picture books great prompts.  The classroom teacher was using No David as an alternative text for a fragile learner.  She has a basket of great mentors for character change at the ready.  If you use the Calkins’ Units,  this unit has been reworked just this past fall and is available in the general information section of the third grade writing units online resources on Heinemann.com.  

My response to the classroom teacher’s tweet.

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Though now that I think about it,  I’d rather be Patricia Heaton.  She plays a convincing midwesterner in The Middle.

img_1405  Just your average writing teacher,  slicing every day for 31 days.  This is day 28 of a 31 day writing streak as part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Read some fascinating blogs here at Two Writing Teachers.

Simple Tool Hall of Fame #sol18

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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.

Speaking the Right Language #sol18

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Speaking the Right Language #sol18

March 1, 2018

 

I skimmed an article online the other day that said that the key to maintaining a solid, happy relationship was expressing love in the way that your partner wants to receive it.  The ways to receive love were fairly standard:  receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion), and physical touch.   The trick is knowing which way feels like love to another person.

I’m totally clear with the way I express love to others,  I do things.  On a daily basis for the last at least 30 years,  I’ve packed a morning lunch for myself, my husband, and at some points along the way, one or two sons.  The lunches are fairly standard with the exception of having homemade cookies or dessert in them nearly every day.  As many parents (and perhaps spouses),  I try to keep to favorites and add a few surprises along the way.  In addition,  many people have received knitted scarves or Monday cakes and cookies over the years.   I also adore to make dinner for family and friends.

The way I give affection and the thinking about how others may want to receive it made me think about the way I deliver coaching as well.  Do I deliver my assistance, my coaching, my partnership in a way that is optimally received by the other person?  Is it what they expected?  Needed?  or even wanted?

I’ve had some amazing partnerships over the years. So beneficial and rewarding to me and I believe rewarding to the other folks involved.  An amazing partnership with a first grade team in my home state.  Debbie Miller enthusiasts,  we planned our cozy classrooms with child center learning right out of the pages of Reading with Meaning including a pilgrimage to see Ms. Miller herself.  I have a wonderful mentor relationship with my far flung former literacy specialist partner in crime trudging to New York a couple of times a year,  going to workshops, talking on the phone during our commutes,  sharing reading and driving each other forward.  In the eight years I have been in my current position,  I have forged true partnerships,  teaching in the trenches with so many wonderful educators storied in my instagram and twitter feeds.  However during these many relationships and all the new ones I begin,  I think… what is it that these teachers really wants… and needs?

As you know,  occasionally our wants and needs are in conflict with each other. We can’t see the forest for the trees and all that.  More often that not,  I’ll say that I’m not sure of either:  the want or the need.  I made a calculated stab at it, asking some tried and true questions and more often than not,  I get on the board, if not in the bullseye.  Sometimes,  it takes time to be truly helpful.  You have to wait for it.  Watch for it.  Nurture it.

So much like the thirty eight years of lunch making,  it may not be Mr. K’s preferred expression of love.  Maybe his original family was better at expressions of affirmations,  maybe they were huggers.   My way of providing support to teachers may not be their preferred way, but I hope it’s an honest way, a dependable way, a helpful way today and that it improves tomorrow.

 

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Day 1  of my 31 day writing streak!   Thanks to my dear friend, Clare Landrigan (@clareandtammy) for the encouragement,  my special blogging partners who support whatever I throw down,  and the Slice of Life community beautiful choreographed by the Two Writing Teachers team.  Give writing daily a try and read some beautiful words here.

 

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?

 

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.