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.

7/31 Why Not Consider Debbie Miller & Marie Kondo . #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. This is day 7 of 31.  

 

IMG_15107/31  Why Not Consider Debbie Miller & Marie Kondo #sol19

March 6, 2018

I am a product of a Debbie Miller Reading with Meaning age.  I don’t mean the 2nd edition.  I mean my 2002 coffee-stained, dog-eared, autographed copy of the original  Reading with Meaning.  I was a devotee way before I really knew who Lucy Calkins was.  It takes a while for those east coast ideas to get out to the prairie.  What Debbie Miller taught me, among many other things, was that our working/teaching/learning environment was important.  Much like Lucy Calkins calls it a laboratory or a workshop, Debbie Miller created a culture for thinking and learning that included tablecloths, child height tables, pictures in frames, curtains, lamps, and rugs.  Those things are fairly standard in classrooms today, but in my early teaching, having tables instead of desks was pretty unusual outside of kindergarten.photo from Reading With Meaning by Debbie Miller

In those early days of my reading (and writing) intervention,  I planned with teachers about not just the mentor texts, the book bags, and partners, but about music during writing, soft natural lighting, and pillows.  School became a much more comfortable place.

Flash forward nearly twenty year and I still have lamps and comfortable seats, colorful book bins, and pillows.  I still consult sometimes with teachers about table arrangements and places for students to do their work.  I think with them about how many anchor charts we have on the walls and how accessible the books are for the students.

I’ll write longer about books in classrooms in another post, but today, Marie Kondo… So unless you’ve been away from social media, you’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo, the new guru of tidying up.  To oversimplify her process,  she teaches to respect your space, keep what you love and use, and let the rest gently go with a thank you.

So how does this gentle tidying up connect with Debbie Miller’s warmth and  Lucy Calkins and colleagues’ workshop?  Making the literacy center purposeful, lovely(ish) and easy to access.  Asking myself and others are these materials useful for our students and for our instruction.   I touched each book in this literacy center.  The rough figure for what books came out on the other side is around 12,000 books rough estimate. I think I recycled or repurposed another 1,000 or more books.  I read each book, thought about its merit and grouped it with liked books so that teachers could take them away and use them easily.   The process took approximately five months.

Now the book are organized by type, by use, by genre, by reading level.   I considered their groupings and where those would be located. Their titles are easy to see and they are ready to go out in the world.  The literacy center has been tidied up.  It might take a little more for it to be warm, cozy, and inviting.  I haven’t forgotten what I’ve learned from Debbie Miller.

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Next step, an open house, a welcome from the books to their users.

Thank you to Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan for inspiring this transformation both in me and in the literacy collection through your personal work and through your transformative book,  It’s All About the Books.  sk

 

 

 

 

 

6/31 Paczki Day #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.  

6/31  Paczki Day #sol19

March 5, 2019

IMG_3568Paczki Day came into my life in about 1990.  While an administrator, a teacher brought in these amazing jelly doughnuts on Shrove Tuesday.  I apologize now to all Paczki aficionados particularly in my own family.  I now know that Paczki and jelly doughnuts ARE NOT THE SAME THING.

What is a Paczki?

So… some back story.  I am a Midwesterner.  I grew up in Southern Illinois, moved to central Illinois, northernish Indiana, and then to a Chicago suburb in the mid-eighties.  Legend has it that Chicago has more Polish citizens than Warsaw.  This may or may not be apocryphal.  However, Shrove Tuesday, or the day before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins is a deeply seated tradition in many communities.  The idea is to rid your household of fats and sugars before lenten obligations begin.

Back to the story… after that introduction in 1990-something,  Paczkis on Paczki Day became a thing in our family.  We searched out excellent Paczki we had heard of and stuck to generic grocery store Paczki when we didn’t have a lead.  Regardless,  there were Paczki EVERY SINGLE Paczki Day at the Kennedy’s.  (not a Polish family)  It helps that all of us were doughnut fans and jelly doughnut fans.  I will say as reference that up the sugar and fat content of a jelly doughnut and you have a Paczki.   So Paczki are a Kennedy family tradition.

Then most of us moved to the east coast…  There really weren’t any Paczki or least they weren’t at every grocery store and corner market on Shrove Tuesday.  So as many of our midwestern family traditions, we let one more tradition fall by the wayside.  Enter 2014 or so,  our oldest son, a hold out in the midwest, dropped to stay with us for a few months in January and stayed through… Paczki Day.

As was typical in our old lives, days before Paczki Day, he began to talk about getting the Paczki.  Bob and I were gentle, but looked him in the eye and said,  don’t think there are any Paczki here.  That’s a Chicago thing, bud.  He, being him, would not be deterred.  Using his twenty-something google skills, he found a bakery on the Southside of Boston that was Polish and made Paczkis.  He got up early on that Tuesday, drove into the city, found the very small bakery, had a rousing chat with the baker, and returned home with most of the Paczki he purchased.  This was no small feat.  Finding places in unfamiliar or familiar Boston can be amazingly surprisingly difficult.  That’s our P. though,  he would not be stopped.

So that year we had Paczki.

Every year, P. admonishes us for not driving to the city and getting the Paczki.  It seems like such an effort for a… jelly doughnut.  He is disgusted by our lack of spirit.

Last year, we accidentally came upon a Polish bakery in Salem, Massachusetts in fall when we were visiting the Peabody-Essex Museum.  We were thrilled about Paczki and bought a half a dozen.  The young women behind the counter I am certain thought we were crazy.  It was a wonderful treat, but not quite the same six month before the holiday.

I looked up a recipe this year and was poised to attempt my own Paczki, but then… last week I heard a commercial on the radio that a local(ish) grocery store had Paczki!  The search started anew.  I looked up where the groceries were, 10-15 miles away from our house.  Maybe not… Then Bob called a local store, part of a New York grocery chain.  Sure enough they were making Paczki that very morning for the first time.

We drove to the store, waited in line, ordered custom Paczki (raspberry filling), waited for them, and this morning, Paczki are waiting for their holiday on my kitchen counter. Tradition lives!

When I told my oldest son about our adventures, he commented drolly,  you should have gone to that nice baker in Southie, she makes 700 Paczki a day…

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3/31 From My Notebook: Third Grade Assessments #sol19

img_1716-1For 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.  

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 9.02.40 AMFrom My Notebook:  Third Grade Assessments in Literacy #sol19

Through my work as a literacy coach,  I have teachers that I meet and collaborate with throughout the week.  Usually these meetings are at 7:30 a.m. on a scheduled day of the week. I  meet with each teacher or team for 1/2 hour keeping notes of what we are working on.  Our school is an UOS of Study school following the work of Lucy Calkins and colleagues in this our first year of full implementation.  Most of our meetings are in their classrooms. Some teachers will come with questions, sometimes we plan out what we will work on the next week, sometimes I have a teaching technique or skill  I’ve noticed or a suggestion.  I keep a journal entry of each meeting to keep me thinking.  I am thankful to Tammy Mulligan, Teachers for Teachers, for assisting me in working on offering a menu of ideas during this coaching time.  This is still after years a work in progress.  

The Third Grade is ending their information reading and writing units and moving into character studies.  The Massachusetts’ state testing is looming large on the horizon.  Though I would like to not give it much importance, it’s there.  The ending of a unit and assessing  then beginning a unit and assessing is a process while beneficial in many ways  can seem to derail the learning process and give the teacher information that seems disconnected from their day to day work.  This week in my third grade collaborations I suggested combining the idea of flash drafts or quick writes, the narrative task (MCAS), and assessments.

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 9.02.00 AMThe four questions on the assessment are meant to be written in a 45 minute reading workshop using two text, an informational text and a related narrative nonfiction text.  I suggested that the teachers use a known narrative nonfiction perhaps one of their mentor texts for the narrative nonfiction sessions in bend 3 and then find another text that relates to that text that is an informational text.  In one classroom this might be the narrative nonfiction book,  Carter Reads a Newspaper, typed as a narrative and a newsela article, Interest in Black History Is Growing .  Day 1, the teacher pairs the narrative task to similar work the class has been doing, summarize the text Carter Reads a Newspaper and briefly write about one idea that you have grown from the text.

We had previously completed both whole class and small group work in part to whole using these two TCWRP resources.

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this is modified from a larger part to whole model

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The second text, the informational text can be read on another day with a summary of the informational text and then cross-text synthesis of both text.  This allows for two days practice in reading text online and flash drafting writing about reading.

For the post assessment in nonfiction writing,  two possibilities might be helpful.  Using a topic in science or social studies, or having students use their genius hour topic have students complete a nonfiction article about one of these topics.  This writing is completed during a standard writing workshop time. Using nonfiction writing checklist,  the information writing task from the Writing Pathways, and the nonfiction writing tips from the information writing task will be helpful for students along with a quick teach to their writing partner before they begin writing.

These gentle adjustment to the assessment tasks allow for the writing to feel more natural to students along with carrying a deeper connection to the work of the room.

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.

 

A New Way of Thinking #sol18

$_57.jpgA New Way of Thinking #sol18

October 2, 2018

It’s that time of year.  When basic addition results in this equation:  Student Learning Goals +  Data Collection = Teacher Stress and Low Self Esteem.   Now,  I’m a literacy specialist not a math teacher, but these are the types of conversations I heard during the last week.

” We can’t set a goal that 100% of our students meet this goal,  I know students who won’t be able to.”

” I think this student is low on fluency (insert comprehension or spelling)”

The actual truth is that any one or all of these statements might be true, but today I switched my own thinking about these statements.  When we think about the three legged stool of RtI, we might call to mind the tiers 1-3,  classroom instruction, differentiated instruction, or special education.  Those are all means to assisting students in exercising their potential or getting to grade level or even progressing, but what are the real legs of our success.

When we consider who might reach our lofty goals or our measured goals, which students are more likely to succeed?  Perhaps we are asking ourselves the wrong questions.  It is less about the deficits of the students and more about our scaffolds, instruction, and assessment.  When we create a partnership between the students, ourselves, and our resources, we elevate what each might do.

Let’s consider.  First there’s the data. We collect it statically, actively, anecdotally, scientifically, through standards based assessments given with fidelity, and given to us by others whom we may or may not know.  All data is taken at one moment in time by one human in a situation.  Data has power to reveal and occasionally just encourage us to seek more data.

Students bring their experiences, perceptions, and knowledge to the equation; their mindset for learning, their challenges behaviorally, emotionally, and experientially.  The students bring whatever situations they were in and experienced before we were their teachers.  All of those things are mostly beyond us.

We, however, bring to the equation our considerable experience, our research, our knowledge, our colleagues, our ingenuity, our compassion, and our considerable grit.

So we, as educators, have the largest margin for change.  Honestly, we are the only things we really can change.  So let’s do it.  How?

Updating our toolkit.  Toolkits will vary by teacher, grade level, student population, and content.  When you think about your primary presenting difficulties of your students, think what would be helpful?  If students are having difficulty writing leads, perhaps shorter lessons on just leads,  author mentors of leads in the genre you are writing, different ways of presenting lead including visual and auditory, short and more extensive.

Updating our mindset.  I don’t know what is in your heart or mind, but we can all use a little (lot) can-do spirit, not just for ourselves, but our students.  When I began thinking about writing this, I imagined that our general difficulty with goals for students is far less about what we think about the student capacity and far more about what we consider about our own abilities as educators.  That’s a very hard truth and I also imagine some will not agree.  However,  if I truly believe that everyone’s capacity for learning is fairly limitless, then I also should believe that my ability to learn to assist that capacity is limitless as well.

Digging in.  A very large part of success is actually failure.  While I could Malcolm Gladwell here,  perhaps it is true that we just have to keep attempting different approaches until one works and then again when we set a new goal with a student or that approach times out.  I’m not going to lie here.  Those attempts and the generation of those ideas are exhausting.  That’s when we should help ourselves to the following tools:

Data collection – it will tell us what is working and how it is workin

Our colleagues in real Life– Our colleagues have had difficulties and ideas.  They have attempted things, read things, and are fully prepared to provide us with new perspective, fresh legs, and encouragement.

Our virtual colleagues are invaluableDebbie Miller, Lucy Calkins, Clare Landrigan, Tammy Mulligan,  Jennifer Serravallo, and I are in constant communication.  Sometimes that communication is one sided.  They tell me things from their writings, their blogs,  their tweets.  Occasionally,  I actually hear them speak or speak to them directly.  Along with them,  I have a cohort of practitioners who encourage me through social media.

So there you have it.  It’s not them,  it’s us… but in a good way.  We have power.  Power to adapt,  to grow,  to change, to attempt.  To speak truth.  To fail.  To notice and definitely to succeed.  I love a scene in the movie Eat Pray Love  where she’s encouraged to cross over, attraversiamo.  Just give it a go.  What’s the worst that could happen?  My darlings,  what is the best?

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Two Left Feet #sol18

IMG_1910.JPGTwo Left Feet #sol18

August 21, 2018

One afternoon a few weeks ago,  we got into the car to take our dog to the dog park not far from home.  As I often do in the summer,  I picked up my shoes from inside the front door and carried them out to the car with the dog leash.  When we got to the park,  I bent down to put on my shoes, but I had brought one left shoe from my pair of sneakers, but the other shoe was my husband’s shoe.  If it had been his right shoe,  I could have put in on and clumsily managed to walk around at the park.  As fate would have it,  it was also his left shoe.  So there I sat looking down at the shoes in my hand, worthless to me, and my bare feet.   I could not get out of the car at the park so I had to go home without a visit, effecting all three of us.

This little scene struck me as rich with metaphor and honestly, life lesson.  I rushed out of the house, ill-prepared, paying little attention to my needed materials and was caught up short at my destination.  As I reflected on this,  it seemed like a bigger message from the universe.  I mean, two left feet, come on.

We rush out semi-prepared thinking we know what the needs of this task are.  We can rush on grabbing what we need as we go, starting before we are fully prepared.  Where do we end up?  In the car at the park on a sunny day in August, with two left shoes or in other words, disappointed.

Our district is embarking on a literacy curriculum journey. We’ve pushed the boats off the shore, provisions in hand.  In the early summer, the literacy specialists made a pact to read the units of study in narrative reading and writing for kindergarten through fourth grade as well as thoroughly explore the reading/writing pathways books, and the guides to the workshops.  Not a small plan or a small task.

Yesterday, we came back together with the literacy leadership in our district.  One of us did a break out in pathway assessments,  one of us did a breakout in the architecture of the mini-lessons, and one of us did conferring/small group in the workshop.  We talked to teachers in groups of 5-7.  We listened,  we highlighted resources in the unit kits.

Afterward, one of the teachers reflected that the energy in the specialists and in the room was high.  It felt productive and exciting.  It made me think of those two left shoes.  I didn’t go to that meeting yesterday with my two left shoes.  I went having watched videos and read books,  thinking, discussing, and planning ahead of time.  I looked down at my feet, placed those metaphoric shoes on and laced them before I stepped out of the door and so did everyone else in that room.

We elevated our talk.  We built on a firm foundation.  We pushed those boats off the shore with only a little trepidation, mostly excitement.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM I write alongside my Slice of Life community each Tuesday.  Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for having the vision to begin this community and the enthusiasm to sustain it.  That is the secret to success.   Read more amazing slices here.

What I Know for (Almost) Sure #sol18

IMG_2270.JPGWhat I Know for (Almost) Sure #sol18

August 14, 2018

This might be titled Way Out of My Comfort Zone but that wouldn’t be exactly fair or accurate.  That is how I felt yesterday morning.

As a literacy specialist,  I have participated in facilitating our yearly new teacher literacy bootcamp for nine Augusts.  As a educator past the active mom years, this late summer duty many years fell to me alone.   There is some ease to planning alone.  Your ideas are your own.  You have a flow.  You absolutely know who is going to do what.  But the benefit to the participants is slim.  They only hear one voice and one perspective.  As teachers, we can work in isolation, when working together makes us stronger.  That’s what we hope for with our students.

This year, I had a partner.  A partner in idea generation.  A partner in planning.  A partner is bring the plan to fruition.  A partner is presentation.

We had agreed early on to increase the level of participation by the new teachers.  As with many of our recent professional development presentations, we are making a conscious effort to mimic the work we want to do with students with adults.  We want students to do the thinking, the heavy lifting.  We know this builds capacity.  We believe that is true of adult learners as well.

We also agreed that the content is dense.  Our ability to explain philosophically and practically what is entailed in the reading and writing workshop, implementing the units of study, planning for the workshop, assessment, conferring, and small group is a lot to take on… and take in.

My partner had an idea.  What if we let the participant pick what they wanted us to expand on.  What if we took a few topics in the reading and writing workshop and let the rank what they wanted to talk about,  direct the talk, and very extemporaneously lead a discussion on that topic.  What?!?!  My initial response was… I can’t do that.  I can’t just whip up knowledge about a topic out of the air.  

However,  it wasn’t completely out of the air.  I have hours and hours of experience co-teaching and observing in classrooms during workshop planning and implementing lessons in the units of study.  My colleagues and I committed to reading the entire first units in reading and writing kindergarten through fourth grade over the summer where we had once read pieces well, piecemeal.  I have been to Teachers’ College many times and heard the authors of the units, practitioners, and enthusiasts speak about implementation of the units and workshop.  I follow amazing educators through social media.  I have read and read and read.  I know some things.

And so yesterday,  the new teachers decided that they really wanted to know more about conferring and small group.  That’s encouraging.  So I sat down with first the intermediate teachers and then the primary teachers to have a chat about conferring and small group.  Something happened in the first moments.  Something I want to hold on to.  Something important.

I hesitated.

In that moment,  I gathered my thoughts. I unconsciously gave everyone else a moment to be present as well.  It felt like the moment when everything settles to the bottom of a snow globe.

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an example of my spontaneously, perhaps messy, thinking and demonstrating.

Then…we talked.  Authentically talked.  Did I impart wisdom with a capital W?  No.  I talked about a few things that have helped me organize my and colleagues thinking around individualized learning in literacy.  I hope I made it seem like  a colleague that was just offering up some maybe try this suggestions.  It felt collaborative.  It felt genuine.  It felt natural.  It felt like the best idea I didn’t have in a long time.

I might stay in that rarefied air outside my comfort zone for a while longer.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 8.32.28 AM.pngThanks to my writing community, my fellow encouragers, and twowritingteachers.org for helping me thrive outside my comfort zone. Read their amazing insights here.

 

IMG_2272Welcome to our new elementary teachers.  May your career be full of spontaneity on the edge of your comfort zone.

Summer Challenge Update #sol18

Summer Challenge Update #sol18

Reading the Units of Study Through

July 24, 2018

For this summer,  I set myself one main challenge,  to become more knowledgeable about writing instruction.  Was that really the challenge?  Let me not get ahead of the story.  On the last day of school I packed up the book stack I had amassed over this year to read more about writing instruction.  The stack included Joy Write, so beautifully explained at the Heinemann retreat last summer by Ralph Fletcher himself and brought beautifully to life by my Connecticut cyperfriends,  Dawn, jcareyreads, and Standingtall.  Other books in my stack included The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, Enticing Hard to Reach Writers,  and Renew .  I went back for The Writing Strategies Book.   I quickly read through Colleen Cruz’ The Unstoppable Writing Teacher. I was well on my way to a blissful summer reading about writing, but two things happened.

First, another member of my literacy team said reading all of the beginning units of study for the year seems like a good idea.  We had just each taken two units and read them for our summer kick off.  Since everything even literacy comes down to match, I estimated that if I read one unit of study a week,  I could read the remaining four grades of each reading and writing first units in the eight weeks remaining of summer.  We had hear that a unit could be read in approximately two hours cover to cover, but I knew that annotating, birdwalking, mentor text searching, and researching,  most of the units could be read in one day.

Begin at the beginning I say,  so I began with kindergarten reading.  Having spent most of my time in the last four years teaching lessons in third and fourth grade dipping down this year to help out in first,  I was struck immediately with how kindergarten lays the foundation for everything.  EVERYTHING.  So much of what a fourth grade teacher is trying to accomplish with his/her students is directly connected to the foundations that are formed in kindergarten.  I was reminded of the joy of beginnings, of emergent storybooks, and about endless possibilities.  I am hoping that a kindergarten teacher will look kindly upon me this next year and I’ll enjoy some joyful learning in kindergarten first hand.

This is time so well spent.  I listened to Lisa Corbett, podcast last week, but was struck by something she said about the math curriculum she has been using.  I paraphrase.  She said that she had been teaching the lessons but until recently had never read the fore matter.  It changed everything for her.  That’s how I feel about reading the units of study through,  it changed everything for me in many ways.  First,  I see the trajectory of the unit clearly from beginning to end,  the story of the unit as Lucy Calkins says.  Also, as I read up through the grades,  I see how the stories connect year to year.  This opens endless possibilities for cross-grade work,  coaching, and dipping back down when strategies haven’t stuck.  Much like book progressions and learning progressions are helpful to draw students forward,  so will the unit progressions pull students up.  One last thought is that reading straight through eliminates the difficulty of interpreting the Calkins talk.  The units are all designed similarly and as you continue to read you develop an ear for the units.  I highly recommend it for schools using the units of study.

Simple Plan to Digest a Unit of Study Book 

Read the flyleaf overview and the Table of Contents.                                                                     Think about the story of the unit.  What goals will you have for students? What are the standards crosswalks. (In Calkins crosswalks are located at the end of the unit)

If Calkins unit, open online general information for unit and watch video (1st unit only) and look over mentor text list

Read orientation to the unit. (if reading with a group, this is a good place for a jigsaw)

Read first session in each bend.  These set the tone for the bend particularly the connections.

Read through unit.  Possible suggestions:  flag conferring and small group and index.  They can be used separate from session.  Use stickies to summarize multiple step lessons, flag anchor charts, or sessions requiring more set up.

Create a mentor text list inside cover of possible mentors either recommended or from your collection.

 

 

 

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.