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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

Technique Thursday: A Change will Good You Good

get-better

A Guide to (Teacher) Self (Workshop) Improvement

July 6, 2017

Let’s say you (or I) want to improve upon our writing workshop,  what might we do?

Apply anything you want to change to this model. 

When we think about getting better at anything, there are so many metaphors for improvement.  Insert your best improvement metaphor here.  What made you want to improve?  What did you notice that you didn’t like?  What could you keep but improve?  Make a list right now…

It’s difficult to target what might be getting under our skin about the workshop.  The workshop has 3-4 components:  minilesson,  guided practice which includes strategy groups and conferring,  and independent practice.  I would include share and a quick tip time too.  

In his book,  The Construction Zone,  Terry Thompson writes about focus, flexibility, responsibility (by student), and feedback.  The focus is our road map.  I often talk to newish teachers about ‘trying to teach everything’ until they have a solid vision of their destinations.  I want to amend that in light of clearer, more concise thinking.  If I could envision what I wanted it to look like and sound like,  what would that be?   Maybe you are in a place where you can picture that.  If not,  here are a few ways to get there.  

Reread  The Guide to the Writing Workshop by Lucy Calkins.  

Think about each part of your workshop:  minilesson,  gradual release, conferring, conferring notes, goal setting, independent work,  interactive writing, and share.

Think about how to leverage your reading work with your writing work

What strong minilessons and gradual release/strategy work do you have in your reading workshop that gets to author’s craft/technique/mind work?  For example,  if you can teach structure in informational reading,  it’s not a long journey to informational writing.  

Watch

Watch videos (TCRWP VImeos are great),  other teachers,  your students.  Have someone teach your students, video your own workshop, or watch someone else teach.

Plan

For me, planning is about assessment and observation.  IF you’re planning now for an unknown future class,  what did your last class succeed/struggle with?  One thing I’ve noticed is looking at the grade before and ‘pre/reteaching’ is so helpful.   It’s also helpful to do a quick/flash draft to see what your students are starting from.  Use a checklist or rubric to see what techniques you want to focus on?  

Learn

What is the most difficult thing for you?  For me,  it’s narrative.  Read blogs,  read books, practice,  write… One blog is key, Two Writing Teachers

One last word about success,  change,  and getting it right.  Generally,  if it feels wrong,  we should think… is this fun?  My friends,  Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan, reminded me last week to keep a playful stance about the WORK.  Good advice.