Checking the Back Seat #sol18

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    1. Checking the Backseat #sol18

March 18, 2018

One extremely busy day a few weeks ago, I had seriously overcommitted my time, my talent, and my resources. I was at the edge of my proverbial pier. 6:30 a.m., having gotten up to make some baked good for today’s meeting. Packing our lunches, planning for dinner, making coffee. Wait, do I have my phone?  I rush to the car,  pull out of the drive, head down the street.  When I get to nearly half way,  it occurs to me,  those cookies are not in the back seat.  I have to have those cookies.  That’s my thing.  Treats for meetings.  I pulled over the car.  During my commute.  There really wasn’t time to go back.  Whatever the outcome,  there or not,  I would still have to continue on.   And yet,  there they were.  Plain as Life.   Waiting there in the backseat.

When I first wrote down this story,  I thought it was a lesson in noticing, in being present.  Now, weeks later as I write it down,  the lesson has changed for me.  From the end, here it is plain as life.  The thing we need is often waiting there in the backseat,  in the brain spinning rush, we forget to look in the obvious place, our own reserve, the skills we carry.  Quick to dismiss them as inadequate,  we search for a bigger, mightier something.  In coaching,  we show up,  we have a plan or a halfway plan,  we start with How’s it going? and then… we have to repack the bags, stop halfway,  check the backseat.  In the quiet planning,  in the preparation,  we remember what our thing is,  but in the fray,  sometimes we forget.  Notice the forgetting.  Pull over the car.  Check in the backseat.  It’s there.  It’s always there.  If it’s not,  we continue on.

 

img_1716-1Writing as part of the 31 day Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Check out some amazing stories at Two Writing Teachers.

 

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Stone Soup #sol18

stone soup 1Stone Soup #sol18

February 6, 2018

In Jon J. Muth’s beautifully written and illustrated rendition of Stone Soup, a group of traveling monks are discussing everything from cat whiskers to the color of sun when they light upon the topic of happiness.  The monks decide to do some action research and figure out what makes one happy?  They had a driving questions and a loose plan to figure out the answer.

The monks come to the place where they are going to do their research, a small village walled against the world.  From their place above the village,  the monks cannot tell that the people have been through a lot and as a result are untrusting of strangers and even suspicious of their neighbors.  Isn’t that so often the case?  We get a great coaching idea, especially if we are new to a situation, but we don’t really know all the carry-ons folks bring to the journey?   All of these villagers works very hard, but only for themselves.

Our teachers are working so hard behind their doors facing many obstacles that we know and some we don’t.

When those monk travelers reached the gates,  everyone disappeared into their houses. No one came to the gate.

In my early coaching,  I would have ‘cookies and conversation’ about topics I thought were fascinating.  Maybe they were,  maybe they weren’t.  But still few came to the party.

The monks knocked on one door,  no one answered.  They knocked on another door,  no one answered.  Again and again,  no answer.  These people do not know happiness, but today we will show them how to make stone soup.  No bull horn,  no memo,  no parade.  Just an idea about how to draw people in.

The monks make the fire,  they fill the small pot they have with water.  They put the pot on the fire…  One brave little girl comes out and asks the question… what are you doing?

The monks say…We have this plan to make stone soup, but we need some smooth stones.  The girl helps them find the stones and then she says,  hey,  this pot is small,  my mom has a bigger pot.

The monks didn’t ask the girl to help,  they didn’t say they needed a bigger pot.  They let the girl come to her own conclusions.  How is this like our teaching teams,  like our students?  The girl explains to her mother who asks,  hey,  what are they doing?  The mom says,  hey,  stones are easy to come by,  I want to see that.  Great idea, right?  Something simple.  Easy components.  Draw people and ideas in.

So that fire and that pot weren’t on a side street.  The monks made that fire right in the middle of the town where everyone could peek out of their windows and see what was going on.  Complete transparency and opportunities for inclusion.  It was a true curiosity and people as people will be,  got curious.

First the monks scaffolded.  They mentioned specific ingredients,  easily obtainable that many people might have in abundance.  Salt, pepper, carrots, onion.  The villagers begin to have and share these items as the smell becomes more agreeable.  One neighbor smells the success and wants to be part of it.  The next neighbor makes a small contribution.  Eventually, neighbors start having the ideas and the monks roll with it. As the contributions grow, something magical happens as each of the villagers opens their hearts,  the next one opens their heart a little more.  The soup grows richer and more delicious.

It all started with a idea and a few stones.

What a great plan!

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Thank you to the Slice of Life Community for nurturing my writing and my practice.  You can read more here.

in sync

FullSizeRender (1)In Sync #why not Wednesday 

September 27, 2017

At the start of a school year,  it takes some time to get in sync… in sync with the routine,  with your new students, and with your teaching team.  These lovely ladies are getting in the groove on day 4!  While dressing alike is probably not that unusual,  showing up in nearly the same dress by accident might indicate that they are on the same wavelength about more than just their fashion sense.

So how do we get in sync in our building, our team, or in our classroom  at the beginning of the year?

Possible idea 1. Spend some time getting to know each other.  Laugh,  talk about TV,  have lunch together,  take a walk, drop by for a chat.  You get the idea.  Don’t make everything all the time about work with your co-workers and with the students.

Possible idea 2.  Give yourself a break.  We don’t need to launch in at break neck speed every single time.  Wait, is that just me?  Take time to get your bearings,  read the environment.  Even if it’s the same old environment, it always seems to change as the new year start.

Possible idea #3  Review. Give a thought and some good conversation to what went really well last year and … what you might do differently.  Reflecting is good for the soul and the craft. 

I might wear my black dress tomorrow. 

 

 

View from the Balcony #sol17

BalconyA View from the Balcony

May 2, 2017

I’ve been rushed lately or at least I feel rushed, like my to-do list is too long and I’m just racing through the days.  But today something slowed me down.  Today I was able to take in a view of our intermediate classrooms from the balcony so to speak.  I accompanied some consultants that were taking a quick view of our intermediate literacy block.  It was amazing to watch the reading workshops in action without having an agenda… or a role to play.   Clare referred me to an idea called ‘ watch from the balcony, lead from the floor’.   Think about how much we could learn, observe, think about when we just move through the classrooms and watch.

So today I moved through the intermediate classrooms in our building for just an hour or so during their reading workshop.  I moved quickly not staying too long in any one spot, but returning to see a little minilesson, small group, and a little independent work.  Most of these rooms, I’m in every single day.  During those days,  I have a purpose, a mission, goals.  Today,  I just watched.  Just looked.  The teachers were interested in what the consultants noticed.  No one asked me what I noticed, so the gems are my personal treasure.

I knew you all were amazing teachers but today I noticed…

Your students are listening.  They’ve learned the talk of reading workshop.  They can turn and talk, and really turn and talk.

You teach with ease.  You’re light on your feet.  You’re enjoying yourselves.  You know your stuff.

Everything in your rooms shows who you are as a teacher.  You treasure your anchor books you’ve shared.  You have a place for students to give feedback to you and each other.  You’re sharing yourselves with your students.

There’s trust.  The students trust you,  you trust them… and you all trust me.  No one hesitated for one second when I came and went from your room.  You smiled, the students smiled.  I smiled.

My smile was real.  I see the work that you’ve done.  The work that you’ve done with your students.  The work that we’ve done together.

I feel filled up.  I hope to take more of these side trips and I’m going to make sure you can take them too.

small batch coaching #sol17

Smallbatch-300x300 Small Batch Coaching

April 18, 2017

I have been thinking a great deal about instructional coaching of late; having a coaching cycle in place in my role as a literacy specialist:  teachers I meet with weekly,  co-teaching in place with a few teachers to varying degrees of formality, PLCs I meet with regularly and semi-regularly.  Those are all great and working well, but this past week I was thinking about ‘small batch’ coaching.

So small batch can come in a few different forms, most successful  it has a connection to your underlying goals in your building, with your team, or in some cases, with your hidden agenda.  I admit it. Sometimes I have a not-so-hidden agenda.  I will say it outright when asked.  Here’s one example of a small batch/not hidden agenda.

I dropped by one day as a intervention teacher was lead teaching in a classroom.  My purpose was to ask her about intervention with a student for a conference later that day.  When I arrived in the classroom the class had just completed a read-aloud of The Mouse, The Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, a perennial classic for kindergarten.  IMG_8594That was wonderful, but then…  I saw this.

IMG_8592 I think it’s safe to say and will not surprise anyone who has worked with me that I immediately started thinking how I could suggest a change-up in this activity or even shift the students’ thinking myself.

The probable goal of this sheet was sequencing and the students all sat at tables coloring the paper waiting for permission to cut and then glue .  I said to the teacher,  I love this book!   … Another thing  you might have done is let the students interact with the book, create props and do a retell on their own.  Perhaps that would have gotten to your objective too,  sequencing strength.  Well, maybe next time…or words to that effect. 

I went on about my day and then as the students were going to lunch, they stopped by the literacy center.FullSizeRender

There before me were dozens of little mice complete with mouse ears and a very large construction paper strawberry.   The teacher had thought about it and given it a go right away.  The students were thrilled and eager to share what they had done.

Now, do I wish that the students had made the ears and the strawberry, and had props and such from the beginning?  Yes.   However, changing our practice, changing our stance, shifting our outlooks takes time.  Much like we scaffold and linger and try out with our students, we should be willing to move at that same pace with their teachers.

So here’s to small batches of coaching, gentle nudges.  May they be casual chat over coffee, a notice of something wonderful tried, an interesting website/article/video sent with a quick note, a drop in, and encouraging smile.  After all,  we are just giving it a go too.

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My Five… Coaching Resources #SOL17

stackbooksilaMy Five…. Coaching Resources #SOL17

March 13, 2017

Here are my go-to resources to glean resources,  loan out,  reread to deepen collaboration, growth, and work with teachers and students.  The order and use change situationally.

Fountas and Pinnell Continuum of Literacy Learning 3rd Edition

I’ve used this resource for years and could only love it more when the Fountas and Pinnell team produced the 3rd edition.  This book has grade level goals, reading level behaviors for work in all the areas of literacy, technology, listening/ speaking,  writing,  whole and small group work.  When thinking about conferring, goal setting, lesson planning, and formative assessment, this resource does not fail.  I especially recommend the expanded information on interactive read aloud.  There is a webinar to familiarize users with the tool that is very helpful

The Daily Five

The Daily Five helps teachers develop a structure for independence in the reading workshop by outlining the steps to scaffold learning in reading to self, reading with others, listening to reading, word work, and writing about reading.  There are detailed ideas for maintaining balance across all the areas of literacy. Especially for newer teachers and large or challenging classes.

A Guide to the Reading Workshop (2015)  Both K-2 and 3-5 editions

A comprehensive guide to systematically planning for reading workshop including timing, share reading, conferring, small group work, and general work in constructing the focus lesson.  Individual chapters and components are excellent for discussions on scaffolding learning and student agency.  Also recommended Reading Pathways.

Assessment in Perspective

Assessment in Perspective is wonderful in its entirety moving from why we collect data to how to use data effectively, to involving students with their own data.  Especially helpful to teachers are their helpful suggestions on mining data and organizing thinking around small group work with students.  Their blog,  Assessment in Perspective, is a fresh, up to date resource of theory meets practice  written in teacher friendly language.  

Teaching Reading in Small Groups

Teaching Reading in Small Groups goes beyond traditional guided reading to authentic, timely, practical instruction in flexible small groups.  This book contains ideas for forming small groups, conferring in small groups, and so much more.  Jennifer Serravallo has produced many video supports to this work.  Also recommended by Serravallo, Reading Strategies Book and Writing Strategies Book.  These books are particularly helpful when using the If/Then Units within the Calkins Units of Study.  

Other than the Writing Strategies Book,  these aren’t particularly new resources, however, each is so strong in recent thinking in pedagogy and theory in literacy.  All are easy to read and easy to use.  

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I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

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Using Story Arc to Explore Author’s Craft and Characters #SOL17

Using Story Arc to Explore Author’s Craft and Characters  #SOL17

March 10, 2017

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I have been taking a serendipitous journey with a fourth grade class.  After reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing together for a weeks and then realizing that no one in the class understood theme,  we regrouped… by taking a week off for February vacation.  When we returned from February vacation,  the magic began to happen.  We did a few days on finding theme in picture books.  See The Space Between  for more about this beginning.  

Then, we spent a few days writing a filler chapter for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  ( See Units of Study For Teaching Reading,  Fourth Grade Unit 1,  Interpreting Character: The Heart of the Story.)  The first day,  their teacher read a chapter from the next book in the series,  Super Fudge.  I think we both thought the students might write from between Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Super Fudge.  Not one did that.  After the first day we noticed that the students writing lacked the classic elements of narrative and the central elements of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,  so we decided to review narrative structure in light of Chapter 3, The Family Dog.  After reading chapter 3,  their teacher reviewed the story arc and conducted a discussion of the elements in this chapter. For your benefit,  the story arc in this chapter includes:  review as hook,  micro-story to set up solution,  problem,  several attempts, climax, falling action, and solution.  IMG_8264 (9).jpg

Since it wasn’t my idea,  I can say that it really was genius.  She continued the great ideas by using her iPads to let students view the arc representation while they completed a revision of their chapter with the same style.

In the end,  her class had a wonderful understanding of theme in novel, a terrific review of the story arc using a novel example, and two days of quick narrative writing.
These ideas could be adapted to any novel study at the intermediate grades.

Thanks to Melissa Quimby,  Grade 4 for this collaboration.

 

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I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.