Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Generalist and Specialist

I've been reflecting lately on the differences between elementary school teachers and middle/ high school teachers.  I've been an elementary school teacher for the past 35 years.  I  love my job, my greatest joy still comes from being with children and watching them grow and learn.  I'm positive this is the case for any educator who enjoys their work.  I've had very little experience in a departmentalized setting for elementary schools, but what experience I've had was generally positive.

Last week, I attended a district inservice day. I appreciated the day for the opportunity to reflect on my practice and life as a teacher.  In the morning we were in mixed grade level groups from PreK-12. We had teachers of art, math, business, special education and everything in between. We read and discussed articles focused on feedback.  I thoroughly enjoyed the mixed grade level discussions. I thrive on the opportunity to listen and learn from others.  As I listened, the complexity of all of our jobs was evident (isn't it always?).  The differences were vast, the similarities real.

I developed a thinking analogy I shared, that I'm sure others have considered as well.  As an elementary educator, we're like "general practitioners", the "family physicians". In fact, my National Board Certification is as a "Middle Childhood Generalist". On any given day, elementary educators teach multiple subjects, from the "Three Rs" to science, social studies, technology, engineering, humanities,social skills, etc.  We're constantly jumping from one area to another, integrating as much as we can, but truly teaching a wide variety within any given day.

I see middle/high school teachers as the "specialists".  Teachers deeply grounded in their fields of math, literacy, science, etc.  Sometimes their worlds converge with other subject areas, but these teachers are the true experts in their fields with strong, deep knowledge in a particular discipline. These teachers always amaze me with their depth of content knowledge and the pedagogy they use to teach a particular subject area.

I see the  knowledge base for elementary education as more breadth, rather than  depth. It's harder for us to develop the depth of content knowledge in any particular area because we have so much to teach. We want to know everything about EVERYTHING, but it's an impossible task.* All teachers share the need for a strong background and depth of knowledge in  regard to pedagogy, We can learn a lot from each other in this category, what works in a classroom, what doesn't, what is worth trying, how can we grow together?

Most importantly, teachers need to respect each other's knowledge and job complexity.  It's not easy teaching today, it wasn't easy teaching 35 years ago, or all the years in between.  Yet, I know my greatest opportunities for growth lie with my students and my colleagues. So, I'll remember to trust and learn from the middle/high school "specialists". I'll always have great respect for the work they do, and I hope they in turn, will do the same for me, the "general practitioner".

*The opinions expressed here are purely my own.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Take a Break From the Wheel!

The first quarter of the school year ends this week.  It's hard to believe!  The past ten weeks have flown by! Yet, here we are looking at end of quarter assessments, prepping for progress reports, parent conferences and setting new goals for our students.  In the the crazy, busy life of teachers I think it's critically important to take the time for reflection and really listen to our inner selves at this juncture.  Yes, there is tons of work to be done, to prep and plan for, but if we don't take the time to slow down a bit, give ourselves permission to think and reflect then we're just hamsters in a wheel, spinning, spinning, spinning!

The end of the first quarter can mark a sense of panic in teachers.  We now know our students well, their strengths and weaknesses.  We need to reflect on this with rational thought and calmness!  I know I can very easily push the panic button, and think, "Oh, my! Susie isn't reading accurately at all! Davey has breakdowns in reading comprehension! Marty loses her train of thought when writing! Will Kathy ever master writing an accurate equality equation?" You get the idea, typical teacher panic!

I urge you to think of end of the quarter assessments as your learning and reflection tools. For example, we've just completed our narrative writing post assessments.  Take them for what they are worth, don't turn them into a high stakes assessment, learn from them, then move forward with new and exciting goals for your students.  Remember, assessments are one tool, one snapshot.  My friends over at Two Writing Teachers have an amazing  blog series this week all about writing assessments.  They are sharing critical insights and reminders.  I especially liked this post by Beth Moore on the joys, wonders and challenges of on demand writing assessments.  Beth has a beautiful way of reminding us of how to enjoy assessment, carry it out and then glean important information from it.  I hope you take the time to read her post, then reflect and learn from your own students' work.  Don't beat yourself up about students who didn't do as well as you hoped.  Instead, celebrate the growing writer each child is, celebrate the opportunities that lie ahead.

In closing, I urge you, take a leap of faith, jump out of the hamster wheel for a moment, sit down and reflect.  What are you proud of that you've accomplished with your students? How has each child grown under your expert tutelage? What is successful about the learning environment you've created this year?  What have your assessments told you about where your students are and where they will go next?  What will the next steps of your classroom journey look like?  Most importantly, have some fun along the way!
Best regards for uplifting parent conferences next week!
Kathy

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Compliments for our Students!

This year, as a staff we are reading How To Train A Wild Elephant by Jan Chozen Bays.  The book focuses on mindfulness and the opportunities to grow within yourself by practicing various "mindful" strategies. Many of the strategies are simple, to the point and can be incorporated into daily life.  I think the big idea, is the fact (at least for me) when I really think about some of these techniques and try to fold them into my days, they truly make a difference in regard to how I feel emotionally, socially and physically.  

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Yesterday, we were given the reading assignment of Chapter 6-"True Compliments".  The gist is to give "true compliments, compliments that are specific to the person and the area you want to highlight.  I love the final thought: "Kind words are a gift.  They create wealth in the heart."(p.41).

I relate this strategy very clearly to complimenting our students throughout the day and even more specifically through reading and writing conferences.  My friends Beth Moore and Stacey Shubitz at Two Writing Teachers have some wonderful posts on complimenting students.  Here are links to a three posts that are worth reading as you think of complimenting throughout your day, week, and year with our students.  Happy complimenting!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Who's Doing the Work?

This summer I've done a fair amount of professional reading.  There is one text that has really stuck with me and is constantly jumping into my thoughts as I prepare for the school year ahead. Drum roll please...
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Who's Doing the Work by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris!  I read this book very quickly the first time, I actually didn't need to read more than the first few pages to get hooked and since then I've recommended it to everyone!  Well, not quite everyone, but, every educator I know would truly benefit from this book.  Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris write with experience, knowledge and thought. 


The book sets the stage for what the authors call, next generation reading instruction.  It's all about identifying ways in which students can support themselves, struggle a bit to make progress, persevere and make gains that will stick with them. It's about teachers stopping the practice of giving students permanent scaffolds that create learned helplessness.  

Burkins and Yaris tackle the "big four" instructional reading practices of read aloud, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading.  They take these four and examine the "traditional" structure of them, and then share ideas for adjustments that put "most of the work" on students, rather than teachers; therefore creating  a model that represents "next generation reading instruction".  Although the tweaks are not totally profound or new, they certainly are thought provoking.  The book causes an educator to think, reflect, and reexamine past practices.  It's impossible to put all of this in a blog post, but here are some big ideas on the "big four".

Read Aloud: "A teaching structure that introduces students to the joy of constructing meaning from text." (Burns & Yaris p. 29)

Next Generation Read-Aloud:  Focuses on reading engagement with limited, intentional teacher talk. Offers opportunities for students to create knowledge together. 

Things to do, look for and consider in regard to read-aloud:

  • Let the book do the teaching, just read for the love of reading
  • Listen to student discussions about the text.  What can you learn?
  • Reread texts several times. 
  • Video yourself during a read-aloud~use it for your own reflection and formative data on student engagement. Are students selecting books that you have read aloud for independent reading?
  • Choose books carefully, think about high engagement and opportunities for students to think well beyond the read aloud time.
  • Keep it joyful!  Explicit instruction is secondary.
  • Keep teacher interruption and talking to a MINIMUM!
  • Read across genres.
  • Let student responses and questions guide discussion.
  • Repurpose read aloud books by using them again in shared reading, guided reading and for independent reading.
  • Students should be active during read aloud, smiling, aha-ing, laughing, remarking, etc!


Shared Reading:  "An instructional structure designed to support students as they read texts that would otherwise be too difficult for them to access independently." (Burns and Yaris, p. 54)  Teacher and students engage in the work simultaneously and together, solve problems the reading presents.

Next Generation Shared Reading:  Provides opportunities for student reading growth.  Conversations help students transfer reading strategies to guided and independent reading sessions.  The engaged structure of shared reading gives students exposure to the power of books and encourages students to read challenging, engaging texts.

Things to do, look for and consider in regard to shared reading:

  • Use current news reading as shared text. Time for Kids, Scholastic News, web publications, etc.
  • Share poems.
  • Video a shared reading lesson to reflect on how much work students are doing during the lesson in comparison to your talking.  Share and discuss the video with colleagues.
  • Provide copies of the shared text for students to read during independent reading.
  • Minimally explain how to solve difficulties when reading, instead support students as they figure things out themselves.
  • Help students name the strategies they use when problem solving,
  • Document discoveries, strategies on anchor charts so students can refer to them later.
  • Get into the text quickly, don't scaffold or set up too much~let the reading do the work!
  • All students need to see the words and illustrations well.  Consider:  print size, angle of book, placement of students, lighting, glare. 
  • Use open-ended prompts-What do you notice? What else do you notice? What can you try?  How do you know?  How can you check?
  • Create a running anchor chart where you record decoding and comprehension strategies students use.
  • Keep the pace of the lesson quick and sharp.  Don't prolong the lesson!  Stop while it's still fun!
  • Observe student reading behaviors at other times so you'll know what behaviors you want or need to focus on during a shared reading session.
  • Create a reader's theater about the shared reading text.
  • Shared reading is NOT:  independent reading, round-robin reading, when the teacher talks throughout the lesson.

Guided Reading: "A small-group, teacher-facilitated learning session where student practice integrated reading strategies.  During these sessions, students with similar reading levels and needs gather to read an 'instructional' level text that has been carefully selected for the particular group of students." (Burns & Yaris p. 77-78)

Next Generation Guided Reading: Students work in small groups from texts at their instructional level.  The teacher does less direct instruction, more observation on how students puzzle through text.  "Next generation guided reading involves less guiding and more responsive following." (Burns & Yaris p. 100)

Things to do, look for and consider in regard to guided reading:

  • Facilitate rather than direct the lesson.  Direct instruction only happens when absolutely essential.
  • Observe students as they tackle challenges.
  • Teacher talk is minimal
  • Don't lead, follow the lead of the student.
  • Provide ample time for student reading, coach in.
  • Encourage experimentation and growth mindset.  Provide general guidance with prompts:  What do you notice? What will you try?  What can you do next?  What should we do to get started?  Try that word/sentence again.  Is that right? How can you check? How else do you know?
  • Students should be problem solving and discussing amongst themselves for most of the session.
  • Students read at their own pace, teacher listens in to individuals.
  • Offer support, but don't replace student problem solving.
  • Make engagement and student interest the most important when selecting texts.
  • Video a lesson, how much wait time do you give students? How much talking are kids doing? Review the lesson with colleagues.
  • Limit the amount of time spent with each student.
  • Make connections between guided reading, shared reading, and read aloud.
  • The book is too hard if you have to talk a lot to get students through it.
  • Collect running records, anecdotal data as you work with students.
  • Count to 8-10 before giving students prompts.
  • Have someone observe you lessons and pay attention to student interaction with the text vs. how much time you spend talking.
  • Challenge yourself to see how quickly you can turn over the work to students.
  • Create a workable, user friendly system for recording running records.

Independent Reading: The last step of gradual release, student practice skills and strategies using texts that have been self-selected based upon reading interests and ability.

Next Generation Independent Reading: Emphasis is on reading for its own sake.  Reading a lot of authentic texts for meaning and pleasure is emphasized.  "Students understand that different texts are just right for different purposes and are likely to be in the middle of two or three texts at once." (Burns & Yaris p. 106).

Things to do, look for and consider in regard to Independent Reading:

  • Explicitly teach independent reading procedures and expectations.
  • Let students read more than one book during a session, especially if difficulty varies.
  • Guide student choices through book talks, displays, sharing time.
  • Respect multiple definitions for "just-right" books because books are just right for different purposes.
  • Build stamina gradually~stop independent reading when students are still engaged.
  • Allow students to reread favorites!
  • Students self-select text most of the time.
  • Student engagement is HIGH!
  • Students read a variety of text: picture books, magazines, chapter books, various genres, etc.
  • Students select text across a range of levels for different reading purposes.
  • Students identify tricky parts and how they resolved them.
  • Teachers connect, converse, coach, celebrate with students.
  • Students spend most or ALL of their independent reading time READING!
  • Students make brief notes or "jots" about their reading process or books they are reading.
  • Anchor charts support independence.
  • Students are excited about books and eager to talk about them.
  • Students find comfortable spots and can make adjustments independently as necessary.
Hopefully you were able to sustain your independent reading and puzzle through this blog post. I hope it was enticing enough to inspire you to read the book, because I really didn't do it justice!  It's available for borrowing in the PD office!







Sunday, August 14, 2016

Starting Up~Getting Ready for Reading Workshop

I recently returned from another summer reading institute at Teachers College.  It was a great week filled with learning, sharing, and networking with other like minded teachers from across the globe.  My mind is swirling from all the new information, review and reflection I did in five short days.

I attended one session with Simone Fraser that really helped me think about getting ready for reading workshop in my classroom.  As I prepare for my third graders this year, I'll be going over the following checklists, tips and practices. I've used some ideas from the session, as well as my own experience to create the list...it's far from perfect, but it's a start!

CLASSROOM SET-UP
  • Create an inviting area.  
  • Have a meeting area rug that is surrounded by books.
  • An easel that is easily seen and moved.
  • A plan for where students will sit-spots, as grapes, on seats, crates!
  • Establish a calm, inviting mood.
  • Have a clear, easily accessed library that is student centered.
  • Plan where charts are going to go~remember too many at a time create clutter and won't be used by kids.
  • An area where you can post strategy group meeting times and assignments.  This can be done with just sticky notes on a board.
  • Set-up an area for the tools that you and your kids will need.
    • Extra reading logs
    • Post-its
    • Book Boxes or Baggies-spread them around the room so that kids don't all crowd into an area at once!
    • Response journals
    • Pens, pencils, markers, chart paper, your teacher's toolkit, etc.!
CLASSROOM LIBRARY SET-UP
  • Have kids create labels and organize bins or baskets with you!  From this process, you'll find the books they love, the ones they don't and what their ideas are for checking out and returning books.  
  • Use bins or baskets-books facing out will capture students' interest.  Bins that can be easily taken off shelves allow for kids to really peruse their options.
  • What books do kids need NOW?  What books will you put out later in the year?  Keep things fresh and interesting-have a wide variety, have A TON of books! :-)
  • Put books on display, like a bookstore-change your display often-create a recommended by...area.
  • Possible bin or basket labels-authors, series, mentor text, read alouds, class favorites, teacher favorites, sports, fantasy, mystery, other genres, etc.
  • To level label or not??  This came up many times during the week!  Although TCRWP has consistently supported F&P levels and labels on bins, many of this week's presenters were against that practice. I tend to put small stickers with a BAND of text complexity on my bins.  I don't level label individual books and I always label bins by genre, author, topic etc.
  • Number your bins and the books that belong in each bin.  I started doing this a few years ago~it's amazing how well it works and keeps your library neat, tidy and accessible.  Just put a small sticker on the bin and the backs of books.  Use STICKERS, because you never know when you might want to make a change, that way they can be peeled off or posted over!

FIRST WEEK OF READING WORKSHOP PLANNING
  • Build excitement.
  • Teach students to be independent...well, try, and keep at it!  It will happen!
  • Do a lot of book talks about great books~create "book buzzes".
  • Read aloud OFTEN!
  • Build up reading stamina and reading muscles.
  • Teach routines, then, practice, practice, practice!
    •     How will students come to the meeting area?
    •     What will they bring with them?
    •     How will they leave?
    •     Classroom library routines and expectations
    •     Establish reading partners.
    •     How can they problem solve independently?
  • Remember, the time you spend now on teaching and practicing routines will be well worth it in the end!
MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES~The overall goal is for students to work independently with engagement and stamina.
  • Remember~ classroom management=productivity!
  • Use table conferences to support engagement.
  • Don't skip mid-workshop teaching points from the RUOS-they are often about management in the first unit!
  • Use facial gestures  and body language to your advantage.
  • Set expectations for student volume levels for talk and for work.
  • Tell the kids about management, tell them it's important, make them your allies!
  • Cheerlead for those who are working independently.
  • Don't sit still-monitor, remind, celebrate!

IDEAS FOR BUILDING STAMINA, ENGAGEMENT & READING VOLUME
  • Students sketch a picture of one time or one book that really mattered to them and share out.
  • For older kids have them build a timeline of their "reading life" and share it with a partner or small group.
  • Students make their own bookmarks-have them make 6!
  • Create an ongoing class chart of favorite books.
  • Students bring in their favorite picture book and read aloud to each other.
  • Post quotes about reading on charts around the room, have students do a silent gallery walk, then choose one to write about that represents them and why.
  • Create a list of favorite books we read this summer and recommendations.  Have students do book buzzes in small groups about their books.
  • Teach kids about bands of text complexity early on-so they know that to expect and how to start navigating tougher texts.
  • Create "reading resolutions" or reading "hopes and dreams" for the year.
  • Post a stamina chart...set goals as a class and have mini celebrations along the way.

This is a start, I hope it gets you thinking about how you want your reading workshop to go. Please feel free to comment and add more tips! Bring on the kids, bring on great readers, bring on great books!  Let's get this party started!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Reflection Time

The word reflect, taken as a verb, simply means to think, ponder, meditate.  As we get ready to close out another school year, it's a great time for reflection.  How long will it be before we will truly take the time to reflect on this past year?  For me, it happens over and over again.  It will happen during the final days, and throughout the summer.  My reflection will happen over time, in fleeting moments, over the course of hours, days and even weeks.  So, I offer a bit of an ode to reflection...please feel free to add on...

Time to reflect....
As the year winds down and then quickly back up again...
I hope I'll be able to really reflect...
Reflect on what went well, and what didn't...
Reflect on what students learned, and what I learned...
Reflect on how I understood students, and how they understood me...
Reflect on learning opportunities that made a difference, and those that didn't...
Reflect on great books I read to others, and great books I read myself...
Reflect on time that was well spent, and time that was wasted...
Reflect on new connections that were made, and old ones that need to be nurtured...
Reflect on tears cried over happiness, and tears cried over disappointment...
Reflect on weekends consumed with work, and weekends celebrated with loved ones...
Reflect on long days, and short nights...
Reflect on meaningful conversations with colleagues, and opportunities for discussion I wish I had taken...
Reflect on how students grew, and how I grew...
Reflect on assessments valued, and assessments wasted...
Reflect on systems built, and systems buried...
Reflect on shared smiles and laughter, shared tears and sadness...
Reflect on new beginnings...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

DIY!

I'm a bit of a reality TV show junky, yet I'm  selective about what I watch.  My favorites are mostly related to improving homes and house hunting.  I love, Property Brothers, Fixer Upper, Flip or Flop and Beachfront Bargain Hunt.  I was heartbroken when the old show Trading Spaces was voted off the island, I mean the network!  I enjoy watching the transformation of dismal looking homes into palaces.  I love to see the results of DIY (Do It Yourself) projects...which gets me to the real reason for this post...A NEW BOOK!
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DIY Literacy~Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beatty Roberts was just released in April! Woop!  Woop!  This is a great new resource for all literacy teachers. It's truly about creating a DIY  "toolkit" for you and your students. I'm a big fan of the authors. I've had the pleasure of attending several sessions of Kate's at Teacher's College in recent years.  She is not only an excellent teacher, but an entertaining, "normal" person.  Kate gets teaching, teachers and most importantly kids. Here's a link to Kate and Maggie's website, Indent. They are helping teachers work smarter, not harder.  Yeah, Kate and Maggie!  There is even a new video series where they demonstrate tools covered in the book.

In the book, Kate and Maggie, break down their teaching "tools" into four major categories. Here they are with a brief summary of each.

Teaching Charts
These are helpful when students need a reminder of what points have been taught, and/or a list of what to do.  Charts have the most meaning for students when they've been created collaboratively with students during lessons, in the moment.  Kate and Maggie refer to the wonderful work of Kristi Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli when describing two basic types of charts.  Repetoire Charts: Charts that record strategies that can be used for skill acquisition.  Process Charts:  Charts that break down a  skill into the steps it will take to achieve that skill.  Here are two of Kristi and Marjorie's books!



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Demonstration Notebooks  
These are teacher created notebooks that contain lessons to use in individual student conferences or with small groups.  It's a notebook filled with strategies your students need, then and there.  These notebooks are often created within sketch pads so there is space for three main components.
1.  A need your students have shown~what is it they need to learn, see, practice.  What is your mini teaching point?
2.  A clear strategy or solution to meet that need.
3.  Blank space, for sticky notes that you can use to demonstrate and work with the strategy during conferences and small group meetings.


Micro-progressions
This idea was totally new to me and I love it!  A micro-progression is like zooming in on one particular part of a learning progression and showing students the exact qualities that make up each level of work.  The goal is to demonstrate to students the specific differences in performance such as from a Level 1 to Level 3 through explicit evidence for each level. Micro-progressions provide students with details to improve their writng, while at the same time reinforce the ideas of self-assessment.

Bookmarks
Bookmarks are created by students to help them keep track of the strategies they need to use when reading and writing.  They are personalized by students and include the stratgies that will help the individual achieve goals.  Kate and Maggie refer to bookmarks like a list of groceries we need, or errands we need to complete.  A bookmark is like a checklist that helps us remember what we need, or how we will tackle the task or work.

So, those are the big four ideas, but the book has so much more to offer!  There are tips on how to create these tools, assessment, effective instruction, fostering a culture of rigor, organization, etc. You name it, they've covered it, in 106 easy to read pages!  The book is now available to borrow in your nearest PD office!