Friday, November 20, 2015

Workshop and Mini Lessons 101

This year I have the opportunity to meet with our amazing Unified Arts Teachers once a week.  During our meetings we cover a variety of topics from problem solving and schedules to technology and student data.  Throughout these sessions I'm always in awe of the talent that sits around the table and how much I'm learning from sharing time with these wonderful teachers.

This year our unified arts team meeting includes our:  music teacher, PE teacher, librarian/technology integrationist, behavior interventionist, and principal.  (We're sorry that our art teacher is not able to join us because she does not work at our school on the day we meet.)

Recently, I prepared some materials to share with this group so that they are aware of the structures, components, ideas and concepts around the Reading and Workshop Model as well as the Mini-Lesson. Following are the big ideas of each.

Reading or Writing Workshop Model Components

Mini Lesson~This is the “focused topic of the day”.  It includes a very specific teaching point or learning target.  Mini-lessons should be short-10 minutes or so.  

Independent Reading or Writing Time~The bulk of workshop.  During independent reading and writing time students develop their stamina, work on individual goals, practice the teaching point, and most importantly grow as readers and writers!

Individual and Small Group Work~This is what the teacher does during student independent work time.  During this time explicit teaching happens for individuals and small groups.  Teachers focus on helping students understand themselves as readers and writers, teach students strategies to improve a skill or strategy, set goals with students for reading and writing.

Share Time/Closing Conversations~The end of workshop time that includes a whole group conversation.  The focus is to share a skill or strategy, share something the students learned as readers or writers, or what it means to be a reader or writer in the classroom. There are many ways of sharing!

Mini Lesson Structure
The teacher and class gather on the rug or a meeting space with an easel nearby.  This is a short lesson* when the teacher teaches a very specific skill or strategy to help students become better readers and writers.  

* Keep in mind what we know about brain research.  A good rule of thumb is that 5 year olds can last a maximum of 5 minutes, 6 year olds 6 minutes, 7 year olds 7 minutes, etc.

The structure includes four components:  Connection, Teaching, Active Engagement, Link.

CONNECTION~Connect to the previous days lesson.The goal is to activate prior knowledge and focus student attention on the lesson.

  • We’ve been…
  • Yesterday we...
  • Today I’m going to teach you…
  • Because….

TEACH~Demonstrate and teach the Teaching Point/Learning Target.  What do you want students to learn today? Demonstrate and model the skill or strategy.

  • Let me show you how I…
  • Hmm...I’m thinking…
  • Did you see how I…
  • Listen to me as I think out loud…

ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT ~Students discuss or try out the skill or strategy very quickly while right at the mini-lesson meeting.

  • Quiet think time
  • Hand signals
  • Turn and talk
  • Popcorn share

LINK~State what you want students to do today during independent reading or writing time.

  • Today we learned…so...
  • Today and any day while you are reading or writing you can…
  • So, when you go off for reading or writing today remember...

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Discussion Protocols

Recently, I've been working with our fourth and fifth grade students and their teachers on discussion protocols. My interest in using protocols began this past summer when I attended a "Critical Friends" training seminar with many colleagues throughout our supervisory union.

This series of discussion lessons began with the development of a rubric of expectations. (It is still a work in progress-so feedback is welcome!)  Here it is.

Discussion Rubric
Not Meeting Expectations
Meeting Expectations
Exceeding Expectations
Listening Skills
My eyes, ears, and body are not listening.

I interrupt others.
My eyes, ears and body are listening and facing the speaker part of the time.
My eyes, ears, and body are always listening and facing the speaker.

My eyes, ears, and body are always listening and facing the speaker.
I am able to help others in my group by giving subtle, quiet reminders.
Speaking Skills
I don’t use a Level 1 voice.

I don’t actively participate in the discussion.
I speak in a Level 1 voice most of the time.

I actively participate in the discussion part of the time when it is my turn to speak.
I speak in a Level 1 voice all the time.
I actively participate when it is my turn to speak.
I stay on the topic by adding comments that link to the discussion.
I speak in a Level 1 voice.
I actively participate when it is my turn to speak.
I stay on the topic by adding comments that link to the discussion.
I take on a positive leadership role in my group.
Preparation Skills
I am not prepared to participate in the discussion.

I do not have the materials I need.
I have most of my materials ready and use some of them effectively throughout the discussion.
I have all my materials ready and use them effectively throughout the discussion.
I use evidence to support my claims.
I have all my materials ready and use them effectively throughout the discussion.
I use evidence to support my claims.
I share materials with others as needed to help the group be productive.
I am not respectful to others.
I am respectful to others most of the time.
I consistently show respect to others in my group by showing empathy, taking turns and respectfully agreeing and/or disagreeing.
I consistently show respect to others in my group or partnership,  by showing empathy, taking turns and respectfully agreeing and/or disagreeing.
I am a role model for others.
To date we have learned, practiced and applied four different protocols.  These protocols were chosen and tweaked a bit for students from The School Reform Initiative Resource and Protocol Book (SRI) and The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo.
They are:
  • "Jigsaw" from SRI
  • "Write-Talk-Write" from Serravallo
  • "Save the Last Word for Me" from SRI
  • "Keep the Line Alive" from Serravallo
We've applied these discussion strategies to picture books that we've read together and analyzed for themes, author's purpose and real world applications.  
To date we've read and discussed: 
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce
  • Three Hens and a Peacock by Lester Laminack
  • Mr. Peabody's Apples by Maddona 
  • Feathers and Fools by Mem Fox.  
I've been truly amazed with the level of discussion and reflection students have demonstrated by using the protocols.  Just this week, I was almost brought to tears as I watched and listened to fourth and fifth graders reflect on thoughts about differences, war, communication, symbolism, gossip, rumors, feelings of isolation and the lessons of life.  

I'm filled with gratitude for these students and their teachers. As a literacy coach, I'm constantly learning and growing from this work. I'm able to do this because I'm surrounded with my best teachers, my esteemed colleagues and their amazing students! 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

It's a Slippery Slope!

November is a challenging time of year for teachers.  In my previous work as a mentor trainer, I often shared a graphic with new mentors that identified different phases of the teaching year.  The graphic showed a teacher literally sliding down a mountain, reaching the bottom, and then slowly climbing back up.   Months of the school year were clustered into categories.

As the slope heads downward it correlates with months of the school year.  Each month is not exact for each individual teacher, but the relationships are generally pretty solid. The phases follow this sequence:
  • Anticipation-August
  • Survival-September-October
  • Disillusionment-November-December-January
  • Rejuvenation-February
  • Reflection-April-May 
  • Anticipation-June
Now that November has arrived, we've reached the "disillusionment phase".  The phase when teachers are easily overwhelmed by the job and become disillusioned with the profession due to the sheer mountain of work it requires.  Pile on parent conferences, progress reports, student challenges, scheduling, assessments, budget discussions, little or no time for family and we can easily be done in!  Talk to any teacher, in any building, any state, any level of experience and I think you'd find many are at this phase.

I recently read the results of a survey at This survey identified four teacher "types".
  • The Idealist-Teachers who care about making a difference for students AND society as a whole. This group identifies improving social justice as a key component of their job.  These teachers often choose where they will work based upon where they can make the biggest difference.
  • The Practitioner-Teachers who are focused on the development of their own students.  These teachers enjoy their craft, and are committed to professional development.  When looking for positions practitioners look at the "character" of the school. 75% of practitioners would recommend teaching to their younger selves.
  • The Rationalist-Teachers who joined the ranks for practical reasons.  These teachers believe they can make a difference, but also know they need a good job, and will choose to work at places  that provide a good quality of life.  Rationalists can be on the negative side, "The Guardian" identified  50% of rationalists consider leaving the profession.
  • The Moderate- Teachers who are in the "middle of the road", they typically don't have strong opinions and end up staying in teaching for ideas from a love of their subject matter to the pure need for a job.  There appears to be no one factor that keeps these teachers in the profession, 50% of them would not recommend the job to their younger selves.
So ,what do these two ideas have to do with each other?  Honestly, I've got no scientific connection, but I do think we all got into this profession for a variety of reasons. At any given time we might find ourselves an idealist, practitioner, rationalist, or moderate teacher.  I think it depends on the time of year, and the current challenges we're working on.  As we sit in our disillusionment phase in the dark days of November and December, maybe a bit of reflection is in order.  Why did I choose this profession?  What type of teacher am I on any given day?  How can I make a difference for my colleagues and help pull them back up the mountain?  The possibilities are endless, the opportunities extreme.  I know this next week I'll try to do my best to be an "idealistic, rational, moderate, practitioner" and support my colleagues as we continue this journey together.  If the crampons are necessary, I'll put my own on and then help others secure theirs as well.  My goal will be, that our students will benefit from the effort.