Saturday, July 9, 2016

Celebrating Learning Communities and DIY Literacy

I am cross posting this post with Ruth Ayres Celebrate posts and CyberPD hosted by Cathy Mere, Laura Komos and Michelle Nero.  I celebrate all the different learning communities I am in, both virtual and face to face.  This summer has been filled with different ways to learn and people to learn with.  I appreciate all of the opportunities I'm being given.  My thinking is always stretched when I can learn with and from others, giving me new insights to ponder.

As I read the first two chapters (and the bonus), I began to wonder what this might look like with adult learners.  My days include two related jobs:   I work with small reading intervention groups for part of the day and coach teachers the other half.  Some of my coaching work will be done with vertical teams of grades 2 - 5 and K - 1.  In the past, our monthly data team meetings have been done in grade level groups, so working with vertical teams will be different for me.

My principal has suggested we look at the literacy framework more closely and hone in on planning instruction and using formative assessment to gauge how our students are doing. We are going to plan lessons together on our teams, go in and watch each other teach, and give each other feedback.  Our district focus is on assessment this year and how those assessments can inform our instruction.

Just as it is in my classroom with students, it's important that I build knowledge together with adult learners too.  I've taken suggestions from Kate and Maggie and adapted it for my coaching.  I'd love feedback from others on what you think works and what needs tweaked.

Making it Stick

I've tried to keep in mind the three qualities that make learning "stick."
  • They are visual.
  • They make the abstract concrete (love the word salad).
  • They encourage repeated practice
I used Clare and Tammy's Assessment in Perspective (if you haven't read this book, you must) and Fountas and Pinnell's The Continuum of Literacy Learning (provided to all K - 5 teachers in our district) to help me articulate my thinking.

My Topic:  How do we use our assessments to plan for meaningful instruction within the reading workshop?

Teaching Chart  

I used Piktochart to create this very simple infographic to help guide teachers' thinking.  I'd like to be able to create a chart with them after going through the process together.

Demonstration Notebook:

I'm thinking I would supply teachers with demonstration notebooks (or have them bring something they'd like to use) and we would build these together.  I envision using these to support teachers in collecting ideas for teaching different strategies, so they are a little different from those described in the book.  I imagine a section for each of the three ways of thinking about text:  Within the Text, Beyond the Text and About the Text, which would then be divided into strategies that fall under each category.    I also see a section about different instructional decisions teachers need to make when looking at their assessments.  I can see these notebooks being very individual to meet teachers' needs, and I also know it is important for me to begin to build my own demonstration notebook before school begins.  

Some ideas that I envision for these notebooks:
  • How to analyze running records
  • How to determine which part of the framework to use
  • How to differentiate learning in interactive read aloud/shared reading
  • How to talk about author's craft (about the text)
  • How to infer about a character

Micro-progressions of Skills

I would build this chart with teachers as we talked about different levels of using assessment to inform instruction.  I would give teachers a blank table and ask them to complete it together and we would share with the whole group.

Planning a Shared Reading Lesson at the Beginning of the Year


I can see building bookmarks with teachers around different skills and strategies.  Giving them (and me) the practice of deconstructing the strategy and then creating bookmarks, will enable all of us to create the necessary bookmarks with our students.  

I realize as I write this that I flip flop between making instructional decisions based on assessments and supporting teachers as they work to support their students.  Maybe it's too messy.  Once again, this is one of those things that I will need to figure out as I go.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sister Time

Growing up we didn't like each other very much.  Our mom said that someday we'd be friends.  We didn't believe her.

We had some horrendous pulling, scratching, screaming at the top of our lungs.  I remember the time we were grabbing at each other after school because one of us had something the other wanted and my glasses went flying off my face only to break as they hit the floor.  Mom had just started a new job to help make ends meet and I had just gotten those glasses.  We both knew there was going to be a price to pay when our parents got home and neither one of us was going to admit any guilt.  I'm pretty sure both of us had to empty out our scrawny bank accounts to put toward a new pair of glasses for me.

She taunted me.
I bossed her.
She complained about me.
I made up rules and made her follow them because that's what big sisters do.

I didn't think there was anyone I could like any less, unless it was my youngest sister who caused me as much angst as my middle sister did.

We grew up.
And we found that the other wasn't so bad after all.

Now that we live 1,000 miles apart, we don't get to see each other very often.  So when we do, it's time that cannot be wasted.  We laugh, we hang out, we read, we eat good food.   We talk about what it's like to have grown up kids.  We still feel like we're 30 ourselves.  We remember the times we had to stand up for each other or be there to hold on tight when the other one was falling apart.  We think about what the future holds for us as we are now considered middle aged by our younger, hipper children.   How did that happen?

She no longer taunts me,
And I try not to boss her, although sometimes I slip.
I like to think of it as good advice.  (If I didn't tell her to pinch off the basil so it would fill out again, who would?)

I'm pretty sure this basil can be saved if she only follows my directions.  :)

We no longer hate the sight of each other.  And is always the case, Mom was right.

We are sisters who are also friends.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  I invite you to go to their site to read other Slice of Life stories.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gifts from CAWP

Our two and half week writing time with the Columbus Area Writing Project ended yesterday.  I'm left with mixed feelings.  I welcome more unstructured time for my summer days, and yet, I will miss the people and the structured time to write.  This is the test for me.  Can I keep up the habit of daily writing?

It is my goal.

CAWP (and other affiliates of NWP) provides a powerful experience where you learn not only about the art of teaching writing, but also about yourself as a writer.  And the formula is so simple.  You write, you write some more, you get feedback from others, talk about writing, and then you go and write again.  The community that is formed is phenomenal and is one of the keys to CAWP's success.
This week again, I celebrate CAWP.

At the end of each day, we jotted down our thinking...questions, ahas, new thinking...whatever came to us.  Robin then collected them together and created an Inkshed for each of us to have the next day.  I took those Inksheds and created a found poem to share my celebration today.

The Writing Life

Time to write
Time to work in different ways
Inspired me to
Lots of possibilities

Look in the mirror
Capture a thought or memory
Write, critique, think
Learn from the conversations of others’ writing
So many ideas


I appreciate the writing
Feeling valued
Time and Space
Conversations with others

Powerful and uniting

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for providing this space for our weekly celebrations.  I invite you to visit her site to read about other celebrations.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Gifts That Bring Me Back to Writing

Donald Graves tells us in All Children Can Write, "Four essentials to a successful writing-process program are described: the adequate provision of time (at least 4 days per week), child choice of writing topic, response to child meaning, and the establishment of a community of learners."  

The same is true for adult writers.  This week I celebrate writing.

For the last week and a half, I've had the opportunity to participate in the summer institute of the Columbus Area Writing Project.  It's been exactly what I needed as a writer.  For the last year, my writing life has been quiet.  I allowed the joy I find in writing slip away from me.  And in its place I let busyness and completion of projects take over.

The summer institute invites me to slow down and get reacquainted with my writing life.    We meet in the Martha King Center at OSU.  Such great educators have filled this space, their legacy woos me back into  writing.  The back walls are lined with tall dark bookshelves.  Picture books with worn covers spill out of the shelves while chapter books lean haphazardly against each other, waiting to be picked up and lingered over.  Our tables meet up in a rectangle, allowing all of us to participate in conversation.  We each come with our preferred writing needs...spiral bound notebooks, computers, tablets, stacks of books, pens and pencils.  So much to savor.

Time and choice open up new possibilities.  Two hours to write?  To write about anything I want? I've craved time to write about what I want to write.

Two. Whole. Hours.

Anything. I. Want.

Right away, I can feel myself unwind, and energy begins to seep into my being.    Writing brings me joy.  It brings me comfort.  It allows me to explore my thinking.  I  use it to sort through my feelings and confusions.  Writing fills a space for me like no other.

And then there are the people.  Each person answers the call to write and to be there for the other writers.  The people provide the gift of connection.    We are a community of teachers who write.  We give each other feedback.  We ask questions.  We cheer each other on and we think about our young writers back at school.  We learn not only from our own writing, but from the others as well.

Our 3 day retreat at Kenyon College begins to build community.

This week I celebrate the Columbus Area Writing Project and the people who come to learn and write every day.  Thank you Ruth Ayres for providing this space to share our celebrations.  Please visit Ruth's site to read about other celebrations. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Don't Blink

Wasn't it just yesterday?  Our old station wagon was filled to the brink with not one bit of room to spare for our camping adventure to the east coast.

We were prepared for our long drive...
books checked out of the library
snacks to be doled out in increments
surprise bags to keep little hands busy
planned pit stops to let little legs run around and stretch
And the memories...
wild horses running on the island
s'mores around the campfire
riding bikes on the trails
sleeping bags crammed around the pack-n-play inside the tent
catching fireflies
keeping Annie from toddling into the campfire
keeping Zach from bulldozing into the campfire
keeping Molly from being the boss of the campfire

Peals of laughter and gasps of amazement filled our days.

Fast forward 20 years.

We are no longer needed for the planning or the packing.
Three siblings
Best of friends
Headed for the trip of a lifetime touring
The sights of Europe
New memories
Lasting memories
Of new and exciting adventures
All on their own.

Our hearts fill with pride and joy
To see our children, all grown up
Ready to face the world

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Head over to their site to read other slice of life stories.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

What I Know To Be True

Today I join Ruth Ayres and other bloggers to celebrate the good things that are happening.  Please visit Ruth's site to join the celebration.

The stress has been palatable this week in Room 204.  State testing begins next week.  This will also be the first year that we take the test online instead of using paper and pencil.  As we prepared this week, I began by asking my students, "How is reading for the test different than the kind of reading we do for pleasure or when we are researching?"

Right away, the room was abuzz with conversation.  I quickly began to chart their thinking.

Reading for the Test

  • It can be nerve wracking.
  • The paragraphs are numbered.
  • We have to go back and reread to find answers.
  • We get timed.
  • We have to choose the best answer for multiple choice questions.
  • We don't get to pick what we read.
  • We have to answer the test questions, not our own questions.
These last two stood out for me, because they speak to choice.  There is no choice when taking the test.  This is the complete opposite of what goes on in our classroom.  All year long, our students have been given choice.  They choose what they research. They ask their own questions.  They choose what they want to read.  They choose their goals. They choose how to respond to their reading.  They choose if they are going to read and write digitally or traditionally.

In a brief moment of weakness, I began to question myself.  Have I done a disservice to our students by not doing more contrived activities that mimic test taking?  Are they going to be prepared for the test?   As soon as the questions surfaced, I cringed.  Everything about those questions goes against what I believe to be true about educating children.  My job is not to create test takers.  My job is to give students opportunities to learn and find joy through reading and writing.  My most important work is to support my students in being curious and finding their way as learners.

Today I celebrate choice because...

  • H excitedly shared with me that for the first time, she finished a book this year.  At this time, she's read several books and is finding who she is as a reader.
  • Book clubs spring up without any involvement from me or my co-teacher.  Readers with similar interests are finding each other.
  • Graphic novels have hooked several of our readers who thought they didn't like to read.  Even my co-teacher found out that she likes them.
  • R discovered that poetry isn't so bad.  :)
  • Writing groups are forming as students with similar interests research topics and create digital compositions.
  • Real conversations are occurring about important topics that students initiate.
  • Parents are asking what we're doing...their kids are reading without a fight at home.
I believe with all my heart that having choice as a foundation in our classroom is what will bring success to our students.  They will use what they've learned this year to do their best over the next several weeks of testing.  I'll be glad when it's done so we can put it behind us and get back to what we know is best for kids and let them get back to the business of learning.  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Poetry and Art

I am joining Two Writing Teachers in the March Slice of Life Challenge.  Please visit their site to read other Slice of Life stories.

Poetry and art on a field trip?  I can't think of anything better.  What a wonderful day we had.  Our fifth graders visited the Columbus Art Museum today to see beautiful art and explore poetry writing.  We each received a blank book and a pencil.  As the docent led us around, we stopped at different pieces of art to wonder and imagine and write.  The kids' words poured out onto the page.   Kids who usually don't share much in class became prolific poets and were eager to share their creations.  And our docent was the best.  As it got closer and closer to the time to leave, she said, "Oh, I have to show you just one more thing."  She said that THREE times.  Yes, we were one of the last ones to get back to the bus, but it was worth it.  Tomorrow, we will take our poems and create our own art to go with them.