Sunday, October 2, 2016

Hey, That Gives Me An Idea

I am cross posting with Ruth Ayres Celebration Link-up and Margaret Simon's DigiLit Sunday being hosted by Julianne Harmatz this week.  I invite you to check in with each of these blogs to read how others are celebrating and conferring with students.

There is nothing better than being invited to teach beside another teacher in writing workshop.  This last week, I've been privileged to work alongside three different third grade teachers.  In two of the classes, we are learning about blogging and preparing for their first blogs.  In another class we are working together to discover where writers get ideas and created heart maps.  In all three classes, I was able to confer with students.

In his latest podcast, Ralph Fletcher reminds us that as we get writing workshop up and running, teachers should act as hosts.  We want our students to feel welcome and successful.  This philosophy goes right along with that of the National Writing Project.  One of the greatest lessons I learned from my summer institute was the answer was always, "Yes!"  It didn't matter what teachers wanted to write about, the answer was, "yes." Teachers are given ownership of their writing and that's exactly what I want to do for the students I work with.

On Friday morning, I sat on the carpet with a handful of students who were having a difficult time thinking about what they wanted to write about in their blog post.  The rest of the room buzzed with focused talk about a variety of topics as students bent over their writing pieces.  As we sat on the floor together, I could see glints of anxiety in their eight year-old eyes.  Oh, I've been there...not knowing what to write about while everyone else was scribbling or typing away.  It's not a good feeling.

I began with about 8 kids sitting around me.  I prompted with  simple questions, "What are you interested in?  What do you like to do when you aren't at school?"  With each answer, I worked to expand some ideas...

Football? Could you write about an exciting game you played?  Could you write about a favorite football player?  Could you write about what you need to do to prepare to play football?

Artist?  Could you write a post about how to create something?  Could you write about one of  your favorite projects?  Could you write about how you learned to do a certain kind of art.

One by one, ideas were sparked and I heard, "Hey, that gives me an idea!" more than once.

Eventually, there were three students left. We decided that we would all help each other so that no one was left sitting on the carpet by herself.  It was here that I decided to step back and let the girls take over asking the questions.  They easily modeled the type of questions I had asked previously, and before we knew it, all three students were ready to write.

As the teachers and I circulated around the room, we bent down to check in with kids, encouraging them, and showing our excitement over their writing.  We were the hosts welcoming new writers into the workshop, making them feel appreciated and excited about the work they were doing.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Celebrating New Learning

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for providing this space for sharing our celebrations and the Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.

A funny thing has happened as my role has changed again...reading support teacher (no longer in the classroom), literacy coach in a building that is trying to figure out how to support vertical teams, and a new Ph.D. student.  I'm not sure what my message is anymore.  Which lens do I write through in this new phase of my life?  Coach?  Reading teacher?  Middle-aged graduate student?  Mother? Wife? Friend?

As I try to sort through all of it, I realize that the lens I can use and still stay true to each of these roles is that of a learner.  My head spins with all of the new learning that is going on in my life right now and that's what I'd like to celebrate.  And it's not just my new learning, but also what I gain from my different learning communities.

The foundation of that learning lies in the work I'm doing at OSU.  My instructor, Dr. Laurie Katz is a master teacher.  I learn so much from her just by watching her teaching moves.  She approaches her teaching from a strength based philosophy and we work together to construct knowledge in this class.  She acknowledges that the work we are doing is difficult, but assures us that it will get easier and that we will figure it out together.  She is respectful, validating and supportive.  She is one more model I hold up in my coaching work, because that is who I want to be as I work with teachers in my building.

I've found that working on the patio makes this new academic reading a little easier.  

We have a group of teachers in our building who are diving into blogging, which has me so excited.  For some, it's their first try, for others, they've blogged in the past with their students, but want to take the next steps.  I am looking forward to conversations around connecting with others outside our classroom walls and around digital literacy.  I know that some of them feel overwhelmed and in over their heads, but they are willing to be uncomfortable in order to extend their learning.  We will learn together and move at a pace that fits their needs.  I am especially grateful to this learning community because I miss  having my own classroom to dive into digital literacy and all the learning that comes with that.

Our reading support has been reconfigured this year, which is giving us the opportunities for new conversations. How do we best support our neediest learners when we have fewer resources?  What can look like a huge hurdle has actually opened us up to think creatively and outside the box.  The math coach and I are having some important discussions around kids in different communities where we've been invited.  We are scheduling visits to other kindergarten classrooms at our sister school to continue conversations around literacy.  Again, more learning together and being open to new ideas.  There's the understanding that what we try may not work and if it doesn't, we will try something new.

A trip to the zoo with A and D

And then there is the learning in my personal life.  I never know if this is the place for me to write about it, but it's such a big part of me and my thinking around others, that I can't not write about it.  I spent Saturday morning with a family that I hold very close and dear to my heart.  The parents of the girls we fostered last year have opened their hearts to us and for that I am eternally grateful.  But the lessons are difficult for me because I can't fix their hard lives for them.  So what I learn is that what I can offer is arms and a shoulder for a fearful and unsure mother who loves her children with all her might, but her own background of a hard life makes parenting difficult.  Jumping in and washing dishes and taking littles ones outside for walk can soothe a mother's jangled nerves and allow her to see a little hope in the day.  Frozen vanilla lattes with whipped cream can bring a smile to tear stained face.  I am learning new lessons every day about poverty, drug abuse, recovery, and healing from abusive childhoods.  My eyes have been opened to horrors that I had only read about, but are now real to me and yet I know, that I really don't know.  This learning is not the exciting learning described above, but it just as important.  It's easy to think about what they don't have and feeling bad that I can't snap my fingers and fix it.  So, I refocus on the strengths I see...a family who loves each other fiercely, a mom who wants her kids to have a better life than the one she's had, a mom who's willing to be vulnerable and admit she needs help and reaches out instead of pulling into herself and falling back into bad habits, children who are energetic, loving, a little ornery, and full of curiosity.

My life is rich and full of new learning, and that is something to celebrate!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Celebrating Real Writing

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for inviting us to share our celebrations.  Even in the most trying of weeks, it's refreshing to find the shining moments that sustain us to keep moving forward.

As the reading support teacher and literacy coach in my building, I get to talk to a lot of kids and teachers.  It's one of the things I love most about my job.  Some of those conversations pop up at the most unexpected times as well...

As I was opening ketchup packets and yogurt tubes during first grade lunch duty, a little girl looked up at me and smiled shyly.  "Thank you for commenting on our blog," she said to me.  I brightened immediately.

"I loved your blog," I told her and the others at her table.  "It's so fun to read about all the great learning you are doing in school."

Her friend sitting next to her jumped in next, bouncing on the long wooden bench as she said,. "We have some questions we need to ask.  We get to write the next blog post all by ourselves.  M's mom wrote in colors.  We are wondering how she did that, so we are going to put that in our blog.   Someone else wrote in big letters.  We don't know how they did that either. That's going to be another one of our questions."

There is nothing I love more than seeing kids be excited about reading and writing.  I marveled at the important lessons their teacher was imparting:

  • Writers write for a real audience.
  • That audience extends beyond our classroom walls.
  • Writers (and researchers) ask questions when they want to learn more.
  • Writers reach out to experts to get those answers.  Sometimes those experts are our parents or even other kids in our class.
  • These young writers have been empowered to make decisions about the message they want to share with their audience.  In addition, their teacher trusts them to create that message on their own.  She'll be there to support them as they learn the conventions of print, just as she would if they were composing on chart paper.
  • Writing is purposeful.
  • Writing is meaningful and fun!
Sure enough, the next day, I received a message from Mrs. Cochran that her students had published another blog.  

If you have a chance to visit their blog and leave a comment, I'm sure that they would love it.  Which means, we'll have lots more to talk about on Monday at lunch.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Raising Student Voices

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  This is a space to share our thinking about how we use digital reading and writing in our classrooms.  I invite you to visit her site to read what others are thinking and doing.

I believe with all I've got, that giving students the opportunity to express themselves digitally, gives them possibilities to raise their voices that they might not have using traditional means.  Students who tell themselves that they can't write discover that when the definition of writing expands to include a variety of digital composition, they can indeed write.  They begin to see themselves in a new light and their confidence grows.

I see it in their content.
I see it in the visuals they choose.
I see it in how they decide to publish their work.
I see it in their layout.
I see it in how their writing evolves and grows throughout the school year.
I see it in how they can talk about intentional decisions they make as writers and digital composers.

One thing I've learned is that the thinking behind some of their purposeful decisions isn't always evident to the casual observer.  I'v learned that it's important to have those conversations and ask them "why?"  I find that there is always some reason behind the final product.

What makes that difference?  Why does giving them digital opportunities allow them more freedom in how they express themselves?  How do digital tools help our students take risks and gain confidence?  How do digital tools allow our quieter students to get their voices "out there?"

These are questions I ponder and want to study.  I want to learn more about how digital tools help our students amplify their voices.  I will be putting on my "learner hat" and sharing what I learn as the year goes on.

Kiley shares her One Little Word.

Elisabeth created a survey for fellow students to complete.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How Lucky Am I?

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Please visit their site to read other Slice of Life stories and leave some comment love.

Our superintendent is a visionary.  He has asked the elementary schools in our district to "re-vision" what elementary school might look like.  Who wouldn't love that challenge?  I don't know how many times I've said, "If only I could create my own school.  I would..."  We began the process by looking at what was working in our present educational system and what we wanted to change.  Ideas flowed back and forth.

Understanding the importance of community and wanting to strengthen relationships across grade levels, our principal proposed we restructure ourselves into vertical learning communities.  Together, our staff built a vision of what that might look like.  We have four learning communities: one community consists of K-1, and the other three consist of grades 2 through 5.   The principal also knew that in order to make this work, the schedule had to be tweaked.  Her next smart idea...a fourth special.  This year, our kids will have music, art, PE AND STEM.

This configuration allows our staff to work together to do an even better job of personalizing education for our students.  Learning communities are planning experiences where students will work across grade levels based on student interests and passions.   Teachers will collaborate as they look at kids across grade levels. Together we will build our knowledge and skill base on how to better meet the needs of each community as a whole, instead of looking at just a grade level, or even just a classroom of students.  Each teacher in the community has a stake in every single child.   Relationships between students of different ages will be strengthened as they get to know each other better.

I am amazed at what I see happening in our school.  Almost everyone moved their classrooms so that communities are housed together in the same hall.  Moving your classroom is HARD work.  Everyone pitched in to help.  Teachers are working with new colleagues.  Some are teaching new grade levels and new subjects.  Every single person is taking a risk in one way or another.  The change has breathed new life into our school.  The excitement and energy are palpable.  I am so excited for the new possibilities and opportunities that await both our students and our entire staff.  This will be a year of trying new things and learning from our experiences as we work together.

The key word here is together.  We know we can't do it alone.  Together we will build something that is indeed, a "re-vision" of what elementary school can be.

I will continue to document our journey on this blog.  I can't wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Learning the Craft

My husband and I are tiling our backsplash this weekend.  Neither one of us has done this kind of job before, which means that basically, neither one of us knows what we're doing.  How do we prepare the walls? What tools do we need?  What techniques will we need to master in order to be successful and have a beautiful finished product that we can be proud of?

These questions aren't that much different from the ones I ask myself as I start a new school year and I think about helping students begin to make purposeful decisions about crafting their own digital compositions.  What foundational tools are students going to need in order to create?  What skills do they need?  What mentors can we learn from?

My husband and I went right away to the experts.  We started by watching YouTube tutorials about tiling walls.  We rewound sections to study them more carefully and in some cases, even watched entire videos several times.  We took notes on the supplies we needed.  We talked to people who had tiling experience.  We wanted to learn more from the masters.

This intentional study of craft is what I want for students as well.  As we begin the school year, we will study mentors to learn more about digital composition.  Just as I do when immersing students in a new genre study, I will create a chart for us to complete as we dig into our digital mentors.  Our chart has these major headings along the top:

Title (Website/Video/Image)

What Do We Notice


Other Examples

I will gather mentors, both those published on the web, as well as those published by former students.  I think it's important that we hold our students' work up as examples too.  It is empowering for our students to see work done by someone just like them.  Together, we will learn from the experts and students will try new things in their own compositions.  It is this apprenticeship in crafting that I find most fascinating in digital composition.  It is here that I see students take risks, share their thinking, and learn from each other.  It is here that I see students grow.

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sundays.  Please visit her site to read how others are using technology in their reading and writing workshops.

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.