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.  

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.