Don't forget to join us for the Paramus Summer Institutes on Reading and Writing this July! You'll get to see the authors of these books! For more information, go to http://goo.gl/C5hwbE.
Inquiry. Content area reading. Essential questions. Choice. Agency. Curiosity. Nonfiction synthesis. These words fly around our minds so much these days. Recently, through working in two great 1st Grade classrooms, I got to experience how all of this can come together, following the steps listed here.
Students then generated questions they wondered about. The questions I used to model were, "How do hippopotamuses breathe underwater?" and "How do animals communicate?" These curious kids had lots of great things they wondered about.
Our next essential teaching move was to move their very specific wonderings into more general essential questions. One surefire way to do that is to take the words in the question that are specific and replace them with words that are general. For example, in my question about the hippo. we changed the name of the animal to the word animal? It now read How do animals breathe underwater? This worked for most questions, but not all. For example, How do frogs ribbit? became How do animals ribbit? So we had to think about what ribbit is an example of? This then became, How do animals talk?
Students then sorted the questions, categorizing them into what we called "chapter titles," and eventually turned them into essential questions (non-Googleable questions that usually start with how or why) that can guide them in their reading throughout the unit. This graphic strategizes how kids can turn these categories into essential questions.
Once these questions are posted, kids can start reading, all the while thinking about these questions. As they find answers, they can post them under the question, and link up answers to synthesize and talk.
This is a messy post, but thinking and inquiry and learning are all messy ventures. Be brave enough to try it out. You'll see retention of information, excitement about reading, and depth of thinking grow, because you took that chance!
Thank you to Kristen Greco, Cherylin Zotollo, and Meredith Rampone for sharing this learning with me!!!
What are you ready for? If we're teachers, it's a question we ask our students when they set goals. If we're coaches or leaders, it's a question we ask our teachers when we coach or observe them. If we're any of these, or if we're learners at heart, it's a question we ask ourselves all the time! What are we ready for? After more than a decade of living in the world of level-based reading, we're ready to start thinking of how to find a balance to using the knowledge of reading levels and combining that with the importance of student choice and agency that sometimes comes with reading books that don't necessarily match the independent reading level at which we've assessed a student.
Let's look at where we came from...In the early days of reading workshop, students really read books they chose to read, because they loved them. They were interested in authors, themes, genre. Kids loved reading these books, but they didn't always get what they needed to out of them. Mismatched readers sometimes pick up bad habits, habits which can sometimes lead to gaps in growth and understanding. I don't get this passage. Let me skip ahead...Not sure what this word is. I'll just ignore it.
Using the theoretical basis of Allington and the many resources available through Fountas and Pinnell, we began leveling our libraries, trying to match books to readers. We became more responsible about not letting students read texts that were too hard for them. Armed with checklists of skills, sometimes we found that our conferences were sounding less and less like readerly conversations and more like scripted lessons. What other impact did this have?
Some readers became embarrassed about the books they read, because they seemed easier than those of their friends. Some kids walked around making statements like, "I'm an H," or "I can't wait for my teacher to test me, so I can finally be a P." Child study teams refuse to evaluate students, just because they're reading on grade level. Parents pressure teachers to reassess their children so they can get to the next level, wearing it with the same pride as some sort of varsity letter, all while accidentally exposing their children to content that may be inappropriate. Teachers base their SGO's on student reading levels in some sort of race to the top that, if done too quickly, can leave gaps in skills. And what's lost? The ownership that's such a big part of living a readerly life...one of the biggest parts of the reader's workshop philosophy.
So this is not meant to be a pendulum post, where we say we're going the totally opposite way. There is great benefit to knowing students' reading levels, and teaching skills responsibly. But how do we use this information with a sense of balance, as just a part of our teaching? How do we keep kids from losing that loving feeling when they read their books? What are some practical ways to balance the art of loving reading and the science of teaching with skills in mind?
This post is instead meant to be the start of a conversation that many are having. It's not a black-and-white decision of either we know kids' levels or we give them choice. Please join this conversation by commenting here and helping us figure this out. It will help many teachers and leaders shape their values and align them to their practices. It will help many students rekindle their love of reading while they continue to grow the important muscles they need.
It's what we're ready for!
How Did You Do That? is a guest post by Kim Clancey, a 2nd Grade teacher in Paramus who I learn so much from every time I see her teach. Kim teaches at our summer institutes, and it's just amazing to see where she gently nudges her students in terms of the depth of their thinking.
This post is reminiscent to me of Katherine Bomer's Essay, "With an Air of Expectancy" from The Teacher You Want to Be (Heinemann 2015). It's about much more than just expectation...it's about expectancy, knowing that something amazing is about to happen, and feeling excited about it. Christopher Emdin recently tweeted, "You cannot teach someone you do not believe in." Kim's post has this air of expectancy, and the wonder that happens when you find the awe in what you'll see.
How’d You Do That?
How’d you do that? This is a question I find myself asking young learners more and more these days. How’d you do that? I ask, primarily because I have forgotten. I have forgotten how I do things, things that I need to teach others to do. How do I summarize a chapter, how do I form a big idea on a character, how do I decide what is important when I read or write, how do I make inferential decisions on the actions of a character? How do I do these things and many others that I need to teach my students to do, without really stepping backwards and showing them the HOW and rather just the HERE IT IS.
My mother in law is a great cook of Thanksgiving dinner and when I cooked my first one, I asked her that question, “How do you do it?” “I don’t really have any recipes,” she replied, “I just do it”. And that is what much of my teaching had been, just showing students the final thinking stage, “so my idea is….” without stopping to think, “How’d I do that?”
I do not think I am alone with this conundrum. Many adults have forgotten how we do things, how we think, we just do it. But our young learners are looking for that recipe, that How To, and it is this thinking part of my instruction that I have been delving deeper into. Recently I watched my youngest son reading a book with a pen in his hand. As I am always working to help young readers understand why readers write during reading, I asked him that question, “What are you doing with the pen while you read?” He explained to me that he underlines things he wants to remember, such as names, things that he finds interesting, and things he thinks are worth discussing (although he is in no book club with this book, just reading on his own.) Similarly, I find that the best thing to do when working with a student who does something amazing when reading or writing is to ask them, “How’d you do that?” And equally as important, “Why did you do it?” Having just learned it themselves, they are better able (and often very excited), to be teaching me the steps in their thinking before they forget the HOW themselves. Sort of like being able to hear Santa’s bell in The Polar Express, as we get older we cannot hear it anymore and we need a child to help us hear it again.
It is this “teaching to think”, in all subject areas and throughout the entire day, which teachers need to teach. And often it involves some deep thinking, relearning, and conversations with others about HOW we do it. It is not the final product that should be modeled and shown as an example of student expectations, but rather the process that we take to get there.
So next time you find yourself working with a young learner who says or does something remarkable, something you need to teach others to do, stop and ask them, “How’d you do that?” Perhaps it will help you remember what you may have forgotten and just how hard being a thinker and learner can be.
Due to the snowstorm, today's launching workshop of the Teacher Leader Project at Barnes & Noble in Paramus is postponed.
Applications for the Littogether Teacher Leader Project will be accepted through December 22nd. Regular blog posts will be coming soon!
Do you ever feel like learning (whether for kids or for us) just isn't relevant? You can now help be a part of the solution. Join the Littogether Teacher Leader Project to learn about ways to make learning relevant in literacy, STEM, and other parts of the day! We're so excited about the variety of offerings both in content and in location.
Study groups meet three times each between January and May for two hours. The facilitators are volunteering their time, so we ask that if you sign up that you show up, and that you somehow use what you learn to support your colleagues in your own school.
You can sign up for as many groups as you'd like to on the attached form! If you have questions, please call or email on the addresses found on the application.
Learning is a lonely profession, much less lonely when we work together!
Return of the Jedi!
The Last Crusade!
The Bourne Ultimatum!
These are all famous Part 3's!
Tune in next week for another in the series--Year 3 of the Littogether Teacher Leader Project! Yes, coming to a school near you...after school workshops on good teaching, for FREE!
This year's theme is relevance in our teaching. It's brought to you by teachers, coaches, and principals in schools all over New Jersey (and possibly beyond!) There will be workshops for Kindergarten through Grade 12 (yes, Grade 12!) with some of the most dedicated teachers around. There will be sites in Northern, Central, and Southern New Jersey about best practices in literacy, technology, and other areas.
Stay tuned to this blog for more information after Halloween...no tricks, all treats!
A large part of engagement for students (and for us as well!) is curiosity. How can someone be really into learning if they don't wonder about things? This year, many of our teachers have taken on the study of curiosity to learn more about how to pique it.
During one of our study groups, some of our teachers decided to do an experiment. They went into a 4th Grade classroom, and showed the students two pictures. One was an ordinary, conventional picture of an apple that has a bite taken out of it. The other was unusual...a house on top of a rock on top of a lake.
We projected the picture of the apple, and asked students to write down what they were thinking. The answers tended to be one of four types: observational (Someone took a bite out of an apple.), personal connection (There is an apple. I love apples.), curious (I wonder who bit that apple.), or creative (There was an old lady who took a bite out of an apple...)
Next, we did the same with the unconventional picture of the house on the lake, and the answers neatly landed in the same four categories.
These four categories seemed to be on a continuum from most concrete to abstract, so we wanted to see if kids' answers were the same in both instances. We plotted these answers.
The students in the gray boxes going up the diagonal had the same type of answer both times (observational/observational, curious/curious, etc.), showing that kids might be apt to have one mode of thinking that's comfortable for the same assignment, and that their minds may have been sort of set on one mode.
The students whose answers were above the diagonal and more creative answers with the unconventional picture. This was a very small sample size, so we'd have to do more and more trials of this to see if it holds true consistently, but it seems to show that since there were more there than on the opposite side, the more unconventional setting yielded more curious, creative, abstract thinking.
So what's the moral of the story? One is that some kids feel more ready to think abstractly, while others are more concrete. This might be developmental or because of experiences. However, (we suppose) it's teachable. The other is that the more out-of-the-box, creative our teaching is, the more likely we might be to make our kids do the same.
Are you curious about curiosity? There are great books out right now about this topic. Try out the same experiment with students you know. We're going to try it with younger students, and we're also trying figure out if there was a pattern to kids' answers and what we know about them. Stay tuned, and comment if you have more ideas about this curious topic!
During the last year, we've been studying the tricky work of moving kids (and ourselves) to become more and more engaged with our work. As Csikszentmihalyi tells us, flow is the feeling of absolute joy that overtakes us when we are engaged in an act that matters to us. How do we get there?
About 100 teachers, coaches, and principals decided to study this up close. We each chose an activity that kids need to do (homework, working together, reading a book, etc.) and thought of students who landed in each of the four categories found on the chart above: Non-compliance (refusing to do it), Compliance (doing the minimal necessary requirement), Congagement (a made-up word that's a little bit more than compliance), and Engagement (loving doing the activity).
We then looked at patterns in how we knew the student fit into that category and found certain trends. Here's what we found.
1. CHOICE MATTERS. Having autonomy over the task mattered. When kids have a say in some of the parameters of what they'll do (which book they'll read, deciding on content or structure of writing, anything really!), they tend to be further to the right on this continuum. Please note there is a fine line of difference between choice and choices. Choice is much more open-ended, and students get to make important decisions about the big picture. Choices are set by the teacher, and while it's nice to give kids the final say in which they'll choose, ownership can only be partly theirs if the teacher is saying, "You'll have to choose from my list."
2. SKILL MATTERS. When you're able to do something with ease, it's easier to feel engaged with it. So in order to move kids further toward engagement, we need to bump up their skills within that area. Skill remediation and early successes will help engage kids in whatever the work is.
3. GROWTH MINDSET MATTERS. Of course, when students see struggle as a positive part of a larger journey, they're able to become engaged. They're not concerned with their first failure, because they see it as a chance to improve. We can support this by using words like, "We're not quite there yet," "What part of this works for you and what part you still working on?" or "Which is the greatest challenge and how will we work on that?"
4. SMALL STEPS. Usually, people go up this scale one step at a time. If someone is non-compliant with something like doing homework, we have to work toward compliance, and then congagement, and then engagement. This will take time, and usually people go up one step at a time.
5. THIS IS ABOUT US, TOO. Teachers and principals are this, too. Admittedly, I'm non-compliant about cleaning my desk (I don't see it's immediate value, sorry!), compliant with paperwork (I'll do what I have to do to not be in trouble), congaged with school security (This is very, very important, but not my true love), and engaged with all things learning (Nothing matters more!) We should identify ourselves in all of these categories to continue to grow and grow.
6. IMPOSING NUMBERS WILL LEAD TO COMPLIANCE. The good news: imposing numbers will lead to compliance. Students who are non-compliant about anything (reading for long enough, writing about their reading, etc.) will become compliant when you place a number on it (read for 30 minutes, use 2 post-it's, practice math facts for 10 minutes). The bad news: imposing numbers will lead to compliance. Yes, sometimes students who are already engaged will slip back to compliance, because they might only read for 20 minutes, write only 2 post-it's, practice math for only 10 minutes. Impose numbers and rules as a matter of differentiation to keep everyone growing.
When we want kids (and colleagues) to grow in their engagement, let's think about what we know about it. It will help us bring back that loving feeling to learning!
You need a learner's soul, a teacher's heart, a coach's mind, and a principal's hand!