Are you a school leader or literacy coach in New Jersey, looking for like-minded colleagues? Are you interested in joining a quickly growing learning network--a learning family of over 200 leaders and coaches? Do you want to do this for FREE??
It's HERE!! Join the fun and the learning from July 15 to 18 in Paramus!
A sneak peek at our Paramus Summer Institute Catalog...Registration opens very soon!! Take a look at some of our terrific offerings for first year and returning participants.
Rethinking the End!
If you think about learning as a linear process, something with a beginning, middle, and end, there are parts that traditional teaching has, well, traditionally placed at the end. However, if we want to maximize the impact of our teaching, we might be better suited starting them sooner!
1. Feedback (from the teacher): Feedback doesn't always mean grades. Vicki Vinton talks about something called post-mortem assessment here. All too often, we wait until a student finishes a project before giving feedback, when we could improve the overall learning by providing it along the way. When students only learn ways they could have done a better job when it's impossible to go back and use this advice, they only end up feeling defeated. By providing feedback along the way, we also boost up the parts of their work that are strong, and allow them to build on them.
Of course, this happens in our reading and writing conferences, but imagine if we used the same thinking across other work kids do: in other subject areas, on long-term assignments, or when they're learning in the moment.
Imagine the power of receiving feedback from your own evaluator in the moment, instead of waiting until after your observation was over. How empowering that is! There is more of a chance that you will improve the weaker areas of your work or build on your strengths if you have feedback in the moment.
For more on feedback in the moment, read this article from Ed Kennedy.
2. Feedback (from partners): Traditionally, we allow students to work with their partners at the end of the workshop time. Imagine that a student has needed help all throughout the time he or she was reading a chapter or writing an essay. So instead of a very rigid partner schedule, you may want to integrate a more fluid partner time setting to allow kids the chance to turn to one another for guidance throughout the workshop period. Of course, as with all things involving student choice, you can make sure students are making responsible choices about the way they use their time (hey, there's in-the-moment feedback from you once again!)
Of course, this also covers the idea of partners talking to one another. Partner conversation can be very powerful if we mix it into the middle of the learning. Sometimes, if we wait until the end, kids won't be able to support one another with ideas on what they might do or how they might do it, because it's too late.
3. Writing about Reading (or about anything!) Sometimes, we ask students to read, and then write down their thoughts about what they read. Wasn't this one of the problems with old-school book reports? Writing so that the teacher will know that I read implies certain things: it implies that the teacher doesn't believe that I read, or that I understand what I read. It also implies that I read so that I can write. So often, writing about reading (or science, or math, or anything!) can help clarify our thinking while we're in the midst of the process, not just assessing our thinking afterward. So many great thoughts may escape us if we're not given the chance to have them while we read (or learn anything!)
Writing to learn is a very important activity that helps grow (not just show!) ideas as we work. How often do we jot while we work on anything to get our thoughts straight? It can help you figure out the directions of where you're driving, or how you'll cook, or assemble Ikea furniture. We really don't build the furniture, and then write about it, do we?
For more great resources on writing to learn, check out this link. You can also see how one school used it to transform their learning right here.
4. Reflecting: When we pause to ask questions like, "How did I do with that?" we can get great information on our process. Sometimes, it's too late to do that after the process is over. We can teach our students (and ourselves) to always have our reflection hats on all throughout the process, to evaluate the process as we move on, not after it's over.
We can teach our students questions like, "What am I learning?" "How is this going for me?" "Will I get where I want to be by continuing on?" "What can I change to make this learning better?" Why would we wait until we're done to re-evaluate our work?
5. Revising and Editing: Sometimes, we tell kids not to worry about things like spelling or revising until they're done. That's good, because it helps speed up their production. However, sometimes kids take that to mean that they shouldn't care about quality until the end. We might instead ask them to do something called one-second revision or one-second editing while they write, meaning they should try to do revision or editing that can be done quickly so it doesn't inhibit their flow.
If the quality of the writing is better, because kids have done quick revising as they write, or if there are fewer mistakes to fix in the end because of quick editing, they can engage in deeper revision at the very end of the process, making for an even better product!
When we think of these items that have traditionally come at the end of the learning process, and add them throughout the middle of our learning, it makes the middle so much richer...and the resulting work will be so much better in the end!
We are so excited to present COMMUNITY LEARNING DAYS!
These are workshops offered throughout the year that will support best practices in literacy learning with some of the best and brightest presenters who are locally, nationally, and internationally renowned!
Speakers will include Christopher Lehman and Chantal Francois of the Educator Collaborative, Dr. Mary Howard, the author of many books on supporting striving readers and leader of the online Good to Great community, Vicki Vinton, internationally renowned speaker on reading comprehension, Karen Caine, author of an upcoming book on using peer response to support young writers, and Hannah Schneewind, formerly of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and Litlife Connecticut!
For more information, see the link below. Registration is open until October 31st. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity for high-quality, low-cost professional development in Northern New Jersey.
For more information, please see the link below.
My New Year's Reading List
Happy New Year! Matt Renwick whose blog, Reading By Example serves as a resource for teachers and principals alike, writes that he used to close the door to his office when engaging in professional reading. He's since rethought this notion, instead inviting others to see that he is a public learner. He wants others to see that he reads to grow his practice. I'd like to share my own to-read list with you in hopes that you'll do the same!
Engaging Children by Ellin Keene was 6 years in the making. It's filled with Ellin's stories of her own engagement and the wonder that comes with it. In this text, she reimagines how we can ignite the wonder of learning for students in Grades K-8 to move beyond just passively participating in the classroom to levels of engagement and even empowerment, where they take what they've learned beyond the classroom's walls.
Debbie Miller's new What's the Best That Could Happen? is structured in the form of 5 essential questions that explore what we could do if we thought about truly student-driven instruction in our classrooms. She concludes that we'd ultimately find greater enjoyment and buy-in from our students and ourselves! She has examples from real classrooms, told with her own storyteller voice.
In Kids First From Day One, Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz pick up where A Mindset for Learning leaves off. This book is set in four parts, and helps teachers align their values with their practices. Verbalizing what you believe in will help you enact it in a much stronger way. The beliefs outlined in this book all lead you to a truly student-driven classroom (one step beyond student-centered), where kids really help determine the direction you'll take in your teaching and learning.
Developing Numerical Fluency helps you imagine how a whole school can embrace mathematical thinking. The authors of this book redefine what fluency is...the ability to choose flexibly among strategies to solve problems. They also talk about the importance of making mistakes in solving problems, as this is what gives kids the ability to take risks in their learning, while also providing a window for teachers to gain insight into kids' process. A must read!
I can't wait for Pam Koutrakos' Word Study That Sticks to arrive. Word study is not about spelling lists, or programs, or memorization. It's an integration of many technical skills into the larger picture of reading and writing. In this book, Pam will unlock teaching moves that don't reflect any one particular program, but best practices that will make kids think in terms of patterns that they'll apply into what they read and write. I can't wait!
Finally, Beyond Literary Analysis explores the idea of boosting engagement in secondary writers by teaching them to write analyses about things they love. Rumor has it that kids like video games, sports, and music among many other things. The authors teach students to analyze things they love before moving them into writing analysis of texts they love, eventually leading them to writing about tough texts when they're ready. It's high school! It's choice and engagement! I can't wait to finish it!
This is a partial list of the books I'm diving into. Splurge. Give yourself the gift of learning by buying a new professional text today.
Then share it here! (More coming soon!)
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 in Nonfiction Reading
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!!!
Rethinking Reading Levels
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'd You Do That?...A Guest Post
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.
You need a learner's soul, a teacher's heart, a coach's mind, and a principal's hand!