Due to the snowstorm, today's launching workshop of the Teacher Leader Project at Barnes & Noble in Paramus is postponed.
Teacher Leader Deadline Extended
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!
In Search of Engagement
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!
About Kathleen Tolan
What did you teach? These were the words Kathleen Tolan pushed us with at the end of every reading conference. Yes, it's easy to say nice things throughout a conference with a child. Sometimes, it's easy to be clouded in the complex acts of reading and teaching and say too many things, because there is so much to say when you're emotionally involved (like I am right now!)
However, Kathleen's words, "What did you teach?" ring true for me in every interaction I try to have today. What meaning does your life as a teacher, as a friend, as a person have? How will this person you just interacted with remember you and feel better, because they spent these moments with you?
People call her mentor. Teacher. Friend. She was all of these, but unless you knew her, at least from a distance, you don't really know that these words on their own don't really capture who she was. She was just our "Kathleen." Larger than life, she could laugh and carry you along with it. She taught us, she pushed us, she made us laugh, she upset us, her observations made us nervous, but we always knew we'd learn so much! We wanted to do our best, because she was there, holding us to high standards we didn't believe we could reach, but she believed we could.
She leaves behind a legacy of having helped millions of kids find meaning in their lives through reading. She leaves behind a legacy of hundreds of thousands of teachers who are more empowered to make the world a better place for kids because of all she's taught them. We can each strive to do just a shadow of that. If we make that our aim, we answer Kathleen's question, "What did you teach?" so much more than naming a teaching point in a conference...it means we leave behind a legacy. Maybe like Kathleen's!
So who will believe in us now? I didn't work directly with her these last years, but her belief is still in me. Thank you for being our Kathleen!
FOR MORE REMEMBRANCES, GO TO http://readingandwritingproject.org/about/kathleen-tolan
Remembering Kathleen Tolan
I just heard the devastating news that my dear friend and mentor Kathleen Tolan passed away peacefully in her sleep last night. Kathleen was the Deputy Director for Reading at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Her leadership and brilliance in the field of reading taught so many of us about what it means to be teachers. Right now, the sudden passing of this champion of children is a bit much to comprehend. I hope to share more here very soon!
In the meantime, let's put our hands together, to pray, to remember, to retell this beautiful life that had so much meaning!
Teacher Leader Project...Take Two!
It's back!! The second year of teacher leader workshops is on...and it's free!
All our courses are taught after school by teachers, coaches, and principals around the state! Our theme is engagement as a continuation of our summer institutes.
There will be a kickoff workshop at Barnes & Noble of Paramus that you can sign up for on January 12th.
Please join us in this exciting venture!
Not Just about Numbers
As many of you know, this past December, I had an accident while hanging Christmas lights. I broke both of my arms in different places, and was home for a long time recuperating. While at home, I began an intensive amount of occupational therapy to gain my strength and range of motion back.
Three times a week, I visit the wonderful people at Accelerated Hand Therapy of Morristown, where they give me lots of activities to do. I stretch to touch blocks to the top of my head, I bounce weighted balls on trampolines, and play with putty. As a warm-up, I have to dip my elbow into paraffin, a hot wax that's about 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and the therapists stretch and bend my elbows and wrists.
I also have to wear this JAS splint three times a day for 30 minutes. It stretches and bends my arm, and I can't move while it's on. The intense stretching it gives me helps me gain back my range of motion.
This is the DynaSplint. I have to wear it for 4-6 hours a day. You need a special key to align the Robocop bars on the outside. I sleep in this one, which allows for stretching which tolerates motion while it's being worn.
Both of these splints hurt while I wear them, but when all is said and done, they help me increase the range of motion in my right arm. Wearing these two types of splints intermittently is considered an aggressive type of therapy, but it's necessary, because like most elbow fractures, my injury was pretty bad.
Immediately following the accident, my range of motion was severely limited. The surgery I had, the therapy, and these splints are all part of a comprehensive healing plan to help me gain back what I had lost. Part of the whole process is measuring the number of degrees I can bend my elbow at any given time. Right after the accident, I was able to bend my right arm about 50 degrees (remember, that 90 degrees makes a right angle). Thanks to all the parts of this healing plan, I can now bend about 100 degrees (bending at 120-140 degrees is normal activity). This growth ebbs and flows. There are weeks with significant improvement, and there are plateaus. I'm in one of those right now.
After a particularly grueling day of therapy, my therapist got out the handy protractor to measure my range of motion. 100. Again. No growth. "Numbers aren't everything," she reminds me. Let's think about the function of your arm. What are you able to do now that you couldn't do before?
I've begun to touch the top of my head. In recent weeks, I've learned again to eat with a long fork with my right hand. I can brush my teeth if I concentrate. Scratching my nose is easier than it was. Yes, scratching my nose! But these are small successes, equally important in the process of healing, of growth.
It's so easy to get caught up in the numbers game. Kids do this. Parents too. They see others around them reading at higher levels. Even the most authentic rubric tempts us to get better and better numbers each time. It's tempting for us to become frustrated when we don't get highly effective on our own evaluations. When talking to our students, or talking to our evaluators, whether about kids' learning or our own, instead of focusing on the level, the score, the number, let the conversation take stock of what we've learned. "You're able to make your voice sound like a character." "Look at the way you're putting more internal story into your writing." "See all this new rich vocabulary you're using!" "I can't believe how attractive your charts have become!" "How have you integrated the work of this professional book?" "You're really adding to your teaching through our coaching sessions!"
When we don't focus on the number, but on our function as learners, as teachers, and as arm-users, we can more readily see how we've grown...and what our next steps will be!
You need a learner's soul, a teacher's heart, a coach's mind, and a principal's hand!