Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Meeting Learners Where They Are

As a classroom teacher, the first weeks of school were always among my favorite.  There is something about spending the time to get to know a new group of learners and their families.  There is something about sowing the first seeds that will help a community grow together across the year.  There's something about the first books that will start us down the path to discovery.  The first weeks are a delight, but there was always this point where I looked out at the students and worried if I had what it would take to get them where they needed to be.  It's a tremendous responsibility.

Now that we know our entire community of students, let's be honest, we worry.  The needs in a classroom are varied and diverse --- and the expectations are great.  Additionally, there are students who will not just need our support academically, but those who will need to know our classroom is a safe space for them.  We wonder if we are enough.  If we aren't careful, we can find ourselves looking at the factors we cannot control.  For me, when I felt the moment of worry coming that I might not be able to get this group where I wanted them to go; when I heard that little voice saying I'm not enough, I had to change my lens.

Here are a few things I remind myself when I begin to worry:
  1. Start where they are.  There isn't any need to think about the fact that the group is in a different place than the previous year's group.  Often we forget the beginning, and it doesn't change anything anyway.  They are where they are so I remind myself to go meet them where they are. 
  2. We only control our time with students.  Students can come to our classrooms with a lot going on in their lives.  It's life.  They're people.  Families have people who get sick.  Parents have to work extra jobs to maintain their houses and put food on the table.  They might move from one parent to another in the course of a week.  They might be with an older sibling for hours after the school day ends.  We can't control any of that, but we can make the time they are with us their safe space.  We can help them continue to learn in these situations by listening but maintaining high expectations for their learning.  
  3. Show them how.  When I begin to feel overwhelmed I go back to think about the gradual release of control model.  I remind myself that high support components of the literacy framework such as read aloud, shared reading, shared writing, and interactive writing, are essential in helping students find their next steps.  I remind myself that making learning visible by creating charts that help students refer back to learning conversations can help them in their work.  
  4. Try something new.  When I feel that learners aren't making the progress I'd like to see, I try to figure out something to do differently.  Sometimes this means taking a closer look at assessment information and artifacts from the classroom.  Sometimes this means videotaping and reflecting on a few lessons.  Sometimes this means inviting a peer or coach into the classroom to help me problem-solve.  
  5. Celebrate small steps.  Maintaining high expectations for our leaners requires knowing where they are and what is next for each of them.  Taking the time to notice the small changes and celebrating them can help maintain momentum and keep me focused on the positive.  
  6. Know I'm enough.  This one is the hardest, and even as I type it I know there are times I don't quite believe it, but I just keep telling myself I can do this.  I just keep reminding myself I'm enough.  
We've got this.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Danger! New Books You Can't Miss

The problem with going around to fourteen different buildings, working with fourteen different literacy coaches, and having opportunities to meet with classroom teachers across our district is my book budget is a hot mess.  It's hard to go anywhere without seeing a book I just have to add to my list.  I may have to get a second job to support my book buying urge.

Here are a few titles that I had to get my hands on this week:

Solutions for Cold Feet by Carey Sookocheff.  Katie Sauer, a new first grade teacher in our district, handed this one to me and I fell in love with it right away.  The book has several problems we face and possible solutions.  This is such a fun read.  Each problem is introduced along with possible ways to solve it.  This would make a great mentor text for young writers, and the perfect book for talking about solving problems in our learning community.

Great Big Things by Kate Hoefler and Noah Klocek.  Kelly Hoenie, a literacy coach in our district, handed this one to me as I was on my way out the door.  She has a habit of keeping these tempting baskets of new books on a display in her room for others.  I try not to look.  I try not dive into new titles.  I just can never resist.  I'd almost managed to get out of her door on Friday, but then she pulled out this title and handed it to me.  How can you not love this one?  This small mouse walks for miles and miles, across all kinds of terrains, to carry a small crumb to a friend.  The illustrations are ah-maz-ing!  The language is beautiful.  The message is one that will melt your heart.

The Book of Gold by Bob Staake.  I stopped by to talk with one of the media specialists in our district, Stephanie Miles, and was handed another book I just have to have.  Maybe it was the beautiful retelling she did as she paged through the book.  Maybe it was the way she's mastered the art of raising and lowering her voice.  Maybe it was the way she wove the story from page to page making it impossible for me to not hear the end.  Maybe it was the amazing illustrations by Bob Staake. Maybe it was because it was about finding a well sought after book --- something as readers we all understand.  I don't know, but I loved this one!  I was spellbound.  In this book, a small child goes on a quest for a mysterious book:  The Book of Gold, but it turns out what he learns along the way matters most.

This Is How We Do It:  One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe.  I'm pretty sure this one made it into my hands thanks to another literacy coach in our district, Tonya Buelow.  I try to stay away from her room as she always has new books propped around the room to temp me.  In this case, she happened to see my son at a book sale and added this one to his stack for me.  How can you not just love learning about the lives of people around the world?

The Power of Moments:  Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  This one was mentioned by Sharon Esswein, one of the teacher leaders in our district.  Sharon is full of wise words and I know when I'm talking with her two things will happen:  1)  I'll add at least one book to my list and 2) I'll have something new thing to think about (okay twenty new things).  She's currently reading this book so I added it to my list.  I've enjoyed every book she's suggested.  I know I can't go wrong.



You can see the challenge in the work I do....so many books, so little time.  Wait, the challenge is....so many books, so little book funds.  No wait, maybe the challenge is....so many book-loving friends, so little willpower.  Maybe I'll win the lottery.










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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Literacy Connection: Every Reader a Super Reader

Yesterday I spent the day with Pam Allyn and Literacy Connection.  I'm never sure what the best part of the day is when I am with Literacy Connection.  Is it the thoughtful literacy leaders they bring to Central Ohio?  Is it the opportunity to learn alongside so many local inspiring educators?  Is it the thought-provoking conversations around literacy?

This year, we are taking a closer look at Every Child a Super Reader by Pam Allyn and Ernest Morrell.  Pam gave us plenty to think about.  


Here are three takeaways I'll be pondering this week:
  1. Read Aloud Every Day:  Allyn reminded us of the power of read-aloud.  I appreciated her distinction between an instructional read aloud and a ritual read aloud.  While we've learned to weave read aloud into our instruction, carving space into our day for a read-aloud that offers an opportunity to listen and enjoy a story is essential.  
  2. Relationship is Essential in the Teaching Reading:  Across the day Allyn came back to the importance of relationship in reading.  In discussing read aloud, she reminded us that it isn't the book as much as it is the relationship built between the book, the listener and the person reading aloud.  She also discussed the power of intentionally building belonging and helping readers to be a part of our reading community.
  3. Stay Strengths-Based:  Pam shared seven characteristics in staying focused on strengths.  These included belonging, curiosity, kindness, friendship, confidence, courage, and hope.  

The Questions I'm Pondering:
  • How do we make sure our readers receiving extra support also have time for real reading? 
  • How do we shift from accountability to intentional decision making?
  • What are the essential steps in learning to trust our readers?
  • What message does our teaching of reading send to literacy learners? 
  • How do we strengthen our classroom libraries?  
Thanks to everyone at Literacy Connection for organizing a great day of learning.  I'm looking forward to the continued conversation.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

More About "Avoiding the Biggest Mistakes We Make When Teaching Reading"

This week on the way to school I listened to Larry Ferlazzo's BAM! Radio Show discussion with educators about "Avoiding the Biggest Mistakes We Make When Teaching Reading."  It's a short podcast worth listening to as you have time.  The five educators have an interesting discussion around avoiding the common mistakes we make in teaching reading.

Here are a few highlights:

Pernille Ripp:  "Teachers don't give time to read.  We fill our reading time and lessons with lots of tasks and lots of things to do."

Jeffrey Wilhelm:  "We actually don't teach reading.  Most teachers and schools equate teaching reading with teaching decoding or these lower level constrained skills instead of the unconstrained skills of inferring and making meaning and constructing understanding."

Valentina Gonzalez:  "Kids are not given a lot of time to actually do the reading so they're doing a lot of worksheets, a lot of fill in the blanks, a lot of activities, but they're not given the time to practice reading independently and in small groups."

Diane Laufenberg:  "The reluctance to give up the control of choice reading to the kids."

The podcast had me nodding along as I too know the challenge of giving students choice in reading.  I too have wrestled with finding the time for readers to have opportunities to practice the skills and strategies they are learning --- especially in situations where readers might be receiving additional reading support.

These literacy experts talk a lot about the importance of learner agency and authentic opportunities to read.  While I tend to find myself thinking in a "do this instead of this" frame, listening to the podcast did make me think of a few other reading instruction mistakes I try to avoid in my teaching.

Mistakes in Reading Instruction 

  1. Not using assessment to be intentional in reading instruction:  It is easy to get caught in the trap of doing something we always do because it is the time of year to do it or because it is a book we always read instead of looking at what readers need as we design lessons for students.  It is often easy to find ourselves teaching a book instead of teaching our readers.  Knowing the strengths and needs of our readers can help us to plan language, learning opportunities, and design lessons that help readers to grow forward.
  2. Forgetting how important writing is to reading development:  It is easy to forget that reading and writing are reciprocal processes.  Often what students are learning in writing can help them to grow as readers.  The opportunity to read and write for extended periods each day can help students begin to see these connections.  
  3. Getting out of balance in reading instruction:  Readers need to develop their ability to sustain reading using strategies to solve on the run, and also to extend their thinking as they determine the author's message.  There is a balance required of instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.  At times, in an effort to help a student make quick progress, we can find ourselves out of balance.  Instead of maintaining a balance of meaning, structure, and visual cues, we can focus too much on one cueing system creating readers who over-rely on one kind of information.  Maintaining balance in instruction can help readers learn to flexibly read for understanding.  
As you have time, stop over and listen to the podcast.  What are some of the mistakes you work to avoid in reading instruction?  


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Are We Over-Scaffolding? What's Important in this Conversation

We've all had that lesson.  You know, the one where readers are gathered, everyone has their book in hand, and soon it becomes obvious the book isn't going to work for a reader.  For a myriad of reasons, the reader begins to struggle with the text and before we know it, we're off to the rescue.  You know the lesson:  the one where we find ourselves repeatedly giving prompts that are all over the strategy map.

  • "What would make sense?"
  • "Look at the first part."
  • "Try something that would sound right." 

Yep, in these situations, we find ourselves suddenly doing anything in our power to help the reader to get through the text without having to abandon it in the middle of the lesson.  

And...

We've all had that reader.  You know, the one that looks at us every time they run into a challenge in the text. Yep, the reader we all work not to make eye contact with during the lesson.  The one who seems to be having difficulty using what is known to read an unfamiliar text.  The one that before we know it we are off and running with reading prompts galore.  

And...

We've all made that move.  You know, the one where our finger moves across the table and into the reader's book.  Yep, that's always the moment where I know I need to rethink what I'm doing with a reader.  

I'm going to guess we can all confess to times we've "over-scaffolded."  

On the other hand, we all know the readers that have grown in confidence.  We all know the books that have matched the next steps for readers, the ones that have given the right amount of challenge to grow forward.  We all know these successes have come from carefully assessing our readers, reflecting on what they can do and what they need next, and then thoughtfully helping them build that next skill, strategy, or understanding.  


What About Rescuing Readers?
More and more I read about the dangers of over-scaffolding.  More and more I note the tweets and posts from teachers who are wondering if they should be scaffolding.  I'm going to be bold enough to say that I worry a bit about this conversation.  I, too, have read the concerns of Terry Thompson, Burkins and Yaris, and Vicki Vinton, among others.  I get it.  As someone who has spent much time beside emergent and early readers, worked alongside learners in Reading Recovery and reading intervention, I know I have, at times, been guilty of over-scaffolding.

At the same time, I also know that it took me many years (much training and many professional books) to learn to scaffold readers in a way that helped them work toward independence.  I think we should use caution in this conversation.  In education, we easily slip into an all or none discussion.  This isn't really about scaffolding or not scaffolding, it's about being cautious of doing too much for our readers.  As I've read Terry Thompson, Burkins and Yaris, and Vicky Vinton, what I take away is that I can be more intentional in the support I give the readers that sit beside me each day.  Through thoughtful reflection and planning, I can precisely focus on a next step, while adjusting my expectations for readers to use what they've learned to read and understand a new text.


Thinking About Scaffolding
I've found all of this conversation fascinating.  It has made me pause, rethink my practice, and clarify my thinking.  It has made me step back to consider the support I give readers, as well as the ways I might be over-supporting them.  It has made me wonder when to scaffold and when to step back, how to scaffold effectively, and what I should consider in tailoring support.  Where is the line?

I, in no way, have this figured out.  However, I'm wondering if we over-scaffold when we:
  • scaffold the text instead of the reader
  • give too supportive of book introductions
  • monitor for readers 
  • teach to give prior knowledge to help readers read complex texts
  • prompt every difficulty instead of maintaining focus on the next step for a reader
  • prompt too quickly instead of letting a reader attempt to solve the problem

Scaffolding requires that we know our readers and consider their stage of development.  Scaffolding should be:
  • based upon a reader's needs
  • specific 
  • on the reader's edge or next step
  • thoughtful in the level of support of the prompts utilized

When sitting beside readers I know I have to be intentional with my every move.  For me, that means having the self-discipline to keep a reader's focus first and leaving time for the reader to do the work they need to do to problem solve as they read for understanding.  For me, that means thinking about the prompts I will use ahead of time and staying clear in my language.  I hope we'll continue this conversation about scaffolding our readers and helping them to grow in independence.  I think we're all going to learn a lot!

I hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments below.  When should we scaffold?  When should we step back?  How can we more effectively scaffold our readers to help them take next steps?  What is essential?  


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Books to Begin the Year

It was a little crazy at first.
Last week I spent some time with my son in his new classroom.  He wanted to organize his classroom library so we pulled all the books off the shelf and began to make a plan.  For me, I usually waver between two beginning of the year plans for my library:
  1. Mix the books up in baskets knowing that we will sort them as a community later.  This gives readers time to start to get to know books.  It is never long before someone can't find a book they are looking for so we have to make a plan.  Let the sorting begin!  This way is messy, but it never fails to create a library the kids will value.  (And books always seem to end up in the right places when they are put away.)
  2. Create some high-interest baskets to start the year.  Making a skeleton collection of baskets to begin the year can help students to see the possibilities for their library.  When I choose this start, I consider books students may have experienced in the previous year, high-interest topics, and some beginning of the year collections.  In this way, we grow the library from a seed instead of starting from scratch.
Both of these methods have proven successful.  We decided to start by looking for some common themes in the books he had in his classroom that kids might enjoy.  This started out to be a challenge, but when we shifted from the books to what we know kids will be interested in reading the process moved along quickly.  As we worked, I began to think about some of the books and collections I like to have at the start of the year for my students.  There's surely no "one right answer" here so I hope you'll share some of your favorites in the comments below.

Making Progress
My goals in the first weeks of school shape my library:
  1. Foster a reader's mindset. 
  2. Create shared community values and norms.
  3. Open the door to learning conversations.
  4. Make the community a risk-free place to try new learning.
  5. Get to know the students' interests and lives beyond the classroom.
Baskets that start the year:
Books About Reading 



Books to Begin The Year


Friendship Basket


You Can Do It



Laugh Out Loud



Taking Care of Each Other



My Story



Creating Collections
Around the Room
You Might Like



What are some of your favorite books and collections you have ready at the beginning of the year?  Please grow the conversation in the comments below.  
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Thursday, August 10, 2017

August Picture Book 10 for 10: Books to Help Us STRETCH

Today is August's annual picture book event:  Picture Book 10 for 10 (#pb10for10).  Stop by our Google Community to share your favorites --- or just lurk.  You won't want to miss it!  

Well, here we are.  It's finally August 10th.  Today picture book lovers around the world will be sharing their 10 must-have picture book titles.  When all of this began in 2010, we were sharing the ten titles we'd have to have in our classroom libraries --- or if stranded on a desert island.  It was just a matter of grabbing my favorites.  Now it has become much more challenging for me.  The years have come and gone, and the group has gotten crafty.  Now lists have themes and common threads.  Participants have learned to do a little math magic and make ten in a variety of ways.  

For me, this is the day that always gets me in back to school mode.  This is the day that I disable my Amazon button and pull out my library card.  This is the day I make a list for the next time I visit my local bookstore.  Of course, reading all of the posts takes more than a day.  

Making my own list is an entirely different challenge.  What can I share that I haven't shared before???  Here are my past lists....

My Past 10 Collections

This year I wrestled for weeks over the possibilities.  I finally decided to share ten books that encourage readers to STRETCH.  Stretch is my One Little World for 2017, and it has served me well.  Stretch has given me permission to tackle things that are hard, to reach for new goals, and to be comfortable with all the discomfort that comes from new challenges.  Here are ten picture books that encourage readers to STRETCH.

What Do You Do with An Idea?  by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom

What do you do with an idea?  You live with it for awhile and see where it takes you.  "I liked being with my idea.  It made me feel more alive, like I could do anything."  Yep, an idea can do that.  Follow that idea.  Stretch.  

What Do You Do with a Problem?  by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom

Let's be honest.  Sometimes it isn't an idea that pushes you to stretch, it is a problem.  There's only one thing to do with a problem:  tackle it.  "When I got face-to-face with it, I discovered something.  My problem wasn't what I thought it was.  I discovered it had something beautiful inside.  My problem held an opportunity!"  Tackle that problem.  Stretch. 

A Small Thing...but Big by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Hadley Hooper.

Often ideas (and problems) seem bigger than we can handle.  In these cases, there is nothing to do but take the first step.  "A small thing, but big."  You can do it.  Stretch.   


Water Princess by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Our experiences in our lives will often push us to solve tough problems.  "Dream.  Someday you will find a way."  Don't give up.  Stretch.  


What To Do with a Box by Jane Yolen and Chris Sheban

Sometimes to solve a tough problem, or develop a challenging idea, you have to be able to look for other possibilities.  You have to be able to see things in a way that is different from the way they are.  A box doesn't have to be a box.  "A box is a wonder indeed.  The only such magic that you'll ever need."  Envision new possibilities.  Stretch.  




If You Hold a Seed by Elly MacKay

If you start with a seed, amazing things can happen.  Just plant the seed, and slowly watch it grow.  "If you plant a seed...one day,  your wish will come true."  Plant a seed.  Nurture it.  Be patient.  Stretch.  


Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead

When we can't figure something out, ideas are all around, but we have to be willing to look for them.  "There were lots of seeds, but only one grew.  Planting a seed is always a risk."  Some of your attempts will not work, but be willing to go back rethink and try again.  Stretch.  


She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

It's hard not to love this one.  Like the women in this book, we can't give up on the things we know to be important.  "So, if anyone ever tells you no, if anyone ever says your voice isn't important or your dreams are too big, remember these women."  Persist.  Stretch.  
The Almost Impossible Thing by Basak Agaoglu

A dream may seem impossible, but given time we can find our way.  A dream can't be contained.  "The dream knew only that it was too big for its home."  Don't hide your dream.  Stretch.  


Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds

Don't be afraid to reach for what seems unattainable.  "Dreamers have a way of bouncing back...and moving forward."  Dream that dream.  Reach.  Stretch.  




You can do it!  
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