Sunday, September 28, 2014

Support That Makes Sense

Walking into the first classroom as the day begins, I smile to myself as I look around the room.  This classroom has already established important morning routines which allow learning to happen even as students settle into the day.  Students greet one another quietly as they move about.  They smile, chat, and then continue to begin the day.  Some students are unpacking book bags.  Others are signing in for lunch.  Others have already settled into reading their poems or collections of books placed on tables for independent reading.  As soon as Amber sees me, she gets her reading bag and returns to her table.  Her class is adding a poem to their poetry notebooks today so instead of beginning with her familiar reading, we start with her poem.  This all happens seamlessly as everyone is busy learning.  She reads her poem.  We discuss it.  Friends at the table join our conversation.

In my new position as a reading intervention teacher, I'm grateful to have the opportunity to go into several classrooms to support readers.  Setting up a schedule wasn't easy.  Trying to balance classroom schedules, student needs, and teacher preferences when developing a plan for support took a bit of time and flexibility on everyone's part.  In a few cases I bring students to our reading classroom, in other cases I go to students in their classrooms.  Working with readers who need to catch up to peers, I continually have an eye on instructional moves that are intentional and intensive enough to keep readers moving forward.  I've known it would be a challenge to make these embedded learning opportunities intentional, systematic, intensive, and inclusive.

Reading Donalyn Miller's book, Reading in the Wild, over the summer has helped to remind me that intensive instruction is only one piece of the puzzle for readers needing support.  Readers, especially those working to catch up, need to be able to connect learning to their classrooms.  Readers, especially those finding their way, need to belong to a reading community.  Readers, especially those working to make progress, need time to read independently.

Here are the benefits I have noted in classrooms in which I go to students for reading support:

  • Reduced Transitions:  This is not only helpful for students who do not transition easily, it also is helpful for entire classrooms.  The transition as I walk into classrooms to provide support seems to get less attention than students exiting the room.  Additionally, we seem to gain minutes by not traveling.  
  • Connected Conversations:  Sitting in classrooms it is easy for me to pick up on the routines, the focus of learning conversations, and the shifts classroom teachers are trying to make.  It is easy to begin to connect these conversations in our work together.  For example, I came into one of my classrooms at the end of the focus lesson for reader's workshop.  They were talking about asking questions as they read.  It was easy to incorporate this discussion into our conversation during our small group lesson to connect this learning for these young readers.  
  • Belongingness:  Readers needing support need to belong to their reading communities.  Meeting students in their learning communities helps them to stay connected to the other readers in their classroom.  
  • Big Picture:  I can't find the perfect word here, but going into classrooms allows a better system vision.  It is easy for us to include students not in intervention who still may need specific support in new learning.  It allows me to keep an eye on students I am watching to be sure they make continued progress.  Newer students, students previously needing supporting, and students who seem to just inch along are easily monitored in inclusive situations.  It also keeps my vision on where readers are in the classroom and the gains students receiving support need to make.  This change allows a more system driven network of support.  
There are still pieces we continually want to improve.  Is the support intensive enough?  Do students have enough time to read independently?  How do we carve time for these readers to meet with their classroom teachers and with me for additional support?  These, I believe, are the same challenges readers face when leaving the classroom for pull out intervention.  I'm excited about the barriers we are removing for young readers and the connections we are helping them to discover.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Where Are They, Really?

The hustle and bustle of the first days is softening to a quiet hum.  It seems in the blink of an eye, we've managed to settle into our routines of learning.  Community bonds are strengthening as students begin to come together to learn side by side.  In the first weeks, we've established structures to help us learn, observed students in a variety of situations, and spent some time assessing formally and informally.   Now that we've gotten to know students a bit, we begin to feel the necessity to push forward.  At this early point in the year it would be easy to follow old patterns and think about where students usually are or where they should be as they enter our classrooms, but I'm reminding myself to reflect with a more critical eye --- a fresh eye.  Where are my students at this time?

Where are they --- really?  Not where should they be?  Not where do I wish they were.  Not where are they usually at the beginning of the year.  Where are they right now?  As I transition from the days of building relationships toward important next steps in learning, I'm trying to challenge my own assumptions.  Am I working where students are right now?

As I reflect upon the literacy information I've gathered through observations and assessments, I consider:

  • What routines did they follow in their classrooms last year?  
  • What do readers have under control right now?    
  • What strategies do they use consistently?  
  • What do they need to take NEXT steps?
  • Are my focus lessons setting students up to do the work I'm asking them to do?  
  • Do I have appropriate books available?  

Recently a colleague said to me, "We have to divorce ourselves from last year."  It's so true.  I need to look with fresh eyes, and look hard, at where students really are.  To be effective and help students take next steps, my instructional decisions should be based upon the information I have gathered.  In these first weeks, I've collected information from reading and writing assessments.  I've watched students read new text and familiar text.  I've observed as they've selected books for independent reading time.  As they've responded orally and in writing, I've noted strengths and confusions.  Now it's time to use this information while it is fresh to plan next steps.  These next steps need to be based upon where students are and not where they should be.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Opening Doors: Stepping Inside a Learning Community

It's hard to believe we've nearly completed the first month of school.  With assessments nearing completion (that's another day's story), it feels good to be getting into the routine with students.  Yesterday, I was afforded the opportunity to come in to read aloud to Deb Frazier's first graders.  Next week, I will begin going into her classroom during reader's workshop to meet with readers needing extra support.

Upon entering I found her students gathered around the carpet engaged in a deep conversation about living in other places.  I had to smile as I listened to students share their stories of visiting family around the globe.  It wasn't long until the conversation turned to their reading lives.  Many families had started Shelfari shelves and friends were deciding "what they knew about the reader" based upon the books resting on their shelves.  Deb led the discussion linking students' home reading lives to the books available in their classroom library.  "If you read this _____, you might want to check out _____ basket."  This class is beginning to develop as a reading community.  It was obvious students were already learning to categorize books, developing a reading niche, and beginning to build conversations with one another.

Deb and I had decided to use the read aloud I would be sharing, My Pet Book, as part of the focus lesson for the morning.  I can't lie, it felt good to be holding a read aloud and sharing it with a live audience.  If you haven't read the book, a boy decides a book is the perfect pet for him.  It doesn't need to be fed.  It's quiet.  You don't have to carry a scoop when you take it for a walk.  It's perfect --- until it runs away.  Oh no!

For me, it was helpful to be able to see how the readers I will be supporting interacted with their peers in book conversations.  It was helpful for me to find out how they talked about books and listen to their responses.  It was helpful for me to see how they got started as we sent them off to read.  Of course, it was therapeutic to have an opportunity to read aloud to a group of students, especially a group as eager to be drawn into the story as this class was.

Opening Doors
In Rethinking Intervention Frost reminds us, "If you want students to do well in regular classroom instruction, then the intervention curriculum has to be aligned to the classroom curriculum (p.9)."  Opportunities for students to receive added support IN their learning communities is one way to meet the needs of students.  Helping them to apply new strategies and understandings in daily classroom work will help them continue to progress.

I'm grateful for the educators I work with each day, and their willingness to work together to help make the best decisions for kids.  We've flexibly used what we have learned about students and their learning communities to determine the best way to support them today.  We will continue to flexibly make adjustments as needed to help students grow as readers across the year.  In the weeks to come, we will be moving from getting to know each other, to celebrating all we know so we can continue to build on it, and then begin taking next steps.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slowing Down

Picture via @DarbyCreekElem
Slowing Down
In my new role as a reading intervention teacher, it would be easy to get caught up in collecting data in these first days of school.  When teachers see me coming, I think they expect that I want to know something concrete or I've come to collect it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Honestly, the end of year data from last year gives me the perfect place to begin.  It would be easy in today's world of testing to rush right in, but I want to slow down.  Young literacy learners need time to get back to what they know.  They need time to learn new routines, find their places in their learning communities, and reacquaint themselves with their favorite books.  They need time to tell their new stories and time to learn the stories of their friends.  They need time to feel safe in this new place they'll learn and grow. 

Stepping Inside
Quietly opening the door to the first grade classroom I step inside trying to not attract attention.  The students have seen me come in and out a few times already, and are getting used to my arrival, giving it little attention.  It's hard to believe these first graders have been in school for less than a week.  It's writer's workshop and these writers are working hard on their stories as music softly plays in the background.  

Though I came in the classroom to focus on a few of the students I will likely work with in the coming school year to provide extra reading support, I also want to get to know the class.  I glance around to see where the students I have come to sit beside are working, but my plan is to move around the room.  I soon notice Kelsey sitting with an empty paper in front of her.  Though the kids around her are confidently drawing their stories, adding color to their illustrations, and attempting simple sentences, she is just sitting.  I ease my way in her direction, chatting with a few writers along the way, and ask how it is going.  "Is it writer's workshop?" I inquire.  "Yes," she replies.  

"What story are you going to tell today?" hoping that will set her up to tell me something.  She only shrugs and then rests her chin on her hand.  By the appearance of the papers in front of the friends around her, I would guess today's workshop is well underway.  I wait for a bit to see if she is going to add anything, but silence fills the air.  Finally I offer, "There are so many things we don't know about you yet.  What do you want your friends to know about you?"  She shrugs again.  We chat for a bit as I try to get to know her and listen for a story.  As she begins to talk about her dog, a smile finally shines across her face.  I think we've found her story for today.  She decides to write about her dog, but quickly stops as her pencil nears the paper.  I can tell she isn't sure what to do to tell her story.  "Do you want to add words or draw a picture  first?" I ask.  

"Draw a picture," she affirms to me and herself, but she continues to hesitate.  "I don't know how to draw a dog," she confides. 

"I always think about the shapes first," I tell her and together we work through getting started.  

In these first days, I not only want to get to know students as readers, writers, and learners, but I want to get to know them as the people they are.  I want to build rapport with students, but most of all I want them to know they can trust me to help them when they need it.  

In these first days, my goals are simple:
  • Get to know them.  Likes, dislikes, interests, hobbies, family.
  • Learn their stories.  
  • Notice what they choose to read.
  • Celebrate what they already know.
  • Discover the strategies they use as they read, write, and learn.
  • Compare current performance to last year's end of year data.  
  • Determine their comfort with risk.

Knowing Them
It would be easy to rush to collect data and push leaners toward next steps, but there will be time for that.  These days are foundational in building for the important work we will do across the year.  There will be time to take next steps, set goals, stretch as learners, but for today I want to slow down and get to know them.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Advancing Learning Journeys: Digital Student Portfolios Blog Tour

"One realization regarding assessment is that formative and summative assessments are often not separate entities."                                                                  -  Matt Renwick, Digital Student Portfolios, p. 82 

A New Start 
It's that time of year.  On Facebook, my educator friends are sharing pictures of their classrooms set up for the upcoming school year.  There are conversations about spaces, classroom libraries, and goals for a new year.  On Twitter, the conversation has been about first read aloud selections, workshop routines for the beginning of the year, and changes in math practice.  Our minds are spinning with all there is to do, and all we hope to do differently, as we take our first steps in our new learning communities.

That makes this the perfect time to share Matt Renwick's new book, Digital Student Portfolios:  A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment.  If I remember correctly, I was first introduced to Matt Renwick by Susan Dee several years ago in a Google chat.  At the time, I had started collaborating with others in my PLN to figure out Evernote.  Since that time, our conversations have continued and grown so I was honored to be asked to join the blog tour for Matt's new book.

Capturing Advancing Learning Journeys (p. 16 Jossey-Bass, 2011 reference)
As we think about the beginning of the year and start to set routines for ourselves and our learning community, considering use of a digital tool for collecting learning artifacts has many advantages.  In this book Matt reminds us, "[The tool selected to capture learning] is secondary to the 'big idea' itself compiling a dynamic collection of information from many sources, in many forms and with many purposes, all aimed at presenting the most complete story possible of a student's learning experience."

Here's an example of a checklist I created for writer's workshop
observations in the beginning of the year.  I copied the checklist
put it in each child's folder for conferring.
In an education world filled with data, graphs, and charts, it is easy to lose sight of the story of learning - of the journey.  Matt shares classroom vignettes that help to illustrate the way this school community worked together to find better ways to capture the journeys of young learners to document growth, plan next steps and celebrate progress.  (Throughout the book there are links to Evernote notes, screencasts, and examples of the work done in this learning community.)

Here's an example of a student's shift in spacing
after two lessons.  When we took the picture we took
a picture of her new piece with spacing and placed
the previous piece without spacing above to show
the change.  

Digital portfolios allow "the teacher to both respond to the student in the present moment, as well as look back later on artifacts of learning to prepare for instruction in the future. (p. 83)"  In his book, Matt compares performance and progress portfolios.

  • Performance:  "Digital student portfolios have the capacity to showcase [my emphasis] our students as people with ideas, creativity, and passion." p. 32  These portfolios share more personal best or mastery work and lend themselves to being more summative in nature.  
  • Progress:  "Progress portfolios are more fine-grained; the contents collected in these portfolios show growth over time; the ups and downs, the struggles and breakthroughs, that are always part of the learning process."  These portfolios share the steps along the way and may be more formative in nature.

Student Ownership
Matt's equation for engagement would look like this:
access + purpose + audience = engagement.

Connections help students to work authentically and Matt states, "I have found that the most powerful motivator for bringing out the best in student work is a broader audience. (p. 42)"  The examples shared help illustrate this point.

Matt continually stays focused on pedagogy over technology.  One of the pieces I appreciated was the emphasis on student ownership across the book.  For me, Evernote has opened doors to documenting the steps in student learning with purpose, ease, and efficiency.  It has allowed me to keep notes, capture images, and record audio to collect touch points across the year of steps students have made as learners.  It has made it easier to collaborate and share information.  However, I'm continually asking myself if students own this process.

Matt reminds us, "Students should also be invested in the process of collecting, analyzing and reflecting upon the products they produce (p. 15)."  The examples he shares of student work, Evernote notes, and other learning artifacts helped me to envision ways to begin to shift ownership to students.

A New Year
Now that my room is arranged, my first read aloud chosen, and my new website is ready to roll, I am ready to create folders for the students I will work with this year in Evernote.  Matt's book has me ready to spend some time considering new steps for the new year.

Please comment for your chance to win a copy of Digital Student Portfolios.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Picture Book 10 for 10: Being Brave

Today is our 5th annual picture book event:  #pb10for10.  You can join by linking your blog post here or at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.  Mandy and I will then add your post to our 2014 picture book jog.

It is often a little challenging to link all of the posts to the Jog from both of our blogs without duplicating information.  For this reason, we have a few requests if you're joining the event to make it easier for us to collect picture book lists:
  • If you'd like to have your blog linked to the conversation, just comment with the link (cut and paste your post address in the comments) for your picture book list here OR at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.  
  • You are welcome to comment on both blogs (comments are always appreciated), but to simplify our work in creating this year's jog as a resource, please ONLY LEAVE YOUR LINK ON ONE OF OUR BLOGS.  This will help us to keep from duplicating posts in the jog. 
  • You can also mention us in a link on Twitter using the event hashtag #pb10for10.  However, we cannot guarantee that tweeted links will be added to the jog.  (It gets a little crazy out there!) 
  • If you don't have a blog, but would like to join, there are lots of ways to participate. 
  • If this is your 5th year, please mention this when you leave your link.
My Past 10 Collections
In 2013 I shared 10 Newer Authors/Illustrators I Love
In 2012 I shared 10 Mentor Texts for Young Writers
In 2011 I shared 10 Authors I Can't Live Without
In 2010 I shared 10 Must-Have Picture Books

This Year's Choices
Last year my students were fascinated by books in which the character had to be brave.  They created a brave basket and filled it with books featuring courageous characters.  Sometimes learning, telling the truth, or getting over our fears can be hard.  Sometimes we have to be brave and work through tough times.  I decided this year, I'd share ten titles about being brave.

Don't Be Afraid, Little Pip by Karma Wilson (author) and Jane Chapman (illustrator).  In this story, Little Pip doesn't want to learn to swim in the deep ocean.  She's a bird.  She wants to fly.  While all the other penguins start swimming lessons, Pip tries to find someone who can help her to fly.  Will she be brave enough to learn to swim?

Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin.  Ruthie loves little things.  One day she finds a very tiny camera on the playground.  When she returns to class, Martin tells the teacher the camera belongs to him.  Ruthie assures the teacher the camera belongs to her.  Can she be brave enough to tell the truth?

Courage by Bernard Waber.  What is courage?  Kids can discover the many different kinds of courage in this picture book.

Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bike by Chris Raschka.  Young children have to be brave to learn to ride a bike.  This book not only teaches the reader how to ride a bike, but also demonstrates the importance of trying again and again.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (author) and Patrice Barton (illustrator).  Sometimes we have to be brave in handling the way people treat us or in making new friends.  This is the case for Brian who is not picked for teams, invited to parties, or noticed at recess.

My Brave Year of Firsts by Jamie Lee Curtis (author) and Laura Cornell (illustrator).  You have to be brave the first time you try to do new things.  This books is full of firsts.

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds (author) and Peter Brown (illustrator).  There's nothing scarier than carrots plotting against you. Jasper loved to eat carrots, enjoying them for breakfast, dinner and snacks.  One day Jasper begins to think he notices the carrots following him.  He starts hearing them at night when he goes to bed. Is it his imagination?  It isn't long until Jasper is convinced the carrots are coming to get him.  Jasper has to be brave.  He begins to work on a plan to stop the carrots.  Will it work?

The I'm Not Scared Book by Todd Parr.  This book talks about times we might get scared and what we can do about it.  It's perfect for starting conversations about how we sometimes have to work to get through situations and be brave.

One by Kathryn Otoshi.  Blue doesn't feel like himself when he is around Red.  Red is a hot head and makes Blue feel bad.  None of the other colors stand up to Red.  Finally One comes along and takes a stand.  He stands courageously up to Red.  Soon others follow his example and Blue learns to stand up for himself.

Nightsong by Ari Berk (author) and Loren Long (illustrator).  Momma tells Chiro it is time for him to fly into the night.  Chiro isn't sure he likes the idea of leaving the cave in the night.  Momma tells Chiro to follow his song.  That night Chiro leaves the cave, but is frightened by the night, the rustling trees, and voices buzzing.  Chiro bravely pushes on in the night.  Will Chiro find his song and gain the confidence he needs to fly in the night.

Still looking for titles about courage?  Getting down to 10 titles wasn't easy this year.  There are many books about being brave and having courage.  You can find more titles on my "Be Brave" board.

Follow Cathy 's board Be Brave on Pinterest.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Innovative Learning Environments: #ileOhio and #edcampILE

Once again this year I attended Ohio's Innovative Learning Conference in Hilliard, Ohio.  The conference was from Monday - Thursday and featured many national and local speakers.  On Friday, the conference ended with a finale.  This year the conference ended in an #edcamp:  #edcampILE.

When leaving an event like this, I try to think of my takeaways.  What did I learn?  How will I change? What resources will I seek?  What questions do I have?  This year, I'm focusing on the questions I am considering as I leave:

Franki Sibberson commented, in recent years "our expectations of kids have changed a lot, but have our classrooms?"  I'm going to be thinking that as I begin a new year in a new position.  Franki Sibberson spoke about Digital Literacy.  We're so lucky to live near so many amazing educations and Franki is one of them.  In her session Franki shared the way digital literacy is just a part of the learning that takes place in her classroom.  She shared what she has learned and how her thinking has changed since first working with digital tools.  I appreciated the way her session shared so many examples of the way digital literacy is a natural part of her workshops in her classroom.  It is obvious kids own the learning in her classroom, but I also was struck my how important connections were in the work they do.  Her message:

How can I make nonfiction more a part of the daily reading we do (and build connections with nonfiction authors)?  Franki shared the ways she is thinking about nonfiction.  She shared series, authors, and new titles:  Nonfiction in Grades 3-6.   I love learning digitally because while Franki was sharing books, I was requesting books.  I was also able to begin to see if I was following nonfiction children's authors.  Of course, I asked those I follow on Twitter if they had other nonfiction authors on Twitter and my list grew quickly.  (Thanks, @colbysharp, @LaurieThompson, @mstewartscience, @loveofxena, @cppotter, @utaliniz!)

How can I collect and efficiently share information about the students I support with classroom teachers?  Evernote or Google?  Google or Evernote?  Evernote AND Google?  This has been my summer dilemma.  For this reason, I was happy to attend sessions by Scott Sibberson about Google Forms and Google Classroom.  I was intrigued by the possibilities of Google Classroom.  It allows teachers to create classes and then easily share announcements and assignments.  I see it as an easier way to share forms or templates with primary learners as it seems to contain less steps in sharing and finding these documents.  Of course, I also began to think it could be used to share documents with teachers.  If I put teachers into a group, I think I could share information about student learning with individuals and announcements with groups.  Hmmm.  

Can Nearpod work for small group reading instruction on occasion?  I went to a session led by Mark Pohlman and Kelly Riley.  They were sharing EduCreations (which I love) and Nearpod (which I know little about).  Nearpod allows teachers to create lessons and then walk students through together.  You can insert video, slideshows, documents, webpages, and so much more.  What I liked was the ability to capture student response in drawing, polls, and other forms.  The app then collects the data and organizes it.   

How do we build connections for students?  At ILE I was able to meet and have conversations with many people I collaborate with digitally in social media spaces and across blogs.  When I think about the power of the connections from Twitter, blogging, and attending conferences like ILE, I have to think about how important it is for me to do these same things for my students.  For this reason, I create a learning hub, a class Twitter account, and set up student blogs.  How do I continue to build these connections for students in our classroom community, in our school community, locally, and globally?  

Why isn't more PD like an #edcamp?  There's something about the choice in an #edcamp that I love.  There's something about the collaborative conversation in a true #edcamp style session.  There's something about the diverse experience of participants.  Everyone possesses a different kind of knowledge about a topic, and bringing all of this together into one room always results in smart questions, new thinking, and next steps.   A huge shout out to Craig Vroom, Jacki Prati, and Lori Ludwig (and others involved) in making this day happen.  I'm thankful so many teachers from our building were there to share in the conversations --- you rock!  It's going to be a great year!