Sunday, March 15, 2020

Good Problems: So Many Resources, So Much Time

I'm still taking in our current situation.  We have tried to stay in this weekend.  Actually, our family began over a week ago trying to limit the places we were going and to stay at home more.  It hasn't been easy.  I've been cooking way more than I like.  (Waaaayyyyy more.)  We're a house full of introverts and readers, but we're already getting stir crazy.  The weather here hasn't helped.  It's still too cold to walk or sit out on the patio.

So....I may have found myself on social media more than I should be.  Of course, if you're a teacher you know the resources getting posted are something.  There are websites and apps opening their content for these weeks of shutdowns.  There are authors finding ways to share about writing moves and read their books.  There are teachers and educational leaders creating and sharing lessons and other possibilities for remote learning.  There are lists of collections.  Honestly, I'm guessing it will continue as we all have more time to create content since we are stuck inside.

I've been truly so impressed by the way everyone has come together.

And yet....

It's all a little overwhelming.

And here's the thing: it's not all going to be good for our kids or their learning.

I'm truly grateful for all that is being shared - truly - but yesterday I couldn't quit thinking about it might feel to teachers.  As an instructional coach, my hope in this time is to support teachers as they need it; to help them puzzle out the tricky parts of this situation and provide resources when requested.  Teachers know their kids best - and that's the most exciting thing about this situation.  They're still going to be able to tailor instruction for their learners.

All of the resources available remind me of years ago when we first started dabbling in the digital world.  When I first started using digital tools with my students, I could hardly contain my excitement.  Every single time a new app came out, I had to give it a try.  Not all of them made it to my classroom, but many did.  My kids were pretty tech savvy (for the time) and able to adjust to the new tools.  Of course, updates happen.  Companies quit creating apps.  I got wiser.  I then began to look for apps that could do a lot - and that would stay.  I started to work from a solid core of apps.  I found myself more focused on tools that would let us work flexibly in ways that enhanced our learning.  I found myself in a less is more way of thinking.

The plethora of resources available right now reminds me of that time long ago.  As an educator, I just had to press pause yesterday.  There are so many resources being shared.  I decided the best thing to do was to create a Padlet with the resources I am seeing that might be useful - many of them will not.  I do not plan to share this collection (there are a million lists out there).  My hope is to just have it ready when people reach out with specific needs they are trying to fill.  It's to help me find the resources I think will be useful in continuing to support learners.  It will give me a place of reference when colleagues reach out with a particular need.

We're all working to find our way in this unprecedented situation.  If we let what learners need be our guide, the next step will be easier to find.  Know if you need something, I'm here trying to figure it out beside you.  I'd love to hear how you are managing all the resources.  Which ones are you finding the most useful?  What's working?  What are the challenges you face?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Keeping Learning Going When We Aren't Gathered at the Carpet

Who knew we'd be talking about "social-distancing" in 2020 and closing schools to slow a virus?  It has made for an interesting week that I didn't expect in my career.  That being said, I've been amazed at the way everyone has stepped up to make the best decisions we can for kids and families.  In the last few days, we have done a lot of work to prepare our students to move from face-to-face learning to an eLearning environment.

As a 1:1 school, we are fortunate to have many things in place that will support our students during this time.  Additionally, teachers will still be able to tailor instruction to their students in ways that wouldn't have been possible years ago.  I've been so fascinated by the way companies have stepped up and opened websites, the way authors and illustrators are sharing their talents, and the way teachers and educational consultants are sharing content.  That being said, I have been thinking a lot about how we create an environment for learning vs. a checklist of to-dos for our students.

How do we leverage learning over tasks?  It's true that there are so many ways this situation will be made better by all that is available, but there are also many cautions.  Do we introduce new learning or reinforce old?  Is it possible to introduce new content?  How might we differentiate for our students?  How do we balance student workload?  How do we keep our communities connected?  How do we support parents who will already be juggling a lot with their own work situations and kids at home?  Oh, the questions that can take us down the rabbit hole quickly.

I've been telling myself that all we can do is make the best decisions we can in the space we find ourselves. As we plan for our learning communities, here are a few things I am keeping in mind:

Consider Technology Kids Know:  There are many new environments opening for students, but our learners will be most successful in the spaces they have already worked.  If your district has an LMS, learners will be able to use the platform.  If kids are used to blogging on Kidblog, they'll be ready to stay connected during this time.  If they're used to saving work to Google folders, this will be a great way for them to share work with you.  If learners have used Flip Grid, leverage it for lessons.  (etc.)

Remember Routines & Structures:  As classroom teachers, our workshops have a flow that learners know and understand.  We start with mini lesson, students have opportunities for independent practice, and then we share.  Our days follow predictable routines and, as teachers, we work to balance the heaviness of our content across the day.  The closer we are able to align to those structures and routines we've set up, the easier it will be for students and families.  Additionally, I've been seeing a lot of parents and teachers talking about creating schedules for the day.  This is such a smart way to think about managing our time --- especially as we all hunker into our homes for a few weeks.

Think About Learning vs. Doing:  It would be easy to put together lists of to-dos for kids, but I'm fascinated to think about all of the ways we can support actual learning.  We can create videos to explain new ideas, make charts that support key understandings for reference, and in some learning systems find ways to build discussions that connect our learners.

Be Selective:  Thankfully there are so many great resources being shared right now and so many companies are opening platforms for this timeframe.  I have been collecting these resources in a Padlet so I know where they are, but I will only be using those that make sense for where we are in learning.  There are some very well-known experts sharing content, but only we know our kids.

Maintain Connection:  We've had a lot of conversation around feedback and connection.  It's a little different to not be gathered for a mini-lesson.  It's a little different to not be side by side with learners.  It's a little different to not be sitting in a circle to share our work.  The more feedback and connection we can maintain the more likely our learners are to feel supported and stay engaged.  Parents will also need a bit more connection in this current situation as well.  This will look different for each of us, but play a big part in the success of this time.

This isn't a situation any of us planned for in our careers.  Additionally, it comes with some heavy weight beyond just the learning time.  We each need to give ourselves, and our students, the grace to know we may have to work a bit to find our way.  All we can do is stand where we are and gently step.

I'd love to hear the ways you are working through next steps for your learning communities.  




Monday, February 10, 2020

Today's the Day: Share Your Nonfiction Picture Book Selections Here #nf10for10


It's February 10th!!!

You know what that means....

It's time for our annual #nf10for10.

If you're looking for the place to share your nonfiction picture book selections for our #nf10for10 event, you're in the right spot.  I'm excited to be hosting this year's nonfiction picture book celebration!  Just scroll to the bottom of the post for more information, but basically you just need to leave your link in the comments below.

This is our 8th year for this nonfiction event.  I am looking forward to reading everyone's selections.

And My 2020 Selections Are...
So what does participation in #100daysofnotebooking with Michelle Hasteltine, coupled with the conversations I have been having with colleagues about supporting young writers with informational writing, and the latest blog post from Melissa Stewart about expository nonfiction text structures have me wondering?  All this has me thinking about the importance of a notebook in collecting ideas and information for nonfiction writing.  So...what are the books that might make a young writer want to grab a notebook for some informational writing?

Maybe these ten will get us started....

10 Books to Inspire Young Writers to Grab Their Notebook

Look Up!  Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

This book might inspire some quiet observation outside or a bit of research to learn more.  The book's illustrations, speech bubbles, and simple collections of information are sure to inspire the information collector.  The "Bird Watching Do's and Don't's!" could easily apply to other lists of "do's and don't's."  There are several other informational organization ideas presented in the pages that are sure to bring pen to paper.

Animals by the Numbers:  A Book of Animal Infographics by Steve Jenkins

Oh, infographics.  I love them and this book does not disappoint.  Full of interesting collections of animal facts, this book is sure to inspire notebook collections.  Want to web information?  You'll find examples here.  Want to graph findings?  Yep, you'll find that too.  Want to get creative with collections?  Here's the place to start.


Mapping Sam by Joyce Hesselberth

Writers can do so much with mapping.  Want to understand a location?  Want to share your house, a park you've visited, a city, or the stars?  Well, mapping is the perfect way to do that.  Mapping Sam has maps to inspire your thinking.






The Presidents:  Portraits of History by Leah Tinari

From the author of Limitless:  24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts comes this beautifully illustrated book.  This book will inspire budding artists, fact collectors, and information enthusiasts to open their notebooks.  Grab some paints, markers, or colored pencils and get started!







Lovely Beasts:  The Surprising Truth by Kate Gardner and illustrated by Heidi Smith

For all the word collectors, Lovely Beasts is sure to get them jotting words and interesting ways to express meaning.  The author weaves words with interesting facts about these lovely beasts.





Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton

The end papers alone should bring out the notebooks.  The author has drawn a variety of bees with a quick fact about each.  These simple drawings and collections of information are sure to inspire young writers to start researching.  Additionally, the book is full of other interesting ways to collect information including drawings with labels, sequence of steps (in this case for how honey is made), and so much more.  Packed with possibility this book is sure to get readers to think twice about bees AND to grab their notebook.


Flying Frogs and Walking Fish by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Hmmm.  I wonder if I have ever had a nonfiction list that didn't include a Steve Jenkins book.  This list has two.  He's the master.  One of the things I love about his work is the interesting way he sorts and categorizes information.  This book is a great read full of the many ways animals move, but its the last pages that I'm sure will bring out the notebooks.  Jenkins and Page have quickly collected facts on different animals and the many ways they move.



Who Am I? by Tim Flach

This book is sure to inspire some quick writes in a writing notebook.  In this book, Flach shares a dozen animals that are endangered.  The book allows a quick peek at part of the animal, tells a bit about it, and then readers find out which animal was being highlighted as they turn the page.  Writers are sure to be inspired to start to collect clues for their own "Who Am I" writing.  The back of the book includes more information about why each animal is special and the reasons they have become endangered.  This one is sure to get pencils flying.



Notable Notebooks:  Scientists and Their Writing by Jessica Fries-Gaither

This book highlights different scientists and the way they used their notebooks to collect information.  So many possibilities....








The Hike by Alison Farrell

I'm taking a little liberty here.  Isn't that what these picture book events are all about?  We've all found little ways to finesse the system.  This book isn't an informational text...well unless the author has taken some autobiographical liberties.  Though it isn't informational, I think it could inspire some observational collecting in a writer's notebook.  Mandy shared this book with me as we wandered the rows at NCTE and I fell in love with it immediately.  Not only is it a great story about the delight of a hike with friends, but it also has some peeks into Wren's sketchbook at the end that are sure to inspire.


10 Nonfiction Picture Books 
In previous nonfiction events, I've shared:

Join Us
Want to join the conversation?  You're in the right place.  Just add your link in the comments below.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

It's Almost Time for our Annual Nonfiction Picture Book Celebration

Our February Nonfiction Event
Yikes!  Time flies when you're having fun!  How did we leap into February so quickly?  (I think we will leap out of February this year too.  Sorry, I love bad puns.) Mandy, our event co-conspirator shared a little sneak peek to her stack for upcoming nonfiction celebration.

Yep, the countdown is well underway.  Next week is February's Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 event (#nf10for10).  I'm always amazed that this event rolls up so quickly.  It seems we flip the calendar - and boom - it's time to prepare for February's nonfiction picture book party:  #nf10for10. This year will be our 8th annual nonfiction event.  Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 is the sister event for August's #pb10for10.

What is #nf10for10
In 2010 Mandy Robek and I hosted our first picture book event.  In 2013, Julie Balen suggested we add a nonfiction picture book event that worked the same.  Participants choose 10 - well, usually 10 (they're a crafty bunch) - nonfiction picture books to share.

On the day of the event, Monday, February 10th, we'll ask that you visit this blog, Reflect & Refine, to add your nonfiction link to the conversation.  
So....

Join us!

Start sorting through your collections to find your favorite titles and join us on February 10th as we each share 10 nonfiction picture books we just can't live without.  Feel free to grab the #nf10for10 button and spread the word.

I guess I better get busy.  I only have a few days to pull together my titles.  Whew!  I guess I better get busy.  

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Week One: 100 Days of Notebooking #100daysofnotebooking


"Writers collect.  They collect random inspiration - things they notice and conversations they overhear.  They collect around a single idea when beginning a project.  They also collect possibilities for revision.  They collect ideas for future projects.  And they collect bits and pieces of life that may (or may not) have significance."  
                                                        -Ruth Ayres, Enticing Hard to Reach Writers, p. 89.


It all started with a tweet....



In the age of digital, my writer's notebook has certainly been something I've neglected.  When an idea strikes, it's easy to open the blog or document where I want to write.  Going directly to drafting instead of my notebook likely leads to writing that doesn't have the depth it could have.  I suppose many ideas don't percolate long enough.  Digitally, I often use Google Keep, Voice Recorder, or my notes app to do some planning, but it still isn't the same so I've been thinking about my notebook for awhile.

Then I saw Michell's tweet.  Her tweet to took me to her post.  Her post led me to a plan.  The plan led me to a community.

So for the next 100 days I'll be opening my notebook.  I've kept my goal for this time pretty simple:  one word.  Basically all I have to do is open the book, put my pen to the paper, and get down one word.  I've even already told myself it could be adding one artifact.  It's just one.  One attempt.  Of course, I know myself well enough to know most days it will be more than that, but I know I'll need to permission to step back when I need to without giving up.  It's a notebook, it's supposed to be simple.

If you would have loved to join, but are worried you're too late, the way I see it all you have to do is write about six words to catch up.  That's just a really sentence.  Ha!  So go ahead, pull out your notebook (or go buy one), and jump in with us.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Conversations Around Research: Let's CrowdSource (Share What You Know)

Disclaimer:  Before you read this, please know this is my interpretation of what I heard.  While I will give credit to the people who made me consider this, my interpretation may not exactly match their true point.

Please comment to join the conversation:  What I most want from this post is for everyone to share who the researchers are they follow and what are the publications that help them to find good research?  Who are the people who read a lot of literacy research and share it (with citing not just synthesis....I want people who share their sources not just their opinions)?  I'm going to start with a little intro to take you to how I got to my questions, but most importantly I want your thinking around the questions I ask.  

This morning, I woke up early to watch (for the fourth time), What Research Really Says About the Teaching of Reading - and Why That Still Matters, which is still available to members of the International Reading Association.  The talk features literacy researchers P. David Pearson, Nell Duke, Sonia Cabell, and Gwendolyn McMillon.  (Thank you, ILA, for live-streaming during your conference and keeping this available to members.  I could go on for days about that, but I must move to point.)

First of all, I'm going to admit to being a huge fan of Nell Duke.  I first saw her at the National Reading Recovery Conference in Columbus, Ohio.  I've never seen anyone who could talk with such ease and clarity about research in a way that makes such sense to me (and to be able to throw in the occasional one-liner to make the audience laugh).  In that session, she shared seven studies with the audience for consideration in practice.  When I saw her name on a panel about research during the ILA Conference, I had to sign up.  I was not disappointed by Nell - or the group.

Let's be honest, it's a hot time in literacy.  I'm a little saddened by the this or that stance people are taking.  (To be clear, I don't think the "all this" or the "all that" camp is doing us any good.  Additionally, I was going to say educators but, let's be honest, it isn't always educators leading this charge.)  The truth is, we'd all be a lot better off if we could step back for a minute and ask ourselves what we could learn.  You see, none of this conversation is without a bit of truth.  Yet, the problem has always been that we tend to take a this or that approach to teaching young children when in truth it is a this AND that approach that matters.  I always wonder what we could learn from each other that would make the work we do with children better if we'd all sit down in the middle.  If there was one answer to teaching children to read, the debate would have ended long ago, but children are different and answers are complex.  (Sorry, stepping off my soapbox to get to my point.)

I'm going to simplify a few points made by Nell Duke as she talked about the research that I've taken to heart and the reason I am writing this post.

  1. Beware confirmation bias!  For me this means two things.  The first and most important is that I am aware of the bias I have in the teaching of literacy and listen carefully to alternate points.  I (We) must remain open to alternate points-of-view.  Additionally, I try to remind myself that often the person across from me has their own bias.  What are the ways to discuss important topics with someone who comes from a different point of view?
  2. Literacy teaching is complex.  Nell makes the analogy (that I won't do justice to here) that a doctor will tell you to eat healthy foods, exercise, reduce stress and get plenty of sleep in considering your wellness.  She won't just tell you one of those things (at 50.33).  What I especially like about this analogy is that I know my doctor would focus their attention on the part of my health I'm not being as attentive to each day while not letting me forget the others.  The same is true in our teaching of literacy.  
  3. Know the research.  "When it comes to thinking about evidence based practice...the best source for understanding what the evidence says is either the studies themselves...[or] people who regularly read research in research journals," reminds Nell Duke.  I've been trying to work on this for a bit now.  I want to know the research that supports my beliefs, but also to dig into the research of the ideas that bump up against what I know.  This, however, isn't easy.  As practitioners, we don't have access to many of the publications that researchers and scholars can access.
With that in mind, I'm going to share a few of the people I follow who seem to lead me to strong research and the publications that also push me in that direction.  I will be transparent about the cost of those publications.  

Researchers/Scholars/Educators I follow that lead me to the research:
  • Dr. Nell Duke:  Nell doesn't share as much as I wish she did, but she is quite thoughtful in the studies she shares.  Honestly, I still haven't figured out exactly what her belief system is as she seems to remain so unbiased in her work.  
  • Dr. Mary Howard:  It isn't hard to figure out the bias of Dr. Mary Howard; it's best practices for children.  She is transparent about this bias, but what I do love about what she shares is that she always takes you back to the research to support these beliefs.  I have found many great research sources thanks to a blog/article/podcast she has shared.  
  • Donalyn Miller:  Donalyn is all about getting books into the hands of readers.  However, she is also good about sharing the research that supports her beliefs.  I like to keep an eye on the locations of her sources as this often leads me to new research. 
  • Larry Ferlazzo:  Larry Felazzo posts several times a week (maybe every day?) and curates collections around important literacy topics.  I especially appreciate his work in supporting English language learners.  His posts often move me toward recent research.  
  • I tried really hard to get to 5, but I couldn't.  I have a few that could maybe go here, but they didn't seem to consistently take me to research.  Yikes!  I need to get busy finding these people.  
Who are the researchers/scholars/educators that continually lead you to research of evidence based literacy practices?  

Sites/Publications that lead me to research:
  • The Reading Teacher: ($$) This journal often shares articles that lead me to the research as most of the references given in articles of interest share more of the evidence behind the practice.
  • Reading Research Quarterly:  ($$)  More than other journals to which I subscribe, this one takes me closer to the actual research that was conducted.  The articles dig into the studies and give a bigger picture of the work that was done and the implications. 
  • Google Scholar:  Thank you, Nell Duke, for sharing this gathering space of research.  It's helped a bit.  
  • What Works Clearinghouse:  This is often one of the first stops in my search for evidence based practices in literacy.  
  • Again, four seems the number.  (I really prefer lists of 3, 5, 7, or 10....lol.)
My hope is that you will share the researchers/scholars/educators you follow who lead you to strong research (especially those that can do so without bias) and the sites/publications you follow.

My final wonder today is why it is so hard for practitioners to access research.  Perhaps one of you know the secret to accessing research without cost.  I have truly considered going back to our university to take a course so I can once again access research.  If I'm a teacher in the field, doesn't it make sense that I should be able to access this research with greater ease? 

I digress.  My purpose in writing this post is truly to start a conversation so while commenting is pretty out these days, I do hope you will leave a comment to share what you know.  That being said, this is not a space for this or that conversation so I will delete any comments that go into a rant about this or that.  I truly want to know the best people and places that share information with educators about the evidence based practices in the teaching of literacy.  

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Deadlines, Challenges, and Other Writing Truths

The deadline loomed.

That morning I awoke trying to find the article I would submit for our writing group.  It was to be submitted that evening.  I'd had two weeks to write the article (honestly more), but I had not produced a word.

Here I sat with a deadline and nothing.  I'd try rereading old pieces for revision, but none of them felt right.  I tried starting a few new pieces and none of them took off.

Of course, the challenge wasn't the deadline as much as it was the writing.  I know the problem.  I just haven't been writing as much as I usually do.

Writing is harder when I'm not writing regularly, I find.  I know this, but I have to keep reteaching myself this lesson.  Because calendars.  Because time.  Because work.  Because distraction.  Because excuses.

When I got home that evening, the clock was ticking toward the deadline.  I had to do something.

Tick, tock.  Tick, tock.  Tick, tock.

Once again, I wrestled through a few older articles I had in my drafts folder, but they just weren't going anywhere.  Finally I decided the clock was running out, I had to write about where my feet were right now.  I started a draft that was related to some work I was currently doing.  Still.  Every.  Word.  Was.  Hard.

That's the challenge of not writing regularly.  It's like exercise.  The less you do it, the harder it is.

I've sworn myself back to some regular writing, but I can't help but wonder about the writers in our classrooms.  Do they have the daily time to write?  Do they have the time to play in their words?  Do they have time to write the really bad stuff that hides the gems we can tease out?

When we aren't writing regularly, our young writers can struggle to get words onto a page.  If we aren't writing regularly, we can find ourselves trying to push them through their struggle by giving them graphic organizers and strict guidelines for pieces.  We can find ourselves wondering where their passion is in their writing, where the voice is hiding, why they struggle so much to write.

Time isn't the solution to strengthening our writing, but it certainly is the first required step.

I didn't quite make the deadline, but I wasn't far behind.  (Yeah, I need an occasional deadline to push myself forward.)

It did remind me that the best way to make writing easier is to write often.

So here I am.