Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Third Grade Reading Guarantee Isn't What Guarantees Readers

In Ohio,  There seems to be this perception among some government officials that the Third Grade Reading Guarantee makes readers.  The Ohio Department of Education's website reads,
"Ohio's Third Grade Guarantee ensures that every struggling reader gets the support he or she needs to be able to learn and achieve."
On my best days, I remind myself that the intent is to be sure all students are reading by third grade and receive the support they need to make that possible, but readers aren't made by mandates and fear; readers are made on laps, in libraries, in classrooms, in reading communities, and with books.  There are days I am saddened by the message we send children as young as five:  "You're not a reader.  What's wrong with you?" as we send out letters and create plans.  There are days that I am discouraged that readers must take tests to prove themselves instead of sharing their recent reads and discoveries.  Most days, however, I'm able to remind myself it is best to set all of that aside and nurture these young learners just beginning their journey down a reading path.

Recently I was in a chat in which the question was asked, "What shifts have you made in K-3 literacy since implementation of the Third Grade Reading guarantee?"  We were teaching reading long before the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.  We were supporting readers and creating explicit plans for support long before this mandate.  As a teacher of reading, my goal is never about passing The Third Grade Reading Guarantee, but instead it is to support readers and help them to take beginning steps into their reading lives.  I dream of readers who don't just pass tests, but read well beyond the school day.  Readers who talk about books with friends.  Readers who stay up later than they are supposed to so they can finish book.  Readers who see the world through different eyes because of the stories they carry within them.

What "guarantees" readers?  There is no magical answer, but here are the steps I find essential in helping readers to grow:
  • Read Aloud:  reading aloud several times a day helps readers to hear the sounds of words, learn the way stories work, have pleasurable conversation around books, and experience new possibilities.
  • Time to read independently:  many of our readers working to catch up to peers have less time to read - and time is what they need most of all.    
  • Books!  Books!  Books!:  classroom libraries full of books entice readers.  I love the energy created when new books come into the classroom library for students to enjoy.  
  • Connections:  helping readers build connections to books, authors, characters, their community, and the global reading community can help increase their desire to read.  
  • Responsive Instruction:  through timely assessments, conferring conversations, and time spent beside readers we can discover what readers have under control and plan next steps.  
  • Ownership:  the more students have choice about the books they will read and ownership over the goals set for their reading, the more likely they are to make strong progress.
As a teacher of reading, I know the stories that go beyond the numbers.  For some of the students who work the hardest, reading doesn't come easily.  It is easy in times of mandates to choose instructional practices that give us short term results instead of staying true to best practices for developing young literate minds.  As teachers of reading, it is our job to walk alongside readers and shine a light on the stories that surround them.  It's our job to stay informed, develop sound pedagogy, and advocate for the young children just beginning their journey into our literate world.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Puffin Web Browser is a Must-Have for iPad Users

Puffin Web Browser
There are some things that as soon as you learn about them you wonder where they've been all your life.  The first time I used a straightener for my hair, ate a Reese's Peanut Butter Egg, made cookies with a Kitchen Aide, and had a Starbucks Marble Mocha, I asked myself this very question.  Where had each been all of my life?  The first time I went to the Pearl and had ricotta dumplings, it was the same experience.  Wowza!

At the risk of being a bit dramatic, I have to admit I felt the same way when I learned about Puffin Web Browser this week while at a conference.  At the time, I was keeping notes on my iPad.  The presenter was sharing a book online, but because it somehow involved Adobe my browser wouldn't open the PDF.  Then the presenter shared a video - same problem.  A woman at my table suggested I download Puffin Web Browser to be able to view documents and video which required Adobe to view.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.   Where had Puffin been all of my life?  Suddenly I was able to view PDF documents with ease, watch videos, and get around Flash requirements.  There are actually three versions of Puffin:  Puffin Web Browser Free, Puffin Web Browser $3.99, and Puffin Academy for kids.  I'm currently using the free version and have found I've been able to view sites and documents that once were a problem on my iPad.  This probably isn't news to you, but if you are like me and live under a rock you will be grateful for this news.  The truth will set you free!  Puffin is my new digital love!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Five Poetry Stops You'll Want to Share with Students

Shared Reading
Shared reading has evolved with the introduction of technology to our classrooms.  A big book is no longer the only way to gather students to read a text together.  Now it is possible to project small books to make the print large enough for others to see, or to project a piece of writing from the internet to read together.

As a primary teacher, I find shared reading to be one way to help bring students to a text they might otherwise be unable to read.  By making it familiar, it is possible for young readers to be able to read the text independently later.  Additionally, shared reading helps build reading vocabulary, improve fluency, and brings joy to reading.  It allows students to think deeply and discuss their reading together.

What better genre than poetry for shared reading with its rhythm, occasional rhyme, and wondrous word choices?  Poetry is perfect for these shared reading opportunities.  Reading poems together and then having them available for students to reread helps to increase the volume and complexity of reading students can accomplish independently.

There are many sites available to find poetry for students.  Since it is National Poetry Month, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites.

Websites for Shared Poetry Reading
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater:  The Poem Farm  If you don't know Amy's website, go there right now.  You'll be amazed.  Get a cup of coffee because you'll want to spend some time meandering around The Poem Farm.  Amy has so many poems that could be used for shared reading.  During April, she's featuring her Sing That Poem! project.  If you go to her Find a Poem tab, you can search by technique or topic for a poem to share.  In addition to the variety of poems she shares, there is often a SoundCloud link that would allow readers to listen to her read the poem.  She also shares the thinking and craft decisions behind much of her poetry, making her site useful for many focus lessons in writer's workshop.

Laura Purdie Salas:  Writing the World for Kids  For National Poetry Month, Laura is sharing a quick tip for teachers or others sharing poetry, and then a poem to read each day of the month.  Browse around for a bit to discover other poetry and interesting poetry information.

Irene Latham:  Live Your Poem  For National Poetry Month, Irene is featuring her ARTSPEAK series where she is writing about images found in the online collection from the National Gallery of Art.  Additionally, Irene shares many poems across the year and other important poetry information.  You can listen to her read her poems on SoundCloud as well, if you click SoundCloud in her sidebar.

Poetry Minute Poetry Minute is a site organized by Kenn Nesbitt.  This site is full of tiny treasures.  You can search for poetry by author or by category.  Kid-friendly, this site will provide a variety of poetry for shared reading with students.

Giggle Poetry  Looking for poems to share with your students, stop by Giggle Poetry which features Poetry Class (my favorite link as there is a bit of information about the type of poem, a little writing advice, and then some examples), Poetry Fun, Poetry Theatre, and Word Games.

Please share your favorite poetry sites for shared reading with students in the comments below.

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learningMargaret Simon hosts a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche (today's link-up) to read, discover, and link.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: Inspiring Young Poets

Poetry and spring just seem to go together.  There's something about a fresh outlook on the earth and a fresh look at words that helps the world to sing this time of year.  Maybe it's all the green.  Maybe it's the parade of flowers popping up here and there.  Maybe it's the change in temperatures or the way the sun feels just a little closer.  

Forest Has a Song
by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
This week we had the privilege of Skyping with poet, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.  To say I was excited about the opportunity would be an understatement.  I first came to know Amy's work when she was taking on the challenge of writing a poem every day for a year.  It wasn't long until I became familiar with her website and the many resources she shares there.  At the Poem Farm you can find a gaggle of poems to read with students or use as mentor texts.  You can search by topic or poem type.  Not to mention the writing advice you can find tucked inside each post.  Now, of course, we can enjoy Amy's work in Forest has a Song.  

Advice for Young Poets
Our first graders had the privilege of talking with Amy on Tuesday.  It was a-maz-ing!  Students had written a variety of questions for Amy about writing.  She chose some to answer.  Students read their questions and she talked about her thinking as a writer.  Here are a few of the tips she gave young poets (paraphrased from my quick notes): 

  • To get ideas pay attention to the world around you, consider memories, search in books, and jot ideas down where you will remember, and can grow, them.
  • Talking with family, friends, and other writers can help you think more about your poem.  Have someone read your poem to you to see if sounds the way you hope it will.
  • Making poems is like making other things you enjoy.  Do it with feeling.  Be a time machine.  Think about new things.  
  • As a poet, work to say something in a way someone else can connect with as they read.  
  • Poetry can rhyme (and Amy shared her love for writing rhyme), but it doesn't have to rhyme.  The poet decides.

Creating Energy
The best part about the time we spent together was the way Amy created energy around poetry.  Connecting with an audience via Skype can be a tricky thing, but Amy really knew how to keep the attention of these young writers.  Our first graders were spellbound for the entire conversation.  Amy was magical as she kept students engaged throughout the conversation.  
  • She won them over with her puppet greeting.  
  • "Think about this..."  Amy continually invited students to think beyond the conversation.  She gave them ideas to try, ways to think about the writing, and suggestions for sharing poetry.
  • Poetry sharing.  How would a Skype visit be complete without sharing a poem or two with the poet?  Amy invited students to join her in poetry.  She picked poems that would allow students to participate in the sharing.  
  • Invitations.  Amy continually invited students to write a poem, share a poem, try an idea, think about favorites, and publish poems in ways the world can enjoy them.
  • Movement.  Amy found ways to incorporate movement in a poem and in poetry conversation in just the right places.  
Since our conversation the first grade rooms have been filled with poetry.  They've been reading poetry, sharing poetry, writing poetry --- and even singing poetry.  It's just the lift we needed for these final weeks of learning together.  


Coming Soon
Everyday Birds (Scholastic, Spring 2016)
Read!  Read!  Read!  (Wordsong, Fall 2017)


Sunday, March 22, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Why Leaders Should Be Connected

Not too long ago we received an email from our superintendent titled:  Follow Your Passion.  Apparently he sensed the apprehension growing over upcoming mandated testing.  The email was several paragraphs in length and sent to remind us to stay focused on what we do.  Here's a piece of the letter:  
"Don't allow outside forces to compromise your classroom environment, building culture, or faith in yourself.  Good teaching trumps all... teach well and let the tests take care of themselves.  Be true to your passion and true to your students."  Dr. John Marschhausen
This was a timely email, perhaps a result of a growing anxiousness about testing that seemed to be starting to build in buildings and even in social media.  We have been fortunate in the last few years to have leaders working to stay connected using email, blogging platforms, Google, VoiceThread, and social media, among other digital tools.  As a teacher in a large district, I appreciate the time leaders take to stay connected.

It didn't seem uncommon, years ago, to sit in a meeting and hear about a new initiative that seemed to just come from nowhere.  It was hard to process it all.  All of a sudden there would be something new we were doing, and as a teacher you worked to catch up to it.  It didn't seem uncommon to talk to teachers in one building who had different information than we had in another building.  Leaders made a good effort to keep everyone informed, but information shared in meetings and through people will arrive in different ways and at different times.  It feels different now with leaders staying connected; messages are more consistent.

Not only are messages more consistent, but it is easy to see the unfolding of ideas across time.  Many of our technology, curriculum, and administrative leaders have started to share and collaborate using Twitter.  I've found following these accounts and conversations has helped me to stay informed and continued to inspire me across the school year.  As district leaders have thought about developing a growth mindset, blended learning, digital literacy, personalization, grading practice, assessment, and re-visioning school, they've shared interesting articles they've discovered, new steps being considered, and ways to grow the work we do with children.  It is easy to see the collaboration and learning happening across the district.

In addition to supporting a journey of learning, they have helped to tell the story of the work we do.  They've shared the work of committees and the conversations in community meetings.  They've shared the stories of the many things happening throughout our district.  It's much easier to see the connectedness of our learning environments.

Finally, it would be easy in any district to get caught up in our own work and lose sight of envisioning new possibilities.  Connected leaders continue to grow in their own thinking as they have conversations and follow the thinking of colleagues around the globe.  Many have grown their personal learning networks and started to participate in larger conversations that push their thinking.  There's something exciting about being in a community where learning, sharing, and risk-taking are becoming common.  Connected leaders make a difference.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Considering Social Learning when Grouping

What can students learn from
one another?  
"I don't get it," Autumn said as she looked up from her copy of Henry and Mudge:  The First Book.  It wasn't a surprise to me that she was confused as I had been watching the question grow in her facial expression as she read and reread the sentence.  The book said Henry would never worry again, but this didn't make sense to Autumn who was sure that Mudge had run away on purpose because Henry was upset with him.

"What are you thinking?" I asked, trying to get to where her confusion might be, but allowing her to continue to sort it out.

"It just doesn't make sense," she said as she reread the sentence to me.  "Why wasn't he going to worry?"  I waited for her to continue, but she did not.  

"Why don't you go ahead and finish the chapter.  Then we can come back to this part and talk about it," I suggested thinking that maybe the last part might help her to put her thinking together a bit more.  I also knew that talking about this with another student might allow her to sort out her question a bit more.

After the pair finished reading we returned to the book.  "What you did was important to understanding the story," I reminded Autumn.  "Sometimes readers will just skip a part that is confusing, but you reread and looked back a bit to think more about what the author said.  Can you share with your friend the part that seemed confusing?" I inquired.

Autumn reread the part, and Matthew looked thoughtfully at her for a minute before he replied.  "I think he won't worry because he knows where to find Mudge now," Matthew considered.

They went back and forth for a bit, discussing the question, going into the text, and considering different possibilities as to why Henry felt this way.  As they talked I inquired, "Do you think Mudge ran away or got lost?"  The two readers continued to think about this.  I wasn't looking for a particular answer as much as I was hoping to get them to use evidence from the story to think about it.  When they would reply I would ask that they show me the place that made them think that.

Matthew quickly went back into the text to use parts of the story to support his thinking.  This was harder for Autumn, but I could tell she was listening to Matthew and really considering what he was saying.  He was causing her to rethink some of the events in the story.

As I listened to these two talk about the story, I began to think about how important diversity in our grouping can be.  There are many reasons we pull small groups together, but often it is because we have noticed they need the same thing.  Sometimes groups get put together for a particular reason, and then we forget to really rethink our purpose and keep moving students around.

As I listened to these two talk together, I began to think about how individuals construct information with other learners.  Matthew gave Autumn new things to think about.  He challenged her thinking and because these two respect one another, they listened to each other and were willing to reconsider what they thought they knew.  While Matthew helps Autumn to reconsider new thinking, Autumn helps Matthew to look a little more deeply into text.  Her questioning slowed him down a bit, and reduced his tendency to speed through reading with only surface level understanding.

When we think about a child's zone of proximal development (Vygotsky), that space between what they know and what can do with support, we often think about how we as teachers can help them to make the next shift in understanding.  I try to continually remind myself that this theory is a social theory in nature and that sometimes the most powerful shifts in understanding really come from conversations with peers who often are closer in language to where the student is.  Often the rapport students have with one another can help lift learners to new places.

There are many things to consider when grouping students for learning including what they understand and what they need to know next, but I'm trying to think more and more about what learners can get from one another.  Instead of focusing solely on what they need, I'm trying to think more about what learners can bring to one another.  How can I bring students into a group to compliment the thinking of one another?  How can I bring students together so they can help each other reach new understandings?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: The Digital Maker Playground

Photo:  Pete Proedohl
Professional development is no longer confined to physical spaces.  A myriad of opportunities are available for professional learning across social media, through blogs, and in online learning spaces.  Educators are busy so opportunities to learn in different spaces and at a variety of times opens new doors.

Julie Johnson and I are hosting the digital playground for educators in our district and around the world to connect and learn from one another.  The Digital Maker Playground is MOOC-ish digital maker space where participants gather to share and learn together.

Teachers work together
during the Live Workshop.
The Digital Maker Playground
The Digital Maker Playground, #P2Lmooc, is a unique opportunity open to everyone near and far. All educators are invited to play with us as we explore new tools, create and compose projects around themes, as well as share and collaborate with one another.  The Digital Maker Playground is located on Google Plus where participants can ask questions, discuss topics, and share makes.  The goal is to allow time to consider meaningful digital composition while providing opportunities to connect with other creators.

The course takes place across April and May with a new make every other week.  Currently the community has over 50 participants from local districts and around the globe.  The course is free and open to anyone who would like to participate.  You are welcome to join the fun.

Our Makes 
Our first make was sharing our maker space with one another.  A variety of tools were utilized to share our spaces.  (You can view the maker spaces here.)  This week our next make will be posted in our Digital Maker Playground.    The next make is about lifting a line from literature and finding a way to share it with the community.

Our first live workshop.
Every two weeks, Julie and I host a live workshop for those who would like to attend.  Our first workshop was two weeks ago.  We were excited to have so many people join the workshop from our district as well as neighboring districts.  The time is for participants to work, ask questions, and puzzle things out together.  It was fun to watch everyone work together and share what they know.

Professional development is no longer confined to one space and one time.  Opportunities like this allow us to learn and grow together in a supportive learning community.

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learningMargaret Simon hosts a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche (today's link-up) to read, discover, and link.