Sunday, April 20, 2014

If Not for Franki….

There's a rumor floating around the blogosphere that today is Franki Sibberson's birthday.  What?  Franki's birthday.  Not just any birthday either ---- one of those big fun crazy ones.  What better time to take a moment to ponder:  if not for Franki….

I'm always amazed by Franki:  her energy, her advocacy, her friendship.  I'm always amazed by the way she brings a community together and knows just what each person has to offer.  If Franki says, "You should…," you better watch out!  I'm always amazed by all she accomplishes in just ONE day, let alone a week, a month or a year.  In these times when education can be tough and staying focused on children seems a challenge, Franki continues to push forward in a positive way.  She's always searching for the better way, but she always keeps children and literacy first.

Today, on her birthday, it seemed only right to honor her by trying a "new to me" application (Thanks, Linda Baie).  Today I honor, Franki, with a little Haiku Deck tribute.

Thank you, Franki.  You really will never know the impact you have had on me.


Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Growing Our Reading Community: Learning from Older Readers

Learning from Older Readers
This time of year, I always enjoy eavesdropping into conversations about books.  Students have learned so much about how to think about books across the year and this thinking seems to be woven into the conversations they have with friends.  Still, for young readers, the value of strong models is essential.  This spring we've paired with our fifth grade book buddies to focus on having thoughtful conversations around books.  All year we've been meeting with our fifth graders and the students have developed a strong learning friendship.

Readers talk together about books.  Across the year each fifth grader has been paired with one first grader.  They've been reading a book and then talking together about it.  As first graders have developed an ability to think and talk more deeply about their reading, it seemed like a good time to take a step back and look at the power of a conversation about a book.

Modeling a Book Talk
To help support the first graders in more focused book conversations, we put two pairs together.  Each pair read the same title and then came together to talk about the book.  During the first meeting, the fifth graders did most of the talking.  In our second meeting, the four readers all participated in the conversation.  During these meetings we chose books the first graders were already familiar with from our classroom;  books we had read aloud across the year.  We wanted them to be able to concentrate on the conversation.

A few days later, a group of fifth graders came down and modeled a book club talk in our circle.  We watched and then talked about our observations.  After watching the first graders noticed the way their older friends talked to each other.

  • The older readers always went back to the book to support their thinking.  
  • They took turns with one another. 
  • They really listened to their friends. 
  • They actually passed the book to one another and the one with the book was always talking.

They also noticed the way they talked about their reading.

  • They often talked about the setting of the story.
  • They shared their favorite part(s).
  • They talked about important details from their reading.
  • They talked about the character (action, intent, feelings, etc.). 
  • They made connections.
  • They talked together about confusing parts.

My students observations weren't just a matter of circumstance.  Our fifth graders plan carefully for these conversations.  They know my goals for my students, and they work to bridge vocabulary and language.  They spend much time looking at the books they'll be reading and preparing for their conversations.  They provide thoughtful guidance.  My students look up to these older readers and their relationships have grown across the year.

These conversations have helped us to deepen the book conversations in our classroom and help us move toward book clubs.  Our book buddies continue to meet every two weeks to discuss books.  Sometimes readers bring different books and sometimes they bring the same books.  They ask each other questions and talk about they author's message.  Most of all, they're sharing a love of books reinforced by these special peer relationships.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Literacy First

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learning, Margaret Simon has started a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  I'm joining the event for the first time today.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche to read, discover, and link.

The bell rang and students began entering the room, hanging up their coats, and chatting with friends.  After checking in with each other and completing the tasks of the morning, students began to settle into their work.  One student grabbed an iPad to read and comment on the most recent posts from friends on our Kidblog account.  Another went to the desktop to finish a post she had been working on the day before.  Still another grabbed yesterday's books to begin to enter titles into our community Shelfari account.  Some friends remained at tables reading books from baskets.

It wasn't long until we gathered around the carpet for our meeting, read aloud, and to begin our literacy block. Around the classroom during our literacy block, I noticed the quiet hum of the students.  They were grounded in their work as literacy learners.  Technology wasn't required for this, but was often a part of their choices.  In reader's workshop, students were reading independently and in pairs.  Some students were writing about their reading on dry erase boards and in their notebooks.  Students were using Pixie to share their thinking.  Others were stopping by Kidblog to read and comment.  Still others were using the time to read books on the recently discovered ToonBooks website.  In writer's workshop, students were writing stories on paper, some were painting their illustrations.  Others were using Pixie to write and illustrate books that could later be turned into podcasts.

Today there were a three iPads in the room, two laptops, and our three desktops, but students were focused on real world literacy.  What did they want to read?  What did they need to write?  What did they hope to learn?  What did they need to accomplish these goals?  I was struck by how seamlessly students used technology as they worked to make new discoveries.

Years ago, I remember "planning technology," but now it is just something that has become a part of the literacy work we do across our day.  It's been a journey and there is still much to learn.  I'm often asked how did we get to the place where students just know what they need and use the technology as they work.  I'm honestly not sure, and know it varies from year to year with different groups, but here are a few key elements to infusing technology into the literacy learning we do each day:

Staying Focused on Literacy:  In our workshops students choose to do the work of literacy learners.  They set literacy goals and consider the focus lesson in making choices across workshops.  They work to make meaning and share new understandings with others.

Ownership:  Students ultimately own the work.  They have time to pursue interests, develop new understandings, and make choices about their reading and writing.  They choose their books, topics for writing, and ways to share their thinking with others.

Availability:  Consistent access is needed for students to get in the routine of reading, writing, and responding in their literacy block using technology.  Students know they can use technology after finishing their morning message, in reader's workshop for reading and response work, and in writer's workshop to create and/or publish their writing for a wider audience.

Power Applications:  With young learners I try to choose 3-5 applications we will learn to use well in our year together.  Though we are not limited to these applications, having a core collection helps us to work independently.  I try to find applications that allow us to do a lot of different things within them.  In our classroom we utilize applications that allow students to create.  I look for applications that allow students to draw, type, insert images, and record voice.  Our go-to apps this year have been EduCreations, Pixie, Photo Booth, and Kidblog.  (We typically save work into Evernote, Google Drive, or DropBox.)

Gradual Release of Control:  As with anything we teach, students benefit from modeling, shared experiences, guided practice, and independent opportunities to try new learning.   For example, we begin our year with shared blogging, and studying mentors, as we work together to create posts for our readers about learning taking place in our classroom.  Then gradually students move toward independent practice and begin to utilize their personal blogging space for a variety of purposes.

Exploration:  Early in learning our "power applications" students have time to explore.  We usually begin using new applications together to create and share with others.  Most often we follow that with opportunities for students to try it and some time to just explore.  Students need time to try new things and not everything they create will be amazing, but everything will be something we can learn or build from in our next steps.

A Home Base:  We use Weebly for our learning community.  Through our Weebly site, Merely Learning Together, parents and students can access much of the work we do, websites we use, and other learning links from school or home.

Techsperts:  Each year I have students who rise to leading our use of technology.  The students in my classroom know who is savvy with particular applications, tasks such as saving, or general troubleshooting.  They often rely on these peers as I work with small groups and confer with individuals across workshops.

Time:  When using technology to read, write reading responses, create digital stories, and collaborate with others, students need time to work.

Trust:  In our classroom we talk a lot about possibilities for using tools to share our thinking.  We talk a lot about digital citizenship and our responsibilities with others in our learning community.  I've learned to trust them to make smart choices, to problem solve, and to try new ideas.  Most often, the students take our community places I never thought we'd go.

What is essential for infusing technology across your day?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Poetry Love

It's almost here!  April is National Poetry Month.  Now, if you're like me, there's nothing like poetry all year long, but there's something about the arrival of spring, the warmer air, the independence of the learners in my room at this point in the year that makes me shout POETRY!

Tonight's #titletalk was about poetry and has me ready for April.

Getting Started
Here are a few things to kick off our #poetrylove this month.

Community Poem
We kicked things off before spring break with a shared poem about spring.  Everyone contributed a line to our poem and then we worked to put them in an arrangement to form our community poem.

Tomorrow is Betsy's Chalk-a-Bration.  The cold cold, eternally cold, bitter cold, never ending cold has kept us from getting outside to chalk.  My fingers are crossed that tomorrow we can find some time to chalk a poem.  Let's hope it will be warm enough.  Come on, Spring!  

Place a Poem
Next week we'll be adding poems around the building.  As students create poems about places and things that are a part of our school, we'll hang them right where they belong.

Poetry Resources
Poetry:  My Pinterest board of favorite poetry books for students.
Nonfiction Poetry:  My Pinterest board of favorite nonfiction poetry books for students.
I Can Read It:  Poetry Books for Primary Readers  Another Pinterest collection.
Poetry:  My Pinterest collection of electric resources and mentor poems.
Professional Books About Teaching Poetry
Poems:  Mentor Texts for Young Writers

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reading Strategies: Try It and Read On

Language Habits
As a teacher I find I get myself into certain language habits.  Some of them work, and some need fixed. Everyone remembers the "good reader" language which we replaced with "smart reader" to which we decided maybe it was just better to use the word "reader."  Then there was "I like the way you….".  This was a tough one for me to break.  It got results!  However, after reading Peter Johnston's book, Opening Minds, I knew I had to get away from it.  I've tried to replace "I like the way you…" with "I noticed…," but I'd be telling a tale if I told you I didn't slip back into old habits now and again.

Reading Strategies to Sustain Reading
There are many reading strategies and prompts we use for beginning readers depending upon their need.  Do they use meaning?  Do they think about what sounds right?  Are they using visual cues as they read?  Most importantly, do they keep these three things in balance.  To help, we go through a progression of reading strategies which help students sustain reading.

Here are a few:

  • Think about what makes sense.
  • Look at the picture. 
  • Use the beginning letter.  (Or as I hear some say, "get your mouth ready." Which progresses into greater sampling of visual information:  first part, chunks, check the end, etc.)
  • Reread.
  • Skip it  Try it and read on.  

Try It
A phrase I'm trying to help my students grow past is "skip it" in their reading.  This was a strategy we often taught students who needed to use a little more meaning to attempt unknown words.  Often skipping a word and reading on gives a reader more context to help solve.  Then readers can go back to reread and correct the error when they know which word makes sense in that space.  It's a little like what we do when we have students practice with cloze reading texts we have prepared.  

Years ago, while training for Reading Recovery, our trainer suggested it might be better for us to replace our "skip it" language with "try it and read on."  At first I was a bit skeptical, but quickly discovered she was absolutely right.  First of all, trying something and reading on keeps the pace of the reading which helps meaning.  Secondly, it helps readers maintain fluency as they read.  Additionally, it causes readers to think about what they do know in this place and gives them something to try.  Honestly, when readers attempt they are most always right the first time.  If they are not, reading on usually gives them the additional information they need to return quickly to self-correct.

Consistent language matters for readers, and matters especially for those needing the most support.  "Try it and read on" is one way readers can move past those tricky parts where they are uncertain to develop confidence in solving.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

DigiLit Sunday: The Need for Continuous Access

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learning, Margaret Simon has started a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  I'm joining the event for the first time today.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche to read and link.

Beyond Event Technology
When I think back to how I used technology years ago, I realize how much my thinking has changed.  It used to be technology seemed very separated from the real work students were doing in the classroom.  I always felt like I was planning for technology.  It was unnatural and out of place in our daily routine.  The lessons never quite fit into what students were learning.  We'd wheel the carts to our classroom to have, what I now call, event technology.  In this case, everyone used the same device, the same software, and completed basically the same task.

This was a response in Pixie to sharing new
learning in nonfiction.
In my days of event technology students didn't really own this learning.  I planned most of what we would do, when we would do it, and how the final product would look.  In the last five years, I have changed the way I personally use technology which has changed the way I think of using it with my students.  As I discovered Twitter, Shelfari, and Pinterest, I began to see ways we could use these applications to collect, curate, and collaborate with our families, community, and the world (class Twitter, Shelfari, Pinterest).   As I began to blog, I realized the power in developing a learning community that blogs as well.  As I started playing with applications I began to find those best suited for the learning taking place in our classroom.  I began to realize that students needed opportunities to use technology in ways that worked for them, in times that worked for them, to create artifacts that mattered to them.

Curating, Creating, and Collaborating
When available, students now use technology to share, create and collaborate.  When available students pick up devices to create artifacts to show their understanding of topics of study.  They write about their reading.  They create new pieces for writer's workshop.  They show new math discoveries or ways to solve problems.  They write for, and respond to, their friends.  They interact with communities beyond our classroom as well.

A math partnership shares their problem solving strategies.
As students create and share their thinking I am able to reflect on their understandings, strategies, and challenges.

However, when technology isn't available this all comes to a stop and the rhythms of learning are temporarily slowed.  This happened Friday as students started to settle into our Reader's Workshop, I noticed a buzz beginning in our classroom.  It quickly grew louder as students looked around to see if we had any technology available.  Often we are able to share a few iPads and a laptop or two between our first grade classrooms, but today there wasn't any technology available.  I explained to the students that everything was checked out for the day, but they could still use one of the three desktops available in our classroom.

Desktops work well for writing a blog post or commenting on a friend's blog.  We can also use them for creating in Pixie, but desktops can't always do the same thing an iPad can do.  First graders can easily use an iPad to create.  They can snap pictures, record audio, capture video, and create digital artifacts to show their thinking.  My students like to use Educreations, Pixie, and Kidblog to create, collaborate and share.  They can carry a laptop over to an area where they have books spread out or math tools are being used to learn.

This impromptu "how to" video was created after Skyping with Mrs. Moran's class in Maine about indoor recess possibilities.  It has made a perfect springboard for conversations about "how to" writing, but wouldn't have happened without immediate access. 

The Need for Consistent Access
We're truly fortunate to have desktops consistently in our classroom, and access to iPads and laptops as they are available.  I know many educators wish for this type of access.  I'm fortunate to teach in a district that has been very strategic about its plan for technology by keeping technology, not only available, but up-to-date.   When technology is available for our workshops students use them to share their thinking.  Sometimes they write responses.  Sometimes they publish stories they have written.  Sometimes they create digital pictures, screencasts, or videos to share their thinking digitally.  However, when they are not available the work comes to a screeching halt and momentum is lost.

The internet is abuzz with talk of one-to-one devices.  Surely, this will be common in the future, but for now we could do so much with just a few different devices consistently available in our classroom.  With a couple of iPads, a few laptops, and the desktops students have a wide variety of choice for tools.  More consistent access would also help us work toward improving the quality of artifacts created by being able to revisit them in a timely fashion.  Consistent access to a variety of tools allows students to choose the tool to match their purpose.  Want to write a blog post?  Go to the desktop.  Want to create something on Educreations?  Grab an iPad.  Want to write about a book you are reading and need to be at your seat?  Choose a laptop.  Want to turn a written story into a digital book?  Grab an iPad.

In a time when we value personal learning and innovation, it makes sense to have the tools available to support student choice.  It makes sense to have a variety of devices available for students to use in learning all of the time.  It makes sense to have continuous access for learners.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction

Today, Franki Sibberson, rounds up reflective posts on formative assessment and NCTE's new document at a Year of Reading.  Stop by to read more.  

"If we use assessment to understand, not evaluate, then it becomes the key to growth."    
             -Clare Landrigan & Tammy Mulligan, Assessment in Perspective (p. 124)

Formative Assessment 
Last week I participated in #nctechat about formative assessment around a new document recently released:  Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction.  Here are some of the highlights:

In today's world of standardized assessments, sometimes it feels like formative assessment gets swept under the rug.  Districts, state and federal entities push us into placing much significance on these standardized one shot evaluations of learners.  Standardized tests, in reality, are a very small part of the learner's story and rarely provide the powerful information we need to support young learners.  Yet, they become what we wrap our conversations around and often the lens in which we view children.

However, I find the best information I discover about children is found in those day-to-day interactions as we learn together.  As an educator, formative assessment gives me much information about:
  • where my students are currently 
  • what they may need next
  • strategies or understandings which may be at the edge of their learning
  • their preferences for learning
  • which focus lessons I should consider
  • small groups that may be formed
A Place to Begin 
NCTE's new document provides a way to talk about these assessments which matter to our day to day work with young literacy learners.  By pulling apart the tools and strategies of formative assessment by considering:
  • Observations:  field notes, running records, and miscue analysis
  • Conversations:  surveys, interviews, conferences
  • Students Self-Evaluation:  exit slips, rubrics, checklists, process reflections, and student-led conferences
  • Artifacts of Learning:  collect, review, and look back at a student's learning journey
we have been given a place to start these important conversations.  By finding ways to collect and organize this information we can use it to notice patterns, discuss progress, ask guiding questions and plan intentional instruction.  I'm looking forward to the conversations that may follow as we dig a little deeper into the powerful practice of formative assessment.

A Few Past Posts About Assessment