Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Considering Interest in Choosing Books for Reading Lessons

Some days just make you smile.  Today was one of those days.  

Choosing books for reading lessons can be a delicate balance.  As a teacher supporting readers working to catch up to peers, I try to be thoughtful about these choices.  I want to choose books that will support my teaching point and help students work toward their goals.  I try to find a book that will allow the reader to use what they know, but provide enough challenge for the reader to do some reading work.

It's easy to set interest aside, yet I know that helping these students want to read is as important as teaching them how to read.  Today as I looked through titles to find a book for one of my students, a Fly Guy book caught my attention.  I paused and pulled out the book, I Spy Fly Guy.  Would it work?  It was a book of appropriate challenge for the lesson.  This reader uses meaning, but is working to balance visual information.  It seemed this book would provide enough of a challenge to accomplish this.

This book would not only work for his lesson, but it might help in the next steps of supporting this reader's choices during independent reading times.  His teacher had expressed concern that he had been picking books for his independent reading that were too challenging.  Recent work in small group lessons made me think he knew when a book was a good match, he just wasn't always making that choice.  I don't know why this is exactly, though I have a hypothesis or two.  I wonder, for example, if he wants to look more like the readers in the classroom.  

I was pretty excited once Fly Guy caught my attention; more and more I thought it would be perfect.  The kids love Fly Guy books.  The book had several chapters making it seem a little closer to the books his peers were reading.  More books like this are available in our school library.  The book was close to his independent level so reading one together might make it possible to connect with other Fly Guy titles.    

I picked up the book (and another "just in case" book...just in case things didn't go as planned) and headed to his classroom.  When I sat down beside this reader in the classroom, I could tell he was excited about my choice.  It turned out he had read a couple of books from this series, but thankfully not the one I had with me.  We got started with the reading.  He could hardly stop himself as we ended chapter one to find Fly Guy had been taken by a trash truck.  I was a little worried for Fly Guy, but he was not.  He was sure Fly Guy would find this to be THE BEST THING EVER.  What's not to love about being surrounded by trash if you are a fly?  After our reading lesson, some time working on our teaching point, and a bit of writing, I left the book with him because there was no way he was going to let me leave the room with that book.  He wanted to know what was going to happen next.  

Just before leaving I took a picture of the back of the book which featured other Fly Guy books that have been published.  We then used Skitch to mark the titles he had read so I could see if I could locate the other titles for him to read during his reading time.  These books weren't available in the classroom, but I knew I wanted more titles in his hands for his reading time.  

The lesson went well.  When I left he was ready to continue his reading.  We had laughed.  We had chatted about the book.  He had been reminded of one possibility for his reading that would be something other kids in his room might read too.  Perhaps I had accomplished two things today.  

I stepped out of the room and closed the door behind me.  He was smiling as I walked away.  I was smiling too.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Supporting Readers: The Global Read Aloud

The Global Read Aloud
The last few years as a classroom teacher, I've participated with my classes in the Global Read Aloud.  I was thrilled this year that an author active in social media was chosen for the event.  Over the next six weeks, students all around the world will be reading the same books.  Within the last few years, a picture book author study component was added.  I found this focus to be a better fit for my young readers who are just learning to navigate text.  As I've participated in past years, I've found the conversations are deepened by the interactions with other students.  Students are motivated by the connections made around the world.

Growing a Reading Community
This year, I wanted to find a way to participate with the readers I support in our building.  As I've watched my students in their classrooms, I have realized that it is as essential that I connect them to a community of readers as it is to help teach them to read.  This year's picture book study uses books written by Peter H. Reynolds.  I really wasn't sure how this would look working with small groups across the day, but decided to just dive in and figure it out.

The first week's book was The North Star which was impossible to locate.  Thankfully, the book was available in a digital format at Fable Vision.  Though the illustrations are more powerful in the picture book, I wanted to get started while I waited on my copy so I printed QR codes to the site, brought in iPads for students, and away we went.  First graders followed text and listened as the story was read aloud.  Second grade readers participated in a shared reading of the story.  Students were excited to be part of a global reading discussion.  Many had friends participating in The Global Cardboard Challenge and were excited by the opportunity for global collaboration.

Connected Conversations
After reading the book, we talked about what happened in the story.  In some groups, we discussed the message of the author.  Here were two of my favorite responses:



Students wrote about their dreams.  Some wrote about dreams for their future, others dreams for today.  It was a reminder to me of how important it is to support these young readers who have big dreams for today and tomorrow.

We then joined the conversations at #gra14 and #graPeter.

This!
Great Conversation:  It seems discussing big themes engages readers.  Groups had interesting discussions about the author's message, their dreams for today and tomorrow, and the challenges the character faced.  We've carried these higher level conversations into our thinking in other texts.

Community Connections:  Joining the Global Read Aloud is helping us build our connections to other readers in our school as well as around the world.

Connecting Readers to Books:  When I went into my last classroom yesterday afternoon.  One of the readers I work with came over with another Peter H. Reynolds book she had checked out at the library.  She had selected next week's title:  I'm Here.  She wanted to read it….and how could I resist?

Looking forward to seeing where this takes us.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Luxuries for Readers Needing Support: Independent Reading Time

Walking into the classroom to support readers, I glance around to find the students I support in a small group reading a book with their teacher.  Research has demonstrated that one of the most important pieces for readers needing support is strong classroom instruction so this time with their teacher is important.  While I wait, I begin to walk around the room to talk with students I have on a list to watch as well as other students working in the classroom.  Soon the readers I came to see leave their group and, because I am on a schedule, I use my remaining time to have them work with me.  Of course, because they've worked with both of us, they have little time left for other reading today.

The teacher and I talk after school about this continuous dance between reading support and classroom instruction to make it work so we can both work with students to help them catch up to peers.  I love these conversations.  I'm always amazed by the willingness of teachers, whose plates are so full, to grapple with these big questions and find solutions.  We both want to make the best use of student time and both understand the need to make quick shifts with these learners.

We both also worry about independent reading.  We know these students need time to read independently as much, if not more, than their peers.  Structured independent reading times give readers opportunity to:  
  • read continuous text
  • develop a reading niche
  • connect with peer readers
  • practice new strategies and understandings
  • build reading stamina 
  • to fall in love with books  (this should be first)
In this particular classroom, students have time immediately after lunch before they go to special to read.  This twenty minute block brings us some peace of mind, but we continually talk and adjust to make the most of the time students have available.  

The need to provide quality independent reading time to readers needing to make gains is a continual challenge.  The solutions are not always obvious or easy.  Additionally, what works in one classroom or with one student does not always work in other cases.  We push ourselves to keep an open mind, remain flexible, and continually adjust.  Ultimately, we need to see growth in readers and keep a close eye on forward momentum.  Independent reading is a luxury developing readers need to enjoy.  


I'd love to hear from you.  How do you make time to meet with readers receiving intervention and carve out time for student independent reading?  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Yep, I Still Love Evernote



It's not uncommon to stop by my blog to find me gushing about Evernote.  Yep, I still love Evernote.  In past years I've used Evernote for keeping conferring notes during workshops, to collect pieces of student learning, and to stay organized.  I've used it to take pictures, record audio, and keep notes.  With the help of tagging, I've used it to sort and organize for planning.  I've used it to show students the progress they've made or remind them of strong steps forward.  Additionally, it has always been perfect for sharing information with parents, colleagues, and support staff.

With a change in position this year, however, I've had to rethink how I use it.  That's what I think is the best thing about Evernote:  it's flexible.  You can use it in a way that works for you.  Here are some ways I'm using it this year:

Using Evernote Charts for Planning:  This year I decided to keep my plans for reading support in Evernote instead of Google Drive.  I didn't want to have to continually switch back and forth between applications during lessons.  Thankfully, after some playing, I managed to use the table icon to create a template for planning.  The top shows the general structure for our lessons.  Inside each box, I plan the new book, introduction, and teaching point.  As I plan I also include notes about word work, writing, and any familiar reading reminders I might need.  After planning, I add the names of students to the far left and then keep notes each day.  Reminders and notes for particular students are kept at the bottom.  Each week I duplicate the template and begin to plan.  

Plan Template


Using Checklists for Observations:  I created a general checklist of concepts of print and high frequency words to note observations during daily reading and writing using tables and checkboxes.  Though I don't keep this information with every student I support, I find it helpful in situations where students need more systematic instruction.  I can easily add notes and observations where helpful.  

Checklists for Literacy Observations 

Capturing Student Assessment Notes:  In past years, I created a new note each time I conferred with a student.  This year, because I am strictly focused on literacy, I am keeping one note for each student for assessment.  Student daily notes during groups are kept in the plan template.  There is a note for collecting student assessment information.  The image to each new assessment piece is placed on top so it is easy to scroll down to see older assessments and note progress over time.  Audio recordings, links to Google Forms, and other growth information are kept in one note.  

This is a snapshot of the top of an assessment note.  


Tracking Parent Communication:  Additionally I am keeping a note for parent communication for each child.  Each note is housed in a notebook organized by classrooms.  Each time I contact parents I'm keeping information here.  When I sent information via email it can easily be forwarded to Evernote.

Using Notebooks to Organize:  Using notebooks in Evernote can help to organize information.  In the past, I've had one notebook for each child.  This didn't seem an efficient way to work when I would be seeing mostly small groups.  For reading support, I've organized notebooks by classroom teacher.  This not only makes it easy to organize and locate information, but also helps when it is time to talk with teachers about the progress of students from their classroom.

I'm still playing to find a system that works best.  The variety of features available in Evernote help me to adapt information so it can be easily used in daily instruction.  



Saturday, October 4, 2014

Beyond Innovative Spaces: Thinking Purposefully About Learning Spaces


There's a lot of talk about innovative learning spaces.  I'll be the first to agree that there are many innovative ways to use space in our learning environments.  We are fortunate to teach in a time where much thinking goes into spaces and new types of furniture are being created to increase the usefulness of spaces.  However, to repeat the words our principal so often uses, furniture isn't really what makes a space innovative.  I think she's right.

The talk of innovative learning spaces does push our thinking about innovative learning.  Perhaps, however, it is time to move our conversation beyond innovation and refocus the discussion on being purposeful.  This year I have moved to a reading intervention position.  Though most often I go into classrooms to support readers, I do meet with some students in the reading room.  I just moved into this intervention room at the beginning of this year.  When you are in a new space, you have to continually think about what works and what does not.  You have to continually rethink the way you need to use space.

For the first six weeks of school, I have found myself continually reworking this space to make it purposeful.  The space needs to allow us to work in different ways.  Our lessons are short so I have to be able to work efficiently in this space.  Additionally, because we are working to make quick gains, I need to be able to provide alternate learning opportunities to students to help them to progress.

This week I made some big changes, and I'm loving them!  I'm still discovering ways to make our space work for us.  I'm sure there are more to come, but I wanted to share these with you.

Before
Here is what the space looked like at the beginning of the year:

Before
Phase 2:  I switched the U shaped table for a rectangular table.  This freed up a lot of space for readers to move around our tiny room.  Additionally, students can look at each other as we discuss books.  I can also shift our seating, including my own space, to more effectively work with readers.  

New Changes
Phase 3:  Here are some of the ways I've shifted the space so we can use it more effectively:
Creating Spaces:  I placed two old bookshelves back to back to create a space for students to leave the group to get a quieter work space or do independent work.  The shelves create a partition-like look that sets spaces apart.  The bookshelf contains tools we use most often and sits near our table so we can easily access these tools.  The back of the shelf contains the assessment kits I need to monitor student progress.  I need them in a place where I can grab them quickly, but I don't want them taking visual space in our room.  

Space for Small Group Work with Computer Accessibility:  I had the desk removed to free up space for learners.  (Honestly, I just stack things on desks anyway.)  I was able to place the computer at the end of the table so I can make websites, student work, and other media visible to students.  If we are working with iPads, student work can be displayed on the screen using AirServer.  (Thanks, Tech Department, for the quick installation.)  If we're discussing a book, student response can be sent to the computer using Flick to quickly share thinking.  The chair pockets allow students to store book totes as we work and keep table space clear for learning.  We can easily read and discuss books together here.  


Spaces for Magnetic Work:  Getting rid of the desk allowed me to open up space near the file cabinet to use for word work.  Being able to stand and work with words will be perfect for students who enjoy movement as they learn.  It also provides another space for repeated practice.  


Book and Material Solutions:  I've added containers and turned the books facing out.  This not only gave me more space, but it also makes it easier to find books.  Of course, the students notice covers as they come in as well.  I now use the top of this shelf to store containers of class materials.  Each group has a container with their familiar book bags, new books for lessons, writing journals, and other items I might need as I travel from room to room.  It's a grab and go area!  
Multiple Use Storage:  I grabbed this unused piece of furniture because of its storage potential. The back stores items I need, but don't use every day.  On the sides, I have dry erase boards, magnetic squares (stove covers) for letter/word work, dry erase boards and other tools we might need as we work together.  This stand is right beside our interactive writing area so students can easily get tools needed.  The front will soon contain baskets of books.  I still have some finishing work to do.  
Spaces for Small Group Writing:  I cleared the space around this dry erase board so we could all sit together for interactive writing.  The tools we need, shown above, are close by for extra practice.
Tactile Opportunities:  I removed a chart from this book holder to discover a chalk surface perfect for adding a little texture to word work.
Making spaces purposeful should be the center of our innovative learning discussions.  I'm sure there will continued adjustments in the weeks to come, but the room is starting to feel a little more like home.

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.