Saturday, May 23, 2015

What's in Your Professional Reading Stack?

One of my favorite all time lines from a picture book is, "You can be happy and sad at the same time."  The line is used in The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka.  In the book, the character is sad to be leaving Nanna and Poppy's house, but at the same time is happy to be going home.  The line speaks to so much in our lives.  It is perfect for the end of the school year.  I'm always a little sad to see communities, the way we know them, end.  They're never quite the same so I cherish those final days together.  However, I also look forward to the days of summer to have time to catch up on reading, spend some time writing, ponder professional books, and join professional conversations that will help to improve my practice.

One of my favorite summer professional opportunities is #cyberPD.  This year will be the 5th year for this global professional conversation.  Laura Komos, Michelle Nero, and I are excited to hosting this annual event.  The conversation takes place in July, but we like to choose our book early so we know which one to save for the conversation and professional learning with this diverse group of educators.  We're in the process of making that decision now, and there are so many great books to consider.  #goodproblems

Share Your Stack 
We'd love to hear from you.  Which books are in your professional stack for summer reading?  Do you think there are particular titles that would be perfect for discussion?  We hope you'll share your stack this weekend.  We'd like to have stack suggestions by May 25th so that we can announce this year's title on May 30th.  You can share your stack in our #cyberPD Google Community and on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberpd (

Here is Michelle Nero's stack.
We'll announce the title for July's #cyberPD conversation by May 30th.  We hope you'll join us!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The 5th Annual #cyberPD Event

Yep, it's time.

It's time to determine the book that will be read for this year's #cyberPD discussion.

#cyberPD Beginnings
If you're a professional book junkie, like I am, you're probably already planning the books you will read over break.  My guess is that your list is longer than the time you'll have to read them all.  There are so many new professional books to be read.  Reading professional books helps me to improve the work I do with children, but reading a book with other educators increases that learning exponentially.  That's why I love #cyberPD.  (More about #cyberPD:  Growing Professional Learning Conversations with #cyberPD)

It started with book stacks.
I think this is the tweet started
the conversation in 2011.
In 2011 Laura Komos, Jill Fisch, and I were having a conversation about professional reading.  We had many of the same titles planned for the summer, but wanted to be able to learn and talk about them together.  Though we lived too far apart to meet over coffee, we began to wonder if there wasn't a way we could learn together.  After some discussion, we decided that not only could we find a way to discuss a professional book together through our blogs, but that we could grow the community.  We chose a book and asked others if they'd like to join.  The response was amazing.  Many people joined the first #cyberPD, but I don't think any of us realized how much we would learn in this unconventional format.

#cyberPD Featured Titles

What's New
Fast forward to 2015.  This year will be the 5th anniversary of #cyberPD.  Since 2011 things have changed a bit.  Michelle Nero joined our host team.  Our community has grown.  Jog the Web, the hub of our previous conversations, has disappeared so we've moved to a Google Community.

In the past participants have needed a blog to fully participate in the conversation, but with the move to our Google Community it will be possible for participants to respond in greater detail within the community if they do not have a blog.  We're excited about that because it provides an opportunity for those who do not want to commit to a blog to still join the conversation.

Getting Started
The #cyberPD event always begins with sharing our book stacks.  Though #cyberPD doesn't begin until July, we like to pick our title at the beginning of the summer so we can save the book for the community conversation.  So what's in your book stack?  We're hoping you'll share the professional titles you plan to read this summer on our Google Community.

Laura, Michelle and I will look through stacks, and then choose the title to be featured in July's #cyberPD event.  We hope to have the title to announce by Saturday, May 30th.

Join Us
Anytime:  Join #cyberPD Google Community
By May 25th:  Share your book stack
May 30th:  #cyberPD book announced
July:  #cyberPD conversation  (3 weeks, with one reflection each week)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Digital Connections with Poet, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Poetry Across Spring
So It Began
It began in a poetry unit planning session.  It was one of those team conversations where one person says something, then another person adds to that, then another person links the ideas, and before you know it all of the talking and adding and linking creates an unbelievable plan.  This was the way poetry planning went with first grade teachers Carolyn Carr, Deb Frazier and Marie Nixon.  Though I have moved to a primary intervention role, these three still let me crash literacy planning parties.  (The benefits of this, both personal and professional, are a topic for another post.)

As we were planning the learning for the poetry unit, we began to talk about how we would create excitement around poetry.  What would hook readers from the start?  Many ideas were discussed, but in the process we began to talk about a Skype session with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, author of Forest Has a Song and contributor to many other poetry books.  Amy's poetry is often used in first grade with students as Amy shares poems daily on her blog in addition to writing about her process in her poetry and sharing tips for poets.  Amy's Poem Farm is often a part of our mini-lessons and shared reading in our workshops.

Planning a Skype Session 
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater her decisions
as a poet.  Will she write about, to, as
or with?
Having a surprise Skype session would be fun, but we wondered if there was a way to help students get more from talking with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.  We knew she had much she could teach us.  So we talked and crossed our fingers and hoped we could make this work.  In conversations between the four of us and Amy it was decided that instead of one session, we'd arrange three sessions.  The sessions would stretch across the spring to give us time to work from what we had learned in between our learning conversations.   We wanted the sessions to accomplish these things:

  1. Session One:  get students excited about poetry and put the sounds of poetry into their ears  
  2. Session Two:  help students to understand the craft of writing poetry
  3. Session Three:  to celebrate student work  
There are no words to describe how grateful we are to Amy for taking on this role in our poetry study.  There are no words to describe how excited we have been to learn from a poet with such experience.  There are no words to describe the way it unfolded even better than we had hoped.  Every time we talked with Amy, her words carried into our lessons and inspired our young poets.  

As I reflect I think these things helped to make our Skype sessions a success (this is not an exhaustive list -- and I am sure Amy would have different points to add -- these are just parts I noticed from my point of view):

Learning with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Learning from Experts
Digital literacy is changing the way we learn, communicate, and live in our world daily as adults, but it is also making huge shifts in the way we work in our classrooms.  Digital learning gives students a voice today.  Digital learning provides new opportunities to connect with experts, collaborate with others, and learn in new ways.  When I was in school, communicating with an author was rare.  If you did get to touch base with an author, it was often by sending a letter and maybe - just maybe - getting one back.  

the entire first grade in a session
with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
In our work with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, we were able to move beyond the excitement of talking with an author to using our time on Skype to learn from her.  Amy helped us to see the fun in reading poetry and playing with words (lesson 1), in ways to think about our poetry (lesson 2 writing about, to, as and with --- point of view of a poem), and in celebrating our work (lesson 3 listening for the parts of poetry that catch us and make us pause).  

There was also the additional advantage of being able to follow her blog and tweets to continue to learn from her.  We were able to continue our conversations between Skype sessions on Twitter and in student blogs.  Students enjoyed, and learned a lot from, her Sing That Poem! project in April.  They learned about topics, rhythm, rhyme, and craft (and a little about music too).  Students were able to share their poems digitally and comment on the poetry of their peers.  Digital literacy opens new doors and creates new opportunities for young learners.  


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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

End of Year Assessment: A Closer Look

The end of the year is fast approaching.  I always find these last days to be a roller coaster of emotion as we celebrate all that has been accomplished while experiencing those sad moments where we realize this community will never be together again just like this.  All the conversations that have supported us, all the work that has defined us, all the times we've held each other up, are memories we will cherish.  Each year our experiences teach us new ways to learn, to work, and to support one another.

Additionally, the end of the year is busy with closing out rituals.  There is reflecting on the learning from the year as we look at artifacts from September to now and marvel over how we've changed.  We take time to make plans to continue to connect and learn during the summer months.  For teachers, there are end of year inventories, progress reports, and assessments.  Of course, there's the putting away --- all of the putting away.  We work hard to keep our to-dos from taking over and keeping us from getting the most of our last days with our students.

Looking Back - Looking Forward
In the last two weeks, I've been completing end of year literacy assessments in small pockets of time.  It would be easy to race through assessments to get them checked off my list.  The purpose of these assessments is often to measure growth of students across a year.  We look for numbers and letters to place in boxes to show what has been accomplished.  Our team has been talking about the way end of year assessments are more than that for us; we are finding end of year assessments help us to see patterns across our classroom of the learning students have experienced.  Sometimes those patterns are cause for celebration, and sometimes they speak to changes we want to make in the coming year.

While we are spending time reflecting with the students who sit in front of us this year, we are learning about adjustments we can make to improve our instruction next year.  As I complete the assessments for my students I am taking time to notice more than the numbers and letters I am placing in boxes.  I'm asking myself these questions:

Considering Changes
Looking through assessments I am taking the time to notice the areas I feel my students were stronger in as they read, and those I want to think about changing in the coming school year.  My focus remains on what I can learn in moving forward.  

As I look back I find the biggest commonality among students who discontinued was a connection to reading.  Though not measured in assessments in concrete ways, each of these students were students who managed to connect the reading we did together into their personal reading.  These were students I was able to find ways to bridge our conversations about reading beyond the time we spent together.  Each of these readers made some kind of connection whether it was with other readers, with books, with authors or, as was often the case, with a series of books.  These readers connected with reading beyond the required time we met, beyond the time their teachers spent with them, beyond the reading they were asked to do.  These readers began to read because they chose to read.  This will be important to think about over the summer as I look for ways to better build bridges between readers and reading in the coming year.  

As we bring closure to this year of learning, finding time to use what we've learned to look forward into the new year allows us to continue to grow in the work we do for children.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Running Record Calculator

My entire day is spent working with small groups of readers needing support.  In this work, I find there are key essential components to maintaining progress.  Our lessons feature time for familiar reading, word work, new book (comprehension/strategy instruction), and writing.  In this work I also work to maintain daily assessment to guide instruction and work toward new shifts.

As part of my assessment practices, I try to take a short "check in" running record of one student in the group each day.  I really have to push myself to maintain this habit and there are times I have to get myself back to this important practice.  There are also times I will focus on particular student in collecting this information for several days in a row.

One tool that I find helpful in continually monitoring progress with running records is The Running Record Calculator.  It's not the be all, end all, of running records, but it does allow me to collect information quickly and on the go.  Usually I pick the passage I want to use for the running record (typically 150 words), and then grab the app when the reader gets to that point in the text.  

To use the app:
1.  Press "start timer" and the app will record the reading and keep time for fluency measurement.
2.  As the child reads, press buttons for substitutions, omissions, and rereading.  You can also mark self-corrections.

3.  When the reader reaches the end of the text, stop the recording.  The app will give you reading rate, accuracy, and self-correction rate.
4.  I then email the recording and information to my Evernote account.

What I like about running record calculator:
1.  Easy to use.
2.  Seamless part of my work alongside students.
3.  Helps me collect data on reading rate, accuracy, and self-correction rates.  This information is very useful with particular reading goals focused on these outcomes.

Running Record Calculator Limitations:
1.  It's tricky when students make an error, read on, and then return to self-correct.
2.  It doesn't have in-app saving ability (which might matter if you don't have a digital record keeping system).
3.  It doesn't let you look at types of errors and cueing systems being used.
4.  You cannot continue to record comprehension conversations as it makes reading rate invalid.  Readers with comprehension goals are best recorded in Evernote.
*note:  I use the FREE app and am unsure of benefits of paid version

I like using the app for quick check-ins, especially those related to reading rate and self-correction.  It is a quick way for classroom teachers to take quick checks as well.  As digital as I am, there are still many times that nothing beats a hand written running record.  When looking closely at cues used and reading behaviors to sustain reading, paper is often still the best tool for me.  This tool, however, remains an important tool in my daily assessment toolbox.

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.  

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!