Thursday, December 6, 2018

Time to Write Every. Single. Day.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash
A friend of mine provided some great writing therapy a little over a month ago (thanks, Mandy).  I knew I wanted to get back to this space, but I was honestly having a bit of difficulty making that happen.  When I was in the classroom the writing just found me.  I was telling the story of working though my challenges in my classroom.  The name of the blog after all is "Reflect and Refine."  As I moved into my current role as our district's elementary literacy leader, I began to wrestle with my writing in this space.  In talking to my friend, she helped coach me through some of the challenges I was facing.  She listened. She provided some thoughtful reflections about my writing.  Then she said, "Get busy."  Well, she didn't say it like that, but she did affirm what I know:  writing only happens if we put our fingers to the keyboard (or get our pen moving in a's 2018,  you get to decide).

After some encouragement, I developed a plan and began to work toward the goal of posting three days each week.  It wasn't long until I found a rhythm.  I wasn't where I wanted to be, but I could feel it was getting easier.  The more I wrote, the easier it was to write.  I came up with a few overarching themes that I knew I wanted to write to and began writing to those.  The more I wrote, the more ideas that seemed to come my way.  

For this school year, I am leading a deep dive into writing with a small group of teachers in our district.  I look forward to our time each month to dig a little into writing with our students.  Each time we meet, we begin our class with writing.  Usually I begin this writing with some kind of conversation, perhaps share a few mentor texts, or some structure I think everyone might find inspiring - to develop a "spark" (thanks, Kayley).  Before teachers write, I always remind them they can write about something they are thinking about as a result of our conversation or write about something else that is on their mind right now.

The first week we did this, I saw the discomfort on the faces of participants.  However, as we began our session this week, I noticed most teachers found their way into their writing with greater ease.  In a conversation after the class with one of the participants she commented about this ease now that she is writing more.  It seems the more we write, the quicker our words find us.

In the beginning weeks of school, I spent a bit of time in a kindergarten classroom during writing workshop.  Honestly, I was spellbound.  It wasn't that far into the year, yet every student was busy writing.  Their writer's workshop was obviously a place where all could enter.  While some drew pictures, others added words, and some were writing across pages to give more detail.  There was a quiet hum to the room.  Every conversation I overheard was about the writing.  I was struck by the ease of work, but I was more caught by their sense of story.  Every student - yes, every student - was working to tell a story.  Each one seemed to understand they had an important story to tell.  Each writer was telling a very different story - their story.  They, of course, were happy to share it with me as I knelt beside them to learn more about their work.  There was also this sense of pride and ownership as they talked, as well as this unspoken understanding that their story mattered.

When I'm in a classroom, I always think about the work that has gone into the moment I'm watching. While I'm observing the learning in this place and time, the conversations that have happened before are often possible to note in the way the community works.  In this kindergarten room, it was obvious that students knew that writers have a story to tell.  It was obvious that they owned the story and that writing was something they did every day.

Recently, I was at NCTE, in a session where Chad Everett was speaking.  Chad was the fourth speaker in the session.  He began by asking everyone for 60 seconds.  He requested devices - and Moleskin notebooks (ELA jokes, bahahaha) - be put down.  He wanted everyone to just find their space in the room and get their mind readied for the conversation we were about to have.  Silence hung in the room as everyone complied with his request and settled their mind for the conversation.  At the end of sixty seconds, a long sixty seconds, Chad reminded that as educators we often say there isn't time, yet this activity reminded us that sixty seconds is a long time.

Finding time seems to be the eternal struggle of life in education.  However, I can't help but wonder if we sometimes don't create our own challenges.  I used to coach myself through these time panics by digging hard into my schedule.  Five minutes too long to transition at some part of my day was twenty-five minutes in a week.  Letting my workshop run 10 minutes over each day was fifty minutes in a week.  Yep, I could play this game for days --- and freak myself out, honestly.  What I came to realize was that there was more time in my day if I learned to think about it differently (and a bit critically).

On Ralph Fletcher's site he shares Guidelines for Growing Strong Writers.  Among his guidelines:

  • #2 Establish a predictable routine.
  • #4 Give kids sustained time to write.  

Having a predictable time to write every day is the first step to easing the challenges of writing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Three for Your Library: Picture Books In Which Characters Lift Each Other Up

This week I listened to Eric Thomas, share "I Am," on The Quote of the Day Show podcast.  It's worth a listen.  Eric tells the story of a pastor who may have changed his life.  Eric shares, "He saw something in me that I didn't see.  He gave me permission to be what other people said I couldn't be." As teachers, isn't that a great goal:  to be the person who gives a learner permission to be what other people think they can't be?

When working alongside readers, we talk often about character change.  Yet as I began to consider in a recent search for books in which the character changes across the story, in some books characters don't make great visible change.   Instead, in many picture books - as in life -the secondary character lifts the main character and helps them to see who they are.

As Eric Thomas reminds in his talk, we all need someone to remind us that we have the power.  We all need to learn to say, "I am."

Here are three picture books in which characters learn to say "I am" thanks to another character in the story.

Nico Draws a Feeling by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Simone Shin

Nico loves to draw, but he begins to doubt his work as others fail to see the meaning behind his pictures.  He's about to give up when he meets Iris.  For the first time, someone sees the emotion he tries to portray in his pictures and helps Nico begin to believe in himself again.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book is perfect for talking to our learning communities about the ways we can support each other as we talk risks and learn.      

Anchor Text:  This books works to talk about character feeling and the way a character's actions can help us to know more.  

Mentor Text:  This book allows young writers to take a look at the ways authors might show the way a character feels.  

Sad, the Dog by Sandy Fussell and illustrated by Tull Suwannakit

Poor sad.  His owners pay little attention to him and don't appreciate him for who he is.  Sad is lonely.  One day his owners move from the house and leave him behind leaving Sad feeling even more unloved.  When a new family moves, a young boy quickly notices the dog and enjoys spending time with him.  This changes everything for the dog.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  The way we treat others can make a difference in how they feel about themselves.  

Anchor Text:  This book works perfectly for finding the turning point of a story.  

Mentor Text:  Using dialogue to help tell a story.  

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

Ramon loves to draw.  He creates picture after picture until one day his brother makes fun of his drawing.  Ramon no longer believes in himself.  He can't make anything look the way he thinks he should. He begins to get frustrated and gives up.  One day he discovers that his sister has been saving all of his drawings.  She helps Ramon to see that his drawings are beautiful just the way they are.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book opens the door to conversation about the way our words can hurt someone or build them up.  It is also perfect for talking about ways to take risks.

Anchor Text:  What does ISH mean?  How do you know?  In thinking beyond the text, what evidence can we use to explain our thinking.  

Mentor Text:  Using dialogue to help tell a story. 

What other titles do you know in which the main character is lifted by another character in the story? Please share them in the comments below.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Don't' Wait

This morning, as I opened my drawer to grab a shirt out of my dresser, I heard a loud crash.  Looking at the carpet I realized the glass globe given to me by one of my families years ago had fallen and broken.  I've always loved it with its inscription: "Faith makes all things possible.  Love makes all things easy.  Hope makes all things work."  The gift became more special each time I had another one of the children from this wonderful family.  Inside the glass filled with water, an angel held up a small child.   I was devastated to see it on the floor shattered in pieces.

The truth is, I noticed the glass globe on my dresser was leaning precariously earlier as I got up out of bed.  It had one of its three legs reaching out over the side.  Instead of fixing it right then, I made a note to get back to it later in the day.  It would have taken two seconds, but for some reason I felt compelled to wait.

Isn't that how it is?  Sometimes we can see the next problem just at its very beginning but we wait because we think we are making something out of nothing, perhaps we mistakingly believe we have plenty of time, or find ourselves unsure how to even begin.

My grandma used to say, "A stitch in time saves nine."  She's so right.  Sometimes if we'd fix our course earlier - or just move the globe back onto the dresser - we would save ourselves hard work later.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Three for Your Library: Three Books for Emergent Readers

Recently I was talking with a group of teachers about the challenge of having books in our classroom library for the range of readers in our communities.  Specifically, the concern was around our youngest readers who might be taking their first steps.  This, of course, requires a multidimensional solution that involves read aloud, shared reading, and some time side by side.  Providing opportunities for readers to listen to stories, participate in reading books together, and work through books just on the edge of their learning can be a bridge to reading for our earliest readers as they provide a familiar text readers can revisit.

When thinking about books for our classroom library with emergent readers, I like to consider picture books that, once read aloud, a child might be able to reread independently.  I look for books that have simple structures, repetitive language, and/or strong picture support.  This week I created a collection to share with the literacy coaches as we took a closer look at emergent readers who are still gaining an understanding of story, still developing concepts of print, and just finding their way in the world of reading.

Here are three favorites for Emergent Readers

The Monkey and the Bee (The Monkey Goes Bananas) by C.P. Bloom and illustrated by Peter Raymundo.

This book tells the story of a monkey who tries to eat a banana until bee comes along.  Bee causes some problems.  The two aren't getting along too well until Lion comes along.  Lion changes everything.

The simple, repetitive text with strong picture support is the perfect book for emergent readers to revisit to begin to pay attention to the print on the page.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  Friends take care of each other.    

Anchor Text:  This book provides an opportunity to look at how character action can give us clues to what a character is feeling.  

Mentor Text:  This book provides the perfect opportunity to talk about the way pictures can help tell a story.  In just a picture we know the story takes a major change.  Additionally, the author uses simple labels to draw the readers attention to particular parts of the story which can be used as a model for our youngest writers.  

Be Who You Are by Todd Parr

If you have emergent or early readers in your classroom, then you certainly want a lot of Todd Parr books in your library.  I honestly had a hard time choosing one to share here today.

The title of this book speaks to everything the book is about.  Parr reminds everyone to be who they are.  This book celebrates the many differences in our world.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book is perfect for talking about identity with our youngest learners.   

Anchor Text:  This book's message is clear from the beginning.  Readers have an opportunity to, not only talk about this message, but to think about the details the author uses to make his point.   

Mentor Text:  I always love an author who also illustrates his/her book as that is how our youngest authors work in our classrooms; they too write and illustrate their stories.  Parr's simple use of shape to draw pictures is perfect for helping our youngest writers get started.  Additionally, his use of color is always a favorite topic of conversation.  

The Okay Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal illustrated by Todd Lichtenheld

This book has a million possibilities.  In The Okay Book, Amy reminds readers that there are a lot of things we do that we enjoy, but may be just okay doing.  The repetitive language and strong picture support make this an easy book for young readers to read independently once they have heard the story read aloud.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book provides a door into conversation about things we are still learning to do or things we love that we may not have mastered.  

Anchor Text:  Like the text about, this book's message is clear from the beginning.  Readers have an opportunity to discuss those important details the author has shared.  

Mentor Text:  I really love this book for early writing possibilities.  Our youngest authors can see themselves writing a book just like this. 

Like these?  Here some other favorites:  
(and please share your favorites below)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Hilliard U: A Great Day of Learning and Conversation

Today was Hilliard University.  It's always such a great day of learning and collaborating.  The only hard part is being everywhere!  There are so many interesting sessions that happen across the day as teachers share their passions and expertise.  Today I was lucky to spend the morning with new teachers in our district talking about shared reading with Nicolette Landon and Andrea Waselko.  Lots of great questions and plenty to think about.

Later in the day, I was able to join Danielle White and Claudette Mullins to talk about author studies.  We shared ideas around author studies in a Padlet.  This allowed us to share information but, more importantly, get information from other participants in the session.  This way of crowd-sourcing expertise added a layer to the conversation.  Please feel free to add to the Padlet.   In this session we discussed

  • benefits for literacy learners
  • what readers can learn
  • what writers can learn
  • ideas for planning and digging deeper 
  • possible authors for deeper study (included many conversations around digital connections) 

Power Up with Author Studies
Made with Padlet

Later that day, I had the opportunity to join Tonya Buelow to talk about classroom libraries.  I always learn something when I listen to Tonya and loved this quote she shared from Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward, "Build a library for the readers you expect; customize it for the readers you meet.”  From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers. Here's the resources we shared today:

Classroom Library Reboot

Thank you to everyone who joined the conversations.  Your participation in the conversation really took these topics deeper.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Team Magic: The Power of Partnership

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
"Highly effective teams know what we're working on, why we're working together (what our team's mission and vision is), and how we'll work together."  - Elena Aguilar, The Art of Coaching Teams
If you've ever been on a dream team you're going to know what I'm talking about in this post.  A dream team is the kind of team where you look forward to ANY opportunity to gather around the table and talk about the work being done.  A dream team is the kind of team where you know EVERYONE has your back.  A dream team is the kind of team where you can toss around tough challenges and new thinking without fear.  Across my teaching career, I've been lucky to be on a number of teams.  I learned a little something in each one of them.  Along the way, I've sat beside teachers who were amazing team members.  I think I learned a lot by watching the way they worked with the rest of the team.

This past month, I've had the privilege of joining teams across our district as they dig into the literacy data we have collected since the beginning of the year.  The goal for teams has been to take a look at the information collected, add what they have learned in side-by-side opportunities, consider the reading and writing work learners have been doing, and find the story for their literacy learners.  These meetings provide an opportunity to look for patterns, plan an instructional focus, determine next steps, and figure out how we will monitor growth.  They also allow an opportunity to harness the power of team in thinking about literacy learners who might have greater need.  

It's interesting to watch teams work together.  As I've sat beside teachers, I've come to realize that the team's relationship with one another is equally important to the work they are doing.  I'm fascinated by the teams that just seem to find a rhythm and go.  I've been thinking about the characteristics that make these teams work and here are a few things I've noticed:

They believe in doing what's best for kids.  Teams who work well together seem to have an understanding that we're here to do what's best for kids.  Their conversations stay focused on learners. These teams don't spend time blaming kids, parents, or past teachers for where a student might be, but instead look for strengths and next steps for learners.  These teams seem to think know they can make a difference.  

They respect one another.   This seems obvious, but it makes a big difference.  Maybe it is more than respecting one another, maybe it is members understanding their role in taking care of the people around them.  It seems these team members know the strengths around the table and reach out to learn from them.  They also hold carefully to turn-taking and listening to one another to consider new ideas and perspectives.

There is great trust.  I have to say in my month of sitting beside a variety of teams, I've been struck by the trust some teams have with one another.  Our work isn't easy, and I've heard teachers openly share their struggles with their team.  On strong teams, these statements aren't judged in any way.  As teachers, we've all been in tough places.  Instead, these statements are met with understanding, careful listening, and tender problem-solving.

I have to say this month of working alongside teams, I've become intrigued by those who seem to have some magic as they come together.  I think I would have once said a team needs to have common beliefs, but honestly I've sat beside teams who have very different beliefs, but are still able to have very powerful conversations.  I think once upon a time I would have said teams need to have similar strengths, but I have learned through my own participation on teams that different strengths make for a powerful team.  In these magical teams, it seems that everyone steps toward common understandings as their time together unfolds.

For those with this magic, savor it.  For those still searching for this magic, I hope you find it.  Having been on teams where there is a synchronicity, I know I will always do all I can to make that happen in my future teams.  The work is too hard to not have people around me to support the work I do, to push when I need a push, and to help me over tough spots.  I'm grateful for the team members along the way who have shared their magic with me.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on characteristics of strong teams.  How have they impacted you in the work you do?  What do you think makes a strong team?  How do you see your role on a team?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Three Picture Books to Hope

A few years ago I stumbled upon this poem, Brave New Voices, by Aminah Iro and Hannah Halpern.  I'll let these brave voices speak for themselves.   

The last week has once again found me questioning the direction in which we are heading.  In times like these, I'm grateful for picture books that help me to hope.  (This trailer seems timely.)

Three Books of Hope
Come with Me by Holly McGhee and illustrated by Pascal Lemaître.  

A young girl learns how her part matters in the world.  

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book reminds that two people are stronger than one.  A great book for conversations about being our best selves in our communities.

Anchor Text:  This book provides opportunities for discussion of problem and solution.  It allows readers the opportunity to think what a character says and does to show change.

Mentor Text:  As a mentor text, this book offers an opportunity to see the way an author can weave a common phrase through a story to strengthen their message.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López. 

In this book, a young girl works to find her place in her classroom.  She doesn't see how her story fits in with those around her.  At first she remains quiet, but soon finds that sharing her story is the first step toward belonging.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book allows opportunities to talk about story, identity, and understanding the perspectives of others.  As the author says, "...where every friend has something a little like you - and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all."

Anchor Text:  Jacqueline Woodson crafts a beautiful message through making intentional decisions about the way to tell this story.  How does the author help us to get to know the challenges this character faces?

Mentor Text:  This book allows young authors the opportunity to look at the way little details can tell us more about the story.  She uses carefully selected details to create a sense of belonging.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales.

This book tells of the journey of a mother and child who take tremendous risk to follow their dreams and seek something more.  It tells the story of immigrants who hope to find a new life and the power of books in achieving the unimaginable.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book opens conversation for taking risks and following dreams.  It also allows the opportunity to see the challenge of starting in a new place.  It also helps to open the conversation for the way writing and reading help us to find our own voices.

Anchor Text:  This book provides an opportunity to talk about the challenges characters face and the ways they work to overcome them.

Mentor Text:  This book helps to show the way the careful selection of words can enhance a story.  Though the book is written in few lines, it tells a powerful story.  Additionally, the author's note in the back speaks to the stories behind our writing.