Saturday, April 16, 2016

National Poetry Month: Poetry Madness Event

I'm pretty excited about the latest idea from our reading ambassadors.  Last month our reading ambassadors promoted the March Book Madness event hosted by Scott Jones and Tony Keefer in our school.  Our building focused on the Picture Book Challenge, though some students did vote in the Middle Grade Challenge as well.  The whole school was buzzing as the book brackets started to narrow to the final match-ups.  

Yesterday I stayed after school to complete our "Poetry Madness" bulletin board.  At our March meeting we began talking about what we wanted to do for our final weeks as ambassadors M said, "April we always have poetry writing.  Maybe we could do something with poetry."

"Yes, April is National Poetry Month," I added smiling. 

There was a pause and then T spoke up, "I love poetry.  Maybe we could do something like March Madness with the poetry."  

The room started to rumble as one ambassador after another jumped on board with her idea.  Before long it was determined that we would each bring a favorite poetry book if we had one to our next meeting and choose books for a "Poetry Madness" challenge for our school.

Last week students arrived with their poetry books.  Our media specialist, Jill Merkle, had collected a stack of favorites for the ambassadors to review.  Being a poetry fan myself, I brought some of my favorites to the meeting.  The first part of the meeting was spent talking about the poetry we brought and then reviewing the other books.  Toward the end of the meeting each ambassador took six post-its and began selecting their favorites.  Each post-it was one vote and ambassadors could use more than one vote on a poetry book they really liked.  We then selected the sixteen books for the competition based upon their votes.  We seeded these books for the challenge.  

Following the model of March Book Madness, voting will begin on Tuesday.  Our board is people/life poetry vs. nature/pets poetry.  I'm a little excited that one of my favorites, Forest has a Song by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, is a number one seed in the brackets.  Let's hope my favorite does a little better in this event than my favorite did in the March Madness Picture Book Challenge.  (Yes, I'm still a little sad that Wolfie the Bunny didn't win.) 

Next week, our reading ambassadors will begin to talk about the poetry books and our event with the students in their classrooms during morning meetings.  We'll be running advertisements for voting on our school news each week.  The poetry books selected have been placed on reserve in the library for students to read as they visit the media center.  During the final weeks, the ambassadors hope to read one poem from each of the remaining books to their classrooms.  What a great way to celebrate National Poetry Month!  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Power of End of Workshop Sharing

Recently, as I listened to a group of first graders share their learning, I was reminded of the importance of leaving space for this time at the end of our workshops.  

The music started to play and students gathered in a circle on the carpet.  When the music finished and everyone was sitting together, the teacher called on the first student to share.  I walked over to sit in the circle and listen for a bit.  Before the share had ended, four students had been able to share their work and thinking from their learning time.  

When I had my own classroom and visitors would come to my room, I was always a little disappointed to see them leave before the share.  In my opinion, by not staying to see the share they would miss the piece that demonstrated whether the lesson had worked.  Had students been able to take what was discussed and move into the workshop to give it a try?  What did learners understand? 

We can't overlook the power of possibility in the moments we share with our learning community at the end of a lesson.  It's easy as the clock ticks to not make time for the share, but this time is essential for our learning to grow.

Share allows us to:

  • Check in with students:  Though digital tools allow us to see more of the work students do during their independent learning times, talking with students about their work during workshop allows us an opportunity to hear their thinking, consider their process, and think about next steps.  
  • Reinforce the learning of the focus lesson:  Having students share can give us an opportunity to allow students to share attempts at new learning with peers.  It can also provide the opportunity to clarify, reinforce, and restate points from our lesson within the context of student work.  
  • Build a common understanding (and common language):  By coming together as a community to talk about our learning, we can create a common understanding and build common language around new concepts.  Students often will share with peers important discoveries that can then be used to build an inquiry.  These lessons are always more powerful and carry more weight when shared by a peer instead of directed by a teacher.  
  • Stretch the lesson:  Often during independent work time students stay in their comfort zones, and don't reach for the next step.  Share time allows us to build a bridge between students' attempts and the next steps in learning.  Sharing also allows us to hear from students who are pushing past the current understanding and working to socially construct learning at a higher level of understanding than might have been possible without utilization of this time.   
  • Showcase new possibility:  By allowing time to share our learning, students can see new possibilities through the work done by their peers. 
  • Celebrate learning:  Share is the perfect time to celebrate new discoveries and new steps in learning.  By lifting learners who have pushed to the next level, we open the door for others learners and shine a spotlight on the importance of our time spent learning.    



Thursday, March 24, 2016

Read Aloud for the Joy of It

Last Thursday night I joined #g2great Twitter chat around read aloud.  Steven Layne led the discussion in a chat hosted by Dr. Mary Howard, Jenn Hayhurst, and Amy Brennan.  Check out the #g2great team blog for In Defense of Read Aloud:  Sustaining Best Practice (7 important considerations for read aloud.  The chat has me thinking about one of my favorite things:  read aloud.  So...  

At the end of the day, I stop by Nichole Berkey's classroom to drop off information for one of our reading ambassadors.  Nichole's room is always a favorite stop at the end of the day.  When you walk in the door there is a sense of calm as students gather together on the carpet.  Nicole is perched on a stool with students surrounding her feet, a book open as she reads page after page of the current chapter book they are reading.  Her third graders hang onto every word.  Every time I walk into her room I want to just sit down on the floor and join them.

Since moving to a reading intervention position in my building, read aloud is one of the things I miss the most.  I miss starting our day with a read aloud, reading aloud after lunch (that was always my favorite), and the days when our classroom managed to end in a read aloud like Nichole's (that was always tricky).  I miss peppering in poetry.  I miss the read aloud's sprinkled across the day in the opening moments of our workshops.  I miss the community that is built around the books we experience together.

As a teacher, I found that read alouds could support many of our learning conversations and anchor our thinking.  It's a gift to be able to use the author's words to support teaching and learning, but this chat reminded me that there is also a caution:  there still should be places in our day where we just read aloud for the joy of the story.  There should be places where we just sit back, without interruption, and enjoy the book for pleasure - where the words fall off the page and into the ears of children, where we laugh, gasp, and wonder together.

The #g2great chat and follow-up post had me thinking about some of my favorite read alouds.  I decided to create a Pinterest board of favorite read alouds.  These books never let me down with a group of children.  I'll continue to grow this collection when I get back to my books at school.  (It's spring break so these are the ones I remembered.)  I hope you'll share some of your favorites in the comments below.

Follow Cathy 's board Read Aloud on Pinterest.



Monday, March 21, 2016

Simple Changes in Language

I still remember the overwhelmed feeling of my first year of teaching.  At that time, I distinctly remember telling myself to hang in there as surely by year three I'd have it figured out.  HA!  Here I am at year twenty something, and I'm still always working to figure it out.  The challenge, I believe, becomes that teaching is a people profession.  Children are always different, and different children have different needs.

This year, I've found myself looking hard at my teaching yet again.  As I work to support readers I have been really trying to figure out how to change my language to help the readers I support move toward independence.  I've changed a lot of aspects of my teaching with this group this year as a result of observations I have made.  I've worked to improve my language, my prompting, and our use of time.  Still I have felt that some of the students I support over-rely on adults when they read.  

Recently I read, Tripwires, The Prompting Funnel, and Letting Students Do the Work by Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins.  In the post, they said, "Typically, when a child encounters difficulty when reading, we are inclined to say things like,  'Does that make sense?' or 'What would sound right?' We worry that these prompts intervene too quickly, telling students what they need to do before they’ve had a chance to self-monitor and think for themselves about what they need to do."  This statement really made me pause.  Could my challenge be that simple?  Could a simple change in my language make a difference for my students? 

Last week I went back into my groups changing my language.  I changed two things:  
  • More wait time (I'm pretty good at wait time, but I extended it --- and made no eye contact with students who were solving --- just kept a little ear on their attempts)
  • When students needed support I started with a much higher level prompt:  "What could you try?"  (this higher level prompt often worked)
These two changes seemed to make a difference.  In another recent post, Jan & Kim created an infographic titled:  Who's Doing the Work.  You should check it out.  It was this statement within the infographic that I have hung onto across my work with readers this week:  "Ladders vs. Scaffolds:  Scaffolds only support us when they are in place.  Once the scaffold is removed, we are in no better position to reach a high place without the scaffold.  Instead, let's give students ladders they can fold up, take with them, and use anywhere."  I think I'll be thinking about both of these statements for awhile as I work to create ladders toward independence for the readers I support.  

Friday, March 18, 2016

Thinking About Assessment: Shifting Our Conversations

Take a moment to look at this picture.  What do you think you see?

I'll wait...

At first glance, one might think this is a photo across a pond or a lake.  The sun reflects off the water from the distance.  It might surprise you to know that this water isn't really supposed to be here.  This is our backyard after melting snow is followed by too much rain.  Any time we get too much rain our backyard floods and our sump pump works overtime.

Collecting Information
In education we collect a lot of data.  As an intervention teacher, I use Fountas and Pinnell assessment data, Rigby assessment data, Concepts of Print, Hearing Sounds in Words, Developmental Spelling Assessment, running records from books, observation notes, and other forms of assessment to find out information.  Classroom teachers use a variety of assessments as well to determine assessment needs and monitor progress of students across the year in reading, writing, math and content areas.  

In our building, one assessment we look to often is our Fountas and Pinnell benchmark assessments.  These assessments give us much information about our students as readers.  Our literacy team meets each time teachers complete benchmark reading assessments.  As a team we look at the data to be sure we are properly supporting students.  These conversations focus on students we are currently serving in intervention and those we have been watching.  These conversations are always preceded and followed by conversations with classroom teachers because data only tells one story.

Changing Our Question 
Changing our question from "what do we notice" to "what questions do we have now as a result of this information" can shift conversations about information obtained.  Recently our team met to discuss the latest nonfiction assessment information entered by teachers.  As we looked at the information we started by looking at the levels reported at the benchmark for readers.  However, it wasn't long until we found ourselves considering accuracy scores, fluency scores, and comprehension scores.  It isn't long until we find ourselves moving from what we notice to the new questions we have.

To make instructional decisions we need to widen our lens looking for patterns, commonalities, and differences.  Then we need to zoom back in again.  If the picture above was taken from greater distance you'd make new observations.  If you walked around in our backyard at the time, you'd ask different questions.  If you looked at pictures of the same space across time, you'd ask even more questions and likely come to better conclusions.  One data point, one piece of information, is never enough; it's a starting point.  Collecting information should push us toward asking new questions about what we notice.   It should push us to look a little more closely, to dig a little deeper, and consider other pieces of information.  Shifting our conversations from what we notice to the new questions we have can move us toward action.  

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Power of Three Little Words #dublit16


The Power of Their Words
As a classroom teacher, I always tried to watch my words.  I always tried to measure their frequency with student frequency.  I'm not saying I was always good about it; I'm saying I tried.  There was the continual sound of Charlie Brown's teacher droning on in animated films, "Wah, wah, wah," playing in the back of my mind.  I didn't want to sound like that to my students.  There are lessons I remember teaching in which I know I spent too much time talking.  Talk helps students to learn, and I always felt their talk really made the difference.  

As an intervention teacher, I find myself challenged continually by this thinking.  I don't have the same time to move from explicit to implicit in my short lessons with students.  I don't have the same time to wander through conversations.  If I'm not careful, it is easy to fall into patterns where I am doing most of the talking.  When this happens, I know that I am doing more telling and owning more of their learning.  

Words can be powerful.  The language we use can support learners and help them to develop agency.   However, some words are stronger than others in supporting our learners.   I was reminded of this recently as I joined educators for a Saturday of learning at the Dublin Literacy Conference as I listened to speakers across the day.  Here are short phrases I took away that could open up dialogue for students:  


Kylene Beers and Bob Probst:  "What Surprised You?"
Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, spoke about Responsive and Responsible Reading of Nonfiction.  In their session they reminded us of the importance of dialogic talk that opens conversations for students instead of monologic talk that checks for understanding.  In their conversation they shared three simple words to start conversations about reading, "What surprised you?".   These three words carry much power in turning conversations about reading over to students.  Kylene reminded us that rigor didn't reside in the text itself but, instead, in the the interaction between the reader and the text.  

Amy Ludwig VanDerWater:  "Let Poetry Speak"
One of the highlights of my day was spending time with poet, Amy Ludwig VanDerWater.  In her session, Our Wisest Writing Teacher, she reminded us of the power of poetry in teaching writing.  I'm going to say that I struggled a bit more bringing Amy's words down to three I took away.  She had so many smart things to say about poetry --- and students children humans souls.  Amy reminded us that poetry speaks to children and helps them to see they are not the only one.  I had so many phrases I pulled from her session (some three words, some not):  poetry as gift, poetry as a diving board into writing, poems teach us about writing, poems teach us about language.  Of course my favorite lines were her closing lines, "Poetry is enough by itself.  Poetry places unforgettable images in the hearts of our children."

Kristin Ziemke:  "Tell Me More."
Later in the day, I attended Kristin Ziemke's session,  Read the World: Literacies for a Digital Culture, where three words caught my attention again.  Kristin shared that we are moving away from fact recall curriculums, toward search curriculums;  I might even venture to say we are moving toward curriculums that position students to create.  The room was packed with teachers as Kristin demonstrated ways to build intention as we talk with students about reading images for understanding.  Kristin put a video of Michigan's governor, talking about the Flint water crisis, on the screen.  After viewing we talked about what we noticed.  One teacher shared her response.  Kristin listened to the response, paused thoughtfully, and inquired, "Tell me more."  Her words really asked the speaker to dig a little deeper into their thinking, and to share that with the learning community.  I was once again struck by the powerful simplicity of three little words.  

Magic comes in threes.  Perhaps thinking of three words to elevate student learning across our day is worth consideration.  Of course, the magic of the Dublin Literacy Conference wasn't just words; it was learning, laughter, friendship, conversations, community, and guests from afar.

Kristin and I had a little fun as she signed my digital copy of her book at the conference.  This picture was taken by Marisa Saelzler and posted by Kristin on her Instagram account:


Thinking More About Words?  You might like:

  • Karen Syzmusiak returns to her blog with, Powerful is Not Perfect.  In her post, she shares powerful words from Kristin Ziemke: word to set us free.  
  • Nicole Kessler, also returning to her blog, just wrote about Classroom Language as she reflected on the power of open ended questions.  
  • Changing My Frame, a post written to consider the work of Peter Johnston in my classroom.  
  • Speaking of Peter Johnston.  These books changed the language I use with students (and - ouch - it shifted my talk at home).  
  • Don't let the cover of this one fool you.  We're reading Using Discourse Analysis to Improve Classroom Interaction in a course I am taking with Dr. Melissa Wilson at Ohio State.  I appreciate the way the authors have us thinking through our language and the contexts of interactions to improve our language.  



Friday, February 19, 2016

It's Time: 2016's Nonfiction 10 for 10 Event is Today #nf10for10

It's finally here.  Today is our nonfiction picture book event:  #nf10for10.  This is our 4th annual nonfiction event.  In the past Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, Julie Balen of Write at the Edge, and I have cohosted this event.  Again this year all activity will be collected on our Picture Book 10 for 10 Community.  Stop by to read, share your favorites, and/or link up.

Ways to participate:
  • Write a blog post with your 10 favorite nonfiction books and link your blog to our Picture Book 10 for 10 Google Community.  (You will be unable to post until you have requested to join.  I'll try to keep an eye on requests all day.)  
Add your 2016 nonfiction post here.
Please note:  If you've participated in past events, we would love it if you could add your previous posts to the tabbed year of the event.  We're trying to recreate past resources.  

Maybe I've changed my mind three or four times about the focus of this list for this year's nonfiction picture book event.  It's really not unusual.  When we first created this event, my hope was to fix my nonfiction book gap.  I'm always on the learning curve when it comes to nonfiction.  Personally, I read quite a bit of nonfiction, but when it comes to working with young literacy learners I have to work to weave nonfiction into our workshops.

So this year, I have decided to share ten nonfiction picture books by authors I just can't live without.  I'm always looking for nonfiction books that approach this type of writing in new ways.  (So a few these books might walk the line between fiction and nonfiction.)  Here are ten authors I can't live without in my classroom library.  I hope you'll share some of your favorite authors in the comments below.

Here we go:

Steve Jenkins is really one of my favorite nonfiction picture book authors.  You just can't go wrong with his books, and there are possibilities to span the grade levels.  His texts are always engaging for students, and the structures are varied enough to model many possibilities for student writing.  This book, Creature Features, is written by Jenkins and Robin Page.  The pages begin with a question about the creature.  The creature then answers the question with a bit of information.  This book inspires wonder and opens the door to curiosity.

I love the way Jenkins takes a topic and thinks about it through a new lens.  Some of my favorites include:  What Do You Do With a Tail Like This, Time to Eat, and Actual Size.




April Pulley Sayre is another can't miss nonfiction picture book author.  My attraction to Sayre's work is her way with words.  She really has a gift for making language that will roll off your tongue.  Her books are always perfect for read aloud.  Like many of her books, Sayre's Woodpecker Wham!, illustrated by Steve Jenkins, has a literary flow, but is filled with interesting information in the back to tell you more.  Her books are sure to inspire wonder as her words draw you in and make you want to know more.  Some of my favorites include:  Raindrops Roll, Eat Like a Bear, and Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out.

Nicola Davies is the master of combining narrative and nonfiction.  In one of her newest stories, I Don't Like Snakes (illustrated by Luciano Lozano), she does just that once again as the story of a girl who doesn't like snakes --- living in a family that does --- shares her story.  The narrative sitting beside interesting facts about snakes is sure to be a crowd pleaser.  Yes, the lines of nonfiction and narrative can be quite blurry but, it's one of the things I love most about Davies' work.  A few other favorites:  Surprising Sharks, Outside Your Window, and White Owl, Barn Owl.



Melissa Stewart is another must have in every classroom library.  Melissa has a wide variety of texts for students to read and enjoy.  I appreciate the variation in text structures she uses, proving that intentional decision making is important in sharing a message with readers.  Feathers:  Not Just for Flying (illustrated by Sarah Brannen) is one of my favorites.  What kids haven't spent some time collecting feathers? Stewart gives readers a way to think about studying them closely.  A few of my other favorites:  Frog or Toad, No Monkeys, No Chocolate and don't miss her National Geographic Reader titles --- always a hit.


Joyce Sidman is another author to consider as you find nonfiction for your classroom.  I like to have a variety of author style's in my classroom, and poetry can't be missed.  Sidman's ability to weave poetry and information is engaging.  Her work certainly opens the door for young writers as well who might like to combine information and wondrous words.  This book combines beautiful illustrations by Rick Allen, poetic words, and information not to be missed.  Other collections not to be missed:  Just Us Two, Swirl by Swirl and Dark Emperor.  



Sandra Markle is a recent addition to my nonfiction author list.  More and more I come across books and say to myself, "I didn't know this was written by Sandra Markle."  Like Stewart, Markle varies her style to match her purpose.  Students enjoy spending time with her books.  One of the books I'm seeing students pick up over and over again is part of a What If Scholastic series.  What If You Had Animal Ears!? sure makes you ask a lot of questions.  With illustrations by Howard McWilliam, students will spend much time looking at pictures and reading interesting facts.  A few other favorites:  How Many Baby Pandas?, Snakes:  Biggest, Littlest......and I must get my hands on a copy of Build, Beaver, Build.  


Nic Bishop's titles are plentiful.  His books seem to be a bit more informational and follow more of what I might expect from traditional (for lack of a better word) nonfiction with its facts and photographs.  Kids are memorized by his titles and there is certainly plenty to choose from.  The photographs really pull the reader into the books.  Other favorites:  Is It an Insect, Red Eyed Tree Frog, and Fantastic Flying Squirrels.  






Jennifer Ward.  I'm just getting to know Jennifer Ward's work, but I am enjoying what I have found so far.  You may have noticed I have a bias toward books that fall more toward the literary side of nonfiction; books that can be read aloud and make students want to hear more, know more.  Mama Build a Little Nest (illustrated by Steve Jenkins --- he's a busy man) was the first one I discovered, but I soon found she has many more worth checking out.  Ward has several picture books:  some fiction, some sitting the border of fiction and nonfiction, and many more coming in the next few years.   Keep your eyes on Jennifer Ward.

Jane Yolen is one of those "go to" authors that never lets you down.  We typically think of her narrative work, but I also love Yolen's poetry.  I have a soft spot, for what I will call nonfiction poetry:  poetry that weaves facts into a poem or uses shared facts to help build the poem.  An Egret's Day (with photographs by Jason Stemple) is among my favorite.  Bug Off, Birds of a Feather, and Least Things.  

Andrea Davis Pinkney.  I can't complete this post without considering biography and historical nonfiction.  It seems to me that this is one genre that is opening new doors for picture book readers.  Authors are bringing important stories into our classrooms in a way children can understand.  Andrea Davis Pinkney is an example of an author that is doing just that.  One of my favorite titles is Sit-in:  How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down (illustrated by Brian Pinkney).  Others to consider:  Ella Fitzgerald, Martin and Mahalia, and Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride.