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.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Opening Doors: Stepping Inside a Learning Community

It's hard to believe we've nearly completed the first month of school.  With assessments nearing completion (that's another day's story), it feels good to be getting into the routine with students.  Yesterday, I was afforded the opportunity to come in to read aloud to Deb Frazier's first graders.  Next week, I will begin going into her classroom during reader's workshop to meet with readers needing extra support.

Upon entering I found her students gathered around the carpet engaged in a deep conversation about living in other places.  I had to smile as I listened to students share their stories of visiting family around the globe.  It wasn't long until the conversation turned to their reading lives.  Many families had started Shelfari shelves and friends were deciding "what they knew about the reader" based upon the books resting on their shelves.  Deb led the discussion linking students' home reading lives to the books available in their classroom library.  "If you read this _____, you might want to check out _____ basket."  This class is beginning to develop as a reading community.  It was obvious students were already learning to categorize books, developing a reading niche, and beginning to build conversations with one another.

Deb and I had decided to use the read aloud I would be sharing, My Pet Book, as part of the focus lesson for the morning.  I can't lie, it felt good to be holding a read aloud and sharing it with a live audience.  If you haven't read the book, a boy decides a book is the perfect pet for him.  It doesn't need to be fed.  It's quiet.  You don't have to carry a scoop when you take it for a walk.  It's perfect --- until it runs away.  Oh no!

For me, it was helpful to be able to see how the readers I will be supporting interacted with their peers in book conversations.  It was helpful for me to find out how they talked about books and listen to their responses.  It was helpful for me to see how they got started as we sent them off to read.  Of course, it was therapeutic to have an opportunity to read aloud to a group of students, especially a group as eager to be drawn into the story as this class was.

Opening Doors
In Rethinking Intervention Frost reminds us, "If you want students to do well in regular classroom instruction, then the intervention curriculum has to be aligned to the classroom curriculum (p.9)."  Opportunities for students to receive added support IN their learning communities is one way to meet the needs of students.  Helping them to apply new strategies and understandings in daily classroom work will help them continue to progress.

I'm grateful for the educators I work with each day, and their willingness to work together to help make the best decisions for kids.  We've flexibly used what we have learned about students and their learning communities to determine the best way to support them today.  We will continue to flexibly make adjustments as needed to help students grow as readers across the year.  In the weeks to come, we will be moving from getting to know each other, to celebrating all we know so we can continue to build on it, and then begin taking next steps.