Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Developing Ownership: New Goals for a New Year

This year is off to a terrific start.  I have a fabulous class.  Well, I thought I had a fabulous class until my brother stopped by my classroom for a visit and my students were certain - way too certain - he was younger than I.  For the record he is, but I would have liked for them to have to think about it a bit longer.  Seriously, they are such a hard working group.  They absolutely love books so I'm pretty sure we are going to get along quite nicely.

This summer I spent a good part of my time reading professional books, having conversations on Twitter about education, and trying to update and improve my practice.  A few weeks ago, Laura Komos at Our Camp Read-A-Lot posted her goals for the coming school year.  I was inspired to do the same, but found myself talking more about my goals to continue my professional learning.  I would be remiss to not talk about my goals for student learning as well.

Though I have been teaching for several years (I can't say how many as I'm still recovering from my class's declaration that I am obviously older than my brother), I have goals for our classroom community in this new learning year.  These are changes I know I want to make to support students in owning their learning.

Classroom Goals

  1. Learn New Curriculum:  Learn and use Ohio's new model curriculums for Science, Social Studies, Language Arts and Math in daily instruction.  
  2. Math Workshop:  For the last few years, I've been trying to move toward using a math workshop which allows me to start with a focus lesson, have students work toward math goals during an independent learning time in which I confer and meet with small groups, and then finishing with a share.  This instructional framework will allow students to have ownership of their learning and provide opportunities for differentiation.  
  3. Improve conferring in Reader's Workshop:  This summer I participated in a conversation about Patrick Allen's book, Conferring:  The Cornerstone of Reader's Workshop.  For me, it has always been easier to confer in Writer's Workshop.  It seems the conversations are usually grounded in the writing students are doing.  Writing conversations seem to naturally end in a plan or some type of teaching point that moves the writer forward.  However, I find conferring much harder in reading.  Reading Patrick's book I realized there needs to be a clear "plan" at the end of our conversation to help students continue to move forward.  
  4. Improve Student Learning Conversations:  I want to improve the conversations I have with young learners, but I also want those conversations to carry into the conversations students have with each other.  My hope is to find a way to help young learners learn to provide feedback to one another.  Yes, I know that sounds a bit too "teacher-ish".  In our classroom students set their own goals for much of their learning.  These goals are based upon their learning, concepts being studied, and assessments given.  When conferring with students we often reflect upon these goals and look for evidence of improvement in their work (reading, writing, math, etc.).  This year, I want the conversations we are having in our share circle and the conversations students are having with each other to reflect the learning we are doing in a way that helps to move us forward.  
  5. Seamless Use of Technology:  For me, last year was the first time I wasn't asking what I could do with technology.  Instead it seemed I was thinking about our learning and finding that technology often was the perfect way to create, compose, and share our learning.  (Yes, Deb, this includes VoiceThread.)  For the first time, technology seemed to be more like any other tool we use in our classroom to learn.  This year, I want to continue to have students discover ways to use technology as a part of their learning.  Here are a few links that speak my technology journey:
It's going to be a great year.  I'm looking forward to all I will learn in this new community.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Math Exchanges Blog Tour: Stop by October 5th

"Envision a workshop as a space for learning in which learners become leaders."  Kassia Wedekind p. 15 

Transitioning to Math Workshop
I first began using a workshop when I started building a Writer's Workshop after reading Nancy Atwell's, In the Middle.  In later years, I used this framework to transition our reading instruction into a Reader's Workshop to give young readers opportunities to not only read, but to develop their reading lives.  It wasn't long until I started to notice the disconnect between my literacy instruction and the way we were learning math.  The math instruction in my classroom did not reflect what I felt was important for young learners.

Math Exchanges
For the last few years I have been trying to move toward using a math workshop to structure our math learning.  This transition hasn't been easy.  For some reason it is always a challenge for me to take what I know about literacy and use it to think about math.  Obviously, I was quite excited when I heard Kassia Omohundro Wedekind was writing a book to talk about those small group learning opportunities in math; perfect for thinking about those small group conversations during our math workshop.

The Blog Tour 
On October 5th this blog will host a stop on the blog tour for Kassia Omohundro Wedekind's new book Math Exchanges.  
Kassia (@kassiaowedekind) and I have been having conversations about learning on Twitter for quite some time.  I've enjoyed reading her blog.  I've already learned so much from Kassia so I'm quite thrilled to be a stop on her Stenhouse blog tour the first week of OctoberI'm looking forward to talking with her about her new book --- and learning more about making math workshop a place where learners become leaders.

Win a Copy
Stop by October 5th and leave a comment.   One lucky commenter will win a copy of Kassia's new book.  Well worth the stop!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Creating Learning Spaces

Our Starting Arrangement
Our Classroom
One of my first graders from last year stopped by yesterday on his way out the door.  "You've changed everything," he exclaimed as he stopped in to say hello.  After talking to him I was relieved to realize he didn't think it was better or worse --- just different.  It's true I've arranged a few things to create the spaces we'll need for learning.  Here are a few pictures from before school the year began.

Our Meeting Area
Our Meeting Area
The meeting area is by the chalkboard so I can add our word wall.  The magnetic surface makes this a great location for the words we are learning.

Math Area
Math Tools
I like to keep our math tools in a common place.  This place is perfect as traffic should flow relatively well when getting supplies and there is room to hang math related charts on the walls around the shelf.  A few book baskets with picture books about math help make the area ready for math learning.

Places for Collaboration
I'm most excited about this area.  Last year this lowered table was a hot spot for writing, reading, and working in small groups.  This year I wanted it by the window.  I had picked up a few stools at IKEA that are the perfect size for students.  They love reading, writing and working here.

Making use of both sides of easel
Rethinking Furniture
I've opened up the space behind my easel so I can use the back of the easel which I gleefully discovered is magnetic.  Oh, the possibilities.  Right now we are using it for a daily check-in question, but I think being able to use it for small group word work is another possibility.

To the left you will see our "island" in the middle of the classroom.  A colleague suggested I rethink this piece of furniture and I'm glad I did.  It is the perfect central location for supplies and recess games.  It is short enough that I still have visibility across the classroom.

Author Collection
Rethinking Spaces
I wasn't sure this space was going to work for me.  This piece of furniture is always difficult to place and, to be honest, I'm not overly crazy about it.  However, my students always love it.  Originally marketed for leveled text, I use it for author collections.  Every year kids pull up chairs to our author collections and read, read, read.  I've learned to like this piece of furniture and surprisingly I like it here.  First of all, I usually try to keep my tile clear.  It's a weird thing, I suppose.  However, I'm never crazy about furniture on the tile.  Secondly, I was worried about how this would work with traffic when it is time to clean up at the end of the day.  Actually it has slowed down movement as students clean up and is perfect.

I'm really excited about this open space our new arrangement created.  We have laptop carts we can bring to our classroom.  It is always quite congested when these carts are in the classroom.  This new space is right beside all of our plugs and internet connection places.  When I bring the carts into the classroom I can park them in this corner, plug everything in for students, and still have plenty of room to move around the classroom.

In the weeks to come the students will begin to shape the way these spaces look and are used.  Soon the walls will be covered with their thinking.  The charts we create as we learn together will begin to fill the walls.  When old students stop by I think they'll find things look different, not better or worse --- just different.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I'm a Versatile Blogger

I woke up this morning and the sun was shining.  My patio called, but my phone said it was only 52 degrees.  The skies were a beautiful blue, the birds were chirping (actually turns out it was a convention of blue jays so chirping isn't quite the word), and a mist covered the grass.  I had to go to the patio.  So I grabbed a pair of sweats, a sweatshirt and my cup of coffee.  I had a few things I wanted to get done this morning and knew I should probably get a post on this blog.  The post I need to get up isn't quite ready --- but then I realized Mary Lee and Franki from A Year of Reading had nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  Perfect - a post to write.  Of course, I googled "Versatile Blogger" and found there to be 10,800,000 links which means choosing 15 blogs that haven't been chosen could be a task in and of itself this morning.

It only seems fitting that the two people who started me on this crazy adventure would nominate me.  Thanks to both of you for the nomination and all of the learning I've found on the internet.  I am a much better educator, learner, and collaborator thanks to you both.

After accepting this honor there are some things we are requested to do:
1. Thank the person (people) who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog.
2. Share 7 things about you.
3. Pass this award along to 15 other blogs that you have discovered.

So, here are 7 things about me:

  1. I have a Twitter addiction.
  2. I started this blog when I found 140 characters on Twitter just wasn't enough to talk about education and literacy.
  3. This is my 23rd year of teaching.  I've taught grades kindergarten through 6th and worked as a Reading Recovery teacher and literacy coach.
  4. Having visitors to my classroom makes me a nervous wreck  --- even after 23 years.  
  5. I love new picture books and chocolate (yes, I know that is technically 2 things)!
  6. This really isn't a very versatile blog, I blog mostly about children, learning, literacy, technology, picture books, and building classroom communities (of course, you will find an occasional politically motivated rant).
  7. This blog collaborates with Enjoy and Embrace Learning each August 10th to host the August 10 for 10 Picture Book Event.  (next year will be year 3!)
Here are 15 blogs I would like to recognize (it's not hard to think of 15 blogs):
  1. Barbara at Love to Teach Reading and Writing
  2. Gail at Mrs. Poulin's Blog
  3. Jen at Elementary, My Dear, or Far From It
  4. Jennifer at A Work in Progress
  5. Jackie at Ready, Set, Read!
  6. Jill at My Primary Passion
  7. Kassia at Math Exchanges
  8. Katie & Pat at Catching Readers
  9. Laura at Our Camp Read-A-Lot
  10. Lyssa at My Mommy Reads
  11. Lori at Lori's Lessons
  12. Michelle at Literacy Learning Zone
  13. Scott at Brick by Brick
  14. Sylvia at Ele'Mentor
  15. Tammy at Apples with Many Seeds
That was a fun challenge and walk through many blogs I love to read.  I must say, however, I think I could have finished that post that has been hanging over my head in that time.  :o)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Discovering What Kids Know

I love the first days of school when everything is new.  New folders, new pencils, new crayons, new paints and, best of all, new students.  These first days of the school year are so important for setting the tone of our classroom community.  In these first days I want the children in my classroom to begin to see themselves as one community.  In these first days I want to learn how they work together, who leads, who follows, who listens, who talks and who builds on the thinking of others.  In these first days I want to know what they love to do most.  I listen to their stories to learn what is important to them at school and, of course, in their lives beyond our classroom.  We discover the ways we are similar and the ways we are different.

In these first days every step is carefully made to help us to live and work together in the coming year.  In a teaching world filled with data, I think the best thing about the first days of school is getting to know kids not by numbers, but by living beside them.  In these first days of school I want to know what they know.  I want to watch them in the messy work of figuring things out, as they settle in with a good book, as they look at that blank piece of paper and plan what they want everyone to know.  How do they make meaning?  I want to know what they know really well.  I watch them for signs of what they have under control, what they may be ready to learn, and what they may need help to accomplish.

In the first days I spend my time talking with children about their reading/writing.  It is in these conferring conversations that I learn most about their lives as readers and writers.  I learn by talking with students, but I also learn by watching them work in the workshop.  By carefully observing how they go about their reading and writing.  Much can also be learned by looking thoughtfully at student writing as well and talking with them about books.

Here are a few questions I ponder as I sit beside students to confer and reflect on their learning:

  • What are the student's literacy attitudes and habits?  Do they read/write at home?  Do they have books in their rooms?  Do they have a library card?  Did they go to the library in the summer?  Where do they get books?  Do they read stories before they go to bed?  Do they prefer to read by themselves or with others?  Do they have places they like to write?  Do they see their family members read/write?  Do they approach reading/writing with confidence?  Do they have the stamina to attend to reading/writing for a lengthy period of time?  
  • What do students know in reading?  How do they make meaning?  Do they search for the message of the books they read?  Do they have favorite books/authors?  What kinds of books do they choose to read?  How do they talk about reading?  What strategies do they seem to use automatically to make sense of books?  Do they monitor their reading/thinking?  
  • What do students know in writing?  Where do they get ideas for their writing?  Do they write about a variety of topics?  Do they easily begin a new piece of writing?  How do they plan their writing?  Do they prefer to draw first or write words to begin?  How do they organize their writing?  How do they construct sentences?  Do they have a bank of known words?  How do they write new words?  Can they reread their writing?  Do they add details to their pictures/text? 
  • Does the child's oral language support learning and communication?  Do they ask questions as they read/write/talk?  Are they able to articulate their thinking?  Can they connect their conversation to the thinking/discussion of others?  Do they use the vocabulary from their reading/writing in their discussions?  Do they listen carefully to others?    
  • Do students have a sense of story?  Do students talk about their writing as if they are telling a story or just isolated events?  Do they connect ideas when talking through the pictures in a book?  
  • What are the connections (and disconnects) between reading and writing?  Is it easier to write words than to read them?  Is it easier to read words than to write them?  Are they more confident in reading or writing?  Do they have strengths in one area that might support learning in another?  
So in these beginning days I will be sitting beside the young readers and writers in my classroom to celebrate and discover all they already know.  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Keeping an Eye on the Road Ahead: Professional Learning Goals

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow.   Learn as if you were to live forever."  Mahatma Gandhi 

It's been a great first two weeks of school, but it has been all I can do to keep up with my colleagues on Twitter.  Additionally, reading and commenting on blogs --- let alone posting --- has been virtually impossible (yes, that was my attempt at cyber-humor this morning).  All I have been able to manage is an occasional glance at my Twitter feed or a quick read of a post on my phone in small snippets of time I have found.  Donalyn Miller uses books for her emergencies, I use my phone (it has my books, blogs, Twitter colleagues, etc. always at my fingertips).

In the midst of the first days of madness I caught snippets of this Twitter conversation between Michelle Nero (@litlearningzone) and Laura Komos (@komos72):

Being a person who loves "a challenge" and a bit of #cyberPD, I thought I'd add my post to this conversation which began at Laura's Camp Read-A-Lot, The Big Picture for 2011-2012.  Here Laura shares her goals for the upcoming school year in a post written to help her stay accountable to them.  I'm a bit nervous about posting my goals so publicly as I know there will be no turning back.  I considered making my goals:  eat more cookies, sleep in on the weekends, give up laundry, but I knew you wouldn't buy any of that.  

So falling to peer pressure, here are a few of my goals for the coming school year:

Professional Learning Goals:
In an effort to continue to grow as an educator I think it is necessary to read, interact, and share our learning beyond our classrooms.  In these tough times for public education, I want to be more "transparent" (not a fan of the word, but it works here) in all that I believe about education.  It is important to maintain our professional lives and share them with the public so they move beyond the notions of education predominately shared in the media (stepping off soapbox...oops).  

Currently, I am reading Kassia Omohundro Wedekind's book, Math Exchanges, published by Stenhouse (and, I believe, now available).  This blog will be one of the stops on Kassia's blog tour.  I'm looking forward to talking with Kassia about her book (and hopefully getting a few answers about my math workshop).  

In October, I will be attending the Columbus Area Writing Project's Fall Conference:  Writing and Reading Our 21st Century Lives.  At the conference, I will be joining Julie Johnson to share ways literacy is moving beyond our classroom walls.  In October, I'm also considering attending the Literacy Connection's session with Troy Hicks and OCTM's conference in Toledo.

In November, I will be attending NCTE's conference in Chicago:  Reading the Past, Writing the Future.  Love, love, love this conference!  Like Laura, I have to pay for this conference myself --- and use personal days (ouch!), but it is always worth it.  This conference always energizes my teaching and thinking.  I'm really looking forward to presenting with Katie Keier and Julie Johnson (ok, not the presenting part, but the working with friends part) in our session:  Beyond Classroom Walls:  Honoring Voices of Young Readers in the 21st Century. 

In February, I will be attending Dublin's Literacy Conference.  Going to conferences can be EX-PEN-SIVE!  I love this conference as it is reasonably priced and full of great speakers and learning conversations.  This year's list looks exciting with picture book authors Bob Shea & Eric Litwin (Pete the Cat!), and professional authors Ruth Ayers and Donalyn Miller among the many sharing their thinking with us.  If you are within driving distance (even if you're not), I highly recommend a trip to Ohio (in the snow and cold) to attend.

On the TBR professional list:  Comprehension Going Forward, Write Like This, So What Do They Really Know?, Investigate the Number System.

Twitter, Twitter, Twitter.  I will never be able to articulate all I learn, all the professional development opportunities I find, all the conferences I stalk, or all of the great thinking shared here.  Just know I am trying to find a way to be sure to keep up with it all.

Reading and Commenting on Blogs:  During the summer I tried to make it my goal to comment on at least 3 blogs per day (ok, some days it didn't happen).  I am pretty sure I can't keep that pace during the school year.  My goal is to comment on at least 10 posts per week (for those of you that like math, that is likely going to be 3 each day of the weekend and 1 each evening --- with a day off).

Blogging:  At least once a week I will share something I've been thinking about in teaching children.  Yes, I'm going to make it a priority to go back to posting at least once a week.  There, I said it.

Writing:  While I am on the subject and just making myself accountable for things, let's talk about writing.  I do believe being a writer (in any terms) is important to teaching writers.  I've been struggling a bit to get back into my writing routines...ok, I've been struggling a lot.  The weekly blogging goal is an attempt to fix this as is my commitment to writing weekly.  (Still debating on whether to set the goal by words per day/week or minutes per day/week.  Pondering - and taking suggestions.)

Classroom Goals
While I am throwing it all out here, I might as well add classroom goals.  However, I need a bit of time to get those thoughts into an organized list.  So in the coming days, I will post my goals for my classroom.  I think you'll see they are tied to the above professional learning goals.

"I'm a big believer in growth. Life is not about achievement, it's about learning and growth, and developing qualities like compassion, patience, perseverance, love, and joy, and so forth. And so if that is the case, then I think our goals should include something which stretches us." Jack Canfield