Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Teaching and Learning in an Idea Economy

Recently I attended a meeting for educators at our State Department of Education.  As we were discussing current concerns over standardized testing in our schools, the governor walked into the room.  You can imagine the surprise to see our governor, John Kasich, step into the room and take a seat in the discussion group.

As he talked he began to discuss the changes coming to our state, which he explained is no longer an agriculture economy or an industrial economy, but instead needs to move toward a "cloud" economy.  I can't speak for the governor, but in my mind he was talking about the way technology has shifted economies.  No longer are we limited to goods produced in our state and no longer are our companies limited to buyers in our area.  Money can be made not just through industry or service, but through ideas.  The internet has opened new possibilities for thinkers and entrepeneurs.

What does it mean to be teaching children in a time of ideas?  How do we prepare them for an idea economy?  It isn't easy to revision school as we know it.  What do we do that needs to stay and what needs to go?  Our classrooms and schools need to look and function differently.  I'm not sure what that means, but I do think some important thinking starts here:

How are students using time?  My new question has become, "Is what students are doing worth their time?"  I think we have to be willing to really think about this.  Students in an idea economy need to know how to ask big questions and seek answers.  These answers don't always solve problems, but instead lead to new questions.  Worksheets (paper or digital) and assigned tasks do not create thinkers and solvers.  Are students spending time in higher order thinking opportunities that move beyond remembering/understanding/applying and toward analyzing/evaluating/creating?  Are there opportunities to learn from peers and collaborate with others?

Who owns the learning?  I'm amazed at how much my role as a teacher has changed since I first started teaching.  It's sometimes uncomfortable, but always rewarding.  No longer do I plan every step, every minute.  Teaching requires more thinking on my feet, more following, more listening, more understanding.  Students are now the decision makers in their learning.  When students are not sitting beside us, what are they doing?  Are they doing something we told them to do or something they decided to do?  Is the work they are doing authentic?  Is it connected?  Is it taking them deeper in their understanding?

Do we have environments of trust?  When I went to school, we seemed to most often function on compliance.  To be good at school meant following rules and completing tasks assigned.  Today learning has evolved.  Ownership and choice are essential in personalized learning environments.  We have to trust that children can make decisions about their learning, set their own goals, and talk about their own progress.  We have to trust that schools can tell their own stories and that districts can make their own decisions.  We have to allow communities to determine what their children need.

Are students and learning communities connected?  In an idea environment, learners are connected.  They are connected to their learning, to their peers, to their community, to information, to resources and to learning communities beyond their classroom.  More and more I consider the way what we are doing connects to life beyond our day.  I want students to be able to take what we learn and make it a part of their everyday life.

Is learning personalized?  I love pondering this graphic of Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization.  One of my favorite statements in personalization is "Connects learning with interests, talents, passions and aspirations."  Are the structures we have set up flexible enough that students drive their own learning?

Are we resource rich?  When developing learners willing to problem solve, think deeply, ask tough questions, formulate ideas, collaborate with peers, and create new understandings resources are essential.  Are our classroom libraries able to support questioning, thinking, and learning more?  Are we connected to resources that will support student learning?  I often wonder what would happen if we took funds used for testing and moved them to resources.  Oh, to dream...

Are we moving beyond standardized measures?  We are often held back by standardized assessments.  Standardized tests seek right answers.  They work in linear formats.  They require students to work for longer periods of time than developmentally acceptable.  They take time away from real learning.  They assume that everyone learns at the same rate and thinks in the same way.  Our country has been successful because of innovators, risk-takers, creators, and communicators....not fill-in the bubble thinkers.  Are standardized tests measuring what we value?  Can they?  What measures can be used to know if schools are effectively supporting student progress?

How do you think teaching and learning are different in an "idea economy"?  What should we change?  What needs to stay the same?  

Other posts about rethinking education are here:

Follow Cathy's board Rethinking Education on Pinterest.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

DigLit Sunday: Infographics #playtolearn

I've been a bit fascinated by infographics lately.  When they pop into my feed, I can't help but take a look at them.  They're an interesting form of digital media.  They look official, but often lack any kind of reference to sources.  For this reason, we have to read them carefully and consider them with a critical eye.

Infographics are not only full of interesting thinking, but they are pleasing to the eye.  There's something about being able to think through a topic graphically.  Looking at an infographic I've always thought they must be easy to make, but I have found considering your content and message for an infographic to me more challenging than I had anticipated.

Yesterday, I decided to give creating an infographic a try for my post, Teacher as Personal Trainer.  I used Piktochart for yesterday's infographic.  Templates were limited unless you are willing to pay $29 per month which I consider to be far out of my price range.  I found creating on the site to be a bit time consuming, but manageable.  There were many options for sharing the final product.

Today I thought I would try Venngage.  While this site was much easier to use, I found embedding the final infographic to be more of a challenge.  In Piktochart the embed code could be adjusted before copying it.  Piktochart automatically adjusted ratios for effective presentation.  Today's infographic about DigiLitSunday wasn't as easy to adjust to embed into my blog.  You cannot see the entire infographic here, but instead will have to click this link.

I'm thinking infographics could be useful as an option for sharing thinking digitally.  Though infographics aren't new, I'm in the beginning stages of exploring their possibilities for students.  I'm wondering what you have tried.  Favorite creation apps for infographics?  Infographics you like to use as mentor texts?  How have they worked in your classroom?

Infographic Resources 
Cool Infographics (mentor text)
Daily Infographic (mentor text)
Kids Discover:  Infographics (mentor text)
Now I See:  Collection of Infographic Resources (information)
Cybraryman:  Infographics (information)
The Guardian: Infographics What Children Can Learn from Data (information and mentor text)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Teacher as Personal Trainer

Sometimes I get on a kick where I vow I am going to get physically fit.  I'm going to exercise more I tell myself and off to the gym I go.  Every time I go, I use the same three machines.  I start on the elliptical, move to the tread mill and then finish on the bicycle.  The bicycle is boring for me.  I don't like it a bit, but I do it so I can get the final "calories burned" number I want.

My intentions to exercise are always good, but it isn't long before my interest fades.  Doing the same thing every day gets old.  I don't know how to use the other machines and honestly don't know which ones I should use for the results I want.  I'm all about that "calories burned" number anyway, but many fitness friends say that isn't enough.

I can't help but wonder if my workouts would be better if I had a personal trainer.  If I had someone to get me started, develop a plan, and help me when things get hard.  If I had someone who loved and believed in physical fitness enough for both of us.  If I had someone who could fix the little things I wasn't doing quite right or make changes as I needed them.

Teacher as Personal Trainer
Carolyn Carr talks with readers
during Reader's Workshop.
Today as I moved from room to room to support readers I couldn't help but think about how much a teacher is like a personal trainer.  As I watch students during independent times in their learning, I realize how important the teacher is in helping students to make choices that keep them learning.

Often we set up elaborate plans so we can work with small groups and provide individualized instruction, but these plans can take away from the time students need to read, write, and create.  If we believe students only learn when they are beside us, we are underestimating the power students have in their own learning.  What are students doing when they are not beside us?  Students spend a lot of time working independently, and the teacher as a personal trainer makes sure this time is valuable for students.

The teacher as a personal trainer (I'm new to creating an infographic and wanted to play with Piktochart.  #playtolearn):

Maybe teachers are more like personal trainers as they help learners find places to begin, develop a plan, set appropriate goals and help when things get hard.  Students feel our love for the books, writing, and thinking we share with them.  We sometimes have to believe enough for both of us.  We fix things when they are not quite right, and make changes for our learners.  We're in and out --- just enough.  Most of all, we believe...and our students amaze us every day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Evernote Presentation for Conferences!

Oh, Evernote.  It just keeps on making me smile.  Who knew conference prep could be so easy?

Recently I heard about Evernote presentation mode.

From Evernote:


Since I use Evernote for just about everything, I wondered how I could use presentation mode....and then it was conference time.  (cue the music)

How to use Evernote presentation mode for conference time?

First I created a structure for my time in conferences.  I thought about what I wanted to share with parents and set up a structure like this:
  • student commentary
  • shifts in books since the beginning of the year
  • reading growth 
  • writing growth
  • assessment information
  • reading calendars 
  • strengths
  • next steps
  • helping at home *
  • class links *
* same across all notes

I then made topic headings and pulled in the pieces I knew would be consistent across conference notes.  When the note outline was created I then duplicated it and created one for each student.  Finally, I added examples of student responses to questions about their growth as a reader using audio, attached pictures of snippets of text and writing samples, created post-its listing strengths and next steps, and then linked to assessment and calendar information.  

After completing the note I was ready for conference conversations.  In the conference I just pulled up the conference note, switched to presentation mode, and began to chat.  It was easy to stay on track in the conference.  Smooth.

Here's how it worked:

Evernote.  Love it!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Digital Literacy: Important 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 on the Teche (today's link-up) to read, discover, and link.  

This week has given me much to think about in relation to digital literacy with young learners.  A few recent posts have popped into my feed in the last week:
In addition to these posts supporting or questioning the use of technology with young learners, I recently attended our district's professional day:  Hilliard University.  This day was full of energy as educators shared the work they are doing in public education and the possibilities for our students.  There were discussions of blended learning, literacy, student voice, and collaboration.  There were discussions of learning beyond the four walls of our classrooms and connecting learners to larger networks.

Finally, like every week, I've had opportunities to work side by side with young learners.  It is this work that most often shapes my thinking about whether young learners should use digital devices.  All of these opportunities and conversations have been swirling as I've considered what is best for the young learners I work with every day.

The Problem with All or Nothing
The questions aren't easy.  There are many things to think about when making decisions for young learners.  There are important considerations for their development, learning, and growth.  My grandma used to say, "Everything in moderation, nothing in excess."  I often think of her when these conversations of all or nothing begin.  We seem to be this way about many things in our society.  Left - right.  Only phonics - no phonics.  Banned books.  Digital books - no digital books.  Digital tools - no digital tools.

Perhaps it is when we begin these conversations of all or nothing, yes or no, that we need to step back to wonder if we are asking the right questions.  This is the case with this, "Should young learners have digital tools?", conversation.  Perhaps the question is, how can we best utilize digital learning for young learners?  How do we help young learners navigate new literacies?  What is worth their time?  What is not?

Let's begin with the conversation started by Nancie Atwell.  In her recent post, Nancie stated, "I have concerns about them [iPads] in the younger grades. In fact, I think the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake."  I have much respect for Atwell, but as a primary teacher I see the use of technology in young classrooms much differently.  One of the first professional books I remember impacting my teaching was Nancie Atwell's, In the Middle.  At the time I was teaching sixth grade and trying to find a way to develop the readers and writers in my classroom.  Atwell transformed my teaching.  She made me see the value of a workshop and I began finding ways to create time for the students in my classroom to write.  It would take years for me to feel comfortable in the workshop and to this day I constantly work to improve my practice.  Yet, without a workshop students wouldn't have ownership of their learning.  The workshop she told me about years ago has evolved over time.  The workshop is now part of a digitally connected learning community.

Now let's consider the conversation of Troy and Kristin.  Like the two of them, I have found digital literacies to be opening new doors for my students.  Lately my workshop, inspired many years ago by Nancie Atwell, has been transformed by the digital world that has stepped into my classroom.  As a teacher of primary children, when I first began trying new tools and technologies I wasn't sure my students could or should be using them.  I found blogging to be a simple place to begin to step into the world of technology and what I saw pushed me further especially because my students were so engaged by the writing on a blog.  Most importantly, I became less necessary in the classroom.  Students found their voices.  They discovered their messages mattered to their friends and to others beyond our classroom --- beyond our school.  It wasn't long until my students pushed me past blogging and into other tools for composition.

What Digital Learning Is and What It Is Not
I'm not sure the question is a "yes students should have tools" or a "no students shouldn't have tools" question.  In her article, Ziemke states,  "We want kids to be intentional about how they choose the tool and think about how the tool enables them to revise, alter the layout and share the writing." Our responsibility as educators has always been to develop the literate lives of our students (see NCTE 21st Century Literacies:  A Policy Research Brief).  In today's world, being literate in print isn't enough.  We would be doing a disservice to ignore the digital media that surrounds us every day.  Let's be honest, our news, information, financial decisions, and communication are driven by digital technologies.

The challenge we must rise to is asking the right questions and making thoughtful decisions.  I often hear from those resistant to technology that children need to play, to discover, to create, to communicate so they shouldn't use technology, yet that is exactly what technology allows when used thoughtfully.

When I become concerned about technology:
  • When students are using it to learn rote tasks.
  • When students are using it to answer multiple choice questions or complete, what I'll call, "digital worksheets."
  • When technology is used to keep kids busy.
  • When children are only playing video games.
  • When children are unsupervised.
  • When the time on devices exceeds the time to play.
  • When children are not given choices about technology.  
  • When children do not have fluid access to technology.  

What technology can be:
  • ONE way to read a story.
  • ONE option of many possibilities.
  • A place for children to create.
  • A way for children to share their thinking with others.
  • A way to connect with other learners.
  • A way to collaborate and build something together. 
  • A way to find answers to questions.
  • A place for students to have a voice TODAY.  

New Opportunities for Literacy
For me the question isn't "yes technology" or "no technology" but, instead, how do we utilize technology to leverage learning?   I don't have all of the answers to this question or the other thoughtful ones we should be asking.  What I do know is that some of my students prefer to use technology.  For some students technology allows them to find ways to share their thinking when capturing their complex understandings, within the stages of beginning writing development, can be hard.  That being able to draw, write, and talk about a topic can help them to think deeply about books, concepts, and ideas.  That being able to share their thinking gives them power now.  That listening, reading, commenting, and considering the work shared by friends can help them learn to consider new perspectives.

A few years ago I had a young learner in my class who found writing tasks very difficult.  He was receiving reading intervention services and didn't see himself as a reader or a writer.  As students shared at the end of our workshops, he never shared.  He didn't want to take his books home from his intervention teacher.  One day, he wrote a post on his blog about Jan Thomas.  He shared one of her books with our learning community.  Students loved his post and began wanting her books in the classroom.  Across the year, he would blog about books and became the expert.  Friends wanted his advice and asked about books he was reading.  He became a reader, not because of the skills he was learning, but because of the opportunities created through digital literacies.  I don't think this would have happened for him without these digital opportunities.

Since that time my students have continually pushed my thinking about digital literacies.  They've helped me to see that digital learning can:
  • develop oral language
  • allow opportunities to purposefully create and compose for a real audience
  • make learning play-like
  • ease the challenges of writing for young learners
  • grow the complexity of writing for young learners
  • provide alternate reading opportunities for beginning readers
  • broaden our perspective
  • develop our empathy
  • strengthen a community
Ultimately, no matter the age of our students, it isn't an all or nothing question.  It's about choice.  Digital tools are one way students can participate in our literate world.  It isn't all or nothing, one or the other.  Some of my students prefer a book, some a pencil, some markers, and some an iPad.  The opportunity to make those decisions with purpose will remain a part of our classroom.

To me, it's not



It's this AND that.  It's about choice and opportunity for both.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Changing Our View

Every day I'm reminded of how fortunate I am to be teaching and learning with the colleagues in my school.  In my new position supporting readers, I'm continually in and out of classrooms, taking time to talk with teachers, and seeing the work they do with students.  I'm continually humbled.  I'm also continually challenged to keep up and adequately support the work these educators do every day.

Recently I've been reminded of this again.  Imagine my joy when I received these emails from the classroom teachers of a few of the students I support showing me new steps of learning in their classrooms.  I'm used to sharing next steps with parents and teachers via Evernote, but I haven't really ever been on the receiving end of these joyous celebrations until recently.  These emails celebrated where students were as learners and honored the ways they were growing.

This sample of student writing shows how this student is growing her understanding of story.  It also demonstrates shifts in her oral language and confidence.  I was thrilled when her teacher, Deb Frazier, sent this to me!

Click HERE to listen to the conversation. 
This next example is one sent to me of a student we have been supporting to think of his message before getting started with tools to create.  He wasn't just expected to make the change, you can see in the picture the way his teacher has been supporting him before he got started with his work.

This is a picture of one of my students leading a book talk about Danny books she has been reading in her classroom.  Her teacher, Marie Nixon, made my day by sharing it with me.  She's quickly becoming a reading leader in her community.

When Pete the Cat and His Magic Glasses was published, I fell in love with its message.  Sometimes just changing our view makes everything better.  How lucky these students are to be in classrooms where teachers recognize and celebrate these new steps as they grow as literacy learners.

In my new position had a few questions I had started my year asking:

  • How do I support readers in a way that works for each child?  (In other words, children's needs before system, teacher, my own needs.)  
  • How do I advocate for children and celebrate the steps they make as learners with them, their teachers, and their families?  
  • How do I help these readers connect to their reading communities?
  • How do I connect the work we do to their independent reading and daily learning in their classrooms?  
  • How do I support teachers without giving them one more thing to do?

It's easy in teaching to fall into a "what needs fixed" mentality.  Our systems are often set up to make us look as deficits instead of strengths.  We have to work hard to keep our thinking and conversations focused on what children can do.  I'm grateful to these classroom teachers for their persistence in finding the little steps to celebrate and supporting these young learners in their journey.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Finding a Place for Little Books in Early Elementary Classrooms

A picture of a student I support leading
a book talk with friends in her classroom.
(Shared with my by her teacher.
Yep, that made my day.)
A Step Inside
As teachers we spend days, weeks, months, years, growing our libraries for the readers who live in our learning communities.  We find deals at bookstores, visit book sales, and max out our library cards.  We work to fill our libraries for young readers with picture books readers will want to read again and again.  This week I was reminded that we need to remember little books as we grow our shelves for young readers.

When I entered Marie Nixon's first grade classroom the room was abuzz with activity.  Students were just arriving for the day.  Friends greeted one another, read the morning message, and began to read books at their tables.  I walked to the small table where students were seated to read with a student I support.  I'd brought a Danny book for her to read during our time together, and the boy beside her smiled longingly at the book.  She's a big Danny fan so I've been peppering our reading with this character.  I wished I had another copy, but I had only brought one.  We started to read.

The boys sitting beside us began to talk excitedly about We Like Fish.  "I love this book," one boy said to the other.  The other nodded in agreement, pulled another little book out of the basket and began to sell a favorite to his friends.  This conversation excitedly continued as titles were passed back and forth between students.

Honoring Little Books
When I walk into Marie Nixon's room each day, I know her class loves books.  I'm greeted constantly by books I really must check out, reminders to visit family Shelfari shelves, and excited chatter about titles going home.  I've already noticed how their talk has evolved from loving books to knowing some authors and characters; the way they've started to talk about what is happening in the story without giving away an ending.  I've already noticed that her students love books - all books.  They love picture books and digital books.  They love big books and little books.  They love funny books and serious stories.  All books hold equal weight in her classroom.  What has stood out to me is the way little books, often a good match for these young readers, are loved and enjoyed by all readers in this room.  Little books are treated as equals in her classroom, no more or less important than the other books resting around her room.

As a classroom teacher, I spent years building a library that allowed my students to move beyond little books as I searched for picture books that they could read and enjoy.  Thankfully, there are many authors who have helped young readers to grow by writing books they can pick up and read.  Where would be without authors like Mo Willems, Jan Thomas, and Eric Carle?  These are a few of the authors who've helped children step into picture books.  These picture books have helped us to grow our libraries and introduce books to young readers that are easily found in the library and bookstores they visit.  Picture books with language patterns, strong picture support, and accessible vocabulary can help support young readers.  Marie's room is filled with picture books for her young readers.

What has caught my attention in her room is the way her students love little books equally.  They're not considered something they have to read or something not as interesting.  It's easy to move little readers to our closets. These texts, often leveled for the benefit of teachers to make it easier to match books to readers during instruction, are often overlooked for independent reading.  We know they help us with our small groups as we work to match text to our teaching points, but sometimes it is easy to forget how much they help all emergent and early readers get off to a good start.  Additionally we sometimes forget how much our readers working hard to catch up to peers need these books and need to feel they are just as important as the more challenging texts in our classrooms.

In my time in this classroom, I've admired the way this community honors little books.  Students aren't picking out leveled books from a numbered/lettered tub, they're finding the books around the room.  They're not being handed the books they need to read, they're selecting the books they want to read.  I can tell Marie has selected titles that most of her readers in her room can read with success.  I can tell she's thoughtfully sprinkled them around the room so they are always within reach.  Most of all, she's supported conversations about these books and helped students to see the deep thinking needed to really understand their messages.  Marie has reminded me of the importance of honoring little books in our classroom.

Ways to honor little books:
  • Include little books in library tub collections.  It's easy to add them to collections of books about friends, family, dogs, cats, being brave, and other topical collections.    
  • Find little books that match shared reading books available.  
  • Read little books aloud in focus lessons, in extra minutes discovered in the day, and for enjoyment.  
  • Place little books on tables or within easy reach of students.
  • Have book talks about little books.
  • Allow opportunities to create in response to little books.  
  • Remember there is big thinking in the little books. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Considering Interest in Choosing Books for Reading Lessons

Some days just make you smile.  Today was one of those days.  

Choosing books for reading lessons can be a delicate balance.  As a teacher supporting readers working to catch up to peers, I try to be thoughtful about these choices.  I want to choose books that will support my teaching point and help students work toward their goals.  I try to find a book that will allow the reader to use what they know, but provide enough challenge for the reader to do some reading work.

It's easy to set interest aside, yet I know that helping these students want to read is as important as teaching them how to read.  Today as I looked through titles to find a book for one of my students, a Fly Guy book caught my attention.  I paused and pulled out the book, I Spy Fly Guy.  Would it work?  It was a book of appropriate challenge for the lesson.  This reader uses meaning, but is working to balance visual information.  It seemed this book would provide enough of a challenge to accomplish this.

This book would not only work for his lesson, but it might help in the next steps of supporting this reader's choices during independent reading times.  His teacher had expressed concern that he had been picking books for his independent reading that were too challenging.  Recent work in small group lessons made me think he knew when a book was a good match, he just wasn't always making that choice.  I don't know why this is exactly, though I have a hypothesis or two.  I wonder, for example, if he wants to look more like the readers in the classroom.  

I was pretty excited once Fly Guy caught my attention; more and more I thought it would be perfect.  The kids love Fly Guy books.  The book had several chapters making it seem a little closer to the books his peers were reading.  More books like this are available in our school library.  The book was close to his independent level so reading one together might make it possible to connect with other Fly Guy titles.    

I picked up the book (and another "just in case" book...just in case things didn't go as planned) and headed to his classroom.  When I sat down beside this reader in the classroom, I could tell he was excited about my choice.  It turned out he had read a couple of books from this series, but thankfully not the one I had with me.  We got started with the reading.  He could hardly stop himself as we ended chapter one to find Fly Guy had been taken by a trash truck.  I was a little worried for Fly Guy, but he was not.  He was sure Fly Guy would find this to be THE BEST THING EVER.  What's not to love about being surrounded by trash if you are a fly?  After our reading lesson, some time working on our teaching point, and a bit of writing, I left the book with him because there was no way he was going to let me leave the room with that book.  He wanted to know what was going to happen next.  

Just before leaving I took a picture of the back of the book which featured other Fly Guy books that have been published.  We then used Skitch to mark the titles he had read so I could see if I could locate the other titles for him to read during his reading time.  These books weren't available in the classroom, but I knew I wanted more titles in his hands for his reading time.  

The lesson went well.  When I left he was ready to continue his reading.  We had laughed.  We had chatted about the book.  He had been reminded of one possibility for his reading that would be something other kids in his room might read too.  Perhaps I had accomplished two things today.  

I stepped out of the room and closed the door behind me.  He was smiling as I walked away.  I was smiling too.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Supporting Readers: The Global Read Aloud

The Global Read Aloud
The last few years as a classroom teacher, I've participated with my classes in the Global Read Aloud.  I was thrilled this year that an author active in social media was chosen for the event.  Over the next six weeks, students all around the world will be reading the same books.  Within the last few years, a picture book author study component was added.  I found this focus to be a better fit for my young readers who are just learning to navigate text.  As I've participated in past years, I've found the conversations are deepened by the interactions with other students.  Students are motivated by the connections made around the world.

Growing a Reading Community
This year, I wanted to find a way to participate with the readers I support in our building.  As I've watched my students in their classrooms, I have realized that it is as essential that I connect them to a community of readers as it is to help teach them to read.  This year's picture book study uses books written by Peter H. Reynolds.  I really wasn't sure how this would look working with small groups across the day, but decided to just dive in and figure it out.

The first week's book was The North Star which was impossible to locate.  Thankfully, the book was available in a digital format at Fable Vision.  Though the illustrations are more powerful in the picture book, I wanted to get started while I waited on my copy so I printed QR codes to the site, brought in iPads for students, and away we went.  First graders followed text and listened as the story was read aloud.  Second grade readers participated in a shared reading of the story.  Students were excited to be part of a global reading discussion.  Many had friends participating in The Global Cardboard Challenge and were excited by the opportunity for global collaboration.

Connected Conversations
After reading the book, we talked about what happened in the story.  In some groups, we discussed the message of the author.  Here were two of my favorite responses:

Students wrote about their dreams.  Some wrote about dreams for their future, others dreams for today.  It was a reminder to me of how important it is to support these young readers who have big dreams for today and tomorrow.

We then joined the conversations at #gra14 and #graPeter.

Great Conversation:  It seems discussing big themes engages readers.  Groups had interesting discussions about the author's message, their dreams for today and tomorrow, and the challenges the character faced.  We've carried these higher level conversations into our thinking in other texts.

Community Connections:  Joining the Global Read Aloud is helping us build our connections to other readers in our school as well as around the world.

Connecting Readers to Books:  When I went into my last classroom yesterday afternoon.  One of the readers I work with came over with another Peter H. Reynolds book she had checked out at the library.  She had selected next week's title:  I'm Here.  She wanted to read it….and how could I resist?

Looking forward to seeing where this takes us.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Luxuries for Readers Needing Support: Independent Reading Time

Walking into the classroom to support readers, I glance around to find the students I support in a small group reading a book with their teacher.  Research has demonstrated that one of the most important pieces for readers needing support is strong classroom instruction so this time with their teacher is important.  While I wait, I begin to walk around the room to talk with students I have on a list to watch as well as other students working in the classroom.  Soon the readers I came to see leave their group and, because I am on a schedule, I use my remaining time to have them work with me.  Of course, because they've worked with both of us, they have little time left for other reading today.

The teacher and I talk after school about this continuous dance between reading support and classroom instruction to make it work so we can both work with students to help them catch up to peers.  I love these conversations.  I'm always amazed by the willingness of teachers, whose plates are so full, to grapple with these big questions and find solutions.  We both want to make the best use of student time and both understand the need to make quick shifts with these learners.

We both also worry about independent reading.  We know these students need time to read independently as much, if not more, than their peers.  Structured independent reading times give readers opportunity to:  
  • read continuous text
  • develop a reading niche
  • connect with peer readers
  • practice new strategies and understandings
  • build reading stamina 
  • to fall in love with books  (this should be first)
In this particular classroom, students have time immediately after lunch before they go to special to read.  This twenty minute block brings us some peace of mind, but we continually talk and adjust to make the most of the time students have available.  

The need to provide quality independent reading time to readers needing to make gains is a continual challenge.  The solutions are not always obvious or easy.  Additionally, what works in one classroom or with one student does not always work in other cases.  We push ourselves to keep an open mind, remain flexible, and continually adjust.  Ultimately, we need to see growth in readers and keep a close eye on forward momentum.  Independent reading is a luxury developing readers need to enjoy.  

I'd love to hear from you.  How do you make time to meet with readers receiving intervention and carve out time for student independent reading?  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Yep, I Still Love Evernote

It's not uncommon to stop by my blog to find me gushing about Evernote.  Yep, I still love Evernote.  In past years I've used Evernote for keeping conferring notes during workshops, to collect pieces of student learning, and to stay organized.  I've used it to take pictures, record audio, and keep notes.  With the help of tagging, I've used it to sort and organize for planning.  I've used it to show students the progress they've made or remind them of strong steps forward.  Additionally, it has always been perfect for sharing information with parents, colleagues, and support staff.

With a change in position this year, however, I've had to rethink how I use it.  That's what I think is the best thing about Evernote:  it's flexible.  You can use it in a way that works for you.  Here are some ways I'm using it this year:

Using Evernote Charts for Planning:  This year I decided to keep my plans for reading support in Evernote instead of Google Drive.  I didn't want to have to continually switch back and forth between applications during lessons.  Thankfully, after some playing, I managed to use the table icon to create a template for planning.  The top shows the general structure for our lessons.  Inside each box, I plan the new book, introduction, and teaching point.  As I plan I also include notes about word work, writing, and any familiar reading reminders I might need.  After planning, I add the names of students to the far left and then keep notes each day.  Reminders and notes for particular students are kept at the bottom.  Each week I duplicate the template and begin to plan.  

Plan Template

Using Checklists for Observations:  I created a general checklist of concepts of print and high frequency words to note observations during daily reading and writing using tables and checkboxes.  Though I don't keep this information with every student I support, I find it helpful in situations where students need more systematic instruction.  I can easily add notes and observations where helpful.  

Checklists for Literacy Observations 

Capturing Student Assessment Notes:  In past years, I created a new note each time I conferred with a student.  This year, because I am strictly focused on literacy, I am keeping one note for each student for assessment.  Student daily notes during groups are kept in the plan template.  There is a note for collecting student assessment information.  The image to each new assessment piece is placed on top so it is easy to scroll down to see older assessments and note progress over time.  Audio recordings, links to Google Forms, and other growth information are kept in one note.  

This is a snapshot of the top of an assessment note.  

Tracking Parent Communication:  Additionally I am keeping a note for parent communication for each child.  Each note is housed in a notebook organized by classrooms.  Each time I contact parents I'm keeping information here.  When I sent information via email it can easily be forwarded to Evernote.

Using Notebooks to Organize:  Using notebooks in Evernote can help to organize information.  In the past, I've had one notebook for each child.  This didn't seem an efficient way to work when I would be seeing mostly small groups.  For reading support, I've organized notebooks by classroom teacher.  This not only makes it easy to organize and locate information, but also helps when it is time to talk with teachers about the progress of students from their classroom.

I'm still playing to find a system that works best.  The variety of features available in Evernote help me to adapt information so it can be easily used in daily instruction.  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Beyond Innovative Spaces: Thinking Purposefully About Learning Spaces

There's a lot of talk about innovative learning spaces.  I'll be the first to agree that there are many innovative ways to use space in our learning environments.  We are fortunate to teach in a time where much thinking goes into spaces and new types of furniture are being created to increase the usefulness of spaces.  However, to repeat the words our principal so often uses, furniture isn't really what makes a space innovative.  I think she's right.

The talk of innovative learning spaces does push our thinking about innovative learning.  Perhaps, however, it is time to move our conversation beyond innovation and refocus the discussion on being purposeful.  This year I have moved to a reading intervention position.  Though most often I go into classrooms to support readers, I do meet with some students in the reading room.  I just moved into this intervention room at the beginning of this year.  When you are in a new space, you have to continually think about what works and what does not.  You have to continually rethink the way you need to use space.

For the first six weeks of school, I have found myself continually reworking this space to make it purposeful.  The space needs to allow us to work in different ways.  Our lessons are short so I have to be able to work efficiently in this space.  Additionally, because we are working to make quick gains, I need to be able to provide alternate learning opportunities to students to help them to progress.

This week I made some big changes, and I'm loving them!  I'm still discovering ways to make our space work for us.  I'm sure there are more to come, but I wanted to share these with you.

Here is what the space looked like at the beginning of the year:

Phase 2:  I switched the U shaped table for a rectangular table.  This freed up a lot of space for readers to move around our tiny room.  Additionally, students can look at each other as we discuss books.  I can also shift our seating, including my own space, to more effectively work with readers.  

New Changes
Phase 3:  Here are some of the ways I've shifted the space so we can use it more effectively:
Creating Spaces:  I placed two old bookshelves back to back to create a space for students to leave the group to get a quieter work space or do independent work.  The shelves create a partition-like look that sets spaces apart.  The bookshelf contains tools we use most often and sits near our table so we can easily access these tools.  The back of the shelf contains the assessment kits I need to monitor student progress.  I need them in a place where I can grab them quickly, but I don't want them taking visual space in our room.  

Space for Small Group Work with Computer Accessibility:  I had the desk removed to free up space for learners.  (Honestly, I just stack things on desks anyway.)  I was able to place the computer at the end of the table so I can make websites, student work, and other media visible to students.  If we are working with iPads, student work can be displayed on the screen using AirServer.  (Thanks, Tech Department, for the quick installation.)  If we're discussing a book, student response can be sent to the computer using Flick to quickly share thinking.  The chair pockets allow students to store book totes as we work and keep table space clear for learning.  We can easily read and discuss books together here.  

Spaces for Magnetic Work:  Getting rid of the desk allowed me to open up space near the file cabinet to use for word work.  Being able to stand and work with words will be perfect for students who enjoy movement as they learn.  It also provides another space for repeated practice.  

Book and Material Solutions:  I've added containers and turned the books facing out.  This not only gave me more space, but it also makes it easier to find books.  Of course, the students notice covers as they come in as well.  I now use the top of this shelf to store containers of class materials.  Each group has a container with their familiar book bags, new books for lessons, writing journals, and other items I might need as I travel from room to room.  It's a grab and go area!  
Multiple Use Storage:  I grabbed this unused piece of furniture because of its storage potential. The back stores items I need, but don't use every day.  On the sides, I have dry erase boards, magnetic squares (stove covers) for letter/word work, dry erase boards and other tools we might need as we work together.  This stand is right beside our interactive writing area so students can easily get tools needed.  The front will soon contain baskets of books.  I still have some finishing work to do.  
Spaces for Small Group Writing:  I cleared the space around this dry erase board so we could all sit together for interactive writing.  The tools we need, shown above, are close by for extra practice.
Tactile Opportunities:  I removed a chart from this book holder to discover a chalk surface perfect for adding a little texture to word work.
Making spaces purposeful should be the center of our innovative learning discussions.  I'm sure there will continued adjustments in the weeks to come, but the room is starting to feel a little more like home.

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.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slowing Down

Picture via @DarbyCreekElem
Slowing Down
In my new role as a reading intervention teacher, it would be easy to get caught up in collecting data in these first days of school.  When teachers see me coming, I think they expect that I want to know something concrete or I've come to collect it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Honestly, the end of year data from last year gives me the perfect place to begin.  It would be easy in today's world of testing to rush right in, but I want to slow down.  Young literacy learners need time to get back to what they know.  They need time to learn new routines, find their places in their learning communities, and reacquaint themselves with their favorite books.  They need time to tell their new stories and time to learn the stories of their friends.  They need time to feel safe in this new place they'll learn and grow. 

Stepping Inside
Quietly opening the door to the first grade classroom I step inside trying to not attract attention.  The students have seen me come in and out a few times already, and are getting used to my arrival, giving it little attention.  It's hard to believe these first graders have been in school for less than a week.  It's writer's workshop and these writers are working hard on their stories as music softly plays in the background.  

Though I came in the classroom to focus on a few of the students I will likely work with in the coming school year to provide extra reading support, I also want to get to know the class.  I glance around to see where the students I have come to sit beside are working, but my plan is to move around the room.  I soon notice Kelsey sitting with an empty paper in front of her.  Though the kids around her are confidently drawing their stories, adding color to their illustrations, and attempting simple sentences, she is just sitting.  I ease my way in her direction, chatting with a few writers along the way, and ask how it is going.  "Is it writer's workshop?" I inquire.  "Yes," she replies.  

"What story are you going to tell today?" hoping that will set her up to tell me something.  She only shrugs and then rests her chin on her hand.  By the appearance of the papers in front of the friends around her, I would guess today's workshop is well underway.  I wait for a bit to see if she is going to add anything, but silence fills the air.  Finally I offer, "There are so many things we don't know about you yet.  What do you want your friends to know about you?"  She shrugs again.  We chat for a bit as I try to get to know her and listen for a story.  As she begins to talk about her dog, a smile finally shines across her face.  I think we've found her story for today.  She decides to write about her dog, but quickly stops as her pencil nears the paper.  I can tell she isn't sure what to do to tell her story.  "Do you want to add words or draw a picture  first?" I ask.  

"Draw a picture," she affirms to me and herself, but she continues to hesitate.  "I don't know how to draw a dog," she confides. 

"I always think about the shapes first," I tell her and together we work through getting started.  

In these first days, I not only want to get to know students as readers, writers, and learners, but I want to get to know them as the people they are.  I want to build rapport with students, but most of all I want them to know they can trust me to help them when they need it.  

In these first days, my goals are simple:
  • Get to know them.  Likes, dislikes, interests, hobbies, family.
  • Learn their stories.  
  • Notice what they choose to read.
  • Celebrate what they already know.
  • Discover the strategies they use as they read, write, and learn.
  • Compare current performance to last year's end of year data.  
  • Determine their comfort with risk.

Knowing Them
It would be easy to rush to collect data and push leaners toward next steps, but there will be time for that.  These days are foundational in building for the important work we will do across the year.  There will be time to take next steps, set goals, stretch as learners, but for today I want to slow down and get to know them.