Sunday, February 23, 2014

Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction

Today, Franki Sibberson, rounds up reflective posts on formative assessment and NCTE's new document at a Year of Reading.  Stop by to read more.  

"If we use assessment to understand, not evaluate, then it becomes the key to growth."    
             -Clare Landrigan & Tammy Mulligan, Assessment in Perspective (p. 124)

Formative Assessment 
Last week I participated in #nctechat about formative assessment around a new document recently released:  Formative Assessment That Truly Informs Instruction.  Here are some of the highlights:

In today's world of standardized assessments, sometimes it feels like formative assessment gets swept under the rug.  Districts, state and federal entities push us into placing much significance on these standardized one shot evaluations of learners.  Standardized tests, in reality, are a very small part of the learner's story and rarely provide the powerful information we need to support young learners.  Yet, they become what we wrap our conversations around and often the lens in which we view children.

However, I find the best information I discover about children is found in those day-to-day interactions as we learn together.  As an educator, formative assessment gives me much information about:
  • where my students are currently 
  • what they may need next
  • strategies or understandings which may be at the edge of their learning
  • their preferences for learning
  • which focus lessons I should consider
  • small groups that may be formed
A Place to Begin 
NCTE's new document provides a way to talk about these assessments which matter to our day to day work with young literacy learners.  By pulling apart the tools and strategies of formative assessment by considering:
  • Observations:  field notes, running records, and miscue analysis
  • Conversations:  surveys, interviews, conferences
  • Students Self-Evaluation:  exit slips, rubrics, checklists, process reflections, and student-led conferences
  • Artifacts of Learning:  collect, review, and look back at a student's learning journey
we have been given a place to start these important conversations.  By finding ways to collect and organize this information we can use it to notice patterns, discuss progress, ask guiding questions and plan intentional instruction.  I'm looking forward to the conversations that may follow as we dig a little deeper into the powerful practice of formative assessment.

A Few Past Posts About Assessment

Thursday, February 20, 2014

This Says It All: Nerdlution

Stop by One Grateful Teacher for this week's nerdlution check-in.  Hopefully your week went better than mine.

This week's nerdlution check in:

via Bitstrips

Enough said!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mentor Texts for Young Nonfiction Writers: #nf10for10

Nonfiction Picture Book 10 for 10 
It's here.  Today is the second year for #nf10for10 --- a celebration of nonfiction picture books.

Julie Balen is hosting today's event at Write at the Edge.  Remember to stop by HER BLOG to link your post.  If you don't have a blog, but would like to participate, here are some suggestions.  You might also want to tweet your links using the hashtag #nf10for10.  In the following days, I will link the posts together in a jog for this year's event.

#nf10for10 2013 Jog

Last year, I shared ten nonfiction books I shared ten books I chose based upon characteristics of nonfiction I had noticed.

Mentor Texts for Young Nonfiction Writers
This year, I'm thinking about nonfiction writing.  My students this year are much more interested in nonfiction books, and nonfiction writing has started to creep into our writer's workshop.  Here are 10 nonfiction books I can see using as mentor texts for the young writers in my classroom.

Seesaw Text
Young writers are learning about the past and the way it can help them find ideas for their stories.  Joy Cowley's, When I Was Young, is the perfect mentor text for showing young writers how they can contrast their lives now to when they were younger.  It's amazing how much six and seven year olds remember about their past, and how much they have already changed.  Cowley's book uses a seesaw structure to talk about then in now.  While this structure works well with moving back and forth in time,   it also can be used for many different topics of nonfiction writing.

True or False
Melvin and Gilda Berger have written a series of True/False books my students love.  Mammals is one example of a book from this series that starts with a statement and then asks if it is true or false.  Readers then turn the page to find out if the statement is true or not.  One of the statements in this book is "No Mammals Lay Eggs."  True or False?   The answer might surprise you.  It is easy to see the way young writers could use this structure to talk about sports, pets, insects, and much more.

Question and Answer
Without a doubt, Why? by Lila Prap, is a mentor text for young writers wanting to use a question and answer format.  In this book, the author asks a question such as "Why do zebras have stripes?"  Readers are then given three funny answers and the truth.  Young writers could easily use this structure for their nonfiction writing.  I was excited to see Prap has a new "Why" book coming out in July 2014, Cat Whys.

Facts and Visual Images
Predators by Roger Priddy is always a hot book in the classroom.  This book is part of a series of Smart Kid titles that students return to over and over again.  In this book each double page spread shares a few facts about the topic.  Then the reader sees visual images that tell more about how dangerous the animal is and how big it is.  The size comparisons show the animal beside a human.  This book is a good mentor texts for showing students how they can share information in visual images.  I was excited to see new titles, Coral Reef and Rainforest, are expected to be released later this year.

A New Lens
Nonfiction writers sometimes share an idea by telling the similarities and differences of a topic.  In Sleep, by Steve Jenkins, we learn of the interesting sleeping habits of a variety of animals.  Young writers have an opportunity to consider the interesting way the author chose to tell about animals by choosing one particular question, "How do ______ sleep?", and then weaving that question across a variety of examples.  The repetitive structure of this text makes it a strong mentor for young writers learning to organize information for readers.

Looking Closely
Young writers are often learning to describe what they notice and know.  If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian is much like Sleep in that it is different ways to look at the same thing.  This book is perfect for showing how writers can look at something closely to describe it.

Adding Facts to a Story
In White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies, the author tells the story of looking for a barn owl at night.  As the author weaves the story, she adds interesting facts about barn owls to the illustrations.  Young writers can use this mentor text to consider ways to add facts to a story.

Compare and Contrast
Melissa Stewart has a series of "How Do You Know?" nonfiction books that compare two similar animals.  In Frog or Toad?  How Do You Know? Stewart compares a frog and toad to help readers know how to tell the two apart.  Young writers could use this text as a mentor for comparing to closely related topics.

How To
In How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird, Jacques Prevert shares the steps for painting a picture of a bird.  The direct structure of this book in telling readers how to paint a picture of a bird can be used to write other "how to" texts.

There's lots of talk about opinion writing with the Common Core standards.  I've started to collect pins with some of the books I've discovered that might work, but many opinion mentors are on the internet in blogs, in the newspaper and in reviews.  I'm going to dig way back for the book I find that works best as an opinion piece, and it's really pushing the boundaries of nonfiction.  The only way it is nonfiction if it is true that the author is telling about her little brother, but rules are meant to be bent.  I have to say my favorite book for opinion writing is The Pain and the Great One --- yes, all the way from 1985 --- by Judy Blume.  Oh my!

Monday, February 17, 2014

No Blog, No Problem! You Can Still Join #nf10for10

Nonfiction Event #nf10for10

It's that time of year again!  Time for our nonfiction picture book event.  Yes, on Wednesday, February 19th, we'll round up posts of your 10 favorite nonfiction picture books.   We're hoping you'll join us.  We know many regular nonfiction picture book bloggers are joining the fun as the event falls on their regular posting day (#nfpb2014).  

Details, Details.  
  • What:  10 nonfiction books you can't live without
  • Hashtag:  #nf10for10
  • Who:  Anyone interested --- educators, media specialists, librarians, parents, etc.  
  • When:  Wednesday, February 19th 
  • Where:  All posts will need to be linked at Write at the Edge.  Then I will move them into a jog resource during the week of the event.  

No Blog, No Problem
But what if you don't have a blog?  In today's world of tools there are many ways you can participate in this evening even if you don't have a blog.  

A few suggestions:
  1. Start a blog (or resurrect an old one):  You know you've been thinking about it and this is the perfect time to get started.  
  2. Comment on one of our blogs:  You can leave a comment with your favorite nonfiction books on Write at the EdgeEnjoy and Embrace Learning or Reflect & Refine:  Building a Learning Community (or any other participating blog).  
  3. Tweet your favorites:  If you have a Twitter account you can tweet your favorites using the hashtag #nf10for10 on the day of the event (Wednesday, February 19th). 
  4. Pin it on Pinterest:  Make a #nf10for10 board and pin away.  
  5. Make a SMORE:  You can create beautiful digital pamphlets with Smore.  Susan Dee introduced me to Smore some time ago.  I'm always finding new ways to use it.   
  6. Try Corkulous:  Ever since I read Katherine Hale's post about Corkulous (thanks, Franki), I've been wanting to play with this.  
  7. Join Posterous*:  Posterous has a simple format that will allow you to share your books, and other thoughts, quickly.  
  8. Attach your list to your Wiki*:  If you already have a wiki, just put your list there.  
  9. Make a Glog*:  Sure, why not. 
  10. Use Padlet* for your favorites:  Build a wall with each of your favorite 10 books and easily create links to books. 
  11. Create a Google.doc:  Just type your list in a Google.doc and publish it to the web. 
  12. Surprise us!:  Oh, I love surprises and there are probably a million more ways to publish your list.  How fun is that?? 

We hope we'll see you Wednesday!  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rethinking Intervention and Other #Nerdlution Discoveries

We're into our third week of the second round of #nerdlution.  Today's round-up at Michelle Haseltine's blog:  One Grateful Teacher.  Each Thursday participants will link up to share their progress. 

Well, it's time for the #nerdlution check in.  (Picture me with my head hanging down in defeat.)  This week was parent-teacher conference week AND evaluation week so it's been a bit hard to find much extra time in my schedule.  Additionally, I have taxes and FAFSA staring at me each day.  As you can imagine, it's been a rough week to find extra minutes for reading.  It was actually sometimes hard to find time to eat.  OK, I always manage to find time to eat.  I'm going to have to say I haven't really lived up to my goals this week, but I'm hoping I might be better able to find more reading time in the coming week.

This Week's Discoveries

A Book
Despite the time crunch, I did manage to read Rethinking Intervention:  Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers in Grades 3-5 Classrooms by Shari Frost.  This book published by Choice Literacy is one for classroom teachers, intervention specialists, and building intervention teams to consider as they work with students in need of extra support.

It's true that I currently teach first grade, but I found this book applicable to my classroom of young learners as well.  Shari weaves stories of children, classroom teachers, and intervention specialists working together to support learners in their literacy journey.  I appreciated her candor, thoughtful suggestions, and common sense approach.

Shari Frost begins by reminding us, "The most important component of a successful intervention program is a knowledgeable and responsive teacher who can make informed decisions based on students' reading writing behaviors." That's a lot of pressure!  As a classroom teacher, Shari reminded me of the myriad of ways I can support learners across the day while still allowing much needed time for students to read, write, and collaborate with peers.  She shared suggestions for supporting students in need of support in whole group learning, small group work, and individual conferences.

One of the hardest things for me to understand as a classroom teacher is the way students who need support are often pulled from classroom to classroom and work in interrupted periods of time across their day.  Additionally they often lack the time to practice these new strategies and understandings in real reading and writing opportunities.  I'm quite sure if we did this to our most independent learners they would find it quite challenging to keep up.  Frost shares ways classroom teachers can utilize a workshop framework to provide high levels of support for literacy learners.  She reminds us that often there are other students in the classroom who have similar needs.

When I taught Reading Recovery I learned the significance of intentional work to help students transition into the classroom.  Frost shares ways for intervention teachers, classroom teachers, and other support staff to work together toward common goals that help the student to hear consistent messages across learning environments.  Schools are busy with complicated schedules.  Frost considers creative ways school communities have discovered to find time for collaboration, observation, and supporting colleagues as they work to find ways to strategically support students in need of intervention.

A Picture Book

If the book fair hadn't have rolled into our school this week I might not have discovered a good picture book to share, but it did.  My students fell in love with The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf by Mark Teague.  Several of the students purchased the book and insisted I read it.  So, of course, I read it.  They laughed over the antics of the Somewhat Bad Wolf and the choices of the pigs.  In this story the three pigs are busy building their houses….or eating potato chips and drinking sody pop.  Esmerelda, the sheep?, is always offering helpful advice.  What happens when the wolf comes along to huff and puff?  My class was still debating the true identify of the wolf after the book was finished.  

A Post
Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve (or walls or action and) by Chris Lehman:  Chris asks, "Is your heart visible?"  You've probably seen this post by now, but if not you'll want to take a second to click over to read it.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Is It Guided Reading?

Is it Guided Reading?
Perhaps I should apologize up front for this rant-ish post.  However, the recent abundance of pins on Pinterest labeled "guided reading" has gotten the best of me.  Go ahead, click over to Pinterest, type "guided reading" in the search, and voila a huge cache of printed worksheets will appear.  Want to practice sounds with worksheets?  Want to BUY three ring binders full of scripted guides?  Need a question spinner?  You won't be able to view them all because many will send you to a link in which you can purchase these documents.  Ok, I'm being dramatic.  Very dramatic.  You will also find some thoughtful resources which might help you with planning, thinking about strategic reading, or organizing your record keeping system.  These pins did, however, make me pause for a minute to think of the true work we do in guided reading.

According to Fountas and Pinnell, "Guided reading is a context in which a teacher supports each reader's development of effective strategies for the processing novel texts at increasingly challenging levels."  In its truest context, guided reading is a small group of children who have similar need and use similar processes to read new text.  In its purest form, guided reading begins with an introduction to the book, the children read the book with teacher support, and then the teacher chooses a teaching point at the end of the reading.

Considering Guided Reading
Over the years we have adapted guided reading, at times for the better, to make it work for our young readers.  Perhaps improving guided reading is a bit like improving your writing, it may be best to know the rules and learn to bend them.  Sometimes, however, we have made adaptations that are not the best for the purposes of guided reading.  Sometimes it could be argued that these activities we have added are helpful for students, but should they be a part of guided reading?

For example, in the early days of my guided reading instruction I always chose my teaching point after students had finished the book.  Since then, I've discovered that it works better for me to group students because I have noticed they need particular support.  I now give my teaching point BEFORE my lesson, support students as they read trying to return to this teaching point across with thoughtful language prompts, and then have students reflect on the teaching point at the end of the lesson.  I feel this change works better for students in most cases.

On the other hand, there was much talk about adding word work to guided reading lessons.  Understanding the importance of students having these opportunities I started including it in all of my lessons using magnetic letters or dry erase boards.  However, I began to notice that it sometimes bogged down the lesson, took much time, and that students were often worn out before we got to the important work I had planned for the group.  Now I only add word work to the beginning, or sometimes the end, of a lesson if it makes sense with my teaching point.   Not every group needs word work during a lesson and I've found other places in our day to accomplish this learning.

Here are some things I try to do to make guided reading effective:
These points are just a few that came quickly to me as I reflected on guided reading.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and considerations in guided reading lessons for your classroom.  I hope you'll share them below.

Improving Guided Reading
It seems often our professional development time is spent these days learning new systems for evaluation, tracking data, and improving test scores.  However, if we don't take time to look at the ways to improve the learning in our classrooms we are short changing our students and our teachers.  I'm thankful for the abundance of shared thinking in digital spaces, but there aren't quick fixes to challenging questions.  In my opinion, the best way to improve guided reading isn't by purchasing materials for lessons, but instead by looking carefully at the works of educators like Marie Clay, Fountas and Pinnell, Lucy Calkins, Kathy Collins, Pat Johnson, Katie Keier, and others who have written about ways to support readers.  It's in working with children, reflecting on our lessons, and discussing with our peers that we can begin to make important shifts in supporting young readers.  Most of all, it is in remembering that ultimately our goal is for young readers to read.  The best way to do that is to provide opportunities for them to do just that.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin (#nerdlution)

We're into our second week of the second round of #nerdlution.  Today's round-up at Michelle Haseltine's blog:  One Grateful Teacher.  Each Thursday participants will link up to share their progress.   Here are a few of my DISCOVERIES this week as I read for #nerdlution.

This Week's Discoveries

A Book:
Rump:  The True Story of Rumplestiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

As part of my #nerdlution, I'm spending more time reading fiction.  My friends have been sending me link after link for books I must read.  Rump has been on this list for awhile.  I finally lucked into a copy from the library.  Unfortunately, they didn't have a digital copy for my eReader, but an audio copy was available. I'd rather read a book than listen to one, but this audio version was outstanding. Narrated by Maxwell Glick, this audio version was engaging from beginning to end.

Rump is the untold story of Rumplestiltskin.  This story begins when Rump is a young boy being raised by his gran.  Rump is often teased about his name, and he worries about his destiny with the name he has been given.  Rump likes to riddle and rhyme, but his life is complicated by the miller.  Rump and Gran are barely getting by with the little bit of food the miller gives Rump for his work in the gold mind.  Gold is getting harder and harder to find.  One day, Rump discovers his mother's spinning wheel and soon realizes he can spin straw into gold.  His best friend, Red, warns him to stay away from magic as it brings trouble.  It isn't long until Rump's good intentions, and a few unfortunate circumstances, weave a complicated mess.  Rump sets out to untangle his problems, but discovers who he is along the way.

This delightful journey of discovery, as Rump begins to unravel his story and find his destiny, is one I would read again.  The references to fairy tales, the subtle hints to the identity of Rump's friend Red, the interesting characters Rump meets along his journey, the beautiful language, and lines that just call to be reread over and over again all make this book one not to be missed.  I'll never look at the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale in quite the same way.

Liesl Shurtliff wrote so many lines I wanted to read over and over again, but enjoying the book in audio made this quite a challenge.  Thank goodness for the 15 second rewind button.  Beautiful lines like these make it hard to resist buying a copy.
"Maybe destiny isn't something that just happens.  Maybe destiny is something you do.  Maybe destiny is like a seed and it grows," Rump.  
"I could almost feel them with me.  That's its own kind of magic, to feel that people that are gone are still here," Rump thinking about Gran and his mother. 
You can imagine how excited I was to discover Liesl's Twitter page and realize she has two more books coming from Knopf/Random House:  Jack (2015) and Red (2016).  Woot woot!

A Picture Book or Two
This Is the Rope written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome
I just loved the idea that an idea story could be written around the idea of a rope.  I enjoyed the way the rope tied the stories of generations of family together.  Beautiful!

Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales
This book reminded me a bit of the Dinosaur vs. ___ stories written by Bob Shea.  I know my students will love it!  Niño takes on one bad challenge after another defeating the enemies.  Then….the biggest challenge of all….his baby sister awakening from a nap!  Can he do it?  This is a fun story with interesting information about Lucha Libre, a popular style of theatrical professional wrestling in Mexico.

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
My class first discovered this story in its digital version.  We enjoyed it then, but to have the picture book is always better.  Of course, the flaps in this book make this wordless picture book even more interesting.  All readers can enjoy the story of Flora and Flamingo learning to dance together.

A Post (or a few)
Raising Readers and Writers:  Slice of Life Tuesday, Be True to Yourself  Julie reminds us about the importance of raising our daughters to be strong and confident.

Sharing Our Notebooks:  Lee Ann Spillane, Living Life Twice  Snow days are giving me time to catch up on blog reading.  This post is actually from a few weeks ago, but I always love a peek inside someone's writer's notebook.  Lee Ann shares her collection.  There is a lot to think about here:  art, visual representation, organization, coding, and much more.

A Year of Reading:  New Books in February  Franki recommends books to read in February.  There are so many here I want to read!  Stop by and check them out.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Is Pink a Girl Color? And Other Questions We Should Quit Asking

"We want kids to read not just for the act of reading, but because we believe books can play a profound role in a kid's life and self-conception and relationship with the world."  Anne Ursu, On Gender and Boys Read Panels 

This post, partially written, has been sitting in my drafts for awhile now, but recently I was reminded of two posts that made me want to come back to my computer.  The first was a Slice of Life post written by Amy Rudd about gender and toys:  Voice of the Toys.  Then Stephanie Shouldis and Katherine Sokolowski both shared this article by Anne Ursu at Terrible Trivium:  On Gender and Boys Read Panels in which she wonders why a recent panel discussing boy readers has to include only male authors:

More often than I wish, it seems, I am stumbling upon reading posts and books about supporting boys and girls in different ways:  "Easy Readers for Girls," "Create Boy-Friendly Classrooms," and "Books for Boys:  Reluctant Readers Grades 1-2."  I'm not here to argue that there might or might not be differences, but I am here to ask if we are working as educators to take down those walls or if we are helping to build them higher.  Couldn't some of those differences be created by messages sent through media, social opportunities, the arrangement of toy store aisles, and even our classrooms? 

The Problem with Hidden Messages
In our house, my husband is by far the biggest reader.  Our children grew up watching him sit in a chair for hours with a book in his hand.  I often ask him what he thinks of the "boy as a reluctant reader" concept.  I consider it insulting to a man I've seen read book after book after book in a variety of topics and genres.  He's not just sitting with his Sports Illustrated Magazine or reading books by John Grisham.  He reads everything.  

I'm actually the person who has worked to build a life as a reader.  As a young child I was a reader, but got lost somewhere in those middle school years.  As a high schooler I remember being forced to finish books I found neither interesting or compelling --- and honestly probably far above where I was as a reader.  Thankfully since then, I've found books I love and friends who motivate me and my reading life continues to grow.  In my opinion, we are the actual reverse of the stereotypes.  I too find the stereotypes insulting.  

Where to Begin
My classroom is full of both girls and boys.  I would say the number of book crazy friends in my classroom is equal in gender as is the number of boys and girls trying to find a place in the world of reading.  I work hard to avoid the boy vs. girl stereotypes of reading in my classroom.  It isn't always easy.  Marketers work hard to keep these stereotypes alive and well.   Bookfairs roll into our schools full of tables of books specifically screaming stereotypical covers of "boy books" or "girl books."  Trips to the bookstore can easily yield mass produced titles with covers that are intended to bring some readers and exclude others.  

Here are a few ways I try to focus on readers, and not gender, in my classroom:
Baskets readers love:  Creating baskets of books for all readers.  I have topic baskets to interest all readers such as books about friends, pets, school, and animals.  We also have baskets from topics of study in our classroom including maps, personal narratives, and animals in the winter.  There are also baskets the students have created such as a brave basket, an art basket, and a problem basket.  

Consider Characters:  Honestly, I love books in which students really have to work to figure out if the character is a boy or a girl.  For some reason they feel they have to figure it out.  However, I like stories in which it really doesn't matter.   The Hello Goodbye Window is the perfect example of this.  Thankfully, for primary readers, animal characters can often take gender out of the equation.  My students love Marley, Little Hoot, The Pigeon, Biscuit.  

Universal Problems:  Books with problems all readers can relate to in their lives such as books about problems with friends like Matthew and Tilly, Yoko, and Ladybug Girl and Bumble Bee Boy.  

I'm still considering this topic and know I've only skimmed the surface here, but I hope you'll share your thinking and grow the conversation.  

What are your suggestions for overcoming these gender stereotypes for the readers in our classroom?  How do we help to send a gender equal message?  How do we send a message that all readers matter?  

A Few More Gender Articles of Interest