Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Meeting Learners Where They Are

As a classroom teacher, the first weeks of school were always among my favorite.  There is something about spending the time to get to know a new group of learners and their families.  There is something about sowing the first seeds that will help a community grow together across the year.  There's something about the first books that will start us down the path to discovery.  The first weeks are a delight, but there was always this point where I looked out at the students and worried if I had what it would take to get them where they needed to be.  It's a tremendous responsibility.

Now that we know our entire community of students, let's be honest, we worry.  The needs in a classroom are varied and diverse --- and the expectations are great.  Additionally, there are students who will not just need our support academically, but those who will need to know our classroom is a safe space for them.  We wonder if we are enough.  If we aren't careful, we can find ourselves looking at the factors we cannot control.  For me, when I felt the moment of worry coming that I might not be able to get this group where I wanted them to go; when I heard that little voice saying I'm not enough, I had to change my lens.

Here are a few things I remind myself when I begin to worry:
  1. Start where they are.  There isn't any need to think about the fact that the group is in a different place than the previous year's group.  Often we forget the beginning, and it doesn't change anything anyway.  They are where they are so I remind myself to go meet them where they are. 
  2. We only control our time with students.  Students can come to our classrooms with a lot going on in their lives.  It's life.  They're people.  Families have people who get sick.  Parents have to work extra jobs to maintain their houses and put food on the table.  They might move from one parent to another in the course of a week.  They might be with an older sibling for hours after the school day ends.  We can't control any of that, but we can make the time they are with us their safe space.  We can help them continue to learn in these situations by listening but maintaining high expectations for their learning.  
  3. Show them how.  When I begin to feel overwhelmed I go back to think about the gradual release of control model.  I remind myself that high support components of the literacy framework such as read aloud, shared reading, shared writing, and interactive writing, are essential in helping students find their next steps.  I remind myself that making learning visible by creating charts that help students refer back to learning conversations can help them in their work.  
  4. Try something new.  When I feel that learners aren't making the progress I'd like to see, I try to figure out something to do differently.  Sometimes this means taking a closer look at assessment information and artifacts from the classroom.  Sometimes this means videotaping and reflecting on a few lessons.  Sometimes this means inviting a peer or coach into the classroom to help me problem-solve.  
  5. Celebrate small steps.  Maintaining high expectations for our leaners requires knowing where they are and what is next for each of them.  Taking the time to notice the small changes and celebrating them can help maintain momentum and keep me focused on the positive.  
  6. Know I'm enough.  This one is the hardest, and even as I type it I know there are times I don't quite believe it, but I just keep telling myself I can do this.  I just keep reminding myself I'm enough.  
We've got this.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Danger! New Books You Can't Miss

The problem with going around to fourteen different buildings, working with fourteen different literacy coaches, and having opportunities to meet with classroom teachers across our district is my book budget is a hot mess.  It's hard to go anywhere without seeing a book I just have to add to my list.  I may have to get a second job to support my book buying urge.

Here are a few titles that I had to get my hands on this week:

Solutions for Cold Feet by Carey Sookocheff.  Katie Sauer, a new first grade teacher in our district, handed this one to me and I fell in love with it right away.  The book has several problems we face and possible solutions.  This is such a fun read.  Each problem is introduced along with possible ways to solve it.  This would make a great mentor text for young writers, and the perfect book for talking about solving problems in our learning community.

Great Big Things by Kate Hoefler and Noah Klocek.  Kelly Hoenie, a literacy coach in our district, handed this one to me as I was on my way out the door.  She has a habit of keeping these tempting baskets of new books on a display in her room for others.  I try not to look.  I try not dive into new titles.  I just can never resist.  I'd almost managed to get out of her door on Friday, but then she pulled out this title and handed it to me.  How can you not love this one?  This small mouse walks for miles and miles, across all kinds of terrains, to carry a small crumb to a friend.  The illustrations are ah-maz-ing!  The language is beautiful.  The message is one that will melt your heart.

The Book of Gold by Bob Staake.  I stopped by to talk with one of the media specialists in our district, Stephanie Miles, and was handed another book I just have to have.  Maybe it was the beautiful retelling she did as she paged through the book.  Maybe it was the way she's mastered the art of raising and lowering her voice.  Maybe it was the way she wove the story from page to page making it impossible for me to not hear the end.  Maybe it was the amazing illustrations by Bob Staake. Maybe it was because it was about finding a well sought after book --- something as readers we all understand.  I don't know, but I loved this one!  I was spellbound.  In this book, a small child goes on a quest for a mysterious book:  The Book of Gold, but it turns out what he learns along the way matters most.

This Is How We Do It:  One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe.  I'm pretty sure this one made it into my hands thanks to another literacy coach in our district, Tonya Buelow.  I try to stay away from her room as she always has new books propped around the room to temp me.  In this case, she happened to see my son at a book sale and added this one to his stack for me.  How can you not just love learning about the lives of people around the world?

The Power of Moments:  Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  This one was mentioned by Sharon Esswein, one of the teacher leaders in our district.  Sharon is full of wise words and I know when I'm talking with her two things will happen:  1)  I'll add at least one book to my list and 2) I'll have something new thing to think about (okay twenty new things).  She's currently reading this book so I added it to my list.  I've enjoyed every book she's suggested.  I know I can't go wrong.

You can see the challenge in the work I do....so many books, so little time.  Wait, the challenge is....so many books, so little book funds.  No wait, maybe the challenge is....so many book-loving friends, so little willpower.  Maybe I'll win the lottery.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Literacy Connection: Every Reader a Super Reader

Yesterday I spent the day with Pam Allyn and Literacy Connection.  I'm never sure what the best part of the day is when I am with Literacy Connection.  Is it the thoughtful literacy leaders they bring to Central Ohio?  Is it the opportunity to learn alongside so many local inspiring educators?  Is it the thought-provoking conversations around literacy?

This year, we are taking a closer look at Every Child a Super Reader by Pam Allyn and Ernest Morrell.  Pam gave us plenty to think about.  

Here are three takeaways I'll be pondering this week:
  1. Read Aloud Every Day:  Allyn reminded us of the power of read-aloud.  I appreciated her distinction between an instructional read aloud and a ritual read aloud.  While we've learned to weave read aloud into our instruction, carving space into our day for a read-aloud that offers an opportunity to listen and enjoy a story is essential.  
  2. Relationship is Essential in the Teaching Reading:  Across the day Allyn came back to the importance of relationship in reading.  In discussing read aloud, she reminded us that it isn't the book as much as it is the relationship built between the book, the listener and the person reading aloud.  She also discussed the power of intentionally building belonging and helping readers to be a part of our reading community.
  3. Stay Strengths-Based:  Pam shared seven characteristics in staying focused on strengths.  These included belonging, curiosity, kindness, friendship, confidence, courage, and hope.  

The Questions I'm Pondering:
  • How do we make sure our readers receiving extra support also have time for real reading? 
  • How do we shift from accountability to intentional decision making?
  • What are the essential steps in learning to trust our readers?
  • What message does our teaching of reading send to literacy learners? 
  • How do we strengthen our classroom libraries?  
Thanks to everyone at Literacy Connection for organizing a great day of learning.  I'm looking forward to the continued conversation.