Thursday, December 6, 2018

Time to Write Every. Single. Day.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash
A friend of mine provided some great writing therapy a little over a month ago (thanks, Mandy).  I knew I wanted to get back to this space, but I was honestly having a bit of difficulty making that happen.  When I was in the classroom the writing just found me.  I was telling the story of working though my challenges in my classroom.  The name of the blog after all is "Reflect and Refine."  As I moved into my current role as our district's elementary literacy leader, I began to wrestle with my writing in this space.  In talking to my friend, she helped coach me through some of the challenges I was facing.  She listened. She provided some thoughtful reflections about my writing.  Then she said, "Get busy."  Well, she didn't say it like that, but she did affirm what I know:  writing only happens if we put our fingers to the keyboard (or get our pen moving in a's 2018,  you get to decide).

After some encouragement, I developed a plan and began to work toward the goal of posting three days each week.  It wasn't long until I found a rhythm.  I wasn't where I wanted to be, but I could feel it was getting easier.  The more I wrote, the easier it was to write.  I came up with a few overarching themes that I knew I wanted to write to and began writing to those.  The more I wrote, the more ideas that seemed to come my way.  

For this school year, I am leading a deep dive into writing with a small group of teachers in our district.  I look forward to our time each month to dig a little into writing with our students.  Each time we meet, we begin our class with writing.  Usually I begin this writing with some kind of conversation, perhaps share a few mentor texts, or some structure I think everyone might find inspiring - to develop a "spark" (thanks, Kayley).  Before teachers write, I always remind them they can write about something they are thinking about as a result of our conversation or write about something else that is on their mind right now.

The first week we did this, I saw the discomfort on the faces of participants.  However, as we began our session this week, I noticed most teachers found their way into their writing with greater ease.  In a conversation after the class with one of the participants she commented about this ease now that she is writing more.  It seems the more we write, the quicker our words find us.

In the beginning weeks of school, I spent a bit of time in a kindergarten classroom during writing workshop.  Honestly, I was spellbound.  It wasn't that far into the year, yet every student was busy writing.  Their writer's workshop was obviously a place where all could enter.  While some drew pictures, others added words, and some were writing across pages to give more detail.  There was a quiet hum to the room.  Every conversation I overheard was about the writing.  I was struck by the ease of work, but I was more caught by their sense of story.  Every student - yes, every student - was working to tell a story.  Each one seemed to understand they had an important story to tell.  Each writer was telling a very different story - their story.  They, of course, were happy to share it with me as I knelt beside them to learn more about their work.  There was also this sense of pride and ownership as they talked, as well as this unspoken understanding that their story mattered.

When I'm in a classroom, I always think about the work that has gone into the moment I'm watching. While I'm observing the learning in this place and time, the conversations that have happened before are often possible to note in the way the community works.  In this kindergarten room, it was obvious that students knew that writers have a story to tell.  It was obvious that they owned the story and that writing was something they did every day.

Recently, I was at NCTE, in a session where Chad Everett was speaking.  Chad was the fourth speaker in the session.  He began by asking everyone for 60 seconds.  He requested devices - and Moleskin notebooks (ELA jokes, bahahaha) - be put down.  He wanted everyone to just find their space in the room and get their mind readied for the conversation we were about to have.  Silence hung in the room as everyone complied with his request and settled their mind for the conversation.  At the end of sixty seconds, a long sixty seconds, Chad reminded that as educators we often say there isn't time, yet this activity reminded us that sixty seconds is a long time.

Finding time seems to be the eternal struggle of life in education.  However, I can't help but wonder if we sometimes don't create our own challenges.  I used to coach myself through these time panics by digging hard into my schedule.  Five minutes too long to transition at some part of my day was twenty-five minutes in a week.  Letting my workshop run 10 minutes over each day was fifty minutes in a week.  Yep, I could play this game for days --- and freak myself out, honestly.  What I came to realize was that there was more time in my day if I learned to think about it differently (and a bit critically).

On Ralph Fletcher's site he shares Guidelines for Growing Strong Writers.  Among his guidelines:

  • #2 Establish a predictable routine.
  • #4 Give kids sustained time to write.  

Having a predictable time to write every day is the first step to easing the challenges of writing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Three for Your Library: Picture Books In Which Characters Lift Each Other Up

This week I listened to Eric Thomas, share "I Am," on The Quote of the Day Show podcast.  It's worth a listen.  Eric tells the story of a pastor who may have changed his life.  Eric shares, "He saw something in me that I didn't see.  He gave me permission to be what other people said I couldn't be." As teachers, isn't that a great goal:  to be the person who gives a learner permission to be what other people think they can't be?

When working alongside readers, we talk often about character change.  Yet as I began to consider in a recent search for books in which the character changes across the story, in some books characters don't make great visible change.   Instead, in many picture books - as in life -the secondary character lifts the main character and helps them to see who they are.

As Eric Thomas reminds in his talk, we all need someone to remind us that we have the power.  We all need to learn to say, "I am."

Here are three picture books in which characters learn to say "I am" thanks to another character in the story.

Nico Draws a Feeling by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Simone Shin

Nico loves to draw, but he begins to doubt his work as others fail to see the meaning behind his pictures.  He's about to give up when he meets Iris.  For the first time, someone sees the emotion he tries to portray in his pictures and helps Nico begin to believe in himself again.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book is perfect for talking to our learning communities about the ways we can support each other as we talk risks and learn.      

Anchor Text:  This books works to talk about character feeling and the way a character's actions can help us to know more.  

Mentor Text:  This book allows young writers to take a look at the ways authors might show the way a character feels.  

Sad, the Dog by Sandy Fussell and illustrated by Tull Suwannakit

Poor sad.  His owners pay little attention to him and don't appreciate him for who he is.  Sad is lonely.  One day his owners move from the house and leave him behind leaving Sad feeling even more unloved.  When a new family moves, a young boy quickly notices the dog and enjoys spending time with him.  This changes everything for the dog.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  The way we treat others can make a difference in how they feel about themselves.  

Anchor Text:  This book works perfectly for finding the turning point of a story.  

Mentor Text:  Using dialogue to help tell a story.  

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

Ramon loves to draw.  He creates picture after picture until one day his brother makes fun of his drawing.  Ramon no longer believes in himself.  He can't make anything look the way he thinks he should. He begins to get frustrated and gives up.  One day he discovers that his sister has been saving all of his drawings.  She helps Ramon to see that his drawings are beautiful just the way they are.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book opens the door to conversation about the way our words can hurt someone or build them up.  It is also perfect for talking about ways to take risks.

Anchor Text:  What does ISH mean?  How do you know?  In thinking beyond the text, what evidence can we use to explain our thinking.  

Mentor Text:  Using dialogue to help tell a story. 

What other titles do you know in which the main character is lifted by another character in the story? Please share them in the comments below.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Don't' Wait

This morning, as I opened my drawer to grab a shirt out of my dresser, I heard a loud crash.  Looking at the carpet I realized the glass globe given to me by one of my families years ago had fallen and broken.  I've always loved it with its inscription: "Faith makes all things possible.  Love makes all things easy.  Hope makes all things work."  The gift became more special each time I had another one of the children from this wonderful family.  Inside the glass filled with water, an angel held up a small child.   I was devastated to see it on the floor shattered in pieces.

The truth is, I noticed the glass globe on my dresser was leaning precariously earlier as I got up out of bed.  It had one of its three legs reaching out over the side.  Instead of fixing it right then, I made a note to get back to it later in the day.  It would have taken two seconds, but for some reason I felt compelled to wait.

Isn't that how it is?  Sometimes we can see the next problem just at its very beginning but we wait because we think we are making something out of nothing, perhaps we mistakingly believe we have plenty of time, or find ourselves unsure how to even begin.

My grandma used to say, "A stitch in time saves nine."  She's so right.  Sometimes if we'd fix our course earlier - or just move the globe back onto the dresser - we would save ourselves hard work later.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Three for Your Library: Three Books for Emergent Readers

Recently I was talking with a group of teachers about the challenge of having books in our classroom library for the range of readers in our communities.  Specifically, the concern was around our youngest readers who might be taking their first steps.  This, of course, requires a multidimensional solution that involves read aloud, shared reading, and some time side by side.  Providing opportunities for readers to listen to stories, participate in reading books together, and work through books just on the edge of their learning can be a bridge to reading for our earliest readers as they provide a familiar text readers can revisit.

When thinking about books for our classroom library with emergent readers, I like to consider picture books that, once read aloud, a child might be able to reread independently.  I look for books that have simple structures, repetitive language, and/or strong picture support.  This week I created a collection to share with the literacy coaches as we took a closer look at emergent readers who are still gaining an understanding of story, still developing concepts of print, and just finding their way in the world of reading.

Here are three favorites for Emergent Readers

The Monkey and the Bee (The Monkey Goes Bananas) by C.P. Bloom and illustrated by Peter Raymundo.

This book tells the story of a monkey who tries to eat a banana until bee comes along.  Bee causes some problems.  The two aren't getting along too well until Lion comes along.  Lion changes everything.

The simple, repetitive text with strong picture support is the perfect book for emergent readers to revisit to begin to pay attention to the print on the page.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  Friends take care of each other.    

Anchor Text:  This book provides an opportunity to look at how character action can give us clues to what a character is feeling.  

Mentor Text:  This book provides the perfect opportunity to talk about the way pictures can help tell a story.  In just a picture we know the story takes a major change.  Additionally, the author uses simple labels to draw the readers attention to particular parts of the story which can be used as a model for our youngest writers.  

Be Who You Are by Todd Parr

If you have emergent or early readers in your classroom, then you certainly want a lot of Todd Parr books in your library.  I honestly had a hard time choosing one to share here today.

The title of this book speaks to everything the book is about.  Parr reminds everyone to be who they are.  This book celebrates the many differences in our world.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book is perfect for talking about identity with our youngest learners.   

Anchor Text:  This book's message is clear from the beginning.  Readers have an opportunity to, not only talk about this message, but to think about the details the author uses to make his point.   

Mentor Text:  I always love an author who also illustrates his/her book as that is how our youngest authors work in our classrooms; they too write and illustrate their stories.  Parr's simple use of shape to draw pictures is perfect for helping our youngest writers get started.  Additionally, his use of color is always a favorite topic of conversation.  

The Okay Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal illustrated by Todd Lichtenheld

This book has a million possibilities.  In The Okay Book, Amy reminds readers that there are a lot of things we do that we enjoy, but may be just okay doing.  The repetitive language and strong picture support make this an easy book for young readers to read independently once they have heard the story read aloud.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book provides a door into conversation about things we are still learning to do or things we love that we may not have mastered.  

Anchor Text:  Like the text about, this book's message is clear from the beginning.  Readers have an opportunity to discuss those important details the author has shared.  

Mentor Text:  I really love this book for early writing possibilities.  Our youngest authors can see themselves writing a book just like this. 

Like these?  Here some other favorites:  
(and please share your favorites below)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Hilliard U: A Great Day of Learning and Conversation

Today was Hilliard University.  It's always such a great day of learning and collaborating.  The only hard part is being everywhere!  There are so many interesting sessions that happen across the day as teachers share their passions and expertise.  Today I was lucky to spend the morning with new teachers in our district talking about shared reading with Nicolette Landon and Andrea Waselko.  Lots of great questions and plenty to think about.

Later in the day, I was able to join Danielle White and Claudette Mullins to talk about author studies.  We shared ideas around author studies in a Padlet.  This allowed us to share information but, more importantly, get information from other participants in the session.  This way of crowd-sourcing expertise added a layer to the conversation.  Please feel free to add to the Padlet.   In this session we discussed

  • benefits for literacy learners
  • what readers can learn
  • what writers can learn
  • ideas for planning and digging deeper 
  • possible authors for deeper study (included many conversations around digital connections) 

Power Up with Author Studies
Made with Padlet

Later that day, I had the opportunity to join Tonya Buelow to talk about classroom libraries.  I always learn something when I listen to Tonya and loved this quote she shared from Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward, "Build a library for the readers you expect; customize it for the readers you meet.”  From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers. Here's the resources we shared today:

Classroom Library Reboot

Thank you to everyone who joined the conversations.  Your participation in the conversation really took these topics deeper.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Team Magic: The Power of Partnership

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
"Highly effective teams know what we're working on, why we're working together (what our team's mission and vision is), and how we'll work together."  - Elena Aguilar, The Art of Coaching Teams
If you've ever been on a dream team you're going to know what I'm talking about in this post.  A dream team is the kind of team where you look forward to ANY opportunity to gather around the table and talk about the work being done.  A dream team is the kind of team where you know EVERYONE has your back.  A dream team is the kind of team where you can toss around tough challenges and new thinking without fear.  Across my teaching career, I've been lucky to be on a number of teams.  I learned a little something in each one of them.  Along the way, I've sat beside teachers who were amazing team members.  I think I learned a lot by watching the way they worked with the rest of the team.

This past month, I've had the privilege of joining teams across our district as they dig into the literacy data we have collected since the beginning of the year.  The goal for teams has been to take a look at the information collected, add what they have learned in side-by-side opportunities, consider the reading and writing work learners have been doing, and find the story for their literacy learners.  These meetings provide an opportunity to look for patterns, plan an instructional focus, determine next steps, and figure out how we will monitor growth.  They also allow an opportunity to harness the power of team in thinking about literacy learners who might have greater need.  

It's interesting to watch teams work together.  As I've sat beside teachers, I've come to realize that the team's relationship with one another is equally important to the work they are doing.  I'm fascinated by the teams that just seem to find a rhythm and go.  I've been thinking about the characteristics that make these teams work and here are a few things I've noticed:

They believe in doing what's best for kids.  Teams who work well together seem to have an understanding that we're here to do what's best for kids.  Their conversations stay focused on learners. These teams don't spend time blaming kids, parents, or past teachers for where a student might be, but instead look for strengths and next steps for learners.  These teams seem to think know they can make a difference.  

They respect one another.   This seems obvious, but it makes a big difference.  Maybe it is more than respecting one another, maybe it is members understanding their role in taking care of the people around them.  It seems these team members know the strengths around the table and reach out to learn from them.  They also hold carefully to turn-taking and listening to one another to consider new ideas and perspectives.

There is great trust.  I have to say in my month of sitting beside a variety of teams, I've been struck by the trust some teams have with one another.  Our work isn't easy, and I've heard teachers openly share their struggles with their team.  On strong teams, these statements aren't judged in any way.  As teachers, we've all been in tough places.  Instead, these statements are met with understanding, careful listening, and tender problem-solving.

I have to say this month of working alongside teams, I've become intrigued by those who seem to have some magic as they come together.  I think I would have once said a team needs to have common beliefs, but honestly I've sat beside teams who have very different beliefs, but are still able to have very powerful conversations.  I think once upon a time I would have said teams need to have similar strengths, but I have learned through my own participation on teams that different strengths make for a powerful team.  In these magical teams, it seems that everyone steps toward common understandings as their time together unfolds.

For those with this magic, savor it.  For those still searching for this magic, I hope you find it.  Having been on teams where there is a synchronicity, I know I will always do all I can to make that happen in my future teams.  The work is too hard to not have people around me to support the work I do, to push when I need a push, and to help me over tough spots.  I'm grateful for the team members along the way who have shared their magic with me.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on characteristics of strong teams.  How have they impacted you in the work you do?  What do you think makes a strong team?  How do you see your role on a team?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Three Picture Books to Hope

A few years ago I stumbled upon this poem, Brave New Voices, by Aminah Iro and Hannah Halpern.  I'll let these brave voices speak for themselves.   

The last week has once again found me questioning the direction in which we are heading.  In times like these, I'm grateful for picture books that help me to hope.  (This trailer seems timely.)

Three Books of Hope
Come with Me by Holly McGhee and illustrated by Pascal Lemaître.  

A young girl learns how her part matters in the world.  

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book reminds that two people are stronger than one.  A great book for conversations about being our best selves in our communities.

Anchor Text:  This book provides opportunities for discussion of problem and solution.  It allows readers the opportunity to think what a character says and does to show change.

Mentor Text:  As a mentor text, this book offers an opportunity to see the way an author can weave a common phrase through a story to strengthen their message.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López. 

In this book, a young girl works to find her place in her classroom.  She doesn't see how her story fits in with those around her.  At first she remains quiet, but soon finds that sharing her story is the first step toward belonging.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book allows opportunities to talk about story, identity, and understanding the perspectives of others.  As the author says, "...where every friend has something a little like you - and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all."

Anchor Text:  Jacqueline Woodson crafts a beautiful message through making intentional decisions about the way to tell this story.  How does the author help us to get to know the challenges this character faces?

Mentor Text:  This book allows young authors the opportunity to look at the way little details can tell us more about the story.  She uses carefully selected details to create a sense of belonging.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales.

This book tells of the journey of a mother and child who take tremendous risk to follow their dreams and seek something more.  It tells the story of immigrants who hope to find a new life and the power of books in achieving the unimaginable.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book opens conversation for taking risks and following dreams.  It also allows the opportunity to see the challenge of starting in a new place.  It also helps to open the conversation for the way writing and reading help us to find our own voices.

Anchor Text:  This book provides an opportunity to talk about the challenges characters face and the ways they work to overcome them.

Mentor Text:  This book helps to show the way the careful selection of words can enhance a story.  Though the book is written in few lines, it tells a powerful story.  Additionally, the author's note in the back speaks to the stories behind our writing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Just Read Aloud

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
It seems we have gotten very good at taking a picture book, snippet of text, or poem and using it to help teach a mini-lesson.  We've learned to use the stories authors write to help readers learn how to think, how to dig into a message, how to consider new perspectives.  Picture books often support our teaching of big ideas in reading providing a shared conversation for our communities.  We've also learned to use the work of authors to teach the young writers ways to craft a piece of writing.  By taking a closer look at the moves authors make, we can help our writers to see new possibilities.

There certainly is authenticity to bringing in books and texts learners would want to read.  It makes the work real - and enjoyable.  However, I was reminded yesterday, as we walked into a fifth grade classroom to find students spread around the room listening to their teacher read, of the power of just reading aloud.  Students were all around the room as the teachers voice carefully shaped the words in the story.  Some were laying on the floor, some on stools, and some nestled tightly around their teacher.  The students were spellbound and didn't even to seem to notice as we entered.  It was just after lunch and the story seemed to be pulling the community back together in shared experience; the teachers words sometimes creating audible gasps as they listened to the new chapter together.

In many classrooms, it isn't be uncommon to have 3-5 read alouds in any given day.  Teachers find time to read from a variety of texts to support the learning happening in their communities.  In all of those opportunities to read aloud, we want a portion of that time to be just reading aloud.  Just peeling the layers of story.  Just letting the words whisper into the ears of all those listening.  Just letting the story sink into the hearts of the listeners gathered together.  There should always be a time to just read aloud.  Every day.

You might enjoy...

Saturday, October 27, 2018

You Don't Need "Buy-In" If You're Listening


We can learn so much from just taking the time to listen.

In today's ed world, it's not uncommon to hear the words "buy-in" thrown around education tables or written in educational blog posts.  Every time I hear these words put together, I want to grab them out of the air and throw them away.  The truth is, if we need "buy-in" we must not be listening in the first place.

In education as in other professions most shifts in practice, changes in the way the work is done, or new initiatives, are set in motion as a result of a system challenge, a detected problem, or new information.  The best decisions that are made are made through careful listening and responding (not reacting).

We're Not in Sales
When I was in my twenties, I went to purchase a car.  As I walked around the lot, a salesman approached.  "Can I help you?" he inquired.

"Do you have any blue cars like this one?" I asked pointing at the model I hoped to purchase.

"What?!  You're going to be picky about color?" he blurted.

Well, we were done.  I was buying my first new car and if I wanted to be picky about color, I was going to be picky about color.

Fast forward, a decade or two (okay maybe three), and I stood on a different car lot (never went back to the other one ---- and I've bought a lot of cars since then) admiring a white car they had showcased.  The salesman came over to ask, "Do you like white?"  Okay, there's some great irony here, but I'm a little put off that he asked me about the color first.

"I'm just checking out this car," I answered.  I really wasn't in the market for a car, but I couldn't help being drawn in by all the bells and whistles this car had for its price.  I went back to looking at the car's interior, reading its information, and then stepped back to take a bigger look.

"I think you do like the white," his voice interrupted my thinking.

The truth is, white is my least favorite car color --- and now I have a lot more criteria when I am car shopping.

Salesmen want to sell us something; maybe they want to sell us something we don't even need.

People First
Leaders shouldn't be salesmen, but servants who serve the people they work alongside --- this never should require "buy-in."

In education, people lead from a variety of places.  The most important work is done in classrooms alongside children.  In listening to professionals closest to the daily work with learners we can discover much.  What works?  What are the challenges teachers are working through?  In my work, I have the gift of being beside teachers to listen.  I work alongside teachers in classrooms, sit beside literacy coaches as they grow conversations, attend team meetings as teachers discuss student work, join professional learning opportunities, engage in conversation, and work to really listen to my colleagues.  Educators know what is working, what is hard, what is needed. If we listen there are patterns across conversations, ways to support educators with the challenges they wrestle with in their learning communities.  This isn't easy work we do --- and it is so much better when we do it together.

Instead of "buy-in," leaders should remember to...

  • Listen In:  Instead of looking for "buy in," listen in.  Pay attention to what people are saying.  What's working?  What are the challenges?  

  • Share Information:  Communication is essential.  

  • Be Responsive, Not Reactive:  It is easy to look for quick fixes to challenges that arise, but if we are careful to respond instead of react we can have a greater impact.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

This Post Isn't a Trick. Three Picture Books for Your Library That Are a Real Treat!

Yes, that may very well be the longest title I've ever written, however let me get right to the point:  October is one of my favorite months for picture books!  There is always something about the excitement of freshening up our classroom library with some timely picture books this time of year.  Young readers always appreciate the books about monsters, "scary" (not so scary) tales, and stories of bravery.

Over the years, I've developed quite a collection.  Narrowing my choices to three won't be easy, but here are three titles that have never let me down.  These books beg to be read aloud again and again and again!

I WANT to BE in a SCARY STORY written by Sean Taylor and illustrated by Jean Jullien

Oh, my goodness this story is so much fun.  Little Monster wants to be in a scary story....or does he?

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  Do you prefer funny or scary stories?  Perfect for kicking off a conversation of book preferences.

Anchor Text:  We can learn a lot about Little Monster through what he says and does.  What do readers learn about the character?

Mentor Text:  The author makes so many interesting craft moves.  This book lends itself to talking about the narrator and the way the author has set up the story to be a conversation between the character and the narrator.  There is the use of color to help know who is talking.  This book would also work to talk about the way color can help create mood.

Fright Club by Ethan Long

Only monsters can be a part of Fright Club.  Only monsters can be scary enough.  Well, that's what the monsters thought.  As they plan for Operation Kiddie Scare, they're interrupted by little rabbit.  Rabbit wants to join Fright Club, but the monsters aren't going to have it.  They go back to practicing for Operation Kiddie Scare when they get a little scare of their own.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This is a great book to talk about friendship, belonging, and including others.  (It would pair nicely with Strictly No Elephants.)

Anchor Text:  This book is perfect for talking about problem and solution.  It would also work to discuss the way character action can create change.  What made the monsters change their mind?

Mentor Text:  I love when books are written and illustrated by the same person because this is the way our writers work in our classroom.  Additionally, the author/illustrator sometimes will use several pictures on one page to give a lot of details quickly.  (Kevin Henkes often uses a similar crafting technique in his picture books.)

Big Pumpkin by written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by S. D. Schindler

An oldie, but a goodie!  Witch wants pumpkin pie.  She finds the perfect pumpkin, but it is so big she is unable to pull it from the vine.  She enlists the help of her friends, but they just get the pumpkin pulled for her.  What will they do?  This repetitive text has kids reading along page after page.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  Sometimes we can surprise ourselves and do something that makes a difference.  We just have to be willing to try.

Anchor Text:  This is another good text to discuss problem and solution.

Mentor Text:  A cumulative or patterned text can be one way to tell a story.  This simplistic text can work as a model for possibility.  (Pair with Cookie's Week, The I'm Not Scared Book, Not Your Typical Dragon.)

Like these?  More treats here:

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Just Hit Your Mark

Walking back after throwing the bowling ball,  I was shaking my head.  My first two games had been an improvement over the first weeks since returning to a league, but this third game was not going well.  

"What am I doing wrong?" I asked my husband.  I just started bowling again this season for the first time in well over ten years.  Since picking a bowling ball back up, I have had to relearn my starting spot, my steps, and adjustments for a spare.  

"Just hit your mark," my husband said quite simply.  

He could have said something about my release, following through, or even the speed of my ball.  I'm pretty sure they all need some work.  Not having bowled in so long is certainly like beginning again --- and everything needs some improvement.  He chose to think about all the balls I had thrown and pick the one thing that might help me the most.  

For the rest of the night, I just went up and concentrated on the mark I knew was most likely to bring me a strike.  I ended up with a respectable finish.  

Just like my husband decided to address the best next step for me as a bowler and avoided fixing the last ball I had thrown, the readers beside us need this same intentional focus.  There certainly has been a lot of talk about not over-scaffolding.  Burkins and Yaris have really given us much to think about in regards to this topic (such as Who's Doing the Work:  Questions for Conferring, Scaffolding vs. Carrying).  

This is a delicate balance (Are We Over-Scaffolding).  When readers are sitting beside us, it can be easy to find ourselves giving too many supportive prompts; essentially telling readers what to do to get through the text.  However, when we sit beside readers to help them with the next step in problem-solving, we have to stay focused on helping them "hit their mark."  That means knowing our readers so well that we know the teaching point that is the next most important thing they need to do as a reader.  It means choosing a book that will give them that practice.  It means teaching a generative step that will work for them as a reader in all books not just the one in their hands right now.  

For example, if my teaching point for a reader is to go back when something doesn't make sense or look right to work to self-correct, I often tell the reader this at the beginning of the lesson.  I might say, "When we read, we have to make sure our reading looks right and makes sense.  I've noticed sometimes when you are reading you will say a word that doesn't look right or make sense as you continue.  When this happens, it's important to go back to fix it."  I might show an example or demonstrate the way that might look as I read.  From that point on in the lesson, I want to let that child do the work.  

I make sure I pick a book that will allow this work, one that has a few places the child will have to solve and may need to self-correct.  I have to allow the time for the reader to do this very thing:  work to self-correct.  In this case, I'd leave wait time; I'd wait until the end of a page (or paragraph depending upon the length of the text) to prompt if the student wasn't working to self-correct.  This means I want my prompts to be tied to this new strategy for the reader and not the book.  I write the language I will use in my plans from least supportive to most.  In this case:  "What did you notice?" "Try that again." "Something didn't look right, read it again and make it look right."  "Something didn't make sense.  Try it again.  Our reading has to look right and make sense."  My hope is to stay with the least supportive prompt to allow the reader to maintain ownership of the solving.    

I know I want to be intentional in teaching next steps for readers, but I also know I have to monitor myself.  If I find myself giving a myriad of prompts instead of just scaffolding the next step, I know I'm teaching the book and not the reader.  Achieving this intentional clarity can help readers build self-talk to help with the next step; it can be a way to help them "hit their mark."  

Sunday, October 21, 2018

What Do We Do When Our Truths Aren't the Same?

What do we do when our truths aren't the same?
When my daughter was young I would often notice how different our truths were.  It was not uncommon to find myself frustrated by her take on the way things had happened.  She worried about things that, in my opinion, weren't really about her and, yet, have difficulty taking responsibility for her part in events.  Often I felt she wasn't being honest with me in conversations, but across time I began to realize she truly had a different perception of the way many things happened.  I could be in a room with her when something happened yet her perception of the event was always so different from mine.  She had a soft heart so often things that happened felt very personal to her.  Of course, my truth came from a different place of experience.  Over the years, I had to learn to take my truth out of the conversation and try to understand her truth.

As educators, we often sit beside people who have a different truth than we have.  Whether working with our teams, sitting with parents, or listening to specialists we can find our truths do not match.  Whether teaching, coaching, or leading, we run up against those who have a different way of seeing situations.  So often in these situations it seems we choose a fight or flight strategy.  I've watched people shut down when someone begins muscling their truth into situations.  I've seen people dig their heels in when faced with a truth different from the truth they hold.  This can lead to "this or that" confrontations when the truth - and the solution - is likely somewhere in the middle.  We see these extreme poles in conversations of phonics, technology, grammar, timed fact tests, conventions, and other educational hot-button topics.

What do we do when our truths aren't the same?

Five Tips to Help Us When Our Truths Aren't the Same

  1. Listen More, Talk Less: I've been in enough situations where once I unraveled a truth I could begin to see the point of view of the person beside me that I've learned to listen more and talk less when my truth doesn't match the person beside me.
  2. Ask Questions: When our truths don't match, it's hard not too over-infer or read more into what is being said. This is why this is the perfect time to start asking questions to help to better understand. So often after asking clarifying questions I begin to understand more the other person's point of view.
  3. Stay Curious: Instead of trying to be right, if we work to stay curious we can begin to work toward understanding the point of view of others. In our work, this is essential to finding better solutions to complicated challenges.  
  4. Build a Bridge:  Listening more, asking questions, and staying curious can help us to build a bridge to a common truth, understanding or solution.
  5. Find the Place Where You Stand Closer to Common Ground: There is always a common truth somewhere in what two people believe. Sometimes it just takes a bit of conversation to find it.

My daughter went to college and graduated with a degree in social-justice advocacy. She has learned to see everything from the perspective of others. Now it is she that often reminds me of the other points of view in this complicated world of opinions. I like to think all of those conversations as she grew up made her the advocate for others that she can be. She's learned to use these strategies above to understand the truth of the person sitting beside her. Her experiences have helped her to develop skills for handling difficult conversations. She weighs her words carefully, asks thoughtful questions, and works to level the conversation.

We certainly live in a time where people hold tightly to their truths, but what could be improved if we learned to listen more when our truths aren't the same?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Three Picture Books for Your Classroom Library

I like threes.  There's just something magical about threes.  Maybe it's the way a reader can find patterns of three in a fairy tale.  Maybe it's that it takes three strikes before you're out (plenty of time to hit that ball).  Maybe it's that three tries before giving up has always been a good rule to live by.  Three seemed the perfect number for sharing picture books with all of you.

So...three.  Today I'm going to share three picture books I picked up for my library while at Literacy Connection.  Now, in the quest for transparency, I will tell you I might have purchased more than three books that day.  How can you resist when you spend time with Beth from Cover-to-Cover bookstore?  She always manages to get something into my hands I haven't yet discovered.  Saturday was no exception.

Three for Your Library

The Dreamer by Il Sung Na

We've all been there; staring at our dream, but not sure how to make it happen.  So it was for Pig who loved and admired birds.  Pig wanted nothing more than to fly with the birds so he set about to make his dream a reality.  Of course, building a dream is never easy.  This beautifully sweet story of pursuing our dreams, holding onto hope, and seeing a challenge through to the end is a delight.  Young readers will appreciate the variation of color, perspective, and mood created in Il Sung Na's painted illustrations.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book is perfect for community conversations about courage, hope, and the willingness to hang with tough challenges.

Anchor Text:  This book provides readers an opportunity to think more about character and the way our actions help us work toward a solution.

Mentor Text:  As a mentor text, this book would allow young writers to look at the way an author moves a story across time, how to develop a character, and stories that end the way they begin.

The Only Way is Badger written by Stella J. Jones and illustrated by Carmen Saldaña

Oh, Badger.  Badger is quite sure that his way is the only way.  Without taking the time to appreciate his friends for who they are, he begins to push his ways on everyone.  If you can't live The Badger Way, you are out.  Pushing your way on others can be very lonely, and Badget discovers that friends matter more than having everything his way.

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  The Only Way is Badger perfectly illustrates the problem with thinking our way is the only way.

Anchor Text:  Yes, I have a habit of choosing books with interesting characters.  In this book, we learn a lot about the character through dialogue.  There is also an opportunity to think about what the character wants, what he does along the way, and what happens as result.  (Sometime we learn our lessons the hard way.)

Mentor Text:  The way the author uses dialogue to tell the story is worth a deeper look.  We learn a lot about Badger by the things he says.

Do You Believe in Unicorns by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Oh, the fun readers will have as they listen to clues trying to decide if this is a unicorn or a horse.  Hmmmm......

Three Ways You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book will be a fun read for communities.  It might work in a conversation about wonder.

Anchor Text:  Authors and illustrators give us clues to support their message.  This book provides an opportunity to think about clues as we solve they mystery.

Mentor Text:  The author's use of questions helps to tell the story for readers.  This question-answer format is one young writers can consider.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Strategies for Digital Reading

Photo by on Unsplash

My husband listens to audio books.  Downloading them onto his device, he listens as he works out, mows the lawn, or sometimes just when he's passing time.  For me, the love of audiobooks hasn't come quickly.  I find myself having to rewind to listen over and over again.  Though as a reader I lean more toward informational books, when it comes to audio books I most often have to choose fiction as I still haven't developed the strategies for keeping track of information while I listen.  While my husband has developed strategies for listening, I'm still trying to find my way.  In an effort to improve my understanding in audiobooks I took a step back; I started listening to podcasts, transitioned to listening to middle grade titles, and have slowly found my way into adult audio books.

Any time we learn something new, it takes time to develop the strategies to be effective.  It's not uncommon to read articles (such as Skim Reading is the New Normal, Paper or Tablet?  Reading Recall and Comprehension),  that essentially say that readers comprehend better in print than digital text.  As someone who prefers to read digitally, I often wonder if this is because we haven't developed the strategies we need for deeper comprehension. As a digital reader, I know I've had to teach myself some strategies to help with understanding.

We certainly live between worlds of print and digital text.  Across my day I find myself moving without thought between the two.  Saturday I was able to spend time listening to Kristin Ziemke at Literacy Connection.  As I listened, I found myself wondering, once again, about teaching readers the strategies they need in digital text.  What are the strategies we need to teach students to help them to read with greater understanding in digital texts?  How do we build their strategies without getting in their way as they grow as readers?  As a digital reader, I know I've had to work to develop strategies for reading with deeper understanding.

Some Strategies for Digital Reading
Teach readers to preview a digital text:  In a paper format, I often read the back of the book, looked at the table of contents, flipped through the contents, and maybe read a few pages at the beginning.  In digital texts there is rarely a summary of the text so I often find I have to go online to find a summary of the text that will help me prepare to begin reading.

Develop a system for highlighting:  While the skill of highlighting hasn't really changed, I've learned to use it in different ways.  While highlighting in print will bring something to my attention, highlighting in a digital text provides another way to return to key ideas about the text.  On my iPad, I'm able to use different colors of highlights.  I've created a system for myself where I use yellow for general pieces that stand out, pink for those that push my thinking above and beyond, and orange when I have questions about something I've read.  Digitally, it is possible to skim through highlights in a different view which can help to return to parts of the text.

Find a process for taking notes:  This has truly been one of the greatest challenges.  I usually keep notes in one of three ways as I read:

  1. In the notes feature of the app (this allows easy rereading in the notes view of the app).
  2. Keeping written notes in a notebook or digital notes in a space such as Evernote.
  3. Sometimes I convert the document, article or book to a PDF so that I can move it into Notability to take notes on the text as I read.  

Utilize location in a digital text:  In a print copy it can be easy to know where I am in a book.  Am I at the beginning, in the middle, toward the end?  In a digital text, however, it can be hard to know where I am in the book.  I've learned to use bookmarks so that I can easily revisit important text.  Location numbers, page numbers, and minutes to the end of a chapter, also can help with location.  For me, this remains one of the hardest challenges.  (Anyone have tips?)

Reduce distraction:  It is easy to get distracted when reading digitally.  Between clicking on links for more information and the ease in which I can move to other spaces on my device, I've had to learn a bit of self-discipline.  Often, when I really want to dig into reading, I switch to my reader as the risk for distraction is gone.  Helping readers to learn this self-discipline, make smart choices about following links, and changing views to reduce distraction are all smart strategies for digital reading.

Raising awareness with young readers about the challenges of digital reading can be one step as we work toward reading with greater understanding.  So often when we puzzle out challenges with our learners the solutions are better than we would have imagined.

Have other suggestions about strategies?  Please share them in the comments.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Literacy Connection: Opportunities that Matter

Saturday I had the opportunity to spend time with Kristin Ziemke at Literacy Connection.  It was a packed house as Kristin pushed us to open our minds to new possibilities.  I always love the conversations that transpire as we think together about ways to grow the literacy opportunities for learners.

My Takeaways:
  1. Kids need to be doing real work that matters.  
  2. Whatever the text (video, picture book, image, news article, etc.), our conversation should always be focused on the thinking.  
  3. As teachers, we need to be intentional about developing the strategies needed to be a digital reader or writer.  

Resources Shared:  

Thanks, Kristin and Literacy Connection, I'm looking forward to our next conversation in April.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Space to Grow: Strength and Stretch

"Lean into the stretch and grow, breakthrough limits and old ways that no longer serve and eventually soar and reach deeper levels of strength and faith and expression." 
                   - Christine Arylo, Are You Feeling Stretched?

Strength and stretch.

What are the strengths?  What is the stretch?

Lately, I've found myself asking these two questions often about the learners in our communities.

I suppose my fondness for the word stretch came when I chose STRETCH as my One Little Word in 2017.  At the time, it felt like a way for me to safely reach into those uncomfortable next steps of all I still wanted to do and learn.  It was my way of being okay with where I was at the time, fully intending to grow past it.  The word brought me comfort at a time when I was pushing to embrace discomfort.  I liked the word "stretch."  It didn't feel like I was wrong, unknowing, or lacking in skill, but instead on a journey.

I've been thinking a lot about what stretch means for the learners in our communities.  Often, in our quest to support growth, we find ourselves focused on what still needs to be learned or changed.  If we aren't careful, we can slip into a cycle of naming deficits and problems instead of helping learners to find their next steps.  If we aren't cautious, we can find ourselves blaming the learner and discouraged by situations to which we have little control.  In the push toward achievement, we can find ourselves pressing for quick wins and overwhelmed by all we feel we need to accomplish instead of staying focused on intentional steps.  In this quest, learners can lose their desire to discover, to inquire, to grow, to learn, to stretch.

We're all on a journey.  Though I haven't figured out the secrets to life, I have learned to be okay with this constant state of learning, growing, and reaching for the next thing.  I've learned to be okay with my imperfections, but also willing to seek the stretch.

What if we offered the learners we sit alongside the gift of stretch?  What if we gave our learners the same space?  What if we accepted where they are, celebrated their strengths, and worked to seek the stretch?

So when I'm sitting beside learners and find myself overwhelmed by all I perceive needs to be done, I now begin asking these two questions:

What are the strengths?  What is the stretch?

Strength and stretch.

Space to grow.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Today's the Day: 10 Books That Demonstrate We're Better Together #pb10for10

Today's the day!  Today is our 9th annual August Picture Book 10 for 10 event (here's a little history).  On this day each year, educators, parents, media specialist, and picture book lovers around the globe share ten picture books they just can't live without in the coming school year.  If you'd like to share your favorites, or just check out the books that are being shared this year, please stop by our #pb10for10 Google Community and check out the Twitter hashtag #pb10for10.  Thanks to Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning for helping to kick off the new school year with this great event each year.  

My Past 10 #pb10for10 Collections

Better Together
This seems the perfect collection this year for a million reasons....picture books that demonstrate that we are better together.  

I hope you'll share other titles for this collection in the comments below.