Saturday, June 30, 2018

Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers

"All children deserve to know that they can write a different version of their stories (p. 154)."    -- Ruth Ayres

Now that summer is here, I finally have a bit of time to catch up on my reading.  I've started many professional books that now need to be finished.  This week I was able to finish reading, Enticing Hard-to-Reach Writers by Ruth Ayres.  I'm adding this book to my "books that inspire me to be a better teacher of writers" shelf, for sure.  It will rest beside The Art of Teaching WritingWriting Through ChildhoodWhat You Know by Heart, About the Authors, and What a Writer Needs.

I could go on for days about Ruth's writing craft and the ease her words flow off of the page.  There's often this sense that she is sitting across the table from me and we're discussing the challenges we face as teachers, writers, and moms.  However, if I spent all my time there I'd miss the many important points she makes about nurturing our young writers in our workshops.

Here are my big takeaways:  

Writing requires safe spaces and caring communities.  Ruth begins by reshaping our thinking about writers who may have difficulty putting pencil to paper.  She not only reminds us of brain research and what children need in learning but also that sometimes the behaviors we note "[stem] from fear rather than defiance."  This lens might truly change the way we respond to writers as they work to overcome obstacles.  "Fight, flight, and freeze are common responses to fear.  It's important to realize that when we think children are being willful, they may actually be afraid (p.20)," Ruth reminds.  One of the first steps to enticing hard-to-reach writers is to build a relationship with them and learn their story.  Writing is hard generally, but what if the stories you carry inside you are hard also?  As teachers, we have the ability to provide the space for working through hard stories.

To support writers, we not only have to provide safe spaces but, also, know the challenges of writing.  "We must write and discover the process for ourselves (p. 48)," according to Ruth.  As a teacher who writes, I know the challenges of putting words on paper.  It helps me to understand the hard days of writing, that not every story written will be better than the last one, and to know the difficulties in writing in a way that an audience will hear your intended message.  Our experiences writing help us to guide students through these challenges.  Our experiences writing through all the hard parts and celebrations can help us to shape communities of "faithful and fearless writers (p. 70)."

As teachers who write, we know writing can be hard, but we also know the joy of working through tough challenges.  It is easy to get caught up in the things our writers aren't doing, but perhaps the power is in beginning to see what writers are doing.  In her book Ruth talks about the power of being strengths-based:  "Instead of focusing on the things students don't do well, consider the things they are almost doing as writers (p. 82)."  It's the celebrations that fuel our next hard steps.

Writing isn't a lock-step process; instead, it is messy work.  In Ruth's final chapters, she shares the moves we can make as teachers to support hard-to-reach writers (any writer) in our workshops.  In these moves, she shares her thinking behind each and some practical ways to give it a try.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Show kids a path through a writing project (p. 90).
  • Build curiosity (p.91).
  • Write a draft in a way that works for you (p. 96).
  • Convince students there is an audience that cares about reading their writing (p. 114).
  • Support students in finding and claiming a writing mentor (p. 125).
  • Name the strengths students have as writers (p. 131). 
  • Diversify the end of workshop share sessions to provide more opportunities for students to share and hear about their feedback (p. 140).  
This was just the book I needed to read this summer.  More and more it seems our writing blocks get filled with lock-step processes and product focused work.  This book reminds me of the importance of helping students, not only find themselves as writers but, dig deep to find the stories that matter in their lives, the stories we can all learn from.  This book reminds me to celebrate the experiences of my writers and those little steps we make along the way.  

Thank you, Ruth, for sharing your thinking with us.  

Friday, June 29, 2018

Are You Ready for #cyberPD?

I've got my book, and I'm ready to begin.  It's time, once again, to dive into #cyberPD.  #cyberPD takes place each year as the calendar turns to July.  For the month, our community reads and discusses the same professional book.  The book is divided into three sections.  The community reads one section each week.  After reading, participants share their reflections and then read and comment on the thinking of other participants.  Each year I'm amazed at how much I learn through the reflections of other educators in the community.  (You can find out more about #cyberPD here.)

Here are the books selected since 2011: 

In our eight years, our global community has grown from 15 to just over 500.   You'll find educators from a variety of positions who join the conversation.  The variety of experiences these educators bring to the conversation always opens my eyes to new ways of thinking.  I'm amazed each year by the way the community supports one another through this experience.  Participants not only read the book and share their thinking, but they take the time to reflect and comment on the thinking of others in the community.  

Here's the schedule for this year's conversation:  

How to Participate
  • Purchase the book (need it fast?  go digital)  
  • Join the #cyberPD Google Community to connect and receive updates 
  • Read the selected chapters each week beginning the week of July 1st
  • Respond digitally to each section at some point during the assigned week
  • Share or link your response in the Google Community:  2018 Being the Change  (you can also grow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD)
  • Take time to reply to at least 3 participant responses

Ways to Share Your Reflections
  • Respond on your blog and link your post to the Google Community
  • Post your thinking directly in the #cyberPD Community as you post
  • Be creative.  There are many ways to link in the Google Community so feel free to try something new:  slides, infographics, ThingLink, video, etc.  (Oh, the possibilities...)
  • You can also share thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD 
  • I'll be trying to post a bit on Instagram using the #cyberPD hashtag (we'll see how that goes...)

2018 Links You Might Find Helpful
We know it is July.  Like us, you might have a vacation in the middle of the event, might be teaching some kind of summer school, or maybe you have family coming to visit; just make #cyberPD work for you.  The great thing about this event is that everyone shapes it to be what they need.  We hope you'll join us and help to grow our conversation.  

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Transforming Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools

"Helping teachers seek out connections with others fuels their creativity and generates a feeling of support, of a connected community (digital page 42)." -Dr. Stephanie Affinito

I've been learning from Dr. Stephanie Affinito for some time now.  Originally connecting with her work in literacy on Twitter (@AffinitoLit), it wasn't long until I was following her literacy thinking on her blog and joining her in virtual learning opportunities.  As a literacy coach, I was quite excited when I heard she had a book coming out about literacy coaching and the ways digital tools might help us to connect our learning community.

When we think about technology, we often think about the ways we can now connect with others far from our classrooms.  Through technology, I have been able to connect with teachers in other states and around the world.  These connections, outside of my daily community, have shaped my practices as an educator and given me much to think about.  I'm quite sure I would be a very different educator today without the connections I have made over the past ten years through social media, blogs, and expanded digital learning opportunities.

While we tend to think of the ways technology has allowed us to talk with educators timezones away as if they taught across the hall from us, I'd be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge what these tools have done to grow my connections within my community as well.  In the busy life of teaching and learning, it can be difficult to find time for extended conversations with colleagues.  As we work within our classroom communities, it can be challenging to find time to sustain the rich conversations necessary to continue to grow.  Technology can allow us to continue conversations beyond our day, see what is happening in the classroom down the hall, and collaboratively grow resources with one another, among other things.

I just finished reading Stephanie Affinito's book, Literacy Coaching:  Transforming Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools and Technology.  Stephanie reminds us of the ways technology can bring our local communities together in extended learning.  Here are three key ideas I'm pondering after reading her book:

  1. Digital tools for collaboration:  Digital tools can help to "cultivate a shared sense of inquiry into literacy instruction (digital p. 15)" and create a culture of collaboration within our learning community. 
  2. Digital tools for innovative practice:  As literacy coaches, we can leverage digital tools to, not only deepen our community conversations about teaching and learning, but also to help teachers envision new possibilities for "using them in more academic ways for reading, writing, teaching, and learning (digital p. 28)." 
  3. Digital tools for connection:  Digital tools can begin to "open the doors" of our classrooms if we utilize it to "take [our] experiences and make them visible and accessible for all (digital p. 66)."  
In her book, Stephanie shares concrete examples of the ways we can use technology to work smarter, deepen professional conversations, and grow our connections with one another.  While the book is written for literacy coaches, I couldn't help but think it would be a smart read for any teacher who wants to discover ways to connect conversations within their team or building.  I thought of many teachers who lead from their classrooms who would benefit from reading this book.  Full of charts to show how digital tools can extend possibilities for the work we do, Stephanie shares ideas for launching this work in your learning community.  

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Design Your Summer

Here we sit ready to open the door into summer.  I'm not sure how we got here so fast.  Wasn't it just August?  Weren't we just falling into the rhythms of a school year?  It seems hard to believe, but it is summer.

On the way to school this week I was listening to Gretchen Rubin's podcast: Happier (Podcast 169).  In this episode, she and her sister, Elizabeth, were talking about designing your summer.  The idea is that summer should have a little adventure and if you aren't careful to design your time it can slip by without the opportunity to do all you had hoped.  (The idea intrigued me so much that I dug in a bit more and found more explanation in podcast 67 and podcast 118).)

As an educator, I always struggle to be kind when I hear, "Oh, you teach.  You have your entire summer off."  This is a bit of a myth, but I resist the urge to lecture others about the contract days of a teacher or the reality of summer work.  I understand that summer does bring me a bit of flexibility in my schedule.  For me, and for many educators, summer is the training months for the marathon ahead.  June is peppered with meetings, and August is a race from the moment we turn the calendar.  How we spend our time matters.  During the summer I have found I need to determine an amount of time I will truly rest, catch up on all of the house tasks that fell behind in the prior months, spend time with professional reading, and plan for the year ahead.

I'm taking Gretchen's advice to design my summer before it begins:

Adventure:  Patio Pursuit

It's patio season!  Most of the summer you will find me sitting on my patio enjoying a good book and a cup of coffee.  I just love being able to sit outside early in the morning and well into the evening.  Of course, summer also brings the opportunity to find new patios.  It's the perfect time of year to find restaurants with outdoor patios and coffee shops with outdoor seating to linger.  This summer, I will find a new patio each week to enjoy.  I'll be posting these on my Instagram page with the hashtags #patiopursuit #designyoursummer.

Friends & Family:  Wedding Bells

This friends and family one is easy.  My oldest daughter is getting married in August so this summer will be spent in final preparation for this event.  There will be lots of opportunities for friends and family along the way.

Professional Learning:  Eight Would be Great!

Oh, my professional reading stack is large and looming.  I love this time of year as it allows the opportunity to focus in on some professional reading.  It's obvious I need a plan to accomplish the task of reading these titles so I've decided as I design my summer that "Eight Would Be Great!".  My plan is to have eight professional books read by the end of summer (and that is a very doable number.).  It's roughly one book each week with a week here and there for books that require a bit more reflection.

Projects:  The Office

Since leaving my classroom, we have a room that I have used as an office/creation space/guest room. It needs some work to make it comfortable and utilize the space in the best way possible.  I'm honestly not sure what that actually is, but I think I'll spend the summer figuring it out.

What are your plans to make your summer the best it can be?


Saturday, June 2, 2018

Drumroll Please: The July #cyberPD Professional Read Is....

Today's the big reveal.

Honestly, I'm surprised Michelle and I were able to select a book from everyone's stack as quickly as we did.  Afterall, there are so many amazing professional books out right now.  My summer stack is tall and, by the look of everyone else's stacks, many #cyberPD community members have some tall stacks too.  Interestingly, there was one book that showed up often.  One book that seemed to stand out as a good match for the current times.  When Michelle said to me, "I think it's the book that will really stretch us."  I knew she was right.

As we talked, we felt this book was also a good match for educators across grade levels and content areas.  As we talked, we reflected on the books that have seemed to have had the greatest impact on our community; it seems it has always been the books that take us a bit out of our comfort zone.  With the world being the tricky place that it is right now, we hope our community members will agree that this is the right time for this book.'re asking...what's the book?

You're thinking....get on with it already!

You're right.  I'm taking much too long to share the good news with you.  For this year's #cyberPD community booktalk, we'll be reading Being the Change:  Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara K. Ahmed.

If you've joined us before, you know you have a bit of time to purchase your book.  The book, as always, is divided into three parts for our reading, reflection, and conversation.  If you haven't joined us before, we hope you will.  Stop by our Google Community to be a part of this summer learning experience.

If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to Michelle Nero (@litlearningzone) or me (@cathymere).  We're happy to answer any questions you may have.

Looking forward to our July conversation.