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 freestocks.org 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.