Sunday, November 10, 2019

Conversations Around Research: Let's CrowdSource (Share What You Know)

Disclaimer:  Before you read this, please know this is my interpretation of what I heard.  While I will give credit to the people who made me consider this, my interpretation may not exactly match their true point.

Please comment to join the conversation:  What I most want from this post is for everyone to share who the researchers are they follow and what are the publications that help them to find good research?  Who are the people who read a lot of literacy research and share it (with citing not just synthesis....I want people who share their sources not just their opinions)?  I'm going to start with a little intro to take you to how I got to my questions, but most importantly I want your thinking around the questions I ask.  

This morning, I woke up early to watch (for the fourth time), What Research Really Says About the Teaching of Reading - and Why That Still Matters, which is still available to members of the International Reading Association.  The talk features literacy researchers P. David Pearson, Nell Duke, Sonia Cabell, and Gwendolyn McMillon.  (Thank you, ILA, for live-streaming during your conference and keeping this available to members.  I could go on for days about that, but I must move to point.)

First of all, I'm going to admit to being a huge fan of Nell Duke.  I first saw her at the National Reading Recovery Conference in Columbus, Ohio.  I've never seen anyone who could talk with such ease and clarity about research in a way that makes such sense to me (and to be able to throw in the occasional one-liner to make the audience laugh).  In that session, she shared seven studies with the audience for consideration in practice.  When I saw her name on a panel about research during the ILA Conference, I had to sign up.  I was not disappointed by Nell - or the group.

Let's be honest, it's a hot time in literacy.  I'm a little saddened by the this or that stance people are taking.  (To be clear, I don't think the "all this" or the "all that" camp is doing us any good.  Additionally, I was going to say educators but, let's be honest, it isn't always educators leading this charge.)  The truth is, we'd all be a lot better off if we could step back for a minute and ask ourselves what we could learn.  You see, none of this conversation is without a bit of truth.  Yet, the problem has always been that we tend to take a this or that approach to teaching young children when in truth it is a this AND that approach that matters.  I always wonder what we could learn from each other that would make the work we do with children better if we'd all sit down in the middle.  If there was one answer to teaching children to read, the debate would have ended long ago, but children are different and answers are complex.  (Sorry, stepping off my soapbox to get to my point.)

I'm going to simplify a few points made by Nell Duke as she talked about the research that I've taken to heart and the reason I am writing this post.

  1. Beware confirmation bias!  For me this means two things.  The first and most important is that I am aware of the bias I have in the teaching of literacy and listen carefully to alternate points.  I (We) must remain open to alternate points-of-view.  Additionally, I try to remind myself that often the person across from me has their own bias.  What are the ways to discuss important topics with someone who comes from a different point of view?
  2. Literacy teaching is complex.  Nell makes the analogy (that I won't do justice to here) that a doctor will tell you to eat healthy foods, exercise, reduce stress and get plenty of sleep in considering your wellness.  She won't just tell you one of those things (at 50.33).  What I especially like about this analogy is that I know my doctor would focus their attention on the part of my health I'm not being as attentive to each day while not letting me forget the others.  The same is true in our teaching of literacy.  
  3. Know the research.  "When it comes to thinking about evidence based practice...the best source for understanding what the evidence says is either the studies themselves...[or] people who regularly read research in research journals," reminds Nell Duke.  I've been trying to work on this for a bit now.  I want to know the research that supports my beliefs, but also to dig into the research of the ideas that bump up against what I know.  This, however, isn't easy.  As practitioners, we don't have access to many of the publications that researchers and scholars can access.
With that in mind, I'm going to share a few of the people I follow who seem to lead me to strong research and the publications that also push me in that direction.  I will be transparent about the cost of those publications.  

Researchers/Scholars/Educators I follow that lead me to the research:
  • Dr. Nell Duke:  Nell doesn't share as much as I wish she did, but she is quite thoughtful in the studies she shares.  Honestly, I still haven't figured out exactly what her belief system is as she seems to remain so unbiased in her work.  
  • Dr. Mary Howard:  It isn't hard to figure out the bias of Dr. Mary Howard; it's best practices for children.  She is transparent about this bias, but what I do love about what she shares is that she always takes you back to the research to support these beliefs.  I have found many great research sources thanks to a blog/article/podcast she has shared.  
  • Donalyn Miller:  Donalyn is all about getting books into the hands of readers.  However, she is also good about sharing the research that supports her beliefs.  I like to keep an eye on the locations of her sources as this often leads me to new research. 
  • Larry Ferlazzo:  Larry Felazzo posts several times a week (maybe every day?) and curates collections around important literacy topics.  I especially appreciate his work in supporting English language learners.  His posts often move me toward recent research.  
  • I tried really hard to get to 5, but I couldn't.  I have a few that could maybe go here, but they didn't seem to consistently take me to research.  Yikes!  I need to get busy finding these people.  
Who are the researchers/scholars/educators that continually lead you to research of evidence based literacy practices?  

Sites/Publications that lead me to research:
  • The Reading Teacher: ($$) This journal often shares articles that lead me to the research as most of the references given in articles of interest share more of the evidence behind the practice.
  • Reading Research Quarterly:  ($$)  More than other journals to which I subscribe, this one takes me closer to the actual research that was conducted.  The articles dig into the studies and give a bigger picture of the work that was done and the implications. 
  • Google Scholar:  Thank you, Nell Duke, for sharing this gathering space of research.  It's helped a bit.  
  • What Works Clearinghouse:  This is often one of the first stops in my search for evidence based practices in literacy.  
  • Again, four seems the number.  (I really prefer lists of 3, 5, 7, or
My hope is that you will share the researchers/scholars/educators you follow who lead you to strong research (especially those that can do so without bias) and the sites/publications you follow.

My final wonder today is why it is so hard for practitioners to access research.  Perhaps one of you know the secret to accessing research without cost.  I have truly considered going back to our university to take a course so I can once again access research.  If I'm a teacher in the field, doesn't it make sense that I should be able to access this research with greater ease? 

I digress.  My purpose in writing this post is truly to start a conversation so while commenting is pretty out these days, I do hope you will leave a comment to share what you know.  That being said, this is not a space for this or that conversation so I will delete any comments that go into a rant about this or that.  I truly want to know the best people and places that share information with educators about the evidence based practices in the teaching of literacy.  

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Deadlines, Challenges, and Other Writing Truths

The deadline loomed.

That morning I awoke trying to find the article I would submit for our writing group.  It was to be submitted that evening.  I'd had two weeks to write the article (honestly more), but I had not produced a word.

Here I sat with a deadline and nothing.  I'd try rereading old pieces for revision, but none of them felt right.  I tried starting a few new pieces and none of them took off.

Of course, the challenge wasn't the deadline as much as it was the writing.  I know the problem.  I just haven't been writing as much as I usually do.

Writing is harder when I'm not writing regularly, I find.  I know this, but I have to keep reteaching myself this lesson.  Because calendars.  Because time.  Because work.  Because distraction.  Because excuses.

When I got home that evening, the clock was ticking toward the deadline.  I had to do something.

Tick, tock.  Tick, tock.  Tick, tock.

Once again, I wrestled through a few older articles I had in my drafts folder, but they just weren't going anywhere.  Finally I decided the clock was running out, I had to write about where my feet were right now.  I started a draft that was related to some work I was currently doing.  Still.  Every.  Word.  Was.  Hard.

That's the challenge of not writing regularly.  It's like exercise.  The less you do it, the harder it is.

I've sworn myself back to some regular writing, but I can't help but wonder about the writers in our classrooms.  Do they have the daily time to write?  Do they have the time to play in their words?  Do they have time to write the really bad stuff that hides the gems we can tease out?

When we aren't writing regularly, our young writers can struggle to get words onto a page.  If we aren't writing regularly, we can find ourselves trying to push them through their struggle by giving them graphic organizers and strict guidelines for pieces.  We can find ourselves wondering where their passion is in their writing, where the voice is hiding, why they struggle so much to write.

Time isn't the solution to strengthening our writing, but it certainly is the first required step.

I didn't quite make the deadline, but I wasn't far behind.  (Yeah, I need an occasional deadline to push myself forward.)

It did remind me that the best way to make writing easier is to write often.

So here I am.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Three for Your Library: Be Brave

Some days we are our own worst enemies.  The messages we tell ourselves can be the very thing that holds us back.  Some days the most important thing we can do is show up.  How do we push ourselves through these hard days?  How do we stand up and step forward?

In our classrooms, we work to help our learners be fearless.  There's power in taking risks and pushing through the hard parts of our day.   These three titles will help students to find ways to be brave.

Brave Molly by Brooke Boynton-Hughes

If you love wordless picture books, you'll love Brave Molly.  The story begins as Molly is working to draw a picture of a shadowy figure.  Molly sees some kids outside and decides to go out to where they are.  The shadowy figure seems to follow her.  As she gets closer to the kids, they walk away.  The boy leaves a book behind.  Molly heads through the woods with the book in her backpack and the shadowy figure close behind.  Molly decides to be brave and push on.  Will she ever get rid of the shadow that follows her?

The Way You Might Use It:
Community Conversations:  Being brave, doing the right thing, taking care of one another and the power of friendship are all certainly topics of conversation this book might inspire.

Anchor Text:  We learn a lot about this character across the story.  Even though there are no words, there is plenty of room to talk about what this is like.  The book also provides some great opportunities to wonder together about what the shadow represents (or even if it is real), her motivation in getting the book to the boy, and how the author wanted us to feel (and the decisions made to accomplish that).

Mentor Text:  The author/illustrator moved between panels, single page illustrations, and double page spreads.  The panels are used to move us through time quickly.  The author/illustrated used changes in color to help create mood and portray the way the character might be feeling.  Young writers might find ways to try these craft moves in their own writing.

Brave Enough for Two by Jonathon Voss

Sometimes the best way to get through hard times is to have a friend by your side.  Olive likes the adventures in stories, but she doesn't feel brave enough to tackle these adventures in real life.  However, with Hoot by her side, Olive finds the strength to try things she finds a bit scary.  This story illustrates the way hard things can be easier with a friend by your side.

The Way You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book could help communities talk about the things that are hard for us to do or times we've been trying something a bit scary.  Kids have many experiences that require them to be brave such as learning to ride a bike, playing a new sport, or going into the basement to get something for their mom.  There is also some space to talk about how we can take care of each other and help our friends through the hard parts of our day from working on a hard math problem, digging into a science inquiry, or crossing the monkey bars for the first time.

Anchor Text:  This book would support conversations about how characters change across time.  It also demonstrates the way we can make inferences about characters based upon dialogue.

Mentor Text:  This cumulative text gives young authors ways to think about adding multiple events to a story to help illustrate a point and clarify the message.  The use of dialogue might also help young writers think through the ways the authors carefully select conversations that help us to learn more about the character.

When You Are Brave by Pat Zielow Miller and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Certainly kids today have many reasons they have to be brave.  In this story, the character's family is moving to a new place that seems far from where they had been.  The character is uneasy and feels very alone as she works to take a strong step forward.  In this book, the author shares some ways we can find our courage in the hardest of times.  While there is much to love about the story, the illustrations really call readers back again and again.

Community Conversations:  Students will be able to identify the times the author shares that we have to be brave.  Communities can begin a conversation about the way they work through hard times and find their courage.

Anchor Text:  You really can't have a book about being brave without having ways to talk about the character.  How do we know how the character feels?  What clues did the author and illustrator give us?

Mentor Text:  Young writers can have much conversation about the lead in this book.  The author uses repetitive stems to strengthen the message.  The author begins, "Some days when everything around you seems have to be brave.  Brave as....".  The author does this in other places in the book as well as uses changes in sentence length to change the pace of the reading.  How does this impact the message?  This book might inspire some brave writing.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Teaching for Independence: The Power of the Practice Page

Recently, I used a video example of a small group writing lesson during guided reading.  The students were writing about their reading during the lesson.  Each student had their own blank book to use when writing about reading.  Students began by rereading their last piece of writing, turned the page and started to write about the book they had just read with their teacher.  A lot happened in less than five minutes.  As the students wrote independently, the teacher supported each in writing.  It was a small group of children so the teacher was able to easily support each writer as they composed and wrote their short piece about their reading.

After watching the video, our group discussed ways we might make our students more independent in this guided writing situation.  What are the strategies we might teach these writers that they could carry into their independent writing?  We talked about wait time.  We talked about small changes in language and prompting.  We talked about ways we might help students to better self-monitor.

For me, using a practice page is one way to teach writers strategies they can carry into their independent writing.  Using a practice page is something I learned when teaching Reading Recovery years ago.  It gives students the opportunity to build high frequency word knowledge, develop knowledge of the way words work, and creates a space for writers to ____.

Here are three ways I like to use a practice page:
Practice High-Frequency Words:  High-frequency words do not follow typical spelling patterns which can make them tricky for students.  They are also words used often so I want students to know them well.  They need to be able to write them quickly as it frees up their attention for composition and the writing of other words.  When students write these words incorrectly in their writing, the practice page can be used to write the word correctly 3-5 times.  I ask students to write the word, then we cover it to see if they can write it without seeing it.

Elkonin Boxes:  When working with students in guided writing, they often come to words they haven't written before.  When I notice them having difficulty writing a new word, I can draw Elkonin boxes on the page to help them segment the sounds in the word.  In Elkonin boxes the child listens for the sounds that would be in each box.  There is a progression of teaching that gets students ready to use Elkonin boxes and ways to adjust them as students try to spell words of increasing difficulty.  I most like to use these when I see students trying to write a word that fits word features we have been learning.  (Here's a simple explanation of Elkonin boxes from Pioneer Valley.)

Try It:  Helping students to monitor their own writing helps them make faster gains.  Students often know when they are having difficulty writing a word.  I teach students to use the practice page when they are unsure how to write a word.  When a word seems tricky, writers go to the practice page and give it a try.  Students learn to try to the word three times when they are unsure of the spelling.  This is fascinating.  If I see the correct the word, I ask them to pick the one they think is right.  Most times they know.  If none of the attempts are correct, we work to figure out the word together.  This page can tell me a lot about what learners know about words.  A child who randomly attempts different spellings is of greater concern than one who seems to know which part of the word is causing challenge.

Small-Group Writing:  Steps for Success

Building Word Learning Routines

Sunday, September 15, 2019

More Lessons Learned: The Story IS Beyond the Numbers

A few weeks ago, we received an energy report from our electric company.  It wasn't great news.  It seems we are among the highest energy users on our road.  (You might have read, Lessons Learned:  Finding the Celebrations)

So what?  

That's what I found myself asking as I looked at the report, "So what?".  Yes, we apparently are among the highest energy users in our neighborhood, but every time I look at the report I honestly am a bit frustrated.  The report doesn't help me to know anything about why we are using so much energy.  There are three adults in the house, but that doesn't help me to figure out how much energy we are using.  Is it the air conditioner?  It is rather old and likely inefficient.  Our appliances?  Our hot water tank?  

There's really no way to improve our energy use without more information.  Is there a way to measure the usage of particular items using electricity?  Yes, we can keep our lights turned off a bit more, unplug cords not in use, and turn the thermostat a bit, but I doubt that will make much of a dent in our usage.  How do we know what to change to use less energy?  

As I reflect on the information sent from the electric company about our energy use, I can't help but think about the connections to education.  In our schools and classrooms we can easily be in the same place as we look at the assessment information we collect.  While numbers might help us to find big picture strengths and challenges or ask questions to help us learn more, they can also be a big "so what?" if we aren't willing to dig for the story beyond the numbers.  If we aren't careful we can let the numbers rule our decision making in a "sky is falling" kind of way.  However, if instead of just looking at the numbers we dig a bit deeper, we can make intentional decisions to support next steps for the learners in our classrooms.  

Here are a few ways to get beyond the "so what" of our beginning of the year assessment information:

  1. Look for Patterns:  I've always found it useful to collect assessment information on some kind of chart.  This allows me to take a quick glance across different parts of the information I have collected to see if I note any patterns across our class.  For example, in our benchmark reading assessment I can look at scores for within, beyond, and about comprehension to see if there is a pattern to strengths and challenges.  I can take a look across accuracy, self-correction and fluency scores to note any connections across students.
  2. Find the Story:  Once I have the general view of my students, I usually take a bit of time to sort the assessments into three piles:  strong, average, and needs support (to simplify).  For example, if I note a pattern in thinking beyond the text, I might take the assessments and look specifically at student responses in this part of the assessment.  I'm looking for the story:  the story of what they seem to have under control and what might help to strengthen their understanding. 
  3. Dig into Daily Learning:  As I listen to conversations in mini-lessons, work with small groups, and sit beside learners as I confer, I'm trying to dig more into the story.  What truths do I see that match what I learned from assessment?  What seems to be disconnected?  What are our next steps?  
I don't know how I'm going to figure out ways to improve our energy use.  I guess I'll look for articles that talk about typical energy wasters or dig to see if there is some way to measure usage of particular household items.  I'm not really sure the data sent by the electrical company does much to change the way we live.  Hopefully, in our classrooms, we can find ways to dig to get the story that IS beyond the numbers.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Three for Your Library: Books to Make You LOL

There are so many great picture books in the world these days.  Sometimes I read a book and wonder what kids will think of it.  There have been some pretty serious books published that are sure to inspire great conversation.  Of course, sometimes it's just fun to have a read aloud that makes everyone laugh.  I decided to check my collection for some books that are sure to make everyone laugh out loud.

Three Books to Make You Laugh

Let's be honest, just the title will have everyone laughing.  Poor Ballet Cat can't get Butter Bear to dance.  Every time Ballet Cat thinks Butter Bear is ready to dance something gets in the way.  Students will love the back and forth between these two characters --- and the real reason Butter Bear just can't dance.  

Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris

This book will make a fun read aloud. Kids will love the way one thing leads to another in this story where Bear comes to the river and soon finds himself in one adventure after another. This circular text is sure to make everyone laugh as Bear and his friends find themselves in quite a predicament.

Brief Thief by Michael Escoffier and Kris Di Giancomo

This book was shared with me by one of literacy coaches, Andrea Waselko, and I can't believe I hadn't seen it.  It is hilarious!  Leon the Lizard takes a quick trip to the bathroom only to realize he doesn't have a toilet paper.  What's a lizard to do?  He finds some old underwear close by, but soon what he thinks is his "conscience" tells him to get those cleaned up.  You won't believe what happens next?  

Here are a few other favorite books to make them laugh.  Have a favorite?  Please share it in the comments.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Balancing Assessment in the First Weeks

The first six weeks of school are among my favorite.  It's the time we get to weave our communities together with strong thread to support our work across the year.  It's the time we can get to know each one of the children who walks through our door.  It's the time that we can celebrate what our learners already know.  It's a time to observe what makes each of them tick.

In the first six weeks of school, we start to learn what matters to each of our students.  We get to know their families and their preferences.  We also begin to get to know them as learners.  For me, I like to take the first two weeks to just get to know them.  I'm focused on relationship and building a strong community.  At the end of the two weeks, I often begin to take a look at spring assessment information for my students.  Then I like to spend the next weeks determining if students are in about the same place they ended the previous year, if they've continued to build on their learning across the summer, or if they might need a bit of support to get them back to where they ended the year (this doesn't usually take long).  In these first weeks, I work to help students become solid in what it is they know so we can use those foundational strengths to grow as the year continues.

The beginning of the year also brings time for more formal assessment.  Our districts often have assessments that are required for all students.  Additionally, we often have assessments we like to use alongside our daily observations to learn more information about what our learners know.  It becomes easy to look at the list of assessments and want to get them checked off.  It is during these first busy weeks that I push myself to keep THE WHY in front of assessments.  Over the years, I found some ways to help to manage assessment alongside the important first steps I want our community to take together.

Managing the Busyness of Assessment 
  • Weave Assessment into Our Workshop:  Learning to weave assessment into my workshop was a game changer for me.  In the first weeks, our learning community works to establish routines that will free us up to do important work.  While this is my priority, it is easy to weave a few assessments into each day's workshop.  For example, our district asks that we give our students Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words.  In most cases, this assessment takes 3-5 minutes with a student, but I can learn a lot sitting beside them.  After our writing workshop begins, I confer with a few students and as students settle into their writing, I stop by a few students to complete this assessment.  It's easy to move between assessing and conferring while still helping to set the tone for the work we will do in workshop.  
  • Plan:  It's easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by all that is to be done, but I've found that keeping my eye on the WHY and my focus on learning about my students helps.  Instead of feeling like I have to get all of the assessments done in a day, I plan out the time I will take to complete them.  For example, if I do about 3 Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words for four days a week, I can have my class done in two-three weeks.  The beauty of doing them in small numbers is I always feel like I learn so much about students if I take some time to digest the time sitting beside them.  
  • Start Where You're Curious:  Typically I begin with the students that make me curious.  Maybe I've noticed a child seems to have grown a lot over the summer or maybe I notice some disconnect between a child's reading and writing.  If I've started to notice some areas of concern for a student, I will often begin with them early in the assessment cycle so that I can use the information to begin lifting their learning immediately.  
  • Complete My Own Assessment:  It can be easy to allow support teams to complete assessments for me, but personally I always wanted to do my own assessments.  It helps me to better support my learners if I have done them myself.  Often my reading support teacher wanted to assess readers she was considering.  I could understand the necessity of this so I would let her complete the assessment, but I would often find a similar text do read with the student to get a true sense of their strengths and next steps.  
It can be hard to take a breath with so much on our to-do lists, but the more we slow down to get to know our students in those first six weeks of school the stronger the year seems to be.  As you look at all the assessments on your list, I hope you'll take a breath and begin a plan.  Give yourself grace to take the time to really get to know those new learners who will be counting on you.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Make Time for Celebration

image from Clipart Library
licensed for personal use
My class reunion was last week.  I won't talk about how many years ago I graduated, but it was certainly fun to catch up with classmates.  We were a small class so they feel a lot like siblings when I see them.  When I arrived I noticed our physical education teacher from high school was there.  The committee had invited some past teachers to our reunion.  It's important to note that I didn't fall on the athletic side of my class.  Not. At. All.  I would have rather taken an additional physics class than go to gym, but physical education was required.  I ended up in a conversation with this teacher and one of our star athletes back in the day.  My friend was thanking the teacher for pushing her to do her best academically so she could stay in sports - and I had to thank her for always seeing where I was and celebrating the little things in physical education.  It would have been easy to not get dressed for physical education and sit on the sidelines.  However, knowing that I could enter that gym floor every day where I was and just work to improve in some way was enough.  This teacher always saw the tiny things I could do and always knew how to help me with my next step.

Celebrations matter.  

This week I sat down with a team of teachers as they talked about getting to know their students in these first days.  The team was taking a look at the spring assessment data which had been collected the previous year.  Now that they had been beside students for a few weeks, they were discussing the spring information alongside what they were noticing in the classroom.  Their literacy team wanted some time to get beside students who appeared they might need more support, but honestly that number was very small.

"I'm enjoying this group already," the teacher smiled as she talked about particular strengths she had already noted during their literacy block.  "They come to us stronger every year," she added as she talked about the foundation her students seem to have as they entered.  Her team nodded in agreement.  Honestly, that's not something that is said often enough.  I'm sure there might be some factors that make it true, but I also think this teacher has learned to look at where they are and celebrate.  She takes the time to note the steps she wants to see in these first days.  She isn't spending her time looking for what they can't do, she's got her eyes on their strengths - and she celebrates.

How do we get to this place - and how do we hold ourselves there?  It can be easy when we get a new group of students to begin to look for all they don't know.  Perhaps we do this out of a place of self-doubt, worried that we can't get kids where they need to be by the end of the year.  If we aren't careful it can be easy to look at all they don't know, all they need, all they didn't learn the year before they walked in our door and blame their past teachers or their parents.  It can be overwhelming.  What if we just concentrated on where they are?  There's always something to celebrate.

Celebrations matter.

When I taught Reading Recovery the first two weeks of what might be a twenty week program (that's 10% of the time) was devoted to celebrating strengths (more about Roaming in the Known here:  How Soon Is Too Soon for Assessment?).  During those first days the idea was to celebrate what children knew, however small, and make them solid in that knowledge.  What they knew would be the foundation for all that was to come.  I tried to hold myself to these same practices in the classroom and make the first six weeks about celebrating all students know and making them solid in it so we could move forward from there.  If I were to put it into six weeks of a plan it might look like:

  • Celebrate Who They Are:  The first two weeks are spent getting to know about each student as we build our community.  Who are they?  What do they like?  What matters to them?  
  • Celebrate What They Know:  The next two weeks I begin to watch a bit more for what they know about literacy.  These are celebration weeks for sure.  
  • Celebrate How They Flexibly Use What They Know:  Weeks five and six are spent working to be strengthen what we know so we know it well and can be flexible with this knowledge.  

Celebrations matter. 

As I stood with my friend and our physical education teacher it struck me that every time she walked into English class, she probably felt exactly like I felt every time I walked into that gym.  Thankfully, I knew every day I walked into this space that was hard for me, my teacher was going to meet me right where I was.  She probably knew there was plenty of room for growth. ;o)  Thankfully, she helped me celebrate the little steps:  the volleyball that made it over the net, the basketball that did hit the box on the backboard, the quick movement to get to the ball.  She celebrated the little things.  For that I am grateful.  

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Three for Your Library: Grandparents' Day is Coming

Truth be told, I'm a grandparent gal.  I spent so much time with my grandparents growing up that my heart is full of fond memories.  Every time I see new picture books about grandparents I just have to check them out.  This week, Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading reminded us that Grandparents' Day is Sunday, September 8th.  She celebrated by sharing some of her favorite new grandparent titles.  Make sure you stop by her post because she has a lot of titles you won't want to miss.

Here are three of my newer favorites that I'd have to add as well.  If you're looking for a few books for your library, these three are sure to be a hit.

Three Current Grandparent Favorites

Drawn Together by Mihn Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat.

It just never takes us long to find a way to connect with our grandparents - or for our grandparents to find a way to connect with us.

The Way You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  In the early part of the year, this book might be a good one to talk about the way we can find what we have in common even when we are different.  

Anchor Text:  This book is told largely in illustrated panels.  This is the perfect place to talk about inferring character action and feeling.  

Mentor Text:  This book would make a strong mentor for organizing ideas and using scenes to tell a story.  The illustrator uses like ideas in a gradual progression of panels to show challenges and changes the characters face. 

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

I fell in love with this book when I read the author's note where Oge shares a bit about her grandma and the role she played in her life.  As I read the story, I knew I'd return to it again and again.  In this book, Omu makes stew for dinner.  It isn't long until everyone is knocking on the door for a taste of her stew.  When dinner finally arrives, Omu has nothing to eat.  Not to worry, it isn't long until a solution is found.

The Way You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  This book illustrates the power of community and taking care of one another.  (As well as those little gifts we all have to share with each other.) 

Anchor Text:  I think I'm just drawn to books with great characters as I can't help but think that Omu could be the focus of quite a conversation as readers use clues to talk a bit about what she's like.  

Mentor Text:  The author uses repetition to tell the story of her grandma's stew.  The author uses this cumulative structure to work toward a pretty big problem.  Young authors could discover ways to use this structure in problem-solution stories.  

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L. B. Deenihan and illustrated by Lorraine Rocha.

Sometimes we get a gift from grandma that isn't quite what we wish.  However, often we discover later the real treasure it contains.  When the young girl gets a lemon tree from her grandma, it isn't exactly what she had hoped.  However, she politely thanks her grandma and plants the tree. It isn't long until she realizes all the gifts the tree can bring.  

The Way You Might Use It
Community Conversations:  There's probably a place her for some goods and services conversation.  I suppose if you have any future entrepreneurs, there might be some good conversation there as well.  The book could be the start of a conversation about thinking about the feelings of others when things don't go quite our way.  

Anchor Text:  The author uses many interesting text features that helps the reader to understand the story.  Readers often have difficulty thinking about why the author made particular craft decisions.  This book could certainly start a great conversation about why the author made particular decisions and how those decisions impact meaning.  

Mentor Text:  This book has lists, how-tos, and recipes.  There are lots of tricks used by the author that might come in handy in our own writing.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Three Running Record Apps for Running Record Season

It's running record season.  Actually, I'm the biggest nerd.  I love running records.  When you spend years doing several running records a day, you get a little geeky about the opportunity to sit beside a child to listen to them read, ask a few questions, and dig into their thinking.  Who can resist puzzling out readers?  Of course, running record season makes me want to reach for my favorite tools.  Yes, I know it is recommended you do running records with a pencil, but I love the feel of a pen.  Thank goodness my friends told me about Frixion ERASABLE Pens.  I know, right?!!!  Game changer.  You know you'll find me with a collection of these in my bag.

I also couldn't do running records without Evernote.  If I'm completing a running record for a colleague or if I'm working with a reader I know I want to think more about, recording the audio of the running record can be helpful so you'll find me with Evernote in my bag as well.  The truth is there a lot of apps that would allow you to record audio or snap pictures of running records, but I appreciate the ways I can organize in Evernote - and it's ease of use.  

Having done so many running records, I don't mind a little running record math - it's good for the brain - but I must confess to my attachment to apps for making this even easier.  I often get asked about calculators for running records and have discovered three apps you might like if you are finding yourself busy this running record season.

Running Record Calculator by Von Bruno

I'm just going to say it:  this is my favorite app.  I don't normally spend money on apps, but this is worth the $4.99 cost.  It does everything.  It can calculate accuracy and self-correction rates.  It has a timer that will calculate words per minute.  Additionally, when using the timer feature, the app will record the reading.  I also love this app for progress monitoring.  For example, if you have a student whose focus is self-correction, The Running Record Calculator lets you tap a button every time the reader self-corrects for easy score retrieval.  Easy-peasy.  If you don't mind spending $5 download this app right now.

Teacher Tool Grader by Alfredo Delgado

If you just don't want to spend any money on app, then I recommend Teacher Tool Grader.  This app has a timer to help you figure out words per minute and it's running record feature does the math for you to determine accuracy and self-correction rates of a text.  I found it easy to use.

Running Record Toolbox by Doodle Smith Ink

So maybe you just can't see spending $4.99, but maybe you like a little glitz and glam in your life; then this app is likely for you.  At $.99, it has a stopwatch for reading rate, a calculator to determine accuracy and self-correction rates, a symbol cheat sheet and an accuracy table.  Additionally, it has a lot of cute and glam.  So, at 99 cents you might find this perfect for running record season.

No matter which calculator you choose, you'll find any of these three apps will help to simplify your life during running record season.  If you've discovered a favorite, I hope you'll share it in the comments.  (Or if you're not an iOS user and have suggestions that would be great too!)

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Meet the Challenge Where YOU Are

“Set your monitors on preset workout,” the instructor shouted out as I tried to make sense of all the directions coming my way.

“Today’s a benchmark day,” she cheerily added.  “We will be rowing 2000 meters and recording our time.”

My head raced.  Did she just say 2000 meters?  Yikes!  I barely made the 750 meters during last week’s workout and that had rest intervals.  It was all I could do to get myself here each day and now we were rowing 2000 meters?!?

“Get ready to press your start button,” she shouted.  “We begin in 3 - 2 - 1,” she said with finality.

The long line of people began to row.  Back and forth. Back and forth.  Back and forth. I watched my meters count down:  1900, 1800, 1750, 1700. The numbers weren’t going down fast enough.  “Try to push your speed up every two hundred meters,” she encouraged. Is she kidding? I thought to myself as I continued to row.  I’m just trying to stay alive here.

I continued to row.  Back and forth. Back and forth.  The person rowing to my left was kicking it.  I couldn’t match her pace if I tried. To be honest, it was hard to shake the thought of the distance and I didn’t want to wear out too fast.  The instructor continued to move around the floor. Checking on our progress, correcting our form as we tired, and cheering us on from her nice place on the floor.  Soon I heard her shout enthusiastically, “As you get close to the last two hundred meters go all out. Give it everything you’ve got.”

What?  People are close to only having 200 meters to go?  I looked at my monitor.  I had just rounded the first 1000 and still had nearly half way to go!  She must have seen the look on my face as she placed herself right in front of my machine, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “We’re all in a different place.  There are people close to being finished, but these workouts are differentiated. You are trying to improve where you are.” Did she just use the teacher word differentiated?  I wondered to myself.  I knew she was right, but still.  I had a long way to go.

I put my attention back on my rowing.  700, 650, 600.

People were getting up off of their rowers one after another to punch in their times.  I was still rowing. When I got to 400 meters to go I realized I had enough left in me to end this rowing alive so I was able to find a little more to give.  I completed the rowing and punched my time into the computer.

There were still other parts of the workout I had to do.  I spent some time on the weight floor and some time on the treadmill.  I watched the clock tick too slowly, but finally she called all of us to the floor to stretch.  “Great workout today, everyone. You did it,” she said in her sunny coach voice as she shared our group statistics.  As I looked around the room, I knew there was actually some truth to what she said. She did know where each of us were and she pushed each of us throughout our hour to dig a little more, to be a little better than the last time.  It wasn’t unlike our classrooms. Sometimes we need to give ourselves, and our students, the grace to be where we are. We need to help to shine a light on the next step that is always within our reach.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

These Five #pb10for10 Favorites Will Melt Your Heart

August 10th was our 10th annual picture book celebration:  Picture Book 10 for 10.  Since our event, I've been receiving library notifications for the books I requested as I read the recommendations of the Picture Book 10 for 10 Community.  JOY!  The second stack from the library produced a few favorites that you won't want to miss.  I'm going to apologize now as I can't be sure which blog recommended which books.  I guarantee you won't want to miss these titles - and if you wonder where all these great recommendations came from, please check the event post linked above.

Here are my favorites from the second #pb10for10 stack:

What is Given from the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack and April Harrison

This is the story of James Otis and his mama.  They have been struggling to get by since his father died, but when their church asks for everyone to help a family that lost everything in a fire, he and his mama dig deep to find something to give.  This is a beautiful book in message, illustration, and line.  Told from the point of view of James Otis, this book will melt your heart.

We Are Grateful:  Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell and illustrated by Frané Lessac

The author takes us through the celebrations of a Cherokee family as they show gratitude across the year.  The structure of this cumulative text will be one young writers can use in their own writing.  It also is guaranteed to not only bring great conversation, but to spark ideas for writing as the author shares the celebrations close to her heart.

Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell and illustrated by Corinna Luyken

We can't really know someone until we take the time to sit down with them for a bit.  So often we create our own narratives for people without knowing their real story.  So it goes in this book by Marcy Campbell.  Adrian Simcox tells everyone about his horse, but Chloe doesn't believe it for a minute.  It isn't until Chloe's mom arranges a play date with Adrian that she learns the real story.  This is a heartprint book for sure!

My Heart is a Compass by Deborah Marcero

If you stop by regularly you know I love a book that is written and illustrated by the same person.  I just like the message it sends to young writers.  Now, personally, I wouldn't be able to illustrate my own book, but kudos to those with the power of the paintbrush.  My Heart is a Compass is a book you'll want to have in your classroom library always!  In this story Rose is looking for the perfect item to bring to school to share with her class.  She has no idea what it is so she begins to draw maps to help her to find it.  The reader walks alongside Rose in her quest for a treasure.  This book would make a smart choice for talking about maps, but it also helps to illustrate the importance of our stories.  I think it would also work to create maps showing places or things that are important to us and begin to spur some ideas form writing.

the remember balloons by Jessie Oliveros and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte

Just bring tissues.  This book will go straight to your heart.  There are books I love that I look forward to reading with different ages of readers as I wonder what they will think of the book.  This book is one of those books.  I loved this book.  It made me think of my grandparents and the stories they told - those I hold and those I have lost over the years.  In this story, told in first person, a young boy takes us through the balloons each family holds.  The balloons represent the stories that stay deep in our hearts; the stories we love to share with one another.  It make me think about "the balloons" that are close to my heart.  What a great title for the beginning of the year writer's workshop!

Well, after writing this post I've decided borrowing these titles from the library just isn't going to be enough for me.  I need these five picture books on my shelves always!!!  #pb10for10 community, you are not good for my wallet --- but you are great for my heart.  :o)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Five Favorites: Picture Books You Can't Miss

August 10th was our 10th annual picture book celebration:  Picture Book 10 for 10.  Since that time, I've been reading posts and reserving books at the library.  Okay, okay.  I may have purchased a few titles as well.  The first stack from the library produced a few favorites that you won't want to miss.  I'm going to apologize now as I can't be sure which blog recommended which books.  So many little time....

Here are my favorites from the first #pb10for10 stack:

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  This book!  I'm not sure I will get over this picture book for a long time.  Sometimes a picture book stops your heart, and this is one of those stories.  In this story, a young girl helps her grandfather find the language that was stolen from him as young boy.  This book is a must read for everyone.

tiny, perfect things by M.H. Clark and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper

This book is a reminder that the world is full of tiny, perfect things if we just slow ourselves down enough to notice.  The author and illustrator take us on a walk of a discovery.  The simple text alongside the illustrations open the door to all we might discover.  This book has so many possibilities.  It seems it would be the perfect title to share to help writers slow down to notice the world around them as they grow ideas in a writer's notebook.  It would also be the perfect title to start conversations about noticing in science.  This is one for the classroom library, for sure!

We've Got the Whole World in Our Hands by Rafael López

What's not to love about this one?  First of all, Rafael López is certainly an illustrator to keep an eye on in children's literature.  His work adds layers of meaning to any text.  How exciting to see him author and illustrate a picture book!  Secondly, the primary teacher in me loves a good song book.  It's hard to find newer picture books that pair with a song so I was happy to find this one to add to the collection.   Finally, there's the message that it is our job to take care of this world.  Yep, loved this one as well.

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan and illustrated by Aailya Jaleel

I had the pleasure of listening to Hena Khan speak when she came to Ohio at the beginning of this year.  Since then I've been discovering her books and enjoying every one.  Under My Hijab is no exception.  This story helps readers to see the strength and complexity of the women who choose to wear their hijab.  It's a must for any classroom library.  

How to Walk an Ant by Cindy Derby

This book has so many possibilities.  Not only would it make a delightful read aloud, but it also would work as a mentor text.  In this story, the character tells us about something she is quite good at:  walking ants.  Yes, walking ants.  The author makes so many interesting craft moves that young writers could try in their own writing.  Her nine step guide to ant walking with steps, tips, and rules is sure to inspire some interesting writing.

These are a few of my favorites from my first collection I picked up at the library after August's picture book event.  Thank you to everyone who shared such thoughtful recommendations.  I picked up the second stack yesterday.  I'll share some favorites from that stack soon.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Lesson Learned: Finding the Celebrations

We've all heard it said, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."  Apparently the same can be true of data.

Let me explain.

Last week we received a Home Energy Report from our electricity provider.  I'm geeky when it comes to data so I love this report with its fancy charts, colorful graphs, and interesting comparisons; not to mention the fact that it usually helps me to show the family that we need to reduce our energy use.  As I looked over the report I was a bit disheartened to read that, once again, we fell above the average of our neighbors in usage and didn't come close to our most efficient neighbors.

One evening as the family sat around chatting I brought up the report.  "Did you see our electricity use report?" I inquired not so innocently.  "How are we among the least efficient electricity consumers in our neighborhood?" I wondered aloud.

"I knew you were going to bring this up," my son sighed.  He is used to my insistence on turning off lights as we leave rooms and keeping the temperature of our heat and air conditioning just out of our comfort zone.  "I saw the report sitting on the counter and knew we were going to have this conversation," he grumbled.

Not wanting to lose any ground I continued, "And did you see our usage this July compared to last July?  It more than doubled.  How can that be when we were gone for some of the month?"

My husband, used to the banter between my son and me, had been sitting quietly in his chair.  He had looked up from his book in slight interest, but hadn't really jumped into the conversation.

My son began trying to reason through the report.  It wasn't long until we were volleying points back and forth.

My husband - who would much prefer we keep the house in our comfort zone - finally interjected in my son's defense, "All I noticed was the statement that said we'd used 11% less electricity this year than last year."

Mic drop.

What?  How could I have missed that?

Quickly I started skimming the report again.  We were among the highest usage customers.  We had used more electricity this July than last.  I continued scanning.  There it was.  The statement read as he said, "So far this year, you've used 11% less electricity than last year."

How had I missed it?  This conversation is similar to the conversations we have in our schools.  Data can tell you a lot of things and may be a bit in the eye of the beholder.  Often as we sit and look at information collected we look for all that needs fixed.  It can be easy to let data tell us everything that is wrong, but what about what is right?  My husband with his rose colored glasses - and desire for a warmer house in the winter - found the positive in the report.  What if we looked more for the strengths in the data we collect?  What if we took pause to find the celebrations?  It seems the interpretation of data may be in the eye of the beholder.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Time Flies! The 10th Annual Picture Book 10 for 10

Today's the day!  

Today is our 10th annual August Picture Book 10 for 10 event (here's a little history).  

I know, right?!  10 years???  Honestly it snuck up on me too.  10 years of 10 for 10!!!  Wowza.

Yep, 10 years of 10 for 10.  

If you hoped to join the conversation, you're in the right place.  We will be collecting posts for the event here.  (see below)  

Picture Book 10 for 10:  The Tradition
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 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.   Make sure you stop by her blog to see what she has selected for 2019.  I know I can't wait to see.  Stop by the other participants spaces too.

My Past 10 #pb10for10 Collections

As the calendar turns to August my mind always turns to the new school year.  There's always a certain amount of excitement as our communities come back together.  This year, with all that has been going on in our world, I can't help but wonder what the children in our learning communities will be feeling as they walk in our doors.  Will all children feel safe?  Will all children feel welcome? How do we honor their stories?  How do we help them to know they are save with us?  How do we help them to feel welcome?

As I worked to create my picture book list for this year, I wanted to find books for the beginning of the year that help all of our children to know their stories matter.  Creating inclusive communities begins with this message.  Sara Ahmed, in Being the Change, reminds us,
"What I have learned is that we cannot progress as a society if we rely on television images, single stories, and sensationalized headlines over getting proximate to the personal experiences and individual truths of human beings who don't look like us (p. 16)."  
So in those first weeks of school, I know I want to create an environment where everyone feels welcome - an environment where everyone finds the space to tell their story.  I wanted a collection that opens the door to say:  YOUR STORIES ARE WELCOME HERE.

Here are my 2019 #pb10for10 selections:  

Want to Join?  
  1. Choose Your 10 Favorites:  All you need to do is choose ten picture books you cannot live without for whatever reason.  In the first days of this event, everyone shared their ten very favorite titles.  This still works.  You will notice, however, that many past participants choose some type of theme or thread to connect their selections.  We'll leave this up to you.
  2. Write Your August 10th Post:  Write a post about the ten books you cannot live without.  
  3. No Blog?  No Problem:  If you don't have a blog, this might be the perfect time to start one --- or there are a million digital ways to join.  You could post from a Google page, create a S'more, make a Padlet, share in Twitter (and copy the Tweet link), or any other creative idea you may be considering.  We will also be tweeting from the #pb10for10 hashtag.    
  4. Link Your Seletions:  Please share your posts here (today's post of Reflect and Refine) in the comments.  (Share them on Twitter too at #pb10for10.) 
  5. Find Other Participants:  You will find the links to other 2019 collections in the comments below.
  6. Connect & Comment:  Take some time to read posts from other participants.  Please comment on at least three. 
Warning:  Picture Book 10 for 10 can be hard on your wallet.  I'd pull out your library cards before you start to visit these wonderful posts below.  


Please note:  If you stopped by my original post, you know that I shared Home is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard and illustrated by Chris Sasaki.  After sharing my post, Jillian Heise reached out in a tweet about this book.  She shared a post at Crazy Quiltedi that talked about some concerns over the images in the text.  When I read the book, I fell in love with the way it invited us into a home and made us think about the places we know as home.  In lines like, "Home is a window, a doorway, a rug, a basket for your shoes," and "Home is the shirt that smells like your old room, stories you had never heard, and every song you know," the author made me see the possibility of talking about our stories of home.  However, after reading the concerns, I am removing the title.  The post makes some good points that I want to weigh a bit more.  As educators, we certainly have to look at the books we place on our classroom shelves with a critical eye.