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.