Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More than Just a Number - #SOL Nov. 18

As I had off to #NCTE14 in Washington DC this week, I find myself looking forward to many learning opportunities with friends and colleagues from all over the country.  One of the topics I look forward to chatting about is assessment and the multiple ways in which we know our students.

With that in mind, I'd like to share a recent event:

Recently, I made a commitment to have better health, and one aspect of that commitment meant beginning to work with a personal trainer.

Initially, I fretted about the idea of personal training. Someone paying undivided attention to my body seemed overwhelming, but I scheduled my initial evaluation anyway. I grew increasingly anxious the closer the time came for this appointment, when the realization hit that the initial evaluation would probably include gathering numerical data about my body.

In the beginning, my anxiety seemed justified.  It was just as horrible as I had imagined – first the scales, then the BMI number, and finally the tape measure encircling all parts of my body, from head to toes. Though my glasses were off, leaving me unable to read the measurements the trainer actually wrote on the chart, I cringed each time he put his pen to the paper. None of this could be good.

Then something wonderful happened. The tape measure and scale were put away and the trainer began to collect data about my body and health in different ways. First, many questions were asked about my definition of being physically fit, my activity level, enjoyment of movement, family medical history, and any current concerns about health. With each response, the trainer drilled down a bit further, looking for more clarification of my initial answers.

After the interview was completed, the trainer began to observe my movements in space.  He asked me to walk, stand still, raise arms, bend at the waist, and bend at the knees to a squat position multiple times. As I complied, the trainer would carefully, with great focus, observe my movements, and then add his observations about those movements to his paper.

The final portion of the evaluation came when the trainer analyzed and synthesized all the information he had collected about me.  He spent some time in thoughtful reflection, and then shared his analysis. He first mentioned the things going well with my physical health, a short list, but at least a place from which to build. Then, he focused on what he considered to be my most immediate concerns – aligning my spine, working on gaining solid core muscles, and strengthening neck muscles. He shared that once those areas were addressed and in control, we could then focus on other items of concern. But for now, we were going to build a solid foundation for my body and its movements. Using those multiple pieces of data about my body, the trainer then devised my personal plan, and it had clear goals I would be working toward achieving.

While driving home from this initial evaluation, there was an “aha” moment when I realized what Adam, my trainer, had just done was incredibly similar to what I do as a literacy coach with colleagues, and what classroom teachers do with their students every day.

We gather data, and yes, for teachers, several of the pieces of data about students will be numerical in content. But as literacy coaches and educators, we need to push past the numbers, because we are all far more than just a number. As educators, we also need to observe and confer, then analyze what we discover. We should identify the most important need that will help individuals build a solid foundation in their learning. We are then able to make the best coaching or instructional plan for each person. We help our colleagues and students by sharing their strengths with them, and scaffold their learning by setting clear and attainable goals.

I learned a great deal from Adam that day, and it wasn't all about my physical well-being. To get the best picture of an individual in order to help them with positive changes, we need to look at multiple types of information and data. It was what Adam did for me as my trainer, and what I know is best for my colleagues with whom I collaborate as a literacy coach.

Thanks so much to my friends at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting Slice of Life. I hope to see many of you in DC this week! Head on over to their blog to check out some wonderful writing for Slice of Life Tuesday.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Celebrate! (A day late)

I have much to celebrate lately, so even though this is coming out a day late, I wanted to post anyway.

I am celebrating Family:

  • A week ago, my niece got married, and it brought our entire family together. Our oldest daughter came in from DC, and our youngest daughter chose to spend the nights before and after the wedding at our house, even though she has her own apartment here in town. As a mom, I celebrated that we were all together as a family.
I am celebrating Friends:
  • A close friends' daughter got married yesterday. Even though the day itself was cold and gloomy, the gathering of friends as we celebrated this young couple was a gift. We ate, drank, cried at the father's toast to his daughter and her new husband, danced the night away and laughed. As dancers, we might not look that great, but we sure did have fun -- so much fun that several times, friends of the bride and groom joined our dancing group.  And laughter - what a gift!!  I can't remember the last time I laughed for that many hours on end.
I am celebrating Colleagues:
  • I took on a new role this year, transitioning from the 5th grade classroom to becoming an intermediate literacy coach in 4 of our district's buildings.  My learning curve has been huge, as I now work with adults all day. But similarly to working with students, the satisfaction of helping a colleague scaffold from one learning place to the next is huge cause for celebration.  In addition, I work with 7 other literacy coaches in our district, as well as our brilliant leader.  These women keep me grounded, help guide me into best practices with adult learning, and more importantly, make me laugh.  Every day, I celebrate that these women are now a huge part of my professional life.
I hope you had some thing(s) to celebrate this week. To see what others were celebrating, head on over to Ruth's blog, where she so generously hosts this Celebration event each Saturday.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Choice in Summer Reading

As I join this Sunday Series about Summer Reading, it is only fair to let you know that while I am currently a literacy coach, I taught 5th grade for the past ten years.  I share this information because summer reading is not a topic with which I had to deal.

However, in recent years, I made it a personal crusade to make sure my students, who all embraced reading while in my classroom during the school year, continued their reading lives once they left fifth grade for the summer, where weeks of doing nothing but what they wanted appeared quite delightful to some.

The last week of reading workshop became the time we planned for what our summer reading would be like.  Much like having a 40 Book Challenge (Donalyn Miller) during the school year, for a variety of reasons, students might not be able to achieve everything listed as a goal on their summer reading plan.  That's okay because I knew that having the plan might just be the kickstart they needed to keep reading, rather the end result is two, ten, or thirty books completed.  It beat the number zero every time!

When we developed our plans, we spent time looking at a variety of reading possibilities:

  • the new book release calendar that John Schumaker kindly curates so that they could plan to read new books from favorite authors or series
  • books that were so popular in our class they just didn't get their hands on them
  • rereads of some of our read-alouds
  • online reading
  • audio book reading
  • magazine and newspaper reading
  • trying a genre they had never read before
  • fun, easy on the brain, books
  • the book they chose from the 6th grade summer reading list
The list went on and on.  As students developed their own summer reading plan, tailored just for them by them, I could see the ownership they had in their reading.  Students knew their likes and dislikes, and were basing their summer reading plan on that information.

But here's the thing - because those students moved on to middle school, a new building where I didn't see them, I'm not aware of how those reading plans fared.  It would be wonderful to have a district plan where, each year, we all had students create summer reading plans for themselves, and then had the conversation of how they did with those plans at the beginning of the school year as we begin to learn about our new groups of readers.  Wouldn't the knowledge based on that type of conversation be incredibly helpful at knowing students' reading interests and abilities?

When reading is assigned for the summer, I worry about the readers who do not have the tools to be able to access an understanding of the text.  It is the same argument for why I believe read aloud is a critical part of a child's literacy day - it levels the playing field for those who might not be able to read the text on their own, but if I read it aloud, they can share in the contextual thinking along with everyone else.

Teaching, and in this case teaching literacy, is an art.  So, is it fair to ask students lacking in those skills needed to understand a text, to read something "above their understanding" during the summer?  Wouldn't it better to wait until we could use our "artistry" of teaching to best help them scaffold and understand a piece of literature?

I've rambled a bit today; I apologize.  I do think this is an important conversation to have, and I am thrilled that Lee Ann started it now as she is reflecting on the summer reading her students did.  It could help guide all of us to a better understanding of what are the best practices when it comes to summer reading.  To read more about what others are saying around this topic, check out Lee Ann's blog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Boom Snot Twitty - #IMWAYR

With a title like Boom Snot Twitty, I'm not sure I need to write a lot more about why I loved this book, but I can't resist.

I was at our public library, and this lovely gem was sitting on the new picture book shelves.  I picked it up for the title and the darling characters illustrated on the front cover, but as I read the book, I realized it had huge potential in the classroom.

Boom Snot Twitty is the story of three friends who are incredibly different in the choices they make in similar circumstances.  Boom is a bear, Twitty is a bird, and Snot is a snail.  Fun with alliteration right off the bat!

But then understanding characters - wow!  This book could carry you far in thinking about that standard with students.  I once heard Dorothy Barnhouse say that when teaching complex ideas and thinking, it is best to start with a simple text and build skills, and then work to applying those complex ideas and thinking with more complex texts.  For that reason, I knew this simple picture book would be perfect in the intermediate classrooms in which I work.

The 3rd grade common core standard, RL.3.3 says: 
"Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events."

The 4th grade common core standard, RL.4.3 says:
"Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions)."

The 5th grade common core standard, RL.5.3 says:
"Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact)."

Boom Snot Twitty is a perfect introductory text for all three of these standards.  It is a simple text that will allow 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade readers to access each of them.  Describing characters - check.  Describe in depth a character, drawing on specific details in the text - check.  Compare/contrast two or more characters, drawing on specific details in the text - check.

This is a book I will be both purchasing and recommending to all intermediate grade teachers.

But before I order, I will be reading all the other posts at Jen Vincent's blog, Teach Mentor Texts, to see what other people read and loved this week.  Thanks so much to her for hosting the Kidlit version of #IMWAYR meme.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reflections on Summer Reading

Recently, my husband and I made a trip from our home in Ohio to visit our eldest daughter in Washington, D.C.  The route we chose took us through the beautiful mountains on I-68 in western Maryland.  There were many up-slopes and down-slopes to navigate as we drove through those mountains.

We noticed that there were not as many semi-trucks on this route as on I-70.  I'm sure there are multiple reasons that is true, but my husband and I began to reflect on the toll the inclines seemed to be taking on the trucks.

When we were driving on an incline, oftentimes the interstate went from two lanes to three lanes, because the trucks seemed to slow to a crawl at times, carrying their loads upward and they needed their own lane.  It was a very laborious process for the trucks; sometimes you could even hear engines "screaming" in protest.

On the downhill slopes, it was another story.  The trucks would begin to pick up speed, and start flying down the hills.

When Lee Ann sent an all-call out last week because she was beginning to reflect on what was happening in classrooms around summer reading, the pictures of those trucks immediately came to mind.

Like most readers, when a text is required of me (and I'm not invested in that requirement), I move pretty darn slow.  I begin to exhibit many avoidance strategies, and my movement through the required text is as slow as those trucks we watched in western Maryland.

However, if the choice is mine, I am flying through the reading.  In the summer, I always have a huge pile of books from the library and I am a carnivore of books - reading all types, quickly jumping from one to the other.

The week before school, I ran into one of my students from last year and her mother.  This student was a voracious reader; she was always reading and had a "to-be-read" pile at all times.  When I asked her what she read this summer, she listed multiple titles, and was very excited about all of them.  But her ending remark was the one that bothered me and the reason I decided to dust off my part of this blog, and post a few things on this Sunday Series about Summer Reading.  The student said she had started her chosen book (out of a list of 4) for her sixth grade summer reading requirement multiple times, but she just wasn't enjoying it, and couldn't seem to get past page 50.  The book she chose is one I love a great deal - I know it's a good book, and she would like it if it had been her choice.  However, she became like one of those trucks - she was struggling to get up the hill of an assigned summer reading.

I truly appreciate the thinking and effort that went into creating the different summer reading lists for our district's middle school; some of the people that helped create these lists are very smart colleagues of mine.  The books they chose are good titles, and most will provide thoughtful discussion around a common story line.  And they did create choice for summer reading - the soon-to-be 6th graders had to read at least 1 book of choice as well as 1 book from the list of 4.

Yet, all that being said, this voracious reader I know, is left feeling frustrated that she can't complete a required text.  As someone who encouraged her love of reading, I worry about that.  Should she be thinking more about the 1 text she didn't complete, or the 30 books she did read over the summer?

I do believe students should be reading - A LOT -  during the summer.
I do believe there is a perfect time for students to share and study a book as an entire class.
I'm just not sure the place to start that study is in the summer.

Now that Lee Ann encouraged me to dust off the blog, I'll be back with some further reflections next  Sunday.  As truth in advertising, I should mention that as an elementary teacher, summer reading isn't a topic with which I had to deal in my classroom.  However, as a parent of children who had required summer reading, I did have an opinion.  But, I will be interested to see how others who are invested in this topic year in and year out, such as middle and high school teachers, weigh in on this topic.  For more of these reflections, head over to Lee Ann's blog, Portable Teacher, to read today's reflections.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Musings - August 12

I have really been thinking about my online presence lately.  In June and the first of July, I was online a great deal, specifically tweeting about amazing learning opportunities.  Then, on July 16, the day after I did some work in Illinois, I stopped most of my professional online activity cold.

For almost a month now, my online presence has found me focused on mostly the social aspect of Facebook, staying caught up with friends' lives, and every once in a while, reading or bookmarking a professional article of interest.

I've missed the last two #titlechats, which is unheard of for me.  I haven't written a blog post, but I have been writing and composing many other pieces.  I didn't even participate in #PB10for10 today.

I think after the flurry of professional activity in June and the beginning of July, I needed to step back, and enjoy some "me" time; I needed time to refresh and renew.  So in the last month, I've read more fun adult books than I can ever share here :), I've spent quality time with my husband, we carved out time to go to DC to visit our eldest, I've taken up knitting again, planned and remodeled two of our bathrooms, and spent much time with friends.  It's been a great summer.

But now it's time to come back professionally.

Last night I participated in my first twitter chat of the summer with the #TWTblog ladies and many other smart educators.  It was incredibly energizing, and has me excited to work with teachers in my new role as literacy coach thinking about writing workshop.  It felt good to be back and having dialogue about important topics.

This week will be a busy one professionally: I will spend time setting up the office I will share with other coaches in one of my buildings, and will also have one more day of coaches' training.  In addition, there are many professional books and articles which still have to be read.  I may even write a belated #PB10for10 post.

And next Sunday, August 17, at 8:00 PM I have the privilege of co-hosting the #nctechat with Lee Ann Spillane.  Our topic will be Building Classroom Community.  What a perfect topic to think about at the beginning of a new school year.

It was wonderful to take a break, but I'm delighted to join my online professional communities again.

Thanks to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers for hosting us on Tuesdays for Slice of Life.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

She's a Teacher Now

For as long as I can remember, our daughter Meredith, has wanted to be a teacher.  I've said here before, she has the thing that can't be taught, she gets kids, so I know she'll be a good one.  Now, her dream has been realized, she accepted a position in Immokalee, Florida, just east of Fort Myers to teach first grade.  We'll be moving her this weekend, and she starts on the following Thursday with the rest of the new teachers in Collier County.  It's bittersweet.  While we are very proud of Meredith and her accomplishments, she's moving 17 hours away and we will miss her, but as parents, that's what we want, we want to raise them with the confidence to chase their dreams and to be happy.  Meredith is doing both and through the tears, the Lovely Mrs. Prosser and I are smiling.

It's given me time to think about what I would tell a first year teacher if they asked, and since not many ask, this is as good a place as any to put my thoughts down.  Feel free to add to my list if you have some valuable piece of advice for a new teacher. 

Respect the experienced teachers.  I don't mean you have to do everything they tell you, but really listen and value their advice.  They know things and even though you may not agree with everything they say, or want to do it exactly how they do, their advice can save you lots of frustration and stress and may save you some time.

Don't live at the school, the job will be there tomorrow.  Work hard, give your school and kids everything you got, but don't forget to take time for yourself.  Balance is key and if you don't have it, you'll burn out.

Be involved.  Over my 30 years I've called Bingo, worked carnival games, played basketball, served as an auctioneer, watched countless soccer games, basketball games, baseball games, recitals, etc.  I've learned that if your school community sees you at events that are important to them, it goes a long way to creating the credibility with parents.  An hour here and there at school events shows you care about your students as people not just faces in your classroom.

Get to know the secretaries.  We all know who runs the office.  Having these folks on your side is always a good idea.  They can get you in to see the principal if you need to, find some extra money in the budget if you need it and just make your day to day life easier if you treat them well.

Have fun.  Our job is hard work, a lot of people don't really get that, but if you don't have fun, it's a long tedious year.  Laugh, play games, sing silly songs, dance funny.  I have always felt if I can get my students to enjoy school, I can teach them anything.

Read! Read! Read!  You have to be up on the new literature so you can share it with your students.  Know the books they like and are reading, even if it's not your favorite genre, read it anyway.  You never know when a book will create that connection to a student that makes a difference.  I don't believe we can create readers if we aren't readers ourselves.

Read aloud everyday.  Find a time to read aloud just for the enjoyment of a good story.  Too many times we read books because they teach something, or reinforce a concept.  Read aloud with the purpose of just enjoying the story together that's how life long readers are created.

There are any number of professional books out there that talk about best practices but these are some things that I wish I had been told in my college classes.  These are things that aren't taught, but can make your life easier and the job more rewarding than the things taught in college.

Good luck, Meredith, I know you'll be great!