Friday, March 25, 2016

Coding, Poetry, and Failures

Here’s what I ‘m thinking about . . . the end is in sight!  There are just 50 school days remaining in the school year – 50 days in which to finish the curricular requirements, get to the end of the new math series, wrap up the science projects, and do all the paperwork!  It will go by so fast and as the weather gets better, the more difficult it becomes for our students to stay focused.  Don’t let the sense of urgency overwhelm you or your students.  Next week’s testing is a good time to plan for energizing activities that will help your students be focused, active learners.  Let me know if the coach can help!
Take a look at these books . . . The March/April issue of The Reading Teacher has a number of articles that I would love to share but one in particular is titled “Using Coding Apps to Support Literacy Instruction and Develop Coding Literacy”.  The authors explain how the logical thinking, problem solving, planning, and sequencing required in coding activities are supportive of literacy skills development.  They are able to cite several CCSS ELA standards that are connected to coding skills.  It is an interesting article with several free resources listed.  I’ll gladly give you a copy.
     I buy a lot of books for my granddaughter, Niamh.  While I was shopping for books for her Easter basket, I was happy to see two of my favorite Little Golden Books on the bookstore shelf.  I bought both of them and can’t wait to read them to her soon.  I was curious about these wonderful books, so I went on line to find out more.  First of all, over 2 billion Little Golden Books have been sold since the 1940’s and The Poky Little Puppy was the best selling children’s book of the 20th century – almost 15 million copies sold.  Many authors and illustrators that are well known for other books wrote and illustrated Little Golden Books – Ann McGovern, Garth Williams, the Provensens, Feodor Rojankovsky, Margaret Wise Brown, and James Marshall.  The impact of these books, available at grocery stores and “mega marts”, is huge – most us know and love a title or two and so do our children.  Niamh and I are going to enjoy reading her copy of I am Bunny and The Golden Egg Book!
Coach’s corner . . . As I get closer to the end of my teaching/coaching career, I have been reflecting on my successes and failures.  I have had a lot of both but today a failure is on my mind.   Running records are the best way to discover what readers do as they read, and therefore are the most powerful tool in our literacy toolboxes.  As a coach, I have worked with many teachers to be sure they can take running records during a reading conference as well as during the F&P testing.  I have helped teachers learn how to analyze miscues and interpret retellings and score writing about reading.  But I have failed in my work with running records when there are still teachers who can only assess reading with the F&P – they do not use other materials to assess reading growth – even when told outright to not use the F&P for the second trimester.  The F&P uses constructed text – stories crafted just for the purpose of the assessment.  Our kids read trade books, magazines, ebooks and online articles – that is their authentic reading.  We need to know how our readers work with the books they are choosing for independent reading so we need to know how to take and interpret a running record with these texts.  I have failed to help some teachers develop those critical skills and as a coach, it is a tough realization.  I can only hope is that these skills will develop with time and that the F&P will not continue to be overused.
As we work with the Common Core . . . remember that April is Poetry Month.  Many of the standards for reading literature and foundational skills for reading can be met through a study of poetry.  I have lots of books of poetry to share and I have several engaging poetry activities I can bring into your classroom – let’s talk!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Teacher Knowledge, Ireland, Workshops

Here’s what I ‘m thinking about . . . teacher knowledge.  Teacher knowledge is the understanding a teacher has about the instructional needs of her students, the benchmarks with which she can measure their progress, and the instructional practices that will help all her students succeed.  This is no small matter!  Knowing what the children can do, where they need to go, and how to get them there takes time to develop.  We can read professional texts, watch instructional video, work with colleagues or a coach, visit other classrooms – the list goes on and on.  But it is a process we must go through if we are to provide the best educational experience for our students.  Without strong teacher knowledge, we become over dependent on worksheets and commercial products that limit differentiation - worksheets are one size fits all and don’t always match the needs of our curriculum.  I am the first one to say teacher knowledge is hard to obtain and it is a never-ending process but it is clearly what is best for our students.
Take a look at these books . . . I am rereading parts of Regie Routman’s Read, Write, Lead:  Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success.  Regie Routman’s text, Invitations, was one of the texts that most influenced me when I started to explore literacy in depth.  In this newer text, the author offers advise on how to create and maintain a school wide culture that fosters more effective reading and writing across the grades.  We continue to work toward that culture and there are bits and pieces in this text that can help guide us on that journey.
      I have a copy of A True Book About Ireland by Libby Koponen that I will gladly share.  The A True Book About series has been around for a long time and they are rewriting and updating many in the series as well as creating more.  This one about Ireland has some interesting facts and wonderful photographs.  I’ll happily lend it out!
Coach’s corner . . . One of the many things I will miss as I retire is the opportunity to attend the wonderful workshops sponsored by the Maine Comprehensive Literacy Partnership.  This fall there are going to be two great ones so put them on your calendar now.  On August 17th, Lester Laminack will return to UMaine to share his wisdom and insight and on September 28, Laura Robb will once again share her expertise in working with readers and writers.  It is exciting to have both of these presenters return.  I’ll have flyers with more information soon.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Kindergarten, Reading Assessment, and Elephant & Piggie

Here’s what I ‘m thinking about . . . end of the second trimester reading levels.  It is so important to monitor the progress of our readers on a regular basis but when teachers use just the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmarking Assessment to do so, they erode the effectiveness of that system.  The Assessment System is our measure for meeting the end of the year benchmark, not the measure of weekly progress.  Teachers should be using other leveled text to monitor a reader’s growth.  If you are using the F&P over and over with your students, you are making the texts and the comprehension conversations too familiar to the students and you weaken the effectiveness of the assessment for the child’s next teacher.  If you are not sure of how to use other texts for checking progress, please let me help you.  I can show you the system I use in the Reading Room and help you build your own resources for reading assessment – we can even do it on a Tuesday and count it as one of your Tuesday meetings.  Let’s do what is best for kids.
Take a look at these books . . . It is no secret that I am an avid fan of Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie series.  They are delightful, quick and easy reads about the antics of Gerald the Elephant and his friend Piggie.  But they really go much deeper than the surface story.  There is always a lesson about friendship, problem solving, or cooperation to find between the lines.  Read them to older students to initiate conversations about deeper level comprehension.  Talk about how the illustrations enhance the story (CCSS Reading Literature Standard 7).  Have students write their own Elephant and Piggie stories.  The possibilities are endless.
     Below is a link to the Maine Comprehensive Literacy Partnership’s first newsletter.  My coaching training was through this partnership.  This informative letter tells you a little about the Partnership and some of the accomplishments of the staff and coaches.  They are a pretty impressive group and I am proud to be a part of this organization.
Coach’s corner . . . I have been visiting two of our Kindergarten classrooms this past week or two.  What amazing places these classrooms are.  The children have grown so much since the beginning of the year and as I listen for the language of learning in their talk, I hear them using the terms their teachers model every day.  I watched two boys working with a word family and as they searched for beginning sounds to add to make new words, they went through the alphabet chart on the wall.  It was truly a serious study about letters and sounds as they tried each sound out in turn and then decided whether or not they had created a real word.  When they got to Z, one turned to the other and said, “That’s it, we used up all the letters.”  What a solid beginning for future word study and vocabulary exploration.  These young learners are off to a great start!

As we work with the Common Core . . . this is a good time to scan the standards.  As they are end of the year expectations, it will give you a good idea of how close your students are to meeting the standards and what instruction and practice might be needed to insure success.  There are so many quick and easy to read standards lists for you to use.  Most of you have some sort of checklist that you can skim and scan to monitor achievement – if you need one for reading or writing – just let me know and I’ll get one to you.  This is one of the best times of year for teaching and learning – we have a good long uninterrupted span of time between vacations.  Let’s take advantage of these next several weeks.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Grammar, Reflection and Grandbabies

Here’s what I ‘m thinking about . . . time!  I think a lot about time this year as I am experiencing a lot “last times”, but the time I am thinking about today is the halfway point in the school year.  We passed that point last week and now it’s a good opportunity to think about where we’ve been and where we are headed in weeks and months remaining.  Take a few moments to reflect on all the accomplishments of the first half of the year.  Celebrate how your students have fallen into the routines and practices of your classroom.  Celebrate their successes as readers and writers and mathematicians.  A lot of hard work has resulted in strong student growth.  Next, think about where your students need to go next.  If you are feeling a time crunch (I think every teacher does at some time or another), sketch out on a big sheet paper what you have left to accomplish this year.  It can be overwhelming but a visual display can also help you plan accordingly.  Let your coach know if you need someone to chat with about next steps.  Some planning now may save you from a bigger time crunch later on.
Take a look at these books . . . The January/February issue of The Reading Teacher has a great article about teaching grammar.  The authors give a brief history of grammar instruction and make a very valid point when they say that teaching grammar is difficult for many younger teachers because they may not have experienced grammar instruction as elementary students themselves.  They also give three principles for implementing grammar instruction that are good advice.   Let me know if you’d like a copy of the article and as always, your literacy coach has some good resources for grammar instruction as well.
     First Mothers by Beverly Gherman and Julie Downing is a fascinating collection of mini-biographies about the U. S. presidents’ mothers.  It would be a terrific mentor text for writing biography – each entry is short and to the point.  The history is also fascinating and could be a good study of change in society over time.  Another great use for this text is to explore the adjectives used to describe each mother.  They are all titled as “The Flamboyant Mother”, “The Adventurous Mother”, “The Determined Mother”, and so on.  A close reading activity could be to read the biography and find evidence for the adjective.  (Grammar instruction!!) I got this wonderful book in our school library – take a look!
Coach’s corner . . . I was fortunate to spend a day with area coaches this month in the Milo Elementary School.  I love these visits because we go into classrooms and talk with teachers about teaching and learning.  I always see something that I want to share with the teachers at OTES.  Perhaps you already use this technique but I had never thought of it before.  When the students glued papers into their journals, they used the glue sticks to write the numbers 1-10 or all the vowels or their names and so on.  What a wonderful way to have added practice with writing and to not have a “glue monster” use up a whole stick on one paper.  I wish I had known about this earlier in my career!!
     A great deal of my coaching this month has been “on the run”.  I have great conversations with teachers and then follow up with resources and/or classroom visits.  I love being that kind of coach as it seems to fit many teachers’ needs.  Don’t hesitate to stop me in the hallway if you have a question or concern I can help you with.
As we work with the Common Core . . . keep in mind that the standards are end of the year benchmarks.  They are goals for May and June and there is still plenty of time for your students to reach those goals.  Now is a good time to take another look at the standards and reflect on what you’ve accomplished and what lies ahead – remember the literacy coach can help!
One last thing . . . I can’t resist sharing a picture of my beautiful new granddaughter.  She was born on December 29th and I was in Toledo for her birth.  Her name is Niamh Dorothy Irene.  She already has a bookshelf filled with wonderful books and I read Chicka Chicka Book Boom to her when she was just two days old.  (She didn’t stay awake long enough before that!)


Friday, December 18, 2015

Reading Workshop, Scaffolds, and Data

Here’s what I ‘m thinking about . . . I’m wondering if all the teachers of my students know what happens in The Reading Room.  Because my work is supplemental to the classroom teacher and it does not take the place of classroom instruction, it’s important that everyone understands what we do in here!  Three times a day, I have a Reading Workshop.  I follow the classic workshop format with a mini lesson to start – usually connected to a read aloud.  Right now I am reading a novel called Backyard Dragon by Betsy and Sam Sterman.  I read a bit and then we have a conversation about what was read.  I use the CCSS standards for reading to guide my mini lessons and the conversations we have.  After the lesson, the children read independently and I use the time to record what they are reading, do running records, and meet with small groups.  At the end of our time together, we have a quick debrief about the mini lesson or the strategies I noticed readers using.  I built in the flexibility for children to attend any one of the three workshops so I don’t miss them when there are special events in the classrooms.  One thing I do not do is Fountas and Pinnell assessments – that is a task for the classroom teacher.  When I do a running record (and I do one for each child about every three weeks) I use leveled trade books from my classroom collection.  If you’d like to visit and watch us in action, stop by for any of the scheduled workshops – 8:15 – 9:00, 10:00 – 10:45, and 1:00-1:45.
Take a look at these books . . .The K-12 Literacy Team just read The Construction Zone:  Building Scaffolds for Readers and Writers by Terry Thompson.  One quote sums up the whole text – “Effective instructional scaffolds require teachers who are reflective about their role in the scaffolding process and are intentional about their movements within it.” (pg.11).  There are some great sections of this text that will support your work with readers and writers.  Let me know if you’d like some scaffolding about scaffolding and I’ll happily provide some assistance.
     I am always buying books (!) and this summer I found some great ones at a little rural library book sale.  Among them was a 1954 treasure called The Christmas Book.  It was published by the Child Study Association, so it has controlled vocabulary and is a great source for material to build fluency.  It’s a fun look back at simpler time – it’s almost as old as me!
Coach’s corner . . . I wrote earlier this year about the new format for coaching I am practicing.  It involves looking at student data, finding a goal for improving student performance, making a plan for instruction, and working together in a variety of ways to help the students grow.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it – that’s what Standard 12 is all about!  I’d love to try out this new process after the Christmas break.  If there is something you’d like to gather data about and then provide instruction to help the students grow, let me know!
As we work with the Common Core . . . here is a link to a resource for the Listening and Speaking Standards.  I placed a document listing a number of different resources in the Instructional Resources folder on Google – it is in the general links section.  This site is just loaded with activities and you can search by standard for each grade level.  It was the most helpful of all the links I listed in my document.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Reading Assessments, Tableaux, and Pilgrims

Here’s what I ‘m thinking about . . . reading assessments, of course.  I have had so many conversations recently about them, I think about them a lot!  One thing I wonder is about the information we get from each assessment – are we using the information to guide our instruction?  The reason the assessments are to be given by the classroom teacher is so the teacher can hear the child read aloud and record information that will guide further instruction.  Sometimes we focus so much on getting the right level or getting all the numbers recorded, we forget to analyze what we are discovering.  We become more effective teachers when we know in great detail how our readers read. 
Take a look at these books . . . I have so many books about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony, it is hard to choose one to write about, so instead I’ll share the link to the wonderful series of videos created by Scholastic.  They would be an informative addition to a study of the Pilgrims, the Wampanoag, and the Feast.  Check it out -
     There is a very interesting article in the recent issue of The Reading Teacher. In  “Showing, Not Telling:  Tableau as an Embodied Text” by Margaret Branscombe, the author writes about using the technique of creating tableaux to show understanding of informational text.  We often think about the tableau as a great way to picture narratives – I used to use it with Charlotte’s Web when I taught fourth grade.  When used with informational text, key concepts and main ideas are illustrated – giving the teacher a quick check for understanding.  I’d love to see this activity in action.  If you’d like a copy of the article, let me know, and if you’d like to try it out – please invite me in to see how it goes!
Coach’s corner . . . The reading benchmark assessments seem to be going well, even with the usual bumps in the road.  It has been a powerful learning experience to read the writing about reading samples I have seen.  A child can sum up the whole story in a single sentence or with labels in a drawing.  I look forward to sharing them as a grade level team and looking for exemplars as well as trends.  Our students continue to amaze me every day!  (3-5 teachers – please remember to send me the benchmark data – if you need an electronic copy of the recording sheet – let me know.  As I now put the information into Filepro, I need all the elements of the assessment.)
As we work with the Common Core . . . we need to think about the variety of reading materials and situations we provide for our students.  The CCSS specifically mentions drama and poetry as part of grade level span reading.  Does your class read poetry as part of the regular routine?  What kinds of plays and choral readings are you using?  In order for our children to have the skills necessary to read such material successfully, we need to provide modeling and practice on a regular basis.  I have several sources for plays, readers’ theater, and choral readings if you need some ideas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Pilgrims, Teacher Talk, and the CCSS

Here’s what I ‘m thinking about . . . Standard 4 of the Listening and Speaking standards is about making an oral presentation – tell a story, describe a place or event, or report on information gathered through research.  How does that look in your classroom?  What opportunities do your students have to report orally rather than in writing?  Think about such opportunities with the work you will do in the weeks ahead.  Perhaps you can combine this task with Standard 5 that is about using illustrations to add information to the talk and/or making oral recordings.  Years ago, oral presentation and recitation were a regular part of teaching and learning and the CCSS is asking us to bring these skills back to our classrooms.
Take a look at these books . . . In 1939, Margaret Wise Brown edited and published Homes in the Wilderness:  A Pilgrim’s Journal of Plymouth Plantation in 1620 (reprinted in 1988).  She used a journal kept by William Bradford, Edward Winslow and others to tell the story of the Pilgrim’s first year in the New World.  This first person narrative of the first four months is a wonderful addition to a text set about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony.   The editor changed some of the King James English to more modern form but the journal entries are true to the originals.  I am happy to lend it to you.
     I have been researching a couple of topics in writing and I returned to the work of Nancy Atwell.  I know Lucy Caulkins’ Units of Study are the current  hot topic but there is a lot to learn from Nancy Atwell’s work, too.  As I was watching videos of Nancy conferring with writers, I came across this video from PBS Newshour.  Nancy was interviewed after receiving the Global Teacher of the Year award last year.  If you didn’t see the original broadcast, it’s worth watching and listening to her ideas about teaching and learning.
Coach’s corner . . . One of the joys of being a coach is the opportunity to be on the move in the building.  My classroom visits take me upstairs and down and I get to listen to a great deal of teacher talk.  I often write about teacher talk in this blog because it is one of the most powerful tools we have as educators and it can do the most good as well as the most harm.  There many colleagues in the building I admire.  One teacher never lets her voice rise in pitch or volume and she talks her students through the most difficult situations with a soothing voice that lets the child know she cares about him but he needs to learn from the interaction.  Another teacher uses humor to keep all the children engaged and responsive to the teaching.  A third greets each child at the classroom door in the morning with a personal bit of conversation that welcomes each one to the school day.
     I also hear talk that is not so welcoming and I am reminded of how our words, tone, and volume send clear messages to our students.  Children react to negative talk in a variety of ways and I often think of Maya Angelou’s wonderful quote “ I may not remember what you say to me, but I will always remember how you made me feel”.  Be thinking about how your words make a child or the whole class feel.

As we work with the Common Core . . . you just have to read Timothy Shanahan’s article “What Teachers Should Know About Common Core:  A Guide for the Perplexed” from The Reading Teacher.   This is some no nonsense advise about how to respond to parents’ and community members’ questions about the CCSS.  The media has used the Common Core to make all kinds of misinformed statements about the state of education and teaching in the US.  This article sets the record straight.  If you’d like a copy, let me know.