Friday, March 6, 2015

Intermediate - Professional Development with Lucy Calkins

Compiled by Lynn Zollinger, Kara Permuy, Dorry Lopez-Sinclair, Jennifer Scarola, Christy Constande and Denise Evanko

     It was validating and informative to listen to Lucy Calkins speak about education.  Her primary focus was writing, but she spoke of how reading and writing go hand in hand.  Both must be taught rigor and fidelity.  Writing should be taught first thing in the morning as it is the most rigorous subject.
     "Writers grow like oak trees in the process of time." To be a good writer, it takes time.  However, there is an urgency to writing instruction.  They should be writing at least two pages a day in the intermediate classrooms.  At the beginning of the year, a writer's fluency is more important than their ideas.   The intermediate classrooms want to develop a culture of "working hard" and "fast and furious" writing.   Lucy mentions that in her writing units, bends three and four are more advanced.  Bend three is the reading and writing connection and bend four is publishing to a higher level.
     Conferencing is the key for students to push their writing ability along.  Lucy states that an effective conference should begin with listening to the writer, asking the writer a question, complimenting the student and giving a next step or tip.  She suggests "dotting the room" by going and being by a writer at their seat so that the other children hear the conversation and can learn the teaching tip that was suggested. 
     Writing partnerships should not be ability based, but diverse.  Student A should share with student B daily.  Compliments should flow freely.  Teachers should hold a child's writing like it is gold.  When a child shares their writing with an audience, it encourages them to care more about their writing. 
     As teachers, we must make a promise to our students that writing instruction will teach students to sort, analyze, evaluate, connect and apply all that they have learned so that they can become strong writers. 


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Outgrowing Yourself as a Reader - Lucy Calkins

I was so fortunate to be accepted to return to the Summer Reading Institute this month at Teachers College in NY.  It is truly so inspiring and packed with learning it supports my entire year as a literacy coach as well as grows my personal knowledge and understanding of literacy.   And there is no better way to start the week than a keynote by Lucy Calkins.

So much of what she says I cannot capture in words but I thought it important to share the gist of her message and there is just no way to paraphrase it.  Much of this is direct quote.  It's a message that never occurred to me.  Which is how I know it will really change the way I look at my teaching and learning... and reading this year!  I hope it resonates with you as well.

You know that song, “I Hear the Earth Move, Under My Feet...”?  What times these are in education! Times of pressure, times of intensity,...
We live in an information age. Technological knowledge doubles every 2 days. All that knowledge is at kids’ fingertips. It used to be the teacher’s job to convey knowledge to the uniformed, to carry crucial content... and now anyone can access any information with one click.  The teacher’s job therefore is to no longer deliver the information because information is like air, it’s everywhere!  The job now is to help kids actively construct coherent meaning from the deluge of information.  As literacy educators, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Some people think our work revolves around helping kids tackle more complex texts, and it’s true that some of things that were expected at the end of fourth grade are now expected at the middle of second grade. And those expectations of course, build over the years. But the far bigger challenge is that kids are expected to read with incredibly high levels of comprehension and to write with enormous skill.  The challenges in today’s world does require the lift in expectations. After all, this generation will be the ones to figure out how to keep New York City and other coastal cities from being damaged by floods that are sure to come and other world calamities and illnesses...

The most important thing I can say today is that study after study shows that YOU ARE  what makes the difference in students and achievement.  And I’m worried about this country, I’m worried that this nation is trying to accelerate student achievement by spending seven and a half million on tests and seven and a half million on the technology for those tests and saving nothing for teachers.

The first thing I want to suggest, is that to lift the level of your teaching you need to work on your own reading. I would like this institute to be a turning point for you as a reader.  Come to the institute thinking I’m going to gather knowledge and I’m going to really work on my reading, I’m going to reach for more. I’m going to try to outgrow myself as a reader. You might be thinking you don’t really need to work on your reading. Yet at the start of every writing institute most of us resolve to improve our writing and do get goose bumps at the prospect of writing.  Because we realize….there is writing and there is writing…. we know that writing better as a writer is demanding, deeply personal and intellectual work.  But I want to suggest that if you think of reading well as merely getting the words right, or following the plot or figuring out the theme of the story then you are teaching a reading that is unimagined.  If learning to read well is kid stuff, that will show in what you do.  The kids will learn that learning to read better is kid stuff and teachers just bribe and trick kids into doing it and that in real life skilled readers don’t think about what they read and don’t work on outgrowing themselves as readers.  But you can say to yourself today, “I’m going to try to outgrow myself as a reader. To set goals and to work deliberately toward those goals.” If you do that you can become a reading mentor for your kids and your colleagues. The thing is…to get better as a reader takes resolving to do so. 

Malcolm Gladwell says that to become an expert at anything takes ten thousands hours of practice.  The problem is that it takes ten thousand hours of deliberate practice.  No matter what it is you are trying to get better at it’s not practice makes perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect. Deliberate practice makes perfect.

So let me ask you, for how many years of your life have you been reading?  And for how many of those years have you been deliberately working at outgrowing yourself as a reader?  What is the shape of your learning curve as a reader?  My suggestion is to resolve to accelerate your curve. 


My initial reaction to this message was hmmm, let me think about that.  I don't know if I can outgrow myself as a reader!  I mean, if you know me you know that I am an obsessive reader.  I read while drying my hair in the morning, while waiting for my kids at dance/soccer, every evening before bed and anytime I get the chance. I even "time myself out" from reading when I have other things to get done!

And I get that I can be a "plot junkie" rushing through to what will happen next...but learning that about myself has made me a bit more reflective and this last year I have slowed down and tried to look at my reading through different lenses. 

So how to improve now?  Because Lucy says if I am not learning I cannot model and be the best reading teacher I can be!  Mentally I am stopping and rereading to ponder things that would have previously slipped through my mind.  I am actively trying to build theories and determine author intention through text evidence (instead of personal experience).  I'm trying to actively keep my ideas within the text.  Does that make sense?  It might not sound like much but it has really changed my reading!

Will you be outgrowing yourself as a reader this year?  I would love to hear what you will be doing!

Cross posted at Once Upon a Teacher

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Learning from Lucy - Part Two of Two

As the Literacy Coach here at Chets Creek Elementary, I have been fortunate enough to hear Lucy speak a few times.  Each time is different, powerful and packed with so many tidbits that I cannot ever manage to capture in notes.  Each and every one of the teachers' notes that were shared in the previous post were much more coherant than the notes I manage to capture. I have learned to audio record and spend hours savoring over the audio.  Since so much of this is completely Lucy's words it is in italics.  Please enjoy learning from her as I do:

Lucy answers teacher questions during break
Units of Study:  Implementing Rigorous, Coherent Writing Curriculum
Lucy Calkins

Lucy talks a lot about how we convey the information we learn, as teachers or staff developers. You listen differently for each and …

I need you to be storytellers to others, because the information about writing needs to be told. Who could have ever predicted these changes in education? Who could have ever imagine that tests would be developed where we were told that two-thirds of our third graders would be labeled failures…and that is the plan. This has happened in New York City.  And the people leading that, do they understand what it is like for an EIGHT year old to be told that the big official important label for you is failure.  In times of your life when you were called a failure, what that does to your dedication, your sense of power.  It is debilitating.  And we are grown ups!

And even though today is about writing, I just wanna say about the common core:  It may well become the makeshift Titanic that goes down. This big and grand thing that goes down because of a fatal flaw.  The flaw will be implementation.  Part of the flaw is that people are trying to tell us how to implement the common core. And the people who are telling us are nuts! I mean, I am so committed to helping kids move toward reading more complex texts.  That IS the really huge work.  We are NOT going to get there by getting on the strict diet of texts they can’t read.  It’s just not gonna happen so these people that think you can only discuss text based questions. I wanna ask, “Have you ever been in a school?”  “Have you ever tried to engage a kid?” You can’t talk about the learner?  Dave Coleman, who calls himself the author of the common core literally is quoted online as saying, “What kids need to learn is no one gives a s_ _ _ about you.”  It’s quoted!  It’s all over the internet!  Really?  If you even just read the business stuff about how to make people work harder in business and one of the first things is creating a culture where everyone knows that every person matters.  And we are supposed to tell kids no one cares and devise a curriculum that reflects that.  I’m not saying common core, I’m saying what some are doing in the name of common core. 

Well, we are here to talk about writing.  Let me start by saying the world has begun to pay attention to writing.  There’s a good reason for that.  One is the common core.  But you should not institute any change in your school because of the common core.  You have to institute changes in your school that you believe will enable your kids.  That will take them toward being more powerful and build a stronger community.  There are so many mandates you can’t possibly do them all.  I was talking to Mike Fullen who says, “Over decades of work in school reform I am convinced that one of the most critical problems in our schools is not resistance to innovation but the fragmentation, overload and incoherence the results from teachers and principals adopting too many innovations in an adhoc, superficial way.”  Mike has been studying school reform for years.  Doug Reeves says that innovations adopted to a low or medium degree of fidelity show no results.  They do not lead to improving achievement at all.  It’s only innovations that are adopted with a high degree of fidelity that impact achievement.  It’s like me saying I was on a diet before and after I had that muffin.  That muffin made all the difference when it showed up.  You can see what it does to a diet.  That’s low implementation.  We need to think of ourselves as investors.  People come at us with all this stuff and we have to make decisions.  Warren Buffett says, “What’s my secret as an investor?  My ability to say no. You say yes to the things that are exactly right.” 

I hope today that you will say YES to the serious reform of teaching writing. I’m not interested in you doing writing workshop poorly.  It will make sure it doesn’t work. 

Why is writing such a big deal now?  Technology has made sure that we are all living and breathing writing.  We write as we drive, we wake up writing, we go to bed writing.  560 websites are being developed every minute.  60% of companies have blogs.  The fact that everyone is writing all the time means that everyone has a voice in a way that they never had.  The internet has given the lowly citizen a microphone.

It used to be that it mattered if you had knowledge.  Now you can google them faster than your memory.  Having knowledge is no longer a big deal.  It’s being able to synthesize, organize and talk back to knowledge and writing is great for that. In this day of accountability one of the most profound changes we have to go through is that how the kids do is how we do.  In learning writing, we have a kind of contract with kids.  We say, if you work hard your product will get better in 2 weeks.  If you listen to what I say and do your best….actual visible growth in your work. You should see the difference in dramatic visible ways.  When kids do what you say in writing you should see the difference right away.  And the kids see it and they see what it means to be a successful “learner”.  That’s why this is such a powerful subject to teach. 

When I work with states or cities or towns, I usually begin with what is the bill of rights you give your kids in the teaching of writing.  The non-negotiables every teacher buys into.  New kids come to your class and what is the promise to your kids? It has to be reasonable that everyone would do.
#1 Writing is a subject taught every day K-5 in other words, the kids are literally producing a volume of writing every day.  Kids will never write well if they never write LONG. 
#2 Kids should know what they are working on: personal narrative, song, poem, nonfiction.  They need to know the genre of their writing so they know what they are trying to do.  All of the authors and texts in your classroom are teachers as well.  Kids need to have author celebrations over and over.  It changes their perception if they have “readers” of their writing.  Writing for readers transforms the whole enterprise of writing.  Words on a page made a nation!   Kids need to understand that words can make something as big as anything they can imagine.  Words matter.
#3 Ways to get their work published.  Explicit instruction matters.  Not turning down the lights and saying, “Write..”  Good writing is not in their DNA, they need instruction, modeling.
#4 Only way writing is a tool to be used across the curriculum is if they become fluent writers.  Sentences of thought not words and then paragraphs. 
#5 Relationship and Feedback accelerate achievement.   The relationship between the teacher and student is that the teacher believes the student has capacity to grow in dramatic ways.  If the teacher cannot do then the child won’t be able to do.  The learner has to have a crystal clear goal.  Observe the learner working....observe them changing with a compliment of their growth. Then show them the next step they should take. 

I don’t know the story of your lives, but if I invite you to write or share the turning points, the causes in your life…all of a sudden there is an intimacy.  Avi said -  If you’re going to teach me to write you’re going to have to love me.  John Hattie’s research shows that only two things really matter in accelerating achievement and the first thing is the relationship between teachers and students. Think of your own life and the teachers that mattered to you.  Those are the teachers that knew us!  They SEE you they GET you.  You are all writing about different things but the things I teach you can all be used in any different story.  Things that are about YOU.  The teacher must believe the student has the capacity and can outgrow themselves in dramatic ways.  So relationships are the first thing that accelerate achievement, the second is feedback.  In order for them to get good feedback, they have to have a crystal clear goal.  What their next step is from the last point of feedback… The learner notices what they are doing when you point it out (feedback point one) and then next step (feedback point two) teacher shows or takes them to someone else doing it. If it doesn’t work…the teacher needs to see what they are doing wrong.  It’s not them, it’s you. 

We have to be able to take the talent base in our school and socialize that intelligence.  We cannot all of us be best at everything.  We have to do some “things” to get a more cohesive approach in our schools. 
Structures that need to be in place
#1 Doing units together makes it cohesive, share student work
#2 Must write daily for x amount of minutes.
#3 The way a writing time goes needs to be extremely predictable. 

Health of the school depends on the white elephant in the room.  What are people talking about behind closed doors?  If you are going to add instruction, you have to say what will they not do.  There is not extra time.  But don’t waste TIME!  We used to be able to kick out social studies and science but now we can’t.  You need to talk about it.  About time and how it’s spent.  If you can’t do something, don’t skip days, skip a month.  Deep work has to be done daily. 

When kids begin writing don’t start conferring.  Move around the room first and make sure they are going.  Then small groups.  It doesn’t have to be long small group work.  It’s about pulling them out of their chairs and pointing something out and then leave them working.

* See kids thinking they are “finished” not writing....Mid lesson teaching point, “Writers, when you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.”
* Instead of turn and talk:  Turn to your neighbor and write it in the air.
* Pick and model a moment for your kids that is a moment they can relate to.  Dialogue or small action....(Common core says begin with an orienting phrase.  Don’t do that.  That comes later. Start with dialogue or small action.)
* When you read these pieces that the kids have written you have to read them like they are golden.  It makes a difference.  Taking the heart of the story and stretching it out. 
*Write with precise nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.
* Strategies for generating thoughtful entries or ideas or thought patches, take one and write it long

Essay writing strategies … think of a person that matters to you and 3 ideas and pick one and write it long.
or…idea that matters to you and 3 ideas and pick one and write it long

Writers- three ideas and write long about one  (helpful starters)
I’m realizing
for example
all in all I’m realizing
in other words
that is
the surprising thing about this is
from this day forward I’m going to
the important thing about this is
this is giving me the idea that
this connects to

The idea being helping them to reach for something where there is no words to really explain.

Information Writing
We watched a video of Amanda Hartman teaching students to get their topics down for their informational writing.  She says: “I’ll come back long and strong and write more about this later”.

Here are some tips for this genre:
* Spend extra time on structure and elaboration
* Qualities of good information writing:  write with structure but with central idea
* Text features, diagrams, ideas, captions, pop out the central idea
* A lot of books they read are off topic distractions, they need to know good authors stick to central idea
* Information and ideas, you have to ask questions and maybe you don’t have answers

Writing Pathways - in units, in all grades, we ask you to begin year as on demand writing and day after celebration of unit they do another on demand write.  You do that to see the growth.  This reminds you that you aren’t trying to improve the kid’s product, you’re trying to improve the kid. And having that starting piece is also an accountable way of saying to the child, ”Look back at that piece you did in the beginning, your writing should be worlds better!”  If you don’t do this their writing may even go down.  The on demand piece is an assessment and they know it.  They may do their best only then.  Hold them accountable to doing their best always.

When you give kids checklists you have to preach to them about checklists, toward the end of the that unit of writing.  That pilot that landed the plane on water and saved lives, he followed the emergency checklist.  Tell them that!  When babies are born, they go through a checklist of what they should show and when they don’t see it that find out what’s wrong!   Checklists are what people do when things are complicated and important and you don’t want to forget. Talk it up with them constantly.  It helps you be in charge of your own writing.  You are the boss and coach of yourself with this.  Famous, great coaches are hard on their players.  You have to be that person for yourself. 

Today is a beginning.  The teaching of writing is a big subject.  You really can’t do this alone.  Most powerful thing a school can have is a contagious learners, in the company of others. One of the easy ways to learn a unit of study is to have a teacher teach it to other teachers in 3 min of the heart of the lesson and then have them write for 5 minutes.  Great strategy.  Is your school doing to many things not well instead of less things with depth?  Innovations adopted with no fidelity have little impact. 

Professor at Harvard has popular course on Happiness.  Your happiness level, very few things affect it.  You get sick, win the lottery and you get sad and depressed but you go back to your normal level.  Very few things make people happier.  One of the only things that does increase happiness is when a small group of people with you work on a cause bigger than you.  Think about a time in education when your work was the best it’s ever been.  It probably wasn’t a time where you came in late and left early.  It’s probably a time where you and your colleagues worked harder than you have ever worked.  You had a common cause and worked for it.  If a well informed person came to you and said, ”Change or you are going to die” and most don’t change. People continue not eating well, exercising or smoking…. 20% that do make change are the people that have a support group.  The secret to having professional capital is that the building has social capital.  Not just getting together to have fun.  Plan together, visit each other’s classrooms, share student work….LEARN together.  Let’s think together and lift each other’s thinking.

Cross posted on Once Upon a Teacher

Monday, December 30, 2013

Learning from Lucy - Part One of Two

Our school was fortunate enough to be able to send our entire group of third and fourth grade writing teachers as well as our literacy coach to hear Lucy Calkins last month, here in Jacksonville, Florida.  She presented about the new Writing Units of Study and Implementing Rigorous, Coherent Writing Curriculum. 
Our photo with LUCY!!! 
     After much thought and gathering of notes from the teachers that attended I thought the best way to share what each of us walked away with by giving you the lens of the learner.... by grouping the third grade teacher take-aways, fourth grade teacher take-aways and mine (literacy coach).  I simply asked everyone to share the things that stuck out in their mind the most and what resonated most strongly with them. We had discussions in meetings about what we learned, but they did not read each other's notes.  I like that their "voice" comes through in what they shared.   Here are the teachers' thoughts:

From Jessica Shaffer:
I love Lucy !
Things I am excited about doing in my class…
Flash Draft-thought this was a great idea so they have a few options and can pick their strongest.
Have students try different leads each day and think if this is where my story goes how will it be?
Story tell their ideas-love this especially for my struggling kids-helps them get started
Mid-workshop-talk with partner-loved this idea because they get to share and they get a short break from their writing.
Bootcamp on Essay structure-I like ice cream because…
On Demand writing prompts
Write goal on every page-add stars/fireworks around goals!

From Carrie McLeod:
What an AMAZING opportunity it was to meet and hear Lucy live in person. Though I learned a million things to improve our classroom writing instruction, most are genre specific. Below I will list a few management things, learned from LC, that we want to implement across our day immediately:
1. No waiting! Our new goal is start our lessons right away and hold high standards of all learners being on the carpet ready and willing to learn ON TIME. This will include transitions within and outside of our classroom as well.
2. We want to address the wasted time at the start of our day. We are requesting that the pledge/song come on at 9:00 sharp so we can start our fluency song immediately afterward and then jump straight into Reading in the morning.
3. We always have mid-workshop teaching points, but have never thought about including a mid-workshop break to share with the learner next to you. We know peer learning is one of the most powerful, so this makes sense!
4. Since our Reading assessments are extremely lengthy, we love that Lucy gave us "permission" to just let the kids write "fast & furious" without a full lesson beforehand. The kids can now complete their assessments and immediately jump into their writing.
From Laurie Justo:
*When it comes to writing conferences, her tips were "Name what is WORKING for them as a writer and encourage it to move forward with momentum.  Then, name their next steps." This is so simple, especially when I want to fix 20 things, I will think of what she said!  Also, I saw the one of the demo lesson teachers read aloud a student's writing when conferring, so they could hear it too.  I so often, read it fast in my head to save time, but I loved watching the child listen to his teacher read his work aloud.

*She talked about how our student's writing is the best assessment of our teaching.  So true!

*I loved her idea of 'On Demand' writing before and after a genre.  Then you can really see the growth of their writing.  I have tried it before a genre but never after.  She said that it is easy for kids to add each mini lesson idea as you teach it day by day, but the true test is whether they can use what they learned and write a whole piece on their own (On Demand!).

*When she talked about time management, this really hit home for me since I feel like that is the theme of our year.  I love how she said 'if you are going to do it, do it well and in its entirety." -or something like that.  She said if you don't have time to write everyday, then take a month off and teach a genre when you can give it your all.  I know we know alot about implementing things with fidelity and consistency, but it is always a good reminder.  She mentioned how districts are so good at throwing a million little things at us that they want us to accomplish. We need to say 'if you would like for me to do that, then what would you like for me NOT to do anymore'.  This way, we can do fewer things, but do those few things in depth.

*One page of writing per day is what she recommended for building writing fluency.  She mentioned how writers need to write more VOLUME!  Writing is everywhere and a part of everything...blogging, texting, everything on the internet!

From Lindsay Hoffmann:
I left the TDE inspired and overwhelmed.  There were many reassurances that what we have done and are doing in our classroom is what our writers need, but there were also many new ideas that can be implemented to strengthen the structure and writing in our classroom.  I am eager to implement the on-demand writing assessments prior to each unit.  In the past, we had completed on-demand prompts for the county, but I really like the idea of a sample in each of the different units.  I like that it is a snapshot of a student's current skills and how Lucy said, their writing should be better than that sample everyday after.  It holds students accountable for pushing themselves as writers.  I'm also interested in the "flash drafting".  We are so used to brainstorming multiple ideas, but not actually drafting them.  Moving through several pieces will keep the work fresh and the kids inspired.  I can't wait to start our next unit!

From Jaclyn Earnest:
My biggest a-has from Friday were that we should do an on demand piece at the beginning of the unit and then again at the end of the unit to compare the two pieces of work. Also, the amount flash drafting that students should be doing in the beginning of every unit. I love both of these ideas and it did not occur to me before to try it this way. I also enjoyed watching the videos of her and her colleagues conferencing with students during the workshop. In regards to conferencing, I took away that it is not something that should happen right away. The students should all first be settled and you check in with students then start pulling to conference based on what you see. I like the way SHE read the student's piece and emphasized the parts that were on track and strategically noted the parts that needed improvement.

From Gerri Smith:
Highlights- Narrative Writing:  Seed ideas:  a person who matters, make it one time, use small moments and write it long.
                   Opinion Writing:   Think out the outline, Pick a topic, give three reason (use parts, kinds and times) to show the three reasons.
To get students to elaborate more use one of these Points:  in other words
                                                                                              that is  
                                                                                              as I say this I'm realizing
                                                                                              so all in all I'm trying to say
                                                                                              for example
                                                                                              this shows
                                                                                              another example is
                                                                                              I use to think but now realizes
                                                                                              from this day forward I'm going to
                                                                                              the surprising thing about this
Last thought is conferencing:  When kids are left trying to think of something to write pull a small group with those students.

From Cheryl Chascin:
·         Students need to know the genre they are writing.  What am I being asked to write?
·         Students need to look at the work of others in that genre.  What does this look like?  What do I know about writing this well?
·         Students need to be aware of their audience/reader.
·         The relationship between the teacher and student is one of the most important things.  The student is aware that their teacher believes they are capable of producing dramatically good work.
·         When conferencing, notice what the student is doing well, then give them a crystal clear goal as a next step, providing individualized instruction, if needed, to reach that goal.

From Jenny Nash:
You can judge a school by how many elephants are in the room.
           We’re blessed to be working at one of the best elementary schools in the nation.  But, we’re not perfect.  And for every issue we’re talking about in our classrooms, in partnerships and behind closed doors, there’s an elephant walking the halls.  Let’s make sure our writing instruction doesn’t wear a trunk and a tail, shall we?
           Let’s talk writing fluency: our writers are falling behind.  Common Core State Standards expect a level of writing fluency that the majority of our writers are not meeting.  Lucy Calkins explicitly defined writing fluency as the result of how much you write.   This means our mini-lessons need to stay mini, so our writers can hold a pen or pencil in their hand and write strong and long for thirty minutes or more every single day, reliably.  Never again should any student utter the words, “Are we going to write today?”  As teachers, we need to anticipate stamina and fluency struggles, and be prepared with strategies – mid-workshop teaching points or shares are just a few – to help our young writers stretch and push themselves and write more.
           This is a lofty goal, and it brings to mind a certain four-letter word:  TIME.  I’ve been struggling with time for years.  We have a long-standing love-hate relationship, time and I.  To this, Calkins scoffed slightly and said, “Time is life.”  We’re never going to get enough, are we?  Resource two, three, or four days a week – makes no matter.  There will never be “enough” time.  So, we need to choose, carefully and wisely, how we spend it.  Stop and reflect.  Where is your time going?  How can I run my classroom more efficiently?  How can I wrestle these ticking hands to the ground and pin them to the sticking places that I choose?  Is it in the transitions?  Am I talking too much?  Do I allow my students to interrupt my mini-lessons?  Do I need to reorganize materials routines?  It might be as simple as taking the time to talk openly with your students about these things, enlisting their help in making the classroom run more efficiently.
           “Time on task” is a basic principle of best teaching practices, but it’s more than just that.  It’s essential to a young writer.  Without time to wield their pencils and weave their own words, writers will not improve.  Not in fluency and not in craft.  Like riding a bike, playing a musical instrument, or reading a book, writing is a skill that requires doing it over and over again to “get good”.
           If that’s all writers needed, our jobs sure would be easy.  Wouldn’t they?  But, of course, that’s not all.  Another big idea Mrs. Calkins instilled in those of us in the audience was feedback.  Feedback takes many forms.  First and foremost, writing feedback comes in the form of writing conferences.  It’s easy for us to get so wrapped up in planning fantastic mini-lessons, reinventing active engagement strategies, and finding fantabulous writing tips and techniques, that we lose sight of perhaps the most powerful tool we have – writing conferences.  Calkins’s basic conferring structure has not changed since her earlier work – compliment and teach.  Begin by noticing how the writer has changed for the better and point this out to them explicitly and with great fanfare.  Celebrating even the tiniest successes with specificity and enthusiasm is essential.  Then, quickly and strategically teach them in a way that leaves them with a crystal clear goal for their writing.  Your concise instruction should be a “how-to” for their next step.
           But feedback also comes in other forms.  One of the biggest new opportunities I see in the new Units of Study kits is the assessment process.  In Writing Pathways, Calkins and her team outline an on-demand writing assessment process that will measure students’ writing by comparing their products to sets of exemplar texts, yielding a sort of developmental level for the writer.  Using on-demand prompt assessments as bookends to each unit of study, we can share with each student and their family a writers’ growth over the course of each unit and the year as a whole.  Calkins explained that adding just this one new piece to the schools with which she works has made profound impacts on both student performance and motivation.
           But feedback is only one of two major factors that affect student achievement.  The other is relationships.  Students learn best from someone they perceive as someone to be someone who truly cares about them AND has faith that they will make immense gains.  On a daily basis, we need to instill our faith in our young writers in them.  We need them to feel safe enough in our gentle, admiring hands for them to pour their heart out onto their pages.  I’ve long noticed that teaching writing workshop teaches me more about my students than any other subject.  We must make it a priority to create an environment in which our students wouldn’t think twice about writing stories about wetting their beds, having bad dreams, cutting off all their bangs, telling a lie, or their very special blanket that they still can’t sleep without, even now that they’re such a “big kid”.  Writers need to know their teachers fully expect them to meet every single standard – exceed them in fact!  Writers should all be taught to believe that they are amazing writers and whole-heartedly loved, through and through.  Calkins referenced Avi when she said, “If you’re going to teach me to write, you first need to love me.”
           Throughout the day, Calkins reminded us that writing is as essential to a child’s education as math or reading.  It should be a part of the Students’ Bill of Rights.  We can protect their right to write by carving out half an hour or more each and every day for “their turn” - the work period - to write, providing frequent, high quality feedback through our conferences and writing assessments, and building strong relationships with every single writer in our care.  There was so much more learning to the day – unit bends, writing cycles, finding a teaching focus, using mentor texts, point of view, text organization, and more – but I’m working hardest on these three goals first.  It is these three goals that I’m carrying with me in my back pocket, every step I take, every lesson I teach, and every time I sit down next to a big-eyed, young writer, and say, “How’s your writing going today?”

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Secrets and Songs of Text

Secrets and Songs
I had the absolute pleasure of learning from Mary Ehrenworth at Teachers College Reading Institute. 

Her session was entitled:  Secrets and Songs:  Deepening What Children See in the Texts They Read

What are some ways to teach close reading so that kids will love reading?
Seeing more and being alert to the secrets and songs of text. 

Secrets and Songs of Close Reading
How can we teach students to see more in the texts they encounter?  You get out of reading what you bring into reading.  You need to know about the things the text is talking about (the nuances it’s referring to)
How can we innovate so that this teaching is engaging, intellectual and joyful?
What methods increase transference?  The highest level of instruction is sometimes your read aloud but there is low transference.
What kinds of texts might we incorporate?  If they do it then it will be rewarding... That’s increasing the likelihood of transference.
One example activity:
I immediately took note that Mary referred to this as visual text.  Read this visual text and see what story it tells. 

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Mary Ehrenworth
While looking at this Picasso painting she spoke about why Picasso painted it ( “Guernica” was painted in response to a bombing in northern Spain by German and Italian warplanes during the Spanish Civil War.  It is a mural sized painting that represented the horrors of war.)  Teach kids to notice what there is to be noticed.  Turn to partner and speak about what you see.

The next thing would be using words to describe these things you see and back it up with evidence. Make sure to teach kids to be specific but kind of literary. (Lots of times kids skip the hard part of text- make sure they stop and look at every little thing)
Is the painting sad or what?  desperate? Not hurt, desolate?  What specific word would describe these characters or one of these characters rather than just any character in any book?  She asked us to try that with a partner by saying, “Your idea, then your evidence.” Either one character, all characters or compare/contrast characters.

After we spoke for a minute she interrupted us with a mid-teaching point. “Let me tell you what I notice with some nice reading work I see going on here: I heard readers saying the characters seem ____ because______.  There is no one right answer when texts are complex so it’s about seeing all the sides of something and telling why you see that or read that.  Then synthesize it to what is this starting to be about.  “What in the text makes you say that? ”Complex texts are about more than one thing and why do you see what you see?”  Teach kids not to say the characters ARE, say the characters SEEM....

So we talked about what is happening in this text, what is happening with the characters and then what is this text starting to be about...  message, underlying theme....chances are with complex text there are more than one.  So get in the habit of saying: possible idea, evidence and then your partners should be saying, “What makes you say that?”  Ask them to point to the part that demonstrates what you are saying.  So Close Reading is about wanting to see more in the text. 

As another example activity:  She then gave us the lyrics to the Mackelmore song: “Wings”  Equally complex but different kind of visual text.  She suggested we read it with our partner because one of the ways to increase your comprehension and help you see complexity in text is to compare your thinking with someone else. 
Read it and think about who is in this story and what does it seem to be about. 

(feat. Ryan Lewis)

I was seven years old, when I got my first pair
And I stepped outside
And I was like, momma, this air bubble right here, it's gonna make me fly
I hit that court, and when I jumped, I jumped, I swear I got so high
I touched the net, momma I touched the net, this is the best day of my life
Air Max's were next,
That air bubble, that mesh
The box, the smell, the stuffin', the tread, in school
I was so cool
I knew that I couldn't crease 'em
My friends couldn't afford 'em
Four stripes on their Adidas
On the court I wasn't the best, but my kicks were like the pros
Yo, I stick out my tongue so everyone could see that logo
Nike Air Flight, but bad was so dope
And then my friend Carlos' brother got murdered for his Fours*, whoa

See he just wanted a jump shot, but they wanted to start a cult though
Didn't wanna get caught, from Genesee Park to Othello
You could clown for those Pro Wings, with the Velcro
Those were not tight
I was trying to fly without leaving the ground,
Cause I wanted to be like Mike, right
Wanted to be him, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to touch the rim
I wanted to be cool, and I wanted to fit in,
I wanted what he had, America, it begins

I want to fly
Can you take me far away
Give me a star to reach for
Tell me what it takes
And I'll go so high
I'll go so high
My feet won't touch the ground
Stitch my wings
And pull the strings
I bought these dreams
That all fall down

We want what we can't have, commodity makes us want it
So expensive, damn, I just got to flaunt it
Got to show 'em, so exclusive, this that new shit
A hundred dollars for a pair of shoes I would never hoop in
Look at me, look at me, I'm a cool kid
I'm an individual, yea, but I'm part of a movement
My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it
They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said
Look at what that swoosh did
See it consumed my thoughts
Are you stupid, don't crease 'em, just leave 'em in that box
Strangled by these laces, laces I can barely talk
That's my air bubble and I'm lost, if it pops
We are what we wear, we wear what we are
But see I look inside the mirror and think Phil Knight tricked us all
Will I stand for change, or stay in my box
These Nikes help me define me, but I'm trying to take mine, off

I want to fly
Can you take me far away
Give me a star to reach for
Tell me what it takes
And I'll go so high
I'll go so high
My feet won't touch the ground
Stitch my wings
And pull the strings
I bought these dreams
That all fall down

It started out, with what I wear to school
That first day, like these are what make you cool
And this pair, this would be my parachute
So much more than just a pair of shoes
Nah, this is what I am
What I wore, this is the source of my youth
This dream that they sold to you
For a hundred dollars and some change
Consumption is in the veins
And now I see it's just another pair of shoes

So what happens in this story? A boy who wants a pair of shoes, a specific kind?  And then? Dark moment, friend’s brother killed for shoes?  Why wear them?  And then?  Chorus is like inner thinking of fly, what do they mean?  Get away?  Then he gives like a mini lecture and a plea for change? 

What is really hard about this is this is what is expected of our kids on state tests. The tests are normed on a minute a page and a minute a question.  And the kids are really being asked to do close reading, which involves rereading.  They have to go back and ponder and linger and think.  So you have to give them opportunities in your class to know that the first thing you have to do is ask yourself do I even know what this is saying?  Often our kids basically comprehend but they have to be trained to say to themselves, “What am I really noticing?”  When you are doing this work what is helpful to kids is being introduced to technical vocabulary. 

Here are some words you might use in technical vocabulary of looking at music verses text from a book:

Watch the video:

What did you notice after the chorus in the imagery and tone?  Speak to the people for a minute in your group about the lens you were using.  You don't always have to explain it out.  What they saw, or heard, or thought is ok.  One of the things that kids struggle with in state tests is tone. In this video, the tone switches with male voice then kids voices.  Why do you think the performer did that?
 What was happening with his tone when he got angry?

Here are some insructional methods for this:

 Do you see yourself using visual text as a tool to teach text complexity in your clasroom?  This got my mind turning with ideas!  What do you see yourself doing?

Cross posted on ONCE UPON A TEACHER

Sunday, September 22, 2013

From Post Its to Theories in the Reader's Notebook

Here in Florida, we have been talking a lot about how important it will be for our students to learn to write in response to their reading to meet the common core standards but we are still learning what that "looks like" and how to get the students there.

I was very interested to see what Cynthia Satterlee, from Teacher's College Reading Institute had to say during her session entitled:  From Post-its to Theories to Writing Literary Essays:  Help Students Write Quick Literary Essays in the Reading and Writing Workshop

The first question Cynthia posed to us was, "What do you do with all those post its that the kids are stopping and jotting on while reading?" <As I think of how I threw them away when students were done reading so they could start a new book> Thankfully she didn't really require an answer before she said, "Don't throw them away!  Have the kids use them to build theories and essays."  It's a gradual process.  They move from inference to interpretation.  They take the good work they are doing on those post its and make it a little better as they move to writing about their ideas together.

There are so many ways to use the stop and jot:  as an active engagement activity during the mini lesson, as an exit ticket before they leave for independent work in workshop, during their reading in their books...but for when it is used as a quick picture for the teacher to see their thinking such as the morning bellringer thought, active engagement or exit ticket try using it with a JOT LOT.  On the poster each student has an empty square with their "student number" and they leave their thoughts there.  Imagine how much more thought they will put into it knowing their peers with see!  This will also give you a quick look at who you need to meet with or form a small group for during the workshop.

First have them grow their surface thinking on the stop and jots.  Elaboration on thoughts:
character feeling...... to......character feeling with evidence
character trait with evidence
interpretation of through character

Be ready for quality conversations with your students and for them to have thoughts on their own and with each other by making sure they are reading quality literature.  By starting with their thoughts on characters they have someone to "get to know" to build theories on.  "How is your theory of this character changing?  Why" 

In 4th grade students need to make inferences about characters, develop theories about character and find big themes in the story. In 5th grade students need to make inferences about characters interacting with other characters in the setting, notice that author sets the story up in a certain way to reveal theme.

How to make worthwhile post-its to bring to conversation in book clubs:
Don’t come to book club or conversation club without post its to talk about
Boxes and bullets can work on post-its
Use those to build ideas about characters

If there a lot of post its with one idea on each, work with them to see how to make a big idea (How are these post its related - do theory work with them)
When they are ready to start "talking like an essayist" then they can use that language to build their essay.

Post its are important, it helps the teacher understanding your thinking, it helps you form big ideas

Don’t worry about essay structure first, get ideas.

Here's how they can see the structure with the stop in jots:
This will be a big move for us in writing this year.  I would love to hear tips and tricks from others that are successfully doing this with their students. 

Cross posted on ONCE UPON A TEACHER

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Conferring with Readers

During the Reading Institute last month,  I learned some new ways to look at conferring with readers.

Kathleen Tolen had this to share:  You need to prepare ahead of time, not just conferencing on the
Kathleen Tolan
fly.  Keep notes and follow up on something they were struggling with, look at artifacts (post its) in what they are currently reading ahead of time, study data on this child, have the child tour you through the work they are doing with their reading.  Find a way to lift their thinking a level.  There are lots of ways a mini lesson is a lot like a conference.

What do you do in a conference if you don’t know the kid’s books?  Try to read as many books in your classroom as you can.  If you have a series and you read one you will have an idea about the others. In the beginning of the year have the books out in your libraries that you know.  Also, at certain levels there is a way the story goes basically.  We are holding kids too accountable for comprehending everything.  Do you comprehend every single thing you read in a book or every single part of a movie?  Sometimes when you are just enjoying something you don’t comprehend everything.  It’s ok.  Also, don’t hold a child to the accountability level of comprehension that you have.  An 8 year old will comprehend something differently than an adult.  Tour their post its in their book of stop and jots.  Pick a portion and have them read it to you.  You need to hear your kids read aloud to you at times you aren’t assessing.  If a child is reading a non-fiction text then you can look at questions they may have and say:  I see you have a lot of questions about alligators.  You can take these question post its and put them on the cover of your next alligator book and see if you find the answers to your questions there.  USE post its.  Their work will be better.

The important thing to do at the end of a conference is to leave a LINK.  Just like you do in a mini lesson.  What will the student do when you leave them on their own.  In a mini lesson you end with a link and that is how they go into work session. In a teacher/student conference you end your conversation with what they should do or where they should go next with their reading.  (Not necessarily an “assignment”, but more like a habit or action)  You should see evidence that the student is interpreting their reading.  Noticing, comparing and all reading strategies get them there but their goal is to interpret their reading. 

One thing that is important for us is to have reflection time about what we need to get better at when conferring.  Breaking habits is hard so you have to put it in the forefront of your mind.  You need to “hear” what you are saying after it is over.  Audio record your next conference with the student.  This is easy to do with a smarthphone!  Continue doing it until you are doing what you want.  Kathleen did this for weeks and realized she was doing too much of the talking and not enough of the listening.  At first she put a sticky note on her clipboard that said “Shut Up” until a student saw it and asked her why she had that written down.  So she ended up telling the class was she working hard on being a better listener than talker.  They all decided to have a code sign for Ms. Tolan is talking too much which was rubbing their nose with one finger.  It really helped her.  Finally one day after a conference a student said, “Good job!” and she said, “Oh, good, I taught you something?”  and she said, “No, good job not talking too much!”  LOL

A reflecting conference shows how your work is improving or maybe they are in a place they need to reflect and see why things are growing and improving.  The kids need to be involved in the learning.  Let them reflect and SEE what their next step forward will be. 
fly.   Keep notes and follow up on something they were struggling with, look at artifacts (post its) in what they are currently reading ahead of time, study data on this child, have the child tour you through the work they are doing with their reading.  Find a way to lift their thinking a level.  There are lots of ways a mini lesson is a lot like a conference.

Alexis Czeterko, staff developer for TCRWP,  had us reading chapter books and jotting our thoughts throughout so that she could model conferring with us.  
Can I just say this freaked me out?!?  What would she think when she read my thinking as a reader?  Was what I was writing "enough"?  Where should I stop and write? Wow, I wonder if this is how my students feel?  Well, the answer to that was probably no.  My students probably didn't worry about what I thought because I didn't spend much time reading their stop and jots or hold them accountable to deepening their thinking.  Hmmm....  I'm going to remember that.

Alexis Czeterko
Alexis shared these points to remember:

Architecture of a Conference
Research the reader
    what will you compliment?
    what will you teach?
    how will you teach it?
Give a compliment
Teach the reader something and have them try it
Rearticulate what you’ve taught and encourage the student to do this often as she or she reads (LINK)

Alexis says to look through the stop and jots of their independent book before your conference.  If you notice the jottings on post its are not connected in any way that can be ok but try to get the student to connect their thoughts.  Get a theory about the story or character and continue to see where your thinking changes. Help them make that connection the first time if they are struggling with it. 

Documentation is important.  She logs a date under the students page in her data binder and writes her compliments on left of 2 sided paper and right she rights the teaching point.  Sometimes she will pull out the current read aloud or a mentor text to demonstrate what she is trying to teach the student to do in their book.  Go to the student where they are reading, don’t call them back to your space.  Meet them where they are and if other students are nearby hearing what you say it’s ok. They are actually learning too. When the student is done reading they need to do something with their post its.  They may take a few to a new text to build on their thinking. They may use some to tape in their reading notebook and write about their thinking.  They definintely shouldn’t throw them away, staple them in the reading notebook and grow more thinking!

What are your best tips or tricks for conferring?

Cross posted on Once Upon a Teacher