Friday, February 15, 2013

Lucy Calkins - Writing

Seven teachers from Chets Creek Elementary trekked to Orlando, FL on February 11, 2013 with Principal Susan Phillips to hear literacy expert, Lucy Calkins.  These are the combined, compiled notes of Part 3 of that conference, "Pathways to the Common Core".  These notes focus on Writing, especially persuasive writing.

About Writing and the Common Core...
  • Common Core Standards #1-3 are it!
  • Three types of writing are addressed in the Common Core: Opinions (persuasive letters, personal essays, editorial, petitions, persuasive speeches...), Informational/ explanatory ( how to, all about, pamphlets, brochures, reports, answers to Reading, Science, Social Studies, Math questions), and narrative (personal, small moments, realistic fiction, fantasy, narrative biography, narrative non-fiction...)
  • Teachers should aim for the standards in the grade above because the K-1-2-3 standards have low expectations. 
  • Fourth grade standards, however, are ambitious and we are not sure fourth graders can do what is expected of them.  Fourth grade teachers certainly cannot accomplish all that is expected if they are not able to stand on the shoulders of the grades before them. 
  • Students should enter middle school with the 6th grade standards mastered if you want the students to leave 8th grade with the standards mastered.
About Writing...
  • Writing needs to be taught EVERY day in every grade.
  • Kids get better at writing by writing.
  • Kids need to be writing about what's on their minds.  Let them choose their topics.
  • There will be no "dittosh_ts" which means no graphic organizers in Writers' Workshop.  Students should be writing, not filling in sheets.
  • A first graders should be able to complete a three page book with three sentences on each page in each workshop.  By third grade a student should be able to write a notebook page and a half in a single workshop.
  • If you want to immeiately lift the level of writing in a story in first grade, start with the weather! - "One bright sunny day..."  "The sun streaked through the window..."  "One dark gloomy day..."  This is the advice given to Lucy by her mentor, Ralph Fletcher.  Who knew?  Then add dialogue.
  • John Hattie's research on achievement says that what accelerates achievement is 1) teacher/ student relationships, 2) using performance assessments, sharing and discussing them collegiality, and 3) providing powerful feedback (which includes informative compliments and next steps).

About Performance Assessments...
  • Start the year by asking students to write their best on-demand narrative small moment.  Next day write their best informational - something they know a lot about.  And then on the third day an opinion piece.  These are your baseline.  Teach the unit of study including working through the writing process to a completed, polished portfolio piece.  At the end of the unit, give the prompt again. This will tell you what the student can really do. This is the teacher's assessment of what was taught.  This is what teachers should be discussing with colleagues.
  • Instructions for these prompts and benchmak pieces to compare against are available at the Reading the Writing Project web site. 
  • Self-assessment for the genres of writing that are written in kid friendly language are also available at the Reading and Writing web site.

Persuasive Writing In Kindergarten - Using Words to Make a Change
  • This is a six week unit - writing to make a difference.
  • In your school - Students look for problems in the class and around the school and find solutions.  Children make signs ("Knock on the bathroom door before you go in." Hang up your coat.")
  • Writing letters to make a change - Write letters addressing a problem with solutions to spark change. State the problem boldly.  Build up the problem so that it is a BAD problem.  Infuse details throughout. You can embed a story or anecdote into a persuasive piece or teach politeness in the closing (Thank you kindly for listening...").  You can persuade with information.
  • Take on a persuasive project that requires research to make the world a better place. Sound like an expert.

Persuasive Writing in First Grade - Writing Reviews
  • Best in Show - Ask each child to bring in a shoebox collection of something they care about (e.g., hair bows/ barrettes, wrestlers, Star War characters...). When you care about something, you have a best. Now how do you decide which is the best item in your collection - the winner? Which is the second place? third place? and why did you make that choice? Which thing in your collection takes the booby prize? Can you defend your choices?
  • Writing reviews - First graders can write reviews of restaurants or video games or toys or movies or television shows... They learn to hook the reader, to defend their choices and to make comparisons. They learn to use checklists. They study published reviews.
  • Writing persuasive book reviews - Learn to share a summary of a book but don't spill the beans by telling the entire story. Don't make it too long or too short.

Persuasive Writing in Third Grade -Persuasive Speeches, Petitions, and Editorials
  • Third grade is when you want students to write expansively with great detail.
  • Once children can write a personal essay, it is easier for them to write an opinion essay.
  • Start with transference.  Remind students of all they have already learned.
  • Be speech writers, opinion writers.  Start with a quick persuasive speech or a "flash draft," like how to get more magazines in the library.  Then the next day go back and really write.
  • Then go to petition writing.  Send the petition to someone that can make a decision.
  • Hook the audience.  (from Lucy's example - "Barbie-licious")
  • Chart what the children say. 
  • Give brave, bold opinions. 
  • Then give reasons with evidence.  Use quotes as evidence.  Use examples as evidence.  Add a micro story.
  • Use your hand as a graphic organizer.  Your palm is the topic and the fingers are the reasons.
  • Consider the audience and make sure the audience can always read your piece.
  • For an effective transition from the mini-lesson to independent writing, have the students bring their writing to the floor for the mini-lesson.  Have them begin their writing on the floor after the mini-lesson and dismiss them to their seats as you see that they have gotten started.
Persuasive Writing in Fourth Grade - Personal and Persuasive Essays
  • Start with a structure boot camp.  Teach the 5 paragraph thesis-driven essay.
  • Give the whole class the same topic, such as "I love ice cream" (a topic that cannot be rebutted).  Give three reasons and use micro stories, examples and quotes as evidence.  Give reasons playing up and stretching out the part that makes your point. Use elaboration to grow ideas. Use a closing statement to tie back to the thesis.
  • Add in a 2-day language and conventions/ punctuation boot camp, if needed.

One teacher's reflection...
I have had the opportunity to learn from Lucy Calkins through her books, her web site, and through two summer institutes in NYC.  She has changed my professional practice.  Through her passionate instruction and through videos of children doing things I had never even imagined, I was able to see possibilities for my youngest learners that were beyond any of my own expectations.  So, it is no surprise, that on this threshold of new standards, she is the one lighting the way for us all.  I feel privileged to have shared time with her.  She is a model of a dedicated, passionate, lifelong learner.

At the same time I am blessed to be at a school, and to have been at that school for fifteen years, that lives the type of model of continuous improvement that Lucy speaks about.  I am proud that I serve with school level leadership that recognizes the need to reach beyond the expectation by finding a way to provide for this type of professional development that will make a diference tomorrow.

And then,  to be walking this path with educators who are willing to risk it all for children makes me humble and proud at the same time.  These are the friends that pick me up when I fall, that listen to my whines and complaints and care about me all the same.  They are the ones that read with me, that will discuss almost any issue with me, and who challenge and push my thinking on a daily basis.

This was one of the many conferences where we listened and talked all the way home about ways to infuse what we had learned into our daily walk,
but still managed to have lots of fun!

It doesn't get any better than this!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lucy Calkins - Reading

The Chets Creek team with Lucy Calkins on February 11, 2013 in Orlando, FL.  Lucy has taken a semester off from teaching at Columbia University to travel the country and talk about
the Common Core.

The Reading Standards
  • There are 10 reading anchor standards that all the others are based on.
  • #1-3: Key Ideas and Details - What does the text say or suggest.
  • #4-6: Craft and Structure - This includes choices the author has made, authorial decisions.  Nothing is in that text by accident.  Every word, every image is selected for a specific purpose.  This is reading as a writer.
  • #7-9: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas - We need to move toward more and more complex text and looking across the text.  We need to stay "inside the corners of the text."  This is not text-to-self reading.  If the conversation goes into thinking about how this reminds me of... or personal reflection, pull it right back into the text evidence. We just went too far with personal reflection and the Common Core  pulls us back to center.
  • #10 simply says the child is reading and comprehending on grade level.
About reading...
  • Throughout the WHOLE day, half of what the kids read should be non-fiction, but we cannot turn our back on fiction.  Certainly we need to add quality non-fiction to our classroom libraries and we also need to get quality non-fiction in the hands of content teachers instead of textbooks, but there will always be a place for complex fiction.
  • Students should be reading an hour and a half, eyes on print, every day to maintain their reading level.
  • Students should take home at least two books -even six books! - and read from 30-60 minutes beyond the school day. Tell the children that you can't imagine a child that could stop with just reading a single book! Reading has to become a life habit.  If a child is reading the Magic Treehouse series, Level M, and is reading 100 words per minute, he should read a book in the series in 60 minutes.  If he is reading 200 words per minute, he should finish a book every 30 minutes!  We need to seriously ramp up our reading.  How much a child reads is the single most important predictor of school success. The volume of reading that students are doing will raise their ability to read more complex texts.
  • In first grade students should have about 12 books at their level.  They should be able to read for about 50 minutes straight in Readers' Workshop.  First they read independently, then they read all books with a partner and then back to independent reading again.
  • Even though Poetry is not dominant in the Common Core (in fact, it is barely mentioned), we need more, not less.  Using poetry is just good instruction.  Where do you think the short, complex passages are going to come from that need critical analysis when writers get ready to write test questions?
  • It doesn't really matter if you are talking about independent or instructional levels of reading.  Nobody can agree on the percentages anyway.  When a child moves up into a new level they are a little instructional until they become independent, so Teachers College does not put instructional and independent on its levels.

About comprehension... 
  • You need to know that comprehension is complex and that there is no researched magic list of strategies that will guarantee that you get all your students to the standards.  The world has told us that reading is so important that we have become afraid to teach it.  However, there is no one on high that has told us which skills to include in comprehension. 
  • Get used to using full sentences in discussions.  There will be no more one word answers.
  • There is no more "main" idea but several central ideas instead. As you work through the text you see what sticks to those central ideas and then revise the central ideas as you go.
  • John Gardner says there are only two themes.  All stories are either "Man's journey home" or "A stranger comes to town." Who knew?
  • Comprehension is complicated and depending on who you read, different elements are important.  There is no list of comprehension strategies.  Experts can't even agree on what to call each strategy and different people probably depend on different strategies to make sense of text.

About accountable talk...
  • Read Aloud is the opportunity to teach and practice accountable talk - Who can get us started talking about...?  All eye on ___. Turn and Talk about your ideas. Who can add to this? Who can build on that?  Let's keep going with ___'s idea. Can you say more about that?  Do you agree or disagree?  Partially agree or disagree.  Turn and talk about your evidence.
  • Chart sentence and question frames to help students form their comments and direct their discussion.
  • Stress the importance of listening to each other.  If students just keep saying their own ideas without any connections to other ideas that are being expressed, start over, because they are missing the point. Ask the students if they are building on that idea or going to another.  If they are going to another, stop them, and have them instead add on to the previous idea until you have clearly exhausted that topic and are ready for a new one.
  • Setting the expectation in accountable talk models what we want to see in book discussions.
  • Stress the importance of paying attention to certain clues and elements in the story that aid in building meaning and lead to deeper comprehension. Objects matter.  Weather matters.  Names matter.  Every detail an author adds is for a specific reason.

Improving predictions...
  • Prediction is not mentioned in the Common Core although we all know it is an important strategy.
  • Use the whole text. It's not just about what happened on the last page, but what happened so far.  Use what you know about characters.
  • Focus on HOW something is going to happen and not just WHAT is going to happen.

Evidence of powerful teaching...
  • Rituals and routines are firmly established.

Lucy Calkins - Common Core

On February 11, 2013 eight educators from Chets Creek Elementary School, under the direction of Principal Susan Phillips, traveled to Orlando, Fl for to hear renowned Literacy expert, Lucy Calkins.  These are the compiled notes of those educators.

What are the issues with the Common Core?
  • The problem in American education is poverty.  23% of our children are growing up in poverty which is up from 10% just a few years ago.  We have the largest number of children growing up in poverty of any of the developed countries.  There is the income gap. Standards cannot make up for all that poverty takes away from these children.
  • The estimated cost of implementing the Common Core is $15.7 billion for the beginning phase.  The problem is that half that money is going to developing new assessments and the rest to the new technology needed to give the tests!  Where will the money come from to provide rich libraries and non-fiction books for each classroom? We are being asked to do more with less!
  • The Common Core is not really researched-based.  It is really just a hypothesis.  We really don't  know what the pathway is to achieving the Common Core Standards.
  • The design itself may be flawed.  Working backwards from college readiness may not really provide the best standards for K-1 students.  Also the contrived way that the fiction and non-fiction standards have to mirror each other makes for a few bizarre standards.
  • We have given a small group of businessmen the license to micro manage what is going on in our classrooms.
"Teachers, principals, and schools have a CHOICE: to read the Common Core with criticism, finding all its faults and abandon it altogether, or embrace it as a new path and a new way of looking at what our kids know and how to take their learning to a newer, deeper level."  We are at a crossroads.  We can CHOOSE to see opportunity, possibilities, hope and promise.

We have learned a lot about what NOT to do.
  • Adopting a new core reading program will not solve the problem.  We spent $87 million on new reading core during NCLB, and reading flat lined.  Adopting a basal and trying to teacher-proof learning just shows a lack of confidence in the profession and WON'T work!.
  • Turning down the lights and turning on the music and just letting children write will also not produce results. There has to be quality instruction.
  • Adopting too many innovations with a little bit of this and a little bit of that will not work.  One of our biggest problems is fragmentation, overload. If you have more than 4 or 5 innovations, you will not see gains.  Innovations need to be implemented with 90% fidelity to make a difference.

Why is the Common Core gold?
  • It's a wake up call.  Our kids are going to have to be smarter than we were because knowledge is growing so fast.  85% of the jobs now require high levels of literacy.
  • The Common Core sets the expectation so we know when good is good enough.
  • It's certainly better than NCLB when we reduced reading to five little areas, over emphasizing the part that phonemic awareness plays and barely mentioning comprehension.
  • The implementation of the Common Core calls for a model of continuous improvement.  It calls for collegiality.  It is about helping our schools improve and grow stronger.    Kids need a great school, not just one great teacher.  This has to be K-5 working together on a school-wide approach.  Gone are the days of closing your door and doing what you want. We are now in a time when teachers will have to work together in learning communities in order to lift the level of their practice. Most teachers learn their first three years and then hit a plateau.  We have to break that plateau.
  • There is an emphasis on writing.  Not only are there writing standards, but part of the reading standards are about writing.
  • There is an emphasis on text complexity and moving kids up through levels of more and more difficult text.
The decisions about how to reach the Common Core Standards (the way to go about teaching and achieving these standards) is left in the hands of teachers and principals.  The BEST strategy is still a teacher who can make a difference.

The standards are a covenant between you and the student -  It is a covenant of what you will teach and what your students should be able to do.   Not all students have in their genes to be a good reader.  It is the teacher and her expectations of them as readers that pushes the level of achievement.

About change...
Schools need to be communities of practice.  If you want to change the group, you need to use the group to make the change happen.

About leaders...
A leader is someone who is passionately driven by a cause bigger than themselves.