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