Celebrate This Week: Summer Learning Together

Time to Celebrate this week with Ruth Ayers. This practice is rejuvenating and centering. I recommend it. You can fincelebrate link upd this week’s posts and add yours here.

First off, this is my 300th post. And it all started here. Thank you, Ruth, and all who celebrate beside me. You have made me a better writer, reader and teacher.

Sadly, I “taught” writing for years without actually doing any authentic writing of my own.  Writing in this space has opened my eyes and heart not only to what writing might be but also to what needs to be done to teach anything well.

My second celebration is the writing about reading Twitter chat, #WabtR, on Tuesday. We had read Cynthia Lord’s new book A Handful of Stars as a virtual club, writing and sharing our notebook jots on a Google doc. The intent of our chat was to talk mostly about our reactions to the process.  I thought it might be a small group, so I offered to host. I had no idea. Oh my gosh. It was a wild party of reading enthusiasts.  Wild and wonderful. If you missed it check out the Storify here.

And look who showed up!

Goosebumps, right?  I’ve read all of her books and met her at NCTE, along with a long line of others waiting to get her autograph.  What a thrill to see her on Twitter at our chat.

Our chat and my reaction to it made me think. And, leads to my third celebration this week, reading professional literature. Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass’s new book, Digital Reading, is a joy.  In the spirit of Donalyn Miller, it authentically recognizes how the digital imgres-1world enhances our reading lives. Franki looks at how she uses digital media personally and then takes that to her students.

Our teacher Google book club, Twitter chat and appearance of the author is just one example of how digital reading could go. It’s not just reading an e-book or doing research on the web or writing about reading electronically or connecting with an author. It’s all of it combined in a purposeful way to get more out of reading.

I’m also devouringimgres-2 Jennifer Serravallo’s new book, The Reading Strategies Book. Bottom line, if you teach reading K through 6, get this book. Serravallo does a beautiful job delineating what students need and how to get them there. I’ve taught reading to 5th graders for 11 years, boy I wish I had this book sooner!

Serravallo’s descriptions of text attributes by level help teachers understand the literacy journey our students travel.

Every year I have kiddos on the edges of that bell curve. This book will help target their needs with straightforward strategies by level and goal.

On deck: Colleen Cruz’s The Unstoppable Writing teacher and the new Reading Units of Study from Lucy Calkins et. al.

My fourth celebration is for the next round of virtual book club reading. After our reading and chat on A Handful of Stars, many wanted more. So we split off into smaller groups choosing books that fit our learning needs. I choose, what I hope is a “just right” read for me, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Some have taken the work to their schools. My school will reading on Honey by Sarah Weeks.

Finally, I’m celebrating a few more weeks of summer: to enjoy the fruits of the season, stretch out long days filled with sunshine, reading and connecting with others in this digital world of ours.


Learning together as we ask our students to do is the best kind of summer learning. 

Assessment: Letting the Students Drive the Data

After reading Jennifer Brittin’s great post on the NCTE’s position paper on formative assessment and her struggles with data, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and fess up: I am drowning in data. Post its trail me. I find them in bags and books. Notebooks are filled with data creation, collection and interpretation that leads hopefully to next steps for nearly 60 students. Frankly even when I analyze and categorize the data, then group students, feedback seems no where near what John Hattie calls “timely.”  Superhuman powers seem necessary. An all-knowing great and powerful Oz of a teacher…or is that just that man behind the curtain?

Due to my lack of super powers, I am looking to students to learn what they need to do and then approximate their success along the way. Their approximations of success may be slightly off, but their misinterpretations of the expectation is easier for me to lean into than me  letting them know “where they stand.” It is a work in progress, but so far this is how reading is looking. I have based these “ladders” on Jennifer Serravallo’s work with an eye toward growing student thinking and writing about reading in the areas of setting, plot and character.

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Setting: Writing about Reading Using Ladder to Grow Thinking
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Plot – Writing About Reading Addressing Character’s Problems
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Character: Writing About Reading Using a Post it Ladder

I have students use their self-selected club books and write about their reading (click here for sheet)  weekly using the ladders to assess their thinking. They work independently, then go to their groups to revise and hopefully refine/upgrade their thinking during club talk. Each week I look at their assessment of their work. and then group for instruction the following week. Needs fluctuate based on the type and level book.

A group of readers who tested out as “T/U” did exceptional work in Tale of Desperaux a “Q” level book that had been read aloud to them in third grade. It was some of the best work I’d seen. They got it!  And more importantly, they know how it feels to get it. As they move on, they should have a model of success to work from.  

I’ve also seen the opposite. Students not being able to do the work, and more importantly they are starting to see where they are. I’m hearing more, “Ohhh that’s what that means,” versus, me saying this is what it means. Shockingly some are still discovering that setting refers to a place and or time not a character’s clothing. Shocking that I thought they knew what setting was, after all, hadn’t I told them many times.

I’m so thankful for the voices such as those in the NCTE twitter chat on Sunday night (read the Storify here) that are solidly behind the work of goal-oriented, student-driven assessment or as Kristi Mraz (@mrazkristine)  termed “successment!”  Here’s to a lot more of doing that work together.

The Dance of Reading Assessment

For the past two weeks I have been consumed by assessment.  For me this means a roller coaster of emotions: overwhelmed at first, elated at some points, hit by an oh no, what do I now feeling at other moments, and then coming to terms with the realities of what my students can do and where we need to work. Assessment is uncomfortable, so is growth. This is good I tell myself.

Assessing readers has been a dance revolving around student work in small group, independent reading, as well as Running Records and SRI assessments. Students’ Fountas & Pinnell and lexile levels gives an indication as to where a student’s “just right” reading exists, but it isn’t perfect. Students will sometimes be able to work well in books above their assessed levels and sometimes won’t be able to understand a book leveled where they were suppose to fit.  Writers’ work is as varied as are students’ abilities. A level on a book or a student doesn’t say it all. Figuring out what the barriers are for a student in a particular text, and how to overcome them, is the daunting task teachers face. A reading level is a starting point.

Two weekends ago, I rediscovered Jennifer Seravallo’s comprehensive book on assessing readers in fiction. The concept of this work is to assess students’ understanding of an entire book across major literature components: Plot/Setting, Character, Language and Theme/Symbolism.  Two texts, per Fountas & Pinnell level are available giving students choice — I need to add the texts are excellent, high quality, engaging reads. The intent is to assess what readers do and think as they read a text unassisted. Approximately 12-15 questions are placed throughout the text. The end result is an assessment of where the student has understanding by component and to what extent: exceptional, proficient, or approaching.

I jumped into this task wanting to know what my students could do. The results were sobering, and they made sense. Most students did well in character analysis. No surprise. Our school has spent an inordinate amount of effort working on understanding character, and the results showed. This is good news. Now the flip side: where we need to work. Across the grade level, regardless of ability, we saw a weakness in understanding the importance of setting and theme, particularly determining symbolic meanings. Here’s me thinking… Come on why don’t they see the deeper meaning here? Then I stop myself, wait they are ten. So for some, understanding themes may be developmental, but setting? I’m betting that if we focus on this aspect we’ll see results. Students have not been paying much attention to the impact of setting on characters and the problems they face largely because teachers weren’t focusing as much on it. This is a huge aha, and it sends not only a message to the 5th grade teachers but all teachers at our school. And maybe, with a better understanding of setting and how it ties to character, the themes/symbols will be more apparent. Hope springs eternal.

When the results of this assessment first started trickling in, I had to do some adjustment in my thinking. Initially, my reaction was oh no what do I do now?! I’ve overestimated their abilities. I had to resist the desire to take the books they were loving, but not really understanding, out of their hands. So, I talked myself off that cliff and realized something big:  I now have a clear direction as to what students need, individually and as a group. While they won’t read everything with complete understanding across every literature component, they will be moving toward it. And honestly, do I always read everything with complete understanding? Absolutely not. Sometimes I pick up a book, and I know I’m not working hard enough. Then I make the choice to either be satisfied with a limited understanding, or I set that book down and pick it back up when I’m ready to do the work. With this in mind, I’m hoping to teach my students not only the skills and strategies they need for understanding text, but also the knowledge of when they are really understanding and when they are not ready to do that work.

I celebrate this tool that moves us closer to understanding our students (what they do and what they don’t  do as readers), and how to move them closer to what they need to do. Thank you Jennifer Serravallo.

As a post script, the Independent Reading Assessment for non fiction is on order. Can’t wait for that ride!