Growing Myself as a Reader at TCRWP’s Summer Reading Institute

After day one of TCRWP’s Summer Reading Institute I am overwhelmed with the volume and depth of what i’ve heard and learned.

A lot has changed since the last time I attended a Summer Reading Institute six years ago.  One of the biggest changes has been the expectation of the Common Core. . The other change you might not be as well aware of is the change in me. I entered  classrooms a very different person.

Today I sit in a place taking in information that is rich and complex for me to synthesize and understand. Today I access knowledge on a deeper level. Just like my students who have to dig deeper to take in text, I have to work at a different level. Before I understood the idea of the work, and I worked hard to bring it into my classroom, but the practice wasn’t the result of my personal practice.It was processed by others.

Today I’m at point where I need to take this work to a deeper level. Just like my students. Lucy Calkins’ keynote address  highlighted the call to see reading as a personal challenge. The expectations of what it is to be a reader have changed. Drastically.  Students need to process information at a deep level.  They are no longer the receivers of information. Now they have to do something with it. And, we teachers are not the information source. Now we are one source of how to access text, how to interpret, to synthesize meaning. Lucy asked us to see this as a  turning point for students and for teachers.

Today teachers need to take this challenge on and grow ourselves as readers. We work on our writing to get better at it. Why should reading be any different.  Getting better as a reader needs to be something we take on. It’s personal. Sure we’ve been reading for a long time, but we need to look at our reading closely and ask ourselves how can we get better. Most people I know accept the fact that we could learn a lot about writing. How is reading all that different? Just because no one sees what you think as you read? Try one of the common core tasks with a piece of literature and you tell me. Is it easy? Could you improve? Absolutely.

We need to work on it and at it.

What a huge aha that was for me. Of course. Why wouldn’t we need to work on ourselves as readers. This will allow us to work side-by-side with our students, drawing upon our own struggles and our found strategies to help students attack their struggles. Just as we do in writing.

Today is another day to try this work and get better as a reader.

Power of Tangible, Visible Goals: So Much More Than a Grade

Writing shows who we are, what we know, how we think, and what we want. Writing is learning about ourselves and putting it out for the world to see. Writing is a brave act.

I have the privilege to teach my students writing. I get to see into their hearts and minds. Their writing shows their passions and their worries, their triumphs and failures.

Now think grades, specifically evaluating writing for a grade. As I celebrate what my students do and look to what they need to do next, the concept of a grade makes me — uncomfortable. What does that do for a writer? How does this grow a writer, a learner, a thinker?  On the other hand, we crave feedback. Parents want to know how their child is doing and students want to know how they did. And yes, we need assessment and standards to form this feedback fairly and consistently. The challenge is doing this in a way that develops writers, celebrating their brave act of putting themselves out there for all to see. This requires so much more than a grade.

Assessment should be a living document that student  and teacher can take and grow from.  Thanks to the work of Lucy Calkins and Teachers College Reading Writing Project’s Units of Study, we now have common core standards-based checklists by grade level.  This kid- and teacher- friendly tool sets forth a continuum with clear expectations and next steps, one that can be embraced by an entire school community providing a clear “pathway” to develop writers.

What follows is work of a student who is a passionate writer, writes on her own all the time. She is an English language learner and has learning disabilities that show up in her writing.

One day my mom told me lets go to the mall okay so I told my mom can I bring phone  she said no but mom I thought you said I could use it well I change my mind mom said I don’t  want to listen to her so I hide it in my sister bag I told her to not tell mom why she said because mom doesn’t  want me to bring it  well she said fine I was so happy so I could show off my phone so  we went to the mall  when we went to Hollister it was so.Dark  so I told my sister  to give me  it please so she give it to me I was so happy everyone told me I like your phone I said.Thanks  a lot of strangers said I love it I said …thanks   so I was using it my mom looked at me she was like what was that nothing she told me  give me your hands I left  it right  there   I was looking to find my phone  but it was all dark so I felt like crying  I said to my mind stop why did I I had to bring it just to show off  UGGG  I stomp my I feet NO NO well I learned so much to never show off and always say the truth to your mom even the worst ones.

Knowing this writer and her passion for writing, it is so important to approach her acknowledging all she has done well. Using the TCRWP narrative checklist we can name her strengths. She’s told a story that had tension and a lesson learned. She elaborated with her thoughts, feelings, dialogue and action. She  provided some craft elements, specifically sensory details — Hollister so Dark — that were a crucial to her story. The criteria of craft, elaboration, and story are all elements this student wrote toward using the checklist. But it is also so important not to stop there.  A crucial part of writing is writing so others can understand your thoughts. Using the checklist,  we look to aspects she has not met such as structure and language conventions. Now, she has concrete feedback and clear next steps for her work. She knows where she sits on the continuum. She knows where she needs to work.  We  have clear goals to work toward. It is tangible, visible — so much more than a grade.IMG_1063