Celebrate: 140 Characters

celebrate link up Thank you Ruth Aryes for starting this weekly link up to celebrate our week. Read more celebrations here.

This week’s celebrations are all due to 140 characters. What it means to be “connected” through the virtual world of Twitter often connects in very tangible ways. This week I’m celebrating a lot of face-to-face work that was an outgrowth of Twitter. The richness of this work makes us better educators and better people.

One: My colleagues Dayna Wells @daywells and Cathy Skubik @cskubik became full fledged participants in the #TCRWP chat. They have been lurking around Twitter for a while, even tweeting on occasion, but neither had really participated in a chat. This week I tweeted alongside them; just offering a few explanations and a little encouragement. I’m sure I helped a little, but what really got both of them going was the welcoming conversation they joined. The #TCRWP tweeps took them in responding, favoriting, and retweeting. I was struck by this. It is not hyperbole when I say that I love that Wednesday chat.  I celebrate the wonderful educators who moderate the chats weekly and those that show up and offer up so much every week!  The after effects of the chats are quite stunning.

 

Two. This week, leaders from the Right Question Institute @RQI presented their work to teacher leaders in my district. The wonderful Dan Rothstein and Lavada Berger @LavadRQI had us work through the process of teaching students to question. This paradigm shift is powerful. Getting students to create questions around a focused topic puts power in the their hands and allows them to direct their own learning. While this is the beginning of this work in our district, it started because of a tweet. That tweet referenced this post,. Soon that book found its way around my school. The ideas filtered into our classrooms and then out into the district. That one tweet was the shirtless guy in the “one nut” video. I’m proud to say our school was the first follower.

 

Three: Speaking of followers, I have to celebrate my 1,000th follower. WHOO HOO!

Which really leads me to why Victoria followed me. See 4 a and 4 b.

Four (a)  Tuesday through Thursday I attended my first CUERockstar Conference. I signed up to learn more about digital literacy, but what I got was so much more. When you are surrounded by passion, respect and possibility, learning is  exhilarating. These fabulous teachers who led the sessions were committed to the participants; they met our needs, listened intently, and encouraged our work. Just being a learner with these folks was a gift. What follows are a few highlights.

I was introduced to  Storybird  in Moss Pike’s @MossPike session on day two of the conference. Storybird is a free web-based tool that presents a beautiful gallery of pictures for storytelling. As the websites states, “Storybird reverses visual storytelling by starting with the image and ‘unlocking’ the story inside.”

I love this idea of “unlocking” a story. As I created my book, I thought about story structure, the real struggle for the characters; which led to understanding the characters. The expressions on the character’s faces gave me clues to their emotions and where the story might go.  This experience was unlike any writing experience I have had before. I had an idea of where the story might go, but I wasn’t exactly sure. The characters took over the story. This experience makes me wonder about the power of visuals and the ability to visualize when we tell story. 

Four (b)  In another session we worked on Design Thinking for Educators.based on work from The Center for Deep Thinking in Mount Vernon. We chose a “sticky problem,” a problem that has many points where you could get “stuck,” and worked through the process that embraces problem solving through empathy and visual thinking. I worked with Filisa Iskason @fiskason and Karen Lagola @kklagola on the problem of not enough time for students and professional development. As we talked, jotted and then asked ourselves, “how might we” approach these issues. One idea that stayed with me was to focus on creating “rich time” avoiding experiences  that create an attitude of just “passing time” for our students and our colleagues.

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Five: In response to Carol Varsalona’s  @cvarsalona call for photos and poems that fit the more relaxed mood of summer. I tweeted her a picture I took at sunset as well as a found poem. Within minutes, Carol Direct Messaged me. As the summer is not over yet check out Carole’s Summertime Serenity link up here.

JGpMJwvZ

 

 

And all of this because of this:

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Reading in the Company of Others Matters

The second day of TCRWP’s Summer Reading Institute pushed me to the work I realized I needed to do on day one: raise the level of my reading. In my small group session with Kathleen Tolan we were put into book groups. My group of grade 3-5 teachers are reading Edward’s Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan. The session is aiming to teach teachers how to  teach students in small groups, and to do this Kathleen has put us in our student’s  desks.

Our first evening’s homework was to read the first third of the book and come to group with a part that we wanted to read aloud. We decided  to read with a lens for character and symbolism

Next day, back in class, we sat, facing each other. Kathleen urged us to move in close. We looked at each other. Slowly we edged to talk.  Our thoughts were clearly restrained. No one was bursting with thoughts. Man! I thought. This is tough. If I were a student I’d be wanting to abandon this book.

Our responses boiled down to lots of confusion and a discomfort.

Something wasn’t right. Hmm.

Gradually we started to talk around this and bit by bit, little pieces cropped up. PIeces that gave hints at what might be.

Bottom line we six teachers were struggling with our interpretations. Finally we read aloud parts that confused us.

“This part with the tides in and out and references to sea water is intriguing,’ offered one reader.

Yeah that part was important, I thought, but  what could I say about it.

The structure of the text also threw us. Some parts were in italics. The purpose of the italics wasn’t clear. We were clearly put out with this. We didn’t get it,. This was important, we knew this as readers and we knew it was our job to make sense of it.

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Then, thankfully, Kathleen stopped us and asked  us to attempt to identify what level the book was  based on descriptors of text band complexity. We all thought the work required a higher level of work than what it turned out to be. (Edward’s Eyes is a level S.) We then looked closer at the descriptors for this text band, and it did in fact fit with what we were experiencing: “Readers are not suppose to get entirely what is going on.” Yep that was it! Reading on in the description lead to what we needed to do: “…read on expecting things will become clear in the end.”

Our “be like as student” homework assignment for the day fit perfectly. I read on, and yes, it was getting clearer.  Now for my “be a teacher” homework. I want my readers to hold on and read on  Thinking back to what Kathleen was saying the day before,

  • There should be struggle in small groups.
  • The role as a teacher is to find out what readers assigned themselves and help them with their struggles.

Kathleen’s assignment for teachers was to write a book introduction keeping in mind the challenges the reader is facing and what the work requires. This is what I came up with last night:

Readers, you have come so far in your reading work I think you are ready for this next step.

At this level, sometimes books are tricky. And I’ll be honest with you, you might get frustrated trying to puzzle out this story out. You might have trouble figuring out when things are happening because the writer moves back and forth in time. . There will be times when you say huh? And I’m here to tell you, that’s ok. That is what the author is expecting you to feel. And she expects you to hang in there looking for clues, because she’s put them there for you to  find and put together. She trusts you will read on knowing things will become clearer as you read on.

Don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Read on.

Now I’m off to class. Reading in the company of others matters

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.

Celebrate: Summer Learning

Time to celebrate this  week with Ruth Ayers.  Read more here and consider joining in the weekly celebration of the big and little things in your life.

celebrate link up

 

Today, I have five rather big things i’d like to celebrate

FIRST: Two Writing Teachers. If you don’t already, subscribe to this blog. There is always something worthwhile and inspiring. Their teaching sticks with me as a writer and a teacher of writing. A perfect example of this is Dana Murphy’s recent post on internet writing. Every time I blog I’ll be thinking of the tips I took away from this post.  I’m working on word count (under 500), offering hyper links and when possible, bullet or list key points.

SECOND: A little reading and reflection. Blogged about my thinking here and here.

THIRD: My youngest as she learns to drive. I am so proud of her respect (read healthy fear) of driving. She is taking baby steps and I get to cheer her on. Don’t you love these keys. She sleeps with them.

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FOURTH: Twitter and TCRWP Summer Writing Institute. Every morning this week I woke up to look at the tweets coming from educators in New York CIty. I busily favorited and retweeted  the gems I saw. My fav’s from last week are storified here. They are all worth posting on your walls, your computer, your notebooks, wherever you find or need inspiration. This one is particularly appropriate:

FIFTH: TCRWP Reading Summer Institute all next week. .I am overwhelmed and grateful for the opportunity to walk on Columbia’s campus, enter Riverside Church, hear Lucy.  learn from TC staff with educators from all over the world, ride the A train, eat all over New York City, run in Central Park humidity, see my virtual colleagues for the first time, go to Bank Street Books, and even do some homework.  Boarding pass is on my phone. An extra bag is packed to carry back all the books I know I’ll HAVE to buy.

My heart  is bursting!

 

 

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Celebrating Independent Learning

Every week Ruth Ayers invites bloggers to celebrate their week by focusing on about the big and the small things worth holding up and celebrating. Thank you Ruth for this lovely ritual. Read more celebrations here.celebrate link up Today I’m celebrating independent learning..

One.  My students are still blogging and it’s summer. Technically they are no longer my students, but they are still blogging. One student has started a challenge – a do it yourself challenge a la Genius Hour! This student is putting herself out (a bit of a risk) to her peers with a challenge. No one asked her to. It wasn’t an assignment. She just did it. She is a writer and a creator all on her own and I hope forever.

Second. My own children are learning to handle life on their own. One son had to get through finals, job recertification (he’s a summer lifeguard and has to pass a open water swim test), look for a new house to rent (apparently “no one rents to male students”), and not feel well (probably stress) at the same time. He is dealing with it, without complaint. I worry but I’m proud of his independence.

Third. Teachers are choosing to spend the beginning part of their summer learning. These teachers came and worked all day with energy, learning a challenging but powerful way to teach writing. The extraordinary thing is that these teachers have lots of experience and success in their classrooms, BUT they aren’t satisfied. They have their sights on what is best for their students, and they are looking to raise the level of  instruction with Teachers College Reading Writing Projects’ Units of Study. I am inspired by their dedication to their craft and their students. These independent learners who came wanting more, left excited about what might be for next year, considering how to overcome obstacles and bring home the work to their school sites.

Fourth. The people and resources of TCRWP help us learn and push our teaching to higher levels. . With internet access, the classrooms and teaching of Cornelius Minor, Kate Roberts, and the coaching of Lucy Calkins comes to life for teachers, 3,000 miles away, to observe and learn.

Fifth. My  exceedingly talented colleagues work together to do masterful work teaching other teachers. Today, I celebrate their gifts and the magic that happens when it all comes together.

Celebrating Growth: The YES and the STARTING TO

Today I’m celebrating the growth I see in my students. We have only a few weeks left together and it seems to be culminating in a beautiful way.

Every year at this time, we focus on Colonial America. Stidents have visited a colonial village  and witnessed reenactments, watched videos, read, talked and researched a specific area of interest.  This is all in preparation for next week, when our 5th grade students take our school back in time to colonial days. They set up “booths” to teach youngers about life back in time.  I have done this work for the past 11 years, and each year brings different students and a slightly different me to the project. This year for the first time, they blogged their learning.

When we started blogging at the beginning of the year, there were lots of bumps. Learning the technology and overcoming problems was how I spent a lot of my conferring time. I worried was it worth it? Was it hurting writing?

Eight months later, I am celebrating students ability to navigate technology and use it as a writing tool.  There are still technology bumps. Students still make mistakes and lose text.  But they have learned  how to fix, how to recover. Students have taught each other how to crop pictures, how to integrate the pictures with the text, and how to insert picture captions. They figured it out and kept writing. Now I confer with students on writing not technology. The last time they did this type of informational writing, every step was a struggle. This time it flew: note taking to research to flash draft to published product on our blog.

This year we started using the Units of Study from TCRWP. I knew they were good, but oh so overwhelming for the students (and me). Understanding the checklists and using mentor text took time. We’d focus on one aspect of the checklist at a time and ignore others. So much of my teaching centered around understanding the mentor text and the checklist. I worried, were they getting it.

Eight months later, I’m celebrating  my students’ capacity to use mentor texts and check lists independently.  When I ask,  how might you use the mentor text to improve your writing? Students know what I mean. When I ask them,  show me how the mentor text has helped you. They can say specifically what they did and what parts of the mentor text helped them.

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Learning takes time. And it takes a bit of belief in the fact that the baby steps we are taking forward, and sometimes backward, will add up to be enough  Along the road we worry: will we make it. Today, I am celebrating. In so many ways, we have made it. Students are have grown in independence as readers and writers. They may not all be at that  spot that says “YES.”  Some may be “STARTING TO” but all have grown along the continuum. All are moving and they all are ready for to take the next step.

 

 

Poetry Friday: This is Just to Say

This is my first Poetry Friday post. It was a last minute thing that I just had to do. I’m so glad I had a place to share! Thank you for hosting Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference.san

poetry friday logo

My class has only 27 days left of school, but we have all the plates spinning. These fifth graders aren’t quite ready to leave their first school. It is like home, so I’m packing in as much as possible.

Poetry writing is in full swing and in the exuberance of reading poetry, we were rather noisy while our neighbor classroom was testing. So we wrote the following first draft apology. It was inspired by This is Just to Say poetry anthology by Joyce Sidman inspired by the William Carlos Williams poem.

To Mrs. Miller’s Class:

This is Just to Say

We have been too
LOUD
while you were testing

and which 
you probably wanted 
quiet
for thinking

Forgive us
it was NOISY
so fun
and so naughty

I am here to report room 5 LOVES this. Yesterday they all went off to write their own poems of apology.

A to C, “I’m writing this to Mr. Wright, because I was too loud in the dorms at Cataline.”

M to N, “This is to my mom for eating the chocolate cake.”

N to M, “I’m writing about my messy room.”

And it went on.

This is just to say that this lesson was also inspired by TCRWP’s “What if Curriculum” in the 5th Grade Writing Units of Study. A wonderful little addition to the other main works on Argument, Narrative and Informational writing. So through and so wonderful.

And why is it that I just want to keep going with my kiddos. Looking back it seems I always feel that I finally “get” them, by about this time every year, thinking — now we could really make some great progress. But they go, to someone else.

To My Class:

This is Just to Say

I have enjoyed
every moment 
learning together

I know there is 
more to do
I see that spot 
that I still want to shine

Forgive me
it is nearly done
so much 
and so quick

 

I’m going to miss them.

 

Slice of Life Day 15 and 5 Things to Celebrate

Today my post serves a dual purpose. One to celebrate the week with those who contribute to Ruth Ayres’ Celebration blog.celebrate link up

And two, this is my 15th slice in the March Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  Check out more slices here.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Friday was full of celebrations.

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Can you see the feather hanging from his whisker?

One. I was sitting at the dining room table this morning, when out of the corner of my eye I see my cat playing with something. He does this, sometimes with a dust bunny or a shadow. Next thing I know, he’s on the window sill with a bird in his mouth. Somehow this bird got in the house (something the cat dragged in?). I jump up and grab the cat, walk out on the porch, and shake. Cat opens mouth and bird flutters off. An innocent is saved..

Two: Students finished and “mailed” their letters to the principal on whether or not chocolate milk should be served in schools. This was our first attempt at TCRWP’s argument research essay unit of study.  We’ve debated, researched, and read. Unfortunately from my adult perspective, the majority of students wanted chocolate milk. Right before we published our letter, we played the “it’s awesome, it stinks” game (see this post on how my staff played the “it’s awesome, it sucks” version of this). This activity actually moved some pro-chocolate milk folks to the anti-chocolate milk side. A really interesting way for kids to “hear” opposing points of view.

Three. Students have been making music and stop motion videos in Genius Hour. The Novation app helped one student create a track that played throughout GH time. The hypnotic beat  kept this usually loud time relatively quiet.  Stopmotion video has also motivated students to try make story videos.  Kids come in at recess and stay after school to work with these creation tools. Thank you Animation Chefs for inspiration and direction in these passion projects.

Four: We have a volunteer group of parents who teach students art projects throughout  the year. In this project we created decoupage books. We used pages ripped from Harry Potter books, clay to give the 3D effect and decoupage glue to create these works of art. 2014-03-14 13.08.312014-03-14 13.05.382014-03-14 13.04.392014-03-14 13.04.072014-03-14 13.03.222014-03-14 13.02.31

Five. I’ve made it to the half way point (almost) of the March Slice of Life Challenge. When I first heard of this, it seemed daunting. The reality has been inspiring and instructive. I’ve learned about so much about myself, and others in the community; about my “go to” writing areas and realized there are places where I’m a little hesitant to venture. I’m hoping that in the next 16 days I’ll inch a little closer to those uncomfortable spots; stepping a little further every day.

Thank you RuthTaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth for creating the blogging spaces to learn and connect.

Slice of Life Day 9: Report Cards Meets the Power of Yet

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h“When do we get our report cards?” B asks.

“At the end of the day,” I tell him.

“Yes!”

“If I get more 4s than 3s I get to go to a movie,” A says to B.

They are so excited, you’d think it was Christmas. They can’t wait.

I can.

I agonize over report cards. And I don’t mean just the tremendously long time it takes to input them. I mean giving a student a number (4 being the highest) that measures them as a reader and most upsettingly as a writer, is painful.

In the Before Common Core period we were to assign grades based on what we thought the student would score on the state standards test. In other words, if their report card said “3” the prediction was that the student would score as “proficient” on the test.  Over years of collecting state testing and reading assessment data, we had a fairly predicable correlation. Now with the new and improved testing, all bets are off. .We know itis a lot harder. We know our students have had no real experience in this kind of testing environment. We know, based on other state’s experiences (think New York), the scores will be lower. Add this into my grading angst.

Back to my classroom.

At the end of the day, I pass out the report cards. Every year I tell them to wait to open it till they get home with their parent. And every year they open them as soon as they get them, like Christmas presents, count the 2s, 3s, and 4s, and share with their neighbors.

One student has totaled the numbers up. She’s smiling. She likes the ratio.

“I love reading the comments one student says, look what I got, ‘Shows growth in reading.’ ”

These are the students I don’t worry about too much. They are the ones that love school. Generally they are pretty good at it.

My worry is for the student who got 2s in reading and writing. They are readers and writers, they just haven’t met the level of expectation yet. This is the nature of learning. Do they know that? Is the power of yet present in a student’s mind? Or is another “2” another confirmation that says- I’m not good enough, or I’m not a good reader, or worst of all I don’t like reading.

The facts are this: report cards aren’t going away and we teachers value assessment in the light of next steps. So here is my pie-in-the-sky wish: a report card that shows a progression of growth and expectation.. When a student opens up their report card, their conversation becomes:

 Here I am.
Here is my goal.
I’m getting there (or) I’m not there yet,
so
Where do I need to work?

This could be done. It has been done with the writing checklists from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Units of Study. Why couldn’t we do this same thing for the Common Core Standards, at least in elementary school. Maybe I’m crazy, and I know it wouldn’t be easy, but it might make report cards something to get excited about.

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Celebrating Randomness

Every Saturday Ruth Ayers hosts bloggers who look back on their week with an eye for moments to celebrate. It is a wonderful way to honor, to notice and celebrate all the good things that happen. Click here and find out how you can start this practice. 
celebrate link up

This week’s list seems random. No real theme here. Just life. Kinda nice.

1. Parent Conferences are almost over and, in my opinion, overwhelmingly successful. Students led their conference by talking about their progress and their work to date. Students worked in front of their parents, evaluating their work right there on the spot. Goals were stated relative to Common Core expectations and in most cases the next steps involved in meeting the goal was discussed in a “how do you think you could achieve this goal” and “what can we do on Monday to start reaching this goal”  manner.

This was a one-on-one conference my students with parents listening intently. Data was gathered for teaching, parents attentiveness was clear and if nothing else this spotlight on their child was appreciated by both parents and students. The level of anxiety was apparent with some of the students, but most parents felt it was important for them to be able to talk about their work.

Only a few parents asked what grade their child would be receiving.  The focus was on the work and the process of learning. What could be a better thing to celebrate in education.

So much of this work was aided by a questionnaire the student’s filled out prior to the conference. It got them thinking and was used by some to talk from during the conference. I developed my conference  forms from the forms provided by Pernille Ripp in her post on how to do parent conferences. Thanks again Pernille and Leigh Ann for pointing me in the right direction.

2. Teachers College Reading and Writing Project released their Summer Institute Brochure  and videos of their work aligned with the Charlotte Danielson framework for teaching. Wow on both counts. Here’s to celebrating the continuing work of TCRWP and Lucy Calkins. Always challenging themselves and reaching for more. Now the tough work of choosing which institute.

3. My colleague Cathy started a blog. I’m so proud of her for jumping in and doing something for herself and the education community. I celebrate Cathy who is now a creator not just a consumer of media. Check out her blog here. Hopefully she’ll join us at #celebratelu soon.

4. Rain came to Southern California. I heard it the other night. It sounded strange, foreign. I thought, rain… but no, couldn’t be. I looked out and sure enough the ground is wet. Yeah! Our record low rainfall has those who keep track of these things all in a tizzy. While this short burst won’t fix the drought, it was nice to have a little winter-like weather.

5. My daughter’s brace is off and she’s in the pool. Thankfully she’s healing nicely. The surgeon is pleased. While she’s still in physical therapy and has limitations, the first part of this recovery is over. Her  return to the pool was exhausting. I came home to find her in bed at 6:30. She says she’s slow and it’s hard. Hopefully her desire to return to her former swimming self will be rekindled. No matter what she pursues, I’m grateful she is becoming whole again.

6. Next week will be normal, at least in terms of school hours. While conferences were good, teaching time was limited. I celebrate our return to normal school hours and predictability for our students.

Here’s to random celebrations, a wonderful weekend and more for the week ahead.