Thursday, July 7, 2016

Singing a New Song

I know with many of my posts I am just preaching to the choir because many of my readers and I share the same beliefs.  This post is no different.  As Donalyn  Miller often says, "You preach to the choir because you want the choir to be loud."

But what about those teachers who do not know how to sing?

Last year I was having a conversation with an elementary teacher about independent reading in my classroom.  I teach in a district that uses Accelerated Reader, but she knows I do not like the program.  She asked me "If you don't do AR, how do you get kids to read?"

That's when I realized this teacher is one of those who did not know how to sing. Sadly, I think many more are just like her.  They have become so dependent on a program, they no longer remember "the words" or maybe even have a voice.

Today I am answering that question with a simplistic, yet multi-faceted answer.

By living a literate life.
  1. I read the books my students read so I am better prepared to recommend titles to them.  Building reading relationships with students is built upon my knowledge of books.  Throughout the school year, our relationships move from teacher to student, to reader to reader.  They trust me to give them suggestions, and they trust our conversations.
  2. I share my reading life.  I set a yearlong challenge for myself, and they see when I struggle with a book or struggle to find time to read.  Students get to know my preferences, and they know when I laugh, when I cry and when I abandon a book.
  3. I have a well-stocked classroom library where books are within the reach of my students.  School libraries are essential to developing a reading culture, but quickly handing and suggesting books to students "in the moment" is even more important.  
  4. I talk about books.  I talk about the books I am reading, I talk about the books they are reading, and they talk about the books they are reading.  Reading is a social activity, and it deserves a place at the discussion table.
  5. I value independent reading.  I give my students time each day in class to read books of their choice.  I have 48 minute periods, but those 10 minutes we read have become nonnegotiable  I have this quote by Donalyn Miller posted outside my room.
A place where "all readers are valued

and all reading is valuable." 

It is not a program that creates readers.  It is the teacher who lives a literate life.  This past year my 100 students, which is one half of a grade level, read over 2,400 books. We read more books than each of the 7th or 8th grade classes.  We did it without a program.  

Because I know I am preaching to the choir, my goal is for you to share this with a teacher who has forgotten how to sing.  Teach them the words to a new song, so our choir can lift our voices for everyone to hear.

Our students deserve it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

#cyberPD: DIY Literacy - Week One

This summer I am participating in #cyberPD, an online book talk, with an amazing community of educators.  We read, respond and share our learning with each other. The summer's book is DIY Literacy Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts.  To learn the basics about #cyberPD visit Cathy's blog, Reflect and Refine.  It's not too late to join us!

Chapter One:  Extending Our Reach

In this chapter Kate and Maggie identify three obstacles we face when teaching our students.  These obstacles are memory, rigor, and differentiation. Our students struggle with remembering all of what we are teaching them. Learning is hard, and sometimes this hard work gets in the way of learning. Our classrooms are full of different learning styles and abilities, and sometimes those students' needs are not being met.

But the beauty of this chapter lies in the answer - "Teaching tools can be...the seemingly simple things that cause great positive change" (3).

I use many of these tools already, but Kate and Maggie have shown me how I can tweak them to help my students "become more powerful, independent readers and writers of a variety of texts".  Don't we all want these "powerful assistants" in our classrooms?

They give three reasons to use teaching tools with our students:
1. Make teacher clear
2. Bring big ideas and goals to life
3. Help learning stick

Simple tools...positive change. 

Chapter Two:  An Introduction to Teaching Tools

Teaching Charts - I love the label of "teaching charts" instead of anchor charts which is what I have always called them.  Looking back at my charts, I use them more as repertoire charts, or a list of strategies, rather than process charts which take a larger skill and break it down into the steps the students need to master that skill.

Demonstration Notebooks - Once again, this is one of those simple things that I think will make a huge difference in my teaching.  To have interactive lessons at my fingertips will be powerful as a teacher.  I have started a list of lessons I want to include, but would love to hear or even see what others are including in their demonstration notebooks.  

Micro-progressions of Skills - Personally, I think this tool will be the most difficult for me.  I know I will struggle to clearly define the three levels of work.  This tool is one I will certainly be looking for examples from all of you and the hashtag #DIYLiteracy.  In the bonus chapter, Kate and Maggie suggest "never teach alone," and that is one piece of advice I intend to heed. 

Bookmarks - I use several bookmarks in my classroom, but all are pre-made and copied for students.  Lightbulb moment -- Letting them make the bookmarks themselves will "create space for them to be self-directed and reflective on the teaching happening in the classroom."  Again, a simple tool for powerful learning.

Bonus Chapter:  How Do I Find (and Write) Strategies for Teaching Tools?

For me, this chapter was the Jackpot!  When I read this book the first time, I remember thinking to myself, "This is all great, but where do I find all of the strategy steps to include in the making of these tools?"  Then, as if they heard my question, Kate and Maggie wrote the bonus chapter!  I find that in my own teaching, I tell the strategy more than I teach the strategy in a clear way for students to use independently and to transfer to other work.

I know I need to do this strategy work for myself.  I need to determine "the what + the how + the why" with many strategies in order for this work to be successful in my classroom.

My personal call to action from week one:
  1. Think about how I can better use these tools in my classroom, especially the micro-progressions and the demonstration notebooks.
  2. Determine strategies I want my students to clearly understand and be able to do.
  3. Find or create examples of learning progressions.
The information in this book is powerful, but just reading the book is pointless if I am not doing the work myself.  I love how Julieanne shares her learning with us by creating her own strategy work with the book Pax.  She has truly set the bar for my summer learning, and I encourage you to read her post.

Now, it is time to get to work!