Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Book Whisperer - Reflection #3

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller is the focus for this year and the Literacy Connection group here in Central Ohio.  As I read Chapter 3 – titled There’s a Time and a Place, Donalyn shares one of her most important roles as a classroom teacher is to provide and make sure her students have reading time each day in class.  She realizes as I do our students have busy family lives outside of school with activities.  Having a daughter in middle school and a daughter in high school, I know this is an uncommon practice once children leave elementary school in our area.  This is quite sad. I do provide daily independent reading time in my classroom.  After a mini-lesson for reading workshop we all spend time reading on our own and confer with my emerging readers to get a better view of them as readers.  This is also a time for them to try things we talk about as readers.  Donalyn gives us this scenario to support independent reading, “Like brushing their teeth, reading is a responsibility that my students understand I expect them to assume.  Yet time spent reading feeds more reading.  The more my students read, and grow into a community of readers, the more they want to read.”  

Donalyn suggests ways we can “steal” more time for reading in our rooms.  Think about the interruptions we might receive in the day with people stopping by for a quick questions or conversation.  In my room, it might be the little social scenarios or shoe tying moments I need to help my students with.  Donalyn teaches her students early on to get out their books when there is an interruption.  It’s a classroom routine with the benefit of more real reading time.  Donalyn has done away with extension activities for students who finish work early and uses those minutes for independent reading.  I’ve done in that in my room too and often find there is great excitement as my young readers share and talk about books that are often on display in our room we have made together.  Donalyn even has students bring books to read while they stand in line for pictures on picture day.  Why didn’t I think of that?!  It’s on my list for next year.  In my room books are always a choice during our independent workshop times; morning explore, math workshop and reading workshop.  I’m thinking as we look more to mentors as writer’s I need to encourage my students to get books to look at during writing workshop.  Another way I “steal” more time for reading is to have books in different areas of the room.  We have math books with our math manipulatives.  We have building books with our blocks.  We have books by each classroom pet – a guinea pig, fish, frogs, and a turtle.  We have books on our art/writing shelves, and we have books in our Lego tubs.

I have to agree with Donalyn’s writing about reading spaces.  She urges comfortable spaces but also says children will find ways to be comfortable in any environment.  The whole class can’t fit in a cozy reading space.  I’ve tried to create a room with books and reading all around and various options for reading at tables, carpet spaces, and floor space.  Students will figure out what is best for them.  I would by showing students they can read anywhere at school, they can transfer that to their home life and read anywhere there too.  I think I need to share with my kindergarten students ways I “snatch some reading time” in hopes they will do that too when they are home.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Book Whisperer - Reflection #2

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller is the focus for this year and the Literacy Connection group here in Central Ohio.  Before I write another reflection, I have a confession.  This is the first time I am reading Donalyn’s book.  It’s been in my TBR pile - kindle edition - for a few years.  When this book came out I had just moved to kindergarten from third grade and while I knew I would enjoy reading it, I wasn’t sure it needed to be an emergency read since I was trying to figure out emergent readers again.  I hope to share with you how I find Donalyn’s thoughts connecting to my kindergarten classroom.

As I read Chapter 2 – titled Everybody is a Reader I loved reading about Donalyn’s landmark day.  The first day of school when she decided on the spot they would start checking out books after a student asked when that would happen.  She embraced a child’s thinking and put her own plan aside.  She summarizes why, “By making book selections and sharing past favorites the first activity in which we engage as a class, I emphasize the prominence that reading will hold all year.”  I’ve taught awhile now and I’ve never considered sending books home on the first day  of school, I’m rethinking this.  I love how Donalyn says, “I emphasize the prominence that reading will hold all year.”  I’m thinking kindergarteners might be really excited to bring home a book on the first day.  Then I think there is so much to show them about using the classroom library.  Then I ask myself, do they really need to know much to pick a book and take it home?  Would this set the tone quickly to show we believe we are readers?

I love the section where Donalyn talks about choice for readers.  Choice fosters empowerment, self-confidence, a positive attitude and a level of control for readers.  I just launched book boxes with choice books first earlier this month.  The excitement in the room was incredible.  There was so much positive energy.  A student who struggles with literacy was so excited to find a nonfiction book on bears, I knew then I had hooked him into reading by providing a mini-lesson on how we pick books and time to explore.  I was a bit puzzled by all the excitement because my students had been taking books out each day to read at home.  Was the excitement caused by having a book box?  Was the excitement caused by discussing and applying ways we pick books?  Was the excitement caused by talking more about where books are in the classrooms?

If you are looking for a more positive way to look at readers and the different stages they are at then you will want to check out this chapter.  Donalyn thinks of readers as developing, dormant, and underground readers.  I felt sad when I read about underground readers because I live with one right now.  High school homework and AP classes are dominating my gifted reader and everything she reads is connected to a test or quiz or a syllabus.  I can’t wait for break because I hope she tackles my pile of ARCs from NCTE for her. I know she will love that opportunity.

If you are looking for information about Brian Cambourne’s conditions for learning or student surveys you can find that in this chapter too.  I used to do reading surveys all the time.  In kindergarten with two classes – I’ve let them go and I can’t.  Maybe I can create a three question format to use along with my Developmental Reading Assessment.  That could be done quickly at the same time.  I better draft that to use next week.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Research and Development - Personalization

Today I would like to share with you observations I made about personalization while visiting Mosaic Elementary School in San Jose, CA.  I had to look up the definition of personalization and found in verb form it means to make personal, as by applying a general statement to oneself.  The school creed and core values are general statements applied to every student in the school.  The songs they sang were picked purposefully for their message about positive differences, I think these too are examples of personalization for their community.  

Another definition I found is to design or tailor to meet an individual's specifications, needs, or preferences.  Guided reading and guided math groups would meet individual needs.  Sight word list were broken up into chunks of ten words and I believe the children could progress through these list in learning to read and write them.  The fourth grader I was talking to about tangrams had his own choice/center folder and he told  me they each might have different things to work on in their folders.  I'm not sure how the computer program work in the learning lab is personalized but I think there is potential there.  When I asked someone who helped over see the learning lab she said she would hold up a picture for the program the children were to be using.  I shared with you before the state percentage scores are posted in the room and while I don't think that would be considered personalization some of my friends saw the charts like the one in the photograph at each child's seat with individual goals for each child.  I'm not sure we asked enough questions about personalization while we were there. 

I am wondering does personalization lead to differentiation?  I love working with small groups but is that enough personalization? How can children take more ownership for personalization?  I'm wondering if there is a correlation between personalization and student growth and is class size a factor in making personalization successful?  Mosaic Elementary had 30 students, so may be not.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Research and Development - Engagement

Today I would like to share with you observations I made about engagement while visiting Mosaic Elementary School in San Jose, CA.  I was intrigued when the parameters for these observations said to look at the entire community for engagement.  I feel I took the most away from our visit by looking at engagement.  I saw school wide engagement.  I saw students engaged with learning.  I saw teacher engagement.  I saw students engaged with technology.  I saw parent engagement.

School wide engagement starts the day with the Launch meeting.  It was very moving to watch an entire school gather to start their day of learning.  Communities provide feelings of caring and belonging.  I think both of these can help facilitate learning.  I also think groups of people connect when they are united by rituals, routines, and song.  Launch is a daily routine and a ritual.  Guiding the Mosaic community is a school creed and school core values.  I couldn't catch all of the creed during the morning Launch.  The school core values are persistence, responsibility, empathy, respect, and multiculturalism.

Student engagement is happening during their 8-4 school day.  Students spend 3 hours and 40 minutes in a language arts block.  They spend 1 hour and 50 minutes in a math block.  They spend 1 hour and 40 minutes in a learning lab block and their day includes about a 40 minute lunch.  I saw reading and math organized in workshop formats with units of study.  I saw a bookroom, the Developmental Reading Assessment2 on a shelf, and good anchor charts up in classrooms.  I spent time with a fourth grader thinking about tangrams from his center/choice folder.  You can't go wrong when looking at engagement and tangrams.  I hope you all have them in your classrooms.

I saw teachers engaged with guided reading groups and guided math groups. We heard about teacher engagement with their own learning through working with their Academic Dean.  One the primary roles of the Academic Dean is to guide and teachers and provide professional development monthly if not bi-weekly to the teaching staff.  The staff is young and a lot of recognition needs to be given to the organizers of Rocketship Schools.  They knew time would need to be invested in their young teaching staff.  During the Launch teachers were equally engaged with song and saying their creed and core values.  It was so nice to see teachers engaged  with the whole community and in their classrooms.  Teacher are also organized to focus on one learning area math or literacy block and teach that to two groups.  Even in kindergarten.  I don't know how I feel about switching students but there are some days focusing on one area of learning might be a blessing. We all have so much to do and so many talents to have.

Students engaged with technology was not what I was hoping to see.  There was a very large room with cubicles each creating a work station for a student to work on computer programs.  The students spend 30 min a day on reading programs and 30 min a day on a math program during their learning lab time.  The other minutes of this block are spent outside doing a PE activity or playing.  This learning lab room was large enough to fit three classes - 90 students.  

The parent engagement component of Mosaic School was impressive.  Parents are visible during the morning drop off and a few stayed to be part of the Launch ceremony.  Parents are asked and required to do 30 hours of volunteer time.  The hours may be with the children or around the children.  With the children would be working in a classroom or attending school events with your children.  Around the children could be working at school preparing materials, taking materials home to prepare, attending community meetings, coffee breaks with the principal, supporting new parents, office help, attending PTO events and helping.  The school keeps track of these hours using an online site, I believe and the parent's hours are tracked and reported on the students report card.  We met with a parent panel and it was obvious the joy and need these parents felt to volunteer and help out their school community.  It takes a village and Mosaic has that going on.

My own thinking and reflection is still going on as I think about engagement.  The technology I saw is not what I hope to create or do within my classroom.  Which leads to further thinking, what do I want to create for and with my students?  What tools do I want to use to make innovative learning happen?  I was so happy to see workshop models happening at Mosaic.  The parent engagement piece is pretty amazing.  I think this engagement level for each parent increases pride and ownership in their schools.  It might a piece of the puzzle to increase parent ownership in their student's learning and growth.  One parent commented they attend community meetings because they want their students to see they care about the learning and their school.  Community meetings address concerns for the school - a couple of weeks before their was a shooting on the corner after school hours.  Community meetings are also informative for parents.  They are not gatherings to report on PTO business or planning events.  I have had open houses after each unit of content study.  I have had literacy learning nights or math nights for parents.  Maybe I need to think about those again.  School funding is being cut all over our country.  We need help preparing materials and working with children, who better to recruit than the parents in our room.  Each year it seems parent volunteers have declined and the need increases.  It takes a village to raise a community.  Thank you Mosaic for reminding me of this.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Research and Development - Student Growth

Today I would like to share with you observations I made about student growth while visiting Mosaic Elementary School in San Jose, CA.  Student growth is discussed.  Student growth is celebrated.  Student growth is visible.  Student growth is expected.  Student growth is communicated with parents.  

Student growth is discussed.  The school day at Mosaic Elementary begins with a school wide gathering they call Launch.  During Launch, student growth is discussed and referred to as the school addresses the NWEA assessments some grades are taking that day and relate it to a school core value of persistence.  A teacher at the Launch said, "I'm so excited to see your scores."  Parents are aware of the schools overall rating on a state scoring system and can share with visitors the goal for this years rating number.  Student growth is discussed with monthly learning goals and tiny daily goals in each classroom. 

Student growth is celebrated daily through song and praise at a morning Launch.  Through the school creed where everything mentioned leads to student growth if followed.  The school has a list of Core Values; persistence, responsibility, empathy, respect, and multiculturalism which all celebrate growth as students are recognized for exhibiting these qualities in and outside of school.  Parents we talked to radiated with pride in their school and ownership for the success their school has had in the first 16 months of it's existence.  Student growth is celebrated with completed charts of learning goals met with stickers.

Student growth is visible.  SMART goals are written and posted in the hallway by a teacher's lounge/workroom area.  Boards in each classroom were filled with ranges for their NEWA assessment they take three times a year and students each had something with their name that was posted within a range to show where they currently are.  In one room, student goals for math were posted at each seat and progress was noted as the child obtained it. 

Student growth is expected.  Loud and clear we heard the message students will achieve 1.5 years of progress in one year.  The SMART goals were written with high percentages.  The school is fostering a college prep environment.  Each classroom is named after their teacher's college mascot.  College flags inside and outside the school.  Fifth graders defend a thesis.  Administration said, "They all know they are going to college."

Student growth is communicated to parents on a regular reporting basis via report cards.  I gathered the parents are constantly involved at the school, with the school and easily hear about their child's growth.  

I was also asked to reflect during my trip.  When it comes to student growth I've never been comfortable with posting student progress on a board in the room for everyone to see the range, specifically those not meeting expectations.  Is this necessary?  What does this type of practice foster?   Does this make a difference for each child?  I think the results Mosaic Elementary have been able to obtain are great.  They are a young, very young school and I wonder will this maintain over time and/or does it maintain for the student's once they leave Mosaic?  I also wonder if the student growth has been obtainable because the teaching practice here is workshop based with a combination of computer program work.  Are these two things new to these students?  I don't know much about the CA school system but from what I gathered their public school system is not doing well which sent these families to a charter school program.  If you have any thoughts about my reflections please share with me.  I think it will help me process what I saw and how I can internalize that for my own project. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Research and Development Project

My journey with the Research and Development Project I mentioned earlier this year began last week.  This document hear explains the process a bit better than what I've been told or known until now.  I went with a team of three other educators from my school district and two from one within the area to visit Mosaic Elementary School which is part of The Rocketship Education in San Jose, CA.  We were luckily to have a representative from TRECA to guide our group as we traveled and thought together for two and a half days.  

For this journey and I would think for this whole process we have been give four essential questions to guide our thinking.  
1.  Is the current learning environment getting us what we want in regards to student growth, engagement, and personalization for all students?
2.  What are the metrics for which we will measure student growth, engagement, and personalization?
3.  What will productive learning environments look like 20 years from now?
4.  How can technology impact student growth, engagement, and personalization?

Stop by each day this week to see how I answer What makes this school work?  I was sent to observe, reflect,and collect evidence.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Book Whisperer - Reflection #1

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller is the focus for this year and the Literacy Connection group here in Central Ohio.  As part of our reading, thinking, and college credit I've been asked to do eight reflections with blogging being an option.  I thought I could share my journey and thinking here. I also needed a plan for those eight reflections and I got very lucky when I opened the book, there are seven chapters so I will have to be clever for post number 8!

As I read Chapter 1 – There and Back Again I found my own memories ping ponging back and forth as I read Donalyn tell her story.  She writes about her mother and how reading began with signs and books she would gather for her.  I recently wrote a Nerdy Book Club post just last week where I share my reading artifacts from my childhood and also speak of my mother and her influence on my reading life.

Donalyn's mother worried about her socially because Donalyn would chose to stay in her room reading so often.  I have a daughter who does this right now.  While I know it’s a beautiful gift to be a reader like this I do worry she is withdrawing socially but Donalyn gives me hope and I hope she finds a soul mate like Don Miller.  My oldest is an avid reader too but has managed the social piece quite well. 

Donalyn shares her first year teaching experience and creating a wonderful unit of teaching around assignments as students would read the book, that didn't go so well.  As I read Donalyn’s story, I felt blessed.  I entered teaching at a time and in a place, Wickliffe Progressive School in Upper Arlington, OH where independent reading was a norm.  It happened in every room.  The school has a common philosophy and a history to guide their work with children and families.   Students discussed books, responded through the arts, kept reading logs, and discussed genres.  My mentors there were so smart and I’m so glad the work I did there still grounds me today.

Donalyn shares the next step in journey which led her to a reading workshop format.  She realized she couldn't teach the way she had been taught and neither can I. 

I love these sentences Donalyn has learned by being a reader.
“Reading changes your life.”
“Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time.”
“Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Quick Guide to Boosting English Acquisition in Choice Time

A Quick Guide to Boosting English Acquisition in Choice Time, by Alison Porcelli and Cheryl Tyler is part of the Reading and Writing Project Workshop Help Desk for K-2.  This is a small but mightly professional development read.  Smaller than a 5 x 7 photo and skinnier than than a half pound chocolate bar I might have been a bit skeptical, just for a moment.  The old saying is true, don't judge a book by it's cover.

I enjoyed reading every page on the flight back from NCTE.  I felt accomplished as a reader because I could finish it in one setting.  It reinforced current thinking I am having about the importance of choice and the value we must place on oral language.  The book begins discussing the organization of choice time in a workshop format.  Yes, that means with a  mini lesson, independent time and a share time.  Some mini lesson ideas shared are the value of planning, talking to each other about their plans, and always using books as a resource. I worry about the limited amount of choice children are having at any grade level in education.  I loved the these phrases from the text supporting the use of choice and the importance for incorporating it within our days.

-"allows children to work for long stretches."
-"provides opportunities to plan, to construct, to revise, and to share work."
-"carry on with independence"
-"provides explicit instruction from the teacher who intervenes to demonstrate and scaffold skills that children need."
-"The instructor, meanwhile, moves among the workers, observing, assessing, coaching, and sometimes convening small groups that need similar instruction."

Think about these ideas and imagine them in a reading, writing, and/or math workshop.  This book outlines and shares ideas for two units for a choice time workshop.  The first one being an organizational one with tips for organizing and guiding student work.  This unit also outlines various conference types teachers can have.  A small chapter packed with lots of ideas to help you get going and feeling confident you could justify choice time to anyone who might ask.  

The second unit, Story Play is a gem and must read for any primary teacher, especially a kindergarten teacher.  It's all about the importance of retelling to achieve higher comprehension and revision.  There is lots of thinking shared to help educators understand retelling with detail, retelling with a story element focus, retelling to better understand characters, setting, and plot.  Storytelling and retelling is quite natural for children.  We just need to provide the framework, time and supports using different tools.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Artifacts Make Nerdy Book Club Members

This post is also posted today at the Nerdy Book Club site.

A year ago the Nerdy Book Club was created after NCTE in Chicago.  I wasn't quite sure what it was going be about.  I didn't think I needed to join one more thing, read one more blog, or join one more piece of social media.  I also wasn't sure if I "qualified" as a Nerdy Book Club member.  I have watched this spot on the web throughout the year and as time went on I knew I was a Nerdy Book Club member.  My friends and new friends to be were posting wonderful thinking and various thoughts all around the topic of books.  It seemed pretty fair game when it came to "qualifying".  I began pondering what could be my own personal spin to the Nerdy Book Club.  As a member, I want to contribute fairly to the organization.  This is why I belong in the Nerdy Book Club.

Artifacts.  Reading Artifacts.  

In my basement there is an old toy chest my mother packed for me.  It's filled a few things from my childhood - drawings, my Dressy Betsy Doll, my stuffed cow that actually makes a sliding moo sound, my kindergarten artwork, and the rest is all literacy related.  I hang on to this chest because she packed it for me, now with a musty smell.  However, today I realized I hang on to it because it captures a part of my reading life.

I read 58 books in first grade.  I have evidence, 58 mounted handmade completed certificates from my first grade teacher, Mrs. Ingram.  I read Great Day Far Up, Duck in the Park Duck in the Dark, Puppy Love, Play with Us and many more.  There are various versions but this message she chose to hand write might have guided me further on my reading journey - Reading increases knowledge.  

Yes, it's true I have my Tigers, Lions, and Dinosaur basal reader workbook.  Completed.  I know at one point I had them all for each grade but realized that wasn't the teaching path I was taking and decided to just keep one as an artifact.  

I even have my Galaxies Reading Test from when I was 11 in sixth grade.  The Odyssey portion of this test shows I needed to continue working on Literary Skills, Decoding, and Reference skills.  Thank goodness my Comprehension skills were all in the clear.  

Later in life, my elementary school librarian became my step grandmother.  I think she retired from being our elementary school librarian after I was out of college.  When she did she sent me a couple of books she found in the school collection that I was the last person to check out.  I guess these titles weren't too popular;  Real Adventure with the Pilgrim Settlers and America is Born.  I loved reading about history.  I remember studying the Native Americans, Explorers, US States, and then European countries.  

While yes I grew up in a time of educating students with basal readers, spelling list, and workbooks I was also surrounded by people who supported reading actual books.  My toy chest is filled with books my Mom and Dad purchased for me.  I remember many, many trips to our local library and the children's section being down in the basement.  My favorite section over to the right.  I remember shopping through book club orders and being able to get a book or two.  Money was a bit tight growing up and I'm thankful my parents fostered reading in our home.

As I look at this collection today I think my Mom was one smart lady.  I have an alphabet book and a collection of magnetic letters.  There are collections of fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and mother goose.  I have picture books; Katy No Pocket, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and The Camel Who Took a Walk to name a few.  I have a few holiday books about Christmas.  I have chapter books.  I loved reading mysteries.  I have Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Alfred Hitchcock.  I can't tell you how many times I read The Three Investigators in the Mystery of the Green Ghost!  I have a book by Judy Blume and another by Beverly Cleary.  I had favorite authors to read.  I have a few books about horses.  I had a topic of interest to read.  I have the entire collection of The Little House on the Prairie books.  Yes, you could find me each week watching this show on TV.  I loved the character Snoopy and have a collection of Snoopy books, yes cartoon format but now I think they would be considered graphic novels.  I still have my childhood cookbook in the kitchen.

All these books, authors, and genres have continued to influence my reading life as an adult.  I like to read realistic fiction, mysteries, and nonfiction.  I have favorite authors, series, and topics I like reading about.  I survived testing and basal readers because my family provided balance.  A lesson for all of us to learn from.  We can do our best to help our students and our own children to find balance and become readers who cherish books and reading for enjoyment.  Thank you Nerdy Book Club for providing support and balance for all of it's members.