Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thinking About Body Language and Instructional Coaching

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world! 

Throughout the fall, I attended a series of three workshops on instructional coaching. Today was our final session, and one of the topics we studied today had to do with body language. Our presenter is a fabulous facilitator, and she began the discussion with a Tedtalk by Amy Cuddy about how your body language shapes who you are. If you haven't seen this one, I highly recommend it. While power poses may not be the ones we want to reach for during coaching conversations, it was interesting to think about how we use (or don't use) body language.

We went on to watch videos of ourselves having conversations with teachers, but watching the videos with no sound, just watching with the lens of the body language. It was really interesting to think about how we use body language as a tool. I watched myself lean forward, cross my legs, tap my fingers, use my hands for expression? What does it all mean? Maybe not too much, but maybe more than we realize. I don't know that I can change all that I do with my body language, but it does help to think of this as another tool that we have as coaches and facilitators of learning regardless of who we are learning with.

Jessica Kazigian, our facilitator, also shared an on-line article about 10 key concepts about body language. It's an easy read, and I recommend keeping it in your coaching toolkit. :)

Happy Slicing!

Monday, November 16, 2015

It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading...

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

I haven't read much, as my writing life has been taking over in combination with my parenting life, but the books I read last week were really good, and really worth sharing.

When Sophie's Feelings Are Hurt by Molly Bang is a wonderful sequel to When Sophie Gets Angry...really, Really Angry. In this book, Sophie paints a picture of her tree, using the colors that she associates more with her feelings than the actual tree. Reading this book aloud could lead to important conversations about not only empathy, but also respect for other people's work and the importance of honoring creative spirits.

I may have to buy I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld for people I love this holiday season. It's short, but full of high impact wishes--such small phrases and sentences and such big sentiment and meaning.

Stacey Shubitz put One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail on my radar a few months ago. It's a fabulous mentor text for opinion writing, as Sophia uses all kinds of persuasive techniques to try to talk her family into a giraffe. Her parents and grandparents teach her about the importance of audience, as well as counterarguments through their responses. As a read-aloud, it could also generate some fun conversations about perseverance and resilience.

Happy reading,

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Even Young Students Can Learn From Videos of Lessons!

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world! 

Whenever I begin a coaching cycle with a teacher, we begin with data and student work. That way, we work together with the mutual goal of student growth. Recently, when I met with a second-grade teacher, she shook her head as we talked about the students who we should target.

"They definitely need help," she said. "But you'll have a hard time working with them because they are pulled for intervention during writing workshop all the time."

Together, we thought about what we could do for these students. After some more conversation, we came up with the idea of videoing minilessons, and letting the students watch them.

Full disclaimer: Second-graders do not watch and learn from a video without a significant amount of coaching into the concept.  It took 4-5 sessions of coaching the students to watch and pay attention to a video. They were all pretty sure that they should sit back and relax as soon as they hit play until I emphasized that they had some specific tasks to do. That being said, today, three of them watched the lesson before they left for their reading intervention, and two of them watched when they came back from it. Their comments? So far so good.

No doubt that the novelty of using the iPad may wear out, and no doubt that these students aren't having the same experience that their classmates are in a whole-group lesson. However, at least there is some access to instruction, and I am developing a growing collection on my Google Drive of three to five minute videos of lessons to accompany units. If second-grade students can be successful with this sort of flipped learning, I am sure that it could work for upper elementary students as well who head off for music lessons in addition to interventions.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Writing Possibilities from a Football Play

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world! 

Over the last few days, I have been reading many narratives as students complete the first writing unit of the year. Even with extensive instruction on small moment stories and the importance of elaboration strategies that include dialogue, description, action, and feeling, I'm still reading some stories that are basically play by play sporting events. (Anyone familiar with these? I hope I'm not alone!)

Over the weekend, I visited my daughter who is a University of Michigan Wolverine. My husband and I watched Michigan State beat the University of Michigan in the last ten seconds on a missed snap to the punter. If you haven't seen the play, here it is:

My husband and I were in mixed company in our seats at an Ann Arbor bar. The Michigan State fans were pretty quiet during most of the fourth quarter, but they erupted during this final play. After I consoled my daughter, and convinced my husband that those last ten seconds really happened, I thought about some of the student writing I'd recently seen. This video clip has some unbelievable small moment stories!

  • the imagined narrative of Jim Harbaugh, the UM coach as he watches the play
  • the imagined narrative of the punter who dropped the ball
  • the imagined narrative of the UM fan whose dismay is evident in the video
  • the imagined narrative of the Michigan State fans who are in a sea of blue and maize
  • the imagined narrative of the Jalen Watts-Jackson, the Michigan State player who ran the ball into the end zone where he was tackled and had his hip dislocated before his entire team piled on top of him (that really happened!)
For those boys who like to tell every last play of a game, this is a video clip I will save and share with them, as a strategy to help them focus on one important play and how it can be stretched out or told differently depending on perspectives. Frequently, these boys are the ones who struggle to find stories they are excited to write; maybe this will become a tool to help them unleash the story-telling expertise they have within them.

Happy writing,

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Dove Identity Sketches and Their Importance in Coaching Work

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world! For the month of October, I am also participating in the #Educoach Blogging Challenge. This is a post that relates to coaching as well as daily slicing. 

Somehow I missed the viral spread of Dove's Identity Sketches when they first were released a couple of years ago. I was at an instructional coach workshop last week, and our presenter shared the video and the concept with us insofar as it relates to the work we do as coaches.

If you also missed it, the concept involves the theory that we see ourselves much more critically than the rest of the world. An artist sketched women first based on their own descriptions, and then again based on someone else's description. Here is an example of the discrepancies between a set of sketches.
I can imagine the woman describing her own face as fat with small eyes and thin lips. Some of the other sketches in the video are more dramatic in terms of how personalities are suggested. Sketches described by women themselves create meaner or angrier looking people. If you have three minutes I highly recommend watching the video.

So what does this mean for coaching? I think it means that we have to remember that we are our own worst critics, and we criticize ourselves even when we are good. Many people we are coaching might benefit first from authentic and specific compliments and validation that the work we are doing is important and hard.

Happy Slicing and Coaching,

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Thinking about the Partnership Principles

I spent today at an advanced coaching workshop, and much of the conversation centered on the work of Jim Knight. If you haven't visited his website at Instructional Coach, then I highly recommend allotting a fair amount of time to exploring the resources at this website, as well as purchasing a book or two that he's written about instructional coaching.

I had many take-aways from the day--I am still processing, reflecting, and percolating, but I have to say right now, the six Principles of Partnership are getting the most thought in my post-workshop brain. In a jigsaw activity, I created a visual for equality, and I love the ideas behind the quote from Peter Bloch:

Sometimes, inherent in coaching is the concept that the coach has more power  than the coachee, and maybe the coach does have more knowledge and experience. But, what if the balance scale was even in terms of rights, responsibilities, opinions, ideas, and voice? Maybe in some coaching experiences the balance scale is even, but if it isn't, then are we all missing learning opportunities?

The other principles include voice, choice, reflection, dialogue, and praxis.  I will save my thoughts about these other five for a later post, but for now, I am grappling with some questions:

  • Do I see the people I work with as equals? I'd like to believe I do, in which case:
  • Do they see themselves as my equals, and do they feel valued and respected?
  • Do I communicate in my comments, actions, or behaviors anything to the contrary? 
In my work as an instructional coach and curriculum coordinator, I work with many people across many domains. People remember more about how we make them feel than exact words we say. I know that I will be striving to answer these questions honestly and reflectively yes, yes, and no.

Thank you to the leaders at #educoach for hosting the October blogging challenge.


Highlighting Scenes in Our Writing

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world!

Over the weekend, I participated in a writing retreat hosted by Brenda Power. Throughout the time, she gave us snippets of articles and ideas to push our thinking about writing--both other people's and our own. Once of the ideas she shared will change my information writing.

Highlight the scenes

We had all been writing posts and articles, not the genre of writing where we typically think about scenes. She gave us highlighters and we went to work with our own writing, highlighting the parts of our posts where we'd included scenes. Some of us had several lines of highlighted text, but others had very little highlighting on our papers. 

"You don't have to have highlighting," Brenda was quick to say. "Not all articles and posts have scenes."

But as we talked about scenes within other genres of writing, we realized that these snippets of story woven into information or opinion writing engage readers. 

"It's the scenes that pull the readers in," I said to my daughter as I explained the activity to her. She was working on an explanatory essay, and it was packed full of information. "Create some spots where you could have people on a stage, even if it's just for seconds."

That line made sense to her, and her writing gradually gained voice, a trait of writing that is so hard to define, so hard to teach, but so important in engaging readers.

It's October, so I'd guess many of us are in the middle of narrative units with students. As we shift into other genres of writing, I love the idea of continuing elements of our narrative writing and creating scenes within other genres. 

Happy Writing,

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An Inquiry Lesson About Increasing Expectations in Narrative Writing

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world!

If you don't already use the Teacher's College Writing Checklists with pictures that can be found in the most recent version of Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins, I highly recommend them.

These checklists break the skills and expectations of the Common Core into discrete skills across all three genres of writing. The checklists use student-friendly language and pictures that make the expectations clear and attainable to students. 

I have used these checklists in many different ways in my work with teachers and with students. I have made them into checklists, I have seen teachers enlarge them into anchor charts, I have given them to students as tools for independence and repertoire, I have used them to differentiate the curriculum for students who struggle, as well as for students who exceed expectations... Yesterday, I used them in a fourth-grade classroom for an inquiry lesson. Except for two students who are new to the district, all of the students in the classroom were familiar with the checklists from using them in third grade--how great is that?!?! So, I handed out the fourth grade checklists for narrative writing, put the third-grade checklists on the overhead projector, and challenged the students to work in groups to figure out the different expectations we'd have of their writing and the different goals they should set. The students used highlighters and sticky notes.

Then, together we created a chart of the increasing expectations.

I was sure to write down the contributing groups on the chart. That way students have more ownership of the informations that's on the chart. Also, (and they may not realize it yet) they have more accountability for what's on that paper!

All in all, the students did a fantastic job in about twelve minutes of recognizing that in fourth grade, a lot more is expected of them in terms of development and elaboration when it comes to narrative writing. They are excited to try out some drafts, incorporating the higher expectations of fourth grade. This is an activity that would work with any grade and any genre, as long as you have similar checklists and a continuum of writing skills.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Slice of Life: How Many Pieces?

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world!

One of the most predictable and toughest questions teachers ask me when we work together unpacking units is:

"How many pieces should they write 

during the unit?"

I am fascinated to hear how others in this community respond to this question, because for me, the answer varies. Especially as students progress through the grades and are able to write more and more sophisticated pieces, they may only produce two or three completed pieces within the unit. Some students may take teaching points seriously, searching for ways to add details that truly strengthen the story, deepen the experience for the reader, add tension to the plot. When they hear about an emotional arc, they may buckle down and study mentor texts and craft moves to improve their emotional arc. In other genres, they might try out different text features or craft moves that relay information. 

But, I see a lot of students look through their writing, add one detail to their draft that has something to do with the teaching point, set their pencil down, and cash out for the rest of workshop. 

Maybe those students would benefit more from working through more pieces. If they are not ready to dig into their work with serious revision, they are much more likely to try out previously taught skills or today's teaching point in a new draft.

Today, when a group of teachers asked me that question, we worked through an answer that surprised them. There isn't a clear cut answer. Some of the students will learn a LOT with a couple of pieces, while others will benefit more by writing several pieces. My strong belief is that the most important thing that happens in writing workshop is writing. 

Happy slicing,

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Slice of Life-Taking My Own Advice

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world!

With the encouragement of my writing group and my family, I paid for a professional critique on the middle grade manuscript I have been working on over the last year. The expertise and critique exceeded my expectations,--if anyone is looking to pay for editorial services, I have an amazing recommendation to give--but it left me with a LOT of rethinking and reworking and rewriting. 

Over the last few weeks, I have been working with students as they have been generating, planning, and writing narrative pieces. One of the strategies I have taught several students involves using sticky notes to plan. This morning I decided to take my own advice and I began to plot out the chapters with purple sticky notes. 

 As I got going, I had to go find some different colors because I wanted to capture what I was figuring out about each main character. The yellow sticky notes are my realizations about my characters. I have to be honest--a couple realizations surprised me, and they will definitely help to create tension in the story.

I think my favorite set of sticky notes are the green ones, and they are my "somebody wanted but so" notes. One of the comments from the editor was that I needed to be very clear in my own head about the main plot and the sub-plots. Therefore, I wrote out each of the secondary plots on a note.

Have I mentioned in this post how much I depend on sticky notes? Maybe my take-away from this process should be starting with a board full of different colored notes before heading to the keyboard!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Introducing Young Students to iPads

Over the last couple of years of working as our district's Writing Coordinator and instructional coach, I have admired the work of our kindergarten teachers; I have come to believe that no one works harder than kindergarten teachers in the first few weeks of the year. Their job reminds me of herding cats. While I could find instructional practices to share in any of the classrooms, two of the teachers have done an especially amazing job of integrating technology into their teaching. We are fortunate in that each kindergarten classroom has five iPads, but we are also fortunate to have teachers who have invested so much energy into using them purposely.

Last year, by the time I visited Katie Bristol's kindergarten class, iPads were already a seamless part of writing workshop. This year, at a workshop I presented for several of our primary teachers, we were all interested to hear how Katie lays the groundwork for the rest of the year's use of iPads. She has invited me into her classroom every day this week, she has provided me with her lesson plan, and she has been eager to share the introductory work with all who are interested. So, here is a peek into Katie's introduction of iPads to her kindergarten class.

Each session began with a whole group lesson. On Day 1, the whole group lesson was described as such:

Followed by small group work and individualized practice opportunities:

Small Group Work:

  • With each small group, remind the students first of how to properly handle the iPad by using 2 hands and keeping it on their laps or on a table.
  • Next have the students sequence the pictures to show how to wake the iPad up.
  • Once students have completed the picture sequence correctly, distribute the iPads.  Go through the procedure of waking the iPad up, one step at a time while the students follow along.
  • If the students complete the guided practice successfully, put the iPads to sleep and have them try once more on their own.
  • Repeat the process above (sequencing pictures, guided practice, independent practice) using the procedure of putting the iPad to sleep.
Sitting at a kidney-shaped table gave her plenty of opportunities to individualize her instruction and make sure that all students were learning how to perform basic operations with the iPads, breaking the task of taking pictures down into kindergarten-sized steps.
During these sessions, Katie worked with four or five students for two to four minutes, giving them just the amount of time that they needed to practice the skill of the day.

The four day mini-unit consisted of:
  • Day 1: Teaching students hold the iPad, turn it on, and put it to sleep.
  • Day 2: Teaching students to build on their skills and open and close an app
  • Day 3: Teaching students to continue to build their skills by practicing the previously taught ones and adding on picture taking using the camera app. Katie emphasized the following criteria for picture taking:
 1) nothing important is cut out
 2) it is straight and
 3) there is an appropriate amount of background or extra space around the focal object (i.e. not too zoomed out)

It was so much fun to watch how seriously these students took their picture-taking!
  • Finally, on Day 4, the students had a chance to practice their picture taking skills in order to make an alphabet book. An alphabet book was chosen as the format for this book because it ties in nicely in kindergarten-- both within their reading work learning about different types of books and their future writing work of labeling pictures.  Other book genres/formats may be chosen based on classroom needs.  The important part is that students are taking pictures for a purpose, not just playing with the camera. Katie used a pre-made template in Book Creator in order to make the book with her students. Here is a sample of some of the pages, with the pictures contributed by students on iPads:

As Katie shared in her description of the book, "This book can then be printed and added to the classroom library.  It can also be emailed out to parents as an ePub or pdf."

I'm hoping to be able to continue to share some of the work that Katie does with her students. Now that they all understand the basic and important function of taking pictures with the iPad, she'll move on to teach them how to make their own books as she introduces them through various  writing genres throughout the year.

Happy Writing,

Monday, September 7, 2015

Slice of Life: The Power of our Words as Teachers of Writing

On Tuesdays, the writing community at Two Writing Teachers hosts the Slice of Life. Everyone is welcome to join in by writing, commenting, or just reading slices from around the world!

Another slicer and I have been pushing each other to take risks with our writing--to put it out there into the realm of contests, queries, agents, and critique groups. I have come to believe that sharing a manuscript is sort of like sending a child off to kindergarten. We have worked SO hard on these stories, and we want them to be loved. We want our readers to begin to fall in love with the characters that we have created so carefully. Okay, it's not quite the same as those little people whose hands we hold and cheeks we kiss, but let me tell you, writers feel pretty vulnerable when we share our stories.

We encouraged each other, and both submitted our queries and initial pages into a contest this summer. The word on the twitter feed about the contest was that the competition was fierce. When neither of us were selected, we consoled each other. We both received emails about our entries with feedback about our queries and our submitted pages. I know that I poured over those emails, trying to internalize the meaning and think about the work ahead in terms of revision. Then, my writing partner shared an email that she had received, and it sounded familiar. Very familiar.  In fact, a lot of the feedback--no ALMOST ALL of it--was the same. Word for word, the same.

My writing partner and I had a great conversation this afternoon, and we both agreed to take all of the feedback we received with several grains of salt. We both agree that feedback that is not individualized and specific to the pieces is not too valuable. However, I came away from the experience with some realizations about students and the vulnerability of ALL developing writers.

  • Sharing our writing with people we don't know well (or at all) is scary. We don't know whether people will understand the innuendos, work through the inevitable mistakes, relate to our characters. Appreciating the bravery that putting a piece of writing out into the world is an important early step in working with writers of all ages and levels. (We slicers all understand the bravery required to hit the submit button.)
  • Canned feedback not only doesn't develop writers, but also can discourage writers. When we try to take shortcuts in our responses--and shortcuts are SO available because of how easy it is to cut and paste text or use programs-- our feedback can at best lose authenticity, but at worst can discourage developing writers with criticism that doesn't make sense. 
  • Our words have tremendous power. Tremendous. Our writers see us as authorities, as experts, and they want to understand and get it right. Here's the deal: EVERY word we say or write to a developing writer has the potential to inspire or devastate. That's a huge amount of power and a huge responsibility.
My writing partner and I have each other and a powerful writing community to help us rebuild our courage and belief in ourselves, but the experience did leaving us scratching our heads. "Remind me why we're doing this," my partner emailed to me. I can answer her with the passion and conviction that we share about our lives as writers, and I can answer her with a fortress of supportive mentors and readers standing behind me. But I also will never, EVER respond to a student's writing again without truly meaning what I say and thinking about the impact of my words.

Happy writing,