Monday, February 8, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You 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.

We had a snow day on Friday, and I spent the first part of it reading Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. This one has been on my TBR list for a while, as many bloggers and other teachers have talked about it, and it was decadent to sit and read it cover to cover. If you haven't read this one yet, I highly recommend it. I started it with the idea that I'd pick up craft moves--I had a pencil in hand and a pad of sticky notes. Within about twenty pages, the plot swept me away. I'll have to go back on a rereading mission in order to mark some pages as mentor text possibilities because I was far too interested in Kek's story to want to take time writing in or about the text! While this story inspired me to learn more about Sudanese refugees since the main character is a ten year-old refugee and the story opens with him landing in Minnesota to live with relatives, it's also a universal story of friendship, making mistakes, and overcoming adversity. Told in verse, it would be a wonderful read aloud, as well as an important story for book clubs and conversations. 

Happy Reading,

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Thoughts on Global Competence

Last week, I got to go to Teachers College in New York City to hear Jerry Maraia's talk about global learning. Usually workshops at TC center more on reading and writing, focusing on new units of study or new trends within literacy. Jerry's lecture was more about how we can integrate the important elements of critical thinking, empathy, questioning, and taking informed action into the literacy instruction that already takes place within our classrooms.

I think that it's imperative that teachers in the 21st century have a solid understanding of what constitutes global competence. The Asian Society is a great resource, and the learners there have put forth four critical aspects of global competence. Put simply, learners should be able to:

  1. Investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, asking questions, framing significant problems, and conducting well-crafted and age-appropriate research
  2. Recognize perspectives, others’ and their own
  3. Communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences- how we bring to the forefront the idea of how we change our presentation based on who we are talking to
  4. Take action

Asking questions is a skill that we frequently underestimate (and underteach!) in classrooms. Warren Berger had done amazing work around the importance of questions in today's world, and I recommend his website and his book, A More Beautiful Question. The graph below is from his website, and definitely makes the point about the increasing importance of questions in a world where information is so accessible.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.08.31 AM.png


One of the activities that Jerry did during the morning presentation involved showing us a photograph. The picture he used was of African children doing their homework, but really, almost any picture could work. The process he had us go through was to first write down five questions about the picture. From there, we chose one of our questions and dug into that one question with five more questions, but these five new questions were to begin with "What if." The third step of this one exercise with this one picture involved beginning to think of possible answers to our questions.  It was amazing to see how many different questions and directions we all had! I can't wait to try this activity with students. It's an activity that could work in a morning meeting as well as during content areas. The important concept for me emerged out of the challenge to look closely at an image and really, really wonder about it. I want to remember Jerry's important statement that:

“We often fail to see all the possibilities available to us because we simply haven’t spent enough time looking.”



Toward the end of the presentation, Jerry offered a challenge to all of us in the room and that involved thinking about and reflecting on our own global mindedness. If we're not living with this sort of mindset, then how can we expect our students to be doing it. Choose one of the attributes of Internationally Minded Learners from the International Baccalaureate Program and think about how we can share how we're living it with our students. Here are the attributes:

Risk-taking
Inquirers
Knowledgeable
Principled
Open-minded
caring
risk-taking

These words inspire me and remind me of my responsibility to be a learner in this changing world we're all sharing.

Happy Super Bowl Sunday,











Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Slice of Life-Giving Students Roles in Read Aloud

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! 


I always enjoy days when I get to go to Teachers College, and last Friday was an especially good day there attending an day-long workshop on the Intersection of Author Studies, Interpretation Clubs, and Literary Essays. I went to the conference with a colleague so I didn't have to drive alone, we got out of New York before Storm Anna got in, and we both had a TON of new learning and resources to sort through, percolate, and share. 

One of my favorite ideas that Katie Clements shared involved developing student agency during read aloud through assigning specific roles to specified groups of students. Katie taught us this concept by assigning rows of audience members to pay attention to specific aspects of the text she was going to be reading. The various assignments were:
  • Setting
  • Change
  • Character
  • Repetition
  • Tension and
  • Themes
Then, when she read The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (one of my favorite new picture books. Order it, borrow it, get your hands on it. So beautiful. I wrote about it yesterday in #imwayr.) we all were supposed to put a thumb up when we had a question about our category. I have to say, I listened to that story very closely because I was paying attention to repetition!

Katie's suggestion was to assess students first so that you know what skills they are ready to work on; character work is more foundational than the understanding of tension and themes. Therefore, for students who may be struggling more, have them be on the lookout for ways they learn about characters' emotions, traits, relationships, and conflicts. Stronger students could be responsible for asking questions that deal with issues, lessons, morals, and ideas that lead into themes. Students are much more apt to listen closely and take the important work of read-aloud seriously if they are put in these sort of leadership roles within their own learning. 

If you can ever get to a workshop at Teachers College, I highly recommend them. The Saturday Reunion is now on the calendar for March 19, 2016. 

Happy Slicing,


Monday, January 25, 2016

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 almost didn't make the time to post today, but The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Melanie Cataldo is too special of a book to not give it a shout-out on #IMWAYR. A picture book, this one deals with some sophisticated and emotionally charged themes and concepts that surround death. The narrator and her two brothers come across a beached whale on their way home from school, and they realize that not only are they powerless to save the whale's life, but the adults are also powerless, as well. Some things are too big for even the biggest, strongest, and most highly thought of people to save. What I really love about this book is that it's the children's understanding of basic kindness that really shines through. While adults "rocked and pushed the whale back and forth toward the outgoing tide" until the whale was "even more tired than the men," the young narrator talked to the whale, "telling the whale how it was beautiful and strong, how we would miss it, whatever happened next." 

Jane Yolen always inspires me as a writer with crafts moves that establish strong emotion. Katie Clements, a staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in New York, read it to a group of teachers at a workshop on Friday--I am sure that she chose this text to read because it offers so many opportunities to talk about character development, setting description, theme, craft moves, and turning points. We all had specific assigned lenses to pay attention to as she read, but I found it hard to focus on my assignment. I just wanted to enjoy the story. Like so many of Jane Yolen's other picture books, A Stranded Whale is full of sensory images, windows into the narrator's soul, and snippets of information that made me want to jump into the pages and hug the narrator and her brothers. Enjoy this one, and be sure to have a box of tissues handy!

Happy reading!






Monday, January 18, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You 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.


Even though I haven't been blogging as much as usual, I've been doing a lot of reading and writing. I had the pleasure of working with Renée Watson through the Solstice Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program, and I purchased two of her books. What Momma Left Me by Renée Watson is the story of a middle-grade girl with family secrets and family challenges. Even though the subject matter is intense and emotional, the voice of the main character shines through with insights, reflections, humor, and important realizations about people and life. Upper elementary students will both relate to and learn from Serenity, the eighth-grade narrator.

I read  This Side of Home by  Renée Watson in less than 24 hours, and it's not short. I started it with a pen in hand to make notes on the craft and structure, but the story was too good. I'll read it again for craft analysis, but I needed to just be in the world of Maya, her family, and her friends. While this book deals with important cultural, economical, and political issues with important historical references woven into the text, it also has a tight and engaging storyline about growing up in a changing demographic. There is nothing R-rated in this book, but most elementary students won't understand the references to high school life.

Meg Kearney is the director of Solstice, so I also purchased one of her books, The Girl in the Mirror, the second of a trilogy. Told through journal entries and poems, this book would be a perfect mentor text for poetry forms and the power of telling stories through different genres. The narrator is a high school senior and a poet, and a tragic event defines her senior year of high school. 


Trouper by Meg Kearney is a not-to-be-missed picture book about a three-legged dog who needs a home. E.B. Lewis's pictures are beautiful, and the story is all about hope, friendship, and what really matters in life. 



Happy Reading!






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. :)
http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/10-Powerful-Body-Language-Tips.aspx

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.

Respectfully,

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,