Sunday, December 11, 2016

Remembering Kathleen Tolan

I had the honor of listening to and learning from Kathleen Tolan at numerous workshops at TCRWP for about the past 15 years.  When I heard the tragic news on Sunday, December 4th that she passed away in her sleep the night before, I was heartbroken and shocked.  I did not know she was sick so her passing took me by surprise.  I immediately thought of all the strategies she taught me over the years and how she not only impacted my instruction, but also impacted my students' learning over all these years by making me a better teacher.

I have notebooks full of my notes from TCRWP workshops dating back to 2002 so I began to look through them this weekend to remember some of the strategies I learned sitting in Kathleen's workshops. To honor and remember Kathleen Tolan, I am dedicating this post to her and sharing some highlights from her workshops dating back to 2003.

Historical Fiction:
Kathleen loved Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles and used it as a mentor text and read aloud whenever she was presenting a workshop for a historical fiction unit.  She was the one who introduced me to Freedom Summer on April 5, 2003 and it has been my favorite historical fiction picture book since that day.

At this workshop, I learned:
  • it is important for students to think about how the setting is affecting the plot and character's actions/behaviors since it is based on a period in history. 
  • students need to pay attention to clothing, objects, daily life, how characters speak and live because these clues can help students piece together information to find out more about the time period. 
  • to teach students how to use nonfiction texts to help them learn more about the time period of their historical fiction book.  
  • to teach students there is more than one story and event in each time period (i.e. slavery was not the only issue during the Civil War time period). 
  • to launch the unit by choosing one time period and sharing 5-6 short texts with students for that time period.  
Comprehension Strategy Instruction: 
Kathleen was so passionate about teaching reading and loved sharing her tools and strategies with others.  At a Saturday Reunion workshop on 10/18/03, I learned multiple strategies to teach reading skills. 
Strategies to teach retelling: 
  • Ask students to actually put their hand on the page as they retell to check for sequential order. 
  • Tell students that retelling is not a memory test and teach them the "Flip to remember" strategy by flipping through the pages to refresh memory and retell what happened.  
  • After each chapter, ask yourself," What just happened in this chapter?" (This taught me how to have my students use "end of chapter post-its!" 
  • At the end of every 2 pages, ask, "Where's my character? Who is my character with? What is my character doing? How is my character feeling?" 
Strategies to teach synthesizing/accumulating the text:  
  • When you read chapter 6, you are bringing chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 to it.  
  • Have students show you parts in the book where they learned information about their character. 
  • Character relationships - does your character act differently with different people? 
  • Ask, "How does this chapter fit with the chapter before?" 
Strategies to teach inferential comprehension: 
  • Kathleen shared a short typed passage with us to use with students for inferring work.  It was the passage where a boy named John plans to get up early to learn his spelling before school, but wakes up late, gets a flat tire on the way to school, and is late for class.  It was a perfect passage to teach inferring.  I used this passage with my students many times and shared it with many teachers too.  
Conferring in Reading Workshop: 
Those of us who knew Kathleen, know she was a master at conferring.  She is the one who taught me to create a conferring toolkit to carry around with me while conferring with students.  I learned this strategy on 3/27/04 and have had a toolkit ever since that day! Each time I add to my ever-evolving toolkit, I will think of her. 
During this workshop, she shared the following conferring tips: 
  • When you confer, carry and bring your knowledge about genre, authors, series, and strategies with you.  
  • Use a shower caddy or something similar to put "cheat sheets", conferring notes, texts with post-its, typed texts with tracks of your thinking, etc.  
  • Do NOT demonstrate in their book - that is the student's work! 
  • Always keep conferring notes on some kind of recording form where you can also jot down if it was an individual conference, partner conference, or strategy group.  
Read Aloud as a Teaching Tool: 
During this Saturday Reunion workshop on 10/29/05, Kathleen shared the video clip of her reading aloud The Giving Tree to a group of students.  
During this workshop, I learned: 
  • we don't want students to have a copy of the read aloud book because read aloud is a time to work on listening comprehension - listening comprehension is a window into reading comprehension.  
  • to make sure we are modeling how to accumulate the text while reading aloud chapter books. 
  • it is important to plan read alouds by marking places you will think aloud and ask students to turn and talk, jotting down prompts to ask students, and jotting down specific skills you will be teaching in the unit. 
  • it is mportant to have a whole class conversation for read aloud 1-2 times per week.  
Book Club Conversations: 
During this Saturday Reunion workshop on 3/24/07, I learned multiple strategies to help my students plan for their book club conversations and used them immediately in my classroom that year during our book club units. 
Kathleen showed us various ways students can plan for book club conversations in their reader's notebook prior to their conversation.  For example, students can...
  • place a post-it with their thinking on top of a page and extend their thinking about that idea by using thinking stems.  
  • create a web with an idea in the center and then stem out with how it affects other characters in the book and/or with the other character's point of view.  
  • have a page in their notebook dedicated to strong post-its so they can look across the post-its to synthesize the text and extend their thinking.  
Above are some highlights from the many workshops I had the honor of attending with Kathleen Tolan.  These notes are just the tip of the iceberg of what I learned from Kathleen and the positive impact she had on my reading instruction.  Kathleen, although you were taken from all of us too soon, you will live on in all of our classrooms daily.  Thank you for sharing your knowledge, expertise, and passion for teaching reading with all of us! 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Slice of Life: Sharing our writing

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

Because I love to write, I have always invented ways and reasons for my family to write together. Now that my four daughters are between 14 and 20, I can't tell them what to do as much as I can model what I do and why I do it. Over the last 24 hours, both of my college-aged daughters have shared their work. Julia, a freshman, has been working on an essay about the intersections of songs and poetry (love this!) while Larkin, a junior, has been working on a wordless picture book. 

Many of you know my daughter Larkin either through her participation in the Slice of Life Challenge or because she has drawn several of the pictures that go with my blog posts. About a year ago, she told me that she was not only going to major in art, but she was also going to minor in writing. I can't tell you how fun it has been to share writing projects together!

For several years, I have worked on a middle grade fiction book, and some of the characters in it are fairies and squirrels. Larkin has contributed events, conversations, and descriptions--sometimes I get emails or pictures of her notebook pages where she has envisioned or created a scene from my story. Her divergent thinking always pushes my imagination, and I know she has both made me a better writer and my book a better  story. 

This fall, Larkin asked if she could use my basic plot line to create a wordless picture book for a class she is taking. Ummmm. Yes! Absolutely!!! She has shared some of the pages as she's painted them, but she finally sent the entire work to me yesterday. I'm sharing just a few screenshots of her paintings--there are actually 24 of them!

I'm also sharing this story because it's such a testament to the power of writing to bring people together. I sometimes wonder about the impact of my writing on my daughters, and Larkin's beautiful picture book is incredibly affirming to the importance of sharing our work with people we love.

Happy Writing!