Friday, July 7, 2017

Classrooms Are Complex: #CyberPD Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading

During the month of July, I will be participating in  #CyberPD as we read In Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach by Vicky Vinton.  
Vicky sums up my puzzlement, my yes and, and my yes but, thinking with the following words. 

So when I read, and I found myself shaking my head like yeah or furrowing my brow in befuddlement I knew I was on the right track because classrooms are complex and teaching is most definitely complex!

My first head nod came early when I read the suggestions for tackling complexity, looking at the big picture of a complicated situation rather than the smaller pieces.  I found confidence in this idea because I am a big picture thinker, I work best when looking at the whole and then working backward to figure out the thinking behind the idea.  As I read on and learned the term "elementitis" and I found myself perplexed.  I agree reading is about the author's message, the readers interpretation of the message, and how we take this learning and apply it to our daily lives, big picture thinking, yeah.  Taking our thinking to this level requires background knowledge, inferring skills, questioning, and flexible thinking.  I found myself pondering, can students successfully achieve this deeper thinking if they've not learned and practiced these critical thinking skills in minilessons and guided practice? 

I found myself again nodding my head like yeah, with this quote from Barack Obama,

"When I think about how I understand my role as a citizen, setting aside being the president, the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I've learned I think I've learned from novels.  It has to do with empathy.  It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there's still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that.  And the notion that it's possible to connect with someone else even though they're very different from you."

Thinking of readers as citizens who are learning from their reading how to be citizens and to have empathy for others I want them to bring their lives into the pages of a book just like I want them to take the lessons from the author into their lives.  
Chapter Four..." if learning is the ultimate goal, we need to be sure that our teaching methods support how students learn." 

Below are other ideas that stuck with me, I am pondering, and otherwise not yet fleshed out. I am sorry we are heading to the beach, and I want to get this up! #Cyberpd is friendly like this! 

  • Students need to know the goal of their learning and learning happens over time- we know it's not a one and done
  • Pleasurable learning experiences best achieve student learning. Pleasurable learning= choice, opportunity to explore and discover following their own curiosities. 
  • There is no teaching without learning and learning stems from the activities of learners. Our role becomes "one of creating and facilitating opportunities for them to learn through exploration, problem-solving, and discovery." pg 51
  • Feedback- from the students perspective- it should feel, as John Hattie puts it "just in time, just for me, just for where I am in the learning, process, and just what I need to help me move forward." 
  • The Power of Language- "creates realities and invents identities pg 52
Interested in joining the conversation? Find out more here, #cyberPD Google Community to connect and receive updates 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Why, WHY Matters: The Innovators Mindset

This summer I find myself gifted with “The Innovator’s Mindset; Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros and a group of like-minded (localeducators to share my thoughts and ideas with along the way.

This book had me at innovators, but I have been taught not to judge a book by its cover alone, so I moved into the nitty gritty of the book.  My thoughts and questions started growing exponentially in the early pages. 

George Couros explains most successful businesses and innovators move first from the why, then to the what, and finally to the how.  These businesses consistently reinvent themselves to stay competitive and relevant.  Staying current is what I envision for my students. Not only do students need to learn their why, but as an educator, I need to know my why and the why's of my students. 

I have been known to drive a few people (family members included) crazy with my need to know the why in any situation.  Saying we could do this or we are going to that isn't enough for me. I want NEED to know the WHY. 

The why may not matter when my husband says we're having chicken for dinner tonight, but when someone says your students need to do X, why matters!  Why do the students have to do X?  Is it for a mandated test?  Are we doing it because we always have?  Or does it prepare the students for life?   The why is the catalyst to learning. 

In an earlier post, How Do We Help Students Find Their Why, on Two Writing Teachers I shared how the lack of knowing the why behind our work affected the student's ability to transfer learning to other situations. Seeing the lack of generalization troubled me and led me to set my summer goal.

 My learners need to know the why.  This summer, my learning will center around how I can teach my students to find their WHY.

George Couros defines innovation, "... as a way of thinking and doing that creates something new and better." He continues to explain innovation as being about what we do with what we have. Innovation may create something new (invention), or it may alter something we currently have (iteration).  What caught my attention was when George Couros cautioned us about thinking of innovation as a noun. Rather we should look at innovation as a way of thinking, and how we use the tools, we have.  

Keeping in focus of different and improved ways of doing we're further cautioned about simply making changes in the name of innovation.  If the changes we make are not producing new and better outcomes, then they're not innovative.  Innovation must produce newer and better outcomes. 

As an educator, I believe education needs to be at the epicenter of innovation.  It's my responsibility to provide an environment that enables my students to become prepared for the future.  But how do I do this when each student in our classroom is an individual, and each student's why is different? How can I best meet the individual needs of 25 different students?  

I can't be everything to all.  I have to release the reins and trust the students to determine their why, then their what, and finally their how.  Students need to know why they're learning, then decide what they want to learn, and eventually how they'll go about the learning.  

Student reflection and goal setting will give students ownership in learning and allows the student to follow their why.  In addition, student ownership is motivating to the students and student drive releases me from designing 25 individual learning schemes.  Through the practice of routine reflection and goal setting, students will be in a continuous state of innovation and reinventing their learning.  

Thoughts I am pondering as I move forward-

How and when do I give kids a chance to reflect? 
If the reflection isn't regular, do kids have the opportunity to see the flow of reflection and its power? 
How do I model reflection and show students the next steps in taking ownership of learning? 
If innovation is what we do with what we have, then How do we use student reflection to guide our teaching? 
It’s what students don't say that will guide my teaching the most. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What's Your Bumper Sticker?

What's Your Bumper Sticker?

Ralph Fletcher begins joy write sharing a story of a student who asked him this very question.  At first, Ralph explains he was perturbed. How could he condense all his thoughts on writing to a bumper sticker?

Finally, he says,
"Writing is fun."

Ralph is quick to say not all writers would agree writing is fun, but honestly, if there isn't any pleasure in writing, why would we write?  

I paused to consider what my bumper sticker would be, and while no bumper sticker could possibly convey the complexity of writing, I am taking into consideration, "writing changes you" as my bumper sticker.

Here Are A Few of My Other Contenders:

Writing grounds you.
Writing isn't for wimps. (This one was a tie, it just makes me smile.)
Writing is brave.

"I love the smell of words and the crunch of sentences, the little jolts of satisfaction that comes when a strong sentence snaps cleanly into a paragraph." Ralph Fletcher

When I read those words, I had to stop and reread them to my daughter, who also enjoys writing, (thanks to her amazing kindergarten teacher @SharonEsswein).  There's something palpable about these words and the crispness of their sentences. It's when your words fall into this crispness that I fall in love with my writing. I want my students to find this same feeling in their writing.

Ralph goes on to explain the need for writers to be free to use language in flexible ways. He shares a conversation he had with Tom Romano about exactly what is meant by the use of flexible language.

"And if students are getting marked off and penalized for trying anything out of the strict norm- even if teachers think they are simply ensuring that students observe conventions- the student will become gun-shy and linguistically wary."

These words, their meaning, and their power got a huge AMEN from this educator!  Writers of all ages need to feel free to tell their story, share their thoughts, and communicate in a way that is compelling and personal to that writer. If we stifle this freedom and creativity, we limit the writer and their willingness to explore and experiment with genre and technique.  

Reading Ralph's thoughts allowed me to breathe and to trust myself and my students.  He believes allowing kids time to play, explore, and fool around with writing is essential in becoming a writer.  In this open space, the greenbelt of writing as Ralph refers to it, is a safe and free writing zone.

As an educator, this is where my professionalism comes into play.

Here are my goals and responsibilities:

Protected time-
I need to be true to the original basis of a workshop, where the largest investment in time is in the student's writing, 25-30 minutes of a 55-minute workshop is protected for student writing time.  

I am a Writer-
As a writer myself, I know the various pitfalls, strategies, and processes a writer experiences and I can read the needs and strengths of my students. This enables me to meet them where they are and move them forward at their pace. I know writers need ownership in what they write and how they write, I give them this freedom.

Read the Behaviors of the Writers-
I watch to determine the favorite genres, topics, struggles, and strengths of the writers. I look at the energy of the workshop stepping in and supporting gently and within the writer's zone of proximal development. When appropriate, I stay in the background to allow the raw, open greenbelt writing Ralph savors in entitling writers to flourish.

Know the Development of a Writer and the Standards-
Ask yourself what do these writers need right now, not what are they going to need next year. Ralph reminds us "Pushing kids to learn something before they're ready creates a lot of stress."

If you're ready to see what all this could look like in your classroom, or you're searching for a few fresh ideas for your writing workshop, grab joy writing and dig in! Ralph includes ideas from Slice of Life Classroom Writing Challenge, personal notebooks, and tips on engaging the reluctant writers. in your community.

This book was truly a joy to read, pun not intended!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Thank You! SOLSC Day 31 of 31

Despite the fact that today is a day of celebration and reflection as we wrap up the SOLSC it's MY NIGHT.  The pizza is ordered, I am on the couch, and the movie has been selected.

But I can't close the month without  thanking all of you who taught me:

I can write daily if I make myself

Even when I think I am not going to write, I find I love sitting down and letting my stories find me.

The less of a plan I have when I sit down to write, the more stories I find.

Just writing, idea or not is really fun!

I don't like to be interrupted when I am writing.

When I write raw each day, and from the heart, I make too many typing errors! SORRY!

Many of us are experiencing the same joy and struggle in this challenge.

I don't have enough time to comment like I wish I did!

I like to make people laugh in writing and in F2F conversations.

Casual writing seems friendlier.

I have a few regular readers.

I am going to miss the daily challenge and all of you!

See you Tuesday!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A True Team: SOLSC Day 30

The relationship I have with my teaching team is one of my most meaningful relationships, (second only to my family).  Our conversations and challenges keep me up at night and yet knowing they are in it all with me allows me to sleep.  My relationship with my team is powerful.  It has changed who I am as a teacher and a person.  I am who I am now because of my team, and I am forever grateful for each one of them.

When you have a powerful team you know it, you feel it in your gut.  You work for your team, and your team works for you, no thanks needed.  You ask questions not because you want an answer, but because you want to be challenged.  You know the team will make you better.

A two-minute conversation in the hallway can refine a lesson and drive the next five lessons.  You are aware of the strengths of each member and work to optimize these strengths.  Where one is weak,  the other is strong.  You fit together like a puzzle, it just works.

I think the pushback is what makes our team so powerful.  Rarely do we share an idea and have it accepted as it is.  Ideas are reflected on, questioned, challenged, and come back stronger and better. Our team expects this.

When you're in a teaching team that works, kids notice families notice and your building notices. You laugh, you cry, and you pray this team will last until retirement and beyond!

Next year, I will be working to build a relationship with a new team.
Will they welcome the push back?  Will they see my needs and work with me to minimize them? Will our strengths mesh and support one another?  I am lucky, I know my new team, we are already friends, but a team is beyond friendship, a great partnership is a work of perseverance.  I am fortunate to know what a great team is and I am willing to build another great team. A team that just fits.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Green Tree! Green Tree! Green Tree! SOLSC Day 29

Today I was reading Kevin Henkes' When Spring Comes to my class, and I was flooded with memories of a game I used to play with my girls when they were young, and if you promise not to tell them I said, I might say we still play when we have the opportunity.

The game is called Green Tree.  It is played in the early days of spring when "the trees that look like black sticks against the sky," Kevin Henkes, begin to turn to color.  As my daughters and I notice a green tree, we call "Green Tree!" As the game begins, we may call one or two trees a day. On day two we might spot five to seven green trees. The next thing you know, "Green tree!  Green tree! Green tree! Green tree! Green tree! Green tree! Green tree! Green tree! Green tree!"

The original game was merely a ploy to distract a crying toddler, and now it's a memory that will live forever because I wrote it down.  I know words that are written down live forever because Anslee told me so.

What stories do you want to live forever?  Write them down and give them life.

Join my co-writers and me at Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Unquestionable Power of Words Written and Words Read SOLSC Day 28

As an educator, I strive to help my kids fall in love with reading and writing this is my one faithful goal above all else as a teacher.  I bring in books that are current, well written, and illustrated and I keep them coming. Our room is a constant flow of new books to devour.  I search for writing projects, challenges, communities, opportunities, and celebrations to demonstrate the power of why we write and how writing serves us in life.  I write so I will understand what it feels like to write and so I will know how to support my students.  These efforts are ubiquitous in ever part of our learning community.

So, when I found this on Anslee's blog, I cried.  Unquestionably,  Anslee feels the power of words written and words read.  Her knowledge of this power will take her out into our world and serve us all.  Words aren't just for the reader or the writer they are for all of life.

Click here to hear Anslee's beautiful message. You're welcome to leave Anslee a comment.

Monday, March 27, 2017

If I Waited to Write: SOLSC Day 27

Tonight I was finding myself a bit stuck and reluctant to write. I have literacy data to analyze, filing, reorganization of groups for intervention, and a good friend awaiting a callback.  Then, I clicked over to today's inspirational post.  That's when I saw this quote left by our own sweet Melanie.  Thanks for the inspiration Mel!

What I'd do if I waited until I felt like writing:

  1. Eat the last piece of red velvet cake. 
  2. Fold laundry.
  3. Call my friend.
  4. Analyze my literacy data.
  5. Reorganize groups for intervention.
  6. Listen to my current Audible book, A Man Called Ove.
  7. Read Facebook.
  8. Watch a good sitcom.
  9. Unload the dishwasher.
  10. Look at the paperwork for my daughter's upcoming trip abroad.
  11. File my latest assessments. 
  12. Review the new math unit and layout plans. 
  13. Comment on more blogs. 
  14. Pay bills. 
  15. Update the parent news page. 
  16. Research my next (non-slice related) blog post. 
  17. Join a Twitter chat. 
  18. Answer emails. 
  19. Meditate
  20. All right! JUST WRITE ALREADY! 
Now, I am going to reward myself by eating the last piece of red velvet cake and calling my friend! 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Dark and Ominous Sky: SOLSC Day 26

The sky went dark and ominous, but no one seemed to notice.  We were all debating who would be the one to clean up after dinner.  Lexi placed her finger on her nose and declared
"I'm sick I shouldn't have to clean up tonight."
"Well, dad and I cooked, so this means it's up to you," I replied with a hint of nanny-nanny-boo-boo in my voice.
"No, I need to rest up I have classes this week, and I am not feeling good." Lexi tried again.

The next thing I knew we all in clearing the table making the task less for all.  As we rinsed off plates, loaded the dishwasher, and filled the fridge with the leftovers the three iPhones resting on the island began to blare an emergency alert.  We all stopped and reached for our phones.

The alert made us aware of the dark and ominous sky and the tornado warning for our area.  The sirens in our area began to sound.  We looked at the radar and streets within two miles of us were withing THE AREA of concern!  My husband stepped outside to check the weather.  (I know, not a good idea, he just can't help himself.)  Lexi and I gathered our technology devices, chargers, our cat, and yelled for Tim to join us in the basement.

We sat in the basement watching the radar, texting family and friends making sure everyone was in a safe area and aware of the warning.  The wind began to whistle, and the rain pounded on the windows. It lasted about five minutes, and the warning was over, and we were safe.  It was a small inconvenience, just enough to raise the blood pressure and readjust your evening for a short time.

We walked back upstairs and resumed the dreaded Sunday night routines as we prepared to return to our classrooms and workplace tomorrow.  Grateful.