Nov 13, 2016

The Responsibility of Working for Children

This past week I made another trip up to the Mazza Museum.  It is a truly magical place that is filled with children's book illustrations from so many of the "greats" that we all cherish and love.  One of my personal favorites being a scene from Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel.  Oh!!  I can just stand and stare for hours. 

Aside from the museum, a weekend conference was held that showcased the following artists:

Nikki McClure
Dan Santat
Brian Biggs
Tony Abbott
David Wiesner
Sergio Ruzzier

Each author/illustrator gives a 45 speech about their process, their path, their work, or anything else that they feel is important to discuss.  And what I have found is that you get something completely different from each presentation that you witness. The audience is comprised of librarians, teachers, college students, and other enthusiasts of children's literature.  See...magical.  The feeling in the room is just positive and the "good vibes" are felt.

But, unlike other Mazza conferences I have attended, there was an underlying message to some of the speeches that moved me and reminded me of my job as an educator.

I was reminded of the responsibility that I have working for children.  And the literature that is there to help me do it.  So what exactly do I hold myself responsible for when it comes to my students?  Well, here are a few things:

I hold myself responsible for helping each of my students believe that they ARE, in fact, readers.  And that even though it is hard, I will help them to get there.
I hold myself responsible for opening up the eyes of my students to the worlds within books.  There is such power in understanding that books can take you places, books can teach you things, and books can change you.
I hold myself responsible for putting books into the hands of my students that will hook them in and they will never want to let go.
I hold myself responsible for using books to help my students to understand the world around them: the kindness that can be shown, the opportunities that are available, and the possibilities that are all around them.

Sometimes we have to step back from the test scores, the lesson plans, the day to day routines and remember what we hold ourselves responsible for and what drives the philosophies that we hold.  I am thankful that I had the opportunity to do that this weekend while being surrounded by the art of children's literature.


Nov 1, 2016

Book Lover: A Gift Guide

 It's true.  I am an early shopper.  Actually, it is not unusual for me to begin shopping for the holiday season as early as January.  And that's not all.  I have kind of become known as the girl that gives books.  My own children don't even ask what we are going to buy for cousins' or friends' birthdays.  They just know...books.
The books do not stand alone, though.  I like to engage the reader with a book pairing gift!

Book Pairing Ideas...

Oct 27, 2016

Memorable Moments

Today things happened today.
1. We went to a play.
2. We had a ribbon cutting ceremony.

And both reminded me of something very important.  Those big and small memories matter.

Watching their faces at the play (Piggy and Gerald play)...oh my goodness!  So much excitement, happiness, and wonder.  Hearing comments like..."that was my first play" or "I LOVED every part of it"...just made my heart beat with happiness.


We had a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate our very first "Character Hall of Fame." (You can read more about it HERE).  It was a simple thing, really.  Took about 5 minutes.  I put up a ribbon on the wall over the frames of characters.  After discussing the significance of a ribbon cutting ceremony, I used GIGANTIC scissors to cut the ribbon.  Then the students walked down the hall to check out the pictures they drew of kind characters we have read about this year.  Then I hear it..."I can't BELIEVE I get to do this!"

It is in these sweet moments that I remember the school experience is about so much more than the day to day.  It is the combination of all these experiences that we are able to provide.

What wonderful memories we were able to build upon today.


Oct 1, 2016

Reading Strategy: Does It Match?

Over the summer I read Reading Wellness:

Each chapter focused on one skill that would promote independence in your readers.  I loved the layout of this book because it got right down to the lesson(s) to use in order to make this happen in your classroom.  My sister and I wrote about a lesson called "Does it match?" over at the Adventures in Literacy Land.  This chapter focused on alignment when reading.  I loved the lesson when I read about it in July, but then actually DOING it....WOW!  It turned out better than I had anticipated.

The authors, Burkins and Yaris, explain that alignment must occur for readers through print and meaning.  Both must be attended to and in alignment.  The authors explain that print and meaning are comparable to a puzzle: the pieces versus the puzzle.  Which one is more important?  Both.  They are essential and important to the activity of putting a puzzle together.

Burkins and Yaris go on to say that by offering explicit strategies such as "get your mouth ready" or "look for a small word inside the big word," we are not allowing students to be decision makers or problem solvers.  They state that we are "...telling them how to solve a problem rather than supporting them in solving the problem themselves." (p71)

These statement really struck me and stuck with me as my teammate, Karen, and I prepared for our school year.  We have always taught with reading strategies like the ones described by the authors.  How do we help our new, young readers to "make it match?"

So we devised a plan...

In previous posts, I have explained that Karen and I team teach our reading strategies by modeling the strategy, asking the students to name what we do, and then asking them to illustrate it with us.  This has proven to work well for us because they are ready to practice and use those strategies during guided reading once our lessons are complete.  We wanted to do the same this year but with one little (GAME CHANGING) addition.

 We started our lesson by asking our students what body parts they use when reading.  They came up with: *eyes (to look at words and pictures)
*mouth (to say the words)
*brain (to think about the story)....we may have helped with this one.

As they came up with these body parts, I drew them on this blank puzzle.  Then I connected them with a triangle and wrote the words "Does it match?"  We explained that good readers use all three of these body parts when they read.  Then we told them that they will get stuck on words and will need to use strategies to help them solve the word but that they are always thinking "Does it match? Is what I see, what I'm saying, and what I'm thinking about the story all match?"

Once we had laid this foundation, Karen and I continued with our lessons on individual strategies.  But this year we wrote each one on a puzzle piece.  We kept reinforcing that our brain, eyes, and mouth must match in order for the story to make sense.  My goal is to use this phrase, "Does it match?" when a student needs to be prompted to solve a word while reading. 

A side note...another discovery that we made was that we also needed to start using this question during writing instruction.  Students need to make sure what they saying (or writing), what they draw (or see), and what they are thinking (about the story) all match in order for their writing to make sense.  Connection made!! Yay!!!

I can't wait to see how this change in language changes our readers!

Sep 21, 2016

Handwriting: Tall, Small and Fall

I have been watching our OT the past few years when she's come into our classroom to do a few lessons here and there and I've picked up on a few of her tricks.  The good thing about this is.... she's on maternity leave this year, but I was still able to replicate a few of her lessons, which my firsties needed, believe me!  :)

The lessons I love are on Tall, Small and Fall letters. We started looking at letters and the lines they sit on.  Here's the chart I made for our firsties.

We looked at the letters and decided where we should put them.  Each person was given a letter and came up to place it on the chart.  A few were put in the wrong places, but we were able to look at the other letters to help us find the right home.
After a few days of practice, we moved to cutting (we need it desperately) sorting and gluing.
We also did some whole group sorting.

After that we looked at letters and found either tall, small or fall.  Then, we practiced writing them.

Some of needed some highlighting to make sure our letters were being formed correctly.  It's a work in progress. :)

I made a little packet to help our little firsties with recognizing and writing.  There are also a couple of sorts that can be used for an assessment.  Interested?????  I'll give this packet to the first five people that comment. :)

Happy Handwriting!

Sep 18, 2016

Analyzing RtI: Professional Development

After realizing our RtI model wasn't really working for us or our students, the teachers in my building decided to analyze the different components of our RtI model.  This blog series will go in depth with how we scrutinized each of the following parts of the model:
An overview
High Quality Instruction
Universal Screening
Research Based Interventions
Continuous Progress Monitoring
RtI meetings
Professional Development

 As I wrap up this blog series on RtI, I want to take a moment to recognize the power of professional development.  It comes in many, many forms.  And it can be all around us...if we are listening.

When analyzing the RtI in my own building, one of the most important things that I can do is listen to my peers.  The discussions that we can have around RtI meetings, interventions, classroom instruction, and progress monitoring are really important.  We are able to meet once a week as a K-2 vertical team in order to have these conversations.  As we discuss concerns, questions, and changes, we refer to the RtI framework that we created to help us lay out exactly how we want everything to run (ideally).  This is a working document and can be changed as we experience challenges.
These conversations have led to more trust and awareness in our building.  We have been able to determine where our instruction could be stronger for the next grade level and common vocabulary that we want to use.  Without these conversations, trust, and support from each other, I don't think change can occur as easily.

I think we are great professional development for each other, as well.  I know that each of our schools are different; however, we can learn something from each other.  From reading blogs about RtI, I was able to try out some of the organizational techniques that were explained.  This helped me to determine how I could tweak them for our building. 
Another great source for professional development are the RtI websites available to us that have research based interventions, progress monitoring ideas, or definitions that may be needed.  My two "go to" websites are: Intervention Central and RtI Action Network.
I also wonder what resources may be around you that you may not be aware of.  This was the case for me.  We have representatives at a county level that hold expertise in particular areas.  The RtI consultant that worked with my building helped me tremendously.  She pointed me in the direction of articles to read, books to recommend, and resources that could help me understand RtI more.  Maybe there is a mentor like this around your district?

Funding-wise I know that conferences are not always the best option.  But it is a great way to learn about new intervention techniques and high quality instruction.  I try to go to any conference that I can because I know that I can always get something from it!  For example, I went to Nerd Camp this summer in Michigan.  I knew that I was going to get A LOT from it because I had heard great things.  But I was not expecting to learn about intervention techniques.  And sure enough...I was wrong!  I came away with some great ideas to support our RtI.

I hope that overall this blog series has given you a glimpse into our process and from that you are able to pull some ideas for your own school.  For me, the reflection process has given me much insight.  I look forward to the growth that will take place in not only my students this year, but also in me!


Sep 14, 2016

Analyzing RtI: RtI meetings

After realizing our RtI model wasn't really working for us or our students, the teachers in my building decided to analyze the different components of our RtI model.  This blog series will go in depth with how we scrutinized each of the following parts of the model:
An overview
High Quality Instruction
Universal Screening
Research Based Interventions
Continuous Progress Monitoring
RtI meetings
Professional Development

I have been really excited about this post of the series because it the area that we really needed to grow in.  Last year we focused a lot of attention on interventions, progress monitoring, storing data, and fidelity.  At the end of the school year we came with A PLAN for our RtI meetings.

This post from Conversations in Literacy was super helpful to us.  It helped us to form our thinking about how we wanted to structure the meetings.

Here's what we came up with: 

At the end of each intervention cycle (7-8 weeks long), my team and I will make sure we have all the intervention data for Tier II and Tier III students.  This includes the intervention progress monitoring and a DRA progress monitoring.  We want to analyze their progress on a skill based level (interventions) but also on the "big picture" level (DRA).  Once we have all of this, we will meet as an RtI team to discuss the interventions that stay the same, need to be intensified, or need to completely change.  These are the decision rules that we will be using this year:

Each person at the meeting will have an RtI folder within it that contains the decision rules, our grade level benchmarks, and a list of the interventions that are available to our students.

We will be sending home information to the parents to inform them about the interventions that their child will be receiving and how they can support those skills at home.  If the interventions must intensify or progress is not being made, then we will be scheduling additional meetings to meet with the parents.

Our goal is that meetings will be more fluid.  There will not be any questions about when they will occur.  They are already on the calendar and every Tier II and Tier III student will be discussed based on the data.  Our goal is that we will be better serving our students because decisions will be made and changes will be made in a timely manner.  This is our hope...and goodness...I really want it to work!

One question that we have had....What if we get a new student that is not in a Tier yet?  And what if a student all of sudden takes a turn and needs an intervention before our next RtI meeting?  These are important concerns.  So we created a consultation form that can be used anytime a teacher would like to meet with us about a student prior to our pre-scheduled RtI meetings. Then we can work together to come up with a plan for that student.

It will be really interesting to see how this plan turns out in action this year.  Next do we all stay on the same page when it comes to RtI?  What professional development do we need?