Sep 20, 2019

Our Language Matters

I previously shared that I would like to reflect each week about a failure (because we learn and grow through them).  This week is no different!

My teammate and I co-teach a reading strategy lesson each year (one of my favorites!)  When I walked in one afternoon this week, there was some chaos in a typically very, very calm room. My teammate was going to prepare the class for some calming activities to get them back on track.  She said in a low voice, "when I turn off this one light we are going to say nothing."  She turned off one light.

A very literal student responded by saying, "Nothing!"  And then so did many other children.

We smiled at each other and said, "Yep, that is what I said to do."

It was a failed moment.  The language was just not quite right.  And it was little reminder to us that our language choices matter. 


Sep 6, 2019

Brain Research and Vocabulary

 Last week I shared that I would like to reflect each week about a failure (because we learn and grow through them).  Well...this week was filled with Aimsweb testing.  My teammate and I are in charge of completing all these benchmark assessments for our school.  If you have never given this assessment, let me share that it did not allow for much growth, on my part.  I ask the same 27 questions to every student.

But if we look...we can always find somewhere to grow.

This week I started to read "How the Brain Learns to Read" by David Sousa.
I just finished chapter I am not far along.  One section discussed the parts of the brain that process verbal and image based words.  As teachers, we know that it is important to be as concrete as possible.  So we use many methods to help our students understand vocabulary words: images, stories, context, motions, songs, etc.  David Sousa explains that different parts of our brain process verbal based information from image based information.

For example if I am talking to my students about a serpent.  I may explain that it is a large snake.  Students can visualize this and part of the brain lights up.  But if I have a discussion about the word grace.  Students will not a visual for this word because it is more abstract and verbal based; therefore, a completely different part of the brain lights up.

Students understand words better when they have a mental image of the word.  This is why, as teachers, we do anything we can to help them remember these words and their meanings.  Although, I teach in small groups all day and do not have a set list of vocabulary words, students are learning new concepts all the time through the texts we read.  I have always used a variety of methods to teach new words; however, when I read this information about the brain, it really helped me to have a deeper understanding of WHY I do it.  And WHY I need to do more of it.

So this I am planning out my books for the week or day.  I want to ensure I am not glossing over words that could use more of a visual.  I want to ensure that even some "simple" sight words can have a picture attached, if it is going to help support a student's understanding.

 I can always work to do a little more.  A little better.

Sep 2, 2019

Being a Coach or Mentor

"I think it has been 15 years.  Wait, no...16."  Last night, a friend and I were trying to think through how many years we have been teaching and in what positions.  I'm a veteran teacher. The years have slipped by quickly (and slowly, at times).  But in this time, I have been a mentor for quite a few teachers.  And it is one of my favorite parts about the job.

Reflecting back...I didn't have a mentor my first couple years of teaching.  Crying, a desire to quit, and loneliness were daily feelings.  I didn't have a mentor.   So I take the position seriously and work hard to ensure that the new teacher does not feel alone because teaching is hard and we need goo teachers to stick around.

In July, Scholastic published the second edition of "The Coaching Partnership: Collaboration for Systemic Change" by Rosemary Taylor and Carol Chanter.  Although, I have had training (years ago) on being a mentor, it is like any other aspect of teaching.  We should be working to grow stronger at the task.  If I am going to be a supportive mentor, I need to work at it.  Professional development makes a difference.  So I read this book.

This book is broken into three parts: learning partners, learning processes, and learning breakthroughs.  The authors share practical applications, examples from the schools, and questions for self reflection.  But I really want to jump in and share some of my favorite parts with you.

Chapter 3 is about "Embracing Generative Thinking."  The authors really dig into the beliefs we have our thinking, the culture of learning within our schools, and the structures we provide for reflection.  This is something I think about a lot (probably too much).  What is the culture within my own school?  Do we encourage others (adults and children) to try out new learning, make mistakes, and then provide time to reflect and change?  This is the type of environment I want to be; therefore, part of my role is to promote and encourage generative thinking.

I cannot be any kind of mentor if my mentee does not trust me.  Not new information; however, this quote really struck a cord with me.  "Trust is built on consistent and predictable actions."  What are my repeated behaviors and what do they say about me?  Am I someone that says one thing and does another?  Or am I a person that does what I say I will do?

The authors do give Ideas for Productive Partnerships.  I found some nice little nuggets of information within these sections.  One quote really stuck with me...
To facilitate authentic discussions that build rapport and trust, we suggest replacing the common "Any questions?" with "Jot down your wonders."  The rationale for this suggestion is that having a question may signal a lack of knowledge or expertise.  On the other hand, highly accomplished people think and wonder.  People who make a great impact on the world wonder. p.66
 I love this!  Changing up our words and language can have a large impact on the job we are doing.

If you are a new teacher, this book may help you to work with professionals that are coaching or mentoring you.  It provides ideas on how to work with these individuals in a productive manner.

If you are an experienced teacher that would like to someday be a mentor, this book will provide you with a great starting point.

If you are currently a mentor or coach, this book may provide you with some new ideas, refresh your memory on training you have had, or it may reaffirm what you are currently doing.

Would this book be helpful to you?  Please enter below to win this book and we will send it your way!

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Aug 30, 2019

Fruitful Failure Friday

It is a fresh year and I need a fresh start to this wonderful little blog that has connected me to so many.  I have failed to maintain it over the past year.  I have failed to share my thoughts, my learnings, and connections.

So that leads me to this idea..."Fruitful Failure Friday."  First of all...alliteration, people!  I love it. 

I have taught my own children and my students that we don't grow and learn without failure.  If my Gertie knew how to long divide already, then she wouldn't need to be in fourth grade.  If my nephew had been born knowing how to swim, then he wouldn't have to take swim lessons.  If I knew everything about teaching, then I wouldn't need to read and grow each year.

But I do not know everything about teaching or every student that I will encounter; therefore, I must fail, at times.  I must try out new ideas to determine if they work or not.  This is life.  Trial and error. Growth and change.  Reflection.

From our failures can come fruitful lessons.

My hope is to share these failures and reflections with you each week.  By writing and sharing, I grow and maybe you will have ideas to share with me, as well.

So here is to a fresh start for a fresh year.

Jul 18, 2019

Reading Revealed...A Book Giveaway!

We hope all of you have been having a tremendous summer!  We hope you are feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to start thinking.... SCHOOL!

This summer we were given the opportunity to read Reading Revealed by Diane Stephens, Jerome C. Harste, and Jean Anne Clyde.

 If you're  a new teacher in need of ideas for reading OR if you're looking for a book to refresh your reading instruction, this the one for you.  This book is jam packed with lessons and ideas to get to know your readers intimately.

When reading this book, you will start with a refresher on knowing reading. It's important to know reading so you can know your reader. Once you know your readers, and what they are and are not paying attention to, you can customize your instruction based on student strengths and needs. Also, this book shares links and reproducibles that you can use in your classroom!  BONUS!

In Part 1, Tim O'Keefe gets into what teaching reading requires.  As a writing teacher, I'm thankful for my colleagues and what they do to teach our young firsties about how to read and reading.  As a reading teacher you have to do a lot to know your readers. O'Keefe begins by talking about Kidwatching. Noticing and recording what you see helps you to pay attention to what is important and relevant to your students.   Next, O'Keefe discusses conferences, written conversations, independent reading, reading logs, and responsive teaching. All of these sections highlighted his depth of knowledge for reading.  I was intrigued by the written conversations and wonder if this is something that could be done with first graders.  I could definitely see its use in older grades as the students are more confident as writers. He also shares his Responsive Teaching Cycle.  It's definitely something I can see myself using in my classroom.

Next, in Part 2, many authors contributed to lessons on Knowing Readers. These lessons start with an activity called Shoebox Autobiographies by Jean Anne Clyde.  This lesson helps you to really get to know your students. You can include anything in these boxes, but Jean Anne says it should contain one literacy-related item, personal artifacts, and maybe a sketch.  The sketch is so students who can't bring a picture, know they can always draw it! :)
The chapter goes on to give many other ideas for lessons, again all aimed at getting to know your readers.  There are lessons on Running Records, Formal Miscue Analysis, and a Hypothesis-Test Process.

And then there is Part 3...Engaging Readers.  As I started this section, I was reminded of a quote from Steven Layne's book, Igniting a Passion For Reading:
 I think there are different opinions on this.  What comes first, the skill of reading or the desire and will to read?  As a teacher of younger students, I am certainly working on both but my goal is always to leave my students with a desire to want more books!  My hope is that as they transition from learning to read into reading to learn...they want to utilize this skill!

25 different strategies to engage readers are described within this section.  Each author gives you potential language to use when introducing the strategy to students.  This can be particularly helpful when trying out something new, as the facilitator.  Videos of a classroom in action are even included.

So what stood out to me?  Toy Stories.  With this strategy, students use dolls or action figures to tell stories.  This supports oral language, story telling, character development, and details.  All of this can then transfer into writing.  This is a strategy we have been discussing over the past couple of years because we watched these skill develop in our own children through role playing.  Legos, mud and flowers, figures, stuffed animals...stories can be built in many ways!
The last section of Reading Revealed is about the language we use with students.  One of the most powerful things we can do with our readers (in my personal opinion) is to TALK to them!  Discussing books, being interested in their opinions about books, and respecting their book choices requires us to pay attention to the language we use as educators.  Reading mini lessons and instructional conversations are the two strategies that the author focuses on in this section.

Diane Stephens opens the introduction of this book with one powerful sentence.
This book is based on the premise that no matter how long we have been teaching, no matter how good we are as teachers, we can always do a better job tomorrow than we did today.
Out of every book we read, we can find a nugget (or many) that helps us to support our students.  If you need some new "nuggets" or you know a new teacher that could use some guidance in reading, then enter the GIVEAWAY below to win your own copy of this book.

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Jun 24, 2019

Let's Talk, Writing Talks

Now that I've taken some time "off" and by off I mean..... getting up at 620 everyday and heading to the pool, staying there for 4 hours(oldest daughter practices at 7, middle 730, youngest 845, and I coach at 10), heading to swim meets and softball games. Then YES, I've been off.  :)  It's been a beautiful, busy life and I've enjoyed every.single.minute. (minus the feet of rain we've gotten in the month of June in Cincinnati) But now I'm ready to share something that's been in the works for a few years.

A little more than 2 years ago I sat in a professional development  put on by my colleague about Number Talks.  Have you heard of this book?

While I was listening to her explain Number Talks I started to think...... how could I make this work in writing? I quickly asked Em if I could borrow her book and read it over the summer.  I didn't need to read much for all the ideas to start storming my head. Then, I got to work.  For the past two years I have been testing Writing Talks out on my firsties.  I couldn't be more pleased with the results.

You may now be wondering... what is a Writing Talk? Well friends grab something to drink, maybe a snack or two, and get comfy. f

I had always been a big believer in the "Daily Fix-It".  I mean kids need to see mistakes and be able to fix them, right? I had kids who could find those missing capital letters and punctuation, BUT what I wasn't seeing was the transfer into their everyday writing.  Then, I read this blog post from Michelle at Big Time Literacy.  It was game changing for me and my students. Now instead of my students seeing sentences written incorrectly, they see them written correctly. You may be thinking, "Really? You saw that much transfer?" The answer is, yes.  I was told by our Title 1 team that the transfer was happening in their small groups.  I was seeing the transfer happen in my own classroom.  Now, I can't tell you that every single student was making the transfer because if I'm being real about this, I teach kiddos who are 6 and 7.  Knowing this means that sometimes firsties don't remember capital letters and punctuation but sometimes, they do! :)  My job is to give them repeated practice so that in the future, this becomes like breathing. I wrote these "talks" for first graders, but you can totally use these writing talks for kindergarten, first, or second grade.

This is what it looks like. I put up a sentence on the board. At first, they are easy and mostly include short vowels. As the year progresses, we hit long vowels, vowel teams, adjectives, verbs, etc. This gives us talking points for our Writing Talk.
                                      (beginning of the year)

First I ask the students what they notice about the sentence that's on the board. I accept the answers students give that are relevant. Capital letters, meatball spaces between words, small, tall and fall letters, punctuation, sight words, short vowel words, etc. 

It may sound something like this:
T: What do you notice about this sentence?
St: I see a capital letter at the start of the sentence.
T: Yes, that's right. All sentences start with a capital letter. Mirror (or whatever you do for repeating)
Sts.: Mirror
T: All sentences start with a capital letter (I motion both my arms up).
Sts: All sentences start with a capital letter (doing the motion as well).

We do this for each thing that is noticed. Then, I have the students write the sentence correctly after I model how to write it. When I'm writing I would say, "We will start with the word "the" the 't' is a capital letter because all sentences start with a capital letter. Then I have a tall 'h' and a small 'e'.  After that we need a "meatball space". Then I write the word ball.  It's a tall, small, tall, and tall. We need a meatball space. "  
I go through this for each word in the sentence. 

When we're finished I remind the students to check each word to be sure it looks like my sentence. Then, I go around to each student once they are finished and check their work.  If a letter isn't formed correctly or something is missing, I write it in highlighter and the students have to trace over it.  Below you'll see a picture of the paper the students would get.

 If you're interested in this product, I will give it away to the first 6 friends to leave a comment.   If you'd like to take a peek at it, click the picture above!  OR right here. :) 

Feb 28, 2019

Using Dialogue to Inspire Writers

Our young readers and writers in first grade have many "tools" in their toolbox by this time of year.  It can rewarding to the student (and teacher) to see them trying out some of their new skills through writing.  Just last month, one of my striving readers started to really notice quotation marks in the books from her intervention group and tried to utilize this observation in her writing. observing her writing, there is a lot we can work on here.  But the excitement to add this new learning into writing is there.  And we will run with that!  Let's look at where to begin.

First up...introducing dialogue with a mentor text.  The possibilities of books with dialogue are endless.  Truly.  But one that I wanted to introduce to you (or remind you of) is Iris and Walter.  If you are a fan of Henry and Mudge, Annie and Snowball, Mr. Putter, or Frog and Toad, then this is another series to add to your library.

Iris and Walter are new friends.  Each book features a moment in the life of a kid: field trips, friendship, substitute teachers, and new babies.  The dialogue between them is very true to how you would imagine two friends talking.  This is why I like to use it when taking a closer look at dialogue in writing.  Here is an example of when Iris and Walter first meet each other.

After reading the mentor text and pointing out the dialogue, it is time for students to create some dialogue of their own.   I constructed a Powerpoint that provides the opportunity for you to scaffold your instruction into an "I do, we do, you do" model.

It begins with an introduction to dialogue with a definition, why it is used, and an example of two girls speaking.

It goes on to explain the parts of dialogue.

Then the students have the opportunity to construct two examples of dialogue with you.

Finally, it is time to set them free!  Let them try it out for themselves!

 Don't let me fool you.  This lesson does not guarantee that students will be experts at using dialogue in their writing.  But they may feel a bit more comfortable to give it a try.  Or they may begin to see the value in giving their characters a voice.

If you would like to try out this Powerpoint (for free!) just click on the image below.  If you would like your copy of THREE Iris and Walter books, please enter the giveaway below.
using dialogue to inspire writers
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I would love to hear about how you teach your young writers to use dialogue!  If you try this lesson out, let me know how it goes!  And be sure to check out all the other mentor texts that can build up the writers in your classroom in the list below!

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