Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Week Three - #cyberPD - DIY Literacy

It's the third week of #cyberPD and we are discussing Chapters 5 and 6 of DIY Literacy:Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. (Heinemann). I recommend watching the video series Kate and Maggie produced. You can start watching the video series with  Episode #1 here: https://kateandmaggie.com/2016/03/30/diy-literacy-video-series-episode-1/

Chapter Five - Just For You - Tailoring Teaching to Meet Students' Needs

This chapter emphasizes how the teaching tools can differentiate our teaching and the supports we offer students as they move toward independence. I think it is so important to know your students well so you can differentiate to provide them with exactly what they need. I loved the yoga analogy in the way that the yoga instructor provided each participant in the class with what they needed to be successful.  That often seems like an insurmountable task in the classroom, but Kate and Maggie show us how these tools can provide students with tools they can use independently. As the teacher, we anticipate what they will need and set them up for success with the tools that will scaffold their learning.

This quote represents what the book's essential message is. "Not only can tools give students something tangible to hold onto as they navigate their way through the curriculum, but they also give kids personalized learning footholds to find their next step along the way." I love the notion of "personalized learning footholds" as we consider students moving toward independence.

Kate and Maggie stress the importance of sending students off with personal goals that focus their independent work. They also remind us how important it is to anticipate what students will need as learning moves forward. Knowing the curriculum and the skills they will need to develop helps us determine what will be coming next. Knowing our students well helps us think about who needs what in their literacy journey.

This chapter also stresses the importance of assessing in real time. Kate and Maggie provide great suggestions for determining if our teaching tools are providing the support students need.

I really like the bookmarks as a way to help students focus on goals. And the micro progressions put students right where they need to be - in the zone of proximal development.

Kate and Maggie tell us "It helps to have an extension of ourselves that can support students when we can't be in all places at one time." I can recall so many times when I felt like I couldn't support every student in the class. Teaching tools help us establish an alternative by providing students with guidance even when we can't be there with them.

Chapter Six - Nuts and Bolts - Tips for Making Teaching Tools Effective and Engaging

Kate and Maggie offer great suggestions for engaging students with the teaching tools:
pop culture, metaphors, and kid friendly language. They offer advice on how to maintain the energy of space in the classroom and to keep the tools fresh.

I appreciate the suggestions on how to create an organizational system for the tools and helping kids access them. As a principal, I often felt like the charts became invisible or even promoted sensory overload in the classroom. It's important to know when a chart is no longer helpful and should be retired. My hope is that teachers in this community will continue to share their own ideas for organizing teaching tools.

I love the inside covers of this book. They give us colorful evidence of the teaching tools. I am thankful that Kate and Maggie produced their videos because watching them gave voice to the words in the book.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Week Two - #cyberPD - DIY Literacy

It's the second week of #cyberPD and we are discussing Chapters 3 and 4 of DIY Literacy:Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. (Heinemann). I recommend watching the video series Kate and Maggie produced. You can start watching the video series with  Episode #1 here: https://kateandmaggie.com/2016/03/30/diy-literacy-video-series-episode-1/

Chapters 3 - Remember This - Helping Students Recall Teaching

Kate and Maggie clearly remind us how students get so much information on any day of learning that it's no wonder they forget some of our teaching. Many of our students are unable to prioritize all that information and I understand how the tools that Kate and Maggie share can help students remember the most critical lessons.

Some notes I took in this chapter:

It's important to revisit and encourage students to continue to use the charts that have been created.
Suggestions for keeping charts alive are on p. 42

Reflect on student work
Find and celebrate student work
Share successes with colleagues
Share evidence of growth in the classroom
("After all, everyone, no matter what age, loves to seethe footprints of his or her progress." p. 42

Demonstration notebooks allow for additional rounds of learning.
After the sharing a strategy/skill in the demonstration Notebook kids can jot down on a post it what strategy they will try to practice more independently. (suggestion on p. 48)

Kate and Maggie remind us that scaffolds are meant to go away. At some point, students become independent and no longer need the teaching tool we developed. I liked the list of ways to recognize that students no longer need the scaffold. p. 49

Chapter Four - You Can Do It - Motivating Students to Work Hard

Using micro-progressions with students is like moving the magic curtain to reveal what students need to approach learning with more rigor. Helping to create the micro-progressions help students know what more complex work looks like and encourages them to reach toward new goals in their learning.

It's important for students to be part of creating the micro-progressions. Only then will they be poised to set their own goals. It's important to build in time for reflection each week to review the micro-progressions and set new goals.

Have students share before and after examples of their work. This makes student learning visible.

Cultivate instrinsic motivation - Challenge, Curiosity, Control, Cooperation and Competition and Recognition.p. 62  "Nurturing these five ways when using teaching tools not only helps students develop the internal motivation to work more rigorously, but also increases the chances they'll be able to release the scaffold of the tool."

Monday, July 4, 2016

Week One - #cyberPD - DIY Literacy

It's the first week of #cyberPD and I am looking forward to so many conversations with others in this community. If you want more information or wish to participate in #cyberPD here's the link:

The book that was selected for #cyberPD 2016 is
DIY Literacy:Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor and Independence by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. (Heinemann). I have watched the video series before I even began to read the book. Kate and Maggie are so willing to share their expertise. Since I already watched the videos, their voices ring out in this book. You can start watching the video series with  Episode #1 here: https://kateandmaggie.com/2016/03/30/diy-literacy-video-series-episode-1/

There is a message beneath every word and every page of this book.
Kate and Maggie ~
   respect children and what they bring to learning
   value the ideas teachers have and believe in the potential to teach wisely
   and support collaboration and thoughtful planning and teaching.

Chapter 1
Kate and Maggie talk about facing three problems in our teaching: Memory, Rigor and Differentiation. Reading this chapter reminded me of how important it is to know students so well that we understand exactly what they need at any given time. This comes from close observation and reflection. Then we can begin to think about what tools we need to support students in their unique learning journeys. I think about how important this is to developing reader identity. These tools we create are what will help students know themselves as readers.

"We believe that one of our jobs as teacher is to demystify the very abstract world of what it means to be a reader or a writer." p. 5

The scaffolds we offer students should demystify what successful learners do. Often we just need to "name it" or "tag it" to help children remember what works for them in their reading and writing. The Process Charts, Demonstration Notebook and Micro-Progressions do just that. The bookmarks put active learning within reach of our students where they can think about what they need to practice and monitor their own growth.

Chapter 2
My favorite sentence in this chapter:
"Teaching tools help teach students the way, so that someday they will know the way on their own, like the road home." p. 11

We do what we do in the classroom so students can take control of their own learning, monitor their progress and become independent readers and writers. Throughout the book, Kate and Maggie consistently remind us that we are giving students tools so they can use them in ways that help them be more successful on their own. The tools we give students help them be less passive and more active in their own learning.

I think the Demonstration Notebook can be a powerful tool for teachers as they confer with individuals or work with small groups. They represent the best in active learning as students self-asses, visualize a skill and set goals for their learning.

I love the idea of Bookmarks because they put students in charge. Students identify what they need to be working on and hold themselves accountable. Once again, the students have a strong voice in their learning. I love that!  I am a list maker so for me the bookmarks make all the sense in the world. I create lists so I know what I need to do, check on my progress, and celebrate when things get done.

Kate and Maggie remind us
"When students take inventory of things they've learned and write down goals and to-do's, they send themselves down a path of their own learning and are more likely to be successful." p. 20

Bonus Chapter
In this chapter, Kate and Maggie provide sound advice for resources and support. As a teacher, I am fortunate to say that I always had a network of colleagues to rely on for support. When teaching was the hardest, I could call up a close friend and colleague and share my successes and challenges. As a principal, I hoped that I could create opportunities for teachers to develop communities of practice because "only by working together can we get better." p. 25

I loved the questions on p. 27 to think about as we navigate online for research and instructional ideas. As always, there are good things and bad things out there. These questions help us sift through the mass of information online.  I think I would add one more. While we read professional books, attend conferences, search online or talk with colleagues one important question to ask ourselves is:

     Does what I find/hear align with what I believe about learning and teaching?

It's important for us to know our beliefs about learning and teaching and use those beliefs as yardsticks to measure what counts and what is right for our students.

I am looking forward to reading the rest of this smart book written by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. And I am eagerly reading what others are posting in #cyberPD.

Happy reading! Happy learning!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Inspiration and a Home of Memories

Today's SOL Tuesday writing was inspired by Kathleen Sokolowski's  post "Waving Goodbye" that appeard today. http://couragedoesnotroar.blogspot.com/2016/05/sol16-waving-goodbye.html?m=1 

Her words touched me with such emotion. I recalled a piece I had written many years ago and decided to revisit it and do some revising. Thanks to Kathleen for the inspiration.

Check out more Slice of Life writing at www.twowritingteachers.org 

Together ... And For Always ... We Will Remember

I stood in my Grandma's dining room in silence surrounded by the memories. Her china cabinet stood in the corner, and it held within its fine wood and glass the bits of days gone by - a cup and saucer from a trip to Washington D.C., crystal wedding goblets, pieces of milk glass, a tea set, salt and pepper shakers and other delicate pieces of fine china.

In the center of the room, stood a big wooden table which had been the center of birthday celebrations and family gatherings. As I reached to touch the lace tablecloth, I glanced at the empty chairs and thought about the times we gathered around that big table. When I really listened, I could still hear the singing and laughing that filled this room.

I turned to see the antique phonograph and placed an old 78 record on the turn table, wondering why in all the years before I had never heard it play, Why now?

I walked to the living room and settled myself in the old rocker, its familiar creaking much louder now that she was no longer here. I rocked to try and ease the silence, glancing across the room to the huge stone fireplace with its collection of photographs on the mantle.

Grandma's favorite chair was empty. Now she rests at my mother's home in a not-so-familiar chair looking out the window, day after day, struggling to remember. I wanted her there with me surrounded by the shadows of her past. Then ... maybe then...together we could remember.

As I left the living room, I cold hear the last few creaks of the rocker but now my footsteps echoes on the kitchen floor. In my mind, I could smell raspberry pie in the oven, the spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove top, and I could remember making that wonderful homemade pizza. The smell of yeast would fill the kitchen as Grandma kneaded the dough. My own small fingers would help her pat the dough into the pan. The smell of her pizza sauce made our mouths tingle with anticipation. As we topped the pizza with freshly grated parmesan cheese there would always be a nibble for me.

Through the doorway across the room was the pantry hung with huge canning pots and baskets for picking cherries from the tree in the yard. On the window sill, lined up in a parade of green, were her aloe plants and through the window I could see the spot where there was once a hand water pump. I can remember pumping up and down until the water emerged and playing in the fresh coolness under the apple tree with my brother and sisters. We would giggle and dance in the puddles, splashing each other until we screamed with joy.

In the barn sat the big red tractor, quiet now but once a giant of a machine with the sound of thunder. The ground would shake and and the tractor would rumble as it crept slowly out of the barn with my grandfather in his wide-brimmed hat sitting proudly on top. We would jump with excitement hoping for a ride on his lap, the smell of the earth surrounding us in the arms of his flannel shirt.  We would wave to Grandma as we rumbled away, our squeals and laughter drowned by the noise of the monstrous machine. But now, so many years later, the big red tractor sits quietly in the barn.

As I grabbed my jacket and turned to leave, I stopped in the doorway to look back and discovered this. Grandma was there with me that day mingled among the memories. I had found her in the smells of the kitchen, the creak of the rocker, and in the sunshine that danced on the glass doors of her china cabinet.

Together ... and for always ... we would remember.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Talking About the Intangibles and the NFL Draft

Last weekend I spent hours watching the NFL draft with my husband who was a little obsessed about the players his favorite team would draft. He waited anxiously as each pick was announced and anticipated who would be his team's next choice. He studied potential players and predicted who might be the best choice for his team.

As I watched all three days of the draft, I began to notice just how much data was collected on players. There were videos to watch. There were statistics on the skills of each player. Speed. Accuracy. Performance.

Big hands...
Long arms...
Powerful upper body... 
High volume ball carrier...
Powerful runner... 
Fine technique... 
High level production...

And there were stories. Each potential candidate had a profile that went well beyond the measurable data that was amassed. The announcers began to talk about the intangibles. There were stories about losses and hardships, injuries, challenges and accomplishments.

Coming off an injury...
Lost his mother but able to overcome it...
Hard working...
Off the field issues...
Lunch pail, blue collar guy...
Most valuable player...
Somewhat worrisome... 
Kid will work hard... 
Invest in the draftee's future...
Accept the player with all of his strengths and weaknesses...

We don't draft the kids into our classrooms (thank goodness!). Each year we welcome a new set of students and begin to understand who they are as learners. It takes time but we slowly and deliberately observe and listen. We review previous data on the student. We assess some skills to discover where our teaching should begin. 

While this data collected on students is important and can tell us about the child as a learner, there is so much more to know. These are the things that are difficult to measure. We come by them in our natural interactions with each child. We come to understand as we watch each child interact with others. We take note of what is difficult and what comes easy for them. We listen to their stories that unfold each day in our classrooms. These are the stories that lead the way to a deep understanding that informs the decisions we make in our teaching. 

As we come to the end of the school year, we are asked to collect all the data we have on a child so it can be preserved for next year's teacher to consider. I wish there was a way to archive all the intangibles we have learned about each child. There is richness and truth in what we have come to know about the children with whom we have spent our days in the classroom. Let's talk about those intangibles and value what we have come to know.

Check out more Slice of Life writing at www.twowritingteachers.org !

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Close Questioning

I recently finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It had been in my next-read stack for some time, and I have no idea why it took me so long to pick it up. As I read, I made friends with the characters in the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and will hold them close to my heart for some time. 

About midway through the book I came across this line.

     "So many questions arise when you are spending your days with a child."

It was a lighthearted reference to the central character spending time with a young child.

As I continued to read, the line kept jumping to the front of my thinking. I grabbed my notebook and wrote the line down so I wouldn't forget it. Somehow, I knew that the words would cause me to think more about the questions we have when we spend time in our classrooms with children.

When I talk with teachers, I want to know what questions they have about their students. I want to know that they regularly set aside time for considering each student as a learner. I want to know that teachers think about their students and reflect on their teaching ... and ask questions.

     What is happening in this child's life outside of school? What is helping? What is not?
     Why does it seem that .... is stalled in her growth as a reader?
     What prevents .... from writing about his reading?
     Why is it difficult for ... to pause to think about the story as she reads?
     What tools could help.... comprehend the deeper meaning of the story?
     How can I help ... develop his identity as a reader? What does he know about himself already?
     What strategies does .... use in her reading? What new strategies can I show her?
     What scaffolds does .... need to become more independent?

So much emphasis has been placed on close reading for students. Mountains have been written on how to promote close reading in our classrooms. Students are becoming more independent because we are focusing on improving our instruction. 

Today, I am wondering how we can promote "close questioning" in our teaching. Are we looking closely at what our students are doing as they read? Are we thinking hard about what we see and hear in the classroom? Are we asking the right questions that will uncover the most about our students as learners? My hopes are that "close questioning" will lead us to more questions, and that we will get better at understanding our readers and supporting them on their journey toward independence.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


I decided to try out some poetry today. Feeling sadness at the loss of someone in our family.
I have tried to express the emptiness I feel. It's so hard to craft the words. But the act of writing is consoling....

The emptiness whispers
Of your presence
And for a moment I wonder
Where have you gone?

The emptiness shouts
Your name.
And I expect to see you
Step softly around the corner.

The emptiness roars
Of sadness.
And I realize the emptiness
Will not bring you back to me.

The emptiness 
Isn't speaking to me.
It's the break in my heart
That cries for you.