Reflections on Week 1 of Jennifer Serravallo’s Summer Writing Camp

When I heard Jennifer Serravallo was facilitating a free Summer Writing Camp, I knew I had to participate.  As the district’s literacy coach, I ended the year by encouraging teachers to write over the summer.  It was time to model the very thing I was asking teachers to do.  And, I am glad I did. It has been powerful!

I just finished week 1 of the Writing Camp, which focused on fiction writing. The week featured strategies from The Writing Strategies Book. I have dove deep into The Reading Strategies Book and found it be life-changing for a teacher (no joke!) I have not dove as deep into the writing book so I was excited to begin that process with the author herself!

As we went through the week, I was put in the shoes of our students as we were asked to apply strategies that we might ask our kids to apply.  I knew this experience would be a great way to learn more of the strategies by applying them myself, but I didn’t consider the other learning that took place as a result of committing 10 minutes a day to this process.  Below are some of my reflections about the strategies and the process of writing itself.

1) This is the book I wish I had as a writing teacher six years ago! (As a literacy coach for the past five years, I have grown much in my understanding of the teaching of writing). I never felt like I was a good writing teacher when I was in the classroom, but I went through the motions, taught the standards, went through the writing process and posted student writing in the hallway.  But, I knew something was missing in my craft as a writing teacher.  It was because I lacked the strategy knowledge to teach kids how intentional a writer’s craft should be. This week showed me the “how” of writing fiction, way beyond story elements and the plot line.  Writing became even more fun and the anticipation of teaching these strategies is high! So many of these strategies are about communicating a message, a personal and powerful message through your writing. It takes students beyond the standard and gives them a reason to write.

2) I’ve always enjoyed writing, though, I’ve leaned more towards the blogging world as opposed to the fictional world of writing.  Writing for 10 minutes a day took commitment because of that. Our students experience the same thing.  We have students that have a love of non-fiction (my son for example, eats up non-fiction reading and writing).  We have other students that love narrative. This makes me think about the role of choice.  Many times, a district’s writing curriculum is set up by quarters–narrative first quarter, non-fiction second, etc.  That is a LONG time for a student who doesn’t have an intrinsic motivation for that type of writing.   But, by allowing choice and not telling them what they have to write about, engagement could still be there.  That’s where these strategies are also helpful.  Fiction is not my favorite writing type, but I loved the creativity that was involved in applying our fiction strategies from The Writing Strategies Book. It caused me to focus on my message or theme more than the same ‘ol beginning, middle and end mantra.

3) The reading and writing connection is powerful! The mentor text read by Serravallo during the Writing Camp was so helpful and showed me the “success criteria” (think John Hattie here!) for what I was being asked to do.  It made the strategy come alive and make sense to me.

4) Writing is a slow process and our students have to know that.  In an age where they are used to instant gratification, we have to teach kids the delayed gratification that comes with a well-crafted piece of writing.  (And, then celebrate it like crazy!)

5) One of the things I love the most about The Writing Strategies Book is that it makes the writing process come alive.  There are so many different strategies for teach step of the writing process.  It takes the mundane out o the age-old writing process and gives students specific strategies, tailored to each genre, so that they care about the process and it becomes intentional and strategic.

6) Do the work you ask your students to do.  By asking myself to do the writing and to apply the strategies from this week, I have a much deeper understanding of the teaching and learning that takes place.  It’s way deeper than if I just read the strategy and taught it without having to apply it myself.  I was in the shoes of the students, struggled as they would and found success as they would.  There’s little more powerful than doing the work first.

I cannot say how fortunate we are today to be able to learn through digital means from gurus and other teachers across the world.  If you haven’t joined in the Summer Writing Camp, it’s not too late. (Find more information here). We’re doing poetry next week.  Come join the writing, the learning, and the reflective experience.  You will benefit from it and I guarantee you, your students will, too.

 

 

 

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Celebrating Approximations

Celebrating Approximations

My current read is Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf. A concept discussed in this book is the power of celebrating approximations. As a coach, a leader and a believer in grace and growth, I whole-heartedly believe in this concept.

The idea is that we’re not looking for perfection, but rather growth towards a goal–a teacher that is reflective, has a growth mindset, asks questions and continually grows so that his/her students may grow.  We celebrate small steps towards that.

As a coach, I’ve learned teachers are so hard on themselves. I appreciate and value the high standards, but I hope that I am proactive in sharing that the “small,” but powerful steps they take towards improving is worth huge celebrations.

Examples I’ve witnessed this year includes the following:

  1. When a teacher did less talking than the student in a reading conference and the student began to take ownership of their learning
  2. When a teacher allows choice in reading and student engagement sky rockets
  3. When a teacher uses her anecdotal notes as the guiding force for instruction.
  4. When a teacher builds relationships with kids over books
  5. When a student says to a teacher, “I now love reading!”

In none of these situations were the teachers delivering the “perfect” workshop model experience.  That’s because it doesn’t exist.  But, the small, but powerful steps teachers make towards improving their craft are beyond powerful in the lives of their students.

Let us celebrate those approximations and always honor the growth and craft teachers bring every day.

PD of a Different Sort: Try Something You Struggle With

PD of a Different Sort- Try Something You Struggle With

I’m guessing if you’re like most educators, you’ve found some way to professionally develop yourself this summer: a professional read, a workshop, Twitter connections, etc. These are all commendable steps that will benefit kids.

However, let’s talk about PD of a different sort–putting yourself in the shoes of a student who struggles.

Try something you’ve never done before.  Try to learn something you’re not good at.

I’ve ran since I was an eighth grader. I am now 37 and it’s been necessary for me to pursue others forms of exercise.  Swimming was what I chose for multiple reasons.  One of those reasons was because I wasn’t good at it.  I knew I wouldn’t pick it up right away.  I wanted the challenge.

I began swim lessons about three weeks ago.  And, here is what I’ve learned about effective teaching with a student who struggles (me, in this instance!)

  1. It takes a level of courage to do something you’re not good at in front of someone who is.  My coach is a very accomplished swimmer. Every time I show her what I can do, I know I am doing something wrong (and hopefully something right!)  I wish I were good and we could just fine tune, but that is not the case.
  2. I need one piece of feedback at a time. Something specific and something that I can visibly tell that I am doing correctly.  (Hopefully, you hear John Hattie whispering in your ear right there).
  3. My coach has told me the steps of where I am going..the end result (yep, success criteria).  I don’t think about all of those (see #2 above), but I do know the path. (Hattie, again).
  4. I know the struggle in not picking something up quickly.  I’ve been an athlete all my life. I will pick up the physical movements easily, but dang if I can’t get the breathing tempo down–that controlled breathing where you exhale under the water and inhale above the water…it is a challenge.  I have struggled for three weeks with this and I still struggle. There’s a lot of positive self talk in not letting this get me down.
  5. I see people who are doing it successfully as I pull myself out of the pool, wondering what I looked like swimming (not good!) only to see the next person, ten years older than me jump in and swim like it’s nothing.  There’s self talk of “this is okay, everyone has a starting point.”

Our kids have the same emotions, the same struggles, and need the same courage when learning in our classrooms.  I have more empathy for them now because I have “lived in their shoes.”  I have struggled, been frustrated, and wished I were better. I am not good at something, but it is necessary that I continue to try.

So, yes, pick up that professional read and get on Twitter.  But, also challenge yourself with something new, something you may struggle with.  It’s a learning experience I would not have found in any book or Twitter conversation.

Creativity: What We Can Learn from a Snow Day & Toddler Life

My three-year-old son and I are “stuck” inside today with nothing but time on our hands.  A welcome opportunity.  I allowed him to take the lead in activities and this is what he chose:

A caboodle turned car wash for his Hot Wheel cars

A dive down the stairs by his Hot Wheels into the Caboodle pool

A puzzle made of his magnetic building set

A dinosaur adventure through our man-made tent/home

A hunt for treasure in the snow

It was simply a day of imagination and creativity.

This got me thinking.  What allowed this?

It was two things:

  1. He had time where he had nothing on his schedule (like mom’s errands, for example).
  2. He was given the freedom to think on his own and take the lead.

Then, this got me to thinking, am I creative in my work life? Well, let’s examine those two  factors that facilitated my son’s creativity.

  1. Do I allow time on my schedule for creativity or am I always “doing.”  That would be an easy question to answer as I fell prey to the “doing cycle” much of the last several months, leaving little time in my schedule to use my creative capacities.  Did I got a lot done?  Sure, I did.  I checked things off my to-do list daily.  But, is this really success?  Did I really make the most impact?  Could I have made a deeper impact if time was built into my schedule to facilitate creative ways for deeper relationships, more effectively coach and building capacity with others?  Are you a leader that can build that time into your team’s schedule?
  2. Am I given the freedom to think on my own and take the lead?  I am fortunate to be in a position where this is often the case.  My role is an instructional coach in two elementary buildings.  I’m the only one in these two buildings with this position.  This, in itself, allows for individual initiative and ideas.  However, without that time mentioned in #1 above, this freedom goes unutilized.

So, let’s stop “doing” so much.  Stop the go, go, go lifestyle.  Stop the to-do lists.  And, instead, unleash the power of creativity in our world.  We will all benefit.

Feedback: Lessons from the Ball Field

Some of the greatest lessons I learned were on a softball field as a young adult.  Oftentimes, I find myself making connections between that context of learning and the context of learning about instruction.  Let’s make a comparison between a coach on a softball field and a teacher in a classroom and tie it all into feedback, which is one of the most powerful strategies in improving student achievement.

1. During any given practice, a softball player does not receive a score on their performance, but rather specific feedback, such as “hit the middle of the ball” or “keep your head tucked in when swinging.”  This feedback is specific and directed towards one particular player.

What this means for feedback in the classroom: Do not mistake scores for feedback.  Scores are oftentimes an end result and sends the message that learning is done.  Instead, give feedback in relation to the learning target and success criteria in the form of a verbal conversation or written explanation, not a number.  In addition, focus feedback on individuals as opposed to whole-class feedback.

2. When a coach enthusiastically yells “Way to go!” to a player, there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment. It makes them feel good. This is important; however, it also does not give feedback on improvement.

What this means for feedback in the classroom: There is a place for praise in the classroom. But, research shows that praise affect’s a student’s ego, not their achievement.  And, when given in tandem with feedback, praise dissipates the power of the feedback.  The lesson: give praise in the classroom, just separate it from feedback.

3. A coach does not wait until the end of practice and definitely not until the end of the season to give instruction to their players. Feedback is constantly given in the act of learning.

What this means for feedback in the classroom:  The most powerful form of feedback is in the form of formative assessment, done daily and in the act of learning.  A teacher’s “aha’s” about student learning should come daily or weekly as opposed to that happening as a summative assessment is graded.

What other analogies can you think of connecting coaching and instruction through the lens of feedback?  I would love to hear your ideas!

So, How DO You Teach Fluency?

If you refer to a post I wrote in January ( The Power of Fluency Instruction ) you will see that we discussed the importance of fluency instruction. It is truly a bridge between phonics and comprehension.   With 10 years of experience in the classroom, I know all too well that what teachers need is not just theory and rationale, but also practicalities…resources they can actually take and use in their classrooms.  With that said, here are some fluency resources to supplement what you are already doing in your reading block.

Fluency K-2 Lesson This is a video on fluency instruction at the kindergarten through second grade level.  It was posted by the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project, led by Lucy Calkins.

Fluency lessons This is a document that has easy-to-implement fluency lessons for all levels of readers.

Fluency practice outline This is a lesson approach by Timothy Rassinski and Nancy Padak that includes modeled reading, assisted reading, repeated reading, performance reading, word study and home and school involvement. It was put out by the International Reading Association.

Fluency Station Resources Here are some books you can purchase through The Literacy Store.  They are books you could put in a fluency literacy station.

Student fluency rubric This is a student fluency rubric put out by forthegoodofallstudents.blogspot.com.

Timothy Raskinski on itunes I would highly suggest these podcasts by Timothy Rasinski put out by Teacher Created Materials.  They are concise and help to explain clearly why fluency instruction is crucial.

Step-Up Comprehension Instruction

For those of who teach reading, we know that the goal of reading is ultimately comprehension.  I would also venture to say that those of us who teach reading comprehension do so using the release of responsibility approach, where there is first ample modeling, followed by shared reading (where the students and the teacher think together), and then finally interactive or independent reading (where students have the opportunity to practice a reading strategy on their own).

The question for us today is to what level do we teach comprehension?  Do you expect children of all ages to read at a deep level (of course, a deep level that is determined by their cognitive abilities)?  This means there are different levels of comprehension even at the kindergarten level, and without a doubt at grade levels above kindergarten. Do you have an awareness or  a deep understanding of what different levels of comprehension look like at your grade level.  And if you do not, do not feel bad. Teaching reading effectively is tough work and there is always more to learn (and only so much time in the PD schedule districts have).

If you are needing more knowledge on the different levels of comprehension, consider using these rubrics: http://www.readinglady.com/mosaic/tools/Strategy%20Rubrics.pdf   (Thanks to the Reading Lady website for providing this to teachers).   These are strategy rubrics for grade levels K/1, 2/3, and 4/5.  I have used these rubrics as I model effective small-group and whole-group reading instruction.  It is also good practice to put this rubric in front of your students. Teach THEM what surface level and deep level comprehension is.

And remember, the method by which a teacher teaches comprehension (mechanically or strategically) is important in ensuring the effectiveness of comprehension instruction (Taylor, Pearson, Peterson, and Rodriguez, 2003). So, go forth and take your comprehension instruction to another level!