Monday, December 6, 2010

Effective Writing Conferences

Conference Type: Making Meaning

                  * I know she will write down her ideas when I walk away and that she as an understanding of the work she is being asked to do. One thing I would have liked to have done is ask the student, "What can I do for you? What else might you need from me?"

Questioning Fellow Writers to Help Them Support Their Purpose

Check out this video of two fifth grade students (you could do this at ANY grade) using questioning to one another to deep deeper with their persuasive topic. The "listener" has a sheet of paper with the "4 Exs" questions that writers often think about when they work to support their topic/purpose. Notice how the "speaker" generates ideas to support her future writing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Looking for Literacy Gifts? Great Gadgets For Your Classroom?

If you want to get started right away with recycling old books into gifts, you might turn a book headed for Goodwill into aliterary clock instead. This is a craft project that requires very few skills. The only tool you need is a drill, and the materials for the clock face are from a clock kit found in craft stores or online.

Even if you don't pass this along to a friend, you could use it help your students tell time on an analog clock!

The Writer's Toolbox
This is a "game" that looks like it would be filled with fluffy story starters. Instead, it's got a wealth of creative and thoughtful ways into writing that can pique the interest of even the most reluctant writer. Many of the ideas can be adapted as minilessons, or for use in conferences with students who are stuck.

Click on the title and read the RAVE reviews from Very cool.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"CHIT- chat"- A cute acronym that gets to the heart of purposeful, effective, and complete conferences

Ever think, there's got to be a better way? I just don't feel like I am as effective of a conferring partner as I could be. You are not alone. :)
Below is a cute acronym that helps teachers remember to do ALL of the parts of an effective conference. Check out "CHIT- Chat" below and see if it helps you to have more purposeful, effective and complete conferences with your readers, writers, and thinkers.

CHIT-Chat” Conferring Anecdotal Note Technique

Check progress— Since last conference or mini-lesson. Name the area the student has been working on as a reader, writer, or thinker.

Have dialogue— How’s it going? What are you reading? What are you working to improve? Child reads orally to you as you listen for oral fluency and comprehension and monitor for a teaching point.

Instruct— Instruct student in their Next Step (i.e. breaking apart a word, using a pic. clue, etc., stopping to visualize and check for understanding) What will the student will try to implement?

Try-it—Let them try the instruction point with you before you move on.

Coming soon: A video of a conference using the "CHIT- Chat" technique.
Try it and share your comments below!
* Thanks to Amy Grimm who shared this technique with me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Reading Like a Writer-WOW

Mrs. Coomer may be new to teaching, but she and her students are not new to reading like a writer! Check out her students' "Noticings of Feature Articles." For the past week, this Upper Primary class has been spending their time reading, coding/"marking up the text", and discussing model texts during their writing workshop. Each day they have taken the time to immerse themselves in this genre of writing to learn as much as they could about it before writing their own. It's something Katie Wood Ray, author of Wonderous Word: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom, promised would dramatically enhance our students' writing, and something teachers at BES find incredibly effective. What schema our little ones already have... and they  have yet to write their own!

What do you want to say about reading like a writer? Share  your comments below.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Videos and Resources To Enhance Your Reader's Workshops

The link above has it all! Richard Allington  and other Literacy Experts (teachers, too!) offer video clips and resources to remind us of best practices, enhance our own understandings, and offer alternatives to the ho-hum of teaching Reader's Workshop.

While the title states that it's geared towards "Grades 3-5" don't let it fool you. The best practices shown here have something for EVERYONE. I watched our dear "friend" Richard Allington's video, Workshop 2. Fluency and Word Study and had an ah-ha moment regarding what he calls Non-Interruptive Reading Strategy. You know those readers who read... Word. By. Word. They even stop to look around and check with you to see if it's right? Allington shared in this interview that this behavior is actually a learned behavior that we- teachers- have developed in our readers. Ahhhh! Not good. Never fear, we can break the cycle for ourselves and work with students to assist them in reading fluently... so they can better comprehend the texts they read.

To learn about how best to teach an understanding of:
Creating Contexts for Learning
Fluency and Word Study
Building Comprehension
New Literacies of the Internet
Teaching English Language Learners
Teaching Diverse Learners
Assessment and Accountability
Investigating Word Meaning
Fostering Book Discussions
Choosing Words Strategically
Revising for Clarity
Reading Across the Curriculum
Looking at Cause and Effect
Close Reading for Understanding
Summarizing Nonfiction

Reader's Theatre: Engaging Students in Improving Oral Fluency to Enhance Comprehension

Looking for ways to engage your readers? Ways to help those dysfluent readers improve their rate, accuracy, and expression so they can enhance their comprehension? Want to spark creativity, introduce drama, and offer novel activities for students to participate in withing your Reader's Workshop? Check out these sites which contain a plethora of Reader's Theater ideas, scrips, and tips. See what you think! How to start using Reader's Theater Instructionally in the Classroom, links to texts, and MORE! Free Reader's Theater Scripts and Plays Reading Rockets ALWAYS has great ideas and teaching tips to share Scholastic Books offers some ideas and links to get you started. Purchasing Reader's Theaters

Be sure to add your comments below to share how you work with students on improving oral fluency.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Going Deeper with Conventions

Thinking that you missed out on the "Going Deeper with Conventions" PD session? You can catch one major aspect in this short video clip. Three of your colleagues share in a jigsaw synthesizing session of Janet Angelillos' book, A Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation. Together they work to make meaning so they can create a Venn diagram of Best Practices for Teaching Conventions.
What do you do to go deeper with teaching conventions?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rising to the Expectation with Reflection

       If you know me well, you know that I love to quote movies. I can't guarantee that the movie is from this decade (chances are it's circa 1999 or earlier), but I can promise that I make every attempt to fit it to the situation. In this case, the quote is Kevin Costner's from Field of Dreams- "If you build it, they will come." In the education world, this translates to: "If you set the bar high, they will strive to reach it."
     The letter you see above is from a kindergarten student's Family Reflection Journal. She started out the year (2 1/2 short months ago) mostly drawing pictures and copying the class generated message--  verbatim. Each week Mrs. Kent and I thoughtfully modeled choosing an idea from the class-created list, drawing a relevant picture,  stretching out of unfamiliar words, and singing songs of those we had studied with the purpose of writing a reflective entry sharing our learning experiences for the week. With the ever-present high expectations- students, like Meredith, have moved beyond drawing, labeling, and copying to ultimately writing a sentence unique to her learning. The topic Meredith chose- jumping rope in gym- is not even one that was discussed in class. It was just something important to her as a learner- something she wanted to share with her family that will surely lead to further conversations at home. Independent thinking goal- met!  Form, Audience, and Purpose goal- met! Communication goal- met!
      With our constant encouragement and careful scaffolding, Mrs. Kent and I have weaned the early primary students from relying on our learning list or model entry. Now, students participate in the vital discussion of their learning and see an entry modeled, but it's up to them to decide their audience, focus of learning, and how to write it down in their journal. Together we set the reflection expectation bar, and as you can see, many are striving to reach it... and it's only November 1st!

   It's evident that many of you are taking advantage of the opportunity to use the Family Reflection Journals to teach such skills and concepts as: 
  • What is informative writing? 
  • How do we write with a particular purpose (to share our learning with our audience)?
  • What is proper sentence structure? How do we write a focused paragraph with a topic sentence, supporting details, and a closing sentence?
  • Many of you in the Intermediate grades are encouraging students to choose 2 academic and 1 non-academic area to write about so the audience has a more well-rounded view of the students' school experience.
How have your high expectations led to powerful student reflections? (Share your stories by pressing the Comment button and typing away!)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Power of a Poster

Modern technology may be wonderful and much "greener", but it's got nothin' on the good old-fashioned poster. When you really stop to think about it, how much quality student thinking disappears with the off switch on the Interactive White Board? My guess is a LOT.

As I look at this Thinking Strategy poster, my eyes are initially drawn to the beautiful colors and helpful picture clues. I see an organized chart that captures students' thinking about surface and deep connections as related to their schema. Upon a closer look, I can read the actual surface and deep connections that Ms. Doyle and her students have made to this text (The Color of Home by Mary Hoffman). Zooming into the  Deep Connections, I see that Ms. Doyle and her students labeled them based on how each connection helped the reader better understand the text: character, plot, and setting are the curriculum focus-- BINGO! Right there, for all Ms. Doyle's readers to see... ALL DAY... is a visual reminder of how their thinking helps them to be better readers. How fortunate for these students to have access to this poster whenever they read in class- in science, writer's workshop, social studies, etc!

Going deeper still, this not so shallow piece of chart paper looks to me like a work in progress. I have to infer that the Ms. Doyle will return to this powerful poster over and over again as she continues to read the book aloud and record her students' thinking. This text seems like one of those gems a teacher stretches across several days to ensure that students marinate in their thinking. I can't wait to see, and capture with another photo, the final product!

Technology may be fabulous and modern, but there are definitely times that it just can't compete with a good old-fashioned powerful poster.

Be sure to add your comments and ideas of how you have used posters in your classroom and how they have benefited your students! Let me know if you want to pass along a photo of one of your posters! I'd LOVE to post YOUR poster!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Am I still teaching the thinking strategies with intention... or just coasting along?

Do you ever feel like you are just coasting? Like you've been driving for so long that you don't even know how you got to your current destination-home? It's almost as if you're on cruise control and the mile markers are passing you by-- right out your window... 2.3, 2.4, 2.5 Only those mile markers are just denoting the miles you've traveled, they're showing the standards and strategies you've taught. Schema... text-to-self connections, text-to-text connections, text-to-world connections...You feel like you've been doing it so long, surely they've got it; surely they understand as deeply as they are going to. Enough already, you think, I've got so much more to cover.

This is my 8th year teaching through the thinking strategies. There are times I look at lessons and think, Been there. Done that. I've got this one in the bag, and the kids do, too. It's all too sad when I realize that NO, they don't. I may have it, but they don't. Even after weeks in my class, or years of strategy instruction, many students don't really have an understanding like I think they do. What troubles me most is the same thing that troubled our dear mentor Ellin Keene- Do my students really, deeply, truly understand how to apply and transfer metacognition- in all content areas? or even in just reading? Do they really know when they make a text-to-self connection how it helps them understand that text? I dare say, "No."

All too often I hear students sharing a connection with no extension of how it helps them to understand the story, information, or poem they are reading. They simply stop at the connection. And maybe, just maybe, they can identify if it's deep or shallow, but the thought stops there.  My wonderings rush at me like the accelerator is stuck, Do they even know? Have I even taught them? Have I taken the time intentionally model and make certain that I modeled and modeled, gradually released- gradually enough- so that they could independently apply their understanding of that strategy? Did I make a poster using our wonderful technology and then let it disappear with the OFF button? What's left to remind them? What tracks did I leave for them to follow? What one thing did I teach them in our small group or conference? I dare say, "Oh, no." because whatever I did or didn't do, I didn't do it long enough, because they didn't get it.

Rather than waller in self-pity and beat myself up over the fact that I have digressed, I suppose the next right thing to do would be to make a change. Whether I am teaching in a kindergarten or fifth grade classroom, my thinking strategy and content planning has to intentional and focused enough that I am know exactly the outcome I want my students to reach. I have to believe that they can do this and scaffold the teaching enough that I allow them to show me- show themselves. My teaching has to be explicit and thoughtful enough that my students have opportunities to go deep with their thinking. They need to get here: "I have wanted to show off my new toy, just like Lilly with her purple plastic purse, so I know how she feels." (understanding the character) "I remember when I saw the movie, Aladdin, and how they had a market place. I can visualize the bazaar in Ms. DiCamillo's new book. (understanding setting) It's up to me to know it, model and name it, and understand it- myself! It's up to me to recognize and believe that my students can get there, too. It's up to me to realize that even if they've been taught strategy instruction for days, weeks, or years, they still have a deeper level to get to, and it's my responsibility to get them there in not just in reading, but in all content areas.
             Even when I'm closing in on a decade of doing it,
                               I can't just coast, I must drive home a deeper understanding of the thinking strategies.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Going Beyond "How's it Going?"

Ever Wonder What to Ask a Writer in a Conference once you have posted the initial question, "How's it going?" While that question is a perfect opener and often drives the conference, sometimes it sits there like a lame duck, or the student just doesn't know how to answer beyond, "Uh, fine." It's times like these that we need to tap into our own schema, pull out our loaded guns, and ask a more probing question.

After we've had a minute to read the child's writing, our own schema kicks fires up and we know where we want to go with this writer. We see an opportunity to work with an individual child on a particular skill or craft and it's time to ask the question... but what might be the best questions to ask?

Below is a chart I adapted from Carl Anderson's Assessing Writers. See what you think.

Conferring With Students On Their Writing:

Asking the Right Questions

Start with: HOW’S IT GOING?

Situation                                                                        What to ask

The meaning isn’t clear                         What are you trying to say here? (point to a
                                                             spot and read aloud)

The genre doesn’t fit                             What can you do to make it look more like a ___?

The structure is off                               How did you organize your writing?

                                                             What parts are really important ones that help you
                                                               make your point?

                                                              How might you break this really long paragraph
                                                               into littler ones?

The details & support are lacking        How can you help your reader visualize ___?
                                                                      (pick any sense)
                                                                     What else might the reader need to know?

The writer’s voice is not present                  How have you tried to get your voice in your

                                                                    How can you use punctuation to give your writing

The conventions are absent or incorrect
(word choice, correctness)                          What are you looking for as you edit?

                                                                 What kind of punctuation do you need here___?

                                                                 What other words can you use to help your
                                                                  readers understand that you’re sad?
                                                                (Find a way to ask them to consider that they’ve
                                                                 said the same word repeatedly)

The Family Circus- Touches on Visualizing

Thanks, Stephanie Bailey for sharing this.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Thinking is on the Wall

I know this will not be up for long, so I thought I would be sure to capture it and share it with you- NOW! It's not often that we get to walk the halls and see what our colleagues are doing in other classrooms. There are some hallways and walls we NEVER see because our path just never takes us that way. Down in the EP 2 hallway kids have their thinking on display (for now) and it's out for everyone to read. Each K/1 student read, thought, and proudly recorded their metacognition. How FABULOUS is that? Catch it here,  because I am 100% sure that during the next trip I take down that hall, I'll spot a new display of thinking. It's always happening and the walls are sure to change to show off their students' new and innovative ideas.

But, hey, don't fret,
I'll take the camera
and stoll down your hallway...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sharing a Story at Conferences

Below is an article by the editor of Choice Literacy. Ms. Power has great insight into schools today and best practices. Check out her latest thoughts on making the most of a Parent-Teacher Conference.

Picturing Learning 

A photograph is usually looked at - seldom looked into. 
                                                                 Ansel Adams
Last week I visited the fabulous Opal School in Portland, Oregon (it's a public elementary school affiliated with the Portland Children's Museum).  The morning of my visit happened to be during a family conference day.  As I walked by a classroom, I could see a teacher conferring with a mom and dad.  I didn't eavesdrop, but I did notice the trio had their heads together, peering at a picture of a child on the teacher's laptop.  
Maybe this is a common practice in conferences now, but it was new to me.  How would the tenor of parent/teacher conferences change if everyone focused on an image (or two or three) of the child at work in the classroom - reading, writing, and collaborating with peers?
Families want so many things for their children, but I think what they want most from teachers is to know that we truly see their child.  What better way to show them that then to look at a photograph?
When I coached new teachers before parent-teacher conferences, I urged them to share a story or two about each child. We spent a lot of time talking through how to gather notes and telling details for those stories.  How much easier it would be jog anyone's memory of those stories if you were looking at your students in the midst of the conference.  And what a wonderful gift to leave parents with, since it's so easy these days to email the photographs shared after the meeting.

This week we're highlighting some resources for analyzing talk in classrooms and brushing up your conferring skills. Plus more as always - enjoy! 

Brenda Power
Editor, Choice Literacy

Friday, October 1, 2010

Writer of the Month Winners!

Below are the kids who won for their wonderful writing in our September edition of the Writer of the Month contest!

Thanks to every teacher for fostering a love of writing and encouraging your students to share their writing with an audience.


Thanks also to our judges: Stephanie Bailey, Kristin Schaefer, Dina Tackett, Sarah Pitcock, Jenny Graff.

We couldn't do this with ALL of you!
And the winners are...

Student                             Teacher                         Title (genre)
Kindergarten (K)

Chloe Park                           Kent                           My Blanket (small moment)

Kate McLarty                       Reynolds                    I Really Like

Daniel Ely                             Sullivan                       Fuzzy Yellow Blanket

First (1st)

Ava Shea                             Reynolds                    Chocolate Chip Cookies (poem)

Emma Robson                     Sullivan                       The YMCA’s Pool (small moment)

Josie Bailey                          Schaefer                     Fluffy Forms a Chrysalis (small moment)

Second (2nd)

Hadley Pollock                    Dunigan                       Fishing (poem)

Aaliyah Wach                      Dunigan                       Fall (poem)

Mia Crosby                         Sparks                         My 8th Birthday (poem)

Third (3rd)

John Reynolds                     Puckett                         Cinnamon Roll (poem)

Morgan Scholten                 Frazier                          Dark Shadow (poem)

Kylie Wantland                   Coomer                         Waterfall (poem)

Fourth (4th)

Will Anderson                     Brodt                            Nature’s Art (poem)

Stephanie Scott                   Pitcock                         Running Free (poem)

Mackie Gossman                Pitcock                         The Painting Girl (poem)

Fifth (5th)

Daniel Kembell                   Parrott                           When I am an Old Man (poem)

Elizabeth Berhow                Ruhl Fierce                     Wonderings (poem)

Kylie Seeling                       Martin                            Beach (poem)

Congratulations to ALL of our writers and WINNERS!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Aimee Buckner's 2 min. video on Conferring with Readers and Writers

Click the link below to watch a two min. video by Aimee Buckner, author of Notebook Know-How and Notebook Connections. She talks about how she manages conferring with her many students in the workshop.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Writing Can be Messy

Miss Wells is not afraid get messy with poetry. She's writing down her ideas, revising them, and digging into her work as an author. It just doesn't come out perfectly the first time, huh? Thanks to her teachers who encourage processing, writing, and revising so that the audience understands.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Parent Volunteers... How do you Get Them Involved? Organize? Ensure success?

Improving parental involvement with public schools can improve schools. Parental involvement is highly important for pushing the public school systems to higher standards. Also, research reports that engaging parents in an active role in the school curriculum can open alternative opportunities for children to succeed in academics.Journal of Instructional PsychologyMarch, 2005 by Sandra M. MachenJanell D. Wilson,Charles E. Notar on parental involvement in the classroom

Knowing the power of more individual attention and the positive impact it has on student learning, how do you get volunteers in your classroom? 

How do you spread the word about training sessions and opportunities?
How do you organize your schedule to accommodate your parent volunteers?
What do you do to ensure they know their roles and the role of the student?

I'm looking at the dates of Oct. 1st and 8th for Parent Training Sessions. I'll be sure to let you know when the dates are in STONE. :)