Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Instructional Partners: Aides

We recently welcomed five classroom aides to our school to observe some of our instructional assistants in kindergarten and first grade. They left impressed by several things that "just seem so normal for us" and make us the instructionally-focused (yet emotionally nurturing) school we are and strive to be. Here are just of few of the "stand outs" voiced during their brief visit:

·       Instructional assistants are always open to working with their teacher partner. For example, they saw evidence of aides joining in on mini-lessons as a reader, writer, speaker, and listener: taking turns reading from a text, sharing personal writing, listening to pair- shares, and calling on students— just as another teacher in the classroom.

·        When these co-teachers are not participating in mini-lessons they are conferring with kids. The level of questions asked, (open ended, thinking strategy or decoding strategy-based are always encouraging. These dedicated educators always empowered students to seek their own answers by using the word wall, considering their own ideas first, and finally asking permission to share an idea or strategy. Aides always anchored the conferring opportunity in making meaning of the reading or expressing meaning in writing.

·        Another noticing that they commented on was two-way communication between the classroom teacher and instructional assistant. For example, the note-taking strategy of using labels to keep both adults abreast struggles, goals set, or work that had been accomplished with the students conferred with allowed both parties to be “at the ready” for moving and growing the child. Two-way communication between the aide and classroom teacher also stood out as PD learning is always shared, questions are always welcomed and encouraged, and time is devoted to planning so work with students during the day stays efficient. Because all clerical duties are taken care of in the first 20 minutes, the remainder of the day is spent supporting students in whole, small group, or individual situations.
These are just a handful of the great things we do here at BES with our collaborative approach to student learning. It's through working together that we really rise to be the B.E.S.T.!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Many more MENTORS and MODELS!

Mentors matter. We know this. We feel this. We live this. We actively practice and teach our children to write like the “greats” we’ve studied. Whether we have our collection of fifteen favorites we always return to, or introduce a few with each unit of study, we without-a-doubt rely on those who came before us.
2nd grade example
1st grade (page 1)

                As we have shifted and rethought our focus of modes and genres over the last few years of using the KCAS (Kentucky Core Academic Standards) and weeded out our mentor texts, we have at times, struggled to find those few esteemed models for our kids to use (read, enjoy, notice, name, and emulate) in order to create their own fabulous writing. The job makes us weary at times, but we never stop seeking those that do the work of “teaching our writers.” We know the power of the mentor text. Whether it’s the text we refer back to over and over again, or the model we use for offering kids practice with revision with “the greats in mind”, we know their value.

                But, it’s not always about the mentor for the kids, is it? Sometimes we are the ones who need calibrating. We seek a better understanding and ask, “So what does (insert the grade you teach) writing look like?” What ought my kids be able to do?” While the CCSS offer us Appendix C of student writing samples, they do not include every mode, and they don’t show a comprehensive picture of what an independent writer in X grade should be able to do?” They offer us a glimpse, but we crave more. Of course, we know we want to move EVERY SINGLE writer along the writing continuum, and stopping to ensure we are our setting our expectations high enough is part of the calibration.

                Fortunately, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project offers us both mentor texts for student use, and “the kind of writing” a  ___ grader ought to be able to do. These are mentors and models for all us- teachers and students. With these, we can click on a mode and analyze the development of the student’s text. We can look for the greens (topic sentences), yellows (slowing down the reader to develop an idea) and then reds that (stop a reader to really explain). With these examples: we can see variety, analyze purpose and audience, consider organization, notice transitions, seek sentence fluency and structure, savor word choice, enjoy a students’ voice, and critique mechanics. We have something concrete to go by beyond our own intuition.  

If you are interested in looking and using these as mentors and models, I invite you to click on the link below:

Lucy Calkins and her crew have worked hard for the last few years to offer you these online texts to use with your writers. You see, like us, they know that it’s through mentor texts that our kids learn the practice of writing well. Our background knowledge of writing, high expectations, and careful analysis of our student writers support us in designing that intentional instruction to teach our authors. We model writing and thinking about writing, co-design rubrics, and teach them how to use mentors and models so that ultimately, THEY can independently use “the greats” who will always be around, long after we are gone.

Please share how your students use mentors to support them as writers.