Saturday, February 15, 2014

The "Observation" Chair

I tried out Jan Richardson's "observation chair" idea from Next Step to Guided Reading. I love this management trick. When someone has lost independence during the guided reading block, I spend a short time calling their name and "inviting" them to the observation chair. This area for me is a desk that is my right side but very close to the teaching table. The chair's name seems to literally invite kids to observe. Of course there are two students that are distractions to the teaching group in the observation chair. I don't invite them to the observation chair anymore. It has been extremely successful for one student (a frequent flyer that is now learning by observing the other group's instruction) and mildly successful for others (that don't have to return again). I also keep a listening center, portable CD player, handy, to give the child in the observation chair if the instruction is too far away from their instructional level. As the groups change stations, I can meet briefly with the child in the observation chair to encourage better choices. And, yes, I've had to use alternative observation chairs when the observation chair is in high demand. I write about this tongue and cheek, but behavioral needs continue to be the biggest obstacle for me in making the most of my instructional time (small group or otherwise). Anyone else have any tricks? I could still use more.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our Quest Toward Great Work

3 Kinds of Work
A reflection after attending WSRA’s Mary Howard Leadership
In the spirit of "prayer cards" & trying not to harbor "lost learning."  Thanks to @HowePrincipal and @LauraKomos for helping us realize that we were engaging in some lost learning.

Three Kinds of Work
1.                Bad Work
2.                Good Work
3.                Great Work
In short, bad work is the aimless, mindless, pointless practice and tasks we want to eliminate.  Good work is effective in moving students forward and therefore we should celebrate it.  However, it is great work that we want to expand.  This is the work that is meaningful to you, that has an impact and makes a difference.  It inspires, stretches, and provokes.  Great work is the work that matters. It’s characterized by high quality texts as a central learning tool + Independent reading as a vital literacy component +  deeper levels of pleasurable and thoughtful literacy +high-quality student talk designed to heighten learning + Written tools to support and extend learning over time+ Explicit instruction to promote proficient reader strategies+ Emphasis on a gradual release of responsibility model (I do; We do; You do).
How to turn good work  into great work?  Mary presented the following sample chart.  You may put your instructional blocks or techniques that you wish to reflect on in the left column.  On your own or collaboratively, fill out the chart. 

Bad work (aimless, mindless, pointless)
Good Work (what can we celebrate)
Great Work (What can we accommodate)
Guided Reading

Shared Reading

Word Work

Ongoing Assessments

After filling out the chart, review it and think about what can be eliminated.  Mary suggests eliminating game day, one size fits all activities, crossword puzzles- worksheets- search and find, too hard text, Round Robin reading .  Secondly, choose one (she stresses, just one!) area of high priority to focus on shifting your practices to great work.  Design a plan to infuse more great work in that one particular area. 
In a nutshell, avoid bad work by asking yourself ,“Will this make kids’ learning more meaningful, purposeful, authentic, and enthusiastic?”

We look forward to the discussions that this activity will bring to our teaching teams and schools!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Picture Books August 10 for 10

Thank you Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine and Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning for hosting this event.  We think it may be the most expensive cyber PD experience we've participated in thus far as our Amazon wish lists grow, but such a perfect way to launch into the new school year!  Our hosts have graciously compiled a jog the web for our ease in keeping track of posts from participating blogs.  The twitter hashtag is #pb10for10.

As we set out to accomplish the task of picking our top 10 picture books, we thought to ourselves that there is no way that we will be able to limit ourselves to just 10.  We tried to narrow it down somehow by picking 10 books for a specific purpose (thinking this might help us stop at 10).  We discussed picking 10 picture books that anchor our writing lessons.  We also are planning on having mentor authors this year and thought we could pick 10 picture books from our group of authors.  Finally, we decided on picking 10 picture books that we can use in multiple ways over many different mini-lessons throughout the year.  So here they are (in no particular order):

1.      Always In Trouble Always in Trouble by Corinne Demas—This was the first year we used this book in mini-lessons, but it was an instant hit with our students!  As we used it for the first time in shared reading, we realized that we could come back to this book repeatedly.  This book is a great book to use for comprehension when teaching students how to make connections.  We had started the year reading Cookie’s Week, which gave the kids an easy text-to-text connection (naughty animal gets into trouble each different day of the week).  Students also connected Always in Trouble to No, David because of the trouble-making main character.  Many students can also relate to this book because they have seen their cat or dog get into mischief at home as well (text-to-self connections).  This book we used again during writing to teach the time period text structure (since it follows the days of the week).  In addition, we will use this book this year as well to talk about illustrating a series (the dog does this and then this, with a separate picture for each thing the dog does). 

2.     No, David! No, David by David Shannon—This is another well-loved book in our classroom.  Most of the copies we own have numerous pages taped back in because they are used so often!  Like our the first book on our list, this book allows students to make connections.  However, we also used this for another comprehension mini-lesson on inferring.  This is a great book to use when you are teaching this skill for the first time to lower elementary students.  There isn’t a lot of text, so students can really focus on the pictures to make their inferences.  We have also used it to teach our students to use speech bubbles.  They thoroughly enjoy mimicking David Shannon’s style in their own books!
3.   There Is a Bird On Your Head! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)
   Piggy and Elephant books by Mo Willems—We just don’t think we can pick a favorite in this series!  These books are great for our early readers.  We use these often for working on fluency, especially sounding like the character.  These are also wonderful books to work on personal/social/character development with students.  They are a great springboard for discussions about friendship and how to treat a friend.  In writing, these books made a great example of a conversation text structure.  We were able to discuss how some authors use speech bubbles rather than dialogue with quotation marks to carry on a conversation.  Blank writing paper with pictures of Piggy and Elephant for students to create their own conversations/speech bubbles flew off the shelf like wild fire!
4.   King Bidgood's in the Bathtub (Caldecott Honor Book)
 King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood—As we list each of our favorite books, we are again struck by not only how many ways we are able to use these books throughout the year, but by how much students enjoy each book as a wonderful piece of literature!  This book helped students understand another type of text structure in writing.  We talked about the fact that authors often have one repeating event in their stories but use different characters each time the event happens (i.e. different characters try to convince the king why he should get out of the bathtub).  For the retirement of one of our coworkers, we used this text structure with students to create our own book called “Ms. Bushman’s on her iPad.”  (Her family had given her an iPad for retirement and she was thrilled--some may even say addicted!)  Students thought of things they could say to convince her to get off her iPad. What a great way to build social imagination in that students had to connect what they know about Ms. Bushman to generate an idea that would entice her to get off of her iPad. Contrast that to what may entice themselves or another person and you have a great dose of social imagination building.
5.      The Great Gracie Chase: Stop that Dog!
The Great Gracie Chase by Cynthia Rylant—We studied this book in writing while discussing author’s craft (such as words in illustrations, ellipses, repeated phrases, etc.).  This is a great book for shared reading as well because students LOVE to chime in on the repeated phrases!  This book can also be used to teach predictions.  Students can have fun trying to figure out what is going to happen with Gracie next. 
Not a Box
6.      A few years ago, we were invited to be surprise readers for a first grade classroom.  We couldn’t help but grab Not a Box by Antoinette Portis.  The emphatic line of the main character, a bunny, “It’s NOT a box,” creates quite a dramatic read aloud experience.  Students can’t help but predict what the bunny is imagining the box to be next...after all it’s NOT a box.  This book is also a great mentor text to show the question/answer structure.  If that wasn’t enough, after reading Opening Minds by Peter Johnson we now see how Not a Box is a book that helps nurture a flexible attitude that may support the development of problem-solving skills because the book helps students imagine how a box could be used.  (For more on this, see Opening Minds pp.60-61)

7.    The Wonderful Book  A great pairing to Not a Box is The Wonderful Book by Leonid Gore.  Again, this book sparks students to imagine the different uses of a particular item.  Various animals encounter a wonderful book and use it in their own creative way.  Then, a boy comes along and shares the wonderful message of the book with animals.  We love to take out our paper crimper (from scrapbooking) and ask students what it might be.  It really helps them empathize with the animals encountering a new object and trying to figure out what it may be.

8.      The Story of Ferdinand: 75th Anniversary EditionThe Story of Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf is a classic.  Since many of our students haven’t heard this classic, it works well to engage students in predicting.  What do students think will happen when the usually calm, pacifistic bull finds himself in the bull ring?  We can’t help but wonder what messages/themes students will uncover in this story.  We think about the message of what happens when we are quick to judge, and as a result don’t know the whole picture about a person.  If the men hadn’t jumped to such a quick conclusion, they may not have picked Ferdinand for bullfighting.  The reason Ferdinand made it on the top ten list is because it exemplifies the way music can add to the emotive sense of a story.  We have a local university violin professor that performs Ferdinand.  You can see his musical storytelling of the Tortoise and the Hare at youtube or you can purchase his CD that includes Ferdinand @ Amazon.  

9.   Press Here   Press Here by Herve Tullet is a perfect tool to help what The Sisters call your "barometer children" build stamina.  The author talks directly to the reader and instructs the reader to engage interactively.  On page one there is a picture of a yellow dot and the text reads, “PRESS HERE AND TURN THE PAGE.”  The reader finds two yellow dots on page two and another series of directions.  The physical interaction catches the interest of our kinesthetic learners.  This book also serves as a unique example of the circle story structure.  Kids can use this book as a mentor text to guide their experimentation with circle story structure.  It truly is a mentor text that makes circle story structure accessible to our youngest writers.  Amazon has a short video demonstrating how interactive this book is.
10.  Naked Mole Rat Gets DressedNaked Mole Rat Gets Dressed is one of our favorite books to use in lessons to uncover the author’s message.  It is a story about tolerance and effecting change. Most mole rats go around naked, but not Wilbur.  Wilbur wears clothes.  Much of the mole rat community objects to Wilbur’s practices and a town meeting is called.  When Grandpah, the oldest and wisest mole rat is asked to weigh in on Wilbur wearing clothes he asks, “Why not?”  We reread this book when we need to change procedures in our classroom.  For example, we started the year by having students put their writing workshop pieces in hanging file folders.  When we saw that to be ineffective, we asked ourselves, “why not try it a different way?”  Students who otherwise may be bothered by the change, quickly accept the new procedure

Since we didn’t include a non-fiction title, “Why not have an eleventh book on our list?”  We only bend the rules in good faith and for a purpose--we need a non-fiction book on our list!

11.   Boy, Were  We Wrong About Dinosaurs!We greatly value non-fiction, so we regret that only one of our top ten (okay, yes 11) picture books represents the non-fiction genre!  Boy, Were We Wrong about Dinosaurs!  by Kathleen V. Kudlinski, an exemplar text listed in the CCSS, presents the evolution (yes, pun intended) of thought regarding the dinosaurs.  The author presents former beliefs and then scientific evidence that led to a change in thinking.  We value students recognizing their changes in thinking, in both fiction and non-fiction and feel this book does a great job of modeling the importance of revising one’s thinking as new information is gleaned.  If you are looking for an example of how authors of non-fiction text use repeated phrases, this is a great example, too.    

Sorry, there was no way to limit our list to ten. Let's just say that number 11 will be number 1 on our top ten non-fiction picture book list.  More on that to come!  Our third colleague just introduced us as "rule breakers" and at the time we couldn't imagine why she might happily don us such a title.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What Was Your Summer Professional Development Reading Ladder

Our Summer PD Reading Ladder
What we read
What we were thinking that led us to pick up the next text
Opening Minds by Peter Johnson
"Let’s get our students thinking well together! “
Comprehension through Conversation by Maria Nichols
“Perhaps being skilled at facilitating conversation will be a thread to implement the Common Core with fidelity.”
Pathways to the Common Core  by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman
“That’s right—writing and reading go hand in hand—back to inspiration for our Writers’ Workshop.”
In Pictures and In Words by Katie Wood Ray
 "The language we studied in Opening Minds will help us nurture intentional work across the day."

What was your Summer PD Reading Ladder?

Friday, August 3, 2012

It's All About Engagement

                While reading Opening Minds, we thought a lot about the language we use in our classrooms.  We thought about applying the language to our work with students, especially to help students comprehend text on a deeper level.   After participating in our #CyberPD Twitter Chat, Johnston’s  tweets made us pause and ask ourselves, “Did we miss the big idea?”  It was the following tweet by Johnston that started us thinking:  “… I worry about focusing directly on language too much. Getting students engaged will change the way you talk with them.”

                This is more than a chicken v. egg debate.   This is linking the why to the how of effective classroom talk.

Johnston also tweeted, “ When children are engaged you follow their lead. You don't spend time in controlling talk.”  

                A sigh of relief.  Ahhh…maybe this will be more natural than we thought.  

If we didn’t get the big idea yet, we reviewed Johnston’s other tweets.  The theme of engagement became quite clear.  The following three quotes were tweets from Johnston during the #CyberPD Twitter Chat.

“When children are engaged, you don't need to ask comprehension questions - which would kill engagement.”

“Less instruction improves learning when students are engaged. They try to solve problems themselves & seek help when they need it.”

“Engaged students generate strategies and share them with others who need them. They notice and name and we can just reinforce it”

Amber asked @JohnstonzPeter (Johnston’s twitter handel):  Have you seen shifts by teachers to more effective talk? What do you think helps make the shift?   Johnston replied, “a shift in what they think they're doing, with whom.”  When asked to elaborate, Johnston tweeted, “Focusing on engagement. Realizing that students are constantly thinking and theorizing that errors are the result."

Our number one take away from #cyber PD could be summed up in three words:
Teach For Engagement

Friday, July 27, 2012

Thinking Together about Books: Building Social Imagination

The term “social imagination” was new to us.  The concept not so much.  Johnston defines social imagination as “the ability to empathize, and to imagine others’ thinking” (p.6).   Part of our Social Studies curriculum addresses this concept.   Last year, we said we were going to stop teaching this concept with the picture cards provided by our district and instead use picture books to teach these lessons.  Opening Minds reminded us of this goal, so this week our post focuses on teaching social imagination through text. 

In this section of the book, Johnston has nudged us to shift our thinking from teaching a social emotional skill through a book to nurturing a type of thinking in students through thoughtful conversation.  This is a small shift and maybe one of linguistic nuances, but we think it’s been established that language brings great implications. 

Bad News, I’m inCharge by Bruce Ingman is a book we’ve used as a catalyst for discussing community guidelines with first through third graders.  The main character, Danny, finds a treasure chest that bestows him kinghood.  Our students always laugh at the rules Danny the King makes, especially the rules imposed on adults.  Following a reading of this text, we engage our students in brainstorming guidelines for the classroom.  We’ve continued to use this book over the years because it rotates through our community members’ book boxes all year.  That’s right—the kids love it so much that it doesn’t spend more than a few minutes back in the classroom library.  Kids of many reading abilities can access the book because of its picture support and list structure.  (We revisit this book when we write lists.)

After reading Opening Minds, we dream of using this book to facilitate a discussion that goes beyond establishing guidelines, so that it may help us nurture social imagination and establish symmetrical relationships.  For example, we will ask students to discuss the implications of some of the rules that Danny makes.  What is the effect of having pets in school?  What impact would such an environment have on our learning?   What effect would it have on our community members that are allergic to furry friends?  Since there is no right or wrong, our conversation will honor all voices and establish a symmetrical environment.  We imagine this conversation will show that the teachers do not have the answers, but are sincerely interested in students’ thinking.  Additionally, this conversation helps us take on others’ perspectives, particularly in regards to learning needs, a dimension of social imagination.  Lastly, this conversation will likely facilitate a discussion on differences in individuals’ learning needs and help us increase students’ comfort with the differentiation they will see in our classrooms.

Bad News, I’m in Charge by Bruce Ingman
We used to…
We want to…
Use it for a springboard to write community guidelines (AKA rules).
Facilitate a conversation about guidelines that will help our community of learners and thus begin to establish symmetrical relationships
Extend the conversation by asking students what rules they would make if they were in charge.  This activity generates a lot of laughter as the book encourages them to impose rules on adults.
Extend the conversation to build social imagination by asking students to imagine what it would be like to be a person living in the environment  established by the rules. 

Let’s imagine how this shift to nurturing a thoughtful conversation may play out when thinking together about The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith.  The bossy, unkind behavior of the protagonist, Mean Jean, crosses the line into repeated, unsafe bullying behavior.  Our past approach with this book likely reinforced an analysis that supported fixed character traits.  With our shift, we think this story will be particularly helpful in asking students to discuss their false beliefs about bullies and discuss why Mean Jean may be acting the way she is.  (i.e. Is she a new student?  Are her parents getting divorced?).   Perhaps her behavior is showing how lonely and/or scared she is.   How might Mean Jean’s recess time have been different if she met a new friend at lunch?  

The Recess Queen by by Alexis O'Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith

We used to…
 We want to...
Use it for a springboard to discuss recess behavior and bullying prevention
Facilitate a conversation about problem-solving.  “What is the problem in the story?  How can this problem be solved?”
Extend the conversation about including others in play, particularly at recess. 
Extend the conversation by asking students to imagine why Mean Jean may be acting this way (new to the school/doesn’t have any friends, etc.) and support students in finding “conflicting worlds and false beliefs” (p. 72) that exist in the book.

As we embark on weaving social imagination development into our “thinking together with books (p.57),” we think the following sentence stems suggested on page 98 will be helpful to introduce and model with students.  

• I think [POSITION], because [REASON].
• In the story, it says [EVIDENCE].
• What if [SCENARIO]?
• Let [CLASSMATE] talk!
• What do you think, [CLASSMATE]?

We hope to report back that student engagement skyrockets through this approach.

As a side note, we’ve enjoyed perusing Books that Heal Kids for titles that may set the stage for a thoughtful discussion on moral development and civic engagement and thought you might, too.