Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Changing My Thinking

Last August, and even the first month of school, I was on new information overload.  I still feel as if I am swimming in a pool of new information,  but now I feel a bit more comfortable in my new position. There are always those moments though that change my thinking or where I learn something new.

Here are a few favorites from this year...

  • Reading the same book….can be OK- I am going to confess I always thought this, but my thoughts were affirmed in my new role.  Looking at my time as a teacher I went from teaching high school students with a curriculum that was primary same text focused to a middle school curriculum where no one reads the same book.  I missed that conversation though that happened as we all dived into a novel together.  I did not feel we needed to read the same book all the time...but sometimes.  I was so excited to read in Notice and Note, that Beers and Probst also think it is OK to read the same book on occasion.  Affirmation from the well-known is a wonderful thing.  
  • Data…I need to embrace the power of numbers- Math has never been my strong subject.  So when analyzing data, Excel, mail merge, and other data-related terms started to force its way in my vocabulary, I was a little uneasy.  Not only as a literacy coach did I find the need to appreciate data, but in the world of SLOs, I also need to coach others on how to use data.
  • Coaching adults...a bit different than teaching teens-  I knew going into this role it would be hard to not have my own classroom full of students.  Though I miss my classroom at times, I appreciate the opportunities to coach, collaborate, and learn with my colleagues.  I believe strongly in making professional development time practical and beneficial.  It is a whole new experience, but one I fully embrace as I look for ways to continue to be a successful coach.

I know that I will always continue to swim in a pool of new information. And if for some strange reason I am not...then I better find a diving board.

Friday, January 17, 2014

New Learning

Today's post is brought to you by Jaimie Howe.

I used to think that curriculum was given to teachers and that curriculum was what we were supposed to teach.  Yes, I always knew we could use our own creativity and differentiate to our higher and lower students, but I always “taught TO the curriculum.”

Now I know that the curriculum isn’t what we teach.  We teach the standards.  The curriculums that we have are resources to help us get there.  Common Core has really helped me understand this so much better.  

I used to have a scheduled time for read aloud in my classroom everyday because I knew and still know how important it is to read to children and engage them in text.

Now I encourage the teachers in my building to not only have a scheduled read aloud time, but to have a purposeful, planned, and interactive read aloud.  I have learned over the years that the more purposeful we are in what we teach and do, the more effective it is with our students.  

I used to believe that there was a “program” to fix any reading difficulty. Programs are always tied to a specific deficit that needs improvement, so you just match that to the student, right?  Not so much.

Now I believe, that although some programs may fix some reading difficulties in students, they most certainly do not fix all, or the majority for that matter.  What “fixes,” “helps,” “cures,” (or whatever term you want to use) are strategies - research based strategies that are tied to each specific student’s needs.  Each individual student is so different and there just can’t be a program out there to “fix all.”   Interventions need to be carefully planned in relation to the specific child.

I used to think that once I was in the same teaching position for more than a year, it would be easy.  I would just do the same thing year after year. I knew things would change from year to year a bit, but for the most part, I’d teach the same thing.

Now I know without a doubt that teaching is never easy and it is never the same.  Each year we work with a different group of students that need lessons differentiated in their own unique way.  Each year we get “smarter,” we learn new things.  Our teaching hopefully changes because of new learning and constantly keeps getting better.

I could probably go on and on about how my thinking and teaching has changed over the years. Change is a constant in teaching. The way we teach doesn't necessarily change year to year, but day to day and hour by hour. We constantly have to be on our toes. That is the joy and the excitement that keeps me going. . . new learning and change.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lifelong learning = Lifelong change

Today's post is brought to you by Penny Antell.

Thank goodness we’re allowed to grow, learn, and change throughout our lives.  We’ve all met people who are very set in their ways and convinced their opinions and their thinking is the RIGHT and ONLY way.  Phew!  Sure glad I don’t need to live by such rigid beliefs.  Encouraging, living, and enjoying a lifelong education has allowed me to grow and change throughout my career.  As I reflect upon how I’ve grown and changed since I first began teaching, I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I've had.

I used to think:   A quiet classroom where desks were in rows and children sat quietly reading and filling out worksheets was a place of learning.  This equated with good discipline, concentration and the development of study habits.

Now I know:  Collaboration and discussion are key to developing deeper thinking, challenging one anothers beliefs and forcing students to reflect upon what they have learned, what they believe, and why.  By bringing together differing thoughts, students are forced to return to the text, reread what has been interpreted, and refine their understandings.

I used to think:  We needed a list of titles that each classroom would be allowed to use as read-alouds with their students, or used for whole group instruction where each child would hold a copy of the same text to learn from.  We couldn’t have the same book read aloud in one grade and then expect that students would read it in a later grade for another purpose. That was absurd!

Now I know: There are many, many reasons to read and reread great books again and again.  I encourage teachers to pull out the classics to help students write like the great authors they’ve been reading.  I encourage teachers and students to return to the text to dig deeper into the meaning. There’s still more there.  Dig, find, what else is the author teaching you here?  Why?  How do you know?  

Lucy Calkins teaches us to stand on the shoulders of our favorite authors.  It is apparent when children have clasped their hands around the language Jane Yolen uses in her writing, or they’ve connected to the humor of Roald Dahl and Robert Munsch.  There are many, many purposes to reread good books.  It is like visiting with old friends. Each time you meet, you discover something new you hadn’t know previously.

I used to think:  That programs would address the needs of all the students in my classroom and if I followed the outlines and instructions within them, I was a meeting these needs successfully.  I thought my students would learn because I covered the materials.  I thought I was a good teacher if I made it through the entire teacher’s manual in one year. I thought that using worksheets was reinforcing student learning.

Now I know: Each child entering a classroom or school building is unique with very different needs.  Each child needs instruction pitched at their level, following their style of learning and matching their interests.  I know that teaching is the greatest challenge I will ever face. I know that to make a difference for each child I need to listen to him, hear what she wants to share and discover each child’s needs.  With this knowledge, I need to create lessons that meet each child and move him forward one lesson at a time.  I know that creating a bond with the students sitting in my classroom will make a difference in their commitment to learning and their desire to learn.

I used to wonder, did I make the right choice becoming an educator?  This job is so hard and takes so incredibly much time to do well.  Is this really how I want to spend the rest of my life?  Am I making a difference in the lives of others?  In society?

Know I know indeed, this is my life dream.  I see the look upon students faces when they know they learned something new today.  When each child embraces learning and is excited about the next new topic knowing they will benefit from attending school and working hard.  I know I’ve made a difference in the lives of the children and they’re better for it.

Education has taken many twists and turns over the past 24 years I’ve been involved in it and it feels the most tumultuous today: with the extreme politics involved, the lack of respect from the media and the public opinion presented, but still, we continue to invest in the children.  Still we make a difference in the world because as educators, we influence the future.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Always Learning…

Today's post is brought to you by Julie Schwartzbauer.

One thing that is so great about my role as a Literacy Leader is that I am always learning new things.  I love reading professional resources and have a wish list three pages long on Amazon.  I work within learning lab classrooms where the teachers are always willing to try new strategies.
As I learn, I realize that there are many things I used to think, but now I know more!  One thing that I have really been building a deeper understanding around is the practice of Guided Reading.  When I first taught Guided Reading I used Fountas and Pinnell as a Resource.
Over the past few years I have read many different professional resources that focused on Guided Reading instruction.  My thinking did not really change until I read a book called Preventing Misguided Reading by Jan Miller Burkins.
After reading this exceptional book, I realized the following:
I Used to Think…
But now I Know…
Guided reading is the only time I really teach reading.
I teach reading all day long – through read-aloud, shared reading, and guided reading.
Students need to read challenging texts in order to become better readers.
Students must spend most of their time reading independent level texts in order to become fluent, confident, and make meaning.
Running records are primarily for identifying instructional reading level and making grouping decisions.
Running records and give teachers valuable insight into students’ reading processes and should guide daily instruction.
The teacher works hard, guiding the lesson and does most of the talking.
The students work hard, assuming responsibility for their learning and reading a lot.
It is the high accuracy, fluent, and easily comprehended reading that provides the opportunities to integrate complex skills and strategies into an automatic, independent reading process.
Expert teaching requires knowing not only how to teach strategies explicitly, but also how to foster transfer from the structured practice activities to independent use while engaged in reading. Richard Allington

Friday, January 10, 2014

My 2014 Resolution

Today's post is brought to you by Carrie Sand.

In education a new year begins in September, but as the rest of the world sets its new year  (and therefore resolutions) in January, it seems like a good time to reflect on the discoveries of 2013 to help set  2014 resolutions. Like the countdown of the ball dropping on Time’s Square, here is the countdown of my top five learnings… and of course new year goals and resolutions.

I use to think (maybe hope) that a program could be a cure-all for struggling readers. In 2013 I really learned that when readers struggle, the only cure-all is try, try, and try again. My 2014 resolution for struggling readers is to research as much as I can, apply as many best practices as possible, and keep on trying!

I use to think that teachers didn’t “get on board” with new initiatives because of a lack of motivation. Now, I continue to realize that many teachers resist change for a variety of reasons--often good reasons. Like finding the right strategy to encourage student engagement, as a Literacy Coach my 2014 resolution is to continue to work to find new ways to engage and motivate teachers to develop instructional practices and techniques.

I use to think that assessment was synonymous with test. In 2013, I attended many conferences and developed my own understanding of utilizing formative and summative assessment to engage learners, develop a stronger curriculum, and use data to drive instruction. In 2014, I hope to develop assessment a a fluent part of the curriculum rather than another “thing” teachers try every couple of units.

I use to think that standards were something a teacher consulted when entering curriculum into the district curriculum writing tool. Now I truly live and breathe standards as the starting point for everything. In 2014, I will work to develop “I Can” statements that our students live and breathe as well, and continue to build a deep understanding of the standards for all teachers.

Finally, I use to think differentiation was a “nice to do” option.  Now I realize it is our professional duty as educators to be sure that all students have equal access to proficiency. As difficult as it is, my 2014 goal is to help build a school district that works to meet the needs of all learners. Differentiation is  the only way to provide that equity to every student, every day.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I Used to Think. . . Now I Think

I first heard about I Used to Think. . . And Now I Think several years ago. (I marked it as something to come back to, and I didn't make it there until just recently. Sound familiar?) Richard F. Elmore edited this collection of essays about how the thinking of "leading educators" has changed and evolved. Check out Justin Reich's essay about educational technology or Nancy Flanagan's essay about school reform to get a better understanding of the concept. 

Throughout January the coaches of The Literacy Booth will share how their thinking has changed. What did they used to think? What do they think now?

I used to think I needed to leave to learn. I couldn't wait to sign up for the the next workshop or see a speaker. I wrote very detailed sub plans, and then, I hung on the words of experts. I took pages and pages of detailed notes (by hand on a legal pad with my favorite brand of pen). I bought that expert's book from the table in the hallway, returned to my classroom, and did it. The cycle repeated itself when the next opportunity to leave to learn came around. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

And now I turn to my colleagues. Professional learning communities, classroom visits, and coaching have transformed the way I learn. Learning isn't something I leave to do anymore. It's something I'm doing just about every minute of my day through collaborative relationships. 

Don't get me wrong - I still turn to experts and compelling research to push, shape, and change my thinking. I still buy more professional books than any one person could ever read in her lifetime. However, I use that learning in a very different way now. I talk with other people about it, and I'm (sometimes overly) thoughtful about how to incorporate new learning with existing practice. 

What did you used to think? What do you think now?

Monday, January 6, 2014

What Are You Reading? (January Edition)

Yopp & Yopp, The Reading Teacher, October 2000
Quick article phonemic awareness including definitions of basic terms and a suggested sequence for instruction.

Professional Capitol (Barb)
Andy Hargreaves & Michael Fullan
You may also wish to check out Hargreaves’ TedTalk about uplifting leadership.

Choice Words by Peter Johnston (Andrea)

"Successful Strategies for Teaching Reading to Middle Grade English Language Learners" (Heather)

High Impact Instruction by Jim Knight (Julie)
In his book High-Impact Instruction, Jim Knight provides a simple but powerful framework and set of tools for improving “the Big Four” elements of quality teaching: community building, content planning, instruction, and assessment for learning. High-Impact Instruction is a roadmap for professional learning. The key to improving student achievement isn’t more teacher time - it’s more teacher impact. This handbook, written for teachers and used by principals and instructional coaches, brings out the best in teaching.

The Next Step in Guided Reading by Jan Richardson (Jaimie)
Jan Richardson demonstrates exactly how to plan, teach, check for understanding, and reteach. An easy-to-use View & Do guide helps teachers put what they've seen righ tinto action. These are great supplementary resources that go with Jan's book: The Next Step in Guided Reading: Focused Assessments and Targeted Lessons for Helping Every Student Become a Better Reader. They are brand new in 2013 and aligned to CCSS.

Children’s and Young Adult
Midwinter Blood (Barb)
Young adult historical fiction/fantasy set on a mysterious island where no one ages, this story starts in the year 2073 and moves backward in time. Each section happens at a different period in time, and characters overlap between time periods. By the last section, the reader unravels the entire history of the island. Highly complex text that might make a cool book talk for grade 9 - 10 fantasy readers.

The Fault in Our Stars By: John Green (Heather)
A young adult novel that tells the story about teenager with cancer and the friend she meets that changes her life.

Code Name Verity By: Elizabeth E. Wein (Heather)
A young adult novel that tells the story of two friends during WWII.

A note from Penny. . .
Christmas break allows time for pleasure reading and completion of things started.
I’ve spent time reading:
Love Jason - Excellent story of a family growing through tragic loss.
The Bible - We’ve been challenged to read this in a year beginning today.
Love and War - A book I’m sharing with my husband and we strengthen our marriage.
James and the Giant Peach - My granddaughter’s read aloud.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Jaimie)
I am actually reading this book in response to the Notice and Note lessons I have been teaching in the 3-5 classrooms in my building.  Excerpts from this text are used in introducing the Tough Questions signpost.  I was intrigued by the excerpts and wanted to read the whole text. Excellent Read!

Carrie is on a historical fiction binge:
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
The 1950’s in the French Quarter of New Orleans comes alive in this YA Historical Fiction novel by the same author as Between Shades of Gray.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Set during the 1920’s in New York City, life is filled with mystery, intrigue, and little “magic” as Evie, the main character, works to solve the case of a serial killer.