Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Mathematical Mind Shift

Today's post is brought to you by Andrea Reichenberger.
I have always hated math.  Yep.  I said it.  I hated it with a passion. The difference is that now, I understand why.  When I was a student, there was never any discussion about math or the thinking behind it. There was never any modeling.  (Unless you count watching the teacher do 20-30 math problems on the chalkboard, but we know THAT isn't modeling.)  There was one way to do math and if I didn't understand it, my teacher, with pity in his eyes, simply shook his head at me and moved on to the next unit.  That same teacher also spent way too much class time teaching us how to figure out bowling scores. I still wonder WHERE that was in the curriculum. I hated it as (at that time) I had never bowled, so I had no connection, no prior knowledge and I was already failing his class. Strikes, spares, and adding numbers from one or two frames in the future wasn't exactly engaging or motivating to me. What I realize now is that my teacher didn't have a foundational understanding of the critical elements of instruction.
As I reflect on this past year, I know the math coach, whom I share an office with, is smiling.  We've learned a lot from our conversations and our professional development planning.  We quickly discovered that those discussions about math are never actually “just about math.”  They are about instructional practices in general and necessary in every discipline.  We now know that what is good for literacy instruction is good for math instruction.  Most of our students who struggle with math are also struggling readers—and we have the data to prove it.  As a result, the message needs to be delivered—loudly, clearly, and quickly: if you read, write, speak, and listen in your discipline (which we certainly hope you do) then you are using literacy to deliver your content.  Yes, even in math.  There is a “Mathematical Practices” poster hanging in our office that serves as a daily reminder.

Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
My favorite word here is “persevere” as it reminds me of conversations we have about reading stamina and endurance as well as about how we are working to shift our instruction to ensure that the students are doing the majority of the thinking and talking in the classroom. Problem solving is necessary in every discipline and providing a variety of scaffolds is the key.
Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
In my mind, this is the same as CCSS reading standard one. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
This is a beautiful combination of some of my favorite literacy standards.  Write arguments to support claims…using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence (W.1). Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions…building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented (SL. 1).
Model with mathematics.
Modeling with (insert any discipline here) is also a necessary instructional practice.  I think about how we should model a think aloud as we attack complex text, use background knowledge to make meaning, a well as the strategies we use to attack vocabulary.  We need to model our thinking as the expert in the subject area in which we teach.
Use appropriate tools strategically.
I could take a lot of liberties with this one.   How does one narrow down the tools of literacy? But I believe we can easily make the comparison to the language standards in which students are required to demonstrate a command of the conventions of standard English including grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., or the use of reference materials (L.1,2,4) as well at assessing the credibility of print and media sources (W.8).
Attend to precision.
Developing and strengthening writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting...(W.5).Enough said.
Look for and make use of structure.
In my mind, this connects to text structure. Students who are aware of different text structures, signals, and key words have better comprehension. In Effective Teaching Strategies that Accommodate Diverse Learners, Kame’enui and Carnine state, “In textbooks and other expository texts, organizational features and structures help students understand, learn from, and remember what they read.  Research has shown that understanding how text is organized helps readers construct meaning” (1998).

Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
One of the most important tools of literacy in any discourse is academic language. Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening (L.6). That is just as important in math as it is in every other subject area.
Those of us who know what good instruction looks like in the classroom and spend a lot of time with the standards—not to mention a lot of time collaborating with fellow coaches, can easily make these connections.  It’s been an entire year of “Aha Moments” for us as we work together to help our teachers help themselves improve their instruction for the benefit of our students’ learning.  If I could take my high school math class again with a teacher who blended best practices with their content, I probably would have been more successful.  I also don’t think I would have had to learn how to figure out bowling scores since the bowling alley now does it for me!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


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

I have shared many things throughout my posts this year about being happy with the relationships I’ve built with staff, the amount of time I’ve been able to be in the classroom, etc, so I wanted to write about something different. I tried to think about how my mind has shifted this year, what I’m most passionate about currently, and what has been on my mind the most.  

Writing is what keeps popping up.  I’ve always understood and believed in the importance of writing, but have never truly put it at the top of my list.  As I reflect over the last year, my realization of the true importance of where writing fits in the puzzle we as educators face everyday, is what I celebrate.

It’s not that I haven’t known or recognized the importance of writing; I’ve just never been as passionate about it as I am now. I have come to a realization over the last month or two that writing is a huge component in  how we are going to help our students succeed.  There have been several instances over this past year that have lead me to this final overwhelming realization.

1st Instance, August 2013: First meeting with Literacy Booth Colleagues
I looked at the agenda for the two days we would be spending together and I saw A LOT of writing. I was a bit apprehensive since I haven’t always “loved” writing, but I went with it.  I guess I should have seen it coming; I mean I did know I was joining a group whose purpose was to create a blog - and what do bloggers do? They write.  So I don’t really know why I was so surprised.  :) Anyway, the whole idea here, is that in the end- it was the best two days of professional learning and collaboration I had ever had.  I was refreshed and knew more about myself as an educator than ever before.  I was pumped!  And it was truly because of all of the time I had to reflect in writing, which is something I never give myself the time to do.

Second Instance, January 2014: First Grade Target Time Group
A group of first grade students listened to an oral read aloud, did lots of shared and interactive writing with the teacher for a week or two and then started writing summaries on the text on their own.  Seems basic and simple.  The students pretty much just write.  Well, guess what, giving these students the opportunity to “just write” improved their writing tremendously.  Believe me, I taught first grade for almost five years and I have never seen such a large amount of first graders with the ability to write with the quality and quantity that this group can.  It is amazing!

Third Instance, February/March 2014: Second Grade Guided Reading Coaching
I was doing some modeling for a high second grade guided reading group.  The teacher was concerned about her students being able to reach the written component standard for the DRA assessment that we give to students in our district.  So in my lessons with the students, we wrote.  We wrote before we read, during our reading, and after.  Believe me, the students can write about what they read.  They haven’t taken the assessment yet, but I know from what I’ve observed, they will do great.

Fourth Instance:, April 2014: Work on District Writing Vision
This spring I have been working with a small group of literacy coaches in my district looking at our current writing program.  We have been developing a vision and really looking at the research that supports writing instruction.  I cannot believe how overwhelmingly, the amount of time spent writing, came up.  Almost every book or article and every researcher somewhere stated that students need to write EVERY DAY and we need to have at least 45 minutes to an hour EVERY DAY for writing (not including all of the writing we may be doing in other subject areas).

All of these instances finally came together this spring.  The amount of growth I’ve witnessed this year due to time spent writing and the validation from all of the research I was reading sparked the light bulb. It’s funny because really I’ve already known this, but it has never really come to the forefront of my thinking until now.  There have been so many instances this year that have “shouted” at me “WRITE MORE, WRITE MORE, WRITE MORE!”  that I’ve finally taken the time to stop and think about it. The new state tests, Common Core - everything is screaming WRITING. The thing about writing, too, is that yes of course, if you write more, you will get better; however, writing is connected to so many things.  By writing, the students (and myself) in my scenarios above have not only become better writers; they became better readers, better thinkers, and better problem solvers as well.  In addition, these kids actually don’t mind writing now. They get excited about it and it’s easy for them because they do it every day.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Crossing the Finish Line: Year One

Since the year is not quite over it is hard to celebrate crossing that finish line, but the end is in sight.  I can officially say I almost finished my first year as a literacy coach.  This first part of my new journey brought many celebrations, along with much new learning.  Most of the new learning was great, and of course there are things you wish you did not learn.  (Sometimes the digger you deep the messier things get.)  

A lot of my celebrations this year happened as a team.  Sometimes my team was a group of teachers, a student, or a building-level team, but all the same, a sweet celebration.  I was searching my mental list of celebrations and tried to find one that was all on my own.  I did not  want to take away any credit away from the team by putting up my own celebration for all to see in the blogging world.  But individual celebrations do not happen very often though in a coaching role-- imagine that!

Though this was not one of the bigger things that happened this year, it was my own celebration.  I went into this role, yes I admit, a little scared about all the data I would encounter….and the spreadsheets I would have to make...and the conclusions I would have to draw from all these numbers.  I can say at the end of this year I have jumped into the world of Excel and even led discussions on data.  (Gasp!)

Here are two examples from my celebration:

One. I found this wonderful list of questions to help make data discussions more student-centered in Diane Sweeney’s book, Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level.

Guiding Questions for Data Analysis
  1. What does the data reveal? Highlight the 3 - 5 most significant data points or trends - red flags - that you see in this set of results?
  2. What questions does the data pose? For each red flag that you identified, generate 2 - 3 questions that the data raises for you.
  3. What might explain the data? For each red flag you identified, jot down any theories you have about causes/explanations for the data.
  4. What will we do about it? For each red flag, identify instructional strategies to improve student achievement.
Sweeney, D. (2013). Student-centered coaching at the secondary level. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Two. My building-level school improvement team discussed how we would share the data for school-wide common assessment.  I already had the data in spreadsheets and learned how to do a mail merge, so we could get students their individual scores.  As a team we decided this would be distributed in homeroom.  I worked on the format for the summary sheet that would go out to students.  Here is what the summary sheet included:
  • Scores: A few team members felt strongly about having colors versus numbers for the score.  They did not want students to focus on their number alone.  We discussed a way to attribute a color to the score and to graph it on what the goal score (proficient) would be.
  • Current Book:  I felt it was important, after including two reading assessment scores, to also focus on a current choice book for a hopefully positive score on the graph.  Students self-evaluated their comprehension of a choice book.  
  • Goals:  Student chose two reading goals for the quarter.  There was one quarter where the assessments happened fairly close together, so I included a reflection section on their goals.  

Here is an example of one of the summary sheets:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An Addiction to Digital Literacy

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

I’m going to begin with a confession: I may be a YouTube channel subscribing addict.

This year I've been personally and professionally transformed by the power of digital literacy. I've always dabbled with using videos, but lately I find I can use them  for EVERYTHING… own personal enjoyment and development, professional development with colleagues, and  mini-lessons with students in my classroom. Is it the fact that the video feels like an escape to the movies in the middle of the day? Is it the moving and inspiring music that is inevitably playing in the background? Or could it just be the visual and audio relief of seeing and hearing someone different? WHATEVER “it” is, the minute I dim the lights and the blue screen of my SMARTboard flashes on, my audience sits a little bit taller, become just a little more engaged, and dare I say, a slight buzz of excitement filters through the room.

Here are some of my most successful videos/channels and ways I've used them this year!

Flocabulary YT: Love a good educational sing-along? Flocabulary is the place. Check out the Huck Finn video I used with my 11th grade students this year! Warning: this song sticks in your head FOREVER!!

Another favorite for informational ‘text’ is howstuffworks. This site has TONS of short, informative videos on just about any topic possible. With a variety of other “stuff” playlists and channels like: Brain Stuff, Stuff Your Mom Never Told You, The Coolest Stuff on the Planet, Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know, and Stuff From the Future. There are videos for EVERY class, subject, topic, idea, or wondering you may ever (or ever not) have!

Professionally, I love the FisherFrey channel for great resources and classroom snapshots using the Gradual Release of Responsibility, as well as strategies such as close reading techniques, text dependent questions, and text annotation. I also use videos from SmarterBalanced to provide background, training, and orientation.

When most people think of Youtube in the classroom, many teachers begin and end with tried and true channels like Khan Academy or Tedtalks. I’ve found, however that these channels are just the beginning of the power of using digital literacy to motivate, increase engagement, and improve success for all types of learners.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Celebrate Good Times - Come on!

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

This month’s post is about celebrations.  I would like to be celebrating the coming of Spring and warmer weather, but apparently that does not occur in Wisconsin.  Luckily there is much to celebrate in my district.

There is a K-12 Steering Committee in the Appleton School District that explores a range of topics. Over the past three years the committee has focused on examining how the district has been implementing Wisconsin’s Common Core State Standards.  In Appleton, we use Curriculum Companion as a vehicle in which to teach the standards.  The transition to focusing on the standards through Companion has been quite difficult at times.  Our Steering Committee performs a SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) analysis each year to assess how things are going across the district.

Last week we brought the committee together to do the analysis.  

I would like to share some of the Strengths and Opportunities from the K-6 teachers, because I see them as things to celebrate.

Teachers have…
  • a better understanding of the standards and how to teach the standards
  • a better understanding of the workshop model and how to implement it with fidelity
  • a better understanding of how to integrate Science and Social Studies across the day
  • been able to integrate the use of technology across all content areas
  • been effectively working together in PLCs along with specialists
  • been using the writing continuum with fidelity
  • increased the amount of time kids spend independently reading
  • been differentiating instruction and being more responsive to individual student needs
  • appreciated the staff development that occurs on late start days
  • been progress monitoring
  • creating and using common assessments to guide instruction
  • been providing authentic reading and writing experiences for students
  • been looking forward to teaching

Now of course, there were also some weaknesses and threats, but that’s not what this post is about.

Today is a good day here in Appleton.  Hard work pays off!

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Confession. I cried pretty much every day during May and June of my first year of teaching.I was ready for the beginning of the school year to be really, really difficult and exhausting. No one prepared me for May and June, though. May and June were a whole new kind of really, really difficult and exhausting.

So, as you toughen themselves up for May and June - turning to whatever comforts and vices they may need to - we here at the Literacy Booth encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on the successes you and your students experienced this year.

What has been your greatest success this year? Use the comments below to celebrate.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What Are You Reading? (May Edition)

A little glimpse into my messy world - fueled by coffee.

Here is what we're reading right now:

Jaimie is reading:

  • A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop: Intermediate Grades and A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop: Primary Grades both by Lucy Calkins (Heinemann, 2013)

Heather is reading:
  • Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners: The SIOP Model by Jana Echevarria , MaryEllen Vogt, Deborah J. Short. This book goes back to the basics of solid teaching strategies not only for ELL students, but for all students.  I flagged parts in this book that talked about content objectives, text-dependent questions accommodations, and teaching examples with rubrics to tie into Danielson’s framework.
  • “Put Reading First- Kindergarten through Grade 3” This document provides a review of reading instruction in primary grades.
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio. This young adult book shares the story of August Pullman is a kid who has a facial deformity since birth and who has been home-schooled up until fifth grade.  He is now about to enter the world of school and a whole new journey in his life.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth. Beatrice lives in a society split up into five factions.  At the age of 16, all teens in this society get to decide what faction they want to join.  Beatrice makes a decision that changes her life and unfolds into this popular novel.

a note from Barb:
I'm leaving on a jet plane very, very soon to attend the International Reading Association convention. I'm looking forward to getting some reading done while I'm there and, inevitably, picking up a few more professional books for my collection. I'm reading If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth for sure. I'm also excited to get into Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School by Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan.

Andrea is reading:

  • Buidling Academic Language: Essential Practices for Content Classrooms, Grades 5 - 12 by Jeff Zwiers
  • Ashfall by Mike Mullin
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Carrie is reading:
  • Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson. Great mini-lessons, resources, and teaching tips for making grammar fun and functional! Jeff Anderson is also an inspiring and engaging speaker. . . go see him if you ever get the chance!
a note from Julie:
I am currently reading through Lucy Calkin's new Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing K - 5. Each grade's series contains:
  • A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop
  • Four Common Core aligned units of study
  • A book of alternate and additional units
  • A book for assessing writing
  • A CD-ROM of Resources for Teaching Writing
The intent of this series is to support students' abilities to be strategic writers who use particular processes to achieve their purpose as writers.