Friday, January 30, 2015

Comprehension Focus Groups: An Informational Lens

Heather Zimmerman contributed today's post. More of Heather's posts about comprehension focus groups in middle school can be found here.

We finished up the first Comprehension Focus Group (CFG) and are now in full swing of the second CFG.  I decided for the second CFG that we would focus on informational texts.  I really wanted to tie in another class to this learning, so the students could be frontloaded with new information to come.  I had looked at the curriculum for social studies and science and was able to find the most in regards to leveled texts for the social studies curriculum that is covered second quarter.

In 7th grade, students cover the Middle Ages and in 8th grade students learn about about American Revolution.  I spent a lot of time trying to find books that would best meet the needs of all of my students, help them learn the curriculum, and also interest them.  At the beginning of the unit we looked at text structures (description, sequence and order, compare and contrast, cause and effect, and problem and solution) and practiced using a few articles to see if they could choose an effective text structure to take notes with.  I ended up using the text structures as part of our discussion during phase two.  We also reviewed text features during the preparing phase to review titles, headings, bold faced words, the glossary, etc.  As we know, students know about these features but do not always see the importance in using them.

I also did quite a bit of research to see what graphic organizers I wanted to use.  For graphic organizers, I decided to look at Doug Buehl’s work on “Questioning the Author.”  Part of the reason for turning to this strategy was because our district literacy coordinator is planning on sharing this with staff during this school year, and I had no experience using it.  I figured I would build my knowledge with this strategy for the coaching side of my role.  I also looked at Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis’ work in “The Comprehension Toolkit.”  I created a graphic organizer for students to hold their thinking through the CFG.

The plan for students was to use the graphic organizer to deepen comprehension and also to keep track of questions they had.  This would then be used during the writing phase, as a way to research unanswered questions and create a pamphlet for social studies teachers’ classrooms.  

Here is a list of texts I used.  Some were certainly better than others, but they all worked.  We also, did not read the books cover to cover.  We started off together, but I also gave them choice throughout phase one.

Middle Ages (Studied in 7th grade)
  • Knights and Samurai by Vicki Tyler Wilt (Mentor text)
  • The Black Death by George Capaccio
  • The Middle Ages by Allison Lassieur
  • The Magnificent Medici by Erin Ash Sullivan (Focused on the Renaissance)

American Revolution (Studied in 8th grade)

  • If You Lived at the time of the American Revolution by Kay Moore (Mentor text)
  • George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer
  • The Revolutionary War by Elizabeth Raum
  • Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Student Centered Coaching: How Do We Change Teacher Practice Through the Art of Questioning ?

Bobbi Campbell contributed today's post. Read more of Bobbi's posts about student centered coaching here.

January is always the time of year when I feel most reflective and commit to changing something that I can control.  This year I am committing to changing my questioning techniques. I want to try to use David Perkins research on offering meaningful feedback to teachers and coaches in order to increase student learning.

We all know that truly changing instructional practice comes from the choice within the person needing to change.  That is what is so glorious about student-centered coaching - the focus is on the student, not the teacher.  It is through the art of questioning from the coach that can
move teachers to finding the answers within themselves. The overall purpose of the coaching is always on the student learning.

Perkins (2003), states that offering meaningful feedback can be categorized by the following:
  1. Clarifying questions or statements
  2. Value statements or questions
  3. Questions or possibility statements

To help facilitate coaching conversations, here are a few talk stems from,“Coaching Conversations: Transforming YOur School One Conversation at a Time”  by Cheliotes and Reilly.

Clarifying Questions:
  • “How do you see this different from…?”
  • “How did your students respond to this process?”
  • “What gaps did you notice within your student work samples?”

Value Statements/Questions:
  • “You have really thought about this deeply.”
  • “I see evidence of…”
  • “It provides high engagement for students by…”

Reflective questions or possibilities:
  • “What are you considering in regard to…”
  • “What connections have you made to…”
  • “I wonder what would happen if…”

I highly recommend reading the entire book! In closing, remember when giving feedback, ask yourself the following questions:  is the feedback productive? Is it specific enough to result in a change in practice? Is it respectful?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bringing Back the Book Club

Carrie Sand contributed today's post.

Bringing Back the Book Club: 
An examination of the wondering: “Why do book clubs work in my classroom with students but not for professional development with teachers?”

Last month I thought about the variety of ways that I’ve provided professional development options for teachers in my role as a Literacy Specialist. While I am happy with the wide range of strategies that I’ve used, especially my success with using online PD formats, one option that I continue to re-examine is the book club for teachers. Starting in November, I created a goal to implement and maintain a purposeful model for using books clubs. Below is my reflection on the process and my implementation plan.

Why my obsession with trying to make this work?

Because I think about my own learning….while classes and conferences are nice,  almost 99% of my own professional learning comes from the books and articles that I choose to read. Which makes me wonder...what about those teachers who never make the time to read on their own? How does their learning continue?

The other question one may wonder is why now? Why in the time of year when we are all busy with lesson plan writing, grading, end of semesters, and holiday concerts?

Because once again I reflect on my own learning  process; every June I leave my classroom with a stack of professional resources that I didn’t find time to read throughout the year. I optimistically think about the long three months ahead and the leisure time I’ll have to browse all the resources I’ll ever want to implement come September. Then I snap back to reality and realize that a) very little about summer is usually leisure time and b) whenever I read about professional development options in the summer by September I’ve either forgotten them or don’t have a good plan for implementation.

Professional development and professional reading is at its best when the need is immediate and implementation can begin the next day. So how to change my structure to actually make this work….

Thinking about my implementation plan for book studies, my goal is to move away from the whole school required book to team lead conversation and selection. In this way I hope to replicate my own learning process of personal inquiry. I hope this new approach allows teachers to take control of their learning and implementation of best practices within their own classrooms.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Are You a Learner?

Andrea Reichenberger contributed today's post.

Even in my current position as a coach, I still wear many hats, and one of my responsibilities is interviewing new English teachers. Unfortunately, these days, a good English/language arts (ELA) teacher is really hard to find.  We want ELA teachers who understand how to develop students’ literacy skills, not just how to teach writing, grammar and literature. What I’m discovering is that many teachers graduate from local universities not knowing how to design an effective lesson or unit that incorporates these skills. It is extremely important to take the time to keep abreast of the research and trends that are necessary for student learning and engagement in today’s ELA classrooms.

The ELA classroom should look and sound much differently than it did when we sat in them as students. Remember when the desks were in rows, all facing the teacher at the front of the room? We were expected to be quiet---we weren’t allowed to talk unless we raised our hand and were called on to answer. We looked to that teacher to have all of the answers. We also completed grammar worksheets and fill-in-the-blank or multiple choice packets. We wrote five- paragraph essays and got them back with all of our mechanical errors marked in red pen.  The teacher would walk us through an entire novel and tell us what he/she thought the text meant so we could get away without having to read the book at all, especially since we also watched most movie versions of the novels we were asked to read.

Most of us became ELA teachers because we loved literature or writing or both; however, we have to remember that most of our students do not plan on doing the same.  We need to prepare them for the skills they need outside of the school walls, whether it’s college, the military, or straight into the workforce. The ELA classrooms we are creating today have less teacher talk and more collaborative conversations among students.  Students are allowed more choice in what they read; book offerings are based on universal themes; and a mentor text is used rather than a whole class novel.

So, what kind of teachers do we need to hire?  In every interview, I ask myself: Is this person a learner? and Is this person good for our kids? I can live with a new teacher who doesn’t have some of the knowledge, but I do need someone who is willing to learn what he/she doesn’t know and is willing to be coached. The following is a list of tips to consider before interviewing for an ELA teaching position, but it’s useful for other content areas as well.

  • Be prepared to share titles of both young adult novels and professional books you are currently reading.
  • Make sure you understand the following and be able to provide examples of each: formative assessment, summative assessment, and your understanding of the standards.
  • Explain how you motivate and engage students and are able to make content relevant and interesting.
  • Become very familiar with an effective instructional model/philosophy. I recommend UbD from Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, GANAGh (from Jane Pollock’s Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time) or GRR (from Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey’s Better Learning through Structured Teaching.
  • Provide specific examples of how you differentiate for English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities.
  • Share examples that demonstrate how you effectively incorporate reading, writing, and speaking into every lesson.
  • Display your sincere belief  that every student CAN learn!
  • Present yourself as a learner too!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Smiles and Positives: Creating a Positive Small Group Atmosphere at the Middle School Level

Heather Zimmerman contributed today's post. More of Heather's posts about small group intervention at middle school (using comprehension focus groups) can be found here.

I had a student who was recently added to my literacy skills class.  I felt bad because he lost his elective course when he was put in this class.  But he still came in with a shy smile and said he was excited to join our group.  I smiled at his happiness that he was looking forward to joining the class. That is such a warming feeling.  

I spent the first month of September establishing routines and working hard to get to know my students.  I find it extremely important that (especially) with a small group intervention that students feel safe and comfortable within our learning environment.  Middle school is already a trying time, and I want to make sure my students feel welcome in my room.

Last week was his first day and I re-established our classroom expectations, and I flooded with tickets (PBIS).  I could sense a little uneasiness when he joined our Comprehension Focus Group. Not because of anything he was doing, but because someone new was inside our circle.  The students were not sure if they had to impress him or not.  I would make a comment about how this is middle school, but I think this is a pretty typical behavior of all humans when change occurs.  I will continue for about a week to flood with tickets, so students can continue to be reminded with of our classroom expectations, and also work on building a relationship with him, so he too feels welcome in our group.

Here are some ways I built positive rapport with my students these first few months:
  • Clearly posted expectations that were reviewed more than once.
  • Flooding of tickets when needed to reinforce these positive behaviors.
  • When I built routines I did not try to do too many things at once.  Yes, I wanted to jump in and assess my students.  Yes, I wanted to start to conference with my students.  Yes, I knew that was not the time.  I modeled what silent reading looked like by reading with them.  I flooded tickets and gave positive remarks to the expected behaviors.  Once I saw they could handle this on their own, then I could do other things such as conference with them.
  • I started a birthday club.  I know it is middle school, but who does not like when their birthday is recognized?  Since I have such a small amount of students, when it is their birthday month they can choose with their other birthday-month buddies a treat, and I bring it in to celebrate.
  • I make sure to meet them at the door with a smile on my face and acknowledge each of them.  At the beginning of the year, I made sure it was every day.  Now there might be a reason it does not happen every day, but for the most part it is.  
  • I greet them at the beginning of the hour and go over clear expectations and goals for the day.  Routine is important.
  • I am very clear with them about why I do each part of the intervention.  They know what phase we are in and why we do it.  They know why I have a mentor text and why we read three texts in phase one.  I think it is important for them to know that everything we do has a purpose.
  • I also have them be a part of the routines.  Someone waters my plant (because they know I will kill it otherwise), someone passes out our folders and notebooks, and someone flips the sheet to a “A” day or a “B” day (because they know I always forget.)  They appreciate being a part of the group.

I believe we need to do what works best for us.  But I know that even when the days get long or tough, it is still important to give 100% to building a positive classroom environment to have a successful learning environment.  I know we as educators have tons of amazing things we do every day!  What things do you do in your classroom to help build a positive classroom environment?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Back to Basics Part 3 - The Coaching Continuum

Julie Schwartzbauer contributed today's posts. More of Julie's posts about her district's "Back to Basics" plan for coaching can be found here.

In my last two posts I have written about how our district is focusing on a “Back to Basics” plan for coaching.  I have touched on the reasoning behind the need for a back to basics model and explained the coaching cycle.

When the plan was introduced to our building literacy coaches, there was some anxiety surrounding the idea of coaching all teachers.  We know and understand that all teachers do not desire to, or feel the need to be coached.  The question became how do we provide support that is differentiated for all teachers.

Before we developed a plan for differentiation, we needed to build understanding around three essential principles of coaching.  In her book Differentiated Literacy Coaching, Mary Catherine Moran states that the overarching goal of improved student achievement are three essential principles of coaching:

  1. Coaching should help establish a school culture that recognizes collaboration as an asset.
  2. Coaching should develop individual and group capacity to engage in creative problem solving and self-reflection.
  3. Coaching should provide a continuum of professional learning opportunities to support adults in their acquisition and use of specific knowledge, skills, and strategies.

With that being said, the literacy continuum is a structure for professional learning that provides scaffolding to meet the needs of individual teachers and builds on the knowledge teachers bring to the table. As shown in the figure below, the continuum offers eight differentiated formats for coaching.

The Literacy Coaching Continuum (Moran, 2007)

What we like about using the continuum with our coaches is that it assumes a progression in intensity of coaching from least intrusive (sharing resources), to more intrusive (co-teaching).  Moran defines intrusive as being the extent of the coach’s involvement in the actual teaching routine and the potential impact of that involvement on the teacher’s sense of comfort.The differentiated format of the coaching continuum allows coaches to consider a teachers knowledge base, personal experiences, as well as their comfort level when it comes to being coached.

It is our hope that during professional learning communities, coaches will talk with teachers about the “back to basics” topics and then determine what coaching format would be the “best fit” for the team or for each individual teacher.

I have included a table below that defines each of the coaching formats in the continuum. My next post will focus on collaboration with building principals.

(The document below can be accessed using GoogleDocs.)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Nurturing Yourself as a Coach

Diane Jenquin contributed today's post.

As I reflect on being a literacy coach and leader thoughts come to mind as to the importance of our well being in order for us to reach out and build relationships with others.
So here is my top 10 list for Nurturing a Literacy Coach:

  • Create your own space and work environment to initiate conversation.  I have a little fountain and relaxing chairs and a lavender scented wax burner.
  • Leave margins in your work schedule. Pencil in time for appointments just for you, 15 minutes here or there.
  • Let go of some responsibility.
  • Recognize your limitations and others strengths and delegate to their strengths. Not everyone is a party planner.
  • Build a positive support system and network.  Relationships, relationships, relationships.
  • Read for fun!
  • Nurture your body. Don’t skip meals. Exercise. (I break this one all the time)
  • Listen to music (Rock out when you need to)
  • Take a nap!
  • Go Home!!!!!!
  • (My eleventh one is shopping therapy if all else fails.)

I know we all are aware that these are important but doing them is not always easy.  

Sometimes we have to rely on our positive support network to remind me of these important steps.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Texts for Comprehension Focus Groups- Middle School Level

Heather Zimmerman contributed today's thinking. For further information, read Heather's first post about comprehension focus groups.

Looking at the calendar, I find it hard to believe it is already January.  In some ways these first few months went by quite quickly.  The chatter in the hallway of Halloween costumes is over and soon Thanksgiving break plans will start.  I am about halfway through my first Comprehension Focus Group (CFG).  Part of me feels as if I should be much further, but when I look at the days spent building routines in September and preparing for our first CFG, it makes sense.  I also get pulled from classroom for meetings more frequently than I would like, but that is part of the balance of being a reading teacher and coach.

I mentioned in my last post, as I prepared for the first few months of school I spent the first few weeks in the classroom getting students into the routines of the class, building relationships, and going over signposts from Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s book, Notice and Note.  Outside of the classroom, I spent weeks and weeks planning for my first CFG.  I did not think it would be so tricky.  First of all, I found myself doubting what I normally do as good teaching practice to follow the format for the CFG.  Second of all, I struggled to find engaging short stories that were fiction.  I wanted to stick with the fiction genre to continue our practice with the signposts.  Trying to find short stories that were modern and not memoirs was not an easy task.  I am sure many of you can relate the hours and hours spent on a project, and then the feeling that you got no where.  Not fun.  

Here is an overview of my first CFG:  
  • Genre- Fiction
    • Focusing on story map (theme, point of view, and plot line)
    • Sign Posts
  • Texts-
    • “Charles” by Shirley Jackson (mentor text)
    • “Jared” by David Gifaldi
    • “Two Were Left” by Hugh B. Cave
    • “Amigo Brothers” by Piri Thomas

This might not seem like much, but I hope it saves you time.  If you want more specifics on my lesson plans, feel free to leave a comment with your email and I will send you more information and the handouts.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Rethinking Professional Development Options

Today's thinking was contributed by Carrie Sand.

Professional Development--two words that can elicit the worst of responses (eye rolls, groans, sighs) from even the most optimistic of us.


Well, probably because professional development usually equates a meeting...after school...when every click of the clock closer to 4 PM means an extra half hour of work at home that night instead of a bowl of ice cream and Real Housewives of Somewhere. Nothing is worse than leaving a meeting, one hour later, feeling like your ever growing list has just grown more.

So how to overcome the negativity around professional development. In theory it should be easy to answer this question: provide professional development that teachers feel is relevant and responsive to their current needs in a format that is convenient for everyone. BUT HOW?

To search for a better way, I fall back into some resources on my bookshelf. One in particular Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change by Jennifer Allen seems to call for a re-read of certain chapters. In chapter three, titled A Model for a Required Inservice Program, she states in regards to her professional development philosophy “success came only because I was willing to learn from repeated failed attempts to do something meaningful in those meetings.” So what are some ways that I’ve attempted to revitalize our professional development beyond the after school meeting? I use Jennifer Allen’s strategy and do an analysis:

 Reflect on past practices to determine what worked and what didn’t.
PD Option
What the option entails:
Overall feedback
-Google Drive

Utilizing web based formats for people to share discussions, thoughts, and resources, electronically.
-Gives people the flexibility to access information when it is relevant and convenient.
-All information is accessible at any time ( You can’t lose your notes somewhere!)
-Can feel like “another thing to do”
-Another place (like the million of sites we bookmark) that we love when we stumble on them, but never get back to.
- Good
Method was sensitive to people’s time, but definitely needed multiple reminders of where information could be found. My suggestion is to get one “techy” person per team really into it and let that person be your advocate in team meetings!  
Professional Development on Demand Bins
Creating bins or folders of books, chapters, articles, or web resources supporting areas of frequently asked questions.
-Ensures teachers receive access to best practices.
-Provides a place where the resources have already been reviewed, organized by topic, and easily accessible.

-Directly relevant to needs.
-Not a place people would think of first to visit when they needed additional support or had questions.

-Sheets would end up on piles on desks,  never to be seen again (until clean-up time in June!)
Most people didn’t have time to actively search out more information for own learning. Format worked best as resource that I could have on hand to deliver to those who I heard needing support in specific areas. Also the bins work best in a place where teachers frequently visit.
Staff Book Studies
The entire staff reads a book devoted to one topic of professional development.
-Gives everyone access to the same information and language.

-Provides teachers a personal copy of the text, which supports the chance that they might go back and reference it at a later time.
-NO ONE reads for the appointed day.

-Conversations during book talks are stale, forced, and generally unproductive.

-The people who need the book the most, usually are the ones who don’t read any chapters at all.
-Probably won’t use again in the same way
I think the book talk format is good for those who elect to participate, but conversations do not further thinking unless members are actively engaged (and reading)!

After this reflection, my determination is that I do use a wide range of options for professional development. I continue to remind myself of things I use to do because what works for one year of teachers may not be relevant or useful in a different year. I continue to support my philosophy that teachers respond to professional development best when it is driven by teacher needs and motivated by a teacher’s desire to learn more. Therefore, I think I am going to take my worst method of professional development, the book study, and re-think its options. I believe this method is valuable, useful, and a good practice for learning. How can I develop this method into a relevant, timely, and productive form of professional learning? In other words, if it works with students in my classroom why can’t I make it work for teachers??? Stay tuned, next month I will discuss my progress in my new approach for book studies. Wish me luck!