Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Reading the Research: Educational Implications of the Science of Reading

Barb Novak contributed today's post. More of her thinking about research can be found here.

I mentioned a PLC I'm part of in a previous post. We meet monthly and discuss a piece of research (selected by one of the members) at each meeting. The study I'm writing about today will be discussed by my PLC.

I'm sharing the study simply to give access to how I process research when I read - how I organize my thinking before, during, and after reading research. This post is not intended to be an endorsement of the research or its conclusions.

"The Science of Reading and Its Educational Implications"
Mark Seidenberg (2013)

The article can be accessed in the following ways:

Why this article?
The perspective offered in this article - that of an educational psychologist - is one I am not overly familiar with. In addition, the author, Dr. Mark Seidenberg, is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

This article is not research. Instead, Seidenberg forms an argument in responsive to this question: "If the science [of reading] is so good, why do so many people read so poorly?" (p. 331).

Main Points:
The "intrinsic properties of English" (p. 334) are not to blame for America's low levels of literacy. Instead, ". . . how reading is taught is indeed a significant part of the literacy problem in the US and other countries" (p. 340). 

Seidenberg argues that current classroom practice is guided by educational practice rather than science. He writes, ". . . science and education occupy different territory in the intellectual world. . . The cultures of education and science are radically different: they have different goals and values, ways of training new practitioners, criteria for evaluating progress. The two cultures communicate their research at separate conferences sponsored by parallel professional organizations attended by different audiences, and publish their work in different journals. There are publishers that target one audience and not the other. These cross-cultural differences, like many others, are difficult to bridge" (p. 342). This cultural divide is characterized by differences in what evidence is accepted by educators and scientists, educators' reliance on a socio-cultural approach, and a lack of educator understanding of science.

Seidenberg also discusses the achievement gap, specifically for African Americans. He discusses how dialect could impact reading achievement, suggesting that "differences between dialects could potentially affect children's ability to benefit from classroom experience" (p. 353).


  • The article focuses on English; no other languages are discussed.
  • The article represents thinking from a single field, educational psychology.

  • Has anyone in the education community written a response to this article?
  • What are other viewpoints about the impact of dialect on reading achievement and instruction? Do others in educational psychology and education agree with Seidenberg's argument?
Complete Citation:
Seidenberg, M.S. (2013). The science of reading and its educational implications. Language Learning and Development, 9(4): 331 - 360). DOI: 10.1080/15475441.2013.812017

Monday, December 28, 2015

Mindset on My Mind - Chapter 3 Disco

Barb contributed today's post. Click here to read more of Barb's thinking about mindset.

Chapter 3 - "The Truth About Ability and Accomplishment" - provides examples of how mindset applies school and artistic achievement.

What I'm really still thinking about, though, is Dweck's application of mindset to praise and labels (both positive and negative). Specifically, how those with a fixed mindset approach stereotypes. Dweck writes, ". . . the growth mindset lets people - even those who are targets of negative labels - use and develop their minds fully. Their heads are not filled with limiting thoughts, a fragile sense of belonging, and a belief that other people can define them" (p. 80).

She provides examples of how individuals with growth and fixed mindsets are impacted by negative labels and stereotypes, including:

  • how indicating race before an assessment impacts performance
  • how African American college freshmen processed feedback from a member of "the white establishment"
  • how women perform in a mathematics class
  • how women with a fixed mindset process feedback from others
Individuals with a growth mindset were able to move forward in a positive way, despite negative labels or stereotypes.

All of this made me want to know more about the relationship between culturally responsive practice and mindset. It seems that fostering a growth mindset within our students may better prepare them to succeed despite negative labels or stereotypes.

Edited to add:
Right after this was posted, I came across an article about giving praise to girls, which makes a connection between praise, mindset, and gender.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Maggie Schumacher contributed today's post.

As teachers and coaches, we oftentimes don’t admit to students that we are just as excited as they are about getting a nice, long break to re-energize and rejuvenate. Over the past few weeks as the days have grown shorter, I’ve been finding my own energy dwindling, regardless of how much sleep or exercise I’ve managed. At the start of November, I attended and presented at the WATG conference (Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted). While at this conference, I attended a session on mindfulness. During this session, the presenter shared some important reminders on how to be mindful, and I think this session was very timely for me to attend. As coaches, it is essential that we are mindful and present in our interactions with others.

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 10.10.26 AM.pngMindfulness can be a challenge, as our brains are wired to be reflecting on the past and projecting toward the future. To be mindful is to pay attention and tune into the moment you are in now, in the present. This is by no means an easy endeavor for everyone; we live in a world where technology surrounds us and disruptions are frequent. It seems to be more and more difficult to tune things out and tune our focus into one person or task. In addition, mindfulness is something that should be done non-judgmentally, without interpretation. This does not mean that we completely surrender all judgment, but that we leave room to perceive the needs of others and respond in a way that will not be misinterpreted. We may intend to be helpful when delivering advice, but sometimes giving of advice can be interpreted that something is lacking. The more in tune we can be to the needs and feelings of others, the more authentic the relationship and the better the results of this collaborative engagement.

Mindfulness is challenging, temporary and takes practice. The more mindful we can be, the more we can be responsive rather than reactive: this is essential in the world of coaching. Since September I’ve had the privilege to attend two coaching presentations by Laura Gleisner, and the conversation has turned to how we as coaches can avoid the Dreaded Drama Triangle. As coaches, it’s important that we focus on how we can empower others. We are not meant to be rescuers, but rather coaches who are providing others with the tools and support they need to be successful. This cannot be done if we are not present or if we coach with judgment.

How can we be more mindful in our daily practices? Be patient, be compassionate, and coach without expectation. In order to help others be mindful, we must first be a model of mindfulness and recognize this within ourselves. It’s important to not dwell on the past or spend too much time in the future; our focus should be on how we can get the most out of today.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Coaching with Kindness

Lisa Weiss contributed today's thinking.

I have a friend who has this outlook on kindness: the kindest thing you can do is be honest. When a friend has remnants of salad stuck between her teeth, the kindest thing I can do is tell her. When my colleague’s fly has taken a trip south, the kindest thing I can do is tell him. It might not feel comfortable, but it is, without a doubt, my kindest move.

I’ve been included in conversations recently where coaches are reporting that it is not their job to give feedback to teachers. This, by the way, is a very different perspective than the district holds, but  my sense is that these coaches are navigating the uncomfortable territory of evaluating versus providing feedback. Being a coach at heart, and fully understanding that feedback is a critical component of my work in order to facilitate change, I’ve found myself sharing my own stories that highlight the fact that providing feedback is unavoidable in the life of an effective coach. As I’ve shared my own stories, a pattern emerged, a pattern that had me thinking about my friend Anne, and her outlook on kindness.

Perhaps the kindest approach to coaching is making the commitment to provide honest feedback, and to share that feedback in the kindest way possible. This is the kindest move I have for impacting students (being honest with the teacher in a way that further develops the coaching relationship while building capacity), and this is the kindest move I have for investing into the professional life of the teacher (being honest, and saying what needs to be said in a way that we can work to problem-solve together).

I have a few new literacy coaches I am working with this year, and I’ve been out and about observing them teaching their intervention courses. Just yesterday, when a new coach and I were debriefing the lesson I witnessed, I started by naming all the specific ways this coach exemplified thoughtful, intentional teaching as she supported her students through the learning. Like any conversation, she talked about her successes and identified some challenges, and as the conversation came to an end, the coach asked, “Did you see things I did wrong, or that I should do differently?”  I was, because of how she interacts with students and purposefully plans for them, quite naturally positioned to be positive and encouraging in our debrief. The conversation was natural and easy, but her question made me remember that we are new to each other. She had no way of knowing that it is not possible for me to swallow an issue if one exists; I believe the kindest thing I can do for students and for teachers is to name the issue...gently, respectfully, kindly. So I told her that. Exactly that. I’m so glad you asked me that question, because you would have no way of knowing this, but I can promise you two things. 1) I can be counted on to be honest in my feedback, and 2) I can be counted on to provide that feedback as kindly as possible. It was easy to share that because that is who and how I am; I’m not going to have to work very hard to keep that promise. 

However, blatantly stating this made me wonder if sharing this--a philosophy of coaching with kindness--at the beginning of a coaching cycle would set teachers up to expect honest feedback, and set coaches up for providing the feedback that needs to be given. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. What outcomes could we expect if we, as coaches, named the fact that it is our responsibility to provide honest and kind feedback, so that it was an expectation in every coaching partnership? It puts the coach in an accountability position to the teacher to provide that feedback, and to do it with kindness. It puts the teacher in a space to know that feedback will be given, and given with integrity and kindness...seems like a great way to begin and foster a professional relationship!

What do you think?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Back to Basics Update...

Upon request from some coaching colleagues, I have decided to update you all regarding our Back to Basics Initiative in Appleton.  For those of you who may be reading this blog for the first time, please go back to learn more about the great things we are doing in Appleton.

This year started out with three Back to Basics goals in mind.  Those goals were to develop shared beliefs surrounding minilessons, conferring, and language workshop.  You might recall, we ended the year with developing shared beliefs about minilessons with our coaches and principals.  The intent was to roll out those shared beliefs to teachers during October and November of this year.  We wanted the month of September to focus on last years Back to Basics (B2B) components and getting new teachers up to speed.

That being said, as you all know, part of being a teacher and coach is about being responsive to the needs of those you work with.  Our coaches were becoming concerned with the expectations surrounding the three B2B components.  They were worried that it was too much roll-out information for one year.  We decided to move forward with minilessons and then spend the remainder of the year around conferring.  We would save language workshop for next year.

After taking language workshop off of our plate, there still remained teachers very interested in learning more about it.  In an attempt to satisfy that desire, we decided to create a mini professional development piece on language workshop.  Schools have been requesting this PD during late starts, lunches, and PLCs.  This PD is allowing us to build background and provide a framework for teachers regarding language workshop.

We have gone one step further, by planning for our 2016 Summer Literacy Institute to focus on language workshop.  Some of the sessions will include topics on grammar and mechanics, vocabulary, author's craft, and word study.  We are hoping that all of this professional development will prepare teachers to spend next year getting their feet wet in language workshop.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Promoting Reading

Sharon Seely contributed today's thinking.

A recent question I received from a middle school teacher:

Based on what you know and have heard about AR and reading logs, what is your opinion of them?

I would like students to read daily outside of class, but I don't really want to penalize them if they don't either. I don't want them to see reading as a chore. Any thoughts or ideas? 

Thanks, A Concerned Teacher



I looked at your question as 'how can I promote reading?'.

I like reading logs, conferencing, journaling, projects, and discussions.

The reading log is just the beginning of the conversation. It is students taking the responsibility of logging what and for how long they have read. Noticing what they are reading, when they are reading, opportunities to read, and becoming life long readers, reading a variety of texts for a variety of purposes.

When I taught 6th grade reading, my students logged their reading: in my class, in other classrooms, in directed study, during free time in other classes, at home, and anywhere/anytime else they read (in the car, at their brother's football game, in the lunchroom, standing by their locker, etc.). Students could log minutes just about anywhere, reading a textbook, library book, magazine, or newspaper. Parents, myself, and other teachers signed student logs when they observed student's reading. I really appreciated the other teachers' support. Several teachers told me that when students would say they had nothing to do, they would say to students, "where's your book? I know you have reading log minutes to work on".

My goal was for students to see that reading doesn't just happen in reading class. They could take their adventure, mystery, true story, etc. (book) anywhere.

An idea would be for students to set reading minute goals throughout the year...with growth in number of minutes read a priority. Conferencing with students on a regular basis about what they are reading, listening to them read, and talking about their reading goals is important. Actually graphing student's growth with them...visuals are always better - amazing!

Weekly journaling...once a week, I took each class to the building library to check out, return, and/or renew books. When we returned to class, students read and journaled. Journaling consisted of students choosing an "I wonder..." prompt, answering it, and posing questions. I would then take the over 100 journals home each Friday, read them, and respond (looking at connections - deeper thinking skills, not grammar or spelling). I really got to know my students. I'm not saying you need to do like I did and take them home every Friday night - you could possibly have a rotating schedule so every day you read five journals from each class. Another idea may be to have students respond to each other's journals and you respond every other week.

Project Ideas:
  • Bookmercials are commercials students create to promote a book that they want to share (not every book they read). They can do their bookmercials in person, using the ipad, or video-taping them.
  • Book Reviews: students write a summary or review of a book they've read and actually tape it to the book's jacket after you've approved it.
  • Café - set up your room like a European café with punch and snacks. Students sit and chat about their latest and greatest reads (books they've read). One time, I set up a café during our study of biographies. Students dressed like and carried on a conversation as if they were who they had read about. I invited the principal and other teachers in to join us when they had a chance. It was a great learning opportunity and so much fun!

Opportunities for students to justify, clarify, explain, engage in open discussions about books, topics, etc. where there are no right or wrong answers. It is a platform welcoming to all students.  I want students to read because they see value in it and want to be part of/join in the conversation.

Sharing my thoughts,

Sharon :-)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Why Is Change So Difficult?

Meghan Retallick contributed today's post.

In response to the ever-present question on all our minds, “Why is change so difficult?”, I found new learning and understanding to share from reading chapter two of The Literacy Coach’s Survival Guide by Cathy A. Toll.

First, reading this chapter was transformative for more than just my ideas about change in schools, but it helped me be more grounded about change in life!  There is such deep reflection and insight here shared by Toll that I changed from reading this chapter.  

I believe that change is so hard because many of us feel isolated and alone in the change process.  We feel solely responsible for good outcomes and fear the unknown of what will happen if the outcomes aren’t good.  But, with her chapter, Toll offers us a different perspective on change.  I love how she categorizes the response toward change in schools: “In schools we conceptualize change as an event, a one-time thing...Then we feel like failures if one change takes place and it leads to the need for another and another and another.”  I think she has hit the nail on the head and this is what is making educational change so hard.  We feel like failures if we have to keep responding to change and when we feel like failures, we get worn down and forget to celebrate the changes we’ve made.  Yet as Toll suggests, if we think of change as constant, there are no “starts and stops to change,” and then “it becomes a normal part of everyday life in school” (21).  

If we all embraced the idea that change is constant, it wouldn’t be as difficult because we’d shift our focus to notice our progress toward goals.  If we weren’t meeting a goal by the time we wanted, we’d problem solve to figure out a new plan to create progress.  If we met one goal, then we’d make a new goal.  The pressure for one individual to be responsible for the change or for ensuring that everyone meets their goals (being known as a change agent), is also not an issue with this mindset.  Toll states that with this mindset we all know that “change is already happening and will continue without assistance.  Rather we may serve to direct, focus, speed up, or even slow down changes that are occurring” (22).  And, we don’t do this work alone.  We support each other through the process knowing that if something comes up and we aren’t sure how to respond, we have others that will help us come up with a next step.  We will not be angry when something changes because as Toll says, “You’re doomed to frustration and failure if you hold too tightly to that vision.  Change is ongoing in schools, and you can’t rein it in to make it yours.  Even if you accomplish what you aimed for, the constancy of change means that it, too, will pass” (23).  

When something is working, we want it to keep working, but we need to remember that it will change, too, so instead of feeling angry about a loss of control over that, we can only respond with deep reflection and collaboration to plan actions that will help us feel connected and that there is a purpose to the change.  Letting go of the need to control change will make our paths toward change easier.  Celebrating the success we’ve had will continually renew us to keep moving on the path.  Collaboration, reflection, and re-evaluation when we meet a barrier will help us join together to overcome problems instead of dwelling on them.  

How does your district determine goals?  Celebrate achieved goals?  Re-evaluate and adjust when goals aren’t met?  If you are finding change difficult, your answers to these questions could help determine where you’re getting stuck.

Toll, C. A. (2014). The literacy coach’s survival guide: Essential questions and practical answers.(2nd ed.)  Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Collaborating with Special Education Teachers: Using Goals to Grow Our Readers

Heather Zimmerman contributed today's thinking.

This year my school district is having 6-12 special education teachers use the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment kit to determine reading levels and to use Fountas and Pinnell’s The Continuum of Learning to guide reading goals for IEPs.  

As the literacy coach I worked with the teachers in my building last year to make sure they knew how to use the assessment kit.  This year we started to test in fall.  I am so excited we are collaborating and focusing on literacy together.  I really want to make sure that my teachers get the most out of the data as possible to find it useful.  

After teachers tested and wrote goals, my principal and I met with the special education teachers and our PST (program support teacher) to discuss the goals.  I led a discussion focusing on what the assessment can tells us, reflecting on the goals picked from The Continuum of Learning, and tools to use while conferring with readers.  I told my special education teachers that they are the experts in writing goals, and I am just here with my reading lens to help them if needed.    

The Continuum of Learning was a new book for my teachers, so I wanted to make sure they felt comfortable with their goals.  As we reflected, we talked about the goals meeting the following guidelines:
  • A goal other teachers will understand. (The goal does not need to be copied word for word from the book.)
  • A goal that can be measured.
  • A goal that is generalizable.  (That way the goal can be applied to all classes.)

From there we reflected on the goals using the above guidelines.  This chart I created helped guide our thinking:

After we reflected on the goals, I shared some conferring questions and tools to track conferring both for special education teachers and regular education teachers.  I appreciated our time together and the new learning I experienced as I found out more about the IEP process and goal requirements.  I look forward to learning and growing together this year as we continue on this journey.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Fan of Choice

Andrea Reichenberger contributed today's thinking.

Those who know me well know that I am not a huge fan of the whole class novel being used in the English/Language arts classroom--at any level. We strive to develop a love of literacy in our students by offering choice at the younger grade levels. Why do we want to take those choices away in the upper grades?

Much has changed in what we know about literacy instruction, but much has also changed with the students who walk into our classrooms everyday. Therefore, we need to rethink our practices.  I don’t believe that we MUST teach what may be considered a classic or the canonized literature that is so often a part of many high school curriculums. Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Crucible, Catcher in the Rye and every Shakespearean comedy I’ve ever seen performed. If I really thought about why I loved these particular classics though, it was because I had a specific connection with each one. Because I love them, I have read them several times over and dug deeper with each read because I WANTED to and because it was my choice.  But I HATED (loathed might even be a better word) The Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment--no matter how passionate my English teacher was. I didn’t care to read them, so I bought the Cliff Notes. (We didn’t have the Internet to access SPARK notes in the “old days.”)  I think it is also fair to say that my opinion of what constitutes a “classic” may differ from that of a teacher who is significantly older or younger than me. A novel that was released within the last 10 years MIGHT just be considered a classic. This could be true of many titles by authors like Gary Soto, Jacqueline Woodson and Chris Crutcher just to name a few.

When discussing curriculum, coming to agreements about titles can become a means of contention among teacher teams.  But these agreements shouldn’t be about us, they should be centered around our students. Who are those kids sitting in our classrooms? What choices can we offer that they will be able to connect to?  We have to think about those choices, and although many classics contain universal themes, we also need to think about whose perspective we are analyzing and why. My suggestion is to shift the conversation--instead of talking about titles,we should discuss how to incorporate deeper themes, how to address text complexity and accessibility, and how to create authenticity.

Before I begin to receive hate email, I should clarify that I do believe that teaching a whole class novel can be done--if it is done well.  Unfortunately, rarely have I witnessed a novel being taught really WELL except when used as a mentor or anchor text.  When used in this capacity, it is much more purposeful. I’ve seen too little planning and too many fill-in-the-blank worksheets.  I’ve seen too many unit tests on a novel with a wide array of low level recall questions that do not push the students’ thinking.  I’ve seen too many teachers having discussions where they are doing all of the talking and asking questions of the students in a manner I refer to as the “guess what I’m thinking” game. I’ve also seen too much reading with no writing and too much writing with no reading. If the whole class novel is going to be used, I believe that there needs to be significant instructional coaching and learning in order to be implemented in a way students can appreciate, embrace, and truly learn from.

We need our students reading and writing more, not less. Whole class novels can pull us away from that goal if we aren't careful. One of my favorite videos was created by Penny Kittle with her students in 2011.  I meant to make my own when I asked some of my former students the same questions. You shouldn’t be shocked that they had the same answers and responses.  

When teachers are designing units, they should not be designing a (insert any novel title here) unit. Units should be based around essential questions or universal themes in literature. So, in a sense, units shouldn’t be units---they should be more focused on inquiry.

Units should be designed in a way that enables reading, writing, speaking, and language use to work together hand in hand. We shouldn’t separate these skills but rather think about how they can be integrated together.

We should be designing units that offer authentic literacy instruction with real-world purposes that are relevant to all of our students. (I would also argue that this should happen in all content areas.) We should teach with the standards in mind and make sure we understand them, but not necessarily use them as our starting point.

Yes, we need to find powerful literature to incorporate into our units, but we also have to incorporate a wide variety of text types to help support our essential questions that will build students’ skills in different venues. This may include choosing video clips (but not entire movies), speeches, poems, songs, short stories, informational texts, and even picture books.

Lastly, we need to offer choice. In Regie Routman’s book, Read, Write, Lead, she cites the research of  Peter Johnston and Gay Ivey and well-known teacher researchers/practitioners including Nancy Atwell, Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Donald Graves, and Lucy Calkins.  Choice is often the game-changer for elementary, middle school and high school students who are not thriving as readers and writers. Choice increases student engagement.  Student engagement is something I am a HUGE fan of!

Monday, December 7, 2015

‘Tis the Season for Leading PD

Carrie Sand contributed today's post.

In my past blogs, I’ve been reflecting on the variety of roles and responsibilities a literacy coach encounters throughout the course of year. For whatever reason, I’ve personally found that the winter months become synonymous in the coaching world with leading different groups through various types of professional development. While some of this PD is mandated and some is by choice, I’ve recently realized that my approach to preparing and implementing professional development is centered around certain guiding principles. After examining my core beliefs as a literacy leader, I created a personal “gut-check” list. Below are the questions I’ve found to be useful when thinking about planning for any type of PD:

1.Am I bringing my authentic self?

Approachable, knowledgeable, passionate, real, professional….

If asked, these are some of the characteristics I would want others to use to describe me as both a person and a professional. When presenting professional development, it is my goal to bring these same qualities to my presentation. Part of this is intrinsic and done without much planning or thought; however, I also believe in the power of preparation. For example, recently, I thought through some the of following questions prior to leading a professional development training: How can I prepare for a professional development in an area where my experience might be limited? What do I do when a colleague is creating a negative environment for learning? What language (both verbal and body) do I use to interact with and respond to the workshop participants? By preparing for a variety of situations, I believe I am better able to be more present and authentic in the moment.  

2.  What can I do to be sure that my presentation is purposefully planned?

I’ll admit that I am an organization nut, and in all honesty, disorganization gives me a bad impression. Because I know that I carry that preconceived notion, I try to demonstrate my commitment and respect to my PD participants by being well planned and organized. While many situations arise that require us to “think on our feet” and quickly problem solve, I can’t think of many scenarios when I personally advocate “just winging it” as a solid PD strategy.

3. Does my PD “practice what I preach” in terms of best practices for instruction?

It seems logical to instruct adult learners in the same way we know instruction works best for kids, but how many times have we attended trainings that are “sit and get” or direct readings of slide after slide on a large screen. To me, I think of PD as a way for teachers to “observe” best practices in action. I am in charge of the “mini-lesson” and from there I plan for opportunities to allow teachers time for interaction and collaborative conversations, practice with some guided instruction, and reflection. I may take a formative check prior to my inservice, but I definitely take many formative checks for understanding along the way. I share objectives in my opening and closing so that I can maintain a purpose throughout the course of the training. By using the same techniques I advocate and look for in classrooms, I am able to not only get in a quick demonstration (maybe using a new technique or strategy that I hope someone will steal), but also I provide learning that is specific and hopefully transferable to a variety of classroom settings.

4. How would this feel from the other side of the table?

We are busy people in the educational world and one of my biggest pet peeves is leaving a meeting feeling like I just wasted my precious minutes. Therefore, as much as possible, I try to think about how the PD will feel as the recipient rather than the presenter. For example, I always want my PD to be relevant to what teachers want right now….(If we just adopted a new curriculum, do my teachers really want training on a this other really cool new resource I just discovered?)... and scheduled during a time that is not stress inducing (Is an after school meeting the day before report cards are due really my best day?). If the development is one where I can not control all the factors,  I think about the angles I can take or the connections I can make to give the topic a feel of  relevance and timeliness? Other questions I usually think through are: Am I providing real life tools and ideas that teachers can implement right away? Am I respectful of other’s time by being punctual with both my start and end time? Do I include all members in attendance regardless of grade level or content area? By looking at the presentation as someone  on the other side, I feel better able to provide training that gets implemented not forgotten.

5. What feedback will I ask for to help inform my follow-up?

It is a cruel truth, but professional development is only as effective as what happens after the participants have left the training. By thinking about what feedback I will need to collect, I am already preparing for the next steps I will take as a coach in order to support and extend the learning. While, we as the presenter, can walk away with a certain feeling about how things went, it is always good to collect honest feedback. In this way we can make informed decisions about how we proceed.

In my career, I’ve sat through some really good professional development and some really bad professional development. In all honesty, I know that I’ve led some really good professional development as well as some bad professional development. Part of my passion as a coach is to reflect and grow in my practices; using the guiding questions above allows me to do just that when thinking about PD!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Kids Must Write Every Day!

Jaimie Howe contributed today's post.

“It has become increasingly clear that children’s success
in many disciplines is reliant on their ability to write.”
—Lucy Calkins

For those of you that have read my previous blog posts, you are probably aware of my sincere passion for writing instruction, workshop model, and ultimately Lucy Calkins.   This post is no different . . . I can’t seem to meander into any new territory because these topics are always at the forefront of my mind.  

So today, I reflect on a blog post written by Lucy herself, as part of Heinneman’s, The Writing Master’s Series: (#WritingMasters).

Lucy starts her post with an analogy to mathematics instruction:

“When a child enters your school, what is the promise that you make to the child and her parents about the writing education that she will receive?” I point out that chances are good that in math, the school essentially promises that child, “Whether or not your teacher likes math, you’ll be taught math every day. You won’t need to be lucky to get a teacher who teaches math. And the course of study that you receive from one teacher won’t be all that different from what you’ll receive from another teacher.” Given that writing is one of those subjects that affects a learner’s ability to succeed in every other subject, the promise a school makes to youngsters as writers probably shouldn’t be that different from the promise made to children as mathematicians.”

So why is it that writing instruction seems to be treated so differently than other subjects? Is math easier to teach?  Do teachers understand math instruction more than reading/writing instruction? Are teachers scared to teach writing because they are not confident writers themselves? Have teachers not seen first hand the huge impact writing can have on student achievement?

These are questions I seem to ask quite often and finding the answers seems to be becoming more urgent.  I have been a literacy coach, reading specialist, and interventionist for the last five years and have watched reading/writing scores stay stagnant or drop each and every year. Why?  I keep coming back to writing instruction. I know teachers believe writing instruction is important; however, I truly don’t think many teachers like teaching writing, so it’s the first thing to get cut from the day if they need to find room for something else..  This post by Lucy Calkins has once again made it clear to me, how much I need to advocate for writing instruction and help teachers understand the urgency for students to be proficient writers.  Writing needs to be a constant topic of conversation and hold just as important of a role in instruction as any other subject.  The first place to start is making it a non-negotiable: KIDS MUST WRITE EVERY DAY!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What Are You Reading: December 2015

We believe it is important for educators to be readers and writers, so every month we take a day to report out on what we're reading. Join in by sharing your current reading list in the comments.

Regie Routman's Read, Write, Lead is one of Andrea's current professional reads. She says, "I have had this book in my 'to be read' pile for a long time - too long. Any educator involved in literacy instruction and decision making (which is just about everyone) should read it!"

Jaimie recently saw Steven Layne speak at NCTE. She says, "He is amazing to listen to and so inspiring. His presentation focused on In Defense of Read-Aloud. I picked it up and started reading it right away."

Meghan and Andrea are both reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. Meghan says, "I am on book two in the series, Dragonfly in Amber. Between the love story, the dynamic characters, and the history, I find myself having to set times for reading each chapter so that I can get other work done. And yet, the storyline is still on my thoughts long after putting the book down!" Andrea is reading Voyager, the third book. 

Barb (long-time fan of Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder) is listening to Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. It includes Shonda's thoughts (as only Shonda can write them) on television writing, motherhood, dieting, public speaking, and accepting challenges.

Meghan is reading Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs for a graduate course.  Parkay, Anctil, and Hass write, “Curriculum leaders must see themselves as change facilitators if they are to be successful at developing quality educational programs.  Successful curriculum leaders build collaborative teams of educators who are committed to working together to increase student learning.  For such leaders, leadership is a collective, not an individual, pursuit” (p. 2).

Lisa just opened an Amazon box with Thanks for the Feedback. She writes, "Truthfully, I have not yet started reading, but it is packed in my travel bag as I head to Minneapolis this week. The purchase was prompted because of the focus I have on providing some professional development for middle and high school teachers when they are providing feedback to students about their writing, and for coaches who need to practice the art of providing feedback to teachers."

Maggie recently finished Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier, which is the first in The Ruby Red trilogy. She explains, "This is a fun fantasy story about a teenage girl named Gwen who finds she has the gene to time travel. Word to the wise: don't forget to read the epilogue! It'll leave you eager to read book two!"

Sharon is reading No More Independent Reading Without Support by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss. She says, "This book is a quick read.  It is packed with rationale, research, and a framework for getting started and sustaining its success."

Maggie and her staff's YA (young adult) book club read Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills. It is a realistic fiction story that questions right and wrong and the decisions we make. Maggie recommends this read to any teacher, but specifically those who teach in grades 4-8.

Carrie, trusting the recommendation of her library/media specialist, read Gabi, A Girl in Pieces. She says, "I started reading it and found I could NOT stop. Hands down, one of my favorite YA fiction books of the year!"

Julie is reading Common Formative Assessment: A Toolkit for Professional Learning Communities at Work by Kim Bailey and Chris JakicicThe book is set up like a toolkit for PLCs.  It focuses on the process of establishing well-run PLCs as well as guides the PLC in designing and using common assessments.

Maggie says, "I'm currently reading Winter, the final book in the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer in which science fiction meets fairy tale. After a quick recap of where the characters stand after the last book, the action picks up and it has been nonstop since! It's been awhile since I've been so invested in a series!"

Meghan is still working on Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team from a previous month's list. She blames the Outlander series for this!

Barb is reading and discussing Paul Gorksi's Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty. Gorski is doing a webinar for WI State Reading Association members on Wednesday, December 9.

Barb recently finished All American Boys. This timely young adult novel shares two narrators' perspectives on the same event - the brutal beating of an African American teenage boy by a white police officer. One chapter is written by the victim of police brutality, and the next is written by his white classmate (a friend of the officer involved).