Friday, May 20, 2016

I See You, I Hear You Final Thoughts: Validation

Meghan Retallick contributed this post. Click here for more of Meghan's thinking.

As I’ve traveled through my reflective journey on hearing and seeing others over the last few months, I’m left with one final thought--the heart of seeing and hearing others is rooted in validation.

Merriam-Webster states that “to validate” is “to recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of.”  So in other words, when we hear and see others, we show with our own words and actions that they are worthy.  This brings me back to my original statement in post #1 that this does not mean that others always do as we ask or want, but that our actions and words are acknowledged and considered.

You are worthy.  You matter.  My time spent with you is not wasted.  These are all beliefs and ideals that I hope I show others in my daily actions whether it is through teaching, coaching, or collaborating.  But what happens when we feel as if we are validating others and yet no one validates us?

As I’ve thought about this over the last few months because of creeping and growing doubt about my own worthiness, a thought struck me.  Maybe how I validate others is not the same language they use to make me feel validated.  This thought came to me after lunch with one of my girlfriends in which we discussed the relationship book called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  The premise of this book is that we all feel love in five different ways, but each person has one of the five as the primary way we individually feel loved. The five possible languages are:  Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.  Yet sometimes there is a disconnect when we don’t speak the same primary love language as others we have relationships with.  The first book is written in terms of romantic partnerships, but this idea has since branched out into other books about relationships with our children and teens, in schools (grades 1-6), and workplace appreciation (I didn’t know this until I did research for this post, but now this book is on my to-read list!).  My love language is “words of affirmation,” so I feel appreciation when others praise me with words.  I find myself doing this often for the teachers I coach--giving them positive praise and encouragement verbally.  But, what if that isn’t their language?  What if my words to affirm them that mean so much to me, go on deaf ears because they aren’t in tune with the language I speak?  (I have noticed this in my own marriage as my husband speaks a different primary love language!).  What if others are showing me validation, but I’m missing the signs because they are not in the language I speak?

I think this has powerful applications in the workplace, especially in the form of coaching.  We want to be sure to see and hear how others feel validated, even if it is in a way that doesn’t work for us.  The first time I learned about validation and spent time reflecting on it was seven or eight years ago when this short movie entitled Validation went around my school district.  I share it with you now to remind us all that when we see and hear others we validate them with our words and actions.  We should also be mindful to the ways in which others are validating our work and remember that sometimes we could be missing validation if there is a disconnect in our communication styles.  I hope the end of the year brings joy and peace to you all as well as the knowledge that you are worthy and what you spent time doing this year matters.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Whole Class Novel: Part Deux

Andrea Reichenberger contributed this post. Click here to read more of Andrea's thinking.

Click here to read Andrea's previous post about the whole class novel.

A few months ago I shared my thoughts about using the whole class novel in the ELA classroom.  Although I’m certainly not a proponent, I argued that it could be done, but only when used in the correct context.  Recently, I had experiences with two different schools asking me the same question: Should the whole class novel be used in a science and/or social studies classroom?

Admittedly, the teachers’ hearts are in the right place.  Of course we want to encourage students to read and of course we want teachers to incorporate literacy into their classroom instruction, but using a whole class novel--especially in science or social studies isn’t the way to go about it. There are more authentic ways to promote literacy within these areas.  

Let’s start with the standards themselves. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are very content-driven and if you’ve looked at them, there are a significant amount of topics to cover.
If you use the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS), you are lucky, as the C3 framework clearly outlines the connections to the literacy standards. However, the ELA standards also clarify specific literacy skills in that should be addressed in science and technical subjects as well as in History and Social Studies.

(History and Social Studies) ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

(Science and Technical Subjects) ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.1
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.

Novels are not primary sources or technical texts, but maybe we need to remind teachers that literacy isn’t just about reading.  The reading-writing connection also needs to be addressed in all disciplines. The writing standards for both science/technical subjects and history/social studies are the same. What types of text should we use in science and history when we review the writing standards listed below?  

ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

There are better ways to promote literacy in the science and social studies classrooms.  Do a book talk. If you are a reader, share the books you are reading with your students (both novels and informational texts). If you read The Martian and 1984 and think they would be great books for students to read as an extension--share that with them!  If you find an excerpt that ties in with your content, take a few minutes and read it aloud or provide a copy and have the students write a response or reflection and then talk about it!  Collaborate with an ELA teacher or literacy coach in your building if you need more ideas.

As a science or history teacher, you could certainly use a novel excerpt that aligns with a topic in your content area. Use it to create a close read with text dependent questions.  Then have the students do a close read of an informational text (maybe something from their textbook) on the same topic to make intertextual connections. Develop questions that align with both the literacy and the discipline standards.

I strongly encourage teachers to use authentic mentor texts from within their content area.  Scientists don’t use novels when researching.  The discussion about the texts we use needs to begin with not only the type of text, but also with the standards.  There is so much to choose from!  Photographs, video clips, research documents, journal articles, charts, graphs, diagrams, polls, law documents, personal accounts, newspaper articles, artifacts, and the list goes on and on.  A rich literacy experience can be created within any classroom without using a whole class novel.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Offering Professional Development Based on Choice

Heather Zimmerman contributed this post. Click here to read more of Heather's thinking.

We all know how powerful choice is- whether that choice be in the classroom or for our own learning. Choice is the powerful tool that leads to ownership.  When I plan professional development sessions, I always try to keep in mind choice.  Sometimes that is easier said than done.  I find a few factors play a role in this problem: time and capacity.

A few months ago, my school’s curriculum and instruction team put together some literacy-focused sessions and people signed.  The time piece was not as much of a factor as the capacity piece.  We needed to make sure all of our instructional support teachers would be available to facilitate the sessions we picked (instead of being a part of collaboration at one of their many other schools). Of course, teachers would be powerful leaders for the groups too, but that depends if there is a teacher is willing and also has the knowledge in the area of focus.  The feedback after, from the sessions, was positive and people requested the format again.  There were some sessions they wanted to attend, but had to make the choice of which one.  It is important to know teacher’s time is well-spent.  

As I was sitting down planning my next professional development time with my school, I kept thinking about the focus and how choice would fit in.  The focus for session was to look at student writing. Everyone was to bring in writing samples from their classrooms.  We had done this a few other times using a protocol the district provided.  The protocol was optional, and so I began to think about what I might do instead, so I could tie in choice.  I know my teachers are in different places when it comes to looking at student work and even providing opportunities for writing in their classrooms.  I felt the protocol was not meeting some of their specific questions or needs for collaboration to help writing instruction.

I decided to create a list of different topics (with the help of blogger and co-worker Lisa Weiss), a general protocol, and have teachers pick the topic they wanted to focus on.  I am very excited with the list and see the potential for great discussions to happen based off what the teachers want to discuss.

Click here to view the survey.
Click here to view the protocol.

How do you provide choice within professional development?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Looking Inward

Lisa Weiss contributed this post. Click here to read more of Lisa's thinking.

Holding difficult conversations has positioned me to develop and recognize some insights about myself, so I thought I’d share some of the beliefs I have developed, and lessons learned as a result having tough conversations as they are needed.

Lesson One: I’m willing to have the courageous conversations because it’s about the kids; I’m primarily an advocate for our learners. I’ve noticed that as I prepare for difficult conversations, I am driven by the outcomes for students. If I do not speak up, what does that mean for these students? Next year’s students? Are we intentionally working students toward becoming independent and strategic readers, writers, listeners, critical viewers, thinkers, speakers? If not, I have to have the necessary conversations to reframe the instruction on behalf of our students.

Lesson Two: When I remain silent as a coach, I am “giving permission” for things to happen that 1) I do not believe in and/or 2) my district does not condone. I’ve learned that I’d rather have the uncomfortable conversations, knowing that I am having them for the sake of children, and promoting the values and missions of my district, rather than remaining silent and being robbed of my sleep when all of my personalities weigh in on how I am not doing what I know is right! There is cost involved when we ignore our convictions.

Lesson Three: In some sense this should be a no-brainer, but I have coached in situations where there was a lack of understanding regarding how aligned I was to the literacy vision, mission, and philosophy of the district. It is important for me to know that the teachers I work with have an understanding that I share the literacy vision, mission, and philosophy of the district. (I have also learned that when I am in a position where I do not align, I will need to leave. I’ve learned that my values are so critical, that I will not work in a situation where I have to disregard what I know is best for teachers and students.)

Having my staff know who and how I am, where I stand on literacy instruction, and what will serve our students best is crucial for me to feel as though I am doing my job, and staying true to my (research-based) beliefs about literacy instruction. I think, as a coach, that all my colleagues should know how I think (and gradually learn about the research that has me approach my values with such conviction). We may disagree, but I’d rather have both of us know exactly where we stand and how we think, so we can get to the urgent business of student learning. Being transparent about my beliefs and the research that backs me, is just as important as me knowing the beliefs and research that backs my teachers. Understanding and honesty are key in my coaching relationships.

Lesson Four: I can say what needs to be said, but I can say it in a kind way. I think about how’d I’d want my boss to approach me if she needed to have a difficult conversation with me. It’s my perpetual thinking that there is no reason for me not to be kind. I'm not going to reach my end result  if I am not careful with my words, and as we all know, I could damage my reputation as a coach quickly if I handle a situation poorly--word spreads fast. But on the flip side, word also spreads quickly when teachers respect you, and know that you genuinely care about them and their students. I don’t know about you, but that’s  the kind of gossip I’d like to be out and about in my building, especially when I know that I am having difficult with conversations along the way!

It’s interesting to look back and consider the lessons I’ve learned, to analyze the situations that developed the convictions I hold. I’m certain there are many more take-aways I could add to this list, but since my learning is ongoing, and I am now aware of this list, I can keep better track of my learning as I move forward...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Coaching to Support Gifted and Talented Efforts

Prior to serving in the role as a building literacy coach, I taught for seven years as a special education teacher of students with learning disabilities at the middle school level. During these years, I worked with seventh and eighth grade students with learning disabilities, as well as with students who were deemed at-risk and demonstrated difficulty with reading. I became pretty comfortable with supporting this population of students and working to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of struggling learners. After I transitioned into my new role as literacy coach, it was apparent to me that I was best able to support teachers in their instruction with strategies to support struggling learners in their classrooms. Due to my desire to support all student learning in the building, as well to become a stronger and knowledgeable resource for the teachers in the middle school, I decided to pursue my gifted and talented add-on licensure certification. I’ve now completed the first three required courses for this certification and have only my practicum remaining which will be completed this coming fall.

The courses for this certification included learning the background and foundations of gifted and talented education, the psychological issues and needs typically associated with gifted and talented students, and methods and curriculum to support gifted and talented learners in education. I found it helpful to study the psychological issues of gifted/talented students; this helped me to better understand what teachers may encounter when teaching this population of students, and provided ways to support the students, teachers, and parents. My favorite of the three classes, however, was the curriculum and methods course. I found this class to be the most useful in my role as a literacy coach, as we read about strategies and created lessons that were differentiated to meet the needs of advanced learners.

It is essential that all students receive instruction that meets their needs each and every school day. This task can seem overwhelming when you consider the diverse needs our students have. For each learner, it is important that instruction be individualized. Ultimately, the end goal for all students should be the same, but the pace and the level of repetition can be adjusted for students depending on their need. Just as we should not ask struggling learners to move onto new topics until they are ready, we should not ask gifted learners to sit through the same lesson multiple times if they are able to master it the first time through. This is where the power of pre-assessment becomes essential. If we as literacy coaches can help assist teachers to create and administer appropriate pre-assessments, we can help them determine what their students need and how to plan and scaffold instruction.

Maggie Schumacher contributed this post. Click here to read more of Maggie's thinking.

Another way coaches can support teachers is to support efforts involving differentiation.

This is a hot topic that all teachers know about, but it involves a lot of work and experience to do well. Differentiation is not something that we should be asking of brand new teachers until classroom management is in place. Students are coming into each classroom with a wide range of ability levels and learning styles. Ultimately, teachers need to ask students to meet the same standards, but the content, process, and product of how this is met can be adjusted to meet the individual student needs. While we may ask some students to read and analyze the theme of a novel, we could offer a simpler text to a struggling reader and a challenge text to an advanced reader. These students are completing the same task, but at a level that is appropriate for them. In addition, differentiated assignments such as a R.A.F.T. (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) or BINGO, or units using a Parallel Curriculum format could be offered to students. If planned strategically, each of these options allows for student choice and interests to be met within a way that allows for challenge and still meets the standards being addressed.

When it becomes obvious that a gifted student is ready for much more challenge than the regular content allows, enrichment and acceleration options should be considered. Enrichment opportunities remove students from the basic assignment and allow students to complete a task that is related but much more complex. If a student has proven on a pre-assessment that they already have mastered the content being explored, they should not be asked to complete the basic assignment and then a more complex assignment. When this happens in a classroom, students may begin to mask their abilities or talents to avoid the punishment of extra work. Acceleration is an option that should be considered for truly gifted students. This is considered to be the most effective curriculum intervention for gifted students. Gifted students may be accelerated for a single subject or for an entire grade. These decisions involve support by multiple data points and should include a team of voices, including the literacy coach, to determine the course of action to best meet the needs of the student.

Ultimately, as literacy coaches, we must provide feedback and guidance to support literacy instruction for all. If we want to help all students to be successful, we need to support teachers to provide these best practices for students each and every day. The more we can develop our own knowledge of how to support all learners, the more we will have to share with others.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Reflection Wisconsin Title 1 Conference, 2016

Jaimie Howe contributed this post. Click here to read more of Jaimie's thinking.

Two amazing educators were keynote speakers at the Title 1 Convention this year:  Dr. Mary Howard and Linda Hoyt. I found them both to be very inspiring and feel their messages are very important to share..  Many of the statements below pushed me into some deep reflection and hope they will do the same for you.

Click here to access the images below as a PDF.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Protocol for Empowering Teachers to Examine their Beliefs

Carrie contributed this post. Click here for more of Carrie's thinking.

Last month, I mentioned that I was excited to see Elena Aguilar at an upcoming conference in May. In preparation, I’ve been reading her book “The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation.” Within the book she describes a tool called The Ladder of Inference which helps her coachees examine a belief. The tool, developed by Harvard professor Chris Argyris, allows a coach to ask probing questions at each rung of the ladder to help a coachee verbalize how their belief was developed and then determine if that belief is one that he/she would like to act upon.

Intrigued by The Ladder of Inference, I enlisted a willing coachee to move through the protocol with me. We started by thinking about any situation she was facing in her classroom where she had wondering any of the following things:
  • “Is this the right conclusion?”
  • “Why am I making this assumption?”
  • “Is this really the right way to think about this?”
  • “Is this conclusion based on facts?”

As a second grade teacher, she brought up the fact that she thinks that lately her students have lost reading stamina during Independent Reading time. She feels like she spends more time monitoring behaviors, which results in her interruption of small group, conferring, or guided reading time. Compared to the beginning of the year, she doesn’t feel like her students are getting as much value from this time as they were in the beginning of the year, and she is contemplating making changes like moving students into seats during this time.  

We discussed how the interruptions were her observable data. She says that as she moves through a guided reading lesson, she feels that she has to stop at least once, if not more, on any given day. In addition, these interruptions seems to be occurring more and more frequently. The frequency of the interruption is the selected data from her observations. Because of this selected data, she has now made the assumption that students are off task and drew the conclusion that reading stamina overall is decreasing. As a result, she believes that Independent Reading time has become less valuable and actions such as making assigned seating requirements, even though this goes against her vision of what Independent Reading time should look like, might have to be enforced.

Next we moved through the ladder using some coaching prompts at each rung. This time we worked backwards through the ladder. When we got to the selected data rung, we hit something interesting. Using the question “ What was the other information that you didn’t select when you created your belief?” The teacher started to talk about what the kids were saying and doing when she eventually approached the disruptive students. She would start with something like “I’ve noticed that you two have been talking during Independent Reading time. Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve been giving you signals from my table that you are interrupting the group by talking.” She would then direct their attention to an anchor chart about Independent Reading behaviors.  Almost every time the kids would look up at her in surprise say something to the effect of:  “But, we are talking about our books?!?”  

As she finished verbalizing her process, I used my notes to prompt her with “Could that other information lead to different conclusions?”

After a pause, she said, “I want kids to be talking about books.”  She thought about her weekly book shout-outs and the importance she places on recommending great books to other friends.  The realization, I think, hit both of us at the same time. What a mis-match of values to actions!! On one hand, she spends all year teaching students that it is really important to talk about books and recommend books to friends. But on the other hand, her actions say, only talk about books during the scheduled time. In the end, the teacher decided that she does value talking about books, but she also really values running guided reading groups without interruptions. By working through the Ladder of Inference, she has decided to change her actions. No longer is she thinking about moving students back into seats or rows. Instead her next steps involve a quick review of appropriate voice levels and a revision to her Independent Reading behavior anchor chart!!

Monday, May 2, 2016

What Are You Reading: May 2016

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.

Maggie is reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. She says, "I'm working my way through All the Light We Cannot See. This novel is set in World War II and tells of a German boy named Werner and a blind French girl named Marie-Laure whose paths cross. I'm looking forward to finding more time to read so I can finish this book soon!"

Barb is trying to read Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Barb says, "My book club is reading Bone Gap. I've read the first 50 pages and am really disengaged. I think the writer's style just doesn't work for me. I might abandon it."

Jaimie writes, "I finally started A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen.  This book flew off the shelf at both of our Scholastic Book Fairs and was on a waiting list.  I knew I needed to read it if the students loved it that much. It is about a twelve-year old girl whose family gets divided by the Berlin Wall. Her father and brother on one side - she,her mother, and other brother, on the opposite side."

Barb just finished listening to Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, a collection of short stories and essays (mostly autobiographical) by humorist David Sedaris.

Carrie just finished Believarexic by Jennifer Johnson. She describes it as an "autobiographical novel" about a young girl searching for the help she needs for the eating disorder her parents don't want to know about.

Maggie is re-reading Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky for her middle school book club. She says, "This is a powerful story of a transgender boy who finds the courage to reveal his secret that he is a girl stuck in a boy's body."

Maggie recently finished Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. She describes it as, "a sweet story of a self-proclaimed fat girl named Willowdean, who joins the local beauty pageant to help herself develop some confidence. Will loves Dolly Parton and struggles to accept herself in her own skin."

Heather read I Will Always Write Back by Martin Ganda and Caitlin Alifrenka (contributor: Liz Welch). She says, "This is a young adult book about a girl, Caitlin, growing up in the United States and a boy, Martin, growing up in Zimbabwe.  They become pen pals and develop a close friendship and both learn so much from each other.  This was a great read!"

Lisa writes, "I am reading the chapters I once passed over when I first read Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing by Penny Kittle. One of my favorite things about this text are the narratives about Penny's students' learning, but even more powerful is the readers ability to get a glimpse into a teacher's growth mindset through Penny's talk, and her thinking about what she expects from herself in order to guide the learning!"

Barb just added Jill Leovy's Ghettoside to her reading list. It's a non-fiction book about murder of black men by black men.

Barb also recently added Ellen Langer's Mindfulness to her reading list as a follow-up to Dweck's Mindset.

Sharon is currently reading Words Their Way PreK - K (2015) by F. Johnston, M. Invernizzi, L. Helman, D.R. Bear, and S.R. Templeton. Sharon writes, "One of our veteran kindergarten teachers has been piloting this approach and likes the sequence and activities included for concept of word (COW). The sequence is in a gradual release model with a variety of activities to choose from."

Heather just got The Big Book of Details by Rozlyn Linder. She writes, "I just got this book in the mail yesterday, and I am fascinated by it already.  So many great writing moves to help my students!"

Jaimie is reading Good to Great Teaching by Dr. Mary Howard. She writes, "I haven't read this one yet, but after seeing Dr. Howard at the Title 1 Conference, I had to pick it up."

Carrie is reading Schooled: Ordinary, Extraordinary Teaching In An Age of Change by Anne Lutz Fernandez and Catherine Lutz. She describes it as, ". . . a collection of chapters written about a variety of teachers in a variety of classrooms and how they respond to the policy, politics, and expectations placed on educators in America."

Andrea is reading Visible Learning for Literacy by Fisher, Frey, and Hattie. She writes, "Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey wrote a book with John Hattie?  As soon as Doug mentioned the book was coming out, I had to pre-order it. It is obviously Doug and Nancy's intention to apply Hattie's previous work with visible learning to the world of literacy learning.  They acknowledge that there is no single way to develop student literacy but there are wrong ways.  Hattie's work is hard to digest if you aren't a strong technical reader who loves statistics.  So far, I feel like I can embrace Hattie's research through a more engaging and practical lens."