Friday, June 24, 2016

Reading Workshop: Here We Come

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

My reader’s workshop journey continues as I start to engage in the professional development that surrounds my district’s purchase of the Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Teaching Reading. Have I told you how excited I am?!   Yes, I’m sure I have as I’ve written several posts this year around the process my district has gone through to get us to the point of planning full implementation of a reading workshop framework next fall.  I can’t wait!

Our first professional development opportunity came on one of the last in-service days of the school year.  The district sought out the expertise of CESA 6 and invited Nicole Lehr to share her knowledge and experiences with the Lucy Reading Units of Study.  Grades 3-5 spent the morning with Nicole and grades K-2, the afternoon.  I was lucky enough to attend the entire day.  As I listened and engaged in the presentation, there were plenty of moments that validated my thinking, some excellent reminders, yet also several items I knew I needed to dig deeper into as they are integral components in the success of a reading workshop.  The two at the top of my list are text bands and learning progressions.

Why Text Bands?
  • We use them to confer with readers
  • They give us a better grasp on the books our students are reading
  • We use knowledge of the text bands to help students tackle the work they will take on in their own books

Why Learning Progressions?
  • They can act almost as cue cards by giving pointed, specific tips about a student’s next steps
  • We can use them to teach transference across genres
  • Understanding them allows us to be able to place the work the child is attempting to do and place it on a larger map that charts pathways to proficiency

Lucy provides two excellent resources in her kits that offer invaluable information about the reader’s workshop: A Guide to the Reading Workshop (Primary and Intermediate) and Reading Pathways.  My next step is facilitating a book study over the summer using these resources to build a deeper understanding of text bands and learning progressions as well as the reading workshop in general.  Hopefully this will prepare us to get the most out of the professional development in August from the Teacher’s College Reading & Writing Project and for successful implementation in the fall.
The most exciting part of this whole journey will be witnessing the extraordinary growth in our students’ literacy development and their flourishing love of reading due to great teaching and tons and tons of opportunities to read and write.  Lucy says it best:

Powerful instruction produces visible and immediate results; when youngsters are taught well, the thinking, talking, and writing about reading they produce becomes far more substantial, complex, and significant. Good teaching pays off. When you provide students with constant opportunities to read and to write and when you actively and assertively teach into their best efforts, their literacy development will astonish you, their parents, the school administrators, and best of all, the students themselves.

Lucy Calkins, 2015

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Comprehension Focus Groups: With a Focus on Grammar

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

Why can’t these kids write a complete sentence?  This is a frustration that might be vented by a teacher at any grade level. This usually leads to the question: How do we fix this? What does best practice look like when grammar is taught in a consistent and strategic way while in the workshop model.  

I have tried to teach grammar in various ways.  When I was student teaching we had a textbook we used with a number of sentences that needed to be fixed depending on the lesson for the day.  In my own classroom, my high school students engaged in Daily Oral Language (DOL) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays by fixing the sentence that was on the transparency.  When I learned this was not best practice, I began to use lessons from Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson.  I loved how we used examples from a text to analyze correct examples.  Eventually I started to feel like we did not have enough lessons to work through on a consistent basis, so I dabbled into a bit of DOL again using the book, Use it! Don’t Lose it! by Marjorie Frank.  I tried to tell myself this was OK, because I thought it was what was best for my students.  I also of course was analyzing student writing and trying to pull lessons from their writing.  But I kept feeling lost in grammar world- nothing felt right for us!

Am I crazy to think there must be something out there in grammar world that clicks and feels right for my students?  Maybe...  I feel part of the problem (which is the same now during intervention time, as it was when I taught 8th grade literacy) is time.  How do I effectively chunk my 50 minutes of time for vocabulary work, grammar/sentence work, read aloud time, the mini-lesson, and reading/writing workshop time?  Yes, I know that some of the grammar/sentence work should be a mini-lesson as needed for a small group or whole group.  But when it is not sticking for my whole intervention group, I know we need to give this more time.  (Is the Rolling Stones song going through your head right now? “Time, time, time is on my side.  Yes it is.”)

A friend of mine recommended the book, Grammar Keepers by Gretchen Bernabei. This book has lessons on the most common grammar problems in grades 4 through 12.  She bases her lessons off the ideas of asking students to “prove it.”  In essence, students need to back up their choices.  I decided to base a Comprehension Focus Group (CFG) using specific lessons from Grammar Keepers.  I picked lessons that I knew my students needed.  I also picked a theme for our texts that I knew would be of interest to them.  

Here are the CFG lessons:

Afterwards, I felt like we certainly did a deep dig into grammar.  My 8th graders, really started to think about the punctuation we picked and why that punctuation is used.  When they tried to find examples in mentor texts they sometimes would pick up on a different instance.  For example, commas being used for a different reason than with an appositive.   But, they were noticing the punctuation and we were talking about it, which is important.  This led to conversations about subjects and verbs- topics they have learned but have forgotten.  With my 7th graders, I picked lessons dealing with sentence structure.  We needed to work on fragments and run-on sentences.  We talked about subjects and verbs.  We also talked about conjunctions.  Students enjoyed looking for FANBOYS or AAAWWUBBIS sentences in texts, but did not always include appropriate punctuation in their writing.  This led to good discussion where I learned that sometimes students knew it was needed and sometimes they did not.  This CFG led to being consistent and strategic through the time of this intervention, but I would like to see this happen in a more consistent basis.  Was it perfect?  No.  Though, there will be parts from this book I will incorporate next year into my routines at the beginning of CFG time.  I also want to get a good system down, so I can carry that into my coaching time.

What works for you?  How do you help your teachers incorporate grammar into their classrooms?  If you are using CFGs at the secondary level, what does this look like for you?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer Reading

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

Take a deep breath and relax... It’s summer break! You’ve survived the school year (hopefully in one piece) and I hope you are enjoying some downtime and all of your favorite activities. Summer brings us an annual opportunity to reenergize, rejuvenate, refresh, and do some continued learning and prep for the next school year.

Not surprisingly, one of my favorite summer activities is reading. For me, the best part about reading in the summer is that I can read books at my own pace, when and where I want to read them, and I can expand beyond my sole reading of adolescent and professional literature! There is joy to be found in these little freedoms. To me, this is relaxing. I have many books that I’ve purchased throughout the school year that have been piled high just waiting to be cracked open. As good as my intentions always are, the reality is that I never get as much time to read during the school year as I hope to get. In the summer, I can take this stack of books home and read at my leisure. I can read in the backyard, on vacation, and or a beach. I can stay up late to finish a book or I can enjoy a lazy morning reading before I venture out of bed.

It’s important to promote the importance of summer reading to our students. It’s also necessary to provide students with access to resources over the summer months. Not all of our students go home to a print-rich environment. It’s important that we inform our students (and their parents/guardians) of resources at their disposal, so they aren’t without access all summer long. In the Baraboo School District, we make sure students and parents know the location of public libraries and Little Free Libraries. Students are encouraged to utilize the e-library for both our middle school and for the public library and assistance is provided to help students sign up before the end of the school year. They can check out and return books on their personal devices with the touch of a finger. At the elementary level, books have been gathered/collected for distribution to students in a format similar to a Little Free Library. Students can take home as many books as they choose. If they bring them back, great! If they don’t, these books will have found a good home. Some schools and teachers set up summer reading challenges for students in an effort to promote more reading. Whatever ideas we have and share, we know that not all students will take advantage of literacy resources over the summer. However, for every student who does, we will have found a thin slice of success.

Just as it is important for students to read and relax in the summer, it is equally important to encourage our peer educators to read, relax, and reflect over the summer months. This could involve setting up a summer book club to discuss a professional book, adolescent book, or a book chosen for pleasure. It could also involve sending out hot summer reading recommendations or offering to have staff members check out books from the school’s or your professional collection. It might involve reading a magazine or the newspaper, an e-book or a novel, or it could be reading for professional growth, to kids, or for pleasure. What better way to escape from reality than through a good book? Regardless of whether you read or not, whatever your summer brings you, I hope it brings you joy!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Elena Aguilar: More Coaching Inspiration

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

I was fortunate enough to spend two days learning with Elena Aguilar (author of The Art of Coaching and The Art of Coaching Teams and contributor to Edutopia and EdWeek).

Elena's simple description of the coaching conversation resonated with me. She suggested a coaching conversation consists of:

  1. Listening
  2. Thinking
  3. Responding
When a coach engages in and moves between each of those behaviors, he/she applies lenses or tools or ways of thinking. In a challenging situation, a coach could push him/herself to try a new lens (or tool or way of thinking) in order to move the client forward.

Elena suggests the following thinking tools:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

How Do I Know If I’m Getting It Right???

Carrie Sand contributed this post. Click here to read more of Carrie's thinking.

My most recent blogs have been centered around the ideas from Elena Aguilar’s book The Art of Coaching (see "A Protocol for Empowering Teachers to Examine Their Beliefs"). As previously mentioned, I was excited to see her in Milwaukee for a coaching conference I was attending with my district’s Math Coach. As the only Literacy Coach in my district, I was glad to be able to share a common coaching experience with a colleague, and the conference was a great opportunity for us to connect about coaching ideas not specific to content. If you are a singleton Literacy Coach, I would definitely recommend getting creative about ways to learn with people in similar positions outside of your content area.

Using some of the quiet time at the conference to just sit and reflect, I found myself thinking about the quickly approaching end of the year. Here my mind went to that nagging question: “How do I know I’m getting this coaching thing right?”

In her book and at the conference, Aguilar discusses how part of the coaching work plan should focus on identifying standards and criteria with the client in order to select tools that will help determine growth. These tools may include district created measurement tools, teacher/coach selected tools, or self-created tools. In addition, a coach should determine “indicators of progress” to demonstrate progress toward the goal of the coaching cycle. Tracking indicators of progress and applying a measurement tool may help keep the coaching conversations purposeful and focused. They may also help a client see progress in a concrete way. Using indicators of progress to formatively monitor a coaching cycle and then using a tool or rubric at the end as a summative may also help me, as the coach, feel more confident in answering “Yes...I am getting some of this right!”

Another idea Aguilar presents is carving out more opportunities for formal reflection. While many coaching conversations dip into the reflective nature, scheduling time for a mid-year and end of year reflection may give a coach the chance to help a teacher refocus on their strengths and growth, especially during stressful times of the year. These reflection tools might help a teacher’s resilience and set them up to be in a place for more growth to occur. Additionally, a coach may use a personal reflection log or protocol to help ground his/her practice. This log might help a coach track things like what prompts they used or what activities they implemented in their sessions, and may even provide opportunities for the coach to dig deeper into questions like:
  • “When did your coaching feel effective today?”
  • “What was challenging in today’s session?”
  • “What do you think was “not said” by your client today?”
  • “What would help your client move forward?”
  • “What do you want to do or say in your next meeting?”

Asking teachers to provide formal feedback may also be another lens in which to reflect on our practice as coaches. A good resource from Choice Literacy, including a feedback tool, can be found here:
By doing a better job of reflecting after a session rather than rushing to the “next” thing I have to do, I might be able to more consistently say “Yes….I might have gotten a little of that right.”

As a coach, our work is often under the surface. I know that I will never get it all right, all the time. However, I believe that if I am purposeful in my coaching and reflective as a practitioner, I may be able to get some of it right, some of the time. In this hectic time of year, I have to show myself the same kindness I give to others and celebrate those successes!

For more information on these tools (Midyear or End of Year Report, Midyear Report Reflection, Reflective Prompts for a Coach) and more from Elena Aguilar, please see her website, which can be found here:

Monday, June 13, 2016

Coaching Really is an Art - Coaching from Compassion and Curiosity

Julie Schwartzbauer contributed this post. Click here to read more of Julie's thinking.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to attend The Art of Coaching Conference put on by Wisconsin ASCD.  The featured speaker was Elena Aguilar.  If you are not familiar with Elena, you should be!  Along with many articles, she has written the following two books:

I would like to share with you my big take-aways from the two days I spent fine-tuning my personal art of coaching.  I will be sharing big ideas and my own personal self-reflections.  I will also share some direct quotes from Elena Aguilar.

As coaches, we facilitate a lot of large group professional development.  Elena shared the following facilitation strategies:
  • Set up invitations for participants, rather than norms
  • Ask participants to reflect on their intentions for what they hope to get out of the day.
  • Cut conversations short by about 20 seconds - leave the participants wanting more
  • Raise your hand to call for attention - invite others to raise their hand as well

Elena’s Definition of Coaching:
  • Coaching is a form of professional development with someone who willingly (ideally) engages in reflective learning.
  • Coaching happens in conversation.  It’s the vehicle.  
  • Coaching results in reflective practitioners who make decisions that further the learning and achievement of all students every day.
  • Coaching is not something we do to people.

We observed a live coaching demonstration where we heard Elena ask and state the following:
  • “In that I hear… are you willing to explore that?”
  • “Why does it matter?”
  • “I hear some emotion there… Can you identify that?”
  • “Tell me who you were when you began teaching”
  • “Just tell me about one student who is struggling but may have some potential”
  • “Tell me about the strengths you see in your students”
  • “Do you think there’s anything you can do that impacts how students engage in your class?  Can you influence that at all?”  
  • “Let me check in….what I’m hearing is....
  • “It’s going to help your heart and your mind to just focus on one student and it is going to spill over to the other students.”
  • “I want you to imagine” - scenario
  • “You have so much knowledge and skill to build on.”
  • When a teacher comes in agitated and emotional, try these coaching moves...
    • slow it down, intentionally take notes slowly
    • shift the energy- think about how you can use humor to create a shift in energy when the teacher is obviously deflated
    • provide closure by bringing it back to the individual saying, “I want to try...I’m willing to do this”
  • As a coach, you might try these phrases…
    • “I hear a lot of emotion, exhaustion…”
    • “I’m wondering about our conversation, is there anything you feel we can talk about that would be helpful to you?  I don’t want to add to your stress.”
    • “If we meet and talk today, would it be helpful to talk about your emotions, the curriculum, the students?”
    • “What would my support for you look like?”

Some things I was left wondering about…
  • Do our coaches have the time to sustain a high level of coaching?
  • How do we increase effective coaching, while looking at the current level of staffing and resources, in order to make a difference as a district?
  • What data do we use to show evidence of success?
  • How do we maximize the coaches potential to impact adult learners?

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Journey to Acceptance

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

One of the biggest ideas I’ve embraced since becoming a coach is to work hard and be reflective about truly meeting people where they are at.  I feel that I had a strength in this as a classroom teacher with my students, motivating many that told me they never cared about ELA before my class.  So you’d think because I developed this skill over the course of my seven years in the classroom, I could easily transfer it to working with adults, right?  WRONG.  This, I’ve found, is one of those things that is easier said than done.  And, I’ve found that I’ve had to move through my own stages to truly accept people as they are, without bias and judgement to believe that they are “creative, resourceful, and whole” (as Barb and Laura Gleisner remind us often!).

So, what are these stages?  Well, after reading a really funny post a few months ago about “The Five Stages of Grading” (as opposed to The Five Stages of Grief developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross) while I was laughing and remembering my days as an ELA teacher with seemingly insurmountable piles of essays, I realized that these stages are also stages I’ve found myself in throughout the year in regards to my role and the feelings I had when dealing with resistance.

Do any of these thoughts or scenarios sound familiar?

A teacher, group of teachers, or administrator resists your role and work in their building…

Stage 1 - Denial
  • “I know teachers are extremely busy.  I’m sure ________ feels overwhelmed and that they don’t have time to work with me.”
  • “Wow, the room sure seemed to get quiet when I walked in...I’m sure it was just a lull in the conversation.”
  • “I sent that email five days ago...maybe it got lost in spam.”
  • “I left that voice message five days ago...maybe the phones aren’t working.”
  • “Oh, there was a grade level team meeting focused on literacy this morning?  Maybe I was inadvertently left off the invite?”
  • Denial can also manifest as avoidance, so the coach finds valid reasons as to why it isn’t the right time collaborate with the resisters.

Now, all of these thoughts could be rooted in truth as we always want to assume positive intentions by others.  But, as I’ve reflected on the denial stage, I’ve also found that sometimes I was avoiding or ignoring resistance.  And if we ever want to move past resistance, we have to get out of the denial stage and acknowledge that resistance is there.

Stage 2 - Anger
  • “Why don’t these teachers want to work with me?!  I’ve shared my role with the administrator, staff, grade levels, individuals, students, etc., many times!!”
  • “I know teachers work extremely hard, but I work extremely hard as well!!  Why don’t they realize that?!  I work in multiple buildings, oversee multiple initiatives, work with students and teachers, …” and so on and so on the list goes on in my head about all the things I do that teachers don’t.
  • “_________ ignored my email/phone call!!  Who do they think they are?!  Who does that?!”
  • “I wish I could just go into that grade level team meeting and when they all stare at me in silence say what I’m really thinking…(and not necessarily with kindness)...”
  • “Those teachers don’t even know anything about the standards!!  Have they been living under a rock the last five years?!!”
  • “Did ___________ just really say that about that student?!   Do they even like kids?!”

As I wrote these and re-read them, I’m embarrassed that these thoughts crossed my mind.  They sound whiny in this context and like I’m stuck in a victim-mentality.  Yet, as one really smart school psychologist told me, a lot of good and future action can come out of the anger stage if we harness these emotions appropriately by processing them and the root of where they come from in a healthy way.  

Stage 3 - Bargaining
  • “If only the building principal had a background in literacy, then my role would be clearer to staff.”
  • “If only I hadn’t framed the conversation at that meeting in that way, maybe the team would buy in more.”
  • “What if my role could be clarified one more time at one more staff meeting...would that change things for those who are resisting?”
  • “If only I had responded to that person more quickly last time they contacted me, maybe they wouldn’t ignore my emails/phone calls now.”
  • “What if I hadn’t started in my role doing _________ (fill in the blank), then maybe teachers wouldn’t expect that practice now when the role is changing to meet our new needs.”
  • “Maybe if I give that resister more space, they’ll come around.”

I struggled to think about my own situation a bit with this one, but the explanation of this stage from helped me put it into perspective.  In this stage, “We become lost in a maze of ‘If only…’ or ‘What if…’ statements” and “guilt is often bargaining’s companion.  The ‘if onlys’ cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we ‘think’ we could have done differently.  We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out.”  I do find myself in mental phases where I beat myself up for not doing enough.  I put all the blame for the resistance on myself and my own actions.

Stage 4 - Depression
  • “Does this role even make a difference for teachers?”
  • “What is my role?  If I don’t even know, then how can a teacher understand it?”
  • “Would I be more effective back in the classroom?”
  • “Maybe my knowledge base isn’t helpful for staff and their current practices are more effective.”
  • “What is the point of going to that meeting?  Nothing will change.”
  • “It doesn’t matter what kind of relationships I have with people.  They will never change their practices to support students.”
  • “We’re never going to get there.  Where is there anyway?”

This was the hardest stage for me when working through the challenges of meeting resistance.  I am an incredibly positive and happy person (in fact, positivity is my #4 strength on the StrengthsFinder assessment!), so to go through a period of time where I existed everyday with a cynical and negative outlook took its toll.  I definitely needed my emotional resilience strategies to work through these feelings and keep up healthy behaviors in the midst of my overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.  Luckily, I made the connection between The Stages of Grief and what I was feeling when I was in this stage, so I knew that acceptance was just around the corner.  That gave me hope and a renewed sense of purpose that inspired more productive reflection.

Stage 5 - Acceptance
I can’t write the thoughts I experienced with acceptance because they came to me more in a feeling format, and in wave where I all of a sudden felt like I was ready to meet the resistance again.  I realized that the resistance comes from a place that is not personally directed at me, and really truly felt and believed that instead of just repeating it over and over again in my head.  I could talk to the resisters again in a positive, healthy way, as well as celebrate the small steps they made.  I accepted that with some people and situations, movement forward will mean two steps forward and three steps back, but when you look at that movement across time they are slowly prodding their way to a new place.  I began to innovate in new ways and form new connections in my role, reorganizing with initiatives or groups that were ready that I hadn’t considered before.  And, when I look back this new way of utilizing my role feels better than what I was trying to do before.  As states so beautifully, I noticed that instead of denying my feelings, I began to consider and listen to my own needs.  How can I move, change, grow, and evolve, thus impacting the positive, healthy relationships and practices that have been established and accepted?  And really, I realized that resistance is not a bad thing and it is not as pervasive as I thought it was or that it felt originally.  The resistance challenged me to learn new things about my own beliefs around literacy and learning, our system, and what is best for our students.  It reaffirmed my commitment to ensure that learning is happening for all of our students.

Is everyday perfect since I’ve finally gotten to the acceptance stage?  No.  As states, “People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months.  They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another.  We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion.  We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.”  But, since I have gotten to acceptance once, I find that if I flip back into the anger stage, I can process the feelings and move back into acceptance in a much quicker and healthier fashion.  I can keep the perspective that I received from moving through all the stages in a prior situation.  In fact, just today, I witnessed a situation that made me incredibly angry, but after thinking through it for 20 minutes with another trusted colleague, I accepted it as it was and had a plan about how to respond in a healthy way.  I think this is what it means to truly meet people where they are at.  It does not mean that we always live in a state of zen accepting all and letting things roll immediately off our backs.  But instead, when we find ourselves frustrated with resistance, we can still keep sight of the big picture and the progress we have made.  We know that this too shall pass and that through trust, collaboration, and transparency we’ll work through the barriers.

It has taken me two years to get here.  I hope it goes quicker for you!  But, although it has been a challenging journey, I wouldn’t change a thing because it has made me a better coach, a better peer, and a better overall human being.  Best wishes for the summer and may you find some time quiet time to rejuvenate and reflect on your own journey.