Where?

“Where is this? Is this just a made up place? I mean it sounds like people are getting shot all the time. Are there really places like that?

“Sure…like Aleppo.”

“I think it’s Chicago.”

“Guys, we live in a bubble in Arlington. There are places like this.”

I tell the author that this was the conversation in my room as I read aloud his book.
“What do I tell them? I’m just a white teacher living and working in North Arlington, a mostly upper mid-class white school.”

“Tell them this book is based on a shooting that happened in Suitland, MD, just miles away from your school. And keep reading and talking!”

Then he signed my Reading Notebook page that I made after reading his book.

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Thank you, TCRWP for bringing Jason Reynolds to speak and sign books on Saturday.
So glad I got to have a conversation with him. So glad I get to read aloud his books with my students. Reading and discussing to understand all the places where…

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No Longer Needed

At a conference once, I heard a teacher during a presentation make this comment: “There comes a point when I am no longer needed. My students are engaged…I can sit back and watch….my goal is to have students who are confident and excited… the by-product is increased knowledge.”

This description of a teacher is my goal, too. Having a classroom buzzing with students , all engaged. Students confidently making decisions. I plan and model. I set out materials. Then I watch and listen, ask questions and offer feedback. My role is to be the catalyst. The students’ role is to be in motion.

Tomorrow, I plan to have my 6th grade students watch this video and then I’ll guide a discuss using these words – vicitm, perpetrator, bystander, upstander. I’ll ask:

Why doesn’t the bystander act?
How might the bystander have made a difference?

Then I plan to nudge my students to notice if any of the stories we read during our Social Issue Book Club Unit (using this resource by TCRWP) involved upstanders. I plan to end the lesson asking them to spend time being on the lookout for upstanders, asking friends and family to talk about upstanders they have known, and to think about how they, my students, might become an upstander in their family or community.

Tomorrow’s lesson is to set my students up for our the End of Unit Project. As a culminating project, I will guide my students to pick an issue important to them and to plan out a way to TAKE ACTION in order to raise awareness about this issue. Then, on the evening of March 12th, families will visit to view our Middle School Social Issue Fair.

My hope is that all next week, my classroom is a buzz of activity. Students will be researching. Students will be creating. Students will be collaborating and discussing. And I will watch and listen and offer feedback. And my hope is, there will come a point when I am no longer needed.

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NOTE: During March, I plan to revisit prior blog posts and revise. This post is a revision of this post, written on March 20, 2014

 

 

I believe in Proficient Reader Research

I heard Jen Serravallo speak yesterday at the 2018 VSRA conference and she shared a slide to show the conference audience what she believes in. I realized it is what I strongly believe in, too. So I sent out this tweet this morning:

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Back in 2002, I read Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene (Heinemann, 1997) for the first time and it changed me. It taught me to spy on myself as a reader and notice all that I do. For the first time through this lens, I realized I did lots of things well, then a 39-year old reader.

For the first time, I celebrated that I read words and visualize the images created by the words in my mind. I celebrated that at the end of a paragraph, I have wonderings. I celebrated that I could understand the words more clearly using all my own background knowledge.

And I stopped focusing on or being embarrassed for all I didn’t do well as a reader. Like seeing a new, multi-syllabic word and mispronouncing it at first. Like not sounding fluent on my first read-aloud of a text. I still fight anxiety when I read-aloud due to the forced participation and bad memories associated with round-robin reading in elementary school.  I still need to work hard to overcome my negative feelings related to poetry due to the many poems I didn’t “get” in 11th grade AP English class.

Attending the 2018 Virginia State Reading Association Conference helped me to realize that believing in Proficient Reader Research is a thing, as opposed to focusing on what isn’t being done as a reader, a deficient model.  Being a Proficient Reader is my mindset as a reading teacher. I notice ALL that my 6th grade readers do. And as Jen recommends, I start there, with what readers do and then coach them to do the next thing on the learning progression related to the skill.

Thank you, Ellin and Jen for helping me renew what I believe in at the 2018 VSRA Conference!

What do YOU believe in?

VSRA Presentation

Yesterday, instead of teaching my 6th graders, I went to Richmond, VA and made a presentation with my friend and colleague, Tammy. Because of all the support we got, the day was a success.

Thanks to Tammy driving us the two hours down 95, we easily arrived.

Thanks to the helpful Marriot staff, the car was parked, our bags were checked and we had a few hours to grab lunch and rehearse before our 4pm showtime.

Thanks to Evi, our one friend also attending the conference, whose serendipitous encounter just 10 minutes after arriving amongst the 100s of teachers scattered around the lobby, helped calm our nerves. (At least one person was planning to come hear us!)

Thanks to the conference volunteers who registered us and helped us find where we were presenting when confusingly the “Learning Lab” wasn’t listed on the conference map.

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Thanks to the tech supports. One man ensured we had the cords and dongle and a working mic and another shared the wifi password with us. (And for Tammy who tracked down these supports while we both envisioned the worst case scenario – our tech not working for a presentation called  Using Technology During Reading and Writing Workshop).

Thanks to Sarah, a conference attendee who volunteered to introduce us to our audience. She arrived early and helped pass out our handout and shared the wifi password and now is a new teacher friend. Afterwards we exchanged emails after we discovered she lives in the next town over from us back home.

Thanks to the 30 or so teachers who came to learn with us! They listened, asked questions and smiled as we both nervously shared examples of our students using padlet, google slides and kidblog in Reading and Writing Workshop all shared from    this padlet.

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Finally, thanks also to our school, system who supported us by covering the cost of the conference and are family and friends, who sent text messages of encouragement.

As I sent out a tweet after the presentation, I was reminded that it was International Women’s Day. I’m thankful, as a women, I had the opportunity today to empower more women in their teaching work.

Now today, I get to spend another day here. But this time, I’ll be sitting in the audience to learn from Jen Serravillo and Smokie Daniels! And I’m wearing jeans and my VA sweatshirt (because happily, my team, the UVA Mens Basketball team won their first game yesterday in the ACC tournament – Go Hoos!).

 

Study Groups

When I teach a lesson as a Reading 6 teacher, I teach it one day – A Day – 5 times. Then on B day, 3 more times. Yes, 2 of my periods, called Mods at my school, are full year reading class so they come daily. Then the other 3 Mods are a semester class, every other day and on the off day, they learn a foreign language.

So today I taught a lesson for the 6th, 7th and 8th time today. It was Session 14 in the new Social Issues Book Club unit, part of the Units of Study for Teaching Reading in Middle School. They suggest to have the kids reflect on this video on vimeo called Bystander, using the words victim, perpetrator, bystander and upstander.

I wanted the students to have the 4 words defined and name a character from books we’d read during this unit that acted like the word so I could see them apply the definition before viewing. But I also wanted this task to go quickly so I made it a competition.  “The first book club that adds these 4 words to their notebook, defines them and adds an example of a character acting as the word, gets a prize. As you work, you may share ideas/answers with your club members. Work together and let me know when all in your club have the task completed.”

Boy, did making it a competition motivate middle schoolers! “I’ll look up victim. You look up perpetrator,” I heard, “I think the dad in Stray is an upstander. Who’s a bystander?” There isn’t really a perpetrator in The Lemonade Club? said another. “Sure there is – cancer!” was the clubmate reply.

As one group announced they were done, I gave each a peppermint treat and told them to get up, take their notebooks and help the other groups finish. Within minutes, all in the room were done and ready to watch the video.  The video discussion was just as lively. But I’ll save that for tomorrow’s Slice.

Just before showing the video, I congratulated all. I told them how proud I was to see their book club working well together to get the task done. Then I gave them a tip that I learned from Mary Ehreworth at TCRWP this past summer – teach middle schoolers and high schoolers to form study groups. My tip sounded something like this:

“Readers, what you just did just then was so smart. You formed a study group and got the work done and done fast. Because you were talking and teaching and writing while completing the task, you really know these words now. In 7th and 8th grade, in High School and in college you will be given tasks to do and there will NOT be enough hours in the day to do it all. I encourage YOU to form study groups. Ask a few others to form a group. Pick a place to meet after school. Divide up the work and share answers. It isn’t cheating. It is a smart way to ensure that you get all the assignments done and learn well.” 

Today, as my 8th group collaborated together, I sat back and smiled. I wish someone had told me to collaborate more when I was a student in Middle School. High School, and College.

Did you form study groups when you were in school?
Do you encourage your students to collaborate together?

 

 

Spying on MY reading

This year I am teaching Reading 6 in Middle School so naturally, I am spending my time reading and spying on myself as I read. This was a trick I learned first from Ellin Keene in Mosaic of Thought, Heinemann, 1997 (a life-changing book for me and for the literacy world) and then reinforced by the staff developers at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Armed with the Pathways Reading book and more specifically focused the learning progressions of four skills (character traits, characters’ response to change, predicting, and author’s craft), I spied on myself as a reader Friday night.

Friday during the school day, author Alan Gratz visited my school promoting his newest book, Ban This Book.

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As I was leaving school with an autographed copy of his book, I stopped at the supply table in the back of my classroom and took time to set myself up for reading this book AND recording my thinking about it. I grabbed some post-it notes and added one to the last page of each chapter. Now for  this particular book, some of the chapters were short and the book itself is 243 pages long. And I will admit that many minutes went by as I armed my book with end-of-chapter note-taking space. However, now the book was ready. As soon as I heated up some dinner, I was ready, too, with pen in one hand and book in the other.

Friday night I sat and read the whole book! It IS a page turner and fun school story about one of my favorite things – books! And I found as I got to the end of each chapter, with that blank yellow post-it staring at me, I had a thought about the book at that moment and I jotted it down quickly before beginning the next chapter. I jotted character traits about the main and minor characters. I jotted down my predictions of what would happen next. I jotted that moment when the main character acted out of character. I jotted about times when I felt just like a character. I jotted about moves the author made to keep me reading.

It looked like this:

Then Monday night, I removed all the post-its. As I did, I sorted them into piles. All the ones about Amy Anne in a pile. Another pile for Trey and a third for Trey’s mom. I had a prediction pile and an author-craft pile. I had two favorite scenes, so I put those together. It looked like this:

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During my many visits to Institutes at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, the staff developers have encouraged the use of a Reading Notebook. Since the act of reading is so invisible, the notebook is the place to make one’s thinking while reading visible to themselves and others. It is the place to hold onto thoughts, review them, grow them, revise them, and have them close at hand during a book club discussion or in front when a literary essay is being drafted.

As I looked over all the piles on my dining room table, I asked myself, what are the big ideas? I decided I had enough thinking to make two double-pages. One would be devoted to characters, their traits, my connections to them and times they acted out of character. (These are all skills defined in TCRWP Pathways to Reading book.) It ended up looking like this:

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I then took the predictions I made, my author’s craft notes, my two favorite scene and fun things I learned while reading this book and added them to look like this:

 

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I can’t wait to teach my sixth graders today. My mini-lesson will be a reminder about how, when we read, we think. One way to make our thinking visible is to stop and jot it down. Then I’ll show them how I did it! First, I set myself up for success by having a book of my choice that I was motived to read. (Somehow meeting the author hours before at my school and holding a book, signed by the author is very motivating!). Then I took time to add post-its so I’d be reminded to stop and jot. Using post-its allowed me to sort thinking into piles. It allowed me to them organize my thinking into my notebook. At the end, I added some color for fun.

Now, I am on the lookout for others who read this book thoughtfully. With my notebook in hand, I’m ready for a book club discussion. Or maybe I’ll use these pages to write a literary essay. No matter what, I know I will have fun sharing my spying on my reading with my 6th graders today!

Problem-solving

I’ve been thinking about the kind of problem-solver I am. Teaching reading in 3rd grade and using the Units of Study for Teaching Reading is making me ponder this topic based on their anchor chart:

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I do think at times, I have been each of these kind of problem-solvers. But the first bullet point seems to be one I favor most. I don’t like drama. I don’t like unfairness. I don’t like negativity. When it occurs, I avoid.

I admire the woman I learned about today when I accompanied my class to their Spanish class. She solved problems head on and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her efforts. Her name is Rigoberta Menchu and her story can be read HERE. I was inspired by this woman. I wonder why I didn’t know of her already? In 1992, I was 29 years old and had a newborn and a three year old. I probably never took time to read the newspaper then. (I guess I was dealing with my own problems head on!)

I do find myself asking for help, bullet point #3. I’ll talk to family. I’ll talk to friends. I’ll read books. All will share thoughts on the topic. I seek validation in the way I plan to solve a problem. It feels better if someone else tells me my way of solving “it” is a good idea.

This weekend, a friend offered me advise. My friend said, “Life is like a revolving door. The opening will reveal itself. Just be patient.” I guess that is another way of saying the fourth and final bullet point.

So many ways to address a problem.
Which is your go-to way for solving a problem?

Afternoon Drama

A classroom story, dedicated to Julieanne @https://jarhartz.com
who writes moments from her classroom so well.
I tried to channel her craft today.

 

“Mrs. D., can we talk to you?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you outside in just a minute.” The two 3rd grade girls went and sat at the table outside our classroom and waited. I reminded the remaining students to take a seat and today they all mostly did. After lunch, our routine is to return to the classroom and have 10 minutes of quiet time. We can draw, read or just rest. It is a time to settle ourselves and prepare for the next 2 and a half hours of our day – Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop and Social Studies or Science. It is 10 minutes for me to gather materials and my strength for the afternoon lessons. But not today. Today, two girls were waiting for me outside our classroom.

“Girls, what’s up?” I asked as I took a seat across from them wondering what drama must have occurred at recess or during lunch.

They both looked at each other. Then at me. Then back to each other. Their eyes were saying “You go…no you go…” Then Jill asked, “Do you want me to explain?”

In a low, quiet voice, Mary replied, “Sure”

Jill scooted up in her chair and her eyes got bigger and she began spilling out the drama, all in one breathe. “Well first during Art class, Johnny and Jack were not being nice to Mary. They were saying that her drawing was really small. And I spoke up and told them to leave her alone and that her drawing is great and it was fine that it was so small. And they just laughed and I told them they shouldn’t be laughing. Then at recess they both followed us around. We told them to stop and they laughed more and ran away. And we don’t think they should be bullying Mary.” And she stopped. Mary gave her a positive nod. And then they both looked to me, ready to hear how I’d fix this situation of 8-year-old school oppression.

I took a breath and calmly started, “Well, Jill you are a good friend, sticking up for Mary and being assertive to the boys and reminding them to be kind. So first. Thank you. And Mary, I can tell from what Jill described that today these two boys have really been annoying you. Is that right?”

“Yes,” again in a small voice.

“Well, I could ask them both to come sit and talk with us now. However, as you talked, this reminded me of a scene from our novel – Because of Winn Dixie. Do you know which scene I am talking about?” I asked.

“The one with the Dewberry boys?” Jill suggested.

“Yep. Maybe Johnny and Jack are acting this way because they want to be friends. They just are showing it by teasing you. And do you remember what Gloria Dump told Opal she had to do?

“Be friendly to them,” they both replied in unison.

“Hmmm….I’m wondering if you both try to keep an eye on this situation and maybe you try to follow Gloria’s advice and be like Opal. Who knows, maybe it is the boys’ way of showing that they want to be your friend. Want to give it a try?”

“Sure” both said easily. And then they got up and returned to a quiet classroom.

I smiled as I entered my third grade classroom. My inside voice offered a “Thank you” to Kate DiCamilla Books really do show us how to live.

Answer Key to My Ballad

The question I asked yesterday, “How many books you can name from the books from the poem clues?” inspired my matrix making today. I love organizing information in charts. It’s easy for me “see” it.  So today I share the book titles mentioned in yesterday’s ballad in chart form, a favorite way for me to write and share information easily so you can see it. And just maybe you’ll take time to read-aloud one of my favorites with someone you like reading with, too!

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Happy Reading with your family!

Still Teaching with Kathleen Tolan

I can honestly say I am a better teacher because I was taught by Kathleen Tolan. She taught me first at the TCRWP 2011 Summer Reading Institute and then MANY more times after that.

She died on December 4, 2016 at the age of 53. If you aren’t familiar with this amazing literacy teacher, the Heinemann Website offers this bio: For more than 20 years, Kathleen Tolan was a Senior Deputy Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She had special responsibility for the Project’s work with reading instruction, organizing instruction for staff developers and the Project’s four summer institutes. She was also instrumental in the creation of the content literacy institutes and coaching institutes. Kathleen provided staff development at schools in the South Bronx, Harlem, Manhattan, and Scarsdale. A coauthor of numerous books in the Units of Study for teaching reading and writing series, she is also featured in many of the TCRWP’s online videos. Throughout her career, Kathleen remained a consummate professional and a champion for kids and for literacy.

I am still in a bit of denial that her name is now followed by “was“. As soon as I heard of her passing, I posted my remembrance HERE. I add my tribute HERE. I donated to her Memorial Fund HERE. And then I started planning an interactive read-aloud using a story she read to me – The Giving Tree.

I invited another class to join me so more kids would experience Kathleen’s brilliant teaching. I invited the librarian, the reading teacher, and the Gifted Resource teacher so they could help and also experience this brilliant teacher.

I dug out my 2010 Units of Study for Teaching Reading, 3-5 kit and found the included DVDs.

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On the red CD, in Unit 1-10 is a sixteen minute video of Kathleen reading aloud The Giving Tree. She models so well how to stop and share the thinking she is doing to help students know they are to be reading/listening and thinking, too. She asks the best questions and then says “Turn and Talk” and the students erupt in talk.

My plan – Listen to Kathleen read The Giving Tree and then have a debate: Is the tree strong or weak?

Day One
First, the students enjoyed a read-aloud of The Giving Tree by watching the video of Kathleen reading it. When she says, TURN AND TALK, I paused the video and allowed the students in front of me turn and talk. Then I fast forward to skip the kid’s on the video turn and talks and we continued to listen to Kathleen read and ask us to turn and talk.

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Then using the Debate Protocol taught to me by TCRWP, I reread the book and asked the students to take notes. We focused on the tree and noticed whether the tree is being strong or being weak.

 

Personally, I love how this protocol pushes ALL to gather evidence for both sides of an argument. And THEN has you choose a side. I will admit, allowing a group of 40 third graders to freely choose feels a little uncomfortable as the teacher. What happens if most pick one side? I learned at TCRWP that you just say, “Who feels like they could be brave and argue the other side? We need to have an equal amount argue that the tree is strong and that the tree is weak.” To help with this messy sorting part, I had those who thought the tree was weak to stand shoulder to shoulder in the front of the room. Then we counted. And it worked out – one person said he could argue either side so we placed him on the weak side. To help the 3rd graders remember, I made number cards and handed them out. Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 9.07.07 AM.png

Then I sent Strong #1-10 with the librarian and Strong #11-20 with the other classroom teacher to caucus out in the hallway. I took Weak #1-10 and the reading teacher took Weak #11-20 and we took our groups to the front and back of the classroom. I also love how this protocol sets up all for success because within a caucus group, you have time to plan out exactly what to say. And if you aren’t sure, your group discussion helps all to brainstorm a collection of ideas. Using sentence stems, the students had this planning sheet:

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And they all got busy planning!

Then it was time!!! I had already set the desks in the room to stand alone and I numbered them #1-20. I asked the debaters to go to they numbered desk and meet their opponent. I reminded them how both had an important job to do now. When it was their time to talk, they were to use their notes and be as persuasive as possible to convince their opponent of their position. The listener had a job to do, too. After hearing their opponent, they need to write down the points they heard.

Using the chime, I commanded the STONG group to go and 20 students shared their opinion in a span of one minute.

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Then I called time and told the WEAK group to first jot down what they heard. Then the WEAK group had their chance to persuade their opponent. 50 minutes had passed and so much listening, reading, writing, sharing had occurred, all taught with Kathleen Tolan guiding us still!!

Day 2: We got into our caucus groups right away. We planned out our rebuttal.

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We followed the same procedure as yesterday – same caucus groups, same opponent, same desk, same fired-up spirit! Then all returned to their own classroom desk and wrote long and strong about this book, The Giving Tree.

I noticed ALL in my room easily putting thoughts to paper. They had thoughts that they had orally rehearsed. First during Kathleen’s strong interactive read-aloud. Then in a caucus group. Then one-on-one with a partner who thought the opposite of them over two days.

I feel so lucky to have been taught by Kathleen Tolan and her colleagues at TCRWP. I will keep having Kathleen teach with me in my classroom. My students will be better readers and critical thinkers and writers because of her teaching with me!

How about YOU? Do you see Kathleen’s literacy spirit in your classroom?