Monday, April 30, 2012

My OLW for April: Listening for Connecting

I had a completely different plan for my One Little Word this month, but as all things do in life...I am taking a detour toward "listening"that occurred this weekend.  On Saturday I had the privilege of listening to Chirs Tovani.  Instead of "talking back to the text", I was "talking back to the speaker" with the annotations I made in my notebook.  I sat down on Sunday to "reread" what I was thinking, what I determined was important, questions that I still had...below you will find my "jots" from a part of my conversation that went on between myself and Chris in my notebook.  No, she was not actually talking to just me.  This process of "jotting" helps me to have a record of the dialogue with myself, the speaker, and the issues and ideas that I was "listening" to at that moment so I can get smarter about our literacy world.
Sorry for the sloppy handwriting...the quote at the top and my attempt at a flow chart is what Chris Tovani said.  The writing around the outside is my thinking.  The question in the cloud is the key to accessing information to get smarter about our world...that is from Chris!
This portion of the day impacted my learning the most.  How does your thinking connect back to the text?  Strategies are the tool.  But what I realized most is that connecting it back to the text is the key to getting access to information and putting it all in perspective in our world. Every reader will enter into engagement with the text at a different point based on their needs and experiences.  By connecting it back to the text through conversation, we are focusing our discussion on the one thing we all share in common...the text.  It is those different entry points that will enrich our discussion and provide opportunity for all readers to find or affirm the point that solidifies their thinking.

Chris Tovani has a way of putting what I know and feel into simple, beautiful thoughts.  I am so happy that I took the time to annotate...just like I ask my students to do...because I can "listen" to this conversation again and again while using these jots to adorn future conversations with a colleague, with my grade level, my school, and my blogging world.

Check out more OLW updates...

Maria at Teaching in 21st Century

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Save the Date!

Once again...thank you to the Literacy Connection for hosting another thoughtful day with Chris Tovani! I am still pondering, connecting, placing...all of the thoughts about summative and formative assessments in the reading workshop model (especially when looking at annotating while reading).  So how fitting was it to see someone wearing this shirt...
Click on the t-shirt and it will take you to the creator's site.
It reminded me of how "crafty" we are as teachers.  We use day-to-day assessments, give immediate feedback and examine trails of thinking so we can adjust the course that our students need the very next day.  Plus, the t-shirt had a cute dog on it :)

SAVE THE DATE!  The Literacy Connection handed out their postcard with the outlook for next year.  With permission from Peggy, I am posting it on this blog!  Check out the keynote speaker....Donalyn Miller...can't wait!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Historical Fiction-Building the Bridge

"Inspired by a true story."  Don't you love when you see that on a book cover?  Curiosity takes over and building the bridge from fiction to true historical facts begins!

I just finished reading, An Elephant in the Garden, by Michael Morpurgo (the same author as Warhorse).  It is centered around Dresdan during World War II.  There was great concern about what would happen to the animals in the zoo if German bombers came to attack.  Would the larger animals be able to break out of their cages and roam out into the town?  The book is centered around one zookeepers decision to protect her family and an elephant during World War II.  The best part...the author encourages you at the end to Google the following..."Belfast, zoo, elephant, World War II."  What do you find?  A newspaper article written in March 2009 that shows a photo of the "mystery" woman and a story about the Belfast Zoo's 75th Anniversary in which managers are trying to identify the woman known as "the elephant angel."  

I am excited to not only share this article with my group of fourth graders, but to see the curiosity that develops from this event in history.  There is also a picture book that is inspired by this true will cry when reading it.  It is called, Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War. The article, the picture book, and the novel...they create quite a bridge to our past!

Friday, April 27, 2012

"Listening" to Chris Tovani!

My OLW was put to the test today...I had the privilege of meeting, observing, and LISTENING (not just hearing) to Chris Tovani!  It was a day full of authentic reading experiences, thoughtful discussions, and a passionate presenter...a big thank you to The Literacy Connection for organizing an amazing professional development opportunity!

The day was focused around two observations of Chris Tovani and eager readers hard at work.  The participants were able to observe Chris working with a grade 1/2 classroom and a 3/4 classroom.  We were able to view her opening structure, her mini-lesson, work time/conferencing, and debriefing with each group.  The students were brought in to the room with a "mock" classroom set up...carpet, chair, easel, clipboards, post-its, and document camera.  As participants, we were fortunate to sit around the students on the outside and "listen in".  My mind is still swirling with many thoughts about the wonderful observations of today.  Here are a few highlights...

"How do these strategies help kids comprehend the content?" (My thinking: Makes me wonder a lot about thinking deeply with text analysis and the Common Core)

"Strategies are a tool to access information to get smarter about the world." (My thinking:  A tool that will help them reach a more complex level of thinking.)

"Students use strategies to find their entry point into engaging with the text.  This allows them a way to access information to get smarter about our world." (My thinking: I was scribbling furiously on that one!)

The BEST part...I get to go back tomorrow and think, observe, and wonder some more!

I also had the opportunity to see students be curious with two texts that are new to me...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Opinion writing with the Common Core

I have noticed lately that my students are not selecting the most important detail or vocabulary to support their thinking while writing.  Their writing seems more at the "surface" by not being specific enough with word choice or generalizing important details.  The problem?  I felt like I had exhausted my tool box on determining importance and merging that importance into their writing.  The solution?  As I was reading through the Common Core for language arts, I found the standards on text types and purposes.  There it write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.  Maybe, just maybe....this purpose for writing would support the students in providing reasons with facts and details while linking opinions and reasons using words and phrases.  Opinions are like bellybuttons, everyone has one...maybe this purpose and form of communication is just what we need!

We just started our thinking three days ago.  I turned to Time For Kids to start us off!  I used an article titled, "A Healthier Happy Meal."  We annotated, discussed, and actually...somewhat debated.  The next day we continued with an article from a different point of view that was recently in the news, "California judge dismisses suit against McDonald's toys", from USA Today.  This time our discussion focused heavily on determining the meaning of unknown words and trying to understand the opposite point of view.  Then I posed the question...Should McDonald's Happy Meals have toys?  Students created positive and negative charts to evaluate using details and words from the two text and stated their claim.  We examined another recent article in Time For Kids, "Should Schools Ban the Sale of Bottled Water?"  We discussed the structure the students used to "convince us".  The students most enjoyed "finding the flip"!  Finding a detail or word from the other point of view and "flipping" it to work for your thinking.   Transferring our thinking to a paragraph is currently a "work in progress"...but the excitement, purpose, and attention to detail has been just what the writing doctor's ordered(with a side of ketchup)!
Evaluating the positives and negatives to decide a claim.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Common Core: Math in the 21st century

The last several years for me have been filled with professional reading about literacy.  From getting my Masters in reading to becoming a literacy coach for four years, articles...professional studies...blogs...have been the main focus of my professional reading for the past eight years.  Haven't said this in a while, undergraduate I concentrated in mathematics.  Math? I know...does not match where I am now.  I never dreamed that I would be so passionate about literacy when I look back at the beginning of my journey as an educator.

This first year back in the classroom has been a whirlwind.  Professionally I have been challenged in so many areas to really dig deep and think about my beliefs and the evidence of it in my all curriculum areas.  Makes me realize how lucky I am to be surrounded by such dedicated colleagues who have supported me during this journey!

So last night...about 11:00 PM...I made the decision to dive into a professional reading about math.  It is called, Small Steps, Big Changes: Eight Essential Practices for Transforming Schools Through Mathematics published by Stenhouse.  I only made it to chapter 2 last night but it really got me thinking about math conversations at the school level.  In chapter 1, the authors focus on "Keeping the end in mind" (the first essential practice).  Four questions have been suggested to begin these conversations.  In order to agree on the destination...

1.  What does rigor mean from classroom to classroom? (Hear that word a LOT with the Common Core)

2.  What does problem solving mean? (Is it only teacher guided, finding a correct answer to word problem? Multi-step problems? Complex real world problems with more than one answer?)

3.  What is high quality student work in mathematics? (The authors suggest everyone to bring a sample from their classroom to discuss why they think it is high quality...I bet that could be eye-opening and powerful!)

And then for the biggie...What should our "end in mind" be?

I am only in chapter two, but what powerful questions to explore at any level...grade level, school level, or even district level.  With Common Core Standards becoming our new curriculum...this would be a great time to ask these questions!  As the authors state on page 5...

"Being the change" requires educators to step in this new direction, shift their thinking...and make a journey."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Merging fiction and non-fiction and...

It is that time of year when our schedule is no longer routine.  The end of the year is only a turn of the calendar page away.  And...there is a great resource to support building background knowledge to add to a reader's experience with short stories and poetry.  It is the Safari Magazines by Mondo Publishing.  Our school has been fortunate enough to purchase many of these sets to match our curriculum focuses in science and social studies.  Each magazine contains an informational article (to build background knowledge), a short story, a few poems, and a Reader's Theater.  All on the same curricular focus!  They are great for strategy groups or for interest groups.  I use these magazine as a springboard to inquiry workshop when our "busy, interrupted" schedules happen this time of year.  We can wonder and be curious with resources at our fingertips, while at the same time, merging fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and wonder!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Common Core: One thing I am nervous about...

Last night I was able to attend a study group held by the Literacy Connection.  It is a non-profit teacher support group that every year facilitates a book study in the field of language arts, as well as additional meetings prepared by teachers who share their expertise in the uses of children's literature, reading, writing, poetry, and assessment.  (They even have a resource booklet titled, Reading and Writing: Where It All Begins: Helping Your Children At Home, that contains tips for parents for working with literacy at home). Oh, the power of meeting with teachers and having meaningful, honest discussions!

We are currently studying Chris Tovani's book, So What Do They Really Know?  As we were discussing her chapters on annotating while reading and what this would look like with the Common Core, one of the participants posed a statement..."There isn't really any surprises with what the Common Core is there?"  My response?  No surprises, but I have to admit...although there were no surprises, something in the fourth grade Common Core made me nervous.  I have never focused on mythology in my teaching instruction.  It is a genre that I personally struggle with, never really spent time with, and to be honest...I kind of avoid it.  Not fair to the students, but for some reason this genre has always made me nervous.

A few weeks ago I started to address my nervousness with this new genre (not new, but unknown to me for instructional planning).  I placed a tub in our classroom library that was full of just myths.  I introduced a few titles, and did a mini-lesson on what a myth was.  Then what did I do?  I put the tub in our library...walked away...and watched.

Keeping track of new words.
Analyzing a new word for the reader..."ogre".

The kids flocked to the tub like I had thrown out a free IPad.  It is all they are reading...even after two weeks!  As I have been conferencing with kids, their enthusiasm and wonder is shining.  They are attached to a series that integrates many of the cultures we have discussed in social studies.  I even have one of my most reluctant writers creating a myth dictionary to help us understand the terminology that is commonly being used.  Then I discovered the jackpot!  I had a conference with a reader who wanted to show me her "deep thinking" and talk about it...guess was from one of the myth books! (The notebook pages are from that conference).  How exciting!  I conquered my nervousness, lured readers to a new genre, and... we are all loving it !

Comparing two myths that have the character Anansi.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Common Core...thinking deeply

Alright...I am anxiously awaiting my copy of Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman (sample chapter is provided at this link). I have reread the sample chapter provided three times.  Pathetic...I know.  I am a person who enjoys change if prepared for a change.  I don't jump in with both feet.  I am the one who sits on the side of the pool, tests the waters with my toes, sits back and takes in the sun, and then dips the toes again.

Pause to Save:  "But it's very possible that your readers are mostly reading for plot, grasping the gist of what they read, moving rapidly across books, but not really working on their reading.  And it may be that the comprehension work that second-grade readers are doing is not all that different than the work sixth graders are doing." (Page 19)

Pause to Think: The authors go on to talk about making sure that the same strategies are not being recycled year after year.  I was thinking about my classroom and the strategies that were being recycled just within my classroom...the ones that the students were constantly using at a surface level in their Reader's Notebooks or while jotting.  It was the famous... "My character feels ______ because ___________" and " My character is _________ because ____________."  I decided to do a mini-lesson on thinking deeply about a character...moving beyond feelings and traits.  We had discussed beyond this in previous discussions, but I was not seeing it in their writing about reading.  So...we moved to...evaluating....examining closely and judging carefully.

I used the book, Goal, by Mina Javaherbin.  It focuses on friends in South Africa who earn a new federation-size soccer ball and reveals their encounter with a crew of bullies.  We used the text as a springboard to evaluating the decisions made by the friends.  I gave them a graphic organizer to glue in their Reader's Notebook.  We used this graphic organizer to examine the character's actions, decisions, and motivations closely.  We also debated and judged carefully why the characters were making the choices they were and how their decisions impacted the group.  We also were able to compare and contrast soccer in the United States with soccer in South Africa.  There is a section at the end of the book that explains the cultural importance of several words or actions in the book.

Having the time to think deeply, jot down thoughts, discuss and debate, strengthened our conversation.  The students noticed that their first thoughts often were the springboard to developing their most important thought.  I also saw an increase in participation when debating since their thoughts were right there in front of them.  Can't wait to see if anyone chooses this strategy as they are reading or when writing about reading!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pause to save...Common Core

A dear friend of mine gave me a copy/sample of the the first two chapters of Pathways to the Common Core by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman. I keep telling her that she just might regret the day she passed it along to me.  My mind has been whirling since.  In two days, I have read the two chapters, reread them, thought, rethought, suggested it to others to hear their thinking and prepared my mind for the change to come.  I hadn't really thought about how I FELT about the Common Core.  It was this "thing" that was happening and had made it to my "summer" list. is where I am today...

Pause to Save:
"Of course, in order for students to make the necessary progress, they need at least 45 minutes in school and more time at home to read books...Chances are good that students who are not making optimal progress as readers do not have time in school each day for 45 minutes of eyes-on print reading (not talking about books, not writing about books) and similar to time at home." (page 18)

Pause to Think:
Nothing new here... I know this in my heart and have evidence of this in my classroom, but in testing month...I need to continue to remember this!