Integration

img_1715Pat and I wrote about the importance of integrating strategies in Catching Readers Before They Fall. We love the analogy of an orchestra. In a symphony orchestra, all the instruments blend together to form incredible compositions extremely pleasing to the ear. The strategies in the head of the reader combine together to make meaning of the text just as each instrument joins the musical composition perfectly in tune with the others.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as my kindergarten readers are taking off in their independent reading. Teaching integration right from the start is key to developing strategic readers. I teach many strategies through reading aloud, thinking aloud and showing kids how that strategy can help them as readers. Together, we create an evolving chart of what readers do. It’s important to me that this chart, and the language on the chart, is co-created with the kids so they have ownership.

As we add to our anchor chart of what readers do, I make sure to refer to this chart often by thinking aloud during interactive read alouds, and referring to it during small group instruction and conferences. I show the kids how we don’t just use one strategy at a time, rather, we use many of them simultaneously.

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I help the kids reflect on what they are doing as readers and see these strategies as tools to make meaning from text. I want them to have several things to pull from when meaning breaks down and when they are stuck on a tricky word. I keep small photos of our large, evolving, strategy chart around the room for them to refer to as they read.

As I send the kids off to read independently, we read over our anchor chart. I have them put up their fingers, one at a time, as we read each strategy. Then we weave our fingers together, showing that the strategies all go together. This physical movement symbolizes the integration of strategies.

Teaching integration right from the start helps build a solid foundation for our readers. How do you help readers see the importance of integration?

 

Fidelity vs. Thoughtfulness

img_9986 We live in a time right now when professional resources are abundant. We have endless access to lesson plans, problem based learning projects, activities, ideas, blog posts, professional books, teachers sharing with teachers, curriculum guides, programs, etc… I can Google any topic and find a wealth of resources. Teachers are not at a loss for what to teach and ideas for how to teach it. But there’s something that I keep coming back to:

Are we being thoughtful with what and how we teach?

There are now scripts written out for literacy workshops, charts to copy or simply post, literacy “cookbooks” of sorts with specific lessons for exactly what your students might need and other resources to make our lives easier and to save time. These are good things, for the most part. Don’t get me wrong. They are based in research, carefully thought out by expert educators who know how kids learn best, tested in real classrooms with real kids. I own most of these resources and use them as I plan – (as a resource, not as a script). And these are WAY better than any basal textbook series I’ve ever seen. These resources have definitely lifted the quality of literacy instruction in many schools. They’ve provided a scaffold for implementing literacy workshops.

But are we thinking deeply about the kids we are teaching? 

img_0082Years ago while teaching in Florida I was at a required basal textbook training for a series my county had just adopted. The representative said, “Look! Everything is written out for you. Even the teachable moments. You don’t even have to think!” And that’s when I walked out of the meeting. I didn’t go into teaching to not think. And I value my profession way more than to accept the idea that it would be a good thing if I didn’t have to think. It’s offensive and degrading to be told you don’t have to think.

It’s easy to flip open a book and have your lesson plan written out for you and ready to go. And chances are, with many of these resources, you would be teaching a good lesson. We get ideas from each other – that’s what teachers do. We don’t have to constantly recreate the wheel.  But I hope that we are still thinking. And reflecting. And connecting with OUR kids – the ones sitting with us in our classrooms at this very moment. I hope we are not taking exactly what’s handed to us and teaching it blindly because we were told to “teach with fidelity”. We need to think and question. We need to teach our kids to think and question. We need to continue learning as teachers and understand the WHY behind what we are doing. We need to be responsive and reflective as teachers.

img_0081A teacher leader in my county once helped me reflect on the idea of fidelity vs. thoughtfulness. I keep coming back to that. Perhaps we need to be implementing new structures, programs, etc. with “thoughtfulness”, rather than “fidelity”. We need to look at the programs, curriculums and expectations our district and administration give us with a critical eye. We need to be very careful with resources we find online. We need to tweak the “recipes” in these literacy “cookbooks” to meet the needs of our students. We need to use the pre-printed anchor charts as a temporary scaffold for us as teachers – and replace them with kid pictures and drawings and our own students’ words as soon as we feel solid in that teaching.  We need to deconstruct these things together with our team, be thoughtful in our implementation, question and reflect on what works and what doesn’t.  As one of my former principals always says, “the answer is in the room”.  Talk, reflect and think together – don’t just blindly follow something from outside. We need to use the abundance of resources we have as departure points to launch our own best teaching. We need to keep talking, questioning and thinking with our team and on our own.  As I’ve said before, we teach children, not curriculum, programs or standards.

Be thoughtful. Question. Be willing to change your thinking.  And as Lucy Calkins once wrote in my copy of The Art of Teaching Writing, 

“Be a brave learner. Be brave enough to outgrow your own best teaching.”

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What Kind of Class Do We Want?

img_6072I love the way winter break is like pushing the reset button. I’ve enjoyed relaxed days with friends, family, books and the mountains. It’s been fabulous. It’s recharged my mind, my body and my soul. I’ve allowed myself to step away from my classroom (physically and mentally) and now I feel a renewed sense of excitement, energy and possibility as I get ready to return in a few days.

My kids and I have enjoyed 17 days off. While it’s been wonderful, I know that January 3rd is going to be like starting all over again in many ways. Seventeen days to a five and six year old is an eternity. But I love the idea of a second “first day” of sorts. It’s a chance to re-establish our community, to get to know one another again, to reteach those things that were falling apart in December and to revisit what kind of class we are. It’s like a blank slate that we can create together again.

One thing I always do that first week back is to ask my kids, “what kind of class do we want to be? What kind of community do we want to have? Who are we?” Those are big questions, but my kindergarteners never fail to think deeply, to reflect on what was working and what wasn’t, and to create a promise of sorts that guides us for the rest of the year.

We start this conversation in our morning meeting on the first day back. I take notes on chart paper as we talk and start to determine what really matters to us. We read new books and revisit old favorites that first week back and talk about what makes characters kind and likable, or unkind and unlikable, and how that might look in our classroom. Books like Grumpy Bird, Each Kindness, It’s Okay to Make Mistakes – and any Todd Parr book, Red, A Crayon’s Story, I Used to Be Afraid, Walter Was Worried, The OK Book, Elephants Cannot Dance, Ish, The Invisible Boy, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?  and Last Stop on Market Street – just to name a few of our favorites. The main idea here is to determine what would make our classroom a wonderful place to be – and how can we contribute to that.

We revisit the chart daily, adding and revising our thinking. After a week or so, we create our own chart – through interactive writing – that reflects who we are in this classroom. We always display it in a prominent place so that, as one of my kids said last year, “everyone who comes in here knows that this is how they have to be. You can’t be mean and come in our room.”

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Last year’s chart as a work in progress – adding things to it as we discuss.

This document serves as a class pledge or promise for the rest of the year. We read it and use it as a tool to solve problems, resolve issues and remind us of what kind of class we are. It’s a powerful tool to come back to when the inevitable problems arise.

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Last year’s  finished chart with photos!

How do you reset after a long winter break? Best wishes to everyone for a fantastic second “first day”!

Update: Here is our chart from last week (January 2017). We will be working on making our class chart next week. Stay tuned!

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What Really Matters

img_9753When I was a kid I was terrified of bees. Add tornadoes and getting left in a store after closing time and you have my top 3 fears as a child.

Never once was I fearful that I wouldn’t be allowed to return home after visiting my grandparents in their country. Never once was I scared that people would come and take my parents away. Never once was I terrified of getting taunted, bullied, beat up or shot because of my religion. Or culture. Or skin color. Or who I was in love with. Or the clothing I was wearing. Never.

But these are the fears that our children have today. The children I teach,  the children you may teach, your own children, the children in schools throughout our country. And many adults, as well. And these fears have magnified tremendously lately. As a teacher, it’s my  job to acknowledge what my students are feeling, listen to them, talk with them, comfort them and provide a safe space for them to feel loved and accepted. I can’t imagine doing anything less.

But it’s also my job to empower my students. Yes, they are five and six years old. Are we talking about immigration laws, our government system, electoral votes and checks and balances in our classroom? No. In my kindergarten class we are talking about empathy, kindness, collaboration and being a good person. I am teaching harder than ever about how important it is to be accepting, to have empathy and to be kind. I am teaching that it’s never okay to remain silent when you feel strongly about something. I am teaching the importance of making your voice heard. And the importance of listening to others’ voices.

img_9789As I tend to do, I’ve reached for books over the past month as my comfort and my light. My professional mentors reminded me of what’s important, what’s necessary and what I must do as a teacher. My teaching must go beyond one to one match, directionality and making connections. Way beyond.

My children’s authors, once again, gave us those anchors in the classroom to come together as a community, to laugh, to cry, to learn about feelings, to be together and to think about how we are as people in the world. Mo Willems reminded us about the importance of empathy with  Leonardo, the Terrible Monster. We read Peaceful Piggies and learned what we can do when we are feeling sad, angry or frustrated. Todd Parr’s The Peace Book, Mem Fox’s Whoever You Are, Kathryn Otoshi’s One and Elephant and Piggie connected us, grounded us and reminded us of what is important. We read and reread Bret Baumgarten and Kathryn Otoshi’s Beautiful Hands and created a mural to share our class name, Team Love, and vision of Kindergarten Teamwork.img_0141

As I regroup over winter break and begin to think about my teaching in January, this is what will continue to guide me – children’s books and authors who serve as mirrors and windows for my kids and our classroom, as well as responsive teaching to what I see and hear every day in the classroom. Yes, the curriculum guides, pacing guides and standards are important, but I feel a much more urgent need to teach empathy, compassion, flexibility, perseverance and simply – how to be a good person.

Because the world needs good people.

Now more than ever.

 

I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place.

Howard Gardner

 

 

Who’s Doing the Work?

If you are looking for a professional book to read this summer, read on. I recently finished a new one from Stenhouse called Who’s Doing the Work: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More by Burkins and Yaris. There were many wonderful parts of the text that reiterated some of my firm beliefs about teaching reading. I’ll list some in this post and, hopefully, ignite your interest.

I totally agree with the basic premise that as teachers we have to monitor ourselves so that we do not take on work that the students are capable of doing themselves. The authors use the four instructional contexts of reading aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading to show us how to let students take more control of their developing reading processing systems. Burkins and Yaris also make a strong case against the ‘leveling frenzy’ saying that some teachers are “blinded by levels,” not being able to see past levels to what the child can actually do as a reader.

In chapter 2, the authors emphasis the benefits of reading aloud to children calling the read aloud time a “commercial for reading.” We should be setting kids up to want to be readers. Several classroom examples are given which show how students can participate in negotiating the meaning of the text.

Chapter 3 emphasizes the importance of shared reading with students. I was reminded of something Regie Routman always says — that she does most of her teaching through Shared Reading experiences, where the students can all see the text. Yaris and Burkins expand the meaning of shared reading beyond what some teachers may think of as only K-2 teachers reading Big Books and poems together with their students. They feel that if we did more shared reading experiences in grades 2-5, students would be more equipped with strategies and behaviors to use during guided reading when each child is in the role of the reader. “Shared reading allows students to experience reading a more difficult text in a supportive, meaningful context.” (p. 65.)

In the guided reading chapter, the authors remind us that the teacher must step back and let the students do the work as they problem solve words and make meaning of texts. I love that they call guided reading “independent reading’s dress rehearsal.” During these  small group sessions, the teacher can see how students “apply all of their knowledge about how to read” while she is still there to intervene or support when necessary. Just as Terry Thompson says in his book on scaffolding, these authors remind us to “resist the urge to jump in and prompt heavily as soon as students have difficulty.”(p. 93.) Kids should feel safe enough in guided reading to take the time to try different strategies to resolve problems.

One major point of the whole book is that we should always be teaching towards the end goal of developing lifelong readers who CAN and DO read for pleasure and for information.  The independent reading time is when students have plenty of class time to read books of their own choosing, books that match their interests and their abilities, without being restricted by a level number or letter. “If teachers micromanage independent reading time, they limit students agency and engagement and, consequently, limit the amount of work students do.” (p. 111).

Early in the book (p. 28), the authors suggest we reflect on what we, the readers of this text, agree with and what we disagree with. To me that means that they encourage professional discussion on various topics, so I feel OK in mentioning two points that I question (‘disagree” being too strong a word).

  1. There is recurring mention throughout the text that ‘book introductions involve the teacher doing too much for the students.’  I tend to agree with Clay who says that students are “entitled to a book introduction.” I support the use of book intros (when done correctly) especially for students reading at beginning primary levels, K-2.  I agree with these authors who worry that some teachers have misunderstood the concept of a book introduction and prime the students with too much information or pre-teach words. I also agree that a good book intro is NOT a page-by-page book walk. Katie and I present our views of book intros on pages 78-80 and 127-130 in Catching Readers Before They Fall.  I’d also like to suggest that teachers look for a new book coming from Stenhouse within the next year on Book Introductions (no title yet) by authors Fay, Whaley, and Moritz.  I think that book will help clarify any questions teachers may have.
  2. My other concern relates to the way that word solving is described in this text.  Though the authors mention Clay and her three sources of information: meaning, structure, and visual information – they decide to combine two of those and only explain the Meaning and the Print aspects.  I find this a bit misleading for teachers, however, I can understand that they were trying to simplify it for their readers.  Again, the new book coming soon from Stenhouse will address the structural source of information.

I hope my last two points don’t discourage anyone from reading this book because it is a valuable text.  Rather, I included them so that all teachers will read with a reflective stance. We should always think and reflect on what we read in any professional text.

 

Read Alouds as “Untaught Stories”

I’ve been spending some time going through all my documents that I have saved on my computer. There comes a time when you have to just trash some things in order to make room for new stuff. What surprised me were how many things I came across that made me want to share an idea. I just couldn’t bring myself to press that delete button until I wrote the thoughts somewhere else. I decided that each time I came across something of value, I’d blog about it so that I, and my readers, could reflect on it one more time before I press that button. Today’s idea is from a page where I had taken notes on an article I read.

In an article by Shari Frost in Choice Literacy a while back, Shari wrote about how distressed she was by the fact that many primary teachers were using their read aloud books for the purpose of strategy teaching and not just for the pleasure of enjoying a good story. Shari paraphrased another author (Patricia Cooper’s Language Arts article) who felt the same way. I found the quote valuable enough to copy down and save.

“Cooper believes that the ‘untaught story’ plays an important role in the literacy development of children. It supports the development of their imagination, increases their vocabulary, helps them develop a sense of story, builds the foundation for critical thinking, and teaches children to love books. These benefits can be jeopardized if every read aloud is attached to a comprehension lesson.”

Take a moment to ask yourself:

  1. How often do I use a picture book just for sheer enjoyment?
  2. Am I overusing what I know about strategy teaching by always thinking that my read aloud book has to have a strategy lesson attached?
  3. What messages am I sending to children about why we read books?
  4. Am I doing all I can to develop a love of books and stories with my students?
  5. Can I name three books that my students love to hear again and again just because they love them so much?

Teachers shouldn’t have to defend WHY they are reading aloud great books to their students. We all know the benefits, don’t we?

 

 

 

Teaching Students, Not the Curriculum

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Thanks to Heather for sharing this timely quote!

I often say, “I teach children – not the curriculum, program or standard”. I can’t remember where I first heard this statement, but I love it and I truly believe this. My children – the ones I’m teaching RIGHT NOW – are first and foremost in my mind as I plan, set up invitations and provocations and determine the next steps in my instruction. I use a wide variety of resources provided by the state, my county, my school, my colleagues and my own professional library – but I believe they are resources, not a prescribed script to follow. My plans are constantly changing and evolving, in response to the five and six year olds in my classroom. This doesn’t mean that I wing it. Not at all! I spend a lot of time planning the framework of our day, looking at individual students and where they are in their ZPD and making instructional decisions based on my research, beliefs and philosophy of how children learn. But I don’t consider myself a “Responsive Classroom” teacher or a “Units of Study” teacher. You will see much of the philosophy of Responsive Classroom because I believe in a constructivist approach and that the social curriculum is at the heart of what we do; you will see a balanced literacy approach and you will see Writer’s Workshop and Reader’s Workshop because I believe (and have believed and taught this way for 24 years) in a framework of time, choice and response. But within that framework, every year looks a little different – based on the kids in our room that year. It’s kind of like building a house. The framework stays the same on most houses, but what’s inside is different depending on who lives there. The framework of my teaching is the same – a workshop approach, balanced literacy approach, constructivist, inquiry-based learning – but the details of how it looks each year is different, based on who lives in our classroom that year.

I worry that in today’s climate of one-size-fits-all instruction, with increasing kits, units and books that pre-plan lessons down to the minute being hailed as the “answer” to educational problems, that teachers aren’t being challenged to think. Are we reading the script or lesson that another teacher used with her kids, blindly following what “the experts” say to do?

Or are we reading the lessons carefully, reflecting on how it will work in our classroom, with our students, discussing and collaborating with colleagues about the lessons, and then planning a lesson that we own, along with our current students? I hope we are. I hope we are trusting ourselves and supporting each other. And I hope our schools are providing the time and support for all teachers, and especially our new teachers, to think deeply about instruction.

We can’t stop thinking, reflecting, questioning and challenging our own best teaching – and the resources we use. And we can’t forget that we teach children – not a curriculum.

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A project coming to life in Writer’s Workshop.