Putting My Two Cents In

51h8ptz5ZBL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_I’ve joined a group of bloggers to discuss the book “Who Owns the Learning?” this summer. I have to admit that I joined without reading the subtitle and therefore thought the book was about literacy and how students can make choices in reading and writing.  But the subtitle is “Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age” — so it is yet another techy book (not my usual cup of tea.)  However, having read the introduction and the first two chapters, I’m hooked.

The author, Alan November, encourages “autonomy, mastery, and purpose” in all learning (words he gets from Daniel Pink’s work.)  I couldn’t agree more. We can motivate kids to learn much better if we allow them to make choices and help them see a purpose for their learning. November’s emphasis on building community beyond the classroom to foster “global empathy” reminds me of the book For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action by Randy and Katherine Bomer (which, if you’ve never read, I highly recommend.) Both books give many middle school and high school examples, yet I still find enough to relate to elementary schools.51uQd+GXsFL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

November redefines the learner as a “contributor to the learning community.”  He gives examples of students teaching other students through their digitally created tutorials.  I can see how these tutorials connect easily with math and perhaps many high school level courses, but I caution teachers against the way they would connect with literacy teaching.  I’m afraid that the tutorials would become too “item oriented,” i.e., tutorials on compounds, contractions, phonics rules, spelling rules, and so on (The example on page 29 was with a grammar rule.)  That’s not to say that you couldn’t find ways to talk about books, stories, poems, and articles using technology (Oh yeah… that’s what we are doing here…)

I can see kids using VoiceThread as Katie Keier does in her kindergarten class to share ideas of what they liked about a particular picture book.  I definitely agree with Jill Fisch who said in her blog that she would love to see more examples from primary grades.  In fact, I would love to know how Mary Cowhey (author of Black Ants and Buddhists) would incorporate the ideas from this book into her classroom.  She already has such a great handle on teaching empathy, celebrating diversity, developing community, solving problems collaboratively, and so on, to her first graders.black-ants-and-buddhists

Although Alan November is aware of the gap that exists because of poverty issues and the problems that would develop because of lack of access to technology, I’m not sure his suggestions would be enough (he discusses this on pages 22 and 34-5). I fear the gap getting bigger and bigger with his Digital Learning Farm concepts.  It’s not just a matter of giving poor families access to a computer and the internet (he suggest having flexible librarian times and keeping libraries and computer rooms open to communities).  We would need much more to bridge the gap as there are many illiterate parents, many parents who speak another language, many parents who are uncomfortable coming into schools, and so on.

Despite the drawbacks, I am still intrigued by the many examples of teachers allowing students to create some of the curriculum, achieve mastery of various topics in order to teach others, and find purpose in their education.  I will read on to learn more about how students take on the roles of scribe, researcher, and global communicator and collaborator.

Book Clubs for Upper Elementary and Middle School

51AaZ+LkmLL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_ If you are looking for something to inspire your book clubs for next year, read Join the Club: Bringing Book Clubs into Middle School Classrooms.  Like the author, Katie Doherty Czerwinski, I had read all the professional books on literature circles from years past (Harvey Daniels’ work and Moving Forward with Literature Circles from Scholastic) and helped many teachers develop book clubs in their 4-6th grade classrooms.  But there has not been much written about the topic of late.  So I was happy to read and thoroughly enjoy this new text from Choice Literacy.  Even though is says “middle school” in the title, what the author describes would be applicable for upper elementary grades also.

In this short text (only 89 pages – don’t you love that for a quick summer read!) Katie talks about how she gets started with her book clubs. She doesn’t rush into having students pick novels.  I love the idea of using short vignettes, picture books, or poems early in the year to get all her students used to the idea of talking about texts. She writes, “They need to understand that responding to each other has a purpose:  it helps us connect to each other and more often than not, learn something new about ourselves, each other, literature, and the world around us.” (p. 19)

Czerwinski shares her schedules, some reflection questions she begins with to get kids started, titles of texts she uses, how she forms her groups, and ideas for problem solving when she runs into road blocks along the way.  She doesn’t shy away from telling us about instances when students are not prepared or won’t talk in small group. I appreciated her candor; you could tell she was speaking from experience.  Because of her dedication to making book clubs work in her middle school classrooms, she was willing to support children as they learned how to make their own book choices and their own decisions about how to keep a conversation on topic. In the later chapters she shares how she assesses students to gather information for her mini-lessons as well as how she deals with the dreaded “grading.”

My book is all marked up in the margins and I’ve already suggested it to a middle school reading teacher and a fifth grade teacher.  I hope others will pick it up this summer!

Summer Reading Pile

IMG_0291Ok, so I’m really late with my summer reading list, but I thought I’d join in anyway. Several blogger friends— Cathy Mere, Jill Fisch, and Laura Komos — have orchestrated their third year of #cyber PD.    Bloggers or tweeters can post a picture of the professional books they are planning to read this summer.  Then one book is chosen to read and discuss together on three Wednesdays in July.

You’ll notice that my list includes many books on writing.  I’ve been talking and writing about teaching reading so much for the past few years (particularly helping teachers think about their struggling readers) that I’m interested in getting back into the groove of teaching writing. So I’m including a few books on writing that have been on my TBR pile for a while.  Actually, I’m almost done with the Katie Wood Ray’s In Pictures and in Words and it’s just fabulous!

Also in my pile is Cris Tovani’s So What Do They Really Know? from Stenhouse.  I have learned so much from all of her other books, that I just have to delve into this one. And then you’ll see Creating Innovators in my pile — this one was mentioned in several places this past school year, so I thought it deserved a reading.

If I can squeeze it in, I’m sure I’ll reread What Readers Really Do, since I’ve been chatting it up to teachers all school year. I highly recommend this one.

Since reading everyone else’s list, I just ordered three more books that I will definitely read this summer  – Join the Club by Katie D. Czerwinski; Who Owns the Learning? by Alan November and Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. And, by the way, the #cyberPD book for discussion this year is:51h8ptz5ZBL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_


51c9h9H025L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Lester Laminack and many others have helped to bring teachers’ attention to the need for talking about bullying in elementary schools.  Is there a grade that’s too early to begin these conversations?  I don’t think so.  I was recently in a kindergarten classroom where I was invited to be a guest reader.  At the kindergarten level, conversations about bullying usually include: not calling other kids names, not making fun of kids who are different from you in any way, appreciating and valuing differences, standing up if another child is being treated badly, and so on.

6164Kca-dDL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX225_SY300_CR,0,0,225,300_SH20_OU01_I read Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell.  Molly Lou is extremely tiny, has large eyes and buck teeth, a voice like a frog, and is very clumsy.  But she had a wonderful grandma who taught her to believe in herself, smile, stand tall, and sing out no matter how it sounds.  She uses grandma’s advice when confronted with the class bully who makes fun of her.  I merely stopped at a mid-point and at the end of the book to allow the kids time to turn and talk to a partner.  Then several students shared out what they were thinking.

31mYHweMB4L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_The second book was called One, by Kathryn Otoshi.  I love this book and love to see how the kids interpret it.  All of the characters are colors, with Red playing the role of the bully who picks on Blue.  The other colors are friends with Blue, but never stand up to Red.  Finally ONE comes along and teaches them all to stand up to bullies.  It ends happily with the bully joining the group of friends.

I left one other book in the class for the teacher to read at another time.  The Recess Queen, by Alexis O’Neill  is another book on the topic of bullying.  Jean is a bossy girl on the playground who tries to control everyone, but the spunky little Katie Sue doesn’t buy into her methods. In her own friendly, patient way, Katie Sue changes Mean Jean for the better.

This experience, of beginning conversations on the topic of bullying with very young children, reminded me of an exceptional book I read years ago.  I highly recommend That’s Not Fair! A Teacher’s Guide to Activism with Young Children, by Pelo and Davidson if you are a pre-school or K teacher and interested in matters of fairness, gender inequality, and many other social justice issues (I noticed you can buy it used for under $4 on Amazon.)

Please comment if you have stories to share about conversations with your students on the topic of bullying and what to do about it.

Teaching Reading in Grades 3-5

teacher and student readingAs a Reading Teacher or Literacy Coach, you occasionally hear comments that are related to teaching reading in upper elementary grades.  Here are the “Top Ten” fallacies or misunderstandings that I’ve heard over the years.

  1. “The kids in my class already read chapter books, so there’s nothing left for me to teach them.”
  2. “All my students can pass the state tests, so why should I give up precious class time to reading?”
  3. “I’ve got a few struggling readers, but, to tell you the truth, I blame the primary teachers for not teaching enough phonics.”
  4. “I have way too much content — in Science and Social Studies — in my grade.  I can’t afford to give that much time to reading during the school day.”
  5. “I have so many English Language Learners and Learning Disabled students in my room, that I have to read the texts TO them.  They just follow along.”
  6. “I can’t possibly read all the books the kids are reading, so I always use whole class novels.  That way we all do the book together.”
  7. “My students do get time to read everyday, but it’s a homework assignment.  They are expected to read at home for ½ hour every night.”
  8. “I assess my students on reading with a word inventory and a spelling inventory.  I don’t’ have time for one-on-one conferring.”
  9. “I like my struggling readers to get pulled out by a resource teacher, so that I can really teach reading to the bulk of the class.”
  10.   “I have my students read chapter books each month, but the books have to connect with a content area topic.”

If you find yourself saying any of these —- STOP!!!—– REFLECT — and start a conversation with your colleagues.  Then find a group who would like to do a teachers-as-readers group with one of these books:

Sibberson & Syzmusiak  Still Learning to Read, Stenhouse

Tovani    I Read It But I don’t Get It, Stenhouse

Vinton/Barnhouse   What Readers Really Do, Heinemann

Schulman, Guided Reading in Grades 3-6, Scholastic

How are you handling comments like this in your schools?

The Talkers and the Non-Talkers

41m0N7IIcsL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX225_SY300_CR,0,0,225,300_SH20_OU01_I’m reading Susan Cain’s book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. (Love that title!) As teachers, we come across all kinds of kids in our classrooms, but I’m wondering how much thought we put into the activities we set up and how comfortable or uncomfortable they make kids feel.

The book is full of stories and ideas for forming better relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, and friendships (whether one person is an introvert and the other an extrovert or both the same).  It’s not an ‘educational book,’ but I could not help but read it through a teacher’s lens, especially the chapter entitled “On Cobblers and Generals:  How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them.” Here, the author suggests that most schools are designed for extroverts  —- teachers teach many lessons to the whole group, calling on the children who raise their hands and constantly have something to say; some group work often allows the more gregarious child to take control; being aggressive in sports in highly valued in most schools; teachers often put on report cards comments like, “I wish Molly would talk more in class”; and so on.

Here are some ideas or comments that I drew from this text:

1.  Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.  If an introverted child needs help with social skills, teach her, but celebrate these kids for who they are.

2. Studies show that one third to one half of us are introverts, so you may have more introverted kids in your class than you think.  Balance teaching methods to serve all kids.  Extroverts tend to like movement, stimulation, and collaborative work.  Introverts prefer individual choice, downtime, quiet work places, and independent projects (or working with just one or two others).

3.  Don’t seat quiet kids in “high-interaction” areas of the classroom.  They will feel more threatened and will have trouble concentrating.

4.  Make it easy for introverted kids to participate in class, but don’t insist.  Communications professor McClosky says, “Forcing highly apprehensive young people to perform orally is harmful.  It will increase apprehension and reduce self-esteem.”

5. Introverts often have one or two deep interests that are not necessarily shared by their peers and sometimes they are made to feel freaky for their passions.  Build a community spirit in your classroom and value everyone’s uniqueness or strengths.  Strongly enforce anti-bullying programs.

6.  “One of the best things you can do for an introverted child is to work with him on his reaction to novelty.  Remember that introverts react not only to new people, but also to new places and events.  So don’t mistake a child’s caution in new situations for an inability to relate to others.  He’s recoiling from novelty or overstimulation, not from human contact. Introverts are just as likely as the next kid to seek others’ company, though often in smaller doses.” S. Cain,  p. 248.

I highly recommend this book if you are a parent of an introverted child, whether you are an introvert or extrovert yourself. Any thoughts or comments?

Where Have All the Big Books Gone?

61R8vFnq1TL._SL500_AA300_I received an email recently from a school I am working with.  The preschool and K teachers had liked what I said about Shared Reading and they wanted to order some Big Books.  They asked me for my favorites, so of course, I mentioned Mrs. Wishy Washy, Dan, the Flying Man, The Hungry Giant, One Cold Wet Night, Who’s in the Shed?, Who Will be My Mother, The Enormous Watermelon and a bunch of others.  I emailed two other primary teachers I had worked with and asked for their recent favorites to add to the list I was recommending.  They reminded me of several non-fiction ones that were fabulous. It was definitely a GREAT list!

But here’s the catch.  When the teachers went to find out about ordering these, they ran into several dead ends.  I tried to help by researching where these could be found.  Except for some Mrs. Wishy Washy books (see Katie’s post), I didn’t have much luck either. Where have all the Big Books gone?

Then I read Shari Frost’s article just days later.  She expresses her concern about teachers who are not doing Shared Reading experiences in many K-2 classrooms. This is definitely a related issue that concerns me.  If you are lucky enough to HAVE these Big Books in your building, what are you doing with them?  I’m keeping my post short today, so that you can read Shari’s article (in case you don’t regularly read Choice Literacy.) It echoes my sentiments exactly.

What Were They Thinking?

4916846-thinking-man-and-question-mark-3d-rendered-illustrationIn my travels recently, doing workshops about supporting struggling readers, I’ve had several conversations about the loss of funding for Reading Recovery.  Teachers from North Carolina, New Hampshire, and even one from Halifax, Nova Scotia told me how much they value what they learned as Reading Recovery teachers, how much it has helped those children who are most at risk for learning to read in grade 1, how powerfully the Reading Recovery program has influenced their school, and so on.  Yet, these teachers also reported that their funding has been cut and they’ve been moved into other positions. I’m still scratching my head trying to make sense of this.

imagesCA29U2KIWhole districts, counties, and states have done away with Reading Recovery.  What in the world were they thinking? We know Reading Recovery has powerful results as an early intervention model, just check out the What Works Clearinghouse. Also keep in mind that RTI suggests not only quality classroom instruction, but also extra small group support on the next tier, and one-on-one help for students who still need additional support.  ALL OF THESE PIECES are crucial.  We can’t keep trading one for another.

I heard Richard Allington say (at an IRA conference a few years ago) that we KNOW how to help struggling readers; we KNOW what early intervention support is supposed to look like; and we even have enough money to do so. We are just NOT spending our money in the right ways. At this conference and in an article he wrote for Ed Leadership, he talks about what one-on-one help and small group support should look like. He also mentions what doesn’t work. He definitely sees the knowledge level of the teacher as a major important factor.  I cringe when I visit schools where I see a parent volunteer or untrained assistant working with the most at-risk students out in the hall.

One reason I heard for why Reading Recovery has been cut in many places has been that it was replaced with LLI kits.  Principals have said, “Why have a teacher working with one student when she can be working with three at a time?” I am sure Fountas and Pinnell (who developed the LLI kits) did NOT intend for this to happen.

So what happened in these places?  Who is to blame?  Did administrators break under pressure from above and not defend Reading Recovery in their buildings? Is there a relationship between Reading Recovery getting cut and the Common Core coming in? Did the money that used to fund Reading Recovery get spent on test prep materials? Did Reading Recovery teachers themselves not help enough to ensure that others understood its necessity? Did Fountas and Pinnell not make it clear enough what LLI kits were for?

girl-talking-backThanks for listening to me “sounding off” about this topic. I have no answers, only questions… and sadness, too.

Learning from Others

51OpWey8-FL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX225_SY300_CR,0,0,225,300_SH20_OU01_I’m presently reading My Beloved World, the memoir by Sonia Sotomayor.  It’s wonderful!  There are so many places in the book where I feel she is speaking directly to me, as a teacher, or as a parent and grandparent. At other times, I can see her message loud and clear for kids, especially those who are trying hard to break the cycle of poverty in their families by getting a good education.

Sonia had a big aha moment in fifth grade.  She was an extremely avid reader as a child, but realized that a handful of students (not her) always got the top marks.  She finally got up the nerve to ask a top student how she studied.

“Donna Renella looked surprised, maybe even flattered.  In any case, she generously divulged her technique:  how, while she was reading, she underlined important facts and took notes to condense information into smaller bits that were easier to remember; how, the night before a test, she would reread the relevant chapter.  Obvious things once you’ve learned them, but at the time deriving them on my own would have been like trying to invent the wheel.”

This made me think of how important explicit modeling and gradual release of responsibility is when teaching our students.  I’ve often said that struggling readers do not realize what goes on inside the heads of proficient readers as they read. Hopefully teachers are sharing this knowledge as they teach FOR strategies— teaching in ways that the child sees how the strategy could help him, takes the strategy on, and uses it when independently reading. Teaching inferring or questioning or visualizing or making connections, and so on, is only useful if the child actually makes use of it when he/she is stuck on a word, phrase, or passage.

As Sonia Sotomayor continues this story she realizes what an important life lesson this was for her.  I wish all teachers would find a way to share it with their students.

“But the more critical lesson I learned that day is still one too many kids never figure out:  don’t be shy about making a teacher of any willing party who knows what he or she is doing.  In retrospect, I can see how important that pattern would become for me:  how readily I’ve sought out mentors, asking guidance from professors or colleagues, and in every friendship soaking up eagerly whatever that friend could teach me.” (p. 72)

What a wonderful way to live your life… learning from every person you come in contact with!  And, at the same time, being humble and respectful enough of others to realize that everyone has something to teach you.

How have you encouraged your students to learn from each other?  Are you the only teacher in the room?

Deeper into Characters

51UydLm9V-L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-45,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I love the idea of Readers’ Statements. Katie shared how she uses them in her kinder class here. I also noticed in rereading Kathy Collins’s wonderful book Growing Readers that she uses lots of them to focus her lessons.  With a reader’s statement you are saying to kids, “Look, kids, this is what we are working on today (or this week).  This is something that will help you as a reader.” When formulating what you want your reader’s statement to say, a teacher has to think about what it is that a reader really does and how you can best show that to your students.

41fOZSUvOzL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Recently I did a lesson in a first grade class with the text Edward the Emu, by Sheena Knowles.  I was introducing the teachers (who were observing the lesson) to readers’ statements.  After introducing myself to the kids and teaching them how to do a turn-and talk, I asked them to turn to a partner and talk about some things they do as readers that help them understand the books they were reading.  I let them share out their answers and complimented them on their great answers. Then I told them that today we’re going to learn one more thing that readers do to help themselves and I wrote the following sentence on a chart.

Readers think about the characters.

Emu lesson slide 1  I started with this basic sentence so that I could ask them, “Who are the characters in books?”  As they told me that characters could be people or animals, I drew stick figures for people and very basic animal sketches. (My drawings on my chart were a lot simpler than this power point slide:)

Emu lesson slide 2  Then I wrote on the chart: Readers think about how characters feel and what the characters are thinking. I wanted them to name lots of feeling words, so I flashed up the covers of some beginning leveled texts, similar to the type they were reading on their own. “How do you think the character in this book was feeling?” As they answered, “scared, happy, sad, upset, surprised, nervous,” I drew various feeling faces. Then I drew a head with a thinking bubble by the words, “what the characters are thinking.”

Next I read aloud Edward the Emu with the best expression ever!  The kids were hooked on the story.  (It’s important to read the book straight through, keeping the meaning of the book whole.) Then I reread my reader’s statement and returned to two different pages of the book to model what I meant.

“Look at this page, boys and girls.  Doesn’t Edward look bored?  If I made a speaker bubble right here (I draw one with my finger above his head), I think Edward is saying, “Man, I’m so bored.  I don’t like just sitting around in my emu cage.  I wish I could be some other animal…some animal that has more fun… maybe like a seal.”

I continue by retelling part of the story as I turn the pages, “Remember how he decided to sneak out when the zookeeper went home?  He tried being a seal for a day, but then he heard someone say that lions were better than seals.”  I show one or two pictures of Edward pretending to be a lion and continue with my modeling of what he might be saying.  The students catch on quickly, so I give them a turn.

I show them the illustration of the lion with Edward standing on its head and ask them to tell a partner what the lion might be thinking or saying to himself.  After doing a turn-and-talk, they share out:

“Get off my head!  You’re squishing me!”

“Hey, emu, what are you doing?  I don’t like you standing on my head.”

“I think he’s thinking, ‘I thought you liked being a lion. How come you’re leaving?’”

“Man, that hurts!”

The students try a few more pages and then head off to try their new thinking strategy with books of their own. Katie and I have used this idea in many grade levels.  (See Katie’s post as she tried it with kindergarteners.) And Mary Lee Hahn tried it while reading aloud The One and Only Ivan to her 4th graders.

410YjMufwcL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Also, in chapter 3 of Stephanie Parsons’s book, First Grade Readers:  Units of Study to Help Children See Themselves as Meaning Makers, she does several similar lessons during a unit called, “Bringing Books to Life.” A part of this unit focuses on “incorporating dramatic play into children’s work, encouraging them to act out parts of the books, pretend to be characters, or imagine dialogue for characters they see in their books.”  Check it out!