Think – Rethink – Layer

Recently someone asked me, “What kinds of things do you do in summer to get ready for the upcoming school year?”  I referred the person to Katie because I assumed the question meant “ideas for setting up your classroom or other things related to your organization, management, or curriculum for the next class of kids.”  Since I am no longer working full time in a school my first reaction was that I had no thoughts on the matter.  But over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that I do plenty in the summer to plan for the next year.  As a literacy consultant who does staff development with groups of teachers and as a volunteer who works in a school to support kids and teachers, I spend lots of time thinking, reading, rethinking, layering my knowledge base, and sometimes shifting my ideas about teaching reading, supporting children who struggle, and guiding teachers toward new understandings.

One way I do this is to read, read, read in the summer.  I read blog posts, professional books, children’s literature, and various articles referred to by colleagues on Twitter.

Here is a bit of the thinking that comes from all that reading:

1. I can’t stop reflecting on the idea of changing the way we talk to children so that they develop a sense of agency as Peter Johnston explains. He got me thinking about this with his first book, Choice Words, but took me even further with Opening Minds. He says we can support children in developing agentive narratives…. “I am a person who…” By the end of Opening Minds he gets us thinking about supporting kids’ moral compasses as they realize “I am a person who…acts when I see injustice or inequality.” But in the early chapters, Johnston shows us how to support all students, even kindergartners, as they create agentive narratives about themselves as readers and writers.  “I am a person who…. solve problems when I read; tries something and, if that doesn’t work, tries something else; goes back and rereads to keep the story in my head;  keeps checking to make sure that what I’m reading makes sense; and so on. He does this by giving us peeks into classrooms where teachers support these agentive narratives so well.  On pages 2-4, teacher Pageen loses her place during a read aloud because of an interruption.  She tells the students that she needs to go back and reread a page to remember what was going on.  Michael chimes in saying that he does that same thing.  Pageen asks him to tell the class more about that. The child describes how he does exactly what the teacher was just talking about. Later in the day the teacher attributes that idea to Michael when she mentions to the class, “Remember what Michael does when… ”  The teacher has “created a story line in which Michael was a particular kind of reader.” Michael nows owns this narrative.  He is a reader who...

2. I’ve also spent hours thinking about Barnhouse and Vinton’s idea of back door teaching — not naming a strategy for the students until they have actually experienced using it as they negotiate a text together (from What Readers Really Do.) Take character traits, for example.  How many times have we asked kids to name a trait of a particular character?  They often say, “she’s nice” or “not nice.”  To help them with better word choice, we’ve often brainstormed a list of traits for the kids to choose from and then ask them to provide evidence of why they think that trait applies. But Barnhouse/Vinton say we should help kids start with what’s in the text.  Help them learn to read carefully and notice what the character does or says.  Then ask, “what kind of person acts like that?” By doing this together, the students have actually done some inferring.  But there is no need to begin the lesson by defining or identifying “inferring” as a useful strategy.  Always begin with meaning making.

3. While reading  an article by Franki Sibberson in Choice Literacy, I got excited to share her ideas for setting up an upper elementary classroom with interactive wall displays.  She suggests a board with pictures of book characters, another with interesting/fun facts, graphs, surveys, or images; another display with word play ideas, and yet another with websites worth visiting.    She says, “Like a museum, I want the room to be filled with invitations and possibilities, with something for everyone.” I can see the kids in that room having so much to talk about and share while browsing the walls in the first few days.

4. From my reading of children’s lit, I am recommending several of my favorite chapter books to read aloud to 4th and 5th grades this year:  One for the Murphys, How to Steal a Dog, and The One and Only Ivan. Today I’m heading to a book store to look for Wonder because I loved what Katherine Sokolowski wrote about it in this week’s Choice Literacy.

What have you been thinking a lot about this summer?  

Are you changing anything next school year because of something you read or heard this summer?

Time to Catch Up

If you are like Katie and I you try to read some favorite blogs daily (for Katie) or a few times a week (for Pat).  But things always come up and you get behind.  Sound familiar?  So Katie and I have decided to take a break from writing blogs (not for long, just during the winter break) and instead catch up on reading past posts of some of our favorite sites.  If you are interested in catching up also, we’d like to suggest a few great posts that we’ve come across:

“In a teaching world filled with data, I think the best thing about the first days of school is getting to know kids not by numbers, but by living beside them.” This wonderful quote by Cathy Mere is from a blog post last fall. I want to revisit this post as we start our first days of 2012, as well as her many other thoughtful posts.

I was lucky to meet Ruth and Stacey of Two Writing Teachers at NCTE this year. What inspiring, dedicated teachers and writers they are! I love this post on blogging – and writing habits.

Choice Literacy – We get a weekly newsletter from them (you can too, sign up for free on their site) and we never have enough time to read all the interesting articles that are posted each week. We plan on taking some time to search for topics we’re interested in and read the articles as well as view the many videos on the site.

Podcasts from Language Arts NCTE – these are free podcasts available on the NCTE website.

Mandy’s posts at Enjoy and Embrace Learning share new must-read titles, projects she is doing with her kids and reflect her love of teaching. I look forward to catching up on these posts!

Math Exchanges – this blog from our colleague Kassia Omohundro Wedekind is a thoughtful sharing of math and literacy ideas. Her post on Math and Storytelling from the NAEYC conference is a good one to revisit.

And, of course, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season.  Enjoy your family and friends at this special time. We’ll be back writing right after the first of the year. Please feel free to add a comment about a post or article that you really enjoyed this school year that you wouldn’t want others to miss!

Enjoy your time off to reflect, renew, rejuvenate and relax.

We are Versatile Bloggers!

A huge thank you to Cathy at Reflect & Refine for nominating us for the Versatile Blogger Award! This blog has been a fun adventure to keep us writing after Catching Readers was published. After accepting this honor we are asked to:

1. Thank the person (people) who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog.                                                2. Share 7 things about you (us).                                               3. Pass this award along to 15 other blogs that you have discovered.

So here we go! Enjoy!

7 things about Pat:

1.)   I’m an avid reader of adult fiction, professional books on teaching reading and writing, and children’s literature.  (My favorite authors are Barbara Kingsolver, Geraldine Brooks, and Ann Patchett.)

2.)   I walk 4-8 miles every day for exercise.  It’s when I do most of my good thinking.

3.)   I have four grandkids, two in Virginia and two in Phoenix, and love spending tons of time with them – going to parks, reading books, or just tickling and cuddling.

4.)   I love talking with teachers, veteran and brand new, about how they can support their struggling readers, or any aspect of teaching reading and writing.

5.)   I have over 30 years experience in education, mostly as a reading teacher in elementary schools, and I’m Reading Recovery trained.

6.)   I’m a storyteller and often tell tales in my grand nieces’ and nephews’ classrooms near their birthdays.

7.)   I enjoy dancing and even have a dance named after me called “The Aunt Pat.”

7 things about Katie:

1. I have a serious book addiction. I am in constant need of 1 more bookshelf. So there are always piles of books somewhere in my house (and Amazon boxes on my front porch).

2. I love to run. I recently started running ultra marathons (distances over the 26.2 marathon) mostly on mountain trails. I love spending time playing on the trails. Most of my writing & teaching ideas happen on the trail.

3. This is my 20th year of teaching. And my first year teaching Kindergarten. I’ve taught grades 1-8 (except for 6th), and have been a literacy specialist and a librarian.

4. I LOVE LOVE LOVE teaching Kindergarten. I laugh more every day than I ever have before. I love playing with the kids, and learning so much alongside of them.

5. I’ve taught in 8 schools (ranging from 100 students to 1000 students) in 3 states (CO, FL, VA)- and I’ve always taught in a Title 1 school.

6. I taught Kelly McGillis’ daughter when I taught in Key West. She was a very cool kid.

7. Helping kids discover new things is the best part of teaching for me. Whether it’s monarch caterpillars, a fun sensory box, making books, a Pete the Cat puppet or reading a book for the first time – it’s what I love about my job.

Here are 15 blogs to recognize. Enjoy!

1. Jenny at let the children play

2. Mari-Ann at Counting Coconuts

3. Zella said purple

4. Tom at Teacher Tom

5. Sherry and Donna at Irresistable Ideas for Play Based Learning

6. MaryLea at Pink and Green Mama

7. Look at My Happy Rainbow

8. Mrs. Mimi at It’s Not All Flowers and Sausages

9. Vanessa at Pre-K Pages

10. Patrick at All-en-A-Day’s Work

11. Yo-Yo Reggio!

12. Scott at Brick by Brick

13. My Mommy Reads

14. Langwitches Blog

15. Tammy at Apples With Many Seeds