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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A Look at Our Day

2015-01-09 12.23.28Lately I’ve had quite a few visitors in my kindergarten classroom. One of the questions that I’m asked over and over again is, “how do you fit it all in?”. I don’t have a magic answer. There is never enough time for all I want to do and explore with my kiddos. I integrate my curriculum as much as possible, teaching the content areas throughout the day and integrating literacy whenever I can. I’m always tweaking our schedule as the needs of my children change over the year. Our schedule doesn’t look the same in September as it does now – and it will change again before June, I’m sure. Here is a look at what our day looks like now and how I fit it all in.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday Schedule

8:30 – 8:45 Children arrive – read books, talk, share stories, connect with each other and me before we start our day

8:45 Morning news show

8:50 – 9:00 Morning Meeting, Part 1: Greeting (song, chant, game), Sharing (2 kids every day), Quick calendar check (look at schedule for the day and week), Read Aloud (a short, fun book for pleasure)

9:00 – 9:30 Explore Stations (Children are free to choose from play-based stations including play dough, sensory boxes, water play, dramatic play, legos, blocks, iPads, puzzles, sand table, science stations, math stations, reading books, making books, art, etc – anything we’ve done in our classroom is open at this time) I meet with guided reading groups (2 groups, 15 minutes each).

9:30 – 9:50 Morning Meeting, Part 2: Morning Message, Dance/Movement Activity, Interactive Read-Aloud and Reading Focus lesson

9:50 – 10:20 Reading/Writing Stations (Children are free to choose from literacy stations including big books, classroom library, sensory boxes with letters or words to find, magnetic letters, name writing, making books, wiki stix letters, sound boxes to sort toys by first letter, letter stamps, play dough letter making, rhyme and sound matching cards and games – they know they have to be doing reading or writing at this time) I meet with guided reading groups (2 groups, 15 minutes each).

10:20 – 10:40 Shared Reading (poem, chart, big book – usually 3 pieces of text each week, we do the same text every day for at least a week, this usually connects with a science or social studies topic), Community Writing (shared or interactive writing for a text we are working on over time  – it may be a mural, letter, labeling a science project, retelling, etc. – often is a content area topic)

10:40 – 11:00 Recess #1

11:00 – 11:30 Lunch

11:30 – 11:45 Book Boxes (Children read from individual book boxes including: “baggie books” – guided reading books and copies of books we’ve done as shared reading, “look books” – 3-5 books that they have chosen from our class library or school library and a poetry folder – a collection of all the charts we’ve done for shared reading) I have reading conferences with children.

11:45 – 12:30 Writer’s Workshop (Includes a focus lesson that is typically a read aloud or looking back at mentor texts, community writing or a conversation, then independent writing (making books), and sharing)

12:30 – 1:45 Specials (PE, Music, Drama, Library) *on Tuesday and Thursday I only have one special, so on these days we have a full hour for Writer’s Workshop 11:30-12:30, Book Box time at 1:05, and social studies, science or Explore stations from 1:20-1:45. Science and social studies are integrated throughout my day so we do a great deal of this in our literacy block with read alouds, explore stations and community writing.

1:45 – 2:00 Recess #2 and Snack (given to kids on the playground)

2:00 – 3:00 Math Workshop (includes whole group math stories, read aloud, math counting routines, math explore stations (I meet with small math groups during this time to do problem solving) and sharing)

3:00 – 3:15 Closing Circle (end of day math routines (calendar, counting days we’ve been in school), sharing, closing song, read aloud, passing out folders)

3:20 Dismissal

I hope this gives you a look into our classroom and how our day typically goes. Again, I am flexible to the needs of the kids. If I need to meet with extra reading groups or if the kids need more time with a particular project, I may schedule an end of day Explore time to meet with another group or work on a project. If you have a great scheduling idea, we would love to hear about it!

Standing on the Shoulders of Authors

We write every day in our kindergarten classroom. I love it and the kids love it. Most days we start our writer’s workshop with a read aloud and lots of talk about author’s craft, the illustrations, what kind of book it is, etc. I always tell the kids, “maybe you could try (whatever we noticed and talked about), just like this author did”. I want them to see themselves as authors and to envision themselves doing the wonderful things we notice that Mo Willems, Eric Carle, Jan Thomas or whatever author we are currently reading, is doing.

This past week we read and LOVED John Himmelman’s Chickens to the Rescue. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a week in the life of the Farmer Greenstalk and his family. They have problems like the farmer’s watch falling down the well and a duck taking the farmer’s truck, plus several more. Every time, it’s the chickens that come to the rescue. The repetitive pattern and the hilarious illustrations had my kids wanting to hear it again and again. What was really great was how several kids chose to “stand on the shoulders” (as Katie Wood Ray says) of John Himmelman, and write their own ________to the Rescue! books. We had Jayden to the Rescue, a story of bad guys doing things like stealing purses (not sure where that one came from!) and Jayden, a superhero, coming to the rescue. And Pigeon to the Rescue, the story of our favorite pigeon (from Mo Willems’ books) saving the day in our classroom when crayons spill, the sandbox dumps over and the SMARTboard breaks. I loved how my young writers got the gist of Himmelman’s book and carried it over into their own writing. They weren’t copying his book, they were creating their own work – standing on his shoulders. It was amazing!

What mentor texts are you using in your writer’s workshop?

How do your writers stand on the shoulders of their favorite authors?