Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Text Band Characteristics

To kick off the beginning of the school year, my district offers a variety of optional professional development.  A session I was involved in leading (along side two of my reading teacher colleagues), was exploring the characteristics of text bands.  The participating teachers had the opportunity to do some reading on a selected text band.  As a small group, they found the characteristics of the band and then discussed possible ways to teach the characteristics (taking the characteristic and turning it into a teaching point for a conference or small group).

Below are the impressive charts each group made.


This session left me feeling even more energized for the beginning of the school year.  I enjoy hearing other professional's ideas in how they would deliver a teaching point and instruct their students.

This was a great way to start the school year!

Sarah :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Conferring Toolkits

As I was thinking about the beginning of the school year and some of the most powerful teaching and practices, my mind continually went to conferring with students.  How exciting that we have the opportunity to teach our students one-on-one! Whether in Reading Workshop or Writing Workshop, student conferences are when our most intense teaching should take place.  We are able to meet students where they are in their reading or in the writing process, coach into their zone of proximal development, and really lift the level of their reading or writing.  As Calkins states, "Conferring is not the icing on the cake, but the cake itself."  Truly, within our workshops, strong conferring is essential.

There can be a lot of anxieties when it comes to having powerful conferences with our readers or  writers...
  • What if I don't know the book?
  • What if I can't figure out through my research what to teach the student?
  • What questions do I ask to research?
  • What if there are a million things I could teach... how do I just stick to one?
  • How do I have an effective conference within the 5-8 minute range?
  • How is it possible to have strong conferences with each student in my class each week?
  • What about the student who needs me all the time?
  • What about my strugglers?!
  • Grammar?!?
  • When I decide what to teach, how do I teach it?
And the list goes on...

Each of these questions/topics could be their own blog entry.  So, today, I choose to reflect on the final question: When I decide what to teach, how do I teach it?

When considering how to teach in a conference, I think it is important that you come to the conferences prepared.  You can have a conferring toolkit to carry with  you from conference to conference with tools:

  • Anecdotal notes from last conference
    • Reflect on last teaching point
    • Maybe follow up on work from last time
    • Where there any goals or next steps you considered?
    • Discuss with the student goals they have set that you noted?
  • Your writing notebook with sample writing
    • Use your sample writing as a mentor text for your teaching point
    • Refer back to back to your own writing
    • Show students that you encounter the same types of problems... set up your notebook with parts that "show predictable problems" your students may encounter within the unit...
      • Then model how you might problem solve, revise, or edit...
        • Refer to anchor charts on the wall or a mentor text...
  • Your reading notebook
    • To model how to elaborate on ideas... log reading thoughts...
    • Show ways you have organized your reading thoughts
  • Mentor texts used in class
    • Place sticky notes in parts you anticipate student conferences
    • Mark places referred to during mini lessons
    • Refer to these places and read closely
      • Connect this work to the book they are reading
    • Keep in mind: You are teaching the reader, not the book!
  • Post-it notes
    • To help your student with their jotting
    • Eliminate the time for the student to search for their own
    • For you to leave the student goal/job as a visual reminder for them
  • Highlighters/markers/pencils/pens
    • So students don't have to spend time looking
    • For you to use to model
  • Text level/band ring (picture below)
    • Giving you ideas as to what to teach
    • Using as a mini anchor chart to leave with student
  • Notecard Rings (premade or blank)
    • Premade: mini anchor charts from your Unit of Study mini lessons
    • Blank: create a mini anchor chart with the student
      • Skills/Strategies that will help boost their reading or writing... what you want them to try  

As seen in the first picture, I use a travel cosmetic case that folds up and has compartments.  The second picture, shows an example of a text band ring I created for the KLM band.

I have found that when I feel prepared, I feel more confident going into the conference.  In my toolkit, I have materials, so I am not running around finding the mentor text or something to write with or on (when this happens, often you lose the attention of the student and you are wasting precious time).   We should frequently be bringing in mentor texts and anchor charts into our conferences... Teach students that the work we do in our Mini Lessons are truly to help us during our reading and writing lives.  Teach students to use tools to help them strengthen their reading and writing.  Model this.

What tools do you (or would you) have in your toolkit?  Please share!

:) Sarah

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Interactive Read Aloud & Accountable Talk

A topic I have been interested in lately is interactive read aloud with accountable talk.  Interactive read aloud with accountable talk is an important part of balanced literacy.  The framework of an interactive read aloud offers students an opportunity to witness the teacher modeling how to get ready to read (a new text or a new chapter in a book), as well as engage with the text during and after reading.  Most importantly, students have time to practice high levels of engagement in a scaffolded environment with a shared text.  As a former 6th grade teacher, I believe that interactive read aloud is crucial for our students in middle school and elementary school.  I have not worked with high school students, but teaching kids how to talk about and interact with text at any age is important.

The interactive read aloud differs from a mini lesson during Reading Workshop and occurs at a separate time.  It does not replace the mini lesson.  Since time is (often a troubling) factor, consider looking at your weekly schedule and find two days out of the week to incorporate 15-20 minute interactive read aloud with accountable talk sessions.  In doing this, you will see great advances in your students independent reading, talking about reading, and thinking about reading.  Your conferences and partner shares will likely feel more "authentic" because students are used to talking about text and will have a language bank in how to do so.  Below displays the components of an effect interactive read aloud session:

While getting ready to read, you are teaching students that we need to stretch, like before we run or exercise.  Only, in the case of reading, we are stretching (preparing) our mind-muscles.  When preparing for a new text (picture book, poem, short story, book, etc.), we may use pre-reading strategies, such as looking at the cover (thinking "What might this text be about?"), scanning over some pictures (thinking "What might this text be about?"), read the description on the back (thinking "What might this text be about?"), and so on (always thinking what the text will be about).  For each text, you can deliberately select how it is appropriate to get ready to read, as poems differ from nonfiction texts and picture books differ from some chapter books.
When preparing to read a new chapter in a longer text, you may revisit some old stop-and-jots to think about the ideas you are "caring across the text".  You might also quickly skim over the last page or so to refresh your mind and orient yourself with the part of the book you left off.  Think about what you do as a reader... Spy on yourself as a reader ... to help illustrate these important strategies of preparing to engage.
Next, you read aloud.  The chart above explains the roles of the students and of the teacher.  It is important to demonstrate the reading behaviors you wish for your students.  You can offer some deliberate and "quick" opportunities for your students to practice these behaviors (strategies/skills) during the read aloud.  I say "quick" because in order to keep within the time we have allotted and get to the important accountable talk piece, we need to be aware of this talk time.

The final component is accountable talk.  This is a whole group conversation, and is sometimes referred to as the "Grand Conversation".  Students will likely be sitting on the floor at the meeting place in a circle, so they can maintain eye contact and see the speaker.  (Students will be seated at the meeting place throughout the entire interactive read aloud, moving into a circle formation for the grand conversation.)
The chart above would be a tool you could create with your students to help scaffold them in their conversations.  This chart could be made over time, adding to it as students participate in Grand Conversations.  However, we should refrain from just "giving" our kids language.  Help them decide how we "talk about books".  Have them notice some of the things you say as the teacher and what their partners say that "help keep the ball rolling" (or the conversation going) on one idea about the text.  Offer the question, "What if you disagree with a person's theory or idea?  How might you state your interpretation in a respectful way?  I mean, we aren't always going to agree, and that's okay."
The purpose is to have students run this portion of the interactive read aloud.  After building tools for this work, your kids will keep the conversation going and you will be able to listen and only guide when necessary.  I have seen some classrooms use a small ball to toss to one another and whoever has the ball is the one to share their thoughts. Either way, have a discussion with your students about how to pass the talking-turn over to someone new.
If you find that you have students who dominate the conversation, you may have the expectation that before the students who spoke last time, need to wait until five of our classmates share this time.
The interactive read aloud with accountable talk serves many purposes.  It will heighten our students' engagement during independent reading, support their partner shares, and help build community within the classroom.  It also helps meet the Speaking and Listening CCSS.  It is another great way to introduce mentor texts and share some of your favorite stories with students.  Any way we work to strengthen our students' ability to engage with text will only benefit their personal reading lives.
:) Sarah

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Using Personal Reading Timelines to Reflect & Set Goals

The school year is upon us, and I can't help but think about those first few days.  How do we start our readers off on the right foot?  I have also been thinking a lot about the importance of our students being emotionally connected and invested in the work we do at school.  This week, I had the opportunity to attend a Social Justice Institute at UW-Milwaukee and many of the conversations I had with my colleagues were around the importance of positive relationships we have with our students.  This is so critical!  Some of this work, building relationships with our students and allowing our students into our lives, should link to what we are doing in our Reading (and Writing) Workshops within the first few days of the school year.

I think it is crucial for kids to learn how to reflect on their lives as learners.  In the beginning of the year, and throughout the year, we can teach students how to be reflective on their reading lives and practices.

On the first day of school, during Reading Workshop, you may choose to focus your mini lesson on creating an emotional Reading Timeline.  While you model creating your own timeline, you are teaching students to think about their reading life and what has worked and not worked for them as readers. While students create their timeline, you can begin conferring with your kids, getting to know them as readers. During the share component of the Workshop, students may have time to talk with a partner about their timeline.

A next step (or you could start here), could be to have students elaborate on their reading life timeline with quick notes.  For some, it is easier to "talk it out", so offering talk time before elaborating may be useful.
Another type of timeline for students to create is one that focuses on the books students have read.  This can help facilitate conversations around the types of readers you have in your room.  Students can start to build relationships with one another as readers and offer suggestions.  You will also get insight as to the types of books a student likes and dislikes.

An important step in all of this is reflecting and goal setting.  Creating timelines should be for a reason.  Teaching students how to use the "reading-life data" they have collected to reflect and set goals is essential.  Below are some samples of how this might look.  First, identifying what has worked for "me" as a reader.  Second, what has not worked for "me" as a reader.  Finally, creating goals around these reflections... knowing that this goal (or these goals) will be reflected on.

You can help your students "keep these notebook pages alive" by revisiting the timelines throughout the year and asking students where they fall "emotionally" on the timeline during the given point of the year and why.

I believe that the relationships we have with each student has great impacts on their motivation and achievement.

Most importantly, as teachers, we influence our students' reading life greatly. Strive to be part of the reason for the "smiley face" on a child's reading timeline.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Writing... Spy on Yourself

About a month ago I had the opportunity to attend a Reading Institute at Columbia Teachers College.  Over the course of the week, staff developers frequently said, "Spy on yourself as a reader...".  In doing this, we can find teaching points or 'tips' for our students.  I believe it also helps us, as readers, become more metacognitive in our reading and teaching, and we can pass that along to our students.

So, the other day, while preparing for my first blog post, I did a few things and I felt a few things.  This, being a new 'genre' of writing for me, felt exciting and terrifying at the same time.  To help ease my emotions, I went to some blogs that I enjoyed reading, as well as researched some new blog authors.  I went to Pinterest and searched educational blogs.  I studied.  I looked at everything from how frequently people posted, to the titles of their blogs, to the topics written about, to the format, to the pictures, and so on.  I also made lists. I listed various blog titles I could use (these varied from non-original  to catchy play-on-word phrases with Lang-Literacy).  I listed topics that I thought I had a lot to say about in the realm of literacy, as well, asking myself, What could I blab  on and on about...

As I composed and as I clicked 'publish' on my first post, I kept thinking, I hope I'm doing this right... But, publish I did.  I had done my research after all, so this was the next step. 

I went to Twitter to share my blog.  I yearned for an audience, like most people who write.  In my twitter post, as I introduced my link, I confessed, 'hope I'm doing this right' and pondering, 'Maybe this is how our students feel when writing in a new genre!'

Immediately, I began to reflect on this thought... how our students feel when writing in a new genre.  I know in my district this year, students will likely be trying their hand in new writing genres as we implement the 13-14 Writing Units of Study.  I retraced my steps... I SPIED on myself as a writer...
  1. Named the new genre
  2. Found examples of people who were successful within the genre my mentor texts
  3. Studied those mentors with a specific questions in mind (author craft, structure...)
  4. Make lists (prewrite my ideas... make a map...write fast and furious)
  5. Select an idea and try it out... (draft in the genre...'notebook entries'-for those who have worked with me in WW before) **I had my mentor texts available 'next to me'... open in a tab while I tried this out**
  6. Read over (multiple times- reading my writing aloud to myself... If my husband was around, I would have read it aloud to him, too! As I read through, adding parts and taking parts out.) - Revise and Edit
  7. Publish and Share (having an audience...)
  8. Look forward to feedback
As I reflect on these steps-the writing process- and on the feelings I had throughout, my mind continued back to our kids.  Are we honoring the many emotions one feels when trying something new - when trying a new genre... knowing the work composed will someday be shared?  Are we teaching students how to really work through the writing process?  That it isn't a check list; but, rather an in-and-out, back-and-forth process?  Teaching students there are many ways to prewrite, study mentor texts, and draft?  Are we modeling this behavior? Finding mentors for our writers? Have you ever spied on yourself as a writer?

I think, most importantly, are we enthusiastic about the writing genres we introduce to our students?  Helping them feel excited to try-out and explore new things?  Are we making it okay in our classrooms to make mistakes and understand that the first time we try something, we can't expect it to be perfect?  What helped me feel brave and comfortable enough to publish/post, is that I had felt prepared. 
Are we offering authentic writing experiences for our students?
Are we preparing our kids for real-world writing?
I'd love to hear your experiences "spying" on yourself as writers! Please share!
:) Sarah