Sunday, June 19, 2011

Celebration of the Year That Was

Have you been asked yet if the year has started to wind down?

Of course to be asked this question you must have connections with people who are not in education.  No one in the business would ask you this.  They already know that it doesn't wind down.  It speeds up and spits you out on June 30, throwing you  against a brick wall that it takes most of the first week of July to peel yourself off of.

Trust me, I am not complaining.  I wouldn't dare.  My husband of 28 years (and we dated for 5!)  is still bitter that I get the summer off.  I love the summer and have not worked one since I was 21, but I am quiet about that.  It is a gift of epic and biblical proportions (source Sandra Herbst) ... I know that.  I also know that the ebb and flow of the school year, the start and stop that we do is both the greatest thing about being a teacher and one of the worst things about being a teacher.  The great thing is that we get to start all over again next year. The terrifying thing is that  we get to start all over again next year.  But before we do that, let's celebrate this year.  Let's really give this year it's due before we figure out how we're going to do it so much better next year.

So as the 2010-11 school year comes to a close, what are you celebrating?  Here are some of the things I am celebrating:

  • Collaboration: When  I started teaching you shut your door and did your job. At least you hoped you were doing your job. And you wondered what others might be doing behind their closed doors.  Now, if we can only embrace it, we can actually learn from colleagues.  We can talk in PLCs, observe each other and learn together.  

  • The great books I have found and shared this year: I can't thank you enough for indulging my passion for reading aloud.  You let me read to your kids and you let me read to you and for that I am eternally grateful.  From Lucy Calkins I learned that part of my calling is to care so much for great literature that others will care too.  

  • Book Cafe: For seven years a group of teachers has come together once a month, after school to talk informally about a professional book.  The group membership has varied a bit from year to year, has had very small numbers to astounding numbers, has read literacy books, math books, inquiry books and books focused on the importance of play.  But even the custodians know, when you see those checkered tablecloths, something important is happening.  :) 

  • The math conversation has changed:  We are not having the same conversations we had five years ago.  Together we have figured out what teaching through problem solving looks like.

  • The excitement many of you are expressing about the Daily 5:  We must get you together.  Such a range of teachers has been inspired by this book.  So many of you have come together to talk about this and to share ideas and to question.  

  • The Regie Routman Writing Project:  We began with four schools, Polson, SMP, Prince Edward and John de Graff and lots of talk about the reading/writing connection.  The learnings about what the gradual release of responsibility really looked like in writing... I do it, we do it, we do it, we do do it  really inspired our teaching.

  • The writing residency we had at John de Graff: Nancy McLean, a colleague of Regie Routman's and a big part of my last post, showed us what writing for real purpose and audience did for young writers.  She also demonstrated the power of celebrating writers.  

  • Reading Recovery:  We have two training groups at our training site next year and many more teachers in classrooms with this training.  This can only mean good things for our youngest learners.

  • ENIP:  Our second year in all 27 schools and all Kindergarten and Grade 1 students given the opportunity to have extra help in developing number sense.  

  • Andrea:  The best partner a person could have.  Someone who has your back, finishes your sentences and extends your thinking.

  • All of you:  You allow me to participate, eavesdrop and sometimes lead your professional conversations.  It is an honour and a privilege to work alongside you.  You know I love books so many of you share children's books, professional books and personal reading materials with me.  You invite me into your classrooms,  you ask my opinion, you ask me questions.  You don't expect me to have all the answers.  You just accept that I am a co-learner who cares about you and your kids.  What a job.  

Have a great summer.  Take care of yourself and the people you love.  

As they say in the song, see you in September.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Oh What a Week...

Last week I saw the transformative power of writing. I saw kids learning that writing has the power to change the world. I saw teachers exploring the power of students writing for real purposes and audiences. In a nutshell, I saw power.

And I want you to see it too.

Four of our schools have been engaged in the Regie Routman Project. A project that started in March 2010 with a session given by Regie Routman, renowned literacy teacher, coach and writer. Since then, the four schools have been meeting regularly in professional learning communities (PLCs) to view videos of Regie Routman teaching writing, trying out her process, sharing student writing and what they are trying in their classes. The piece de la resistance occurred during the week of May 22 when we had Regie and two of her colleagues in Winnipeg for a residency.

John de Graff School was the hub school for our division.

For four days they hosted Nancy McLean, a literacy coach from Colorado mentored by Regie


For four days they welcomed visitors from the other schools in the project to observe Nancy
teaching poetry writing in Grade 2 and persuasive writing in Grade 4/3.(Thanks to the
participants in our June Combined Classes Network who taught me to say it this way!)

For four days we were immersed in the power writing has to transform the students sitting in
front of us.

It was a magical four days.

What made it magical?

Nancy McLean, a most beautiful,skilled,respectful and generous teacher. I think it took all of five minutes for us... students, teachers, administrators and visitors, to fall in love with her.

John de Graff School for creating such a wonderful, welcoming and collaborative climate for us all. We laughed, we cried, we learned.

Ruth Gauvreau and Heather Fraser, the two teachers who shared their classrooms, their community of writers and their learning and thinking with us. Thank you.

The amazing Grade two poets who listened with poet ears and saw with poet eyes (their words, not mine)and wrote with an audience of twenty plus teachers.

The Grade 4/3 writers who wrote persuasive letters on topics of deep consequence to them... and granted us the privilege of listening in, in fact, were so engaged in those topics that they appeared to forget we were even there. More than twenty of us.

Most magical of all was watching Nancy with the children. Three things really stood out for me:

Having real purpose and real audience to write for is not as hard as I thought and is so much more valuable than I ever imagined.

Before the students began writing, Nancy told them that they were going to make a poetry anthology. She then asked them who they wanted to give a copy of the anthology to. They made a list that included teachers in the school, their parents, Grade 2 students from Colorado (Nancy's home)and libraries around the world. When you are writing for that kind of audience, you do not ask how long it should be. You just write.

In Heather's class they were writing persuasive letters on something they really cared about. The topics ranged from the personal to the global and will be mailed to the person or organization most directly. When you are writing to persuade someone to build more shelters for the homeless or to your grandmother to tell her how much you love her and wish she would stop smoking, a great lead, word choice and getting your sentences in the right order really matter.

A public scaffolded conference is another "we do it"

Regie Routman uses what she calls the Optimal Learning Model in her teaching. Our Balanced Literacy Framework was informed by her model and both are based on the gradual release of responsibility. Regie describes it as "I do it", "we do it, we do it, we do it..." , "you do it." After modeling a poem for the students, Nancy had a public scaffolded conference with one student. In this conference she asked the student what she thought she might write a poem about. She asked questions to help the writer focus more clearly on what she wanted to say and she jotted a few notes down on a sticky to help her remember. The whole time she kept asking the others if they were thinking about what they might write about or if they were getting ideas they might try.

Celebrating writers is not something you dabble in.

Before seeing Nancy, I thought I celebrated children and their writing. Now I know I was a mere amateur. When Nancy celebrates your writing you know you have been celebrated. After students had written their first pieces with her she began the next session with 3-4 celebration conferences. She read each piece four to six times and celebrated line by line. The writers were practically levitating in the chair next to her. Quoting Regie, Nancy told us you can't celebrate too much. She also pointed out that you are teaching while you celebrate, drawing attention to all of the things you want your writers to do.

The young writers at John de Graff learned about the transformative power of writing in that week. The power of writing to change the world.

I learned about the power of the writing teacher to transform the writer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blessing Books

One of the things I love about my job, (and there are many) is that I have the opportunity to hear many of the great speakers who come to Winnipeg. Last week, I attended a session given by Richard Allington, one of the big names in reading research and instruction.  And while he said many things we need to talk about, one of the most intriguing to me was the idea of blessing books.

We all do this.  I just never thought of it as blessing books.  We do it when we read a book aloud and cause students to want to read it themselves.  We do it when we give book talks or have the kids give book talks.  We do it when we recommend a book or an author to the readers we are guiding. We do it when we bring in books on a topic that our students have suddenly become passionate about. We do it when we display books prominently in our classroom or school libraries.  We do it when we create a list of books shared together this year or a Shelfari page that highlights our favourites.We do it when we send home summer reading lists.

In my job, I bless books when I read them at workshops or in your team professional learning communities.  I bless books when I bring them into your classrooms and share them with your students. I bless books when I add them to my Shelfari page I bless books when I loan them to you.

But here is what I learned from Richard Allington.  We need to be blessing five books... every day. Books and reading are that important.  Not surprisingly, one of the findings of researchers is that people who read a lot get better and better at it.  Young readers need lots of practice reading.  That practice is most effective when it is in materials that they CAN read and WANT to read.  Allington says that our focus needs to be on putting interesting materials,that they can read,  in front of them.

The books I am going to bless today are all picture books. I love picture books and do not think they are just for those who can't read chapter books.  

This Plus That  by Amy Krause Rosenthal is subtitled Life's Little Equations.  It describes words or ideas through equations like:

you + me = us
soul + colour = art

It doesn't have a lot of print but it conveys big ideas.

Questions, Questions by Marcus Pfister of Rainbow Fish fame has exquisite illustrations and will appeal to readers who like to ask big, interesting questions.

One by Kathryn Otoshi , is about bullying amongst the colours.  That Red is a real hothead and it takes the numeral 1 to show the others that everyone counts.  :)

Woolbur, the tale of an independent minded, non-conforming lamb by Leslie Helakoski, speaks to the creative among us.  Those who just don't follow the herd.

Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian makes me laugh, as many of my favourites do.  Written as a daily journal, it describes one fish's journey from lonely to a life filled with relationships.

For more information, click on the book on my Shelfari shelf.

Please comment below on books or magazines that you "bless".  Together we know many, many great books that will motivate our students to read and read and read. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Talking to the Kids about Differentiation

I am still thinking about differentiation.  All of the big ideas it pulls together and connects.  Thanks to Carol Tomlinson, I believe I am seeing it with greater clarity than I have before.  I am also thinking about what I would do in my classroom... if I had a classroom.  Maybe you could help me with that part.

When I did have a classroom, I talked to my students about multiple intelligences and learning styles.  I taught them about their brains and showed them how to think about themselves as learners.  We graphed our various intelligences, wrote about our strengths as learners and discussed how we were all different.  All good things.  On occasion, we even talked about why.  Why we didn't all do the same thing.  Why it was important for me to provide more than one way in.   Still good things... but  not enough.  Tomlinson  raises the bar.  She says that we need to:

"make sure the kids share our vision, are on board and contributing."

Further, that we should:

"help kids understand and contribute to differentiation as a way of life in the classroom."

If I am really honest with myself, I think that I saw differentiation as my responsibility, my vision. I shared that vision, but perhaps not in the explicit way Tomlinson is talking about. She recommends approaching it openly and directly with students, asking questions like:


... and talking about it in ways that help kids to understand that it really means each learner getting the support and challenge that he/she needs to succeed.


* To grow
* Because we are all unique
* Because each one of us has strengths and areas to develop
* We have different interests, talents and learning styles

  • Sometimes we might have different books, questions, tasks
  • We might work at something for different lengths of time
  • Working in various group sizes and combinations
  • Different ways of getting help
  • Keeping records 
  • Setting goals
 These questions came up in my classroom but not in a proactive, "let me share my vision for our learning community" kind of way

I didn't think of it as something the students could contribute to.   But I am now.  What about you?

New Books....

Thanks to my book buddies (I have them everywhere!) at Polson (Laurie),Hampstead (Jen and Jeanine), and Emerson (Michelle), I have some new picture books.  They are available for borrowing... look for the NEW books on my shelf.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Leading for Differentiation

This image just won't leave me.  

Imagine a teacher and his/her students on one side of the bridge. Think of the canyon as all that must be learned this year.  Hear the teacher say, "Come with me.  This is where we're going this year."  Listen to the students:

"Let's go.  It looks great!"

"I don't know.  It looks awfully far."

"I don't think I can make it."

"Can you help me get across?"

The image was put into my head by Carol Tomlinson.  (Drama and voices are my own.)  

What does it take to get all students across the bridge?  As I wrote in my first post on differentiation, Tomlinson thinks about this question in two ways.  Leading for differentiation and managing for differentiation.  The focus on leading pulled somethings together for me with new clarity.

Leading for differentiation is the creation of that community of learners.  It's how we get them to set foot on that bridge.  It's how we get them to keep walking, even when the journey is uphill and we are starting to wonder if we will ever get there.  

When Carol Ann Tomlinson spoke in Winnipeg several years ago, she mentioned a psychologist and author named Carol Dweck.  I purchased and read the book and thought it was brilliant... but I took no further action.  When I heard Tomlinson in San Francisco, she talked about her again.  So did at least five other speakers.  When someone's ideas are causing that much buzz, we need to think about them.  

Dweck researches and writes about two kinds of mindsets: fixed and growth.

  • Success comes from being smart
  • Genetics and environment determine what we can do
  • Some kids are smart- some aren't
  • Teachers can't override these difficulties
  • Success comes from effort
  • With hard work, most students can do most things
  • Teachers can override students' profiles
  • A key role of the teacher is to set high goals, provide high support, ensure student focus-to find the thing that makes school work for a student. 
  • (Carol Tomlinson & Marcia Imbeau 2011)

    We need to think about the implications of our own mindset on who, where, what and how we teach.

    We also need to think about how we are communicating our mindset to our students.  I want my students to be really clear on the fact that I have a growth mindset.  More.... I want them to have a growth mindset too.

    How We Came to Be...Us

    Because my teacher treats me with respect,
    I feel a sense of dignity in this place.
    Because my teacher treats everyone of us with respect,
    We are respectful of one another.
    Because my teacher sees our possibilities,
    I am beginning to see them too.
    Because my teacher says sweat makes winners,
    We're learning to sweat.
    Because my teacher works hard for me,
    I want to work hard for her.
    Because my teacher won't settle for less than our best,
    We aim high more often.
    Because my teacher says we are responsible for one another,
    We help one another succeed.
    Because my teacher helps us see ourselves through her eyes,
    We see hope in ourselves.
    Because my teacher is a great coach,
    We are a great team.

    - Carol Tomlinson



Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thinking about Differentiation

I saw Carol Ann Tomlinson again recently.  She is a former teacher, now university professor and author of many books on differentiating instruction and assessment.  Check out my bookshelf below for links to some of her books. 

One of the ideas she was talking about was classroom management and how it is often thought of as a synonym for control.  And that if we see it in that way, our view of teaching can become ensuring that kids are quiet and still.  The underlying assumption being, that on their own, young learners are unreliable.  She went on to quote Alfie Kohn, saying:
                ... the more we "manage" students behavior and try to make them do what we say, 
               the more difficult it is for them to become morally sophisticated people who think 
               for themselves and care for others.

Tomlinson encouraged us to think about leading students first... and then managing them.

               First asking..."What do my students need to succeed and how can my students and I 
                work together to meet those needs?" Then managing the details necessary to  
               accomplish that.

She described leadership in this way:
  •  has a vision for something good
  • has the capacity to share the vision and enlist others in it
  • builds a team for achieving the vision
  • renews commitment to the vision
  • celebrates successes
  • about people
... and management in this way:
  • plans schedules
  • handles details
  • prepares materials
  • arranges furniture
  • orchestrates movement
  • practices routines
  • troubleshoots
  • about mechanics
And then she asked this question,

" To what degree do you see yourself as a leader vs a manager of students?"

The question itself isn't that hard for me to answer.  Harder are the questions that follow:

  • What is my/our vision for this community of learners?
  • How am I sharing this vision with my students?
  • Am I sharing this vision with all of my students?
  • Have I built a team for achieving this vision?
  • Do we need to renew our commitment to the vision?
  • Are we celebrating success as often as we should?
What I liked in this way of thinking about differentiation was that it clearly showed it to be about relationships, mindset and the learning environment... first and most often.

  More next time on Tomlinson's view of how to get there.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Classroon-Based Assessment

I know that you have all written report cards in the last few weeks.  Some of you had conferences last week and some are in the thick of it right now (and therefore not reading this!).  As a gesture of solidarity, I want you to know that I have been reading and thinking about: 
Classroom Reading Assessments: More Efficient Ways to View and Evaluate Your Readers by Frank Serafini.

Before you stop reading to send me an email reminding me that reading about assessment is not the same as actually doing the assessments and writing report cards, let me say that you are absolutely right. But here's the thing, it is no longer my job to write report cards so I figure the least I can do is search for ways to make it easier for those who do.

I haven't read the whole book yet, in fact only the preview chapter available online and sent to me by Andrea.  But it is on our list of books to buy because of that chapter.  Serafini describes what he calls the Four Principles of Assessment To Live By:

Classroom-Based Assessments:

1. Must help children learn more effectively

2. Must help teachers teach more effectively

3. Must help teachers articulate their understandings of their students to   
    external audiences

4. Must be efficient so they interrupt teaching and learning as little as

As a list of criteria, this makes sense to me.  The classroom is a busy place and teaching is one of those jobs where the inbox is never empty.  I need to  think carefully about how I use my time and the students' time.  

We are going to use this book with the Literacy Committee in April.  If you want to check out the preview see the link below.

Please note that I am not recommending this as Spring Break reading.  It can wait until April.  :)  For Spring Break I am reading....

(See new additions to shelfari shelf below!)

Happy Spring Break.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I Know You Are Out There

I don't know if you had the time to read the comments posted after my Daily 5 entry, but I found them very interesting. From Rene, who I am quite certain sleeps even less than I do, was a link to the work he has done in French, with permission from the Sisters.  If you work in French Immersion, you will want to check this out.  I know from conversations with colleagues who know far more than I do about teaching reading and writing in two languages that teaching similar strategies and structures in both languages is not only time saving for the teacher, but effective for the learner.

I have also received an  email about the application of the Daily 5 to Mathematics instruction.  Apparently they receive this question often and are working on  it.  Thanks to the teacher who sent me the following link:

So far, I am not as impressed as I want to be.  I don't see much of a problem solving stance here and that is what I am looking for. Maybe, the problem solving happens in the lessons with the teacher and the structure is all about differentiation. I know it is early days and I should be patient.  I am practicing patience as I write this.

I asked you if there was interest in getting together with others working with the Daily 5 and for some of you, this was a definite yes.  Andrea and I will consult with the calendar gods and get back to you.  I know that each time I have chatted with a colleague exploring the Daily 5 I have learned something. 

Have you thought about why the Daily 5 is working for you?  It is good that I have found a job that pays me for this kind of thinking because it is where my mind goes anyway.  :)

Andrea and I have shared our thinking about professional decision making using the triple Venn diagram. It shows the intersection between Belief, Essential Influences and Practices.  Usually I struggle to fit everything I want into the 3 circles in a way that makes sense.  Today I discovered something called the 3 Column Venn diagram.  It works like this.  In the two outside columns you describe 2 elements of your topic, in this case, beliefs about teaching and learning and essential influences.  Essential influences are those things that you need to think about or take into account.  In the third, shaded column, are the practices I will choose to use in my classroom.  The practices that are consistent with my beliefs and are supported by the essential influences I need to pay attention to.

Professional Decision Making
Classroom Practices
Essential Influences
-gradual release of responsibility
-differentiating instruction
-kids learn to read by reading, not by doing stuff about reading
-we learn to write by writing
-readers need to have access to   quality literature
-explicit  strategy instruction
-there will be a range of readers in my room, needing different strategies
-reading & writing should be joyful

-          Workshop approach
-          Daily 5

-RETSD Balanced Literacy Framework
- Early Years Position Paper
-provincial curriculum
- Regie Routman optimal learning model: I do it, we do it, we do it, we do it…. you do it.
-Debbie Miller: comprehension instruction
-Kathy Collins: big idea planning

In my beliefs and essential influences I see support for the Daily 5. It is a refinement of my previous Readers' Workshop.  What connections do you make to your beliefs and the essential influences in your teaching life?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Teachers Working with the Daily 5...Let's Talk

As I travel from school to school, I am noticing many teachers reading, thinking about, and trying out the Daily 5.  What really intrigues me is the very wide range of teachers interested in it.  Teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 6 are exploring what it could look like in their classrooms.  It also seems to be of interest to teachers with varying styles and philosophies about how children become literate.  I don't know if this is important or not but I think it is worth thinking about together.

I have some hunches and some questions.(I know, big surprise) First of all, the hunches. 

Hunch #1

What the authors are describing is not new.  Many literacy experts have suggested what is essentially a workshop approach and many of us have been working this way for some time. What these authors do is describe it in a very teacher-friendly, meaningful and concrete way.  We can see ourselves in the picture they are creating.

Hunch #2

The book describes a structure, not a program.  Because of that, there are many ways in for teachers.  We can take what we are already doing in our literacy block and adapt it based on the Daily 5.  Or, we can set it up exactly as they tell us to, knowing that it has worked for many teachers and will likely work for us.  Or, we can start slowly, making one change at a time and reflecting on how it is working and what our next steps might be.  Wait a second, this is starting to sound  a lot like the ways in which I think about differentiation.  The structure is open-ended enough to meet the needs of all kinds of teachers.  It appears to help a wide range of teachers meet the literacy goals they have for their students. 

Hunch #3

The structure is based on some very solid research and practices.  In the approach, as I understand it, students are spending ever increasing amounts of time reading and writing,  not doing activities about parts of reading and writing.  They are engaged in real reading and writing... daily, at school.  Like our Balanced Literacy Framework, the Daily 5 approach supports a gradual release of responsibility.  Students see many models and demonstrations.  They have whole group, small group and individual experiences.  The instruction is differentiated, it is at their level.  It is also strategy based, recognizing that readers need strategies and explicit teaching at all levels of proficiency.  All kinds of strategies.  Strategies for decoding, for comprehension, for choosing just right books, for reading chapter books, for reading non-fiction...

I also have questions.  Some are mine and some are from teachers I have been talking with.  If you have answers, or more questions, or comments on how it is working for you, leave a comment or send me an email. 

  • In what ways is the Daily 5 working for you?  
  • What adaptations have you made to the structure?  
  • In what ways does the Daily 5 not help you meet the goals you have for your students as literacy learners?
  • How do you keep the Daily 5 alive? 
  • Would you like to get together with other teachers exploring this approach?
  • Do I need to make reading The Cafe Book a priority?  Why?
I think I should stop there as I have twice as many questions as hunches and I believe that is the legal limit here in Winnipeg.  As I said in my title... let's talk.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Connecting in New Ways

I think it's time to explore new ways (for me!) of connecting with teachers. Many EY classrooms have their own blogs and it is time for me to get with the program.

What you have that I do not, is access to great kid photos and stories. That will definitely be hard to compete with, but I am sure I can come up with something (do not worry, it will not be to distribute my own school photos!

My first idea is to share some of the great books currently on my desk (book bag, bedside table...) in various categories:
  • Read and loved
  • Planning to Read
  • Professional books
  • Kids books
Most of this post will take the form of adding books to my Shelfari page. My shelf is now on the blog for you to see and I will add to it as new books come my way.

Thank you to the teachers (you know who you are!) who have introduced me to this website. I think it is a wonderful way to spread the word about book finds and I am sure that together we will learn even more ways to use it.

Thank you also to the teachers who send me great book titles. Of special interest recently, are picture books that provide a springboard for student writing.

From the teachers at Hampstead School have come:

Memoirs of a Goldfish,
Wallace's Lists and Spork

Thank you to Donwood School and the Curriculum Conversations group for I am the Dog, I am the Cat and a whole website of other mentor tex

Happy reading and writing!