Sunday, October 16, 2011

Real Conversations

Authentic, thought provoking, mind-shifting conversations.

I crave them.  They fill my intellectual, emotional and soul buckets.  Seriously, a great conversation is better than a new pair of shoes any day.

As educators, we know that conversation (social talk) is necessary for learning.  This is true not only for us, as teachers, but for our students as well.

We attempt to facilitate conversations with depth and meaning in our classrooms, only to be disappointed. The same students seem to be doing all the talking (we know those students that just like to hear their own voice) or we recognize that they are not really having conversation.  They are reporting what they think or know, but no one is really listening to one another or responding to each other's thoughts.  Students have difficulty staying on one focused topic as they want to switch the talk to their own ideas.

So, how do we help our students engage is real conversation?  (I know I don't want to be the one doing all the talking when I teach.  When I notice I am, I repeat my mantra, "This is not lecture by Shari". Ughhh.)

I think it honestly boils down to listening.

There is a big difference between hearing and listening.  Hearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by ear.  We hear the wind, or to birds sing, or to the annoying sound the dishwasher makes.  Hearing is happening all the time.  Listening is something you consciously choose to do.  Listening requires us to concentrate so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences we hear.  Listening leads to learning.   I honestly think our students think that if they are hearing, they are listening.  (I'm pretty sure my husband thinks this.)  We need to teach this difference to our students.

Once we understand the difference between hearing and listening, we need to learn "how" to listen.   Understanding the stages of listening is key to this.  These are sensing, understanding, evaluation and responding.  Different authors call these stages different things, but in essence, the stages are all the same.  Again, teach, model and practice these stages.  It cannot be taken for granted that people already know how to listen.

I wonder if our conversations would have more depth is we all knew how to really listen to each other.

I'll let you know.  I'm going to focus on conversation for awhile in hopes to help our kids build better conversations to contribute to their understandings.

First, I have to teach my own kids. . . and husband. ;-)


Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Newly Defined Definition of Change (for me)!

I'm taking a graduate class this semester called Leadership in Literacy at the University of North  Dakota.  First and foremost, I must say how much I admire professors that design coursework for their students with the students in mind.   So many professors I have had at UND have given me so much choice in my assignments. I truly am able to pursue my "burning questions" through research, essays and projects.  I think all learners thrive when given that choice.  So, thank you, Pam!

One of the books we are reading is The Literacy Coach's Survival Guide, by Cathy A. Toll.  I've had this book on my shelf for quite awhile and previously browsed it.  Boy, I sure wish I would have actually READ it when I bought it several years ago!  Big difference between browse and READ.  Or, maybe, I was not ready to really take in everything the author had to say when I bought this book 5 years ago.  Vygotsky's theory of being ready for new learning hit me on the head when I opened it for the second time.  I was NOT ready the first time.

The big ah-ha for me so far in this book is the concept of change.  We all know that, as educators, we are in the business of change.  However, have we ever really defined change?  My concept of change was that it was an "event".  I am constantly looking for solutions to problems and then hoping the problem would then be fixed!  Ta-da!  Move on to new a problem!

The true definition of change (from Toll's book) is. . . that it is constant.  Once we implement a change, we should expect constant changes within that change.  It is not an end-all.

By understanding this, our perceptions on educational practices change from, "This will be the practice that will solve our problems.  If it doesn't work, I'm trying something else," to "I believe in this practice and am going to try my hardest to make it successful.  I may have to continue to refine and tweak the practice to become more expert at it and stay with it long enough to see if it is effective."

I know that I sometimes jump ship too soon after a new change (if the change doesn't work).  For example, just last week, the P90X workout my husband and I were doing to get in shape caused the ultimate in soreness, so we stopped.  My new thinking says, refine the change.  Do it less - not every day and don't try to do everything on the DVD!  Good grief, we aren't 20 anymore!  Who did we think we were?

I think I may start the year out building conversation about what change means to staff.  I know our staff have been bombarded with BIG changes over the last few years.  Hopefully, we do not need to make any BIG changes this year at our school.  This is why I love the literacy framework we use:  reading workshop, writing workshop, poetry workshop, language/word studyand the foundation:   interactive read alouds.  If one has this basic framework understanding,  they can keep refining within it.

True change also comes from within each teacher.  They must decide what those changes might be for themselves.  In order for them to believe in it and implement new changes, they have to own it.

Refining our current areas of the literacy framework might be what we teachers think about this year.  I think if we started the year out thinking about making those refining changes (based on what we, ourselves, see as challenges) rather than the BIG ones, we would all feel a little less stress.

And less stress is a very good thing in the teaching world.

Shari :-)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

11 for 11 Day! I'm A Day Late!

Picture Books to Use for Teacher Trainings
Gathered by Shari Daniels

So, I'm a day late! (Some would say, "What else is new?")

 With teacher trainings this week, and my priority being teachers, I put all my energy into planning my trainings and being present with teachers.  So, today was totally devoted to getting my list of books to all!  Because it's not the 11th, I had to re-title my post. . . and add an extra book (which was NOT a problem!).

This was so hard. . . narrowing down my picture books to only 10 that I am most passionate about! I love all my books for different reasons and it was hard to let some sit on my pile and not be included.  (I know secretly, they were felt sad and rejected.  I promised them, I would choose them as soon as possible to take into the rooms of children.)

So, I decided I would need to focus my selections on a catagory.  Being I teach teachers and realize the intense importance of modeling interactive read alouds for teachers, I made a decision to choose my favorite picture books for teacher trainings.  Each of these books fit a particular time of the year targeted at a specific topic of our study or dependent on the teacher moral at the given time (keep the change curve in mind).  

Picture Book #1
The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds

Teaching Themes or Purposes:  Develop a vision or goal,  follow the kids - not the path everyone else is following (the book?), pay attention to the signs (the kids), we all get lost along the way and that's when we need to ask for help

The North Star is one of my first read alouds to new teacher training groups.  It's story parallels a teacher's story of trying to adapt to change. . . this being the new teacher that has just completed college and is adjusting to many life changes, as well as the teacher who has taught the same way for 20 years, or any of us that are just going through change.

"A sweet breeze met the boy as he awoke to his journey, " are the new ideas that have awakened the teacher to embark upon the new path.  In the story,  the boy notices others hurrying and speeding by him, and fears being left behind.  An even worse feeling was that others were ahead of him. 

The forest of which he travels through grows thicker and he struggles more and more with each step, until darkness closes in around him.  (Can you just not see us teachers in February hitting this point?)

He eventully steps off the beaten path that all others have chosen and finds himself lost.  A bird finds him and says, "Ask yourself where it is you want to go and then follow the signs you already know."  

We tell ourselves, as teachers, we need a vision, a goal in mind before we start teaching. . . or we can end up anywhere.  However, this book can be used to stress the fact that we don't ALL need to follow the same path, that we look for the signs (our student observations) to know where to go, and that if we do not pay attention, we'll just be plain old lost.

Picture Book #2
The Toy Boat by Randall de Seve
Illustrated by Loren Long

Teaching Themes or Purposes:  Gradual release of responsibility model, scaffolding

This  book is perfect when to teach the gradual release of responsibility as a teaching and learning model.  

A little boat was safe and happy as he was held close to shore by a string his little boy owner never let go of.  However, the boat wondered what it would be like to sail free in the big ocean.

One day, a storm causes the string to drop from the little boy's hand and the boat floats out into the water through storms and high waves, almost getting run over by other boats and feels hopelessly frustrated and lost.  A little fishing boat spots him days later and guides the little boat, modeling how to turn and sail with control.  

Suddenly, the little boat was on his own, sailing with confidence!

The little boat finds the little boy again and enjoys his companion, but every once in awhile, sails back out to sea, because he can.  

Picture Book #3
Old Henry by Joan W. Blos

Teaching Themes or Purposes: Community, compromising, self-reflection
That Henry.  He moves into a rickety, old house that his neighbors expect him to fix up, but he doesn't.  Instead he goes about doing his own thing ignoring the fact that his neighbors like a tidy neighborhood.
 They even offer to help, but Henry refuses.  Finally, Henry leaves frustrated that he will never change just because his neighbors want him to be neat and tidy.

Once far away from his neighbors, he begins to miss them.  He realizes they were trying to only help, even offering him pie, that he refused.  Likewise, the neighbors missed his presence.  Both sides felt remorse for their behavior.

This book is read when we are learning about reflection, not only for our teaching, but for working with other colleagues.  It's easy to take sides, point fingers and refuse help.  Looking in the mirror at ourselves rather than looking out the window at others is a tough concept for us.  None the less, without reflection, there is little growth, professionally and personally.

Picture Book #4

Teaching Theme or Purposes:  Writing Ideas(objects spark memories), schema, writing about what matters

This is such a powerful book for so many reasons.  I honestly don't even think I even need to give a summary, because it's one that I'm positive you have on your shelves already and have read many times.
It's wonderful to first use it to show how objects spark memories for writing.  After reading this story, we always do some writing.  I pull objects out of my duffle bag; antlers, a child's mitten, a screwdriver, golf ball, thread, a deck of cards and even a flashlight.  Teachers write from these objects, and my, the stories that were lost, but found are a hoot to retell as we spend time sharing!  All teachers leave, knowing they will have an "Writing Ideas Basket" filled with various objects for students to draw from when they are stuck.

This book can also be used to talk about schema.  Each character has different interpretations of what "warm" means, based upon their past experience.  The same is true for "golden" or even what a "memory" is.  All children come to us with different experiences and we need to know that their schema is what we need to connect to to help them understand and learn.

Of course, this book can also be use for writer's craft, author study or the power of bringing young and old together.  Possibilities are endless for this one.

Picture Book #5
The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter
Illustrated by Giselle Potter (I love her work!)

Teaching Theme or Purposes:  Writers notebooks, vocabulary, passion and purpose, poetry, word choice, sharing ideas

This is a story about a boy who loved words and collected them relentlessly.  He is looked down upon by friends and family and called an oddball.  In a dream, a Genie encourages him to find a purpose, as he has this passion of words, but what to do with it, the boy knows not.  He discovers that his purpose is to share his words with others.  By doing so, others find happiness, creating happiness in the boy.

I was first drawn to this book by the artwork of Giselle Potter, one of my favorite illustrators.  I am also a "word collector" myself, intrigued by words, in fact the title could be about me, except it would have to say, The Girl Who Loved Words. :-)

I use this book when I am training on vocabulary.  The importance of modeling for our students our love of words is so important if we want them to care about vocabulary.  Our goal should be teaching students to be curious in interesting words, collect them for later use in writing and poetry or just ponder on them, trying to determine their meaning through context clues and word parts.

I also feel this book is useful for helping teachers understand passion and purpose.  Not only do we need this as teachers, but our students need this to be learners.

Picture Book #6
Yonder Mountain as told by Robert H. Bushyhead
Written by Kay Thorpe Bannon
Illustrated by Kristina Rodanas

Teaching Theme or Purposes:  Leadership, lesson story
A Cherokee folktale about an elder who is no longer able to lead his people.  Seeking out a new leader, he tests 3 of his strongest young men by telling them to go to a yonder mountain, climb to the top and bring back what they find there.

The first, along the way, is distracted by beautiful stones that sparkle.  He immediately brings this back to the elder, knowing that trading these stones for food would make their lives better.

The second went farther than the first, yet upon resting, noticed herbs, roots and bark that were healing plants.  He brings these to the elder in hopes of ending suffering.

The third makes it back to the tribe on the seventh day after a long wait by worrying people.  He had nothing in his hands.  However, he makes the trek all the way to the top of the mountain like he is told and has a story to tell.

From the mountain top, he witnesses smoke signals that send a message that says they need help because they are dying.  He tells the elder that they need to go to them quickly, as they are in trouble.

This young man is granted the leadership position, as he has climbed to the top of the mountain, seen beyond it and to other people in need.

This is a story about what it takes to be a leader.  In our schools,  leaders are not those who find the best lessons to make our lives easier, or those who feed us, or those who give us things.  They are those that notice when others need help because they have been there themselves.  They are those who have sacrificed the distractions for the hardship of reaching their goals and then later, help others to reach their goals.

Picture Book #7
Everybody Needs A Rock by Byrd Taylor
Illustrated by Peter Parnail

 Teaching Theme or Purposes :  Special objects as reminders, voice, story structure, 

I read this book to teachers in about February/March, the harshest of months in the teaching world.  It's the month where we all need our friends to help us through.

After reading this book, we spent time searching for the rock that was perfect for each of us (from my own personal collection of rocks - as in MN, it's still the frozen tundra of winter).   We then wrote a bit about why the rock was perfect for each and what it might symbolize for us as a reminder as it sits on our desks throughout the remainder of the school year.  Wonderful conversation followed and teachers left feeling they had a new friend for support. . . their rock.

Of course, you can't read this book without talking about the voice or the structure of the book - that's a given.  But for teachers at the despair dip of the change curve, they just need a rock. . . and fast.

Picture Book #8
The Perfectly Orderly House by Ellen Kindt McKenzie
Illustrated by Megan Lloyd

Teaching Theme or Purposes:  Teacher planning, organization, less is more

I had to search for this book.  It was not anywhere new that I could find, so mine is a very used looking copy.  Doesn't matter.  It's such a mind shifting book for teachers towards the end of the year that I hide it in a special spot for fear someone might take it.  I use this book to teach how to plan.

It's a story about an old woman who lives in a very small house and could throw nothing away.  She discovers she can not find anything she needs, and because of all the time she spends searching, she never has time for fun, like having a party.  Of course, we all see ourselves in this as soon as it's read, and teachers are all nodding and smiling as if to say, "Welcome to my world."

So, the old woman decides to organize everything in her house by the alphabet:  aprons in the attic, bowls in the basement, the cat goes in the closet and so on.  She then realizes her house is not big enough, so she beckons her brother to add on more rooms.

Once the house is finished and organized, a party is planned and friends are invited.  Her friends are in awe of her 26 room house, which even included a zoo!  However once it was time eat, they had to search for supplies.   Cookies were in the closet, ice cream in the igloo, and appetizers in the attic.  The old woman was exhausted by the end of the party and wants nothing more than rest.  She walks to her brothers small, perfectly orderly house and decides to stay there. . . and leave her own perfectly orderly house as it is.

In about April or early May, when we teachers are beginning to think about the next year and how we can make it better, a training on yearly planning is usually necessary.  Most of us swear that if we could only be organized, our teaching life would be better.  Some of us believe we need more ideas.  Still others search out that "best" lesson for hours. (I am guilty of the latter.)

The lesson from this book is that having more ideas, more lessons and more stuff is not making us more effective teachers.  In fact, it may be hurting us!  If we spend so much time organizing, lesson searching and making stuff, then, when do we look at our students work and decide what to teach them?  The best teaching is knowing exactly what to teach at exactly the right time to exactly the right student.  Fewer resources help you to KNOW your resources so that you can use them effectively when you need them.

Know your students, know what they need and know your resources.  Less is always more.

Picture Book #9
This one is not a picture book, it's a poem.  I wish it was a picture book.  
"A Little Boy" by Helen Buckley

Teaching Theme or Purposes:  creativity, process not product, 

This poem was given to me by a friend in a master's class who is an early childhood teacher educator.  She uses it to teach creativity in art.  I cried when she read it to us.  It strikes such a nerve as I know we have all done what this teacher has done.  Myself, so included.  

I used the poem at the end of a writing training with teachers, the other day, to conclude our two days together.  My hope was for teachers to leave with this poem ringing in their minds:  writing is not about the product, it's so much about the process.  Of course, when I read it, I cried again.  No one could speak a word.

Thank you, Kate, for giving me this poem.  I cherish it and hang it right above my desk.

Picture Book #10
My Mother's Voice by Joanne Ryder
Illustrated by Peter Catalanotto

Teaching Theme or Purposes:  Word Choice in writing, language, voice, writing craft, grammar, special people, love 

When this book first arrived last spring, I pulled it out of the Amazon box, opened it and immediately read the first page.  I hung on every word and reread that page at least 3 times.  
"As morning begins, my mother calls me from darkness to light."
I stopped for a moment and just relished in those words.  Our mothers call us from darkness to light.  What a glorious description of what our mothers truly do.  

Each page in this book describes something about the little girl's mother's voice: her laughter, her words, her singing, her voice when it is sad, worried, cheering or just saying the little girl's name.

The word choice and writer's craft in this book are overwhelming.  You could study one page for an hour to talk about everything you notice Joanne Ryder did to make those words do that.  And what about her idea?  She chose not to write about her mother, but to go smaller yet.  She wrote just about her voice.

This book is short, yet so moving and inspiring in the teaching of writing.  Teachers read it and listen to it in awe.

It's also the first book I give to a teacher when they say they don't know what to do for Mother's Day.  "Read this to your kids and something will happen," I say.

Finally!  Picture Book #11!!!
Illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root

Teaching Theme or Purpose:  Reflection on the year

This is the perfect book to end the first year of literacy training with.  So much learning takes place in teaching every year, but that first year is daunting.  I sometimes think we feel like we've failed because of  how our new understandings make us think back in disbelief that we did things like we did.  We wonder how our kids even learned! (I swear they learn in spite of us.)  But they do!

We constantly need to remind ourselves of how far we have come and. . . you can't know what you don't know.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thinking About My 10 for 10 List!

I was browsing my favorite blogs this morning and came across Mandy's blog.  She announced the upcoming 10 for 10 Event coming up on August 10th.  Bloggers or anyone who wishes to share their top 10 must-have, can't-live-without picture books are invited to join in and link their picks to their site on this day.

I am pumped for this!  I already have several books in mind that I know are mentor texts for me, yet do not want to put books on my list that teachers are already familiar with, so I'm seeking out some "sleepers" that need some recognition!

I'm wondering if I need to focus on a catagory though.  Many teachers are looking for fresh new books for the beginning of the year or launching reading and writing workshops. . . that may be an option.

Another idea may be to focus on books that one would intentionally choose for different purposes at teacher trainings AND for students.  Hmmmm.  .  .  so much to ponder.

I'm not sure if I am more excited to share mine or to see what books others will choose!

I've got to get crackin if I'm going to be ready in time!  Woohoo!!

Shari :-)

Friday, July 15, 2011


On my to-do list, I wrote down that I really needed to do a blog entry today.  I realize my entries are few and far between, so I need to set a goal to improve on that.  I had several entry ideas, however, upon reading my emails today, I decided to read the "Weekly Tip from Daily 5/Cafe" that I signed up for a long time ago.  I must admit, I don't always read these, as my assumption (which are often wrong) was that most of these tips are explicit tips for teachers using the Daily 5/Cafe model of teaching.  Many teachers in  our school use this model,  however, for some reason, I just don't often check these tips.

Well, I did today.  What a konk on the head.  Do you ever read a blog post and go, "Oh my gosh - she's talking about me."  Of course, I know it is a message to me from a higher source, but that a whole-nuther blog.

Lisa Glogower is a new writer for Daily 5 (at least that is my understanding) and this first entry of hers stopped me in my tracks.  Her post is on being present with our students and not let technology (cell phones, emails, etc.) be a busy signal to our students when they need us, which is every moment we are with them.  They need our full presence.  My favorite part of her blog is,

"I believe my students need and deserve my full attention. My job is to teach them creatively, inspire them, and connect not just with my students' minds but their hearts as well. I want to continue to provide the devotion these children deserve. "

You can't connect to their minds and hearts if your own mind is somewhere else.  This does not only apply to our relationships with our students, but to the relationships with our colleagues, our family members, even our pets and of course, to this beautiful world around us.

I think I will save Lisa's post to use with teachers to generate conversation about presence.

Be Present.  Live by it.

Shari ;-)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Benchmarking Wonders and Woes

We use the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmarking Kits at our school to assess our students reading levels and determine strengths and needs to plan for instruction at the beginning and end of each school year.  We have been using these kits for about 5 years now, so we are able to begin to dig deeply into them and really analyze them more and more now.

I am maybe a strange duck because I LOVE benchmarking.  I learn so much about kids, the reading process and our teaching every time I benchmark a student.  After each student leaves me, I need to spend at least 5 minutes jotting down revelations and wonders.  Being I do not have my own classroom anymore, I was able to benchmark a range of students at various levels and grades.  I taped the oral reading and conversations to use for teacher trainings/conversations in the future, so that we can really have discussion about our own perceptions about how well a student is really comprehending.  The assessments are subjective, but if we all can listen in on some common reading and talk about it, our subjectivity just might become more standardized.

I had many ah-ha's, wonders, woes and noticings benchmarking this year.  Here was a biggie. . .

1.  I noticed that for many students, meaning breaks down when they are not attending to punctuation.  For many readers who read through periods and dismissed dialogue, the intended message was skewed.  Much was missed.  I did a little research and discovered that sentence structure and dialogue becomes varied at about level I and J.  With effective reading instruction, kids at this level are able to decode many words, read sight words and are pretty strategic.  However, the importance for us to teach students how  "reading the punctuation" to help us understand who is talking and to express feelings becomes even more prevelant. Otherwise, we might be allowing our kids to only receive the surface level meaning.  They maybe only just get "the gist". (When benchmarking, I've found it helpful to add a code for reading through punctuation.  I circle the missed punctuation mark and draw a line through it.  I know this is not a counted miscue, but I think it needs to be noticed, especially if it is a pattern.)

So, I was thinking about how we could address this.  One thing I may encourage teachers to try is to implement 2 different units of study at this level (end of first grade/beginning of second or during guided reading at any level that has this need).  One powerful unit of study is on dialogue.  Significant Studies for Second Grade has a 5 week study on dialogue.  It can be broken up over the year or taught during a continuous 5 weeks.  When I first read this book a few years ago, my thinking was that it was silly to spend so much time on dialogue, but now I see why it's important.  I plan on bringing in various texts at these levels and having teachers study the various sentence structures.  We can than apply the mini-lessons found in this resource to these texts.

The second unit of study to try is one on fluency.  In Teaching for Comprehension and Fluency by Fountas and Pinell, the chapter on fluency is broken down into several components: rate, pausing, intonation, phrasing and integration.  Each component can be modeled and taught separately and then students buddy up and help to support and coach each other.   We developed a 1 - 2 week unit of study for fluency at our 2nd and 3rd grade levels at our school based on this need.  Hopefully, we will begin to notice an increase in attending punctuation in our students' oral reading.

Our kids are actually making huge gains in accuracy and comprehension, overall.  I know our teachers at our school work hard to help them become successful and I am so proud of them.  I am one lucky literacy coach to be working with so many professionals who truly care about their kids.

I will continue to blog on Benchmarking Reflections.  I'm hoping those of you who also use the F & P Benchmarking kits will comment on these reflections and also add your own wonderings.
Shari :-)

The Perfectly Orderly T-E-A-C-H-E-R

One of the things that I highly value is the importance of modeling for teachers as much as possible.  Interactive Read Alouds are the foundation of our reading instruction.  We use them to teach content, model reading strategies and think alouds, notice writer's craft and illustrations and build deep conversations about author's intent and interpretations.

Because interactive reading alouds are so important in the classroom, this makes it even more necessary to model powerful read alouds during teacher trainings.  The trick is to be able to tie them in to relavent content for the training that day.

A couple of weeks ago, I had my last new teacher training for the year.  We attempt to train new teachers for 40 hours during their first year teaching in the area of literacy.  Our last session was focused on planning units of study utilizing the standards, student needs and our resources.

The perfect interactive read aloud to model during this training is The Perfectly Orderly House, by Ellen Kindt McKenszie.  This is a story about an old woman who can not throw anything away and she decides to organize all of her belongings by having enough rooms in her house that start with each letter of the alphabet.  In each room, only items which begin with that letter go into the room.  It's pretty silly when she has to go to the closet to fetch cookies and cakes and her glasses in the garage.  Her organizational system is amiss and she has trouble finding anything.  At the end of the story, she realizes the simple, small four room house she had was all she needed.  It brought her peace.  The big message:  Less is More.

So, how does this tie into planning?  Many ways.  As teachers, we are constantly looking for ideas for the most fantastic lessons, via internet, books, collegues and such.  Of course, we can throw nothing away for we just might need this idea at some  point in time.  Our closets, filing cabinet, desks, computers and classrooms become an utter mess.  Finding anything we need is a task in itself.

A perfect example of this was a story I told for this training. I searched relentlessly online the night before for the perfect icebreaker activity.  I wasted at least an hour googling and going through all my bookmarked sites for that dynamite idea.  Needless to say, I never found it.  I ended up deciding to just do some various reflection notebook entries reflecting on frustrations, memorable moments and goals for the next year.  I've been using writers' notebooks in my classroom for almost 10 years.  Doing notebook entries is something I could do in my sleep.  Why didn't I just go to that in the first place?  Katie Wood Ray stands out in my mind here when she says to "teach from the heart".  We know what to teach, so just teach it.  We don't need some fancy lesson to do it.  Less is more.

The message we can ultimately leave with is that when we attempt to accumulate ton of ideas, activities, lessons, etc., we actually "teach" less.  By spending our precious time searching for the perfect lesson/idea/activity, we are taking time away from looking at our kids.   Think small.

It's a really big lesson to learn for a teacher.  Certainly, you don't want to end up like the old woman who has to go to the basement to fetch the butter.  Keep a few tools in your toolbox.  You'll always know where they are.

Shari :-)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Building A Conversation

        I'm reading the book Comprehension Through Conversation; The Power of Purposeful Talk in the Reading Workshop by Maria Nichols. All I can say is, "Wow! Where was this book when I first started using interactive read alouds??????"
        As a literacy coach, one question I wonder a lot (along with a lot of teachers) is how do we get kids to talk TO each other, rather than to the teacher?  And, how can we get kids to stay focused on the same idea being discussed rather than to keep switching to their own ideas that totally drop the previous one?  We know that we have to model language that promotes adding on, agreeing and disagreeing, or to clarify a statement and I have seen success with this.  However, it always seems like when we model this language, it seems a little "canned" and not real.  It feels like the kids are saying it because they know I want to hear it whether they actually agree, disagree or even WANT to add on!  Quite often, I would hear a student say, "I disagree." and then go off on a totally different idea!  Ughhh. . .
         Maria Nichols, in her book, tells us that we FIRST have to start with teaching children to "listen with intent", or as some of us call it, "active listening".  Until kids can really listen to each other and think about what the other is saying without their own random thoughts swimming in their mind, they are unable to actually "build a conversation".  She tells us to teach students to "park your thinking for later" if something pops in their heads that is not related to the idea of the speaker. Surprisingly, kids can do this!  I used the "park your thinking" language with a group of second graders and they understand it!  Sometimes their original thoughts that they parked get forgotten, but, that's okay.  If it's really important, it will come up again.  They learn that it is important to build a deeper conversation on one idea to help us all understand each other more, the authors' true messages and shift our thinking.
        Nichols goes on to talk about our teaching of specific language to build a conversation.  You know, the "canned" stuff?  She stresses the importance of encouraging natural talk for having conversation and that if we notice it, much of this talk falls under the categories of agreeing, disagreeing, adding on and clarifying meaning.  For example, these phrases are all natural language for agreeing:
"Oh, yeah. . ."
"That's what I thought, and. . ."
"Me too, because. . ."
"That's just like. . ."
"I agree with you because. . ."
         So, I taped some of our second conversations during a read aloud, and sure enough, that's the language they used.  Before, I was always looking specifically for "I agree. . .", and was totally missing the boat.
         I'm only half way through the book, but I already know that this book is going to be a book study book with our staff.  Just the other day, a third grade teacher told me that she feels we need to go deeper with our interactive read alouds.  I was thinking, "Yup!  This book will take us there."
         Thank you, Maria, for all your insight!  And for helping us all "build conversations"! :-)



Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hot New Interactive Read Alouds Workshop

I recently provided a couple of inservice sessions for area teachers introducing them to some amazing new (or newly discovered by me) interactive read alouds out there.  One session was for primary teachers and one for intermediate.

I honestly believe that teachers have zero time to be researchers.  Their daily day consists of planning, meetings,  phone calls to parents, paperwork and of course, teaching.  They truly desire to have the most powerfully moving texts to be reading with their kids, but, time does not always allow for them to find them. I feel obligated to make sure we have the books that provoke deep discussion and thinking in our bookroom.  And, also, to make sure our teachers know that they are there.

If we, as literacy coaches, can periodically, do some workshops on the books that are already in our possession and also be constantly bringing in new engaging texts that fit with what grade levels are doing, then we become an increasingly important link to helping students and teachers love reading.  And, we make those teachers who are looking for that "perfect read aloud" smile. :-)

Here are 2 powerpoints for each training, along with a handout for each.

K-2 IRA Powerpoint
K-2 IRA Handout
3-5 IRA Powerpoint
3-5 IRA Handout


Shari :-)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Books to Explain Tragedies

I am in distress over the devastation of the people in Japan during these times.  The natural disasters that have taken place are events that children in our own country of the United States can truly never understand.  The video footage available through media even looks to be that of which movies are made.  I watch them over and over repeating to myself, "It just can't be."

As teachers and parents, it is our responsibility to inform and educate our children of these traumatic and historical events in our ever changing world.  They teach our children empathy and generosity, as well as gratitude for their own safe homes (well, at least safer, we hope, than a tsunami).  Taking time away from our normal curriculum to help our children try and understand what led up to these natural disasters and learn about the devastation that follows is what we do.

One way to weave this in is with the picture book Tsunami, a book of sacrifice by, of course, Ed Young.

Tsunami (2009) is the story of an earthquake, a fire and a tsunami along with the selfless heroism of a wealthy old rice farmer who lives high on the mountainside, above a village.  The farmer feels the tremors of the upcoming disaster and sets his beautiful fields afire to draw the villagers upland in hopes of saving their lives.  The result is the ruins of his crop.  Seems a small price to pay for the lives of his people.  This story is based on a true story of a Japanese hero, who in 1854, set his own rice fields ablaze to save hundreds of lives.

Ed Young, a Caldocott winner for Lon Po Po, creates a visual playground of collage illustrations combining torn paper to cardboard to photos to straw to bamboo.  Readers and artists alike will sense the terror felt when the black wave engulfs the land and destroys the village in his captivating artwork.  Myself, I felt a need to create my own representation this story after studying these scenes.  Artists are immediately inspired.

If this book is not on your shelves or in the hands of your students, it should be.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

First Blog

After much pondering, I finally decided I needed to start a blog.  I am a collector of sorts.  As a literacy coach, teacher and trainer for elementary teachers K - 5, I am in a constant state of seeking out mentor texts for interactive read alouds, writing workshop, reading workshop and for teachers in their quest for teaching meaning in the area of literacy.  Other sources sought are best practice teacher resources, online publications and even observations of literacy practices that are effective.  I crave to share what I discover.  It is an obligation for educators to share resources, ideas and new understandings that shape the minds of our children in a way that fosters their growth in literacy and as learners.

My hope for you, upon stumbling to this blog, is to inspire you to seek out a new book or resource,  nudge you to shift your thinking deeper in reading and/or writing, or to try something new with your students to grow their literate minds. :-)))

"If we wish to open the world of literacy to our children, what they are asked to read should from the very beginning help them to understand themselves and their world."
                         ~Bruno Bettelheim & Karen Zelan
                         On Learning to Read: A ChildísFascination with Meaning