Three Things Thursday

three-things-thursdayI’m a big fan of reading for pleasure.  And while I think that is incredibly important for everyone, I also believe we need to read to grow and to be challenged in our profession.  As educators we influence the lives that sit in our classrooms.   It is our responsibility to make sure that influence is positive.

We’re also busy.

Hence, the idea for Three Things Thursday.  I’m putting in one place three things I’ve read during the week I thought were worth sharing and, hopefully, worth taking a few moments to read.  To make us better.  Together.

#1: The Heinemann Podcast: Cornelius Minor on Building Your Teacher Team

So designing the time requires great sacrifice. So the first thing you’re doing as a team after you’ve identified your superpowers, is you’re actually making a sacrifice together that we’re gonna commit to a specified amount of time together, and here’s how that time is gonna go.

I’m a huge fan of Cornelius Minor.  I highly recommend listening to all his podcasts, following him on Twitter, reading his blog, and generally stalking him.  No shame here.  This particular podcast struck me as super important as professional learning communities are back in the educational spotlight.  The best teams I’ve ever seen are the ones who like each other, do life with each other, and support each other in the work in honest ways.

#2: Promoting the Pleasures of Reading: Why It Matters to Kids and to Country by Jeff Wilhelm

Pleasure reading is more powerful than parents’ educational attainment or socioeconomic status. This means that pleasure reading is THE way to address social inequalities in terms of actualizing our students’ full potential and overcoming barriers to satisfying and successful lives.

Many of us are champions of choice reading and pleasure reading.  This blog post helps us articulate the research showing the power of what we know is right for kids.  It also helps us think about how to be more intentional in our teaching using pleasure reading.

#3:  How to Teach a Young Introvert:  interviews Susan Cain

…the idea is just to maximize choice.  … The same kid who might not raise their hand in class might write something really interesting into some kind of classroom app or blog.

As I read this, I thought how many of the idea Cain discusses, such as working in partnerships, are very much a part of the reading and writing workshop model.  It also made me think about the quiet kids who were in my class and wonder if I provided enough option in my class to meet their needs.

The Family Legacy

Thanksgiving week I received the following text from my cousin, Katie:

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My grandmother, Betty Wall, was an amazing woman. She lived a life of servitude. People often remark how my grandmother made them feel like they were the most important person when they were with her. That’s because, to my grandmother, they were. She knew little things matter.

So my cousin’s comment is true. All of Betty Wall’s children and grandchildren find that there are ways in which we are our grandmother. She lives on through her family, through the things we do.

23c049c900000578-2861606-the_finish_this_is_a_team_this_is_a_family_this_is_target_he_con-m-1_1417744063359Recently Omeleto posted this video of a manager who clearly understands motivation is important–especially right before your retail doors open on Black Friday. As I was showing this video to a group of teachers, this manager’s use of the word family stuck with me. While this clip is the only glimpse into his leadership style I have, I would guess he has instilled a sense of family with his workers, and his enthusiasm and sense of purpose–we are doing something important–lives on in the way his employees treat customers and each other.

fullsizeoutput_42caThis is our first week back to school since NCTE. In the three days I’ve been at work, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve referenced something from the conference—a quote from a presentation, an author who shared, a text that was mentioned, a challenge that issued, Kwame Alexander’s amazing library scarf… My extended NCTE family lives on through my work in my small part of the world because of how so many of them let me in their lives through their writings, presentations, tweets, videos and more.

And my small part of the world is where I can make a difference.

So I wonder: What of me is living on through my professional family? I say a lot of things are important (and I’m sure they are), but what do I do that will be passed on to others?

This is my first year as a system literacy coach and out of the classroom. I wonder what do the students who sat in my classroom do that if they thought about it would say, “That is Ms. Wall to the max.” Would it be something that makes me smile from pride? Would it be anything at all? What about my newly inherited family of teachers I work with now?

img_2842What am I passing on?

My grandmother didn’t get to leave a list of the things she would like for us to do so her legacy would live on, but I’m pretty sure she would be proud of my cousin, Katie, and the other things our family does that is grandmother to the max. I want the same to be true of my life and my educator legacy.

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Teacher Toolkit Party!

Conferrinimg_2394g is one of the most important parts of our class period. Research is overwhelming on the benefits of real time feedback. And while I believe in the power of research, I was really sold on conferencing when I saw the difference it made my students. It is one of the most powerful moves I can make to help my students grow in reading and writing.

As I’ve learned more about conferring, I’ve come to understand that the teacher and student tools I use must be purposeful and strategic. After professional development opportunities–particularly with Teacher’s College, some friends and I decided we needed timcwsb2jowaaao0l3e to build the tools together.  So our district organized a 6-12 grade teacher toolkit party!

The goal of this party was to gather resources for teacher tools and give time for teachers to work together building toolkits.  We had around 30 teachers join together on a Wednesday from 3:30-5:00 pm to work together.  It was amazing!

We were particularly grateful to Jennifer Serravallo and Kate and Maggie Roberts for not only all their published resources, which are without a doubt some of the best out there, but also for taking time to send us some advice for our party.

cwsnauuxyaarh3fSince our main goal at the party was to create tools and toolkits, I did not give as much introduction to conferring and the use of tools.  Teachers were all in varying places with conferring work, so I’ve added more information for those who would like it.  Below is what we used at our party, as well as the additional resources (with links!) for conferring work.  Or you can view the informational Sway.

I would love share ideas from others who do something similar to toolkit parties.

Conferring Toolkit Basics

“Conferring is not the icing on the cake; it is the cake.” -Carl Anderson, aka Conferring Carl

“Real time feedback is the number one thing that is going to close the achievement gap.” Cris Tovani

Why confer?

  • Conferring with students is the heart of workshop.
  • It allows teachers to give timely feedback to students.
  • It allows teachers to build relationships with the readers and writers in their classrooms.
  • It builds community in the classroom among students.
  • It helps give students the tools they need to lift the level of their reading and writing immediately.

Types of Conferences:

  • One-on-one (teacher and student)
  • Partnership (teacher and two students or student and student)
  • Table (teacher and students sitting together in one group)
  • Small Group (teacher and strategically pulled group of students)

Conferring Resources:

What is a teaching tool?

Tools …

  • improve our students’ work*
  • help our students build agency and independence*
  • make teaching clear by answering:  how do readers and writers actually do that?*
  • help organize and bring clarity to the strategies in your classroom*
  • keeps strategies front and center and allows students to refer to them even after the lesson is over*
  • they help learning stick*

Tools …

  • are visual*
  • make the abstract concrete*
  • encourage repeated practice*

Tools are not …

  • simply handouts
  • worksheets
  • too wordy

*taken from Kate Roberts & Maggie Roberts, DIY Literacy

Types of effective teaching tools…

  • Charts
  • Demonstration Notebooks
  • Micro-progressions of skills
  • Bookmarks
  • Model Notebooks
  • Mentor texts
  • Student writing
  • Tips/strategies to leave with student
  • Mini-charts
  • Student tools

**Some of these overlap and some can be housed within notebooks.

Teaching Tools Resources:

What is a toolkit?

A toolkit is where you house your teaching tools. Teacher toolkits will have different tools depending on the teacher’s goals. There is also a lot of flexibility in how the teacher decides to house the tools.

Another toolkit that might be used is a student toolkit. This would be where you house tools for students so they can easily access them.

What might go in your toolkit?

  • Color code (with sticky notes) a page of text to know what to use or lenses (green—sentence structure; pink—craft moves; yellow—structure of text; blue—example of a try it)
  • Color code an essay (green—structure; purple—craft; black—grammar)
  • Craft cards in bags
  • Prompts to leave behind
  • Checklists
  • Progressions—broken into sections like leads, elaboration, evidence, etc—points with a sticky note of examples
  • Marked up mentor texts (student text, professional text, teacher text)
  • Demo writing at different level
  • Mini-charts
  • Leave-behinds (prompts, reminders…)
  • If/then pages
  • Assessment items (rubrics, checklists, etc)
  • My reader/writer notebook
  • Sticky notes, highlighters, markers, etc.
  • Anchor texts

How could a toolkit be organized?

  • Categories—Structure, elaboration, craft, conventions
  • Writing Process Stages—generating, developing, drafting, revising, editing
  • Folder system, binder with page protectors, sketch book, pony folders

**Tools can be housed electronically, as well. Suggested resources: Evernote or OneNote

Toolkit Resources:

We will be posting examples we’ve made on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtags #hocoela #toolkit — keep checking to see if your toolkit or tool has been featured!

Twitter: @hocoela and @WallChristie

Instagram: @elacoachwall

The Essential Struggle

This weekend I 14224960_1129373007131241_6981254197435218770_ngot to hang out with my 10-day old, most awesome nephew, Maddux. When he was born, the doctor realized Maddux was having trouble breathing. Immediately, a plan of action was devised and over the next 7 days, Maddux was cared for by an amazing team and then released to come home—tube and wire free, breathing just fine.

Something that struck me through all this was the systematic way the medical staff worked a plan based on constant data and then used new data to inform every decision they made.  They also let Maddux struggle.

As it turns out, the struggle was good for him. It helped him learn and grow, and eventually, he became an independent breather, who no longer needed the help of the machines. Even so, it was hard to watch, particularly for my sister and brother-in-law.

There are some parallels to my nephew’s first days and my days in the classroom. I, too, used data to inform my plan of action to help students. I, too, had a goal for students to learn and grow14322325_1227557657265008_2558212819383732400_n and eventually become independent. I, too, watched students struggle—just not always very well.

When students couldn’t quite figure out how to organize their essays, or the importance of a writer’s word choice, or the theme of the text, I had a hard time letting struggle for longer than a few minutes (or even less than that). It was painful at times, to be honest, to see their scrunched up faces (or blank stares). I could tell by the clenched teeth and furrowed brows, they needed me!

Students do need their teacher, just like Maddux needed the doctor and nurses. They needed me to see what they could do on their own, provide a scaffold or give them a tool or teach a skill, and then let them try again. What they didn’t need is for me to do it for them.

Also, just like medical field, we have an obligation to do no harm. When the medical staff allowed Maddux to struggle to test his lungs, they were right there to step in when needed. We can’t let students struggle alone, while we sit behind our desks. They have to know the we are here if it 14310518_1134203783314830_4838295706442931632_obecomes too overwhelming, too hard, to the point no learning is happening. We have to be responsive to the needs of our students.

Students need to struggle so they can grow towards Independence. We, as teachers, need to be purposeful and intentional in allowing students to struggle. We need to be responsive to students needs and give students tools needed when the struggle is too much.

It was a matter of life for Maddux. And it’s a matter of living that life independently for our students. We can’t always be with our students—on the high-stakes test or in life outside our classroom.

We need to let them struggle in the safety of our classes, so they can be confident in their independence outside of it.