SOLSC: March 21, 2016:#dothework


Write. Share. Give. Join the March Slice of Life Story Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers

Write. Share. Give. Join the March Slice of Life Story Challenge @ Two Writing Teachers

A Saturday Reunion at Teacher’s College is very much like a revival meeting.  We begin and end in a sacred space, majestic Riverside Cathedral, and spend the hours in between in fellowship and deep learning.  We put aside our doubts and worries, and rekindle passion and faith in our profession.  We leave joyful and renewed.

Two workshops, in particular, struck a chord for me because they addressed two of the issues I have been grappling with in my own classroom: building student agency, and creating teaching tools in a more efficient and long lasting way.

Cornelius Minor began his session by urging us to “embrace teacher tenacity” by asking ourselves how we can reposition our teaching practices to change the narrative in our classrooms from one of dependency to one of student agency.  He asked us to consider our practices of remedial teaching versus pre-teaching by reminding us that:”pre-teaching empowers, and remediation takes away agency”.  Rather than pulling small groups after a lesson just to reinforce the learning (which often also serves to reinforce a student’s feeling of “I am embarrassed, I didn’t get it”) we should redirect our energy to pulling small groups to preteach concepts.   Cornelius made this point: “preteaching lets kids come to the lesson with something in their back pocket PLUS their self esteem”  – and how crucial to the success of learning process is the very notion of a student’s self esteem?!  Even as I was nodding in agreement, I was also thinking to myself that this is something that I really need to carve out time for.

In the same vein, Cornelius addressed the value of conferencing in practices, for they are the only opportunities we have to get to know our students outside of the whole class setting.  “Get to know your kids – lives are saved in conferences” he advised us, and this was advice I took to heart; for it’s in those one-on-one moments with my kids as we discuss a writing move or a response to a book that they let me in to their deepest thoughts:concerns, dreams, and struggles.

Cornelius advised us to make conferences and small groups positive and “cool” experiences, so that our kids feel valued. Inviting  small group work by student interests (“who would like to learn more about…?”), allows us not to stigmatize students, but to lend their small group work a more positive aura of a social club.

The bulk of our workshop time was spent practicing the strategies we embed into skill work, and putting these into kind friendly language which renders it visible to our students.  This was hard work!  We practiced making inferences, for example, which required reading the text and naming the specific steps we took to make inferences – the process by which we knew where to stop and problem solve in order to arrive at those inferences.

These practice exercises allowed us to see the value in doing the work ourselves before we invite our students to do the same.  This work also allows us to present the lesson as invitation to watch and notice as we model  the task at hand.

Cornelius emphasized how important it was to choose texts that will appeal to students: “select texts that have resonance to the kids in your class,” he cautioned, ” aim for texts that are specific to the kids and their particular interests.”  This, again, involves an awareness on our parts about what our kids are interested in, and an investment of time in matching texts to specific classes. #dothework, which is what I scribbled into the margins of my notebook, extends to that, too!

#dothework was  also the theme in Kate Roberts’ workshop on DIY Toolkit s Writing and Reading workshop.  Kate began her session addressing three root issues we need to address to make learning “stick”:

Memory: there is just too much stuff for our kids to remember from unit to unit, let alone year to year, and we need to help our kids remember what was taught and how it can be applied.  Most often, I find that my kids in fact DO remember, but need just a bit of a jiggle and a push of their memory.

Rigor: this relates to the rigor of the task itself, not the amount of work they need to put in so that the task can be accomplished.  Kate reminded us of Kylene Beers’ matchless quote: “Rigor without relevance is simply hard. ”

Differentiation: how we match the curriculum to our kids – the actual factual kids in our classroom, not the fantasy kids of our lesson planning books and dreams.

Next, Kate presented teaching tools to address these root issues:

CHARTS! Which teacher doesn’t love charts?! I certainly do, but I don’t think in quite the brilliantly organized way as Kate, for her charts are divided into:

Repertoire Charts – a menu of “here’s what I’ve taught you already.” These charts display what we expect our kids to know but we still don’t hear or see evidence of them in conversations or their notebooks.  Charts like these collect connected lessons, abbreviate them, and put them all in one place for quick consultation. Perfect!

Kate 1

Process charts- these collect skills that are taught over and over again – they are “recipes for how to do something”.

Kate 2

Lastly, Kate presented Demonstration Notebooks, and I pretty much thought I had died and been whisked away to teacher heaven.   These are collections of lessons created to meet issues our students will be having through a unit of study, and can reside in a sketchbook or binder:

Kate 3

This notebook allows for demonstration or guided practice, and gives us a tool  to both demonstrate a strategy as well as practice it.  Here’s a quick sketch of the

Kate 5

Another idea shared by Kate was that of having our students create personalized book marks of things they want to hold on to and remember:

Kate 6

Of course, by the end of the session I was even more anxious than ever to receive my copy of Kate and Maggie’s new book, where these ideas are more fully explained and demonstrated:

So, that was a slice of my day at TC!  In a way I am grateful that these Saturday Reunions  occur only twice a year- so many great ideas and so little time to bring them into my classroom and watch them blossom!  As I journeyed home to New Jersey at the end of the day, I thought about something Kate had said: “there is no ‘easy” in being an effective teacher”. That is true.  But meaningful work such as shown to us by Cornelius and Kate prove that our work is rich, meaningful, and joyous.


#Close Reading: Continuing with the blog-a-thon

It’s been such a great learning experience to follow along with Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts as they have explored the highways and byways teaching close reading in their 7 week-long blog-a-thon. So many readers have made interesting and informative  contributions through blog posts and comments as well, and although I have followed along obsessively, I haven’t had the chance to do the same as much as I had initially hoped to do.  

But, as we close in on the last week of #CloseReading, I wanted to respond to two questions Chris had posed :
What have been your biggest challenges in close reading instruction?  What have been your biggest moments of learning? 
And a thinking exercise Kate posted about, in which  she catalogued “five moments from my day as a close reader”.

My biggest challenge, I think, is weaving close reading into daily instruction in a seamless, organic way.  If my intention is to, as Chris put it: “support students in learning the habits of close reading so they can carry them beyond that one lesson and into their lives,”  then what would that look like, sound like, and feel like in my classroom day after day, week after week?  And, part of this challenge is to make sure that my kids see this practice as one that is both meaningful and purposeful – that it’s not just another activity we do in order to check the box in Mrs. Smith’s plan book: SWBAT: Close read a text and make copious notes. Check!
And, into this thought process flows something I’d read in Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s marvelous Notice and Note, on the subject of rigor, which is something I also want to ensure is a part of all the learning work we do:
“Rigor is not an attribute of a text but rather a characteristic of our behavior with that text….rigor resides in the energy and attention given to the text, not the text itself.” 
Energy. Attention.  That is part of the challenge, too.  Which brings me to Kate’s post, and her thoughtful, humorous look at five close reading moments from her day.  What would  such moments look like in our classroom?  Would they be indicative of rich, meaningful close reading. Here they are:

1. In Poetry Study:
A part of every  Thursday is reserved for the study of poetry in our classroom.  Here’s what we made of Bobbi Katz’s “October “:

Our focus in these exercises is trying to decipher the language and techniques a poet uses to create a mood, visualize a scene, convey emotion.  Marking up the text as a joint exercise allows all that thinking we do individually to become a collective experience – a quick sketch of what this poem now means to all of us as a class.
2. In Reading Workshop:
My sixth graders love sticky notes.  To excess.  So, part of our workshop work has focused on answering two questions: when the heck do we tag something with a sticky note?  what the heck so we say?

Knowing when to stop and take careful note of something happening in the text sounds easier than it actually is for the average sixth grader in my classroom.  I model this all year with all sorts of mentor texts, then my students practice with their own reading, and THEN we confer and share.  This is Melinda’s notebook – and I am happy to say that she is learning to use those sticky notes with less reckless abandon.
3. In Writing Workshop:
We are learning craft moves by studying mentor texts, and in this strategy session we were examining Jerry Spinelli’s Knots in My Yo-Yo String – specifically, the way Spinelli wrote about sound:

And here is another mentor text study of thoughts and feelings in Russel Baker’s, “Growing Up”: (what the cow in the margin is supposed to men I am not sure – but that’s the way a sixth grader’s mind often works!):
In both cases, our close reading and talking gave Kaitlyn some ideas about how to revise her memoir piece – truly, as Louise Rosenblatt observed, “reading is part of the writing process.”

4. In Social Studies:
Marking up maps and graphic texts allows us to note events and perspectives, and it allows us to question and clarify.  Just about everyone questioned the use of “northwest” in the map below – isn’t that, like, Oregon and Washington? they asked.  Which led to a long discussion about the nation in its early days – the Great Lakes area was about the extent of our northwest then!  Now, each time we examine a map of the expanding nation in our Social Studies lessons for the rest of the year, my kids will be looking at their maps closely – what else can we learn about the state of the union in those early days?

Through these moments in our week, I think I have my answer to the second part of Chris’ question:

What have been your biggest moments of learning?  I’ve learned that we bring our habits of close reading to every text we meet.  Sometimes, we learn (as my kiddos have with their amazing collection of sticky notes) that we have to sort through and learn how to tag passages worthy of focused close reading.  Sometimes, we learn that we can read a text and zoom in for specific things: figurative language,  sounds, thoughts and feelings.  Sometimes, as in the case of maps , we learn that we need to look beyond what a text explicitly states to ask questions and make inferences.
Yes, we are reading closely in room 202 – and, as Kate suggested it would be, our learning lives are all the richer for it.
(P.S. What will I do once the blog-a-thon ends? Move on to reading Chris and Kate’s, new book, of course, which should be arriving soon!)