25 Days of Classrooms: Focus Walks

Saturday, December 16, 2017

This month I am sharing stories from
classrooms in Berwyn South District 100.

Day 16 & 17: Focus Walks at Pershing with Foltz/ Ziegler/ Huerta/ O'Brien/ Arvis/ Wagner/ Szalko/ Asgharzadeh/ Reckley (Pershing)

     This post will count as 2 days, since I went on 2 Focus Walks.  I know that's cheating a little bit, but that's ok.  

     Pershing decided to try Focus Walks out this year!  I was very excited, since they were one of my favorite things while I was at Hiawatha.  Focus Walks are basically times that you slot that allow teachers to leave their own classrooms go down the hall and see another classroom in action!  Typically, there is a common focus for the teachers, usually a topic that has been a focus of building PD or the SIP team.  At Hiawatha, we have done walks for math, EL strategies, writing workshop, RtI block, and a bunch of other topics.  This time, Pershing was simply going to Notice and Wonder things that make #teampershing a pretty special place to work.  The walks were organized, led, and debriefed by their literacy coach, Meg Reckley.  The classrooms you can visit are volunteered by classroom teachers, and the teachers that visit choose to sign up for a slot.  Here was their schedule!

Walk 1


     The first walk was through all three 2nd grade classrooms!  At the same time, there were all in 3 different parts of their literacy block.  We got to catch a glimpse of a read aloud, reading workshop, and word work.  Our observation structure was Notice Wonder.

     In 2H, I noticed a fantastic interactive read aloud in Spanish.  Maricela used a simple boxes and bullets anchor chart and modeled her thinking as they read about the prairie.  The students showed their understanding both through conversation and hand motions, and made inferences about the topic as well.  My wondering was if they use that same boxes and bullets organizer in their research, since Ms. Huerta did such a nice job of modeling how to pull key details about a topic in her own words using that structure.

     In 2FZ, I noticed a smoothly running reader's workshop!  The students who were all independently reading were engaged, and knew what they were practicing while reading their informational books (plus a few fake books too, as was pointed out to me by a friendly young reader).  Both coteachers had reading groups going.  Carrie's group was using a Serravallo strategy to paraphrase a nonfiction plant article, right next to a table where real plants were growing.  Ms. Ziegler reviewed vowel sounds, worked on vocabulary, used a connection Response Frame, and picture walked all in such an efficient  use of time!  My wondering was if those plants will make it over winter break...

     In 2O, I noticed word work in action.  Ms. O'Brien had students around the room working on different activities to support word work.  What I noticed was that she was roaming around doing conferences with students, with a white board and marker in hand.  "What are you noticing about your words?" she would say as she kneeled down next to them.  What a great way for students to verbalize the patterns they were finding in their words. I wondered how she organized her conferring schedule, and if that conferring helped the transfer to their writing.

     After we were done, we sat down and debriefed.  Maribel Gálvez, Elisa Anderson, and I were guided by Meg as we noted what we Noticed and what we Wondered.  The resulting conversation was such a nice celebration of the teaching and learning that we saw, as well as some reflections on our own practice and some stories of collaboration.  The debrief is SUCH a great way to end a walk.

Walk 2


Important Note:
I wasn't able to stay at Pershing to see classrooms from 10:15-10:45.  I'm sorry I missed you this time 1R, 3G, and 5D.  I returned in the afternoon for another walk.

     In 4AW, I noticed that they were working on their informational research about natural disasters.  They were learning a Serravallo strategy where they kept their topic and essential question in mind, looked at the table of contents, and then decided which part of the text they needed to read to answer that question.  They had all their books waiting for them at their tables, and they were already in their topic groups.  We left before they returned to their desks to research, so I wondered what their notes looks like.  Next time I pop in, I'll have to ask a student to share with me.  :)

     In KS, I noticed kinders writing about community helpers!  There were independently writing, with the assistance of the anchor chart they had saved in SeeSaw.  There were different levels of supports in place for students to be successful as well.  I also noticed that Ms. Szalko had a student writing sample on the SMART Board that she had annotated over to show the strategy of making their pictures a WOW Picture.  Overall, I noticed how intentional her use of technology was to support her students, and I wondered what her first steps were in the year to get her students so comfortable navigating their iPads.  I even had a K student give me a tour of their PowerSchool resources.  

     In 1A, I noticed that they were mathematicians!  Ms. Asgharzadeh's students were all engaged in math games around the room.  One of the stations was a group with her, and they were using a deck of cards to add and demonstrate their thinking on a number grid.  I noticed that Ms. Asgharzadeh always makes the students say their math thinking in a complete thought after their turn.  This is a very intentional use of language.  I wondered if that had a positive impact on their ability to play the game with partners after she released it to them.  I think it might.  :)

     After we were done, we went again and debriefed, this time with Lynne, Amy, and Jen.  Meg once again led us is a brief conversation about what we noticed and wondered, and we celebrated the dedication, planning and intentionality of the Pershing teachers.  Without this debrief, we would not have been able to hear the perspective that we all bring when we observe the same classrooms.

     THANK YOU to Robin, Chris, and Bazz for covering classrooms for half an hour so that teachers can learn from each other.  The beauty of these walks is that teachers get to visit their coworkers in the spirit of collaboration.  We are truly #bettertogether, and these walks were an example of that.

These were just my informal notes.  :)

     Thanks, Meg and Bazz, for giving your staff the opportunity to learn from each other.  Thank you, Pershing staff, for opening your doors and leaving your own classrooms for just a small amount of time.  That time can make a big impact on our students, and on future collaboration.

You are #bettertogether at #teampershing.

25 Days of Classrooms: The Wonder Years

Friday, December 15, 2017

This month I am sharing stories from
classrooms in Berwyn South District 100.

Day 15: The Wonder Years with Amy Gorzkowski (ELA/Lit Coach at HMS)

     Sometimes, I wish I was a student in a classroom.  In this case, I almost pulled up a chair and returned to my middle school self.  Mrs. Gorz was watching The Wonder Years.

     I stopped into her room, and immediately recognized Kevin Arnold from my past.  Oh, Paul and Winnie and Kevin, back together again.  It was just almost 30 years later.  I was very intrigued, and then I glanced at the board.  They were doing a character analysis, exploring how characters' traits and actions affect the plot.  It was a formative assessment for their unit, using a text that was actually media.  The show (for those not familiar with my childhood) was set in the 60s and 70s, and was narrated by a grown up Kevin Arnold.  Because of this, the show is actually a pretty complex choice for students living in 2017.  They would be have to use their character analysis skills, while keeping the setting in mind, and the way the narrator portrays the action.  They also had 3 very different characters to choose from, all who impact each other in different ways.

     The text we choose has a big impact on the type of work students can produce when given a task.  Mrs. Gorz thought a bit out of the box, choosing a show that would be new to most, but still dealt with issues her middle school children could relate to, even in a different decade.  I know, because I did the same thing at their age.  

     That day, Mrs. Gorz almost added a new student to her roster.  I wouldn't have minded completing the character analysis to get on the roster.  :)

25 Days of Classrooms: Biliterate Dreams

Thursday, December 14, 2017

This month I am sharing stories from
classrooms in Berwyn South District 100.

Day 14: Biliterate Dreams with Gissel Escobedo (Dual language kindergarten at Emerson)

Image Courtesy of Steven Kellogg, borrowed from Snowflakes Fall (MacLachlan & Kellogg)
     Today is December 14th, 2017.  It marks the 5 year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, killing 20 6-7 year olds and 6 staff members.  26 angels gone too soon.  

     Today, I was thinking about which classroom to write about, and I decided that I wanted it to be one that would in some way pay tribute to those lives lost.  They were so very young and full of potential that will never be realized.  It just breaks my heart.  Today, I need to tell a story of hope and potential.


     This afternoon, I walked into Gissel Escobedo's dual language kindergarten room, and I saw a glimpse of the future.  Students were gathered on the carpet during English Language Time, and they were talking about police officers.  This class of Spanish speakers read, "The police help." In English!  In my head, I fast forwarded to them in high school and beyond, entering the world fully bilingual and biliterate.  I saw the possibility of great things that language will help them achieve.  I also saw pride on their faces, in between moments of pure "kindergarteny" behaviors.  These students are 5 and 6 years old, and they have their whole life ahead of them.  For that, I am so grateful.

     In that picture above, a young kindergartener is showing us a picture of a police officer.  His hat almost looks like a halo, and it made me think of those Sandy Hook angels once again, and the first responders who helped that day.  Thank you, Gissel, for letting me stop into your classroom just when I needed to be there.

     If you want to see their reading achievement, just watch below!  


25 Days of Classrooms: Character Matters

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

This month I am sharing stories from
classrooms in Berwyn South District 100.

 Day 13: Character Matters with Theresa Sievers (3rd at Komensky)

     Character matters.   Standard 3 in the Common Core is all about character development, and it sure matters.  Is it because it is carries a large portion of the questions on the PARCC?  No.

     Character matters.

     Characters matter.

     Do you see the difference there?


     This post is not about teaching RL 3, but rather being an example of RL 3.  The greater goal in teaching students about characters in the books they read is to develop them as humans in the real world.  To read books about different characters, and see their struggles and motivations, and how they react to different situations in life, helps our students learn about how to show empathy and persistence and hope.  Reading about characters in books helps us develop our own character as people.


     Day 13 is focusing on a classroom in a different way.  This post is not about instructional technique, but rather instructional integrity.  Theresa Sievers is a teacher who believes in the power of  a smile, so much so that the smiley face has become her symbol.  She has been there for her coworkers for 28 years in D100, with both a listening ear and an occasional piece of chocolate.  She is the kind of teacher who embraces spirit days for their playfulness, yet values instructional time and has high expectations for her students.  She is there when you need support.

     What I love about Theresa (in addition to her chocolate supply) is her constant willingness to learn and grow.  She has reached out many times solely for the purpose of being the best educator she can be.  She has invited me to her team meetings with open arms, because she believes that we are better together. I happen to believe that, too.

     Education is a demanding profession.  We all need to know who our Theresa Sievers are in the school(s) we teach in.  Professionally, they model kindness and a growth mindset, all in one package.  But, they also model it for our kids.  Character matters.  How we treat people matters.  Theresa, thanks for treating others with kindness always. Even today, when you weren't feeling all that great.

     Teachers matter.

     Plus, your kids are learning a ton.  :)


25 Days of Classrooms: Making a Difference

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

This month I am sharing stories from
classrooms in Berwyn South District 100.

Day 12: Making a Difference with Michelle Fischer (5th Grade at Irving)

     We started back to school in August again this year, full of the potential of another great year of learning and opportunities for our students.  At the exact same time, a devastating hurricane was hitting Texas.  We started school on a Monday, and by that Friday the news was describing schools that would no longer start the year off with opportunities for learning.  Their schools were devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

     Irving's 5th grade team (Palmisano/DeMauro/Weber/Whisler/von Ebers/Fischer) decided to do something about it.  They started researching ways to help, and decided to #AdoptaTXClassroom. They asked for donations at their school, and through the generosity of the staff and students at Irving, look what they were able to donate!  Because I follow Michelle on Twitter, I knew about the 5th grade project and their success.

     I was at Irving a few days later, just walking in and out of classrooms, and I stumbled upon this main idea/ key details lesson.  


     At first, it seemed like a typical mini research type lesson.  Students were in pairs around the room, reading a Time for Kids article with highlighters in hand, ready to mark the main idea and key supporting details.  Michelle was working with a small group, perhaps to provide support or extend the learning.  At this early point of the year, she may just have been getting to know the kids a bit better, with a review of main idea and current events.  All I know is that as I walked around the room, the kids were eager to tell me facts and new understandings they had about the damage Hurricane Harvey had done.  No one seemed to mention their project, though.  

     It was a conversation I had with one student in particular that I found quite inspiring.  She was also working on main idea and key details, but she had discovered the text box above on the bottom of one of the pages of the Time for Kids pamphlet.  In it, it says, "If you pitch in, tell us how.  We'll share some of your stories in a future issue."  This young lady looked up at me and said that she might just write a letter to the editor, describing how they adopted a classroom in Texas.  

     Why did this strike me so powerfully?  Yes, we are teaching students how to find a main idea and key details of a text.  That is true.  But, even more importantly, we are teaching students that they can positively impact others in this world. These students weren't just reading current events.  They were contributing to the development of those current events.   It's lessons like these that I hope all of our students can learn while in our classrooms.  This student knows that her voice matters, and that her positive actions made a difference.

     Ms. Palmisano, Ms. DeMauro, Ms. Weber, Ms. Whisler, Mr. von Ebers, and Ms. Fischer, thank you for adopting a classroom in Texas.  Michelle, thanks for letting me walk into your classroom, providing me with an opportunity to thank your students for being great humans.  I loved being able to thank them personally for making a difference in the world while they read about Hurricane Harvey.

     If you want to hear more about this class of students, please follow @MsFischer5 on Twitter, or her class Instagram account @5fclass18.  You are sure to find more things to brighten your day, whether it's book club conversations or more lessons on how to be a great human.  :)

25 Days of Classrooms: Traveling Musician

Monday, December 11, 2017

This month I am sharing stories from
classrooms in Berwyn South District 100.

Day 11: Traveling Musician with Doug Henager (PE at Piper and Irving)

     This post cheats a little bit.  For all the previous posts, I have actually been in the classrooms I blogged about.  This one, however, is an exception.  The teacher, Doug Henager, has been on the move.  The only way I have caught him is on Twitter. He travels between two schools to teach PE, and lately he hasn't been staying in his gym.

     Doug is a PE teacher, but he also plays the guitar!  He has been spotted bringing his guitar into classrooms to share his talents with students.

This was his first musical sighting, in Ms. Smetko's room in November!

Here is one of him in his own gym at Irving.

Here is another in Ms. Cornier's classroom!

Keep your eyes on Twitter for more performances by Mr. Henager!  Thanks for bringing what you love to not only your classroom, but other teachers' classrooms as well.  If you want to see great videos of his PE class in action, follow him on Twitter!  He's @Piper_PE.

25 Days of Classrooms: Simple to Complex

This month I am sharing stories from
classrooms in Berwyn South District 100.

Day 10: Simple to Complex Sentences with Joe Schueller (2nd at Piper)


     This week, I had the opportunity to attend the #IRCBilingual17 conference and one of the sessions I went to was on Sentence Composition.  It was presented by Renee Urbanski, and she spoke about how she had taken hundreds of student writing samples and analyzed them to find the reason for a gap students had between their ACCESS reading and writing scores.  She discovered that the difference seemed to lie in the definition of a complex sentence.  Students were producing a lot of simple sentences, and needed some guidance on how to craft a more complex one.  It wasn't that they couldn't produce it, but more that they didn't think to produce more complex sentences while writing. She talked about using Response Frames (Kinsella) that embedded grammar in them, rather than just Sentence Starters, to increase complexity in more guided writing opportunities.  

     The very next day, I walked into Joe Schueller's 2nd grade class, and found them writing.  Sonia Peralta, the EL teacher, and Colleen Noffisinger, the Literacy Coach, were also in there, walking around as the students were writing.  I stopped and talked to a student about their writing, because it was about nutcrackers (and I love nutcrackers).  Then I realized that everyone was writing about something they wanted for Christmas.  I looked around the room and noticed this on the SMART Board.

    I think I see a Response Frame with a conditional sentence that has a past perfect clause!  This is what Renee Urbanski talked about the day before!  

    It turns out, Joe's class had finished their nonfiction writing the day before, and his team hadn't.  So, they decided to use the time to use a Response Frame around a common topic (Christmas) to focus on increasing the complexity of their language when writing.  They could have just had the students write about Christmas, but instead turned it into a language lesson.  Excellent choice!

     I also caught Joe reading a student writing sample to the class.  He had walked around the room, and purposely chose a sample that demonstrated accurate transfer of the Response Frame to their writing.  Using student samples as examples in an excellent way to make they feel like real writers!

     Thanks, Joe, Sonia, and Colleen, for letting me pop into the lesson and see writing in action. Thank you for your thoughtful planning on developing our young writers.  Lessons like this placed intentionally, either after units or within writing workshop to increase their awareness of the structure of language within their genre they are writing, would be a wonderful way to continue this work.  :)