Reasons I am Falling in Love with Christopher Lehman

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

     OK, to be honest, I already love him.  But, his newest book title is Falling in Love with Close Reading, so I thought that title was more appropriate.

     I am currently stalking Christopher Lehman's webinars.  I admit it.  I have registered for three in the past month or so.  I attended my first one and was hooked.  I didn't actually get to watch my 2nd one, due to technology issues with Mac, but I did just spend and hour and a half of quality time with him this evening while he presented at UW Madison.  It was rough, balancing preschoolers around dinner time while doing a webcast, but worth it nonetheless.

     Here are some reasons I love him, and you should too.

    He believes that the students need to be the ones doing the work.  They need to read more.  They need to work within the standards.  He thinks that you only get good at things you do.  That being said, he also thinks that we, as teachers, should try some of the tasks that we ask our students to do.  We need to feel what they feel.  We need to do what we ask of them.

     Try reading that passage, but every time you get to the XXXX, don't try to figure it out.  Just briefly pause and keep reading.  Then ask yourself what it was about.  Do it.

     If children are reading grade level texts, where they only can read about 80% of the words with accuracy, that is about what you are going to get from them.  You can plan the best, common core aligned lesson in the world, but it will not matter.  If they are just guessing, they are not reading.  That is what an excerpt of The Hunger Games looks like to someone who can only read 80% of it.  Look at what the students can actually do.  The best planned lesson in the world will fall short if the only one you can do the learning is the teacher.

     He suggests that before you start a lesson, ask the kids to show you what they know about that subject.  A pre-assessment of sorts...  He talked about a teacher who handed the kids a booklet for writing workshop, and said "Show me how you write a story with a booklet."  She then decided that although she could tell that the young child knew how to use a booklet, his pictures were so bad that he was unable to retell his own story.  Instead of just going into the mini lessons in the book, she taught him how to draw people. It was not a mini lesson for the first grade unit, but that would help him retell his own stories, and that mattered more than following the lesson that was supposed to come next.

     He says that he makes promises to the kids.  THEY are his curriculum.  They, not initiatives (like a program or the CCSS themselves) determine what he needs to teach.  He said in times of great change, schools should focus on a few strengths and build upon those strengths.  Focus on the kids, because they are our strength.  The standards are about doing, and the ones that should be doing are the kids.  


     He also talked a lot about building our professional capital.  We need more collaboration with each other.  Every time we talk to a colleague about a student work sample, or a curricular decision, or assessment data, we are learning new things that we can use to support our kids.  We are a community together, figuring out our kids.  He suggested that we use high quality curriculum materials that match the needs of our kids during this common core transition.  If we then look at one or 2 pieces of student work, and revise what comes next in those materials, we are building our curriculum around our kids.

     I have many, many more things to say about Christopher Lehman, and close reading in general, but that is all I have to say tonight.  :)


Character Traits

Sunday, November 3, 2013

     Grades 1-5 are all in the midst of a character unit in Reading Workshop.  This week, I thought I might focus a bit on what a character trait is.  According to,
character traits are "all the aspects of a person’s behavior and attitudes that make up that person’s personality. Everyone has character traits, both good and bad. Even characters in books have character traits. Character traits are often shown with descriptive adjectives, like patient, unfaithful, or jealous."
They have a nice post that analyzes them a bit. 

     If you think about character traits and feelings like the weather in Chicago, it can be a helpful metaphor.  Around here, the day can start sunny, turn into a cloudy, rainy day, and then end with snow.   Those are all examples of a character's feelings.  They change like the wind (quite literally, in this metaphor).  Character traits are more like the climate.  The general type of weather we have in the winter last for a long time.  That is more like a character trait.  Traits don't change nearly as often as feelings, just like climate doesn't change as often as the weather.

    This teacher does a nice job explaining how she teaches character traits, with the common core in mind, in third grade. I especially like the scaffolding she does with her kids.  She has them start with just finding examples of a single trait in their reading.  Then, she moves on to finding support in the text to show the trait using her read alouds first, before releasing it to the kids independently.  They even think about their own traits in the process!  This is hard work.  Giving the kids scaffolded release will really help them become more independent.

     Here is a pinterest board on both character traits and feelings.  Really, they are both lessons on inferring.  Inferring feelings AND character traits are important.  It is just helpful for the kids to know the difference.  There are some good ideas to help with this on the board.

     Have fun exploring character in your classroom!  It will really boost the level of the conversations you have with the kids when they take the time to really understand character traits.