Experiences for our Students

Saturday, December 20, 2014

     This blog post is dedicated to the great kindergarten team at Hiawatha and our AP, with a little shout out to the 5th Grade, too:  +Liliane Gelacio +Kara Wesolowski +Melissa Alper +Kirstin McGinnis +Bill Davini +Jane DeCaire +Jean O'Neil +Andrea Avila +Katie Cardelli 

     We expect a lot from our students these days.  We expect them to learn things at a faster pace, both at school and at home.  We support that learning through the great instruction that happens in our classrooms every single day.  But, we cannot control the life experiences that our students have coming to school.  Things like their exposure to nursery rhymes, reading with their family, tasting certain foods, experiences like baking, going places outside of the school walls, etc.  Those are the things that we tend to talk about, or perhaps show a picture of, but we really can't give those experiences to our students.

     Or, can we?!?!?!?

     I was talking with a 2nd grade teacher this week about moving the small moments unit further into the year, simply because they don't have shared experiences yet to write about.  She was saying that perhaps they needed to front load their field trips so that they have common experiences to pull from. She could be right about that.  Kids need to have things to write about.  They also need to understand what they are reading.  Unfortunately, some of them don't.  That's why our kindergarten staged a Goldilocks scene in their rooms earlier this year, and why our 5th graders had a Haunted Hiawatha on our stage (Videos below).  And, this week, the Gingerbread Man was loose at Hiawatha.

     It started with a lot of Gingerbread Man read alouds, with the last one being The Gingerbread Man Loose at the School.  They had gotten all their classes together, put the ingredients together for a real "giant" gingerbread man cookie with the students, and sent him off to the oven.  While he was cooking, they started to read the book below.

     In the middle of the story, they were surprised when a giant gingerbread man appeared in their room.  Banging on windows, busting through the door, and challenging them to chase him.  So, they did!  

     They chased him right into the school, where they found pieces of him leading to the office.  They burst into Mr. Davini's office, looking for the runaway cookie.

     Instead, they found a confused Mr. Davini, who had just taken their cookie out of the oven.  (Or, did he?!?!?!)  They went back to class and tasted a real gingerbread cookie, and many of them had never had gingerbread cookies before.  

    Our kindergartners did not just read holiday books this Christmas season.  They BECAME the characters in that book.  They got to chase a "real" gingerbread man.  The words, "Run, run as fast as you can.  You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!" became more than just words on a page.  They got to be part of a shared experience that they will remember long after their kindergarten year.

     Teachers often feel like they don't have time to do things like this.  They often feel the pressure of the curriculum, and they feel the need to fill every moment of time with learning.  Well, my question is, how can learning be better than experiences like this?  As the videographer, I can tell you that this whole experience lasted no more than 30 minutes.  In 30 minutes, they heard a story, became characters in the story, and sampled the cookie for real.  THAT is the curriculum.  Nothing about that experience was random.  It was well planned out and supported those students in so many ways.  

    As we get closer to 2015, think about how you can support your students in the coming year.  Can you teach the curriculum and all the important lessons and concepts that we need to teach, but throw in some creativity and EXPERIENCES for the kids?  Can you make learning come to life for your students?  Can you use their time wisely and accelerate their learning through the gift of life experiences? 

Here is the link to the whole gingerbread experience (4 minutes):

Here is the gingerbread trailer version (1 minute): 

Here is the Goldilocks scene video:
This was the beginning of their fairy tale unit.

Here is the 5th Grade Haunted Hiawatha:
They then used this experience as a boot camp to write small moment stories.

Close Reading, Grinch Style

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

     My daughter is home with a fever today, which means I am home with a daughter with a fever.  What does one do with a sick daughter?  Go to Pinterest and make Christmas crafts together, of course.

     Her current favorite Christmas character is the Grinch.  So, we made some fun crafts together in honor of the Dr. Seuss seasonal icon.

     It started the other day with some ornaments for our tree.

     Today, we painted a paper plate brown and turned him into a reindeer, just like Max.

     Next, we found a way to make the Grinch by painting a paper plate.  (Pinterest has everything.)

     Then, we drew the Grinch and Max, his dog, following step by step directions we found.  This time, we each drew our own.  Keira was happy that we drew the same things.  Mommy/ Daughter bonding with smelly markers and dot dot markers.

     My favorite thing that Keira made, though, was her own picture of the Grinch.  She clicked on a picture of the Grinch from the ones I had searched in Google, because it was the picture of when he got his "wonderful, awful idea."

     As a literacy coach mom, I immediately thought about how my daughter close read that image.  She knew the exact moment in the story when that happens simply because of the expression on his face.  She has, in fact, noticed some differences between the cartoon version and the book.  But, most impressive to me is that she is inferring a character's feelings using illustrations and story events.  Take this conversation a few hours later:

"Mommy, why do some people hate Christmas?"

"Who hates Christmas?"

"The Grinch."

"I think it is because he didn't have love."

"But he has Max!"

"But did he really love Max?"

"He said "hating the Who's" in the movie.  I know he didn't love them.  He loves them now, though."

     Talk about character development.  That Grinch certainly develops over the course of the text.

     I love the Grinch, because it has always been a holiday tradition of mine.  But, perhaps he could mean just a little bit more.  Perhaps, it can be a door into deeper thinking with a mentor character who really leaves an impact on our students.

     On my search for Grinch crafts, I found a few fun things, and a great blog post from Scholastic, about how to actually use the text to do some close reading.  Here is the blog post.  She mentions some possible themes and social issues to explore, and gives some picture examples of annotated text from the book.

     On Fairy Tales and Fiction, they give some freebies for the Grinch.  There are some fun character activities for K-1, maybe 2nd grade kids.  Here is the link to their blog and freebies.

     This is a fun number identification coloring sheet, that I do not really think is Common Core aligned all that much, but makes the Grinch when complete.  Fun activity, not deep thinking.  Here is the link.

     I saved the best link for last.  This lady loves the Grinch AND taking photographs of her kids.  We had a conversation this week in 2nd grade about character traits vs emotions vs physical traits.  Her anchor chart is really a combination of the three things.  I suppose when asking kids, at 1st and 2nd grade, to describe a character we hope for great vocabulary, and less about which of the three categories the word falls into.  We want them to go beyond "happy."  But, using the word adjectives instead of "character traits" removes the argument about categorization, I suppose.  Perhaps that is a way to start the conversation with kids.

These images are from thefirstgradeparade.blogspot.com

     This post is really about holiday fun, mixed in with a little literacy fun.  Enjoy the season with your students and your family.

Teacher Leaders

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Teacher Leaders?

     Today I followed a Twitter Chat with ASCD about teacher leaders.  That is actually a topic I have thought a lot about recently, working with the various teacher leaders in my own school district.  I have the lucky position of getting to work with many teachers who lead others, both at Hiawatha and throughout the district in my PD role, curriculum work, the mentor program, and National Board mentoring. So many of these tweets made me think of D100 staff.  So, here are some of the highlights.  Do you see yourself in these tweets?  I do!  

How do you think the role of teacher leader should be defined?

How can admins support and empower current teacher leaders?

What are some ways that teachers can work on becoming teacher leaders?

What are some of the challenges or potential pitfalls of developing teacher leaders?

Tell us about a time when you were encouraged to be a leader, or when you encouraged someone else.

How can a strong teacher leadership structure benefit school climate?

What is the best advice you'd give to someone who wants to be a teacher leader or develop teacher leaders?

     In D100, we are blessed to have many opportunities to lead as teachers.  I am proud of the moments that I have been able to use the skills that I have to help others, but I am even more proud of the co-workers that I see every day lead others on their teams and in our building.  The things we are doing at Hiawatha fill me with pride, and none of those things could be accomplished without the drive, dedication, and perseverance of our teacher leaders.  New teachers, veteran teachers, teachers in between, all rising up and leading others with their talents.  Thank you for what you do.

     To quote @cvarsalona, "Reflective learners become the best leaders." Take time to reflect on your teaching, your students, your purpose, and your goals, and share your light with others.  We are a district full of teacher leaders, making a difference every single day for our students.  


(To see the entire Twitter chat, go to #ASCDL2L)

What is the Purpose of Grading?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

     Last week, I wrote a post about our staff using the narrative writing standard of the common core and annotating evidence of it on grade level exemplar samples, provided by the Lucy Calkins Units of Study.  You can find that post here.

     Jane DeCaire and I had done that activity to help up get ready for a task that had been assigned by our district Writing Core group.  They had asked that every school pick exemplars of their narrative writing so that we can group them and look at samples from across the district.  In order to do that, we felt that we had to familiarize ourselves with grade level expectations.  All too often, we compare the samples in the room with the other samples in the room, and pick soley based on comparing them to each other.  By looking at the standard and a grade level sample (most of which were more developed than our kids produce), we began to see where the "bar" is.

     For this week, we brought some of our student writing and had the teachers look for evidence of the standard in those samples, and determine what were samples that meet the standard, and if we had any that exceed.  In a previous meeting, we had used these terms to sort work into categories:

1: Below
2: Approaching the standard
3: Meeting the standard
4: Exceeding

We had asked our staff to bring the top 3 samples from their class.  So, is the work they brought a 3 or a 4?

 OR ?

     That seemed to be the question that arose.  We are just getting our feet in the water with standards based grading, and our report cards do not necessarily match the work we are beginning to do with our staff.  So, in my opinion, it comes down to our PURPOSE for grading in the first place.  The great Bob Marzano wrote about it in his book, Transforming Classroom Grading.  Here is a link to a piece of it about purpose for grading.  

He names 5 purposes:
1.  Administrative purposes (promotion, retention, class rank, etc.)
2.  Feedback about student achievement (one of the typical primary purposes of grading)
3.  Guidance (guidance for choosing placement, like a guidance counselor would do)
4.  Instructional Planning (to help determine groups and instructional plans)
5.  Motivation (for the students)

     So which is most important?  Marzano said, "In short, there is no clear pattern of preference across the various sources except for the importance of feedback. Consequently, schools and districts must undertake their own studies of teachers and administrators regarding the purpose of grades." Hey, he must be eavesdropping at our meetings!  :)

     Back to that "Is it a three, or is it a 4?" question...  It depends a bit on our purpose at Hiawatha.  If we are using that 3 or 4 to show whether our students should promote to the next grade, or be retained, then we really need to know what a three or a four is.   Our report cards are not there yet as a district, though, and that is a conversation that really should be held district wide.  

     What if our purpose is feedback about student achievement?  If we look at student work to see if they achieved the learning goals of our lesson, then it is also important to really know what would be considered a 3 or a 4.  If the majority of the class does not get that 3 or 4, should we then use the information to plan for instruction and revisit the missing concepts?  But, if we don't have a clear understanding of what a 1, 2, 3, or 4 really mean, it could be possible for kids in one class to get a 4, and kids in another class to get a 2, for doing relatively the same quality of work.  How do we know what to reteach then?

     What if our purpose of grading includes student motivation, but the 4 is marked for performing at the next grade's standard, and no one in the class can even perform at grade level?  How does that affect motivation?  

     There are many, many, many questions that come up when we start to have conversations like the ones we are beginning to have at Hiawatha.  I really think that all of those purposes for grading are relevant to our conversations as we begin a journey towards standards based grading.  I think the most important factor right now is the collaboration of the grade level teams.  The answer might be different if the task is a pre-assessment, a response journal, a writing sample, or a math problem.  The fact that we are talking with each other, and trying to align our expectations, is critical.  

So, here is a question for your team:
What was your learning goal for the lesson/ assessment/ unit?  What did you expect for them to be able to do?

Perhaps that is your 3.  And it is good to get a 3!  The 4 really should be all that you expect in the 3, but go beyond what was taught to the whole class.  

In short, here are some goals for us as we move forward:

1.  Use the standards in the conversation.  The more we reference the standards and talk about them as a team, the more we understand their potential impact on our kids.

2.  Know that we are in the early stages of this process.  It is OK if, for now, we use this process to just help us decide what to teach next.  It does not have to be about report cards right now.  

3.  Get to know your kids and what they can do.  Move them along to where they can go.

4.  Give yourself permission to figure out your learning goals/ targets and then communicate those to your students with student friendly checklists.  (More on that soon!)

5.  Use our conversations to give better feedback to your students, and less to grade them.  

Thank you, Hiawatha staff, for starting on this journey!   

The Power of Balanced Literacy

Sunday, November 23, 2014

     In our 2nd year of Reading Workshop in D100, we have really started to find the value of seeing things in more of a Balanced Literacy approach at Hiawatha.  Our days can be really segmented and choppy, teaching 15 minutes of this, and 15 minutes of that, and feeling disconnected and out of sync.  But, if we see all those 15 minute pieces as pieces of the puzzle, things start to "fit" and flow can be found in our days.

     I was recently at a 5th grade ELA planning meeting, and I was struck with just how much more their unit has flowed this time around.  We got through the 1st year of workshop last year, but we were just struggling to get through it all.  Anytime you adopt anything, that is what you do the first time around.  Our kids struggled with the content, we struggled with the content, but we got through it.  The 2nd year is here, though, and with a balanced literacy approach things have gotten easier.

What changes did they make this year?

1.  They have a common read aloud across the grade level.  This has helped immensely when it comes to assessment.  They have used their read aloud (The Apprentice) to design mid book and final assessments around the CCSS standard 3, as well as the Calkins Unit of Study.  

2.  They use their read aloud as their shared reading and close reading experiences.  If we see shared reading and close reading as separate times in our day, like we did last year, they learn the skill, but don't always apply it.  When they hand every kid a copy of the novel, the kids start to see how to apply those lessons while they are actually reading.  Kids started re-reading the chapters on their own during Read to Self!  

3.  They used their read aloud to set up their Reading Response Journals.  What a great way to make them accountable for their listening, and still model the types of entries we hope to see in our journals. 

4.  They are using their current theme, the Renaissance, and their current novel, The Apprentice, to set up their predominant genre: Historical Fiction.  This work is going to set them up for book clubs, for sure!  Establishing the importance of setting in historical fiction through a shared read aloud is a great way for students to really understand the importance of time and place in historical fiction.  

5.  They were also able to build content area vocabulary around their theme.  By using The Apprentice to teach about the Renaissance, it was easy enough for them to build content area vocabulary.  They then used that vocabulary to do short, focussed research writing about the time period.  They also used quick writing ideas, like Wordles, to explore the important vocabulary of the Renaissance.

6.  They use big ideas, mini lessons, and vocabulary from their unit within guided reading.   When I observed a group performing below level, they were still using some of the concepts the class had been introduced to in workshop and read aloud to spark conversation in guided reading.  They used text that was at their instructional level, but elevated the conversation with grade level discussion around it.  

     My favorite moment of the unit so far, though, was when those fabulous teachers practiced a new lesson idea using the book during their ELA plan time.  Kate Cardelli had found a new structure to use post it notes with groups, so they all practiced using post it notes together.  They then realized that they were answering the question as teachers, not their students, and re-did their responses.  What a powerful moment for them!  By using the shared read aloud, they were not only able to talk about a shared text, but they used that text to really think about what their kids are able to do in class.  It is that type of thinking that will really move our students forward.  We have to start where they are at.  Always.

So, what is the one sentence summary of this post?

Use a shared read aloud to help teach the big ideas of your unit, your reading workshop mini lessons, and writing, creating flow in balanced literacy.