Illinois Association for Gifted Children Conference

Monday, February 10, 2014

     I spent the day at the Illinois Association for Gifted Children conference with my fellow Accelerated Learning peers from D100!  We had a great day filled with learning that will surely benefit all our students, not just those we see in AL.  

     I had the opportunity to go to 4 different sessions today, so it would be incredibly challenging to summarize all that information into one post.  I thought I might just pick some big take-aways from the day.  Many are things I have heard or read before, but are important enough to say again.  

Here goes!

1.  Oral Language is very important.  Story telling, chanting, singing, read alouds, and shared reading are critical for our PK-1 kids.  Without it, they will not be ready to read.  50-70,000 words are needed to be a good reader.  Most 10 year olds only have 10,000 in English. Words matter.

2.  If students have limited knowledge or are ELL, they need pre teaching strategies.  They cannot just grapple with text that is too hard.  

3.  Questioning matters.  It really matters.  Blooms is not everything.  

4.  4+4 and 4,678,895+5,321,104 are both Level 1 questions.  They both simply ask for recall and reproduction.  We need to consider how we are "challenging" our kids.  

5.  Enduring understandings are the goal.  Teach for transfer.  

6.  We need to use the language of the standards.  Unpack them.  

7.  Kids need to paraphrase/ summarize/ synthesize information when researching.  Think of research like a conversation.  Kids should bring new information to the dialogue.  

8.  Argument and Persuasion are not the same thing, even though one develops into the other in the CCSS.  One appeals to self interest, identity, and emotion to sway others, while the other perceives merit and reasonableness of a claim.  Our kids need to know the difference.  

9.  The way we say words is more important than the words we say.

10.  Our AL staff in D100 is top notch.  Thanks Kate, Bismah, Susan, Jonathan, and Mike for the conversations today.  

     One of my favorite moments of the day was talking to one of the presenters, Laura Beltchenko.  She had two sessions on ELA.  After her session on using illustrations in literature, I spoke with her about my favorite new book, Snowflakes Fall, by Steven Kellogg.  It was a book written as a tribute to the children of Sandy Hook.  The last page of the book has an illustration of snow angels that start to fly.  I talk about the book here: Winter Books

     What I left out in the previous post, as it was written for our families not our staff, was the conversation I had with my own kids while we read it.  We finished the book at bedtime on the anniversary of the tragedy, and my son looked at this page on the back cover, and he asked, "Mommy, why are the snow angels flying?"  He had no idea the deeper meaning that was intended.  I left the room and started to cry.  Illustrations MATTER.  

     What a great conference!

Calkins Writing Conference

Sunday, February 9, 2014

     I have said before, and I will say it again, I am a bit of a celebrity stalker.  I do not restrict myself to literacy celebrities.  This blog has made no attempt to hide my current love for Christopher Lehman. But, I have also tried to stalk media celebrities.  I have talked to Vince Vaughn (and kind of sorta danced with him).   I also have a long history of stalking Tim McGraw at concerts, and have spoken to him and held his hand of sorts.  SO.... It might look like I stalked Lucy Calkins to get the picture above.  In fact, Lucy Calkins came up to US.  But, if she stopped and talked to me, I might as well have Jane and Felicia take a picture of it, right?  I mean, knowing my history?  The staff pictures were requested by our Admins, so I don't take credit for those.  :)

     My celebrity stalking aside...

     We went to The New Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing, presented by Lucy Calkins, on Friday.  The writing core leaders and literacy coaches from each building went so that we can better support our staff as we continue our transition to Writing Workshop across the district.  I will not include every note I took, but the ones I found significant about setting up Writing Workshop.  Check with your writing core leader and literacy coach, though, as this is more of a summary than a comprehensive list.

    She started off talking about how Warren Buffett has gotten so successful as an investor.  He said that he attributes his success to his ability to say "No."  He has said NO a lot, but one "Yes" can get you far.  What is one priority for your district to say yes to?  She thinks the "yes" should be to writing.

    On a side note, this is exactly the same message that Christopher Lehman and Dr. Mary Howard have also used to either finish or start their presentations.  There are so many changes in education that it is impossible to do them all well on our own.  They might all think the thing we say "Yes" to is different, but they agree that we have to choose what we want to do well in.  That doesn't mean that we can't make more than one change, but it requires us to work with each other and collaborate a lot more than teachers have in the past.  The time of the "Lone Ranger" teacher is gone.

Knowledge is like air.  It is everywhere.  Do something with it.

     That might be more of a paraphrase than a direct quote, but her sentiment here has also been stated by others.  The children of today can google anything.  They can get facts everywhere.  It is what you do with those facts that matters.  That is the main shift with the Common Core standards.  She feels, as many do, that writing is the answer.  Show what you know through writing, and share it with others.

     She also said that teaching writing is accountable teaching.  The progress is evident and visible at a glance.  It is easy to see progress, or lack of progress, without looking very hard.  Writing is taught.  Kids need instruction to write well.  Volume can develop over time, but good writing needs to be taught.

    Volume doesn't just happen.  It develops.  Typically, in 40 minutes:

  • 3rd graders produce 1 page a day
  • 4th graders produce 1.5 pages a day
  • 5th graders produce 2 pages a day
     What happens if your fifth graders don't do that?  Well, they probably won't if they haven't had writing workshop before.  They also won't if your writing workshop is only 2 or 3 times a day for 20 minutes.  It takes time.  

"Writers grow like oak trees in the fullness of time."
     She said that there are some simple necessities that we need to do.
  1. Get writing.  For an hour block of day, as least 4 days a week.
  2. Instruction shows.  Kids don't just stumble on writing.
  3. Teach skills and qualities of writing in a logical sequence.
  4. Engagement is everything.
  5. Writing needs to be for readers.  There is no writing if there is no reader.  When you write, someone hears you!
Writing is a school wide commitment, and our most precious resource is kids' time.

     She spent a good chunk of time talking about about how important schedules and routines are.  You can't do writing workshop in scraps of times.  It would be better to skip it for a whole month and merge it with social studies or science than to teach it in scraps of time.  Partner routines needs to be taught.  Mini lessons need routines.  Transitions need to be quick.  Time is very important, and those structures and norms are taught by you.

     She also suggested that small groups need to happen before conferring can happen. That might be a whole blog post at another time.  But, you want to be able to choose who you work with, so the kids need to be able to write alone before you can pull groups or confer.  They need to build independence first, so that you are the "coach."  Train them to work together and teach each other.  Once again, this is all about setting routines right from the start.  

"We can't act like it's business as usual when we teach something and no one does it."

     She said that it should be a crisis if the mini lesson yesterday was about paragraphing, and today no one is paragraphing.  If they can do it, but they are not, then make it a crisis.  If they can't do it because they CAN'T, then get them there.  But if they can, make a big deal about it.  Make the mini lessons matter.

     She talked specifically about the three types of writing, but I will cover that another time. 

     One other interesting analogy that she made was that of her bends to LEGO blocks.  She said that each unit has three bends, and those bends are like LEGO bricks.  They can be connected anywhere.  So, my suggestion to Hiawatha to skip Bend 2 of the informational reading unit and possibly add it to the complex text unit later in the year wasn't crazy!!!  If it doesn't fit with your students where it is, you can attach it to another unit and build it there.

(Completely off track here, but go see the LEGO Movie.  It was amazing.)

Q and A with Lucy Calkins

We already covered that I spoke to Lucy Calkins.  I did use my words wisely.  I went there with questions, and questions I asked!

Q:  Are your units a professional development program, intended for teachers to use them and create their own units at the same time?

A:  Yes, but in the first year of implementation, follow the units.  When teachers start adding things the first year, things get a bit messed up.

My thoughts:
I agree.  Our kids have never used workshop.  We have never used workshop.  We are new to the common core.  Creating our own lessons do require knowledge of many things that are new to us, and we should allow ourselves to use her professional development to grow.  But, what if the units are too hard?  See my next question...

Q:  If the children in our classrooms, as whole, are more than 50% not reading at grade level, should we use the previous grade's checklists, or the previous grade's units, to fill in the gaps?

A: I have no problem using the previous grade's units.  If they aren't there yet, then you can use the grade before.

My thoughts:
This does require reading both your grade level units, and the one before.  Be thoughtful about it, and look at the writing your kids are producing.  Perhaps you need to "Boot Camp" with a previous grade's bend, or use their entire unit.  Or, perhaps you can use a more guided writing model with the grade level version before releasing responsibility to your grade.  This is where collaboration with your coworkers is KEY.  Talk to your Literacy Coach and principal, too.  They are here to help.

Q: In 4th and 5th grade, it says that the writing units should be taught AFTER the social studies units are taught.  Do you have units available for social studies?

A:  We (the TCRWP) do have units for social studies, and the quality of the social studies units taught vary.  But, it is very important that some kind of unit is taught before they write about it in Writing Workshop.

My thoughts:
If the kids don't know anything about the topic, aligning the reading and writing units to the exact same timeline won't work.  They need to know something to write about it.  Front load the unit if you weren't able to teach the whole thing first, or use a more guided writing format to teach before the kids can choose their own topics about a subject they know nothing about.  This applies more to the intermediate grades, because their units tend to be completely new to the kids.  If the kids don't even know what the Revolutionary War is, they can't pick a piece of it to write about.  Habitat and Animal units usually come with some background knowledge, but history units do not.  Unit planning and essential questions are something to investigate, IMO.

Lucy knows that your kids are not where they need to be.

     She said that the units are written to the grade level above's standards, because they kids in middle school can not possibly do what they are supposed to if we do not accelerate their growth in the elementary schools.  She seemed very aware that this is new to our kids, and to us.  Just do your best, but give your best, too.  Things have changed, and we need to change as well in the interest of our kids.

     Collaboration is key.  Work with your team.  Reach out if you struggle.  We need to work together. She said that teachers are often like toddlers in a sandbox playing.  They are both talking, but not to each other.  Let's share the shovel, in the best interest of our kids (and our sanity).  :)

Mini Lessons

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

     We are implementing reading workshop, and one part of the model that I really like is the mini lesson.

      Why, do you ask?  Let me tell you!

1.  In 10 short minutes, the whole class is exposed to the same skill or strategy.  That gives common language to all your small guided groups, while also introducing them to grade level expectations as well.

2.  In aligns the universal.  If the whole grade level agrees on the mini lessons, they we are closer to making sure that all students in the grade receive the same core instruction.

3.  There is a gradual release model involved with the Calkins structure  ***IF the skill/strategy matches where the kids are at.

     Lucy Calkins defines the architecture of a mini lesson as follows:
  • Connection/ Teaching Point: 1-2 minutes to connect the new learning to previous learning, and then give a specific teaching point.
  • Teaching: 5-6 minutes restating the teaching point, but then modeling or demonstrating the teaching point for the students, usually using a mentor text.
  • Active Engagement: 2-3 minutes where the children practice the new learning in a scaffolded way to have success, usually in a turn and talk or an individual response way (like writing something in the air, or personal think time).
  • Link: 1-2 minutes giving the specific teaching point so that today, or any day, the kids will practice the skill/strategy independently.
 Back to my #3 above....

     The active engagement part of the mini lesson is supposed to scaffold them to succeeding.  If you look at the I Do, We Do, You Do model of gradual release, her model is almost more I Do, You Do, I Do.  If the skill/strategy is exactly what they needed, this might be ok.  But, as we have moved into non-fiction and the skills/strategies are harder for our kids, this approach might need to be modified.

     The next time you do an Active Engagement practice where the kids turn and talk, try to really listen to them talking in their pairs.  I know.... I taught 2nd grade for a long time... someone will try to talk to you as soon as you say to turn to your partner and talk.  Or, someone won't have a partner and you will spend those 2 minutes pairing kids off for the 500th time.  If the skill/strategy is something that is new to the kids, really try to listen to the partners though.  Because, as things have gotten more difficult, their responses have gotten filled with many misconceptions.  Listening to kids talk with partners about main idea during the first introductions of it have often been filled with a combination of topics, main ideas, summaries, key details, and even some character traits and complete silence.  And, that is to be expected.  They haven't seen non-fiction all year.  I would guess that switching the genre on them would be very confusing.  It actually confused me.  :)

     What should you do if they are filled with misconceptions and errors in their partner talk?

     Lucy Calkins then pulls them back, models what she would do, or sometimes names something a kids has said before giving the Link and sending them off.  If the students were getting it, this would be a very efficient way to end the lesson.  If they are not getting it, we have to make some decisions.  We have to use what we know about our students.

We could:
  • Have them turn and talk one more time, perhaps with a very specific focus that will give them greater chance to succeed.  This might be giving them a choice between two possible main ideas heard, and having them try to find support for them.  (Thanks, 4BEBL, for the idea).  
  • Decide that our midpoint or share needs to revisit this same skill/strategy again, perhaps with a choice structure like the one above.  
  • Decide to reteach the mini lesson the next day, with more scaffolding or visuals, or a mentor text.
  • Look at the ELA standard for the grade level below to see if they are ready for your grade's standard.
  • Use your guided groups to practice the skill/strategy and determine who really struggles with the concept.
  • Pull a strategy group with the kids who you know were unable to turn and talk.
  • Flip the learning, and find a video on Brain Pop (or other sources) for them to watch either on eChalk or Blendspace, at home and try it again the next day.
  • Keep going to the next Calkins lesson... and hope they get it... someday...
     What would you do?  I guess it depends on what the mini lesson was about.  Not all skills/strategies are treated equally, and some are of much greater importance.  But, I just wanted you to think about this a bit, because you know the answer.  Lucy Calkins doesn't.  You are their teacher.  You know your kids.  Calkins in our wise, expert guide in this journey, but you are the one teaching.  

     I found this checklist that might help you reflect on your mini lessons.  Research says that reading 60 minutes independently each day is the most significant thing we can do to help our kids read at grade level.  I happen to think that the mini lesson is a great way to get them to perform at grade level, if we base those lessons on the common core ELA standards and where are kids are at.  If, every time we teach a mini lesson, we use them to slowly give the kids what they need to get them to the next step, then we will have kids who not only read at grade level, but who also comprehend beyond the limited level.  Well, the mini lesson, conferring, and reading response will do that, but that is for another day.  :)