Book Clubs are Starting!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

      I walked into the first week of Book Clubs in kindergarten today.  It was amazing.  Picture it...  Collections of books of their favorite characters, all spread out at a table with readers holding them.  Some were reading the words, others were reading the pictures, some were describing the characters to their friends, all were smiling.   Clifford, No David, Piggie and Gerald, Fancy Nancy and Curious George were the guests of honor.  It was amazing.  Let me tell you why...

The kids were talking about the books, all on their own.

They were listening to each other's ideas.

They were adding their own ideas.

They were applying all those character strategies they have learned this year.

They were READERS.

     I happened to experience this lovely event in Mrs. Surma's room, although I know Mrs. Carrera had done it the day before as well.  After my initial awe at them gathered around a collective set of books and having conversations, I then looked at their written response.  They had spent time reading and discussing books, and then when they were told "Markers up!" they were able to write works to describe their characters.  The words they used were amazing.  In kindergarten, the standard hopes that they can name literal things and infer emotion in a character.  Some of their words?

naughty    friendly     pretty    nice    helpful     messy     fancy     happy     depressed    quiet    patient    silly   respectful

Yes...  They called Fancy Nancy depressed.  Why?  Because she was lonely, of course.  :)
**And no, they did not spell the words correctly.  It actually added to the charm of it all.

     My favorite moment came when they had their share at the end of the workshop.  One of the book clubs came to the front, and Mrs. Surma asked a student from the group why they felt Fancy Nancy was "fancy."  The little girl replied, "I didn't write fancy."  The response?  "That's ok.  Someone in your group wrote it.  Why is she fancy?"  That, in a nutshell, describes what I hope for Book Clubs to be at Hiawatha.  Collaborative.  

     Reading groups are not new to us.  With guided reading, we offer a lot of support.  Reading level wise, as well as conversation wise.  The children are given many scaffolds for success.  In strategy groups and comprehension groups, they get a little less support, but they still rely on us to really lead the group.  Book Clubs can be the point in the year where kids take control of their learning.  They can listen to their peers.  They can share ideas.  They can synthesize what they book says into a collective thought or many new ideas.  They can demonstrate their learning from the whole year, all on their own.

     For many reasons, this year will be an introduction to Book Clubs.  We still have some work to do on getting our students to listen and communicate with each other, in addition to having deeper conversations about the text itself.  Literature Circles could be compared to Book Clubs, but in the time of the Common Core standards, gone are the days when kids only have to know how to do their one isolated role.  They need to know how to use specific lenses in combination with other lenses.  We are raising the bar a bit.  

     In fourth grade, I also happened to walk into the first week of Book Clubs.  I saw their teacher, Miss Betz, sitting with them and explaining the norms for their group.  She explained the Google doc that they would use to collect their thoughts about the setting, signs, and character traits.  She asked them if they had any questions, and then said, "Ok, I will leave you to read now."  She got up and walked over to check on another group, stopped long enough to do a shared entry with them on their Google doc, and then scanned the room again.  

     In Mrs. Horne's room, they were doing Book Clubs using picture books to analyze the setting.  The discussion prompts were on the SMART Board to give their conversations some structure.  What is the setting?  How does the setting change?  What impact does the setting have on the character?  It was actually pretty interesting seeing how the students responded to these questions.  One group had a debate about whether the setting changed or not if it was only in his imagination.  Another group was reading Swimmy, and they said "In the ocean" and were happy to be done.  Because we were listening, both groups got the feedback they needed to help move them along, and then were released back on their own.  

     Book clubs are about the students showing us what they know.  It's where they can show off all those strategies they have learned with us.  It is also where we really need to be listening and watching so that we can provide scaffolded support when it is needed.  But, this is what we have been working towards all year!!!  After watching those kindergartners, I can't wait to see what they will be capable of doing when they get to 4th grade.  Just imagine the conversations they will be capable of 4 years from now!  Fancy Nancy might be depressed, but I am giddy!  


Reinvent Yourself

Saturday, April 12, 2014

     Today I had an opportunity to attend the debrief of a site visit, specifically highlighting the wonderful things going on at Komensky and Heritage, but also the district in general.   There were multiple school districts in attendance that drove to Berwyn to see what we are doing here.  It was quite impressive to hear our district administrators, teachers, and iCoaches describe the learning opportunities our students have.  We are part of something special.

     One moment that really struck me was when one of our visitors asked how our iCoaches were trained.  They started discussing how they created their own PLNs to grow.  Sue Butler discussed all the changes in education (technology, common core, etc.) and said that common plan time is so necessary because with all the change, we need to collaborate.  There is no way we can do it all ourselves.  But, we need to make a lot of changes in ourselves.
She then said, "I don't need to reinvent the wheel.  I need to reinvent myself."

Wow.  Let me say that again...

Don't reinvent the wheel.  Reinvent yourself.

     That statement has still got me reflecting...  9 hours later, and on a Friday night.  But here I am, blogging about it.  Sue has always been very successful at getting me to think.  Well, she did it again.  And she's right.  I think will all the changes in education today, there are a lot of "changes" that are not really all that different.  But, there are some that are REALLY different. We have to allow ourselves to change: to look at things differently, to change our perspectives a bit, to shift the work to the students, to collaborate as a team daily.

     The phrase "Don't reinvent the wheel"has been around for a long time.  As long, in fact, as the wheel itself.  But, when you think back to caveman wheels, and you look at those we use today, the wheel is still the wheel.  It serves the same function as before.  But, is it the same wheel?  We haven't reinvented it, but it has certainly evolved.  As our lives have changed, and technology advanced, so did the wheel.  The same can be said about education.  The skills and strategies we need to teach are the same, but they have evolved as well.  The world has changed, and so too have the demands put on our students.
     Don't reinvent the wheel.  Let's perfect it.  The common core standards themselves, individually, are not new.  The strategies and skills listed in them are the same.  Students have always needed to know theme, or characters, or vocabulary, or figurative language.  But, times have changed, and so has the timeline that our kids have to master those strategies.  Also, they no longer have to do those skills in isolation.  The common core has perfected the wheel with the concept of demanding that our students not only know those strategies and skills in isolation, but that they use them together.

Wait?  Did she just say that the CCSS perfected something?!?!?!  Is she crazy?!?!?!

OK, perhaps it isn't perfect.   But, it sure did advance the wheel.

     Perhaps being a mom of young kids has helped me reinvent myself, but when I saw those standards, with all the things that I know are just best practice, yet they are asking our kids to think critically and for themselves, I nodded my head in agreement.  I want my own kids to be able to solve problems by themselves.  I want them to be able to hear 2 sides to a story, and make an informed decision.  I want them to see things in life and think about them.  More importantly, I want them to be successful.  And, quite honestly, they are growing up in a world that is different than the one I grew up in, and they will live in a different world as adults than the one today.  

Reinvent yourself.

     As a parent, we want better for our kids.  As a teacher, we have 28 of them to actually teach.  It is hard to manage that all by yourself.  Think about the things that might hold you back from making changes in your classroom, and then REACH OUT.  We need to work together to make change, because the world is a busy place.  Share your resources with a teammate.  Join a PLN.  Ask a student for tech help.  Reach out to a coach.  Share a great lesson with your team.  Step outside of your comfort zone.  

Know that you make a difference.  

Perfect the wheel, but don't perfect it alone.  

     Thanks, Sue, for making me think about things... again.  I would be more nervous about all the changes that are ahead of me professionally, but I happen to have an amazing PLN of colleagues (Sue included) and complete strangers who will help me out along the way.  Thank goodness for them!!!


Dr. Douglas Fisher? We Know Him!

Friday, April 4, 2014

     I was at a meeting today, and the presenter asked if we knew who Dr. Douglas Fisher is.  I happened to be sitting in the front of the room, and suddenly smiled at his name.  I think she thought I was instantly excited about her reference to him and her program.  What was really going on in my mind?

Heard of him?  We are practically friends...

     This is a story about a certain literacy celebrity stalker (Me), and a cup of coffee...

     Anne Kruder and I woke up early at 6am to go downstairs to the Starbucks to get our coffee before the rush at the Illinois Reading Council Conference.  We got our coffee, then got ready for the day.  Priorities!  We headed to our first session of the morning, and THE Doug Fisher, close reading expert, was there early in an almost empty room.  There are many ways to close read, and his method is not in my top 3, but I still pleaded with my fellow literacy coach friends to get a photo with him before the rest of the room filled.  So, here we are.  Our photo op with our first big star of the day.  You'll notice the single cup of coffee in my hand.  Where, you might ask, is Anne's cup?  She didn't want it in the photo, so she put it behind Lauren.  This also happened to be in direct line of Doug Fishers's hand.  As soon as the picture was taken, his hand swiftly knocked an entire cup of Starbuck's caffeinated goodness to the ground, spilling like oil all over the somewhat clean carpet of the conference room.  The smell of coffee wafting up to us, we all quickly looked to Doug Fisher and his response... Anger? Irritation?  Would this destroy his concentration moments before presenting to hundreds of people, eager to hear how to close read from the close reading guru?!?!?!

     Just before presenting to hundreds of people, Doug Fisher left the auditorium and found a copy of his book to autograph for Anne.  He came over and wrote it in the seat in front of her, before carrying it over to Nancy Frey to get her signature as well.  The inscription?

Thanks for all you do!
Douglas Fisher
P.S. just a tiny coffee stain!

I should have taken a picture of the coffee stain.  It is a big regret of mine.  I am a literacy nerd, but also a scrapbooker.  Oh well.   Here is an image from google to simulate the moment.

     The conference was almost a month ago, yet the coffee can be a metaphor for me now.  The spring always brings so much change...  The seasons start to change, the school year starts to wind down, and we start to wind up over the year that will start again in the fall.  For some reason, every spring brings uncertainty that tends to bring both anxiety and calm.  This year, I am going to try to use Anne's coffee as a message.  Coffee spills!  That cup that we planned so well for, getting up early and strategizing for, spilled in an instant.  In the moment, it seemed bad.  I felt terrible for Anne, and the carpet.  But, the laughter after with friends, and the replacement with the autographed book shows that sometimes the unexpected is followed by better things.  Just a tiny coffee stain.