It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time! (For Reading Workshop)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

     We had our Instructional Decision Making (IDM) meetings this week, where we looked at student data with grade level teams and the reading team and DRC to help make some decisions for the remainder of the year.

     To say the meetings are overwhelming would be an understatement.  So many of us come to those meetings with different triggers that overwhelm, so it really is hard to neutralize all stress from that meeting.  My part was supposed to be about the universal, and the second half of the year of reading workshop really does look different in many grades.  So, how do I give information in a somewhat friendly way as to not completely overwhelm?  Enter the double PB&J.

     It started as a goal to create a single page "one sheet" with options for reading workshop in grades 2-5 as the year continues.  We started the year with guided reading as the universal type of small group, but we are ready to start talking about other types of small groups that could be seen during workshop.   We are building toward book clubs in those grades, and we want to hit some concepts before we get there so that kids are successful in them.  As I started creating the boxes on the sheet, it almost started to look like a sandwich to me.  At first, it was a double cheeseburger.  But then... the double PB&J was born.

The Bread

The bread is the mini lesson and the share: The beginning and end to a solid workshop block.  A purpose for reading, with accountability for that reading.  The slices of bread keep it all together and focus both the teachers and students.  I threw the CCSS into there, because our curriculum materials alone do not determine the types of mini lessons we need to have.

The Peanut Butter

The layers of peanut butter are actually the types of small groups that *might* be going on in a workshop.  I said *might* because this list of groups is not complete.  They just happen to be the types of groups we discuss at Hiawatha the most.  Also, two are kind of made up by me...  It just goes to show you how important instructional decision making can be.

The first layer of peanut butter are teacher led small groups.  The first two are different levels of Jan Richardson guided reading (our universal model) and the third is a strategy group modeled off The Sisters (Boushey and Moser).  The last two are actually just strategy groups, too, but are less focused on small size and reading level, but more on conversation and Common Core standard work around grade level text.  We have many above grade level students who struggle with grade level common core work, and many ELL students who need explicit conversation instruction.  Those are just groups that give teachers permission to focus on those areas, too, once students get to grade level reading levels.  (Students below grade level could also be in those groups, but should also get guided reading as well.)

The second layer of peanut butter are small groups that are student led.  For these groups, if the teacher has taught conversation and comprehension strategies all year, this is the time for the students to apply all they know with book clubs.  Starting with partnership book clubs is a nice way to get those expectations going before book clubs officially start.  Because they are student led, the teacher should be able to continue guided reading or strategy groups with those students she needs to see.  Otherwise, she can observe and act as a moderator for the clubs as they have their conversations.

The Jelly

The first layer of jelly is the idea that shared/close reading strategies should be somewhere in the block.  Namely, that all students should be exposed to their reading level AND grade level text, and that they should be taught to reread for deeper comprehension.  This strategy can be used in all the small groups listed, or as a whole group strategy.

The second layer of jelly are the things that help us assess our reading workshop and make decisions about what we need to do in our own rooms.  No two classrooms are alike, because our students are not the same.  Running records, conferring, and formative assessments help guide us where we need to go with our students.  Adding mini lessons, starting a strategy groups, close reading an image, working on a certain standard, all start with assessments.

That's it!  The double PB&J.

     The intention of this one sheet was just to give our teachers some control over the decisions that they can make during reading workshop.  There are reasons all those pieces are in that sandwich.  Sometimes, we just need to know why they are there, and what key components are in each piece so that we can apply them somewhere else.

You might spread peanut butter and jelly onto the sandwich as separate layers, but they blend together immediately.  So do all the pieces in reading workshop!  

     What is your reading workshop PB&J going to look like in 2015?

***Thanks, +Felicia Frazier +Michelle Brezek +Courtney O'Connor +Anne Kruder +Meg Hanisch for the collaboration on my double PB&J!  You literacy coaches are the best!

What is a Main Idea, anyway?

     Let's be honest...
     How many of us have ever taught main idea as anything more than "Look at the first sentence of the paragraph."  That tells you what the paragraph is all about.

     Maybe I shouldn't admit that...  But it is true.

     That is actually how my 2nd grade teacher editions always instructed me, and it worked like a charm.  The thing is, the assessments that they created to "assess" that skill were created with that in mind.  Real books, however, do not always magically tell me what the main idea is in the first sentence.

     Perhaps I can admit that, because those days are gone.  I did a walk around our building let year during the non-fiction unit, and I noticed that the students were having a very hard time finding the main idea, or even determining what the topic was at times.  Was it because they weren't using text features as clues?  Were they not clear on what a main idea was, compared to supporting details?  Were the texts they were reading actually at their reading level?  Were they trying to find the main idea of an entire book, but the book didn't have a single main idea?  Could I come up with the main idea of a specific book with 100% certainty?

     The hamster wheel began to spin. I went to Twitter and the web and my teacher resource shelf and slowly retaught the idea to myself.  I was then able to help teachers add mini lessons in to target some of the deficits.  Learning is always occurring, even for the teachers (and in this case, myself).

     This year, I met with 2 teachers who wanted to discuss main idea one on one with me during independent plan time or after school.

     The first was +Virginia Burdett.  She is a 4th grade teacher, and wanted to give a main idea pre-assessment to her students after my Institute Day session.  We talked about the types of things we could assess for, and decided to go with a simple Boxes and Bullets type organizer and an article about teeth from Discovery.  We then met after school to sort the samples, as we did at the Institute session.  We actually had an open sort going of 5 or so categories.  Once we were done, we came up with some specific behaviors she could share with her students to move them along, based on both strengths and weaknesses.  This is the rubric/progression she then created with her class based on our analysis of the Common Core rubrics and the actual student work.

     +Lori Horne is another 4th grade teacher on her team.  She wanted to talk about main idea with her high achieving reading group.  We noticed that they do not always see the main idea when reading, even though they are fluent.  They tend to tell us EVERYTHING about the book. So we pulled out a new resource from Jennifer Serravallo called the Independent Reading Assessment.  It comes with actual texts and some questions that the students answer in writing DURING independent reading.  Lori and I met after her students had completed them and used Serravallo's rubric to compare her students' work to Serravallo's standard.

     We decided to use Serravallo's kit as the professional development that it is, and we used another text from her kit as a mentor text to build a similar progression/rubric with the students.  We figured that if  we could really show the students how to state a main idea at a 4th grade level, they might have a better awareness when they do it independently.  We planned a tuck in mini lesson, and I came back to observe.  Lori read an excerpt of the nonfiction trade book, and created a progression of main ideas with the students, going from approaching to exceptional.  To be honest, they are based on a Level P text complexity, so it is really at the beginning of 4th grade expectations.  But, based on student work both in her class and in Ginny's class, that is where they are.

     These two teachers then shared what they learned about their students and main idea with their team at our building meeting.  We are using our building meetings to discuss student work and sort it based on Common Core rubrics.  Ginny and Lori shared their thoughts with their team, and then this progression/rubric showed up in +Diann Milford's room!  

     I had the most thoughtful conversation with Diann after school about how she created the progression/ rubric with her class, but also how giving the information to her students in useable pieces to move them to the next step seemed very helpful to both her students and herself.  She described to me the evolution of her thinking as a teacher about scaffolding of ideas, not just main idea.  

     Can I just say WOW.




     These 4th grade teachers just blew me away.  I love that they all collaborated together, but their own teaching style is reflected in those charts.  They each also walked away with different take aways from the process that will undoubtedly help their students.  Thank you, +Lori Horne , +Virginia Burdett , and +Diann Milford, and all the rest of the teachers in my building, who give up their planning time, or time after school, to collaborate with their teams.
Also, check out that Serravallo assessment kit!  Fantastic!

Why Sort Student Work Samples?

If you want to go fast, go alone.  

If you want to go far, go together.

-African Proverb

     This year, our focus for building meetings has shifted.  Instead of learning new strategies for lots of random things that are necessary in school, we instead shifted to one strategy that could be used across all subjects.  That strategy is looking at student work.

     More specifically, we are using a loose structure of the Collaborative Analysis of Student Work.  Each week in building meetings, and in some team meetings and the occasional 1 on 1 plan with the literacy coach (me), teachers at Hiawatha are beginning to look at student work with the standards in mind.  We sort the work samples into 1, 2, 3, and 4, with a few simple purposes:

1.  We want to come to common terms about our expectations for student work.
2.  We want to see what our students are getting from our instruction.
3.  We want to be able to plan universal instruction that fits our students' needs.

     The strategy of sorting work is meant to be collaborative.  In having discussions together, we are realizing that we do not all share the same thoughts about work, or process, or expectations.  We also don't have the same lenses to analyze.  By having conversations like this, we start to learn and collaborate from each other about our students and how to best help them.  We put value into our colleagues' thoughts, and in our students' work.

Sorting work is meant to be a strategy done with someone else, either in pairs or as a team.  The strategy could be independently used by teachers, too, but we certainly do not expect you to sort every piece of student work that the children create.  Your purpose for sorting needs to be clear, and beneficial to you, before you choose to sort work on your own.

Back to the building meeting...
     This week, we just said to bring work that had a written response to reading.  It could be a whole group assignment, or work from a small group.

4th Grade worked together to sort main idea pre assessments, done in a Boxes and Bullets format.


First grade met to sort a formative assessment on character.  They call them Brain Blasts.


2nd Grade met to talk about an assessment they gave studying a character (Peter by Ezra Jack Keats) across multiple read alouds.

5th Grade discussed responses in a Reader's Response Notebook, comparing it to the CCSS rubric.


Kindergarten brought a "Book Report" written response.


Third grade brought their Reader's Notebooks, too.  Their responses were about supporting character traits with text evidence.


     As I walked from group to group, I heard a variety of conversations.  Some focussed more on standards, some talked about the qualities that made responses a "2" or a "3", some discussed where their next teaching points need to go, others just talked about if their current teaching point was understood by the class.  In actuality, this is a process that we are just starting.  We don't all have the same vision of what a grade level sample looks like with the Common Core in mind.  It's this type of conversation that needs to happen for us to get to commonality and equity in Standards Based Learning and/or Grading.

To repeat my beginning thought...

If you want to go fast, go alone.  

If you want to go far, go together.

-African Proverb

     I am thrilled that we are at the point where grade level teams can bring samples that they created in their own rooms to talk about next steps and reflect on where their kids are in the learning process. This is a slow process, but I think that if we give ourselves permission to talk to our coworkers about the work the students are actually producing, we will all be more effective teachers because of it.

     Thank you, Hiawatha.

Warming Up on a Cold Day with Awesome Teachers

Friday, January 9, 2015

     I don't know if you have heard about this, but it was really cold this week.  I mean REALLY cold.  In fact, the only snowman we have built at the O'Donnell house with the highly anticipated first snow of the season was this LEGO snowman.  We even built it during school, because it was so cold that we had 2 cold days.  I mean, that is REALLY cold.  

     OK, that probably isn't news to you guys from Chicago.

     When I heard the news that school was in session on Friday after being off the 2 previous days, I was a bit reluctant about it.  To be honest, I was nervous about the cold weather and sending my son to school, where he waits outside in the car line to be picked up at the end of the day (a car line that I had a feeling would be waaaaaaaaaay longer than normal due to the temps...).  I also knew that my husband would be home, because his school opted to take the third day off due to frigid temps.  But, I woke up and bundled up and drove into school, with just a little bit of the winter blues.

    Then I got to school, and the thaw began!

     I started the day in a book talk about standards based grading.  It was our first meeting to discuss On Your Mark, a book written by Thomas Guskey about the reasons to shift towards standards based grading, led by our principal +Karen Marino.  We had an honest conversation about the purposes for grading, and the reasons that it is an important shift for us.  We began talking about our current report card and its limitations.  We had an interesting discussion about I Can statements and how we use them in our classrooms, effectively and not so effectively.  It was just the beginning of the conversation, but did I mention that it is an optional book talk (the day after 2 cold days) and there were 20+ staff in attendance!!!  It really just shows the dedication that our teachers have to really understanding their students better.

     I then met with a teacher to help her get some video clips of her art project into an iMovie to show her thaumatropes to her students.  They were awesome!  Starting my day with art is always a step in the right direction.

     I then dropped off some children's books to a teacher who is looking to include some mentor text into her writing lessons.  They are starting opinion writing, so I got to look through my books and find some fun books that show strong opinion or persuade.  Nothing brings a smile to my face faster than children's literature, but a close second is a teacher looking for a good mentor text.  

     I stopped into a few classrooms and caught some great mini lessons in both reading and writing.  Our kids were off for a few days, but you could never tell by the learning I saw today!

     I had a thoughtful mini discussion about running records, and the purpose for them and the information we can get from them when they are "cold" or "warm" reads. 

     I then met with a teacher about some ways to get some partnership book clubs going, with the possibility of using some close reading signpost strategies in the process.  While we work that out, she turned the conversation to the PD +Meg Hanisch and I held on Monday at Institute Day about main idea and standard 2.  She decided to do a pre-assessment and asked me to meet with her after school to look at the results and begin to create a rubric of sorts for main idea.  "Of course!" I shouted!  (Ok, I didn't really shout out loud, but I did inside a little.  How fun!)
      I then went to talk to another teacher about one of her higher level reading groups, and some of the challenges we are having since moving to nonfiction.  We decided to use a book from Jennifer Serravallo's newly arrived assessment kit (YIPPEE!!!) with the group, to get a good sense of the information we can gain from the assessment kit.  We plan to have the group do the assessment, and use her system to discuss their answers and really look for their strengths and weaknesses.  

     On the way back to my office, I chatted with a reading specialist about the possibility of her providing some support to a teacher.  We talked about a possible observation cycle of sorts, and then discussed some data I have been analyzing that looks at some trends across 3 and 4 year periods of F&P data.  While that might not sound all that exciting to some people, I am a data junkie.   Proud to admit it.  

     I then went to meet with a teacher who wanted talk about assessments for their character unit, and the possibility of adding some close reading lenses to their current shared reading block.  We looked at a rubric she had already created, and then talked about the types of things we might like to assess for this unit, with a close eye on Standard 3.  We also have an idea for close reading that I will have to share once we actually teach it.  It is going to be so fun.  

     I then talked with a teacher who gave a PD on using formative assessments that I missed this week, and asked her to meet with me and give me a mini version of it because of the positive buzz that it has created around the building.  

     There were three brief conversations with teachers about their individual data walls, as we prepare of our IDM meetings next week.  Questions about universals, RTI, and missing data.  Oh my!

    This is when I had a piece of delicious homemade banana bread, thanks to a dear friend.  Did I mention it was homemade AND had chocolate chips in it?  

     I then got a text message with these photos, and the message "Super fun teamwork!"  Um... Can I be in 2nd grade again?  I want to be on their team.

     I stopped into a classroom and took a look at some books and resources left behind by a previous teacher, and found trade books from our last two reading basals and a summer school program.  It is so interesting seeing where we were then, and where we are now.  The previous teacher (ok, it was me) worked so hard to get those leveled readers purchased for her groups.  Now, our book room is filled with authentic reading materials.  

     One of our teachers then invited me to sort some formative assessments with her.  She has started sorting them, but wanted to think about how she could sort them and record them in a way to show progress over time.  While I don't know that we accomplished that goal, we did sort the samples with a lens of "problem/ solution" and had an interesting conversation about her students' responses.  I think we came up with a teaching point to add to her read aloud to help her students move to the next step.  

     I then had bus duty, where I got to meet the grandpa of one of our new Hiawathans.  What a nice man!  

     I finished the day getting to have a brief conversation with a teacher from another building, and then a longer conversation with that teacher who had done the main idea pre-assessment with her students.  We read the main idea student expectations of our CCSS rubric for standard 2, and determined some next steps for her main idea instruction.  We realized that her students are doing a fantastic job using text support and finding key details, so she will use that strength to move them along.

     So, I may have started to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher to you somewhere in the middle of that.  I have a feeling that CCSS based conversations, rubrics, pre-assessements, close reading, partner book clubs, mentor texts, work sample sorts, and book talks about standards based grading do not excite you as much as they do me.  But, I am a but of a nerd.  I embrace it.  So why bother boring you with all that?  I typically don't discuss how I spend my days, because coaching is a private thing at times.  

     I just couldn't help myself.  I just had to share those conversations with the world.  

     Did I mention that this happened the day after two cold days?!?!?  I kind of wanted to be in my slippers still, and they were ready to hit the learning targets.   

     Wow.  While half of Chicago was still frozen and not even attending school, those are the conversations that I had, with some really amazing teachers (and I am sure I missed a few in my list).  I mean, days like today make me realize how fantastic the teachers at Hiawatha really are.  Below zero temperatures do not stop them.   And I couldn't be any prouder of them.

     I just really hope the weather warms up just a little bit next week.  As warm and fuzzy as all that academic talk made me today, I really would like to stay a literacy coach and not become a snowman.