Wednesday, February 25, 2015

      Wow, the last 2 days have been just jam packed with new learning!!!  Between our Institute Day at school, and a conference with Lester Laminack today, you can say that iLearned a lot.  
***For those outside of D100, our PD hashtag is #iLearnbsd100 (hence the iLearned title).

Here are a few take aways from the last few days.  We will call them some "light bulb" moments.

     We have a really great staff in D100. 
     (OK, I kind of knew this already.  But oh well!)  

     I have been talking to the Ignite presenters and +Bill Davini and +Sue Butler about the Standards Based Learning ignite sessions for the opening Keynote for a month or so.  I have looked at their slides on a shared Google doc as they worked on their presentations, and I have spoken to some of them in person about them.  I knew they would do fantastic.  I believed in them, and their power to ignite us into the Standards Based LEARNING world, where feedback, formative assessment, purpose for learning and grading, collaboration around the standards, and student self assessment are part of our classrooms every day.  They did FANTASTIC.  Thank you, +Annie Forest+Katie Wicklander , +Christina Betz+Virginia Burdett+Marilyn McManus+Margaret Rigney and +Sally Mc Cormick for getting up in front of the district and sharing your work with us.  Bill finished up with our new purpose statement for Standards Based Reporting.  


     The difference a year makes is amazing.  Last year, we all were in our first year of reading and writing workshop, and it was hard to sometimes help keep people from feeling under water.  It wasn't the shift to workshop that make that happen alone, but the new intense focus on teaching to the standards overwhelmed.  Who's kidding who?  It still overwhelms.  

     But, yesterday, +Meg Hanisch and I led a PD called "Close Reading to Transition to Book Clubs."  It was an optional break out session, and we had 92 people sign up!!!  The two things that last year made people feel like they wanted to scream (close reading and book clubs, not Meg and I- I hope...) drew people in to sign up for a voluntary PD session.  Why?  Because they feel READY.  Our staff have worked so hard, and they are ready for the next step.  D100, you are awesome!  They even participated in our live Twitter chat, using the hashtag #bsd100BookClub.

Here are our presentation slides.

Check out our Storify archive of Tweets here: 

Continue to use the hashtag #bsd100BookClub for anything that promotes book clubs and close reading, or anything in between.  

Want to see (or share) videos of BSD100 book clubs in action? 

Thanks, Meg!

Photo courtesy of +Colleen Noffsinger 

     My district is hosting our first EdTech conference, celebrating our student engagement through 1:1 technology and solid instructional decision making.  If you want to come see our classrooms in action, sign up and join us on May 8th and 9th!  

     My take away yesterday?  Everything looks better in shamrock green.  Go Irish!  :)  Love the new  shirts.  The QR code on the sleeve even works!  Thanks, +Shannon Soger and +Michelle Hauer.  

Here is the link for more information on the conference:

     Ok, this wasn't a light bulb moment, either.  
     The Hiawatha staff is awesome. 
     (There, I said it.)

     We had 7 Hiawatha teachers present at Institute Day yesterday, between Ignites and break out sessions.  So proud of you +Christina Betz+Virginia Burdett+Kirstin McGinnis+Kara Wesolowski+Liliane Gelacio, and +Bill Davini!  

     We also had our teams do a lot of planning for reading, writing and thematic units during EdCamp sessions!  I loved getting google docs sharing new plans, and hearing the excited (yet mentally exhausted) teachers tell me all about the things they worked on as a TEAM.  Oh, how I love collaboration.  

     My last light bulb moment is that the PARCC is coming.  Wait, maybe I knew that and was just pushing it out of my mind in fear.

     The good news is, +Mary Havis and +Diona Iacobazzi were very clear is telling us the secret to the test.  Are you ready?  Here goes:

     OK, so maybe that won't solve all of our PARCC problems, but that is a pretty good rule of thumb for life.  Words to live by!

Shifts in Assessment and Learning

Thursday, February 19, 2015

     On another "Cold Day" here in Chicago, I wonder which of the people in the cartoon above is asking that question...  To be honest, being a student and being a teacher these days is HARD.  Expectations are high for both.  Sometimes, we just have to see the reasons for getting up and facing the world.  This week's building meeting gave me that motivation, despite the frigid temps we are facing.  

     Our building meetings at Hiawatha have all been focused around looking at student work.  Sometimes we compare it to a specific standard, sometimes we sort it into categories, sometimes we just talk about the information we gained from the samples.  We have done that for reading, writing, and math on a rotating weekly basis for a few months.  This week, we were talking math and were led by the fabulous +Christina Betz.  She is our math core leader at Hiawatha, and leading the math charge towards the CCSS and utilizing workshop model.  

     Christina started the meeting with the cartoon above, really being honest as to how hard school can be, for both teachers and students.  She then talked about why we are sorting work, and how there have been some major shifts in assessment recently.

     Christina is so right!  We are currently on a DACEE committee together, led by +Bill Davini and +Sue Butler, and we are right in the middle of a major shift in D100.  We have spent quite some time talking about Standards Based Learning, and how formative assessment and feedback given regularly are what our students need to move closer to meeting the standards.  Standards based learning is about being responsive to the students WHILE they are learning.  Using Christina's words, we want to give descriptive feedback that empowers and motivates students to create their own goals and find their own success.

     Her message was very powerful and positive, and really speaks to the shift we have seen at Hiawatha in the purpose for our assessments and the collaboration we have around them.  

     I cannot state how proud I am of the Hiawatha teachers for embracing the shift.

     She then had the teams discuss whatever formative assessments they had brought.  Here are a few sneak peaks into current math instruction at Hiawatha!

     But as I was walking around, I heard some pretty amazing things being discussed by the teams.  3rd grade was talking about self assessment, and how they are starting to have their students self assess their thinking on the back of the exit slips.  I heard a first grade teacher say that she could just recycle the whole stack of assessments, because they pretty much told her how to reteach the concept so that they will understand it.  The 5th grader teachers were talking about their math responses and their rubric for their math journals.  And then I got to 4th grade....

What do you notice about these 3 fractions?  Explain below.

     The 4th grade teachers were sorting their samples using this question into 1, 2, 3, and 4.  After sorting a bunch, they started to see a few patterns in the types of answers they were getting.  After some discussion, one of the teachers said, "Maybe we didn't ask the question in the best way."  (OK, that was a paraphrase not a direct quote, but I was so giddy with excitement that I forgot to write it down.) 

     That is the point of the collaboration we are having.  By working together and looking at student work, and talking with our coworkers with clear targets in mind, we start to see ways that we can change our instruction to maximize learning.  

     After telling them how excited I was, they began to describe how they have seen a transition in their math assessments over the course of the year.  What used to be very lengthy and often time consuming pre-assessments, they are now using much shorter yet more useful formative assessments that guide their instruction.


      Building meetings like this make me want to find a big box of gold stars.  While stickers do not give the best feedback, sometimes they are just necessary.  Gold stars all around.

Christina ended her part of the meeting by saying this:
"Assessment, teaching and learning go hand in hand as each informs the others."

     I loved that statement so much I had to make a graphic for it.  Assessment, teaching and learning all go hand in hand.  Assessment guides our teaching.  Teaching guides learning and creates feedback and new learning. The learning generates new teaching.  Teaching does not necessarily mean learning has happened.  Responsive teaching is here in D100. There has been a shift, and it will do wonderful things for our students.  

Close Reading in First Grade (AKA: A Coaching Collaboration Success!)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

     I had a first grade teacher come to me and ask how to make her shared reading time more of a close reading time.

     Once again, let me refer to the Lehman/ Roberts definition of close reading:

     For a reader to independently stop and reread for meaning, they have to be independent readers in the first place.  That is why the Shared Reading block is a great place to attempt creating habits of close reading for our littlest readers.  Our first grade teachers have a shared text that they read every day for 10-15 minutes outside of the workshop block.  Most often, by the end of the week, most of the students can go back and reread the text for a specific purpose.  If they can do that, we have the very beginning habits of close reading. 

     But, let's think about it for a minute... Why do 1st graders need to close read?  They are still learning how to read?  Right?  

     Close reading is about NOTICING details and thinking about them.   It is about creating meaning in the texts we read, with meaning that is relevant to the reader.  So how can we help our emergent readers notice details, think about things, and create meaning from what they read?  My answer has always been to close read images.  By using pictures with our K, 1st and 2nd graders, we can get them to think deeply about a text, but remove the challenge of finding a text that is deep enough to really think about that they can actually read.
***We can use pictures beyond K-2, too.  Trust me.  I have.

     So, when +Julianne LaFleur came to me to ask how she could enhance her Shared Reading block, and they were beginning their character unit, the words MO WILLEMS practically fell out of my mouth.  What better characters to explore, with the focus on feelings, than the always expressive Piggie and Gerald!  

     I had been to a workshop at Institute Day where +John Fontanetta presented a lesson from the Library of Congress where we close read just the eyes of a famous historical figure.  We had to describe the man, just based on his eyes, draw the rest of him, and then were given his full image as well as historical documents about his impact on history.  

     Since that very day, I have been waiting for +Julianne LaFleur to ask me this question.  I have really wanted to do this with Gerald.  And now we have!

     I took I'm a Frog! and copied about 15 pictures of Gerald.   I then cut out just a rectangle around the eyes, and slightly enlarged them on a white sheet of paper.  I then went back to Miss LaFleur (and +Sarah Berry was there with us that day) and showed her the copies.  I then asked, "How do you want  to scaffold this to your students?"  Let the collaboration begin!  We talked about reading other Piggie and Gerald books first to generate emotion words about the characters, having the students show emotions on their own faces to "feel" their facial expressions, and then of course passing out the Gerald eyes of an unread book as we had planned.

     The best part of it all?  Miss LaFleur came to the team planning meeting the next week, shared the resources, and gave them lesson plans to use over the week during shared reading.  She shared the experience with her team, so they were all able to do the lesson with their classes.  That also meant that I got to see it happening in more than one room!  

     On the first day, I walked into +Jodi Meyer's room, and she had just read Waiting is Not Easy! and generated a list of emotion words to describe Gerald.

     On day 2, I walked into Mrs. Meyer's class after they had read Elephants Cannot Dance.  She had them meet with a partner, and add a new word to their emotion chart.  She had each team share their word, but also had them tell where in the story Gerald felt that way, and why.  Was it in the beginning, the middle, or the end of the story?

     On day 3, I think Mrs. Meyer had them practice showing the feeling with their partner and a new book.  Miss LaFleur had her students, who have iPads, use Popplet to make a web of emotions about characters.  They chose a character from their own books, and used the illustrations to generate the emotion words.   The one above about Piggie even shows the evidence in the illustration, like "his eyebrow is up."

     On day 4, they finally got the pictures of Gerald's eyes!  First, they generated the words to describe him.  In Mrs. Meyer's room, she had them write a sentence about why they thought he might feel that way.  In Miss LaFleur's room, she had them add a setting around him, and then added a speech bubble to have them infer what he might say.

Here are a few videos from when they first started drawing:

     In Miss LaFleur and Miss Alper's class, she had them do a gallery walk to match their drawing with the full image of Gerald.  She laid them all in a line, and had the partner pairs put their drawing above/below the picture they thought it matched.  She did this after she modeled how our faces show expression, of course.  :)

     In the end, they did not all find the exact match to their image.  Some of his eyes were very close to the eyes in another image.  But, for the most part they were close.  Sometimes, the emotions they identified hit the target.  Sometimes, they did not.  But, they definitely are noticing a new detail now! Facial expressions are a huge clue into how a character is feeling.  

My take aways from this?

1.  Mo Willems is a genius.

2.  A Library of Congress lesson on close reading images can be adapted to a primary classroom.

3.  First graders need to focus on learning to read.  However, if we want to add some close reading habits, like rereading for a purpose (emotions) or using images (like illustrations in picture books) then the kids will have a blast while thinking a little deeper.

4.  This series of shared reading lessons hit multiple CCSS standards.  RL.1.3 and RL.1.7 are the biggest, but the incorporation of narrative elements, dialogue, partner work, reading multiple books about the same character, and fluency immediately includes more.

5.  MY BIG TAKE AWAY?:  The Common Core tells us what to teach, but not how to teach it.  I have said that many, many times.  I think that just by watching this seed idea grow in two different classrooms in two different ways shows that.  Collaboration with each other not only helps us learn new things, but it also helps us teach each other.  This series of lessons was just a seed idea that grew into something much more.

And, to close, I figure I'd add a fun image my son drew of Piggie and Gerald.  Just because.  :)



Influence, Gratitude and LOVE

Saturday, February 7, 2015


      I have frequently, both in person and on this blog, called myself a literacy nerd.  I am the person who idolizes literacy gurus.  I read their books, follow them on Twitter, and when I meet them in public, I ask if I can take my photo with them.  I want them to know the influence they have.  I want those literacy gurus to know that the words they put into print were read by little old me, and helped to shape in some way the teacher that I am.  I think I now have, because of IRC, pictures with most of the authors whose books line my professional shelf.
**Tim McGraw also falls into this category.
***Some of my D100 coworkers might also feel like I stalk them, with all the tweets, blogs and emails I have been sending about their instruction.  Sorry, but you guys are awesome.

      Thursday was extra special.

     About a year and a half ago, I left the classroom that I loved to become a literacy coach.  I had seen so much change in education, and I really felt that my love of literacy would help me find a way to help the teachers in my building feel empowered in their own instructional decision making.  I wanted to help them remember that they have the power to make a difference in their students' lives, and that sometimes a little collaboration and support is all that we all need to get past the curriculum changes and standards changes and funding changes that seem to be constant in education these days.  I believed in my heart that I was in the right place.  I wanted to be part of the "all of us" that makes a difference for our students.

     After a month of school and still struggling with my coaching identity, I stumbled upon a webinar by Christopher Lehman.  I sat at my desk, with headphones in, and my lit guru crush began.  He spoke the message that I was looking for.  Love what you do.  Collaborate with others.  Believe in the students.  YOU ARE THE MAGIC.  I logged off the webinar and ordered Falling in Love with Close Reading.
(Read this blog post here for more of that first experience.)

     When the book arrived, hot off the presses, it transformed me.  The buzz words of close reading had been swimming around, and there were just so many versions of them to be found.  But, Chris and Kate's definition stopped me in my tracks.

Independent.  Text.  Media.   LIFE.   Reread.   Choices.   Reflect.  New understandings.  


     I'm not sure how a book about close reading made me appreciate my life more, but it did.  I began to see close reading everywhere.  On the playground with my own 2 kids.  Through the tears of a student.  In  Oreo cookies.  In visual images.  A new appreciation of the sunset.  I started to take notice of things that I don't think I had noticed in a long time.  I even wrote a blog or ten about the effect it had on me.  I became a better photographer because I noticed the details.  But, the truth is, because I was being more appreciative of the world around me, I think it made me more thankful of the little things.  

      Now how many close reading books can do that? (It was really the authors.  Kate Roberts and Christopher Lehman are inspirational literacy leaders.)

     A year and a half later, I finally got to meet Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts in person.  I had been waiting so patiently to get my picture with them, like the rest of my literacy gurus that I love.  But, this picture actually made me nervous.  In the last year, I have mentioned Christopher Lehman quite a few times on this blog after Teacher Poets, his webinars, his EdCollab events, etc.  I tweet him, and retweet him, a lot.  I even got up in front of my school district in a Keynote at Institute Day and, while talking about the power of Twitter, I may have bragged that he wished me a Happy Birthday on Twitter to 500 D100 staff members.  I was kind of afraid that he may have noticed my attention and feared me as a stalker.  I am harmless, really.  Just appreciative.  I love literacy.  And the people who inspire me in literacy deserve recognition.

     And then he waved hello to me at the conference.  He recognized me from Twitter, and waved hello.  OMG.

      Thank you, Twitter!!!  (Reason #578 to get a Twitter account if you don't already have one.)

     Chris and Kate Roberts were downright charming and hysterical and REAL.  3 books signed, two pictures, even some conversation with Kate in the line for the bathroom.  That is just how real these two really are.  It took everything in me not to nerd out and talk to them during lunch.  I didn't want to seem like a total stalker.  

      I was so excited to get the autographs that I didn't read them that day.  I just opened my Pathways book and teared up a bit, 2 days later.   (Full disclosure: It doesn't take much for me to tear up).  I led a Pathways to the Common Core book talk when I still was in the classroom, and it started to open the door to the world beyond 2nd grade and into the CCSS in general.  Look at what he wrote!!!  Goosebumps!!!  Thanks for your  positive message about the power of teachers, Chris.

     My big take aways from the conference?

From Kate:


     We need to high five our students' thinking, whatever their thinking is.  As teachers, we need to be aware of how our body language and our facial expressions often give away when we don't think their thinking is "high five" worthy.  Validate their thinking.  Then have a discussion around it, and take it to the next level.  For example, when we close read Katy Perry's Roar, she said that the kids might say "It wants us to roar."  Start with that.  Move them through the process and have them walk away with a deeper idea, but keep the idea their own.  Have the students do the actual work.  

     These are words to live by.   Every.  Single.  Day.  No matter the subject we are teaching.

From Chris:

     Close read yourself.  

     I might not always be the nicest person to myself.  Perhaps I should pay attention to the words I say to me, and the messages that I send with my actions.  It will help me be a better teacher, and a better coach, but ultimately a better mom.  I want my students and my children to be their own cheerleaders, and that needs to start with the models they see.  Perhaps sometimes I need to get my own pom pons out and be nice to myself so that my students see a model that shows that.  Or do something about the actions I notice that don't show the person I truly want to be.

     It was a great, great day.  I highly recommend seeing Kate and Chris is they ever come back to Chicago.  They really were the dynamic duo of the literacy world yesterday.  They could present the phone book and inspire us along the way.  Chris said that structure done right is almost invisible, and they nailed it with their presentation.  5 stars.

     In a quick shout out to others who have transformed me in my short coaching career, I just have to mention the work and tweets of Dr. Mary Howard, the words of Lucy Calkins, and books by Jennifer Serravallo.  I cannot tell you the impact Howard/ Calkins/ Serravallo/ Roberts/ Lehman have had on my PURPOSE for teaching and coaching.  Much gratitude.  Check out their work.

    So, as I close, I will leave you with an image of my own life.   Friday night, blogging about close reading, and my kids were playing with their new valentine seals.  

seals in a circle
hearts on their skin
red and pink seals
pink, yellow, red ducks
order and equity
"it's your turn"
collaboration in creating the game of hot potato

     What do my children value in life, based on their seals' game of hot potato?  They believe that we all are part of this world, and that we all can be joyful together.  In a game of hot potato, or otherwise.  Influence others.  Spread that joy (of hot potato).  Have gratitude for things that bless our lives (like valentine seals).  Be present in the moment.  Enjoy LIFE.

     With much love and gratitude, thank you Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, for your influence this week and beyond.

My challenge to you (my few readers):
Who has influenced you?  Who do you have gratitude for?  Let them know.  Send them a letter.  Tweet them.  Thank them in person.  I sent a letter to my 2nd grade teacher doing just that about 15 years ago, and we still send each other Christmas cards each year.  It feels good to let others know the power they had on you.  Share the gratitude.  Spread love.  :)

You are a pathway.