#TheEdCollabGathering Reflections

Sunday, April 26, 2015

     Yesterday was a pretty phenomenal day to be a teacher who embraces Twitter and the digital world as her PLN.  

     +Christopher Lehman and his friends at The Educator Collaborative put on a whole day of online FREE learning for teachers.  They had 11 sessions and 2 keynotes, to make a grand total of thirteen chances to learn and grow about a wide variety of topics.  The best part was being able to do it from home on a rainy spring day (and in the car on the way to MSI!).  The second best part is that it is completely ARCHIVED here!

     During the opening session, they had asked how we were going to share our learning from the day with others.  I had said that I was going to share my learning through tweets, blogs, and conversations as a coach.  The tweets were live tweets yesterday.  For the blog, I thought I would use a new app that I learned about from one of my Maker Communities on google.  It's called Word Swag, and I love it.  So, here are some of the biggest quotes or take aways for me personally as a teacher.  

     To see any of these sessions, just go the the archived link above and scroll through the orange bar at the top.

     So, here goes!  My top 10 big ideas or inspirations (in no particular order) in Word Swags.  

Opening Session: Who Inspires Your Thinking?
@ichrislehman @KristinZiemke  @heatherrocco

Session 1, Workshop #3: Teacher Poets

Session 2 Workshop #6: Leading with Joy
@tonysinanis @JohnFritzky @jschwarzeteach @MrLeBrun @heatherrocco

@janinecrain beat me to making this one!  She tweeted it before I could make it.  :)  
Session 3, Workshop #7: Blogging for Teacher Voices
National Blog Collab founders @natblogcollab @MrBronke 

Session 4, Workshop #10: Celebrating and Supporting ELLs
@EmilyDeLiddo @mary_cappellini

     At the very least, please go on to twitter and follow these FABULOUS educators.  Your PLN will thank you.

The Needs of the Kids

Sunday, April 19, 2015

     I was at a workshop with past week about biliteracy and dual language classrooms, and the conversation of perspective (or mindset) came up.  The presenter, Karen Beeman, had us do two powerful things.  First, she had us think about what our definition of literacy is.  Then, she had us consider whether or not you actually need to be bilingual to support a multilingual perspective.  (Thanks, +Vianney Sanchez, for the post it image.)

     I really could write a blog post about both of these things, but that is for another day.

     What struck me about the answer to those two questions is how similar they really are to the reasons we have other initiatives or programs in place for D100.  It always seems like we have something new going on in D100.  Over my 16 years, we have had some major shifts...

Bilingual Program

Full Inclusion


1:1 technology

RTI Model

Workshop Model and Balanced Literacy

Common Core Implementation

Standards Based Learning

Dual Literacy (coming soon!)

     Beeman's question was, "How do we create a culture where the mindset is positive for a multilingual program?"  How can we get everyone involved to see the value of reading and writing in two languages?

     The answer, for all those programs listed above, is the same.  

     Look at the needs of the kids.

     I have been very lucky to have been a part of many of those programs from the start.  To be honest, the biggest challenge with some of them had been my own time to adjust.  We, as teachers, come with our own strengths and weaknesses, and our own teaching styles.  What we feel comfortable doing is not always what the kids need.  Sometimes, our programs need to change to fit the needs of the kids in front of us.  D100 seems to recognize that.

     I am proud of the teachers in our district, because they are willing to take on challenges and learn new things, just so the children that we teach will be successful beyond our classrooms.  We put things in place that might not show immediate gains in the year we have them, but we hope will help them in the years after they walk out our doors.  We are creating children whose dreams can come true.

     What makes me even prouder, though, is our staff's ability to look at all of those programs and decide what the students in their classroom need the most.  None of those things are one size fits all, and they do not stand alone.   Pieces of them can be woven into pieces of another, and it is our job to see what will make the most difference for the kids in our class.  

     +Karen Marino is leading a book talk about Standards Based Grading at Hiawatha.  Our teachers just asked themselves what they wanted for the students at Hiawatha and put their responses on an anonymous Padlet wall.  One of the teachers wrote this:

     No matter if they are speaking English or Spanish.  No matter the instructional method or group size.  No matter the use of paper or tech.  It's what the KIDS needs.  We make decisions that make the most impact that we can.  And the teachers in D100 are making that happen, every single day.  

     So think about these questions...

     What do you believe for your students?  

     How are you going to make that happen?

Self-Assessment in 1st Grade

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

     We have a first grade teacher who has really embraced growth mindset, for both herself and for her students.  She is willing to collaborate and learn from her team, and other coworkers, and the friendly lit coach (me).  Her name is +Julianne LaFleur.

     Today, we were meeting because she had found a video with a lesson idea that she would like to try out in her room.  (More on that in a later post).  It centers around feedback, and we ended up talking about some lesson ideas we had planned in her shared reading block around reading with fluency.  We had met a few weeks ago to figure out how to split lessons between the reading mini lessons and shared reading so that they worked together in a balanced literacy way.  For reading workshop, the long term goal for the unit is to create "movie book clubs" around some drama and story reenactment.  So, for shared reading, we thought it might be nice to focus on reading with fluency and gestures to work toward that end goal.  Julianne also wanted to create a way for students to self assess and to give feedback to each other about their character performance.

     Julianne has a 1:1 iPad classroom, so her students are very savvy with tech.  But, what impresses me is how the students use that tech to self assess their learning.  Take this for example...

Here is a video of one of her students showing the facial expressions and gestures of a character from a just right book in his independent reading box.
Take 1!

     He watched his own video, then used this rubric to self assess his video and submitted it to his teacher through Showbie.  Oh his rubric, he marked himself as a frown for both eyebrows and mouth not matching the emotion.  Julianne then decided to use his video to model having the class give him feedback, and they also told him to add those two things as well.

So, he went back to iPad and did it over again!  Here is a video of her student, after he self assessed himself and the class gave him feedback to use his eyebrows and mouth more.
Take 2!

     Isn't that incredible!  Even in first grade, students can learn that we can always improve.  We can assess ourselves, we can ask others for feedback, and we can do things more than once.


A Little Love for Lester Laminack

Saturday, April 11, 2015

     Here I go again...  Another photo opp with a famous literacy leader.  :)

     +Anne Kruder and +Felicia Frazier had signed up to go to a workshop about writing, but I was unfamiliar with the presenter.  I heard he was a prolific author, but I do not have any copies of his books.  But, those ladies are SUPER SMART.  If they know this man, then I need to go see him.  So, I registered for Lester Laminack.  My son woke up with a fever that morning, and I almost did not go, but knowing how intelligent Anne and Felicia are, I figured out a way to go for most of the conference.  And boy, were they right.   I have a lit coach crush on Lester Laminack now. 

Lester's Thoughts on the Common Core

Everyone who talks about the Common Core is offering their interpretation.  It doesn't mean they are right.  
Side Note: That includes well intentioned literacy coaches like myself.

The 4 corners of the page, on a literacy level, means to stay on the page.  That could mean to support our own thinking with text examples, or close reading text to create deeper understanding.

The words "close reading" are not in the Common Core.
(BTW, I have heard this A LOT.  It's true.  I checked.)

Close reading means many things to many people.  It is probably not this, though.
Lester modeled a first grade close reading for us.  It reminded me of my son and daughter, so I snapped a shot the next time my son did it.  Lester's face was closer to the book, though.   I guess my son needs some help with close reading.  :)

If we only focus on text dependent questions, then we are going back to AR type questions.  Let's not go back 20 years.  Use the text to support ideas, not to answer a question and move on.

CCSS is a huge step in the right direction, compared to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.  

If you drink the Kool-Aide, then you won't see flexibility.  Be careful when drinking the Kool-Aide for the next big thing.  
(This is where I was shouting in my head, "Balanced Literacy!!!  Everything has a place!!!  Balance!)

He talked about how, over time, things have gotten blown out of proportion and given too much focus for the wrong reasons.  Big books, leveled books, nonfiction focus, close reading... Things become a FOCUS rather than a piece of the bigger puzzle.  So true.  

Lester Laminack feels that the Common Core is really saying make everything reading and writing intensive, but make reading and writing reciprocal processes like addition and subtraction.  Use one to teach the other.  Use what you are teaching in reading, and flip it to writing too.

Lester's Thoughts on Read Alouds

This part of the day has really made me think about the scaffolds and supports that we give our kids when they read.  He mentioned how he had gone to see a movie (Black Swan), and was totally blown away by the ending.  So, he took two different friends to see it.  One he had prepped for what he wanted them to notice, and one he didn't  The one he didn't enjoyed the movie more, because they were able to make their own meaning.  

This really struck me.  How often do we give our students very specific lenses to read?  How often do those lenses make it impossible for them to focus on what they want to focus on?  Are we allowing our students to think independently while reading, too?

I started a whole teacher book club to test this idea out.  More on that in another post...

After the talked about Black Swan, he also said that the first read of a read aloud should be a "Movie Read."  You read it like a movie, with no stop and jots, no think alouds, etc.  You just read it for enjoyment, and let the kids process it on their own.  Then, when you revisit it (say to close read it with a lens) you model those strategies.  Leave the kids hanging a bit, and let them explore their own meaning.  

He also said something that I really feel makes Balanced Literacy work all that much more effectively.  He said that we should look in our rearview mirror and look at what we taught in reading, and use that to teach writing using anchor texts.  I think we do that a lot at Hiawatha, but sometimes it isn't exactly in our rearview mirror.  Perhaps we need to let the concepts sink in a little more before we can expect to see them in our writing, too.

Closing Thoughts

     Sadly, I had to leave at lunch to take my son to the doctor.  Ear infection.  Ugh.  I hope he comes again so that I can experience the work with picture books!!!  That seriously would have been my favorite part- digging through our favorite pictures books to find anchor texts for writing.  That is right up my alley. 

     I started writing this post over a month ago, but the Slice of Life Challenge distracted me from finishing it.  I was reminded when he tweeted the cover of his next book, which will go into much more detail the ideas I described here.

     He also right at the beginning of the day that I'd like to close with.  It really resonated with me.  He said that many of our readers just jet ski through a text.  They stay at the surface.  I find that so frequently with the students at our school, and most commonly the ones who are at grade level and above.  I can't wait to read his book and perhaps change my instructional practices a bit, hoping that our readers dive in, rather than just skim the surface.  

     Until then, time to fill my Amazon wish list with his titles...

Growth Mindset: A Snapshot

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Growth Mindset

     I have talked a lot about growth mindset over the last few years, both in person and on my blog.  I have embraced the mindset described by Carol Dweck quite assertively since I became a literacy coach.   Perhaps because I had so much to learn in order to help others, it seemed like a growth mindset was the mentality I needed to have.  

     Being a perfectionist, and a stubborn one at that, I don't know how much I embraced the learning process growing up.  I have always been someone who fears failure, and because of that I will not be seen parallel parking or making a left turn onto a busy intersection.  There are things in life that I can't do, and those things seem pretty fixed.  

     So, why is it that some things are fixed for me, while others I feel ready to develop and grow and be better at?

     Today, when we were at the zoo, my daughter spontaneously rubbed her nose together with her pet stuffed seal.  She had really wanted Dip N Dots, and we eventually gave in to our little girl.  The sun had gone away, so her hat came on, probably as a result of the frozen treat in front of her.  When asked if she was ready to leave, she said that Sealy wanted some Dip N Dots, too. She can't feed a stuffed animal ice cream, so she just leaned down and went nose to nose with him.  It lasted for 30 seconds, or a minute at most, but it was the sweetest thing I have seen in a long time.  And, because I am quick with my camera, I took a picture of it.

     In fact, over the last year, I will say that I have gotten to be a better photographer.  I have ALWAYS loved taking pictures.  It started when I was a kid myself, with an old camera that my mom had.  It used flash cubes and real film.  I graduated up to another camera that used a flash stick and film, then disposable cameras with a flash, and finally a pocket 35mm camera with a built in flash.  I didn't get my first digital camera until after I got married, so for 25 years or so I took pictures and had to wait for the film to develop to see the images.  It was a gift... That excitement over seeing the images.  Today, though, I can take 300 pictures and only keep the best 100.  Yep, that's my average photos taken on a trip with my family.

     I have always loved taking pictures, but last year I made some real attempts at being better at it.  Upgrading my camera always resulted in better images, but not my skill as a photographer.  I bought a nicer DSLR camera a few years ago, so I took a class that helped me learn a little about it.  It didn't help me actually shooting, so I took an online class that gave us a project each month and some feedback.  That is where I started to get better.  I learned some tricks, started following new photographers on Facebook, learned a little more about Photoshop Elements, and I practiced.  A lot.  

     Today, I took a picture of my daughter.  A picture that I love.  One that I will cherish forever, because it is HER, captured in a photo.  But, there were 327 other photos I took today too.  Some were good, many were awful.  A lot went into the digital trash can.  With all the work I have done to take great pictures, I still take a lot of bad ones.  I still have a lot to learn, but I can develop that talent.  

     How does this apply to education?

     When I say that we need to have a growth mindset, I am coming with the belief that we are already good teachers.  That we take our profession as an art form, and are always developing those skills to be the best we can be for our students, and for ourselves.  Over the years I upgraded the tools I use to take pictures, just like the tools I use to teach. But, the knowledge I have learned isn't forgotten.  It is applied and synthesized into something new, to make me better than I was before.  I once used an overhead projector and screen, and now I use a laptop and a SMART Board.  But, I can still use the pedagogy and content knowledge I used back then.  I have only upgraded my method of delivery.  (Or have I...  Someday I will find a reason to use an overhead projector.  It has to be instructionally relevant still in some capacity, right?)

     It seems that with all the new stuff in education these days, we are forgetting that the old stuff is usually just repackaged and retitled.  Many things remain the same.  What is different is the teacher that we are today, and the one we were before.  With the experience we gather each year, we learn the rules well so that we can break them to fit the needs of the students sitting in front of us.  It is that instructional decision making (and the toolbox that we require to make those decisions) that grows by having a growth mindset.  Picasso believes that artists break the rules, and I think that great teachers know the rules well enough to make their own or break them when it will truly make a difference in their students' lives.  A hybridizer, as I call it.  Use what you know, and make it better.

     I have also come to the conclusion that it is much easier to have a growth mindset over things that we are passionate about (hence my struggles with parallel parking and left turns).  The truth is, it is hard to believe that we can improve our skills when we feel we have no skills at all.  That's why it's important to remember what brought you into teaching, and bring that into your classroom as often as you can.  Remember why you became a teacher in the first place, and use that to propel you into developing yourself into the teacher you dreamed you could be.  

      The Leah of my childhood would have benefited from the reminder that it is ok to make and grow from mistakes, and that there is always something to learn to move ourselves along.  Perhaps the Leah of today would know how to parallel park...  Oh well.  There's always tomorrow. 


Focused Walks at Hiawatha

Saturday, April 4, 2015

     A few months ago, I saw a video on the Teaching Channel (via Twitter, of course) that talked about Focused Walks in a high school.  A team of teachers went into classrooms together and debriefed with each other.  In D100, it reminded me of our old Internal Audit visits and our current Site Visit model for outside visitors.  When I watched it, I was thinking more about the type of focus I could give when going with individual or small groups of teachers, either through the Mentor Program or as a coach.  It wasn't until a few days later when +Lucy Carrera, our ESL teacher, sent me the same link and asked if we should do it with our staff.  It was then that the idea of the Site Visit and the Mentor Program combined, and we decided to try and figure it out.

     It took me almost 2 months to actually get a coverage schedule going, but we finally found a date where all our reading staff and ESL staff were available to cover classrooms teachers during their Encore Block.  We had +Kristen Mcelheron+Abby Cramton, and +Joana Martinez cover classes but still see their groups in the classrooms for the day.  Our ESL teacher, Lucy, and our DRC, +Mary Fergus, covered a few classes and joined us on the walks.  By covering classes, those teachers allowed for the whole grade level to get release time together to walk around the building for 30 minutes with me (the literacy coach).  We walked for 20 minutes, and debriefed for 10 minutes.  

     With only 20 minutes of classroom visit time for each team, we decided to look at the grade below and above the team of teachers walking.  When we went into those classrooms, we kept the 5 key shifts of Standards Based Learning/ Grading in mind as we observed.  When we debriefed after, we kept the conversation around positive examples of those lenses.

Purpose for Learning/ Grading:
Do the students know the learning objectives?  Are they clearly stated, verbally, on anchor charts, or dry erase boards?  
Can the students tell us what they are doing, and why?

Specific Feedback:
Do we observe the teacher giving feedback, or the students giving feedback to each other?  
Do we see evidence of feedback in place (students in different stages of learning, etc.)?  
Do we see examples of written feedback?

Formative Assessment:
What activities are the students do, and what kind of formative assessment could they be?  
What information could the teacher get from that assessment?

Student Self-Assessment:
Are the student evaluating their own learning?

CCSS Work/ Collaboration:
Do we see evidence of the standards in the classroom?  
Do we see commonality of standards/ topics across the rooms?
**Commonality, not carbon copies.  The CCSS determines what we teach, not how we teach it.

Here is a picture of our first team of teachers for the day.

8:50- 9:20 First grade visited K and 2 classrooms

9:30- 10:00 3rd grade visited 2nd and 4th grade classrooms

10:10- 10:40 5th grade visited 3rd and 4th grade classrooms

10:50- 11:20 2nd grade visited 1st and 3rd grade classrooms

1:10- 1:40 4th grade visited 5th grade classrooms, and one 3rd grade.

2:10- 2:40 Kindergarten visited 1st grade classrooms

2nd grade writing from Focused Walk #1
Kindergarten learning from Focused Walk#1
2nd and 4th Grade Learning from Focused Walk #2
4th and 1st grade learning from Focused Walks #2 and #3
1st grade learning from Focused Walk #3
3rd and 5th grade learning from Focused Walk #4
5th grade learning from Focused Walk #5
1st grade math from Focused Walk #6
1st grade math from Focused Walk #6

     I debriefed with each team about the evidence of the 5 shifts that we saw in each grade level band.  Some of the conversations that we had are below.

Purpose for Learning/ Grading:
For the most part, it seems that our students are able to tell us what they are working on.  Some students could tell us why, or put it into the bigger picture.  Many were able to tell us what their goal was for that lesson.

Specific Feedback:
We saw evidence of feedback in the grouping arrangements and the fact that students were in different stages of the writing process in the Writing Workshop lessons we observed.  We did see feedback from teachers in Google Classroom, and in Showbie.  There were a few classrooms that we caught students giving feedback to each other, too. 

Formative Assessment:
5th grade was taking a math test, so that was a formal assessment.  Other than that, there were no official assessments, but there was formative assessment everywhere.  All the work the kids were doing could be used to check for their understanding before continuing to teach.  Those teachers using Showbie and Google Classroom don't even have to physically collect anything to get the work, either.  We didn't catch any exit slips on this walk, but those exist around the building too.

Student Self-Assessment:
There were a few cases of children assessing themselves, or using peer self-assessment.  When students compared their learning to a class made rubric to see if they could move themselves along, or when they met with peers to explain their thinking, they were self-assessing.  There were also students comparing their work to a rubric, and I think that we will continue to work on that type of assessment.  For now, teacher feedback seems more effective for growth and movement compared to a rubric on their own.  

CCSS Work/ Collaboration:
This was the best part of the walks, in my opinion.  It is clear that our teachers all collaborate and plan lessons together.  What was interesting to see was how each teacher on that team decided to teach it.  In some grade levels, the exact same lesson was being taught, but using completely different instructional deliveries. 

These Focused Walks exist for a few reasons, in my opinion.

1.  They open the doors across the building for collaboration.
2.  They allow us to see instructional design and decision making in action.  We don't get to see that 
      when we meet without the kids.  
3.  They build Growth Mindset.  There is something from every classroom that you can learn.  
4.  They increase our own self-reflection.

     I think the biggest take away from this experience that I had was to use these lenses on our own classrooms.  It is great to walk in and see the lessons that others do, but it shouldn't stop there.  If we are always learning and growing, then when we come back from going in and out of classrooms, there is something that you can reflect on.  Looking at those lenses, what do your students show others by their behaviors?  What can you improve on?  Or, what are you particularly good at?  What can you share with others?

     Thanks, Hiawatha staff, for going on this Focused Walk journey.  I can't wait to plan our next one!


And the LEGO Oscars go to...

Friday, April 3, 2015

     Those of you who know me know that I love LEGOs.  I have been patiently waiting for a cinematic masterpiece to be created since the Oscars this January, because of the LEGO Oscar that was given out that night.  The movie has arrived!  

It is LEGO Oscar time.

The Oscar for Best Music Video about the Revolutionary War Goes To:
Hiawatha 4th grade students!!!
Watch it here:

The Oscar for Best Team Collaboration Within a Revolutionary War Thematic Unit Goes To:

Our fantastic 4th grade teachers, and our ESL teacher too!

The Oscar for Best Original Lyrics Goes To:
Lori Horne!

She used the song Royals, by Lorde, but re-wrote the lyrics to include major events leading up to the Revolutionary War.  I will never be able to sing the original song again.  Those fourth grade voices will always be loud and clear.

The Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role Goes To:
King George has never been played by a better Husky.  

The Oscar for Best Props Goes To:
The visual images used in the backdrops of the scenes, thanks to green screen technology!

     In all seriousness, I love this project for so many reasons.  We have been working on building up our thematic units this year so that they are more balanced literacy units that just straight social studies or science units.  We want the students to be creators of knowledge, not just simply receivers of knowledge.  Hiawatha teachers want joyful learning that lasts a lifetime.

     At first glance, it looks like a fun music video that was created by teachers.  The song was written by teachers, the video was ultimately produced by teachers.  The kids sang the song, and acted it out, but the script and lyrics were not theirs.  So, was this really creation of knowledge, or receiving knowledge?

     It depends on what part of the unit this is.  

     The fourth grade is currently front loading information about the Revolutionary War.  They have been close reading images, building vocabulary, learning about major events, and doing some hands on experiences like a Boston Massacre simulation in 4HO.  
     I have a video of some students talking about the cause of the Boston Massacre after looking at some sources like a detective to see who was really responsible for this event.  They were listening to each other, having conversations about points found in the different artifacts, and built on each others ideas.  Ultimately, a little boy came to this conclusion. 
     "So I am going for both sides.  There is no equal.  There is no unfair.  Wait..."
     "They both just want to get equal in their own way, " another student continued for him.
     I think these students are starting to really explore the answers to their Essential Question with the lens of the Boston Massacre.

     There was even an all girls book club, led by our ESL teacher Lucy Carrera, about a 10 year old girl who disguised herself as a boy to fight in the war.  They call them themselves the Revolutionary Ladies.  What a meaningful way to connect to the time period.

     This unit has weaved visual literacy, different perspectives, note taking using text evidence, conversations around the events, acting, singing, close reading song lyrics, and big ideas around the essential question, "Why did the colonists go to war?"  But, this is just the beginning of the unit.  They are doing this now to front load their next unit in Writing Workshop.  The Revolutionary War will be the topic of Bringing History to Life: Information Writing.  To be honest, conversations like those also are building their book clubs without even planning it.  Accountable talk in action.  

     If our students have any chance of writing about a historical topic, they almost have to live it first. I think our fourth grade teachers may have figured that out.