Reading Workshop Routines and Structures

Sunday, August 30, 2015

     The first week of school has finished, and the teachers at Hiawatha spent it getting to know their kids, building classroom community and positive climate, and adjusting back to the routines and schedules of school.  It was a great success.  If you would like to take a tour of our first week, via Twitter and Storify, here you go:

     The second week, though, can bring some pressure.  It could even make you want to scream a little.

     Curriculum starts creeping in rather rapidly, and for our staff that means they are ready to start getting some feedback based on the curriculum.  BUT, let's start as a reasonable manner.  If we build reading workshop well at the beginning of the year, then learning can begin and continue to take off all year long.  That's why I like to focus my first feedback of the year on the basic routines and structures needed for a successful workshop model to occur.  It helps us know if we are on the right track, and it gets me in the classrooms to offer support and answer questions as they come up.

     When I come into a classroom for brief visits at the beginning of the year, I look for the things listed above.  Do I expect to see them ALL in place during the visit?  Of course not!  But, at least one of those things is usually either being actively taught, or evidence of it is seen in student behaviors or on the walls.  So, I simply circle the things I see and then write notes about what I notice or observe in that visit.  No judgements.  No evaluation.  I just let the teacher know that I can see that they are building workshop routines and structures in their classroom.  And, in the process, I get to see the students.

     Why did I choose to include those things in my list above?  Honestly, they just seem to be some of the lessons or structures that once you have in place, you can focus on content and the CCSS in your instruction.  If you don't have things like a meeting place, or a time for mini lessons, or partner routines, or anchor charts, etc. you will have a much harder time once you eventually start trying to cover the standards.  Also, if your students don't have stamina or are not engaged when they are reading, there will be management problems once small group instruction starts.  We are not planning for small groups or CCSS lessons now, but they will be much easier down the road if the workshop routines and structures are established in the first 6 weeks of school.

     On the post its on the right, I like to give compliments for things that are going well, and considerations for things that I have questions about, or perhaps things that I didn't actually see but might be in place.   Considerations are just meant to help the teacher reflect on the routines and structures they have established in their room.  They often just help us have a conversation about the workshop after the lesson has occurred, or jump start another routine or structure.

     I walk into classrooms with a growth mindset mentality.  I am looking to give high fives through my notes, and validate the hard work that has already been put in place.  I know that we all want to make sure we are headed in the right direction.  I am lucky to be a person who tells our staff that they are on the right path, and help them continue down it as well.  

     I am eager to get into the classrooms and start supporting the teachers by talking to the students and doing a little kid watching myself.  Here we go!

(Thanks, Bitmoji, for the Little Leah's in this post.)


Starting Down A New Path Towards Biliteracy

     Life is full of paths.  Some we take, others we don't.  It's hard to tell what the final destination will be sometimes as we start down a new path, but with thoughtful decision making and a good map, we can usually reach the outcome we hoped for.  Of course, there may be unexpected twists and turns and bumps in the road, but if we are prepared to grow and have an open mind, the journey sometimes helps us reach an even better destination.

     I am all deep and reflective this week as D100 starts down a new path.  In my time in the district, we have taken (and continued down) many roads.  I have seen our bilingual program begin in k-3, full inclusion and co-teaching start across the grades, 1:1 technology integration across k-8, and now we are beginning a dual language program.  On Thursday, the journey towards dual language started in 2 kindergartens at Emerson.  +Gissel Escobedo and +Miriam Lopez, along with +Beatriz Lopez,  started us down a new path, full of hope and determination.  

     What are some things I noticed at the beginning of the journey?


A warm, welcoming environment that had the walls free to focus on and build upon 
the languages of the students.

A clear way to identify the English and Spanish languages the students will soon be using.  Blue is for English, and green is for Spanish.  There are scarves for the teachers to wear when they are speaking, and dry erase markers and pointers in those colors for when they are writing.  Both languages have a color to signify it and give it value.  

I saw supportive coworkers and mentors just waiting to 
help and learn alongside Miriam and Gissel.

     I was only there for about 20 minutes on Thursday morning.  I left as the teachers were going outside to pick up their students, because they needed to focus on building relationships with their kids.  Right from the start, that is what matters most.  Children who are supported and welcomed by their teachers feel valued and respected and are able to learn.  And, this year, they will learn in 2 languages.  They will begin their paths to being biliterate individuals in this world.  They have only taken a few steps so far, but we are eagerly watching filled with hope for their success in the world beyond D100.



The Kids are My Curriculum

Thursday, August 20, 2015

There I was, standing in front of 2 sessions of new teachers, giving an overview of reading workshop during New Teacher Week, but starting with an apology... 

     I apologized for the overwhelming information I was about to give.  Yes, I tried to make it general, and less daunting to our new staff who come with a range of experience.  I tried to think of the questions new staff would ask.  I put on my smiling face, and talked about the underlying principles of workshop and the resources we have and the things to consider at the beginning of the year.  But with each question asked, I somehow starting talking about common core, and Calkins, and formative assessment, and guided reading, and CAFE, and balanced literacy, and leveling systems, and workshop set up, and curriculum resources, and...

     The truth is, ALL teachers want to know what they are going to teach.  Sessions like that are necessary, because whether they are new or not, workshop model is an expectation and they need to explore it.  But, workshop and balanced literacy is NOT a script.  There is no one *right* way to do it.  There are guiding principles, but no clear recipe for success.  So, sometimes, when you talk about it, it actually creates more questions.

     And, maybe, that's ok.

     If teachers are questioning their practice, and looking to their kids for answers, they are probably going to teach better than if they just followed a script.  Even if at first things are a little rocky, the reflection and kid watching will smooth things out.  BUT... Sometimes we do need to follow something.  Experience builds with action, and with knowledge, and with time.  We need to fill our teaching toolbox before we can really look at the kids and know what to do next.  Programs and workshop overview can help do that.  But, it is up to the teacher to determine their path.

Case in point:

     That blog post was written about conferring and the other day I found it on Twitter.  Yes, conferring is on our puzzle pieces of balanced literacy and is an expectation.  But, after reading the blog post below, I started to think about what happens when something is taught because it is "an expectation."  I have seen it with my own eyes a lot as a literacy coach, and as a classroom teacher myself.   Decisions are made, and sometimes people jump to do them not because they understand the purpose or because they have adapted it to meet their students' needs, but because they have to, or their principal wants them to.  And often times, that isn't really the case.  And, things fall a little flat.

     But then, there are moments of brilliance.  Moments when teachers try something new, or adapt things to fit their own teaching style, and it resonates with both the teachers and the students.  Learning just starts oozing from the classroom and spills into the halls.  And people notice the great instruction and want to learn from that teacher, or even her students.  We begin to inspire each other.  And our students grow.  And we grow.

     Those moments of brilliance sometimes happen after we allow our selves time to develop as {both new and experienced} teachers.  

    So, I apologize to the new staff who might have wanted me to give them the one answer on how to teach workshop.  I really can't, because I don't know your kids.  Sitting in that room during New Teacher Week, your kids were still registering.  I can make assumptions and use my experience to generalize, but I want to meet them.  Then, I can guide you better.

     And, the truth is, many of your questions will be answered as you need them answered.   Some answers will come from within, and others from colleagues and Twitter posts and professional resources.  My email is always open to you, and the rest of the D100 literacy coach team is here to support you as you follow our literacy plan.

     Workshop model and balanced literacy are the heart of our district literacy plan.  It is driven by shared beliefs and common planning and a growth mindset mentality and lots of best practices.  We do have a program.  I even held up the Units of Study box and showed it.  But, I held it up and hopefully made it clear that the program is not our curriculum.  THE KIDS ARE.  

     Meet your students.

     Set up your workshop.

     Incorporate pieces of balanced literacy into your literacy instruction.

     Ask for support.

     Invite me, your literacy coach, your peers, etc. into your classroom.  

     You will be great.  And, someday, I hope you appreciate that this district that hired you believes in teachers so much that YOU can make decision in your classroom about how your students need to be taught.  We learn from each other, but respect each other enough to allow for instructional differences.  Workshop and balanced literacy allow for you to find the pieces that fit your students' needs.  Putting together the puzzle isn't always easy, but it sure can be powerful.

     Welcome to D100!

In case you needed my presentations...

One Sentence

Thursday, August 6, 2015

     I look forward to Thursday nights because it is one of my favorite Twitter chats of the week.   The #G2Great chat, moderated by @brennanamy, @hayhurst3 and @DrMaryHoward, is always a place to be uplifted in our work as educators.  Check it out.  7:30-8:30 here in IL.  

     Tonight the chat ended with the challenge above.  What one sentence defines your deepest beliefs as a teacher?  Wow.  That one took me a moment.  But what a great question to ask ourselves!!!  As we start another year, a fresh start with new faces in front of us, what is it that really makes us the teacher that we are?  What are your beliefs about the role you have?

     I ask you to take the time to think of your sentence.  You can tweet it out using #g2great, you can write it in the comments below, or you can keep it close to your heart.  But, as another busy year begins, ask yourself what matters the most to you as an educator.  Then write it down.  That way, it will be easier to stay true to your beliefs as the year begins, and even more importantly as the year gets long and you grow tired as challenges and hurdles come your way.  

    Here's mine, in a Word Swag of course.   I just love that app.  :)  

     Thanks Amy, Jenn, and Mary for your weekly inspiration!  #g2great