Fall #TheEdCollabGathering Reflections

Sunday, September 20, 2015

     This post has the purpose of celebrating the learning I did in my pajamas yesterday!  OK, if I am being truthful, I was showered and being a mom while I learned.  But, I could have been in my pajamas.  The Educator Collaborative, under the direction of +Christopher Lehman, held their Fall #TheEdCollabGathering online yesterday.  They had 4 sessions over the course of Saturday, with 18 workshop choices and 2 keynotes.  I was able to attend most sessions live, thanks to a rain out of a soccer game, but they are all archived online too!  Here is the link:

     The opening Keynote was by Penny Kittle.  Wow.  I really wish I could go back to school and be in her classroom.   She is simply amazing.  She said a bunch of awe inspiring things, but the quote above was the huge take away for me.  She talked about giving the students time to read, and getting them to have momentum while reading, and using Book Talks to gain some momentum.  But when she said that her job is to sit down with individual readers and teach them were they need to be taught, it really hit home.  There are so many things that teachers do, and somehow reading with kids seems to get bumped off our to-do lists.  As a coach, people always tell me that they don't have time to conference with students.  But, as she sees it, that is our JOB.  I need to help them find the time to confer!  

     The session by Franki Sibberson was actually about using technology in a reading workshop.  This topic interests me, as our district is 1:1, and I am actually leading a session at the Illinois Reading Council conference in a few weeks about literacy and technology.  She had many wonderful things to say, but the idea of "intentionality" that she weaved throughout was my biggest take away.  I am constantly talking to teachers about being responsive, and making choices that are relevant to the needs of their students.   We can't be intentional if all the choices are made for us.   It matters that teachers can weigh their options, either with tech programs or instructional delivery, and that they can decide which will make the difference for their students.  It matters, as well, that our students are faced with choices.  If they never have to weigh options and make decisions about their own learning goals, they can't learn to be intentional, either.  

     I would talk about my learning from Jennifer Serravallo's session, but to be honest I want to watch the archive a few more times and make a blog post about her new book all by itself.  So, I will.  Every time I listen to her speak, I find a new way to organize my brain a bit more around literacy.  She is amazing.


     The closing keynote was by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz.  They recently wrote a book (pictured below) that talks about how to create a mindset for learning in our classrooms.  They described the kind of classrooms that would create better humans for the world of tomorrow.  They think that by teaching empathy, optimism, persistence, resilience, and flexibility, we can actually show our students what it means to have self-control and be in control of their own learning.  They have the goal of building community, not compliance, in their classrooms.   They know that students don't always come to us with the independent skills that they need to be successful, and that it is our job as teachers to help mentor them into those skills.  As a mom, and as a teacher, my thoughts exactly!!!

     I happen to believe them 100%.  I always felt that my relationship with my students was the single most important thing that I could give them, because not all my students develop at the same pace.  If I know them, and I myself have the same empathy and optimism and flexibility that I ask them to have, we almost always came to a place where we were both successful.  

    I need this book.  :)

     I went to a few more sessions, but it is beautiful out and the park is calling my family.  So, here are just a few more people from yesterday that I would add to the people you follow on Twitter.  Your PLN will thank you!


Writerly Wide Awakeness

Friday, September 11, 2015

     Today, I met with our fantastic 5th grade team about their mini lessons for reading workshop for next week.  We are using the new Units of Study from Lucy Calkins, and one of the sessions is about reading with a "writerly wide awakeness."  At first glance, we considered skipping it, because the language seemed a little "fluffy."  But, upon closer reading, we realized just how valuable this lesson really is.  Basically, the teaching point is about reading with the intention of writing, so that you notice things that you would otherwise not notice while reading.  If we read a book knowing that we are going to write, we will notice the details more and see things that we might otherwise skim right over.  We think about what seems important, and notice the details.  Many times our students just read, read, read and then realize "Oh yeah, I need to write something now..."  But, if we write with a "writerly wide awakeness," then the process of reading will be enhanced because of the focus for writing.

     It all comes down to our purpose, and our lens.  And, it circles back to close reading, texts and LIFE.  

     In teaching, so much of our effectiveness can be dependent on our ability to instruct with a "teacherly wide awakeness."  There are details to notice all the time.  Students who struggle, students who excel, students who are having a rough day.  We see the signs of stress, or the signs of joy, or the effects of bullying.  We wipe tears and tie shoes and embrace our kids.  And, when we are in the right frame of mind, we can see things with a "teacherly wide awakeness" and make the decisions that are important because we saw the details.  

     Today, I was driving home after a great week, thinking about my gratitude for many things.  I was thinking about an email I need to send to our teachers, with the intent of sharing some things but also celebrating their efforts this week.  I had so much gratitude on my mind: for Friday, for a great staff, for first responders on this anniversary of 9-11.  Through the clouds, I suddenly saw a rainbow.  I really love rainbows, and on this rainy day this brought a huge smile to my face.  Almost immediately after I noticed the rainbow, I noticed a fire truck and ambulance driving beneath it with their sirens blaring.  I thought of it as a tribute to those first responders who lost their lives.  Not five minutes later, I saw a second rainbow, and this time a plane flew through it.  There I was, sitting in my car, with a "life wide awakeness" that filled my heart with gratitude.  

     Reading workshop (and our school subjects in general) can be filled with many lessons, and if those lessons are taught without purpose and reflection, skills might transfer but deep learning might not occur.  But, if we open our minds to seeing the purpose for the lessons, and the value they have, we might see things in a new way.  We might achieve a "wide awakeness" that helps us see what could be important.  We might notice things that we might have otherwise missed.  And, in those details, the greatest lessons might be learned.  

     So, thank you, +Tyler Haar+Jean O'Neil , +Katherine Whisler and +Katie Wallace.  Your conversation today helped me see things in a whole new way.    And, especially on this anniversary of 9-11, thank you to those who lost your lives that September day.   Your light is still shining on us, and for that we are very grateful.  I was wide awake to your presence today.


Using Tech in Instruction

Sunday, September 6, 2015

     I am a literacy coach, so it comes as no surprise that I love books.  To be honest, I love paper books best.  I like holding a book and reading it, and going to the book store and buying them and carrying my new bag of books like a prized possession.  I love reading with my own kids all snuggled up at night before bed, with real books.  

     But, to be honest, the kids today are not me.  They have a whole different set of experiences than the ones I had as a kid.  They like digital reading, too.  They may like it even more than paper books.  So, I suppose we need to keep an open mind when it comes to book sources and our students.  
***I do hope, however, that we never walk into a classroom that doesn't have a paper book library.  That would make me very sad. 

     This starts a conversation about technology, and the benefits and disadvantages of using it in our classrooms.  So, while I am going to focus on myON in this post, I really think the thoughts in this blog post center around 3 questions I think we should ask ourselves before we introduce ANY tech app in our classrooms.  

Graphic of tablet courtesy of Ashley Hughes.

myON Tools

     This week, I spent a day learning how to use the new tools in myON, a digital library that our district has used for the past few years.  The company has been very responsive to our feedback, and since our partnership with them has added many tools and features that make myON a useful literacy tool in our classrooms.  Below are some of my favorite changes since we started using the tool.

     A quick and easy dashboard for teachers to analyze the work students are doing when they are logged in!  If we have book logs and reading conferences about paper books and reading engagement, then we should also have them about their digital reading (especially if you are using myON within the workshop block).  If we have lessons to help teach students how to monitor their reading with books, then we should do it with digital books, too.  This menu helps us do that.

     Previously, we could not search for books based on guided reading level in myON.  Now we can!!!  Because our district uses the Fountas and Pinnell testing system, this can be a huge benefit for us.  We can now search for books that would be appropriate for our guided reading levels.  This is perfect for those primary students who use myON during a digital reading choice.  They can now reasonably be expected to turn off the narration feature and read it themselves, because it is written at their level!  This was always a benefit of RAZ Kids.  Now, they can do it in both programs.   
***WARNING: Children are NOT a letter.  If they use this feature, remember that they should not be given a single letter as their reading identity.  IF they are told their letter, make it a range.  Or, you do the searching and make book sets for your guided reading groups.  

     When I looked at my own dashboard, I found a reading log right at my fingertips.  And, taking a few minutes to look at this report like a reading log, I realized that I am not an engaged reader. I can, with 100% certainty, tell you that I did not read ANY of those 17 pages.  But, I did do a book preview.  If someone conferred with me, they would discover that.  

     There are a few features I would definitely model before having my students just log in and go off independently in myON. If they used the following features well, myON could be a useful tool to continue the work done in reading workshop.

     The little head with the "shh" is the way to mute the reading.  Students are the ones in control of whether they turn the mute on or off, so it is really important to talk about PURPOSE when they start a book.  If they are in primary and using the book for Listen to Reading, then leave the narration on.  If they are in 3rd grade and are listening to the story but armed with their Thinking Journal and pencil in hand, then they might be able to leave the narration on because they focus is on the thoughts like in a read aloud.  BUT... if they are using the books in 3-5 as part of the Reading Workshop block and they are able to search and read for books at their level, then the expectation should be to mute it.  These are conversations you need to have with your students about their purpose for reading.  

     Many classrooms use Stop and Jots, or post it notes, while the kids read independently.  If they are spending time in myON, the same thing can be done digitally.  If they click on the icon of the notebook (next to the house) then a menu of tools opens up.  The fourth one in is a marker with a thumbtack in it.  When you click on it, it opens up a digital sticky note.  When they finish doing their Stop and Jot, they just click on the thumbtack and it closes it but saves it in the text.

     Another tool that I find useful is the journal.  If you click on the first icon of a notebook with a pencil, it opens a journal that you can see in all the books that you read.  So, say you are working on building character trait vocabulary in Reading Workshop.  If you start an entry that says "Character Trait List", and you open the journal and add words about the traits you find in the books you read, then children will be using myON to enhance their mini lesson work.  This feature would also be useful when using books to research a topic across more than one book.

myON Relfections

     These are a few features in myON that I would love to see teachers share with their classes before they release them to using the program independently IF the goal for using the program is to practice the skills we are teaching in Reading Workshop.  For the primary kids, if they are using it more for just a Listen to Reading option, I would still love to see some of those things evolve as the year continues.  

     My personal favorite purpose for myON is the nonfiction texts and the ability to use it with thematic unit planning.  At Hiawatha, most of our 3-5 classrooms don't use myON in the workshop time, but rather in ENCORE block or during unit time.  But, that is a post for another time.  Creating book sets around a topic and a big idea is a post that will hopefully happen later in the year.

Bottom Line:

     Teachers are thoughtful about universal instruction in their classroom (i.e. mini lessons, guided reading planning, unit planning, etc.).  We can also be thoughtful about the use of technology we choose to use with our students.  That thoughtfulness about PURPOSE, MODELING, and EFFECTIVENESS can make the tech use soar our students' learning above the line!