Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Library Visit

Today we stopped by the library to pick a few things up. Larry, Curly and Mo and my niece, J, all filed in an found something to take home.  It was one of those quick in and out stops to the library when I kinda rush my kids to just find something (we were spent after spending the morning and afternoon running errands and getting haircuts before my sister's wedding next week).  Even with the rush of choosing something, it is always interesting to see what walks out the doors in their hands.

Larry (days from 10 years old) grabbed  The Adventures of Daniel Boom AKA Loud Boy.  It is a graphic novel of which he has read the second in the series.  He also grabbed a picture book, The Worst Best Friend.

Curly (8 years) was excited to get the Chris Riddell book: Ottoline Goes to School.  I posted about his loving Ottoline and Yellow Cat here. We have had the book on reserve and he has been anxious  for it to be our turn to read it!!

Mo (6 years) was the hardest (unlike him but probably because I rushed him) to please.  I picked up a few old favorites but he shooed them.  He spotted the holiday books announcing his love for reading them ( I personally avoid this section but he loves it).  I know he has been a bit obsessed with the Dragon series so I showed him Dragon's Halloween and it was a quick sell.  We also grabbed The Hallo-Weiner, also by Dav Pilkey.  There is something about his humor that works for some young kids.

J  (4 years) went right for the first princess book she could find and started to picture read the book, The Princess Who Had Almost Everything, on the way home.  I haven't read this one but the review for it is here.  I liked the cover and it was definitely read aloud material.  

The last observation to note was that the check out computers all had a sign that read:
This branch may close due the to budget cuts proposed by Gov. Strickland.

I can't imagine not having our Columbus and  community libraries.  35,000 emails were sent to our legislators to voice our concerns ( wouldn't this have been a great authentic piece for persuasive writing for students to do).  We have until July 1st if you haven't acted yet you can!  

 Save Our Libraries! 
Governor Strickland has recommended the elimination of $200+ million from the Public Library Fund over the next two years. WHAT YOU CAN DO: We have until July 1, 2009 to be heard! VisitOLC.org and SaveOhioLibraries for more info. 

While we wait, enjoy these pictures of Library Love posted on the local library webpage.  

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Quick Guide Series by Heinemann

When I was in Saline, MI a few weeks ago, I decided to buy a few books ( of course) during the conference.   Franki previewed for me a few of these Quick Guides from the Lucy Calkins series a month or two ago.  I felt like it was a good time to give them a try.  These new "little books" caught my eye.  I really liked the small size (fits easily in my purse) of the book and the enormous amount of information I read in 75 pages.  I also liked the $10 price.

The books I purchased in the series are Teaching Second Grade Writers and Persuasive Writing K-2.  I have read the first of these two on the go over the past few weeks when 
I have down time at baseball games,  minutes waiting for the kids to finish up soccer camp or just when I have a quick few moments to myself during the day.  

I was very happy with some of the ideas that the Second Grade Writer's Book has to offer. I think it will be another tool in my tool belt for supporting writers.  It won't be my end all but just a good reference to pop back to if I need to during the year.  It has helped me think about units of writing I will plan for my students next year as well.  My favorite part of Lucy's writing is when she uses questions.  I feel like questions are always smart to write for teachers because with student writers there often is never an "answer" per say.   Questions guide writers to independently (sometimes) take the next step.  I liked these questions: 
How do I want listeners to feel about my writing?
What did the author do that I can try?
Help me picture that? Can you say more about that?
What ideas does this story spark in me?
Where in the story does the main character have the biggest feelings?

These little books (5X7 inches) are packed full of learning!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BLog Tour: Mark Overmeyer Joins Us to Discuss his newest book What Student Writing Teaches Us

Today, Mark Overmeyer begins his Blog Tour with a stop at CREATIVE LITERACY to discuss his new book WHAT STUDENT WRITING TEACHES US.  I reviewed it here at the beginning of June and hope that many of you had a chance to check it out at Stenhouse.  This much needed book gives us insight into the importance of authentic assessment within workshop.

I had a chance to interview Mark about his new book. And some of you had additional questions that you sent in after I reviewed  it in early June.

When did you know you wanted to write a book?
I knew I wanted to write my first book (When Writing Workshop Isn't Working) when I was leading staff development in my district and I kept getting the same types of questions: What do you do with students who don't know what to write about? How do you help students revise? How do you organize and manage conferences?
This led me to try my hand at writing a book in a question/answer format based on all of these common concerns many of us have about implementing a writing workshop in our classrooms.
I decided to write What Student Writing Teaches Us after my editor at Stenhouse, Bill Varner, helped me to develop this topic - I had a few other ideas, but as he talked with me and read my proposals, he suggested I try writing about assessment in the writing workshop. At first I was uncertain because I did not think assessment was a topic I knew a lot about, but in the end, this may have helped me. As I mention in my book, I do not take the stance of any kind of expert, but more just a teacher who has a lot of questions about what works for teachers and students in real writing classrooms. I spent two years listening to students talk about their writing processes and teachers talking about their assessment practices. If I had felt like an "expert", I do not know if I would have looked and listened in the same way. I learned so much, and I hope the best of what I learned is presented is practical and helpful.

What are you hoping the book will accomplish?
I am hoping that teachers who read the book will come away with ideas for using formative assessment effectively in the writing workshop. I believe that if we want to become better teachers, we must use student writing to guide our instruction. For many years, I often dreaded looking at student writing because I was only "grading" their work. I did not think about what my students were learning or what they needed from me because I was too busy grading. I am hoping this book will provide very practical suggestions for teachers about how to avoid falling into the evaluation trap whenever they look at student work, and instead, to let student writing guide their teaching. 

What would you suggest for teachers who feel like they are the one person who is carrying the flag for authentic assessment?
This is such a good question, and also a hard question to answer! Please let me know if my response answers your question directly, because I can add some more thoughts if it does not quite meet your needs:
It can be very frustrating at times to be a teacher and to feel alone in your positions regarding instruction and assessment. I was just speaking with a teacher yesterday who is required to use grading software that scores her students' prompt responses "automatically." She found that the software gave her best writers the lowest scores because her advanced students were writing a variety of sentence structures, and at times used short, fragmented sentences for effect. Apparently, the software does not "like" sentences that are too complex or too short.
But if this type of assessment tool is required by the administration, then what can we do as teachers who believe in authentic assessment that guides our instruction?
One piece of advice I can provide is to continue doing what you know works to help your students improve as writers. I do believe in data, but the data I trust the most is actual student writing that demonstrate concretely how students are growing over time. 
Most of us have to give standardized tests. Many of us are required to give district prompts several times a year to demonstrate student growth in writing. Some of us must use grading software periodically with our students if for no other reason than that our district bought it, and it was expensive. But I do not believe any concerns raised from these types of assessment practices require us to abandon what we do most of the time in the classroom with our students if we use formative assessment. If we:
  • observe our students while they write, 
  • talk with students frequently about their writing products and processes, and 
  • plan our instruction based on what we learn from looking at student writing, 
we can become better teachers, and I am convinced our students will become  more effective writers.

Back for a moment to the data I trust the most: I have yet to work with any administrator or teacher who is unwilling to look at student writing samples collected over time to show what students are learning. So if the standardized test scores do not pan out as we hoped, for whatever reason, I first go to writing samples and ask myself if I agree with the standardized test results. If I do not agree, it is because I have plenty of writing samples to demonstrate how my students have grown, and I can show these samples - this data - to colleagues, students, parents, and administrators. Then, I can engage in a discussion about how the standardized test is a snapshot, an event in time, and I have plenty of data that demonstrates student growth regardless of what a single test may indicate. 
There are any number of reasons why a student may not show growth on a standardized test: lack of test taking strategies, lack of motivation, not reading directions carefully, etc. I want to make sure that their lack of growth is not due to my lack of instruction. In other words, I do not change my writing instruction based on a single standardized test score IF I have data in the form of student writing samples to prove that what I have done is working. Only if these student writing samples do not show growth will I consider changing my practices. In my experience, these practices always "live" in the context of a writing workshop, and the interventions I use are always framed around talking with students, reading their work to inform my instruction, and determining what strategies will help my writers to improve.

What would be the most important things you would do with teachers in a short period of time (staff meeting)?
If you want teachers to think about formative assessment in the writing workshop in a limited time frame (15 - 30 minutes), I have a few suggestions:

Ask teachers to look at one student writing sample together, but do NOT ask them to score the writing on a rubric. Once we begin scoring, we are not looking for what student writing can teach us - we are going into evaluation mode and we might get "stuck" there. 
Ask teachers to respond to these questions in groups of three to four:

What do you admire about the writing? 
   (Beginning with this question helps teachers to look for something positive in student writing, which will help them to see what students are doing well.)

What questions would you ask this writer, or what do you wonder about?
   (This question, combined with the previous one, might provide strong talking points for teachers as they confer with their writers. We often begin conferences with students by praising what they are doing well, and then by following up with a question for clarification, or just a wondering about their topic or their writing process. This questioning or wondering is NOT a teaching point, but just an indication for the student that you have engaged in their writing as a reader.)

What might you teach this writer? 
   (This question asks teachers to consider some learning objectives. I think the word "might" is important here because there is not one correct answer to what we should teach our students. There are many possibilities, and it is important to ask teachers to consider only one or two teaching points.)

As an alternative to this approach, teachers from each grade level can work in groups with one student writing sample to answer the same questions. 

The key component to any staff development around writing assessment is student writing samples. If we have student work in front of us, we have so much that we can learn.


From CAthy:
I am currently going through the book and I struggle with the DOL. I used to do it with my students, but didn't the past two years. I have heard that instead of showing students sentences with errors in them, that they should be shown well-written sentences. What are your thoughts on that? Switching up the looking for errors into what do you notice about the sentence?

This is an excellent question, and one I am asked frequently.
Jeff Anderson's book Everyday Editing describes exactly what you mention here: using well-written sentences in order for students to learn about craft and mechanics/grammar at the same time. The methods he describes, in my experience, are very effective and practical. In the book, he provides examples of well written sentences from published books that showcase craft and specific "rules" such as commas in a series and correct use of quotation marks. One of Jeff's guiding questions is: "Why are we asking our students to stare at what is wrong in order to learn how to do something correctly?"  I highly recommend this book.

A few things to keep in mind about grammar and sentence correction exercises such as DOL:
  • The research on grammar instruction is clear: grammar instruction out of context has a negative impact on student achievement in writing (see the Writing Next Report, available free online, or the classic book on research-based writing practices by George Hillocks, Writing as Reflective Practice)
  • The key to grammar instruction is to teach it in context. If you do use a DOL (sentence correction approach), then you should keep the incorrect model  up for a very minimal time, quickly talk about the correct way to write the featured model, and then ask students to apply what they have learned to their own writing. In other words, the application piece is key. Skills learned in sentence correction exercises will not transfer to student writing if:
  1. There are too many errors in the featured sentences.
  2. The sentences do not reflect errors students actually make.
  3. Students are not asked to consider how a learned skill might apply to their own writing.

I always hesitate to make broad statements such as "Never use sentence correction exercises" because I have been in some classrooms where teachers have seen students transfer skills from sentence correction work to their writing. But I have also been in many classrooms where teachers use Jeff Anderson's approach as well, which begins with students noticing what is RIGHT, then moving toward transferring the discussion about WHY the correct sentence is right to their own writing. For me, it makes sense to ask students to spend as much time as possible examining strong writing samples as they learn grammar and mechanics because then we are having rich discussions about craft and mechanics at the same time.

Some final thoughts and questions that will hopefully sum up my points here:

I have never seen a well-crafted sentence in a DOL teacher's guide, and I used one of these guides for years. Would I ask students to look at incorrect math problems in math class? Would a music teacher ask her students to listen to an off-key singer to learn how to prepare for an upcoming musical? Would a soccer coach demonstrate the wrong way to kick the ball in order to get ready for the big game? If not, then why do we think asking students to look at a poorly written, error-ridden sentence will help them to become better writers? 

Lauren asks:

My district is moving to online grading that is more of a "summative" type of online assessment and my worry is that parents will be receiving mixed messages about their child's progress.  Do you have any suggestions for communicating the importance of formative assessment to parents?

Thank you for your question. I want to make sure I am answering your question accurately:
Are you concerned about online grades being posted for parents to see? If so, I completely understand your concerns
when it comes to writing. This is a very common practice in my district, and most language arts teachers from grade 6 and up must post grades
online - in some schools, the expectation is that the grades will be updated weekly.
The problem with this, of course, is that effective writing instruction involves teaching writing as a process, not just a product.
So, how can we grade students on a frequent basis when we believe in the workshop model, and we believe we must use formative assessment practices to guide our instruction?
Here are a few suggestions that I hope will help. 
If we think of writing as mostly practice, and not just product-driven, it is hard to truly "grade" writing if by "grade" we mean "final, summative evaluation."
But if we use grades as indicators along the way in the workshop, I think it is possible to reach a middle ground.
Here is an idea I picked up from Pam Widmann, a brilliant middle school teacher I reference often in my book. Since talking with Pam and her students about how she grades, I have actually changed my own grading practices with the teachers I work with in the summer at the University of Colorado at Denver.
Pam taught me that we can grade practice writing if it is meaningful, and if it is used to help students to prepare for more complicated writing assignments.
For example:
Let's say that you are working on a personal narrative unit, and you decide to use quick writes to begin class a few days a week. These quick write exercises are low-stress, high interest practice opportunities for students. They resemble warmups for any sport, music practice, or theater rehearsal. Perhaps you ask students to describe an important person in their lives one day, and to tell about a time they got in trouble another day. The quick writes last about 5 - 8 minutes, and students can share their responses in pairs or with the class.
Pam uses this quick writes as small practice opportunities for every genre she teaches. So, if she is working on poetry, her quick writes deal with helping students to create images and sensory details. For literary essays, students practice making claims and supporting these claims with specific textual references.
Since the quick writes are non-threatening, and yet required, they can be graded. If your online grading system allows for Pass/Fail or Credit/No Credit options, then you can record grades this way.
If your online grading system requires actual grades, you can use points for these quick writes, but the points assigned should be very small - maybe 3 to 5 points per quick write. Because the quick writes are for practice, they are really graded in a Pass/Fail way even when points are assigned. In other words, the only way a student would not receive the points is if they decided not to practice...
The advantage to this idea, I think, is that students are being treated respectfully as writers: you are honoring practice (a type of formative assessment), and you are actually expecting them to practice because you are assigning points.
I can tell you that every student in Pam's class understands the purpose of the quick writes, and they see them as necessary to becoming better writers. Because of quick writes, Pam has grades to add to the online system each week. 
One way you can adjust this system is to ask students to choose their absolute best quick write each week, and to reflect on what they are learning as writers as demonstrated in the quick write. This reflection can serve as evidence for you regarding how the practices exercises are working, and it will also limit the points given to the quick writes - you don't have to assign point totals for every quick write, in other words, because you are asking students to choose their best one each week.
As students work through the writing process and actually draft, revise, and edit pieces, point totals can be assigned for each part of the process in a similar fashion as described above.
I hope this advice helps, and answers your question directly. Do not hesitate to ask me for further suggestions if I have not met your needs.

Mark has many stops on his blog tour this week. I know I will be checking out the questions and Mark's insights throughout the week.  Here is the schedule:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Curly's Summer Reading

My son Curly (8 years old ) is just beginning to figure out how to enjoy reading and how to find book he wants to read independently.   He has always been a safe reader often reading books that he feels very confident reading.  He has been very close to the Stink series this year. This spring we read Ottoline and the Yellow Cat and he was intrigued.   He ended up finishing it on his own and loving it!  

Now that summer has started, he is needed guidance and reminding to read.  After suggesting a number of titles he snubbed at the library, I caught him reading Geronimo's Valentine before bed. (This was a book he received for Christmas from his Nana.)  His "before bed reading" only lasts a few minutes because he is zonked from summer play.  So today I told him to grab his book for the car.  He was shocked when he realized how far he had read just in the car.  I am hoping he will latch on to the car reading.  I think the short rides give him short reading sprees that keep him hooked on reading.  

After the ride today, I asked him if he likes mysteries since Ottoline and Geronimo are both mystery books.  He gave a nod.  I also thought about how both books have lots of pictures, maps, and labels throughout.  I know Geronimo books and the next Ottoline will keep him occupied but of course we are always looking for other favorites.  What is working for your readers?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Don't Forget Questions for Mark

If you haven't yet had a chance to read What Student Writing Teaches Us by Mark Overmeyer, check it out online at Stenhouse. Details about his blog tour can be found in this earlier post.

His first blog stop is here on Tuesday, June23 where I will post answers to the questions you have about his new book.  

Thank you to those who have commented and to those who are still thinking feel free to comment on this post. I will gather your questions through (tomorrow) Friday evening at 5pm and then email your thoughts to Mark.  Tuesday I will post his answers.  Looking forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Love that Puppy

A few weeks back I decided to buy Love that Puppy by Jeff Jarka and I 'm glad I did for a few reasons.  This picture book meets graphic novel has cartoonish feel that layers panelling within the flow of the two page spreads .  The story is about something that kids truly pretend about...being a dog.  I have seen kids in K-1 do this year after year during indoor recess. In this story, Peter decides to become an actual dog. The author humorously takes you through his adjustments to this new life and his parents reactions to his sudden change.  The book makes a good read aloud/hand over for kids to read because of the limited text and extra picture support in the panels.  I know it will work for my beginning of the year second graders and fits great in our dog and cat basket.  Hope you LOVE it when you check it out!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pretending Inspires Reading

When summer begins, my house is often the hub for the older kids in the neighborhood. Let me clarify that the "older kids' are the 9 and 10 year olds that my older sons hang with.  I am happy to be the hub because I want my kids to always feel like they can hang out at home.  
This past week my older boys began to enter into their dramatic play mode (they still love to pretend thanks to Harry Potter, Pokemon and Star Wars).  The boys had laid out their "wizarding toys" which include a book called Wizardology, wands, small containers they fill with sand and dirt for potions and a journal they use to write spells, make maps and list characters.  The boys were completely in character when one of their friends came over to play. ( A friend who often struggles with pretend play, reading and school in general.)  Knowing this, I reminded my oldest to be patient and guide but not force the pretend play ( he tends to be bossy).  The quick advice paid off and the boys were off in their land of wizards. They played for hours running outside to collect materials for spells, battling with their wands and just having fun.  The next day, the boy came back over. He asked not to play but to borrow the Wizardology book because he wanted to READ it!!  We were just as happy as could be to share something that felt like a toy but turned into authentic reading.  I can't help but reflect on a couple things after observing this situation...

Dramatic play is such an essential  part of child development and its implications are huge when we can weave in literature.  Matt Glover writes about dramatic play as an entry point for our youngest writers.  Even older readers and writers continue to enjoy and experiment.

Finding books kids want to read is half ( maybe more) the battle for reluctant readers.   

I will be anxious to talk to the neighbor about the book and the reading he did.  Did he use it to pretend on his own at home?  What did he find out? How did he use the book and how did he go about reading it?  (it is fiction but very much laid out similar to a non-fiction text).

I 'll let you know.

Learning from Saline Michigan

My one and only conference of the summer was filled with learning.  I don't think I've ever been to a conference with 6 writerly teachers of whom I learned so much.  It was a a true learning experience for me in so many ways. I will be thinking about the big ideas I carried away from this conference through out the summer.  If you haven't read the work of the following women...you must!!
Ann Marie Corgill    Of Primary Importance
Cathy Mere               More than Guided Reading
Debbie Miller           Teaching with MeaningTeaching with Intention

Franki  Sibberson    Beyond Leveled Books
                                   Still Learning to Read                                                                              
Kathy Collins            Growing Readers, Reading for Real
Mary Lee Hahn         Reconsidering the Read Aloud

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What Student Writing Teaches Us by Mark Overmeyer

Are you looking for some summer professional reading?  Look no further than Mark Overmeyer's new book, What Student Writing Teaches Us.  This month, I am participating in a blog tour of Mark's new book published by Stenhouse and available online here for all to read before its release in July.  After reading his book,  I am taking away new pieces of  understanding and thinking I will use in my own classroom for next year. (I am also finishing my first book for the 48 hour challenge!!!!)

In What Student Writing Teaches Us, Mark opens our eyes to the many ways we can use opportunities in the classroom to assess and inform our instruction using student writing.  He encourages us to consider thinking about assessment during the process of writing rather than something that happens "at the end" of a piece.  He gives us examples of guiding questions he has used to balance time, topic choice and student talk for writers.  He stresses that rubrics and checklists are only "tools" for summative and formative assessment and that we must use them intentionally.  He reminds us that these tools are holistic when they lead to a discussion about teaching points and how educators can adjust teaching to meet the needs of our students.  Mark also suggests that formative assessment should include student voice and feedback, conferencing and self assessment.  He includes a number of student scenarios, student work samples and record keeping examples as well.  This book will help set the tone for authentic and meaningful writing assessment within your workshop. It is a must read!

For the next two weeks, I will be gathering questions you have for Mark.  Follow the following link to the Stenhouse post to read his book online. After checking out his book, post your questions for Mark in the comment box on this post.  On June 23, I will post Mark's answers to all of  your thoughts.  

The blog tour of this book will continue with the following stops:
June 25   The Reading Zone
July 1      Two Writing Teachers

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Go To Bed, Monster ! by Natasha Wing

I have spent more on books over the past two weekends than I have all year!! I am treating myself and my students because I am looping to second grade next year and I know they have read almost every book in our class library. So, I am hungry for new reads. I can't tell you how exited I am to share another year with them. Second reason for all the spending is the great sale I went to last weekend (hard backs $5 a piece!!). I couldn't pass up the goods.

Go to Bed, Monster is a story that I fell in love with at the sale. It reminded me right away of Harold and Purple Crayon as Lucy, the little girl, decides to draw instead of going to bed. She draws some shapes that come to life as a monster. She and the monster play and play until she is exhausted. She draws him a number of remedies to help him get to sleep but finally a book does the trick. This works as a read aloud and then fits right in the hands of transitional readers.