Monday, March 30, 2009

Books that are RIGHT for Matt

Franki writes in her post about Pam Allyn's new book, What to Read When: The Books and Stories to Read with Your Child--And All the Best Times To Read Them that...

So often, the only way that "just right" books are defined is by reading level. For so long, we have almost forgotten other reasons that a book can be "just right" and in this book, Pam Allyn reminds us that books are about more than reading development.

After reading this I began to think about how very important it is to help students learn about choice by having conversations about what they like! Yes, kids need daily practice reading books that meet their individual needs but kids also need time with books that mean something to them. They need time and practice with independent choice. I decided to have my son share a bit about the books he chose during a library trip over spring break. ( I also wanted to practice the newest version of iMovie just updated on my laptop). Having practiced being videoed at school, he picked up the books and started talking! Check him out:
Oh yeah...the music I added at the end jumps out at you a bit...sorry. I am definitely learning as I go.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Finds through Twitter

I haven't been spending all my time this Spring Break on Twitter (though I can easily spend too much time socially networking). I have found some things that interest me. These are all tweets that have connected me with information and educators through Twitter. They are also tweets that have me thinking.

1. Penny Ryder's tweet about a blog post where she uses teacher tube to help teach regrouping in math. I am hoping to use teacher tube more often and these videos are another step in thinking about "How can we make learning visible?"

2. A tweet that Kim Cofino linked to a You Tube video on Learning to Change/Changing to Learn: Student Voices. The big ideas that I heard kids explain that they are using with technology: choice, writing, communicating, experimenting, decision making, problem solving, thinking in new ways, knowing yourself better. How can we use what kids already know about technology and play with their inquiry in the classroom?

3. A read a tweet from Will Richardson that linked me to TED (which quite frankly I did not know much about until reading about them online). Technology Entertainment Design featuring "ideas worth spreading." I was fascinated by the wearable technology in this talk about creating a "Sixth Sense." How could this support learners who have trouble with expression, hearing and understanding and more?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring Break Shopping

Well it is Spring Break this week and I have to admit that I am missing the beach. It just wasn't in the plans this year so my boys an I are making the most of it here in Ohio. We have seen a few movies, cooked out with family/neighbors and today enjoyed some book shopping!! I have to say choosing books has been the highlight for me. I walked out of Barnes and Noble with 9 books and spent 100.00 (Thank you PTO). I will share some with you and a quick thought as to why they are important for our room.

1. Mo Willem's newest Elephant and Piggie book, Watch Me Throw the Ball, is a must have for our collection. Mo layered in some rhyme in this book..."Need to throw a ball? Here's the pig to call!" Read Franki's review here.

2. I admit that I loved Duck! Rabbit! a month or two ago and am happy I purchased it today. In fact, the salesperson at the register was gushing over it as well. She said it was a staff and customer favorite. To understand why, click here to watch a video of the book. I know the kids will be fighting over it.

3. I couldn't pass up a book written by Kevin Henkes. The illustrations aren't his but the story is very first grade friendly and readable. I have many kids who are bird experts and I am hoping, Birds, this will inspire them to write about what they know.

4. I am a huge Jan Thomas fan and I am finally found Rhyming Dust Bunnies, a book that my friend Lauren (who also teaches first) reminded me that I needed. Another book filled with first grade humor and rhyme to top it off. Can't wait to share this one too.

5. Good Luck Bear is the third in a Bear and Mouse series about friends. These sweet characters are always good to one another and have helped us talk about the qualities of a good friend. I had this checked out from the library but now my kids will be glad to know that it will be a permanent part of our library.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sharing Our Reading Lives

Have you ever had friends or parents outside of your classroom share their reading life?

I took quick picture of this chart my students helped create after a visit from a student's mom in our room. I realize that it is hard to read (sorry...I took it as I stood on a table and accidentally included my toes in the photo). The whole point of the chart was to record our thoughts about what we noticed about Mrs. Wilson's reading plans. During right to read week, we had 3 visitors share their reading plans with us. The kids have made some observations about all of the readers who visited our room.

Some things the kids and I noticed about Mrs. Wilson as a reader:
-she received ideas for reading from her husband
- she swaps books
- she reads magazines
- she reads many kinds of books
- she looks for books with pictures to help her get ideas (she shared a book just filled with pictures of rooms that she is using for redecorating for her own house)
- she reads lots of books by the same author
After spring break, we will use our learning from these readers to help us make our own reading plan for the week. A few of my students have already used some of Mrs. Wilson's ideas before break. I just picked up 3 books on reserve at Northwest Library by Aki Sogabe. After one of my readers read The Origami Master, I showed him and the class the CML website, walking them through how to reserve books at the library by the same author. He was thrilled to know how to do this and told me he went home to show his mom and dad. Sharing ideas about books and technology can go a long way.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Using iMovie: Literacy Alive in the K Classroom

How would you feel receiving an email that included a movie of your child reading a piece of writing he/she had written? Well, it made me smile. Then we (my K son and I) watched it together and talked about the fun we have up at Grandpa's house. Of course then I emailed it to just about everyone in my family.

This is one of the many ways Curly's teacher is thinking 21st century literacies in her classroom. Thanks Maureen for this precious gift! Thanks to Maureen also for helping me practice using imovie at lunch. She demoed it and I decided to jump in and try it this afternoon. One of my students (yes, a first grader who has played on imovie with an older brother at home) also talked me through using it as I asked the kids to retell our thinking and planning for a map project we are undertaking. I think I will put the student who has experience in charge of recording and dragging clips tomorrow. Just sharing that little bit at lunch helped me begin to think about how to integrate with what I am already working on. I have to say it is energizing me to think in new ways about how we can make authentic learning visible!!


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Literacy: More than reading and writing

How much time during the day do your students have time to talk, process information and share their thinking? I am asking because I have been thinking quite a bit about the importance of opportunities for students to talk about learning throughout the day. Two reasons for this: first, because I am trying to problem solve some possibilities concerning a learner in my room and decided to administer an oral language assessment for further data. Second because I have had the opportunity to have 2 interactive read alouds recorded in my room. ( I have a parent who has used the recoding of our read aloud conversations as research for a paper she is working on for her doctorate). She has shared some data from the kid's discussion during the read aloud. ( very partaking in "grand conversations" vs. "gentle inquisitions")

Both of these happenings have me affirming some of the work we do in the classroom and thinking about how I can strengthen the environment. I decided to google some of the research on Language and Literacy in the classroom and found this article from an IRA online series. The basis of the article reflects Vygotsky's social constructivist theories which remind us that learning is: SOCIAL, INTEGRATED (relationships between oral and written language) and REQUIRES ENGAGEMENT ( please visit Carol's post on engaged readers if you haven't read her thinking already).

Other pieces of the article that made me think include:

"Speaking, listening, reading, and writing are integrated because all are primarily communicative processes (Silliman & Wilkinson 1994). Literacy encompasses oral and written modes of communication, with different discourse styles overlapping both (Biber, 1988; Horowitz & Samuels, 1987; Scott, 1988; Spiro & Taylor, 1987; Wallach, 1990)."

Literacy is integrating speaking, listening, reading and writing.

"For most children, classrooms are the first environment for formal literacy learning, where reading and writing are generally presented as a set of decontextualized discrete skills to be mastered separately from content in other curricular areas (Zubrick, 1987). However, research indicates that both elementary and middle-grade readers’ knowledge of oral-written language relationships are enriched when they talk informally with peers and more formally in student-dominated class discussions."

Literacy is STUDENTS doing most of talking and processing.

"Today's teachers must master methods of alternative assessment. We are faced with the challenge of variability in language and literacy skills among students, and we must determine in each individual case how best to assess and promote the development of these skills. In addition to standardized tests, which are limited in the information they provide, educators need to use alternative methods to determine the progress of individual students. Particularly important are the use of observation to reveal students’ literacy competencies and interdisciplinary approaches that yield a full picture of students’ developmental strengths and educational needs. Meaningful assessment must also include systematic observations of classroom interactions, interviews with students, teachers, and families, and the interpretation of outcomes through the prism of the cultural and social practices that frame home and school values."

Literacy is unique. Literacy is beginning to understand students' needs and students need for understanding.

On an ending note the two picture books I read that allowed for such rich conversations were:

Hazel's Amazing Mother by Rosemary Wells (A Debbie Miller suggestion from Reading with Meaning)

Betsy B Little
by Anne Mcevoy and Jacqueline Rogers ( I posted about it here.)

My learning this week would not have been learning without the conversations I had with others. I have been processing out loud with the parent researcher as well as the RR teacher who kindly let me borrow Marie Clay's oral language assessment. Sometimes I think I can figure it out alone but I can't. Kids can't. I say let 'em talk.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

New Primary Blogger

Hi all!
While hanging at the Dubin Literacy Conference I met a new friend, Beth Keplar. Beth and I were talking teacher talk and blogs when she mentioned she was interested in creating her own. Beth teaches first grade for the Teays Valley School District here in Ohio. Please visit her blog: Because Thinking Matters and give her a warm welcome!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Questions to ponder...

We had a productive conversation today at our Literacy Team Meeting. As teachers in our building, we are trying to balance the absorption of testing data (yuck...but it is reality) with our approach to authentic learning. I couldn't help but remember reading the words of Kelly Gallagher, author of READICIDE: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, during an interview with Franki. His interview with Franki is here. He states:

"In chasing test scores, we are killing the love of reading. We may succeed in raising our test scores, but we pay a large price to do so. The sad part, of course, is we have spent $1 billion on Reading First programs, and the students in this program did not score any better in comprehension than students who did not participate in the program at all."

"I want educators to ask themselves an important question: In the quest to raise test scores, am I damaging the long-term prospects of my students becoming lifelong readers?"

"Readicide is also influenced by the number of great teachers across this country who have shared their horror stories with me. The elimination of novels. Drowning students in worksheets. Scripted programs. Think about it. If you had to do what our students have to do, would you like reading? "

As a Literacy Team, we have to lead our building in what we know is right for children. To help our journey towards encouraging authentic practice, Karen posed a question that we want to guide our thinking...

How do we make authentic learning visible?

Of course with many thinkers, we began brainstorming possible ways to guide our staff in beginning to process this question. This question snowballed into more and Maureen (our Kindergarten teacher) suggested that we email a question a day (or week) for teachers to think about and respond to. (Karen related it to twittering within our building)

Here are some questions Maureen and I have brainstormed (What are we missing and what is too raw?). Again, this is a rough think aloud.

Questions to ponder...

Focus on the grade you teach.
What did you like about reading as a Kindergartner, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th grader? What didn't you like?

Ditto for writing...

How can we empower kids to think about their reading lives?
What aspects of your reading life can you share and discuss with your students?
How do you know what to read next?
How do you choose books?

What kinds of reading do you do throughout the day?

How much time are kids in my room spending reading books of their choosing?

What do I ask kids to do after they have read or finished a book? Why?

What are kids reading during Reading Workshop? comics, magazines, non-fiction...

How can we empower kids to think about their writing lives?
How do they live from day to day as a writer?

What aspects of your writing life can you share with your students?
How do you keep track of your writing plans?
When do you write? Do kids have authentic oppotunites for writing?

Can my students write well about what they know best- their own experiences?

What kinds of writing are my students engaged in? Do they have opportunities to practice generating independently?

Do I value talk in the writing or reading workshop? How much time do we really spend talking about writing and reading (not just sharing the end result)?

How much time do I give my students to write and do I give them choice of what to write about?

Have I modeled a variety of ways to write? Am I using mentor texts or anchor pieces to guide student writing? Do I include students in the assessment process?

How can I give more control to the students I teach in the area of reading? writing?

Are we creating another generation of "Teacher Pleasers"? Those kids who do anything the teacher asks them to do, but they never learn to reach any further...

How can technology help my writers and readers reach their greatest potential?

Do I believe that kids who spend their days authentically reading and writing will do well on state tests?

With many of these questions being focused on our teaching, I thought it was important to note questions that could be posed back to the kids. I immediately thought about Carol from Carol's Corner. She has a superb list of questions that she developed about readers and engagement. Mary Lee used this list with her 5th graders as a reflection/ self-assessment.

Questions and assessment takes me back to Kelly Gallagher's answer to Franki's smart question:

What are the most important things you could do with teachers in a very short period of time (at staff meeting)?

Discuss the importance that assessment plays in developing deeper readers and writers.

It feels like it all comes back to what kids know about themselves as learners...self-reflection, time to confer and talk with us about their lives as readers and writers, kids understanding what they are accomplishing or struggling with as readers and writers. Key word: UNDERSTANDING

There is not an answer or secret formula to authentic teaching and learning: just the pursuit of self improvement and guiding students towards the gift of loving to learn.