Saturday, June 30, 2007

Teaching the Academic Essentials - The Finale

I took a day off from blogging on the conference to let it all sink in. Honestly - the last day of the conference was the best for - with rapid fire connections happening all over the place.


1. When discussing the reading process, we often speak about before-during-after reading activities. But more importantly - as teachers we need to think about what we should be doing before we give the reading, while the reading is happening, and after the reading is completed. Seems like common-sense but the planning page provided here, along with the matrix discussed in a previous post, really tied things together for me. We discussed our purpose for having students read certain text, thinking about how we wanted them to interact with the text and how to monitor those strategies, and WHY we had them do particular things after the reading.

2. We need multiple entry points to reading. Again - common sense but the visual that was presented was pretty powerful!! (I'll see if I can scan my notes!) Kids have lots of barriers to reading: lack of background knowledge, social/emotional/cultural issues, vocabulary, poverty to name a few. We need to be purposeful in structuring our before-reading activities to help all students access the text.

3. Thinking in three complicates things. Never really thought about this before - but as we progressed through examples, it really started to make sense. For example, we could take the current war in Iraq. If we made a simple T-chart of the perspectives of those in the U.S. for and against the war, our students might do this easily. It also forces them into an "either or" position - where they have to decide which camp they fall into. That could be dangerous - and narrow. So - let's add the perspective of the Iraqi people. That could complicate matters. Now let's add the perspectives of the various Iraqi people - Sunni and Shia. Now - let's add the perspectives of Great Britain. See how things become much more complicated and will involve a higher level of thinking? The more layers we add - the more complex the thoughts.

Jim Burke also had an afternoon keynote - which will be podcast soon. Some highlights:

4. Learning should be an "invitation to struggle." In his work on academic essentials, Burke keeps coming up with words like "grapple" and "struggle" and "wrestle" - and those need not be bad things. Back to the weight-lifting analogy, education is something we are all trying to get better at - so wrestling with these things means we are growing.

5. First and foremost, Jim Burke is a teacher and one who obviously cares deeply about his students and their success. Over time, he and the class have developed a set of principles that are practiced in the classroom, and eventually in life. Telling a series of personal stories, Jim shared the following with us.

Put yourself out there!
Do what you think you can't.
Success is never an accident.
Everyone must find their "thing;" all education is SELF education.
You are worth the effort.
Invest in yourself.
If you cannot SEE it, you cannot BE it.

Cross-posted on Grand Rounds.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Teaching the Academic Essentials - Part 2

Top 5 take-aways from today:

1. "Discussion improves comprehension, increases engagement and enhances memory when it is structured, purposeful, meaningful, and constrained by time. Even one minute of effective classroom discussion shows measureable benefits to student learning." This was a nice reinforcement of what a CSETL Fellow has been sharing in her work with academic discourse, as well as a reinforcement of my belief that learning is social. While much of my learning during this workshop has come from the presenter, I have learned a great deal from those folks sitting around me, in part because the presenter has worked discussion into our day on a regular basis. It is a refreshing change from rushing through material. If I feel that way - I can only imagine what it will do for kids.

2. "You have the men you have - and it's up to you to make them into the soldiers you want them to be." This quote (or something like it!) was attributed to George Washington but it makes a great deal of sense about education as well. Whenever I hear teachers complaining that students don't work hard enough or won't do this and can't do that, I get a little angry. We should be teaching with the belief that the students in our classroom can succeed - or we have failed. I have always said that parents send us everything they've got - they aren't hiding the good ones/the smart ones at home! It is our job to teach each and every child that we are gifted with.

3. Most teachers, particularly those at the secondary level, don't know what we do when we "read" - it just happens to us. We, as teachers, need to be more explicit and transparent with our students and bring our process into the class. We did a great activity in the session today after reading a "complex" piece to chart visually our reading process - what we did when we didn't understand things, how we made connections to comprehend. This reflection was very helpful to me in thinking about how I have taught reading in the past - but also how I might be able to do it with teaching writing as well. I need to ponder this a bit - but you can bet there will be more to come!!

4. There are many different kinds of text and we use different strategies when we read them. I have known this - as I believe that each content area has it's own literacy. We read different things in social studies class then in science, math, and ELA. I needed to teach my kids how to "read" political cartoons, maps, newspaper articles written in the 1800s. Charting out what I do for each of these different texts will help me when I work with teacher and primary sources.

5. I don't like Yeats. I'm kidding - sort of! We did a great activity at the end of the session using "The Second Coming." The discussion around the poem and the strategies that we used were invigorating and inspiring. If I could open a school with the people sitting in that room today - the kids would be engaged and all see success. I am still tortured by the poem and what it means and the fact that I didn't get it the first three times we read it (not sure I still get it but I've read enough Internet reviews to fake it!!) Jim Burke made a great analogy today when we compared learning/reading to weight lifting. When you lift weights - you want to lift a weight heavy enough to cause fatigue. That allows your muscles to grow. If we don't challenge kids with difficult text - and teach them to navigate problems - they won't grow as readers. I might not like Yeats but I loved the discussion today!!

Cross posted on Grand Rounds.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Teaching the Academic Essentials - Part 1

I'm lucky enough to be spending the next three days re-charging by attending the 3rd Annual Reading Institute in Jamestown, N.Y. First - I need to say kudos to the folks who have organized this - it is impressive!! And an even louder round of applause for the over 200 teachers who are attending this session in the "shadow" of their school year (we just ended last Friday!)

The speaker that I was originally going to be spending time with had a family emergency and so I was cast adrift. Fortunately - my dear friend David charted a course for me. So I will spend the rest of the week with Jim Burke.

I hope this doesn't offend him but to this point, he has presented in much the same way that I do. If we are going to be spending time writing - we best be writing!! Too often - we want to sit and absorb information. If our brains click with it - we use it. If they don't - we discard it. But if we really engage in the activities, then we can determine how to make it our own, to make it work inside our own classrooms. I can understand how my participants feel when I make them do this - so I took some notes about what I can tweak in my own work - but I loved that I got to write, write, write today!!

Top Five from the session today:

1. "Graphic organizer" can be too limiting a term. Instead - we should be providing students with "tools for thought." I liked this idea - it was really about setting up a simple tool for students to organize thoughts and some guiding questions/prompts to start them on their way. We folded a piece of paper into thirds and simply labeled them to guide our reflections. Jim then led us in narrowing down what we had written about to reflect further - and then share with colleagues. For this exercise, we reflected upon what worked this year (or what didn't!)

2. Weekly poems. This was something that worked for Jim last year (yes, Virgina - even presenters share!!) He selected short poems (less than 30 lines) that students read each day for a week. Each time they read the poem - they reflected or reacted to something different (initial reactions, imagery, tone, etc.) so that at the end of the week, they had notes to use to write an analytical piece. These poetry pieces could be done in just 10 minutes of class time but certainly packed a punch.

3. "Well Words" These words come from Jim's Teacher's DayBook. We selected five words from the list of 52 that would have made an impact on our personal/professional lives if we paid a bit more attention to them. We then narrowed it down to one word and then developed 2-3 questions we might ask to prompt writing around that word. Finally - we wrote. GREAT STRATEGY that followed his "Academic Essentials Matrix" and had us "Bloomin' upward!" Careful! This strategy will be coming to a workshop near you soon!!

4. The emphasis on connecting to students!! And that without connecting to students - we'll never get them to learn (or see themselves as learners.) This was especially powerful to me - as I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this since last year's High School's New Face Conference. Jim read to us from my favorite coffee table book and had us reflect upon the connections we have made (or not made!) in the past year. Very powerful community building exercise for us!!

5. The idea of teaching and expecting students to be generative thinkers. The premise comes from the work of Judith Langer and seems to fit what I have felt all along. Students need to create their own knowledge - to seek out different viewpoints, to search to make their own meanings and connections. Much of what we did today modeled how to scaffold instruction so that students could practice this important life-long skill.

I left re-energized and with a million thoughts floating through my head. I can't wait for tomorrow!!

Cross-posted on Grand Rounds.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Flying High!

I've been spending some time recently in a district where year one of curriculum mapping did not go as well as planned. Probably lots of reasons behind it - and ones we are all familiar with - but one thing that stood out when the teachers talked was the need to have reading and writing integrated across all curriculum areas. What would that look like in a curriculum map?

I am not sure I have the right answer - if there even is one. Having worked on ELA maps in my own district, they are not easy nor are they ever done. And integrating reading and writing skills can be a complex task. Perhaps it is my bias - perhaps my background - but I still find social studies the easiest path to take.

For example - Orville and Wilbur Wright. Airlines have been in the news lately - with the high cost of fuel, cancelled flights, technology delays, etc. And many more kids are flying these days than when I was younger (Case in point- my nieces are soon to fly to Aruba for their third time and they are six and four years old!!) So it seems a natural connection to read about the famous flying brothers.

In New York State - this could happen at several points in the elementary social studies curriculum as we talk about transportation, our communities and other communities, world communities, etc. etc. In searching, I found this interesting book about the history of flight written from the perspective of animal characters.

I haven't read it - but it is a RAFT model. The story of the first flight is told through the eyes of the animal characters (ROLE), the AUDIENCE is young children of today, the FORMAT is a children's story, and the TOPIC of course, is that historic day in 1903 that "made the world a forever smaller place."

In addition to working on writing skills, this particular writing piece measures student comprehension of material as they are asked not to regurgitate it, but to synthesize it. RAFTs were my favorite thing to do with students - it helped them to pull apart NYS writing prompts as well as sneaking a little of that middle school creativity into the content. Win-win!!

Now imagine RAFTs from another perspective - rather than telling the story of the first flight from the point of view of someone there - what if Orville and Wilbur were to view this video:

Students could then write from the perspective of Orville and Wilbur demonstrating how their invention has changed the world. Or about how the world and technology has changed since 1903. The possibilities - seemingly like flights! - are endless!!

Thanks to think:lab for the video link!!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hook 'Em Danno!

"I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things."

No - this is not a line from my diary!! Instead it is the first line from Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee. I don't own it yet - but with an opener like that you can bet I soon will!!

And I was hooked from the moment I heard the series of leads from YA literature on my long trek to work today being read on NPR. The complete listing of books and their leads are on the NPR website but even better is the podcast of what I heard!! Can you hear the passion of this librarian??

This is a great set of leads to hook young adult readers - particularly in the summer months when some might have a quota of 25 books to finish by September!! Even better - it is a great set of openers to share with students as they refine how they begin their own stories.

What's your favorite lead?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Half Full or Half Empty?

Waking up this morning - my glass was half empty. Comments from teachers about the ability of their students - particularly in writing are weighing heavily on my mind. Concerns about the fact that a district I am working with has a problem with writing yet many of the teachers continue to point fingers at each other and the kids make me wonder if anyone can change that culture, let alone me.

And so my post this morning was going to be venting that and trying to work out why some folks take such a negative view of student abilities. But I decided to open my Bloglines and read first. And now my glass is half full.

The Fischbowl shared some freshman projects from Learning and Laptops. Since links in blogs are meant to be clicked - I checked them out and soon became immersed in what these amazing teachers and students were doing. One teacher chose an essential question to examine for the course of the year: "What does literature say about human beings?" The students used this question as a lens for all reading that year and created collaborative projects in which the students not only had to answer the question, but to use modern examples to prove/disprove their answer. (I know I am not doing credit to the description of the project - please read the blog posting to get the full picture.)

Viewing the student work began to fill my glass. One requirement of the project was to produce a final multi-media project that was "creative, captivating, and thorough" - and these projects were amazing! Adding to very powerful voices throughout the pieces, the students selected visuals (and in some cases music) to capture what it was they were trying to say. In addition to summarizing and showing that they had read and understand the literature pieces, the connections the students made are original and very telling about the world our students live in now. A world very different from the world many of us grew up in.

I haven't watched all the presentations yet - but I plan to. I feel re-energized. I feel hopeful. I feel like I can use this teacher and her class as an example in my district of what we can accomplish when we tap into the potential that our kids have, rather than focusing on how we might think they don't quite measure up.

"What's amazing about human nature which is shown through literature time and again, is that through all the bad in life, we somehow manage to find the good." (Tana, Jessica, Elyse in "Experiences" from the project.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Comma Abuse

Hello. My name is Theresa and I am a comma abuser.

Seriously, I never really mastered where commas belonged and where they did not in my writing. I think a teacher once taught me to put them any place that you would take a breath in your writing, which for those who know me, might never happen becauseIhavebeentoldthatItalkreallyfastsofastthatIdon'thavetimetobreathe. So, instead, I overcompensate, and tend to have what I affectionately call, "comma diarrhea" (gross I know, but I taught middle school!!)

And then, after I finally mastered the serial comma rule (you should have one less comma then the things you are listing) they go ahead and make that final comma optional!!

So - it was with great delight that I read over on Mentor Texts & More that NYC Teacher found a book that might help teach kids about comma abuse. It's My Big Boy Bed by Eve Bunting and here it how she plans to use it:

"It's a lovely book that tells the story of Donny's very first night sleeping in his big boy bed. Hardly a book for upper elementary school students, right? WRONG! I think it's an excellent book for teaching kids how to go beyond the traditional use of commas. Bunting's comma use throughout the story, especially in the story's dialogue is fascinating since she puts commas in places that I wouldn't have thought to put them. "

Now - I don't own this book (yet!) but I had never really thought to read books, particularly picture books, with the lens of teaching punctuation. Voice, word choice, sentence fluency - absolutely! But unless the focus of the picture book was about conventions (a la Punctuation Takes A Vacation) - I never thought about using it as a mentor text for commas!

Sigh! Guess I'll have to read my extensive collection of picture books all over again!! Good thing it's summer and Amelia will have lots of free time for read alouds!!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Writing Thesis Statements

From think:lab, I stumbled upon this guidance from Mrs. Trudeau to her students on writing thesis statements:

You've read about globalization, we've discussed the advantages and drawbacks in class, and you've heard from two individuals who are directly involved in their everyday working lives. Now it's your turn! Write a thesis statement that clearly identifies your viewpoint about this topic. Use the formula below to help you create your thesis statement, and post your thesis statement here on our class blog.



Even more interesting are some of the responses from her students:

kugelmax said:
I believe globalization is advantageous because it creates more jobs and allows people to move companies across the country for cheaper prices.

rubelsarxox said:
I think Globalization is a good and bad thing. It's a good thing because it connects the U.S. to other countries and makes us closer. Also, It opens trade, gives good pay to foreign workers, and is less expensive to sell and buy goods. I think it's a bad thing because it makes American workers loose their jobs, and it harder to find a new job in the United States than in China, Depending on age.

klaukkir said:
I think globalization is a good thing becouse we get products for a cheaper price and it links the U.S together. It also gives jobs to people with a low income in china.

I see this as a rich blogging opportunity in just about any classroom. Why?

1. Students are focusing on only one aspect of writing - but a very critical one: thesis statements. It is short but easily assessed and rich mini-lessons can follow; spelling, grammar, stating one opinion, etc.
2. It is a quick assessment of whether students understood the concepts that were taught - can they synthesize them into an opinion that can be supported?
3. Because it is social, students who might not be sure can read the responses of other classmates to help them form their view point. (NOTE - I said form, not steal!)
4. I am not sure if the students ever had to support these statements in writing or a class activity - but what a great way to see if you are on the write track!!

Happy writing!

Slowing Down the Pace

It's the end of the school year and everyone is busy: final meetings, recording grades, interview for new staff. So it won't come as much of a surprise to anyone that the footwear above is what I ended up wearing Thursday morning. Of course, I didn't notice until I was well on my way to work!!

And my reaction was a bit atypical for me....I couldn't stop laughing!!

So my footwear fiasco helped to put things into perspective for me. I been running around trying to fit too much into my day and into my head. I am not stopping to do anything well - but I am getting it done. And it made me think (of course) about teaching writing.

There is most certainly a process to writing. We start with ideas that we get from somewhere: a conversation we overheard, a memory, our writer's notebook. And then we take that seed and feed it with more words and more ideas until we have a rough draft. For some writers - that is that. But for the rest of us - we need to weed out the pieces that don't fit and stake up others. And maybe then we'll have a productive final draft. Sometimes.....we just have to start all over again.

But lately - the conversations I have had and overhead with teachers seem to be about planting the seed, piling Miracle Grow on it, and then harvesting - without allowing time for something to grow into rich, productive fruit. Things like "I need to get them ready for the assessment" or "I don't have enough written pieces this semester for a final grade" lead me to wonder how much we are nurturing student writing, slowing it down, letting it grow.

And ultimately - it comes down to our hopes for our students. Do we want them to to well on the state assessments or do we want them to be better writers? Are they mutually exclusive?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Writing Collaboratively

One of the things I am pondering now is how we can teach kids that writing sometimes needs to be done collaboratively in order to communicate to a wide audience. Things like mission/vision statements or group goals or even a position statement that represents a group, rather than an individual.

I say this because our team is heavily involved in doing all of the above together and it is not easy. We all have very different styles and have different ways of expressing how we feel - yet someone we need to create a document that express us all. Making choices between saying "valuable contribution" or "invaluable resource." Deciding whether we like (or can live with) bullets versus a paragraph. Agreeing on a common definition for collaboration - one that is shared by the writers and the readers.

We have a handle on how to teach writers to express themselves and find their voice - but what about those very real situations where their individual voice needs to meld into a collective one?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Teachable Moment

Photo from The Daily Telegraph

As a writer I just couldn't let this one go!! I am sure it is not Hillary's fault - but she should have been the final eyes on this one!! The worst part - she was telling folks that she was a "high tech" candidate!! Spellcheck anyone?

It made me think about the difference between revision and editing/proofreading - one that many of our kids miss and sometimes causes a problem on the editing passages of our NYS Assessments. Here's what the Hillary camp should have done for each:

Revision:Finding the final version by changing words, sentence structure, etc.

Technology: Our Future
Technology Jobs: Our Future
New Techonology: New Tommorrow
New Jobs for Tommorrow

Editing: Reviewing for publication - checking spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

New Jobs for Tommorrow

New Jobs for Tomorrow!!