Friday, February 28, 2014

Did you REALLY just say poop??

One of my roles as a Reading Specialist in my school, is to provide direct instruction to small groups of students in our Reading WIN program. The students who are part of the Reading WIN program are most likely the most struggling readers in our school. While I know it is not ideal to pull these students from class, we have to follow the SRBI model put forward by our state and district to make sure all appropriate interventions are put into place before any further evaluation can be done.

Our WIN block happens at the very end of the day. Again- not ideal- but it was the only time in our hectic schedule that students would not be missing any new material in any of the content areas. During this time, I work with a group of four boys who have made it known that they HATE reading. But I want more than anything to change that mindset of these boys. 
Yesterday, one of the boys clearly did not want to be at Reading WIN. His body language was speaking loudly to me. He was rolling his eyes, shrugging his shoulders, and twisting in his chair. And even from time to time, answer questions in a borderline rude tone. 

I asked him to stay after group and talk to me about what was going on. I said, "Bud, what's going on? I really don't think you meant to be rude to me or roll your eyes, but I can tell you are not happy. What's wrong?" And with tears in his eyes and shaking, he exclaims, " All we do is read here! READ READ READ!! WHY? And there are no kids here! It is so much easier to work when there are more kids here! I don't want to read this poem and practice fluency!" At that moment, my heart broke. Here I had been trying everything I could to engage him and the other boys. I thought I had been picking engaging texts- poems about friends sticking tongues out at each other, articles about blizzards, and articles about spiders. 

But I had missed the mark. I needed to change something in my instruction and in the materials I was using. Even though I was incorporating strategies from Falling in Love with Close Reading, videos I had watched on the TCRWP, and connecting it all to fluency work, it still wasn't grabbing the boys. I could be standing on my head, and I still don't think I could help this student, or any of the other boys in my group, to love reading if I wasn't incorporating their interests. 

So, I simply asked him, " Well, what would make you LOVE coming here? What do YOU want to read about?" And he said," Action! I want action. I also want cows. I want to read about cows." 

"Ok, " I said, "When you come here tomorrow I promise I will have stories, or poems about action and cows. Now I can't guarantee that I will be able to find action and cows in the same story, but I will try my hardest. But can you be more specific about what kind of action?"

"Yes! Sports Action!," he stated. I noticed that at this point, the tears had subsided and his body was much more relaxed. He was leaning in and talking to me. His eyes were wide with excitement and almost seemed to be challenging me to find cows and sports action! 

"Alright, bud! You got it- sports action and cows. I am on it!" I declared. On that note, I sent him back to class, but not without a few hershey kisses! 

I had quite the task ahead of me. I searched my bookshelves looking for sport action books and came across Football Genius by Tim Green. I read the first chapter and thought perfect! Action, adventure and football! I then jumped on my computer and googled Cow poems, and pulled a few that I thought were funny, but still gave the boys some interesting facts about cows. I was really going to have to sell the idea of reading about cows to the other boys! Then I thought, what about nonfiction? I love the website Newsela. I logged on and searched cows. As I scrolled through the articles, I kept asking, "What would the boys like? Think like a boy!" And then as if a light was shining down on my computer, up pops an article about turning cow poop into electricity. The first few lines read," Dairy farmer Ron Koetsier's 1,200 cows drop 90 tons of manure every day. That's more than 65 million pounds of poop per year!" BINGO! I had found my article! What boy doesn't like to talk about poop! That's all my 4 year old son talks about! 

As the boys got settled for our reading group today, I turned on my actress skills and said, " Boys, I am so sorry I put you through the torture of reading poems about friends, and articles about blizzards. I can tell you hated them and weren't interested in them." The boys began to feverishly nod their heads. One even said, " Thank god! I did not like that poem!" Being super dramatic I took their poems, the T-chart we made and said, " Well, then we are done with them!" and proceeded to rip them all in half. The boys cheered and said, " So what are we reading?" 

"Well, you have a choice. We have a chapter from Football Genius, poems about cows, article about....Cow POOP!!"

"No way, Mrs. DiBartolo! Did you just say COW POOP! Please let's read that- PUH LEASE!"

And right there, I had them hooked. From there, we easily transitioned into the reading ritual of reading with a word choice lens. My objective is for the boys to recognize the words the author uses to create a tone and then show that tone through their reading. I found this was a great way to incorporate repeated readings and still touch upon strategies that help improve the students comprehension. If students cannot comprehend what they are reading, how can they be expected to read fluently and expressively? 

The boys got right to work. Without much prodding, or redirecting from me (as I sometimes need to do to keep them engaged) the boys actively read and were able to write a basic main idea for the first part of the article. What was even more cool, was the fact that along the way while I was reading out loud, they started highlighting words that created images, clear ideas, and evoked emotions for them. They were ready to share even before I was! 

This lesson speaks volumes to what I firmly believe! You give the students the right materials, the right resources, and a purposeful instructional plan and they will take off! These boys were thrilled to be sharing their thoughts, and wanted to take the article home to read over the weekend. 

That right there is the magic of teaching reading. That is the power and magic in showing the students how much you value them and listen to them. I showed the students how much I loved reading about cow poop and they fed off of that throughout the lesson. 

I am hoping that today my 4 boys fell a little bit more in love with reading. If I need to continue to find articles about poop, slime, guts- I will! I don't care as long as they are reading! 

And there is no harm in saying poop in the classroom! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

What's in a Score?

March 18, 2014- That is the day our district begins the field test of the SBAC assessment. 

Meetings have been held to understand the accommodations allowed to the students on the test. Meetings have been held to review the testing protocols and the script teachers must use when proctoring. 
Meetings have been held to now assign those accommodations to the students to level the playing field for students who are taking the test. 

The teacher talk has been consumed with, " Have you SEEN the practice test?" " Have you seen how hard the practice test is?" " Thank god it's only a field test year and not tied to teacher evaluation." 

Students are currently being trained to take the test. Administrators are working to create an extensive schedule for the weeks we are giving the test. PLCS are working together to understand the tasks that will be asked of the students. 

Worries are arising about how the Special Education and ELL students will access the test. What about the typical struggling student? How will they ever demonstrate understanding on the SBAC?

IEP testing accommodation sheets need to be uploaded. ELL testing accommodation sheets need to be uploaded. One person in the school must be assigned the task of uploading all other students and accommodations into the SBAC computer system. 

It seems that all of this needed to be done yesterday! 

While I do think that the Common Core has brought a lot of good to the classroom, I do worry what more testing could do to the students. Sometimes I hear students being described as a score- as a level 38 on the DRA, or a RIT score of 199. And I think- yeah but.... tell me more! What is the student's strengths as a reader? What is the student's strengths as a writer? Focus on what the student can do and not what the student can't do!

But I get it- we are in an era in education when test scores will make or break you as a teacher. Tying teachers performance to testing data undermines the teaching profession. As teachers we are in this job to help our students love math, love reading, love writing, and just love learning! It is our charge to embrace students as they are and guide them towards independent learning. No two students are going to get to the same expectations the same way- And that is okay! Students bring their own set of knowledge, experiences and understanding to each and every lesson we teach. As teachers our job is to bring out the best in our students- to capitalize on what they know. 

Today, I watched a student thump his chest and ROAR like the Incredible Hulk when he finally came to an understanding of conflict and how that might impact a character. He worked so hard by examining posters we had made, listening to other classmates as well as his teacher- and finally he shouted, "She'll have to go against her brother!! That is awful!!" 

Today, I had a pizza dance party for the students I worked with for two weeks. It was a way to celebrate all their hard work and dedication to their  learning. We worked insanely hard at reading for word choice, and text evidence through the reading rituals described in Falling in Love with Close Reading. As I watched them dance around the room and sing along to  "Story of my Life" and " Radioactive", I had an amazing sense of pride for them.  Their connection to music is unimaginable and was the vehicle used to connect their love of music to the love of reading. It is something so simple, yet so powerful. 

These are the moments we need to hold onto as teachers! These are the moments that keep us grounded in our teaching and remind us each and every day why we went into teaching in the first place.  It shouldn't be about SBAC scores, DRA levels, or NWEA scores. Those are merely jumping points for us as teachers. Take those scores and ask, " What more do I need to know about my students? Where can I go next? What more do they need?" Constantly questioning, persevering, and reflecting are all marks of a great teacher. 

Luckily, where I work I am surrounded with these great teachers. I have complete faith in the teachers I work with that we have all prepared the students and helped them grow as learners and people. I have no doubt that we will all survive the SBAC. We will get it done as a team, staff and faculty. And while it might be painful at times, and no doubt stressful- 

We got this! 

"Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave (wave) is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
Cause I'm gonna make this place your home".... Home by Phillip Phillips


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

It's official- I'm in LOVE!

Today, as I looked over my  school calendar that is FILLED to the brim with meetings and to do lists, I sighed and thought, "How am I ever going to get this stuff done? When I am going to make it back into the classrooms?" I find that so much of my time this past month has been spent taking care of "admin stuff" and taking me away from the classrooms and teachers. It is so hard to find a balance. I told myself, "No more negativity! Be positive!" Being a Literacy Coach, it's hard to gauge whether or not you are really making an impact on instruction and student learning. But today I got my answer! Today, I am officially in love!

I opened my email and saw that I had been mentioned in a tweet. (To me, being mentioned in a tweet is like signing onto AOL and hearing "You got mail!" It's so exciting!) My friend, Theresa had posted about the word choice lesson from Falling in Love with Close Reading that we co-taught today. I had been agonizing for part of the day that I had taken over the lesson, and hadn't really given Theresa a chance to add to the lesson. I felt like I had let her down as a coach, friend and colleague. To me, being a coach means supporting colleagues to take risks, and encouraging reflection on their practices. Being a coach does not mean I simply give information and tell teachers what is right and what is wrong about their teaching. If I just disseminated information and critiqued teaching, then I am not doing my job! Coaching conversations with teachers are so important when supporting in classrooms and schools!  However, even before I could text Theresa about the lesson and my thoughts (because talking on the phone with two toddlers at home is next to impossible) I read this on her blog:

I am so thankful for a supportive coach, Kara, without her forcing me (hahaha) to take this risk, I wouldn't have had this experience. Thanks Kara! :) 

This is what my job is about. By encouraging Theresa, or forcing as she says, to take a risk and implement a lesson she wasn't entirely comfortable with, she changed her students today. And I am not sure Theresa realizes this or not, but she changed as an educator today. 

As we were talking through the lesson, Theresa showed me the graphic organizers she had created, the T-charts, and the labels she wanted to use on her easel chart paper. While I validated her work, I said, " Theresa its going to be messy learning today! The kids are going to lead the structure of the lesson. We are going to have chart paper stapled up, things crossed off, and webs of words everywhere!" I saw Theresa struggling with this and she said, " Oh my! This is going to kill me! I need structure!" I have to give her credit though, she put the need of teacher control aside and went with it. And in Theresa's own words, she was "BLOWN AWAY!" at the level of student conversation, motivation, and learning. 

After our lesson, Theresa and I "debriefed" after our lesson and were amazed to realize that we only read through 5 lines of the " I Have a Dream Speech." Those four lines were jam packed with rich word choice that evoked images, feelings and ideas from the students. The level of discussion, and analyzing was astounding!! I think Theresa sums up our experience quite well: 

"... ALTHOUGH we only read four sentences up to this point my students learned SO much. We turned and talked, had class discussions, and piggy backed off of each other's ideas. We tried the answer frames as a class and these are some of the responses we heard... 

"Some words fit together like injustice and not free and made me feel guilty because African-Americans suffered in history from being enslaved to being forced to attend different schools, they were never looked at as equal."
 "Seared, flames, captivity, slaves, and withering are all depressing words because it symbolizes how we had treated African-Americans for hundreds of years and it is wrong." 

And my favorite... "The author could have used 100 years repeatedly, but used "5 score years" because he wanted to connect his speech to Abraham Lincoln's speech about the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of slavery. He wanted to continue Abraham's revolution and finally free African-Americans. MLK appreciated the work Abraham Lincoln did and by "symbolic shadow we stand today" it means that MLK was giving his speech in front of the Lincoln memorial for a historical and meaningful reason." 

So, this is why I am in love. I am in love with Falling in Love with Close Reading, not just because of the higher level learning that the students experience through the lessons, but also because the book as taken teaching to a whole new level. This book has become my anchor in conversations with teachers. I didn't realize until today, the impact our discussions about this book have made on the teachers I work with. As teachers, we all have the common purpose of motivating students to become life long readers and learners. Just like we want  students to persevere through their learning and feel success, we want the same as teachers. We craft these amazing lessons everyday and want nothing more than for our students to deepen their understanding. Falling in Love with Close Reading encourages us to take a closer look at the world around us- to closely read people, music, movies, commercials, and video games. It is authentic learning and teaching that happens through these lessons. 

And as the students rushed our of the classroom to special, a student Carl came up to us and said, "Thank you! Thank you for today!" Several other students followed suit. That is the magic of student led learning. That is the magic of believing in your students and yourself as a teacher. 

Boy- it feels good to be in love! 

Monday, February 3, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm
 very excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books
 I read the previous week and books I am currently reading.

It's a snowy day in Connecticut, so I thought today would be a perfect day 
to join in on, "It's Monday! What are you reading!"

Here is what I read this week:

Picture Books

This picture book is astoundingly beautiful with its rich text and gorgeous artwork. Perfect for students of all ages to learn about this great leader! 

I was trying to organize my book case in my classroom when I came across this book. I completely forgot I had it! I think I bought it at a Scholastic Warehouse Sale! Those sales are the best! You Forgot your Skirt Amelia Bloomer, tells the story of Amelia Bloomer, who does not behave the way 19th-century society says a proper lady should. She introduces pantaloons to American women. The illustrations are vibrant! The humorous writing style really grabs the readers attention! Amelia Bloomer would be a great companion to Who Says Women Can't be Doctors.

Middle Grades 
I just finished reading Rump last night. It is a delightful story that intertwined so many different fairy tales. Rumpelstiltskin was one of my favorite tales growing up and it was so neat to have so many "OH YEAH! I remember that from the original fairy tale!" moments. Young readers will love this modern day adaptation! 

Planning to read this week:

And a little professional reading! 

Better Learning Through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility, 2nd Edition... by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey 

I love reading with my boys too!

My husband and I are planning a special movie and dinner night with our son, Drew, on Friday night! We cannot wait to take him to the opening night of the Lego Movie! And to make things even better, we are taking him to Barnes and Nobles and Toys R' Us to build Emmett and his car! 

Happy reading this week! 


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Who's got the Q-Focus?

I am celebrating my colleagues this week. Part of my job that I absolutely and positively love is coaching other teachers!

This week I had the privilege of watching Theresa implement the Question Formulation Technique(QFT)strategy. The QFT  strategy is an instructional strategy that teaches students to ask their own questions. As part of our districts COACHING program, as well as a district book club, we have all been encouraged to read the book Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana and try the strategies in our classroom. I have to be honest, that when Theresa and I tried reading the book together, but we both struggled to get through it. At first we thought, how can this pertain to our grade level? It seems like this is geared towards older students. However, thankfully, we were WRONG! 

Make Just One Change recognizes two facts:
  • All students should and can learn to formulate their own questions
  • All educators can easily teach the skill as part of their regular practice
What is so cool about this process is that it teaches students the importance of asking their own questions through a step by step process. Asking thoughtful questions is such a sophisticated task that many students struggle with. But the simplicity of the process engages and encourages students of all academic levels to ask higher level questions. Not only that, but students must also evaluate their questions for level of importance and recognize when a question is an open question or a closed question. The teacher becomes the facilitator of the group while students are taught to think for themselves! 

Theresa started her lesson with the Q-Focus statement "Revolutionaries change the world." She had this statement in the middle of a large easel paper so the groups of students to write their questions. She reviewed the rules, set a time limit, circulated through the groups and we both watched as the level of engagement and rigor rose in the room!

Theresa's excitement about trying out the QFT strategy was evident in her positive encouragement with the kids. Her excitement spilled over to the students! They were all anxious to share their questions and ideas!  In the groups I visited I heard students taking ownership for their learning and taking part in really thoughtful discussion. I loved hearing the students say, "Well, I think that is an open questions or a deep question. What do you think? Maybe we should keep that question as a back up? Let's get a consensus! Hey, you know what this reminds me of? The Revolutionary War- there must be problems revolutionaries solve! What do you think?" Listening to those conversations brought me chills and I just wanted to jump and down for the students!

 I also felt extremely proud of Theresa for taking a risk and working out of her comfort zone. She was animated in her teaching and she really pushed her students. Watching her teach, reinforced to me the effectiveness of our COACHING process as well as the effectiveness of in school professional development. The peer observations we are able to experience in our school really do bring out the best ideas, conversations and collaborations when working with another colleague. Learning from one another is truly the best professional development and one of many ways that teachers can have a positive impact on our students' learning. 

After watching Theresa, I was able to bring what I learned from her lesson to a co-planning session with another colleague, Greg. In his 5th grade class, we are going to present the students with the cover of Sophia's War and the statement, "Through conflict characters in literature and real people are changed." Based on Theresa's experience, I am so looking forward to watching the 5th grade students work through the QFT process! 

Theresa's classes "most important questions!" The students will revisit these questions throughout their currently literacy unit. The students' questions will guide the students learning1!  

Here's to another #nerdlution week of taking risks!