Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wise Words About The Head & The Heart of Our Work

I am currently rereading two edifying texts - Smart Answers to Tough Questions: What to say when you're asked about fluency, phonics, grammar, vocabulary, SSR, tests, support for ELLs, and More by the ever brave writer Elaine Garan and No Quick Fix: Rethinking Literacy Programs in America's Elementary School - The RTI Edition edited by a true literacy super hero, Richard Allington, and Sean Walmsely. When problem solving learning journeys and developing responsive learning for your students OR when faced with challenges from parents or colleagues about the why's of your teaching practices, turn to these texts. As I engage in "I believe...I do..."/"We believe...We do..." conversations/study groups with colleagues to articulate essential learning experiences for growing readers and writers (and develop curriculum support resources) and in preparing several upcoming parent workshops, the research references and portraits of "what works" in these texts are richly clarifying. Addtionally, Garan, Allington, and Walmsely's (along with the brilliant fellow writers of No Quick Fix) wise words can be a catalyst - or a compass - as you engage in necessary (but too often rare) professional development conversations with your colleagues about the intentions of your teaching rituals and routines. As Garan puts it, "What shines through every research-based recommendation and quote in this book, nestled between every single line, is that you are the head and you are the heart of the classroom (p. 157)."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Time Trials!

A schedule is a net for catching days.
Annie Dillard

What we give our time to shows what we value. Sculpting time for literacy learning, as is true with all of life's journeys, means being thoughtful about every minute of our students' day. Studying why and how to develop edifying and practical schedules with colleagues of The American School of Dubai, I offered the following suggestions:

1) Think Like Georgia Heard
As you explore scheduling options, give yourself permission to think with Georgia Heard's lens: “I have abundant time…I have so much time to accomplish all I need to and all I want to do.”

2) Stay Open Minded and Feel Creative
And consider Dr. Phil's advice, too :) "Live with an idea for 15 minutes before dismissing it."

3) AAA to the Rescue!
Now, let's think about essential experiences for learner's of every age, what I call AAA (Benson, 1995) in responsive "dosages" ~
ALOUD ~ modeling & mentoring
ALONG ~ fellowship & collaborative practice
ALONE ~ independent practice

To profile these further, our students need differentiated literacy learning with: Essential Literacy Learning Experiences
–Read Alouds
–Focus Lesson: Modeling & Shared Reading/ Collaborative Practice
–Independent Reading
–Guided Reading
–Book Club/Literature Circles
–Peer Partners

–Focus Lesson: Modeling, Read Alouds-Mentor Texts, & Shared Writing/ Collaborative Practice
–Independent Writing
–Clinics/Small Groups
–Buddy Projects/Writing Clubs
Word Study
–Embedded into Readers' Workshop, Writers' Workshop, & Content Learning (focus and context are very important; word study in isolation does not support students' transfer and implementation of their learning)
Content Area Learning
–Infuse literacy as vehicle for learning content area concepts
–Use thinking strategy focus to support content area learning/cross-fertilize

Gathering kids in front for instruction, releasing them to practice, and then bringing them back to share their thinking represents the steady flow that is at the heart of effective teaching and learning. From Strategies That Work by Harvey & Goudvis

4) Consider "What does the research say about TIME?"
Student achievement goals = 90 minutes of independent reading EVERY DAY
Student writing achievement= 35 – 75 independent writing EVERY DAY

"Extensive reading is critical to the development of reading proficiency
(Krashen, 2001; Stanovich, 2000). Extensive practice provides opportunity for students to consolidate the skills and strategies teachers often work so hard to develop…Exemplary elementary teachers recognized this critical aspect of instructional planning. Their students
did more independent reading, more guided reading, more social studies and science
reading than students in less-effective classrooms.

Research References:
Allington, Richard. [All titles]
Kohn, Alfie. [Numerous titles]
Krashen, Stephen. [All titles]
•Pearson, P. David. Handbook of Reading Research (2000).
•Dolores Durkin’s early studies

* and read Regie Routman's and Shelley Harwayne's thoughts about time in their many edifying books!

Or (thinking about the above), in the case of many international school schedules when instructional time is so limited because of the blessing and challenge of many additional learning experiences embedded into students' learning days...
Highest percentage of students’ time = engaged in independent reading & writing
Minutes count!
Beginning to end of school day and over the course of a week, how much time are our students reading & writing on their own?

*Engage students in literacy the minute they walk in the door! Give students time and a calm, focused start to their day by starting the day as we do - reading the newspaper, pouring over e-mail, jotting down lists of things to do, writing letters and note. As my students entered our classroom, they grabbed their independent reading boxes and/or their writing folders (with drafts in progress of mostly self generated topics) and began their first dose of reading/writing. *To make the above possible, steal minutes from morning message &/or find quiet, student controlled ways to take attendance, lunch count, etc. Post announcements for students to read rather than having to tell students [Use pictures & cues for young students.]
*Infuse content area learning texts into modeling, shared, guided, and students’ independent reading.
*Rather than trying to fit it ALL into a day, strive to fit in essential learning experiences within a week/within your 6 days
*Give yourself permission to engage in Conferences & GR in doable rhythms: M, W, & F = Conferences and T & Th = GR [beginning of year; later, flip this pattern].
*Cycle your younger or more vulnerable students into your conferences and small groups/guided reading-writing more often
*Engage in short conferences often
*Use short & spirited texts to create edifying but efficient guided reading groups and manageable writing tasks, too.
* Consider integrating your focus in reading and writing [e.g., Focusing on making connections in reading, I engage students in writing connected text such as memoir, pattern books, haiku, compare & contrast, etc. We are thus studying connecting as a thinking strategy which generates understanding and possibilities in reading and writing (and content area learning, too!).

•All previously mentioned suggestions and
•When time is really tight, consider utilizing block type scheduling during this fragmented or “too full” period – but not always [e.g., Readers’ Workshop for 2-3 weeks and, then, Writer’s Workshop for 2-3 weeks OR Monday – Wednesday = Readers’ Workshop and Thursday – Friday = Writers’ Workshop]

Just adding more time and space for independent reading is not enough. I’m advocating
a carefully designed, structured reading program that includes demonstrating, teaching, guiding, monitoring, evaluating, and goal setting along with voluntary reading of books students choose…When an independent reading component is added, test scores go up.

Regie Routman

8) Reflect On Your Schedule
Every decision is important. Thinking about time, I ask myself:
*What would be most helpful in helping my students grow right now?
*How does doing this help my students move forward (confidence, motivation, relationships, and academically)?
*What is my intention here? Does doing this serve the focus of students’ learning right now?
*Is this really necessary or could I accomplish this in another way?

When we follow routines day after day, our students can use their energy to grow as readers and learners rather than to figure out what we expect them to do. And we in turn, can focus our energy on teaching, not managing, our independent learners.
Kathy Collins in The Daily 5 by Gail Boushey & Joan Moser

As you craft and shape schedules for and with your students, it is critical to consider how you can help students learn literacy deeply, purposefully, and with passion. Take time to be focused on one or a few student learning goals at any given time over a long period of time. Because you have so much to teach, you have to prioritize. Reach out to your colleagues and share how each of you are prioritizing student learning and share solutions. Knowing we want and need to develop student learning based on what we know about them from our monitoring systems/assessment and evaluation practices, think about how to best shape your schedule so that you can be a responsive and supportive teacher - and still have a rich life outside of school, too!

10) Take literacy out solitary confinement! Alias, nothing in isolation! If your current schedule is challenging or never seems to provide enough time to get to what you most know your students need, create more time by taking a thorough and honest look at your daily and weekly schedules. Is there anything that might be better served by integrating it into your literacy block/workshops, deleting the ritual altogether (such as taking attendance and lunch count with the whole class or engaging all your students in a morning meeting now that the kids know the days of the week and/or can do these tasks as a center), or utilizing more of a "block-type" scheduling? If you are teaching any aspect of literacy in isolation, stop. Steal the time you have been teaching say spelling or grammar in isolation and weave these minutes into your Readers' and/or Writers' Workshop. Our students cannot transfer isolated learning skills lessons well. Teaching literacy skills void of their immediate application within the context of authentic reading and writing are not good uses of your time or theirs. Be bold! Look for minutes at every turn of the day and think about how you can create larger, uninterrupted time for more independent reading and writing - which will give you more time to meet with students in one-on-one conferences and small groups as well giving you some time for your own independent writing and reading (including the authentic teaching tasks you need to address such as lessons planning, reading to research a topic, or pouring over students writing samples as you evaluate his/her growth AND your own pleasure reading/writing and reflective literacy, too).

Cheers for great joy on all your journeys!