Monday, October 29, 2012

A Week of Reflection

As my students spend their time in class reflecting upon their first quarter of school, I too, decided to take on this task. I think about all of the "things" that make up what we call school: students, parents, teachers and staff, standards, district initiatives, assessments, lessons, management, meetings, classrooms, and resources (or lack thereof). I think about all of the "to do lists" that make up what we call work: planning, creating, copying, communicating, grading, entering, revising, and hopefully - reflecting.

What good is all that we do if we do not take time to reflect?

What if you go through the motions with all of the "things" and "to do lists" and never just STOP and consider - what worked? Or better yet - what DIDN'T work? WHY didn't it work?

What is most important? Am I prioritizing or am I getting bogged down with all of these "things"?

It is time for reflection.

I am constantly striving to do better in a variety of ways. I want my students to learn. It is my job to ensure this occurs. Am I doing all that I can so that this happens?

This quarter, I implemented a new routine, and updated some old ones:
  • unit reflections - students reflect on what they learned by rating their learning targets, providing student samples, and answering questions tied to the targets. They take this home to show their parents and have them sign. I borrowed this from a friend and adapted it for my class. I have found it has opened up communication with families about what students are learning, allows students to think about what they have learned in a holistic fashion, and provides closure to the unit since we often to not have a "test" when we complete a cycle of learning.
  • read aloud - I did this off and on last year, but did not stay consistent with this. It has given me an opportunity to use this book as a mentor text and provide transition time. On days I don't read aloud, students notice! It has given us a common, shared text to discuss and use in lessons.
  • keeping weekly reading journals sacred - I did journals off and on last year. They were always tied to what we were working on, and seemed redundant to the assessments I was already grading. I noticed the students did not find this purposeful, and it was a lose lose situation. I was reluctantly grading journals and students were not putting much thought or effort into them. After opening a discussion with colleagues about how they implement reading journals, I was discovering it really boiled down to purpose. This year, I created a rubric and kept the journals sacred. I also changed the purpose. Instead of journaling on a skill taught, I asked students to consider the author's choices with a variety of sentence starters. This written response has really captured students thinking and held them accountable for reading consistently.
Upon reflection of first quarter, I am comfortable continuing these new routines. However, there are some things to continue to improve as well. I welcome your suggestions! :)

  • flexible groups - during my guided reading cycle, I did not have the opportunity to reach all students. I am struggling with giving students work time AND meeting with them as well because they need extra time. While this only happened with one class, it was a bummer because there was a difference in what they understood during their assessment since they did not have the opportunity to discuss their thinking with me prior to being assessed. On the bright side, it validates how important it is that I provide opportunities for students to share their thinking with each other and have my guidance to clarify confusion. I need to restructure my instruction during this hour to allow this to happen more often. I will try to provide one day in the week for collaboration at the very least with this hour.
  • running records - I have not conducted a single one. Bottom line - this needs to be done with some students and I haven't made the time to sit down and listen to them read aloud. I will try to establish a routine during independent reading days. I will seek out leveled text for students that are in tier 2 interventions.
  • compacting the curriculum - I am comfortable differentiating for my higher students with leveled text and with extension projects, but not with pacing. How do I meet the needs of these students? I have offered some things for these students, but they are still sitting through my mini-lessons and may not need to. I also struggle with this because I don't want to take their higher level thinking out of our classroom discussions, so they sit there. Hmm...not sure what to do there. I will continue to provide opportunities for these students to have higher level texts, be in homogeneous groups when appropriate, and be challenged with my book group I have begun. They will read one book per week in a variety of genres and have a discussion online.
As second quarter begins, I am anxious to see how things continue to unfold. It is always an experience - this "thing" we call school! If I try to approach it with the lens of teaching, learning, and growing; perhaps I can survive another quarter!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Goodbye August; Hello September!

With one and a half weeks behind me, I can honestly say I am ready for more. I feel like there is still so much to know about my students. I gave them each an inventory the first few days in order to see how they feel about reading in general and a little about their past as readers. I am always amazed about how brutally honest they are! I also had them complete an inventory about their interests. Typically I read through them every year as a way to connect to students - this child likes football ask them about football; this child enjoys hanging out with friends and loves Justin Bieber. Remember to ask about a new album. However, this year I decided to use this form in a slightly different way. Using what topics they were interested in, I put a post-it note on their inventory with a few book recommendations. For example, if a child was interested in sports, I may have recommended Mike Lupica or Tim Green. Likewise, if a child expressed interest in scary movies and hanging out with friends, I may have recommended the Skeleton Creek series.

This is just another example of how reflection on a simple routine I do every year. I have changed the purpose of a tool I have used in the past and made it a little more focused.

Students took those post-its to our school IMC by the way, and instead of avoidance from those reluctant readers, a book was in their hands within minutes. I am anxious to see how they are enjoying them when we get back to school!

Friday, July 27, 2012

National Boards!

I have opened the box, read the website, created a binder with directions, consulted a friend, and designated time to begin working. Great start, right?

I discovered today/tonight, that I have a huge procrastination problem. I am not quite sure when this developed, but I have uncovered this fact. I have learned that it is easier for me to work with deadlines - I guess I crack under pressure. Not good for someone who needs to pace themselves over the next 9 months before turning in the infamous box with EXACT packaging to mail off and be assessed.

Why am I doing this to myself I wonder...
I just got my Master's in Reading in May, you would think I would be good to go for awhile...

But, noooo....I needed to go out and pursue National Board Certification. Today, I managed to do all of my laundry - even my bedding, fixed my children two meals and two snacks (they went to dinner with their dad), fixed myself two meals (had dinner at Panera), read the entire August issue of Prevention magazine, worked-out, showered and got ready, played Pokemon with my 8 year-old, read with my 5 year-old, loaded the dishwasher, browsed facebook, searched for ideas on parent and teacher communication, checked and responded to my e-mail, had countless phone and text conversations, and oh yeah, began my Entry 4 for Boards...


I don't get that much done in any given day, yet I feel compelled to do anything and everything to avoid sitting down and actually completing this task.

And now, I am blogging about it...still procrastinating...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What I Learn from my Children

After a busy morning with swimming and tennis, we decided to head over to the public library to meet some friends. My two sons, Aidan and Tyler, are nearly nine and six. To me, those ages sound way older than eight and five, but they are getting older and wiser whether I like it or not. As we entered the children's section, I noticed Aidan going straight towards the Star Wars books and Tyler going straight towards the Super Hero books. Truth be told, I would rather have Aidan going towards the chapter books without pictures, since he is perfectly capable of reading them. In addition, it would be nice if Tyler chose books that were beginning readers with phonics, repetition, and sight words galore.


What I learned (and need to be comfortable with) is they went straight for what INTERESTED them. It reminded me that it is okay to let our students read painless books (Aidan's choices) or challenge books (Tyler's choices) because they are motivated to read them! It is more important to me to hook a reader on a series of books or genre of books that may be too easy if it is getting them in the habit of reading daily. Reading painless books builds fluency and understanding of simple story structure. Likewise, if a student - like my Tyler - has background knowledge on a particular topic, chances are that student will be able to tackle a more difficult text based on their familiarity with the vocabulary of that topic. Tyler knew how to pronouce some of the characters' names that I didn't even know! The boys sat and read book after book after book today with no arguments whatsoever.

So they were not "appropriate leveled books" for my little readers...the point is: they enjoyed reading these books of their choice!

Besides, I couldn't tell you the last time I picked up a book to read based on my level. I choose to read based on what interests me, what kind of genre I am in the mood for, favorite authors, recommendations from friends, and a million other reasons other than it is on my level.

Thank you, Aidan and Tyler, for reminding me it is okay for my students to read books of their choice!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

MID-State Reading Council New T-Shirt Design Revealed!

One of my visions as President of MID-State Reading Council is to branch out to our members, including educators and parents that may not know about our organization. For the past two years as President-Elect and Vice President of MID-State, I have thought about ways to spread literacy further. I suggested we reach out to our community in order to partner with other organizations that are just as passionate as we are about literacy. Our council wanted to reach a larger audience with administrators, content area teachers, and families. Our fall event focused a hot topic in our area: RtI. Our spring event focused on families and creating a home/school connection. We were pleased with both programs we organized, but our Summer Conference was when we really saw what we could do when we branched out to others.

We brought in author/educator, Kelly Gallagher, to speak at our Summer Conference. We met with the Regional Office of Education to co-sponsor our event and began publicizing within our school districts. We worked with these professionals to spread the word. As a result, our Summer Conference was more successful than we could imagine. We had the audience we wanted - administrators, content area teachers, reading specialists, new and pre-service teachers, secondary and elementary literacy coaches, and of course reading and writing teachers. Our membership increased 44% from that conference - but we did not do that individually. I thank Kelly Gallagher for not only agreeing to speak at our conference that day, but also for sending such an important message to the people that attended. I thank the ROE for supporting our mission of professional development, and I thank all of the school districts that partnered with us to send teachers from their buildings.

This year, we plan to invite book and wine lovers out to our "Wine-A-Read?" social at 6:00 pm on September 20, 2012 at White Oak Winery in Carlock, IL featuring book talks from local professionals. We hope to branch out to educators in a fun and relaxing environment. Please consider joining us! 

We are working on other events that will focus on hot topics in education including Common Core and Informational Texts. In addition, we will be hosting local families in providing books for Habitat for Humanity, having a Carnival of Reading in the fall and Family Literacy Night in the spring.

Moving forward, it is important to me to continue this theme of "branching out" to others within the schools and community.

Why keep a good thing to yourself?  

Therefore, we created a t-shirt design that included the nouns and verbs that identify MID-State's mission and vision in the form of a tree to represent how we plan to branch out and spread literacy to others. I believe partnerships are empowering and help us grow in our endeavors.


Friday, July 13, 2012

What is "teaching.learning.growing" all about anyway?

I was one of those little girls that would line up my dolls and "play school". This was no ordinary school. I would read stories aloud to these "students" of mine, have class discussions about them, and plan field trips - to my back yard! I had a grade book in which I kept their grades for the assignments that I created and they completed. In other words, I would write 10+ essays in different handwriting and with a variety of effort to represent the different learners in my classroom - for FUN! Teaching has been and always will be part of what defines me.

As my graduate school semester was winding down last spring, I found myself having bitter sweet moments. Although I was feeling a sense of accomplishment in soon receiving my Master's in Reading, I was also feeling a sense of loss. As a result, I found myself registering to become a National Board Certified Teacher...before graduation. I unpacked my kit and began diving in to the entries already. Needless to say, learning is a verb that is within me.

Which leads me to that next verb within the title of my blog...growing. In my opinion, reflection should be a huge part of what we do as educators. I love the beginning of the school year because I am able to begin with a fresh start. I look back at what worked, what needs to be tweaked, and what could change completely. I am consistently looking for ways to improve myself personally, spiritually, and professionally. If we do not reflect upon what we have done and push ourselves, then will we ever reach our fullest potential?

I have been teaching for 12 years. Why blog now?

I just returned from a fabulous Leadership Retreat by Illinois Reading Council. I am serving as President for our local council, MID-State. I was inspired by the literacy leaders in the room, and began thinking about my vision as President of MID-State. What would I accomplish in this position? How would I implement this vision? As these questions came to mind, I discovered it was BECAUSE of my surroundings that I was inspired. The energy in the room was buzzing! The love of literacy was contagious! The encouragement from others was amazing! It was then that I decided I needed to stay connected; I needed to share all of the wonderful ideas and resources I was so lucky to experience!

I needed to create an environment that would nourish this need to learn and grow as I taught.

Therefore, I created this blog to share, reflect, and potentionally have that environment year round. So, I invite you to share your experiences, what you have learned, and ways you have grown. Let's spread the passion for teaching, learning, and growing together.