Tuesday, July 26, 2011

SOLS: I'll Think of You When . . .

My two girls - my little angels.

I'll think of you when . . .
it's the beginning of your day as
I drop you off with Miss Kate and quickly exit.
I'll hear your cries echoing in my head.
My heart aching that I have to leave you both.

I'll think of you when . . .
I have arrived at school.
Reassuring myself
that you'll both be just fine.
You are in good hands.

I'll think of you when . . .
it's the middle of the day and
lunch is being served.
You will be nourished with
food, play, and love.

I'll think of you when . . .
I am on my way home in the late afternoon
to pick you up.
To love you. To squeeze you. To kiss you.
To hold on tight --
until tomorrow.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Simplify Blog Reading

Ok.  I haven't been living under a rock.  I did recently have twin daughters a little over a year ago, so my research and professional development were centered around different topics (i.e. newborns, multiples, what do I do, how do I survive, when will it get any easier.  I'm still trying to find answers to some of those questions.)

Last year I was just trying to balance life at home with life at school.  (I think that is a never-ending struggle.)  I stumbled into the blogging world late 2010 - must have been during the girls' nap - and joined the blogosphere in February of 2011 from a little nudging from Ruth over at the Two Writing Teachers.  (No, it was a personal nudge, but it sure felt like she was talking to me when she declared it: "Stop waiting to start a blog day".)

Little did I know that I was missing out on so many knowledgeable colleagues and authors that share oodles and oodles of great resources and ideas!  I'm sure I'm still missing out because you can only keep up with so much!  In addition, I have expanded my PLN this summer and joined Twitter (@litlearningzone) thanks to other fellow bloggers like Cathy (@CathyMere), Chris (@ReadSoMuch), Katie (@bluskyz), and Kassia (@kassiaowedekind).

So, to get to the point. I've said it before: I like organization.  I feel that my PLN is full of wires that are crossed, wrapped, tangled, and knotted.  Ugh!  I have my reading and writing notebook to jot down words I love or a post that resonated with me.  Also, I purchased a notebook from Target with four sections to jot down: books to read, writing ideas, technology ideas, and professional development ideas, including books, websites, and tweets of words of wisdom.

But I was still wondering: What to do with all these great blogs I love to read?  Well, thanks to Ruth (again!) at the Two Writing Teachers, I have found my solution!  I could not continue to add a long, long list of blogs that I follow in the column of my blog, and I was having a hard time keeping up with new posts.  She introduced me to Google Reader.  (I'll let her explain it. Check out her post.)

Ah - organization!  I love it!

My only hang up?  I'd love for others to to see the great blogs that I love -- that's how I found so many great teachers, writers, and readers.  I know there is a share feature in Google Reader, but that's not quite what I'm looking for in this situation. (At least I think . . . I'll have to do more research.)  Maybe I'll have to edit the design of my blog and only list blog titles and eliminate extra info.

Hmmmm. I'm going to have to think about this one  . . . any ideas?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cyber PD: Conferring - Part 3

It has been a great couple weeks conferring with various colleagues across the country about Patrick Allen's book Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop.  I'm amazed at the "walk-aways" that others share in their reflections and thinking.  Some ideas are similar to my own.  Maybe an additional twist or take on it.  Other ideas dig deeper and make me think beyond the surface.  Thank you for your insights and learning!  


"We need to slow down and get back to the business of knowing children,
of knowing readers." (Allen, 181)

Listening is important.  So is sharing rich conversations and pushing thinking forward.  However, of equal importance, when conferring, is the walk-aways for both the teacher and the student.  What do students walk away with after a conference?  What do I walk away with as their teacher?  This is critical because the learning for both student and teacher shouldn't stop after a conference is complete.  I cannot continue to think students will continue to read and grow as readers after a short-shot of listening, sharing, and learning.  I need to be attentive to my conferring metacognition.  The student can walk away with a specific goal to practice and think about as a reader.  The teacher can walk away with an instructional plan either for whole group, small group or individual.  Both teacher and student being reflective learners.

The students need to feel the sense of urgency and take ownership in their learning as a reader and writer.  I want my students to be responsible for the goal we've set together.  One of the most powerful walk-aways that Patrick shared was "learners self-assess and self-evaluate."  As I think about this and how it may look in my classroom next year with my developing readers, a couple thoughts cross my mind.  My first thought was to write down the goal on a sticky and then have the kids copy it.  However, this wastes so much time in my opinion, especially with developing readers/writers!  To minimize the delay in reading, practicing, and learning, I thought about creating an "exit slip" that includes the date, the walk-away (goal), and the next conference date.  Maybe something like this:

Now the students have a simple record of the goal and know exactly what their focus is as a reader.  The students can then staple it in their reading notebook. Any ideas, thinking, questions regarding this targeted goal can be recorded below the exit slip.    The follow-up conference can begin with, "Last time we met, we talked about . . . Share some of your thinking about . . ."  We talk in depth about leaving tracks of your thinking -- this is the perfect opportunity for the students to hold on to their thinking and write in their reading notebooks with their goal in mind!  The students are accountable and through explicit language modeling, students will also improve upon self-assessment.

I appreciate Patrick sharing the transcribed conferences with his students, including his thoughts.  I was thinking: What would I say?  How would I have responded?  The reminder to listen and just wait.  Allow the students to share.  Identify what the students can do.   Provide support when necessary, but not too soon!  Nudge to look back in the text.  Extend the thinking.  Dig deeper.  Label the strategy utilized.  Identify the walk-aways and set a goal.  The conferences were also an authentic and clear reminder that conferring is brief and focuses on ONE high-quality thoughtful question/strategy.  (To be honest, I wish there were more transcripts of conferences -- maybe Patrick can add a DVD to his next book with audio and video!  Everything seems to make more sense with examples.)

Conferring ain't easy.  Well, at least Patrick is truthful.  But I'm still ready to dig in and give it a try!  I value what I can learn about my students as readers and thinkers.  I loved his list of assertions to confer effectively.  Many of Patrick's ideas I already feel comfortable following through with in my classroom.  Other ideas that resonated with me include (with my thoughts in italics):
  1.  Expect the unexpected: I may have a plan in mind, but the reader may have another idea.
  2.  You're darned write:  Encourage use of the reading notebook.
  3.  Shut up and listen:  Exactly.
  4.  Get a grip: Focus on the reader and hold onto their strengths and areas for improvement.
  5.  What did we talk about?  Take simple, effective notes. Oh, and USE them.
  6.  Help, I'm drowning! Talk about conferring with a colleague. Yes, that's you Chris.
Interesting how these premises that grabbed my attention align with the goals I set last week:

1. Start conferring -- non-negotiable, every day ritual.
2.  Use conferring form. Practice. Practice some more.  Tweak or start fresh.
3.  Utilize my notes/reflections to inform my instruction.  
4.  Take time to have those important conversations with colleagues and teachers.
5.  Reread Chapter 5 to eliminate any doubt or concern.  My students CAN do this!

Patrick summarizes my thoughts about conferring in an excerpt of his letter that he shares with visitors to his classroom: "My goal is to be authentic, not cute. Deep, not surface. Explicit, not implicit. Flexible, not controlling. Mindful, not mindless. And I've come to realize that teaching my students how learners think not just do has had an amazing effect on our learning lives." (Allen, 189)  Yes!  That's what I'm talking about!

"It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear . . . It's like being between trapezes.  It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to."
 Marilyn Ferguson (Allen, 193)

Yes, we are in between, but the thrill of floating in the unknown can be exhilarating.  I am excited about conferring.  I am excited for my students.  I am excited for me.  I am excited about this journey we will take together as readers, writers, thinkers, and learners. 

Thank you for starting this journey with me.  I look forward to #cyperPD updates after school begins!


Want to join in the Cyber PD?  Check it out:
July 6th:
Part I:  What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine

July 13th:
Part II:  What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by Jill Fisch at Primary Passion 

July 20th:
Part III.  What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

July 21st:  
Join us for the final conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.   

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

SOLS: In the Backyard

Check out Two Writing Teachers for more Slices of Life!

In the Backyard
[Inspired by Lisa Schroeder's verse novel: Chasing Brooklyn, p.57]

In the backyard

There is a warm breeze trying to shift the stifling air.
There are cicadas singing in the heat of the day.
There is a brilliant blue sky without a puffy cloud in sight.

In the backyard

There are kids giggling and splashing, trying to stay cool.
There is one LARGE sycamore shading us from the sizzling sun.
There are toys, bikes, trikes, and more scattered throughout the grass.

In the backyard

There is a moment at dusk when tired and quiet lay their hands upon us.
There are fireflies surprising us: glowing and blinking here, then there.
There is a mosquito -- smack! -- buzzing by my ear.

In the backyard

There is a constant reminder to sit, relax, and stay awhile.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Cyber PD: Conferring - Part 2

Friday.  Finally, a moment during the girls afternoon nap, that I can process and think about the insights and knowledge that Patrick Allen shares in his book Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop.  [Ah . . . deep breath.]


"As Peter Johnston reminds us, the word assessment derives from the Latin word assidere, meaning "to sit alongside." (Allen, 112)

Teacher. (Check.) Student. (Check.) Book. (Check.)  That's all I need, right?

I'm all about structure.  I like things in order, lined up, ready to go with a plan.  I feel as though everything Allen says is so obvious that, of course, we should be doing this, but maybe just like kids, we need explicit instructions and scaffolding.  Thank you Patrick for doing just this!

Patrick shared his thoughtful structure of his reading conferences, the RIP model.  As I thought about each component of this model, I felt validated in many of the areas.  Shaking my head. Yes, I do that.  I've said that before.  However, I also realize there is always room to grow!  As Patrick's supervising teacher said to him: "If you ever get to the point where you think you have it all figured out, it is time for you to quit" (Allen, 107).

My conferring goals for the next school year:
Conferring Goal #1. Start conferring -- non-negotiable, every day ritual.

Looking back, many of my reading conferences just skim the surface like a rock skipping across the pond.  One idea. Another thought. "Good job and keep reading," I'd say as the rock sinks quickly to the bottom thinking I need to meet with four more students.  I need to dig into Patrick's RIP model and experiment with his form, as he suggested.  As many other teachers mentioned, I have tried it all when it comes to documenting and recording.  I'm really good at collecting too!  Patrick's form appears simple and functional with friendly reminders of the components of the RIP model.  I'd also like to compare Patrick's form with the CAFE (2 Sisters) conferring form.  Many similarities I'm thinking.  I created my "pensieve" two years ago. I was organized. I made all the blank copies of the forms.  Guess what?  Still blank forms today!

Conferring Goal #2.  Use conferring form. Practice. Practice some more and see if it works or needs to be tweaked. Or try something new!

I wish I had time before or after school to talk with colleagues, process new learning, problem solve, evaluate, plan, etc.  How lucky Patrick had so many great colleagues that really pushed his thinking!  Troy seems like a really smart guy:
"This whole dependence on narrow, program-driven data about learners is getting out of hand.  We're trying to plot children on graphs. It's like all of a sudden something like fluency outweighs comprehension and levels outweigh the decisions readers make while they are reading.  Tests outweigh thinking. The small pieces outweigh the whole child. We have to do a better job of documenting growth in a wise way" (Allen, 112). 
I've heard the saying that we are "data rich, action poor."  It's true: We are so caught up in RtI, documentation, and data collection that we forget, or quite possibly lack the time and energy to have these types of conversations.  We forget about the child waiting to learn in front of us.

Conferring Goal #3.  Utilize my notes/reflections to inform my instruction.  
Conferring Goal #4.  Take time to have those important conversations with colleagues and teachers.

As I reflect on Patrick's conferences with three of his students, I think: "Wow."  Now, I realize that these conferences didn't all happen on the first day of school.  There was plenty of modeling, thinking aloud, guidance, support, scaffolding and gradual release of responsibility.  I get that, but, "Wow."  I work with developing readers.  Some are still trying to figure out the code.  Many lack vocabulary and schema.  Some have just made it by without thinking beyond the text.  Most are looking to just answer "it" right. I'm wondering if my small group developing readers can think and share like Patrick's students. I connected with Patrick's idea of little talk, more listening.  How does this look with developing readers? Is it realistic? I have high expectations for my students. I know they have great insights to share and maybe I'll be totally amazed, but I feel a sense of doubt.

5.  Reread Chapter 5: Cultivating Rigor, Nurturing Inquiry, and Developing Intimacy to eliminate any doubt or concern.  My students CAN do this!

"What your children take home in their hearts is far more important than what they take home in their hands." Bev Bos (Allen, 139)

Want to join in the Cyber PD?  Check it out:

July 6th:
Part I:  What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine

July 13th:
Part II:  What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by Jill Fisch at Primary Passion 

July 20th:
Part III.  What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

July 21st:  
Join us for the final conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.   

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SOL: Just Passing Through

The sun was slowly rising in the east, peering through our back windows.  Light and bright, more and more as each minute passed.  Before my husband left for work Monday morning, he warned me.  He said they were coming.

"I know. I know." Shaking my head.  Pretending that I heard him.

"Good morning, sunshines!" I whisper to my daughters in delight. "Let's have breakfast!"

As we enjoyed our bananas and cereal, the clouds moved in. Blue skies and sunshine were pushed out of sight and replaced with gray, dark clouds that rolled in quickly.

"Wow. Where did our beautiful sunshine go girls?"  The winds picked up. The trees were limboing to see who could sway closest to the ground.  The rain pelted the ground.  A flash of light lit up the kitchen.  The tears of fear began to fall.

I swooped down and grabbed both of my girls.  Holding on tight, we scampered down the stairs into the dark, dark basement.  Their cries became louder and louder unsure of what was happening.

We sat on a rug huddled together with a windup radio, a cell phone, and a flash light.  I calmly talked to the girls telling them what was happening.  My soothing voice relaxed them for the moment.  The phone rang.

"Dada! Dada!" The girls shouted out.  Any time a phone rings, they think it is Dada.

"We are okay. We made it to the basement. The power is out.  I think a branch fell on the power lines."

"I told you they were coming.  I'm glad you went to the basement too.  I had to pull over on the side of the road.  There are trees and branches littering the streets."  My husband replied.  "I'm coming home."

Our knight in shining armor arrived in time to start up the generator and save our food.  We learned to live without the rest: lights, computers, TVs, fans, air conditioning.

It was actually quite an enjoyable day. Peace and quiet.  We didn't miss the constant noise and disruptions of the phone or TV.  But, we were happy to hear the click of the power after 13 hours without it on a hot, humid day in July.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cyber PD: Conferring

My stack of professional to-be-read books is leaning.  I added one more to the top of the pile this last week as I couldn't resist joining a group of educators on a journey through a new forum of #cyberPD. We are reading and responding to Patrick Allen's Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop (Stenhouse, 2009). Whenever I read PD books, I am always thinking about how I can utilize the information learned in my own classroom (a resource classroom where I work with small groups of students).  In addition, I am also thinking about what and how I can share new ideas and strategies with my colleagues.  This may just be a great book study to discuss this year!

I still do not have the actual book in hand from Amazon, any day now.  I have read all that I could of the online preview on the Stenhouse website . . . foreword (written by Debbie Miller), prologue, introduction, and chapter one.

When I first spotted this book months ago, I thought it was about conferring with writers, not readers.  (I'm guessing I skipped right over the MOST important part of the title.)  I'm so glad that I didn't skip over it again when this opportunity was shared on Twitter.  Conferring with readers is not a new idea for me, but I do believe that I need to create more time to confer and make that time more meaningful.  In the past, I believed that the heart of the reading workshop was the small group/guided reading instruction, but Patrick has changed my thinking.  Conferring keeps the reader's workshop pumping strong. Purposeful conversations must become a daily ritual and become as automatic as our heart beats.

This last year, I made an effort to meet with my students to check in on their reading.  The research explicitly states:  good readers read and read more, while developing readers don't.  I work with developing readers and my motivation for meeting with students was to encourage students to read, find good fit books, and fall in love with characters, books, and authors.  Students L.O.V.E. to get all the teacher's attention!  Through this additional attention and encouragement, students take notice that I think they are important and so is reading.  They were surprised to be meeting with me again and again, and this provided enough motivation to get kids reading.  I'm going to be honest here and I'm not proud of it.  One of the reasons why I began conferring:  I was checking on AR points.  I'm not a huge fan of AR, but teachers in my building rely on it.  It is one gauge to check on reading.  Unfortunately, my developing kids were honest: "I don't read."  That broke my heart and I knew I had to do something to change their thinking about themselves as readers and about books.

It was my goal to find out why my developing readers were not reading and help them solve those dilemmas. Usually, as I meander through the library, I overhear a classroom teacher squealing, "You need to be reading.  You don't have any AR points.  So go find a book and read."  These are KIDS were talking to -- they need guidance, support, direction, ideas.  That's our job!  It seems we have lost the love of reading and enjoying books.

As I'm reading this book, I'm also thinking about The CAFE Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  The "2 sisters" go into great detail about conferring with students, but now reading Patrick's explanation and merging his insights creates a light bulb moment:  Ah-ha, now I see how my conferring can be more powerful!

I'll also admit, just like many of you, that I was making excuses as to why conferring didn't take place in my classroom.  My two biggies:  fear and time.  Now I'm wondering why, but here are some questions that have crossed my mind:  What am I afraid of?  What if I don't know what the student needs to work on?  What if a student needs help in everything?  Why can't I make the time to confer?  How can I monitor every strategy for every student?  What about record keeping?  How can I keep the conferring time quick and manageable, but effective?  It does seem quite overwhelming, but with a new perspective, I see how conferring is the keystone of the reader's workshop.

Patrick challenges the readers to answer this question:  What emerges in a conference?
My first thoughts I jotted down in my reader's notebook:
  • Conversations: talking about books, likes, dislikes, authors, series
  • Strategy use: Connections, confusions
  • Strengths as a reader
  • Sharing thinking: What are YOU thinking?
  • Book choice: Good fit? Author/series. Abandon?
  • Encouragement: Continue to build a love of reading through encouragement and belief that every student is a reader
  • Goals: What to practice to improve as a reader?
  • Reading: Reading aloud, share thinking, check fluency, fix-ups, miscues
  • Vocabulary: new, unknown, confusions
After scanning Patrick's thoughts to this question, I would add three more ideas to my list:
  • Listening: Less teacher talk
  • Rapport: This is SO very important!
  • Records/notes: Also very important because I can't remember it all so I need to document.
"Conferring is nudging children towards independence." (p. 13)  When teachers confer, we can learn so much by spending that one-on-one time with each student.  We also teach students what is important and what they specifically need to be thoughtful, independent readers.  I only hope to inspire my developing readers like Sara.  I absolutely love Sara's thoughts that she shared about herself as a reader, especially comparing her love of reading to a pirate's love for gold . . . precious!

More thoughts to come when the book arrives in the mail!

Want to join in the Cyber PD?  Check it out:

July 6th:
Part I:  What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine

July 13th:
Part II:  What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by Jill Fisch at Primary Passion 

July 20th:
Part III.  What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

July 21st:  
Join us for the final conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.   

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Conversation with My Writer Self

I don't know what to write about today.
[Scratching head.  Bulging eyes staring at the blank screen.]

Write about the ordinary.
Write about the little things.
Just write and write.

I know, I know.  But I don't know what to write.
[Shoulder shrug. Clicking fingertips on the keyboard.]

Open your writer's notebook.
Search for an idea, a seed, a spark.
Let it grow, ignite and you will write.

My writer's notebook?
Oh, that little book that has been
ignored?  Unattended?  Left blank?
[Digging and searching for my notebook.]

Live the life of a writer.
Ideas breathe all around you every day.  
In and out.  In and out.

I know. I know.
[Dusting the notebook off. Cracking it open as if it hasn't been opened in years.]

It's time to revive the notebook.
Open your eyes and ears to your world
that's waiting to be captured and shared.

I know what to write about today.,
but first, let me write down a few ideas.
[Bringing my writer's notebook back to life.]

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