Thursday, July 28, 2011

Growing Conversation Through Blogging

Growing a Conversation
This month a conversation about summer professional reading between Jill Fisch (Summer Reading), Laura Komos (Summer Reflection and PD) and me (What Are You Learning?) went a little crazy.  Before we knew it, we planned an event that would allow us to read Patrick Allen's book, Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop together.  Our hope was that others might find the learning interesting enough to join in the conversation and, thankfully, that is exactly what happened.  During this conversation between blogs I learned a lot about improving the ways I confer in my classroom.  The conversation helped me to create some goals for the new school year, and also helped me to build a community of colleagues I know will be ready to help as I continue my journey.  For me, this event affirmed the significance of blogging with the students in our learning communities.

The Significance of Blogging
Last year, many of you followed my journey into blogging with my class.  One day I just decided I was diving into it, and I never looked back.
After a bit of coaching from Katie DiCesare, I decided I would use for my students.  Though there were are other possibilities, Kidblog would be easy for my young learners to navigate, it would allow them to attach images and video, and it provided a variety of security settings.  

As we introduce new technology into our learning communities, I think we have to ask ourselves some tough questions.  For blogging I think we have to ask, how is it different from picking up a piece of paper and writing?  

Blogging builds conversations in learning through:
  • Community:  Blogging provided an opportunity for me to reflect with others
  • Thinking:  It required me to synthesize my reading and connect it with my world
  • Sharing:  It allowed me to "listen" to the thinking of others without interruption
  • Authentic Feedback:  It provided an opportunity to respond thoughtfully to the thinking of others
  • Valuing All Community Members:  It gave everyone an equal voice
  • Motivation:  It motivated me to keep up with my reading
So What's Different?
I've been following along with the learning at the Boston Learning Conference #blc11 on Twitter.  Yesterday Ewan Mcintosh tweeted this:

My reply:  

If we're just blogging and tweeting to say what we think, we are missing an important piece of learning. However if we are listening, responding, and building on the thinking of others we are taking learning to a new level.  It is in these interactions that blogging becomes more than writing on a piece of paper.  

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Let's Chat About Conferring with Patrick Allen

The Conversation End (or begins?)
It's been a great three weeks of #cyberPD.  When I placed Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop in my summer reading pile I knew I needed to read this book to think more carefully about conferring with young readers.  What I did not know was that I would find a group of educators who also wanted to read the book and share our thinking across weeks of discussion.  Reading the book has taught me a lot, but reading everyone's reflections has exponentially increased my learning.  I have so much to think about as I begin conferring this school year.  Most of all, I think I've found a community of teachers to continue this discussion into the new school year.

A Chat with Patrick Allen
On Monday, July 25th at 7 PM MST (9PM EST), we will have the privilege of having author, Patrick Allen (@ColoReader), join us for a Twitter chat as we talk about conferring (#cyberPD).  If you notice he is typing slowly it is likely because he is wearing a sling from all of the arm twisting.  Actually, Patrick has been wonderful about agreeing to join us.  I know he's been quite busy this summer.  I think we've all felt like we've been spending our days with Patrick.  Perhaps Nicole says it best when she shares her sadness to see the conversation end.   However, I have a feeling the conversation is just beginning.

Twitter Chat #cyberPD 
Whether you've been posting away during this professional learning opportunity, reading and commenting along the way, or just want to join a live talk about conferring, I hope you'll join us in the Twitterverse Monday night.  Jill Fisch (@JillFisch), Laura Komos (@Komos72) and I (@CathyMere) will be moderating the discussion to keep it going.  (That will be new for me.  Should be interesting.)  If you're new to Twitter chats you can find more information about chatting at Cybraryman's website (@cybraryman1).  I am always happy to help.

To join the chat:

  • Go to Twitter on Monday, July 25th 7PM MST (9PM EST)
  • Type in the hashtag #cyberPD
  • When commenting make sure to include the hashtag #cyberPD to keep tweets grouped
Hope to see you then!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Conferring Ain't Easy"

Today is the final day of our cyber bookchat about Conferring by Patrick Allen (#cyberPD).  I'm a bit disappointed to see it end.  This summer I really wanted to take time to reflect the purpose and effectiveness of conferring in Reader's Workshop.  I had planned to read Allen's book, but I hadn't planned to learn so much from so many others reading it at the same time.  If you haven't had a chance to read all the posts, you'll want to find time to do so. 

Previous Conversations:
Entire conversation is here:  Conferring the Keystone to Reader's Workshop
Part I:  What Brings About a Good Conference Anyway? 
Part II:  What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?

Today we are discussing Part IIi:  “What emerges from our reading conferences?”.   Today's conversation is hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot.  You’ll want to stop by to join the conversation.

Conferring Ain't Easy, But It's Important
Yesterday one of the participants in #cyberPD had been talking with a friend about conferring, likely sharing her excitement.  The friend replied, "Where's the research on conferring?"  Questions like these make me shake my head, not because they're not important but, because they're often asked to avoid change.  When I read the question I wished I was at school where I could get my hands on research, but in reality I know the difference conferring makes for my young learners.  I also know that the success of conferring has a lot to do with factors beyond just placing myself in a chair beside one student. 

Quick Shifts: In Support of Conferring
Yesterday I was reading the Mac page my computer opens to and realized a new operating system, OS X Lion, is coming out (yes, I live under a rock).  Now as a learner I could read more online to figure this out.  I could take a class to learn about the new operating system.  I could sit with a small group and learn about the system.  OR I could sign-up for a Mac one-on-one session.  Yes, I will learn in all of these situations, but I will learn a lot quickly sitting one-on-one with a knowledgeable instructor.  

The challenges:

  • Online learning:  I'm going to have to spend a great deal of time reading and searching to find articles, videos, and conversations that answer my questions.   There will be a lot of information within these I do not need and may not understand.  There will not be someone close by to answer questions.
  • Large Class:  Have you ever taken a technology class?  If so, you know the challenges.  There will be learners in the room wanting to know how to turn on their computer, learners wanting to know why they need to change, and learners who are trying to learn how to reprogram OS X.  
  • Small Group:  I might be able to find a small group learning about OS X.  Here I will likely be able to find some answers, especially if the leader is knowledgeable.  However, the needs of each person in the group will have to be negotiated. 
  • One-to-One "Conference":  Sitting down individually with an "expert" would allow me to have my questions answered.  The "expert" would be looking at my computer, s/he would be able to consider the way I use the computer as s/he answers my questions, s/he would be able to show me the way the new operating system will most help me do the work I do.  I could learn a lot quickly in this instructional context.  

I'm not saying any one of these instructional contexts do not hold merit in a classroom.  They each provide important avenues to learning and growing, however time vs. learning conferring has to be important.  If we look at some of the times in life we have learned the most we will likely find it was sitting beside an "expert" in something we like to do.  In Fires in the Mind, students tell us "some encouraging person guided them past that point [of frustration] by giving them an engaging task that lay just beyond - but not too far beyond - their skill level." (p. 44 eReader version)  

"The people who sit next to you have a big part in how you get better at something." Janiy (student FIM, p.16) 

The Whole Game and Conferring 
Recently I read, Making Learning Whole by David N. Perkins.  I found it interesting how much workshop models parallel playing "the whole game" as he calls it.  In his book, Perkins tells us, "In a setting of learning, a whole game is generally some kind of inquiry or performance in a broad sense (p. 35)."  He shares a few indicators of the whole game in a learning setting. The Whole Game:  "Walk-Aways"   Perkins states (Making Learning Whole pp. 35-36 eReader version):
  • It's never just about content.  Learners are trying to get better at something.
  • It's never just about routine.  It requires thinking with what you know and pushing further.
  • It's never just problem solving.  It involves problem finding.
  • It's not just about right answers.  It involves explanation and justification.
  • It's not emotionally flat.  It involves curiosity, discovery, creativity, camaraderie.
  • It's not in a vacuum.  It involves the methods, purposes, and forms of one or more disciplines or other areas, situated in a social context.
When I compare this list to Allen's "walk-aways" (Conferring pp. 158-162) it is easy to see the value of conferring.  As I begin the new year with conferring on my mind, I will be recording conversations to see what the "walk-aways" are for my young readers.  My hope is to improve the power of these conversations as the significance (and likely the research) isn't in the fact that I am sitting beside a student, but in the learning conversation we have together.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Conferring: Improving Conversations with Readers

“There is something lasting about sitting down next to a child and having a conversation as fellow readers.” Patrick Allen p. xv

Today is Part II of a cyber bookchat about Conferring by Patrick Allen (#cyberPD).  Last week, the conversation began here as we discussed Part I:  “What Brings About a Good Conference Anyway?”.  You’ll want to visit the Part I posts at our Conferring Jog.  Today we are discussing Part II:  “What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?”.  Today’s conversation is hosted by Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion.  You’ll want to stop by to join the conversation.

The Importance of Conferring
It has been several years since I changed the structure of my Reader’s Workshop and moved away from a workboard (students at centers while I worked with groups) to using a structure similar to Writer’s Workshop. It just seemed to make sense that if I wanted my students to be readers they needed more time to read.  Reader’s Workshop allows more time for children to read independently, to enjoy books with friends, to talk together about books, to develop the strategies we are learning, and to grow their reading lives.   

The Structure of Reader’s Workshop:

  • Focus Lesson:  Each workshop begins with a focus lesson. 
  • Independent Reading:  Then students read (Allen calls it composing time) while I confer with readers and work with small groups.  During this time you will find students reading alone, with a partner, discussing books, thinking, learning, writing, etc..
  • Share:  Our workshop always ends with time to share and reflect.  

Reader’s Workshop not only gives me time to work alongside readers in a variety of contexts, but it gives me the opportunity to get to know them as readers.  There is no doubt that conferring is an important part of my Reader’s Workshop.  Reading Allen’s book has given me time to reflect on how significant this time really is for young readers, for learning, and for teaching.  Last week Mandy Robek shared all she has missed when she was not conferring, and I’m going to post this in my classroom as a reminder of the significant work occurring in these small moments.

Mandy said:

I have missed regularly conferring with students.  I have missed...
-"Purposeful conversations that provided me with meaningful instruction-rich in strategy, inquiry, vocabulary, and skills.
-"...conversations that stretched my thinking and monitored my understanding."
-"Purpose is uncovered during the reading conference,..."
-"Conferring helps me find out new things about the reader and provides an intimate opportunity for a shared "coming to know"
-"Conferring helps me uncover a reader's learning in a manageable, thoughtful way while leading to documentable data..."

Allen shares his reasons for conferring (p. 34).  Reading his book has given me an opportunity to really think about the importance of conferring.  Time to confer provides opportunities to:

  • Establish a trusting relationship with the student
  • Get to know each reader
  • Reinforce and/or extend focus lesson conversations (differentiate)
  • Learn what the reader is “thinking”, wondering, “discovering” p. 99
  • Record progress over time
  • Address specific needs that are more targeted to the reader
  • Teach at the edge of student learning
  • Empower the reader with new skills, strategies, and understandings
  • Shape the life of a reader
  • Smile, laugh, cry, wonder, discover, and learn from authors, characters, story events, and books together --- reader-to-reader

The Challenges of Conferring
Though I find conferring in Reader’s Workshop to be worthwhile, I do not find it to be easy.  For some reason, conferring in Reader’s Workshop is more challenging for me than conferring in Writer’s Workshop:

  • It is harder to stay consistent with time spent conferring in Reader’s Workshop
  • Reading work (more in the head) is not as concrete as writing work (more on paper)
  • In writing conferences I seem to be more comfortable letting students take the lead
  • It is easier for me to choose teaching points in Writer’s Workshop (perhaps because I keep more to the focus lesson conversations)
  • It is easier to name concepts, strategies, etc. in writing than in reading (again because work is concretely in front of us)
  • Writing conversations seem to be more forward thinking with goal setting, clear expectations
  • I seem to use reading conference more to find out about student thinking, but writing conference more to move writer forward

The Change
The reason I wanted to participate in this professional opportunity to discuss conferring is I wanted the time to look – really look – at conferring in Reader’s Workshop.  What do I need to change to make it more effective?  How do I help readers move forward in these small snippets of time?  How do I help young readers to develop ownership of their reading and learning?  What can I learn from others to make conferring in Reader’s Workshop more effective?  What can I learn from writing conferences that would improve reading conferences?

When I worked as a literacy coach conferring with readers in classrooms was hard.  It was easy to make conferences about “the reading” and not about “the reader” because I lacked the knowledge of history.  I didn’t know the conversations shared, literature read, strategies taught, or learning discussed.  To me, conferring as a classroom teacher has the potential to be much more powerful for learners because I have the knowledge of history.  I know the conversations the community has had about reading.  I know the books we’ve read together.  I have seen the progress of the reader sitting beside me.  I know the strengths of the reader.  I know where the reader needs support.  As a classroom teacher, it is much easier to have a conference that is about “the reader” and not the reading.  Still there are changes I need to make to make improve conferring in Reader’s Workshop.

The Plan

  • Change my conferring structure from listen, reflect, teach to listen, reflect, teach, PLAN.
  • Learn to let readers lead reading conferences (listen more).
  • Never, never, never compromise conferring time.
  • Be more explicit in plan, purpose, goal setting part of reading conference.  This is the time Allen calls (the P in RIP) plan, progress, purpose.  (pp. 102-104)
  • End the conference with an intentional plan.  p. 102

The Take-Aways

  • Teaching doesn’t always come from telling it often comes as we name what readers are doing. 
  • “When a student leaves a conference, I want her to have something in mind that may help her remember, understand, extend meaning, or make her reading experience memorable.” p. 104
  • “Keep the conference and teaching short enough to accomplish something important, meaningful, and applicable.” p. 129
  • “We want to think carefully about the language we use with readers from the moment we sit down beside them.  And we also have to remember that often that language comes from the student.”  p. 137
  • “The reader is better served if his voice, his thinking, fills the airspace during a conference.”  P. 148

Still Pondering:

  • While I have found a recording system that works well for me, I’m wondering about adding a student-recording component.  Katie DiCesare’s post, School Shopping: Blank Books, has given me more to think about here.
  • Like many in this #cyberPD group, I am wondering about switching from my notebook to recording conferences using an application that would allow me to take pictures, use audio to record student conversations, and continue to record observations. 
  • This year I plan to record more conferences to look closely at who is doing most of the talking, the true structure of the conference, the power of the teaching points, the types of conversations I’m having, patterns, trends, etc..
  • I also want to compare the conversations I have with different types of readers.  I want to be sure that my readers needing the most support are having high level conversations about books, reading, and thinking.  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

August 10 for 10: Our Second Annual Picture Book Event

Start Searching
Mandy Robek, of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, and I are so excited to announce the 2nd Annual (cue flashing lights and loud music) AUGUST 10 FOR 10 PICTURE BOOK EVENT (#pb10for10).  Yes, that's right.  It's time to dig through your stack of picture books and find the 10 you just cannot live without in your classroom (library or home).  Now I know many of you have been participating in #bookaday, making wishlists on Amazon, and racing to the door when the delivery truck arrives with new books so you might want to look through those new book stacks too.

What is August 10 for 10?
Last year, Mandy (her 2010 post is here) and I (my 2010 post is here) began wondering about the "must have" books for our classroom.  You know how it goes, one conversation leads to another and, before we knew it we were hosting this event.  Last year over 40 blogs participated.  Each blogger chose 10 picture books s/he could not live without and wrote a post about the titles.  Each blogger put her/his own spin on a collection, and at the end of the event we had a resource with over 400 "must have" picture books.

So start searching.  What are the 10 picture books you could not live without?  This isn't going to be easy but here are some tips (Choosing Picture Books and More About Choosing Picture Books) .  There are so many things to consider when narrowing your list (especially when there are so many amazing books).  After you have finalized your list, write a post about your favorites.  On the day of the event, August 10th, place a link to your blog in the comments of one of our posts.  We will then link your blog to the other participating blogs.  If you don't have a blog.  No worries.  You can share your favorites on Twitter using the hashtag #pb10for10 (or you can start a blog **wink wink**).

Join Us
Pass the news along to your friends and join us August 10th for a virtual picture book party!  You might want to save your money as last year this event resulted in some new picture book purchases.  Contact us on our blogs, on Twitter (@mandyrobek or @cathymere), or by e-mail to let us know you are joining this event.  On the day of the event - August 10th - we will be linking all the "must have" posts.  Can't wait!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Conversation Begins: "Conferring" Bookchat

"If someone walked into our classroom, who would he or she say owned it?"  Patick Allen

The Conversation
This week I've been reading "Conferring" by Patrick Allen to prepare for the start of our professional reading cyberchat (#cyberPD).   The list of participants (some are here) has grown since last week, and it's never too late to join.  Please scroll to the bottom to find links to other blogs participating in the event.  If you'd like to participate in our discussion about Part I, here are a few ways to join the conversation (see end of post for other event dates).

You can:
1.  leave a comment at the end of this post.
2.  write a post about your reflections, and place your link in the comments below.  I will then link your blog to this post.
3.  comment on Twitter using hashtag #cyberPD.

4.  visit other blog reflections and comment.  

Who Owns Our Classroom?
Patrick Allen spends much time in Part I, discussing the ways he builds a classroom environment in which conferring can happen.  As I was reading "Conferring" the above quote caught my attention.  Allen asks, "If someone walked into our classroom, who would s/he say owned it?"  I wonder about this a lot.  It is my hope that when someone walks into our classroom they know it is a place where children belong and where learning is valued.  From the table that sits close to the ground for readers/writers/learners/friends to gather, to the books surrounding the room in baskets with covers facing out to call to young readers, to the work and thinking hanging on the walls, I want the room to be a place for children to talk, think, dream, learn and work together.  I want students to feel at home when they enter.  It's their place.

When someone walks into our classroom, I not only hope they will see students own it but, I also want them to hear that children own it.  Allen states, "Giving them a voice in defining the structure and expectations makes the 'work' of the workshop theirs (p. 92)."  As I read the chapters of Patrick's book, I couldn't help but hear his students own the classroom.  They own the thinking taking place within the community.  They own the tone of the room as they talk together about learning, books, and writing.  They own the time in which they work as they talk and learn beside one another.  They own the purpose behind the learning taking place.  It is their voices that matter and resonate throughout the pages.

How is Conferring Important in a Learning Community?
Allen reminds us, "Conferring provides an opportunity for my students and me to discuss and explore ideas together (p. 32)."  I couldn't help but think about the way the small conversations we have as we confer with children lead into, and out of, the bigger conversations taking place across our classroom community.  Voices from conferring carry back into the learning of the classroom.  I found this quote by poet Ryunosuke Satoro, "Individually we are one drop.  Together we are an ocean."  I couldn't help but think about the way each conversation, as we confer, contributes to the deeper understandings we discover as a classroom community.  In our learning communities, each voice matters.  It is through conferring that we shape readers, and these conversations are "the keystone to reader's workshop".

A Few "Amens"!

  • "There is something lasting about sitting down next to a child and having a conversation as fellow readers." (p. XV)
  • "Conferring is the keystone of effective instruction.  Without conferring, my reader's workshop flounders." (p. 24)
  • "Learning is about continuity." (p. 27)
  • "Reading conferences don't depend on us taking the lead." (p. 32)

Now I'm Pondering...

  • Why do I confer?  
  • How will the beginning of my year look different as a result of reading Patrick's book?
  • Though reading and writing conferences share many similarities, I am thinking about the ways they differ.  How does conferring look different in reader's workshop? 

Today's Conversation 

Event Schedule

Part I:  What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted here 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 K at Camp Read-A-Lot
July 21st:  
Join us for the final conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD.