Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Power of Three Little Words #dublit16

The Power of Their Words
As a classroom teacher, I always tried to watch my words.  I always tried to measure their frequency with student frequency.  I'm not saying I was always good about it; I'm saying I tried.  There was the continual sound of Charlie Brown's teacher droning on in animated films, "Wah, wah, wah," playing in the back of my mind.  I didn't want to sound like that to my students.  There are lessons I remember teaching in which I know I spent too much time talking.  Talk helps students to learn, and I always felt their talk really made the difference.  

As an intervention teacher, I find myself challenged continually by this thinking.  I don't have the same time to move from explicit to implicit in my short lessons with students.  I don't have the same time to wander through conversations.  If I'm not careful, it is easy to fall into patterns where I am doing most of the talking.  When this happens, I know that I am doing more telling and owning more of their learning.  

Words can be powerful.  The language we use can support learners and help them to develop agency.   However, some words are stronger than others in supporting our learners.   I was reminded of this recently as I joined educators for a Saturday of learning at the Dublin Literacy Conference as I listened to speakers across the day.  Here are short phrases I took away that could open up dialogue for students:  

Kylene Beers and Bob Probst:  "What Surprised You?"
Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, spoke about Responsive and Responsible Reading of Nonfiction.  In their session they reminded us of the importance of dialogic talk that opens conversations for students instead of monologic talk that checks for understanding.  In their conversation they shared three simple words to start conversations about reading, "What surprised you?".   These three words carry much power in turning conversations about reading over to students.  Kylene reminded us that rigor didn't reside in the text itself but, instead, in the the interaction between the reader and the text.  

Amy Ludwig VanDerWater:  "Let Poetry Speak"
One of the highlights of my day was spending time with poet, Amy Ludwig VanDerWater.  In her session, Our Wisest Writing Teacher, she reminded us of the power of poetry in teaching writing.  I'm going to say that I struggled a bit more bringing Amy's words down to three I took away.  She had so many smart things to say about poetry --- and students children humans souls.  Amy reminded us that poetry speaks to children and helps them to see they are not the only one.  I had so many phrases I pulled from her session (some three words, some not):  poetry as gift, poetry as a diving board into writing, poems teach us about writing, poems teach us about language.  Of course my favorite lines were her closing lines, "Poetry is enough by itself.  Poetry places unforgettable images in the hearts of our children."

Kristin Ziemke:  "Tell Me More."
Later in the day, I attended Kristin Ziemke's session,  Read the World: Literacies for a Digital Culture, where three words caught my attention again.  Kristin shared that we are moving away from fact recall curriculums, toward search curriculums;  I might even venture to say we are moving toward curriculums that position students to create.  The room was packed with teachers as Kristin demonstrated ways to build intention as we talk with students about reading images for understanding.  Kristin put a video of Michigan's governor, talking about the Flint water crisis, on the screen.  After viewing we talked about what we noticed.  One teacher shared her response.  Kristin listened to the response, paused thoughtfully, and inquired, "Tell me more."  Her words really asked the speaker to dig a little deeper into their thinking, and to share that with the learning community.  I was once again struck by the powerful simplicity of three little words.  

Magic comes in threes.  Perhaps thinking of three words to elevate student learning across our day is worth consideration.  Of course, the magic of the Dublin Literacy Conference wasn't just words; it was learning, laughter, friendship, conversations, community, and guests from afar.

Kristin and I had a little fun as she signed my digital copy of her book at the conference.  This picture was taken by Marisa Saelzler and posted by Kristin on her Instagram account:

Thinking More About Words?  You might like:

  • Karen Syzmusiak returns to her blog with, Powerful is Not Perfect.  In her post, she shares powerful words from Kristin Ziemke: word to set us free.  
  • Nicole Kessler, also returning to her blog, just wrote about Classroom Language as she reflected on the power of open ended questions.  
  • Changing My Frame, a post written to consider the work of Peter Johnston in my classroom.  
  • Speaking of Peter Johnston.  These books changed the language I use with students (and - ouch - it shifted my talk at home).  
  • Don't let the cover of this one fool you.  We're reading Using Discourse Analysis to Improve Classroom Interaction in a course I am taking with Dr. Melissa Wilson at Ohio State.  I appreciate the way the authors have us thinking through our language and the contexts of interactions to improve our language.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

It's Time: 2016's Nonfiction 10 for 10 Event is Today #nf10for10

It's finally here.  Today is our nonfiction picture book event:  #nf10for10.  This is our 4th annual nonfiction event.  In the past Mandy Robek of Enjoy and Embrace Learning, Julie Balen of Write at the Edge, and I have cohosted this event.  Again this year all activity will be collected on our Picture Book 10 for 10 Community.  Stop by to read, share your favorites, and/or link up.

Ways to participate:
  • Write a blog post with your 10 favorite nonfiction books and link your blog to our Picture Book 10 for 10 Google Community.  (You will be unable to post until you have requested to join.  I'll try to keep an eye on requests all day.)  
Add your 2016 nonfiction post here.
Please note:  If you've participated in past events, we would love it if you could add your previous posts to the tabbed year of the event.  We're trying to recreate past resources.  

Maybe I've changed my mind three or four times about the focus of this list for this year's nonfiction picture book event.  It's really not unusual.  When we first created this event, my hope was to fix my nonfiction book gap.  I'm always on the learning curve when it comes to nonfiction.  Personally, I read quite a bit of nonfiction, but when it comes to working with young literacy learners I have to work to weave nonfiction into our workshops.

So this year, I have decided to share ten nonfiction picture books by authors I just can't live without.  I'm always looking for nonfiction books that approach this type of writing in new ways.  (So a few these books might walk the line between fiction and nonfiction.)  Here are ten authors I can't live without in my classroom library.  I hope you'll share some of your favorite authors in the comments below.

Here we go:

Steve Jenkins is really one of my favorite nonfiction picture book authors.  You just can't go wrong with his books, and there are possibilities to span the grade levels.  His texts are always engaging for students, and the structures are varied enough to model many possibilities for student writing.  This book, Creature Features, is written by Jenkins and Robin Page.  The pages begin with a question about the creature.  The creature then answers the question with a bit of information.  This book inspires wonder and opens the door to curiosity.

I love the way Jenkins takes a topic and thinks about it through a new lens.  Some of my favorites include:  What Do You Do With a Tail Like This, Time to Eat, and Actual Size.

April Pulley Sayre is another can't miss nonfiction picture book author.  My attraction to Sayre's work is her way with words.  She really has a gift for making language that will roll off your tongue.  Her books are always perfect for read aloud.  Like many of her books, Sayre's Woodpecker Wham!, illustrated by Steve Jenkins, has a literary flow, but is filled with interesting information in the back to tell you more.  Her books are sure to inspire wonder as her words draw you in and make you want to know more.  Some of my favorites include:  Raindrops Roll, Eat Like a Bear, and Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out.

Nicola Davies is the master of combining narrative and nonfiction.  In one of her newest stories, I Don't Like Snakes (illustrated by Luciano Lozano), she does just that once again as the story of a girl who doesn't like snakes --- living in a family that does --- shares her story.  The narrative sitting beside interesting facts about snakes is sure to be a crowd pleaser.  Yes, the lines of nonfiction and narrative can be quite blurry but, it's one of the things I love most about Davies' work.  A few other favorites:  Surprising Sharks, Outside Your Window, and White Owl, Barn Owl.

Melissa Stewart is another must have in every classroom library.  Melissa has a wide variety of texts for students to read and enjoy.  I appreciate the variation in text structures she uses, proving that intentional decision making is important in sharing a message with readers.  Feathers:  Not Just for Flying (illustrated by Sarah Brannen) is one of my favorites.  What kids haven't spent some time collecting feathers? Stewart gives readers a way to think about studying them closely.  A few of my other favorites:  Frog or Toad, No Monkeys, No Chocolate and don't miss her National Geographic Reader titles --- always a hit.

Joyce Sidman is another author to consider as you find nonfiction for your classroom.  I like to have a variety of author style's in my classroom, and poetry can't be missed.  Sidman's ability to weave poetry and information is engaging.  Her work certainly opens the door for young writers as well who might like to combine information and wondrous words.  This book combines beautiful illustrations by Rick Allen, poetic words, and information not to be missed.  Other collections not to be missed:  Just Us Two, Swirl by Swirl and Dark Emperor.  

Sandra Markle is a recent addition to my nonfiction author list.  More and more I come across books and say to myself, "I didn't know this was written by Sandra Markle."  Like Stewart, Markle varies her style to match her purpose.  Students enjoy spending time with her books.  One of the books I'm seeing students pick up over and over again is part of a What If Scholastic series.  What If You Had Animal Ears!? sure makes you ask a lot of questions.  With illustrations by Howard McWilliam, students will spend much time looking at pictures and reading interesting facts.  A few other favorites:  How Many Baby Pandas?, Snakes:  Biggest, Littlest......and I must get my hands on a copy of Build, Beaver, Build.  

Nic Bishop's titles are plentiful.  His books seem to be a bit more informational and follow more of what I might expect from traditional (for lack of a better word) nonfiction with its facts and photographs.  Kids are memorized by his titles and there is certainly plenty to choose from.  The photographs really pull the reader into the books.  Other favorites:  Is It an Insect, Red Eyed Tree Frog, and Fantastic Flying Squirrels.  

Jennifer Ward.  I'm just getting to know Jennifer Ward's work, but I am enjoying what I have found so far.  You may have noticed I have a bias toward books that fall more toward the literary side of nonfiction; books that can be read aloud and make students want to hear more, know more.  Mama Build a Little Nest (illustrated by Steve Jenkins --- he's a busy man) was the first one I discovered, but I soon found she has many more worth checking out.  Ward has several picture books:  some fiction, some sitting the border of fiction and nonfiction, and many more coming in the next few years.   Keep your eyes on Jennifer Ward.

Jane Yolen is one of those "go to" authors that never lets you down.  We typically think of her narrative work, but I also love Yolen's poetry.  I have a soft spot, for what I will call nonfiction poetry:  poetry that weaves facts into a poem or uses shared facts to help build the poem.  An Egret's Day (with photographs by Jason Stemple) is among my favorite.  Bug Off, Birds of a Feather, and Least Things.  

Andrea Davis Pinkney.  I can't complete this post without considering biography and historical nonfiction.  It seems to me that this is one genre that is opening new doors for picture book readers.  Authors are bringing important stories into our classrooms in a way children can understand.  Andrea Davis Pinkney is an example of an author that is doing just that.  One of my favorite titles is Sit-in:  How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down (illustrated by Brian Pinkney).  Others to consider:  Ella Fitzgerald, Martin and Mahalia, and Sojourner Truth's Step-Stomp Stride.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

Maybe It's Not About Doing MORE

Recently our team sat looking at the information we had collected about our readers.  We had our most recent benchmark assessment information and anecdotal notes from our classrooms.  As we reflected on student progress, we didn't feel we were seeing the shifts we hoped to see.  It wasn't long until our conversation spun to ways we could do more.  

In the last month I have sat in meetings with other grade levels, other schools, our literacy team, and our response to intervention team.  In each of these instances the conversation seems to quickly spiral into ways we could do more.  Even looking at the assessment information and notes I've obtained from the students I support in reading intervention, I find myself looking for ways to do more.  

The truth is, however, we're already doing more.  Educators have many students that have particular individual and small group plans.  There are plans for intervention that are progress monitored.  There are additional support staff that support some learners and programs purchased with the intention to support and remediate.  We pull learning apart from its larger concepts to its minute skills, drilling into what we think might be needed for these students.

Let's pause, for just a minute...

Let's breathe...

Let's leave the rushed frenzy of our data driven world...

Let's put standardized hurdles aside...

Let's not do more...

As I look at the information I have on my readers and consider the rushed pace of our learning, I realize I can't do more.  They can't do more.  I'm asking the wrong questions and seeking the wrong plans.  What I need to be thinking about is, what can I do better?  What are the essential instructional practices that will support my learners?  What really works?  How do I improve my language so that what I am doing has more power, but leaves them with more time to practice these very strategies? 

Experience has taught me that if I put first things first, the rest will fall into place.  So I'm changing my question to "What can I do better?".  As I reflect I am looking for those essential pieces that matter most, and working to do them well.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Calling Them Out or Lifting Their Voice?

Until you know me, I'm a bit quiet.  Of course, I'm not sure my friends who know me well would ever say that about me.  The larger the group, the less I know the people, the more foreign the topic, the more likely I am to stay quiet.  We have students in our classroom who are the same way.  There are students who prefer a conversation one-on-one.  There are students who might, just might, talk in a small group.  There are students who don't feel comfortable sharing in a large group.

Recently I stumbled upon Alfie Kohn's article:  "Your Hand's Not Raised?  Too Bad:  I'm Calling on You Anyway."  In his article, Kohn makes the argument that calling on students who haven't volunteered is "a way to shame a kid."  As with all of Kohn's thinking, it really made me stop and ponder for a bit.  There are students who never wish to talk in a large group, and there are a variety of reasons why this might be so.  Should we just call on students who offer participation or those who are so interested that they just shout out their thinking to the group?  I'm not so sure...  

Calling on students who haven't "volunteered" is a tricky business.  We have to really know our students and no child should ever feel pressured or put on the spot.  I've had students I would never have called on in the large group.  These are the students I knew an eye glance or a quiet conversation later always seemed a more comfortable way to talk about our learning.  These are students I was always ready for the moment I knew I needed to listen.  The reasons students don't participate are many.  I'm guessing, as well, these may differ if you are 6, 12, or 16.  Students don't participate for a variety of reasons:  disengagement (sorry, Alfie, I know there's probably a better word), confusion, shyness, and feelings of not belonging only touch the surface of reasons why they may not participate.  

For a minute, however, let's think about the other side of this coin.  Let's think about those students who are rarely heard in our learning communities.  Let's understand we must really know our students here.  We do really need to think hard about the reasons a child may not be participating.  Let's agree that we must work hard to build strong communities that support one another: where listening and turn taking are essential practices.  Let's note Kohn's point that no child should ever be "forced" to join a conversation.  

However, for a minute, let's also ask ourselves about those quiet students who get lost in the sea of voices who push to rise to the top.  Let's, just for a minute, agree that their voices matter too.  In looking at different perspectives on calling on students Kohn adds, "A smiling, 'gentle invitation' ('Chris? I notice you haven't spoken for awhile. Would you like to chime in here?')—and periodic reassurances that anyone may choose to pass at any time—is completely different from a nonnegotiable demand that everyone must answer."  A few months ago I started working with a small group for interactive writing.  There were a few students unfamiliar to me, and Bella was one of them.  She didn't make much eye contact with me and didn't seem comfortable joining our discussions.  Other students monopolized our discussion and I'm not sure she could have entered the conversation if she would have tried.  I would talk with her briefly by herself as she came and went.  Eventually she would come whisper her thoughts in my ear and agree that I could share them.  Each day I noticed she worked harder and grew a bit more comfortable.  We'd smile knowingly at each other.  I'd quietly comment or gesture toward something she was attempting.  Now - every once in awhile - she is sharing her thinking with her peers and I love to see how quiet they get to listen to her.  I think this careful work helped her to know what she had to say mattered and helped to lift her voice.  

There is reason to pause as we read this article and think about the learning community we are nurturing.  He reminds us, "Ideally, moving beyond hand-raising or cold-calling is part of an ongoing project of creating a democratic, caring classroom community, one in which students are helped to feel a sense of belonging and given continuous opportunities to make decisions, individually and collectively."  I love the vision of first graders requesting responses from one another without my insertion into the conversation.  Maybe someday I'll get there.  (I really appreciate the work of Peter Johnston's in Opening Minds as I think about helping students develop agency, building dynamic learning frames,  and building strong communities.  See a few quotes at the bottom of this post.)  I agree with Kohn that students should really own conversations and their voices should be heard more than mine.  However, I'll continue to consider his assertion that calling on students who haven't volunteered is not something we should do.  I feel we have an obligation to gently nurture our communities to allow equal value of every child's thoughts in our classrooms.