Friday, December 31, 2010

In the Workshop!

I am going to tackle this book in sections, likely two chapters at a time and give a description of what I found most meaningful.
The first chapter is titled Writing Workshop A Happy Place Where We Make Stuff, signifying how simple the task of writing can be for those just beginning the process. The second chapter is titled, Work, Space, and Time Writing Workshop Right from the Start.
This book is already challenging some of the ideas I have been schooled to try in my own teaching. I love it when my beliefs about teaching writing are confronted. This constantly forces me to review the building blocks of my path and helps me create new ones, because there is always more to learn—right?
Katy Wood Ray is a teaching consultant in Lisa B. Cleveland’s classroom of first grade students. In this classroom, writing workshop begins after a couple days of classroom routine activities to get the year started. Workshop begins at 9:00am each day. Once some stamina is in place, students work on writing for close to an hour’s time. Beginning with a mini-lesson, Lisa introduces concepts to the students and asks them to wonder, “Is this something I could try in my writing?” She then releases them to the materials in the room that are easily utilized independently by the students. They begin with stapled booklets of paper. Their first tasks are making little books full of illustrations and writing at their level. By stapling the paper she has immediately made something they understand—books. The idea of something as big as a book is what elicits the big ideas the students eventually become comfortable with and they write more. Katy Wood Ray explains that their philosophy on little writers deviates from the common “journal,” and their feeling is that journaling takes away the reading and writing connection deemed so important. Journals are often used because of the efficiency, in terms of the management of materials. For the littlest of writers, making a book is much more tangible and understood. It becomes reading material for them and something to be shared. She explains further that often journals may include a given topic, making the reins of writing tight. This quote said it all to me:
“If we told students what to do all day long, we’d be teaching them to think of themselves as people who should wait to be told what to do (pg. 19).”
 See you soon in chapters three and four!
Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear about what you are reading too, please feel free to comment below!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Motivation

Students are always so challenging those few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, then you get back to school after the New Year and everyone is tired, out of practice, and in need of a revival of sorts. I am hoping some of my new reading will be just what I've been waiting for, helping me deliver some of what my students will be needing when we return in January.
For Christmas I got the new book Day by Day by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz from a dear friend who knows me well. I also got the CAFE book by The Sisters from my husband. This is one I have been waiting to purchase too, waiting because I haven't finished About the Authors by Katie Wood Ray. Looks like I will be busy over the next several weeks.
Let the flow of ideas begin!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Perspectives on Spelling

Wow, it’s definitely that time of year when it feels like there is no time for anything extra. I have been perplexed over spelling this past month.
In Dancing with the Pen, spelling is discussed as a tool not a barrier to student writing. The teaching of spelling has encountered many styles. I personally remember taking spelling tests, having classroom spelling bees and I remember thinking spelling was all about luck. Either you were a good speller or a bad speller. I never felt it was something I was taught; instead I was just one of the lucky ones who could somehow avoid humiliation during a spelling bee because I was never the first one to sit down.  I almost never won either.
The section of Dancing with the Pen that elaborates on spelling is based on Richard Gentry’s paper that analyzes the development of spelling called, GNYS AT WRK. Gentry identifies five stages of spelling that I will briefly describe.
Precommunicateive: I usually call this “stringing letters.”
Semiphonetic: They begin to approximate. They begin to show some connection to letters and their appropriate sounds.
Phonetic: A consonant framework emerges. Some vowels may also be included and possibly high frequency words will be spelled correctly.
Transitional: This stage is where students are completely relying on sound to letter correspondence. They make errors based on what they think are hard and fast rules of language (/sed/ for “said” or /nit/ for “night”). Other examples include: “tipe” (type), or “lasee” (lazy).
Correct: Aside from just having mostly correct spelling, students are also able to identify when there is a misspelled word and the student may have a suggestion as to a correction. Students are able to monitor their own progress more readily due to the number skills that are in place.
So, this leads me to wonder, if these are developmental stages of spelling, and there is a continuum like pace to teaching spelling, why do some still do spelling tests from way back when? I sometimes think it may be due to parents liking the idea of a spelling list. A less overwhelming home activity that is familiar. 
I try to meet students where they are with spelling. I do not do spelling tests, but I do teach in isolation high frequency words, which could be considered a spelling list of sorts. I expect students to spell the words correctly within their writing after they have been taught and try to hold them accountable for their learning and my teaching. However, I am curious and would like to know more about what foundations need to be in place for a child to become a really good speller. Is it obvious; is it as simple as letter and sound knowledge, basic word identification, and some attention to spelling patterns? Or, is it deeper than this? Rebecca Sitton, the author of a spelling program is something my school is looking into as a way to fill what seems to be a gap in our spelling curriculum. I would love feedback on this program if anyone has experience with it, or if they have other ideas. Is there anyone out there attempting to imbed spelling; how successful is this and how is it done?  So, I am still program vs. no-program and not sure what is more appropriate. Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Cautionary Tale...

If that doesn't reel you in the actual story will do the job. I was recently introduced to the story cautiously written by Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny.  What a hilarious peek into a moment of a little toddler's tantrumous day. I couldn't help feel after hearing the story read aloud by Jeff Anderson, (yes, he was my teacher again, lucky me) that this would be a perfect mentor text for a small moment personal narrative.
To give you a summary, if you too have been unknowingly awaiting the tale of Knuffle Bunny, it is about a little girl named Trixie on an errand to the laundry mat with her father and her day is turned upside down when she realizes she has lost her beloved stuffed bunny.
Every child has a toy and every child could tell of a time when it was mysteriously missing. I can imagine asking what happened, hearing the emotions of the moment, where they found it, how the story came to an end. The stories would unravel as easily as a loose ball of yarn from their tender little story telling brains. I imagine I would have some tasty little examples of successful beginning, middle and end stories from my darlings following the mini-lesson. This will need to wait just a bit for most of my learners, as they are still only dipping their toes in the water of writing. However, I can smell a Mo Willems author study happening in say February or March and I can sense my anticipation too!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My First Try

I gave the Jeff Anderson technique a try with my kindergartners last week.  I used a mentor sentence from the book, A Chair for My Mother.  I invited them to notice and with few prompts they came up with quite a few things they knew about the sentence.  I was excited to see them get comfortable sharing simple sentence characteristics, especially since that was what I was going for.  Together, the next day, we did the invitation to imitate as a shared writing activity.  As my students begin writing more full sentences and sharing more in their writing, I look forward to doing the invitation to imitate on a more individual basis and celebrating their sentences.  It really amazes me what little 4, 5 and 6 year olds are actually capable of...and how so many people are still learning this fact!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Progress...Moving Across a Continuum

Though I tend to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that comes from teaching young writers, I am encouraged by the progress I have made so far this year.  I have monitored student progress using my expectation checklist and next step chart.  I have already begun publishing student work and half of my students have completed their first book.  Book boxes are in full swing and ready to house the newly published work. 
The kids tried out "'Work on Writing," today and we were able to accomplish independent writing, small group writing, writing choices, and publishing all happening simultaneously.  It was a breath of fresh air and I hope things continue to go in this direction as I felt I was able to make actual suggestions to learners today and carry out some effective conferences.  Our work on writing chart is complete and students demonstrated some clear understanding with a need for more practice to gain some stamina, but overall, good progress. 
I now just wish I had more support to give to my struggling learners who need so much encouragement and guidance.  It is so heartbreaking to run out of time or steam on their part, noticing the need for a break in the action of writing when you know you really just need 5 more minutes.  I hope to begin to dig a little deeper into the students understanding.  I am excited to break into "the beginning writer continuum" I wrote about back in August.  There are a few students I feel this will really assist in developing a plan and hopefully get my teaching very specific to their need.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jeff Anderson is...The Write Guy!

I just met Jeff Anderson Tuesday and I can say with confidence that he is not just "the write guy," he is the right guy to teach me when it comes to grammar and mechanics. After reading the first half of his book, Everyday Editing and perusing his lesson ideas I am in love with his routine for teaching.

I am a question kind of teacher. I ask questions all the time of my students, because I don't ever want to just tell them something they already know and I also want to know what misconceptions they have about their learning. The first question Jeff asks when teaching a grammar lesson is, "what do you notice?" He calls this an "invitation to notice." Everyone loves being invited to do something, it is less threatening and choice is involved in the outcome. He uses this idea of inviting as a way to create a relationship with his learners and create a safe environment. Once students have shared what they notice in his example sentence, a "mentor sentence," he validates their idea and extends their learning. He challenges them to do the work, he does not tell them why a comma is where it is or other editing marks. The following day he asks students to imitate the sentence. When he was teaching teachers, at the conference I attended, he had us notice and imitate a serial comma. Jeff asked that we imitate the sentence using our own adjectives and ideas but with the same pattern. This activity led me to write a poem later because it conjured up images and got me, as a writer, going! I was amazed that just by imitating a sentence I was unable to get the ideas to stop running my brain. The following day he celebrates students success with the activity and students are able to share.

Jeff's book goes in to much more detail on further ideas and invitations to write. I love this concept and was never so excited about grammar and editing in my life. I wish I knew this information when I was in college, maybe my ideas would have been clearer instead of constantly needing to figure out why mistakes were mistakes. Jeff sees mistakes as an opportunity for learning, not good exercise for a red pen (or any color pen for that matter). A mark on your paper is a mark, disrupting the work of the writer instead of teaching the writer.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The "Write" Space

Writing in the classroom deserves a designated area.  This can sometimes be challenging.  Classrooms need so many places for all the little bodies not to mention all the materials.  I always notice that writing centers often only have a small desk with minimal materials.  Though these writing spaces are cute and may reflect a kind of "at my desk," experience for a young writer, I think there can be more thought put into this area of a classroom.  Aside from the writing that goes on in the classroom during workshop time or whole group writing students need to see the many ways writing can take place within all the areas of the classroom.  Setting up a creative arts area to house all materials for illustrating and writing is a place to begin.  Then it is important to make writing materials available in the other areas of the room.  Such as the block area for students to write out a building plan or the science area for writing observations and ideas about how something works or what they noticed.  Students can write about books they have read or create posters advertising a favorite book to their peers.  The list is endless, but if the materials are not available for students to utilize--they won't.  If you only allow two students at a writing center and then it is "full" your classroom may not be full of blooming authors.  If the writing experiences are constantly made available, opportunities will present, and the kids will write. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Sisters

About 2 years ago I read the book, The Daily 5, by The Sisters.  It is a great and quick read and gives lots of ideas and tips to make teaching literacy to young learners more manageable.  Yesterday, I was lucky enough to sit down with some colleagues to watch a couple of their videos on room arrangment and the sometimes daunting task of managing materials within the classroom.  It was great to see that they had easily accessible writing materials in the room and lots of different spaces for students to do their "work on writing," one of the daily 5 routines their students participate in each day.  Because this book has profoundly impacted my teaching in the past two years, I think I will read over my prior notes and do a post this week as a reminder to myself all the important and simple elements of the book. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

When to Pick the Apples

Many teachers grow tired of the phrase, "an apple for the teacher."  I have received my share of apples over the years, and when I get one, there is a certain comfort that comes along. 

I think I am coming to understand my own personal connection to the apple.  It may be your connection too.

Before bearing fruit, an apple tree can take years to develop and mature.  There are so many varieties, many of which are grafted and engineered to make flavors like pink ladies or pineapples, (yes, there is an apple called pineapple).  Some are even engineered to grow sooner but are pruned and grown in such a way described as “training the tree.”  They are dwarf apple trees that can fruit just after a year of being planted in the ground (search for a tutorial on YouTube), but their process is still more challenging than say a bean plant.  It takes care, nurturing, and patience for someone who is just interested in an apple.  The same characteristics I hope to emulate everyday to my family, students and colleagues. 

I began thinking about the apple trees in my backyard.  It is my understanding that the property my house rests on used to be an apple orchard and four-five apple trees were left to stand in the yard alongside the walnut, butternut and hickory trees.  The apples that grow in my yard are left to chance; they must rely solely on the limbs holding them and nature to sustain them.  Many become deer feed, and the ones we do pick to cut into and investigate in fall are usually immature, bruised, and worse for wear.  It got me wondering, how is this any different than the children I teach each day, week, year?  Many of them come immature, bruised and worse for wear.  I certainly wouldn’t want to throw them out for the deer, but that is the metaphorical fate of some in this world of ours.  If I think of my students as a developing apple, is it possible to then be too late to make a difference?   What purpose would I have? 

So, maybe my students are not the apples, but maybe they are the trees themselves awaiting my care, nurturing and patience.  Maybe those little apples that grow are in fact more like the connections we make as we grow and experience the world.  We don’t need to wonder when an apple is ready to be picked; we just need to take care of the tree.  I hope to water and warm the little minds of many this year and help them grow lots of apples and develop into wonderful people.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Two Books at Once…here I go!

                                            Double the Surprise!

I picked up Reading with Meaning, by Debbie Miller this week because I have been trying to cement writing and reading and all the connections they hold more firmly in my mind.  I had planned on reading Dancing with the Pen, by Ministry of Education but found Debbie Miller in my lap first.  But Dancing with the Pen was nagging at me to give it some attention too.  So, I decided to pick it up tonight and dust it off. I was thinking it could be a mistake to read two informational texts like these, but was soon pleasantly surprised at what I would find.

Dancing with the Pen The Learner as a Writer

Less than four full pages in and already this book is inspiring my thoughts about teaching writing to our youngest authors.  Donald Holdaway, a new name for me, is quoted in Dancing with the Pen on page ten, below is what he said related to reading and writing being a connected entity.

Instruction has persistently separated reading from writing in a way that would be insufferable in learning to listen and talk.  The two modes form an integral nexus of learning around common processes, and this, too, may be readily reflected in teaching.  There are no logical or practical excuses for the dismemberment of literacy--only instructional precedents. 
Everyone who teaches reading and writing to kids knows they go together but sometimes the instruction does separate the two whether it is intentional or not. I find myself always looking for ways to bring the reading of a book into my modeling of writing, whether I am comparing my writing to an author or merely generating a list of ideas that were inspired by a good text. I do this for my students but I rarely push them to write about a book they read or utilize the skills they got from reading workshop and connect them to their writing workshop. Why? This will be my big question to analyze as I read further.

Reading with Meaning

I just love Debbie Miller. The way she writes sounds so genuine to the art of teaching. The book really started to get going for me in chapter three. She has the students tell her what reading behaviors are and at first I wasn't sure how I would do the same. She just asks them what readers do when they are reading. I tried to imagine what my little 4, 5 and 6 year olds would say to such a broad question. Then I began thinking about all the information I would get, most importantly, did they know what a reader looked like at all? I would find out quickly what kinds of literacy experiences they had for the first few years of their life and whether they were pleasant. I would hopefully guide the students who did have some ideas to tell me about selecting a book, turning the pages, noticing a picture and maybe even how the people sit or how they feel when they read. These behaviors would be listed and become my lesson plan for teaching reading workshop. I would demonstrate and model the behaviors and allow students to then practice during reading workshop.

She talks quite a bit about setting up her procedures and how important this is to the success of the reading workshop. She explains one of her ideas where students put their thoughts on a sticky note and place them in a book they are enjoying to show their connection. For myself I thought I would have students leave sticky notes out of the book but keep the novelty of this idea by allowing students to create an illustration of the book. This would become the advertisement for the story and sticky notes with a recorded connection or idea could be placed next to or on the advertisement. I am thinking this would generate some motivation to jot down thoughts they are having and details they noticed. Since some students often find themselves stuck in a genre, it may also encourage students to look outside of their own favorite book and dig into a different text.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Assessing and Teaching Beginning Writers Every Picture Tells a Story

Prior to reading the book, Assessing and Teaching Beginning Writers  Every Picture Tells a Story, by David M. Matteson and Deborah K. Freeman, I was asking myself questions about the ways I assess and focus my writing instruction.  I often wonder if what I expect of students is appropriate and if I am on the right track with individuals.  It seems like the words “developmentally appropriate,” are thrown around often and I have been really trying to figure out what it actually means; coming to realize it is more challenging to determine this for a group as opposed to an individual.  I also really wanted to review the importance of the plan and where it fits with each developmental stage of the writing process students go through as the year progresses.        

The Layout:
The book was an easy read and well organized.  Each chapter began with 2-3 reflective questions to get you going before digging in to the information.  There were several examples of student and teacher interactions to help associate the ideas of the text.  The book was broken into two sections, which I will go into a little detail to explain my understanding and summarize some areas of the book.
Section 1:  Developing Theory about Early Literacy Experiences
In the chapters within section one, the book went through the changes that occur from preschool to kindergarten, theories and perspectives of these grade-levels, and characteristics of readers and writers at this stage of development.  What I took away from this section is that the theories of the best way to introduce literacy to early learners are still very different among educators.  I also got a sense that these different perspectives influence educators ideas of what a student can do as a learner.  Students at the emergent level may need one kind of instruction while individual students beyond the idea of what seems appropriate may need a different delivery of instruction.  It also expressed a need to take advantage of the time a student is in an early program, such as a prekindergarten or preschool program.  Gaps can only increase when the experiences do not fit the learner.  The book effectively expressed the importance of reaching all learners and that it can be done with focus and intention.    
Section 2:  Understanding how to Use the Early Literacy Continuum
The Early Literacy Continuum, the main tool of the book, was introduced and explained in depth in this section.  It nicely differentiates the levels of student oral language development as well as the development of the emergent writer.  Using these levels to determine where a student is learning helps the teacher determine what to work on next.  The authors expressed the importance of Vygotsky’s theory, Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).  The ZPD is the range of what the student is beginning to demonstrate and what she is getting ready to take on as a learner. 
Digging In:
I really liked that the book explained and gave examples of prompts that effectively give the teacher a clear picture of what the student is independently doing as opposed to what the teacher is leading the child to do in her writing.  Guiding the student is important, but leading a student only leads to less independence.  I really want to know what the student can do, not what an adult/peer told her to do.  The book described this as “being neutral,” a term I plan on using this year and reminding myself to ask—“was I neutral here, or was I leading the learning?”  I look forward to putting that directly on my monitoring notes when I reflect. 
Through student examples the book went into depth on the levels of detail a student needs as they progress.  I enjoyed reading about a particular student who simply drew a picture of a house but had a great story about being locked out because their dad accidently locked the door.  There was a great oral story, the illustration was done mostly in yellow and difficult to make out, so the teacher asked the student how they would remember this story.  Together they reviewed the details of the story and through coaching the child decided to add a door to the house.  The teacher asked him to use a different color so that there would be an emphasis on the door and that would help him to remember that detail.  This reminded me of many of my emergent learners who begin to get the hang of telling a great story, but it is all coming at them so quickly, they don’t always know how to add those details to their picture.  I liked this simple illustration of good teaching and not leading.  The teacher did not say, “why don’t you add a door.”  He guided the student to the conclusion that adding a door would help him remember his story later.  I felt this moment of teaching was also an important element to the student remembering due to the deep, yet brief conversation about an important detail in his story; a “critical detail,” as the book described.  It also discussed the learning of and English as a second language (ESL) student who made an elaborate zoo display with blocks.  Taking this very teachable moment and advantage of all the critical details laid out in this structure, the teacher engaged in a conversation, coaching and repeating back complete sentences utilizing the one-two word responses from the student.  Together, the pair worked to label the zoo and the student learned how to add another critical detail to an already strong piece of work—a block structure.  How easy it would be to make writing materials available in all areas simply utilizing those extra baskets or caddies you already have stowed away from last year.  Leftover pencils and scrap paper could easily be placed in the block and dramatic play area to encourage writing to take place because it already does occur naturally in these settings that we set up for students to practice in the classroom.
My Conclusions and Plan of Action:
·        I plan on utilizing this continuum and levels of learning for my emergent learners.  It has been challenging to find something that is truly just for them and not something beyond or below their learning levels.  This book fits the bill for me to fill this gap and be sure that I am moving students into early learning and development. 
·        Developmentally appropriate is only appropriate on a child by child basis when digging deeply into student achievement.  I cannot group students together and make a claim that an objective is not developmentally appropriate.  I feel it is too challenging to make such a generalization.  If some students are writing or reading and some are still learning letter sounds than there is no such thing as developmentally appropriate for one grade-level.  Just as it would not be developmentally appropriate for me to fly a plane, seeing as I have no experience, it would not be developmentally appropriate to give keys to an 18 year old to drive if they had no experience. 
o   When I feel any urge to toss around the term, “developmentally appropriate,” in a conversation, I will promptly ask myself “based on what information?”
·        I will remain neutral when conferencing and coaching my students.  I won’t lead, but guide instead. 
o   I will put this directly on my form for monitoring student learning in writing so I remember to reflect on how this is going.
·        Planning needs critical details that can come out in any form. 
o   I will utilize my classroom areas to make writing available all the time.  I can monitor progress in this form as well and encourage these ideas to later take shape on paper for students still exploring writing.