My classroom is not a quiet, orderly place.
Students are constantly moving, thinking, talking, reading and writing.
I do my best to help my students find success.



July 28, 2011

You have mail!

My colleague, Michelle at Literacy Learning Zone, and I decided to try something new this summer to encourage the students at our elementary school to keep reading.

At the end of the school year, we showed the whole school a Prezi that I made called "Where will we catch you reading?"  I borrowed the idea from Mr. Schu and Shannon Miller of Two Libraries, One Voice.  We asked students to have someone take a photo (or draw a picture) of them reading somewhere interesting this summer.  We're hoping that many students take part in this project, and we plan to post their pictures on a bulletin board in the fall.

We also sent a mailing to our resource students that included an issue of "Summer Reading News" we  authored and a self-addressed, stamped postcard.  Last year I wrote letters to students and invited them to write me back, but I didn't give them a way to do this.  This year, we made blank 4x6 cards into postcards, including our mailing address and a postcard stamp (only 29 cents!).  I figured if I gave the students postcards with a stamp all they had to do was find a mailbox!

We sent out over 60 cards, and so far, 3 students have sent a postcard back. Yippee! :)  It's FUN to get mail!  Now we have to figure out when we'll write to the students again before school starts.  The goal is to remind them to keep reading and to show that we're thinking about them over the summer.  I wonder how the students (and their parents) felt about getting this kind of mailer.  I hope we receive more postcards!

July 20, 2011

Conferring Part 3: Walk-Aways

I think this is the first professional book that I've read cover-to-cover and used a notebook to track my thinking.  WOW! I can thank all the people participating in the #cyberpd book club for helping me gain deep understanding from the book, Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop, by Patrick Allen.

Conferring Walk Aways
I wrote this quote from Patrick in my notebook today, "I hope I'm building the capacity for my students to think independently without me there guiding them (p. 157)."  AHA!  We are strong readers who need to teach our students to become thinkers, readers and writers.  Very few students can manage this on their own. I have always believed that my developing readers will eventually grow into stronger readers.  I know I can do a better job of moving them on the reading continuum if I commit to conferring with them.

I really liked the transcripts that Patrick shared in this chapter, especially his thinking bubbles.  These transcripts are the next best thing to being in his classroom (which would be a treat!).  I saw the difference ways Patrick nudges one reader, Jacob, and listens intently to another reader, Mikayla.  The "walk aways" I learned from this section are:  1) ask opened ended questions and listen to the answers with an open mind, 2) give nudges to readers ("conferring is teaching, not fault finding"), and 3) give children time to think.  Many children will use think time to develop deeper ideas, when we give them the time!

Conferring Ain't Easy... but it's worth it!
This statement is catchy and true!  It ain't easy to confer, but I think reading this book has made conferring
less of a mystery to me.  I plan to start with building a strong culture of reading and responding in our notebooks during each session with my groups.  We will build our stamina and our strategy learning s..l..o..w..l..y.  We will take time at the beginning of the year really focus in on why we're working together and what we need to do.  That hard work (if I can really stay focused!) will pay off during the year, as I confer with individual students.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around how this is all going to work in my little resource room, as I have 40 minutes of focused instruction time to respond to the different needs of each student.  Thankfully, I've had the benefit of learning with all of my #cyberpd tweeps, and I hope we'll bring our classroom conferring experiences back to the discussion table throughout the year.

"We need to get back in the business of knowing children, of knowing readers...They need time to develop as readers with us sitting alongside them, nudging them over the hurdles and celebrating their successes" (Allen, p.181)

* * * * 
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 My 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.

July 13, 2011

Nuturing and listening to our reading "apprentices"

Our #cyberpd book club continued to read Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen.  This week's focus was on Part 2:  What Are the Essential Components of Conferring?

Shut Up and Listen
The most essential component jumped off of page 127 for me, "Being a good listener means we do have to 'shut up and listen' or how else will we know what we need to teach!"
As my 13-year-old would say, "DUH!"  As teachers we have a habit of talking all the time.  As I read more about conferring, I've come to realize that this is a time for our students to show us what they are working on.  The more years I spend in the classroom (and as a parent), the more I realize that time spent one-on-one with a child makes such a positive impact on their learning and their self-esteem. 

Our job, as strong readers, is to be a nurturing reading mentor to our students.  Patrick wrote, "Nurturing inquiry comes by sharing our experiences as readers and helping children uncover their own growth and needs and insights." 

Patrick wrote about his father, a bricklayer, in the book's introduction. My family is full of tradesmen - bricklayers, electricians and builders. They all learned their trade from a master when they were apprentices. I have come to see my students as reading apprentices as well. No matter their learning style, we need to show them (modeling, think aloud) and guide them on their decisions about text.

The RIP Model

This was an easy model for my brain to follow.  The model that Patrick recommends we use to confer with students is the way most people approach a conversation with a friend. 
R review, read aloud, record:  start out with what you talked about in your last  conversation.  Ask the student to read aloud from a text.  Record your thoughts.
I instruction, insights, intrigue: not only are you looking for a strategy you can reinforce, you are also looking for the student's insights into the text, and their questions.  (I love the word intrigue!)
P plan, progress, purpose:  The final part of the conversation is to find out their plans as a reader, see what progress they've made on goals they set at the last conference, and set a purpose for future reading.

Conferring Versus Collecting
Oh, boy, did this section ring true with me (you did notice "chaos" in the title of this blog, right!?).  I have tried everything to keep track of anecdotal notes in my classroom.  Patrick lists many ways (binders, index cards) and I've tried them all.  I think that Patrick's conferring form, following the RIP model, will be a great vehicle to try again.  I think I'll make 1" binders for each grade level that I work with (K-5), then put tabs for each student in the binder.  I've tried to store all my student data in one binder, but that got too bulky.  I'm always up for a trip to my favorite office supply store!

"When I sit with my child's teacher..."
On pages 138-139, Patrick poses the question, "How might we make note of what we see and what we've learned?"  He then writes about how we have become data collectors in order to prove our work is helping students improve.  That's fine, but Patrick points out that as a parent, he would prefer to hear from a teacher how his child is connecting with books.  He writes, "I want her teacher to say to me, 'Recently I sat down beside Lauryn and discovered...'  That is the data I want."
As a parent, I can't agree more.  I understand that my child is a dot on a graph, but I really want to know how she is connecting her learning in school to her life experiences. 
When we confer with students, we are giving them a chance to show their learning, and we are giving ourselves a chance to know them as individuals.  Only then can we begin to teach them.

July 6, 2011

Conferring Book Club

I'm so excited to be part of the #cyberpd book club. We are a group of people, connected mostly by Twitter, that decided to read the book, Conferring, by Patrick Allen. Here are my thoughts after reading part 1:

I really want to make conferring a non-negotiable part of my classroom routine. I'm a resource teacher, so I see small groups throughout each day. My students come from a variety of classrooms with very different environments, but my students and I do build our own mini-community. Allen reminds us that we must begin each year by building a strong foundation and culture of thinking. This is the most important work of the year.

As I reflect on Allen's five ashlars, the third, "a clear and defined purpose and audience," becomes my area of focus. I always drive the students to work on specific reading skills and strategies, but I'm not usually clear about sharing the purpose for reading a specific text or the audience. I will be referring back to chapter 3 as I make plans for the fall.

Reading this book along with my Twitter PLN is motivating me to keep a notebook and really be more reflective as I read. (I'm usually a great skimmer!). I hope to encourage this practice with my teen children as well as my students. We don't always need to take careful notes each time we read something (purpose! audience!), but keeping track of your thoughts leads us to become mindful readers. I love Allen's thoughts on page 46:
Giving learners a chance to jot down their thoughts and sharing those ideas teaches children three things:
1. My thinking is important enough to write about.
2. My thinking can lead to rich conversation.
3. My thinking is valued.

I'm looking forward to all the other comments from my fellow #cyberpd learners!
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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.