Thursday, July 31, 2014

Progression of a Reader

If you're currently reading this, you'll probably want to have made sure to have looked at July 28th's entry as Dumbilli began her 5th grade reading journey (her entries were from last August).  If you have read it, you'll remember that she was lacking a focus.  She was working with multiple texts throughout the week and even multiple strategies within the same entry (we're not against using multiple strategies and recognize that this is what advanced readers do, but wanted to see more depth from Dumbilli's work).  Today, we'll take a look at the work Dumbilli was doing in March.  Seven months had passed and you should immediately see that Dumbilli learned to slow down; to give herself the necessary time to do the level of thinking we were expecting of her and even more importantly, the thinking she now expected of herself.

We have a quote in our classroom from Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer.  It states, "Reading is the inhale and writing is the exhale."  Dumbilli has taken this to heart as she is beginning Ann M. Martin's A Corner of the Universe.  She's thinking about her reading, but she's doing so from a writer's stance as she attempts to determine what genre of writing her book may be.  The graphic organizer provides evidence as to why it might be a personal narrative or possibly historical fiction.  I really appreciate her last paragraph where she discusses how she'll have to read more and even states "The more you read, the more information you get."

I don't think the entry above is Dumbilli's strongest effort.  However, this is one of the many beautiful things about reading response journals!  After this quick assessment of Dumbilli's work, this would guide our instruction.  This would turn into either a small group conference if others were struggling with this strategy as well or a one-on-one conference if we did not feel others needed additional instruction with this type of work.  I would start the conference by informing her that I appreciate that she was thinking of some of the cause and effect relationships occurring in her book, but was slightly confused with how they were connected.  She very well may explain this perfectly during this conversation and if so, then that's what I would want to see in her writing.  If she is not able to do so, then we would most likely refer to either previous books she has read to look more closely at cause and effect that occurs in those or perhaps the extended text we are sharing with the class at the moment.  We would end the conference by urging Dumbilli to revisit this strategy; to continue to read with the lens of cause and effect.

Dumbilli decided to compare characters within her story with this journal entry.  She discusses that both characters are facing a similar problem, but how Hattie's problem is slightly different.  As much as I like the comparison, I really like the question she asked in the margin as well.  This is an example of her using multiple strategies, but now you can see her comparison has more depth than where she was as a reader earlier in the year.

I think Dumbilli's second paragraph in her letter really shows how our readers at this point in the year have been able to progress.  She mentions that Hattie is not difficult for her to understand because she reminds her of Diamond (from Helen Frost's Diamond Willow).  The more books we read and the more characters we get to know, the more we understand "how stories go," as Lucy Calkins says.  Progressing to this point, where Dumbilli understands "how stories go" have helped her strenghten not only her reading but her writing as well.

 (This is the rubric we switched to mid-year.  We wanted it to be more standards-based and ensure that depth was present in our student thinking and writing.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reading Response Journals

I've been fortunate enough to speak multiple times to various groups of teachers across the state about differentiating reading instruction.  The conversation always includes engaging students through our own excitement about reading, providing time in class for students to read, allowing students to choose what they read, and supporting students in their reading with a variety of strategies; strategies that are individualized based on individual student needs.

One question that frequently arises from teachers is where to begin with these journals at the beginning of the school year.  We do assess our students' notebooks using rubrics, however we provide students with a few weeks' worth of journal entries before those assessments become grades.

I looked back at one student's entries from the beginning of last school year to share where this 5th grader was at the time.

The entry above is really two comprehension strategies combined into one entry.  The student wrote a summary and used a chart to track noticings and judgements she made on two characters in her book.  Our goal is not to create an abundance of work for students so I suggest to the student that she focus on one strategy at a time (personally, had she finished the noticings and judgements chart, I think this is higher-level work).

The very first thing that I noticed after looking at the entries above is that in three days, she has now focused on three different books.  I distinctly remember conferring with this student regarding the amount of thinking that should occur throughout a text.  She was moving so quickly through her books that she wasn't comprehending on a level that matched her abilities and wasn't doing the thinking necessary to extend her thinking either.  I do like that she mentioned why she selected asking questions as her strategy.  "I did this strategy because I wanted to understand the characters better."  This is evidence of her metacognitive strategies that she possesses.

A teacher can see that this student already took the suggestion from her conference (to slow down and look more in depth at the pieces of her story) and is doing that here as she is working with the same book she had yesterday and is discussing the main idea of a chapter rather than the main idea of the entire story.  While to some these may not seem like reasons for celebrations, they certainly are!  Celebrating that a student was "coachable" will increase the likelihood that the student accepts future suggestions.

 My amazing co-teacher, Mrs. Barber, wrote back to this student.  Just like the structure of a conference, Mrs. Barber began her note with a compliment and then provided guidance for the student to both improve her entries as well as to improve her writing.

The rubric above (which we were using at the beginning of the school year - See link for most recent rubric) was used to assess the work of this student but it's important to note that this was not taken for a grade.  We wanted to provide feedback to our students so that they could grow without them feeling like they were instantly being judged.  We were able to confer with each student and discuss what they did well as well as areas where each student could improve.

Overall, I hope this has been helpful as has reduced some of the trepidation some teachers are feeling in rolling out reading response journals.  They certainly do not need to be perfect, but the beauty of the notebooks is that they truly show where students are and through consistent usage also show student progression throughout the year!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Before getting too far into this, I need to confess a couple of things.  First of all, the copy of Fish in a Tree that I read was an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) that may have changes coming before final publication.  Secondly, the ARC was sent to me by the author so yes, I am completely biased.  I will add, however, that I am completely biased because of how much my students and I enjoyed Lynda Mullaly Hunt's first Middle Grade novel, One for the Murphy's.  I appreciated the journey she took us on with Carley's story as she grew with the Murphy's and was expecting more amazing storytelling and writing with Ally's story within Fish in a Tree.  I was not disappointed!

Lynda Mullaly Hunt begins Ally's story in a way that the reader will immediately connect with the main character.  As a teacher, my first thought was a few various students with whom I've been fortunate to work; students who will forever stay etched in my mind and in my heart.  Ally's struggles are immediately evident within the first couple chapters.  Any teacher reading her story will want to hug her and while her first teacher may not have had the vision to see Ally's struggles or her strengths, the reader is left hoping a strong, passionate teacher will cross her path at some point in this story.

Mr. Daniels is that teacher.  He is the teacher I hope a piece of me has been and the teacher I aspire to be.  He is the teacher who creates a positive classroom atmosphere and values individuals and their strengths while working to improve areas that need improvement.  Dave Burgess, of Teach like a Pirate fame, asks teachers if their students would show up for class if they were not mandated to be there; if students would buy tickets just to have a seat in their classroom.  With Mr. Daniels as the lead learner, students would find a way to be in attendance.

Ally's growth is evident throughout this text.  She is initially isolated and feels as though nobody understands her struggles.  Throughout time, she gradually begins to trust those that are there to help her.  Meanwhile, the antagonist, Shay, becomes increasingly unlikable throughout the text.  As more individuals begin to value Ally, fewer characters are supportive of Shay.  This gradual shift occurs throughout the text as multiple events within the plot allow the reader to form opinions of both Ally and Shay.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt makes it very difficult to put this story down for any extended period of time.  Each chapter seems to end with a thought or a quote that makes the reader want to continue reading.  Many of Ally's thoughts stood out to me, but these two shined the brightest: "I guess maybe 'I'm having trouble' is not the same as 'I can't'" and "And isn't it funny - I've gone from invisible to invincible."  From invisible to invincible.  I love that line and I love Ally's story.  I know that students that hear her story will understand that we all face struggles, but through learning about ourselves and allowing those that love us to come into our lives and support us, we can all be invincible!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Transition Music

Several teachers have asked what music we use to transition from the closing of one lesson to the opening of the next.  During this time, students have the opportunity to use the restroom, get a drink of water, stretch, move, they are better prepared for the upcoming lesson.  They are also expected to bring their necessary materials to the carpet and write the lesson's learning objective in their notebooks.  At my previous school, this was the domain and the standard, but could be an essential question based on the vision of your school (what's most important is that students have an idea of what they will be learning).

Let me also say that my co-teachers and I have had in-depth conversations about the songs we have selected because we want students to be able to determine the central idea of the songs.  This frequently comes without a lesson, however we also use some of these song lyrics when teaching close reading to determine central ideas.

I should also point out that we use the one song to indicate which workshop is forthcoming.  We always tried to keep our schedule as routine as possible, but we all know that is not always possible.  When our students heard "Man in the Mirror", regardless of the time of day, they knew it was time for Reader's Workshop.

Without further ado...feel free to make a joyful noise!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Digging Into Writer's Workshop

We have had some great conversations about writing instruction this week.  You can access the Powerpoint below!

Digging Into Writer's Workshop