Saturday, February 7, 2015

Book Club Cobb - #BCCobb

In my humble opinion, there is no better way to impact our students than to provide them access to incredible literature.  They deserve opportunities to reflect upon their lives, think about the decisions they may make when faced with certain circumstances, and determine who they may want to be as they continue to mature.  That being said, we, as teachers, need to be familiar with outstanding literature in order to pair students to the texts that may change their lives.  I've been fortunate to work directly (in the co-taught setting) with two teachers who are readers themselves, and therefore, know how to engage their readers.

Since Lynda Mullaly Hunt's new novel, Fish in a Tree, celebrated it's book birthday earlier this week, I have received a text from one of those teachers begging me to borrow my copy (more on that can be found here) and saw, through social media, that it is the other teacher's planned next read.

(this is why you are NOT borrowing THIS copy!)

While the three of us, over the years, have discussed numerous books, I would like to extend this to a slightly more formal conversation and see if we can have a greater impact throughout our community.

This is why I am proposing that we begin Book Club Cobb.  I foresee this as an opportunity for teachers across our (enormous) school district (and beyond) to learn about current, popular titles that are engaging for students.  This evening, I purchased two copies of Fish in a Tree, and while I would like to begin with this text, I would eventually like several choices within each conversation we share; so that yes, we are discussing the book, but we are also thinking about strategies we could teach from lifting various passages from the text and then also to be able to get to know an even greater amount of titles that we may share with students.

These two copies are beginning with very distinct destinations, but I expect that they will then be passed on to others who would be interested in participating in our #BCCobb chat on Thursday, March 12th, 2015 at 8 pm.  If you are interested, please join us.  If you would like to borrow a copy of the book, jump in line (please feel free to use the comments below to document your interest)...or find a copy at your local bookstore or library.

We look forward to the conversation and the opportunity to put exemplary literature into the hands of our students!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Guest Blog - Reading Instruction and Close Reading

Please welcome my former co-teacher, Leila Barber!  While Leila and I taught on the same 5th grade team for seven years, we spent just one year co-teaching together.  The transition was seamless due to Leila's genuine interest in her students, her professionalism, and her continuous desire to grow.  It has been said, and I strongly believe, that readers and writers make the best reading and writing teachers.  Leila is that teacher!

Get to know Leila.

I teach in a Title I school, located in Cobb County’s Area 1. Our population consists of a large volume of students who are involved in the early intervention program. We value achievement, integrity, creativity/innovation, and accountability. Our mission is “establishing an environment that fosters a love for learning” and our vision is “developing and empowering life-long learners”.

I am a 5th grade teacher and have taught in Cobb County for the past 7 years in this capacity. In all, I have been teaching for 14 years, a little in Florida and a few years in Virginia. With all of these experiences came the opportunity to earn additional degrees in Curriculum and Instruction (MAEd) and Reading (Ed.S.).

While teaching in Cobb, I have had a great opportunity to grow professionally through presenting at Teachers Leading Cobb Forward (TLCF), hosting a district-wide lab classroom, and facilitating additional teacher professional learning. 

Why is Close Reading important?

Reading closely is developing a set of critical thinking strategies that is transferrable to all genres of reading. Every single area of content, standard and layer of text utilizes some strategy of close reading whether it is understanding the purpose for reading, seeing the interconnectedness of text, developing systems of meaning, or to engage in a level where inquiry of text takes you beyond the surface. One of my favorite quotes, “Equally, move freely between analyzing texts, media and life.”  (p. 124) The dream is for student independence and where you lead (especially by modeling), the students will follow for the rest of their lives!” (Lehman and Roberts)

Why is Close Reading initially a challenge for students?

Students will often times try to tackle a task all at once, kind of like taking off for the finish line of a race without paying attention to the surroundings or the steps in order to get there. With close reading, students are taking a much different approach to reading. They are forced to slow down to pay attention to the structure, the word choice, the graphics, the nuances, the interpretation, point of view, audience, intention and many more higher level concepts. Each layer of comprehension digs into a deeper and more complex understanding of the reading piece. Students at first become quick to make an inference or look at surface level comprehension. It’s not until we practice peeling back the layers that they really appreciate the art of close reading. 

What instructional strategies have you implemented to better support students with Close Reading?

When I first began close reading, I started to look at the patterns of my readers and noticed that they could identify key details, but then seemed to stop at the first steps of analysis; observation. The wondering and inferential piece of investigating was happening like fireworks for some and others were a little less focused on the follow through.

I began to model close reading strategies by selecting primary sources that we had been looking at in class. I remember one of our first close reads was on “Bert the Turtle” in which students could identify physical characteristics of the picture. The next step took us beyond the visual and started leading us towards inquiry. “Why did the turtle wear a tie?”, “What did duck and cover mean?” The questions built more depth into the illustration that naturally led to students making connections and inferring the purpose for the poster and even who the intended audience would be.

Each week, we practice close reading strategies in various formats whether it is in independent reading text, extended reading, or content literacy. The opportunities are endless.

As the year progresses I begin to gradually release students to move into their own partnerships and groups to discuss with close reading strategies. One of my favorite strategies is the “write around”. This close reading requires students to choose a color of marker for their individualized writing. The group gathers together to ‘read’ the illustration, text or primary source. As they make observations, instead of talking, they write their ideas around the source. Students then step back, looking at what others have written and then either build off of each other’s work or ask questions. I usually let this happen naturally and when students have stopped writing, I encourage them to begin talking about the text. Now, students have more of a starting place….everyone has something to say or add!

The two largest professional learning texts that I have turned back to over time are Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts, “Falling in Love with Close Reading” and Robert Probst and Kylene Beers, “Notice and Note Signposts”. With each of these, the building blocks for creating a close reading community are fostered through applicable strategies. 

What improvements have you seen after incorporating Close Reading strategies?

I have been so excited this year to see the level of thinking, reflecting, and talking that students want to do with close reading. Once we established our routine for close reading, students are eager to get started with this work and often crave the interaction with others about this piece. They respectfully agree and disagree with one another and are able to voice their opinion with confidence. Possibly the most powerful moment is seeing students refer to previously taught experiences, notes or even another text. They make connections to the text and let their backgrounds lift them to the next level of understanding, synthesizing. 

What is your plan moving forward?

Moving forward, I would like to build our close reading strategies in Science. I feel that this subject is often left out of literacy, but can definitely be used in this great work. Additionally, I would like to build a repertoire of primary sources, quotes and content literacy pieces to have a database to pull from when we are itching for our next close read. 

Take a look at some of the incredible examples Leila's 5th grade students are producing because of her high level of instruction combined with her strong belief in her students.  The work is challenging, but this is the depth and rigor with which our students must be exposed.  With proper modeling and support, students can do amazing work!  Thank you, Leila!  You make me proud to call you a co-worker and a friend!