So what?

Thoughts and Reflections

I started reading a great new teacher resource that has already presented me with a few solid ideas to not only improve my instruction but also help my colleagues expand the influence of meaningful literacy in their classrooms. In, “Do I really have to teach reading?”  by Cris Tovani she introduces many elements from other books she has written. One is the Double Entry Diary. A great tool for students to log their thinking and assist in comprehension especially when dealing with larger pieces of text. One point I have always struggled with when students are learning to make connections is the depth of their connections and moving them from superficial to meaningful in their thinking and writing. Reading Hatchet for example a student will say, “I connect to Brian because I went camping once”…Ok, I guess that is a connection in the sense that you are both outdoors but does your experience help you understand Brian’s?  In Tovani’s text, she puts forward a strategy to help with asking the students “So What?”, Two simple words that ask the students to think harder, to dig deeper.

Today as we were reading different whole class texts I started with mini-lessons reviewing Double Entry Diaries and introducing the So What prompt. We looked at Josh and his actions in Roland Smiths “Peak” and the relationship between Lieutenant Kotler and Bruno’s mother in John Boyne’s “The Boy in the  Striped Pajamas”. In both classes the addition of “So What?” led students to far richer discussions than we have had all year.  Students that tend to struggle more with noticing the smaller things in the text, making connections that were not only meaningful but also utilized signposts that they had discovered previously in our reading. A simple little step with powerful results.

Tonight I capped off my days learning with a wonderful little Twitter chat with my wife, and a bunch of other friends moderated by the great Dr.Mary Howard. The topic was putting the “heart” back in RTI (Response to Intervention). RTI, in theory, operated perfectly or at the very least as intended should help all students to be successful by addressing what they need in a way that supports them as a member of the larger school or class community. But theory and practice are two very different things when it comes to the utilization of RTI in many school settings. In many schools RTI is “pull out”, it is taking students separated by what at times could be a single mistake on a computerized exam and giving them some small, meaningless, choice free readers (usually photocopied). Telling them they are a letter or a number or a Penguin and that one day if they work hard enough reading their photocopied books about a lost treasure that is found in 6 pages they might be a polar bear or a Z or even get to read the real books that the other kids get to read but first we need to get them through intervention.

I know this practice or malpractice as I see it now because I used it. I had files of clip art groups, I celebrated my ability to get students to move up the F&P alphabet and I proudly showed at my Data wall meeting the amount of green dots that had grown from yellow dots and that I only had two red dots left. Then I celebrated my record-setting provincial exam results and patted myself on the back and high fived my team members because we were awesome at getting students to read.

Then reality set in. I was getting kids to read but I was not helping them become readers. I was getting kids to move up a level chart but I was not getting them to move towards a bookshelf. Worst of all I was not hearing the students asking for books that were not photocopied.  Using readers was the easiest way to help them and if we pulled them out or even better sent them out to work with an EA and their photocopied “book” the kids wouldn’t feel ashamed because the other kids didn’t see that they were not allowed to read real books yet. I know this sounds harsh but this is the reality in many cases, it was the reality for me. Misunderstanding the point to models that are there to help our students, twisting them to fit our needs as teachers instead of adjusting our needs to our students.

My students that received this instruction did not suffer academically like I said they all raised in reading levels every year. Where I failed them and now work to build their capacity is in building them as readers.

Readers and Thinkers need to be the goal. Not letters and numbers.

Taking us back to the beginning, The next time I am having a conversation with a fellow teacher discussing an incoming students information and they describe them as an H or a 5.6 or a Penguin or Polar Bear or Blackbird or whatever other worthless label we have come to depend on so much I am going to say “So What?”. I need more than a letter, what do they like to read? When was the last time they shared a great book with you? Who is their favorite character in a book they read this year? What specific skills are they struggling in? What interventions in the classroom have been successful?  These are the questions that matter to me now. I can’t spend time looking at levels when there are so many students that we are losing as readers because they do not think they are worth anything more than a photocopied book about a sad girl that loses her umbrella or treasure island told in 6 pages with underlined verbs.

If we can’t answer the “So What?” we need to be looking deeper at our practice.

Closing the Door on TPT

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So today I finally did it. I closed my account on Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT).

I was on my favorite PD source (Twitter) and saw a tweet from my favorite person (My wife) who is at a conference on leadership. The gist of the post was that other professions such as nurses, doctors, mechanics, whatever do not go to Pintrest to address issues with working with their clients, they do not have a Nurses Pay Nurses to handle a tricky case and yet I have heard so often and see so many times, “I will just find something that will work or something close on TPT and my kids will get the main idea.” We are becoming less and less likely to address the real issues behind students not getting “it” and more and more likely to hit up the cute activities of Pintrest and TPT. In Canada it is funny, I have witnessed and in an earlier stage in my life participated in the editing of TPT work because it did not fit the Canadian curriculum but it was just so darn cute, I didn’t care if the measurements were in inches on a math sheet I could just get the kids to change it and, bonus, that would take even more of class time.  I know I am not even nearly the only one that has done that but I might be the only one that is fine admitting it.

We have a problem in education right now as far as I can tell. We are giving up on the innovation of instruction for ease, cute and the promise of right now. You can have this (cute) unit plan on Penguins that addresses every outcome and more, with the click of a button and your handy credit card (ease) and you can print it out and use it that afternoon (promise of right now) after a weekend of relaxing because “I need me time too”. I agree whole heartily that we need “me” time, I disagree in the how it is achieved.

While TPT and Pinterest provide millions of options of thing to do, they do not know our students. The MAGIC of teaching is planning with our students in mind, what can we do to engage them in learning? Can a “one size fits all” download truly exist? Sure if all you are doing in drill and kill instruction. I have already said I am guilty of that and the “Why reinvent the wheel” thinking but really is there anything proprietary in a multiplication sheet? Teachers are charging 25 dollars for a unit that promises to address all the common core outcomes with a 3-page preview. You can’t possibly believe that you are doing what is best for kids when you base the purchase of something for the kids on the Table of Contents, and yet so many do.

I am not against teachers getting paid for the work they are doing, I am against teachers blindly purchasing things without asking the question first, “Is this what my students need?” If you think they need a Penguin Clipart covered unit on Multiplication, I am wondering what assessment you have done to establish that Penguin clipart makes it more engaging. I mean what about the kids that dislike penguins… (that was a joke)

In a world where education seems to be getting less and less funding, where teachers are turning to canned workbooks that some retired TPT millionaire is making, while other teachers are working hard trying to engage their students and seeing the 5-star review and wondering if the work they are putting is is worth it. We start to see too many asking if selling their ideas instead of sharing them is the way to go.

Today I closed my TPT page because I see the damage it is causing far outweighs the benefits. You can disagree with me but if you download folder is full of Penguin clip art I might not be able to take you seriously.

This started with the comment there is not a Nurses Pay Nurses, there is a reason for that. Nurses are working to make their clients healthier and not profit personally from finding a new way to do something more successfully. Helping each other to learn the best ways to do something, learning from each other not profiting from the struggles. I know it is a touchy subject, I know some make a lot of money of TPT and others save a lot of time. I know there are activities out there that are fun and I have made money off selling my own things which have turned into more books for my library.

I am not calling for a boycott of TPT but I am calling for a boycott of lazy one size fits all, look at this cool penguin unit I found and can just work on for the next month teaching. It does not inspire greatness or innovation but certainly does continue to feed the narrative that teaching is easy, that students can just sit and work on a book.

The idea that “anyone can do it” because they can buy a unit on Teachers Pay Teachers has to end. Students deserve a teacher that is passionate about learning and improving. They deserve a classroom of wonder not workbooks and they deserve to have some fun that does not come out of the printer.

Hmm funny the journey that a tweet can take me on.

On this sunny morning

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It is so funny what a little sun will do for me. After this LONG winter (with more snow forecast) these days where we are greeted with warmth and sunshine are ones to be cherished.

Ok so yesterday I had one of those days, the ok kind but a few moments here and there make you question what you are doing. I had a student tell me that most of the class hates LA. I pondered on that for the remaining hours of the school day and how I can address this problem because believe me I see it as a problem.

I looked at my practice and wondered how on earth these kids are not becoming the literacy loving souls that I have become as I put to practice the teaching of all these amazing educators that inspire me. I try to create passionate readers and learners in the footsteps of Pernille Ripp, I try to be the Book Whisperer of Magrath after reading the amazing book by Donalyn Miller. I write with them and look at various forms of writing in the pattern of Kelly Gallagher, I preach to the masses about the power of Notice and Note and Disrupting Thinking by the spectacular Kylene Beers and Bob Probst and I am joyous about literacy like my dear friend Mary champions so beautifully and yet…

“Most of us Hate LA.”

I took the line so personally, because I am doing everything “right” I have embedded choice in most everything we do, I give ample time to read and I check in to see how their books are going and let them “break up” with books like we are speed dating.

This morning I got up to this beautiful sun and had the thought, “How many other teachers feel this way?” See the brilliance of these master educators and struggle to emulate it in their classrooms. I have had my fair share of brilliance with my students, I look back at past work and see amazing things but resistance to work has grown as the year ticks on.

I will continue to work towards the goals of a literacy centered classroom that celebrates those joyful moments but I think we all need to cut ourselves some slack that while we might be doing everything right, some days it will go “wrong”.

I appreciate all the amazing educators that inspire me to be better. Today will be a wonderful day.

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and I will be reading some great books with kids if they realize it or not 🙂

 

Funny thing about sneezing

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So just a bit of background.

I have a terrible back. Really my entire muscle system seems to be fighting my attempts at living a more healthy life. I blame years of believing a workout consisted of walking back upstairs to the fridge for another “anything” while watching shows. I have worked out a pretty good system of hurt myself, go to the chiropractor, massage therapist, physiotherapist, get better and then hurt myself again. Vicious cycle I know. Usually, the antecedent is poor form in lifting (usually a box or something, not weights) but today the culprit is a sneeze.

A small insignificant sneeze, moving just the wrong way, things slip out of place and then everything else goes with it.

Laughingly, after my friend Mary made the statement that small sneezes can cause havoc, I said I was going to blog about it and here we are.

How often is it a huge event that triggers a delay in our thinking, a stumbling block in our learning or an interruption in our classroom? I think more often than not it is a small thing. A small detail that perhaps we are hung up on (the definition of independent reading for example).

In my own experience, the small things are the stumbling blocks. I have learned to avoid the big and often do not realize my actions are leading to the small. The way we talk to a co-worker or a student, the attention we give to a story, the time and thought we put into work we have our students do. All small things that if not done properly can lead to havoc.

The other day a student I teach was upset over a comment that a teacher made offhandedly. No harm was intended and as I spoke to the teacher after and they explained what happened from their perspective it was hard to see why the student was upset. But the important part is they were. The student took that small little “sneeze” and it put them all out of whack.

An interaction between staff members with differing opinions can often be a source of culture destruction on a previously well functioning team. We are careful and attentive to not do things that we see as big stumbling blocks. I would never make a personal attack against a co-worker because I know the end result of that action is havoc, I would and have made comments though that I thought were benign and the other party did not. Usually, an apology can fix that up but like I discovered today sometimes even the right prescription to solve the problem takes some time (emergency chiropractor trip with little immediate results).

I think we need to remember that sometimes the small things cause the biggest problems. Call it a sneeze or a sliver or those dang popcorn shells that get stuck in your teeth or the dreaded itch you can’t scratch. Little things distract us from what is important. The take our attention away from the end goal. Mine is to be healthier and yet today I can’t move because of a sneeze.

Be Mindful

Even the smallest actions can cause havoc.

Thanks for the inspiration “sneeze”,  and pointing out the lesson Dr.Mary 🙂

Be Mindful

 

Jumping Back In

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Playing off my good buddy and fellow teacher Roman Nowak’s post Will you jump? I spent the morning, as Spring Break comes to a cold snowy end, looking back at the year and forward towards the quickly approaching finish line.

This year with both of my classes started out strong, students were reflecting how I wanted, completing tasks in a way that was making my teacher heart happy and generally just being compliant. See I thought that was great because the practices that I was employing are awesome and so if they were just doing it to make me happy and get a good grade well…what was the problem?

The problem was that it was not always joyful for everyone. You can’t please everyone and I feel like my attempt to has diverted us from excellence. We still do good things, I am happy with the work done generally but I know that with my support and the proper push the potential of my students is so much greater than the product being created lately.

Cruise control is great for driving but not so great for teaching and learning. I spent the morning looking at my upcoming Whole Class Novel reads. We do not do question booklets or word searches or worksheets. We look at targetted weekly questions, we reflect on our own thinking and the craft of the author and we discuss. We represent our thinking in ways that can be shared with a bigger audience.

Using my gym analogy I have allowed some of my teaching muscles and my students thinking muscles to stiffen a bit. We need to start stretching more. Good teaching and learning are wonderful, however when your potential is greater good should not be the goal.

I am jumping back in, guaranteed for some the stretch will be more painful than others. I will be there to support them as much as I can and we can always modify the exercise to create more paths to success, but we are all jumping back in. The end is fast approaching and a strong finish is the goal.

11 weeks, not a countdown, just a realization. Time to get back to work.

The Curiosity Crew

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When I started my journey on Twitter I would never have expected to learn so much, to have moments where I interact with people that I look up to so much and make so many friends along the way.

I hosted a Twitter chat recently (my third one) and used the hashtag #curiositycrew. To give a little history way back in November or December my new friend (at the time) Dr.Mary Howard asked if I would participate in a conversation with other regulars to the #g2great chat, her weekly chat on all things education co-moderated by the wonderful Amy Brennan, Jenn Hayhurst and recently joined by Fran McVeigh. The topic of the chat was on building collective curiosity…I think. Anyway, Mary asked if I would partner up with other educators and regulars of the chat to supply questions and talk about what #g2great meant to me as an educator on its 3 year anniversary.  I was thrilled and this was the start of the Curiosity Crew. This was a nickname I jokingly referred to us as and it is going to stick if I have to use it for the rest of time haha.

I am going to take a moment to introduce the crew here because they have, through support and cheerleading, really helped me to develop a better understanding of what I want to be as an educator and advocate for my students.

Dr. Mary Howard– There is not a bigger supporter of teachers in the known universe of this I am sure. She travels the United States (maybe one day Canada but not in the winter) to spread a joyful message about teaching and particularly literacy. She is a fierce defender of children and their right to read without strings attached and her rants are legendary. She has become a dear friend and I will forever credit her as the founding member of the Curiosity Crew.

Kitty Donohoe- The West Coast rep of the crew and I would have to say if a title is needed she would be Head Cheerleader. Kind messages sent to encourage us on chat days, or with cool things coming up, job transfers or just good news moments. We can all count on Kitty to send a heart emoji and a kind message and everyone needs someone that is generous with the kind messages and heart emojis 🙂

Roman Nowak- The Canadian Kindness Ambassador. My brother from across the country Roman is a one-man inspiration army. His message and mission to spread kindness are unrivaled and I am so proud to call him my friend. His Twitter game is strong and I tend to follow him from chat to chat on occasion. Stay tuned because we have BIG things coming.

Cameron Carter- The Giver of Gifs. Cameron brings the infectious enthusiasm for learning and having fun, you would never guess he is an amazing elementary teacher 🙂 Cameron has skills in chats bringing his well-timed gifs and amazing examples of his students work to all conversations. Grateful to him for all his joy in teaching, a fantastic example to follow.

ShelfieTalk– East Coasters Kim and Jill, I never know which it is I am talking to so I just say, friend 🙂 Hosts of the wonderful chat #shelfietalk They are advocates for reading and lifelong learning in ways I hope to live up to as I continue teaching.

Johnny Downey and Susan Vincent- Introduced to us as the Extrovert and Introvert Best friends I have such deep admiration for their passion for teaching and literacy. Plus they are both huge fans of Harry Potter and join in with me on rants about people that do not value independent reading. We are getting out more to learn new things 🙂 They have a blog as well that is delightful and insightful on the topic of Introverts and Extroverts in the classroom check it out http://verticaledu.com/home/

Susie Rolander and Kara Pranikoff- College Professeurs and Published Authors. Inspiring for their students at #litbankstreet and inspiring me to want to help the student teachers that I interact with to develop and grow as educators. They have been very supportive as I am on this journey on Twitter.

Well, there you have it. My #PLN the Curiosity Crew as they first were brought together by Mary. I can’t begin to describe the difference they have made for me as a teacher and will continue to have on my practice as I learn from and with them.

This is not my typical post and maybe a more learning-centric post will come later this evening or week. This is a big old thank you to the support system that I have been so lucky to find.

If you are an educator that is hesitant to dive into the Twitter world, be brave, take a chance. You will not regret it.

Thank you to all that joined the chat yesterday and especially to my dear friends that braved Tornado warnings and had to hide from their family to pop in for a few minutes. The support means the world to me.

Ok enough mushy stuff…anyone want to chat about AR?

#curiositycrew.

 

 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

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Today was a great day, take out the student that chose to not be kind, the ones that told me LA is just boring and that they hate reading and writing, take out the student that would not stop talking to his peers when others were presenting, take all those out and today was a great day.

The problem I find is that we focus on those things so much more than all the good and so I write this just to give myself that chance to reflect on the beauty that I was able to witness in class today, the fun that most of the class was having exploring a prompt from The Creativity Project. Taking something abstract and making it a character in a story. Some made poems focused on “determination” as an attribute.  Others (who had also told me the class was boring) wrote beautiful words with a fantastic contrast between light and dark. Another still wrote what might be the greatest poem about a lonely jar on a shelf that has ever been produced.  I have stories of courage being written and comic strips about bravery and love and their journey together.

I celebrate those great moments today because we can always find cruddy points in the day. We can even focus on them for a time. For me I want to turn the question around, you think things are boring, tell me what fun looks like to you? What can I do to help you find joy in this work? Because look around you will see it if you choose to.

Easter Break is fast approaching, some kids do not like school but they like home even less. We need to remember that for some school is the break. React to the cruddy parts of the day with understanding even in the hardest of times, and focus on the beautiful points to build you up and get you through.

Who else got to read about a lonely jar of food about to expire?

My job is pretty great.

Small Things

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First I need to say how much I have enjoyed the Slice of Life writing challenge even though I do not get a chance to blog every day as planned I do try to share some thoughts when I have them.

Things Mr.G Thinks 1

This blog has taken on a different life this year, in the past, it was my forum to share my students work, the cool things we were doing and the fun I was trying. I have done that a lot less this year. I think because the work I am doing is changing.

I miss the journalling though and we will be getting back into it more with some novels we will be working with after the break, The Giver or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in Grade 8 and Peak in Grade 7. I am going to be purposeful in how I use the books with my students how we reflect and what we discuss. It will not be a matter of reading and answer these questions, collect some vocabulary but more meaningful thought proking reflection points. I am excited to get back to what I love about teaching, the work of Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, I am excited to work in a text with my students as a shared learning experience.

Things Mr.G Thinks 2

Ok, so I read 2 wordless picture books today that I picked up. My Hometown by Russell Griesmer and Small Things Mel Tregonning. Both remarkable and both will serve to fuel my classroom instruction with ideas already building. I want to take a minute though to talk about the impact Small Things had on me.

A story about a boy that deals with all sorts of anxiety his “worry monsters” that slowly chip away and take from who he is. The story says so much without a word. The illustrations, just the emotions in the eyes of the characters. The aha moments I had for myself and for students I teach. This book could mean so much to so many. I plan to use it Monday. Anxiety is a real issue and seems to become greater and greater in the classroom with more and more students feeling the impact of their own worry monsters chipping away at their joyful learning. Books like Small THings help us to have the conversations. I look forward to the opportunity to introduce it to my students and see their thoughts and reflections.

Until tomorrow.

 

Changes in plans

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#sol18 I have lost track but I will still keep writing.

Just a little background

I have been working out and trying to live a healthier(ish) lifestyle for the last few years. Last summer I had a back injury, which somehow shifted to an ongoing shoulder imbalance. Last week I finally gave in to the pain and went to a physiotherapist. They have told me that I need to take it easy for a while, gave me some strategies to help heal and some very sore shoulders that are hopefully going to be on the mend.

I was very frustrated with the news and to be honest at first planned to ignore it. Then I was chatting with the #curiositycrew and my friend Susan mentioned my chat a while back and the importance of rest…Ok so maybe I need a bit of rest but I can’t stop so I am looking into other ways to be active that do not put a lot of pressure on the shoulders but will help me to continue making gains.

I can’t help but see the parallels that exist between my current workout struggles and those of my students who struggle or my teaching that sometimes struggles. I am looking for new ways to workout to work around the issue while I heal. If a lesson goes poorly I do the same thing, I look at other ways to attack the problem, other paths that will lead to success.

I am diversifying the workouts to help get healthy but also to become more well rounded. A part of why I am hurt is the same type of workouts in repetition (limited home gym) might have overtrained areas throwing me out of balance. I don’t think I even need to draw those connections.

Balance-Reflection-Rebuild

This does not need to be a stumbling block or even a point of frustration. How we look at the obstacles that come up define the choices we make next. I am choosing to try something new for a while.

Plus I did some reading, I can afford to not lift heavy for a week…hopefully that is enough.

6 things to consider

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Missed another couple days, life gets busy but here is another #sol18

I am sitting at meetings today and we are discussing both literacy and supporting our striving learners. It is interesting to me where the conversations always tend to get held up.

“How much time will this take?”

We talked today about Richard Allington’s elements of reading instruction. The end product hopefully becoming a model that our school division can pass out to teachers, build PD opportunities around and promote stronger literacy practices in the classroom. I think this is a valuable practice and a worthy goal.

The problem I find comes up when we ask teachers to add anything to their day, surprisingly asking that there is reading going on in every class for some is too much.

I can’t help but wonder what it is people with this position value.

Do we value students developing a reading culture or just students that sit and are served information? I know where I stand. I value the conversations that come from my students independently reading and then checking in with me, not for some low-level question quizzes but some great “Why?” or “What do you think?” or as my friend’s very cool Irish dad says, “So what?” Just having students sponge my opinions and ideas will not help them be greater thinkers. It will only help them think like me.

Going forward I need to look at what I value most, then research and see what works best. If what I value is not the best practice (hardly possible 🙂 lol) I need to consider other ways to help my students develop as readers.

Considering Allington’s 6 

  1. Every child reading something they choose daily– This does not mean we are not instructing in the day it just means we give them time to read what they want.
  2. Every child reads accurately– This is an idea that at times seems lofty but making sure a student has access to a text they can read should not be a point of negotiation. If it is a money issue buy fewer programs. I am sure those arguing against libraries in classrooms don’t blink at the cost of AR, they should.
  3. Every child reads something they understand– I do not think this point is a difficult one to meet if we are engaged in conferring with our students. If a reader has difficulty understanding a text the first thing to do is find out why, independent reading time should not be void of teacher interaction, we should be supports ready to lift when needed. Kind of like when kids are learning to ride a bike. They might not understand balance at first but after a few crashes and some coaching, they do. The same can be said about reading comprehension.
  4. Every child reads and writes daily about something personally meaningful– But what about the time? No one is saying we should be spending all class but a quick chance to write about their day or their life, 10-15 minutes to read about what interests them. This won’t delay their test readiness but it will increase their capability.
  5. Every child talks with peers about reading and writing – There is power in peers talking about their thoughts, ideas and work together. Take advantage of it.
  6. Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud– One of my favorite things to do. Reading a book I love, or the kids love, or better yet we all love. Just for the sake of modeling reading fluently. It occasionally is an opportunity to show that we make mistakes when reading as well and how we pay attention and self-correct.

I am pondering these 6 things and how not only I can use them to the maximum my student’s growth but also help my own practice.

6 things to consider.