Archive for April, 2009

Teaching Current Events: A conversation with Kelly Gallagher and Sarah Cooper

Kelly Gallagher, author of Readicide and the upcoming DVD Article of the Week, and Sarah Cooper, author of Making History Mine, use some similar strategies in their classrooms to make sure that their students are knowledgeable about current events in the world.


Article of the Week
Kelly’s Article of the Week activity puts students in touch with real world writings from news stories, essays, editorials, blogs, and speeches. Reading and interacting with these articles each week ensures that students graduate with a better chance of comprehending the world around them.


Making History Mine
In Sarah’s middle-school history classroom she encourages her students to think about why it’s important to know about current affairs and she challenges them to realize that what happens in the world does have an impact on their lives. Each week, on Current Event Fridays, two or three students pick a local, national, or world news story and present it to their classmates, followed by a discussion.

During this VoiceThread conversation, Kelly and Sarah will talk more about the genesis and goals of these classroom activities, and they invite you to share your strategies for teaching current events to your students. They have already started the conversation, so it’s your turn to join them. Just click on “comment” on the bottom of the VoiceThread window.

Sarah and Kelly will select the most interesting contributions to the conversation and the winners will receive a copy of both Kelly’s DVD and Sarah’s book.

For a quick tutorial on how to use VoiceThread, click here. No special equipment needed – just a phone and a computer! The introduction will begin after you start VoiceThread and the slides will advance on their own. Kelly and Sarah’s comments start on the third slide.

6 comments April 28th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: What should notebooks look like?

In Notebook Know-How, Aimee Buckner provides the tools teachers need to make writer’s notebooks an integral part of their writing programs. She shares tips on how to launch notebooks and how to help students who are stuck in a writing rut. In this week’s Quick Tip, Aimee focuses on what the notebooks look like in her classrom and what to consider when choosing notebooks.

Also take a look at Aimee’s new book, Notebooks Connections: Strategies for the Reader’s Notebooks

The physical form of the notebook can reflect the teacher’s preference and is generally inconsequential to the concept. Many people—writers and students alike—have preferences. I prefer that students use composition notebooks because the pages are sewn into the notebook so that none can be ripped out. A close friend of mine, who teaches high school, prefers a binder for her students’ writer’s notebooks. She likes kids to be able to add pages when going back to work on a certain entry or to put handouts and class notes near the entries where they’ll have the greatest impact. Still other excellent writing teachers prefer that their students write on notebook paper and store everything in a folder.

The type of notebook a teacher chooses needs to reflect his or her teaching and organization style. Even though the notebooks will ultimately be in the hands of the writer, the teacher needs to make it work with curriculum, classroom space, and time.

When planning for notebooks, there are several things for teachers to consider. I use a series of questions and responses to help me think through the feasibility of the notebook my class will use.

Is it easily portable to take home and bring back to school?
I find that it’s important for students to take the notebook with them. I like a lightweight and easy-to-carry notebook.
Does it provide a standard-sized page?
I didn’t always think this was important until students argued that some kids don’t really write as much because their pages are smaller or thinner. To keep the peace, I require a standard-sized notebook.
Is it easily replaceable when it becomes filled?
Expect notebooks to be filled. Even if it’s a binder, you will want it replaced. There’s something wonderful about a brand-new notebook. Make sure they’re easily accessible.
Is it a size that will be easy for you to collect and read?
You will need to read these and even assess them. Keep in mind how you will collect and store them if necessary.
Do you have a plan for where students will put their class notes and/or handouts?
Some teachers like to put notes and handouts near certain existing entries. I have kids keep notes in the back of their notebook for easy reference. Handouts are cut down and glued into the notebook.
Will students be able to personalize the notebook?
It may not seem important, but it is. Students should have the ability to make this notebook their own—inside and out. Composition notebooks now have different-style covers and are easily covered with stickers and/or construction paper.
Is it important to take pages in and out of the notebook? Does your notebook support this?
If this is important to you, you may want to use a binder or folder. I don’t want pages coming in or out, so I stick with a bound notebook.
Is the notebook easy for all students to manage?
All students are expected to keep a notebook. If there are special needs to consider, be sure to do so. One year I needed to arrange for a student to keep his notebook on a computer.

I’m careful to keep the organization of the notebooks flexible, without a lot of superficial or arbitrary sections. This was difficult for me at first because it seemed it would be easier to use a sectioned, three-subject notebook with different parts for different assignments. I have gone so far as to use sticky tabs and paper clips to mark off pages. But I have found over the years that the notebook rarely fills up if you do this. Some sections have paper left over, and kids are using one notebook for entries, another for lists, another for favorite words, and so on. It gets very confusing.

In addition, it is important for students to fill a notebook—really fill it. As overwhelming as the panic of what to write about can be when flipping through the blank pages of a new notebook, the sense of achievement is equally strong when students flip through a notebook that is filled with their words on every page from beginning to end. Finishing a writer’s notebook, truly finishing it, is as important to a writer as finishing a book is to a reader.

I am a person who likes routine—many writers are. I like having a routine with the notebooks, so that students can readily transfer learning from the notebooks to their drafts in progress. With this in mind, I ask the students to have two starting points. Students write from the front of the notebook toward the back with their daily, self-selected topics. Here students date each page and title entries when appropriate. Students can also try the different strategies presented in class—interwoven with their own ways of keeping a notebook. Some students glue a table of contents in the inside cover, listing the strategies, their dates and the page numbers where they can be found. Others simply keep a list of the strategies we study on the inside cover. Still others just keep a hodgepodge in the notebook, with no indications of where things are located.

The second starting point is from the back of the notebook, working toward the front. Here we keep notes from lessons, such as revision strategies, editing strategies, and grammar notes. Examples of good writing from other texts can be found in both sections, depending on the purpose—if we’re looking at craft it may go in the mix with our regular entries; if it is a piece that emphasizes a strategy we’re focusing on, such as paragraph structure, it would go in the back. When working from the back of the notebook on editing and revision strategies:
1. Students take notes on the mini-lesson;
2. Students try the revision or editing strategy in their notebooks with a common text;
3. Students go back to their writing to use the strategy; and
4. Students refer to their notebooks as a resource when trying the new strategy.

This gives me not only a structure for teaching strategies and using the notebook, but also a reference when conferring with students. If they say they’re having trouble with a lead, I can ask, Did you review our notes on grabber leads? Did you review the “Try Ten” strategy? Did you use it for this piece? Or, if a student is struggling with endings and I haven’t focused my mini-lessons on that yet, I can still refer to what I know is in the notebook: Let’s review the “Try Ten” strategy we used for leads. Do you think you can use this strategy to help with your ending? No matter where we are in the writing process, our notebooks are not far away. And the front and back starting points make use of every available page by the time the notebook is filled. Other than introducing these two methods, I leave the organization up to the kids. Sometimes, students will use Post-it notes to make tabs for lists, poetry, special stories, and so on. Other times they’ll use paper clips to save pages for certain ideas or strategies. Some students do not use any other form of organization beyond my front/back method. When it comes to notebooks, less is more, so keep it simple and focus on what’s important—students are writing. Students in my fourth-grade classroom will usually fill two notebooks a year.

One question teachers ask is, “How will students know where to find things in their notebooks?” A binder or a three-section notebook would indeed make it easier to find things. However, as students keep notebooks and work with them on a regular basis, they become familiar with them. Much like rereading your favorite novel until you know about where a certain event is in the text, students have a general knowledge of where things are. Students reread, which every good writer should do, and fi nd what they need as they need it. It hasn’t been a big deal. Kids who want things more organized can use paper clips, sticky notes, or a table of contents and index techniques. But overall our notebooks are a reflection of our lives—there is enough organization to keep them functional and enough flexibility to keep them interesting.

Add comment April 28th, 2009

Poetry Friday: The Night Before Fishing Season Opens

The concept of time is crucial for understanding many texts and students often struggle with noticing the clues in a book that will help them make inferences about time. In Beyond Leveled Books: Supporting Early and Transitional Readers in Grades K-5, Franki Sibberson, Karen Szymusiak and Lisa Koch describe how they look for books and texts that are not only at the appropriate level for students, but also contain supports for understanding various concepts like flashbacks and the passing of time.

One of the poems Franki uses with transitional readers is “The Night Before Fishing Seaon Opens” by Donald Graves.

The Night Before Fishing Season Opens
Donald Graves

After supper, Dad helps
George and me check supplies:
creel, bait tin, worms, pole,
rubber boots, not used
since last summer.
I see orange-bellied trout
dancing on the brook bank.
8:00 P.M.
Lay out my clothes
and wait for dawn;
burrowed into my pillow
hoping for sleep;
beneath the waterfall,
a pool boils
with hungry trout.
9:00 P.M.
Flip my pillow
to the cool side.
Cast my line
under the bridge, feel
the rat-a-tat of trout bites,
a quick jerk to set the hook.
I play the brookie to shore,
catch the speckled flash
of color before I swing
him to the bank.
9:40 P.M.
I imagine Mother’s call
and smell the bacon;
bounce to the floor
and one by one I put on the clothes
from the neat pile
on the chair:
trousers, shirt, jacket.
I sit down, slip on my long socks;
reach for my boots.

Add comment April 24th, 2009

Questions & Authors: Showcasing Student Work

Sharing and showcasing student work is an important part of the writing process, according to Ann Marie Corgill, author of Of Primary Importance: What’s Essential in Teaching Young Writers. She shares some of her classroom publishing strategies in the latest edition of our Questions & Authors series.

Publishing means many things to writers and writing teachers. To me, publishing simply means “going public” with your writing, and there are so many ways to support young writers as they publish and celebrate their writing and illustrating work. Publishing—and the celebration that goes along with it—is one giant step in the writing process, and possibly the most important part for the children. The pieces of writing go forth into the classroom, the school, and the world and become a representation of the reading, topic selecting, conferring, rough-drafting, editing, revising, talking, sharing, rewriting, and reflecting work that we do across the days and weeks of a study. So much teaching and learning about writing is held in those pieces, and that writing deserves and audience and a celebration.
Here are a few tips for celebrating and showcasing student work:

Make Time For Daily Sharing

Make Time for Daily Sharing

Young children will thrive as writers if they can count on daily responses to and celebrations of their work. So often writing share is the first thing to go when time is short in an already packed school day, but having this routine consistent and built in to the writing workshop block will provide multiple opportunities for student sharing and the class:

  • to learn how to give and receive comments to a piece of writing
  • to synthesize and share writing conference highlights and bring that teaching out into the classroom
  • to gain confidence in writing and illustrating abilities
  • to speak about the work that writers and illustrators do
  • to seek help and suggestions for a particular piece of writing or a part of the process that may be challenging for the writer

Bring The Teaching Out Into The Room

Bring the teaching into the room

One simple way to honor the work of a writer is to showcase writing conference teaching points throughout the room. This is a great way to have your conferring impact all students and is a great way to engage the class in the learning of one writer. Pretty soon the walls of the classroom become covered in teaching and learning about writing (or reading or math or science or social studies)—depending on which conference teaching points you decide to share.

Think Big
Think Big

Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine how a tiny piece of writing can grab the attention of a reader or can truly represent the hard work that went into writing and publishing. During our poetry studies, when the writing isn’t long and doesn’t fill several pages, we use our illustrating abilities to support the writing and create “poetry posters”. These posters give student writing a “grand and colorful” feel and can bring the dull and lifeless walls of a school to life. Think big when publishing and celebrating student work and fill your school walls with the work of your students.

Use Previous Artwork In Publishing

Use previous artworkA few weeks ago, my first graders created gorgeous artwork with markers and the raindrops of a February thunderstorm. After we hung these pieces in the room, I heard a couple students talking. “My art looks like a picture book cover!” Hmmmmm….

Thanks to my students, I learned that previous artwork might become the “seed” for a writing project. Some of my students are now using this artwork as the cover of the next picture book they’re writing. This is just a reminder to me as their teacher to keep my eyes and ears open for ways to publish and showcase student writing.

Chart Comments from A Real Audience

Chart Comments from a Real Audience

This week a second grade teacher in my school shared a realistic fiction piece that her class had written with my first graders. My students were delighted with the story, clapped when the story ended, and immediately burst into conversation about Rocket’s Bath. And I couldn’t just let that be the end of this “publishing and celebrating” experience. We decided to chart our comments and send them to the class of second graders so that they could hang our responses in the classroom alongside their published piece. Thanks to Mrs. Collins and her second graders for sharing an amazing piece of writing and for reminding us all that written comments from a real audience can inspire young authors to “keep writing!”

Show Children That They Are Doing The Work Of Real Authors

real authors

It’s especially important when students write to remind them that they are doing the work of real authors. One way to send that message to students is to find perfect places in your classroom library to house student writing. If students see the books they write surrounded by the work of the authors they read each day, they will come to believe that their own writing is always written for a purpose and a real audience.

Add comment April 22nd, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Bringing tweens back to books

In Naked Reading author Teri Lesesne draws on her extensive experience as a teacher and consultant to examine ways that educators can help stoke kids’ — especially tweens’ — interest in books. In the first three chapters of her book she discusses the reasons some tweens are turned off from reading. In Chapter 4 she moves on to offer some remedies. She uses the acronym TARGET to describe the six elements that are essential in helping kids become excited about books: Trust, Access, Response, Guidance, Enthusiasm, and Tween-appeal. In this week’s Quick Tip, Teri talks about Trust.

First and foremost, our students need to know that they can trust us when it comes to books. They can trust that we know them well enough and we know where they are developmentally. Only then can we successfully recommend books that will excite and motivate them to read. I discuss the development of students in Chapter 1. At the beginning of the school year, it might be a good idea to give students a brief survey to get to know them and their reading habits better. While surveying instruments are available from a variety of sources, I prefer to construct my own— something short that will not fatigue the students or increase the time it will take me to go through them all quickly (and, as a bonus, students will not resent having to fill out one more form for me). Consider giving students a checklist of different genres and formats to see if your classroom (and, for that matter, the school) library meets their expressed interests.

I suggest beginning with this quick and easy checklist and then moving on to more elaborate questionnaires and surveys as the year progresses. A second step in this process, then, could be to give students a checklist to assess their attitudes toward books and reading. There are already-published instruments, such as the Estes Scale, that can be used for this step; however, it is also a simple matter to construct one for your classroom’s use. Begin with a series of statements about books and reading that are both positive and negative. Sample statements might include:
In my spare time I enjoy reading.
I spend my own money on books.
Reading when I don’t have to is a waste of time.
I don’t see the need to read outside of school.

Students respond to these statements using a Likert scale, with responses ranging from Strongly Agree to Agree to No Opinion to Disagree to Strongly Disagree. How students respond to each item nets a score from 1 to 5. For example, students who strongly agree to the first two statements that are positive in nature would receive a score of 5 points for each one. Likewise, if they respond with strongly disagree to the second two negatively worded statements; they would also receive 5 points each.

On the other hand, students who disagreed with the first two statements and agreed with the second set would receive one point for each of the four statements. Thus, the score of someone with a positive attitude would score a total of 20 points on the four statements; students with less positive attitudes would score lower. Again, you can easily construct such a scale and use it with your students or select from other, already established attitudinal scales.

Once you know more about reading habits, interests, and attitudes, you can begin to plan which books will become part of the classroom library. Note that this kind of evaluation needs to be done for all classes and each year, since students and their interests change over time. When I first began asking my students about the books they preferred to read, romance was the number one response from girls while boys preferred fantasy as their top choice. While fantasy and romance still appear on the final tallies, many girls now read fantasy (though boys have not picked up the romance novel as a favorite), and the popularity of graphic novels, manga, and anime has increased dramatically. A few years ago, I would not have included these categories on the checklist, nor would novels in verse (as distinguished from poetry) have appeared a decade ago. Fads come and go in terms of books. For years, I could not keep enough copies of Sweet Valley High on the shelves for my female readers. Ditto Goosebumps and Choose Your Own Adventure some years later. Now those have been replaced by other series such as the Lemony Snicket books.

Our students also have to trust that we do not have ulterior motives in recommending books that we are not attempting to “teach” them something as a result of their reading. One of my favorite children’s books is Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor, with illustrations by Peter Parnall. The narrator talks about the importance of finding your own special rock and the rules you must follow if the rock is to be truly special. I love this book for its simple yet elegant rhythms, for the incredibly awe-inspiring artwork done in earth tones, and for the beautiful allegory it presents me, as a lover of books. Each semester I open classes in children’s literature with a read-aloud of this remarkable book and then proceed to explain the allegory I develop from Baylor’s rules. The rock is the foundation if you will, of a literacy-rich classroom. The rules for finding the perfect rock, for finding the right book, still apply. One of the rules is “always sniff your rock.” Kids have a better sense of smell and can tell a rock’s origin from sniffing. This rule I liken to those kids who can smell a lesson coming a mile away.

I still remember his name after more than twenty years: Lionel. He handed back a book I had suggested with an expression that only a twelve-year-old can carry off successfully. “Oh,” he sneered, “this is one of those books that’s supposed to teach me something, huh? No thanks.” The book was one that talked about becoming a better student. Lionel was struggling in my class, and I innocently thought a book about how to study more effectively might kill two birds with one stone. Not so.

I learned two important lessons. First, do not try to find books that address problems students might be having in class. This process, called bibliotherapy, can have disastrous consequences. After my daughter died a few years ago, well-meaning teachers encouraged my grandchildren, Natalie, Cali, and Corrie, to read books where a main character died. What those kids did not want was to be reminded of their loss. Instead, what they needed was to find some relief from their sadness. We read books with gentle good humor, happy to find a reason to laugh. It has only been recently, some four years after their mother’s death, that the girls are reading books like The Afterlife by Gary Soto and The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher.

The second lesson is just as important: as teachers we have to be careful about how much we use books for instructional purposes. It is perfectly fine to study a few short stories, poems, a play, and even a novel as a group in order to learn about the critical attributes of genres, the elements of fiction, or the author’s voice and style. If every single book a student reads has to become part of a lesson, however, students will soon learn to dislike books, even those written specifically for them and for pleasure reading. Too many worksheets can also kill. Too many questions turn reading into just another lesson. Donald Graves once remarked that if we grade all the writing our kids are producing we are not doing enough writing with our classes. I think the same is true for books and reading. If we have a follow-up to every book, every read-aloud, every booktalk, we are not doing much to motivate readers. Think about it this way: after you read a book, what do you want to do? Do you sometimes just want to move on to the next book? Certainly you do not rush out to make a diorama to take to your colleagues at school. You probably do not write an official book report. Instead, sometimes it is sufficient to simply move on.

Let’s think about allowing the same freedom to our students. It will go a long way in developing the trust. Chapter 5 offers some suggestions for assessing the reading of your students. Finally, students must trust that we will not shy away from tough subjects and challenging books but, rather, provide books that present as much of the truth as possible. For instance, as I am writing this, a novel entitled Rainbow Party by Paul Ruditis is making headlines due to its content. Basically, this novel centers on a party given by a group of teens where oral sex will be performed. It is an intense book that is frank in its presentation of sexual scenarios, so frank that most bookstore chains are refusing to carry the book. Now if I were a middle school teacher, I may not have this controversial book as part of my classroom collection. But I would know of the book, would have read it, and would be able to offer an assessment of it to students and parents.

Rainbow Party is an extreme case. It might not be the classic that Forever has proven to be. But it does I think indicate how we need to approach books of a controversial nature. As a teacher, Go Ask Alice was always a part of my classroom collection. I do not think most of my students were experimenting with drugs, but I do think that most of them were curious about the subject. Go Ask Alice afforded them the chance to examine the subject safely within the confines of a book.

Add comment April 21st, 2009

Three Stenhouse titles are AEP finalists

AEP FinalistStenhouse Publishers earned three nominations for 2009 Distinguished Achievement Awards from the Association of Education Publishers (AEP).

The three titles selected as finalists are Adventures in Graphica by Terry Thompson , Greater Expectations by Robin Turner, and Spaces & Places by Debbie Diller.

“We’re very pleased to have three of our titles selected as finalists in the professional development category of the DAA Awards, which recognize publishing excellence,” said Dan Tobin, General Manager at Stenhouse. “Two of the titles, Adventures in Graphica and Greater Expectations, are by first-time authors, so the acknowledgement by our industry is particularly gratifying.” The third finalist is Spaces & Places, an innovative, full-color book on classroom design written by well-known author and literacy consultant Debbie Diller.

You can preview all three titles on the Stenhouse website.

Add comment April 20th, 2009

Poetry Friday: Spring

Here is a poem from Bill Varner’s son, Alexander:

This week’s poem comes from none other than Alexander Varner, 7-years-old and a second-grader. And yes, in the interest of full disclosure, he is my son. I wouldn’t call him a reluctant writer, but math is more his thing. So I was so pleased to discover this poem in his backpack last week. With spring finally starting to take hold here in Maine, I thought this was wonderful for many reasons:

Spring
by Alexander Varner
When the sun comes up
in the morning
when the sun comes up
and you wake up
the flowers bloom.
The bees come to get pollen
and the birds come out to chirp.
Splish, splash the water.
The sticks breaking
crunching, cracking
as I walk along.

7 comments April 17th, 2009

Questions & Authors: Keeping teaching and life in balance

TeamWorkMany new and veteran teachers struggle with keeping their professional and personal lives in balance. The authors of TeamWork: Setting the Standard for Collaborative Teaching Grades 5-9 know this all too well. During their years of team teaching, they have learned many tricks for setting aside the time they need for planning their classroom activities, and for meeting their personal obligations to themselves and their families. Amanda Mayeaux, one of the coauthors of TeamWork shares some of these tips in this latest installment of Questions & Authors:

“A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself
to light the way for others. ”  ~Author Unknown

True, but most of our families would not be pleased if suddenly in the middle of grading papers while sitting on our couches, we were consumed! The question we are often asked by teachers struggling with the overwhelming workload is how to manage all of the responsibilities of work. Add the responsibilities of children and a spouse on top of your workload, and being consumed may sound like a great escape.

Our book, TeamWork, is not only about teaming, but more about the relationships we had with each other and our students. What truly made the teaming concept work for us was — and is — the collaboration which helped all of us learn to depend on each other so we could balance our professional and personal lives. If you are in a school without the structure of teaming, you can still benefit from the basics of collaboration. Learning to balance is about keeping your priorities straight, planning, and learning to lean on and support others.

If you are in need of some balancing, first, set your priorities. If you don’t take care of you, you can not take care of others in your family or your students. Your family is crucial. If you are struggling to make the list, think about who will be at your deathbed. These people are your priority.

List the things you and your family need to function properly. These may include being with your family, exercise, eating right, spiritual time, and recreational adult time. Many of these can include your family. Maybe you eat a healthy meal together three nights a week or maybe each Saturday morning regardless of what needs to be graded, you play in the park.

If you are struggling with fitting it in, consider having a family meeting each week to set dates for the week and anything important that may be coming up in the next few weeks. Knowing the important events that are coming up will allow you to know when you can take the lead at work and when you need to move back a little. For example, when Kathryn was getting married, Monique and Amanda knew we had to pick up some extra duties during the week leading up to the big event. Likewise, when Kathryn knew when Monique and Amanda had responsibilities with their children that may require a little extra help from her. How you manage your family is personal. Our families have moved to online calendars, but traditional paper family calendars work well also. Your students are important, but your families are you lifeline. You should plan with your family first.

Second, think about your professional priorities. Our best trick for keeping life in balance is planning ahead, setting a timeline for what has to be done, and then getting it done. As a team we plan quite a bit during the summer by planning our major unit timelines, planning parent and other events, and preparing anything we can prepare ahead of time. We also only focus on one major change a year. For example, one year we decided to add more parental involvement activities to our team. We planned during the summer, assigned roles to each person, and then spent the year implementing. We did not create another big push until we had this one under control. Chapter three in TeamWork illustrates the various elements of this initiative and has resources for anyone wishing to involve parents more often.

Of course every teacher has numerous demands thrown at them. Decide what is critical and what is not. Yes, some things are not. If you are overwhelmed, do not be afraid to talk to your administration or a mentor. Sometimes administrators do not realize things that may be on your plate personally. If there is an important event coming up in the life of your child or spouse, don’t be afraid to tell your administrator. Being up front about what you can manage and what you can not will assist everyone in getting the job done.

Finally, connect with your colleagues. If you are part of a team, then you are so lucky to have people with whom to share the responsibilities of calling parents, managing attendance records, conferencing with students, setting up special events, and many other things. Again, planning ahead will save you a great deal of time later and reduce your headaches.

If you are not part of a team, you will benefit from having someone you can talk to. Find a few teachers with whom you connect. Maybe these teachers teach the same subject or the same grade level. Maybe you are all in graduate school together or completing National Boards. Maybe you just like this person. If planning time during the school day is unavailable, ask if they are willing to talk over coffee after school once a week or once every two weeks. Amanda has a friend she meets on Saturdays when her daughter is dancing.

Before you begin the talks, set some rules. In chapter 1 of TeamWork we have some ideas for building a team. These questions and thoughts will help any group in the beginnings of collaboration. We believe the establishing core beliefs are crucial. Ours are listed in this chapter for your benefit.

Even though we are not teaming together anymore, we still get together with each other and with a few other teacher friends, because one of our core beliefs is that learning is a lifelong endeavor. Our meetings are not complaint sessions. We talk about issues, but we focus on solutions. We may talk about professional books we are reading or ask questions about an issue we have in the classroom. Sometimes we even talk about how to manage a personal issue or two. Adding a wise mentor to the group is a great idea.

We also collaborate with online chat sites and email. With Monique and Amanda moving to a new school in the district, we found the internet to be a way to remain connected. As lifelong learners, we are enjoying finding new ways to engage our colleagues and even some of our former students.

Teaching is an all consuming profession. Having someone or a small group of people to talk to about your challenges and thoughts will save your family the fate of hearing about school day in and day out. Great teachers should burn brightly, but please don’t burn those around you or they may blow you out.

1 comment April 15th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: How to model note taking

This week’s Quick Tip comes from one of Tony Stead’s books, Reality Checks: Teaching Reading Comprehension with Nonfiction, K-5. “In Lisa Elias Moynihan’s third-grade classroom at the Manhattan New School many of our learners wrestled with recalling and reciting all the information they read,” writes Tony. Students often just copied the text they read as a way of dealing with the massive amounts of information they came in contact with. Tony and Lisa came up with a way to model the process of note taking to help these fluent readers develop the layers of thinking and understanding this skill requires.

Lisa and I had been experimenting with ways to help our learners take notes and decided that the first step was to demonstrate the strategies we use. We knew that for children to be successful with this, they first needed to learn how to deconstruct text, then use their notes to reconstruct.

As part of a unit on animals, we used a book titled Creatures of the Night to demonstrate this process. We used a retelling web to demonstrate how we selected key words and phrases to help us remember relevant information. We broke the whole-class mini-lessons into four parts as outlined below, and did each in a different sitting so that we did not overload the children with too much information at one time. I believe this is a major reason why learners struggle with processing demonstrated information: we never take the learning apart and concentrate on small, manageable pieces. The common cry of “But I’ve shown them how to take notes and they can’t do it” is a reflection of our teaching practices rather than children’s cognitive abilities. Attempting to demonstrate everything in one sitting only frustrates and overwhelms the majority of our learners.

Session 1: Teacher Modeling—How to Deconstruct and Reconstruct Information
During this first session we knew it was important to establish the purpose of the whole-class mini-lessons so that the children understood how note taking could help them as readers of informational texts. Our next step was to show them how we achieved this goal through thinking aloud so that children could hear and learn from our thought processes.

Tony: I’ve noticed that often when you read nonfiction, you find it hard to remember all the information the author has told you. Would that be true?
Rosania: I find it hard to because there is so much and after I put the book down, I kind of forget.
Tess: That always happens to me, and then when Lisa calls us to a conference, and says to us, “So what did you find out about” from whatever it is we read and I just look at her and think I don’t know. I forgot most of it.
Tony: That’s what Lisa and I have noticed, so we thought we’d show you one way to help remember some of the information. Would that help?

There is a chorus of yes’s from the children.

Tony: Great! I’m going to use this book Creatures of the Night because we’ve been looking at night creatures as part of our unit of study. We’ll be able to use some of this information for our class report. But before I show you how I take notes so that I can remember the information presented by the author, I need to ask you why I don’t just copy the author’s words.
CJ: Because they’re not your words. It’s a bit like cheating.
Tony: Talk to me more about this.
CJ: You need to be able to talk about it yourself.
Marielle: Yeah, CJ’s right. Just because you copied them down doesn’t mean you understand them.
Tony: That makes so much sense. I’m going to start by just reading this section to you about how creatures of the night taste their way at night.

I then read them the following from page 10 of the book:

Tasting Their Way
A few nocturnal creatures use their sense of taste to help them survive. As catfish swim along the bottom of rivers, using feelers called barbels, they can taste tiny particles of a food source upstream. A snake’s tongue “tastes” the air. By flicking the tongue out to collect small particles, the cottonmouth viper can pick up the scent of a mate or an enemy.

Tony: Now I need to read this information again. This will help me think more deeply about what I have read.

I read it again.

Tony: Now I need to stop and think about what ideas and facts are important for me to remember. I’m going to use a retelling web to help me. Let me see, I think I want to write down the word survive because this is an important word. It is the main idea of this page. I am also going to write the words catfish, feelers, barbels, and water. I’m putting an arrow from survive to these four words because I want to remember that a catfish that lives in water survives by using its barbels to taste. I’m writing the word feelers next to barbells in case I forget what they are because this is a new word for me. Now over here I’m writing the words snake, tongue/flicking, small particles, and enemy. This will remind me that snakes taste the air by flicking their tongues and tasting particles in the air. The word enemy will remind me that this helps them know if an enemy is nearby. Now I’m going to put the book away and have a try at retelling the information using just my organizer. This will help me say things in my own words. Okay, here I go. Let me tell you about night creatures and how they use taste to help them survive. The catfish that lives in water has feelers. These are called barbels, and the catfish uses these to taste food in the water. Snakes taste by flicking their tongues. They can sense when there is food or an enemy just by using their tongues.

I went back to the text and reread what the author had said and asked the children what they noticed about my retelling. They were impressed by my abilities to retell using the organizer, but Michael wanted to know why I didn’t use the word mate on either my organizer or in my retelling. This brought a few giggles but also lots of confusion, because obviously many of the children had no idea what this meant. I had intentionally made no reference to this word on my organizer for obvious reasons, but children miss nothing. They awaited my reply with anticipation, eager to see how I would wiggle my way out of this one. I simply told them that I didn’t think it was that important and moved quickly to the next teaching point, giving them little chance to reply. Thankfully this strategy worked, and I found myself breathing sighs of relief as I moved into the next part of the demonstration.

Having successfully avoided the subject of reproduction, I invited Lisa, the classroom teacher, to have a try at this strategy using a different page of the text. Having the children watch multiple demonstrations is always advantageous because it gives them time to process and think more deeply about what has been initially demonstrated. The librarian or a second adult, such as a parent, in the classroom is a wonderful resource to tap when attempting to show multiple demonstrations by adults. I concluded the session by reflecting on what we had learned about note taking and charted the children’s responses. (See the steps below.) I am a great believer in not only taking time for reflection at the conclusion of a demonstration but also recording thoughts and understandings so that learners have a point of reference for future
engagements.

Ideas for Taking Notes When Reading Nonfiction
■ Make sure you read the text at least twice so that you really understand what the author has said.
■ Write down key words or phrases that you think are important on a retelling web.
■ Put the text away.
■ Using only the retelling web, try to retell the information.
■ If you have problems retelling, look at the text again and see what extra words you need to include to help you remember.

Add comment April 14th, 2009

Behind the scenes with Debbie Diller

Debbie Diller’s new DVD, Think Small! Engaging Our Youngest Readers in Small Groups, was shot last November in Pearland, Texas. In the video, Debbie works with the first-grade classroom of Maria Diaz-Albertini and the kindergarten class of Estella Perez, at the EA Lawhon Elementary School. After several days of shooting in the classrooms, Debbie is now putting the finishing touches on the video, recording voice-overs and pulling information together for a viewing guide.

Debbie and Bob Cozens, cameraman and director, watch as an engineer works in the voice studio.

Debbie and Bob Cozens, cameraman and director, watch as an engineer works in the voice studio.

Debbie gets ready to record some voiceover clips

Debbie gets ready to record some voice-over clips

You can sign up to be notified when Think Small! becomes available in June 2009.

Add comment April 13th, 2009

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