If you receive our e-newsletter Newslinks, you probably saw the first installment of our new occasional series on science and math called New Angles.
The series will be written by Tracy Zager, who is currently coaching mentor-intern teams at three schools in the Portland, ME area. Her background includes teaching science in elementary schools in the Washington, D.C. area, and serving as fourth-grade math teacher and K-4 math leader-teacher at Ordway Elementary School in Bainbridge Island, WA. Tracy is also working on her first professional development book to be published by Stenhouse in the near future.
The tour kicked off on Monday at A Year of Reading, where author and blogger Franki wrote this about the book in her recent review:
“This is a book that speaks to teachers today. It reminds us to keep our eye on the reader but it does not discount the tremendous stress and mandates we are all dealing with when it comes to assessment. Tammy and Clare have figured out how to help teachers stay grounded with good literacy practice through this time. In this book, they share their story.”
At Our Camp Read-A-Lot teacher and blogger Laura Komos asked Tammy and Clare about how teachers — and students — can deal with so many required tests. “How much is too much?” she wondered. Here is what the authors said:
“This is the rule we try to live by: If it is not informing instruction or lifting the quality of instruction then stop doing it. We realize this rule assumes we have control over the tests we use and we know that is not always the case. Our next rule is that if we give an assessment we use it. It is better than not using it. We do think that we are over-assessing some students and not assessing other students enough. When it comes to assessment we think fair is not equal. Our at-risk readers need more diagnostic assessments that help us pinpoint what they need and monitor their progress.”
Finally Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine asked Tammy and Clare how teachers can advocate for assessment that matches what they value in educating children.
“When we authentically assess every day we think it is the opposite – what we teach is what we assess which informs what we need to teach next. We recognize that districts are mandating the use of some common assessments, but that does take away from how we assess every day. We have the power to assess as part of our instruction and to notice how our students are learning. When we use these assessments and show how they help us target our instruction we are advocating for assessments that match what we value. If we lose sight of what we do have the power to impact in assessment because we are frustrated with what we do not have the power to control in assessment we end up giving up the best tools we have to inform our instruction – on-going, informal, formative assessment.”
Visit all three blogs for the full interviews. Today is the last day to leave a comment on any of the blogs for a chance to win a free copy of the book!
The last stop on our blog tour for Assessment in Perspective takes us to Cathy Mere’s blog, Reflect and Refine. In her interview authors Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan talk about combining formal assessment and classroom observations, triangulating assessment, and advocating for assessment that matches what teachers value in educating children.
” We have the power to assess as part of our instruction and to notice how our students are learning. When we use these assessments and show how they help us target our instruction we are advocating for assessments that match what we value. If we lose sight of what we do have the power to impact in assessment because we are frustrated with what we do not have the power to control in assessment we end up giving up the best tools we have to inform our instruction – on-going, informal, formative assessment.”
This is your last chance to leave a comment on any of the blogtourstops for a chance to win a free copy of the book! A winner will be chosen on each blog.
“I’ll admit it. I typically cringe when I think about or hear about testing, assessment, and data. I may have even uttered the phrase “data schmata” once or twice (thanks to a brilliant Twitter friend for coining the phrase!) But I can honestly say that I enjoyed reading Assessment in Perspective and know it has already started impacting my thinking.”
We are excited to kick off our blog tour for Assessment in Perspective with this welcome from The Sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. In their foreword for the book, they write: “We believe this book is a must-have for all educators. It is the perfect guide to maximize the benefit of assessments. It will help us to truly know, understand, and teach all of our children.
You can preview the book online, order your own copy, and join the conversation with the authors next week on the following blogs:
Check back on the Stenhouse blog on Friday, May 24 for a wrap-up of the discussion. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win a free copy of the book! We will select one winner from each blog!
So let’s kick off this blog tour and see you on Monday!
In our new series on effective PD initiatives Stenhouse editor (and longtime education journalist) Holly Holland interviews staff developers and administrators about how a Stenhouse book or video changed practice in schools. In the first installment of the series, Holly wrote about how the staff of the Owen J. Roberts Middle School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania restructured their thinking about assessment and grading. In this next installment, Holly writes about how teachers at Bailey’s Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia, implemented strategies from Tess Pardini and Emelie Parker’s book, “The Words Came Down!” so that non-ESOL teachers can also provide support to the school’s large non-native English speaking student community.
Because her student teaching experience emphasized direct instruction and worksheet practice, Cassie Jones says she felt underprepared for the creative and active learning at Bailey’s Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia. Now in her third year teaching kindergarten at Bailey’s, Jones enthusiastically supports letting students read, write, and talk across the curriculum using play, oral language, and the workshop structure to anchor learning. But it took a recent faculty book study of “The Words Came Down!” (Stenhouse, 2006) to help her understand how to weave those methods into all aspects of primary grades learning.
“I think it’s interesting to see how things they talk about in the book—the play, the way that parents come in during the morning to learn with their children—are so influential to the kids and their progress in school,” Jones says. “Reading ‘The Words Came Down!’ has really opened my eyes to a lot of concepts that I’ve thought about but have not implemented in my own classroom as much as the teachers in this book do.”
Written by Emelie Parker and Tess Pardini, “The Words Came Down!” shows teachers how to help English language learners thrive in rigorous, joyful classroom communities. At the time they wrote the book, Parker and Pardini had spent more than thirty-five years at Bailey’s, including teaching kindergarten, first grade, and second grade, and serving as writing resource teachers. Parker has since retired from Bailey’s, but Pardini still works there as a Reading Recovery specialist. The book takes readers into their classrooms as well as those of their colleagues. Bailey’s serves a predominately immigrant population from high-poverty homes. It is one of the largest elementary schools in Virginia, with more than 1,300 students in pre-K through fifth grade.
During the 2012–2013 school year, six teachers from Bailey’s English for students of other languages (ESOL) department, along with the school’s thirteen kindergarten teachers, decided to read and discuss “The Words Came Down!” during monthly meetings. Because the school is so large, Bailey’s ESOL teachers aren’t able to visit kindergarten classes every day, so they wanted to find other ways to assist their colleagues. Framing professional development around a book written by some of the school’s own faculty members seemed a perfect solution.
“This was an amazing resource to help us start a conversation,” says ESOL teacher Allyn Kurin. “We thought that by reading this book we are reaching teachers and therefore reaching more students because we know that every time we have a dialogue, it’s positive for the students and ourselves.”
One of the first things the kindergarten teachers discovered is how appropriate the book’s recommended strategies are for all students, not just second-language learners. The authors suggest creating a safe and supportive community for sharing, asking questions that encourage conversation, and integrating language and subject matter. Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Tustin, who is in her first year at Bailey’s, says the book showed her how to focus on oral language development, which led to immediate gains in her students’ literacy skills.
“As a teacher you know you talk about things in the classroom, but this is really about getting kids to share what they are thinking, not just on an assessment, but can they really explain what they’re doing and thinking,” Tustin says. She realized her students could enrich their expressive language “through turn and talks, retelling familiar read-aloud books, and in a sense reading the books even though they are not yet reading. In math, they can recount the problems or even come up with their own story problems.”
Focusing on one or two chapters a month, the teachers began each book study session with four questions that ESOL teacher Marilyn Rossen used to build a discussion protocol:
What strikes you as you are reading?
What ways will it affect your instruction?
What ways will it affect the way you will set up your classroom?
What ways can you change ESOL instruction and oral language?
After gathering together initially, the teachers broke up into small groups to discuss the questions and then returned to the larger group to share key insights. In this way they paralleled the instructional process of using a whole-group gathering to set the stage for a lesson and small groups to differentiate activities to address students’ needs and interests.
Pardini attended most of the book study sessions and shared additional resources with her colleagues. She says she was delighted to know that the book was still relevant.
Rossen says that reading the book encouraged the ESOL and kindergarten teachers to jointly emphasize oral language development. While visiting kindergarten classrooms, she now makes it a point to ask students to explain what they are doing, whether in math, social studies, or reading. During one of their science units, the students got to write their own books and make scientific illustrations. To develop the students’ oral language, the kindergarten teacher asked them to share their books with their classmates, their teachers, and then with another class.
“That was good to see how they were first rehearsing reading with their peers and then they went on to share with another class,” Rossen says.
Jones says another insight from the book study was the importance of involving parents, particularly those who may not have strong literacy skills themselves, in the life of the classroom. Every kindergarten teacher was inspired to expand communication with students’ families during the first semester. Jones says she and three of her colleagues hosted an after-school picnic where families could meet each other.
“It was fantastic,” she says. “It wasn’t even about us talking to the parents but the parents talking to each other and the kids interacting with each other. I think the impact is that the parents felt welcome and they felt involved and that we wanted them to be part of their kids’ education.”
For veteran kindergarten teacher Mary Anne Buckley, the book study served a different purpose. Although its themes weren’t new to her—her classroom was featured in some sections—rereading the book reminded herto encourage more peer-to-peer dialogue instead of having students primarily respond to the teacher’s questions.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to get out of the way more,’” she says. “The book helps me remember that it’s not about giving information as much as setting up the situation where all the content is floating around them and they have to use it. The more authentic you make their need to express themselves and be understood, the better they learn. If they can be successful orally then it makes it easier when they’re writing and trying to read and understand the meaning.”
Membersof Bailey’s book study group say they would encourage other faculties to try to structure this type of professional development during the summer instead of during the school year. That way, teachers could put the recommended practices into place at the start of the term rather than intermittently. No matter when it’s done, they believe a book study is a great way for teachers to hold each other accountable for learning along with their students.
As Cassie Jones says, “When you talk about it with your colleagues and you hear what they’re doing in the classroom and what knowledge they have gained from the book, it sparks ideas of what I can be doing in my own classroom. It’s a way for us to think about our own teaching and grow from it. I wish I had read this book my first year.”
This time of the year is always full of transitions: students are getting ready to leave one classroom behind and start a new grade; some are graduating; and teaching colleagues might be moving on to new jobs. Maureen Barbieri is going through some transitions too as she goes from teaching and mentoring future educators at the University of New Hampshire, to becoming an editor here at Stenhouse. She’s been spending time with her interns at Woodman Park Elementary School in Dover and in this post Maureen shares how she prepares her students for the “real world” and how she is preparing herself for the changes in her life.
Leaving Woodman Park
The year at Woodman Park is winding down, and the interns are feeling stressed, anxious, and melancholy. They don’t want to leave. They love their students and their cooperating teachers, and they don’t like the idea of having to say goodbye. So, they dive in even deeper, tweaking their curriculum units, spending countless hours creating new art projects and bulletin board displays, and poring over students’ writing pieces. At seminar, when we talk about job interviews, they get jittery. Several of them tear up as they realize that next year new interns will be in their classrooms. Where will they be?
Yesterday we had mock interviews, with Patrick, the princely principal, and several faculty members playing the roles of interviewers. The questions were gentle, and the interns fielded them easily enough. Afterward, the faculty gave them kudos for how well they had handled themselves. I thought of Patrick’s visits to their classrooms last week. He observed each of them and e-mailed me to say they had all done well, that he believes they have shown real growth. I realized then that, for all intents and purposes, they’re finished. The time for exploring theory, reflecting on practice, and shaping pedagogy has passed, at least for this year. At first I bristled, because there seems so much left to figure out, and I worry about their final projects, which will be posted online and assessed at the university. I am resisting this wrap-up phase as much as they are, but I’m coming to see that Patrick is right. These young teachers need love and support now, as they go out on their job hunts. The time for pushing them is over.
What I have felt most at Woodman is the sense of community the staff have created. In their united commitment to serving children, they have made a space here for joy as well as for academic success. These people take care of one another. There’s Mr. Charlie, who knows everyone’s back story and who always has time to stop and check in, whether he’s shoveling snow off the playground, giving directions to a delivery person, or sweeping the floor in the downstairs hallway. There’s Maria in the front office, savvy, patient, and eager to help. Without exception, people hold doors open for each other. Children smile and say “Good morning!” to visitors and to me. You can tell it’s their school. When a teacher needs help with lesson planning, coverage, or finding a solution to a problem, there is always someone to step up. No wonder the interns want to stay. It’s a safe haven, a place where people unabashedly show respect and affection, and this attitude is contagious. Will we be as gracious when we’re working elsewhere, I wonder?
I have loved the children at this school. Last week Matilde, a first grader, was writing a story, which she asked to share with the class. “This is my favorite unicorn,” she read. She held up her drawing of a unicorn and a girl in a fancy dress for the class to see. Hands went up immediately. “If that’s your favorite unicorn, how many others do you have?” asked Ben.
“It’s not a real unicorn,” she explained. “It’s in my imagination.”
“What is the name of the princess?” asked Logan.
“I don’t know yet,” she said, a bit pensive.
So, the next day, when I went to Matilde’s room, she asked if I would like to see the latest additions to her story. “The unicorn is not real,” the words read. “He is in my ‘imgenashon’.” On the next page, “This is another unicorn. He is also in my ‘imganashon’. The princess’s name is Rosabelle.”
I marveled at the way she had paid such attention to her classmates’ questions, revising her writing so deliberately. It’s the kind of move that makes a teacher’s heart pound. Then she asked me, “Do you know where I got the idea for the princess’s name?” I did not. “Teddy Rosabelle,” she said. “Do you know who he was?” Who wouldn’t love being in this classroom?
This and the time I get to spend with Patrick, hearing his take on educational issues, local and national, make it a privilege to be part of this team. Patrick values every single person on the staff, understands the challenges each one faces, and dedicates himself to helping teachers and interns—as well as students—learn. Patrick, father of three, former high school history teacher, current farmer and volunteer firefighter, is the most accessible, considerate, and insightful administrator I’ve known outside of New York City, and I have savored every minute in his company.
The poet Tess Gallagher says, “When you hug someone, you want it to be a masterpiece of connection.” At Woodman the hugs are mostly metaphorical. I think of the morning, several weeks ago, when I was preoccupied with worrying. I watched Patrick raise the flag outside the school, the wind blowing so ferociously he could hardly stand. We waved to each other, and I asked him how he was. “I’m worried about you,” he said. “Are you okay?” The last thing I ever expected, when I took on this role as a supervisor, was to find solace and support at work.
When you have felt connected to a place and to the people in that place, it is not easy to move on. As much as we want to keep our “masterpieces of connection,” we all have to deal with the inevitability of impermanence. Yet surely our lives are changed by every single person we meet in this life, for better or for worse. There have been lots of Matildes for me, as there will be for these interns. Maybe there will be other Patricks too; who knows? Still, I am feeling wrenched at the thought of leaving Woodman Park. Like these young women, I want to hang on, to freeze time, and to live over and over again the hundredth day of school, the Valentine’s Day serenade, Pete the Cat’s visit, the quiet hush in the room when a teacher reads a new picture book, the daily celebration of children’s writing, their candor and their resilience. What is it we will carry away with us when we leave? What is it that will last? Warmth? Loyalty? Consideration for others?
I tell the interns, again and again, that they are on the verge of a grand adventure, that their lives as teachers will be hard and challenging but also rich and filled with surprise and deep satisfaction. I tell them that they will have the chance to learn and grow and help countless children discover joy and beauty in this world, even as they cope with its heartaches. I tell them this in different ways, together and separately, week after week. Yesterday, as they spoke about why they want to be teachers, I could imagine their future classrooms, the children they will love, the learning they will inspire. Perhaps this, in the end, is the real solace, the enduring connection. Perhaps Woodman Park is just a beginning.
Shared think-alouds are a great way to model reading strategies and help students become engaged, purposeful readers. Join Patrick Allen as he demonstrates a shared nonfiction think-aloud focusing on the key strategy of determining importance in his new DVD, Fact Finders!
Patrick’s students learn to talk not only about the text but also about their thinking. In addition to opportunities to “turn and talk” and annotate text, Patrick uses shared think-aloud near the start of his multi-week strategy studies. As you and your staff observe Patrick’s lesson, you’ll see:
the language and behaviors that a seasoned reader uses to make sense of a piece of nonfiction text;
ways to help students define and refine their purposes for reading, and identify what’s important versus what’s just interesting; and
how to incorporate shared think-aloud into your reader’s workshop so that students transfer ideas to their own texts and apply strategies independently.
Fact Finders! has just been released, so watch this preview clip and then order your copy on the Stenhouse website.
Visit all three blogs to read reviews and insightful interviews with the authors. Ask a question or leave a comment — one commenter will be selected on each blog to receive a free copy of Assessment in Perspective.
There’s still time to grab your copy of the book and join the conversation!