As we neared the finish line of editing the manuscript for Debbie Diller’s Growing Independent Learners, Debbie brought up a new Big Idea: an online workshop to help teachers really dig in to the ideas presented in the book, to show how to assemble all these pieces from standards to team planning to classroom organization to whole-group instruction, small-group differentiation, and ultimately, independent literacy work at stations.
Stenhouse has never created an online course, but as we started to research and think it through, it became more and more clear that this was a perfect book to start with.
After about a year of planning, Stenhouse video editor Nate Butler and I traveled to Houston to film the video portion of the online course. Nate has done many video projects in his career; I have not. In a way my newness was a good thing: I didn’t know what to expect, so I just paid close attention and tried not to get in the way. But in the end, I not only learned a lot about video production, I also learned a lot about Deb’s teaching philosophy, her instincts in the classroom, and her gift with children. And reflecting on the experience, I see three main points that apply both to the creation of the video and Deb’s Growing Independent Learners model:
Planning and organization are critical to success – and help you make in-the-moment decisions
Deb and I spent a full year, along with Nate and our colleagues, planning the outline and structure first, then filling in details to flesh out our vision for what to capture on film. We wrote a script for Deb to follow in the scenes in which she’s addressing the camera, along with bullet points we wanted Deb and the teachers to discuss in more off-the-cuff conversations. Nate and Deb created a shot list, and from that Nate developed a shooting schedule. We had a professional crew on site – cameraman, sound engineer, and teleprompter – to bring all this planning to fruition. We shot for three full days in two locations – Deb’s house and an elementary school in Houston. All that advance planning made the small hiccups completely manageable. We all had a clear vision and direction for the project, so we were able to make decisions in the moment, and we were able to add and take away and go with the flow. Planning! It’s critical. And a big part of Deb’s philosophy of teaching. I get it now.
There’s no substitute for a good team – in school, in the workplace, during a video shoot
A big evolution in Deb’s teaching over the years has been the critical role of teachers working together to plan instruction. We see it big time in the new book, then watch teachers planning with Deb in the online workshop. As I sat behind the scenes on the video shoot, it struck me how important our team was in the process: every person had a role and a distinct skill or strength to bring to the project. I know nothing about operating a boom mic or sound board, for instance, but James knew what every dial and knob on that board controls. It’s the same in your school, too, I’m sure: You may have a knack for teaching the finer points of writing, but your colleague really shines when it comes to breaking down mathematical thinking. You work together to fine-tune how your students learn and grow their thinking.
Kids really can reach independence – and they’ll have fun doing it – within a few months
Seeing literacy work stations in action, I have to admit, was a highlight of this past year for me. It’s one thing to read about children working independently – understanding it cognitively, seeing photos, hearing anecdotes – but my understanding and appreciation reached a whole new level as I watched first graders reading and writing together, listening to books and retelling to their partner, using academic vocabulary and pretty sophisticated language…and all on their own. Their teacher, Tracy Gilbert, taught small groups during work station time, using smaller versions of anchor charts she’d created with the kids during previous whole-group lessons.
We know these kids didn’t jump right in to independent work from day one. Literacy work stations take planning, teamwork, and thoughtful scaffolding through whole-group lessons and small-group instruction.
At the end of the three-day shoot, I returned home tired yet completely energized. This has been perhaps the most collaborative and creative project I’ve worked on – and seeing Deb in her “natural environment” in front of a room full of antsy, eager, brilliant little ones was the perfect culmination of over a year of work.
In her book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers, author and poet Shirley McPhillips shows how teachers can include poetry in the daily life of the classroom and in the lives of students. Dozens of poems throughout the book can be used as mentor texts as they serve to instruct and inspire. In her latest guest post, Shirl helps us consider the importance of getting poems out into the classroom airwaves on day one, to lay a foundation for engagement and growth throughout the year.
Poems, right from the start
By Shirley McPhillips
I became a poet because of poetry’s great mystery and partly because of a second-grade teacher I had who believed poetry was at the center of the universe.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
Here’s a story:
One steamy first day of school in eighth grade, the students, still barefoot on the beaches of their minds, sat in muted reverie. The teacher, Miss Eloise, smiled, said hello, then bravely picked up her faded blue copy of Emily Dickinson. She looked at the students for a time, to let some seriousness sink in, then “introduced” herself.
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Miss Eloise said hearing a poem once was never enough for her. She wondered if anyone else would like to read it to the class. She waited. Daryl’s hand went up. That got everybody’s attention. He tried to use the same expression as Miss Eloise, to the amusement of all. She smiled appreciatively and thanked Daryl for his “spirited” rendition.
That was it! No rules and regulations. Just hanging a poem in the air. This was my new class. My new teacher! A rare and strange feeling (as Dickinson said herself) came over me, as if the top of my head were taken off. I didn’t understand that poem really, nor some poems we read later, but I felt their power. And the power of a teacher who believed in words to instruct and inspire. Believed is us. Had faith that when we became friendly enough with poems, we would make connections. We would find out how they might work, on paper and in our lives.
I no longer recall what happened next that first day so long ago. I do recall we didn’t dissect the poem, or try to figure out what we thought it “meant.” I remember at the end of class Miss Eloise gave each of us a small packet of poems, as a welcome to the new year. Perhaps we might find one we liked, she said. If not, we needn’t worry. There were plenty of poems in the world for everyone. We would find what we wanted, what we needed. And leave the rest for others.
The waters parted.
Of course, as the year went on, no matter what other subject matter presented itself, there were always poems. We were building up a friendship with them. We opened up to talk about them, to consider our own connections. To consider our own questions, not just answer Miss Eloise’s. We collected poems in folders and began to write our own. That was the beginning of my discovery, with poet Mary Oliver, that poems can be a “life cherishing force.” That understanding has lasted to this day. Ever growing.
BUILDING UP A FRIENDSHIP WITH POETRY
Poems are short. It doesn’t take much time to read a poem and think about it. And that’s what our students who hope to live with poems, who hope to write poems, need to do. Day one / week one, we can get poems out into the airwaves, pin them up against the light. Give them a chance to circulate with pleasure. It works best if the habit of poetry is embedded in our experiences from day to day, where we live. Not just on special occasions.
To build up a friendship with poems that will be the foundation for going deeper over time, we need some foundational beliefs about what might support students in this goal. Once we say, “Yes, that sounds like something important for readers and writers of poems,” the next question becomes, “So what can we arrange that will give this a chance of happening?” Considering the first question, here’s my short list for now. You might want to revise and add to it.
Students need opportunities to:
•read and listen to some poems without an expectation to “do” anything.
Just breathe them in and out. Not to “analyze.” Just hear the sounds. Feel the rhythms. Experience. Get a “taste.” Crack open the door of fear to let a little light come in. Realize one can be moved by words without always knowing why. Just like we can be moved by music without knowing why. A little mystery is good. Not everything has an answer, in poems and in life.
•read poems more than once, the more often the better
Revisit poems they’re attracted to for different reasons. To be allowed time to “request” poems to listen to and read together again. To revisit and share poems they’ve collected, or that have been charted, or tagged.
•choose their own poems to enjoy, explore, talk with others about
(in addition to those the teacher will want to introduce them to).
Collecting poems, sharing with each other, reading poems consistently across time, students build up their own personal taste, an identity with poems and poets.
•write out lines and poems they like
For sounds of language, for image, for memories they evoke, because of an intimate connection. Writing (or typing) out a poem helps you know it more closely. You are doing exactly what the poet did, and what you can do any time you want.
•listen to and read different types of poems, by different authors, to broaden the field and welcome challenges.
Becoming more familiar with different ways poems can look and sound, we become more comfortable with tasting something new. Like a traveler who happily anticipates trying new cuisine instead of turning up her nose because it’s “different.” If we feel we have to do something “serious” with every poem we read, we won’t read enough of them to get a sense of what they can be, of finding those that stick with us.
•give voice by reading poems aloud, individually and in chorus with others.
To catch the sounds and tune the ear. To bring poems inside. And out again. Poetry is a “bodily art” says poet Robert Pinsky. Reading aloud, we can begin to intuit a feel for craft. Craft is partly what directs us how to read a poem.
•excuse themselves from the company of those who would beat a poem “with a hose to find out what it really means” (Collins 2001, 16).
“Meaning” is made at the point where a reader connects with the “voice”—some inner verbal music— of a poem. An immense intimacy is felt. An exchange takes place in which something new is created. This is a personal relationship. Mysterious and miraculous. We do want to get closer to some poems as we go, especially as writers learning craft. Also, to take pleasure in the challenges of the poem, in what the writer has done to delight or move us.
•respond naturally and openly to poems
To begin, simply “say something.” Or, “What do you notice?” “What does this make you think?” Noticing and thinking. Two actions we want to become habits. They can last all year, carry over to other endeavors, the responses and interactions becoming deeper and more extended. A good way for teachers to observe, listen, get to know the students: What is she noticing? What is she thinking based on that observation? From that information, notice how the ability to observe and think deepens with consistency, experience and the work of the community. This is a foundation for those who will be writing poems.
CHOOSING POEMS, RIGHT FROM THE START
In the beginning of the year (and always) I choose to read poems aloud that I delight in, that move me in some way, that show extraordinary craft. I also hope these poems will help set a tone of openness and thoughtfulness; will help build “community think.” At the same time, I want to encourage a curiosity for the limitless ways poems can be. We will revisit these poems along the way. Some of the specifics I list here may be helpful in choosing many other poems for read aloud and discussion. You’ll find your own.
A very few examples. Key:—perhaps older students, •perhaps younger students, **perhaps both
— “Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell Luscious words, wonderful metaphor, September experience
— “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon
Anaphora (repetition of first lines), tapping into memories, things that represent a life, springboard for sharing appreciation of life’s moments, great as a model for exploring one’s own life
— “Unfolding Bud” by Naoshi Koriyama
Amazing metaphor for unfolding of a poem, for reading again and again
— “The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes” by Mekeel McBride
Different perspectives of ordinary object, touch of humor, human condition we can relate to, conversational tone, comparison to a poem
— “Deformed Finger” by Hal Sirowitz From the author’s collection of advice from his mother, funny stream-of -consciousness, identifiable, poems from the ordinary made extraordinary
** Stone Bench in an Empty Park selected by Paul Janeczko
Anthology of haiku that shows poets looking carefully at what’s around them in the city.
Intriguing images, like taking a walk and looking around.
** “Teased” from Secrets of a Smaller Brother Richard Margolis
Short, sensitive poem, few words with deep underlying emotion. Collection of typical sibling situations. Oldie but goody.
• “Dear Apples” by Takayo Noda
Speaker talks to apple, sensuous language, detail, no rhyme (the young need that too)
• “Skyscrapers” by Rachael Field
A list of all questions. Could extend to notice, ask questions of objects, standard rhyme
• “A Lazy Thought” by Eve Merriam
Strong noisy verbs, questions inside, internal rhyme not the usual, good for choral reading, provocative ending
• “Beginning on Paper” by Ruth Krauss
Jazzy rhythm, list in syncopation, repeated phrase, great images, surprise ending, nice human touch, good for choral reading. Note: Can find poem in this wonderful anthology:
And so it goes…
Shirl is Poet Laureate for Choice Literacy online. Read some of her poems and reflections at ChoiceLiteracy.
In today’s globally connected world, it’s essential for students to have an understanding of multiple cultures and perspectives. In Teaching Globally, Kathy Short, Deanna Day, and Jean Schroeder bring together fourteen educators who use global children’s literature to help students explore their own cultural identities and broaden their knowledge of the world.
Contributors take you into a wide range of classrooms—from Mexican-American students in Southern Arizona learning about their heritage through the picture book Esperanza Rising, to a diverse group of seventh graders immersing themselves in the culture of Nigeria through a global novel.
Teaching Globally lays out why this kind of global curriculum is important and how to make space for it within district and state mandates. Built around a curriculum framework developed by Kathy, the ideas and strategies will help teachers integrate a global focus into existing literacy and social studies curricula.
Teaching Globally is filled with vignettes from K-8 urban and rural schools, as well as an extensive lists of book recommendations, websites, professional books, and an appendix of global text sets.
A large part of our everyday communication involves argumentation and reasoning—for example, when we want to persuade others, make good purchasing decisions, or analyze the messages we receive from advertisers and politicians. But how well do we prepare students for these tasks?
In Good Thinking, Palmer shows teachers of all subjects how to transform the activities they already use into openings for improving student thinking. Building on his previous work in Well Spoken and Digitally Speaking, he reveals how all students—not just those in advanced classes—can begin developing sophisticated reasoning skills that will improve their oral and written communications.
Blending theory with practice, Palmer shares a wide range of classroom-tested lessons and explains complex concepts in simple, practical language that gives teachers a deft understanding of the principles of good arguments, proper use of evidence, persuasive techniques, and rhetorical tricks.
We continue to reflect on the role of stories today with an examination of the stories that surround us every day. At the end of her post, follow Katie’s tips on bringing stories to the forefront of your teaching. And then tell us on Twitter: What is your story today?
Investing in Stories
Katie Egan Cunningham
These days it seems like every industry is talking about the power of stories. Want your advertisement’s message to stick? Tell a story. Want your shareholders to keep investing? Tell a story. Want to bring in more customers? Tell a story.
In fact, if we want students to be college, career, and life ready, an investment in stories looks to be one of the most important investments we can make. Here are a few examples across industries that caught my attention.
In the December 2015 issue of Inc. magazine Thomas Goetz, CEO of Iodine, a digital health startup, says, “The story, it turns out, is the most important thing. It can’t just review what we’ve done; it must also excite the imagination about what the world will look like once we do more. It won’t be enough to present a plausible, worthy case for our future—our story must convince people that it’s worth millions of their dollars to see that future happen.”
At the online health hub HospitalityNet, consultants in the hospitality industry advise business leaders to use the structure of fiction to improve their forecasting and strategic thinking: “A good fictional storyline may seem like a whirlwind of characters and events, but for exactly that reason it can captivate and motivate an audience to grasp real issues and see different possibilities, all within a framework that everyone understands could plausibly evolve from the world as it actually exists today.”
The streets of New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood have a new retail store that changes the shopping experience—including the store’s layout and merchandise—every few months. The name of the store? Story. The driving idea is that the store is a place for discovery and maybe even reinvention. What is your story? What do you want it to be? Come in, look around, and find a new story for yourself.
Audible, the audiobook giant, advertises finding “stories that surround you.” Folding laundry? Surround yourself with a romance novel. Eating cereal? Surround yourself with the French Revolution. Sitting on the beach? Surround yourself with a noirish thriller.
Finally, the world’s biggest media brands now trust the “social media evangelists” at Storyful to “discover, verify, and acquire social media for their storytelling.” Businesses want to know which stories are worth telling.
All of this points to what, I believe, we as educators have always known—that humans are addicted to stories. That when we listen to someone else’s story we encourage a sense of belonging and make change possible. That stories are a pathway to connection.
As teachers, this gives us even more justification that time spent on powerful stories is time well spent. Here are some simple and joyful ways to keep stories at the forefront of your teaching:
Make read-aloud a daily ritual, without exception. Create space for discussion before, during, and after reading.
Vary the kinds of stories you share to highlight different perspectives and life experiences.
Explore the structural elements of narratives as both readers and writers.
Zoom in on craft techniques storywriters use to hook readers.
Listen to songs and have students rewrite the lyrics as a narrative.
View print and media advertisements, noticing how they tell stories to persuade their market.
Listen to audiobooks as a class to “surround” yourselves in stories.
Make it a year-long goal to build a classroom culture of story every day.
Where do you notice other industries spotlighting stories? How do you build a world of story in your classroom?
We are excited to kick off this week with Katie Egan Cunningham, author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning. We invite you to read her post below and then think about the role of stories in your classroom. What is your story today? Share with us here on the blog or on Twitter using this template and #Story.
Each Day Should Be a Story-Worthy Day
Katie Egan Cunningham
We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.
― Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
Each morning I wake up to the human alarm clock that is the sound of my children’s feet climbing out of bed, letting me know it’s time to get up. Once my eyes are open, I grab my five-minute journal and jot down three thoughts about what would make today great, three things I am grateful for, and an affirmation of who I am. Before I close my eyes at night, I grab my journal once more to process the day—to remember three amazing things that happened that day and how I could have made the day better. This journaling ritual in my life began as a Valentine’s Day gift from my husband. Better than flowers or chocolate, he somehow knew that envisioning the story of my day before it happened and remembering storied moments at its end would be a simple way to bring me happiness every day. He was right. For a year now, I have been hooked.
When my children hop on the bus or walk through the doors of their schools, I envision their day, knowing that there will be story-worthy moments. I wonder what amazing things will happen to them. What stories will they hear that inspire them to be kind or to take new risks? What will friends say that make them laugh or make them cry? Will they bravely share an idea out loud? How will it be received? I know there will be Morning Meeting stories. Talking in the hallway stories. Monkey bars stories. Roaming in the library stacks stories. P.E. team-picking stories. Bus riding stories.
In my work with teachers and students, I’ve started to adopt the five-minute journal philosophy—that is, that envisioning and remembering the stories of our days in a few simple words and phrases is a way of building a story-worthy attitude about every day.
I also believe that, as teachers, we have the power to be story changers for our students. Every Monday, I work in an afterschool program supervising soon-to-be literacy specialists working with fourth and fifth graders. I tell my graduate students that their primary role is to learn as much as they can about the students’ stories—what matters most to them—and to use that information to drive their decisions as teachers.
One day, during the afterschool program, I read aloud The Best Story by Eileen Spinelli. With each turn of the page, children nodded their heads in agreement—oh yeah, lots of action makes the best stories. Plenty of humor makes the best stories. Stories that make people cry are actually the best. Rather than go along with the chorus of agreement, a boy named Andrew talked back to every page, letting us know he was resisting this particular story and maybe even the story of our time together. We needed to show Andrew that he had choice and challenge in our time together, and that what mattered to him was valuable to us. As the weeks went on, Andrew became the first student to arrive and the last one to leave. He stayed to work on his new comic book, to write about Yo-Kai Watch characters in their fantasy world, to talk to me about his soccer match and what he wanted to read next. His identity in the afterschool program changed from resistor to most passionate contributor. Andrew unknowingly convinced me each week that what we were doing together as readers, writers, and thinkers mattered, and that as teachers we have the power to change the narratives we tell ourselves about our students.
I am convinced that human connection is the pathway to knowing each other’s stories, so I decided to use heart mapping in my work with teachers last fall. Through the process of jotting and sharing, I learned that one teacher was battling throat cancer as she tearfully explained the cancer ribbon drawing she made on her map. I learned that I grew up in the same small New Jersey town as someone sitting across from me. I learned that other teachers also had two sons. Our relationships to one another changed. We came to know more of one another’s stories.
To help your students (and yourself) take note of the story that happens each day, try starting with these simple methods:
1. Take time at the start of the school day to jot down what would make today great.
2. Take time at the end of the school day to jot down three amazing things that happened and one thing you could have done to make the day better.
3. Build in time for students to share their interests through heart mapping, community mapping, and hopes and dreams mapping.
4. Provide time for partner talk, emphasizing the importance of listening as much as speaking.
5. Tap into students’ interests to support their book shopping—what connections do they have to characters, real-life figures, and settings?
6. Step back and observe your students, both in and out of the classroom. Notice and jot down the storied moments you see, and share them with students as fuel for their writing.
7. Share your own jottings about the story of your day.
8. Remind students that every day is a story-worthy day.
What are the stories you are grateful for each day in your classroom? When have you been a story changer in a student’s life? When have students changed your story?
Why do stories matter? Whose stories count? Where do stories live? How do stories come alive? How do we build stories? How do we talk about stories? And why does this work take courage?
Join us next week here on the blog and on Twitter and explore the role stories play in your classroom and in life. Katie Egan Cunningham, author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning will join us with two blog posts –on tips and ideas for helping your students (and yourself) to take note of the story that is today, and a thoughtful examination of the stories that are around us in marketing and in the news.
Watch this video with Katie where she talks about how stories help us care for students and enrich classrooms. Then come back on Monday to read more from Katie:
We invite you to tell us: What’s your story of the day? Download and use this template, or just use #Story on Twitter.
Debbie Diller’s long-awaited new book, Growing Independent Learners, has just been released. This comprehensive guide builds on her previous books to help teachers plan standards-focused lessons and work stations, organize the classroom for independence, and use anchor charts to support learning goals and help students remember big ideas.
With over 400 full-color photographs, this beautiful book gives
– Detailed explanations of each standard’s importance and real- world application;
– Planning tools that include academic vocabulary, whole-group instruction, and suggestions for literacy work stations;
– Complete whole-group lesson plans that you can use and modify again and again;
– Connections to help you extend the lessons into other areas of daily instruction;
– Mentor texts to use during whole group, small group, or stations; and
– Teaching tips that can help build skills from grade to grade.
Terry Thompson is our guest blogger today with this great post that invites teachers to slow down the scaffolding process, to allow students the time and space they need as they learn new skills. It’s easy to feel rushed — especially because it’s already November! — but what if we all stopped to enjoy our students?
“I can’t believe it’s already November!”
If you haven’t said this out loud yet, you’ve probably been thinking it. The transition from October to November can be one of the most exhausting times for teachers. We’re well into the school year, the newness has worn off, and everything’s up and rolling. But sometimes it feels like things are rolling just a little too fast and we’re on a gerbil wheel that never seems to stop.
This morning was pretty typical. I jumped out of bed at 5:30, stumbled to the kitchen to start the coffee, got myself ready, walked the dogs, threw some clothes in the wash, and made a beeline to the car before making a hectic drive through rush hour traffic, skidding into the parking lot, throwing my bags on my desk and darting to breakfast duty, arriving – whew! – just in time.
And that was all before 7:00 AM!
If you’re anything like me (and every other teacher I know), you probably feel this same, constant state of hurriedness. We’re in such a rush! We dash to recess. We bolt to lunch. We hustle to that last minute assembly everyone else seemed to have on their calendar but us.
And, if we aren’t mindful, this culture of constant of haste can permeate the best part of our work – our face to face instructional time with children. We rush to get assessments done. We rush to get to the next lesson. We rush to get readers to the next level. We rush and we rush and we rush.
But, what if we didn’t?
As I continue to contemplate the concepts about instructional scaffolding I explored in TheConstruction Zone, I keep returning to the many things that a more knowing other knows. And, one of those things that a more knowing other knows is that the scaffolding process can’t be rushed. We may try to rush it – but scaffolding takes its time.
Think about the classic scaffolding examples from outside the classroom like teaching children to walk or ride a bike. No one has to remind parents to take their time with these processes. There’s no rush. They follow the needs of the child, supporting when needed and pulling back when it’s time. It all unfurls naturally.
These same qualities apply to the scaffolds we build in our classrooms. As more knowing others in the scaffolding process, we know that there is a difference between a sense of urgency and a flurry of haste. We know it takes time to get to know learners. It takes time to reflect. And we make room for this.
We take time for assessments as we get to know our learners and their needs. We take time for observations and conferences that tell us more. And, we take time for the important things like read-alouds and community building. We take time to be present and enjoy the learners in front of us. We take time to relax with our kids and a good book. We take Time to reflect.
Yes, it’s November. The holidays are already upon us and the mid year mark is coming fast. And, yes, everything seems to be pulling on our schedule all at once. But what if we hit pause for a moment and took a deep breath? What if we resisted the urge to rush? What if – instead of rushing students through the next assessment, the next conference, the next lesson, the next guided reading level – we slowed things down and lingered in the wonder of the incredible work we get to do every day?
So, as you skid into the holiday season (and then directly into the following semester), give yourself permission to slow down. Breathe. Trust yourself. Enjoy your students. And, enjoy the scaffolding process.