Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives: Perfect Pairs

We continue our series on effective PD initiatives with a case study from Pasadena, California, where teachers used Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 to thoughtfully integrate science and literacy lessons in their classrooms.

By Holly Holland

Perfect PairsThe Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards encourage a balance of informational and literary texts in K–5 classrooms and expect teachers to help develop students’ literacy skills through learning science. However, many elementary teachers are more comfortable with fiction than nonfiction resources and often lack extensive background in science.

As both the library coordinator and scientist-in-residence at Jackson STEM Dual Language Magnet Academy in Pasadena, California, Mavonwe Banerdt knew she was in a unique position to help teachers thoughtfully integrate science and literacy lessons. When district elementary literacy specialist Alyson Beecher suggested that they focus professional development on Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Books to Teach Life Science, K–2 (Stenhouse, 2014), Banerdt said it took about five minutes to determine that the book was “perfect for what I wanted to do.” Authors Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley “go into each standard and what it’s trying to accomplish,” Banerdt said. “They talk about how, over a period of time, teachers can use fiction and nonfiction, how pairing fiction and nonfiction [with science] is great because you can reach the kids who are into each. But I feel the book has an additional bonus in that it presents a bridge from the ideas in the classroom to the real world around us.”

Perfect Pairs starts each lesson with a Wonder Statement, which is designed to address an NGSS Performance Expectation, and follows with a Learning Goal, which details the knowledge students should gain from the lesson. Matching appropriate fiction and nonfiction books to the science concepts enables students to investigate and reflect using experiments and engaging activities, as well as Wonder Journals, Science Dialogues, and Science Circles.

During the 2014–15 school year, Banerdt and Beecher began modeling demonstration lessons from the book for teachers in kindergarten through second grade. They chose three of the lessons for each grade level, trying to match the focus of the lesson to what Jackson’s STEM teacher had planned for weekly science pullout labs. Because about 80 percent of Jackson’s dual-language instruction is in Spanish and the Perfect Pairs lessons were in English, Banerdt and Beecher provided additional vocabulary study and made sure to include both oral and written language activities and extensions. For example, to help English language learners with limited vocabulary, they made color-coded cards that the children could use to match the correct words for animal parts to corresponding pictures. They also found a short video and played quick games to help students who had never visited a beach understand how hermit crabs move.

“We knew the authors had great lessons, but we had to make adaptations to our situation and students,” Beecher said. “Part of it was helping teachers think differently about how they use a book and integrate stories into the classroom curriculum, that it can be really tied into your goals. Then looking at science standards and how they can use stories, writing, collages, and physical activities to help reinforce those concepts.”

Beecher and Banerdt had only one class period, not the full week of classes the authors intended to develop each lesson. So the regular classroom teachers helped to prepare students by reading aloud one of the paired books prior to the demonstration lessons. For a second-grade lesson about how wind, water, and animals disperse seeds, teachers read Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler and Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith. They also used discussions, dramatizations, art, and writing to deepen students’ understanding of the science and reading concepts.

“There are a number of great ideas in the book and one was to print out examples of burrs,” Beecher wrote in one of her blog posts about the sessions at www.kidlitfrenzy.com. “This was especially important for our students who are English language learners. Since we were unsure how familiar they were with the concept of burrs getting stuck on their socks and shoes, the visual examples helped. The students loved looking at pieces of Velcro and learning that it was invented by Georges de Mestral, who was inspired after a walk through the woods.”

Because they had to shorten the Perfect Pairs lessons, Beecher and Banerdt weren’t sure if the students would retain crucial information. They were thrilled when the school’s STEM teacher reported that students were so well prepared for science lab sessions that they could move more quickly through the content. For example, first graders who had engaged in a lesson about how an animal’s body parts help it to survive could richly contribute to the conversation about that topic.

“That was the defining moment when the school really bought in. Once they see it in action, they want to be part of it,” Beecher said. “We’ve definitely showed people this [high-level instruction] is possible and how exciting it can be.”

In addition, because scheduled parent visits to Jackson coincided with the demonstration lessons, many prospective families got to see the impact of the Perfect Pairs instructional approach. School and district administrators also observed some classes and later shared the ideas with other schools. Beecher invited faculty at other schools to see demonstration lessons at Jackson, and several have asked her to work with their staff during the coming school year.

Banerdt also discussed the professional development initiative at Jackson with elementary librarians throughout the Pasadena school district. One librarian obtained a grant to purchase copies of Perfect Pairs for every teacher in her school. Now Banerdt and Beecher are eagerly awaiting the grades 3–5 edition of Perfect Pairs that Stewart and Chesley are currently writing.

Stewart said she has been pleasantly surprised by the way librarians around the country have responded to the book. Recognizing that many elementary schools have limited classroom time for science instruction, they have seized the chance to help teachers integrate children’s literature with science concepts.

“I think one reason the librarian community has sort of embraced it is because they trust my reputation,” said Stewart, the author of more than 180 books about science. “I think it’s showing that Perfect Pairs has an appeal beyond the audience [of classroom teachers] it was intended for.”

Banerdt agreed. She bought additional copies of Perfect Pairs to share with Jackson’s staff, and plans to use funds from a STEM grant to buy many of the fiction and nonfiction resources the authors recommend pairing with science texts. She encouraged other educators to be open-minded about the careful choices Stewart and Chesley have made. For example, she said she initially thought some of the recommended poems were too sophisticated for second graders but saw in practice that the selections were just right. By contrast, Swimmy by Leo Lionni seemed too simple for first graders, yet it proved a perfect match for a lesson about how animals protect themselves. Banerdt said she considered the alternate fiction and nonfiction sources that the authors included with each lesson but ended up believing that the primary pairings were best.

“I just thought it was a remarkable book, how accessible it is for any teacher,” Banerdt said. “It has so many ideas and is so well researched. In California, lots of teachers are struggling with how to work with the Common Core and NGSS, and that piece is laid out crystal clear.”

2 comments August 6th, 2015

Now Online: Sharing the Blue Crayon

sharing-the-blue-crayonTo teach and reinforce the building blocks of literacy, we must show our students how to interact with others, develop self- control and persistence, and find their own voices as well as value the contributions of peers. But how do you find the time to explicitly teach these skills within a crowded curriculum?

In Sharing the Blue Crayon, accomplished primary teacher Mary Anne Buckley gives you a flexible, practical program for teaching the interpersonal and emotional skills that your students need to succeed as they learn to read and write.

Using a workshop model, lessons are integrated throughout school day and week–not as add-ons–and will help you build and sustain a caring, supportive classroom community that learns and grows together. You’ll discover how to reframe your reactions to student behaviors to understand and address the underlying social/emotional needs, ultimately leading to better academic outcomes. Throughout the book you will find real classroom examples and literacy connections that allow lessons to do double duty, giving kids the language to learn.

Sharing the Blue Crayon improves your classroom management and helps you build the kind of skills that students will use throughout their school years and beyond.

Preview the entire book online!

Add comment January 30th, 2015

It’s a launch!

Writing and publishing a book is a long, arduous process. There is of course the actual research and writing, followed by what seems like endless edits, changes, proofs, discussions about design, more changes. During the process it’s easy to lose sight — both for our authors and for us at Stenhouse — of the actual end product: a real, hard copy, printed book that people will actually buy and read.

So we are always happy to celebrate along with our authors when a new book is born. Most recently first-time Stenhouse author Laurie Rubin held a small gathering in Ithaca, NY, for her family, friends, and students, to celebrate the arrival of her book To Look Closely: Science and Literacy in the Natural World. In this book Laurie demonstrates how nature study can help students become careful, intentional observers of all they see, growing into stronger readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists in the process.

Here are some snapshots from her book launch party. We hope you will celebrate with us and Laurie buy previewing her book online and then buying a copy to put under a special teacher’s Christmas tree!

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Laurie signed her books for her students and their parents.

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Laurie with one of her students

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Laurie introduces her book to those in the audience. Just look at that crowd!

Add comment December 20th, 2013

Quick Tip Tuesday: A broader view of literacy

What does it mean to be “literate” in the 21st Century? Johanna Riddle tries to answer that question in the introduction to her book Engaging the Eye Generation: Visual Literacy Strategies for the K-5 Classroom. We offer you her broader view of literacy in this week’s Quick Tip.

As our culture and communication continue to expand, the world grows ever more connected, and technology increasingly integrates our daily lives, the criteria for becoming a literate person in the twenty-first century also extends beyond traditional boundaries. Consider that the search engine Google produces more than 338,000 responses when prompted for “definition of literacy.”

Although the debate persists about whether it is reasonable to address so many characteristics in our literacy framework, most educators would agree that a literate person today must be able to do more than accurately read and write text.

The North Central Regional Education Laboratory, building on the work of the International ICT Literacy Panel, identified eight essential categories of literacy in today’s knowledge-based society:
• Basic Literacy: The language and mathematics skills needed to function successfully on the job
• Scientific Literacy: The ability to understand scientific concepts and processes to make good personal and social decisions
• Economic Literacy: The ability to identify and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of public policies and economic conditions
• Technological Literacy: The ability to understand and use the tools of technology to reach identified objectives
• Visual Literacy: The ability to “interpret, use, and create visual media in ways that advance thinking, decision making, communication, and learning”
• Information Literacy: The knowledge and skills necessary to find, analyze, and synthesize information using technology
• Multicultural Literacy: The ability to understand and respect differences among cultures
• Global Awareness: The ability to understand the world’s interconnections

New learning standards reflect these broader views, incorporating technology, visual, and communication skills into benchmarks for traditional introduction subject disciplines. An amalgam definition of twenty-first-century literacy might read like this:

reading and writing,
listening and speaking, and
analyzing and communicating
through a range of socially contextual symbols, including
texts and images,
in any combination
relevant to the individual or culture

Rather than merely “new,” today’s literacy is multidimensional, incorporating many different ways of receiving and expressing information and often involving creative collaboration. Visual literacy is central to such communication.

Writer John Debes coined the phrase visual literacy in 1969, but the idea of communicating and interpreting messages through visible actions and representations has been around much longer. Cave dwellers, drawing their images of great hunts, were documenting and archiving stories for future generations. Today’s Mandarin characters are elegant refinements of ancient Chinese pictographs. Byzantine and early Renaissance artists made generous use of symbols and icons to communicate meaning to a largely nonreading public. For example, they usually dressed central figures in particular colors and included a reed or scroll to indicate that the subject was a writer, a scribe, or an educated person. Other symbols were more subtle but still suggestive, and people of the era understood the visual messages portrayed in these “art stories.” When the advent of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century made books accessible to a wider range of the population, the definition of traditional literacy—the ability to read and write at a particular level of competency—took shape and became the generally embraced mission of educators everywhere. As innovation changes the way we understand the world, our definition of literacy transforms to include new ways of interpreting information.

The Age of Information, a term signifying the shift from the primary production of physical goods to more knowledge-based industries, has introduction included many challenges, but it also has unleashed an exciting universe of ideas, opinions, and perspectives. I first accessed the Internet in 1994 while taking a graduate course in educational media. I saw something unfolding that would revolutionize the way we learn and communicate. As an educator, I was fascinated by the richness and potential of this medium. As an art teacher and administrator, I have always been interested in the communicative aspects of visual imagery. Modern media and technology applications have refocused visual literacy. No longer an elective course of fine arts studies, visual imagery, fueled by technology and connectivity, has raced to the front and center of communication.

I also see a pressing need in education to recognize and respond to the world as our children know it. Technological innovations that once seemed exotic extravagances—the Motorola 2900 series cell phone, circa 1988, available at the hefty price of $2,000, comes to mind—now form the landscape of our everyday communications network. Today’s cell phones enable 85 percent of Americans to communicate verbally, textually, and visually on a whim; to connect to the Internet; to download music, videos, or up-to-the- second stock quotes; and to take photographs, organize daily schedules, or access directions to the nearest restaurant. More than 60 percent of America’s teens own their own cell phones, and more than 90 percent have regular access to one (Entner 2008).

“To succeed in the academic world, students must be proficient in both reading and writing,” Mary Burns, Senior Technology Specialist at the Center for Online Professional Education in Newton, Massachusetts, reminds us. “But to navigate in the real world, they must also be visually literate—able to decode, comprehend, and analyze the elements, messages, and values communicated by image” (2006).

Such accessible tools make collaboration and information sharing a way of life. Our students were born into this world, and they explore it fearlessly. Why isn’t this enthusiasm for discovery through technology a part of their daily educational landscape? It was a question that gave me, a teacher with practically zero technology skills, great pause. How could I possibly hope to empower children when I didn’t even understand their world?

Blend that soul searching with a belief in the potential and power of education for all, place it within a solid framework of core disciplines, and you have an unparalleled opportunity to grow a generation of creative, multiply skilled, lifelong learners. How could a teacher possibly pass up that chance?

Add comment November 9th, 2010


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