Search Results for ‘matt renwick’

Getting Started with Action Research

We are excited to have Matt Renwick back on our blog today with a guest post. He has written before about his school’s efforts to develop lifelong readers. This time he is back with some pointers on getting started with action research for both teachers and administrators.

Continue Reading Add comment September 12th, 2016

Fostering Professional Relationships to Facilitate Peer Observations

In the third installment of our series by elementary principal Matt Renwick, he talks about how–and why–he encourages his teachers to observe each other in the classroom.

We know that one of the best ways to improve collective instruction in a school is by watching excellent teaching in action and then applying these strategies to our practice. We know this, yet we often fail to act even though excellence might be a few doors down from our classroom.

What dissuades teachers from watching each other teach? Time, for sure. We also might feel guilty about leaving our own students in order to invest in ourselves through peer observation and peer coaching. “What will our kids do without us?” we might ask.

In my own previous prodding and nudging of teachers to get into other classrooms, often resulting either in failure or compliance, I have discovered there needs to be a safe and innovative school environment for genuine peer-to-peer learning. Teachers need to feel like they can take risks in letting someone come into their classroom, as well as in acknowledging that they may still have something to learn.

A high-quality learning environment has two elements in place: strong levels of trust and clear communication within the building. You can see evidence of this in schools, such as in the informal collegial conversations among faculty and in the high-quality student work posted in the school hallways. The walls do talk.

When trust and communication are high, professional relationships have the potential to be formed. Relationships can be defined as “the way two people are connected”. This connection, even a loose tie, is a prerequisite for effective peer observations to take place.

The rest of this article describes the steps our school took to facilitate peer observations with our kindergarten teachers. The purpose was to discover new ideas for literacy instruction.

Identifying a Need

Our school’s newest hire is one of our kindergarten teachers. Knowing high-quality professional learning includes peer observations and peer coaching (Routman, 2018, pg. 76), I connected with the kindergarten team to consider this possibility. All were open to it.

A Connection to Relationships: It helped that this team has taken the initiative to create a collaborative learning environment not only for their students, but also for themselves. For example, they turned their storage space into a team meeting room. They use this room to meet for PLCs as well as to have lunch together during their noon break.

Scheduling the Visits

One of those challenges with peer observations is finding coverage for the visiting teacher. I offered my time, although I am sometimes called away as the principal to deal with a behavior issue or a pressing matter. Fortunately, our district leadership had the foresight to create an instructional coaching position. This person stepped up and offered to teach kindergarten while one teacher was observing their colleague’s instruction.

A Connection to Relationships: Our instructional coach, new this year, has gone out of her way to foster connections with every faculty member in the building. One way is by stopping into classrooms on a regular basis. “I am simply coming in to get to know you and your students a little better” was her brief explanation at a staff meeting early in the school year. These regular touches, non-threatening and from a point of curiosity, has fostered professional relationships in several classrooms. The results has been multiple teachers volunteering for coaching cycles with this specialist, including this learning experience.

Initiating the Peer Observations

The day had come. Our new teacher was up first, coming into visit a more veteran colleague. The other two observations would commence in the subsequent days. The host teacher shared her intentions for the day’s lesson ahead of time. My role was to provide minimal guidance for our new teacher. I gave them a form I use when conducting my instructional walks as a way to frame the observation.

Student Goals Written by Teacher

Student Goals Written by Teacher

 

A Connection to Relationships: Prior to this learning experience, I had been a frequent visitor to every classroom. Acknowledging the positive aspects of teachers’ literacy instruction has helped create the conditions for this innovative work to occur. They have become comfortable with my presence as a principal because I focused first on strengths. From the teachers’ perspective, I imagine having another teacher in their room might be even less threatening.

Celebrating and Reflecting on the Experience

“I was impressed with how she is already having her students learning sight words.” This comment, shared with me from a veteran teacher, came after she had observed our newest colleague. Soon after, I relayed this information to the first year teacher. “Oh, wow, that’s nice to hear,” she responded.

We could have gone with a structured reflection and debrief led by me. But it didn’t feel right. I wanted to give them ownership in the process and treat them like the professionals that they are. Plus, they had taken time out of their busy days to make this happen. So I provided lunch the next day, along with a thank you for participating in this experience. “If you want to just chat and enjoy yourselves, that would be great. Not necessary to have any formal reflection.”

A Connection to Relationships: Did any debriefing happen? I’d like to think so. Even if not, I felt good about how the peer coaching experience went based on their comments and my observations. Regie shares her own wisdom in building trusting relationships among administrators during a school visit. “I know they were surprised when I said, ‘Let’s not work through lunch. Let’s take a well-deserved break and just enjoy our time together.’ We wound up talking about our families, hobbies, cooking, and favorite things to do and eat. At the end of lunch, I felt closer to each one of them” (pg. 10). The relationships formed today can lead to powerful learning in the future.

Giving teachers time to form relationships, with their students and with each other, is built on the foundation of trust and communication. The experiences we facilitate in our schools, such as peer coaching, can only be successful with these elements in place. While the ultimate goal is literacy engagement, excellence, and equity for all learners, as literacy leaders we have to remember and attend to the means to achieve this end.

Add comment February 26th, 2018

Communication Strategies for Partnering with Parents

In this second in a series of blog posts, elementary principal Matt Renwick shares how his schools uses the strategies found in Regie Routman’s new book Literacy Essentials to form lasting, productive partnerships with parents.

Communication Strategies for Partnering with Parents
Matt Renwick

“When parents are truly viewed as partners and not obstacles, students are more likely to be successful regardless of where they go to school.” – Regie Routman

The people both inside and outside our schools form an opinion of our work with students. This is why we are intentional in our efforts to communicate and partner with parents in our important work. In her new book Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners, Regie highlights important strategies in this area (pgs. 19-23). Our school district in Mineral Point, Wisconsin has been leading the way in leveraging technologies to communicate with families, with a special focus on reading and writing in the classroom. Next is a list of strategies Regie recommends for partnering with parents, along with the digital tools used to help facilitate this essential part of literacy leadership.

  • Invite parents to join us as partners. Families with students enrolled in our schools should be our champions, our biggest advocates in our quest for excellent literacy opportunities for all students. (It may not be a coincidence that “parents” and “partners” are almost anagrams!) Their perceptions about the learning experience in our school are critical for a school’s success. Our district has an active Facebook page that regularly posts pictures, videos, and announcements. Some of these posts encourage families and community members to work with the school in various ways, such as donating books to a classroom library or running for an open school board position.
  • Make contact early in the school year. Several of our teachers gather contact information from parents during Meet and Greet night in the early fall. They set up school messenger accounts through Remind and other applications. Parents receive notifications on their smartphones and computers about what is happening in the classroom, sometimes on a daily basis. Families can comment on these posts and even message their child’s teacher if questions come up. Because this form of communication is online, only information that is positive and informative is shared.
  • Share visual snapshots of life in the classroom. A professional goal of mine is to capture and celebrate learning happening in our classrooms on a regular basis. A preferred mode of mine for public celebration is Twitter. I use this social media because it is open to anyone in the world to view and respond. My posts are pretty simple; a recent tweet highlighted a 4K teacher introducing an author/writer center to her students. Yet from a parent’s point of view, the text and images or video of this experience creates a window into the classroom. With each tweet, I include our self-selected hashtag #pointernation to ensure visibility with parents and the school community.

tweet

  • Create personal, classroom, or school blogs. Using blogs, also known as “web logs”, to communicate the classroom experience with parents can go many ways. Teachers can maintain a personal blog using tools such as Edublogs to document the teaching and learning happening in their classrooms. Also, each student can maintain a personal classroom blog through Kidblog, a safe and secure technology where kids can share their learning artifacts and comment on the work of other students. WordPress is another popular tool that schools can leverage for their websites and parent communications. I have a school-based blog on our WordPress-powered website, where I publish 2-4 posts a month that highlight current school news and learning experiences.
  • Provide easy access to information. Parents and teachers are busy. Educators are wise to communicate about each child’s school experience in smarter ways. Digital portolio tools such as FreshGrade and Seesaw give students the ability to document their learning as it happens. For example, students can video record each other reading aloud a favorite book and then post this artifact of fluency and comprehension into their portfolios. If completed monthly, parents and teacher get a regular update about each student’s reading progress over time. This information can be just as powerful for assessing literacy growth as a benchmark assessment or a screener.

 

reading

 

  • Incorporate weekly newsletters. Our school office assistant utilizes Smore, a web-based newsletter tool that Regie recommends in her book as well. Images, video, and web links can be naturally embedded within important text such as announcements and reminders. We also utilize Smore to celebrate all of the good things happening in our school. For instance, we post scheduled family literacy night dates along with a link to RSVP. After an event, images from the experience are shared in a future newsletter. Examples of literacy events we host include Popcorn, Movie, and a Book (movie based on a book) and Take a Book to the Beach. These weekly communications help build a culture that embraces literacy, community, and celebration.

Certainly, these technologies are nice, sometimes necessary. Yet for all of our efforts in connecting online with families, nothing can replace the in-person communications that we facilitate within our schools. For example, we installed a book shelf and a nice bench in the front lobby of our building. Parents use this space to read aloud to a younger sibling while they wait for an older brother or sister to be dismissed at the end of the day.

bench

Technology is a means for our communication efforts. The ends are the goals of our school: to build essential literacy skills for a lifetime and ensure engagement, excellence, and equity for all learners.

Add comment January 29th, 2018

Building a Literacy Culture with Instructional Walks

“A thriving, trusting culture helps any organization succeed and is a major factor in why people choose to stay. Without trust, we are all less likely to invest our energies in taking on new tasks and challenges. Everything meaningful that happens in a classroom, a school, and a district depends on a bedrock foundation of mutual respect, trust, collaboration, fairness, and physical and emotional safety.”

– Regie Routman, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (Stenhouse, 2018)

In the first of three articles, elementary principal Matt Renwick shares how he builds a literacy culture by developing a sense of trust through instructional walks. The second and third articles will highlight relationships and communication, respectively.

Building a Literacy Culture with Instructional Walks
By Matt Renwick

Instructional walks are the daily visits a school leader makes in classrooms. They are non-evaluative in nature. Rather, the purpose is to build a sense of trust with teachers by communicating both verbally and nonverbally that the school leader is here to support their important work. With the way our current educational system has been set up, with teachers’ practice broken down into isolated criteria and scored, administrators are sometimes pitted against teachers. This is unfortunate. Just as “trusting relationships are a necessity for students and teachers to engage in serious learning and for all learners in a school to flourish” (Routman, 2018, pg. 9), so to should school leaders partner with their teachers.

In the beginning of my tenure as a school leader, I have used instructional walks to observe what is happening in the classroom and affirm the good work that is already taking place. It might be a simple comment, such as “Your bulletin board with the students’ book reviews really caught my eye when I came in to your classroom.” A typical response to this affirmation is a smile along with an explanation of the students’ work.

bookreview

 

I might also write a small note with a similar comment and leave it on their desk. I get custom stationary made for these affirmations and celebrations. Using professionally made materials conveys the importance of our interactions. Over the years, I have found that teachers treasure these notes much more than any evaluation I might conduct, sometimes pinning them on tagboard by their desk.

Once I feel that teachers are comfortable with me coming into their classrooms (the students are fine; they are the most adaptable people in a school), I will start writing longer narratives about what I notice in the classroom. I’ll generally give teachers a heads up on this transition at a staff meeting, reinforcing that these instructional walks are not evaluative, although they are welcome to take whatever I write and use those comments for their professional portfolios and as artifacts for their teacher evaluations. In the past, I’ve waited too long to start conducting longer visits with instructional walks. That’s a mistake. The sooner I get into classrooms and stick around for longer periods of time, anywhere from ten to twenty minutes, the sooner teachers feel this practice is the new normal. Also, because the instructional walks focus first on recognizing teachers’ strengths, trust develops as a by-product.

Building trust is a complex task that requires a recipe for success. So what are the necessary ingredients for a successful instructional walk?

  • Pen and paper (or a tablet and stylus if you prefer)
  • Time scheduled in the day to visit classrooms
  • Guiding questions to help focus the instructional walk
  • A positive, growth-oriented mindset

Of these four, the most important ingredient is the positive, growth-oriented mindset. To build trust, we have to show that we trust our teachers. With regard to the guiding questions, Regie Routman offers several examples to keep in mind when observing instruction in classrooms (2014, pg. 202). Below are a few of my favorites when getting start with instructional walks.

  • Who’s doing most of the talking? Are all students’ voices being heard?
  • Are the language and conversations moving student learning forward?
  • How are choices being provided for students?
  • Is assessment for learning, by teachers and students, taking place daily?
  • Is time being provided for sustained and deliberate practice?

I like these general instruction questions to start with, as all teachers can be expected to provide at minimum an effective learning experience for students.

Next are artifacts from an instructional walk I conducted in my school. We had previously learned about how to organize a classroom library with students. All teachers were expected to try and apply this teaching strategy. My observations take place in a 1st grade classroom.

The teacher shares new books to place in their classroom library. “How should we organize them?”

The teacher shares new books to place in their classroom library. “How should we organize them?”

 

Students and the teacher decide to put them in groups based on the genre of nonfiction they represent.

Students and the teacher decide to put them in groups based on the genre of nonfiction they represent.

 

Students write and attach appropriate labels to the books before shelving them.

Students write and attach appropriate labels to the books before shelving them.

 

Students place the books in their proper location.

Students place the books in their proper location.

 

Teacher debriefs with a shared writing summary of the classroom library experience.

Teacher debriefs with a shared writing summary of the classroom library experience.

 

My notes, which are emailed to the teacher.

My notes, which are emailed to the teacher.

Before leaving the classroom, I made a point of affirming the teacher’s efforts. “Every student was engaged in this activity in a purposeful way!” We discussed how much more the students are using the classroom library during independent reading and taking books home to read. The teacher also noted that instruction around genres is happening within the context of this authentic activity. We agreed that organizing a classroom library can be an ongoing instructional experience throughout the school year.

One of the most important actions I make as a school leader when building a literacy culture is conducting instructional walks. They allow me to celebrate what teachers are already doing well, reinforce new strategies that are tried and applied in the classroom, and ensure that all students are experiencing high-quality instruction. Trust is a natural outcome of visiting classrooms on a regular, positive, and intentional basis.

References

Routman, R. (2018). Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Routman, R. (2014). Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

(Thanks go to our first grade teachers at Mineral Point Elementary School for letting me share their work here, and to Kimberly O’Donnell, principal, for her helpful feedback on this article.)

Add comment January 16th, 2018

Summer Book Club: Becoming a Literacy Leader by Jennifer Allen

Matt Renwick is an elementary principal in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and he invites you to join him and his colleagues as they spend the next few weeks reading and discussing Jennifer Allen’s recent book, Becoming a Literacy Leader. In this guest post Matt talks a bit about the benefits of a summer book study and the details of how his group will discuss Jennifer’s book.

Summer Book Club: Becoming a Literacy Leader by Jennifer Allen
By Matt Renwick

Becoming a Lit Leader 2nd EdFor literacy leaders, summer is often the best time to read, reflect, and recharge. The students and staff are on break, yet we are already thinking about next year. Schedules, calendars, and budget proposals loom large on our to-do list. Yet the quietness that comes with an empty calendar and building offers opportunities for us to reengage with literacy as both a person and a professional.

Personally, I typically take on more fiction than nonfiction in June, July, and August. Having flexibility in my daily schedule, I don’t feel as guilty about reading a little bit longer into the night when I have a real page turner. The long days of the school year are evened out by the slowness of summer.

Professionally, I can unpack a special educational resource that has been sitting on my desk for a while. During the school year I’ll open it up from time to time, glance at a few of the tables or figures, maybe even read an excerpt from a chapter that looks immediately helpful. I’ve wanted to read it in its entirety, but I also want to give it in my undivided attention. That means reading it with a pen in hand to document my thinking in the margins and write a post or two on my blog as a reaction.

This summer, I am fortunate enough to have eight other literacy leaders join me in a summer book club. We will be reading Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change by Jennifer Allen (Stenhouse, 2016). This is the second edition of Jennifer’s resource, described on the back cover as a “thoughtful, reflective evolution of her work as she rethinks how her identity and role as a literacy leader have evolved in the ten year’s since she wrote the first edition”.

As we read the text, we will also be sharing our reactions and reflections at the now-collaborative blog Reading by Example (www.readingbyexample.com).  Our timeline will run from early July through the end of August. Our goal is to become more knowledgeable about literacy and leadership through our readings, our writings, and through the conversations via the blog post comments and on social media. Bringing multiple perspectives to a single resource should increase our capacities as literacy leaders: diversity is effective in changing thinking.

Becoming a Literacy Leader is not a book for only instructional coaches and literacy specialists. Anyone in a school can become a leader of literacy. As Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak note in the foreword, “this book as implications for all school leaders – principals, coaches, support staff, central office administrators, and teachers – as we work to make meaning together, to learn, and to grow” (xii). Through this summer reading (and writing) experience, we too look to examine our successes and challenges as Jennifer’s resource guides us in this shared literacy/leadership/learning experience.

Add comment July 12th, 2017

Sustaining Engagement: One School’s Attempt to Develop Lifelong Readers

We last checked in with Matt Renwick, an elementary school principal in Wisconsin, just as school was wrapping up in June. Now that school is about to start again, Matt talks about how his school sustains the reading program he and his staff launched in an effort to create lifelong readers.

As I was getting myself a cup of coffee in the staff lounge this spring, I noticed these posted on the wall:

notes

 

Staff members had taken their favorite recommendations from a book-a-day calendar and taped them to the wall. Inscribed on many of the sheets were short comments about the title, which briefly explained why they liked it and why you should read it.

While I waited for the Keurig machine to finish brewing, several questions popped in my head. Who started this? Why is it sustaining itself? Where will this lead? These inquiries led to more questions about how it relates to our school in general. How do we get all of our K-5 students to this place, where they see responding to reading as something enjoyable? Is this an idea our learners would naturally come up with as a way to connect with others? In other words, how do we transition our students from formalized literacy instruction to lifelong reading?

This year, we attempted to answer these questions with the advent of an after school book club. We hired two advisers to facilitate an intervention that would no longer be referred to as an intervention. Although our lowest readers received special invitations, we encouraged all of our intermediate students to join us in developing this new community of readers.

Before we got the club started, the advisers and I sat down and went over some ground rules:

  • No quizzes
  • No reading requirements or logs
  • Let them read just about anything they want
  • Let them talk to each other about reading
  • Give them opportunities to share their reading lives
  • Provide just enough structure for these activities to be successful

These ideas, deriving from literacy experts such as Gay Ivey, Peter Johnston, and Donalyn Miller, seemed counter to everything we thought we knew about school. But for at least a few of our students, more of the same would not have served them well. If any one of us were asked to extend our own school day, how would we like to spend it?

The advisers, both avid readers themselves but not classroom teachers, could hardly contain their excitement. After some heavy recruiting, they got almost 20 students to initially enroll in the club. One of their first activities was for each student to bring in a favorite title, throw it in the middle of the table, pick a new one, and try to guess who originally submitted it.

This was actually a pre-assessment. Not of their reading levels, but of the level of enjoyment they experience as readers. Questions that were answered for the advisors included: Who knows who as a reader? Which genres, authors, and titles are the kids into right now? How comfortable was each student in being seen as a reader? This activity led to many more activities, such as hosting personal interviews with each other, facilitating book talks, reading aloud, and lots of independent reading.

Due to budget constraints, the book club could only meet two nights a week after school. This meant that they had to extend the day in ways that were meaningful for the students. One tool they used was Kidblog. Each student was given access to a blog in order to reflect on their reading as well as comment on others’ thinking. In addition, students were given access to eReaders that contained many titles of their choosing, all within one device. Through these activities that helped them connect with others, students could see that reading did not have to be sequestered to the literacy block.

We did not expect our students to make substantial gains from two and a half hours of extra reading practice. Our goal was to develop lifelong readers. With anything, people will engage in something over and over if they find joy, success, and recognition for their work. That is why the advisers and students culminated their time together with a readers theater performance. The play itself came from our school’s anthology series. This was okay, because the kids selected it.

After many re-readings and rehearsals, they were read to present in front of the entire school.

Someone could say that the activities these students engaged in – peer discussions, blogging, readers theater – are not interventions that have evidence for improving reading in students. But I think these people are looking at reading only through the lens of the act itself. We can quickly forget that reading is just as much an emotional endeavor as it is a cognitive one.

My own reading life didn’t begin until 3rd grade. That was the year my teacher read aloud Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. The rest, as they say, is history. It is not to suggest that I received poor instruction in my K-2 years. I just hadn’t developed an affinity for reading yet. I had the skills, but lacked the engagement.

Gay Ivey noted at the 2014 Wisconsin State Reading Association convention that readers don’t read to accumulate a required number of minutes or to fill out a reading log. They read because they love reading. The minutes and logs that we demand are a result of this engagement. In an educational world that highly values the scientific side of literacy, we need to continuously cultivate a community of connected readers and engage them in a lifelong and joyful journey of learning.

digitalstudentportfoliosMatt Renwick is a 15-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he served as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary school leader in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example, tweets @ReadByExample and writes for EdTech magazine. His book Digital Student Porfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Improvement will be published by Powerful Learning Press in July.

 

 

 

 

3 comments August 11th, 2014

The best of 2013

This last full week of the year seems to be a good time to look back at 2013. We hope you were able to catch up with our blog frequently during the year, but in case you missed something, here is a quick roundup of some of our most popular posts. What was your favorite Stenhouse blog post this year?

Increasing engagement: A school revamps its reading program
We’d like to think that it happens we just don’t hear about it — a Stenhouse blog post planting a seed in a teacher or principal’s head. Matt Renwick is an elementary principal in Wisconsin and he shared with us how he re-thought his school’s reading intervention program after reading a blog post by Peter Johnston. Matt will be back in a few months to share the results of the new program.

Baking and the zone of proximal development
In her latest contribution to the Stenhouse Blog, frequent contributor and editor Maureen Barbieri wonders “how much modeling is too much” in life, in baking, and in teaching.

Three signs of a good math classroom
You want to hear good mathematical vocabulary that’s modeled by the teacher but that’s also expected of and modeled by the students.

Digital Learning Day 2013: A toolbox for teachers
A collection of free video tutorials and chapters to add to your digital toolbox.

Happy World Read Aloud Day!
Lynne Dorfman, Rose Cappelli, and Steve Layne share poems.

Blog tour for Assessment in Perspective
“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.” (Review from A Year of Reading)

Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives
Bailey’s Elementary School
Mamaroneck, NY

Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute 2013
Our third annual summer blogstitute was again packed with must-have content from our go-to experts.

Stenhouse celebrates 20 years

Blog tour for Celebrating Writers

 

 

 

 

 

Add comment December 23rd, 2013

Assessing Engagement: A Follow-Up to “Increasing Engagement”

In the midst of our Blogstitute I am going to take a moment to quickly check in with Matt Renwick, an elementary school principal in Wisconsin who first posted on the Stenhouse blog in January about his school’s efforts to revamp its reading intervention program. “Readers are created over time and do not adhere to deadlines. Where learners are heading is as important as where they have been,” Matt concludes.

Summer has arrived: Lockers have been cleared out, desks are empty, and report cards were sent home. While another school year comes to a close, ten reluctant readers are only continuing their learning.

Last fall, my school revamped our after school reading intervention program. Illustrated in our previous post, my staff and I designed a book club based on the tenets of Peter Johnston’s reflections from last summer, Reducing Instruction, Increasing Engagement. We transitioned from a computer-based reading program to an intervention that relied more on students’ interests than on their Lexiles.

Everything started strong. Kids came to book club eager to check out the new titles, selected just for them. The majority of the time was allocated to allowing students to read books, to talk about books, and to share what they read. The facilitator’s job was simply to spark their interest and gently guide.

For a while we had them – They were reading! However, interest gradually dissipated. Some students got off task. Others stopped showing up regularly. The perception was that this “book club” was just an extension of the school day. We had to rethink our approach.

We knew students were engaged by technology. But would purchasing tablets to promote reading provide too much of a distraction? We found our middle ground and purchased ten simple eReaders. These devices were unable to house games and other forms of digital media. Just books. While we waited for the eReaders to show up, students came down to my office in groups of twos and threes to request their favorite titles and authors. Once students had signed a contract and the books were loaded on the devices. we sent them on their way to read.

We quickly realized the benefits of offering eReaders to students:

  • They were more willing to pick books they could decode and understand. On one occasion, a 4th grade boy rattled off some grade level titles, then looked around and whispered, “Could I also get some Flat Stanley chapter books?” I replied, “Sure” without missing a beat. Unless his books could be hidden within an eReader, it was unlikely he would have been caught by his peers reading Flat Stanley and related titles.
  • The technology itself seemed to engage the students. I have never, as a teacher or as a principal, had students seek me out (repeatedly) to see if their new books were available and ready to read. Having kids peek their heads out of classrooms when they heard me walking the hall to ask when their books would be downloaded was a visible example of their engagement with reading.
  • The buy in from parents was impressive. One parent made a special trip to school to pick up her son’s eReader. A father, whose son was home sick on the last day and came to pick up his report card, made a point to share with me that “he has been reading on that thing every day”.

When we looked at our year-end assessments, the results were a mixed bag. Analyzing computer-based screener scores, on average our ten students’ overall literacy skills stayed the same. However, looking at district-developed assessments, the majority of the students (70%) met their grade level benchmark, and the other three students were very close. In addition, their average fluency rate increased by 27% (92 Words Correct Per Minute (WCPM) in the fall; 117 WCPM in the spring).

Beyond this promising quantitative data, did our students develop an affection toward reading? Do they better value the impact a narrative can have on a person’s life? We attempted to measure engagement with a survey given to the students themselves. They were asked specific questions about their reading dispositions and habits; you can view the results here. Here are the most revealing conclusions:

  • Students in book club read a lot more now than they did before joining book club.
  • The eReaders encouraged the students to read more.
  • Students understood what they read, whether in print or digital text format.
  • They often reread their favorite books.

These statements read like they belong in a resource titled “The Seven Habits of Highly Engaged Readers”. We hope these practices continue, as we sent them home with both print and digital texts to peruse over the summer months.

My teachers often state that teaching reading is not like baking a cake. Students aren’t “done” after a certain amount of time and attention. Maybe we should compare educators to gardeners instead of bakers; they plant the seeds for literacy engagement, to grow and eventually blossom. Readers are created over time and do not adhere to deadlines. Where learners are heading is as important as where they have been.

Special thanks to Heddi Craft and Lauren Kelley Parren for their feedback on this post.

 

 

 

1 comment July 9th, 2013

Increasing engagement: A school revamps its reading invervention program

We’d like to think that it happens we just don’t hear about it — a Stenhouse blog post planting a seed in a teacher or principal’s head. Matt Renwick is an elementary principal in Wisconsin and he shared with us how he re-thought his school’s reading intervention program after reading a blog post by Peter Johnston. Matt will be back in a few months to share the results of the new program.

Increasing engagement

For a while it was popular in educational circles to talk about “time on task”. In some circles it still is. But, as many have noted, children are always on task; the important question is, what is the task?

– Peter Johnston, Knowing Literacy

My school faced a dilemma last spring: The grant for our after school reading intervention had run out. The loss of funding would also affect our A.M. and P.M. study centers. Many of our students and families utilized these services to get extra academic support and to provide supervision for children whose parents worked early or late. We had a captive audience in those who attended, but no resources left with which to captivate them, or so I initially thought.

As I prepared our final report for the grant, I noticed a pattern. Students who attended the structured, computer-based reading intervention after school did not make gains when compared to their peers. However, students who attended the morning and after school study centers, with minimal educator support, showed more growth than their school peers. It was a small sample size, but results nonetheless.

 

Around the same time, I came across Peter Johnston’s post “Reducing Instruction, Increasing Engagement” on the Stenhouse blog. In it he describes a study he conducted with Gay Ivey in a secondary classroom. Students were given edgy fiction and few expectations, other than to read the books and discuss them with classmates. They took control of their learning, selecting texts based on their interests and communicating with each other about what they read. Subsequently, their tests scores went up and their social and emotional well being improved.

This post was the proverbial manna from heaven. Along with Richard Allington’s suggestion in Schools That Work for the principal to help facilitate the morning center, we had a possible answer to our problem. Some of our Title I funds were allocated to support two staff members two times a week to facilitate the after school book club for 4th and 5th graders. At the same time, I shifted the schedule of an English Language Learner aide so she would come in an hour earlier to catch the students in the morning. Even though all of this programming was to be hosted in the school library, we did purchase some high interest texts from a local book store. Total cost for this year-long program: Approximately $3000.

So how have we reduced instruction and increased engagement?

A greater variety of literacy resources are available. For example, students can listen to books on tape, practice their letters and writing using art supplies, and select any text they find interesting.

In both the morning study center and after school book club, we strive to provide choice in books. Some guidance is provided by staff when they appear to have a tough time finding their next read. However, for the most part we stay out of the way.

We have created an inviting, cozy environment to allow kids to chat with each other while reading their books. Whistle chairs, foam shaped like an upside down whistle and covered with a leather case, are an example of a purchase we made to help create this climate. Educators need to give kids permission to read, both with our words and our actions. By doing this, we let them know that it is okay to just sit around and enjoy a book while at school.

As well, they like writing book reviews on bookmark cards. They are propped on the front of the respective book and displayed on a designated table for others to check out. These students are now seen as readers and writers by their classmates. At this age, peers’ perceptions are students’ realities.

One hiccup we have noticed is the inconsistent attendance of a few of our 4th and 5th graders after school. To address this, the staff and I have discussed ways to leverage technology to increase engagement. One idea is allowing students to connect on Edmodo.  It is a safe social media tool for schools to share and discuss their learning. This would allow students to write their thoughts and questions about what they are reading for a broader audience, as well as read what others have posted.

At a fraction of the previous year’s costs, we have developed a literacy intervention that engages students and has the potential to increase students’ reading abilities at a faster rate than prescribed programming. At the same time, departing from past practices is a scary proposition for us as educators. It means giving up the spotlight and allowing student learning to take center stage. Teachers and principals, myself included, sometimes think we can control student outcomes. This naturally leads us into trying to control the learning at times. Yet it is an open and curious mind that learns best. We can facilitate this mindset by increasing engagement in students through thoughtful instruction and sharing our enthusiasm for reading.  And isn’t engagement the reason we read and learn anyway?

10 comments January 22nd, 2013


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