What’s 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.

 

Add comment March 4th, 2016

Find Your Writing Tribe – Participate in the Slice of Life Story Challenge

We are thrilled to have a guest post today from author Stacey Shubitz who invites everyone to take part in the Slice of Life Story Challenge starting March 1. The great thing about this challenge is that you do not have to consider yourself a writer to participate — just put one foot in front of the other, find your tribe, and start writing!

Find Your Writing Tribe. Participate in the Slice of Life Story Challenge

By Stacey Shubitz

My Dad was an Eagle Scout who still loves the outdoors. He encouraged me to start hiking when I ventured away to sleepaway camp. I used my hiking boots just once during my first summer away from home. After a day hike, I declared hiking too tedious; it wasn’t for me. I shoved my once-worn hiking boots under my bed and didn’t touch them again until I packed up at summer’s end.

During the school year that followed, my father persuaded me to try hiking again. He thought I would enjoy it. In an effort to get him off of my case appease him, I vowed to try another daylong hike. I’m not sure if was the camaraderie, the scenery, or the GORP (a mixture of raisins, peanuts, and M&Ms), but I had a good time. Even though my legs ached by the end of the day, I signed up for another day hike a week later. I was hooked by the end of the second hike. By the time I returned to camp, I committed to an overnight hike, which consisted of climbing Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States!IMG_3809

Climbing Mt. Washington was challenging, but beautiful. Along the way my friends and I encountered lush forests and waterfalls.

Our overnight accommodations at the Lake of the Clouds Hut were sparse, but they were divine to our group considering how tired our bodies were after climbing all day.

The following morning, we awoke early, ate breakfast, and climbed to the summit of Mount Washington, where we were treated to a view of four states, Quebec, and the Atlantic Ocean!

I was exhausted when the counselors announced it was time to go. (Truth be told: I wished we could take the Cog Railway back down, but that didn’t happen.) I struggled with the hike to the base of the mountain, but kept myself focused that I’d always be able to wear the “This body climbed Mount Washington” t-shirt I purchased at the Mount Washington visitor center.

IMG_3812I remember sitting with ice packs for a day or two once we returned to sleepaway camp. (I also have a distinct memory of the five of us kids who climbed Mount Washington using tubes of Ben Gay, which the nurses gave us when we visited the infirmary.) Despite my temporarily bruised body, I recall feeling proud myself after climbing Mt. Washington. I had tried something I hadn’t particularly liked a second time, found I enjoyed it, and worked hard to accomplish something. To this day, I’m glad I gave hiking a second chance. As a result, I’ve hiked through incredible places, like Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, the Chilkoot Trail, Denali National Park, El Yunque National Forest, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Kenai Fjords National Park, the Mendenhall Glacier, and Yosemite as a young adult.

I didn’t think I could be a hiker, but after reconsidering its merits and trying it again, I found my way to it. And quite honestly, it didn’t take much for me to become a hiker. I signed up for a hike, strapped on hiking boots, filled my canteen with water, put one foot in front of the other, and was on my way to becoming a hiker. I didn’t initially think of myself as a hiker, but once I did it more and developed the persona of a hiker. (I even purchased a Camelbak so I could get the hiker look!)

It takes work to become anything you endeavor to be. Perhaps you don’t consider yourself a writer. Just as I took a second look at hiking, I want to encourage you to take another look at being a writer. I didn’t need to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in order to consider myself a hiker. I put one foot in front of the other — and did it a lot — until I got good at it and enjoyed it.

Taking on the identity of a writer is hard for some people since they feel writers are people whose names appear on book covers. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A writer is anyone who writes regularly. Therefore, the only thing standing between you and becoming a writer is you. If you tell yourself it will take time to get comfortable putting words on the page, you can be a writer. If you tell yourself you can positively impact the lives of your students by writing regularly, you can be a writer. If you tell yourself you will shut down the voices in your head that tell you you’re not talented enough, you can be a writer. It takes time and practice, but everyone can become a great writer.

Once you come to believe the world will be a better place if your voice is part of it, the next thing you must do in order to become a writer is to make writing daily a priority. I realize it’s hard to fit yet another thing – in this case making a commitment to write daily — into an already jam-packed schedule. I have blogged about ways to create a writing life that is both consistent and meaningful.

The other thing you’ll need to do to become a confident writer is to find your tribe. One way you can do this is to form a weekly writing group with your colleagues. Another idea is joining an online writing challenge, such as the Slice of Life Story Challenge, which we host at Two Writing Teachers. This is a community of teacher-writers – at varying points in their careers – who come together to share blog posts about the ordinary moments in their lives.

Here’s a step-by-step process to get you ready to take on the Slice of Life Story Challenge in March

 

The Ninth Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge begins on Tuesday, March 1st over at Two Writing Teachers. All you need to get started is your own blog – which you can start for free using blogging software like WordPress or Edublogs – and a commitment to write daily. For more information on how to participate in our month-long writing challenge, please go to https://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/join-our-writing-community/.

I am confident teachers who are passionate about writing and write regularly have students who are more confident and capable writers. I know this because I was always very public about my writing life when I taught fourth and fifth grades. I allowed my students to peek into my notebook. I shared my writing with them regularly. As a result, I knew the struggles they faced – as writers – because I was a writer myself.

Like climbing a mountain, writing is hard when one’s new to it. Even if writing has been an uncomfortable task for you in the past, I encourage you to try it again. You never know where it might lead you.

Stacey Shubitz is a Pennsylvania-based literacy consultant and a former elementary school teacher. She is the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice (Stenhouse, 2010).  Her next book from Stenhouse, Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts, will be available in the summer of 2016. She blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter at @sshubitz.

6 comments February 23rd, 2016

Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives: The Power of Book Study Groups

In our series focusing on effective PD initiatives, Holly Holland revisits a wildly successful online book study group that attracted over 700 educators from around the world. One teacher in Oregon was trying to get her colleagues to engage students in Number Talks and the book study group gave her ideas and efforts a boost.

Making Number Talks Matter
By Holly Holland

making-number-talks-matterLike many educators, Marcia Trujillo often feels professionally isolated. Varied schedules and interests make it tough to connect with colleagues who want to deepen their knowledge of particular math topics she cares about. As a math coach for three elementary schools in the South Lane School District in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Trujillo has encouraged teachers to engage students in Number Talks—short, daily routines during which they solve problems in their heads, with no paper and pencil, and explain their reasoning.

“The teachers whom I work with are busy, and time is always an issue,” she said. “When someone like myself goes in and tries to help teachers learn something new, it’s difficult because teachers often don’t have time to think, to plan, to try something new. Inevitably, I begin to second-guess myself: ‘Is this a practice that will positively impact student achievement and teacher knowledge over time?’”

Then, last summer, Trujillo saw on Twitter that teachers were participating in an online book study of Making Number Talks Matter (Stenhouse, 2015), Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker’s new resource for educators serving grades 4–10. Within a few weeks, Trujillo was collaborating with about 700 educators from fifteen countries who were reading the same book for professional study. Over several months they reviewed chapters together, wrote blog posts, shared and watched classroom videos, and conversed about commonly asked questions using social media platforms, including Facebook and the Teaching Channel. The experience proved transformative for Trujillo, who has used the skills from her personalized professional development to support other teachers in her district.

The interactive book study “takes me out of my isolated world and surrounds me with other people who love math or either are coaching other teachers in best practices or trying to learn something new,” she said. “Being able to read the book with other people, write about it, and also watch the videos helps me feel confident that I’m on the right track, and that the practice is worth teachers’ valuable time to learn about and to implement in their rooms.”

Such stories also inspire Crystal Morey and Kristin Gray, the two math teachers who started the collaborative book study of Making Number Talks Matter. Both are Teaching Channel Laureates who met last summer and discovered their mutual love of Number Talks. Morey, a middle school math teacher in Enumclaw, Washington, had worked with Ruth Parker for three summers through a state grant that supports professional development for teacher leaders. Gray, a K–5 math specialist in Lewes, Delaware, had presented on Number Talks at education conferences and built up a large following on social media. They decided to reach out to colleagues to see who might be interested in exploring the book together. The Teaching Channel agreed to host the free exchange—the first of its kind.

“I knew a lot of people would be interested, but as far as spreading internationally, I had no idea,” Gray said. “So many components about this make it unique. In book studies in the past, when you are in your school it’s always limited to what your colleagues have to say, what their experiences are, and what is the culture of your own building. This opens it up to so many different grade ranges and different school populations. You see the professional work as bigger than your school. It’s amazing to me to have the same focus point and so many people around the world using it but with different experiences than mine.”

Gray and Morey developed a study guide for the book. Gray also posted weekly questions about the book chapters to guide discussions and distributed a digital newsletter to recap what had happened during the week, along with related resources. Some teachers worked quickly through the chapters whereas others took a more leisurely pace, in both cases personalizing their learning. Through an online platform called Teaching Channel Teams, the collaborative enabled teachers who were working at the same pace and on similar topics to align. All of the participants could communicate through discussion boards and blogs and were able to upload videos, which could be annotated.

In addition, Morey interviewed Parker about the book and posted their insightful conversations. Morey also videotaped herself using Number Talks strategies with students and asked Parker to critique her work so that others could learn from it. After she posted the videos on the Teaching Channel site, other teachers began videotaping their own classroom exchanges and sharing them.

“They’re taking pictures of their Number Talks boards and posting them. Some started blogging for the first time because of this—they’re super excited,” Gray said. “I think it says a lot about Number Talks and how incredibly valuable it is to hear students converse about math. It just feels like a cultural shift in how we listen to our students and dive into their thinking.”

Gray and Morey said Making Number Talks Matter is such a rich resource because it reaches across the trajectory of mathematical operations and then extends them. Although the book targets grades 4–10, teachers below and above that span have found ways to adapt the strategies.

“The book allowed me to understand the operations even more,” Morey said. “It was a learning tool for me mathematically. It also allowed me to understand how to open up instruction and provide opportunities for flexibility in thought.”

Morey and Gray stress that Number Talks are not about teachers’ direct instruction but rather about their students’ mathematical thinking. Instead of trying to please the teacher by simply uttering the “right” answer, for example, Number Talks are designed to help students move beyond memorization, express their understanding as well as their confusion, and use a variety of problem-solving strategies so they can become flexible mathematical thinkers.

Brian Bushart, curriculum coordinator for elementary mathematics in the Round Rock Independent School District in Texas, liked the book so much that he decided to share it with a cohort of about thirty local educators, including K–5 teachers, instructional coaches, and interventionists. They started by meeting for two days last July and then scheduled nine more after-school sessions throughout the school year. To deepen their study, participants joined the Teaching Channel collaborative and participated in a Google Hangouts chat with Gray. Bushart also asked them to reflect on their experiences through blog posts and to share a related lesson. The goal was to have each of the participants reach out to at least one other colleague at his or her school, spreading the influence of Number Talks. So far, more than 150 educators in the district have participated in some component of the book study, including the online collaboration and related workshops.

The book was very practical, grounded, and approachable, Bushart said, and “turned out to be exactly what they wanted.” In addition, the Teaching Channel videos enabled teachers to see colleagues “trying out the things we were talking about. It was so current: ‘Hey, I just did this on Tuesday.’ It felt like they were in the book study with us. It wasn’t canned or stale.”

Gray and Morey hope to repeat the interactive book study in the coming year. They have collected all of the Twitter hashtags and blogs and responses to tell the story of their collaborative work.

“It’s exciting to me to see so many people being open and sharing, whether it’s perfect or not,” Gray said. “That’s so brave. I think it shows we all learn better together.”

3 comments February 15th, 2016

Our new titles for Spring 2016

Our lineup of new titles for Spring 2016 includes everything you need to update your professional development library. Browse books online—we post them in their entirety as they become available. Want a chance to win all of our new titles? Scroll down to find out how.

0912Growing Independent Learners
From Literacy Standards to Stations, K-3
Debbie Diller
308 pages • Available now
$39.00 print • $34.99 e-book • $49.00 print/e-book bundle
Debbie Diller’s new book provides a comprehensive guide to help you plan instruction focused on literacy standards, organize your classroom for maximum benefit, and lead your students to independence through whole-group lessons, small-group focus, and partner learning at literacy stations.
Follow Debbie on Twitter: @debbiediller
To Tweet about the book: #growinglearners

1012Making Nonfiction from Scratch
Ralph Fletcher
144 pages • Available now
$18.50 print • $16.99 e-book • $28.50 print/e-book bundle
Ralph offers a candid critique of how nonfiction writing is often taught in schools, then presents strategies and inspiration to help students create authentic, engaging nonfiction.
Follow Ralph on Twitter: @FletcherRalph
To Tweet about the book: #makingnonfiction

1053Close Writing
Developing Purposeful Writers in Grades 2-6
Paula Bourque
304 pages • Available now
$26.00 print • $22.99 e-book • $36.00 print/e-book bundle
The strategies in Close Writing will help you nurture writers in your classroom who are aware of what effective writing looks like, who care about what they write, and who take ownership for their growth as writers.
Follow Paula on Twitter: @LitCoachLady
To Tweet about the book: #closewriting

1115Interactive Writing Across Grades
A Small Practice with Big Results, PreK-5
Kate Roth and Joan Dabrowski
208 pages • E-book available now • Print available late February
$27.95 print • $24.99 e-book • $37.90 print/e-book bundle
Interactive Writing Across Grades is your how-to guide, unpacking this powerful method step by step—and grade by grade. The authors help you figure out where and how interactive writing fits within your literacy framework, regardless of the grade you teach.
Follow Joan on Twitter: @joandabrowski
To Tweet about the book: #interactivewriting

1034Well Played, K-2
Building Mathematical Thinking Through Number Games and Puzzles
224 pages • Available now
Linda Dacey, Karen Gartland, and Jayne Bamford Lynch
Foreword by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind
$25.00 print • $22.99 e-book • $35.00 print/e-book bundle

 

1033Well Played, 6-8
Building Mathematical Thinking Through Number and Algebraic Games and Puzzles
248 pages • Available in April
$25.00 print • $22.99 e-book • $35.00 print/e-book bundle

The Well Played series of books (already available for grades 3-5), will help you tap the power of games and puzzles to engage students in sustained and productive mathematical thinking.
Follow the authors on Twitter: @LindaSDacey, @JayneJlynch, @KarenGGartland
To Tweet about the books: #wellplayedmath

1035Adding Talk to the Equation (A Talk Toolkit: Video + Companion Guide)
Discussion and Discovery in Mathematics
Lucy West
112 minutes + 100-page Companion Guide • Available early April
DVD + Companion Guide or 1-year Streaming: $150 • 3-year Streaming: $350
Companion Guide: $10 each or 10-pack for $75
This video features five case studies filmed in grades 1-6 and shows teachers at various stages in their practice of generating and managing rich mathematics conversations. The companion guide includes transcripts, detailed commentary, and reflections from Lucy.
Follow Lucy on Twitter: @LucyWestTLC
To Tweet about the book: #addingtalk

1064Good Thinking
Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning
Erik Palmer
136 pages • Available in April
$18.00 print • $15.99 e-book • $28.00 print/e-book bundle
Blending theory with practice, Erik shares a wide range of classroom-tested lessons on how to help students develop sophisticated reasoning skills that will improve their oral and written communications.
Follow Erik on Twitter: @erik_palmer
To Tweet about the book: #goodthinkingbook

1075Who’s Doing the Work?
How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More
Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris
182 pages • Available in April
$23.00 print • $20.99 e-book • $33.00 print/e-book bundle
In their follow-up to Reading Wellness, Jan and Kim show how instructional mainstays such as read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading look in classrooms where students do more of the work.
Follow the authors on Twitter: @BurkinsandYaris
To Tweet about the book: #whosdoingthework

Here’s what you have to do for a chance to win a copy of each of our new titles from the Spring 2016 catalog:

  1. Follow @stenhousepub on Twitter.
  2. Take a picture of something in your classroom that was inspired by a Stenhouse book. It could be an anchor chart or a piece of student work or the way you set up your library.
  3. Post it on Twitter—make sure you tag @stenhousepub. Not on Twitter? E-mail the picture to zmcmullin@stenhouse.com.
  4. That’s it. The winner will be picked March 1st, 2016.

Not receiving our catalogs? Sign up here to receive your copy and to browse it online.

Add comment February 8th, 2016

Finding teaching wisdom in architecture

Teaching is an art and this month guest blogger Sarah Cooper looks to architecture for lessons that can be brought into her classroom. Sarah is the author of Making History Mine

Architecture as Experience

Walt_Disney_Concert_Hall,_LA,_CA,_jjron_22.03.2012A few weeks ago I visited a massive exhibit on architect Frank Gehry’s work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I’ve always found Gehry’s buildings startling in their originality but not necessarily appealing.

Yet, in the weeks since, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the exhibit – for what it says about the power of ideas and what it implies about how we could be teaching.

Here are eight takeaways I aspire to implement in my classroom:

  1. Trust in students’ ideas, even the rough and inchoate ones.
    The exhibit frequently places drawings, scale models and photographs of the same building next to each other. The drawings are mere sketches, with simple lines, and yet they seem to move on the page. If we saw only the drawings, we might wonder how they could possibly turn into steel and glass – and yet they did, through revision and consultation with clients and colleagues.
  1. At the same time, realize that not every creative idea will come to fruition. Many of Gehry’s most innovative designs were never built. For our students, the process of writing a research paper or a short story may not always lead to a polished product for a portfolio or year-end show.
  1. Take into account the long view.
    Gehry’s style evolved over time. At first his philosophy involved “placing objects together so that you make the space work. As he explains, “you design the objects and then you design the spaces between them.” Later Gehry began envisioning buildings in which swooping steel exteriors integrated the spaces. What students write or say now in our classes may simply be building blocks for their eventual careers and philosophies.
  1. Help students find different ways in.
    The exhibit was a prime example of differentiation. I found myself drawn to the drawings, which felt like music in their fluidity. But I took photos of the models for my younger son, who likes building structures from cardboard. Other elements of the exhibit included quotations from Gehry and photos of completed projects. Everyone could find something to pull them in. Similarly, in history class, we could show students primary sources, works of art, photos, biographies and artifacts from the same era or event and ask them to describe which speaks to them most.
  1. Work with the power of the familiar to introduce the unfamiliar.
    My two sons already know Gehry’s Walt Disney Hall, in downtown Los Angeles, from parking in its garage for events. Before I take them to the exhibit, I’m planning to show them photos of the concert hall, to remind them of what they know, and then drawings and photos of the somewhat similar but unfamiliar Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
  1. Find technology that transforms student work.
    Gehry is famous for pioneering the aerospace software CATIA (Computer-Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application) for use in architecture, making formerly impossible designs possible. As he says, “The technology provides a way for me to get closer to the craft…. It feels like I’ve been speaking a foreign language, and now, all of a sudden, the craftsman understands me. The computer is not dehumanizing; it’s an interpreter.” I would like to find more programs to use in the history classroom, beyond Animoto and Prezi, that make history pop.
  1. Turn your world upside down.
    Gehry’s design for the new Facebook campus in Menlo Park, California, features a garden on the roof that has evoked comparison to New York City’s High Line. The model was mesmerizing because the hangar-like building was hardly visible through the carpet of trees surrounding it. Especially compared with Gehry’s former work, in which the building materials took center stage, this represented something new and inspiring.
  1. Make a hands-on space for learning.
    At the end of the exhibit, a huge photo of Gehry’s studio anchors a cluster of models of current and future projects. The exhibit itself seems to feel a little like his studio does, with objects everywhere to give inspiration. To see Gehry on the page would be insufficient, but to walk through his work feels real and appropriate. I would like to be more tactile with history so that students feel they are walking through the past, whether they are making objects, videos or computer simulations.

Ultimately, the biggest spur the exhibit gave me as a teacher was to get out of my books and into the world, not just on vacation but all year round.

Add comment February 4th, 2016

Now Online: Interactive Writing Across Grades

Interactive Writing Across GradesInteractive writing is a dynamic, unscripted instructional method in which the teacher and students work together to construct a meaningful text while simultaneously discussing the details of the writing process.

Interactive Writing Across Grades: A Small Practice with Big Results by Kate Roth and Joan Dabrowski unpacks this powerful strategy step by step and grade by grade. The authors help you figure out where and how interactive writing fits within your literacy framework. The book includes:

• an overview of the interactive writing method and how it fits into your balanced literacy program;
• concrete ways to launch interactive writing to support both process and craft instruction;
• step-by-step guidance to implement the method with students of all ages; and
• real classroom writing from every grade that shows what to expect at each phase of the process.

Discover what makes interactive writing a particularly effective teaching practice that can support both emergent and fluent writers. Preview the full text of Interactive Writing Across Grades now!

#InteractiveWriting

1 comment February 2nd, 2016

Finding their brilliance

We have a lovely guest post today from Rose Cappelli on finding brilliance in your students and helping them use that brilliance or expertise to improve on another skill that might be more challenging for them. Rose is a 1996 PAWLP Fellow. She is the co-author with Lynne Dorfman of Mentor Texts, Nonfiction Mentor Texts, and Poetry Mentor Texts. You can read more of her reflections about teaching and living in her blog entries or follow her on Twitter at @RoseCappelli.

Finding Their Brilliance
By Rose Cappelli

In Jacqueline Woodson’s beautiful novel in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, the author talks about being compared in school to her older sister, Odella, who was “brilliant.” But school is difficult for Jacqueline, so soon the teachers

“…remember that I am the other Woodson

and begin searching for brilliance

at another desk.” (p. 220).

Jacqueline loves stories, and she quickly discovers that by reading the words of a story over and over again, that story eventually becomes lodged in her memory and becomes part of her. So when she is asked to read aloud to the class, she doesn’t need the book, and amazes her teacher and classmates by reciting a whole story from memory.

“How can I explain to anyone that stories
are like air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again.

Brilliant! my teacher says, smiling.
Jackie, that was absolutely beautiful.

And I know now…words are my brilliance.” (p. 247-248)

The passages from Brown Girl Dreaming remind us of the importance not only of looking for the strengths in all of our students, but of helping students succeed by leading them to find their own strength or skill or “brilliance.” Recently I heard author/illustrator Peter Catalanotto speak about a teacher who encouraged him to write by letting him draw, a brilliance she recognized in him. Without that recognition, the world may have been robbed of such wonderful books as Matthew A.B.C. and Emily’s Art, among others.

How can we discover the brilliance that resides in our classrooms and use it to guide our students? We probably all know students who are great spellers, or who can easily solve math problems. Our students know them, too. They become the class experts who serve as resources to others. But how can we use the strengths we discover in students to help them become better writers? Perhaps we need to take time to think about the underlying skills of the brilliance we have observed and show our students how that brilliance or skill can be transferred to writing. For example, we might realize that the student who is great at solving math problems does so because she can easily break things down into smaller sequential parts. We could point out that organization in writing often requires breaking a large idea into smaller parts. The student who is great at telling a story but who seems lost on how to begin to transfer that story to paper might benefit from “pretend in-the-air” writing as he talks to better understand that writing is talk written down.

I have known writers who are good at crafting detailed and enticing beginnings, but who fall short when it comes to endings. If we can help those writers identify the skills they used to start the piece (rich detail, use of specific nouns, etc.) we can perhaps help them use the same skills to craft a more satisfying ending. We can help them find and use their brilliance.

Of course, it all boils down to the importance of us as teachers engaging in careful conferring so that we really get to know our students – their strengths, their weaknesses, their needs. Sometimes we might just catch a glimpse of an emerging brilliance – something the writer himself is just beginning to do without perhaps even realizing it. That is when we must step in to explain and guide and encourage that budding brilliance to grow so that it transfers to other places in the text and other pieces of writing. That is what we must do before we start to search for brilliance at another desk as Jacqueline’s teacher did.

In Brown Girl Dreaming, when Jacqueline’s brother stands on the school stage and sings in a voice no one knew he had, Jacqueline remarks,

“Maybe, I am thinking, there is something hidden

like this, in all of us. A small gift from the universe

waiting to be discovered.” (p. 233)

What brilliance will you discover in your students this week, and how will you help them use it?

Reference: Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.

Reposted with permission from the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project

 

1 comment January 25th, 2016

Preschools without walls

The New York Times recently ran an article about Fiddleheads Forest School near Seattle, where the outdoors serve as classrooms without walls. Stenhouse author Herb Broda wrote an encouraging response to the article. Read below and then check out his books Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning and Moving the Classroom Outdoors, as well as his recent blog posts of practical ideas that help you turn your schoolyard into an outdoor classroom.

Learning from Fiddleheads
Herb Broda

The sky is the ceiling and the landscape provides the audio-visual experiences at the Fiddleheads Forest School near Seattle. At this innovative preschool, eloquently described in a recent New York Times feature Preschool Without Walls by Lillian Mongeaudec (Dec. 29, 2015) students spend four hours a day – rain or shine—in classrooms among the native trees in the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. Students are engaged in a wide range of activities that focus on experiencing the surrounding environment. They are immersed in hands-on nature like digging, building forts, taking “listening walks” and building child-size nests in wood chip piles.

The most popular word at Fiddleheads is “notice”. Primary emphasis is given to observing and describing the nature that is literally at children’s fingertips. “Kids are the best at sharing in joy and wonder”, explains a teacher.

Nature preschools with daily outdoor experiences at the heart of their programs have been growing in number—up from twenty in 2008 to ninety-two currently, according to the Times article. Now, I realize that it is highly unlikely that outdoor immersion preschools like Fiddleheads will eventually dominate the scene. Indeed, there are solid arguments both pro and con regarding totally outdoor-based programming. The article does, however, encourage serious consideration of outdoor learning as an effective instructional method.

It really doesn’t matter to me whether a school has a totally outdoor-based program, or a more typical situation where teachers step outside the classroom door to use the schoolyard as a teaching tool. The important thing is that children are receiving frequent contact with nature.

Regular exposure to the natural world provides many benefits that enrich instruction and reconnect children with the outdoors:

  1. Nature provides both a spacious venue for learning, as well as an abundant source of content. Both students and teachers welcome a change of pace and place. Variety is indeed the spice of life—and the energizer of teaching.
  1. The outdoors is the ideal place to teach universal process skills like observing, describing, classifying and analyzing. Not only are these skills critical to science, they are also integral to language arts, mathematics and the creative arts.
  1. Outdoor learning experiences provide generous opportunities for creative play, and a necessary respite from the incessant beeps and glare of electronic devices. We are in desperate need of the calming effects that only nature can provide.
  1. Research over the last several years is confirming that frequent outdoor experiences contribute to good health, positive mental attitude and even improved cognitive function. It isn’t necessary to be outdoors all day everyday to achieve these benefits. All that is required are regular doses of what author Richard Louv calls “Vitamin N” (Nature).

The article gives me great hope! At a time when children’s natural curiosity about the outdoors is eclipsed by the demands of busy schedules and the ever-present glow of video screens, schools may be the only place where children are encouraged to interact with nature. It’s empowering to realize that the enthusiastic engagement and joy of learning that happens daily at Fiddleheads is possible on your schoolyard!

 

Add comment January 21st, 2016

Putting the Exploratory Notebook into Practice

We are excited to have a guest post today from Tara Smith from the Two Writing Teachers blog. She used Ralph Fletcher’s new book, Making Nonfiction from Scratch, to implement exploratory notebooks in her classroom.

notebookIn his wonderful new book, Making Nonfiction From Scratch, Ralph Fletcher tells it like it is for writing teachers (and their students) everywhere:

When it comes to nonfiction, teachers don’t have to work very hard to motivate students…with this genre we start with an intrinsic buy in from students. On the other hand, I see an awful lot of formulaic nonfiction writing in the schools I visit. Nonfiction is the writing genre most typically “done to” students. We channel students into a particular curricular area whether they like it or not. We organize their writing for them, directing them to follow rubrics and use detailed prewriting outlines and graphic organizers. We teach them our system for taking notes and doing research. We tell students, “Your final report must include _____, and _____, and _____.” No wonder students feel confined! No wonder so much of their nonfiction writing lacks energy and voice. Welcome to nonfiction writing: our most pre-packaged genre.

Ouch!

So, over winter break, I took a good long look at my plans for our nonfiction unit, which I was set to launch on our first day back to school. My sixth graders were so excited to be moving on from personal narrative and memoir into the realm of “the real stuff” (as one put it) “the kind of stuff I WANT to be writing about!”. And I wanted to be sure that they stayed excited from launch all the way through time to publish. I wanted our nonfiction unit to rock!

Among Fletcher’s suggestions for key ingredients of “making nonfiction from scratch” was an Exploratory Notebook – a place to gather information, think through ideas, and sketch out writing. I thought back to our many varied attempts to do all of this in many different places – our writer’s notebooks, research folders, “thinking envelopes” – and how nothing had worked quite the way I’d wanted it to. Ralph Fletcher would probably say this was because I had pre-packaged each of these research/gather/write venues, they were “done to” my students rather than “done by” them.

Read the full post on Two Writing Teachers

Add comment January 19th, 2016

Now Online: Growing Independent Learners

0912Debbie 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
you:

– 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.

Growing Independent Learners is an essential resource that will help you create vibrant classrooms filled with independent learners.

Watch Debbie talk about why “preparation is everything” when growing independence:


Add comment January 14th, 2016

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