Posts filed under 'Classroom practice'

Turn Reluctant Readers Into Independent Readers

By reframing difficulty as opportunity, children begin to see the connection between their effort and their success.” Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris from Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More

The relationship between reading volume and reading proficiency is well documented (Allington 2011). The more time children spend engaged with text, the more exposure they have to problem-solving opportunities, new vocabulary, and information, all of which contribute to growing proficiency in reading.

Who’s Doing the Work? Lesson Sets (WDTW) guides teachers to offer a wide variety of literacy opportunities to young readers through engaging lessons that align with a balanced literacy framework (Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Independent Reading). Using high-quality art and literature along with “next generation” reading instruction strategies, teachers will gain the tools they need to empower reluctant readers to become independent readers.

Next Generation Reading Instruction

The lessons in WDTW Lessons Sets were created around the idea of next generation reading instruction, which is defined as responsive teaching in the 2016 professional book, Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More. Instructional decisions are made based on carefully observing how students identify and manage the challenges they encounter in a text. The lessons are designed to show students their power as learners; reflect grade-level instructional standards; make learning deeper; and engage students in ways that make them forget that they’re working.

Engage Readers Through Art and High-Quality Books

In the WDTW Lesson Sets Reading Art lessons, teachers introduce a piece of art to students and encourage them to make observations and ask questions to determine what’s going on in the piece, thus practicing a skill or strategy they will be learning to apply when reading. A favorite among users of WDTW Lesson Sets, the Reading Art lessons allow teachers to ensure that students of all ability levels are able to participate and understand the lesson’s objective. WDTW Lesson Sets also include carefully selected fiction and nonfiction children’s trade books for each Read Aloud and Shared Reading lesson. According to Patti Austin, a second-grade teacher from Islip, NY who is currently using the WDTW Lesson Sets, “These books are such crowd-pleasers for the children, and for us as teachers, because they speak so well to what we’re trying to teach. The kids rave. They want to read them, they want to borrow them, they get very excited, and they want to hear them again and again.”

One Teacher’s Success Story

Take a look at this success story from Valinda Kimmel, an educator from Houston, TX, about a reluctant third-grade reader she worked with outside of the regular classroom using WDTW Lesson Sets.

“My planning and support for her was in large part guided by WDTW. . . We met every day from October until late May. Today her teacher sent me a text saying that she (the student) had passed our state assessment. She had a 37-point improvement from the benchmark she took in February until the ‘real’ test in early May. The last GRL she assessed as independent was a level G. The texts on the test were way beyond that. I’m believing that because she was empowered day after day to use the strategies she knew and had internalized, she was able, on the day of the test, to ‘gut it out.’ I know that she still has a long way to go, but the work she’s done and the fact that she passed should give her the much-needed confidence required to keep improving.”

A Gradual Release of Responsibility

At the heart of this student’s journey is the gradual release of responsibility, which supports a teacher’s shift from over-scaffolding a student’s development and allowing students to assume responsibility for their own reading progress by tapping into learned strategies on their own. According to Stephanie Harvey, the gradual release of responsibility is not a linear process, but rather a recursive and dynamic one (Harvey and Goudvis 2017). So, through repeated practice, with multiple texts of varying difficulties, reluctant readers can internalize new learning in ways that help them access it when working independently and transfer these skills back into their mainstream classrooms.

By presenting challenges as opportunities for growth, readers begin to see the connection between their effort and their success. As reading becomes its own reward, students are primed to become independent, proficient, joyful readers for life.

To learn more, download a sampler.

REFERENCES

Allington, Richard. 2002 “What I’ve Learned About Effective Reading Instruction.” Phi Delta Kappan (June): 740-747

Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. 2017. Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding, Engagement, and Building Knowledge. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Add comment December 10th, 2018

Rethinking How Students Do Research

Research doesn’t have to be a flat experience. If students ask the right questions that require investigation and critical thinking, research can spark passion and curiosity. It can be an exciting exploration into topics that lead to discovery.

“It should pop up into one’s thoughts at odd times of the night. It should prickle the intellect as a persistent itch prickles the skin. It should be a passion, a temporary obsession, page count unlimited. It should not be a pesky, tedious assignment.” –Cathy Fraser

In her new book, Love the Questions: Reclaiming Research with Curiosity and Passion, Cathy Fraser shows us how to lead students to think more critically about information through genuine inquiry. She argues that if students consider heftier questions while doing research for a project, they’re more likely to transform the information into something more meaningful. Here are some ideas to think about before assigning your next research project.

Espousing a Culture of Inquiry

Students have a hard time coming up with research questions. Fraser believes that by getting students to comply with the rules of citizenry in the school community, we’ve inadvertently squelched their natural curiosity. But Fraser believes that this trend can be reversed by opening the avenues to inquiry. “Real research leads to discovery. It begins with inquiry, but in order to form great research questions students must have a substantial amount of background knowledge,” (Fraser 2018).

Evolution of the Research Question

Coming up with a meaningful question can be difficult. Some questions may be too broad, and some questions are too surface level. Fraser suggests putting off developing research questions until students have read more about the subject. The more they know about a topic or person, the easier it will be for them to identify a problem or a question. “A student should experience something—even vicariously—before he can develop sufficient feelings of interest to invest his time in thinking more about a subject,” (Fraser 2018).

Making Connections: The Missing Piece

The piece that is missing from student research work is the prior knowledge they’ve gained throughout all of their years spent in the classroom absorbing content and other information. Fraser believes that we do not encourage students enough to draw on what they already know, to make connections to prior reading they’ve done, or even consider interests they pursue on their own time. “If we make connections for students even briefly on a regular basis, they will see that it’s a valuable exercise, and it make break down the dividers between disciplines. Everything is connected,” (Fraser 2018).

Preliminary Reading on a Topic

As part of their research, Fraser believes that it is important for students to read authoritative essays that express opposing viewpoints on their chosen topics. They may have an emotional response to the reading, which would lead to more questions. Ask the school librarian to help you track down articles, or essays can be found on subscription databases such as Gale and EBSCO Host.

To learn more about how to implement these ideas in the classroom, go to www.stenhouse.com/content/love-questions

REFERENCES:

Fraser, Cathy. 2018. Love the Questions: Reclaiming Research with Curiosity and Passion. Portsmouth, NH: Stenhouse

Add comment December 7th, 2018

Review of Not Light, But Fire by Matthew R. Kay

Recently, Peter Anderson, an English Language Arts teacher from Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington, VA, sent us his take on Not Light, But Fire: How to Have Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom by Matthew R. Kay. He very articulately put into words what we at Stenhouse all think about this important book and its potential impact on classrooms across the country. We had to share.

Not Light, But Fire is a masterful combination of pedagogy and critical consciousness. It is impossible to come out on the other side of this book without experiencing some sort of growth. It was like Matthew had watched videotapes of my most ineffective teaching moments and devised a plan to help me improve. I’d been that teacher who engaged in privilege walks and shock pedagogy in the misguided belief that this would help my students engage with race. I had watched my classroom discussions flounder, unaware that I was setting my bar too low and staying away from the ‘hard problems.’ Thank goodness Matthew Kay is willing to share his own path and his own knowledge with folks like me. Every chapter contains relatable anecdotes, instructional strategies, and incisive commentary. Matthew Kay pushes us to see ourselves and our students as scholars, critical thinkers capable of high-level discourse. In an ideal world, my teacher training would have prepared me for the ethical and professional challenges I (and any teacher) face on a daily basis. But it didn’t. For that and other reasons, I am profoundly grateful that this book exists.

One of the sections I found most powerful was the very brief discussion of the different reasons teachers wish to incorporate social justice into the classroom. As someone who has tried to consume a steady diet of anti-racist texts in the last year and a half, I identified with the social justice warrior category. And it was wonderfully humbling.”

Pick up your copy of Not Light, But Fire HERE. Start having the tough, but essential conversations in your classroom and empower your students to find their voice.

Add comment December 1st, 2018

Present-Moment Strategy: A Doorway to a More Mindful Life

Lisa J. Lucas, an author, consultant, and professor in the field of education, knows firsthand how much a mindful approach to the role of teacher can contribute to a positive classroom atmosphere. In this first post in a series on The Stenhosue Blog, Lisa talks about how mindfulness can help teachers during even the most hectic days. Lisa is the author of Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers.

Present-Moment Strategy: A Doorway to a More Mindful Life
By Lisa J. Lucas

Practicing PresenceMindful is the word of the moment, and mindfulness in education has exploded. It sounds so obvious; who doesn’t want to be mindful? The alternative — mindless —certainly isn’t what most of us are striving for. However, mindfulness in education is in the precarious position of being relegated to a programmatic approach. Mindfulness has hit the mainstream, so much so that it is even being coined “McMindfulness.”

We certainly don’t want to mandate mindfulness. To be honest, the word mindful doesn’t accurately depict what I think we, as busy educators, truly need. Our minds are full enough. Instead, we could benefit from some presence.

First, let’s determine what is meant by the word presence. Presence is a secular, informal term, intended to be applicable to daily life. Being present is simplistic, yet difficult. It’s available to us at any moment, and it goes by many names. Athletes refer to it as “being in the zone.” For soldiers and first responders, it’s “situational awareness.” Artists see it as “flow,” thinkers consider it “contemplation,” and the mainstream has coined it “mindfulness.”

The name doesn’t matter; it’s the feeling of peace and stillness that is important. I like to think of presence as a cousin of mindfulness. It’s a way of being attentive, curious, empathetic, and compassionate — essentially social emotional intelligence for educators.

Many of us in education feel a bit overwhelmed. My preferred word to describe how we often feel after a day at school is “flattened.” By practicing presence, we can find a way to manage the overwhelm that we feel in connection with the overscheduled, overextended lives we all seem to be leading.

As educators, practicing presence gives us the ability to anchor ourselves so we aren’t carried away by the ever-changing challenges of daily classroom life. Being present means we can observe our own internal state before we react to events so that we can respond thoughtfully. Presence allows us to be more aware and to observe ourselves and others non-judgmentally. If we’re anchored in presence, the drama doesn’t carry us away. The simple act of being present has the power to change how we interact with our students and colleagues.

If we want to foster healthier learning environments, we can begin by first attending to our own self-care by modeling presence in the classroom. Just as we learn to play the piano or train for a marathon through practice, we practice presence one moment at a time. And it’s not once and done. It’s a lifelong habit. We begin this way of life by being more attentive, curious, empathetic and compassionate.

Many schools are introducing mindfulness meditation to students, which helps cultivate awareness of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. All are great skills for our students to learn. There are now mindfulness curriculums that have step-by-step instructions for teachers to read. However, mindfulness isn’t meant to be a script, much like you wouldn’t ask a teacher who can’t swim to teach a swimming class from a textbook. Shouldn’t we as educators explore and tune in to our own needs before we attempt to guide our students?

My book, Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care for Teachers, explores practical strategies to practice presence before we layer on the expectation that you’ll teach it to children. A mindful culture could transform the way we live and work, but like any systems change, you can’t mandate what matters. Change is a process, not an event, and I believe this process begins with individuals.

We can begin exploring presence by trying a 1-minute presence pause.

All you have to do is sit without an agenda for one minute. If you don’t have a minute, you don’t have a life. The idea here is to shift from “doing” to “being,” for just a minute.

Steps:

  1. Sit down, plant your feet flatly on the floor and sit up straight.
  2. Place your hands palms down on your lap and close your eyes.
  3. Set a timer for one minute and begin to tune into your breath; just notice the inhale and exhale. If you get distracted, smile: you’re normal. Refocus your attention on your breath and try not to get hijacked into the drama of your thoughts. Just let them go and keep bringing your attention back to your breath. Think of this as attention training. We begin by noticing how scattered our attention can be.
  4. When the timer sounds, open your eyes gradually, stand up slowly and intentionally transition into the next part of your day.

You may notice that you feel just a slight bit lighter and more centered, or possibly you feel a bit less anxious. Occasionally, you may notice that you are anxious: slowing down can tune you into sensations that were overlooked before you paused. No matter how you feel, acknowledge the feeling without judgement.

And that, my friends, is the beginning of practicing presence. I believe that if we don’t build some type of practice into our work and home lives, the days and nights just blur together and we only pause when we fall into bed at night, exhausted.

***

More present-moment practices can be found in Lisa J. Lucas’ book, Practicing Presence: Simple Self-Care Strategies for Teachers. Lucas is an associate professor of Early and Middle Grades Education at West Chester (Pa.) University and was previously a school district administrator, an instructional coach and a classroom teacher. She provides workshops, coaching and consulting in classrooms throughout the country.

 

 

 

 

Add comment May 29th, 2018

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.

Getting Started with Action Research
Matt Renwick

We recently facilitated action research for twenty of our district teachers. They came from all areas in grades K–12. The course was led by Dr. Beth Giles and Dr. Mark Dziedzic from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Teachers met one evening a month to explore their driving questions, set up action plans, collect and organize data, and prepare their work for an inquiry showcase this spring. Here are some of the questions that were specific to literacy, and what we learned.

What happens when we provide choice in reading and learning?

Three teachers investigated this tenet of engagement. A second-grade teacher conducted Genius Hour at the end of the day, a time in which students could tinker and make things of their choosing. A third-grade teacher allowed her students to decide how their classroom should look and feel regarding furniture and resources. A reading interventionist embedded choice within her instruction, including letting the students select one book a month to keep.

What they found out was that choice affected each student in different ways. For example, the reading interventionist discovered that if a student’s basic needs were not being met, he or she had a hard time progressing. She countered this reality by bringing families into school to engage in literacy activities, such as building bookshelves. The third-grade teacher realized that some students liked working with peers regularly, whereas others needed quiet time to read and write. The second-grade teacher found that, for one student in particular, a half hour of tinkering every day led to a reduction in office referrals by 70 percent from fall to spring. Providing choice in school helped teachers better understand their students and adjust their instruction.

What happens when students are taught to ask questions and reflect about their reading?

A fourth- and fifth-grade teacher working with multiple curriculums in a split classroom realized that addressing the needs of a wide variety of learners was a tall order. Therefore, she wanted to find out if teaching her students to ask their own questions of the books they read and to reflect on their thinking in authentic ways through reading journals would lead to more independence.

She modeled these skills and strategies with her own reading. Gradually, she released the responsibility of questioning and reflecting to the students. Data she gathered were anecdotal and powerful. Students not only kept reflections of their own reading, they also noted what their peers were reading. Recommendations for what to read next led to students creating “Want to Read” lists in their journals. Also, students emulated how their teacher talked in their book discussions. This teacher later noted that she was looking forward to working with next year’s fifth graders in the fall.

What happens when teachers reveal themselves as learners?

A secondary reading interventionist was frustrated with her past students’ inability to exit her program in a timely manner. She decided to focus on how her language might promote a growth mind-set in her most reluctant readers and writers. First, she wrote in front of her students about the struggles she was having as a teacher and as a parent. These were day-to-day ordeals—ordinary issues she was sharing publicly. Students were also asked to write about their struggles. Few initially took her up on it. But as the teacher continued to model a growth mind-set, more students followed her lead.

Because the teacher was so open about her own learning, students felt safe in her classroom to take risks. They started to shed their rough exteriors, revealing frustrations about classes and their home lives. This led to exploring literature that students could personally relate to, populated with characters and settings in which they could reside. Pretty soon, her students were coming to her with improved progress reports to share and celebrate. A few kids exited her reading intervention earlier than anticipated but didn’t want to leave. This teacher eventually published her action research in the Wisconsin State Reading Association journal.

What happens when we let kids read?

A fifth-grade teacher and I teamed up to provide her students with a lot of texts to read, and we decreased the reading requirements placed upon them. I would come in once a month with a box full of high-interest books and do a quick blurb about each one. The teacher also used her allocated funds to enhance the classroom library. She taught the students how to have a conversation with peers and frequently conferred with students about their reading and goals. Her work derived from the research by Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston, highlighted in a Stenhouse blog post four years ago.

My role as coresearcher was to survey the students once a month using a tool developed by Ivey and Johnston. What we learned was that every student was different. Their reading lives varied from month to month. One student who proclaimed “I hate reading!” in February was excited about a new series he discovered in March. Other students also became more honest about reading in school. “I am SO glad to be done with my reading contract, so I can read whatever I want.” This type of data was more powerful than any screener or test score. Reading lives look more like a heartbeat than a straight line. Readers—kids and adults—have their ups and downs.

In observing these teachers’ journeys, I have discovered new truths about principalship. Just as students need to be engaged in their learning, teachers have to be engaged in their work. Not merely busy or working collegially with staff, but really engaged. We need to trust in their professionalism. We need to provide teachers the room to ask questions and grow. We need to honor the process as much as the outcomes. We need to celebrate both their mistakes and their successes, always striving to become better every day as professionals. Letting go of some control as a school leader is hard. Yet when we do, teachers are able to be the leaders of their own learning.

Tips for Getting Started in Action Research
If you are a teacher…

  • Ask yourself, “Why do I want to engage in action research?” If you can identify the purpose for this work in your professional life, it will motivate you to get started.
  • Do your homework on action research to build a knowledge base about the topic. Excellent resources include Living the Questions by Ruth Shagoury and Brenda Power (Stenhouse, 2012) and The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research by Nancy Fichtman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey (Corwin, 2014).
  • Develop a community of professionals who also want to engage in action research. You can leverage the power of the group to persuade your principal to support this initiative as part of the professional development plan. If you cannot collaborate in person, check out online communities related to classroom research, such as The Teachers Guild.
  • Find a question that you want to explore and that is embedded within your current practice. This wondering should relate to your professional learning goals and offer artifacts that can serve as evidence for your evaluation system.
  • Include your students in your action research as much as possible. They will become a great source of information as you study the impact of your work on their learning. They will also come to see you as a learner, which enhances the entire classroom community.

If you are an administrator…

  • Be deliberate when considering action research as a possible professional learning experience. The phrase action research can scare off some teachers who might otherwise be interested in this approach. Start small, maybe offering it as a voluntary course beyond the school day for graduate credit or pay.
  • Connect with outside organizations that can facilitate a course instead of trying to host it yourself. There is vulnerability involved in action research. The more we can have others lead the initiative, the more likely teachers will be willing to open up and take risks in their pursuits of becoming better practitioners.
  • Conduct action research yourself. I did this, using the resource The Action Research Guidebook by Richard Sagor (Corwin, 2012). The author offers several examples of a principal engaging in professional inquiry at a schoolwide level. I would share my findings and reflections in staff newsletters and at meetings. The message you send is the same one teacher-researchers convey to their students: We are all learners here.
  • Prepare a multiyear plan for facilitating action research in your school or district. Teacher questions seemed to lead to more questions during the school year. At the inquiry showcase, teachers were already asking if they could conduct action research again. “I feel like I just discovered my question,” noted one teacher.

 

Matt 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. His book Digital Student Porfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Improvement will be published by Powerful Learning Press.

Add comment September 12th, 2016

Poems, right from the start

Shirley McPhillips

Shirley McPhillips

In her book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers, author and poet Shirley McPhillips shows how teachers can include poetry in the daily life of the classroom and in the lives of students. Dozens of poems throughout the book can be used as mentor texts as they serve to instruct and inspire. In her latest guest post, Shirl helps us consider the importance of getting poems out into the classroom airwaves on day one, to lay a foundation for engagement and growth throughout the year.

Poems, right from the start
By Shirley McPhillips

I became a poet because of poetry’s great mystery and partly because of a second-grade teacher I had who believed poetry was at the center of the universe.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
Here’s a story:

One steamy first day of school in eighth grade, the students, still barefoot on the beaches of their minds, sat in muted reverie. The teacher, Miss Eloise, smiled, said hello, then bravely picked up her faded blue copy of Emily Dickinson. She looked at the students for a time, to let some seriousness sink in, then “introduced” herself.

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Miss Eloise said hearing a poem once was never enough for her. She wondered if anyone else would like to read it to the class. She waited. Daryl’s hand went up. That got everybody’s attention. He tried to use the same expression as Miss Eloise, to the amusement of all. She smiled appreciatively and thanked Daryl for his “spirited” rendition.

That was it! No rules and regulations. Just hanging a poem in the air. This was my new class. My new teacher! A rare and strange feeling (as Dickinson said herself) came over me, as if the top of my head were taken off. I didn’t understand that poem really, nor some poems we read later, but I felt their power. And the power of a teacher who believed in words to instruct and inspire. Believed is us. Had faith that when we became friendly enough with poems, we would make connections. We would find out how they might work, on paper and in our lives.

I no longer recall what happened next that first day so long ago. I do recall we didn’t dissect the poem, or try to figure out what we thought it “meant.” I remember at the end of class Miss Eloise gave each of us a small packet of poems, as a welcome to the new year. Perhaps we might find one we liked, she said. If not, we needn’t worry. There were plenty of poems in the world for everyone. We would find what we wanted, what we needed. And leave the rest for others.

The waters parted.

Of course, as the year went on, no matter what other subject matter presented itself, there were always poems. We were building up a friendship with them. We opened up to talk about them, to consider our own connections. To consider our own questions, not just answer Miss Eloise’s. We collected poems in folders and began to write our own. That was the beginning of my discovery, with poet Mary Oliver, that poems can be a “life cherishing force.” That understanding has lasted to this day. Ever growing.

BUILDING UP A FRIENDSHIP WITH POETRY

Poems are short. It doesn’t take much time to read a poem and think about it. And that’s what our students who hope to live with poems, who hope to write poems, need to do. Day one / week one, we can get poems out into the airwaves, pin them up against the light. Give them a chance to circulate with pleasure. It works best if the habit of poetry is embedded in our experiences from day to day, where we live. Not just on special occasions.

To build up a friendship with poems that will be the foundation for going deeper over time, we need some foundational beliefs about what might support students in this goal. Once we say, “Yes, that sounds like something important for readers and writers of poems,” the next question becomes, “So what can we arrange that will give this a chance of happening?” Considering the first question, here’s my short list for now. You might want to revise and add to it.

Students need opportunities to:

•read and listen to some poems without an expectation to “do” anything.

Just breathe them in and out. Not to “analyze.” Just hear the sounds. Feel the rhythms. Experience. Get a “taste.” Crack open the door of fear to let a little light come in. Realize one can be moved by words without always knowing why. Just like we can be moved by music without knowing why. A little mystery is good. Not everything has an answer, in poems and in life.

•read poems more than once, the more often the better

Revisit poems they’re attracted to for different reasons. To be allowed time to “request” poems to listen to and read together again. To revisit and share poems they’ve collected, or that have been charted, or tagged.

•choose their own poems to enjoy, explore, talk with others about
(in addition to those the teacher will want to introduce them to).

Collecting poems, sharing with each other, reading poems consistently across time, students build up their own personal taste, an identity with poems and poets.

•write out lines and poems they like

For sounds of language, for image, for memories they evoke, because of an intimate connection. Writing (or typing) out a poem helps you know it more closely. You are doing exactly what the poet did, and what you can do any time you want.

•listen to and read different types of poems, by different authors, to broaden the field and welcome challenges.

Becoming more familiar with different ways poems can look and sound, we become more comfortable with tasting something new. Like a traveler who happily anticipates trying new cuisine instead of turning up her nose because it’s “different.” If we feel we have to do something “serious” with every poem we read, we won’t read enough of them to get a sense of what they can be, of finding those that stick with us.

•give voice by reading poems aloud, individually and in chorus with others.

To catch the sounds and tune the ear. To bring poems inside. And out again. Poetry is a “bodily art” says poet Robert Pinsky. Reading aloud, we can begin to intuit a feel for craft. Craft is partly what directs us how to read a poem.

•excuse themselves from the company of those who would beat a poem “with a hose to find out what it really means” (Collins 2001, 16).

“Meaning” is made at the point where a reader connects with the “voice”—some inner verbal music— of a poem. An immense intimacy is felt. An exchange takes place in which something new is created. This is a personal relationship. Mysterious and miraculous. We do want to get closer to some poems as we go, especially as writers learning craft. Also, to take pleasure in the challenges of the poem, in what the writer has done to delight or move us.

•respond naturally and openly to poems

To begin, simply “say something.” Or, “What do you notice?” “What does this make you think?” Noticing and thinking. Two actions we want to become habits. They can last all year, carry over to other endeavors, the responses and interactions becoming deeper and more extended. A good way for teachers to observe, listen, get to know the students: What is she noticing? What is she thinking based on that observation? From that information, notice how the ability to observe and think deepens with consistency, experience and the work of the community. This is a foundation for those who will be writing poems.

CHOOSING POEMS, RIGHT FROM THE START

In the beginning of the year (and always) I choose to read poems aloud that I delight in, that move me in some way, that show extraordinary craft. I also hope these poems will help set a tone of openness and thoughtfulness; will help build “community think.” At the same time, I want to encourage a curiosity for the limitless ways poems can be. We will revisit these poems along the way. Some of the specifics I list here may be helpful in choosing many other poems for read aloud and discussion. You’ll find your own.

A very few examples. Key:—perhaps older students, •perhaps younger students, **perhaps both

“Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell Luscious words, wonderful metaphor, September experience

“Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon
Anaphora (repetition of first lines), tapping into memories, things that represent a life, springboard for sharing appreciation of life’s moments, great as a model for exploring one’s own life

“Unfolding Bud” by Naoshi Koriyama
Amazing metaphor for unfolding of a poem, for reading again and again

“The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes” by Mekeel McBride
Different perspectives of ordinary object, touch of humor, human condition we can relate to, conversational tone, comparison to a poem

“Deformed Finger” by Hal Sirowitz From the author’s collection of advice from his mother, funny stream-of -consciousness, identifiable, poems from the ordinary made extraordinary

** Stone Bench in an Empty Park selected by Paul Janeczko
Anthology of haiku that shows poets looking carefully at what’s around them in the city.
Intriguing images, like taking a walk and looking around.

** “Teased” from Secrets of a Smaller Brother Richard Margolis
Short, sensitive poem, few words with deep underlying emotion. Collection of typical sibling situations. Oldie but goody.

“Dear Apples” by Takayo Noda
Speaker talks to apple, sensuous language, detail, no rhyme (the young need that too)

“Skyscrapers” by Rachael Field
A list of all questions. Could extend to notice, ask questions of objects, standard rhyme

“A Lazy Thought” by Eve Merriam
Strong noisy verbs, questions inside, internal rhyme not the usual, good for choral reading, provocative ending

“Beginning on Paper” by Ruth Krauss
Jazzy rhythm, list in syncopation, repeated phrase, great images, surprise ending, nice human touch, good for choral reading. Note: Can find poem in this wonderful anthology:

And so it goes…

Shirl is Poet Laureate for Choice Literacy online. Read some of her poems and reflections at ChoiceLiteracy.

7 comments August 24th, 2016

Tips for starting the new school year

We recently asked some of our authors for their best tips for starting the new school year. In the first installment, Katie Egan Cunningham and Jennifer McDonough both discuss the importance of building relationships with students:

 



Add comment August 17th, 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

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

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