Thursday, December 7, 2017

conferring matters

Now that we've finished our Literary Essay unit in Writing Workshop, we're back in a reading unit, so our writing toggles back to blogging. This week, kiddos are writing a post inspired by the word PERFECT. (Thank you #TeachWrite and #DWHabit for the idea!)

After the explanation and my example, kids got to work. Some students had a topic easily and went to writing, others needed some tools to get started. I helped those kiddos out, then another student walked up to me and asked how long it had to be.

"As long as you need to make your point. Did you read mine? You need enough writing some your ideas are clear."

"Yes," he replied, "but mine is different." I asked him to go get his iPad so he could read it to me.

He came back, sat down at our conferring space, and read his writing to me while I followed along on the screen. It was really good! He basically wrote about how perfect is a fraud, because nothing is perfect, and how everything has a flaw. When he finished I told him that I really liked his ideas and that I thought it was great. Then I asked if he wanted coaching to make it better.

"You mean on the punctuation, right?"

"No, not at all!" I said. "My idea is more in the elaboration of your points. I was thinking that if you are saying nothing is perfect, and that there is a flaw with everything, a good writing strategy would be to show, and not tell. So what I would do if I were you is think of an example."

I was then thinking aloud to him. "Think of your perfect friend, and list three traits." Then I began to write in the air... "Katie is the perfect friend because she is fun, and we both like to write and teach so we talk about that stuff, and also because her jokes are funny." Then I went back to coaching... "But then, say her flaw too, to make your point." and I went back to writing in the air again. "But here's the thing, Katie lives in Phoenix, so far from me. So can I say she's the perfect friend, if there is a flaw? Wouldn't the perfect friend live in your zip code? This is what I mean about perfect. It's a fraud."

I continued, "What do you think of my tip, you know, to give an example to show  your point? Do you think you can do that?"

He smiled, nodded, and said yes. "Off you go then, try it out!"

He went back to his seat and then the class preceded on as normal, until it ended, and everyone had left. Except one of my other kiddos who needed a heart-to-heart. But my writer was still there, too. My heart-to-heart kiddo shouts at him, in a lovingly, middle-school-way, "Come on, why are you even still here?"

With a smile he shows the screen of his iPad to us, and says, "Because I want to show Ms. Brezek my blog."
My heart about exploded.

You guys! Conferring matters - yes, it matters because you help kids make their writing better, but even more so, it matters because you create a space for kids to be heard. They sit in front of you, gather all their courage, and read their writing to you. Their writing is their heart. And they put it out there for us to read and critique.

And so when they have positive experiences and they grow, they want to revel in that glow.

And we must create the space needed to let them.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

the perfect teaching neighbor

This week students will write blog posts inspired by the word perfect. Here's what that might look like!

There are many ways you could describe the perfect teaching neighbor...





You've met my perfect teaching neighbor - Ms. Belkov. She's all those things I mentioned above!

She's musical. Ms. Belkov sings lots of songs, like "I've had the time of my life" from Dirty Dancing. Or a song about Taco Tuesday. Or old school hip hop from the 90's that is now on 104.3.

She's silly, too. She does funny things to make you laugh, like singing in the middle school hallway with a purple stuffed mic. Or telling jokes at team meetings that make you laugh so hard you fall off your chair.

She's also hardcore. What I mean by this is that she expects a lot. If she assigns some work, you better complete it, and complete it well. You better not be rude to her, because then she will have to show you how to talk respectfully. Another thing she's hard core about? Feeling good by exercising. She wakes up SUPER early some mornings and goes to the gym. She means business about her stuff!

She's engaging. You guys, she acts things out. If I were a kid, I'd want to be in her eighth grade class. (I'm an adult and I want to be in it!) Her face lights up a room with her smile, she sings and tells jokes and dances around. All of these things are engaging about being in her presence.

But the thing that makes Ms. Belkov the perfect teaching neighbor? Well, it's that she is my friend. She helps me understand things when I'm confused, she lets me cry when I'm sad, she gives me advice when I get in a fight with my mom or sister, she teaches me yoga, and she inspires me with her work ethic. Friends do all this and more, and she's that person for me.

There's no one I'd rather have a classroom next to.
Ms. Belkov is the perfect neighbor.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Actionable Steps

My coteacher, Andrea, and I are wrapping up a literary analysis paper with our middle school kiddos. One of our colleagues shared an awesome organizer for analyzing quotes from a text... TIQA. Kids write a TOPIC, INTRODUCE the quote they found, include the QUOTE, then complete ANALYSIS on the meaning of the quote.

Meanwhile, one of the other coaches in our district asked me to deliver a brief PD on writing to her third year teachers. I got to reading the front of the Writing Strategies Book (Serravallo) and remembering listening to her speak at the Illinois Reading Council Conference - about actionable steps. And so, the writing PD became a session on creating actionable steps for writing tasks, and then my instruction was enhanced when I realized I wasn't doing awesome at this with my students.

You guys, EVERYTHING has to be broken down to a set of actionable steps. EVERY TASK. Telling students, "write a thesis" - that's not an actionable step, that's the goal. You have to show them how to do so. Let me elaborate a bit on goals vs. actionable steps with some examples:

Goal: Punctuate correctly.
Actionable steps: (1) Read your paper aloud, listening for the pauses you will naturally take. (2) When you find the pause, add punctuation. (3) Reread your work with punctuation and decide if if looks right and sounds right. 

Goal: Introduce the quote (for literary analysis)

Actionable steps: (1) Identify who spoke / thought the quote. (2) Think about the setting when the person spoke or thought the quote. (3) Write a sentence that shares the setting and/or action that had just happened prior to the quote. (4) Add that sentence before the quote in your draft.

Goal: Complete Analysis for your quote

So Andrea and I were extra prepared today for our mini-lesson, and we had modified one of Serravallo's strategies. We did a great job with mini-lesson, but then as I was conferring, and sitting with students attempting this, I saw HOW HARD ANALYSIS IS. Friends, so so hard...not impossible, but kids will have to sit and understand that ideas might not just pop up super fast. Analysis, like all the other things we ask our kids to do, would be taught best when we tell our kiddos the specific actions they should take to accomplish the task.

So to recap the big ideas I've learned this week:
1. You can't just tell kids what to do, you have to SHOW THEM. (I knew that, but am reminded again.)
2. Even when you write out great actionable steps, the task can still be super hard, and probably, your teaching can be revised further!

I already have evidence that the analysis our kiddos are doing are going to take them from basic to extra (as I told my kids today, which was met with some giggles and a few eye rolls.) The final drafts will tell it all...including how I can teach it even better next time.

Anyone have more ideas for actionable steps for Analysis? I'd love to hear them and enhance what I've got! We're always better when we're putting our heads together!

Happy Friday Eve! :-)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

from striving to thriving - a giveaway!

It's time to coin a new phrase, friends. No more 'struggling' readers - let's change our mindset and go with 'striving' readers. In their new book, Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward have just this point to make, and share with us how we can move our readers from Striving to Thriving.

First Impressions
I just got these copies a few days ago, and haven't had time to read more than just the introduction, but already it's a hit. Here's why.

First, the work is grounded in research by two of my favorites: Rosenblatt and Goodman. I've written about Louise Rosenblatt before, but she came up with the transactional theory of reading. This theory states that no two readers read the same  story, because each text is a transaction between the book and the reader. Since all readers bring a different set of experiences and schema to the books they read, each interpretation of the text will be slightly different.

But Yetta Goodman, well I haven't written much about her. She's a pretty prominent person in my studies, too, because of her 'kidwatching' research. This is basically about how teachers have to observe their students in their work with literacy (teachers as kidwatchers), believe in their own professional judgments, and respect children's abilities. With all of that success will come.

In a time when we have so many exteranal ways to collect information - various applications students work on that put out reports of their progress (i.e. Accelerated Reader, Achieve 3000, Lexia, etc), I'm happy to read and be reminded that the teacher is the trained professional in the room, the teacher is the person who should be doing the observations, having the conversations, taking the anecdotal notes, and moving our children forward, rather than waiting on a system of some sort to tell us what to do.

The guiding framework throughout this text is Trust, Teach, Transform. The chapters are written in a common format, beginning with a vignette, including key research and teacher moves, and with practice and lessons. In addition, there is a section entitled Assessing Readers in the Round (ARR) which provides questions to guide your kidwatching.

I just went through the first chapter and loved what I saw. First, research upon research upon research. There tons of studies referenced and other books that are associated in meaning. Additionally, the practice and lessons are plentiful. One awesome idea that came along with helping kids build their identity was choosing a Walk-Up Song - you know, like at pro baseball games? Well, each reader chooses their own song, they share it with one another, and perhaps a teacher would pay it as they walk up to do a presentation.

Through each chapter you will find all of these things: research, classroom vignettes, practice, lessons, and questions to guide your thoughts and actions. All of this is delivered on beautiful, colored pages with tons of graphics and examples of work.

The Big Idea
After getting through the introduction and first chapter, I'm seeing that the big theme here is that time with books is what is best for our striving readers. Many times, the kids that need the most time with books are pulled to do work with programs to intervene, but in reality, what students need most is time with books and meaningful opportunities to confer with their teachers and peers. Harvey and Ward remind us that, "Programs don't teach kids, teachers do." and that "Becoming a wise reading teacher takes time, thoughtfulness, deep study, and sheer effort." What I'm getting is that you can't just impose a program on kids, but instead, you have to meet with them, read with them, and coach them... and most importantly, provide them HOURS and HOURS and HOURS of reading time. That is the way they will move from striving to thriving.

You guys, there's just a little bit on the book, but there is really so so much more. I can't wait to spend even more time with this book, and I'd love for you to do the same!

I have an extra copy of the book to give away! To be entered into the drawing, just leave a comment here on this blog post. Tell me about how you kidwatch in your classrooms - what observations are you using and how is that guiding your instruction with your students?

Next Saturday (10/28/17) I'll randomly select a winner from the list of comments. But a few things:

1. Make sure you are not a no-reply commentor. Check out this link to make sure I'll be able to reach out to you if you are chosen.
2. Chosen winner must be from the United States.

Looking forward to hearing your kidwatching stories! And, if you like what you've read here, follow my blog and connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @bigtimeliteracy :-)

Have a fab weekend!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

making small groups work in the middle

I'm 15 years into teaching and I've finally figured out small groups in the middle school classroom. Of course, I've been seeing small groups in some way or another over the years, but they haven't been as systematic as I've finally figured out this year.

In the past, I'd get kids learning with the activity and then I'd bounce around haphazardly, usually helping kids who were struggling, and leaving the higher-performing kids to their own devices...with no anecdotals about anything I was accomplishing. It was the best I could do at the time, but now I'm able to see all the kids in my class in a smaller setting over the course of 4 sessions of class.

I am lucky to teach on a block schedule, which affords me 88 minutes of ELA every day. We've got a lot of different things going on in 88 minutes, but no matter what we do, I try to save time for workshop: mini-lesson, workshop, and share time:

As much as I'd love my pacing to go like this, it just doesn't always work out that way. The past two weeks, my coteacher, Andrea and I were teaching the Signposts from Notice and Note - those are not mini-lesson lessons - they take a lot of time to teach and model. But this week, we've finally released that work off to pairs and small groups, which is happening in that 12:30-1:00 time frame.

There is one other important routine I set in place to make this work, too: Accountability Buddies, which I originally learned about on this blog post. Cliff's notes is that kids pick a partner that they want to work with for the long term. When we read poetry, they work with this partner. When they get confused and a teacher is unavailable, they go to this person. And, when Andrea and I are seeing a small group, we make sure a pair is either split between the two of us or both independent, and we require them to work together.

Side note about these buddies: when I was evaluated last year, I saw a small group, and my principal observed the buddies asking so many high level questions to one another about their task. What I love about this system is the long term partnership (and choice in the buddy) creates a lot of trust which allows for risk taking. I had no idea that this would be one of the many awesome results of this forming these long term pairs!

So after I have the buddy system set up, and after we have the routines down, and after I have explicitly taught whatever is the thing we are learning, when we're ready to release work to kids, then we are able to follow the pacing guide above. When we get to workshop time, I let the kids know where they will be working on a rotating basis, so each day I show them one of these charts:

Side notes about the charts if you want to try: Make them different colors - it will be easier for you and the kids to see the differences. Also, I prefer to name these "Conferring Day 1, 2..." instead of by the days of the week. Biggest reason is holidays - We probably miss a lot more Mondays than any other day, so this system just uses an ongoing, rotating basis for the groups.

With this schedule, every other day kids are working with a teacher. On the days away from the teacher, they have their Accountability Buddy as a support. They are taught they cannot interrupt a small group, and they don't! It's been great getting into a routine with this schedule.

And the best part? I get to see kids in smaller settings. All kiddos in my group get very specific feedback about their work, which I can see easily as they sit with me at the horseshoe table. They use guided writing practices (Jan Richardson) to orally rehearse the notes they are about to take. They learn to share to their small group (rather than just to me) and ask for clarification to the small group (rather than just from me). The quiet kiddo speaks up. And when awesome predictions or comments about theme or plot are made, I have the ability to take anecdotal notes that inform my knowledge of what kids know and can do.

Win. Win.

Of course this isn't the only way to make this happen...what are you all doing out there in teacher blog land? Leave a comment below with some ideas so we can keep the conversation going!

Happy Wednesday!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

who is brezek, really?

Talking identity this month in ELA. So here's what I'm thinking about that....

First thing that comes to mind is CHEERLEADER. High school was where it all began and that was so fun, and then even ever since then I haven't changed much. Always rootin' for people and doing little dances and cheers and high fives on the sideline of whatever they are working on. Love to make people happy and let them know I think they can do the hard things. So first one, cheerleader... especially for the Sun Devils, my fave team!

Next, I'm an AUNTIE! Here's a pic of my niece from long ago...

Love to spoil her and my other nieces and nephews and spend some time with them in the summer. I wish they lived closer than Charlotte, but Caitlyn gets to come visit me every summer for a week, just her and I. Caitlyn and I are always talking books too... she texts me for titles and I LOVE THAT! (She's currently reading Nicola Yoon, highly recommend!) Here's a more recent pic of a special kiddo who makes me Auntie.

BEST FRIEND. We all have the special people in our lives that make us who we are, who understand us and love us even thought we're SO STRANGE. Love my group of BFFs, they are the family that I choose!
Also Identity: Sports Fan. Go CUBBIES!

Next, WORLD TRAVELER. I love seeing new places, and really I LOVED SPAIN. Like I think I need to change my identity and become Spanish and move to Madrid! I've been to London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Barcelona, Madrid, and a few other cities in Spain, and I can't wait to go to another continent again! (And cities here the states, too!)

You guys, of course, TEACHER. Year 15. I totally love it. Especially kids who look at me, with that expression of disbelief and ask me, "Did you really just do that?" Yes, yes I just did speak in acronym to you, and you understand it, *and you like it. Plus, I get to do the things I love every day, reading and writing, and teaching kids why reading and writing are so amazing and perfect and wonderful. So teaching, my identity (and, I've known this would be part of my identity since I was in third grade!!)

Okay lastly, I'm an ELA RESEARCHER STALKER. Don't judge me but I love reading books about teaching ELA and it's awesome when I get to meet the writers of these books IRL. Like Kelly Gallagher. You can thank him for Article of the Week and reading lots of Just Right books! And, I met him in person with our ELA Squad from HMS. Don't be jelly!

Well this is a start for now. Pretty sure I'll be adding onto this list in the coming years - like wife and mom! Until then I have bunch of "kids" in room 230.

What's your identity? Write your blog post and leave your link in my comments so we can share!


Saturday, August 26, 2017

in love

It has been my dream for years to have a 7/8 combo ELA class where the seventh graders loop, a la Nancie Atwell. My dream is beginning to take flight this year!

Last year I had a combo class, but it was small. Mostly 8th graders, with three seventh graders. Those seventh graders are now in eighth, but my new combo class is a 50-50 mix of seventh and eighth, including my three from last year. The brilliance behind this plan has been found already, just in week one.

In four short sessions of ELA, I can already see the potential for this combo class design. This week, we began some procedures that will turn into daily routines. The first one is poetry, which is another recommendation from Nancie Atwell. Have kids study poetry every day because it packs big meaning in short text.

So there I was sitting with the kids in our meeting space, and after reading our first poem, Human Family to them, I asked them to partner read with their Accountability Buddy (long term partnership chosen by kids). The kids of mine who were with me last year knew exactly what was coming, and so it was such a delight to have them get right to work by prompting their partner to begin.

The choral reading of the poem we did, no complaints this year, no feelings that it was weird, because I had kids who were already accustomed to this practice. If I have just three kids looping this year, imagine the impact when I have 14 models next!

It's just the beginning, and I believe in my heart that this is such an effective way to deliver ELA instruction! I can't wait to see what other little insights I'll have as we move forward this year.

And to top it all off, on an exit ticket, one of my seventh graders wrote this:

"The highlight of ELA was being with the 8th graders."

Totally, #allthefeels.

Does anyone else have a combo, looping class? I'd love to hear more about your experiences!

Happy Saturday!
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