By Amy Brennan
May 19, 2016 was an especially exciting week for me at #G2Great. Maggie Beattie Roberts and Kate Roberts were the guest hosts on the #G2Great Twitter chat. Yes, they have a new book, DIY Literacy and yes they are amazing. I was especially excited because I can remember the days that Maggie would come to my office as we prepared for a day of staff development at my former school where I was the literacy coach and she was the TCRWP Staff Developer. The brilliance in Maggie’s methods comes through in this amazing book and I am honored and in awe that I was fortunate to learn from Maggie for many years as I developed as a literacy coach.
Often I watched as Maggie took each Sharpie, and carefully chose the color and drafted what to me looked like perfection as she taught us how to create what later developed into DIY Literacy Tools. Teachers followed her lead as she always shared the why behind the work. Teachers felt safe in the struggle and messiness of learning as she led us from meeting to labsites and debriefs. Teachers left with tools they created, practiced in a labsite and then went back to their own classrooms to use these tools with their own students.
As I read through the storify for the chat in preparing to write this blog, some ideas around tools emerged. Many of these ideas came together from the collective thinking that happens weekly at #G2Great while ideas coming from all that I’ve learned over the years from Maggie and the TCRWP community. It was then that the culmination of Maggie and Kate’s new book, DIY Literacy fit so well. They answer the call when we bring forth common problems in our classrooms and provide us with solutions. In our chat Maggie and Kate asked us to join with them to identify the struggles we faced but also charged us with sharing solutions. The solutions are found in the form of the DIY Literacy tools. Throughout the chat these three ideas emerged:
1) Tools help learners to understand the WHY behind what they are learning
2) Tools support students and help them to feel safe in the messy struggle of learning
3) There is true power in a Sharpie
Knowing the Why
Learners in any situation fair much better when they understand the why behind what they are learning. DIY tools such as a bookmark can give students a personal path to strategies that they can reach for easily to do the thinking and reading work that is in their Zone of Proximal Development. Other tools you’ll find in this amazing book are examples of demonstration notebooks. Demonstration notebooks are a powerhouse teaching tool, teachers can use these in small group or conferences. Micro progressions are a DIY tool that creates a learning opportunity where students can find where they are in the learning process and reach for the next available step in learning all while being able to see what is next and why each increment in learning is significant. There is real beauty in the ability to see the progression of learning through these tools as it helps the learner to understand the why behind each increment of learning.
Feeling Safe in the Messy Struggle of Learning
Just as the Google Maps app on my phone provides me with a feeling of safety and security when I am on an unknown road and heading to never before seen sights, DIY Literacy tools can help students stay on the correct route while making them feel safe. The stretch that takes place when we learn can be uncomfortable and feel like a struggle, but the tools we help to co-author with students can reduce that struggle, support the stretch and advance the learning. These tools helps to organize the messiness in learning. We should embrace the mess in learning, however if there are tools that can help to organize our learning it makes sense to welcome the mess, bid it goodbye and embrace the tools.
The Power of a Sharpie
During the chat Kate tweeted, “It really is all about the Sharpies.” There is something about those brightly colored markers, once in my hand scribbling on a blank white sheet of paper that helps me to think things through. The thinking that comes from this simple act fosters creativity for me. The process of planning out how a strategy is best demonstrated and learned becomes clear in the context of that learning in action. Working through the process allows for revisions before the teaching and learning happens, making those later opportunities successful. Planning for charts or demonstration notebook pages are perfect opportunities to take out those brightly colored markers. This makes me realize that for teachers and students alike engaging in this process helps students become metacognitive and own the process they are using when thinking. Students co-creating tools like these not only leave them with a tool to refer back to, but take them through the process and the thinking. This metacognition around process helps to make learning stick. This is how learners are able to hold onto the process in order to hold onto the learning.
Through DIY Literacy, Maggie and Kate support our efforts to identify common problems and explore solutions. The solutions are found in the pages of DIY Literacy… and teachers everywhere are answering their call.