Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Saying Less So Student Can Do More in Guided Reading

By Amy Brennan

Quote OPEN-8

On June 30th #G2Great continued our journey with Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris in the third of a four-part series inspired by their book, Who’s Doing the Work: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More (Stenhouse 2016).  As I reflect on the series and re-read my own marked up and treasured copy of their book I feel compelled to stand once again on our #G2Great metaphorical mountain and shout out to all educators to get a copy of this book, read this book and take on the charge to lead students to independence in reading.  

Jan and Kim introduced us to next generation guided reading in chapter 4 of their book.  The quote above from Jan and Kim resonates with me because over the years as I have worked with students and teachers around guided reading this was the thing that got me stuck each time.  I did not see the transfer happening and it seemed like the adults (including myself) were doing much of the work while students took on a role that seemed more compliant than cognitive when it came to engagement and strategic work in the reading process.  In fact, if I am honest, I generally opted for strategy groups or some hybrid type of small group rather than guided reading for this very reason.


As I read the book and reflect on the chat I am making connections between the importance of teaching towards independence for our students in school and raising my teenagers to be independent in life.  In my mind I believe one thing, but when I look back and reflect over my own words and actions I realize that in literacy and in life I am guilty of providing too much support so that my students and my own teenagers are still dependent on me when what I believe is that I want them to be independent. My actions and words have not been aligned to the end result I was seeking.  I want independence for these learners, however I am so worried about the mistakes that happen along the way in the learning process that I jump in and sabotage their journey to independence.

Picture this, you are teaching your child to ride a bicycle, you hold onto the back of the seat.  You run along behind, still holding the seat.  Back probably aching, but you are not worried or scared because you are holding on.  Your child is excited, perhaps slightly scared but more excited about the potential of riding on their own like a big kid.  You want to let go of the seat, but you can’t.  You are worried about what will happen if you let go.  Then as your brother watches, he steps in because he knows you will never let go of the seat and his nephew will never learn to ride that bike if his mother continues to hold that seat.

This was me and unfortunately, I am still trying so hard to let go of that seat.  This book has helped me professionally and personally to realize that I have to let go of the seat. To do that I need to ensure that I provide an environment where there is safety while also letting students (or my teenagers) make the more specific decisions.  I can still provide support by setting up metacognitive prompts or questions to support their thinking, not mine.  I can provide prompts that are both general and reflective with lean coaching in with agentive questions such as, “What can you try?” “What do you know?” and “What else can you try?”  In other words, I can adjust my teaching to afford students the benefits that come with next generation guided reading.

Next Generation Guided Reading Encourages Problem Solving

A1 Elisa

In reflecting on the June 30th chat, Elisa’s tweet above reminds me why it is critical to support independence in our learners.  Guided reading is the step just before independent reading when we consider its relation to the gradual release of responsibility.  When we provide too much support or do all the work, students are not prepared to do that work on their own. They do not have enough practice in problem-solving in order to know when they are stuck and what to do when reading breaks down.  Students can practice using their problem-solving skills when our questions or prompts allow students to figure it out themselves.  Questions such as “What can you try?” “What do you know already?” and “How can you check?” provide just enough support that it encourages students to think and problem solve so that when they are on their own reading independently they can apply these strategies alone.  These reflective or metacognitive questions promote thinking promote thinking that will enhance awareness into their own processes as well as the flexibility to use these in other texts independently.  

A2 Kim Yaris

Next Generation Guided Reading is Student Led

Teachers use next generation guided reading as an opportunity to learn about students’ reading processes.  Rather than providing a heavy book introduction, teachers of next generation guided reading approach the book introduction as a facilitator of the work that leads to independence.  Teachers may ask “How will you figure out what this book is about? Or “What should we do first to get started in this book?” This provides an opportunity to observe and learn from students so that instruction can be more intentional and specific to support independence in reading.  Additionally, as Lisa’s tweet below points out that too often a lengthy book introduction takes away precious reading time for students.  If we want independent readers we need to provide the time for students to engage in just that, with our careful observing eyes and ears as we take note of what students are doing and only jumping in when necessary.  Teacher talk is minimal in next generation guided reading, allowing students to talk, think and process the text.  Often teachers lament on not allowing for enough wait time, but if we reframe the term wait time to processing time perhaps we can trick ourselves into waiting longer as students are processing or thinking about a text.    

A1 Lisa

A1 Kitty

A1 Christina

A1 Mindi

 

I have come to the realization that indeed it is scary to let go of the seat of the bicycle and let them ride off into the sunset.  Perhaps that is why my brother and sister in law had to teach my children how to ride a bike.  However if I watch this “video” play through in my mind again I can see different ways I could have improved my teaching by letting go of the bicycle.  
Picture this new scenario, you are teaching your child to ride a bicycle, you hold onto the back of the seat.  You run along behind, still holding the seat.  Back probably aching, but you are not worried or scared because you are holding on.  Your child is excited, perhaps slightly scared but more excited about the potential of riding on their own like a big kid.  You want to let go of the seat, but before you do you watch your child’s pedaling, you watch your child’s balance and you watch your child keep their eyes on the road and their hands steady on the handlebars.  You observe and assess when they are ready for you to let go of the seat.  You prompt your child with lean coaching as you are still holding on, but lighter than before.  You are not worried about what will happen if you let go because you have worked through possibilities with your child and planned for get up again and try it strategies.  You know that when you let go they might lose balance that first time and fall, but you will problem solve and talk through how to fall and how to get up again.  Then as your brother watches, you let go, your child loses balance and falls.  Your child gets up, shrugs off the fall and says, “Next time I will go longer without you holding on!”  Your brother runs over and gives your child a high five and flashes a knowing smile in your direction.  Before you know it…your child is off and riding.  That’s what doing the work looks like in next generation guided reading — our students are off and reading.

 

A2: Mindi

A5 Melanie


A5: Kym

 

A5 Kim Yaris

 

margaret video

video paulina

kitty video

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shifting our Perspective: Viewing Teaching from a Student Lens

By Amy Brennan

Intro Sam 2

People, places and perspectives.  Within our school systems there are so many different people; the students, the teachers, the parents, the administrators and other members of the community. These stakeholders each come from different places with different perspectives but the one stakeholder closest to the learning and arguably our most important is the student.  

On 6/9/16 #G2Great we flipped our perspective and brought in an expert.  The expert in this case, is a student with the perspective that should always be the first we consider in teaching and learning. To bring this perspective we were honored to have guest host, Sam Fremin, or as he is known in the Twittersphere @TheSammer88. Sam is a 9th grade student who is a two time panel presenter at NCTE and an inspiring young man who helped us to shift our perspective for a different view on our instructional practices.  

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Throughout our chat, Sam helped us re-envision eight essential instructional points that will allow us to make this shift.  

 

Re-envision Motivation

When we slow down and shift our perspective we can begin to view teaching from a student’s lens.  Reflection around Sam’s tweets allow for a thoughtful change in perspective and allow for the possible revision of our own thinking.  As we re-envision motivation Jessie Miller reminds us of something that seems so simple and obvious: if we ask and listen, students will tell us what motivates them.  Sam guides us to remember that as social creatures we crave the story.  We can facilitate motivation when we listen to students tell their stories.

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Re-envision Environment

Create a safe supportive learning environment where children feel safe to take the risks that are necessary in learning.  This statement is one that was the foundation of much of my learning as I prepared to become a teacher.  When students are at the center of the classroom, they experience comfort and ownership that will enhance their learning experience. Allowing for flexibility along with input from students will help to ensure that students are in a learning environment that will best support their learning.  As we begin to think about classroom design over the summer months, we need to consider the perspective of our students and plan for ways to engage them in the process of creating their learning environment.  How will you plan for ways to involve your students in co-creating the classroom environment when they begin the new school year?  You will want to think about this from the perspective of your students as you begin a new school year.  

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Re-envision Differentiation

The flexibility that comes with differentiation of instruction creates so many opportunities for educators to consider in planning.  These tweets below show us that we need to embrace reflection and change in order to best meet the needs of the learners who are the source of our planning.  Being open to feedback from your students provides the perspective of the learner and allows us to plan for true differentiation in learning.   

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Re-envision Engagement

True student engagement is not usually questioned because we know it when we see it.  There is a certain buzz about the room when we see students authentically cognitively engaged.  Engagement can be the doorway to a student’s learning as well as the constant vehicle that brings students along on the road to learning.  Monitoring engagement provides a way for teachers to collect and analyze data.  Using this data provides the rationale for changing our plans or simply put, being a responsive teacher.  

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Re-envision Collaboration

Collaboration is perhaps one of the most widely desired skills that employers are seeking for their future workforce.  Modeling for students just how collaboration works is one way that students learn how to effectively collaborate.  The partnership work that begins early in our reading and writing workshop are perfect “labsites” for students to practice skills and get feedback from peers as well as the teacher.  Expanding from partnerships to book clubs and then some larger groups offers the opportunity to build on this skill for college.  Jason, one of Sam’s teachers (@MisterAMisterA) emphasized that he was working on a 100% plan together phase.  Students create not only their assessments but their curriculum.   

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Re-envision Transfer

Transfer of learning is our goal in the learning process.  We want students who have learned in one context to be able to transfer that learning and apply it in a different setting.  When our students are able to transfer, it is only then that we know learning has stuck.  During the chat as Sam shared his perspective on transfer and reminded us that school is more than just curriculum, Justin (@jdolci) shared that we are not just teaching isolated subjects, we are teaching learning.  When we apply a student lens to transfer we can see the importance of teachers acting as facilitators to support those opportunities for transfer.  In the end, we want our students to take what they have learned in our school environment and transfer it to solving real world problems. The thinking skills we teach in literacy will serve our students well as adults, and this happens when we teach for transfer.

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Re-envision Homework

Homework is big topic for debate in recent years.  Parents, administrators and teachers have their perspectives and during our chat Sam shed light on the issue of homework from the eyes of a student.  Sam reminds us that students need to understand the rationale behind homework.  Our students know when homework assignments are not purposeful.  Sam’s choice of the word disheartened in the tweet below should call us to attention and remind us that students need to know the rationale behind homework assignments.  We have to ask ourselves if there is a rationale for the work, can we we explain it to our students. Sam’s words remind us that no student should feel disheartened ever about homework. Sam’s suggestion about using homework as a way to “broaden” our students’ horizons is a piece of advice well worth listening to and implementing.  

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Re-envision Technology

Students like Sam are in a great position to offer their perspective to educators. Looking through the lens of a student in this area shows us how important it is to stay current and use technology to enhance instruction in the same way it is used in the world.  If technology is present in every aspect of life as Sam points out, then so should it be in schools where students are being prepared to enter college and careers.  

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People, places and perspectives. Our school systems are built from people from different places all with different perspectives. If we believe in the strength of the many people within our instructional setting, the different places they’ve come from and the unique perspective each person brings to the learning experience, we will discover the immense power in our school system.  As we embrace people, places and perspectives, we build bridges that will shift our lens to varied viewpoints and catapult collective learning.  That is where there is true power  —  collective learning.  We are all grateful Sam allowed us to re-envision our teaching through his eyes as we look ahead to a new year.  

Intro Sam 1

 

 

 

Influence in Education: Leaving a Lasting Imprint

by Mary Howard1

On 5/26/16, #G2Great guest host Kimberly Davis spread her light on Influence in Education: Leaving a Lasting Imprint. Kimberly first left her imprint of influence on 7/16/15 when she inspired our BRAVE based on her amazing TEDx Talk, What it means to be Brave. Kimberly brings wisdom, commitment and joy to her work as illustrated in a powerful episode with Alise Cortez, Bringing our True and Best Selves to Work. In fact, I am fortunate to have been touched by her influential friendship over the past year.

When I asked Kimberly about her #G2Great chat vision, she quickly expressed her desire to “stimulate teachers’ ability to influence through professional learning and self-discovery.” We can leave a lasting imprint of influence as we inspire or are inspired by others in positive ways. Certainly her goal was in part met by virtue of educators participating in our twitter chat. But how do we accomplish this even when we are surrounded by negativity? As we explored this question, our #G2Great family left a collective trail of influential imprints.

Kimberly’s message of hope in education comes at a time when her voice is desperately needed. As I perused tweets of influential possibility, I uncovered five points that we can all embrace as we strive to leave our own lasting imprints of influence:

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 8.43.46 AMInfluence is anchored in our purpose

Our purpose is grounded in the innermost beliefs that lead us to do great work each day in our own arena. These beliefs inform and inspire our purpose so that all we do contributes to those beliefs. Without purpose, our path will be littered with the ‘stuff’ that can blind us to influence imprints worth leaving. Our purpose as educators is centered squarely on the recipients of our efforts – students. We seek to understand so we can make decisions that will lift their learning lives, decisions that are inseparably intertwined with our beliefs. Our beliefs are always in our sights so believability (What IF) is transformed into BELIEF-ability (What IS), as our actions reflect that we can be trusted to make decisions based on the beliefs we purport to hold dear.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 8.17.35 AMInfluence rises from learner “WANTS”

But purpose grounded in our beliefs is only the beginning. In order for us to truly have positive impact, we must be willing to acknowledge and respond to the WANTS of others. Our students’  wants begin with their desire to learn combined with unique needs they bring to the learning table (which varies from child to child). These wants amplify our determination to celebrate each child and honor their learning desires and needs. To do this, we set aside our professional agenda to make them our priority. We accomplish this goal by establishing relationships that help us to truly know students so that we can we tap into their WANTS at even greater levels. We believe every child desires and can achieve success and do all we can to help them become their best self in every possible way. We leave imprints of influence by assuming responsibility to meet their specific needs, refusing to be dissuaded by distractions that impede our efforts.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.20.04 AMInfluence extends beyond our four walls

Each child who walks into our classrooms brings more than their learning self to school – they also bring their lives outside our doors where they spend the bulk of their day. Understanding this life beyond the school day can help us create a bridge between home and school, a bridge that can strengthen our efforts from both perspectives. We are given a precious gift of time with students, but lasting imprints of influence come from creating this home-school connection. Building an instructional bridge of influence that follows them once they leave our care allows us to ‘step into shoes’ of parents and join forces with them to enrich and extend our efforts even if children are not with us. Understanding and respecting the “wants” of others is a courtesy we offer not only children but parents. Respect is earned and we earn respect when we afford are willing to afford others the same level of respect we desire. Respect is a two-way venture.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.42.15 AMInfluence is nurtured in the company of others

We  have all experienced a sense of professional loneliness even when surrounded by others. We can still leave lasting imprints in a lonely environment or when our words fall on deaf ears, but this is a challenging journey that can derail our efforts and rob us of the joys that enrich the experience. Yet if we are willing to take active steps to find our professional joy tribe of others who believe in our journey, we enter a celebratory exploration of enthusiastic dialogue. These collaborations can transform our teaching in ways that merge our efforts and leave collective imprints of influence as we walk alongside positive, uplifting others. More often than not, we find that our influence is multiplied and even changed by this collective experience along the way. Thoughtfully reflective joint ventures can be a powerful meeting of influential minds.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.31.45 AMInfluence begins from within

Kimberly’s tweet is a reminder that each of us hold the power of influence in our hands. Force and coercion seem to be commonplace in schools of today, but we cannot allow this to sap our energy and blind us to our influence potential. In spite of the popular but ever so flawed notion that we can force influence upon others through compliance, influence will occur only when we  assume personal and professional responsibility awakened by our commitment and dedication to our profession. Influence is not an act of being, but a lifelong process of becoming. The good news is that no one can rob us of our influence potential unless we allow them to do so. We all hold in our hands the potential to influence others and leave a lasting imprint. Teachers have always had the ability to positively impact others, even when it may not feel that way.

 

As I ponder Kimberly’s points, I am in awe of the immense potential that each of us have to be influential. You don’t have to write a book, stand on a stage, or have power to be influential (in fact some do those things without being influential). Your book is the book you write as you gaze into the faces of hopeful learners. Your stage is the stage you stand on each day to elevate the learning lives of students. Your power is the quiet impact you have on your own practices when  you seek to understand and enrich your work day after day. Each of us leave imprints of influence every day – even when we are not yet privy to that influence at the time.

Never underestimate your influence on others and those they in turn influence, knowing that we can’t be influenced unless we are willing to be influential. This is a ‘heart decision’ we make out of deep commitment and dedication to our work and our responsibility to do that work in the most effective ways.

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Yes Kimberly, tomorrow is ours to win or lose and with the student stakes so high, winning is the only option. Thank you for leaving an imprint of influence on each of us and for inspiring us to bravely forge ahead as we strive to leave our own lasting imprints of influence on others so…

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.45.21 AMI hereby make a Heart Decision to Win Tomorrow by approaching my work through a lens of joy and wonder where the magnificent realm of possibilities will forever remain in my sights. I choose to spread a light as candle and mirror. I choose to leave a lasting imprint of influence on others and embrace the imprints they leave as I continue on my learning journey. I choose…

Will you join me friends?

 

Below are just a few of the many inspirational tweets from our dedicated #G2Great friends

 

Text Selections that Promote Deeper Understanding

By Amy Brennan

Title-11

This past week as I attempted to find some balance in my professional and personal life, I spent time on vacation with my family and for the most part disconnected the part of me who is a connected educator and an admitted workaholic.  I am proud to say I was present with my family, which was long overdue and I even missed our #G2Great chat this week.  This was a challenge for me especially since it was my turn to write for the blog following our chat.  Thanks to my partners in literacy, @DrMaryHoward and @hayhurst3 I was able to spend this much needed time with my family, then return home to read the Storify and dive right into the chat and write the blog.  

This week we asked questions about Text Selections that Promote Deeper Understandings as part of our 4-Part series Teaching with Intention: Maximizing Our Instructional Power Potential.  As happens each week, educators joined in at #G2Great to answer the questions and think collectively as we shared and learned about ways to choose texts that promote deeper understanding for our students.  It is always the community of educators that comes together to share ideas that grows my thinking and pushes me towards continued growth and deeper understanding.  As I read through the Storify archive there were certain words that came to my mind as I considered the responses to each of our questions.  

Final Word Cloud

Intentional

When choosing texts thoughtful educators are intentional.  Texts are chosen with a purpose and audience in mind, similar to when we write. The purpose of the text may be for a read-aloud, a shared reading experience, a close reading, a mentor text for writing, or a touchstone text for reading.  The purpose for text selection could be to teach a particular strategy to the class or a small group strategy lesson. We are even intentional in the way we expect our students to choose their independent reading books, as our intention comes through as a model for their own practice in text selection.  There is real beauty in that.  

The audience (students) I would argue is even more important than the purpose, because without the audience we would not be able to choose a particular purpose.  “It’s about them, not us!” was the clear message that came through the Twittersphere as Christina Nosek (@ChristinaNosek) said it so clearly.  This charge should be shouted from the mountaintop.  We need to consider our students strengths and weaknesses, their interests and experiences in order to select the books. The relevance of a text to the student greatly impacts the learning that follows.  The relevance comes through a text and speaks to our students, it shows them how we know them and that we have established a relationship with them.  Selecting texts must be based on the students in you are choosing it for, those students right there in front of you.  If we want results in reading instruction we must be intentional in our text selection.  

Dylan A1Christina A1nicole a1Tara a1Christine A1

Balance

    In selecting texts we always aim for a healthy balance, much like in life. As dedicated connected educators, we are always trying to balance our professional and family life. This is the same balance we need for choosing texts for enjoyment and texts for instructional purposes.  The balance can come in different ways.  For example, I know every text I read teaches me, changes me and makes me grow.  This includes books that I read for pleasure or books I read professionally.  In that sense there is balance.  Keith Garvert (@KeithEGarvert) pointed this out so well in his tweet captured below as he clarifies that reading is thinking.  Hattie Maguire (@TeacherHattie) brought a great metaphor to the #G2Great table and shared that she reminds her students that they need potato chips and steaks as both serve an important role in a readerly life.  

Keith A3

Hattie A3

 

 

Alternatives

We are well aware that the research shows that thoughtless questions, worksheets and agendas can derail our efforts to deepen understanding.  Following this statement we asked the question, “How do we spread that message and offer alternatives?”  We received so many great responses related to opening doors and sharing alternatives with colleagues.  We know that all learners need to see a model, to watch that demonstration in action.  Our colleagues need to see this possibility too in order to try out some of the alternatives to old ways that we know now are not enough.  This is especially important for our colleagues who may not be connected yet and do not have immediate access to the great progressive minds who push our thinking every day.  For those educators, we must open our classroom doors and invite them in so they can see the engagement, the thinking and what our students can do through dialogue, meaningful responses and self-questioning.  

justin A4


Jenn A4 in response to Justin
dylan A4Christina A4

Catherine A4

Flexible

In order to deepen understanding we need to use text selection as a flexible instructional tool.  Flexibility is intertwined into the other words I have highlighted in this post. Without flexibility we cannot reach all students.  Offering students multiple texts from different genres and layering these texts in order to build knowledge and increase the depth of comprehension can have a powerful impact.  Robin Diedrichs (@blueegg3r) calls on educators to “attack the Matthew Effect!”  The Matthew Effect essentially says, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and in the sense of reading, students who come to school better prepared with richer literacy experiences then find themselves with what sociologists refer to as “accumulative advantage.”  This idea has been discussed by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, Outliers and also coined in education by Walberg and Tsai in 1983 to describe how some students quickly develop literacy skills and others who enter school already behind do not catch up and the gap widens. Being flexible in text selections can help to close the gap for students, especially when it supports building knowledge and vocabulary and increasing deeper comprehension.

 

 

 

Susie A2robin A2

 

 

 

 

 

terri A2 in resp to susie a2

shelfie talk A2

 

Student Talk

    Last but certainly not least, student talk at the center of our classrooms shows us the evidence of transfer as their understanding deepens.  We ensure this by creating structures to foster student talk and then by leaning back and just listening.  Listening to our students as they share their ideas and thinking around books. Teacher talk should decrease and student talk should increase.  Tara Smith (@tara_smith5) says it well in her tweet “From the first day of school, we need to make space for student led talk & questions.  Simply, we need to talk less.

Kathlenn A6


Lisa A6

Jill A6

Tara A6

 

Our collective thinking each week at #G2Great always leave me with a mind that is full of ideas and I have that feeling of excitement that comes just after learning something new.  This four-part series offers an opportunity to grow with us as we explore teaching with intention in order to maximize our instructional power potential.  Join us in the coming weeks to help us grow ideas and learn together.

4 part series

Thoughtful Decision Making

by Amy Brennan3

Charlotte Danielson has observed that teachers make over 3,000 decisions a day. These decisions have been categorized by Danielson as “nontrivial” meaning that they are more complex and more significant than one might at first imagine.  These decisions impact the small humans we teach each and every day.  The educational journey of each student is impacted by those 3,000 plus decisions we make each day and, therefore the call to be thoughtful weighs even greater in our minds as educators.

This practice of decision making and thinking resonates even more with me as I continue to reread and reflect on the book Quiet Leadership by David Rock.  He suggests that when we work in a field that compensates us for thinking, the way to improve performance is to improve thinking.  This is different from previous management models left over from a time when most workers were focused on processes.  Therefore in considering thoughtful decision making it seems that if we improve thinking we improve decision making and overall we improve the learning experiences for our students.  Simply stated, when we improve our thinking we improve our students’ thinking.

On March 31, 2016 #G2Great we came together to deepen our understandings around thoughtful decision making.  During our weekly chat, we often begin by sharing quotes from leading thinkers who make us think deeper.  As an extension to our Thursday night #G2Great chat, I will return to some tweets and highlight thinking around these quotes that generated collective discourse.

gladwell quote

The potential of our instructional power is at its greatest when we balance instinct with deliberate thinking around our decisions.  Instinct comes from the experiences that are already hard-wired into our brain as maps.  We know or can predict the outcome of certain situations and this needs to be in balance with intentional thinking when making these 3,000 decisions each day.  Thoughtful decision-making is at the heart of all great teaching and learning; great teachers put students at the center of those decisions.  Take a look at the tweets shared out and it will be easy to see how we as educators put our students at the center of our thinking and decision making.

Covery Quote-3

If we let this quote from Stephen Covey inspire our thinking it won’t take long to realize that our classrooms are the residual outcome of our decisions.  In maintaining our belief that students are at the center of our classroom then we could argue that student decision making then also results in the learning process that can be seen in our classrooms.

John Hattie has said about our students, “Give them the skills so they can be their own teacher.  We truly make a difference when we teach students to see their impact, they become more engaged in this thing we call school.”  When we join together as collective learners in our classrooms we can make a difference, involving students in classroom decisions is a powerful way to advance learning.  In fact if you look at rubrics used for teacher observations (Charlotte Danielson’s Framework or the NYSUT Teacher Practice Rubric) in the distinguished or highly effective column and multiple times across different domains or standards you will see descriptors that include actions on the part of the students.  Releasing responsibility to students is valued across these areas and has a correlation to their learning processes.  When students are involved in the teaching and learning not only are they invested in their learning, they learn that they have something to do with their own success and this will not only engage them as Hattie pointed out, but build intrinsic motivation.

dewey quote-5

The process of reflection was the focus of our #G2Great chat while our blog is really a tribute to the words that are tweeted out into the Twitterverse each Thursday night at 8:30pm EST.  As we think about thoughtful decision making we have to consider all that we learn from the reflection piece of that process.  Especially powerful is the opportunity we have to reflect with others, while we can do this in person or with our PLN in a virtual sense, the process is the same.  David Rock has said, “Making decisions can be a difficult process, and having a sounding board can make a big difference.”  The additional benefit of this collaborative reflection as Rock points out is that “having others stretch us is a way to grow faster than we would on our own.” Each and every week at #G2Great I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with others who reflect and stretch my thinking and decision making in a way I cannot on my own.  Grateful for reflection.  Grateful to share thinking.  Grateful to grow and learn.  Grateful for all the tweets that inspire great work.

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for blog Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 8.50.56 PMblog post tweets 1blog posts 2

Breathing New Life into the Power Potential of Small Group Instruction

by Mary Howard

1On 2/25/16 #G2Great continued our five part series, Holding Tight to the Practices That Matter as we turned the spotlight on small group instruction. The potential for small group instruction is high as it creates a structure that will form a habit of reading within an intimate setting where teachers can address the specific learning needs of students that would not be possible in larger settings. Of course, achieving ‘power potential’ assumes that teachers have deep knowledge of both literacy best practices and the children sitting at that table.

This power potential of small group instruction was illustrated in the descriptive words of tweet after tweet such as: engaged, focused, responsive, individualized, targeted, strategic, flexible, fluid, purposeful, intentional, productive and joyful (my personal favorite). These descriptors reflect small group instruction at its best with practices grounded in meaningful experiences that engage students in reading writing and talking in ways that put them squarely at the center of our efforts.

But as we consider the power potential of small group instruction, we must also acknowledge a flip side of small groups that continues to plague these experiences. One #G2Great question addressed a potential danger zone:

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Passion rose high for the issue of one-size-fits-all small groups as it defies the descriptors above that represent the opportunities our students deserve. As I travel across the country I have become increasingly concerned that small group instruction in far too many classrooms can feel akin to an obligatory cattle call where a death grip on levels label learners and tether them to those one-size fits all small group experiences we are trying to avoid.

High school freshman and #NCTE15 Panel Speaker Sam Fremin captured my concern with an insider’s view @TheSamer88:

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What makes Sam’s tweet so compelling is that the potential for the very practice that elevates the learning lives of children can also have the opposite effect. We can only create the small group instructional experiences that are worthy of our students by maintaining a spirit of differentiation with a flexible lens of small group variations that may or may not include leveled books and may or may not rise from a single title. The type of small group we choose depends on our instructional purpose and the best way to meet the individual needs of each member of the group based on ongoing formative assessment leading to informed teacher decision-making. Why would we opt for anything less?

The power potential of small group instruction is not about our decision to do small groups but our choice to create powerful, meaningful, and engaging small group instructional experiences. These rich opportunities allow us to intensify our instructional efforts as we maximize each child’s role as enthusiastic, capable, and confident learners who continuously move along a success trajectory toward their personal potential. This lofty goal is only achievable when we CHOOSE to flexibly and intentionally create more student centered small group experiences designed in a spirit of instructional excellence.

     I think achieving the power potential of small group instruction is a choice worth fighting for!

Here are a few #G2Great tweets of educators who believe in the power potential

Independence Develops From Shared Experiences

By Amy Brennan

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Our long term goal as educators is to teach thinking and independence.  When I think about independence the words of Peter Johnston echo in my mind, “Teach them to be independent, you are not going to college with them!”  That day as I listened to Peter Johnston talk about the urgency in teaching independence, I knew that the gradual release model of instruction led students to independence. On February 11, 2016 #G2Great Chat series, “Holding Tight to Practices That Matter” put a spotlight on shared reading.  As I reflect on our chat, I still hold that idea very tight. Shared reading in itself is about a teacher and students reading a text together.  It is inherently a shared experience, certainly not independent.  The independence comes later and as a result of all this great work that happens in a shared reading experience.

During the chat, Joanne Duncan (@joanneduncanjo) tweeted “Collectively our voices grow stronger.”  That is where the magic happens.  We give our students opportunities to grow stronger through shared experiences and once they have grown strong enough they are independent. That is the goal.

Don Holdaway, the founder of shared reading showed us the Natural Learning Model. In this a learner observes a demonstration, then participates in guided practice, later moving to unsupervised role playing and practice, and ultimately performance sharing and celebration of accomplishments.  All of these aspects are built into a shared reading experience where collectively our students are given the opportunity to grow stronger together.

I am reminded then that just as our students become stronger due to the collaborative nature of shared learning, as educators we too become stronger when we engage in shared or collaborative experiences.  This is the beauty of a shared learning experience, whether we are referring to adult learners or our youngest early readers.  Making time for these experiences should be a priority in our schools for all learners. This week as we gathered our minds around shared reading we created a list of books that you can access here. If you are looking for a great shared experience join in on the #G2Great chat, you can see how the shared experience enhances our learning as adults.

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The Zen Teacher: Creating Focus Simplicity, and Tranquility in the Classroom

by Mary Howard

Dan Tricarico, author of The Zen Teacher, was our #G2Great guest host on January 28, 2016 and his message spread across the Twittersphere in an hour long calm. Zen Teacher is a literary buffet meant to be savored word by delectable word. Dan serves a double helping of professional and personal Zen at the perfect time in education as he explains in an email interview:

Teachers are overwhelmed, overstressed, and overburdened. The Testing Machine is out of control. Class sizes have grown astronomically. Funds and materials are in short supply. I’ve noticed that the more skilled and gifted the teacher, the higher their stress, tension, frustration, and disappointment. Because they KNOW it should be different and could be BETTER.

Dan’s opening quote sparked a buzz of excitement that could lead us to “better”Quote OPEN

I was immediately drawn to the potential for Beginner’s Mind to impact the quality of our practices at a time when mandates, scripts, packages and programs seem to be the norm. Dan’s words remind us that not holding the answers in our hands can launch professional explorations of not knowing far removed from the guarantees, quick fixes, and silver bullets waved in front of us like a badge of honor. A Beginner’s Mind embraces the idea that there is great wisdom in taking the time to envision opportunities that are not yet in view.

Dan’s Beginner’s Mind exemplifies the extraordinary teachers in this country who still insist on keeping students at the center of their efforts. These teachers refuse to turn a blind eye to the thoughtful decision-making that can elevate teaching, knowing that professional excellence occurs only when a knowledgeable teacher is at the helm even when forging a path that is not always clear.  

The truth is, a Beginner’s Mind resides within every teacher willing to invest time and effort in the unknown. Good teaching is messy because students are rarely predictable. But if we can awaken our Beginner’s Mind and all of the uncertainty that involves, we can recapture the joy of surprise that comes when children, not publishers, are the heart & soul of our work. Now more than ever, we need to acknowledge that students always have been and always will be our first responsibility. And in the end, they are the reason excellent teachers across the country delight in entering the zone of ‘not knowing’ where endless possibilities abound.

As Dan said, “I’ve always really gravitated toward the idea that we were meant to dance with life, not control and overpower it.”

Oh yes Dan, dance indeed!

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Standing Tall on the Mountain, Together

By Amy Brennan

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“The Courage Rules” was the topic of our twitter chat  on January 14, 2016 with guest host Kari Yates, author of Simple Starts.  Kari is among the many others who stand tall on the mountain with me and give me the courage to push ahead and persevere.  They give me the courage to shout from the mountaintop about what is right for students — what means the most to teaching and learning.  

Reflecting on the chat archive I realize just how fortunate I am to join together on our #G2Great mountaintop each week.  If that mountaintop was not enough, I also have support from the #G2Great Voxer group that goes on practically 24/7 across multiple time zones where we share and grow ideas together.  It helps to practice The Courage Rules with the strength of my friends who stand beside me each week in my professional learning network.  All educators deserve a professional learning network like this one.  All educators benefit from thinking in the company of others where they can lean in for learning and grow ideas through thoughtful discussions.  In reflecting on this particular chat it feels like two of these rules for courage especially spoke to me this week. 

Rule #4 Reflect, learn and adjust
Question 4 (How do you consistently build this cycle into your professional life?) focused on Rule #4, reflecting, learning and adjusting.  As I read through the answers and discussion that followed the common thread seemed to involve the reflection becoming more than just a thought in one’s own mind in order to effectively learn and adj
ust. The common thread was in creating something else with that thought. It could be either a written account or a spoken account of that reflection.  Both of these approaches enable us to commit to the reflection either in the actual written word that can be reread or in a discussion with someone else, usually a PLN or colleagues in person.  It is after that next step that our reflection allows us to grow and then adjust.  It takes courage to reflect in the company of others or even in the written word but this is what make the learning and adjusting possible.
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Rule # 6 Don’t give up when things get tough

Question #6 (Why is this rule so essential to our change efforts?) in the chat focused on rule #6, don’t give up when things get tough.  Perseverance was a common word in many of the responses to this question, it feels like this is when we are just on the edge of glory.  It is difficult, we want to turn back but if we just push ahead we push past that edge.  It takes courage to push beyond that edge.  I for one am grateful for finding my people, my tribe, my gang at #G2Great.  When I am at the edge and it seems too much to bear, it is the collective learning of my PLN that helps me break through.  

jennifer s q6julieanne A6kari q6trevor q6 As we stand tall on the mountain together, we can find the courage to push ahead and persevere, to shout from the mountaintop about what is right for students — what means the most to teaching and learning.