Maintaining Perspective Around Reading Levels and Independence

By Amy Brennan

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On March 10, 2016 #G2Great teased out our perspectives around reading levels. In reading through the tweets from our always thinking and learning #G2Great PLN, I focused my reflection and thoughts around these three ideas.


How do we teach them to do it on their own?

While levels have an important place in reading instruction, we have to keep one question in mind.  That question is and always should be “How do we teach them to do it on their own?”  This is the question that lingers in my mind as I raise my own children and every day as I walk through the halls of a school.  If I am honest, this is at the front of my mind anytime I put a learner at the center and make a plan for instruction.  I think of this question whether it is my children, teachers or students.  Whether we talk about parenting or teaching (adults or students for that matter) what we are actually speaking about is learning.  Learning.  That is it. The goal for learning is independence in whatever “thing” we are teaching.  

 

In the case of reading the goal is independence.  Independence in reading looks like someone who chooses their own books, is responsible for their own reading, is curious and, therefore motivated to pick up something and read. Ultimately, the reader will experience growth in learning because of the reading. I am grateful to have @jdolci as part of my PLN because when he sent this tweet out into the Twitterverse he put the image in my mind that represents what I believe all readers can be.  

JDolci 9:04

But it cannot just be about independence, there is more to it than that.  The second part of teaching them how to do this on their own is considering how we can best support students as they are learning to read texts with increasing complexity.  It seems here is where the levels really come into play.  As Irene Fountas taught us “Levels have an important place in the hands of teachers who understand them.”  This quote moved our chat in a direction of so many thoughtful responses.  @Kari_Yates  and @lau7210  rallied our #G2Great troops around the idea of levels as instructional tools used by the teacher.  This is the intentional work that helps students grow.  Skillful teachers support students in independent reading and small groups that are flexible, based on not only student levels but also to support areas where students can stretch in their reading.   

Lauren kaufman 8:40

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“Start with the Child not the Book.”
 

Dr. Mary Howard tweeted this little nugget of wisdom early on in the chat. It reminds me how important it is to look at what students need first.  Often we find ourselves choosing books for students because they are our favorites, they are part of a program or they are recommended for a unit of study or to teach a particular strategy.  What really matters is the child.  We need to remember that books need to be relevant to kids.  We need to sit down beside a child and talk about book choices for independent reading.  We need to get books into kids’ hands, books that they can really connect to. We need kids to choose books for themselves for independent reading and at times when they need some support we have to think about the best way to do this.  Nothing is more powerful than sharing with a child and saying, “I thought about you all weekend and I found this book for you.  I really think you are the kind of reader who will get this book.”  Ultimately our students need to read if they are going to become proficient independent readers.

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Always Remember to Think and Ask Why

If something does not make sense we have to stop, think and ask why.  @ChristinaNosek reminded us in the chat that we must always put purpose and intention first.  Often we are racing day to day, trying to close gaps that widened over many years.  We get so caught up that we don’t make time to think or ask why.  If we want to create independent readers we have to create opportunities and experiences for students to practice that work in good chunks of time and in different situations.  We have to always think about how we teach kids to read on their own.  We have to put the child before the book and when things don’t make sense…ask why.   

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When we identify goals for individual students, those goals should always remain at the center of instructional decision making.  Additionally ensuring that students experience multiple texts at various levels provides them with opportunities to navigate complex texts.  Through read-aloud, shared reading, book clubs, small groups, strategy lessons, guided reading or independent reading, students will be making meaning of texts at different levels throughout the day.  These intentional instructional experiences provide meaningful practice through a gradual release of responsibility that guides the way for readers. We can maintain perspective by viewing reading levels in flexible ways as we support students toward increasing independence.  Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 11.46.32 PMScreen Shot 2016-03-13 at 11.45.39 PM

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Dedication And Generosity: Celebrating Independent Reading

By, Jenn HayhurstScreen Shot 2016-03-06 at 10.58.30 AMOn Thursday March 3, 2016 #G2Great hosted a chat that began a conversation about the importance of independent reading.  This blog post is dedicated to anyone who is “holding tight” to this work, either at home or in the classroom.  It is for those of us who believe that literacy reveals a path of growth and self discovery through text.  

Question 1The following Saturday morning, I was part of an incredible team of teachers from my district, @SCCentralSD . We went to an event sponsored by a local organization called @TheBookFairies.  This amazing nonprofit opened their doors to teachers everywhere and we were able to shop for free books!   

Imagine all of us giving our time, the Book Fairies volunteers and so, so many teachers.  I am struck by the generosity of amazing people who gave up a gorgeous Saturday to build robust classroom libraries for students to enjoy:Question 2

Many people were telling touching stories about the readers and writers in their classrooms. There was not a mention of levels.  Wise teachers value levels because they are an important tool that informs instructional practices. Levels are not to be mistaken with labels that hinder a love for independent reading:

Question 3

We were all swapping stories as well as books.  You could hear teachers excitedly saying, “Oh this is so great! Jorge is going to be so happy!” “Look what I found.” “I can’t believe I found this book, my mother used to tell us this story!” and “I’m so excited I can’t wait to get to school on Monday!”

Question 4

It was quite a sight seeing everyone loading books into boxes, crates and bags.  One teacher could barely close her trunk for all the books she and her colleague were taking back to school.  We need to share our stories about the lengths teachers will go to promote  literacy.  We need to encourage our students to become connected so that they can share their love for independent reading.

Question 5

When we work together, we are creating a community with a purpose for reading.  We are being the change we hope to see in education. Literacy changes lives.  Our dedication and generosity to that effort is the flip side of the urgency we all feel.  For these reasons, teachers are opening up their classroom libraries and giving free access to books because that’s one way to keep students at the center of all that we do.

Question 6Our message is clear. We understand that now more than ever we need to “hold tight” to independent reading.  Think of a classroom library as a garden, and every book a child reads is like a seed.  Narratives and informational texts take root and grow to fill students’ heads with stories and ideas.  This becomes our context to teach children how to read.  But even more than that, we are growing a love for literacy that will last a lifetime.

Question 7

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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:

SAM

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

Holding Tight to the Practices That Matter: Spotlight on Conferring

Guest Blog Post by JoAnne Duncan @joanneduncanjo

On 2/18/16 #G2Great spotlighted Conferring

Am I excellent at yoga? No. Am I excellent at conferring? Not yet. But every time I confer with a child I feel the magic.

Conferring is a practice that transforms the complexities of teaching and learning into a joyful, magical experience. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about conferring and wondering what makes it so magical. As I reflect on this question, I find three common areas that make conferring a practice we need to hold tight. Conferring is about building relationships, trust, and responsive differentiated instruction.

Relationships

Conferring creates opportunities to build strong, caring relationships.  A simple yet powerful first step in conferring is to slow down, sit alongside a child, look into their eyes with a warm smile and ask, “How’s it going with your reading today?” In five short minutes we can learn so much about each of our students. This sends a message that we really care about them. When we make ourselves present in the moment by listening, observing and admiring, we come to a deeper appreciation of how unique each child truly is. That is magical.

Trust

Conferring provides opportunities for students to trust our coaching and intentions. As they  trust us, they begin to trust their own thinking and develop skills and strategies to become independent, joyful, proficient readers. Conferring also provides us with an opportunity to begin to trust our own abilities to notice, compliment, wonder and provide just right feedback to move the reader forward. It isn’t about trusting a program or a script but trusting ourselves, the reader and the process. That is magical.

Responsive Differentiated Instruction

Conferring is student-centered, differentiated instruction at its best.  Conferring begins with a student centered mindset. We meet that student, at that moment, exactly where they are. We notice, listen, celebrate, and guide them with next steps. Each student gets what they need. Dylan’s tweet reminds us that conferring, zooming in and focusing can be like taking beautiful snapshots of our readers. That is magical.

2) Dylan

Hold tight to conferring. Make it a daily priority. Fran Mcveigh reminds us that conferring is where the magic happens. Some of us may not be excellent at conferring…yet. But when we slow down, build relationships, trust, and provide responsive differentiated instruction, this is where the magic happens. When we are conferring we are connecting. Whether we are conferring with readers, writers, colleagues, or friends, we are all side by side, learning, growing, talking, listening, and planning.
…And that is magical.

4) Fran

Teachers celebrating the magic of conferring

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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Unwrapping the Joy of Read Aloud

By, Jenn Hayhurst

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 On February 4, 2016, #G2Great initiated our five-part series: Holding Tight to Practices that Matter and turned the spotlight on read-aloud

Teachers are living in a high tech, data driven, standards based world.  Rigor and grit are expected from students and there is no time to waste.  Should teachers squander precious minutes of the school day merely reading aloud to students?  After all, what would students actually be doing while a teacher reads aloud?   Besides, we have computer based programs that read to students, so teachers can use that time in more productive ways. Right? No that’s just scary!  There are those who believe the best way to support standards, rigor, and grit is to devote time that might be spent on read aloud to other pursuits.

Teachers who understand best practices in literacy instruction know that nothing could be further from the truth. I do believe that students need to develop grit and that we  are the gatekeepers of rigor. I also believe that reading aloud is a way to achieve both goals. Our brains are hard wired for story.  Just do a quick search on Google and the neuroscience evidence is overwhelming to support this claim.  But really, the only proof anyone needs is to to look out into a classroom full of students who are listening with rapt attention to their teachers. Children of all ages are drawn into complex narratives through a dramatic reading, or ushered into a world of wonder fueled by new ideas to understand the value of read aloud:  

I couldn’t help but feel elated as I read the Storify  from the February 4th #G2Great Chat, Holding Tight to Practices That Matter: Read Aloud.  Educators from all walks of life were extolling the value of reading aloud. Teachers shared links, books, and ways to support the work with gusto. Why would they do that? The only reason I can think of is that teachers are remarkable, unselfish professionals who are motivated by improving the lives of students.  

We are working to safeguard the practices that matter most because they have the greatest impact for student achievement.  Building a community around literature is one way to ensure that we build both community and critical thinking skills.  It seems simple but it’s true that everything begins with a great book.  To that end, there were so many great books that were shared and will, with a little faith, find great homes in classrooms everywhere.  Mary compiled a list of your recommendations and created a fabulous resource  to share ( just click here ) with everyone.  

I am not immune to buying more books than I can scarcely afford. I just bought Lester Laminack’s Snow Day!  It’s a wonderful book and I can’t wait to share it with students.   I wonder what books will be bought or borrowed because of last Thursday’s chat? How will this chat impact the work that happens with students? We constantly inspire each other to be the best teachers we can be because each day we spend with students is precious and we don’t have time to waste.  

There is no question in my mind that the precious minutes we invest in read-aloud is time well spent.

Click here to watch Lester…

Snow Day!
Lester Laminack video detailing how text structures influence read aloud

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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Rethinking Rewards by Building Respectful Relationships

Guest Blog post by Erica Pecorale

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How do teachers get to the most meaningful work in their classrooms every day? When we answer this question, all students thrive in an environment that is engaging and that promotes responsibility within all members of the learning community.

On January 21, 2016 #G2Great chat focused on creating nurturing learning environments. In Chapter 4 of Good to Great, Mary Howard reflects on what highly effective teachers do. She echoes Ellin Keene, who notes that these teachers are extremely focused in “acknowledging that excellence in classrooms is a never ending process of professional learning”. Mary elaborates on how highly effective teachers learn from research by synthesizing ideas into practices that meet the needs and experiences of their current students. When teachers integrate what they know about their students with what they have learned about best practices and the research they have examined, it comes together to create organic and authentic spaces for all students to flourish and to get to the work that really matters.

On a recent visit to a second grade classroom’s literacy block, I noticed a behavior system being utilized that I have seen in many other rooms. Each time the students transitioned into a new activity, the teacher gave out little green stickers to each child, which were then taken by students to a wall chart where they waited in a line to place their sticker next to their name. Each transition took six minutes!

When debriefing afterward, the teacher made a point of saying how well behaved her class is this year. In fact, we discussed how the only time there were even the slightest bit of behavior problems was when the stickers were being handed out and children were awaiting the completion of this process. She wondered aloud that perhaps the reason they behaved so wonderfully was because of the stickers. We reflected together on it again. We decided that perhaps these students don’t need this kind of monitoring. The only time they were disengaged, seemed bored or started interacting negatively with one another was when the stickers were being distributed. After some discussion, the teacher realized her students didn’t really need this system. However, they were required to have a behavior modification system in place in every classroom.

When initiatives are mandated without allowing teachers time to deconstruct the purposes for putting them in place, systems are created that don’t always make sense for the setting. When teachers are searching for ways to find more time for interactive read aloud, independent reading and writing, they do not need to be spending six minutes each time they transition to hand out tokens.

How do teachers find effective ways for students to feel engaged with their learning without compromising the ideals about what it means to be an integral part of a community? Rather than teaching students about what material objects they will get for behaving, we must model, discuss and promote what we each bring to our classroom environment.  We do this by preserving the precious limited time we have by focusing on the work that really matters.  

 

For more thoughts on this topic please see Trevor Bryan’s post about awards and sharing at   http://fouroclockfaculty.com/2016/01/awards-vs-sharing/

Erica Pecorale is a literacy educator, coach and consultant to school districts on Long Island. She is the Director of Teacher Education and is an Assistant Professor at Long Island University at Riverhead.

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.

 

 

Learning in the Company of Others

By, Jenn Hayhurst  

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On January 7, 2016 #G2Great took a look at the past and future when ur topic was: Looking Back So We Can Look Ahead

My hope is that more educators will make the choice to become connected in 2016.  Whenever I bring up Twitter to my colleagues who are not connected they inevitably say, “I just can’t get the hang of it.” or “I tried it but it I don’t know what I’m doing.” and the favorite “How will it help me as a teacher?” I get it.  Twitter moves quickly and it can be hard to figure out what it is, and what it really offers us.  However, Twitter’s impact on me has been profound, it has shaped 2015 into a year of daily reflection.

I’m far from perfect.  Many times I try to do something new and I fail, and then I fail again. But failure doesn’t define me because I am a learner. Now that I have Twitter in my life I can share my experiences and learn from others who embrace failure for the sake of learning. They understand that through failure we explore a better future for the students.  If we stray from students we are going in the wrong direction.  This has to be my take away reflection of 2015.

It’s been a year since we began the #G2Great chat and now more than ever I am feeling the impact of having a Professional Learning Network (PLN).  Twitter allows me to share my thinking in the company of others and for others to share theirs with me. Thinking through this plurality sharpens my lens as to the kind of teacher I have been, and the kind of teacher I aspire to become.  The teachers who join in the chat each week bring perspectives that are shaped by experiences and shared values.  They are what connected educators call my “dream faculty.”   These are people who I admire.  I wonder what would it be like to actually work in such a district, although now that I have taken Twitter to a new level it feels as though they are always with me.  Their advice and passion lingers long after the chat ends.

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