Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Maroon Office Chair

Today is 31 of 31 Slice of Life posts for the March Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by the terrific team at Two Writing Teachers. The challenge continues on Tuesdays. Swing by TWT to link up or help yourself to a second slice.
Today's "Be Inspired" lead on the daily link up is Maya Woodall's "This Is Just to Say." I thought I'd play with a Williams's poem too as I reflect on the 2015 Slice of Life Story Challenge. 

The Maroon Office Chair (with apologies to William Carlos Williams)

so much depends
the maroon office chair
up to the brown desk
upon which
the silvered laptop

So much about writing, for me, depends on discipline, persistence and trust. It is writing, alone, every day that gets it done for me and sometimes the stuff of life: school and traffic and lacrosse and grocery shopping and a leaky washer and youth group and carpooling--drains words right out of me and leaves that time alone to write stranded on the far horizon of four in the morning or nine at night. 

Last year I learned that to write, I need the people around me to understand why I write and why it is important to me. I learned that I need support, space,willingness and sometimes to be still. As Nancie Atwell once said so much about writing depends on being in the chair writing. I made the time for the chair and writing this month and I'm glad I did.

What a month it has been: a month of practice and paying attention, a month of brainstorming and drafting, a month of noticing and capturing, a month of writing fast some days and writing slow others, a month of reading. I've peeked into classrooms and kitchens and play rooms and libraries in in New York and Indiana and Washington and Orlando and New Jersey and Colorado and even Estonia!  So many places I've been and sights I've seen in slices of life this month. 

Every time I challenge myself to write more I grow as a writer. I am thankful for the practice. I count it all joy--even the slices that came out sort of okay, not so good but good enough good, you know what I mean? 

Thank you for the month and for your encouragement. Thank you for reminding me in more posts than I can count or pin or book mark or Instagram or Facebook or tweet what is important about writing and teaching writers. 

All the best! See you on Tuesday.

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends
a red wheel barrow 
with rain water 
the white chickens.

Monday, March 30, 2015

35 Books Read

This is 30 of 31 posts for the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Hard to believe the month is coming to a close!  Thank you to the team at Two Writing Teachers for the link ups and encouragement. 
"Mrs. Spillane where are those note cards we used to record titles of books we've read?" she asked.
"They are in the box on my desk. Do you need yours?" I replied.
"Yes, I want to update it with the books I read over spring break," she said. "I've read thirty-five books!"

She is so proud of herself and I am proud of her too. (I wish I'd taken a picture of her Books Read list! Tomorrow, I will do that.)

This morning some students were reading. Some were returning books checked out prior to spring break. Others were perusing the book shelves for their next reads. I started the class period booked talking a few books that I read over spring break. Some were updating the reading and book lists in their journal (Books Read and Books I Want to Read). A few students shared books with table mates. Book talk bubbled up around the room from some. I was making the rounds. I visited readers. I talked with readers. I recommended books to a few students who asked.  I asked students who appeared bookless what book they were reading. It was the start of class on the Monday we returned from spring break.

I believe in reading. I believe that students can and will read more than I could ever "cover" or teach in one school year. I know the research. I've lived it in a high school classroom for twenty years. When Donalyn Miller posted,"I've Got Research Yes I Do, I've Got Research How 'Bout You?" I thought back to a post I wrote last year that included an A to Z list of books, articles and research reports supporting reading workshop. I love Miller's smart writing and how she validates what we know works for readers in our rooms.

 I believe as Penny Kittle does that students deserve choice and support as they develop reading (and writing) skill. I read and write beside my students as she does hers. My students keep reading and writing notebooks, similar to but different from the ones Linda Reif describes and uses in her classroom.

I like the balanced approached Amy Rasmussen takes with book clubs and how she advocates for choice in AP classes (see her argument "Aim Higher: A Case for Choice Reading and a Whole Lot More in AP English" on Three Teachers Talk). I was with her at every turn. I understand the challenge and the joy of differentiating instruction for a roomful of readers. I know book clubs are one way to mediate the whole-class novel and build in choice and common or shared book experiences. I agree that just giving students time to read in class is not the same as teaching from, with, through and beyond the titles students choose for themselves.

We teachers make our way individually along similar paths as we design instruction for the readers and writers in our classrooms.

There is power in readers reading. Award-winning teacher, Nancie Atwell wrote about it from her classroom first with In the Middle and many have followed, adapted, adjusted and worked the model, shaping instruction to fit the needs of our students. We know, the only way to develop reading skill is to read: independently, widely, voraciously, passionately.

Thirty-five books indeed.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Green Lights Ahead

This is 29 of 31 posts for the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Hard to believe the month is coming to a close!
Thank you to the team at Two Writing Teachers for the link ups and encouragement. 

Teachers at my high school are working in curriculum-alike groups to revise course scope and sequences to reflect Common Core Standards. It seems a process we create a new each year as each year we have different students who come to us with different skill sets. Tomorrow we return to school from spring break, so of course I've been thinking about lesson plans and the like.

Our curriculum-alike groups are our school-based Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). I know that the Slice of Life Community acts as a PLC for me as does Twitter and the English Companion Ning. I learn in community. At school, we meet in our PLC groups for thirty minutes to an hour after school the second and forth Wednesday of each month. PLC groups that have common planning time also meet weekly.  During that time (and often via email or during casual, ad hoc gatherings), we are working on a common standards focus that makes sense for what our current students know and need and common assessments to inform our instruction.

Common is a word that gets some English teachers' hackles up. One-size never fits all, but common assessment does not mean that teachers in my group are teaching from the same texts, keeping the same pace or going in the same exact instructional order.

I've had several ah-has as I scored common assessments this year. Here are a few of them:

1- Stay focused. Don’t try to do too much. Having two sides to a page, including fiction and nonfiction when assessing as standard, slows down assessing and thinking. Keep written formative assessments sharp and short so that we can teach from our discoveries the very next day.

2- Do this sort of assessment many times over the course of a unit and keep track of students’ scores on one roster sheet to see growth over time for just this learning goal— make time for students to show improvement.

3- Keep a list of “what to teach next.” As I read students' work, I realized my students need another review of __ (theme or main idea or author's purpose, etc.). Students confused theme and topic and tone and mood--notice the confusions and note them in order to address them.

4- Work all the strands. Integrate reading/writing and speaking/listening and language as much as we can and as authentically as we can. There is a time and a place for multiple choice practice but rich and varied reading, writing, speaking and listening over time will always be in students' best interests.

I'm excited to get back to school and the work ahead. We are three-quarters of the way through the year. Students are secure in our routines. The fourth quarter is like sailing through down town when all the lights are green.

Clouds and green from the intersection of Colonial Drive and 419.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Celebrate this Week


So much to celebrate this week: books and paints and sleeping in and time with friends and family. It is the end of our spring break week. What a wonderful week it has been.

1. Played in snow at my brother's house with my son and niece. Oh, the love of crunchy snow, crisp air and a steep hill.

2. Listened to my niece read the story we worked on together last Sunday. She's in first grade and her focus that afternoon spanned hours of writing and photographing, rewriting and recording.  Good memories made.

3. Spent time time at the farmer's market farm today before my son's lacrosse game. We held three week old goats and took pictures of noses and made up stories about the animals and laughed. (Maybe I will grab a few more pictures and turn this into a Whose nose is this? piece for my northern nieces, we'll see).

4. Claimed my commenting prize! I registered for the Writing from the Heart Highlights Foundation workshop  this June.  The very idea of the Highlights Foundation brings me back to the dentist office.  My Mom was a dental hygienist. For nearly thirty years she worked for Dr. Sunshine (his real name). One of the best parts of visiting the dentist's office when I was a little girl was sitting in the waiting room waiting my turn to have Mom clean my teeth. I felt so grown up in a captain's chair all my own. I sat up straight, scooted back in the seat,  dangled my feet a foot from the floor, and balanced Highlights magazines across my knees to read and read and read. By fourth grade I wanted to write too.  Oh blue skies, this prize was a dream-come-true moment this week.

Though Dr. Sunshine sold the practice a few years ago, Dr. G.
kept this piece of Mom's handiwork hanging.

Friday, March 27, 2015

On Swearing and Bean Poles

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers.
 Link up your slice everyday in March and on Tuesdays all year.
 Thanks Stacey, TaraDanaBetsyAnna and Beth.

origninally posted on Pink Stone Days 3/4/2011

Son of .... Speculating on Lines from the Movie Rango

from http://www.tallcloverfarm.com/wp-content/uploads/
So, my son and I went to see Rango this afternoon. We took one of his friends with us. The film was cute: great characters, classic western plot, clever animation (I mean sand and snake movements... mighty!). There was this one line when a character was being carried off  during battle and the character yells, "Son of a b....." Well, when the boys got back to the car that was the topic of conversation.
"Son of a ....What do you think he says?" asks boy number 1.
"Hmm... I don't know. It sort of sounded liked Son of a b, b, b... there was a b sound there, " my son answers.
"But I think it ended in 'vole' or 'volt.' Maybe it's like someone we all hate that ends in 'vol.'"
"Like Voldemort?"
"No! A real person, like the devil."
I could see where this was coming from. I mean they do go to a Lutheran school after all, but I could also feel myself starting to crack--laughter seeping. "It's not the devil, but I can see why you might think that," I chimed in. "I know what it is."
"What is it?" they clamored from the back seat. "Son of a..., son of a... b...."
"Son of a BEAN POLE!" I blurt out.
"Son of a bean pole?" my son asks. "What's a beanpole?"

Swearing with everyday words reminds me of Shakespearean insults and my friend Jeroen. I met Jeroen when I was a sophomore in college. He lived above in me in the dorm. One weekend eight of us gathered to play trival pursuit. When a question didn't go Jeroen's way, he swore, "Sacapunta!"
"Did you just say 'sacapunta'," I asked having just met Jeroen and come off of 5 years of high school Spanish.
"I did."
"You just called him a pencil sharpener."
"Yes, I did, but shhh, no one else here knows... I also like to use SEMAFORO! (traffic light)"
Jeroen, raised in the Netherlands,  could have cussed in the five languages in which he was fluent, but instead he used everyday words. Sort of Shakespearean, don't you think?

So, I'm continuing the tradition I guess you could say. " What's a bean pole?" I'm always amazed at words we aren't born knowing. "Well, it can be 2 things: a stick holding plants up in the garden or a very skinny person."
"That doesn't sound like a bad word to me!" he asserts.
"Well, you know, there really aren't any bad words, just words that are used to mean or say bad things."

At this point on our drive home my eyes are watering, and I just suppress a gasp--I can cover myself with the allergies excuse if need be, but you parents know I'm riding this straight face all the way home .

I manage until spilling the beans to my husband who leaves the office chuckling to go watch tv.
From  the family room not five minutes later I hear a, "Son of a beanstalk!"
"No Daddy, it's son of a beanpole!"

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Playing with Inspiration

Today I puttered. Today I played. Yesterday  Joyce Valenza's Facebook profile picture inspired me. I love the pose and the simple shadows. So I used it as a mentor text to sketch. If you don't follow her on Twitter, do. She's been on my ed-tech list for a long time--she teaches me something every time I dip into her stream.

I started the sketch yesterday and had time today to paint. I wasn't trying to copy the image of Joyce per se (I'm terrible painting actual people actually) but I was interested in the spirit and shape of the image. I was at a break in my Iona journal but had an idea. I wanted the piece to stretch across the divide. So I imitated Joyce's position from the profile picture on the left and on the right sketched a sky of flying books.  

I love how the artist that did Joyce's picture captured her hair. Since I took Paulette Insalls "All about Faces" painting class, I've struggled with hair. Seriously, there are three bald women on canvas in my studio. Sometimes I put off drafting decisions, especially when I creating with paint. 

 I got my tools ready and set up my space with freezer paper, an old rag, paper towels. I filled a spent Talenti ice cream container with water and tuned into the Three Tenors on Pandora.

I'm not quite finished but I'm well into the second draft.
The books still need details and I'm not sure about the dark outlines or her eyes. I'd like to try a layer of glaze and them add color to pop. The glasses need highlights too. The paper needs to rest and dry for now. Tomorrow is another day. And this week, I have a lot of time to play.

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers.
 Link up your slice everyday in March and on Tuesdays all year.
 Thanks Stacey, TaraDanaBetsyAnna and Beth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Huzzah! Hooray!

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers.
 Link up your slice everyday in March and on Tuesdays all year.
 Thanks Stacey, Tara, Dana, Betsy, Anna and Beth.

Huzzah! Hooray!
Hip hip and sashay!
Today is my day,
a BIG birthday whoo hoo!
Today is my day,
and presents from You!

Comments on blog posts are like presents. Comments are a reader's gift to a writer. We don't call it "comment love" for nothing. In fact, the word "love" was used fifty-two times in comments left on my posts this month. A quick look at the top nine words says a lot about the values of our commmunity: love, student, work, day, response, think, thank, great, make. Those are words I can build a professional around.

I so enjoyed doing the commenting challenge this weekend. I learned about loss about down sizing about apps and assessment. I can't believe I won the challenge.  I'm still stunned; I won--what a birthday gift. I won!

I love reading, thinking about and commenting on Slice of Life posts. I love the peek into teachers' classrooms and writers' thoughts. There is great variation and yet a lot of similarity in what we do.

My brother--whom I was visiting for a long-weekend, birthday retreat-- thought I should just write simple sentences of praise. He suggested a copy and paste of "Great post!" or the like.

I said, "no way!"  This was no Nerdfighter spam wow party.

Tagul word cloud created from comments left this month. 
Slicers are thoughtful in comments. We encourage. We praise. We "bless" and sometimes "address" to use Kelly Gallagher's words on giving writers feedback.  This community is full of gratitude and thanks, curiosity and wonder, poetry and play. It was fun pushing myself to comment more than usual this weekend.

Thank you to everyone who has blessed my writing efforts so far this month. And a heart full of thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers and the Highlights Foundation.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Goodbye for Now

Swing by Two Writing Teachers for seconds or link up to serve us your own slice!

We stumbled through our short morning routine as we readied ourselves for the trip home this morning. I don't like saying goodbye; it's why I say goodbye for now on the phone and see you in the morning at night. 

Goodbye is sad without hello. As I brushed my teeth, running the cold, cold water from the tap I brainstormed ideas for a goodbye poem. Goodbye is like "guacamole and I hate the color green." Sara Holbrook's line from the poem "I Hate My Body" kept coming to mind.

When I write with student poets we work images. I don't have colorful images for good bye yet. Humor is on the far horizon for this idea.  I'm still in list mode.

 I love how Sara's line relieves the tension of dislike and irritation. When I see her perform it and watch the audience she always hits the guacamole and green in a way that makes kids smile and chuckle.  I would like to make saying goodbye to company easier with a laugh.

Last week a student chose a poem full of hellos and goodbyes to perform. Wisps of lines whispered in my ear this morning--wish I could bring the title to mind. A hello and goodbye poem would be fun to write. 

While waiting to board the plane home, Collin and I played with this instant poem generator to kickstart some ideas. I bet my niece would have fun with that form. I'm going to play with it and see if I can reshape it--break it out of the too tight for me formula-- with comparisons and images. 

For now goodbye, goodbye, see you soon, goodbye.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spy Kitties

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers. Link up your slice everyday in March and on Tuesdays all year. Thanks Tara, Stacey, Betsy, Dana, Anna and Beth!

Sunshine on snow and big wind. Today we could hear the window panes press in. Today was cold, cold, cold, so we stayed instead and wrote stories instead of spending all afternoon on the sleds.

Here's our tale. Two kitties, Spy Kitties, on a quest to find the yellow bird.

Spy Kitties on YouTube

Love that girl.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Learning Takes Practice

This is slice 18 of 31 for The Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by the
talented team at Two Writing Teachers--thanks Tara, Stacey, Betsy,
Dana, Anna and Beth. Click over to the Two Writing Teachers
for seconds or to serve up your own slice

The kitchen table is a long slab of quarter-sawn Paldoa. Warm brown, lots of grain, we spread out before breakfast: watercolors, water crayons, mixed-media spirals, moleskins, and coffee. We set up sweet with paper towels and water pens and travel brushes. We doodled a bit in our journals. My brother and I told stories and sipped steaming mugs of espresso. Last year he, our mom and  I participated in Sketchbook Skool. We learned a lot about sketching and telling a story around our images. It was fun and we had a lot of opportunity to practice and share or sketches. Our sketching has changed over time with practice and attention.

John's hand is in the picture. My niece's piece is on the right and mine on the left

This morning my brother, John, broke out some Aquabord and suggested an art swap. He made a piece for me and I did a piece of word art for him. My niece suggested art words, apt I though, so I went with it. Charlotte and I brainstormed a few good art words and I filled in with a few favorites too. I like how it came out. 

John talked about color blending and shading and how tricky it can be with water colors. I agreed and showed him how I've come to do it. I've been drawing word art for years. I shared some of my practice on Sharing Our Notebooks last year.  

After art we decided on roller skating. I have loved to skated since girl scouts and third grade. I started taking my son to skate when he was four and it's been fun to share. He's trying to learn to skate backwards on our home rink. Today he was all in for the twelve and up race around the rink.

Collin's third from the left sporting the DFTBA hoodie.

Today was Charlotte's first time on skates.  I remember Collin's first time on skates. Who knew limbs could move like that? Charlotte was so excited to learn. Part of it is the Auntie effect. She still loves to do what Auntie does--it is a strong magic,  love.

She was brave! "Chin up. Chest up. Stand tall. Let me see your eyes, Charlotte," I kept the chatter going as she gripped my hand. 

She looked up. Grinned. 

"Take a breath. You're okay. Walk like a penguin. You can do it." And so it went along the rink wall and back. Out to the middle of the floor we went. My home rink has  a beginner's rink along a back wall. The rink near my brother's house does not (but it does have a dance floor and a Karaoke contest). Instead, at this rink, they cone off the middle of the floor and use that center space for learners. 

Charlotte went from death-con grip level five to hang-loose hand to one finger to standing on her own. She did great. We penguin walked and pushed off from Ts. We held our bodies tall like ballerinas and lifted our chins. We felt our hips over those back wheels and tightened our tummies to hold ourselves strong. She watched people skate and slide and zoom and spin with a bit of a skating dream in her eyes. It was crowded. She had a lot of models around her. 

"Soon, Auntie, I will..." 
"Yes, you will, with a little practice, soon you will, Charlotte.."
Maybe next time I'll pack my skates in my carry on!

As we were unlacing skates and swapping wheels for shoes and boots and clogs, I heard she and her Mom talking about all of the places she could skate and practice. She has a basement after all. No doubt, she will rock that rink next time we come for a visit. Learning, after all,  takes practice.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Poetry Empowers

This is slice 18 of 31 for The Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by the 
talented team at Two Writing Teachers--thanks TaraStacey, Betsy
DanaAnna and Beth. Click over to the 
Two Writing Teachers' comment stream for seconds or to serve up your own slice.

"I want to talk to you about how poetry might just change your life."  - Dana Gioia, Poetry Out Loud

Poetry changes lives. It changed my life when I used it to write my way through hard times as a teenager. It changed my life the first time I witnessed a living poet perform and breathe magic into verse. Poetry inspires. It supports.  It pokes and prods. Poetry cajoles. There is not much poetry cannot do.

Today I watched poetry transform my students. We began a few weeks ago analyzing word choice and discussing poetry during our weekly Socratic discussion. We listened to poems from Poetry Out Loud. We chose poems to spend some time with and students took on Expressionist roles to illustrate them and analyze them in their Altered Analysis books (click here to see the project description).
Paul chose to capture Hamlet's soliloquy in his Altered Analysis book.
We are learning about art movements and applying what we learn to a poem every few weeks. 

Last week student experienced a bit of poetry heaven when Sara Holbrook visited. Consummate poet, she created poetry fire (the students' words)  with her stories, performances and poetry lessons. Students have studied, worked through, analyzed and memorized a piece of poetry. Today we plugged into poetry's power through performance.

"Poetry helps to enlarge our humanity and give us the power to express it." - Dana Gioia

Today, Paul tapped into that expressive power. Incredible, he took several pieces of poetry and put them together as if he were crafting an oral interpretation for debate. He put the text marking tips Sara gave us last week to immediate use. You can see his P.I.P.E.S. marginalia as well as Sara's advice to mark emphasis and vocal sounds as well as her tip to not "hit the rhymes too hard" and to "tell a story."

You can see his effort on the page. His preparation paid off. He absolutely wowed us. He stepped off those pages and became the words. I only captured a short clip, but here he is at the beginning of his piece: amazing, inspired, empowered.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Planning for What?

This is slice 17 of 31 for The Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers--thanks TaraStacey, BetsyDanaAnna and Beth. Click over to the Two Writing Teachers' comment stream for seconds or to serve up your own slice.

Today I am thinking about lesson plans {and grades}. Our third quarter ends this week, so it seems natural that I reflect on planning {and grades are due Friday}. I've written about my own lesson planning processes a few times. I wrote about what teachers at my school are required to include in their plans here and I wrote about audience, feedback and lesson plans here. "The Evolution of Lesson Plans: Throwback Thursday" is probably my favorite post on lesson planning though because I took time to look back ten years or more and see how my planning process changed.

My understanding about what and how I am teaching shifts year to year as I continue to learn and hone my craft. That's part of what I love about teaching--tinkering with what will work even better with the next group of students.

Today I am thinking about what. What is being taught? What am I teaching students --is it a concept or a process? Am I teaching them how to __ in order to__? Am I teaching students a work (insert piece of literature here)? Am I really teaching a standard ?

One of my mentors used to say that language arts is a content area. She would describe how content area teachers looked down on the language arts. We're not as "hard" as math and science. We don't have as many concepts as world history or anatomy and physiology. Sure we do. But our students have had more years of practice in English than they have with other content areas. Our processes help students learn the world.

Not to short change our concepts. Concepts, of course, include all of the nouns you find in the standards. Looking at the first two reading standards we find a host of nouns: evidence, analysis, text, inferences, theme, central idea, development (of a text), specific details and summary. My lessons should address those concepts if I am teaching the standards. Here I am reminded that students cannot make an inference or discuss implicit meaning of  a text if they do not know what an inference is.

One thing I like this year about our lesson and unit planning requirements at school is that it forces me to re-examine my practice {and think about what I grade--participation, behavior, standards, knowledge, some or all of the above?.

We are at the point in our analysis and word choice unit where students are refining their understanding with practice and performance. I am not teaching explicit lessons this week--though I have modeled the writing (and performance) students are doing. Our first  learning goal (analyze how authors' choices affect meaning, theme and or tone) comes straight from our unit plan--it's a big goal that we've worked on all quarter.

Week nine's lesson plans; plans are posted online with each week linked to each tab. Find this week  here

I am not sure if it makes sense for me to carry that goal day to day (repeatedly). That is something I've been thinking about lately. Do I need to parse it more or does it naturally come back to the big picture after we've examined all of the parts of the standards we're currently working with and from?

I'm just thinking about that this afternoon {as I  put off grading the papers from yesterday that I've got to get done}. What do you wonder when it comes to your lesson plans? I'd love to hear your thinking.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dreaming of Differentiation

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers--thanks TaraStacey, BetsyDanaAnna and Beth. Click over to the Two Writing Teachers' comment stream for seconds or to serve up your own slice.
Is there a way to deliver differentiated professional development face to face in one room? I know well that  I can dip into the Twitter stream or tune in to a web-, pod-, lecture-, great course- cast, but can that autonomy and differentiated be duplicated face to face in a one-room professional development situation? Is there a a way to assess the adult learners in the room--or have them assess themselves--and break into three, four, even five groups based on where they stand in terms of the day's learning goal?

It's not a new question. I'm not the only one who has been wondering if it's possible. Professional organizations are on the verge of delivering it virtually (they have been for a while actually). NCTE is launching differentiated professional development--it's self-paced and online. I don't know that I've ever experienced it in person though. Can be done face to face with adult learners?

Can a stranger assess a learner in a thirty minute warm-up sequence? Can a teacher? I'd like to say I can get an intial assessment--enough to group and go and level up as we went. Certainly I know I can plan for a variety of levels of understanding. I am thinking: I need entry level guidance, I have some some experience and need practice, I understand but would like peer support and perhaps  let me investigate on my own. I'm just thinking here how it could look.

Can learners--adult learners-- accurately assess themselves or will they or we, like many of our students, choose to sit with learners we know? That's a different issue, isn't it?

Today a group from school participated in an "elements" training -- elements being items in the Marzano Art and Science of Teaching Framework that is being used to evaluate teachers in the state of Florida. My group thought the day would be different than it was. We've had experience with the elements and I think we expected to go deeper than we did. The day was not wasted though. We all wanted to get smarter and learn more.  With that mind set anything can be instructive.

The facilitator did a great job of going back and forth. She spoke from the power point and then we paired up or form triads or talked in table groups or picked person across the room, got up and talked. Of course, she called it "chunk and chew," a strategy moniker I could have done without, but names aside, she worked the room and the content in ways that modeled strategies. I appreciate that. The facilitator clearly has mastered the quick back and forth that Judith Langer describes in her Beating the Odds research.

She read the room, first thing, by asking for a show hands. It was the usual, who here is from ___ (insert grade level or job description). Perhaps she could have gone a step further in that assessment and read how experienced the educators in the room are with the Marzano model. A few folks I talked with were new to the elements and new to using scales to assess learning; others had one to four years of experience. A few questioned the change in language being used: desired effect of an instructional strategy to desire result or learning scale to learning progression for example. I wondered.

I wondered if there were a way to capture the group's experience and then divvy us up accordingly. Could we have met in years-used groups (how many years has your building or site used the Marzano model) ?  Could a written response or a quick post-it on a graph have given the facilitator enough information to sort and seat us?  Could the facilitator have differentiate the content we received? I wonder.

I appreciated the time. The time to reexamine my own thoughts about Marzano's elements and what they mean in terms of how I plan. The time to consider how to engage teachers in my department in that planning process. I appreciated time with teachers and leaders from my school too.

This was the first time I've sat a table learning side by side with some who attended and I must admit, I liked that they all took notes, that they all wanted to learn and that they shared their thinking. It was fun to focus on learning together.  We had interesting conversations even if the session didn't exactly fit our current needs. I appreciated the company and community. Still, I wonder.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Simple Things

Slice of Life is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers--thanks
TaraStacey, BetsyDanaAnna and Beth. Click over to the Two Writing Teachers' comment stream for seconds or to serve up your slice.

Spring has sprung in Central Florida.  The sky is blue-blue and the clouds are white-white. Golden light and spring green trees. Pollen dusts the cars in the parking lots. Temperatures have lept up to the high eighties and we're a week away from a spring break. 

My classroom has become allergy central. One of my students said, "it sounds like we are all sick in here!" It did too what with the sneezy, coughing, nose-blowing, sniffles going around the room. Still, lots to celebrate this Saturday.

We made it through a busy week without any melt downs.  I have been fighting a sinus infection myself. and I know it's difficult to stay positive and purpose-driven when you don't feel well, but we did (both me and my students). Today students are taking a practice Advanced Placement test in the cafeteria-- I am proud of the students who made and kept the commitment to practice.

Our classroom is well stocked. Parents started to send in more tissue--a huge help. We've depleted our supply and suddenly students are using nearly a box of tissues a day it seems. I'm thankful that we all pitch in to fill the needs of our classroom community.  

I love the lunches I've been making for school lately: homemade soups or chillis with fresh berries. Berry season in Florida starts in January but by March production just pops. We've eaten I don't know how many pounds of strawberries and black berries this, so good! 

Simple things make all the difference. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Assessing Readers

Slice of Life is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers--thanks 
TaraStacey, BetsyDanaAnna and BethClick over to the Two Writing Teachers' comment stream for seconds or to serve up your slice.

It's been a few weeks since I wrote about students' independent reading essay questions. I've returned students' essays to them. We reviewed feedback and now for a brief update.

Yasmina is a tenth grader in our Pre-International Baccalaureate program. You'll remember her from an earlier post describing her planning for her independent reading essay. Today I'm going to write through what I see Yasmina doing in her essay (finally!).

In the classroom I have been  coaching students to write in third person--to try out the objective  voice and to use more examples when writing analysis.

Yasmina has shifted to third person.  You can see that from the first sentence, "Upon analyzing the authors' use of figurative language and description to show attitudes toward loss, it is evident that the authors use this to convey both positive and negative connotations toward the effects of past loss." You can also see some confusion about tone and connotation. This essay was written in an hour and I believe she works her way past that initial confusion.

She understands when and how to  . She also understands how to write blended comparison paragraphs. Instead of chunking ideas one paragraph about this book and then another paragraph about another book, etc.,Yasmina organizes paragraphs by literary convention. In her first body paragraph she is examining words that reveal a positive attitude toward loss.

To begin, the authors of the novels use figurative language to convey positive attitudes toward loss. In The Glass Catle, Jeanette Walls utilizes figurative language to explain the main character's, Jeanette's, loss of simple rights as just a part of life. Told through her eyes as an innocent child, she says, "I told Lori how lucky we were to be sleeping under the stars like Indians" (18).  In this, Jeanette sets the tone that though her parents did not give her and her brother and sisters the proper car that every child deserves, like a home or simply a bed, Jeanette as a child feels that this loss of simple rights is just all one big journey. She believes that, like the Indians, this is just a way of life. Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands also utilizes another metaphor to show that loss of loved ones is seemingly all part of God's ultimate plan for us. Susan McCarthy utilizes the statement, "Time in the fire don't burn us, y see it helps us be ready for whatever is ahead" (61). This is used to explain the main character's loss of her best friend, Marvin to the K.K.K. Within this metaphor, Susan compares loss of loved ones to a fire, but she does not mean it in the literal sense, instead showing that fire is like pain it may be searing but it is like a wake up call to what should be expected in life further on. Both authors seem to use figurative language to convey the loss is life but this is positive in their eyes... 

Is it perfect academic, analysis? No.  I'd like her to develop her ideas with more evidence. Her transitions need some attention too. Typically she would not start with the direct, "to begin." Those things are not as important as the growth areas I see. As learners approximate, we see them drop or become less sophisticated in some skills as they learn new ones. There are so many new things Yasmina is trying with this essay.  The new learning coupled with the demand of the hour to write mean that other skills may ride in the back seat for this quick trip. Still, I can see a lot of learning in her writing.

Yasmina is well on her way to understanding the literary analysis form. She organizes her paragraph around figurative language and uses two clear examples. She does not name the simile in the first example and I'd like to see her explanation go a bit further. What does she mean, for instance by her assertion that Walls saw the children's poverty as "just a way of life?"

I love that she uses the authors' first names though we know we should use their last names to maintain a formal, objective voice. The intimacy of writing about Jeanette and Susan tells me that Yasmina has befriended the authors of the books she has read. And she took on some challenge in her reading choices during the first semester. Her comprehension is clear even if the interpretation does not go as far as it could.

As a writer, Yasmina demonstrates an understanding of how to structure a blended comparison paragraph. She is well focused. She does a good job of introducing her textual evidence, using it and then commenting on or elaborating on it.   All big steps on the academic writing (and thinking) path.