Conferring with Confidence

by Aimee Buckner
Does anyone else feel a lot of pressure when they confer with students? Pressure to say the right thing? Pressure to lift the level of the student’s writing? Pressure to be as perfect as you envision Lucy Calkins, Jennifer Serrvallo, or Colleen Cruz must be in their conferences?

I’ve been studying my own conferring practices and working with a group of
teachers who are doing the same. The first day of the study, I was modeling
conferring in a third grade classroom. Students were in various parts of the writing process – from idea gathering and notebook work to drafting and revising. They kept me on my toes as I went from student to student, monitoring my time with each, and being acutely aware teachers were watching.

When we returned to our conference room for the debrief, one of the teachers
cried out, “How do you do that? It’s like you pull stuff from the air!” This comment stopped me in my tracks. I panicked, thinking, what did I do that
seemed false-as if I was making things up?

“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, for starters, you pulled that tunnel story from your trip to Vietnam out of your hat. Did you even go to Vietnam or were you making that up?”
“I went to Vietnam and that was a true story.”
“But how did you remember it? How did you know to use that particular story?
And what about the kid who you showed a mentor text to – you just happened to
have the text and the page marked? You didn’t even know the kids and what you
would need. It’s like conferring magic!”
At this comment, I laughed. There is no magic about it.Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 12.22.32 AM

Prepare: When teachers plan a unit of writing, we not only think through the
standards and lessons we’ll teach, but we’re also thinking about the mentor texts we’ll share and the mentor texts we’ll have on hand. Part of my preparation also includes writing in my notebook and rereading older entries – mining entries and experiences that will help me help my students. As a teacher, you also have an upper hand that I do not have as a consultant. You have opportunities to know your students. You know them academically – their goals, their habits, their potential, and their likes and dislikes. You also know them personally – what makes them happy or mad, how they treat others, their home life, and their extracurricular activities.

Knowing this prepares you for talking with them, understanding their goals, and
moving them forward enough to challenge them without frustrating them.
Experience: Carl Anderson refers to a ‘fistful of knowledge’ about writing that we use to confer with students. This knowledge comes from a lot of preparation, but like many things, our knowledge expands with experience. I have a lot of experience with conferring, but I didn’t always. I started out with a list of questions that was published in the first edition of The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins. I had that list taped to a clipboard and it was always with me in a conference. But the more I wrote, the more I read, the more I taught, and the more I listened and observed my students, the better I got at anticipating what they might need. I now know that some kids will respond best to me when I model writing. Others respond well to using mentor texts. Some need more guided practice than others. All of my know-how goes into each conference.

Understanding: My editor is constantly reminding me of one of her favorite Don
Graves’ sayings, listen more- talk less. We need to slow down in our conferences and listen to what the student is saying or trying to say. When we’re in the research phase of the conference, we really need to ask questions out of genuine curiosity as we try to figure out what new challenge this writer is trying to tackle. All of our preparation and knowledge and all of our experience will mean nothing if we don’t stop and listen. Malcolm Gladwell reminds us of this in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding.” Most students will direct us in the conference. They’ll signal what they are trying to accomplish with their writing. Sometimes we know this by what they say and sometimes we know this by what they don’t say. The trick is to stop and listen long enough to understand the student. Remember the old adage – no one cares what you know until they know that you care.

I am no Lucy Calkins. But I’m getting better and better as I develop the three keys to conferring well: preparation, experience, and understanding. In addition, I’ve learned there is one more thing I do that as teachers we often forget to do or don’t have time to do it. I follow up. I’ll talk.

Aimee Buckner has been in education for more than twenty years. She thrives on the idea that teaching is about helping students develop intellectually, physically, and emotionally. The writer’s notebook helps her carve out a place in the curriculum to allow students to truly be themselves and find their own voice. Aimee continues to consult both nationally and internationally as well as speak at state and national conventions. Aimee is a contributor to Choice Literacy and is the author of a number of books and videos with Stenhouse Publishers.  Follow her on Twitter @BucknerAimee.

Bibliography and References
Anderson, Carl. How’s It Going?: a Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers.Heinemann, 2000.

Calkins, Lucy McCormick. The Art of Teaching Writing. Heinemann, 1986.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink.

The Profound Wrongness of Peppa Pig

By Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts
Our toddler’s favorite show is Peppa Pig. It’s a British cartoon starring a sweet pig
and her good-natured family. While at times we wish that screen time equaled zeroScreen Shot 2018-02-27 at 7.18.30 AM
in our home, if our kid is going to watch TV, at least he is learning what “petrol” is
and that things can go on “for ages.” That counts for something, right?

While Peppa is largely an amusingly benign presence, there is one thing she has
taught our son that we are fighting against tooth and nail. “That’s impossible,” Peppa
says when she faces difficulty – and now our son does, too.

“That’s impossible,” when a pea falls off his fork.
“That’s impossible,” when his arm gets stuck in his sleeve.
“That’s impossible,” when he trips on his own feet and takes a tumble.

So, yes, it’s mostly adorable. But then there are the bigger things: trying to ride a
scooter, drawing a smiley face, getting his coat on. We may be falsely blaming the
pig, but we can see that we clearly need to help our son move through difficulty and
get to the other side. Right now, he is very quick to feel frustrated. Very quick to say
“That’s impossible!”

We know how he feels. We remember giving up the following when we were
growing up: the viola, gymnastics, swimming, math, making friends. Why? It just
seemed too hard, too complicated, and we didn’t have all the tools or the help we
needed.

Our students often feel the same way. We may think we are presenting books, skills
and curriculum that is within our students’ reach, but when we see a lack of
engagement or struggle – when we see what looks like laziness – often times that’s
our students’ inner voice of pure Peppa.

“That’s impossible.”Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 7.18.42 AM

But why is it so hard to try hard things? After all, most of us are not shaming our
kids when they have trouble. And yet still the experience of facing difficulty proves
to be too much for many kids.

Why?

There are real reasons why kids (and ourselves) shy away from challenge. Kids
know how much persistence it takes to get to the other side of a difficult challenge.
They can see the road ahead. We all can. Kate recently finished a book. At the start of
that process, the future looked bleak. She couldn't see how the little chunks of time
she had available to write could ever result in a manuscript. Without the tools she
has to help her focus on a small task ahead, without the faith past on past experience that tells her that even thirty minutes of work can build up to get the job done, she
would have given up before she started.

We cannot shy away from how embarrassing and painful it can be when we are not
that great at something. For some kids, this is no big deal: “I’m bad at math,” said
with a shrug of the shoulders. But for others, this experience of trying something
and not hitting the mark is excruciating, or at least very uncomfortable. Like most
people, kids will avoid uncomfortable, excruciating experiences whenever possible.
In his new book, Embarrassment, Tom Newkirk explores the effect this feeling can
have on students (and teachers). He offers strategies to help everyone tackle the
obstacle of shame. It is a beautiful, important, gift of a book.

If we want to help our students face difficulty, we are going to need some helpful,
concrete ways to show kids the small, actionable steps they can take when they are
balking at the challenge. When our inner Peppa Pig cries out, “That’s impossible!”
we need to be there with something clear that our students can do to take that tough
next step forward. Here are a few suggestions:

How to Prove our Inner Peppa Pig Wrong:

1. Name the ways we work hard. Every kid on our classroom knows what it’s like to
work hard at something difficult. It is a human thing. Maybe it was that summer
they chopped wood with their grandmother. Or maybe it was that really tough level
in a video game. Have students list out what they did to keep working. Put those
things on a chart and keep the list handy when things get tricky.

2. Break the tough task down into bits. The whole task is almost always impossible.
Even something as mundane as “clean the house.” To face this mountain of work,
most of us break it up: “I will clean the bathroom and then I will take a break.” Any
task can be broken up into parts; Each part can feel more doable. When reading a
nonfiction book, it’s helpful to say, “First, I’m going to take a tour of this book, Then,
I’ll make sure that I understand the first section. Reading slowly or rereading can
help enter the world of nonfiction.”

3. Celebrate tiny success. If something is difficult, we are not going to get great at it
right away. Take the little leaps forward as great moments. Celebrate with a break, a
compliment, or another task that feels fun or easy. When you accomplish something,
albeit small, name what you DID do as opposed to what you DIDN’T.

4. Get help. Anytime we truly struggle, we reach out. Period. End of story. We have
friends we text about work, friends we call about emotions. We have our own lists of
people we call to help us around the house or with the kids when life gets a little too
crazy. Make sure kids have partners they can work with when they inevitably
encounter struggle. Coach them to build inspirational musical playlists or create a
the mental routine for resetting so they can tap into it when they need to restart and
reembrace something challenging.

5. Take breaks. When a task feels like too much or too long, it can help to know you
won’t be at it forever. Set a timer for fifteen minutes, work, and then ask yourself if
you can keep at it for 15 minutes more. Or just try and pay attention to those signs
you are burnt out – irritability, disengaged, cloudy-headed – and then take a mini-
break. A quick walk around the block, listening to music or taking a few deep
breaths can sometimes be enough to reset and jump into the tough task again.

So when you catch your students (or yourself) feeling the impossibility of something
challenging, acknowledge it, recognize the voice as Peppa, and make a small move
forward into the depth of learning something new.

(And you can always reward yourself by jumping in muddy puddles…but you must wear your boots.)

Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts began their teaching careers as middle school teachers in urban centers — Kate in Brooklyn, Maggie in Chicago. They both felt a natural fit in the energy, intensity and humor of early adolescence. After their graduate education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Kate and Maggie became literacy consultants with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

For ten years, Kate and Maggie worked across elementary, middle school, and high school grades, focusing on skill and strategy-based literacy instruction, literacy across the content areas, differentiated teaching methods, including conferring and small group instruction. Over time, Kate and Maggie have become known for their concrete solutions to tough situations, their humor, and their strong curricular, pedagogical and personal support of teachers, administrators and students. These strengths shine through during their presentations and social media presence, such as their blog, indent, Twitter accounts, and their video series for their latest book, DIY Literacy.  

 

 

Play is Work and Work is Play

By Kristi Mraz

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 10.08.09 PM

Two second grade boys sit, heads pressed close together, studying a book. A heated discussion breaks out. From across the room you hear the passion if not the individual words.  Finally one boy stands up with the book, flips back a few pages and appears to read something aloud. The other boy covers his eyes with his hands and then stands up shaking his head. They keep the book open to that very important page and return to the blocks area in their classroom where they hold it up to compare to a replica of the Titanic they are building during choice time.

Meanwhile, a hallway away, three kindergarteners huddled around a piece of paper are engaged in an intense discussion about a letter sound. Finally one stands up, gets the alphabet chart and points to a letter. The child holding the pen starts to make the letter and the one next to her traces the shape of the letter next to her when she asks for help. They stand back and admire their handiwork: signs to label materials in their pet store. 

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 10.10.05 PM

Upstairs in the fourth grade, children are using fabric to make puppets for a play they wrote.

In a first grade, construction paper strips of money are being counted by the children playing grocery store. Someone suggests they make piles of ten to keep track.

Some adults peek in these classrooms and say, “That’s just play. When does the work start?”

Those adults are sadly misinformed.

Play is Work and Work is Play

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 10.18.54 PMSomewhere along the line, a message went out that play had no place in schools. That it was frivolous, time spent away from actual learning, that it was earned, that less play meant more learning.

There was also a time when people were told that Radium was good for you, even amidst emerging research that proved it made you radioactive. They bottled it in water! People drank it!

That is to say, don’t believe everything you hear.

Play is learning. Play is a right for all children. Play is serious work.

What does the research have to say about play?

  • “Studies also show that [free play] ….helps children discover principles such as symmetry and geometry and sets the stage for more advanced skills used later in mathematics and geography.” Katrina Ferrara, Kathryn Hursh-Pasek, and Roberta Golinkoff The Wisdom of Play (14)
  • “If a child has no play experience, it is likely that both his cognitive and social emotional development will suffer.”  Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong Tools of the Mind  (133)
  • “Symbolic play, from a relational standpoint, provides an important foundation for literacy development.” Sandra Stone and William Stone Symbolic Play and Emergent Literacy  (1)
  • “… the more a child moves, the more she stimulates her brain.” Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy A Moving Child is a Learning Child  (7)

There is much, much more in the research. I list great resources below.

Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 10.21.17 PM

From Research To Real Life: 5 Tips

How do we ensure that every child plays every day to maximize the power of this state? And not just playing with a puzzle or Simon Says, but deeply involved, child-directed play?

  1. Become more playful yourself. This may seem like an odd tip, but when we are playful, our students follow suit. Do not banish play to the yard or the last 30 minutes of Friday, invite it in to each thing you do. Kids don’t have a dividing line between work and play until adults imply that there is one. Declare in the middle of trying to stretch a challenging word in interactive writing that it is beyond fun to try to figure it out, lose yourself and your students so deeply in a read aloud the time flies by- and then point that out, leave parts of the day unstructured so you and your students can reboot with something self-selected. Becoming more playful doesn’t mean breaking out Barbies for math or telling knock-knock jokes for three hours straight, it means finding the joy in each thing you do.
  1. Reframe play materials as thinking materials. Imagine saying, “This scene in your chapter book is hard to visualize, why don’t you grab the blocks and see if you can create it that way?” or, “It can be hard to come up with story ideas, let’s look at some of the materials in dramatic play and see if it sparks a story!” Blur the lines between play and work by having materials work across the schedule. Use legos as counters and alphabet charts to help make the ice cream store sign.
  1. Call play “work” when speaking with children and adults about it. Some people call choice time “work time” to impart the seriousness of the play state for children. Instead of referring to children’s play, call it work. Use the lingo traditionally reserved for academia. “In Harry’s work today he revised the bottom of his block structure so it could balance better.” Part of play’s power is the concrete experience that we will lay abstract academics on, using the same language helps that transfer. Revising blocks is a stepping stone to revising writing, it requires the same kind of thinking, “How could I do this differently to achieve what I want?”
  1. Prioritize it in your schedule. Don’t see play as taking time away from learning more traditionally academic things, see it as time added. Play deepens and extends learning in ways that traditional school cannot. Yes, you can assess comprehension with a multiple choice test, but you can also watch kids at play. Many times children reenact stories they have heard or read themselves, and as they play you can see evidence of their retelling, inferential comprehension, fluency, and what they determine as important. Aim to have a choice time or work time. Plan for it your day, and protect that time, and you will see the benefits.
  1. Gather a community. Read articles and books, experiment in your classroom, go to conferences, and most importantly, find people to dig into this work with you. Especially if you are working in a place that has given you the “no more recess” talk, you need a team. It could be parents of your students, teachers in your school or district, or educators you meet on twitter or facebook.

We all need someone to play with!

Great Resources:

Bodrova and Leong. Tools of the Mind. Pearson (2007)

Connell and McCarthy. A Moving Child is a Learning Child.  Free Spirit Publishing (2014)

Lester and Russel. Play for a Change. Play England http://www.playengland.org.uk/media/120519/play-for-a-change-summary.pdf

Mraz, Porcelli, and Tyler. Purposeful Play: A Teacher’s Guide to Igniting Deep and Joyful Learning Across the Day. Heinemann (2016)

Stone, Sandra and William. Symbolic Play and Emergent Literacy.

Various Authors. The Wisdom of Play: How Children Learn to Make Sense of the World. Community Playthings (2016)

 

How to Help Teachers Work Smarter, Together

By Samantha Bennett

As an instructional coach, I spend my days in classrooms with teachers and their students. We plan together, we notice together, we wonder together, we set up the conditions for learning together and then we study kids. Together.  

In all of this work together, I’ve learned that the highest leverage practice to affect student learning is… cloning.

Wait, what?!?

Yep. As an instructional coach, if I can help teachers replicate themselves so there are multiple teachers in the room, students get smarter, faster.

How can a teacher clone herself? Take a walk with me through a two-day sequence of coaching Stephanie, a 4th grade teacher in Washington State.

Her students are getting smarter about plant and animal adaptations and narrative writing. Before our coaching cycle begins, I ask Stephanie to write to me about her beliefs, her students, her current unit and what she is wondering about.  

Stephanie’s letter is heartfelt, honest and vulnerable. As Stephanie’s coach, my job is to help her get even smarter and more skilled. I need to raise her Professional Capital by building her background knowledge, helping her use that knowledge to make better minute by minute instructional decisions, and do it within a network of supportive colleagues. (Fullan and Hargreaves, 2012) So, where do I start? I listen, I notice, I name, I label, I connect to research, I watch, I ask questions, and then, we plan together to figure out next risks and layers to add to her lessons. All because we both believe that no matter how skilled and knowledgeable students are today, we have the responsibility to ensure they feel 75 minutes smarter after her workshop lesson tomorrow. Every single kid.

As you peek in on Stephanie’s reflection, see if you can make some inferences about what she cares MOST about and what she needs next to work smarter.

Dear Sam,

I am a control freak, and in the past, I put too much emphasis on perfection. Now that that’s out of the way, here is some more information about me and my class.

One of the most important factors in our classroom is the relationships. I work very hard and purposefully at fostering an atmosphere of “family.” My purpose is to help kids realize they have the power to chart their own course, know when to move, how to move, how to solve their own problems and not need me every time for approval. My purpose is to show them that they are so much more capable then they give themselves credit. I am part of their safety net to help them navigate through that failure and to be their coach and support system through the process of learning…

My students have kind hearts and show great concern and care for each other. A large handful of students lack confidence and second guess themselves. I feel the worst behaviors are avoidance techniques employed by a handful. They are a dependent group and constantly seek teacher approval or direction. I continue to work with them on having the confidence to know what they can do and feeling okay with their decisions.

The big ideas of this unit include, 1) animals share behavioral and structural adaptations that help them survive, 2) readers read with a critical eye and learn from stories, and 3) writers have a responsibility to their reader to be accurate. During this unit, students are being challenged to create an informational narrative that details physical adaptations of their chosen animal. They will be using this story to teach their first grade buddy during their life science unit…

I’m wondering if I know my students as well as I need to to help them grow. I don’t get to meet with as many kids as I want or need because my groups run over and I feel I end up sacrificing meeting with students because my time management is not the best.  I wonder if I have given my kids enough direction in being researchers. I wonder if I have taught them the skills necessary for what they needed in order to write their stories.  

I know there is a freedom in letting go of control.  The risk in this is are they going to grow with less of my control? I worry that by releasing control that I’m not doing right by my students.  My instinct tells me yes, so I’m sticking with what feels good to me and by my observations, to my kids. Have I told you I love my job?

I’m excited for you to see my students in action and to plan with you tomorrow.

Thanks,

Stephanie

Listening to Coach

One of my foundational beliefs as a coach, is that I must know my teachers deeply to coach them well. In order to do this, I need to “listen” —  to their reflection, to their beliefs, and to their classroom practice.  I need to be able to determine importance, notice and name practices that might have the most impact on student learning, be a conduit to the research that explains why some practices are more effective than others, and label possible next steps for teachers to answer their own questions about student learning. Listening to Stephanie’s letter, there are a few things that stand out to me…

Stephanie writes: Now I’m wondering…
My purpose is to show them that they are so much more capable then they give themselves credit.

I am part of their safety net to help them navigate through that failure and to be their coach and support system through the process of learning…

What structures does she have in place to allow students to show themselves what they are capable of?
What conditions does she have in place so that she is not the only “safety net” in the room? Where else can students go for support when they feel stuck?  
I’m wondering if I know my students as well as I need to know them. I don’t get to meet with as many kids as I want or need because my groups run over and I feel I end up sacrificing meeting with students because my time management is not the best. What does Stephanie know about each student? How is she keeping track? What structures does she have in place for students to track their own growth towards goals? How is she sharing the responsibility of assessment WITH her students?
How is she structuring time in her workshop?
I am a control freak, and in the past, I put too much emphasis on perfection
The risk in this is are they going to grow with less of my control? Am I doing the right thing by them?
What does Stephanie know about the use of mentor texts to help students have a vision of quality to work towards?  What mentor texts are students using as they craft their narratives about animal adaptation?
How is she using learning targets, multiple drafts and critique protocols (self, peer, and teacher) to help students own a vision of quality to work towards?

My next step is to see Stephanie’s students in action and be an extra set of eyes and ears. I want to help her notice and name what students know and are able to do, and what they need next to grow. I observe her class the next day, and write her this letter:

Dear Stephanie,
Thank you so much for your open door today. Here are some things I noticed today and why they matter to student learning: 

  • The emotional engagement in here is off the charts! Students are riveted to you, to each other, and to the task. They jump when you say jump, but not just because you say, but because they WANT to. They trust you, they trust each other and they trust that the lesson is FOR THEM to get smarter and more skilled. This matters to student learning because the trifecta of student agency: choice, voice, and ownership at work. (Lucy Calkins, Dick Allington, Ralph Fletcher, and Don Graves all have your back on the systems, structures, rituals and routines of your classroom that have led to this culture and climate!)                  
  • Here are some questions I heard from you throughout the lesson: 
    ○ What do you think your story needs next? 
    ○ What is your goal? 
    ○ What strategy do you think you should use? 
    ○ What’s next? 
    ○ So now what is your character thinking? 
    ○ What is your next action step? 
    ○ What’s next for you? 
    ○ What did you figure out? 
    ○ What are you wondering? 
    ○ What is your next goal? 
    ○ What might you connect to that sentence? 
    ○ Share what’s going on in your head? What do you see?     

 This quote came to mind as I was listening to you confer: “I learned to talk with children in a way that kept them interested in the discussion and invited them to say what they thought about the topic. And I learned the importance and the challenge of listening well enough to understand what they were saying….My ways of trying to follow their thoughts turned out to be excellent ways to excite their learning.” Eleanor Duckworth (2001, p. xiii)

  • You had a strategic list of students to confer with today, based on what you noticed in their writing yesterday. (I’m inferring!) This matters to student learning because it shows that you GOT feedback from your learners by reading their work (Hattie says we should spend 80% of our time doing this) and then were able to GIVE targeted feedback based on what you noticed. (20% – just what they need, just in time)      
  • Students had a ton of choice on how to continue their stories – I saw kids story boarding, writing on sentence strips, adding to a word document, writing by hand in stapled books, using a plot map. Whew! This matters to student learning because writers in the world choose their tools and their process and with 22 writers in a room, you’ll find 22 different processes. Again, choice, voice, and ownership. 

    Now I’m wondering:
  • Lucy Calkins says that in order to maximize growth, every student should write for at least 60 minutes a day. What are your thoughts on that goal?  
  • How would you articulate the difference between an activity “around” writing, or “related” to writing vs. getting better at writing by writing? The impact?
  • What are you noticing and wondering about the role of a mentor text in a unit? 
  • What was YOUR PROCESS when you wrote your own story? What did you do first, second, third? How did that inform how you figured out your calendar and prioritized mini-lessons?

How is your planning changing now that you are getting a volume of writing from every kid, every day?      

Please print out and annotate this letter. We’ll use your thinking to kick off our planning session today at 12. Thank you again for all your thinking, planning, and intentional work for kids. I can’t wait to hear your thinking. 
Thanks,
Sam

So, reader, based on the questions I asked her, what can you infer about the lesson?

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 1.00.30 AM

If you inferred that students didn’t spend very much time actually writing, you are correct! In a 70-minute lesson, students wrote for about 20 minutes. The rest of the time was spent with activities related to writing – but not actually writing. The problem is, the students only have 11 instructional days to craft high-quality stories to teach their first grade buddies about animal adaptation. If Stephanie wants students to have enough time to write and rewrite and revise to meet her goals for their growth as writers, she HAS to give them time to do that complex work, as well as feedback on a daily basis.  She needs to use a few structures to clone herself.

Stephaine and I used this learning target to help her plan more strategically:

I can use multiple resources as ‘teachers in the room’ to affect student agency, autonomy, and the quality of their work.

Here is the lesson we planned together – going for (at least) 40 minutes of students writing – each part of the workshop structured to increase student agency so they keep going.

Long Term Learning Target

  • Supporting Targets
Summative Assessment

  • Formative Assessments
I can use a variety of strategies to get unstuck as a writer.

  • I can use a mentor text to inspire and influence my writing
  • I can use learning targets to help me figure out next steps for revision.
Informational Narrative on Plant/Animal Adaptations

  • Annotations on rubric & mentor text
  • Drafts of Informational Narrative
  • Reflection

And the resources for the lesson:

Mentor Text:

Learning Target Rubric:

My Informational Narrative Rubric
Learning Target Self-reflection Peer-reflection Teacher-reflection
I can explain how structural and behavioral adaptations help animals survive.
I can use credible scientific information and vocabulary so my reader trusts me as an author.
I can include plot structure to keep my reader engaged in my story.
I can include enough detail to help my reader visualize the story and bring my story to life.
I can use appropriate conventions and spelling to help my reader make meaning.  

What matters most about this lesson is that the yellow highlighted workshop “pie pieces’ are the times when students will read, write, and talk to make meaning. It is their time to practice the behaviors of scientists who read to build their background knowledge on animal adaptation, and write to communicate their understanding to others. In a 70-minute lesson, the goal is that 2/3 of that time – 46.2 minutes to be exact, is for students to practice writing an informational narrative. Every other piece of the lesson is designed to help them do that with more agency, and more skill than they would if they were alone.

If you are more of a linear thinker, here is the step by step of the lesson:

Workshop Lesson Sequence (Goal for 70 minute lesson: Students read, write, talk for 46 minutes)

  • Opening: students gain clarity on the learning targets and what they’ll make during worktime to show they are approaching the targets (3 minutes teacher time)
    • Students read and annotate learning target rubric (see below) (3 minutes student time)
  • Mini-lesson: Stephanie models using the rubric to analyze and critique the mentor text. How did this author communicate how an octopus uses adaptations to survive and thrive through a story? (4 minutes teacher time)
  • Worktime 1 (7 minutes student time):
    • Students work with a partner to notice and name how the mentor author met the targets
    • Stephanie listens in to student conversations to see what students understand and what they might need next to grow as scientists, readers, and/or writers
  • Catch:  (2 minutes teacher time)
  • Students share out what they noticed about the mentor text
  • Stephanie asks students to turn to the student next to them and share out how they are going to get started writing today – and what resources they might use to keep going – the goal for stamina today is 30 minutes of engaged writing
  • Worktime 2: (30 minutes student time)
  • Students write
  • Stephanie confers:  kid by kid – what do they get? What can they do? What do they need next to grow? Implications for future learning targets? Tasks? Mentor texts?
  • Catch 2: (if needed for stamina – 5 minutes teacher time) Stephanie models either where she feels stuck in her narrative, or (hopefully) a conversation she had with one of the students and how that student got “unstuck” using the mentor text, rubric, or other resources
  • Worktime 3: (student choice: talk to your table partner or just keep writing or a little of both! Whatever you need to keep going! 12 minutes student time)
    • Students reread their writing and share their thinking about their writing with a partner
    • Dig back in to writing when they are ready
  • Debrief: Share out – what helped you keep going today? (4 minutes teacher time)

Through strategic planning, Stephanie explicitly increased the number of teachers in the room from 1 to 10:

  1. Stephanie
  2. Intentional sequence of tasks to influence and inspire student engagement and stamina as writers
  3. A clear and understandable vision of the learning targets in the first minutes of class
  4. Student to student talk and connection
  5. Learning Target Rubric
  6. Mentor text
  7. Students’ Scientific Journals (filled with student questions, notes about their plant/animal, scientific vocabulary, ‘I wonder’ journal entries, reflections over time)
  8. Variety of Non-fiction texts around the room
  9. Anchor charts that captured thinking from prior mini-lessons
  10. Time to write

So, how did it go? Here is the letter I sent to Stephanie after the lesson:

  • Dear Stephanie,
    Here is the quote of the day: “I want him to do what he needs to do to get his story on paper.” 

    Wow! This might be worthy of a tattoo – should we get matching ones? Thank you so much for all the risks you took today to help your students get smarter faster! It was a blast to see your kids in action, layering all the goals we talked about yesterday into your powerful writers’ workshop. 

    Some things I noticed today and why they matter to student learning: 

    • You asked students to take a few minutes to gain clarity around the targets. I heard so many voices chime in and anticipate what they’d do during the worktime. I heard Timmy say:  “I think we are going to read a book and then use it to make our own writing better.” Stiggins has your back on this practice as the NUMBER ONE thing that matters to student ownership of their learning: “A clear and understandable vision of the learning target.” Every other practice can build from this strong foundation of clarity and ownership of a worthy goal. 

    • You said, “I made this rubric so it is one you can use yourself to give yourself feedback and figure out next steps.” This matters to student learning because their understanding of the goals of the rubric allows them to have more agency in their own learning. With this rubric AND the mentor text next to them as they write (and explicit instruction and feedback and conferring over time), they can get unstuck and build their writing stamina over time in order to create a high quality book about animal adaptation. You’re setting up the conditions for them to be the deep thinkers and passionate learners, readers, and writers that you want to share the world with. 
     
    • When you released kids to talk about the rubric and the mentor text I heard Eric say: “She is picking out the adaptations. The author was really specific.” This matters to Eric’s learning because hopefully, it will inspire him to write with more detail, and if he feels stuck, to look at the mentor text to see how that author did it. He has another “teacher” in the room to help him keep going.
     
    • Xavier and Eric were discussing the mentor text. Eric said, “Hmmm…change colors. Should that go in the adaptation section or the credible scientific evidence?”… Xavier: “I think it can go in both… because it is a true fact about the adaptation.” This matters to student learning because if they can notice and name the goal, they can work diligently to meet it. (Stiggins, Routman, Miller, Ralph Fletcher, Katie Wood Ray and Ron Berger have your back on students’ use of mentor texts and authors to learn the craft – learning from published authors in order to grow – the apprentice-master model works in ALL areas of life, which helps us become the “better humans” that you named in your context letter.) 

    • I saw students using a variety of tools to drive their writing today: their adaptation research, story boards, spelling books, plot maps, their computers, their writing journals, the rubric, the mentor text page in front of them, talking to the person next to them…. so many resources at their disposal. YOU created the conditions they need most to write with agency, urgency, and specificity.Wow.

    Now I’m wondering: 
  • What did you notice today about how the SEQUENCE of tasks contributes to student thinking more deeply (one of the big goals you labeled in your context letter). 
  • What did you learn about individual writers today? What sort of “activation energy” do you have now from listening more than you talked today? 
  • What possible mini-lesson topics EMERGED from reading students’ writing and listening to their talk today? What do you envision happening over the next 11 days? (Think about just FIVE mini-lessons and then LOTS OF TIME to write, rewrite, and rewrite some more.)

    There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when you called the kids back together for debrief… we were ALL so in awe.

Ok, new tattoo from your reflection right after the lesson — “I’m doing less so they can do more.” This gets at the core belief of who we are as teachers and what matters MOST. I can’t wait to hear your thinking about all of this. Please type for 5 minutes and press send. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all your powerful work for the learners in your educational care. I want to be in 4th grade again. I’m so grateful for you. So are your students. 

Please write me back,
Sam

And how did Stephanie feel after all of this? Here is the letter she wrote to me the next day:

Dear Sam,

Yesterday I told you I loved my job – I love it more now! 

The sequence of the lesson was important today. I felt their ownership. They predicted what they were going to be doing, which activated their schema and created that anticipation. There was no doubt when I taught the first mini-lesson (truly mini) there was no confusion about what was going to happen. I could see how not reviewing learning targets cause “an unknown”. If kids don’t know what they are learning, it won’t be as deep for the kids or can cause time lost for having to stop mid lesson and “tell” the kids what they are going to rather than be part of the process. When I forgot to have them review the rubric before using it on the book, I felt a disconnect. Although I reviewed it quickly beforehand, they connected more when they could “unwrap” it and discuss it first.  When I just reviewed it and asked for thumbs up, I didn’t have a true picture of who understood the tool I was using and a tool I was expecting them to use. Even though I eventually had them review it with a partner, I can see lost minutes here and there. BUT, I was able to feel and see how important it was for them to interact with the text themselves. Them interacting built connections and gave them the opportunity to ask questions of their partner. 

Oh my goodness, what I learned about the kids today as writers! They love to write and just want the time to do it. Not only want, but I see the need. “In the past” I wouldn’t know where the kids were as writers because I wasn’t able to manage groups, helping those who asked, and monitoring. When the time is structured for maximum kid work time, I can touch base with all of them. I honestly never thought it would be possible and I’m excited about that. It’s the ultimate work smarter, not harder. Not only do they love to write, but they are capable of knowing themselves as writers. Just by asking them if they need me (even if it’s a no) activates their thinking about what they need as a writer. They are thinking about writing! I cannot believe the quality of work they are producing. Not only the quality, but they are looking for ways to utilize the skills they are learning. I am not pulling teeth to get them to write, and it feels so good! I feel it’s the way the unit was set up that made them the true authors of their story. I just wish I had understood the power of the mentor text previously. I understand it now as another teacher, and the importance of how to choose ones for the purpose I want. This experience has truly changed me as a writing teacher. THANK YOU!

 Based on student writing, I think the next 3 mini-lessons are going to be: 

  • Model: How I use the rubric to find next steps for my writing 
  • Model: The process of rough drafting. I’m not sure how this one will be worded, but I saw this a lot. I saw many kids ask if they can or need to write their work over onto computer from their paper or onto their paper from their computer. I also saw kids erase entire pages to add one sentence. I saw a student not be able to move forward until his work was rewritten with all the changes he had made using arrows and carrots. I want to model for them that rough drafts are messy and how writers can make a beautiful piece of writing out of that mess. 
  • Model: How different transitions help stories flow.

Thank you again for coaching me this week. I’m so excited and I know the students are too!

Have a great weekend,

Stephanie

Stephanie, it is because of teachers like you, that I love my job too! Thank you for cloning yourself so kids could get what they needed, just in time.

Resources

Fullan, M. and Andy Hargreaves. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hattie, J. (2011) Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Stiggins, R. and Jan Chappuis. (2014) Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right – Using it Well (2nd Edition). New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Samantha Bennett is an instructional coach, educational consultant, and writer. She is the author of That Workshop Book (Heinemann, 2007), and a contributing author to several publications including Imagine it Better (Heinemann,2014), Comprehension Going Forward (Heinemann, 2011), and The Right to Literacy in Secondary Schools (Teachers College Press, 2009). She has worked as a middle school teacher, an instructional coach, a district literacy specialist, and as Cris Tovani’s lab-facilitator and coach.  Sam is currently doing both classroom-based and systems-level work, helping districts set up a variety of coaching and professional development structures to support teachers, including the development of Learning Labs — the antidote to “sit and get” professional development. Find her on Twitter @sambennett2

 

Let’s Think Broadly About Digital Literacy

By Eric Sheninger

With 1:1 technology, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), blended, and personalized learning  programs increasingly being implemented in schools across the globe, the need for digital literacy education has become more important than ever. Although technology enables students to access more information in much less time, it does not always foster learning. Teaching digital literacy helps to manage all of the benefits of technology while helping students understand how to safely weed through the vast amounts of information online.

Technology in the classroom has the following advantages:

  • Allows students to manipulate information and media to construct their own meanings
  • Enables students to share their ideas quickly and easily
  • Engages students of all cognitive levels and abilities
  • Prepares students to be college and career ready

These benefits, among others, are why technology has become a major part of the global curriculum. However, teaching digital literacy has its challenges. The aspects of e-safety, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and finding and evaluating information must all be addressed. Many teachers lose sight of creativity and collaboration because mandates and directives initiatives focus on gathering and evaluating information with very little emphasis on creativity.

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Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

Educators need to embrace the creative and collaborative aspects of digital literacy to help students evolve into competent learners. So much great learning happens through the creative and collaborative processes. Bridget Burns, Michael Crow and Mark Becker noted the benefits of collaboration in their article Innovating Together: Collaboration as a Driving Force to Improve Student Success.  They state that collaboration spurs innovation because bringing together groups of people who have different ideas, approaches, experiences, and areas of expertise creates a fertile environment for generating new concepts and methods. Sharing insights allows ideas to be refined and improved. Charging a group with developing a promising idea incentivizes the group—not just a single individual—to commit to its success and paves the way for trusted collaboration.

Giving students the opportunity to broaden their ideas and experiences opens up pathways of learning that can be extremely beneficial.

Brianna Crowley, an educator in Hershey, PA, successfully teaches her students digital literacy while infusing creativity throughout. She says it took a series of small steps to begin the process. One thing in particular she does is refrain from introducing any new tools into her classroom unless she knows they are going to enhance learning. Often she utilizes tools to engage her students, such as A Google a Day which is teaching her students to search for information in a safe yet creative way.

Another challenge teachers face while teaching digital literacy is the differing views on social media in education. Many schools have strict policies in place to avoid educational use of social media, while others feel that these restrictions are stifling the creativity and collaboration capabilities of today’s students. Dan Haesler, a teacher and educational consultant, believes in proactive social media education, and allowing students to make use of all that it has to offer.

When asked by Common Sense Media about social media bans in schools Haesler replied, “What if we approached driver’s education in the same way?” He concluded: Driving lessons would be taught by adults with little or no driving experience, they would only focus on what not to do, and they would never take place in an actual car. Both driving a vehicle, and navigating the internet require experience and knowledge of safety precautions so as to avoid any major incidents.

The students at Maker’s Place in Homewood, Philadelphia, PA, are a prime example of digital literacy at its finest. Children from the inner city get together to work on their digital literacy through creative and collaborative projects. Instructor Jomari Peterson has taught students to “take control of your destiny and change the world.” Her students work together to utilize different apps and programs that help them first build a business idea and then use collaborative tools to bring that idea to life.

Although there is no “secret sauce” to effectively help educators teach their students digital literacy, there are some key points to focus on:

  • Allow students to maintain blogs or webpages that enable them to track their own learning. Google Drive easily allows students to create blogs and sites that they can share and collaborate on with their peers.
  • Have students create digital stories that they can share and publish. Edu.buncee.com is a site where students can utilize hundreds of custom stickers, animations, multimedia and even record their voice into their project so they can make it “their” own, both figuratively and literally. Offer students the ability to email and video chat with students in other countries. Skype Translate allows students to have a real time conversation with immediate translation.
  • Don’t get caught up in the need for strictly finding information and evaluating it. Always allow for creative ways to learn and produce.

With the help of great edtech tools and dedicated educators, students can gain digital literacy and become fluent in safely finding and evaluating information, creating, and collaborating.

Eric Sheninger is a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). Prior to this he was the award-winning Principal at New Milford High School. Under his leadership his school became a globally recognized model for innovative practices. Eric oversaw the successful implementation of several sustainable change initiatives that radically transformed the learning culture at his school while increasing achievement. Find him on Twitter @E_Sheninger

Rethinking Resistant Writers

by Mark Overmeyer

One truth I have learned about resistant writers has helped me more than any other:
Many resistant writers are better at resisting than they are at writing. They resist because they have practiced resistance, and this leads to less and less writing. To change this pattern, I need to move these students in the opposite direction – toward practicing writing more than practicing resistance.

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Our initial response to resistant students is important, and these kind of negative thoughts won’t help: “They just won’t write! They hate writing. I’ve tried everything, but if they won’t write, I can’t do anything about it.” This kind of thinking is negative because it assumes the writer cannot change.

This kind of thinking is more helpful: “I wonder why this writer resists so much… I notice some days are better for him than others. What do I need to know about this writer to help him write more?” When we take an inquiry stance, we are more likely to support a positive change.

When I think about my resisters as opportunities to learn – when I study their resistance – then I am more likely to provide meaningful support.

One resistant writer who taught me more than any other was in my fifth grade class a few years ago. Jonathan was passive: he didn’t say much at all during writing time, and he preferred to be left alone, hoping that I wouldn’t push him to produce. Here are a few things I learned from Jonathan during that year:

Invite the resister into a conversation

Some days, Jonathan wrote nothing. Other days, he would write a few lines of text during writing workshop.

As I observed Jonathan, he taught me that some resisters respond to an invitation to talk. Instead of being too enthusiastic – “That’s awesome, Jonathan! You wrote so much today! I knew you could do it!” – I started to talk to him more like this:

“Jonathan, I noticed you wrote more today than yesterday. What do you think made the difference for you?”

Inviting Jonathan into the conversation was the key change that moved him to less of a resister and more of a writer. When I started asking him what he thought as a writer, he engaged more willingly. I began respecting Jonathan as a writer who could articulate something about his own process –something Eric Toshalis is speaking about in an article about student behavior:

At the end of the day, students will want to learn with us when they’re confident they won’t feel cruddy in the process. Engaging their resistance and analyzing how we may have provoked their misbehaviors will help us take advantage of opportunities to learn about their perspectives, appreciate their experiences, and improve our practices. (Toshalis, 2015)

Even though Toshalis is discussing students who misbehave rather than resist writing, it is instructive that he encourages us to engage their resistance. If we lower grades or withdraw privileges from students when they resist, we are punishing rather than engaging.

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My breakthroughs with Jonathan began with a conversation that led to strategy talk.

Notice and name specific strategies

Talks with Jonathan allowed him to learn strategies that he could replicate

later. This kind of strategy instruction is key to supporting student success in the writing workshop, as Deborah Dean notes in her research brief What Works in Writing Instruction:

Strategy instruction helps students learn multiple methods for solving a variety of problems they may face in all kinds of writing situations, not just the kind of writing they do for school. Helping students learn and practice strategies, as well as the regulatory practices that will help them apply those strategies effectively in a variety of future situations, is at the heart of strategy instruction. (Dean, 2010)

Making strategies visible and clear to students is an important part of this process. If our conference revealed that choice made a difference, I named that for Jonathan: “So today, it seems like choice helped you. I gave you some choices, but you also made a good choice about what to write. So one strategy that works for you as a writer is to choose topics you care about.” This naming is important, since strategy work is invisible. Once students begin to feel success, they can capitalize on this success and slowly become less resistant.

Increase positive experiences to increase self-efficacy

In the past, Jonathan had negative experiences as a writer. Negative comments peppered his report card from his previous school. His teachers labeled him non-compliant, and since he was reluctant to do work, he spent a lot of time being punished. Students who resist often become students who lack efficacy because they have few successful experiences, and low efficacy results in lower achievement:

Hattie & Marzano both found that students’ self-efficacy had a substantial impact on their subsequent achievement. Students who believed they would master fractions were more likely to do so, while students who saw themselves as poor readers were less likely to improve their reading. (Killian, 2015)

Jonathan did not believe he was a writer, so he then became a non-writer. In order to increase his feeling of efficacy, I often chunked writing assignments into smaller parts so that he could feel success along the way. My feedback (mainly in the form of naming, as mentioned above) helped because it was actionable along the way. Success builds on success for resisters, and once they feel successful they will begin to push themselves further.

Focus on the relationship beyond the walls of the classroom

One of my biggest breakthroughs with Jonathan came from an unexpected place.

In my district, when it snowed, we often had delayed start days. Jonathan showed up at the regular time when a delayed start had been called, and school was not set to begin for another hour. All students who arrived early could wait in the gym for school to start, but when I saw Jonathan at my classroom door, I invited him in to help me get ready for the day.

He helped me rearrange desks, and I taught him how to use the copy machine. We talked about everything except school. I learned that his dad was trying to quit smoking, and that he recently added a puppy to his family. In less than an hour, I learned more about Jonathan than I knew about many students in my class that year. I think the comfortable dialogue helped Jonathan trust me in ways he may not have before. Rather than being in trouble for arriving at school early on a delayed start day, I welcomed him. From that day on, we had short talks about his family and his puppy, and these talks built on our strengthening relationship. He began to respond to being pushed as a writer because he viewed me as a trusted adult, not a teacher who would mainly criticize him for not accomplishing tasks.

I did not see immediate results with Jonathan that year. It took time and patience on both of our parts to see the change. Sometimes, Jonathan resisted after a week of writing nearly every day. Other times, his progress seemed to accelerate at a rapid pace. The progress was not a steady upward trend, but rather a series of hills with some dips along the way. But once the upward trend became clear, Jonathan became more independent and more willing to try strategies on his own.

All of our students are teachers, but resisters have taught me more than any other type of learner. Embrace the challenge they provide. Be curious rather than frustrated. Don’t resist what they can teach you.

Bio:

Mark Overmeyer worked as a teacher and a literacy coordinator near Cherry Creek Schools near Denver for 28 years. He has published 4 titles on writing workshop with Stenhouse and now works as a consultant in schools across the country and internationally. Find him on Twitter @markovermeyer.

References

Dean, D. (2010). What Works in Writing Instruction: Research and Practices. Chicago, IL:         National Council of Teachers of English.

Killian, S. (2015). 8 Strategies Robert Marzano and John Hattie agree on. Australian         Society for Evidence Based Teaching. www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au

Toshalis, E. (2015). Five practices that provoke misbehavior. Educational Leadership. 73    (2), 34-40.

 

Am I Doing Enough?

by Dorothy Barnhouse

At the beginning of this month, Maria Walther invited readers of this blog to share three words to guide their teaching in 2018. Although I tend not to make formal New Year’s resolutions, I naturally reflect on and focus my priorities as a new year rolls around. I therefore welcomed Maria’s exercise as I returned to work after the holidays.

Three words bobbed to the surface of almost every conversation I had during that first weekback: “Not long enough” (in response to the question, “How were your holidays?”), but I know that’s not what Maria had in mind. I proceeded with my work attuned to other words that might serve as a mantra for me this year.

One classroom, a fourth grade in a New York City public school where I’ve been consulting, offered just the opportunity. But before I reveal the three guiding words that came to me, some background: When I began my work with this teacher last fall, she had complained to me that the scripted curriculum the school had chosen wasn’t working for her students. “They’re not engaged,” she told me, and proceeded to describe how they would groan at the prospect of opening the single text that steered the lessons and tasks, how they would wiggle and misbehave, and how she would spend more time managing the class than teaching. “I want my students to love reading,” she said. “And this curriculum is not doing it.”

I praised the teacher’s instincts to teach her students rather than the curriculum and welcomed the opportunity to rethink her reading classroom (Barnhouse, 2014). Together we began to plan an alternative unit. We pulled from the essential questions and skills that were required of students but chose what we thought would be another, more engaging read-aloud, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. The chapters of this book are short, the characters deeply sympathetic and the themes applicable to any number of issues these students might be facing. I hoped therefore that they would have an opportunity to experience the impact a book can have on their lives. “Why read?” became one of our essential questions, and after reading The One and Only Ivan, we expected the answers to that question to go beyond “because the teacher is telling me to” or “to pass the State tests.”

Additionally, I knew that through the reading of this book, these students would be able to experience what deep comprehension looks, sounds and feels like. The answer-driven scripted curriculum would certainly not do this. Applegate’s prose invites interpretation. It is spare without being overly complex, and students would therefore have lots of opportunities to notice details, generate questions and formulate ‘maybe’ answers that they could confirm or revise as we kept reading (Barnhouse and Vinton, 2012).

And so, in December we got started. We gathered the students together, established partners and talk routines and started reading The One and Only Ivan. Sure enough, through simple open-ended engagements such as asking students to talk with their partners about what they were noticing or what they were wondering, we began to unveil the process of making meaning that I first wrote about with Vicki Vinton in What Readers Really Do. The initial chart of the students’ thinking looked like this:

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Once students internalized the way readers hang onto details (“Know”) and read on with questions in their minds (“Wonder”), we stopped charting but continued to offer students opportunities to talk and share with one another and with the group.

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During the second week of this work, the teacher and I noticed that students’ wonderings were often focused on ‘why’ questions, in particular why characters were doing or saying or thinking what they were. Knowing that ‘why’ questions usually indicate the seeds of an inference, we decided to slow down and linger on making these processes more visible for the students. We wrote down some of their questions and invited themto fit details from the text together in order to draft ‘maybe’ answers to those questions. We demonstrated this thought process by focusing on one student’s question, which was “Why does Ivan name his toy gorilla Not-Tag?” Students pieced details together to make an inference that Ivan misses his sister.

That is where we left off when the holidays rolled around. I was confident that the students and teacher were in a good place. The students were doing authentic reading work and the teacher was facilitating thinking rather than managing tasks.

Fast forward to my return that first week in January: the teacher started our planning session a bit sheepishly, as if making a confession. “I got nervous,” she said. “I felt that I wasn’t doing enough. So I went on Teachers Pay Teachers and got some comprehension questions for the chapters we’re going to read this week.”

Now there has been a lot of chatter recently about Teachers Pay Teachers, taking issue with copyright infringement and discussing the implications of the site on teacher collaboration, but I didn’t want to get into any of that with this teacher. What I wanted to do was respond to her very real fear of “not doing enough.” This teacher had taken a big risk in abandoning the curriculum that had been sanctioned by her administrators and the district. She was going rogue, and I needed to support her and respond to her discomfort.

“Let’s take a look at some of the questions you found,” I suggested, and she handed me a sheet of paper with a decorative border, inside of which was the following question: What does Stella mean on page 53 when she says, “There’s a difference between ‘can’t remember’ and ‘won’t remember.’”? Use details from the text to support your answer.

I was both disappointed and relieved. Relieved because the question was, in fact, simply a different phrasing of a ‘why’ question. It could easily have been stated, “Why does Stella say…?” But I was also disappointed. Students had already been doing this work: asking questions that were giving rise to inferences, which, in turn, were blooming into interpretations and big ideas. Did the teacher not recognize that?

I tried to articulate my thinking. “We’ve been focusing on powerful questions with the students,” I said, “and they seem to have experienced the power of their thinking. It’s helped them make deep inferences and be deeply engaged in the process. Do you think if we read these next few pages and remind them of their thinking, they might ask similar questions that TPT did?” I pointed to the photocopy.

“They might,” the teacher conceded. “But what if they don’t? And they need experience answering these kinds of questions for the test.”

I agreed that they did. “But maybe they’ll do better on canned questions,” I argued, “if we first give them writing experiences from their own questions.” We agreed and decided that it was a good time to move students from talking to writing, perhaps first on post-its and then in their reading notebooks.

And so when we settled the students into the read-aloud, we reminded them, via the anchor charts, about the power of drafting answers to their why questions and told them that today they would be talking and writing. We read a few pages, stopping at the same spot that the TPT question came from, and said to them, “Turn and talk. What questions do you have right now? What are thinking?”

We hunkered down to listen. Sure enough, many partnerships shared versions of the same question the teacher had paid for on TPT, and many posed answers to those questions. Others went even deeper, noticing that the idea of memory and remembering “keeps repeating,” and developing theories about what that pattern could mean. All the students did thinking that was deeper, more satisfying and more authentic than the short-answer task that TPT had suggested. It was time to send them back to their desks to write.

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When I returned to the school the following week, the teacher had created a bulletin board detailing the journey her students had embarked on. Partners had made posters of their thought processes, choosing a ‘why’ question to answer and examining details from the text to formulate a ‘maybe answer’ to that question (‘idea’).  They had also written one-paragraph responses in the manner of the test, some of which were also displayed on the bulletin board.

 

 
As I looked at the work, I knew I had my three words for the year.  Here they are, in sentence form:  Trust Authentic Processes.
– We have to trust the authentic processes of our teaching (yes, that teacher was doing enough — more than enough, really);
– We have trust the authentic processes of our students (yes, given the
opportunity, students can, and will, do thinking that is as deep and deeper than
any curriculum or prepared comprehension questions);
– We have to trust the authentic processes of reading. The readers in this fourth-grade classroom were not all arriving at the same answers to their ‘why’
questions at the same moment. No doubt some of them would have “failed” to
accurately answer the TPT question if we had stopped at that page and expected correct thinking right then and there. But as we gave students opportunities to draft and revise, as we made visible how readers postpone clarity but expect it at the same time – to say, “I don’t know yet” – we began to hear the wonderful‘oh’s’ and ‘ah’s’ that show us how deeply satisfying and stimulating reading can be when we allow our students to throw their whole selves into the meaning-making process.

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Authentic processes will work in classrooms if we put our trust in well-written texts. Good books can be our best teachers, if we’re willing to step aside and offer students authentic ways to engage with them. That, certainly, will always be enough.

Happy New Year – and see you at CCIRA in February.

References:Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton. What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Reading. Heinemann, 2012.

Dorothy Barnhouse. Readers Front and Center: Helping All Students Engage with Complex Texts. Stenhouse, 2014.

Katherine Applegate. The One and Only Ivan. HarperCollins, 2012.

Dorothy Barnhouse is a literacy consultant and instructional coach with experience working in elementary, middle and high schools in New York City and across the U.S. She recently completed a two-year residency at the American School of Bombay, where she provided reading and writing support for content-area teachersin Grades 6-12. She is a regular presenter at national literacy conferences and can be found on Twitter <ahref=”https://twitter.com/dorobarn”>@dorobarn