Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Study: Reading in the Wild... Reading PLANS

If you have read The Book Whisperer, you must now add Reading in the Wild to your Reading Plan. You won't be disappointed.

One of my favorite parts about summer vacation is the opportunity to just READ! So it is with "Wild Readers" as discussed in Donalyn Miller's latest book, Reading in the Wild. My BlogFriend, Catherine, The Brown Bag Teacher, is leading us through a Book Study of this wonderful book. You can check in with Catherine by clicking her button below.

Wild readers always have a pile of books close at hand. Here is the pile of books on my desk at the moment... and that is only one pile... I have a pile of books in every room!

Miller knows this about wild readers: They are always thinking ahead about the next book.

Miller notes that disengaged readers don't have a plan for future reading. And this chapter offers suggestions to help them develop reading plans that will reading a lifelong habit.

Wild readers tend to do things that ensure that their reading life is uninterrupted...

Additionally, wild readers think about their reading experiences and habits and identify areas they would like to improve or enrich. They set personal goals based on their own tastes and needs. They take ownership for their reading.

And this point was a cause for some serious reflection for me. In my efforts to "guide" readers in my classroom, I have not put them in charge. In most situations I have plotted a course for them--almost ensuring that they will not take the helm... and that their reading lives will stall when I step away. If they are going to become life-long readers, students must have the opportunity to control their own reading lives.

In order to encourage students to develop reading plans that they can truly own, Miller suggests that teachers encourage students to develop two types of reading plans: Commitment Plans and Challenge Plans.

Students must commit to reading every day and they need to have strategies to put into place when they sense that their commitment might be ebbing. "Without this personal commitment to reading, students remain dependent on outside forces that temporarily drive their reading habits such as classroom expectations for reading" (Miller, p.143). Guilty as charged! In my zeal to ensure that my sixth graders read widely and read extensively, I have often imparted the message that they are reading to satisfy either a classroom expectation or the classroom teacher. I am anxious to send a different message when school resumes in the fall!

To help students develop commitment plans, students can be encouraged to 1) Finding reading time every day, 2) Increase book completion and 3) Look for specific titles, authors, genres and series.

Miller offers a range of options for Challenge Plans, including 1) the Nerdbery Challenge (based on Newbery Award winners), the Book-a-Day Challenge and the Book Gap Challenge (based on books or genres that have been avoided). These challenges may inspire students to set and meet goals that they establish to improve their reading accomplishment and enjoyment.

Miller then promotes the idea of using classroom conversations and reading conferences to help students develop reading plans. Students can become "experts" on different authors or series, increasing students' confidence and diverting attention toward students' voices and away from the teacher's direction. She also suggests that having reluctant readers read books from a series may provide a "comfortable" reading experience because of the scaffolding that comes from reading previous titles in the series. Completing a series can also provide a sense of accomplishment which motivates further reading and, hopefully, spur students to venture beyond their comfort zone into new authors and titles.the

Reflection and resolution-making can further cement reading plans. Resolutions can be individual or public, but should always lead to students developing a plan or routine that extends outside the classroom. The chapter includes some ideas for launching summer reading--which makes me wish I had read the book before the school year ended. I can now plan for next June when I will send the students off to summer vacation with hopes that their reading commitment continues beyond the school year and the school building.
The chapter ends with a commentary about keeping track of your reading life. Again, the onus must be on the students. "Encouraging students to take responsibility for their reading plans reduces their dependence on teachers and parents for determining when, where and what students read" (Miller, p. 156). Encouraging students to keep a list of Books to Read helps promote their independent book selection and their confidence that they can direct their own reading lives. The goal is for students to develop plans that promote their continued reading and their continued enjoyment of reading.

How wonderful it is to read a book and have it impact your teaching life so directly! I am looking forward to helping students design reading plans to guide the course of their own reading life!

For another perspective on this chapter, sure to visit Crafting Connections where Deb has reflected on reading plans as well (Don't you just love that button?!)

Have you read been Reading in the Wild along with us? We hope that you will join in on the discussion and link up your reflections below!

Book Study: Honesty... from What's Under YOUR Cape?

It is such a delight to write a post about someTHING wonderful that I care deeply about. It is even better when that post also includes the opportunity to talk about someONE wonderful! I am honored to share my thoughts about Barbara Gruener and her new book, What's Under Your Cape?

Barbara has been a BloggyFriend of mine "since the very beginning." Her blog, The Corner on Character, is one of my first check-ins in the morning because her blog posts always make me think. Sometimes they make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. But they always make me think.

When I first started blogging, Barbara and I quickly discovered how much we had in common (including our frequent trips to Starbucks!). It wasn't long before a true friendship developed. Two summers ago, I traveled to Texas and showed up at her doorstep. (And, yes, we did let her know we would be in town... I'm not THAT forward!) She was warm and welcoming--just like her writing. We stayed for three days! And, within minutes of arriving, I felt like I was part of the Gruener family. That's just how it is with Barbara. Complete JOY!

Here's my Texas Starbucks card!

At the end of June, I had the privilege of watching Barbara present at the Character Education Conference in southern California. It was so hard not to stand up and wave and say, "Hey! I know her!" She was motivating and encouraging and her presentations left the audience feeling, "I can do this! I can change lives! I can make things better for kids!" For me (and, I am sure, for others), the time with spent with Barbara was one of the highlights of the conference!

Barbara is a SuperHero in my life for many reasons. But for this post, I will narrow the list down to the fact that she challenges us to encourage "Superheroes of the Character Kind" in the classroom every day. I find that to be such a fitting subtitle to her book. In fact, when she said she was writing a book, I almost said: What took you so long?! Your writing has already led to character superheroes across the country!

The book is a "fun read," yet it is filled with possibilities. You read through each chapter and smile and walk away with lots of ideas and resources.... and a feeling of satisfaction. It IS possible to help students develop good character. And this book will help you make that happen. Within the pages, there is an always-discernible mantra that character education is at the core of educating strong, productive citizens.
Want a copy of your own? Just click on the book cover to order!
 For my part, I am talking about Chapter 6: H is for honesty.

"Honest people can be trusted because they tell the truth. They keep their promises and we can count on them. Honest people don't do these things so that they won't get in trouble. They do these thing because they're the right things to do. Honest people live life with integrity." (p.55). These are powerful words from our author. And they are the words that I plan to use when I discuss honesty with my sixth graders in the fall. And the chapter is filled with ideas and resources to accompany and reinforce those words.

Have you ever read The Empty Pot by Demi? Barbara provides a comprehensive plan to use this delightful story to teach the importance of honesty. She provides a list of thought-provoking questions to use after the book has been shared. Here's my favorite: What's the difference between doing your best and being the best?" All of the questions she has provided would lead to an insightful discussion and would help elucidate the importance of honesty. Barbara also includes enrichment activities for use with this book to help students explore the concepts even further.

See these shoes? They are shiny. And sparkly, And guess what? After wearing them for about five minutes, my toes are aching and a blister will be forming on my heel. In chapter six, Barbara provides a delightful commentary about shoes--and friendships--that are "a good fit." She also lists of a range of book titles to use in the classroom and suggests numerous activities to support students as they work to develop (and maintain) friendships--always a delicate dance throughout the year.

The next book offering is Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie.  Again, Barbara offers a variety of possible lessons to use along with this sweet story. There are movement activities, chants, discussion opportunities and more real-life applications. Such a treasure trove of ways to reinforce the importance of being honest! I hadn't even finished the chapter before I had jumped over to Amazon and one-click ordered this selection!

Children (of all ages) need to recognize that telling the truth is necessary when a classmate needs help making better choices "next time." Sometimes being honest can help them--and others--be safe. Sixth graders, in particular, have difficulty breaking through their allegiance with their peers and sharing truthful details with a teacher or trusted adult. Students need to realize that that there will be times when being honest is more important than "protecting their friends" (That is always how they see it!). The ideas in this chapter help to foster the importance of being honest... even when it might lead to losing a friend... because integrity will always be more important.

There is a need to teach the value of honesty and children at all grades need support navigating friendships. Barbara has managed to provide an inspiring commentary that weaves book suggestions, lesson ideas and personal anecdotes together with a desire for teaching good character in the classroom. This is a perfect back-to-school book that will help transform any classroom into a more positive respectful, honest place in which all students can learn and grow.

And, in keeping with the premise of the book, we've invited you to learn along with us! The linky is open to anyone who wants to add their reflections about What's Under Your Cape? and the strategies that can be used to support character education in the classroom. We hope that you will join us and become a part of this collaboration learning experience!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday Made It (Forgive Me, Tara)

I don't know about you, but I am having a tough time getting anything done this summer. It seems like it takes twice as long to do half as much. Anyone else going though that?

So, even though it's late, and even though I didn't finish my task, I am linking up with my sweet buddy, Tara. I am hoping that this will give me the motivation to get the rest of the project finished! And I know Tara will forgive me for being a day late to the party.
Throughout the school year, I am always on the lookout for deals. I might see red pens on sale at WalMart, or folders marked down at Office Depot, or composition books with a cute design at Target (that list of stores tells you where I do most of MY shopping!). Unfortunately, these bargain finds usually end up in a bag somewhere in the garage "for later."

Soooo... It was time to compile my purchases--along with the "leftovers" that had accumulated along the way. Which brings me to the reason I never get anything done.

I really like the clear plastic bins from Office Depot (my ULTIMATE favorite place... after Starbucks, of course) because you can see through them. (I also use the colored plastic boxes to sort my curriculum--but I haven't made it to that part of the garage yet) Before I began sorting, I decided to make some quick labels to make the task more efficient. Two hours later, I had chosen a background and graphics for each box, and "prettied them up." Then the sorting began. YIKES! I had a much larger cache than I had imagined!

As I sorted, I also found myself making "temporary" collections. Since these would be emptied (either into the classroom or elsewhere in the garage), these items went into cardboard boxes... But, of course, these boxes also needed labels. And, as I bet you can guess, I had to choose the color of the paper to match the "spirit" of the contents of the boxes. 

MORE hours later...

I still have A LOT of work to do. I am further behind schedule because I stopped in the middle to take pictures, and then to blog about the adventure, and then there was a movie on...

I do find myself with funny combinations of things. Here's one of my favorites...

After a delightful iced mocha, I am standing in the middle of the living room with these thoughts flying through my head: I hope I finish the project before the weekend. Company will be arriving, and I am assuming they won't want to stand in the living room. Most of the surfaces are currently covered. There are boxes everywhere! Not to mention the pile of "What do I do with this..." items. Do you find yourself with those? Do you ever just throw them away? Can you find the Starbucks card?! Not sure where the light bulb came from. And, no, it doesn't fit any lamps or fixtures in my house. So... What box does it go into? Is it recyclable? I can't decide! Maybe I need another box. And another label. And there is another movie starting...

So I am counting this as Monday Made Progress. I'm hoping to be able to say, "Made It!" by next week.

Oh! Anyone need a light bulb?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It's not "Currently," but it IS still July!

Well, I started July with good intentions...
Clip art by Creative Clips HERE on TpT and Amy Alvis font HERE
I always laugh when I type on one of Farley's Currently pages--partly because it is rarely "Current" by the time I am writing the post. Lucky for me, Farley keeps the link up all month. It IS still July after all. It's not even in "the twenties" yet! You can still click on the pic and link up if you are as tardy as I am!

Summer is flying by and I just want to hang on and say "Nnnnnnnnooooooooooo! Slow down. I'm not ready!" 

I love summer. There are always so many things I want to do! I love sorting and organizing the bits and pieces of my life. It's therapeutic for me. However, at this point, my garage is a disaster zone (again). If I don't spend some time organizing it now, summer will sneak away, and I will need to spend another school year searching through boxes to find a book or an item I need.

I often run out of time, interest, and/or enthusiasm about an hour before my classroom is completely packed up each June. Invariably there are a few boxes that are filled at the last minute and brought home--and end up in my living room until I become brave enough to look inside.

Do you ever end up with a box like that? The kind that is filled with mementos, assorted pencils, books returned at the last minute, cards from "graduates," odd erasers and pen caps, loose game pieces and those end-of-the-year papers that I often forget to fill out. And Legos. Not sure why, but there always Legos. Oh, you don't have that box? Guess it's just me.

I love sorting through the items and discovering a treasure or two. Yesterday I found two Starbucks cards, a Kit Kat bar and fifty-three cents among the debris!


Right now there are a lot of cars zooming by my window. It's odd to listen to the traffic in the morning. It sends a momentary wave of panic to my brain.... What time is it? What DAY is it? Am I late for school? Ahhhh. Nope. Still July. Happy sigh.

Although it seems like a million years in the past, the Fourth was less than two weeks ago. We decorated our bikes with flags, packed them into the car, and drove to the beach. Just watching the holiday revelers provided plenty of entertainment and it was a sunny California day at its best.

It makes me wince to read about people already going back to school. The first week of August seems early to me. (This will be the last year we will start in September after Labor Day.) But July?! Terribly unfair, if you ask me!

Of course, if I started in July, I wouldn't be sorting through boxes looking for lost change and Starbucks cards. That box would be perched on the pile in the garage, and life would have to go on!

One last Starbucks comment... Don't you just love those new lime green straws? To me, they just say, "Summer!"

Wishing you a happy July... Hope you enjoy the rest of your "summer"--however long that will be!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Guided Math Conferences: A Summer Book Study

Hi BlogFriends!

I have three half-finished blog posts... but this one is "time sensitive," so it's arriving first!

This has been a summer of reading and learning for me. I made a commitment to read five professional books before I returned to school. I may not read all of each of them, but I am reading most of all of them, so I'm considering that a success.
Creative Clips HERE on TpT and Sunglasses by Dots of Fun HERE on TpT

Do you know Brenda at Primary Inspired? I just adore her! She's one of those "can-do"people that makes things happen. This is the second time I have been involved in a Book Study with her--and this is the second time that everything has unfolded perfectly and fallen into place. That gal is a marvel! This summer she has organized a study of the book Guided Math Conferences by Laney Sammons. We're up to chapter three and it's my turn to invite you to join in the discussion! 
I enjoyed reading the first two chapters, but when I started reading chapter three, I felt as if Laney Sammons was speaking directly to me! She began the chapter by stating that too often teachers assess their students' mathematical skills in a question-response-evaluation way. "This pattern of interaction reinforces the notion of the teacher as the dispenser of knowledge and the arbiter of what is right..." leaving students to feel "little responsibility for learning or for monitoring their own understanding." OUCH. Guilty as charged. With the implementation of Common Core, we have a responsibility to push students to consider and analyze and question. And while my lessons may be moving away from traditional mathematics instruction and in the direction of more open-ended questions and opportunities for multiple answers... my assessments have barely budged.

Time to re-think. Here's how Sammons describes Guided Math conferences:

Isn't that wonderful? I was so thankful I was underlining with a pencil instead of using a highlighter because I would have ended up with multiple pages colored yellow! So many profound thoughts!

Three pages in, and Sammons had won my heart completely. While she gave numerous compelling reasons for Guided Math conferences--all of them valid--the push to value students as learners and the call to connect with them as an integral part of guiding their mathematical learning were such powerful messages.

Okay. Sold! I was ready to learn more about the structure of Guided Math conferences...

The structure of Guided Math conferences is based on that of writing conferences... with an emphasis on a predictable conversational pattern that encourages mathematical growth and, concurrently, facilitates deeper mathematical discussion.

Essentially, there are four sequential steps to a Guided Math conference:

I had been worried that the text would become filled with complicated jargon that made no sense to me, but as I looked at the list, I found myself thinking: Yes. That sounds logical to me. I'm going to keep reading!

The goal of the conference is find that area where the student can almost do something... and just needs a push (through the conference) to take that next step. It is the conversation that lets us know what support is necessary and how to provide that support to the student. Both teachers and students have a role in the conference. Teachers need to observe, converse, analyze, question and reflect. Students need to demonstrate their thinking as they approach a mathematical task and then engage in a discussion about the work they are doing as mathematicians. The predictable nature of the conference leads to a mathematical collaboration. "So, in effect, the expectation of conferring with a teacher actually shapes the mathematical thinking of students as they work." Sigh. I like Laney Sammons!

Sammons then provides a series of questions that can help a teacher support students in explaining their mathematical thinking with more precision--thus enabling a teacher to guide their mathematical processing even further.

There are many suggestions listed in the book... here is just a sample:
  • What mathematical strategies are you using today?
  • What predictions can you make based on your work?
  • What questions could you ask yourself to help you understand the math better?
  • Are there other ways of expressing/representing this?
Sammons cautions against asking questions for which teachers already have a predetermined answer in mind. This approach can stifle conversation and thinking--on both parts. The goal is to pose authentic and honest questions which will illuminate the student's thinking and allow the teacher to direct further discussion. This is, indeed a "research" (and discovery!) phase that will guide the rest of the interaction.

The research phase shapes the decision phase of the conference. While it is listed as the second step in the process, it actually comes into focus at the same time as the research phase. This is where instructional decisions are beginning to be made. "Weighing what they have learned about their students' strengths and needs and what they know about their mathematics curriculum, teachers decide how to proceed with the conference." I love how Sammons reminds us: You have to know your curriculum to know where to go next with your students!

In this section, Sammons discusses the importance of an "authentic compliment." The generic "good job" isn't helpful here. Instead, students need specific input about their thinking and reasoning.  Positive recognition is an important component of the conference--but only if it helps push the students' thinking along.

Again, the tone of this section makes my heart happy. "Students feel supported and proud of their work when teachers notice and affirm their mathematical growth." It would be easy for students to feel vulnerable under such scrutiny--compounded by the one-on-one format of the conference. Making a decision to search for and recognize things the student has done well helps encourage the student to continue to be an active participant in the conference process.

Teachers then need to decide on a teaching point and determine how best to teach the concept. Teaching has to be concise and well-thought out. And, for the record, telling isn't teaching. Decisions about instructional process need to be made "on the spot" before the teaching begins.

This is the "implantation" phase of the conference. Observations and conversations have narrowed the focus. Further consideration has led to a teaching point and a plan for instruction. At this point, "teachers teach a short lesson, scaffolding the learning of their students." Students practice the skill as teachers support, adjust and encourage. Teachers may give students specific feedback about their mathematical work. The teaching may occur through the use of guided practice, demonstration or explanation of examples. It is all based on the individual student and his/her needs. Additionally, students are prompted toward the next steps in the instructional sequence as the teacher thinks ahead to what the student will tackle later in the instructional sequence.

To me, this sounds like the easiest (or, at least, the most exciting!) part of the process. Once decisions have been made about what the student knows and how he is putting the work into practice, a decision is made about what and how to teach.  

AND THEN YOU TEACH. But this type of teaching is so purposeful, so distilled down to the critical details, there is nothing superfluous. Time is precious. In this one-on-one setting, there is not a moment to be wasted... especially when there are thirty others students who will, at some point, complete the same process.

This is an element of teaching that is often neglected, whether it be in a small group or in a whole group setting. Students need to actively reflect on what they have leaned. The teacher then shares an expectation that this learning will be put into practice in the future. Additionally, this reflection time may lead to ideas about further instruction. This part parallels guided reading instruction most clearly for me. Just as I have asked, "How will you use this new learning when you read the next passage?" I can envision myself asking, "How will you use this new learning on the next problem?" And the follow-up must be explicit to students or the process will not sustain itself. If the expectation is stated that the student will be called upon to utilize their new learning, there must be opportunities for students to do just that. 

For each of the four phases of the conference, Sammons discusses the challenges that a teacher might face as she/he tries to implement Guided Math conferences. By anticipating potential obstacles, the author is, in reality, scaffolding the teachers' learning of the process and, consequently, increasing the chance for success.

As much as this book is helpful, it is also hopeful! Sammons' writing allows a teacher to feel confident about a process that is meant to instill confidence in students and accelerate their mathematical thinking and learning. Her sequential, systematic, kid-honoring approach has certainly inspired me to give Guided Math conferences a try!

I'll leave you with one last quote for good measure (heeheehee... That's some math talk for you!)

Confident students receptive to the instruction they receive... WooHoo! Sounds glorious to me!

Great news! I know there's a mighty good chance that my meandering drivel did not provide you with the most comprehensible summary of the structure of Guided Math conferences. But that's okay, because, lucky for you, Whitney at The Crazy Schoolteacher blog has provided you with another (more streamlined) review of the same chapter. You can check it out here:


Even better, we are waiting for YOU to join us in this Bloggy Book Study. See that space below? There's where you can link up and share your impressions about Guided Math conferences as well. And I really hope you'll join is the discussion because I am looking forward to reading your perspective as well!

So come on... Link up! We've saved a seat for you!

PS Don't you love that chunky font (Claire) by Amy Alvis? Get HERE on TpT!