Monday, September 26, 2011

I Thought I Was Prepared!

We have been preparing for this day since day 1 and we were ready… or so I thought! At approximately 10:00 am on Monday, the wheels came off! It was time to implement the guided reading groups that I had planned for. Detail, by detail… I was ready. I had created the flexible groups with much attention being paid to the zones of proximal development. I pulled engaging books while thinking about the interest level of the students. I created lesson plans with these specific children in mind. The children were prepared. The Reader’s Workshop is up and running. We practiced the guided reading routines last week. This wasn’t my first time at this rodeo, I was prepared! The students knew their jobs! So what happened?

This year, I have a revolving door. I have 5 kiddos who are leaving during Reader’s Workshop, at rotating times to get the much needed help from our Reading Recovery teachers. (Did you hear the angels sing when I said ‘Reading Recovery’? You should have because the Reading Recovery teachers hold the keys that help struggling readers unlock their reading success.) So imagine this: We begin our workshop, kids are off and doing their job beautifully. I head to the Guided Reading table with my first group awaiting my arrival and ready to go! We begin. While introducing the book, I scan the room, on the sly, to see if the children are engaged and, YES, everyone is on task. So far, so good. Then the door opens, 2 Reading Recovery kids return, tap the shoulders of the two who are to go next (the ones who are in my group at the time…) and out the door they go…. No disruptions. Everyone is doing their job. This routine continues, but as we continue… I am quickly unraveling… I hadn’t accounted for so many leaving at awkward times. Not one group had been completed without someone leaving. The flow of the workshop is fine at a glance, however, my instruction feels disjointed. This is driving me nuts and I watch for the kids to become distracted during group. That doesn’t seem to be happening. The children are reading their little hearts out. Why am I feeling so frazzled? I tell myself, “Be patient.” I know the first day or two can be tricky, but the kids are doing what has been asked. The last group I notice is having a particular difficult time with the book that has been selected. Oh my Goodness… how could I have misjudged this. I was way off.  The children continued to plug away and give it their best shot using their reading strategies.

The morning finally ended. I reflected during my 10 minute lunch and realized, in my frazzled state, I had given the struggling group the wrong book! Bless their little reading hearts. So, I went in for a visit with the reading teachers during my planning time. I expressed my huge flop of a morning. I needed to talk this thing out. I took a closer look at my groups and the order of the groups. I did some slight adjusting and thanked them for their flexibility and helpfulness. (These experts are quick to listen, willing to assist in any way and most importantly, wonderful sounding boards.)

Following our day, ( and by the way, the kids seemed great the whole way!) I headed into the classroom, to make some adjustments. 1. Hone the order of the groups to ensure there are no interruptions of the guided reading group at hand. 2. Create one additional group. Yes, it’s more work but it is what is best for kids. No more than 4 in a group if possible. This sets the stage for better instruction and better learning! 3. (This one is essential, but incredibly difficult.) Start our Reader’s Workshop earlier to minimize distractions. That means read the 1st Read Aloud (our community builder) the best I possibly can to get their attention and get everyone into the current of learning. After that, we need to make hay. Get moving through calendar and lunch count. Take a bit more time with the Morning Message, as it sets so many important notes for the day. (We range from quick community builders to introducing new concepts.) We already have our morning bathroom break under 3:30 minutes so I can’t ask for more there. When we re-enter the classroom, following the break, we need to slip right into our Reader’s Workshop.

So after I changed the material tubs and prepared for the next day, the frustration was still there, but rewarded by the thinking and planning to make tomorrow a better day. I have never had a first day of Guided Reading with this type of result. If I need to rehash it tomorrow, so be it. Frustration or not, I do know it is essential these children have the best possible introduction to reading. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Good Fortune

It was Friday at 4:30 and the clock was ticking. I was due to be at the golf course for our Friday Night Couples League. This is the one evening I must leave the classroom on time… or else I would suffer the wrath of the spousal puppy dog eyes. In walked a colleague which I hold with the utmost respect. This colleague has stopped by on occasion over the past few years and I always look forward to our visits. Our visits range from his child’s education to grade cards and what immediate feedback means to students. He is a Cognitive Coaching trainer. I went through Cognitive Coaching training a couple of years ago and just ate it up! The experience changed how I go about business in the classroom, team meetings and daily life. I love the whole process of helping someone become self-directed. I believe Cognitive Coaching, however limited or in depth, will only improve our classroom experiences. So as I checked the clock, I knew I was on verge of getting into a wonderful, rich conversation that would leave me contemplating improvement and growth for my class. He said he had a proposal for me. I listened (like a good coach) as he expressed his interest in using Cognitive Coaching through a full school year with a teacher. This colleague believes Cognitive Coaching can expose a teacher’s thinking if the teacher has a ‘growth’ mindset.  I could hardly believe the good fortune that had walked into the classroom.  As I listened to his plan, I began to look forward to the instructional planning conversations, problem resolving conversations and the growth that I know is inevitable. He will be helping me by gathering data in the classroom during instruction, helping me process the data and create a plan of action for that instruction. The risk is, all the thinking is on my end. Being metacognitive is great but it is exhausting! He will mediate my thinking while monitoring the states of mind. (efficacy, flexibility, craftsmanship, consciousness and interdependence) These are the foundations that nurture high performance. These are exactly the sources we look for in our students to determine where we need to go in our instruction. My gut has always told me teachers would really benefit from coaches.  So… I could hardly wait to jump at the opportunity. Yes, I left the classroom a bit late on Friday. I still made it to Couples League.  I can’t imagine where this adventure might lead our class, my craft of instruction or who knows, maybe even my golf game!

Monday, September 12, 2011

We are 15 days in! Now what?

We are 15 days in! Now what? I am feeling this sense of urgency to get the climate of the classroom established during the first 30 days.  I am taking some time to evaluate where we have been and where we are going. After all, we are ½ way to the 30 day mark. The routine of the day is slowly coming along. The children are starting to predict what the next routine or procedure will be. The voices were sing songy today as we read the ABC chart and our class poem. This is comforting to me because I truly enjoy getting out of the way of students and watching them shine. As I assess our Readers Workshop, the children are building stamina daily in independent reading and beginning to use the early reading strategies we have discussed. Today they were so happy to get back into their book baskets. They are engaged and so proud of that accomplishment. The initial assessments are slowly winding up. I am beginning to think about guided reading groups and the routines that will need to take shape. This is a huge task we tackle every year. I know the importance of articulate language while teaching in order for these routines to be flawless and automatic for the students as they meet my expectations. But what about the expectations the students might have? This year, I am going to ask the children to give input regarding their expectations for reading and Readers Workshop. Novel thought for me! My hope is that early conversations and goal setting will create a collaborative urgency around our reading. If I invest in their personal expectations, I hope this will affect our collective literacy outcome.  

     So… what will these conversations sound like? Probably, “Now that you know the types activities we will be doing during Readers Workshop (I will have generally explained prior to training; Guided Reading, Independent Reading, Shared Reading, Literacy Centers) what might be some interesting activities you would want to do or try?”  I could ask, “Have you ever done an activity that you loved so much that you didn’t want to stop? What might be some activities or books you would love to explore? Can you think of some things that you would enjoy doing so much that you wouldn’t want to stop?”

So… knowing if I ask the opinion of the stakeholders…and I want to maintain credibility with the stakeholders…  I will need to prepare to following through with their marvelous suggestions and thoughts. Hmmm... this might get interesting.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I WONDER What's In the Bag?

       Picture this: I receive a text from a good friend that reads: ‘I have something for you. You are going to love it.’ My friend and I were preparing to meet later that afternoon for pedicures. I could hardly wait to see what this treasure might be. Possibly an edible treat! She is magical in the kitchen. How about a lovely jeweled bobble? She is a wizard with beads and jewels. Maybe a new book to share? This friend is a true book lover in the purest sense of the concept! I could hardly wait to get there to check out my good fortune. So, when I arrive, and she is already plopped in the bowl with her pedicure in action. I take my place beside her eager with excitement and kindly getting the niceties out of the way while awaiting my treasure. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a bag of bones! Road kill. She begins to tell me about her find which you can read for yourself at: Immediately we were enthralled in this tale of discovery as we were getting pampered. The girl who was working on her had the most curious or possibly confused look on her face.

          Now most of my friends wouldn’t bring me bones! This is a true friend who knows where I am heading in our first grade classroom. This will be the second year I have used A Place for Wonder, Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. After my experience last year, I can hardly wait to get started.

 Last year, our classroom was a culture of researchers who were exploring from an authentic starting place. The children and parents were invested in the commitment of ‘wonder.’ We explored centers that evoked a sense of wonder while promoting literacy. We ended up having two writing times a day! One was for a traditional Lucy Calkins approach to a writing workshop and the other was completely based on wonder and exploration. The kids were begging to write! Students enjoyed a ‘Wonder of the Week’ in which we explored topics such as, “I wonder if turtles get water in their shells.” and “I wonder how our bones stick together.”  Each week the children got to weigh in and give their personal opinion before we researched the particular Wonder of the Week during our weekly Ponder Time. During Ponder Time, we explored the current wonder of the week while researching it in books, on the computer, magazines and we even asked experts to come in and help us out! The children took to it like ducks to water. I think I learned as much as they did! We also enjoyed a Pet Observation Center in which we brought Goldie and Daisy into our classroom. I am certain this is the first and only time if a parent offers to buy books and I requested gold fish instead! The children learned to write like researchers from their observations. They loved it! Observations such as; ‘Goldie is swimming faster than Daisy. I wonder if Daisy is sick today.’ Often they would measure the fish and record their thoughts and predictions! The children also enjoyed our Observation Window in which they could record the events they saw taking place which ranged from the changing of the seasons to the baby birds leaving the birdhouse in our Outdoor Classroom. We formed a Wonder Club that met every Tuesday during lunch to simply discuss what they were wondering.  The children became better listeners because they were truly learning on a sea of talk. The synthesis was observable.

We experienced so many terrific activities together regarding ‘wonder.’ I highly recommend the book! The activities eventually lead to the children creating nonfiction books of their own. They were amazing. Our class motto became, “Never stop wondering. When you stop wondering, you stop learning!” We even created our own t-shirts with this slogan! We finished the year by inviting the parents for an evening event called A Celebration of Wonder. We watched videos of all the activities the children experienced and the children got to showcase their beautiful books.

So was I disappointed to see the bones? No… the bones made me grin because I am thinking about the fun that is in store for my students and me! I can hardly wait to discover what this new class is curious and passionate about! Next week I will be inviting the children in our class to bring in treasures from nature for our Discovery Table and the bones will be front and center!