Monday, October 24, 2011

Time for Student Led Conferences

It’s finally time! The children have worked so hard and it’s time for them to shine! The performance centers are in place, the children have talked and walked through their jobs and visualized their Student Led Conference. They know the material and they know how their conference will go. There will be no surprises. The parents have been well-informed up to this point so all that is left is for them to ‘witness’ what I have been telling them. Seeing is believing.

Even though there will be no surprises, I can be certain there will be an eye opener. Sometimes the children go through the entire conference seamlessly, while other times you see lights come on for a parent, a child, and sometimes the light comes on for the teacher. There is the occasional parent who struggles to grasp the concept their child might find a task a challenge.  When the parent actually sees the child working through a center, it’s hard not to acknowledge a beautiful answer or an answer that lacks substance. There is an occasional child who has continued to chug through a task while you have been teaching the concept (chug…chug…c-h-u-g) and finally, during conference time, the light comes on and ‘poof’! They get it! Right there in front of the parent and teacher. To see the light come on and the grin spread across that face… it’s just the best. As the child and parents (siblings are provided childcare) move through the ‘centers,’ the parents are invited to record what they notice about the child in each center. (The parent typically writes about their child’s use of reading strategies, their awareness of writing skills and traits, math skills, science and social studies concepts while navigating the smart board. ) The parents are usually shocked at all the things their child has been up to.  The parent might state, “Bobby needs to notice capitals and periods.” Or “Emma is great at her math facts.” Sometimes there is a different concern voiced, “I noticed Carson has a hard time focusing.” This opens the door for a future conversation.

As the families move through the centers, I typically stay out of the way and watch the pride shine all over the child’s face.  I love the time I get to share with the family during this conference. My involvement goes like this… I share a chair with the student behind my desk directly across from the parent. I always ask the child first, “What have you noticed about your learning?” Then I ask the parent, “What have you noticed about your child this year?” This is always a fun conversation. Usually we are all on a similar page. I often learn of something new I can use in my teaching to engage the child. Possibly an independent study… who knows what it could be this year. Then I share what I have noticed about the student’s learning.  (Strengths, areas that need attention and what can be done at home to help.) This is where it gets fun. I let the parents know they can contact me at any time with questions or concerns and excuse myself from the conference. The child, still seated in the teacher’s chair, takes over the conference by going through their portfolio and grade card with the parent. The child delights in being the expert. I usually leave school that late evening so inspired by what I have witnessed that I can hardly wait to get to school the next day.  So, as I write this, I am hoping the children are asleep rather than watching the World Series! I suppose I should hit the hay, because tomorrow will be a late night of grins and eye openers at our Student Led Conferences.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Collaboratively Planning a Literacy Party

Collaborative planning has risen to a new level for me this year. I am honored  to plan the reading workshop for our first grade team. Reading is one, among many tasks in teaching I adore. After our team decided on a planning template, I could hardly wait to get started. I diligently poured over all ‘the literacy greats’! It is so much fun to revisit our reading resources! They are like old friends. From our  resources provided by our beloved trainers,  to the gurus I love so much; Calkins, Fountas and Pinnell, Routman, Taberski, Miller… I could go on and on. I love those resources. I love this work…

The Reader’s Workshop model invites the true gems to the literacy party: 

·        Read alouds (complete with a comprehension focus anchored by charts)

·        Interactive read aloud (got to have the turn and talks)

·        Guided reading (careful to include that differentiation to meet the needs of all of our readers)

·        Shared reading (focusing on accuracy and fluency and fun!)

·        Thoughtful and focused centers (for learners to practice the newest tricks)

·        Plenty of independent practice (to settle in and develop that love of reading!)

·        The mini lessons focused on word patterns.

Needless to say, I was really enjoying this work.  Until… over the past couple of weeks I have found myself pouring over these materials (seriously 8-10 additional hours on Saturdays) to attempt to meet the needs of four different classes while planning this balanced literacy workshop. The pressure has settled in as I realize… this can’t be done. Balanced literacy can’t be scripted.  Balanced literacy isn’t a neat lesson plan. As much as I adore the reader’s workshop- it must be personalized from class to class. When done well, the party gets messy! I have a passion pulling the mess together for my learners, but I would be a fool to assume teachers don’t enjoy the ownership of orchestrating their own literacy party.  A teacher knows their own class and is able to take advantage of those ‘teachable moments’ on the fly! We all have to make those decisions for our students. I am fortunate to work with top notch professionals. Yes, I can plan the party, but I would seriously diminish credibility and professionalism when I try to step in (on paper, in a plan) and influence a teacher’s workshop.  Literacy instruction is the heart and community of the classroom. This year, our school has divided the planning duties and I am honored to provide the reader’s workshop piece. (Did I mention, in addition, I will be helping out a teammate by taking on planning the writer’s workshop in the following weeks.) I have done this with ease in years past for myself and I have loved the planning. Yes, I have wonderful resources and feel I can pass along the suggestions of ‘the greats.’ Remember, I love those resources. However, I am so open to hearing how others collaboratively plan their literacy party.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Community of Learners

This year things have just felt different. The first 30 days have come and gone and we are still trying to become that community of learners! The working hum is sooo close…but, just a bit off. Last week, I worked the kinks out of the Guided Reading. So now, I decided to take a closer look at my schedule and notice where we can enhance the rest and rigor to get the most bang or the buck! Eric Jensen talks about alternating the rest and rigor so the children can maintain a cognitive and emotional balance that encourages learning.
 Our morning is much longer this year. The children are having lunch almost 30 minutes later. (Yeah! More time for Writer’s Workshop… but empty bellies that require an additional brain snack! Note to self: The kids need another brain snack!) The longer amount of time spent in the classroom has also made me look at the rest and rigor relationship to decide if it is working efficiently. It clearly isn’t. The expectations are off.  The children are getting plenty of rigor and they are working their hearts out… but I know if I can give them more rest (brain gym break, make sure they know they are to take drink breaks when they need them, high energy poetry, fun and expressive stories, 2 minute word sorts…Note to self: Add more of these brain rest activities!) I know they will be able to work better! So… I made an executive decision! (Can I do that?) We have been hitting the floor running! Go, go, go!!! All day. Our schedules are handed to us with all the blocks built in; reading block-CHECK, writing block-CHECK and math block-CHECK!  Already built in. I am so grateful I don’t have to work out the gruesome details of the schedule… but I have come to realize our longer morning sets us up for play…THEY NEED PLAY! Good old run and scream or swing so high you feel like you are in the clouds! PLAY! So this week instead of returning for Math Workshop, (Which has felt like a push and pull relationship… not the comfortable flow of learning.) we returned to the classroom and did Word Work. A hugely kinesthetic and often loud activity. After stomping, clapping, funky spelling the words and lots of belly laughs… not only did the children write the words beautifully, they were focused and ready to work. We did this prior to math and I couldn’t believe how much more productive the children were during the entire math workshop. (I should have known better! Note to self- When I know better- THEN JUST DO IT!) This process has reminded me, I need to invest in their interests (fun!) and then they will invest in mine (learning). By golly, if we continue to vary the rest and rigor… the individual interests become a focused team effort. All of us pulling together, alternating giggles, fun experiences, emotional experiences… and gee – we just become a community of learners!