Reflections on My Year Part 1: Read Aloud

 

images-2 It’s summertime. Time to reflect on practices that worked and areas that need some work. Time to dig a little deeper..

Today I’m thinking about reading and specifically interactive read aloud. My reflection here is based on a mixture of data: what my students reported directly, my observations (so often documented with pictures)  and reading assessments of many types.

My reflections on our reading year is filtered through the lens of two goals: 1) that students walk away knowing that reading is a place to find learning and joy and 2) they know how to find this on their own. If they come out with these two things, I believe they will keep reading.

My students rate read aloud as the best part of the day. The interesting aspect of this is why.  So I asked. Results of their responses are interesting.

Scratching the surface of why —  it seems to be for the pure entertainment of story or the fascination of figuring something out. Students want to know what comes next or understand the why or how of something.  Digging deeper into student thinking, students love read aloud because of the  laughter, suspense, wonder, fear, sadness, and knowledge they get from it.  Another thing that comes up for so many students is coming together to experience these big emotions and learning as one: to talk about it, question it, figure it out, all together. Some revel in the fact that when I do the reading work they are free to do the thinking work.

Being that read aloud is interactive, not passive, there is a fair amount of opportunity to access the text independently while read aloud is going on. I project the text as I read it, so students can see what I’m seeing and get that much closer to how I’m doing it. I show my thinking when I stop and wonder, or figure it out in an attempt to demonstrate all the things that readers do.

imgresI give them a chance to wonder, to jot, to turn to share what they think; to think beside me.  I chart, they chart.  I ask them to read/think with purpose, to read/think closely.  They try, I listen in to conversations or collect their jotted thinking to figure out how closely they are to riding that bike on their own.  This is practice of how it feels to read and think deeply, connecting the pieces.

In the beginning of a book, I  purposefully request their noticings; building class understandings with collected post its and comments. Because I control the pace of the reading, it makes getting students to take more control of the reading work tricky. My goal has been to move them towards holding on to their noticings and add them together to get develop understanding across the text. The more students hold on to and connect it to a stopping point, it seems the more they are growing as thinkers.

This is just one part of a literate classroom and students accessed it on different levels this year, but each walked away from read aloud loving the books we read and gaining skills they used during read aloud.

  • Collecting know and wonders
  • Noticing what repeats (again and again)
  • Sketching scenes to help visualize moments
  • Writing on graffiti walls to hold quotes that matter
  • Using post it parking lots to make thinking visible
  • Writing longer about what noticings/wonderings make you think.
  • Extending talk with thought prompts
  • Going back over text to pull words and lines to wonder about and  to hold on to
  • Re reading with a  specific lens
  • Making connections between multiple texts’ language and ideas

Looking back over the list, many students were not able to access certain strategies (in bold) without support. And it’s not surprising. These are the tasks that are higher on the continuum of understanding literature.

With this in mind, I start out the year aware and focused on what purposeful support I need to provide next year’s kiddos.

  • More whole group and small group lessons around each of these trouble spots
  • Partner/group work to support each of these areas
  • Many opportunities to talk and then write longer about their thinking
  • More writing about reading that bridges into the writing workshop

Lots of this looks like more talking and writing about their reading. Practicing what is a bit tougher to do. Making it audible and visible.

Next reflection, that reading notebook.

 

 

 

 

 

Slice of Life Day 24: Read Aloud Today and Yesterday

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

The month of March I am blogging daily with others at Two Writing Teachers. You can read more slices here.

****

Read aloud is one of my favorite parts of my teaching life. It’s a time when my students rush to the carpet. When they beg for more when we have to stop. When I get to discover things alongside them.

I wonder what they will remember when they are my age — about this fifth grade year. Will they remember the books we read or perhaps the feeling they have when we read?

Thinking back to my fifth grade year I remember I loved my teacher. She was blond and I thought she really liked me.

My desk was a perfect hideaway. I shared it with no one. I could lift up the top to find all of my things hiding inside. My chair was attached to my desk and was in the back of the class, middle row. The boy who sat directly in front of me always had perfectly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils that were about three inches long. The erasers were always perfect. I imagined he made no mistakes.

I remember the state report I wrote on Mississippi and the report on Abraham Lincoln. I remember seeing my beautiful teacher at a store and thinking how embarrassing that was.

But what I remember most of all about fifth grade was read aloud after lunch.

Our read aloud wasn’t the interactive sort, where you participate and the teacher shows you how they think as they read. It wasn’t the kind where you turned and talked (we didn’t talk) or jot in a notebook. I’m sure I had no clue as to what a “jot” about reading was. Read aloud for us was probably meant to get us to relax and cool off after running around at lunch recess.  I doubt it was meant to be “purposeful”.  I remember many times when I would put my face down on the cool surface of my desk and drift off to the words that swirled around me. Read aloud was a time to get lost in story. The book choices I don’t remember, except for one: Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.

It was Christmas time. I was at the moment when you start to question a little bit because it doesn’t quite make sense. I had suspicions of the truth, but I ignored them because I wasn’t ready to let go.

That December day I was sitting in the back of the room, listening to Rudolf. The story put me in that comfortable place of believing. Day dreaming, I opened up my desk lid and found my crayon box. I sat there with the lid tilted up covering my face. I pulled out a red crayon.  I set the lid down and placed my crayon on that indentation at the top of the desk that keeps your pencil from rolling down. I stretched my arms forward toward the red crayon and put my head down, listening to the story of Rudolf, an underdog who become the hero. Somehow my red crayon found its way into my hand, and I drew with my red crayon, on my nose. Yes I was Rudolf.  I don’t remember being embarrassed or anyone making fun. But I do remember realizing what I was doing in the midst of it. Perhaps my teacher saw and made it so I wasn’t embarrassed. I don’t remember.

What I do remember is the feeling of read aloud. It was a very good thing.

If my students remember anything from fifth grade when they are my age, I hope they remember the feeling of read aloud and that it was a very good thing.

Thank you  TaraAnnaDanaStacey,  Betsy  and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow.

Slice of Life: Day 6 World Read Aloud Day #WRAD

It’s day 6 of the Slice of Life Challenge. For each day in the month of March, I am writing a slice of my life alongside my students who choose to participate and hundreds of other slicers.

Every slice I read adds to me. The challenge isn’t writing, reading, or commenting on slices, it’s stopping! I have had to set time limits or I’ll neglect something important, like getting to work on time or sleeping. I want to thank Anna Gratz Cockerville, Nancy @Two Years and Finishing Strong and Mrs. Rodgers Bloggers and her Abigail for commenting on my students’ posts yesterday.  That was going the extra mile!11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

Today my fifth graders had a huge treat: Skyping with Erin Varley’s (@erinvarley) class for World Read Aloud Day #WRAD. Thank you Erin for asking!

Students sat on and around the carpet with their favorite poems ready to share and their jotted wonderings about our shared read aloud A Long Walk to Water.

With about five minutes till the Skype, I wanted to discuss our last experience. Behavior was a bit of an issue. Picture hands waving, rushing to the camera.  Much of that was due to me not really thinking it through.

Today I wanted them to reflect on how that experience went and how we could make it better.  I asked this: Now that you know how Skyping goes, what do you think our rules for Skyping should be?  Yes I said rules. Their rules —

No acting crazy.

No hand waving.

Let one person talk at a time.

Listen.

Don’t talk while the other person is talking.

That’s what I said, listen

Sit down unless you are the one taking to the camera.

Ok, I thought we’re ready.

Another adult sitting in asked, “How are you going to get to the camera?”

Excellent point. They were all crowded on the carpet. There was no pathway.

Students immediately got to work on it. They created a path on the carpet. All moved. No bossiness, resistance or  disagreements. They just made it happen.

Then another student  considered the plan. ” This is a problem,” she said. “It works for one row, but not for the other row.”

She was right. One row of students were pinned between the bookcase and the kids in front of them. No way out. Hmm.

The student who noticed directed others and engineered another pathway. Now any student could come up to the computer to talk without stumbling over another. Cool and just in time to call. They looked beautiful.

We called….no connection.

They called… no connection.

We wait.

They wait.

Tech issues. Don’t know why it didn’t at first or why it did later,  but eventually the call comes through.

A great conversation. ensued. Thanks to Erin and her wonderful crew. Thanks to my students, especially the ones that stayed on through recess to chat a little longer.

I feel so lucky to interact with students who are open to possibilities, thoughtful and collaborative. Those are the people I get to work with everyday!  And I am grateful to have a teacher like Erin to collaborate with despite technical difficulties.

Happy World Read Aloud Day slicers!

Slice of Life Day 4: Intertwining Thoughts of Read Alouds Past, Present and Future

Here is my Slice for Tuesday, Day 4 of the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Check out Two Writing Teachers for more slicing.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIntertwined. That was one of our vocabulary words for the week. I wanted students to weave together ideas and think about how the books we have read so far are intertwined. 

We started by looking at the struggles the characters faced: Ivan in the One and Only Ivan, Melody in Out of My Mind and August in Wonder. Did they connect? Were their struggles related? Did the messages in these books intertwine?

I ask….Before we leave Ivan, let’s think back to
Wonder and Out of My Mind.
How might some of the ideas in those books 
intertwine with Ivan?

We jot. We think….

Student voices…

They all don’t have friends.

Yes they do! They all have friends.

Well not a lot.

Yeah, just a few.

Why do you think that is?.

Thinking….

They really don’t fit in.

They’re all are different.

That’s what I mean.

Can you give examples? 

Thinking…Hands pop.

Melody can’t talk and August has a face
that scares people.

Pause…

What about Ivan?

Thinking…

Yeah… he doesn’t totally fit in at the end
because he wasn’t socialized with other gorillas.
He was raised as a human with diapers.

He isn’t really comfortable
with the other gorillas.
Remember when Kinyani chased him.

Oh yeah. He doesn’t fit either.

What other struggles intertwine?

Hands.

Ooo! Ooo! 

They all want to protect but they can’t.

Ahhh! That was mine!

Ivan wants to protect Ruby

Melody wants to protect Penny!

Yeah she couldn’t speak to warn her mom!

August?

Thinking…

Jack? in the forest….Hmmm. Maybe.

They all lost someone.

Ivan his family, Melody her fish. August..Daisy..

The thinking and connecting of ideas continues. The connections they make surprise me. Some I anticipated but others not at all.  Tomorrow we move on to thinking about each character’s environment. Do their worlds compare?

The passion for these read alouds is keen. Many carry Wonder in their bags. Reading it on occasion. Independent research has been done on Ivan. Melody has spurred interest in our Special Education students next door.

They have been begging for the new read aloud. I’ve been holding off on the next text reading about the real Ivan.

Today we started A Long Walk to Water. I debated about this one (on Twitter with @erinvarley and @azajacks). I worried the subject, the place, the shifts in narration and time would be too challenging. But I decide to risk it.

The start is tough for some. It doesn’t sweep them off their feet. They have left the high of the last read aloud and they want to start at that same place. It’s ok, I tell myself. The struggle at the beginning of books happens. The work they do to figure it out is necessary. This is what readers need to do in the beginning of books. The wondering, the delaying of understanding, the trust we must have in the author. We trust she will let us know. We must linger in the possibilities of wonder. Students have been trained by the wonderful thinking of authors Vicki Vinton and Dorothy Barnhouse’s What to Readers Really Do? to wonder and know. They have lots of wonders right now.

After school one student comes up to me and says, I don’t really like this read aloud as much as the others.

I tell her to be patient. It can be slow in the beginning.

Ok she says I trust you, Mrs. Harmatz.

Hope Linda Sue Park and I don’t let her down. Maintaining the magic of read aloud can be a heavy burden to bear..

Celebrating the Planned and the Unplanned Moments

celebrate link upThank you Ruth Ayers for the space, Celebrate this Week, to reflect on things worth celebrating. It rejuvenates and focuses me on the good.

FIRST: The One and Only Ivan and Reading Graffiti We started Ivan Monday. This incredible read aloud has offers so much. It’s hard for me not to stop constantly and just gasp or giggle at certain points in text. Ivan is a poet, a dreamer, a philosopher. He sets the tone for all we do this week. Our Reading Graffiti Wall is christened with student selected lines from Ivan.2014-01-17 19.06.22

SECOND: Memoir Writing  The perfect line from Ivan launches memoir.  First we studied mentors Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers. and essay-like memoirs from former students. Then we developed a chart of what we are shooting for.2014-01-17 19.08.37

Gathering began, and I saw little glimmers of possibility as I conferred with students–

“What are you working on?”

“I’m writing about my grandmother, but it’s hard, you know my mom’s mom, she just died.”

“What are you working on?”

“I’m writing about my dad and how I miss him.”

“What are you working on?”

“How letting go of rescue animals is hard.”

Oh my. Next week, we begin the touchy work of holding on and developing those heartfelt moments. Moments that fifth graders (sometimes) don’t want to see, or (sometimes) aren’t quite ready to look at, or (maybe) are afraid to show. As students gathered and I conferred, the number of “I don’t know what to write about” was down to practically zero. Groans were heard when we had to stop writing.

THIRD: Poetry Began. It was a shaky start. Three simple questions guide us for now: 1) How do we know it’s a poem? 2) What does it mean? 3) What tools does the author use? A great starting place I gleaned from this NCTE recap post by Stacey Shubitz.  This is where we begin and build from. Once again Ivan guides us in our work. He tells us gorillas are poets. I tell my students we will be like the great apes and not the slimy chimps, chattering away. We will model ourselves on Ivan. We will study and craft. Remembering what makes a poem, looking to build our own crafting muscles along the way.

FOURTH: Quiet Time with Students. Wildfires on Thursday meant bad air quality, so students were off the yard and in classrooms for two days. No outside play was allowed. Friday after school I sat at my desk, eyes burning. I felt like taking a nap. Students linger.

My classroom at 4:30:  Two students lay on the carpet reading magazines, several are at desks reading books, a couple are sitting in the back reading blogs. They take an occasional break from reading to talk about a book they want to read next or to share something they just read.  

They stay until they’re picked up. This isn’t unusual.  They want a quiet, comfortable place to read, to talk, to write, to create something. They share things that they are thinking about with me and with each other. 

The custodian walks in to vacuum, so the students decide to do some investigation outside.

A few minutes later, “Hey, Mrs. Harmatz, wanna come see our experiment? I’m proving that dirt sinks and soil floats.”

I see a dark substance, apparently the “soil” floating on the top and another dark substance, the “dirt,” on the bottom of a plastic beaker.

“What’s the difference between soil and dirt?” I ask.

“Soil has cow poop in it,” she responds.”Feel it. It’s light and spongy. That’s why it floats.”

The experiment continues.  Adjustments are made. Questions are asked. Soon the discovery is made that there are tiny pieces of bark in the soil and that’s what floats. Wood floats in water. So much for the cow poop.

As I think back on this week, I want to celebrate all of the things that worked. Things that came together like I had hoped, but more importantly the moments created by students — the quote from Ivan, chosen by a student that fit perfectly with memoir; the notebook entries and discussions with students that showed a glimpse of what they have inside; and after school time when students meander from reading to investigation.  Moments that shed light on who they are and what they think. This week I’m celebrating these moments that build relationships  and learning–moments to experiment, to write, to read, to just be.

Celebrating New Goals, New Structures, Renewed Landscapes and Trust

celebrate link upHere’s to celebrating literacy and trust. Thank you Ruth for creating a space  and ritual. Join us at ruthayerswrites.com to celebrate your week!

#1. My #mustreadin2014 book list.  Ideas are always floating around in my head. My intentions are good. I mean to do it, but I get distracted. I forget, and all of a sudden, time has passed and I missed it. The act of writing it down a list is powerful. I celebrate the Nerdy Book Club posts, the incredible blogging and community that keep me up to date on those must reads, and as a result now I can’t stop finding books to add to my list. Supportive reading buddies Catherine Flynn, Allison Jackson and Erin Varley have already checked in with their progress. I celebrate my books, my new focus on book recommendations, and my book buddies.

#2. A second first day of school. I love coming back from winter break. We miss each other. After three weeks apart, we’re rested and ready to start fresh. While I have big plans for the rest of the year, I take a breath and make a space for them to come in, share, absorb, and celebrate their revitalized selves and classmates.

#3. My Reading Door.

 2014-01-11 07.48.30  2014-01-11 07.49.34  Inspired by my must read list and Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild, I created my reading door.  I can’t wait to see how the kids (and teachers) react to it.  At this point, most of my students don’t think beyond the book they are currently holding in their hands. They don’t plan their future reading, yet.  And who could blame them. I haven’t  shown them the possibility. I’m imagining students developing to be read lists that will reflect a few books at first. With time, hopefully the books will start to accumulate and build till it reaches into the summer months. I celebrate book plans and my lovely book door.

#4. New schedule. Like lists, I need structure. I have great ideas but they just float off if I don’t have a structure to put them in. It keeps me in line, and accountable to my beliefs.  The first half of the year our routine included daily read aloud, vocabulary, reading, writing, Thursday Genius Hour, and Non Fiction Fridays. The new schedule will include two extras — Debate Mondays and poetry Tuesday through Friday.

Debate is a much loved and needed activity. Unfortunately, I haven’t allowed a space for it, so it happens occasionally at best. Now it owns a spot: Mondays after Read Aloud. Can’t wait.

Over the break, I realized that we need poetry. Students love learning vocabulary, so the focus on words and how they go together will be a huge treat — vocab on steroids.  It should also breathe life into writing. and a heightened awareness of language in their independent readingPoetry now lives before writing workshop. I celebrate this space made for the sound and the joy of words coming together. I wonder whether it will inspire poetry entries on the blog.

#5. My re-landscaped library. The beginning of a new year requires a library face lift.   Whenever I reorganize my library I pull out my boxes and find old friends. I set up with a eye for product placement. I want clean new covers to show. Dog eared, much loved books go on a list to be recycled and replaced. Brand new titles are set aside for book talks.

New sections of the library include poetry, biography, magazines, various non fiction baskets, club books covering not only realistic fiction, but a bit of mystery, a taste of fantasy, and a shelf of historical fiction. Hidden away in a box are… drum roll..… graphic novels. I hide these much sought after books the first day back otherwise students wouldn’t be able to focus on much else. They love these books. Everyone wants them. No monitoring on my part is necessary. Every student knows who has each book. They self police, because they all want those books. What a natural for their to be read list! I look out at my new library and smile. I celebrate our renewed space for books.

And last but not least…

#6. My daughter’s first physical therapy appointment post knee surgery. She’s nine days post op and feeling better. Our wonderful physical therapist, Mike, the same guy who rehabilitated my ACL tear nearly 20 years ago, tells her what she need to do. She listens attentively, and with renewed focus and goals she works hard. She trusts him. Trust allows us to give everything we have, knowing someone is there for you. With support, you push to unknown territories.

I enter next week and our new year, with the idea of trust alongside my one little word, wonder. When students trust, they can wonder, asking why and how, and then grow.

My One Little Word…And Where It Might Take Me

After much thought about all the possible words to be my one little word I’ve finally found one.  It needed to…

  • be actionable and visible
  • promote collaboration, questioning and creation
  • foster a love of reading and writing
  • strengthen the classroom community
  • ignite passionate and meaningful work

I choose wonder to be my one little word.

  •  because that’s what readers really do
  •  because it leads to exploration and learning
  •  because it can be seen as amazement or engagement
  •  because it gives permission to go places we otherwise might not go
  •  because that is the name of a book we love

2014 — WONDERINGS  

Inquiry Work in Reading – I’ve just begun to look at how students process read aloud. I wonder can students identify their thinking processes during read aloud and then transfer some of that thinking towards independent work. I’m wondering what could bring the read aloud’s high level of engagement and deep level of thinking to their individual reading lives.

Poetry Connections –  Inspired by Mary Lee Hahn, Steve Peterson, and Vicki Vinton’s call for poetry, I am pushed to a place I’ve avoided. I wonder why I have overlooked poetry, particularly when I think about all of the potential it offerers in terms of language, craft and engagement.

But I’m working on it.  I’m looking for the those poems that resonate in my heart. Peeking at Poetry Friday posts and commenting on a few. My antennae are up. While I’m embarrassed to discover this hole in my literary world, I’m excited to learn alongside my students.

Deepening Student Blogging – I have learned so much from blogging and  I want my students to experience that same growth.  I’m wondering if we could connect student blogs out there for a student Tuesday slice in preparation for the March monthly challenge. Any takers for January and February?

Students Blog, Why Not Teachers – I’m wondering about blogging with my colleagues. Just to start, perhaps one day a week teachers could investigate one blog. We could gather around our laptops in room 5 and read a few blogs. Talk a bit and maybe a post a comment. I wonder if they’d catch the bug.

Wonder Across Grade Levels — As the new year starts, I wonder what is going on in other classrooms at my school. I wonder if my colleagues would want to enter my classroom and observe with wondering hearts and find at least one little thing to help to help me grow and one little thing that could help them grow. I’m wondering if I open up my classroom, inviting wonder, will others do the same.

Here’s to a year of wonder.

 

 

Inquiry Work: Read Aloud vs. Independent Reading

My students came in today so excited you’d think it was the day before Winter Break. I couldn’t figure out why they were so amped. So I asked.

“What is our new read aloud?!” they shouted.

We have read two wonderful books this year: Wonder and Out of My Mind. With the end of one, they can’t wait for the next one. I love this, but they don’t come in that way after they finish their own books. This behavior coupled with some seeds planted in my head by Steve Peterson, pushed me to do a little inquiry.

Exactly how different is the read aloud experience compared to the experience students have when they read independently? How far a part are they? How different? Is it like apples and oranges or more like tangerines and oranges?

There is a difference, even for me. When I prepare for a read aloud, I have probably read the text at least five times, with many lenses. The multiple reads help as does the multiple ideas I get from student input during read aloud. In the end, my understanding is far deeper than what it was the first time I read the text.

I know students are not doing the deep processing in their independent reading like they do during read aloud — there is no way they could. My wondering is: How can the gap between the two become smaller?

I wondered what students thought the difference was and how they thought they could make their independent reading experience more like read aloud. So in small groups, I asked:  How is read aloud different than reading independently?

Each student identified about two issues. Top mentions included…

  • I jot more.
  • I know when to jot.
  • Hearing and seeing the words help me.
  • I have someone near me to ask when I don’t understand.
  • Group discussions help me understand.
  • You are reading, so it’s easier to think.

Then I asked a follow up …

  • How could you know when to jot?
  • How could you hear the story?
  • How could you get group input about your book?
  • How could you make the reading easier?

Here are some of their responses…

  • I could put post its on pages I’m have problems/wonderings about and bring it to my group for discussion.
  • I could use a whisperphone to hear my story.
  • I could use the signposts (Notice and Note) to tell me when to jot.
  • I could jot when I have a wondering.
  • I could jot when I notice a pattern.

Mind you these are all suggestions and teaching points I have given them in the past, but I acted like it was a huge aha for me.

The most interesting and most difficult comment to address was this:You are reading, so it’s easier to think.

Ideally reading is thinking, but for a struggling reader or the reader who is trying to dig deeper, the thinking work is a second step (or maybe even a third step). So we talked about how we could make the reading work easier so it would be easier to think.

Our discussion went like this:

Me: How could you make the reading easier, so you could think?
Student: Read an easier book.
Me: Yes, that’s an option. What else could you do?
Student: Read a book I read before.
Me: Ok. What else could you do?
Student: I could reread.
Me: Do you have to reread everything?
Student: No, only the important parts and when I’m confused.
Me: So how do you know when it’s important?
Student: (He pointed to the charts with Notice and Note signposts), or when I see a pattern.
Me: Ok. So what could be your goal? How are you gonna make your independent reading more like read aloud?
Student: Re read important parts so I can think about it.

Cool I think. Organic close reading.

I know that they won’t necessarily do this every time they pick up a book, but the goals are written. That’s step one.

It is up to both of us now.

They try. I check. We adjust and try again.

It’s not perfect, but perhaps the gap got a little smaller today and the expectation a little clearer.

Celebrate: Our First Classroom Skype

celebrate link upToday I want to celebrate my classroom’s first Skype adventure. We (eventually) Skyped with students in New York on the book Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

I have to admit, I was worried. I was worried because we were Skyping on a book that we were just finishing that day. I was worried because I hadn’t prepared my students for what they would be encountering and how to be good Skyping partners. (Largely because I wasn’t sure what a good Skyping partners looked like.) I was also worried because when technology is involved, something can and probably will go wrong.

Fortunately, I had a very understanding teacher and classroom on my side, Erin Varley and her class of 5th graders. They were old hands at this (they have done it once!). “Don’t worry it’s just me,” she DM’ed me on twitter days before the scheduled chat. But I was worried. I didn’t want to fail her or our students.

At the planned time, 10:00 am PST, 1:00 pm EST, my students are all on the carpet, ready for the call. 10:05 nothing. We call. No connection. My students, who were at first quietly assembled on the carpet, are getting a little restless. I DM Erin. Do I have the right Erin Varley? I check. I try. Still nothing. Students and two adults, who came to watch, are all getting a little more than restless. We try. We test with someone else. Try again, still nothing. I DM Erin with lots of confused thoughts. The combination of failing technology and noisy students makes my thinking jumble. Students are offering suggestions of what to do. Time is passing. The noise level is rising. The focus is diminishing.  But we keep trying. Time is passing. Keep trying.

At 10:25 am PST, 5 minutes before recess. The call goes through. Yeah!! Erin’s class is lovely, sitting quietly on the carpet, and we all see Erin looking calm. My kids are going berserk. Waving and elbowing for the tiny screen in front of them. Erin thankfully starts us up with a question from one of her students.

Eventually we get the idea of what to do. The chat continues. And I breathe a sigh of relief.

Even though I lost some students to recess, a core group kept chatting till recess ended. They learned about the three hour time difference. Some found it amazing that Miss Varley’s students didn’t have recess when they had recess.

For you Skyping veterans, this may seem like a big yawn, but for my students and me it was awesome.  Student questions were thoughtful and answers interesting. My students loved seeing the students they had been blogging with for the past two amazing books — Wonder and Out of My Mind. Thank you Erin and your students. Can’t wait to do it again!

Celebrating Growth, Goals, Beautiful Endings and Getting Real about Reading

Three things to celebrate in my classroom:

1) completion of parent conferences

2) a satisfying end of a read aloud

3) freedom in reading

Parent conferences are stressful for all parties. My goal was to send a message of growth and goals. I didn’t discuss grades at any point. A form designed to help all parties focus on this helped things go smoothly. conferences 2013  For writing the beautifully designed TCRWP checklist/rubric for narrative writing provided a perfect focal point. Growth was acknowledged, the place on the continuum each child had attained defined. Goals were clearly stated for the next round. For reading running records and lexile levels were discussed around our expectations at this time of the year. But more importantly each student’s writing about their reading (really their thinking about reading) was discussed. In each case, where the student was on the map of expectations was clear. In many cases students weren’t meeting expectations fully, but parents were able to see that that it wasn’t a verdict on their child it was a progression of learning. It wasn’t about grades it was about growth. CELEBRATE!

Our class read aloud, Wonder, came to a close. On Friday, students knew they were coming to the end. They were excited, yet at the end of every chapter they held their breath thinking, is this it? A sign of relief would escape as they saw there was another chapter. It wasn’t the end yet. We all know that wonderful yet painful feeling of getting to a satisfying end but the knowledge that this connection, this world we are living in is coming to a close. Beautiful yet tragic. My students felt this. At this moment, Wonder is the scale by which all books my students read independently will be measured. Does it feel like it did when we read Wonder? Is this character reminding you of a character in Wonder? Does this story connect to ideas in Wonder? You know how you walked away with something you held on to when we finished Wonder? What did you walk away holding on to after reading this book? The effect of Wonder will live on in them not only for the beautiful messages it put forth, but with the experience it gave each and every student of what it means to be a reader. What reading should be.  CELEBRATE!

2013-10-18 17.20.10

This year my students are allowed freedom to go outside their reading level when choosing a book. Students still know their running records level and they take a monthly SRI assessment. But this year, their book selections are not constrained by a levels. This year, I have baskets labeled by interest that are mixed levels as well as leveled baskets. Levels are there to help guide student selection, but not determine it. There will be books that students attempt that are way beyond them even though the book is technically, their level. And by the same token, there are books above their level that they will be able to access if it happens to be in an area they are interested in or have knowledge of. It is more important that students are able to recognize when a book is doable, a good fit. Because of this “liberal” approach to book selection, students are not allowed to finish books that they are struggling with. They must return them because for whatever reason, at this point in their life, the book isn’t right for them.

Image

This “liberal” approach to reading can happen as long as there is 1) direct reading instruction, 2) clear authentic accountability measures that promote reading volume and 3) the student’s knowledge of when reading is a struggle and conversely, when it isn’t pushing them. Reading must be closely monitored with varied assessments beyond running records (conferring, writing about their reading, quick checkups with a title I know well) that lead to small group strategy coaching and direct instruction. Accountability measures such as regular status of the class a la Donalyn Miller, partnership reading, and weekly measurement of reading volume puts an emphasis on reading and reading a lot. These things along with firmly redirecting students to books that will fit their current needs, moves students reading level while making reading not about a level but about finding books that work for them so they can and want to read. This evolution in my view of reading has take a while. Choice has become bigger and levels do not define a reader in my classroom, the choice of books does. CELEBRATE!