Parent-Led Lesson Surfaces Conceptual Transfer

Last week I was having one of those days where I was doubting a lot of what I believe that Kindergarten students can do. In hindsight, I realize that there were probably three things creating that doubt. It probably started with my own state, which was exhausted. Then, I was impatient. We were in week four of our #ibpyp unit of inquiry and I wanted to see more evidence of conceptual transfer. Finally, when I voiced my doubts, the response from some people was that I was probably aiming too high. I was ready to go hide in the book corner and surround myself Mo Willems’ pigeon when our guest artist, a parent of one of our students, arrived for her big lesson.

Conceptual Understanding Is Transferable

If you’ve read my recent posts, you know that our students are inquiring into how artists use their art to express emotions and ideas. You’ll also know that our key concepts are form and perspective. In hindsight, the unit has been going pretty well. Students have been exploring and discussing different forms within and outside of the discipline of art.  They have been talking about the emotions and moods that they feel are represented in a piece of art. They have been acknowledging and appreciating each other’s differing perspectives. I realize now that I was looking for an opportunity for them to transfer all of this to a new and novel situation. The opportunity was still to come.

Bring In the Parent-Led Lesson

Our guest artist/Mom had been planning to share her expertise with us for a few weeks. She is a passionate artist who specializes in calligraphy. We were excited that our students would have the opportunity to be exposed to another art form, as well as to interact with an artist from our learning community. Our guest mom was understandably a bit nervous to share with a group of five-year-olds but felt confident that she had an idea that would keep our Kindergarteners engaged. From the perspective of a concept-based, PYP teacher, she had so much more than that.

The Perfect Provocations

Our guest artist set up the room with Kindergarten-friendly calligraphy tools. She had clearly put a lot of thought into providing authentic tools which were still developmentally appropriate for five-year-olds. There was a watercolor station with special “calligraphy” paint markers and there were stations set up with sets of color pencils, taped together to make multicolor calligraphy pens that had a wide grip. All stations had large sheets of plain paper, waiting for our students to transform them.

When the students entered the room, they saw their “atelier” set up and ready for them. They also saw that there would be a meeting on the carpet first. Our guest was waiting next to our screen, where she had a short slideshow to share with them.

The slideshow was powerful. The students were shown some images of calligraphy being used in environmental print around the neighborhood. They saw restaurant boards and signs on stores. Our guest asked our students to share their thoughts about the different signs. Students noticed that some of them looked happy or sad. They connected these feelings to the colors of the signs at first. One student pointed out that if you use red (see the photo below), it will make people angry. Our guest artist acknowledged this and then invited them to look deeper. “Have a look at the actual letters and how they seem to feel. Do they play a role?”

My teacher heart was bubbling over. Our guest was inviting our students to do precisely the type of slow and purposeful looking that we had been practicing for weeks. Sure enough, the students began focusing their attention on the form of the letters, the fonts if you will. A conversation ensued about how letters can feel happy or sad, silly or serious.

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Our guest artist built on this by asking students which colors and styles they thought might express different emotions when creating art with letters. She demonstrated their ideas as they shared-silly would be yellow and swirly, for example.

Once a few examples were shared, the students were invited to visit the stations where they could express emotions by creating art with letters. One last thing before they went off as my teaching partner, with her lightening-quick instincts interjected. She asked the students to help us all remember which letters we had been learning and led them through a lightning-quick review, where they wrote some of those letters in the air or on the carpet.

Opportunity For Transfer

After our guest mom had packed up and gone in search of coffee, I realized how much our students had transferred. By sharing the environmental print with the students, our guest had given them the opportunity to transfer what they understood about the role of color, line, shape, and movementRelated Concepts in fine art, to the role they play in advertising and other forms of print. Students were able to deepen their understanding of form and how the choices an artist makes creates what their art expresses. They also had yet another opportunity to explore their different perspectives on how they viewed a piece of art.

How lucky our students are to be a part of such a caring and sharing learning community. How lucky I was to have this opportunity to witness a fantastic example of how authentic parent involvement can enhance the learning in our classrooms. Even more, I am grateful for the reminder that even our youngest learners are capable of so much and how important it is that we continue to aim high for them. #yestheycan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Concepts In Our Kindergarten Unit

Over the past few weeks, our Kindergarten students have been exploring the key concepts, form and perspective during our “How We Express Ourselves” unit, “Communicating Through Art.” Related concepts, including emotions, communication, self-expression, line, shape, movement and color, have driven the inquiries within, and often across the disciplines.Screen Shot 2019-01-15 at 15.34.17Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 11.41.50

Using Related Understandings

The #ibpyp has reaffirmed the related concepts as integral to the teaching and learning in a PYP classroom.  I find that an increased focus on the related concepts makes the learning much clearer and more accessible to students.  Taking them further and creating additional, “related understandings,” provides learners with an opportunity to work towards learning goals that are directly linked to Scope and Sequence requirements. While doing so, they are building an understanding of conceptual relationships that support understanding of the key concepts and central idea. Here are some of the related understandings I have been using to drive the learning in our current unit:

  • We can express our ideas and emotions through art.
  • Artists make choices when creating their art, which may make their audience feel or think a certain way.
  • People can have different ideas about a piece of art.
  • Having, sharing and respecting different ideas, helps us to see things in new ways and increase our understanding.
  • We must be listeners as well as speakers in order to have effective communication.
Understanding Concepts

A few weeks ago I introduced the Visible Thinking routine, Looking 10 x 2 to my students. We have since used the routine several times as the students develop their understanding of form and how we can describe what we see. This was described in my post on transdisciplinary learning. As students became more adept at the routine, we started sorting their responses into two groups: attributes that we could point out for everyone to see, and ideas that they had about the art. This brought us to the key concept, perspective, which became a conceptual focus for the ensuing learning.

Above Media: Three students worked together to share what they saw and what they thought of this van Gogh painting. They attempted to sort the recordings by putting the things they saw that they wanted to point out right on the painting and by putting their ideas to the side of the painting.

After a discussion to establish a common definition of perspective, “when people have different ideas about something,” we continued our inquiries with that concept in mind. As we explored and discussed art, stories, and even recess preferences, the concept of perspective kept coming up. Here are some of the ideas that the kindergarten students were overheard expressing last week: #yestheycan

  • It’s ok if we don’t agree.
  • I have a different idea about the painting than my group!
  • Just because I have a different idea, doesn’t mean I don’t like you.
  • I’m glad that you shared your thinking because now I am changing mine.
  • It’s good to be different.
  • I like it when you say you agree or disagree with me. (this was in the context of “it shows you were thinking about what I said and not just your own ideas)
  • We can’t just say it, we should have reasons for our ideas!
Looking Ahead

The last idea mentioned is where we will pick up. During our next morning meeting, we will go back to this student’s idea about needing to have reasons for our ideas. From there, we will plan together to see how we might explore that idea further in the context of our unit, “Communication Through Art.”

 

 

 

 

Eight Ways To Use the Understanding Map Right Now

The Understanding Map is one of the products of the work being done at the  Visible Thinking and Cultures of Thinking projects at Harvard’s Project Zero. It has been an integral part of the teaching and learning in my classroom since I first learned about it years ago.  Its universal applicability and relevance make me consider it as perhaps the one tool I would choose as a teacher if I could have only one. Regardless of age group, context, style of teaching and learning or discipline, the Understanding Map provides a guide to deeper understanding.

I recently introduced the Understanding Map to a group of educators at a workshop on concept-based teaching and learning, which I facilitated with the amazing and deeply knowledgable @gioia_morasch. Working with these educators reminded me of how lucky I am to have received training from Project Zero and how important it is to share the wealth.

The Understanding Map

This year, I have had the challenge of figuring out the best way of using the Understanding Map to support my Kindergarten students on their learning journey. I find that it is not so very different from how I use it with fourth or fifth graders. Here are some quick tips that work across the grades:

Eight Ways to Use the Understanding Map Right Now
  • Explicitly let students know that the moves on the Understanding Map are steps our brain takes to help it as it works to build understanding. Depending on the group, I may do this right away, or I may wait until they’ve heard me naming their thinking moves for a while. In either case, I remind them often why these moves are important. This continues until they start reminding each other…and they do!
  • Name the types of thinking the students are doing when you witness them doing it. “I notice that you backed up your idea with something you can refer back to in the text. Reasoning with evidence is one of the moves we use to help us make sure our understanding makes sense.”
  • Make connections between the map and what they know they already often do. In many cases, we start with wondering. This is often the easiest move for them to recognize in themselves. Further, by highlighting it as an all-important thinking move on the road to understanding, we encourage them to continue valuing that sense of wonder and curiosity.
  • I occasionally teach a minilesson to help the students understand what we mean exactly by a particular thinking move. It’s important to note that whenever possible, this is pulled from the thinking or actions of a shared context or the thinking of a peer.
  • Perseverance is key! Regardless of age, it can take months of consistently using the language and promoting the importance of a thinking culture in the classroom.
  • Parents are part of the learning community too! Share the Understanding Map with them and encourage them to use it when discussing their students’ learning at home. We use it at Student-Led Conferences as well.
  • Post the Understanding Map prominently in your room. With younger students, consider how you can incorporate visuals. At the start, it will serve as a prompt and a reminder for you. Eventually, you will find yourself referring to it alongside the students. Soon enough, your students will start referring to it independently!

 

Transdisciplinary Learning in Kindergarten

I’ve been thoroughly immersed in exploring the #IBPYP enhancements since the first previews have been available. I have studied and discussed them to the point of geek-like status, excited about the implications they bring for teaching and learning. There is a cushion for teachers and schools to transition gradually as they learn the new version of the program. However, the idea is that the IB has made improvements based on current research. Why not be proactive and start learning and implementing where I can? I’m grateful to my regional colleagues, who have participated in the #pypchat IBAEM recently. This chat has recently served as a forum to collaboratively unpack the enhancements and discuss implementation. I was particularly inspired by a discussion on transdisciplinary learning. This blog post, and the day in my Kindergarten class which it describes, is inspired by that discussion.

Transdisciplinary or Disciplinary?

I have been thinking about transdisciplinary learning for a long time. What should it look like? How can we support it? Do individual disciplines even have a place? I’ve heard many arguments for that one, by the way, and I am still not ready to take a stance. However, I am ready to explore making my program more transdisciplinary and I am willing to take some risks and see where they take my students.

Key Concept Drives the Day

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Form is one of the key concepts for our current Kindergarten unit, “Communicating Through Art.” I decided to weave our focus on that key concept much more explicitly throughout our time together in homeroom and linked it to each part of our day. We started by discussing form in our morning meeting. Students then spent the day exploring form, and the idea that we can describe things by looking closely and that we can also make decisions to determine what our own creations are like. This is how the day focusing on form unfolded:

Art Exploration to Get Us Started

Our mornings always start out with open or guided play. For this morning, we set out a variety of art materials to serve as provocations for our Kindergarten students as they entered the room. They had access to fingerpaints, oil pastels, color pencils and markers, playdough and a variety of paper. They were not disappointed. Almost an hour of art exploration ensued, sparking ideas, generating vocabulary and inspiring creativity. Several students collaborated on a piece of art with fingerpaints, discovering how their technique could change the way their project looked and felt with each change they made.

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Collaborative creating with fingerpaints

Those artists were quite excited about their creation and were keen to share. We took a photo and posted it on the big screen in our meeting area. Then the whole class had a go at describing what they saw, using the Visible Thinking Routine, “Looking 2 x 10.” Of course, we discussed how their descriptions connected to the key concept of form.

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A Little Math

Later in the day, students investigated their names. Again, we revisited the idea that we were focusing on form. They noticed and described how many letters they had, which letters were first, which happened more often or which didn’t happen at all. Next, they compared their names to other names in our community, noticing which names were longer or shorter. Some students started counting the differences as well. One Kindergartener pointed out that some names could be made long or short, using mine as an example. “You could be short (Jen) or long (Jennifer)! An investigation into which names could be shortened or lengthened ensued.

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Graphing some of our friends’ names to help us compare.

Form in Writer’s Workshop

Later in the day, we worked on this piece together at the start of our writer’s workshop. We selected the topic (when they buried a friend in the sand at recess) and shared the pen to create the text. As we continued writing, one excited writer exclaimed, “Wait! I noticed something! There’s a pattern, just like in Tabby Cat ” (the pattern book they had read the day before).  I love those moments. You know, the ones where you feel sure that someone must have paid the kid to say what they did? In any case, this exclamation led to a discussion reviewing patterns, a concept that has been explored in maths and reading earlier this month and now was extended by connecting it to the key concept of the day. When it was time for the students to go off to their independent writing, many worked on using details in pictures, letters and words to make their stories follow a pattern, just like the ones they are noticing in their reading books and in our shared story from the minilesson.

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Reflecting on the Day

Probably the best evidence for how explicitly weaving the key concept through the day and the disciplines worked, is in what the students said and did after. The next day, during the same morning play time, most students chose to continue to play through art. The effects were already showing. Our young artists were clearly playing around with form, manipulating and combining materials in new ways. The casual discussions with fellow artists were rich with newly acquired vocabulary as the students commented on each other’s use of color, the “scraping” technique and different materials to make their art look a certain way. Comparisons were being made between common elements in each others’ creations.

I will definitely keep finding ways to focus our learning through the key and related concepts as I can already see transfer across days, ideas and disciplines. Most importantly, I can see evidence of transfer beyond the context of our art unit! Next week I have a mini-case study of Mondrian planned, linked first to form and then to perspective. The inquiry is planned to integrate maths, visual arts, and literacy to start but let’s see where the students take it!

In the meantime, I would love to hear your feedback! I would also love to hear how other teachers are supporting transdisciplinary learning in their classrooms.

Kindergarteners Lead the Unit Of Inquiry

Our second unit of inquiry in Kindergarten is “You’ve Got Messages.” We investigate it under the PYP theme, “How We Express Ourselves.” The central idea is “There are different systems to communicate and connect with other people.” The key concepts are form, function, and causation and the related concepts are communication, interactions and messages.

This unit is a well-oiled machine and has run in our Kindergarten for as long as I’ve been at the school (at least 13 years). As a part of the unit, Kindergarteners open a postal service in the lower school, which is always a much-anticipated event by the workers (our Kindergarteners), as well as the users (everyone else in the lower school). I was super excited to be on the “working” end of the service this year. I was also super excited to see how much I could get the students to drive their learning and how I could best facilitate conceptual understanding. Because, of course, #yestheycan

Invitations and Provocations

The Kindergarten team spent a lot of time making a plan and setting the stage for play and exploration related to our unit in our common area.  Complete credit goes to my amazing colleagues, as I was not even there the day they set it up. They put out displays and artifacts as invitations to the new unit. This included a message-writing center and the transition of the role-play area into a post office.

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I planned to use my student’s first experiences in the common area as an opportunity to hand control of the unit over to them right from the start. Experience has taught me that this would be much more successful if I did two things:

  • have clear questions articulated in my mind to guide exploration and discussion.
  • capture as many of the students’ actions and conversations as possible while they were playing.
Capturing the Moments

I have learned that capturing the actions and interactions of students, both with their learning environment and each other, is crucial to giving them genuine ownership. Over the course of an hour’s play, Kindergarteners are not always able to realize, let alone hold onto their noticings and wonderings. By recording as much of what I hear and see them doing, I can provide them with a record of their thinking from throughout that session. Students love it when we “catch” them purposefully playing and they love it even more when we quote them. This certainly supports their developing self-efficacy, which, of course, supports the learner agency we strive for.

In addition to building self-efficacy and agency, capturing the students’ actions and conversations ensures that I am building on what they are valuing as interesting and important to learn.

In this instance, I used padlet to record as much as I could of what I saw and heard as my students interacted with our unit invitations.

Made with Padlet

Teacher Questions

As the first experience playing in the common area was to provide the invitations to the unit, the questions had to be considered carefully. I planned a number of questions to help me be as prepared as possible to follow the students’ thinking, as well as to guide them to focus in on the unit itself. In practice, only two of my questions were necessary as the students had much to share. They noticed the connections to messages and eagerly contributed their ideas and wonderings related to the different types of messages and how they work.

The conversation was guided using the following:

  • What did you notice in as you explored the common area?
  • We are going to spend all the way until the winter break on a unit connected to what you explored. What do you think might be interesting or important to investigate, connected to what you explored in the common area?
The Kindergarteners Take Over
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As we processed our initial explorations in the common area, prior knowledge and experiences were surfaced, learning goals were established, and ideas were shared for ways to reach them. All of this coming from the students.

There were so many responses generated that we decided to sort them into groups and plan from there:

If you were to zoom in on the individual and groups of post-its, you’d see that there were many wonderings about how a post office system works (top, left). You’d also see quite a few wonderings about how to create and send messages, including an expressed desire to learn how to write the names of the people that the students wanted to communicate with (far-right). The third group of wonderings consisted of questions related to how people send and receive messages digitally, many of which were born from seeing their parents and older siblings on devices each day.

Ready To Learn

Once the students generated their initial wonderings and sorted them into groups, we let the kids know that they would have to help us plan for the learning. We asked for burning “Need to Knows” and for suggestions for how we could begin to investigate some of the wonderings on our board. Suggestions ranged from delivering messages in the school to learning how to write a greeting in writer’s workshop and quite a few things in between. Those are another blog post for another day but rest assured, every week we check in together, to see which wonderings have been addressed, which still need to be and of course, to see if any new ones have cropped up.

Back To Work and…Yes They Can!

Change, change, and more change

My blog has been suspiciously dormant for over a year. Since my last post, there have been many changes. My husband and I welcomed a daughter almost exactly a year ago. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with her full-time for the first six months and then worked part-time up until our summer holiday.

This school year, I am also working part-time so that I can be with our daughter as much as possible. I am incredibly grateful to be living and working in a country that recognizes and supports the importance of family life. Naively, staying home part-time, I thought that I would be able to spend tons of time reading and researching, honing my craft and blogging tons. I’m sure every parent out there is laughing their heads off as they read this. Lesson learned. A year later, I am trying to get back in the swing of things.

Working part-time meant a grade-level change for me. This year I am teaching Kindergarten for the first time in almost two decades! When I found out last Spring, I must admit I was intimidated. What does Kindergarten even look like in 2018? What are five-year-olds into these days? Would I even remember how to talk to five-year-olds? How will I figure all of this out in three months, with a miniature dictator at home? How will it feel to go from the confident feeling that years of consecutive experience in upper elementary provided to the novice feeling of starting all over again? One thing was clear. If I was going to thrive, or even survive, I had to get to work.

Research!

I spent my summer reaching out to early childhood educators that I admire and reading tons of books, largely recommended by those people.

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As I read and discussed, I realized that much of what I knew twenty years ago still stands. I also learned that I have much to learn. My questions include but are not limited to:

  • How best can we support Kindergarteners so that they can drive their own inquiries? We know that the littlest learners are the best inquirers but how will I get them to focus on the units in our curriculum?
  • What are the best strategies with play-based learning?
  • How do Kindergarteners respond to a three-dimensional curriculum?
  • How can I support conceptual development with students who are just learning to read and write?

Sadly, I’ve run into quite a few nay-sayers who think I’m crazy. Of course five-year olds need to acquire skills before they can start to engage in the understanding of concepts, I was told by one. Silly, Jen, it’s not like your fourth-graders, Kindergarteners can’t do that kind of thinking have said some others. While it may no longer be my area of expertise, I’ve known in my heart of hearts that this isn’t the case. Since the moment I knew I was headed back to Kindergarten I knew that my hashtag moving forward would be #yestheycan. Yes, Kindergarteners can drive their own inquiries. Yes, they can develop reading and writing lives. Yes, they are capable of conceptual thought and respectful communication. My job is to figure out how best to support them to do this.

If you’re interested in these questions to, then come back and visit, comment and contribute often. I’ll post quick snapshots and longer reflections as much as I can as the year progresses. I’d love to hear what you have to say as well. As always, you can also follow me on twitter @jrisolo.

 

My Journey As A Literacy Teacher

In January, we had an in-service day at school. During the morning staff meeting, teachers were tasked with creating an exhibit that would communicate “Who We Are,” as literacy teachers. I decided that my theme would be my ongoing journey as a literacy teacher.

As I sorted through possible artifacts on hand in my classroom, I considered what has shaped and continues to shape my journey as a literacy teacher. I quickly realized that it is the questions that are always at the wheel, driving my interest and development.

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Mapping my questions.

I mapped my questions on the white paper you see in my final exhibit. Next I linked them to concepts and resources that drove my inquiries into each question.

I noticed that my questions evolve as I progress through my career. The first question was posed 20 years ago when I first began working with young readers and writers.

My Questions:

  • How best can I teach reading and writing?
  • What does the research tell me about language and literacy development?
  • How am I providing access to students for whom English is not their mother tongue?
  • How am I providing access for students with different abilities?
  • What is the role of language in my student’s identities? How does language instruction in my classroom affect this?
  • How do the frameworks, philosophy, and practices that have worked for me (and countless others) fit in with the philosophy and framework of the PYP?
  • What am I doing to ensure that my students have equitable access to the learning at our school? In our grade?
  • How best can our school support a consistent and coherent experience for our students given their transient nature as well as that of the faculty?

My Exhibit:

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Artifacts in “My Journey As A Literacy Teacher.”

My artifacts included student work, some favorite mentor texts, recent professional reads and some old standards that I always have on hand. The exhibit is certainly not complete. Many of my professional texts and mentor texts are personal property and stored at home. The absence of some of my own mentors is conspicuous and had they been on hand, Lucy Caulkins, H. Lynn Erickson, Ralph Fletcher, Carl Anderson, and countless students who have taught me so much, would also have been represented.

What are the questions that have shaped your journey so far? Who are your gurus?

Collaboratively Constructing An Assessment Using GAFE

I am a firm believer in collaboratively constructing assessment criteria with students in order to determine what has been learned. I also know from experience that the process of creating, reviewing, revising, and applying criteria with fourth-graders can be a lengthy process. It is also one which can lose effectiveness if we don’t maintain momentum. We need time to discuss, chart ideas, categorize, test-through-application, and revise our criteria. This year, as I prepared for 4JR’s first collaboratively constructed assessment, I decided to try using Google Apps For Education-GAFE.

Using Google Docs To Chart and Draft Criteria:

As my fourth-grade class neared a stopping point in our nonfiction and research unit, we started discussing how we would know what we learned. The students knew throughout the unit that they would do a post-unit assessment. They expected to evaluate what they took away from the unit and what might need to be reviewed or extended in a later unit.  When it came time to discuss criteria, I gathered the students together in front of our SMART board and asked:

Original Assessment on Google Doc

I set up the google doc prior to the lesson. As we discussed the criteria, an assessment tool was born. Where there was confusion, we discussed what could be observed to know if a researcher had met the criteria. These discussions were captured in the third column.

I originally planned to categorize the criteria at this time, but as we continued the discussion, I sensed they needed to work with the criteria first. I decided it was enough to generate criteria and discuss how we would know for now and to come back to categorizing later.

The students first applied the criteria to the post-assessment they had completed the day before. Once we had our working document, I immediately pushed the doc out to them using our Google Classroom and sent them off to assess their research skills and behaviors with their reading partners. Here are a few samples of what I got back:

Student Assessment Using Google Classroom and Google Docs
Student: KN

Student Assessment Via Google Classroom and Google Docs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After actually applying the assessment to their own work, evidence emerged on what students were doing as researchers. It also became evident which criteria students understood enough to discuss in detail when applied to their own work.

Ready to Revise:
Revised Assessment Using A Google Doc
The “final” tool, complete with categories.

We reconvened at the end of the session. At that point, I felt the students were ready to consider how we might organize our criteria. I asked them if any of our criteria could be categorized into groups. We use Project Zero’s Visible Thinking routine, “Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate,” often in our community, so this was a fairly accessible question. The students discussed how we could reorganize our criteria and we ended up with a “final” tool for future use. The students can now access this rubric at any time using our Google Classroom.

Reflections:
Use comment feature on google docs to make assessment clearer
Using comments to annotate the discussion leaves the reflection boxes open for student’s individual reflection. Next time, I want to record the initial discussion about how the criteria might be observable in comments, instead of in the green column. I think that will make it clearer to my students that they should back up their assessment of their own work with evidence.

This lesson took just under 90 minutes. Some students did not make it all the way through the criteria when they were self-assessing but I was confident that they’d had enough interaction with the criteria and tool to discuss the categorizing and other possible revisions. Those students finished their individual assessments at home that evening for homework.

I will definitely use this process in the future.  As the students become ready to evaluate themselves in more depth, we can move into more of a rubric than a checklist-with-explanation.

Classroom Libraries: What’s in there and why?

 

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Some of our nonfiction collection.

How Do We Decide What Goes In Our Classroom Libraries?

My classroom library is a vital part of the classroom culture.  I spend as much time and thought curating my library as I do setting up my room and planning units. I know that a classroom library can inspire imagination and ignite reading lives but it can also deter readers and dampen enthusiasm. Making sure that our classroom library is a place kids want to spend time is crucial. Here are some of the ways I inform the selection of books on hand for my fourth graders:

  • I focus heavily on series and authors. Experience has taught me that if a reader, especially a reluctant reader, can get into one book in one series, they’ll continue reading and actually benefit from the support of the structure and familiarity of the series. Automatic scaffolding. Win-Win!

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    Stand of series and author collections
  • I consider genre, making sure I have a balance of fiction and nonfiction and a good variety of each.
  • I keep track of what’s hot. Right now fantasy and sci-fi are in with both boys and girls. Fairies used to be a female favorite but now they are so three years ago. I hadn’t seen much interest in straight-up adventure (no magic or post-apocalyptic civilizations) in the past few years but see that it is starting to make a comeback.
  • I consider hot topics for nonfiction. Cars, soccer (European), jewelry-making and ancient civilizations are big right now. The usual animals also have a strong showing.
  • I consider my curriculum and am always on the
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    Unit-related collections. Some stay out all year, some are introduced later in the year and some are put away after a period of time.

     lookout for titles that support my units AND are appropriate for my readers. That last bit can be tricky.

  • I troll teacher blogs and book lists more than I troll facebook. Donalynn Miller  is one of my biggest influences when it comes to how I organize my reader’s workshop and of course, my library. (I highly recommend that teachers who are interested in selecting books and organizing for engaging and effective reading instruction check out what Donnalynn has to say.)
  • I find out what other teacher’s kids are into.
  • I ask my students. This is likely the most powerful method I have for selecting engaging, relevant books that my readers will want to actually read. Being in touch with what the kids will actually read is the most important thing. No matter how many awards a book has received, no matter what the education field or curriculum documents say is quality reading for my fourth graders, a book that sits on a shelf doesn’t help any reader. A book that a child is dragged through can do more harm than good.
    • At the start of the year, I ask them what books they think their classmates must read. I use google forms and compile lists of recommendations. This autumn, kids asked for: Warrior Cats, Dork Diaries, Land of Stories, Pegasus, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Norm, Tom Gates, Horrible Histories and books by David Walliams, to name a few.
    • When we have book fairs, I ask kids to make a list of recommendations from the displays for our classroom library. When I worked in schools that didn’t have book fairs, I gave kids scholastic catalogs and asked them to make wish lists. Even in inner city NY, money could be found to purchase a selection of those lists and honor the student’s selections.
    • At the end of the year, I ask again, this time for them to tell me what I must have on hand for the incoming class that August. The graduating fourth graders are more than happy to keep me hip to the trends.
    • I pay attention during reader’s workshop, noticing which titles are being fought over and which topics are being discussed.
    • I watch how my students organize the library. They are welcome to change the organization and their choices often let me know what’s important and interesting to them.
    • I’ve found the local bookstore that also has an impressive English language kids’ section. It’s not Barnes and Nobles but it’s a close second.
    • I wander into other classrooms and see what they have that we don’t.

One thing I don’t have to worry about too much is funding. We have a very generous budget that allows not only for updating our libraries regularly but also for doing so in a timely manner. In other words, when three of my reluctant readers got into the Alfie the Werewolf series last year and they were fighting over the few copies in the lower school library, I could go to Amazon and stock them in our class library while the demand was still hot. Three boys who spent two-thirds of the year bored by books were engrossed for the final three months of school in all things Alfie.

How Do You Decide?

I’d love to know how other teachers find books and make decisions on what to put in their libraries. What series, genre and topics are hot with your kids? What websites are great for finding lists and updates?

Happy reading!

 

 

“Notice and Note” and Reflecting On Rigor

The heat wave that has been plaguing Amsterdam has finally broken. I’ve been taking advantage of the cooler weather and a quiet weekend, spending the bulk of my time on the couch with Notice and Note, by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst.

I’m just through the first section and find myself nodding in agreement, jotting down notes of my own, and following suggested resources. I can’t help but notice my own process as I read this text! Here are some of the things that I’m really excited about so far:

Rigor and Reading Instruction

Beers and Probst dedicate a chapter early on about rigor in the classroom. If I was using a project zero thinking routine as I describe my interactions with this chapter, it would be “Connect, Extend, Challenge.” I made many connections between the text and my work as a Grade 4 teacher. I feel as though I am more able to articulate what appropriate challenges are for my readers. I am inspired to make those challenges accessible to them.

One of my big connections came when Beers and Probst described reading as “transactional.” In other words, the making of meaning happens through the interaction between the reader and the text. It also happens readers interact with each other over a text. Yes, yes, yes! Sadly, many of my students, not to mention their parents, see rigor as dealing with texts that are far too complex for them.

Parents, Students, and Rigor

At the start of this school year, I was dismayed to see the responses of my students when they were asked what they should work on as a reader this year. “I need to read harder books” and ” I want to read fatter books,” were common replies. The parent surveys communicated similar goals. Every year, I am confronted with parents of fourth graders who want their kids to read books like The Hunger Games or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I look coach kids who are trudging through texts which are way too complex for them, striving to help them find the texts that will engage and sustain their interest and foster the types of interactions that will give them the rich experience that skilled readers enjoy.

What Rigor Really Is

I am grateful to Beers and Probst for extending my thinking about this incredibly important facet of literacy education. They have given me the language to discuss what rigorous reading does entail. Here are some of my highlights from their chapter on rigor:

“Rigor is not an attribute of a text but rather a characteristic of our behavior with that text.”

“Rigor resides in the energy and attention given to the text, not in the text itself.”

And, in a comparison to weight-lifting:

The quality, rigor, does not reside in the barbell but in the interaction with it.”

After reading this chapter, I feel as though I have some ideas on how to help my students understand that success as a reader is not the complexity of the text itself, but the energy and commitment that the reader brings when interacting with the text.

It’s time to start planning some lessons!