How our decisions can crowd out the reading for kids.

Donalyn Miller has been an inspiration to me for years.  She is the author of a column, blog and 2 books: The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild.  She advocates for us to create an environment where kids are reading like real readers, rather than reading looking differently at school than it does at home.  This is an interview with her telling how she got started.  She is still teaching and inspiring kids, which inspires me as well.  She has a great Twitter handle (@donalynbooks) and is involved in Title Talk (@Titletalk) with Colby Sharp.  Another great resource for book titles and book discussions.  If you’ve read either of her books, was there anything that changed your practice?


Why the change in model?

Over the past years, our job has changed greatly.  When coaches were first introduced into the HSD, they were literacy coaches with the role of supporting the implementation of a new writing curriculum.  As years past, and initiatives shifted, the role of the coach shifted as well.  A few years ago, coaches were “re-branded” as Instructional Coaches and split into buildings, rather than grade levels.  Although this change was difficult, it allowed the coach to be in a building more regularly and build relationships with the teachers in that building.  Unfortunately, with implementation of the CCSS and recent district initatives, not a lot of time has been spent on understanding and shifting the role of the coach.

This is our year!  After spending a year studying a model, we’re ready to get our hands dirty and our feet wet digging in with teachers.  The Student Centered Coaching Model is about:

  • Making coaching more about student learning
  • Knowing where our students are as learners
  • Knowing where they need to be
  • Partnering with teachers to close the gap between where the students are and where they need to be

Student-Centered Coaching is not about…

  • Fixing teachers
  • Targeting failing teachers
  • Separating instruction from student learning
  • Hoping and praying that coaching makes an impact on student learning

We, like you, want to be more intentional about our practice and put our focus on improving student achievement and student success.  In the next couple of weeks, we’ll dig in deeper to the elements of a coaching cycle, what is the benefit to the teacher and students and how we’ll get started.  In the mean time, what questions do you have about the new model?

We’re Back!

I am so excited to be back at it with children here!  It has been a summer filled with learning, family and fun.  But, we’re never really content until small voices fill our hallways.  As we enter into a new year, I feel blessed that we have an opportunity to reflect back on our year and set some goals for a new year.

We are implementing a new coaching model and I am desperately trying to refine my practice to be more effective in my role.  Although my “do-over” as a coach isn’t as grand as a classroom teacher’s, we are all granted the favor of a new beginning.  I am taking a class on coaching and am enrolled in another which will begin in October.  We added a new coach to our team, which allows our coach team the opportunity to reflect on our practices and better understand our purpose and role.  I am also anticipating refining my work with teachers based on my learning, both this summer and in the classes I am taking.

What are some goals you have for yourself?  What are some hopes you have for me and our work together?

Tools for Teaching

The “Great Ideas” or “innovation” part of my brain sometimes feels like it is running on empty.  As a teacher I appreciate people who share their great ideas, then keep them in one handy place so they can be accessed when I get back to them.  One of my colleagues recently shared The Teacher Toolkit site with me as we were planning a way to reflect on new learning with the teachers we support.

I loved the organizer that we used as it validated the thinking in our current practice and allowed ideas to circle around to create new thinking.

In digging into the site a little deeper, it is a treasure of information and resources, with videos explaining how to use each resource and a PDF of the organizer.  The organizers are for a large range of grade levels and are sorted by purpose.  The tools are sorted into categories: Classroom Management, Opening Activities, Checks for Understanding, Partner Practice, Group Practice, Independent Practice, Reading Strategies, Games, Closing Activities.  It would be so simple to choose a tool every week or month to integrate into your practice.  The tools also allow for an active learning component, clarifying your thinking, supporting your thoughts with evidence, etc.  that align with practices that we know are important for students to engage in.

I am so happy that I found this resource and am excited to think about its impact in our classrooms!

Sharing your reading life

“Books are love letters (or apologies) passed between us, adding a layer of conversation beyond our spoken words.”
Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child

I truly enjoyed a book that I thought my sister was crazy to give me.  She sent me The End of Your Life Book Club for my birthday of all things.  I was appalled and called her to ask what it was about.  She had heard it was good and bought it for me, as she knew I was a reader.  The book’s premise is a story of a son, who spends time with his mother who was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, in chemotherapy.  During the chemo, they share books and in turn their lives.  It was such a powerful book that made me think about how many books have impacted my life, as a reader, wife, mom, teacher and friend.  As a teacher, I have had these conversations on a much lighter level in my classroom.

Sharing your reading life is an idea that I learned about while reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, then it was reinforced when I read Still Learning to Read by Franki Sibberson and it came back again in Steven Layne’s book Igniting a Passion for Reading.  This summer while reading Donalyn Miller’s new book Reading in the Wild, she again shared the importance of sharing our reading lives with children.  As a classroom teacher, I took this advice to heart and shared what I was reading, what I liked to read and what I abandoned and why.  My students were passionate readers who often groaned when I announced “Please close your books.”.  I didn’t make the clear connection to what I was sharing with their passion for reading.  But, Scholastic has created a tool for teachers that will help you do just that.

They currently have a free E-Book entitled The World of Possible.  In this book, children and teachers share their reading life.  There are stories from published authors, famous education researchers, many who have had an immeasurable impact on education.  There is also a video link with an assortment of videos of both children and adults sharing their reading life.  THis would be an amazing resource to share with students, especially if you’re not comfortable sharing your reading life, or if you’re like me sometimes feel like you don’t have time for a reading life.  There is an educator’s guide available which is FILLED with ideas and philosophical underpinnings that will impact how you operate your classroom.  I am excited about this new resource and am looking forward to inspiring the children in the schools I work.  What a gift…Thanks, Scholastic!

No More Language Arts and Crafts

I would say it, but she says it so well. Thanks, Donalyn for speaking up for kids! This post from Donalyn Miller is a MUST READ for parents, teachers and anyone who impacts the life of a child.

Donalyn Miller

I’ll admit that I hold my children’s teachers to a higher than reasonable standard. Would you want my kid in your English class? As a parent, I could be a burr in your saddle. I get that.

I’m not a harassing parent, I promise. Most of my children’s teachers have no idea who I am, other than Celeste and Sarah’s mom. That’s how it should be.

On the other hand, my children’s teachers don’t know who Penny Kittle is. They don’t know who Kristin Ziemke is. They don’t know who Kelly Gallagher is.

Heck, my children’s teachers don’t know who Nancie Atwell and Lucy Calkins are. It doesn’t matter if they’ve read my books about teaching reading, but it does matter when my children’s teachers haven’t read a book or article about teaching reading in 20 years.

A line divides parents who know a lot about reading and their children’s…

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Thinking about Informational Writing

The innovators over at Two Writing Teachers Blog got me thinking about how we approach Informational Writing.  We often begin with thinking about images that would tell the story or explain our idea, but if we think about other text features, they can be just as impactful as we approach Informational Writing.  They asked 4 questions to guide our thinking as our writers study models of INformational Text to learn more about how it is written.  How often do we forget to study the text before we begin talking about the characteristics of the text?  

Here are the 4 questions:

  • What information is the author using this text feature to convey?
  • Based on the text features, is there an idea that the author wants me to understand about the information?
  • How does the author use the text features to convey information?
  • How could I try something like this in my own writing?

The last question is my favorite.  If the author used a call out box, or bolded a word, it would be quite easy for a child to “Try that” in their own writing.  I believe that it would lessen their anxiety in “getting it right” and encourage them to try something new and innovative in their own writing.  I am feeling excited to try this idea with students.  Do you think these guiding questions would support the writers in your classroom?