Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Study via Voxer and Google

I am involved in a Voxer book study for Cris Tovani's book Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12.  I have read two of her other books and learned so much. I was able to take away strategies to use immediately.

Before I get into some of my takeaways from the beginning of the book, I want to get some feedback on how to do this possibly more effectively.  The other two women (if you're reading this and want to participate please let me know!) and I created a Google document to record our thinking as we progress through the reading and we also have a Voxer group where we talk, share new learning, respond to questions etc. This format has worked well for in the past, but we are always looking for ways to improve. Has anyone ever tried something that worked well regarding book studies where the participants do not work in the same building or even district?

Ok, back to some takeaways!
~Tovani emphasizes that when teaching students to question the text as they read, the questions need to be questions they really care about.  When I would teach students questions in the past, they would ask questions that didn't really stop to make them ponder or want to keep reading to find the answer.  They simply performed the task that I asked them to perform because they really wanted to make their teacher happy.  Looking back, I really needed to drive home this point.  I tried and tried, but I don't think I tried enough.  Maybe by finding more engaging texts at a variety of levels would have helped with this.

~Cris points out that learning to read doesn't end in elementary school.  As a reading specialist I 110% agree with this statement.  However, I can see content area teachers' frustrations with needing to get through their standards at a quality that they feel is expected for their grade level and finding it difficult to carve out time to teach reading. Tovani does point out and I appreciate this that "teaching a few strategies well is a key aspect of my work. Rather than a large grab bag of gimmicks and techniques, I find myself returning to these core skills with students and teachers." (p. 5)

~On page 15 she uses a double column connection chart that I love with making connections.  The students write their connection on the left, and on the right the prompt "So What..." is posed. This makes the students really contemplate on how their connection extends the text. I love this and can't wait to use with teachers!

~I love the chocolate cake analogy and losing weight that Tovani mentions. If I want to lose weight something has to give, there needs to be a trade off.  If I want my students to understand rigorous text, I may need to show them how to hold their thinking with that particular piece of text.  So something has to give! Now I'm going to get back to my chocolate cake!

So in a nutshell those are some of my takeaways from the book. I will definitely be sharing more.  Again, if you would like to join our book club just let me know! And also, if you have other ideas on how to make the book club more engaging or anything else pass them my way please!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Feedback and Spin Class

I went to spin class sporadically since having my dear daughter Gracie over a year ago.  I was ready to hop in the saddle again both literally and figuratively.  I knew it was going to be rough and probably painful but worth it.  That is a bit of an understatement. I was ready to leave about 20 minutes into the class.  The instructor (who I have had before when I was in much better shape) is awesome and plays great music, but he has a really loud voice that can come across as "barking orders".  Here's a bit how the class went and what I was thinking:

Instructor: If you're not on a hill, get on a hill.  If you're on a hill, get on a steeper hill.

Me (in my head): I think I'm going to die.

Instructor:  Get into position 2.  Push it, push it!

Me: I wonder how long it would take the ambulance to get here and the paramedics to get upstairs?

Instructor:  Put more resistance on your wheel and go into an all out sprint!

Me: Does anyone here know CPR?

Instructor: Blah blah blah blah...insert Charlie Brown teacher voice.

Me: I have no idea what I was thinking except I wanted out of the room.

This went on for a little bit longer.  I was seriously ready to book it.  I had brought a book that was downstairs in the locker room that I was totally prepared to read so that my family thought I had stayed at the gym the whole time instead of leaving class early!  I was at the point of no return, I was so close to unclipping my pedals.

Then the instructor got off his bike.  Oh crap, he's headed straight towards me I thought.  Go away, go away! I didn't make eye contact, I kept pedaling and my goal was to become invisible.  The instructor did not come to me, rather he went from person to person giving feedback.  He started each interaction with a positive such as thank you for being here, great hustle. And followed it up with a point for improvement such as keep your shoulders down, don't let them come up to your ears.  This was beyond helpful.  In all the years I have gone to spin class I never got individual feedback.  The instructor would make general comments and I never knew if they were directed at me or someone else in the room or just a prompt in general.  It was hard sometimes to take that feedback to help improve my form or speed. I also thought about how everyone in that room was a different physical fitness point and how powerful this was that each person got individual attention to help push their spinning to the next level.  Everyone in that room got something to help make them a better spin student.

I thought about how this transferred to my teaching when I was a classroom teacher.  I tried to give daily feedback to all students.  This was difficult some days to give verbally, but so essential. I made sure to give feedback to my students who were not meeting standards, but I took it for granted and did not push the students who were meeting standards or who were exceeding standards.  They deserved to be pushed. I'm not sure if I did this on a daily basis.

I also thought about how this relates to my role as an instructional coach. This is essential, the feeback piece. However, so are relationships.  I am working really hard on developing those relationships and trust, so I'm nervous to suggest something to improve on right out of the starting gate.  The role of an instructional coach is such a tight rope to walk.  As a teacher I was always looking for feedback and another set of eyes, but that feedback had to be from someone I trusted and respected.

So I'm hoping to take this lesson that I learned from spin and develop the art of feedback into my current role. I'm glad I stuck the class out, and I'm looking forward to going back!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Why

So many people that I am friends with and have the fortunate opportunity to work with are bloggers. I get asked quite frequently if I have a blog.  My response is a flat out no.  I have been reading blogs for years and getting lots of good ideas to incorporate in my classroom or with the teachers I work with, so I guess I could say that I am or was a consumer of blogs.

A big push when starting new initiatives at my school now is get to the why.  Why are we doing this, why is this what's best for students.  Teachers (and all people I truly believe) want to understand the why.  I do as well.  So I began to reflect on why people blog and why I should blog.  I was trying to convince myself why this would be a good thing for me.

The first why I have is that blogging will be good to help me reflect.  I am always grappling with ideas and strategies that I want to use with teachers and students.  I am always grappling with what the best way to share information is.  I truly believe blogging can help me with this. I'm also afraid/nervous/worried with the reflection piece that blogging will make me feel vulnerable.  This completely pushes me out of my comfort zone.  Vulnerability is not something I am comfortable with at all.  But I truly believe this will be a good thing!

Another why of why I feel that blogging is something I need to do is the sharing piece.  For so long I have been a consumer of blogs.  I feel that is about time that I start sharing some of my ideas, and I can do this through blogging. Another hope I have with this piece is that by sharing I can get some feedback from other passionate educators to push my thinking even farther and make the good ideas better so that I can continue to grow.

Yet another why to add to this growing list is that I really want to improve on my writing skills.  I do not see myself as a writer at all. Not even a little bit.  I remember writing the infamous five paragraph essay in high school English class.  They were called "Timed Writings" back then.  And come to think of it, I never got one of those pieces back. I never remember receiving any feedback on what worked well and what could be tweaked.  How did anyone expect me to grow as a writer if I did not know how I did on any piece of writing?!  Craziness!

Here's another reason why I feel that blogging will help me. It will feed my own professional development and passions.  This could also lead me out of my comfort zone of simply reading tweets and blogs and hold me accountable by sharing what I'm learning, researching, and am passionate about.

Finally, a huge reason why this is so important to me is that I need to become a responsible digital citizen and to become part of the global digital learning community.  Becoming a parent has really changed me.  I need to model how to leave a positive digital footprint on this world for Gracie as well as my students.

I want to take this opportunity to thank anyone who read this and any feedback you have.  I truly appreciate you helping me on this journey of continued growth and welcome the opportunity to grow and learn with you!