Thursday, February 23, 2017

Becoming Word Wonderers - A Guest Blogger

This week, I asked my dear friend and colleague, Lori Conrad, to share some of her thinking with us about her work with learners.  In this post, she focuses on "word work."  My students call her "The Word Lady."  She is, indeed, a word lady.  Lori and I have known each other since college days and she is one of my most trusted friends.  And, I have to say, one of the smartest people I know.  I love her stance on becoming "word wonderers"!
Enjoy Lori's words...
•   •   •   •   • 
Becoming Word Wonderers 
by Lori L. Conrad 

“I underlined Triforium and Trifoolery.” 

“I underlined those, too, and Schlockenspiel.
And what about festooned? Did you guys mark that one?” 

“I didn’t because I’m guessing it has something to do with a festival. 
At least we know it is a verb, right?” 

“Yeah, and did you guys read the caption? 
What the heck does polyphonoptic mean?” 

This was just a bit of the early conversation four self-professed ‘word wonderers’ shared as they poured over a newspaper clipping entitled “After 40 Years, L.A.’s Triforium Makes a Comeback” (A.P., 2/12/2017). As their inquiry progressed, the foursome decided that:
  • triforium must mean some sort of three-pointed (tri) place where music was performed (form like in perform and ium like auditorium or gymnasium)
  • polyphonoptic must mean many (poly) sights (optic) and sounds (phono
  • and, they weren’t too sure about schlockenspiel other than it must have something to do with making music (like a glockenspiel) and it wasn’t a nice thing to be called!
Now, this sort of talk about words doesn’t just happen. 

These four boys learned how to think their way through dicey vocabulary by engaging in regular, inquiry-based word study. In his book, Word Savvy, Max Brand says that word study:
        “has become an umbrella term used to describe teaching practices 
        related to word knowledge. Teaching this knowledge supports students 
        as they develop fluency and understanding in their reading, as well as
        their ability to craft thoughtful writing. An effective word study system
        helps students develop an understanding of orthography, vocabulary, 
        word recognition, and decoding strategies.” 

For me, word study has become an instructional framework that supports learners as they become both word curious and word conscious

And in this classroom filled with 26 word wonderers, word study means that 4 days a week, the entire class spends a 40-minute workshop exploring word meanings, word parts, spelling patterns, letter/sound relationships, and strategies to figure out unknown words. Together, their teacher and I launch the 40 minutes by offering a precise bit of information or insight about a specific language feature or word set. We then send the wonderers off to explore and develop hypotheses. The workshop ends when we all circle-up to reflect on what we’ve discovered, including conclusions about how our daily reading and writing should reflect these new insights and discoveries. 

The work time, the largest and undoubtedly most important part of each word study workshop, has included tasks like:

  • word and sentence searches – using wonderers’ own reading stacks and draft writing as resources for extending and exemplifying the particular study
  • word sorts – puzzling through lists of words looking for some unifying attribute and then grouping/categorizing those words to create generalizations
  • editing/proofreading ongoing draft writing
  • “explain a spelling” (adapted from Sandra Wilde) – encouraging wonderers to talk about their thinking regarding specific spelling decisions they made while drafting, sorting words, etc.
  • have-a-go – selecting misspelled words or ‘clunky’ sentences and then trying two or three different options... settling on a final edition that makes better sense
  • and developing visual representations – like web, wheels and grids – for spelling patterns, sentence patterns and grammar generalizations 
So far this year, the content of these workshops have included topics like the various meanings of the suffix ‘er’ (both as a comparative and as a way to change a verb into a noun) and when to use ‘er’ or ‘or’ (have you ever noticed that there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for this?!), how readers use parts of multi-syllabic words to infer meaning, how phrases (like dependent and independent) might be punctuated, and ways writers expand their lexicon by building on the phrase:  ‘If I can read/spell _______, then I can also read/spell _______. The year-long ‘scope of word work’ is certainly bounded by grade-level standards, but it is more importantly informed by what the students themselves need... and what sparks their word wonderment. 

Our word study workshop has helped grow learners, like the four boys who figured out that calling something a schlockenspiel isn’t nice, into readers/writers/thinkers who are fascinated by language, are intrigued by the many ways letters and sounds link up to make meaning, and are unfazed by the sometimes crazy ways English spelling and grammar show up on the pages of their favorite books and in their very own stories, articles and poems.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Rereading Our Own Notebooks - Building Fodder

I've been spending some time rereading my old reader's and writer's notebooks lately. Looking through my notes for snippets of brilliance from other readers and writers.  Looking through my notes for snippets of brilliance from the young readers and writers I work with every day.  Looking through my notes for snippets of brilliance that made their way onto the pages as random thoughts or ideas.  Looking through my notes for snippets of brilliance from my own notebook entries (or just intriguing snippets).

Currently, my students and I are taking an explicit look at "Determining What's Most Important in Text."  Encouraging students to make decisions about what's moving them through a piece of text with clarity and understanding is an important cognitive behavior; nudging them to latch on to important ideas, themes, content.  We're in the midst of taking what comes "naturally" and trying to notice and define the role that "being intentional" has on meaning making.  We're focusing on the word most, because it's this discernment that is critical to making the most sense out of text.

When I plan a strategy study (comprehension/thinking strategy), I often revisit prior attempts at learning and my teaching.  I look at charts of our thinking from previous years.  I look at student work that I've collected over the years.  I look into my own notebooks for fodder.  If I want to empower learners, I have to know how it's gone in the past.  Perhaps this is why my at-home library is chockablock full!

Today as I was reading my notebook from 2013-14, I ran across an artifact from Avery that she handed me in February 2014.  She brought me a copy of the beginning of chapter 19 of Almost Home by Joan Bauer:


19

LAST NIGHT WHEN I didn't sleep, I wrote this:

When somebody important says your important, 
You'd better believe it.
Even when everything around you says you're not.
You'd better hold on to it.
You'd better write it across your heart
So you don't forget. 
Bad words come at us easy, 
But good words are hard to hold.
You've got to do the work to keep them safe. 
Put them in a box, 
Put the lid on, 
And if you don't have a box, 
Anything will do.

When she handed this passage to me she said, "Mr. Allen, this is what determining what's important really is... we have to keep our words safe!"  And, Avery's right.  Keeping our words "safe" is an important part of becoming a reader and writer (I immediately pasted the passage into my notebook and jotted down what she said).

I love when students find snippets in their own reading that supports our current thinking strategy investigation.  When they make the connection between a thinking behavior and an excerpt of text, it's mind-boggling!  And, because I have evidence archived in my notebooks, I can now bring it out and share Avery's words with my class this year.  It's our past that often steps forward to support our current thinking.  We can stand on the shoulders of greatness by taking time to reflect upon and use past successes.  I can stand on Avery's shoulders.

My students and I talk often about making our reading experiences "memorable" and taking opportunities "extending meaning."  In fact, I write about this in my book, Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop.  These are two goals we discuss at the beginning of each school year.  I have four goals for my students (to remember, to understand, to extend meaning, and to make reading experiences memorable).  We focus on making our reading experiences important enough to share and find bits of text important enough to remember.  Avery understood that.

It behooves us to encourage young readers to fall in love with words.  To keep them safe... in a notebook, in their heart, in a box... anywhere!  If we listen to students in new ways, in careful ways, in sincere ways... they might just surprise us.  They might just bring us a sticky note, a spattering of text, or an idea that brings clarity to OUR reading life or our teaching.  We just have to remember to tuck it away and revisit it.  Snippets of brilliance are too important to let slip into the recycling bin... we have to let them "re-cycle" in our teaching and learning life!


Image result for almost home bauer

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Picking Up Three - From My Stacks

We're in our second week of taking a look at "Determining What's Most Important" as our thinking strategy of deep study.  As readers, we've been having the most interesting discussions.

I'm challenging learners to think about two guiding questions:

  • How does purpose affect the ways I determine what's most important?
  • What are the specific decisions I make as I determine what's most important?
Together, we're delving into our learning with these two questions as our guide. The beauty of posing questions like these is that the questions that readers are pondering personally are more intriguing, engaging, and purposeful than the two I proposed we study.  

Several readers are trying to think through how adding new words to their lexical system adds meaning to their reading and understanding.  Several readers are thinking through how their notebooks serve as a place to record their noticings about how determining importance affects their understanding.  Several students have been chatting about how knowledge of a specific author helps determining importance work more effectively.  Several readers are just grappling with the idea of stopping to ponder instead of barging through text (without disrupting meaning, of course).  It's been a grand two weeks. 

I've chosen the following three texts to use as "shared think alouds" as we continue on our journey.  Choosing texts that help define and redefine a strategy in the minds of young readers is one of my favorite parts of planning.

Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber

This book lends itself to determining what's most important for so many reasons.  The introduction alone leads to a grand discussion of how choosing just the right words can convey meaning with clarity.  I love the narrative interspersed with "bee" facts.  And, the "Save the Bees!" closing is perfect.  

I'll share part of this book with my students and then turn the text over to them so that they can devour it as individuals or in pairs.  I'm sure the room with hum with comments like "I think this is important, because..." or "This sentence carries a lot of weight, because..."  


Never Smile at a Monkey by Steve Jenkins

Who doesn't love to be scared out of their wits by things in nature?  The short pieces in this book are frightening, yet intriguing.  To determine what's most important, readers have to pay close attention to the details on each page and find the essence of each short snippet of text.  

I see coupling each page with the nonfiction pieces in the back of the book.  Great talking points for readers about what's important and why.  And, these short snippets serve as provocative mentor text for writers as well.  I see us talking in pairs about a specific animal in the text and chatting about "What's most important... and why... and how do you know?"  


Passing the Music Down by Sarah Sullivan

I love this book.  Listen to the first lines... "Come August, with corn strutting high in the fields and tomatoes plumping out on the vine folks get to talking about tuning up and heading over twisty mountain roads to hear fiddle players and banjo pickers make music under the stars." 

Because it's inspired by two musicians, the author's note will help lead our discussion through somewhat unknown music territory.  This text might lead to a conversation about how our schema is related to determining what's most important and how we sometimes have to build it at the same time we're applying a new strategy.



I love couching our thinking in both narrative and nonfiction text (and poetry) as we student determining what's most important.  If we truly believe that these thinking/comprehension behaviors are what wise readers do to make sense of text, we have to offer students a chance to think in a wide variety of text.  These three texts (and others) will be used during the crafting portion of of reader's workshop sometime in the next week or so... and I'll offer them to students to read during their composing (independent) time.  It's always my goal to give learners a flavor of what's possible and then let them have a go.  As my colleague says, "Just offer them a little hook and let them go swimming in the bigger pond with support."

So... until next month, here's your homework.  Choose three books from your stacks.  Think about these ideas as you read (this may sound familiar):
  • How might this text fit into my current strategy study?  If it doesn't how else might I use it?
  • If I were planning a study of determining what's most important what might I need to investigate further?
  • Who might I run ideas by as I plan my next study?  Who will give me the energy to follow through?  
  • What ten texts might I use with my students as readers, writers, mathematicians, or scientists that would build the essence of this "important" thinking strategy?
  • What language might I use in my crafting that bests focuses the learners in my care on their own use of the strategy of study?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Rose, Is a Rose, Is a Public School Teacher

"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I've been thinking a lot about names lately.  Perhaps it's because we've been chatting with our daughter and son-in-law a lot about baby names, listening to them make decisions as they contemplate their baby boy's name, our first grandchild's name (can't wait until April).  A baby's name is important, it labels his identity from that first cry when he leaves the womb and is placed in his mother's arms or when the adoption agency hands a new dad his daughter for the first time... "Hush, little Baby, don't say a word!"  But a name doesn't develop the child's identity.  What develops the child's identity is the way he or she is treated, nurtured, loved, honored, nourished, cared for, respected!
In "Romeo and Juliet" Juliet argues that a name is just a name, but rather it's what lies beneath that name that's most important.  And we all know when Juliet says, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" she's just stating that she should be able to love who she chooses to love, despite his name.  Gertrude Stein's most famous quote is, "A rose, is a rose, is a rose."  In her staccato style, she used the phrase many times in her poetry (first in "Sacred Emily" in 1913) and she once said, "I'm no fool.  I know we can't go around saying 'A ... is a... is a...' and yet she used the phrase often (maybe she just liked the way it rolled off the tongue or her pen).  But Stein and Shakespeare probably pondered those words carefully before they appeared in their writing.  They probably read the words over and over.  And, so we name a rose a rose.
I was looking at the name of my blog this week "All-en-a-Day's Work."  A simple play on words that my son used on his projects when he was little and that I "borrowed" when I created this spot for me to share my ponderings.  When I looked up the meaning of "all in a day's work," I discovered it meant, "If something is difficult, unpleasant, or strange... it is considered to be 'all in a day's work," a usual part of the job."  But my blog isn't just a mundane, routine, or unpleasant part of my teaching life.  Certainly my entries can be sporadic, but it's an important place for me to contemplate my beliefs, my discoveries, my wonderings, my ideas.  It's a place for me to share a little of myself with whomever reads it, for whatever it's worth.  It's one place for me to give the thoughts in my head an identity.  It gives them a chance to develop.

I've been a public school teacher for 31 years.  I love my job.  I've said it before, I fell into my career when my wife gave me a copy of Writers: Teachers and Children at Work by Donald Graves.  That book changed my career path and changed my life.  I became a teacher because of little things that nudged me into my vocation.  The signs were all there and I believe it was God's plan for me to teach; the one who lead me to the public schools.  I take the name "public school teacher" seriously, just as I would if I taught in another setting (and we're so lucky to already have that choice).  It's more than just being called "teacher" for me, I am proud to add "public" to my name!  


My identity is not developed by working within "an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge."  My Identity is not developed by spending my days in "an entry level position."  My identity is not developed by what Graves calls in The Energy to Teach, "pundits who have never taught."  My identity is developed by passion - for learners and learning.  I love my career - with it's ups and downs, changes, mandates, and other "stuff".  But I try to focus on the joys, the celebrations, the exciting challenges.  There's nothing better than spending the day with children, except perhaps continuing to learn myself. 


I've developed my passion as a public school teacher by looking into the eyes of 25-30 kids each day.  I've developed my passion through hours of professional development, hours of reading, hours of watching others teach.  I've developed my passion by writing and sharing my thinking with others.  I've developed my passion by being the father of four wonderful children who have all attended public school.  I've developed by passion by being married to another teacher.  I've developed my passion by surrounding myself with colleagues and friends who care just as much about education as I do.  I've developed my passion by spending thousands of dollars on children's literature and professional literature that helps hone my craft.  I've developed my passion by talking to and learning from Stenhouse and Heinemann authors.  I've developed my passion by attending and presenting at conferences, working in schools across the country and in Canada, and spending countless hours talking about education on the telephone with grand friends.   


I've developed my passion as a public school teacher, because I have witnessed exciting, wise pedagogical changes in 31 short years (which is far less that the 150 years that we've recently been told there have been no changes).  And, I continue to teach because passion can't be easily extinguished.  After all, I am a teacher for goodness sake.



Names are important.  I'm sure my children would agree.  
Once you choose it, it goes public.  
And then you can help develop the identity of what you've named.


What's in a name?  
That which we call Public School Teacher.  
Boy, does it smell sweet!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Picking Up Three - From My Stacks

I've decided to write one post each month to think through and share texts that I have in my stacks.  I have lots of "gems" and sometimes it's helpful to hunker down on the library floor to revisit and "re-vision" how I might use the great pieces of text I've collected.  Many texts are old favorites just waiting to be shared in a think aloud or shared together to nudge our conversations as readers.  Many texts are forgotten books that I discovered along the way, but never got around to using.  Many texts were added to my collection for a specific purpose, but never quite made it into a crafting lesson.  

One of the questions I'm often asked is "What text should I use to teach ____?"

Here's my answer... choose text that you love!  That's the easy part.  But sometimes that's just not enough.  As we plan a strategy study, no matter the thinking behavior we're delving into with our students, text choice is critical.  If we truly believe that "thinking strategies" can and should be applied across genre, across experiences, and across a study, we have to be wise in our decision making as teachers.  What texts lend themselves to the thinking that I'm hoping my young readers will store in their strategy wheelhouse?

If we want our young readers to infer, to synthesize, to activate their schema, etc. we have to be selective as we plan instruction... and then we build a classroom library rich in the kinds of text we're hoping our students will read!
- - - 
Here's my plan.  I've pulled three books out of my collection.  I'll give a brief synopsis of the text and then share one way we might use the text as readers during the crafting portion of reader's workshop; focusing on a specific thinking strategy (although each text lends itself to more than one strategy).  My hope is that you'll begin to search your own collections for that "just right" book to use as you craft* a strategy with your readers during reader's workshop.


My friend and colleague, Susan Logan, gave me When Everybody Wore a Hat by William Steig when she brought a group of visitors to my classroom a few years ago.  It is an autobiographical sketch of William Steig's childhood in which he invites us into his eight-year-old world... in 1916 when "everybody wore a hat."

Strategy Focus:  Drawing Inferences

When you read this text, you can't help but infer.  Readers infer when they create personal meaning from the text by gleaning insight and interpretations.  William Steig's simplicity in thought nudges us to "step into his life" as a young boy growing up in the 1900s.  His is a very unique point of view.  I might use this book as a shared text with my students.  Together, we might work together to draw conclusions and build our schema as we "think through" text together.  This might happen fairly early in a study when I'm nudging learners to speculate, think about questions that lead to an inference, or gather clues from the text.  Together, we might explore a portion of this book to gain insight into our own process of "coming to know" how wise readers infer.  Remember, inferring helps readers deepen their understanding beyond the text and lends itself to broad, personalized experiences.



I bought this book for two reasons:  Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor.  I love when the two of them were able to collaborate.  The Buffalo Are Back is one of their collaborations; one example of their stunning work.  Together, they tell the story of the demise and return of the buffalo (including Theodore Roosevelt's role in the process) to the great plains.  The text is broken into short sections, each dealing with a specific aspect of the American Buffalo in the west.  I love Wendall's dedication, "To Jean, in celebration of her fifty years of writing wonderful books that teach children the wonders of nature." 

Strategy Focus:  Asking Questions

This text can be used encourage authentic questioning.  As readers, we spend time asking questions before, during, and after reading.  Because this text is full of such rich language, readers can generate questions at the word, sentence, and whole text level.  I might use short sections of this text throughout a study of "asking questions" and "lift" certain passages for students to grapple with independently (later in a study).  I might also use portions of it as a think aloud early on in a study of questioning.  This book ties well into a study of ecosystems or western history and is "question rich" text.  Remember, asking questions helps readers pose possibilities to stretch their own thinking as they develop and explore their wonderings as readers.


I admit it.  I bought this book on the bargain shelf at The Boulder Bookstore.  It just makes me laugh (Jennifer Larue Huget has also written herself into a great mentorship with students as writers).  This book explores the "what if" aspect of running away from home... and what child hasn't threatened that at least once in his or her childhood.  It's funny.  It's a book that nudges readers to contemplate, wonder about, and explore the benefits and consequences of "running away."  

Strategy Focus:  Activating, Utilizing, & Building Background Knowledge 

Wise readers have to learn to activate their schema - blending their background knowledge and background experiences.  I would use this book near the beginning of a study as either a think aloud or a shared experience.  As readers, knowing that differences in text structure affect our understanding, we often use our schema to make sense of text.  This text lends itself to the idea of activating schema before, during, and after reading.  Using schema nudges readers to pay attention to purpose and to acknowledge when their background is either helping or hindering their understanding.  I think using this book to nudge collaborative thinking during a crafting session would be perfect; I picture lots of "turn and talk" as we explore the text.  Remember, activating, utilizing, and building background knowledge and experience is more than "connecting" to the text; it's about using what you know to better understand what you don't know. 

• • •

So... until next month, here's your homework.  Choose three books from your stacks.  Think about these things as you read:
  • Does this text fit into my current strategy study?  If not, what strategy might I use it with later?
  • As I read this text, what thinking strategy to I find MYSELF using?  How am I being metacognitive?  How might I use it with students?
  • Is this a book that I want to use for crafting or do I just want to "talk it up" and get it into the hands of children?
  • As a reader, do I find this text compelling?  Is sharing it worthy of my time or my students's intellect? 
  • How might this mentor author fit into another content... writing, mathematics, social studies, etc.?  
*Craft, to me, is the mini-lesson during reader's workshop.  That's the perspective I'm writing from as I share these texts. 



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Literacy - A Right

"Literacy is inseparable from opportunity, 
and opportunity is inseparable from freedom.  
The freedom promised by literacy is 
both freedom from - from ignorance, oppression, poverty - and freedom to - to do new things, to make choices, to learn." 

This quote by Koichira Matsuura is my new favorite quote.  It's been rumbling through my heart and head since I ran across it a few weeks ago.  It's one of those finds that causes a person (a reader and writer) to ponder... his own literacy experiences, the experiences of those with whom he works, and, even, those whom he'll never meet.  

Somewhere, Twitter perhaps, I heard (read?) this statement "I'm not sure literacy is a human right."  That statement, coupled with Matsuura's words, has nudged me to think.  Is literacy a human right?  I'd say yes.  It's not only a human right, it's an obligation.

Marsha Ellis says, "I believe that literacy is a right of the people and an obligation of society to create ways to educate its citizens. The government has an obligation to the people that it serves to implement ways to provide an education for all.  The Declaration of Independence states that, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness'."  And literacy is part of that life, that freedom, that joy.

So what's our role as educators in this obligation?  I think it's about nudging young learners to become the kinds of "literate" people that understand their right... to become.  And, we've got to do it authentically, purposefully, and sincerely.  We've got to help young learners - no matter who they are or where they landed physically - to be the kinds of readers, writers, and thinkers that realize that their words matter, their thoughts matter, their lives matter.  We owe it to our young public learning each day in public school.

Katherine Paterson so eloquently reminds us, "It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations-something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own."  So, in our work to nudge the human right of literacy with children, we better take her words seriously.

A visitor to my classroom recently asked me, "How do you get them to talk to each other that way?"  My answer... by being a reader myself.  I don't believe that we teach children to read with a stopwatch in our hand.  I don't believe that we teach children to read with a packaged program.  I don't believe that we teach children to read by giving them worksheets.  I don't believe that we teach children to read by "paying others" to gather materials.  I don't believe that we teach children to read in a lock-step "this first, then that" manner.

If we want learners to become life-long, literate human beings we put the best books in front of them.  We release responsibility with grace and support.  We build trust.  We strengthen relationships.  We create huge blocks of time.  We offer up ownership.  We give them a notebook to record their ideas and thoughts.  We demonstrate our own grapplings and successes as literate human beings.  We talk to them with precise, strategy-rich vocabulary.  We confer.  We listen to them as they make sense of text and of their world.  We remember that the language arts include... reading, writing, speaking, and LISTENING.  

Each day when my students come into the classroom, we have music playing (their chance to gather up and gather in).  As I listened to the words of our gathering song this morning, I was struck by the gift I've been given.  I get to spend my days "in the company of children." (J. Hindley)

I understand that I have a huge obligation to the children in my care.  I can't take it lightly.  It's their right. 




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