Monday, February 27, 2017

From My Stacks - Kathleen V. Kudlinski

There's something special about these two books.  Perhaps it's the lyrical text by Kathleen V. Kudlinski or the beautiful illustrations by Lindy Burnett.  Perhaps it's the combination of both.  

When I read The Sunset Switch, I'm reminded of that wonderful time of day, when daytime ends and night begins.  Kudlinski's love of biology and science is so clearly evident in the lyrical way she puts daytime animals asleep and nudges nighttime animals to life.  It's a stunning text, written in second person.  The words are paired perfectly with Ms. Burnett's amazing illustrations.

When I read Seaside Switch, I'm reminded of that subtle time between high-tide and low-tide.  It's a beautifully crafted description of how the tide rolls in and out and a little boy's curiosity.  It's written with such scientific detail, but with such innocence.  It brings your senses alive. 

I think Ms. Kudlinski is a perfect mentor for young writers.  I've used this text to help learners write narrative nonfiction.  Writers should learn to write from different perspectives.  Writers should learn to write narrative nonfiction.  Writers should learn to write from their own experiences.  Writers should write in order to strengthen their understanding.  Writers should write with beauty.  Writers should write from their observations of the world.  If young writers read these two books, they can see how Ms. Kudlinski does exactly that... write what you know and do it with gracefulness and purpose.

Searching my stacks for great mentors makes me happy.  There's so much that these two texts have to offer... you should check them out if you haven't.  I hope there'll be another addition to this wonderful duet of beautiful texts.  They evoke clear sensory images. They are something special. 

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:


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!