Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Got To Be There

I watched closely, holding my breath. She hesitated; then her eyes opened wider and she leaned closer to the page. Her lips moved and I could just make out the sounds as she voiced the first part of the word, then the rest in one big part. She repeated the whole thing--blending it together a bit--just like we've been working on in word study and in reading group and during writing workshop. H. looked surprised. She glanced at the pictures and then back at the word. A slow smile started at the corners of her mouth as she repeated the word. She went back to the start of the sentence and reread, this time grouping words together in phrases and reading right through the word she had just solved. The smile widened and a slow blush spread over her cheeks as I hooted and slapped the table--that a girl!

H. peeked up for a split second and then kept going. To the end of that page and then the next, reading more quickly and phrasing more naturally. I watched excitedly, clapping my hands and laughing aloud. The other kids at the reading table paused to watch, one whispering, "keep going H!". Her confidence was visible in her voice, her smile and the excited way she turned page after page, more and more quickly. As she finished, H. looked up and grinned. "I really, REALLY love this book! That was fun!" It was--it was more than fun. It was a pivotal moment in her reading life.

You know, H. loves school and has been making progress--just barely meeting benchmarks and feels generally successful. However, she has not been an enthusiastic reader. Until Thursday. That day changed things for H. Thursday she felt for the first time what it's like when everything she needs to do and know and be as a reader comes together and it not only feels comfortable, but fun! On Thursday, this young reader felt "it". She couldn't wait to get home to tell her family about this very important day in her reading life. On Friday she was the first one at the reading table, eagerly waiting for a new book. She looked at me with a gleam in her eye and announced, "I can't wait--this is going to be great!"

It was. And I got to be there for it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Session That Got Me Thinking

I recently attended the National Reading Recovery and Classroom Literacy Conference--I've been going for several years, and always learn so much. This year was no different. I'm still rereading notes from the sessions I attended and am thinking about how my conference experiences will impact my classroom practices.

Tony Stead (author of Is That a Fact? and others) did a session that has me thinking. As he talked about doing investigations with kids, he stressed doing one together before having the kids engage in the work of research and writing.

I've done a lot of work with kids that starts with studying mentor texts and I've guided kids through research and planning and writing. We've worked together on whole class projects with interactive writing. But you know what? I don't know that I've ever worked alongside kids to write something together after studying mentor texts but before asking them to have a go on their own.

What I'm envisioning is beginning a unit of study as usual--by exploring and studying mentor texts. Then, as we talk about how to go about writing in this genre, we'd all try it out together--a group writing project in which we'd all talk about what to write and how to go about writing it using what we learned when exploring the mentor texts. We could chose and try out structure and craft moves together and discuss how and why we were doing it.

After that, the kids would move into their independent writing projects. What I'm wondering is if this will help the kids be more confident and deliberate in how they go about their writing when learning to write in a new genre. Doing it this way certainly fits what I believe about gradual release of responsibility--and it sort of just makes sense.

While I know I've done bits and pieces of this when using interactive writing, what occurred to me during this conference session is that it might be a good idea to try to use this technique much more deliberately. Besides, the kid work Tony shared with us  spoke for him about how well it worked in those classrooms.

That's one of the reasons I love attending conferences. Not only do I learn new things or deepen my knowledge, but the sessions I attend always get me thinking about how I might tweak what I'm doing in my classroom to be a little more purposeful.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Making Time to Celebrate

I realized this weekend that I have been missing something in my classroom--well, more like I had forgotten about it for a good long while. I was reading my friend Ruth's post on Friday at Two Writing Teachers and realized that it has been a long, long time since we've celebrated finished writing projects in my room.

Celebrations are important. They are a way of acknowledging not only accomplishment or achievement, but hard work and improvement. We do have celebrations in our room--often small, private ones. Like when A. looks up and exclaims, "hey--I figured that out!" and we exchange a fist bump or high 5. Or larger ones, like when the whole class broke into spontaneous applause when E. passed a math test and was so excited she jumped up and down.

But what I realized as I read Ruth's post was that for writers, it really feels like time to celebrate when you are holding a published project in your hands. Or even better, when you get to share it with others. As someone who has written publicly and privately, I have learned that having the chance to share and celebrate my writing is motivating and energizing. It makes me want to write more. Which is sort of the idea.

I don't think that we need to throw a huge elaborate celebration at the end of each project a child completes; in fact, we'd be partying every day if we did! What I'm thinking though is that I should make sure to take time once in a while--at the end of a major unit or study or at the end of each month--and teach the kids that celebrating hard work is important. Important enough to stop what we're doing for one workshop time and share our work with each other--and maybe with parents or other school personnel.

In my work as a classroom teacher and as a literacy coach, I've participated in a lot of celebrations. I've been to poetry book signings in kindergarten, research sharing in third grade, and memory book readings in several grades. I've seen celebrations with dressed-up kids and teachers, microphones, and yummy goodies after. I've been to celebrations with nothing more that construction paper covers and a group of kids sitting on the rug around a low stool. And during every one of those celebrations, there was more than just the excitement of a party in the air. There was a sense of pride. There was appreciation of time and effort spent. There was energy for new projects yet to be started.

So it's time. Time to make time for celebrating our work and learning as writers. Somehow, I feel more energized already.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Believing They Can and Expecting They Will

An amazing thing happened in our room over the past week--and it happened when I decided to step back and wait.  I'll tell the story, but as I do, keep the following thoughts in mind:

When a teacher waits for a child to figure something out or self-correct, it conveys the message that she expects the child to be able to accomplish it."
Pat Johnson, One Child at a Time
…they decide not only who they are in a given context, but also between agentive characters who are active and assume responsibility, and more passive characters who do not.
  Peter Johnston, Choice Words

I have a little girl named E. who draws the most beautifully detailed pictures. E. is an ELL (English Language Learner) who attended kindergarten in Mexico. During writing workshop this year, she has illustrated story after story, mostly about events in her family. Her illustrations tell her stories, and so does she, but not in written words, even though she'll tell the story orally.
This is the first page of one of E.'s stories--it has 4 pages all together

Since the start of the year, E. has been getting support learning everything she needs to write her stories. And yet, despite much teaching and prompting and reminding, E. would not write any words unless someone helped her. Her writing folder was filled with wonderfully drawn stories that had no words.

E. always asked for help writing the words even though she knows sound/symbol relationships, many sight words, and is able to say words carefully and record the sounds she hears. She participates confidently during interactive writing. And so recently, as she came to me again to ask if I would help her write the words on some of her stories, I thought for a moment and then replied.
"You know E., I know that you can do it by yourself. You know all the things you need to put your words with your stories. I know that you don't need me for that." She nodded, but kept looking at me, waiting for me to follow her to her desk to stand beside her. I didn't follow. Instead, I turned to confer with another student. "E., it's time for you to be on your own with this, " I said over my shoulder. She waited a minute more, then went back to her desk.

Look what happened:
This is the first of 4 pages--all written in 1 day!
Yep--she went back and wrote the words for the whole story in that one workshop time! By Friday, E. had put words to every single story in her folder. She sat at her desk, bent over her stories, pencil moving confidently across the page. Every so often she'd look up and think, then lean back into her work. On Friday, she came to me. 
"Mrs. M., I'm so so proud and you know why? I got the words for my stories. I got all the words--all the stories!"

Proud? Absolutely! Surprised? Not at all. I knew she could do it. But the key was for E. to believe she could--that she could take action and succeed on her own. By not stepping in to provide help, I sent the message that I expected she would be able to do it. Now E. sees herself in a new way--she feels like a successful writer. And she is.