Sunday, June 19, 2011

Going Deeper: rereading more than one at a time

Last week I wrote making plans to include professional reading as part of my summer reading frenzy. Though I do plan to read new things--a new professional book or two (or three) and backlogged journal articles--I also reread a lot over the summer.

I like to think about how what I learn from one source links to other sources and then how it all plays out in the classroom or when working with adults. It's important to be able to see how things fit together or what we do ends up feeling like a disjointed, chaotic mess.

Sometimes I like to take a new resource and read it along with a familiar one--sort of like wearing a new pair of shoes with an outfit you know works. This does a couple of things for me. It helps me hook the new learning to something I already know and also forces me to consider that stuff I already knew in different ways. Other times I take two or more familiar resources and read them together to help me deepen my thinking about something in particular.

Right now, I'm rereading Mindset by Carol Dweck and Teacher leadership that strengthens professional practice by Charlotte Danielson because I wanted to think about how mindset impacts what I do as I work with teachers. The big thing that jumped out at me the other day was on reflection. Here are short excerpts that got me thinking:
Teacher leaders...recognize that nothing is ever finished; everything is subject to revision and improvement...Teacher leaders engage in critical reflection on the consequences of actions, on the impact of an approach on student learning. The power of reflection on the practice of teaching has been well documented (Kolb, 1984), and teacher leaders engage in critical reflection on their own teaching. They extend this habit of mind to other projects with which they are involved...
When interpreting others' actions or statements, they tend to ascribe positive motives. 
Furthermore, as more teachers are engaged in the pursuit of improved practice, the school itself becomes increasingly defined as an organization that learns. 
Danielson, C. (2006). Teacher leadership that strengthens professional practice. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD. 
 ...aren't they [people with the growth mindset] more likely to have inflated views of their abilities and try for things they are not capable of? In fact, studies show that people are terrible at estimating their abilities....but it was those with the fixed mindset who accounted for almost all the inaccuracy. 
If, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you're open to accurate information about your current abilities...if you're oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information...with fixed-mindset people...some outcomes are magnified, others are explained away, and before you know it you don't know yourself at all. 
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York, New York: Ballentine Books.
I started thinking about what this might mean when working with other teachers and alongside other teacher leaders--those who may have fixed mindsets or growth mindsets. When I think about teachers who are highly reflective in terms of their mindset, I realize that they are not afraid to talk about when things do not go well in the classroom and view these experiences as chances to learn and to enhance their classroom practices. They are not afraid to share their experiences with colleagues so that everyone can learn.

One the other hand, those with a fixed mindset may feel very threatened when engaged in reflective thinking. For them, realizing or admitting that something didn't go well leads to the self-perception that they have failed. This situation is tough for teacher leaders to approach, in part because the relationship with the teacher must be strong enough to balance the insecurity. Teacher leaders are also often in the position to help others become aware of and shift their mindsets. Hard work, to say the least.

But the most challenging thing may be our own mindsets in terms of how we think of others. We have to be careful--we must remember not to have fixed perceptions of those with whom we work. We have to be open to possibilities, to see strengths in spite of limitations and not become stuck with one view of a colleague. Even when working with fixed-mindet colleagues, we must believe that their mindsets can be changed, that they can engage in accurate reflection than enables them to continually refine their practice. We have to be willing to let go of past perceptions and keep an open mind as we work more closely with colleagues, being wary of allowing fixed perceptions to color our interactions.

Last week, a couple of you commented that you'd like to know what titles I plan to read--an ever-changing list! If you leave contact information in the comments, I'll be happy to respond. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Planning for Summer Reading--remember professional reading too!

Last Friday, I got to do a guest post for Two Writing Teachers. On Fridays during the summer, Ruth and Stacey invite others who blog about about their lives as writers or educators to do guest posts. I was excited about doing it and decided to reflect on how changing some things in my writing life changed some things in my classroom. I invite you to check it out on their site, and while you're there, make sure to check out the other posts!

Thinking about my writing life while writing my guest post also got me thinking again about my summer reading life. I generally read a lot of fiction in the summer--actually, more than a lot. Most of my summer reading is just for my own fun and I love nothing more than to sink into a good story. I do plan what I'm going to read for fun--I make lists, create stacks of books, visit Barnes and Noble, and trade books with my friends. Planning this reading for summer comes easily, but I also plan deliberately to read things that will help me continue to grow professionally.

Some of the fiction I'm enjoying also serves a professional purpose. It's like hitting a double jackpot! In order to be able to help connect readers with books, I need to know a lot of books written for kids of all ages and interests. This is something I strongly believe, and I try to read a lot of children's books. I don't have to try very hard--I love reading books written for kids. This summer I'm trying to become more familiar with novels I put off reading while working with my first graders this year, and have been especially trying to read more books that appeal to upper elementary aged boys. Being a girl and a fiction lover, I sometimes unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) overlook books that may draw boys in the 9-12 year old range. Luckily, I have a 10 year old boy at my house! I mentioned my goal to my son, also a voracious reader, and he's got a big stack pulled aside for me. He checks about every other day to see how I'm coming with it.

I'm also planning to reread some professional books related to topics of focus for my school in the upcoming year. Since we'll likely be focusing on accelerating progress for struggling readers, much of my rereading will focus on that. My role will also be changing for next year, so I'm going back through some of my books on teacher leadership and instructional coaching. Choosing to focus my rereading is deliberate. I like to go back and reread from time to time because it takes my thinking deeper. It forces me to continue to refine my knowledge and consider again how what I read might look when applied in the classroom. I also know that every time I reread something, I notice or think about something that I didn't before.

I also have a stack of journal articles that I didn't get to this spring. My goal is to catch up before starting a new pile in the fall. I may not make it. They started piling up earlier than usual this spring, so the stack is pretty big! I'll also read a couple professional books that are new to me. Often these are recently published books that I see in fliers or are by experts whose names I recognize. I read reviews and book descriptions and love when I can peek at the table of contents or even a chapter or two before committing to purchase. I keep a running list of professional books I hear about at conferences and workshops or that are recommended by colleagues. Reading new stuff helps me stay up to date professionally and helps me extend my learning in areas where I have set goals for myself or that come about as a result of a professional development experience. I haven't yet placed an Amazon order for new professional books this summer--I'm still narrowing my list to something manageable for my budget!

What about you? Do you plan to do some professional reading along with lots of reading for the fun of it over the summer? How do you decide what to read?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Documenting Past Learning for Future Planning

The school year is over for us, and as I began taking down, packing up and putting away, I took time to take a few pictures of the charts on the walls. I wanted to document some of the learning we had done together. I also took lots of pictures of student work, especially in writing. I wanted to have a record of what students did in response to minilessons and how it looked when done by first grade authors and illustrators. I don't do this so that I can simply recreate charts from year to year--in fact, I avoid that. Pulling out old charts and reusing them or copying them from a photo without thinking about what my current students already know and can do and what they need is not thoughtful, deliberate, or responsive instruction.

However, keeping a record of old charts helps me remember things that were powerful for my students, and I've learned that it helps to have pictures of student work to go with the charts. That way I can see how students were able to use what I was teaching.  I don't have easy access to a color scanner, so I've started taking pictures as a way to collect full color examples of charts and student work. The bonus is that I have a collection of student work to use as mentor text--whether I'm working directly with students or collaborating with colleagues.

I save the pictures in folders with charts, articles, and notes about units of study. I am trying to remember to include digital copies of any paper planning forms I use and have learned to wait to scan or photograph these until after a unit of study, when my planning forms include observation notes, changes I made and things I want to remember for the future. When colleagues do a similar study with their students, I sometimes ask to take pictures of their charts and student work as well.

As I took pictures, I was thrilled to see how the kids had used what we were studying as they created books and poems. Some of their work made me laugh--working with first graders is fun! Here are some charts from recent studies and some examples of student work. Notice how the kids tried out what we were learning.

See the question in the heading?
These questions served as the heading for a new section
in  book about plants.

Sometimes the diagram contains much more information
than the text.

The author of this piece not only used a heading,
but also made sure the diagram helps the reader
understand the process he describes in the text
(which continues on to another page). 

My favorite example of zooming in--check
 out the cat's eye peeking around the corner
of the cage! And the hamster has no idea. 

Used a heading--and see the fun fact in the top right corner?
It says, "boys can pee on you". The baby in the picture is
 also wiggling during a diaper change (this author got a
new baby brother this spring).
I've got lots more--but these are a few that I know I'll pull out again. I like having several different options to show kids so that they can begin to imagine possibilities for their work instead of copying one pattern of use. Having pictures of the charts and student work and my notes will help me consider possibilities when planning in the future, and I know I'll be glad to have mentor texts from real first grade writers.