Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Notice and Note Post 7

I'm linking up with some great bloggers for Section 7: Anchor Questions and the Role of Generalizable Language.

Stop by the links below to check out what other people are saying about these sections- and link up your own or post your comments.
Thinking Out Loud

The Anchor Questions
Sometimes when you read professional books, you get the idea that the authors have been in classrooms doing research, but they weren't connected really to the classroom, students, teachers etc... They seem a bit removed from the in the trenches action of school, or the classrooms they work in are so perfect you can't relate to them. So, when you read those books, although you may gain a lot of information that helps you in your teaching, you just don't make that personal connection to the book that makes it one you use and refer to over and over again.  
Notice and Note is NOT one of THOSE books!  I feel like these authors really connected to the teachers and schools where they visited. I feel like they really know what's going on in classrooms all over the country.  I feel like they really know what teachers are going through when we try to navigate through close reading. While reading the book, I am constantly talking to myself- saying things like "Yes- me too!" "I do that!"  "So true!"  "Wow, they are exactly right!"  And, more importantly, really reflecting on some of the things they say.
One of the big things that struck me in this section was the conversation about questions.  The authors are talking about how teachers often spend long hours creating a series of questions that lead students through a text.  And, then we did it all again the next day with a different series of questions.  Problem is, as the authors state, we own the questions.  They are not the students' questions and they didn't do much to help struggling readers become independent readers.  Mostly because we believed it was the answers, not the questions, that were important.  But it's really the questions that matter and we need to teach students to take ownership of the questions so they can navigate the text without relying on a teacher to provide questions for them.
So, from all of this, the authors created ONE question to go with each of the signposts.  When we teach the signposts we should also teach the anchor question that goes with it.  Because, although noting the signpost in a text is wonderful, it's the question that prompts the deeper thinking of the text.
The Role of Generalizable Language
I really liked this section because it made me think a lot about our goal when we are reading novels with students.  I think we tend to forget the big picture.  We get so caught up on students understanding a particular book and analyzing the things in that particular book that we forget that what we teach them we want to transfer to the next book they read.  That's why the signposts and anchor questions make so much sense.  But this section talks about how the language we use needs to transfer to any story they are reading.   I like the last sentence of the section, "And we need to make sure that the language we use doesn't just help them learn more about any one particular text but is generalizable to other texts."
So, tune in on Thursday for more about Generalizable Language...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Notice and Note Post #5

Today I participating in the Summer 2014 Blog Book Study of Notice and Note by Beers and Probst.

This section is being hosted by

Hop over to see their post and link up your own if you are participating as well!
How Do I Judge the Complexity of a Text?
Having spent the last few years in Kindergarten, common core text complexity is kind of unfamiliar territory for me, so my eyes kind of glazed over when I started reading about quantitative measures, qualitative dimensions, and reader and task considerations.  But then, I had to stop and go back and reread again because this will be important to me in 3rd grade. 
Who has time to rate books on the Worksheet for Analysis of Text Complexity of a Literary Text? Not me, that's for sure... So, again I am searching for something in this section that can help me out.
I could be missing a lot from this section, but I guess what it comes down to for me is this:
1.  Make sure that your students are reading books that are just right for them and that challenge them without frustrating them.
2.  Make sure that the text, even though it might be at their level, isn't too complex for them in a qualitative way- the structure of the text isn't too difficult to manage, the ideas/themes of the book aren't too mature or abstract for the student, the knowledge demands aren't beyond the student. And, if it is, and they still want to read it, be sure to provide support for them along the way.
3.  Make sure that the student is interested in the topic and has the knowledge base to understand the text.
A little side note here- putting on my mom hat- I mentioned before that my son loves dystopian novels and in 3rd grade he read City of Ember and The Unwanteds-  books that were probably at this reading level but might have been a bit too complex in theme etc...  Then, he found Hunger Games- this was before the movies came out.  His 3rd grade teacher had read it, and when he found it, she didn't discourage him from reading it even though it was beyond him- not in level so much but in "levels of meaning".  And, that began his great love of that genre of book.  He went into 4th grade with this great knowledge of the dystopian fiction  (we talk a lot about these books because I love reading them too) and his 4th grade teacher continued to encourage his reading of these books- some even beyond his AR level. He's generally a reluctant reader, but if he finds a book he's interested in reading there's no stopping him- even if the text is technically too complex.  His teachers knew he was interested in this type of book and didn't tell him he couldn't read it because it was beyond his level.  
So, for me, the big Aha from this section is that you need to know your students and know your books.  Challenge them to search for books that are just right for them on all levels. 
Just make sure that the students are within the correct Lexile Band by the end of the year or you won't get your bonus that's attached to student achievement (sarcasm intended). :)
Are We Creating Lifelong Learners?
"School ought to be a place where you go to develop a passion for learning- for a lifetime of learning. You ought to leave at the end of twelve years with a profound sadness that a time in your life when your primary obligation was to learn, to discover, to wonder, to try, to fail- and then to try again- has ended."
Wow- we do have a long way to go to achieve that goal.  It's depressing to think that this is not the case for so many students.  There are so many reasons why this isn't true (for students, but teachers as well).  We, as teachers, have so many things placed on us - the latest being the common core standards and high stakes testing- that it's hard for us to create places of discovery, places of wonder, and true intellectual communities.  And, if it's hard for us to create these places no matter how much we want it to be that way, it's hard for students to think of school that way.  
I often force my son and husband to listen to my education rants, and I was talking about this book with them.  I was telling them about the Signposts and talking with then about how cool it is that these signposts show up so often in books.  I was saying that it would be so amazing if a whole school adopted the teaching of these signposts, and I was probably going on and on a little too much about it because I was really excited about the idea.  My son says to me, "Mom, you could really change the school with this!"  From my 6th grader who says that school is a prison, no fun and boring.  Maybe there is a tiny bit of hope.  

Happy Reading,


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Notice and Note Post #4

I am linking up with some great bloggers to talk about the book Notice and Note by Beers and Probst.

Check out these blogs and follow the links to read others' responses (or link up your own).


Do Text-Dependent Question Foster Engagement?
Wow, I guess I've been living under a rock (or in a Kindergarten classroom) for the last few years because I did not realize that the standards "virtually eliminate text-to-self connections."  
I appreciated the history of the approach to teaching reading because it shed some light for me on why the "whole language" approach to having conversations about books that  I was taught in the late 80s and early 90s was such a difficult idea for some people.  And why saying that "the meaning doesn't emerge until each reader brings his thinking to bear upon it" was such a shift in thinking for so many.
And, I laughed out loud when I read "But we're not a nation of moderation."  That's so completely true.  We tend to go overboard in everything we do, and we swing from one extreme to the other so much that it is dizzying! So, now we are all supposed to embrace the idea that we can only use questions that can be answered from within "the 'four corners' of the page."  Wait, just a little bit and we'll be back to the other way of thinking!  OMG- the decision makers in education frustrate me so much sometimes!
But, I appreciate the authors saying that they disagree with this stance.  I loved their way of teaching text-dependent questions.  I think it makes a lot of sense, gives students a nice scaffolding to get where they need to be, and puts the learning, ultimately, in their hands.  I think it's a great sample of close reading, and really gets to the heart of the piece of RL1 (for grades K-3) that talks about asking questions.  
Lots of things to think about in this section.  The biggest for me are a couple of the Talking With Colleagues... questions at the end of the section.  Specifically, I need to reflect on the last two.  What happens to engagement if I set aside text-to-self and text-to-world questions to focus on text-dependent questions?  and Can we be an intellectual community if the students depend on me to ask the questions?

Must Everyone Read the Same Book?
I feel like I am going to get on my soapbox a little in this post (and put on my Mom hat too), so forgive me if I ramble...
A little background on my background.  I've been teaching K-1 for the last 6 years.  Prior to that (and prior to the extreme push for high stakes testing) I taught in the upper grades 3-6 mostly.  So, I come from a background with the older grades, but a background that doesn't have the pressure of high stakes testing looming over our heads.  Also, I went through college in the late 80s and early 90s and went to Arizona State University which was HUGE in whole language.  We had Maryann Eeds and Ralph Peterson who were bigwigs in the whole language movement (at least in our part of the country).  So, when I taught in grades 3-6 we did a lot of book studies- we read novels whole class or in small literature circles.  I chose the books, but students make their choices based on my options.  My students had a lot of experiences with everyone reading the same book- that shared book experience.  Students also did Readers' Workshop etc...  I definitely see the value of that shared book experience.  It's something that bonds a classroom of readers together when we all experienced that same things through a story and we all had the same conversations about life lessons, characters etc..
So, I agree that, at some point, everyone should read the same book.  Not all the time, but it definitely has huge advantages to have that shared experience.
Now, this is where my mom hat comes on... My son goes to my school and I am hugely disappointed with his experiences so far (he'll be in 6th grade next year).  I asked him about it (we had a great conversation in the car on the way back from California) and he hasn't read any books whole class in his school experience.  Last year, his teacher started reading Wonder whole group, but she didn't finish it.  He read Out of the Dust in a small group, but they didn't finish it.  He says he didn't read any books whole/small group in 4th grade and only one in small groups in 3rd grade (How to Eat Fried Worms).  My son loves to read, but he loves to read his type of book- mostly dystopia fiction or adventure.  He would never, on his own, pick up Tuck Everlasting or Esperanza Rising or  Maniac Magee or Bridge to Terabithia.  It just makes me sad that he might not experience those books in school because his teachers chose not to read books whole class.  Now, I know that that there are probably a million reasons why his teachers didn't read books whole class, and I don't fault them.  I blame the system that cares more about test scores than diving into an amazing book and have rich conversations about the stories.
Okay, I am off my soapbox now- sorry about that.
I am moving from Kindergarten to 3rd grade next year... this section makes me think a lot about how I am going to deal with this idea.  Am I going to be the teacher that doesn't allow students to all read the same book (at least once in the year) or can I be that teacher that makes these amazing conversations happen?  And, if I can make it work and we can all read the same book (at some point during the year) what will I need to do specifically for my students to differentiate that experience for them so everyone- voracious reader, reluctant reader, struggling reader- has a great experience?

So much to think about!

Happy Reading,


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Writing Journal Ideas and Station Task Cards

I believe the best writing is authentic writing in which the writer choose his/her topic and isn't told what to write about.  So, generally, I dislike writing prompts.  However, I know that students need to be able to write from a prompt.  District and state assessments use writing prompts so students need to be able to write from a prompt even if it's not something necessarily that they want to write about.
And, sometimes, you just can't think of anything to write about.  Sometimes, you're in the middle of a piece of writing and just need a break from it.  Sometimes, you just don't feel like writing, but you have to go the the Writing Station that day.  All of these reasons, and probably more, prompted me to create these monthly writing task card journal ideas.  They are not too rigorous(not really in the same format as district/state assessment)- just some fun ideas to write about when you're stuck.  I plan to use them at a Writing Station as a CHOICE if students need them.  I don't want students to rely on them as the sole writing they do at the station, so I will need to make sure I teach how to do that station very well so they don't become over-reliant on the prompts.  But they are cute and colorful and I tried to include different kinds of writing- narrative, imaginative, informational, and persuasive.  Here are some sample pages.  There are 16 ideas for each month- August through May.  You can get them at my store- click here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Memory String

I am linking up once again with Deanna Jump to share a book title today for Book Talk Tuesdays.
The book I am sharing today is called The Memory String and it is by Eve Bunting.  I love Eve Bunting's books!

The Memory String is the story of a little girl named Laura whose father has remarried.  One day as her dad and step-mom are painting the house, Laura begins looking at the memory string with her cat.  The memory string has different buttons on it that remind her of things that have happened in her family.  When the string breaks, she has to rely on her dad and step-mom to help her find the buttons. This book would be good for asking and answering questions and making inferences.  It would be good for analyzing character- what do you know and what can we infer about Laura.  How does she change from the beginning of the story to the end?  The story also has some beautiful illustrations that can be analyzed to determine how these illustrations help tell the story.
And, if you are using Note and Notice Signposts, it has a few great examples of Contrasts and Contradictions, a couple of Aha Moments and an example of Words of the Wiser.

I made something for the book that I plan to use with my 3rd graders.  You can find it here: The Memory String.  It includes some questions to ask throughout the story and a writing activity about the character.

Notice and Note Post #3

I am linking up with some great bloggers to study the book Notice and Note by Beers and Probst.

Post # 3 is hosted by this fabulous blog- so hop over there and check out her post.
Luckeyfrog's Lilypad

Then head over to Dilly Dabbles and read more.

What is the Role of Talk?
I loved reading the difference between monologic and dialogic talk.  I agree that so often we go into a conversation about a book with a goal in mind, a point to make, text structures or literary elements we want to teach, and often our end result is that the students agree with us.  And, then afterwards, we say how amazing the conversation was, but we don't realize that the students were just "passive recipients of knowledge and not the co-constructors of meaning."   I think it's a hard paradigm shift for us to let go of that power and control and really make the conversation give and take where "speaker becomes listener and listener becomes speaker."  And, part of it is, that we do have an agenda- we have standards and skills we need to teach with these books, and if we let go of that notion, we might not have the students ready for the high-stakes test where they need to show mastery of those standards.
The authors say that it is inauthentic to ask questions for which we already know the answers, but this type of questioning is prevalent in classrooms.  Wow- that is a powerful statement and one that I really need to reflect on!
I liked the tips for improving student to student discourse.  I particularly liked #5 about giving specific feedback about comments.  I also liked #6 about encouraging students to elaborate.  I use "Tell me more" all the time with my kindergarteners because they think that when they offer a comment, they are done.  And, so often, their comments are the kind that need the most elaboration.    I think my favorite is #8 that talks about giving students the vocabulary of the discipline- giving them the language to talk about the book and modeling the language we want them to use.

What is Close Reading?
I don't know about your district, but the phrase "close reading" has become such a buzzword for us this year.   I've sat through hours of professional development training and I still don't have a clear idea of what is expected of us when we do close reading.   Our trainers (just teacher colleagues) have been wonderful, but I get the idea that they don't know much more than we do about how/when to do close reading.  I've purchased Close Reading packets/units from TpT, and they've been ok, but spending five days on ONE picture book is a bit much for my kindergarteners (and for me too!) So, I was very eager to read this chapter and get more insight into close reading.
After reading this chapter, I have to say that I feel much better about close reading.  I feel like it is nothing really that new and that there is no prescribed way of doing it (which is not really the training I received from my district).
I think that this statement sums it all up:
"Close reading should suggest close attention to the text; close attention to the relevant experience, thought and memory of the reader; close attention to the responses and interpretations of other readers; and close attention to the interaction among those elements."
If we can do all of those thing, no matter the format we use, then we are doing close reading.  So, it doesn't need to be a week long re-reading of the text with vocabulary on day 1, reading the text on day 2, text-dependent questions on day 3, etc... (This is what some of the Kindergarten things I've seen suggest.)

But close reading must have these characteristics:

  • It works with a short passage, ideally selected by the students (in a perfect world), but most likely selected by the teacher.
  • The focus is intense. Students and teacher are digging deep into the text and into the readers feelings, memories and thoughts.
  • It will extend from the passage itself to other parts of the text.  I like this idea a lot because so often we've been using just isolated passages that don't connect to anything else.  We're close reading just for the sake of close reading.  I really like that this book suggests differently.
  • It should involve a great deal of exploratory discussion.  But, it's not a question/answer session where the teacher has an agenda and teaching points that are the only thing discussed.
  • It involves re-reading.  This is something we need to teach students to do.  Students need to see teachers model re-reading because they often don't understand why they need to read something again that they just finished reading. (That goes for me too sometimes!)  Students need to know their purpose for re-reading- otherwise, it's just wasting time.
Another two amazing sections- can't wait to read more!  It just keeps getting better and better!

Happy Reading,

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Notice and Note #2

Where does rigor fit?
I am so tired of hearing the words rigor and relevance! Those words are completely misunderstood and overused by so many people outside of the classroom. I loved this section because it really hit home with me that rigor is not something that the text has. I think so many many teachers understand that but administration and district personnel do not! How we interact with the text- the attention and energy we give to the text itself creates the rigor.  I think that good teachers can make almost any book rigorous by her selection of activities and conversations she chooses to have with her students. But, I think we have to be careful and not overdo it.  Just like everything we read doesn't have to be a close reading, everything we read does not necessarily need to be done with rigor. There's a time and a place for this type of reading and we need to be careful not to kill the love of reading if everything is done as close read or everything is done with rigor.  Sometimes we need to just enjoy a book and not kill the joy by overanalyzing every little bit of it.  My son's 5th grade teacher this year kind of killed his love of reading because everything they did was either close reading or vocabulary.  Like the book mentioned, it ended up not being rigor but more like rigor mortis for him.
What do we mean by intellectual communities?
I really wish that the purpose of our schools was to create "intellectual communities where students are encouraged to be risk takers, to be curious, to be willing to try and fail, and to be more interested in asking questions than providing answers." I want to teach in a place like that.  Unfortunately, high stakes testing (and standards, teacher evaluation systems, administrators, district board members, parents, etc...) get in the way of this goal.
I love this- "New standards, without addressing old problems, won't change anything." So true!
I don't see my school as an intellectual community... I wish I did but we are all so scattered and we don't really have conversations about important things.  We have people talk at us about what we should be doing, but we don't have conversations to find out what people are already doing and how we can find some common ground in this mess we call common core, high stakes testing, etc...
My goal is for my classroom to be an intellectual community, and I think in some ways these last few years in Kindergarten it was (as much as a kindergarten classroom can be).  I am inspired, but frustrated by this section.  I am inspired because I really want our school to be a place where "people come together to think, explore, question, try, and create." I see it happening in my classroom and other classrooms around the school.  But, I am frustrated because I don't think that everyone can embrace this idea- and if everyone across the grade levels doesn't feel that their classrooms need to be intellectual communities- then it doesn't work.  Students go from one grade level where it's important to think, explore, be interested in asking questions and trying new ideas- to a grade level where it's all worksheets and looking up vocabulary definition.  But, I need to think small and think about the little changes that I can make- in my classroom, with my teammates, with some other teachers that I know are on board with this.  All of us making small changes, might cause the bigger changes that we need.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Notice and Note Post # 1

I am linking up with some great bloggers to read the book Notice and Note. (And, trying to do it from the beach in California on the iPad instead of at home in Arizona- so pardon any mistakes I make)


Question 1: Is reading still reading?
There's no question that the form our reading takes is changing significantly. That has to affect the way in which we read. I notice that I read e-books differently than I read printed books. I read things on the internet differently than I read print or e-books. But, at the heart of it, reading is still the same- we are decoding symbols to make sense of the text. But, I think, the way we make meaning-our act of  understanding the text- that process- might be different for the different things we read.
We talk about how we need to read informational text in a different way than literature. And, we need to teach students how to read informational text differently. Maybe we need to take that a step further and teach how reading e-book is different than reading a printed book. Or, how we need to read things from the internet in slightly different ways than an e-book or print. We might need to teach specific strategies for reading in different forms- just like we teach the difference between genres.
I don't think reading will vanish as a skill. But I do think its form and function are changing drastically and we, as teachers, need to change with it.
Question 2: The Role of Fiction
I love the quote from this chapter, "Nonfiction lets us learn more; fiction lets us be more."  I read  a lot, and the majority of it is fiction.  The non fiction I read mostly takes the form of teacher books unless I am researching something I am teaching my students.  I am guilty, in the past, of  using more fiction in my classroom than non fiction. With common core guidelines I have been trying very hard to include more informational text into my class. I am returning to 3rd grade after teaching kindergarten for the past three years. I know the way I use informational text in 3rd grade will be different from how I used it in Kindergarten. It will be a challenge for me to adapt to these common core changes at the 3rd grade level. Bringing more nonfiction into the classroom is something I am continuing to work on...

Book Talks: The Cinder-Eyed Cats

I am linking up with Deanna Jump's blog for Book Talk Tuesday.


My first book I want to share is a picture book called The Cinder-Eyed Cats by Eric Rohman.  I am always on the lookout for great books to teach asking questions, and this is a perfect choice.

It begins wordless for the first few pages.  On these pages you see a young boy climb into a sailboat floating in the sky above a dock.  You see him sailing high above the ocean.  Finally, the sailboat drops anchor near what appears to be a tropical island.  Then the words begin.  The illustrations are amazing and you can see when he lands on this island, the tails of the cinder-eyed cats hiding amid the foliage of island.  He builds a fish out of sand and falls asleep leaning against the fish.  The cats come out at night, the sand-fish comes alive and all the fish from the ocean leap from the sea and dance around the sky.  The animals of the ocean dance and play all night with the cinder-eyed cats.  With the morning sun, the creatures return back to the sea, and the boy is left alone on the island with just the cinder-eyed cats.  The boy sails off and leaves the cinder-eyed cats asleep on the beach. Being a cat-lover that's my favorite picture- 5 enormous cats stretched out and curled up next to each other asleep.

This book is perfect for asking questions (RL.3.1) because you really don't understand what is happening in the story in the beginning.  I plan to show the first few pages to my 3rd graders and then have them write down questions they have. After that, we will talk about their questions, make predictions and try to make meaning of the first few pages of the story.  Then we will continue reading the story, stopping every few pages to talk about what is happening in the story- all the while focusing on the questions we ask to help us understand the story.  We will also focus on the illustrations (RL.3.7) and how they contribute to our understanding of the story.

This is a great story and I can't wait to share it with my 3rd graders!

Happy Reading!