Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 2

Today was an interesting day for me.  I have been using Evernote as a way to 'capture' websites, articles, voice recordings, notes, and Tweets for about a year.  So today I decided to take all of my notes using Evernote.  I even incorporated a few Tweets from other people.  Evernote is a great platform for bringing all of the notes, ideas, and Tweets together into one place.  Instead of writing in paragraphs I copied and pasted my notes, followed by a few tweets from the #litsummit hashtag.  I appreciate any feedback you want to share.

Presenter: Ellin Keene
Author of New Horizons in Literacy Teaching and Learning

Three Questions to Guide our Inquiry Today
- What is characteristic of the most effective comprehension teachers?
- What does it mean to understand deeply? How can we raise expectations for children's literacy learning by rethinking comprehension?
- What does the new generation of comprehension strategy instruction look like?

As teachers, we wonder what went wrong, after students miss something on a test. "I know that student knew that." So how do we truly know our students have deep understanding of a concept?

The most effective teachers…
- understand that people learn (retain and reapply) best when they:
   - focus on a few concepts
   - of great importance
   - taught in depth
   - over a long period of time
   - applying them in a variety of texts
If any of those concepts are not present, comprehension is diminished to some degree

People who deeply comprehend retain and reapply across a variety of texts.

The most effective teachers…
- raise expectations for children's literacy learning by
   - having a clear idea what high expectations "look like" in a literacy classroom
   - understanding that children need to read increasingly complex texts with substantive ideas
   - probing children's thinking rather than accepting the first thing they say

Has your district, school, staff, grade-level team discussed what exactly the 'high expectations' look like?
- I believe MCCSC is on the right path, jumping out ahead of many districts in this area.

When a teacher asks questions to students and there is a doubt about comprehension, ask "What else?"  Even after the student's first answer.  Asking 'What else?' gets beyond the basic recall and digs into deeper understanding.

What does it mean to understand deeply? How do we raise expectations?
- If a student asked this question, "What does 'make sense' mean?" how would you answer?
- Too often, we think of comprehension as:
   - answering questions
   - retelling
   - teaching comprehension strategies

Asking students about text (recall and retell) are not comprehension strategies…that's called testing.

- What does it mean for you to understand deeply?
- What do you need in order to understand deeply?
- What are the indicators that you do understand deeply?
As educators, if we don't know the answer to these questions, our students will not gain deep understanding to their fullest potential.

Comprehension strategies are tools we use in all genres in order to understand more deeply
Proficient readers:
- monitor for meaning
- ask questions
- use schema
- infer
- create sensory and emotional images
- determine importance
- synthesize while reading

Take time to explicitly teach comprehension strategies to students.  Treat them as if they are 'Power Standards' and every student needs to learn them before moving on to the next level.  Pace them out over the course of the year and really go in depth with each one.

Here is a quote from a 3rd grader about empathy:
- Empathy - a belief that the reader is actually a part of the setting, knows the characters, stands alongside them in their trials, brings something of himself to the events and resolution---emotions are aroused

When I taught 3rd grade I'm not sure I would've had a student be able to offer that kind of insight.  Well, maybe they could but I certainly never got to that point in my professional career where I was seeking that kind of insight.  I feel like I should find every student I had and apologize for holding them back.

We choose to challenge ourselves on topics about which we are passionate.
- What are your students passionate about?  I doubt it's worksheets and standardized tests.
- Do you seek out texts and topics that your students are passionate about or do you pick one book and everyone reads it?

As adult readers we struggle for insight, we savor and learn from the struggle itself, we take ventures into new learning territory and fight the debilitating influence of judgment.

The evolution of comprehension "instruction"…
- from answering questions and retelling to…
- explicit instruction in comprehension strategies
The goal for our students is deeper, more lasting comprehension by responding to a passage to becoming an active strategic reader

You can't get better at synthesizing text until you know how to synthesize as you read.

Students who are struggling readers hang on for dear life to the first thing they understand in a text, right or wrong.

Modeling and thinking aloud is crucial for developing students into readers who comprehend in a meaningful way.

The afternoon session was kicked off with actual students coming in to help the presenter demonstrate the strategies which were discussed in the morning session. I thought that was the best part of the PD session.  Most of the time teachers sit and listen to a presenter talk about all of the methods and strategies that can be implemented in the classroom.  If we're lucky, the presenter allows us to practice on each other, but really, how meaningful is it to practice some of those strategies with adults who already know how to read and just listened to the presenter instruct us how to use the strategy?  That's like an audience learning a magic trick together and then the magician turns and says, "Ok, now you try it on each other."

I was amazed as Mrs. Keene used high level vocabulary words with the students: strategies, synthesize, metacognition, just to name a few.  The students picked up on it quickly with a few mini-lessons about the word and then they were using the words...and using them correctly!  Go ahead.  Correctly use metacognition in a sentence.  I'll wait.......

Mrs. Keene was really placing emphasis on modeling and thinking aloud.  Every time she turned the page during the read aloud, she would talk the students through her thinking process.  When it was the students' turn, they were able to speak intelligently about a text they had just heard.  The process was powerful.

The teacher, Mrs. Keene, was congratulating students for their thinking.  That was GREAT!  How often do you thank your students for taking time to think?  Most of the time a teacher asks a question, waits for a response, and then moves on to another student if the first student doesn't come up with a quick answer.  What is that teaching the reluctant student?  If you can out-wait the teacher he/she will move on to someone else.  What does that do for the average to above average student?  They know that they better spit out an answer before their window of opportunity is closed.  They say the first thing that comes to mind without really thinking about their answer.  Deep understanding? Probably not.

She kept referring back to times when the other students stopped to think before answering.  "Take your time, sweetie." Then, to the other students she would say, "Remember when Katie stopped to think?  That was really smart. Good readers usually stop to think about their answer before they say it."
The following scenario came up several times during the demonstration.  How often do you call on a student and he/she says, "I don't know."  What do you do?  Move on to the next student? This is her strategy:
Student: "I don't know."
Teacher: "I know you don't know, but what would you think if you did know?"
Student: "I don't know."
Teacher: "Yes, but you said you didn't know last time but you did know.  So, what else do you think?"
The teacher is not allowing the student to get out of answering the question yet being sure to not embarrass the student.
Don't let your students get by with saying nothing.

Students shouldn't be worrying about comprehension strategies. Teachers need to guide them through the strategies without having students know they are being guided.

Here's what others tweeted today. Hopefully, Jake and I won't wear the same outfit tomorrow!

Jake Steinmetz @JakeJSteinmetz
- Great literacy teachers have a very clear sense of how to raise expectations in the classroom. #litsummit
- We have to say "what else?" to our students. They have much more to offer in their thinking. Don't accept their first answer. #litsummit

Patrick Haney @phaney10
- Ellin Keene- Deep learning = ability to retain and reapply concepts. Must narrow focus & teach concepts in depth across a variety of texts.
Comprehension strategies are not "an end", but a means to an end- empathy, compassion, a deep, personal reading experience. #litsummit
Grt strategy during lit instruction: "Take your time, Emily" to the other students
-"Don't you admire people who take their time?" #waittime #litsummit
Silent picture walk at the end of guided reading: "Think about how your thinking changed during the story." Really smart!! #litsummit

Kathryn Phillips @MissPhillips3
- Comprehend: focus on fewer concepts of great import taught in depth over a long period of time applying them in variety of text #litsummit
Show kids four challenging books for them and let them choose.  Keep choice but push students to grow. #litsummit
We need literature that challenges students at the idea level. -Ellin Keene #litsummit
When students don't respond quickly to questions: That is so smart that you are taking your time to think. I really admire that. #litsummit

Instead of asking "anybody else?" when students answer a question, try to use "what else?" "If you did know, what would you say?" #litsummit
Oxymoron of the day: a teacher's guide for a guided reading group... #litsummit #neverthoughtaboutitlikethat
Asking questions about text has never helped a student to get better at comprehension.  It's testing #litsummit
A question to get students synthesizing: what were you thinking before, and what are you thinking now? #litsummit

Lily Albright @lilyalbright
@eok824 We have to tackle the hidden bits of us that still believe children in poverty can't do it. They can! #litsummit
@eok824 Asking questions about texts is not good comprehension instruction-questions assess-they do not teach kids to get better #litsummit
@eok824 - empathy is the pinnacle of understanding. #litsummit

Karen Papadopoulos @wakarusa1
Empathy is an indicator of understanding deeply. #litsummit
- Modeling and "thinking aloud" are critical in order for students to apply reading comprehension strategies. #litsummit
Teacher,"Why do you think you thought so differently while reading this book?" Student, "Because you really have to BOND with the book" #litsummit

Melissa Brisco @mgbrisco
Let's tell kids what it is that characterizes deep understanding.... Why do we keep it a secret. #litsummit

Beth Buchholz @bethabuchholz
Wish we could find a way to make this twitter convo about #litsummit (& others) more “generative” rather than individual bits of insight.
@JohnHudson42 @JakeJSteinmetz It HAS been great! Just wondering aloud about how we can push ourselves to think deeply together #litsummit

This post is somewhat unique because it is simply my notes along with some tweets from the day. I'm looking forward to the teachers taking these strategies and implementing them into their teaching.

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 2 was another day of growing professionally.  I'm thrilled to be working in a district that's out front and leading the way!  The first two days have been amazing and we cap it off tomorrow with Dr. Mike Schmoker and Dr. Richard Allington.  The line up for the first annual MCCSC Literacy Summit has not disappointed!

Monday, July 30, 2012

MCCSC Literacy Summit - Day 1

The school district I have the honor of working for is hosting its 1st annual Literacy Summit titled "Full Court Press on Literacy" this week.  Today we kicked off the event with an introduction from MCCSC Superintendent Dr. Judy DeMuth.  There were several people to thank for getting the Literacy Summit together, some house keeping items, and then she handed it over to Mr. Cameron Rains, MCCSC Director of Elementary Education.  Mr. Rains, introduced as 'Almost Dr. Rains,' gave a brief overview of the Summit, took care of more house keeping items, and then introduced the presenters for the next three days; Dr. Danny Brassell, Kelly Gallagher (@KellyGToGo), Emily Iland, Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, Ellin Keene, Dr. Katie Wood Ray, Dr. Mike Schmoker, and Dr. Richard Allington.  Quite a lineup of literacy all-stars!!!

Several people who attended the Summit were chatting and posting ideas via Twitter, using the hashtag #litsummit.  Some of the ideas below come from my notes and some will come from following the #litsummit hashtag.

I decided to learn from Kelly Gallagher today so my Summit experience took me to the Bloomington High School South cafeteria.  Mr. Gallagher was a great mix of resources, personal experiences from the classroom, and humor that kept the audience engaged.  Here is a brief recap of the two sessions from today's Summit.

Mr. Gallagher started the session making reference to a PDF titled Writing Next; Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools Here is a link to the website: http://www.all4ed.org/files/WritingNext.pdf

The article outlines 200 studies of writing instruction and comes to the conclusion that there are 11 'things' that work when teaching writing...#1 among them all is modeling for students.  That was a reoccurring theme in Mr. Gallagher's message today.  This is what he had to say about modeling:
- modeling provides students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate good writing.  He used the following analogy to drive his point home. When a basketball coach sees a player not shooting the ball correctly, he does not stand over to the side and yell, "That's not right," or even worse, "Put some backspin on the ball."  If the player knew how to do that already there would be no need for further instruction.  Instead, the coach would pull the player over to the side and model how to hold the ball so that it sat up on the fingertips and not in the palm of the shooter's hand.  The coach would show the player over and over again until the player could repeat the process for himself.  That's modeling.  Telling someone that what they're doing is wrong is not modeling.

Mr. Gallagher stated that the number one best method for teaching students to become better writers is the one strategy that is rarely, if ever, used in the classroom...modeling.  Think about it.  How many times can you remember a teacher writing in front of you to see?  I'm not talking about writing something on the blackboard or dry erase board.  I mean, how many times did the teacher pretend that he/she was actually writing like you were being asked to write for an essay?  I can't remember any either.

Students need to watch us write.  Instead, we do all of our writing behind closed doors just like the Great and Powerful Oz.  When we show students our work it's already in final draft form.  If we would open the curtain and let the students in to our thinking, our writing process, and our editing/revising processes it would do more for them than simply showing them our final drafts.  Of course, just like the Great and Powerful Oz, if our 'curtains' are thrown back the students might actually find out that we aren't perfect.  Shocking, right?

Along with modeling our writing, students need to see 'mentor texts' so they can see what professional writing should look like to their audience.  He presented several ways to incorporate mentor texts into lessons and used a few of those strategies with us today.  One process that he said he always uses is to following this sequence when students write; writer goes, teacher goes, student goes.  He uses a published piece to show an example of writing.  He and the students discuss what the writer did, what the message was, and how the writing was set up.  Then he writes, mimicking the author's style while modeling for the students.  Finally, the students write using the skills they have just discussed and watched.  Simple.  Highly effective.

One part of today's presentation captured my attention a little more than the rest, although it was all highly engaging.  He pulled up a YouTube clip of Allen Iverson's rant about practice.  "We talkin' 'bout practice, man.  Not the game. Not the game. We talkin' 'bout practice, man."  This was in response to Iverson's coach publicly calling Iverson out for not being at all of the practices.  Iverson's temper tantrum...I mean, his point...was why should I come to all the practices if I'm already good?  Mr. Gallagher, without throwing a temper tantrum, argued that when it comes to writing, it IS about practice.  He said, "Students need to produce a lot of bad writing before they can become better writers. Students must have writing fluency (just like in reading) to become better writers.  You can only achieve writing fluency by writing a lot.  Students need deliberate practice in areas they need the most practice in to become better writers."  This was the example he used for practice: The average golfer who goes to the driving range will most likely not improve his game.  He's really only there for entertainment if he doesn't work on the part of his golf game that needs improving.  Rarely, if ever, will your average golfer practice hitting balls out of the sand, underneath tree branches, or from anywhere else they may find themselves on a golf course. But those are the shots we need to practice because when we actually play a round of golf we are going to be in the sand, behind the tree, and anywhere else we shouldn't be to begin with on the course.  Yep, we talkin' 'bout practice, man.

The main message I took from today's Summit session was that our students need to see us, hear us, watch us, and experience through us how we seem to always have a final draft the first time we write.  Because in reality, we don't.  They need to see that process so they will know how to become better writers.  Follow this simple routine...Model, practice, model, practice, model, practice and then repeat.  Does that sound like your experience when it comes to writing in schools?

I am going to share some of the other highlights and resources from today's session in bullet form, rather than in paragraphs and in no particular order so I don't bore you to death.  You're welcome.

  • Let students know that their 1st drafts will NEVER be accepted as their final drafts.  Mr. Gallagher goes so far as to call them 'crummy' drafts.
  • Editing does not only mean to move the commas or to check spelling.  There's a lot more that goes into great editing.
  • One broad topic has several sub topics.  Don't try writing everything about a subject, water polo for example, which will probably end up as nothing important or interesting about the topic.  Instead, write about the rules of water polo, strategies of water polo, unwritten rules about the game, etc.  More focused writing usually equals more interesting writing.
  • At the beginning of the year start students out writing and editing one sentence.  Don't try to write War and Peace and then be disappointed when you have tons to grade and the students had no idea how to write.
  • Gradually move on to six word memoirs, Twitter updates of 140 characters or less, and then to paragraphs, short stories, etc.
  • Before students can write one poem they need to read hundreds.
  • Are your students reading and writing enough to compete in today's job market or to be accepted into the college of their choice?
  • Peer response is not the same as peer editing.  Totally different process and outcome.
  • Allow students to edit as a group for more collaboration.
  • Ask students, "What did this author do in the writing that you would like to try?"
Ideas for generating writing topics, especially for the student who claims, "I don't know what to write about."
  • In a writing journal at the beginning of the year, have students make an 'idea territory' page with 75 possible topics they could write about throughout the year.
  • Show this phrase to students...A ________________ Worth Seeing
  • Show a picture on the screen and have students write one sentence explaining what is happening in the picture.  Use that sentence to spark their writing.
  • Use a technique from Sports Illustrated where they write '6 Things You Should Know About...' and let the students come up with the topic.
  • Write this phrase...Sometimes, _______________ is cruel.
  • Use this as a topic generator...I was a witness to ____________.
  • Make a list of 'Ever Wonder Why?' topics.
  • Make a David Letterman Top 10 List.
There were so many great ideas being shared today and this is just a brief outline of a few of those ideas.  If you would like to see more, follow the Twitter hashtag #litsummit . This was only day one and we still have two more days to go.  I'm looking forward to the next two days of learning and growing professionally.