Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blog Bookchat

I have been chatting on Twitter with Cathy Mere and Laura Komos. We were tweeting and blogging about what professional reading we are planning to do this summer. Cathy noticed that we all had Conferring by Patrick Allen in our pile of books to read and suggested that we chat as we read. This led to the idea of hosting a Blog Bookchat so that we could expand the conversation and ask others to join us. So today we are kicking off our Blog Bookchat on Conferrring.

The book is divided into three parts and we thought we could all post our thoughts, ideas and conversations over the next three Wednesdays. Here is the schedule:
July 6th
Part 1: What Brings About a Good Conference, Anyway?
Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community

July 13th
Part 2: What are the Essential Components of Conferring?
Hosted by me at My Primary Passion

July 20th
Part 3: What Emerges from Our Reading Conferences?
Hosted by Laura Komos at Camp Read-A-Lot

July 21st
Twitter Chat
This will be a conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cyberPD
You can join us by blogging your thoughts about the book and adding a comment to the host blog with a link to your blog. Or you can just add your thoughts and ideas directly as a comment on the host blog. You can also use the hashtag #cyberPD on Twitter and comment as we go. We are looking forward to learning more about making conferring with our students more meaningful in our reading and writing workshops. Come and join us for some do-it-yourself professional development.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Reading

In between trips, visitors, resting and relaxing, I plan to do lots of reading this summer. I have read a couple of fiction books by Lisa See, many blog posts, tweets and have just begun to dip into some of the books in my professional stack.

I know that I probably won't be able to read all of these this summer but I am going to try. A few of the books in this stack are beloved books that I have already read a couple of times but must remain in the stack because I find myself rereading them frequently. They are Catching Readers Before They Fall by Pat Johnson and Katie Keier and Choice Words by Peter Johnston. I can't seem to get my fill of those two books.

Recently, I just finished More Than Guided Reading by Cathy Mere.

I don't intend to use this blog for writing books reviews (at least not right now) but I would like to use it to help me keep track of the things that I learn and want to remember from the books I am reading.

With that in mind, here are a few things that really resonated with me in Cathy Mere's book.
  • I loved the term "focus lesson" much better than the terms I have used in the past. "Mini-lesson", for example, seems to downplay the significance of the lesson and "whole-group lesson" just doesn't seem descriptive enough. Focus lesson is a much more specific and powerful phrase.

  • I also like when Cathy says that students "needed to understand that many stories involve a problem, a place where the story begins to change." My first graders worked a lot with making sure that their fiction stories had a problem for their character to solve but I think adding the last part of Cathy's idea - "a place where the story begins to change" will help them think more deeply about setting up the problem in the beginning and then allowing the story to change as the problem is encountered. I can't wait to try to use this subtle shift in thinking with my students this year.

  • Finally, I love Cathy's analogy at the beginning of the last chapter. She says, "I looked at reading instruction as a firefighter, running here and there putting out fires; everything was a near emergency that needed my immediate attention" and over time her thinking changed to think of herself "as more of a sculptor gradually shaping a new work." I have felt the same firefighter intensity in my teaching. I don't think I want to lose my intensity but just shift my focus to notice the growth that is occurring rather than only focusing on the most immediate reading emergency. I need to remember one last thought from Cathy, "In fact, more often than not, reading is anything but a problem."
I enjoyed this book and look forward to continuing the conversation with Cathy through her blog, Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community and on twitter (@CathyMere).

The Teamwork Balancing Act

Yesterday I met with my new teammate to work on planning the Listening Conferences with parents that will start our school year. This was not our first meeting. After she was hired at our school, she spent two days at the end of the year in my classroom observing and soaking in our culture. We also met one other day after school was out to begin the process of getting to know each other and answer some of her questions. I think we will be a good team and will learn a lot from each other. Right now though, meeting with her brings up many questions for me.

The biggest question is the question of balance in any teamwork setting. Ideally, you learn each other's strengths and learn how to use those strengths to help each other be the best you can be. At the beginning of the relationship, though, things are not always as balanced. The newer team member usually needs more help and support just to get things started. This is where I am with my new teammate. She needs a lot of background information and support about our school and how things work there. I am happy to share what I know with her.

My dilemma comes in trying to figure out how much I should share and how much I should listen. I know that she has some valuable experience to share but at this point she has so much to learn that we spend much of our time with me doing the talking. I need to be aware of how much talking I do and make sure that I let her have a chance to share what has worked well for her in the past. Gradually as we move into the year I know that things will become more balanced. Right now, she is feeling worried about being a "drain" on me and I am worried about being too domineering. I think that it is a good sign that we are both aware of our feelings and have already been able to talk about them with each other. I also like that answering her questions about how and why I do the things I do is making me really think deeply about my teaching practices. I think we are on the way to developing a wonderful relationship.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Where Do I Begin?

When faced with a writing project, I always have a tough time actually getting started. I realize that this is a very common problem among people who write. I also know that once I finally get started I end up having more to say than I thought I would. Starting this blog has been difficult. I have thought and thought about this first post. I have finally decided to just start and give a little background about where I am now in my development as a teacher rather than write a typical bio piece that I might share with parents of my students.

I currently teach at Renaissance Elementary School. Renaissance is a magnet school. This means that it is a public school with a specific focus. Our focus is ELOB - Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound education. I found Renaissance several years ago when my husband and I were searching for a school for our daughter that matched our philosophy of education. After looking so closely at so many schools we knew this was the place for our daughter and I wanted to work there, too. One year after our daughter started there I got a job there as a first grade teacher.

You begin to get a feel for the philosophy of our school as you walk up the front sidewalk and into the entrance. The vision of our school is visible for all to see. Click on any photo to see a larger version of it.

As you move into the classrooms you notice our belief in the workshop model, building strong relationships through developing a community of learners and actively engaging students in creating meaning and deeper understandings.

We encourage students to move out of their comfort zone, challenge themselves, take risks and reflect on what they are learning about themselves as learners.

In all of my years of teaching (this will be my 18th year), I have never felt like my personal philosophy matched the philosophy of the school I taught at so well. Of course, there is still so much to learn and so many new things to try. That is why I have decided to start this blog. I want to have a place to reflect on my practice, to clarify my thinking and make changes that will really help my students to grow and develop.