Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Err in Favor of the Child

When I was in Reading Recovery training, I was always so stressed about whether or not I was properly analyzing the running records.  I knew that it was very important to get it right so that I could properly discern the strengths and needs of the child.  I wanted my instruction to be just what the child needed.
One day, my teacher leader came to visit me.  She was such a kind, understanding, supportive teacher leader.  I told her how stressed I was and she told me with no hesitation that when I was in doubt, I should always err in favor of the child.  I had never heard that before and it made perfect sense.
This is very different than giving the child more credit than is due.  We should always make sure that children are solid in their understandings, but when in doubt about coding or analyzing a running record, err in favor of the child.
This concept came from Marie Clay.  Marie studied children who read well to understand what reading behaviors children should have under control.  She used this research to help millions (maybe even billions) of reading teachers understand reading strategies.  So many of the strategies are "in the head behaviors".  We can not know for sure what they are thinking, but most of the time, based on their reading behaviors, we can tell which strategies they are using.  But if not, err in favor of the child.
Remember that we take many running records on our students.  If we are mistaken when we give a child the benefit of the doubt, it will show up on the other running records as we code and analyze their reading and behaviors.
I love Marie Clay for so many reasons.  The BEST thing about her is that she always put the child first.  She always believed that every child could read and when in doubt, she would always err in favor of the child.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Listening to Readers Away from the Guided Reading Table

Teachers work hard every day to know their readers.  They carefully craft guided reading plans based on what they know about the strengths and needs of the children.  They look through the guided reading books to find just the right one at the right time.  They find a word or two that might be hard to figure out using meaning, structure and visual information, planning on having the kids predict and locate those words during the introduction, along with an explanation of the vocabulary or the strange way that the word looks.  We want the children to have the just right amount of words to figure out with the just right amount of support.  
Most kids are very successful when reading at the guided reading table because of all of the best laid plans of the teacher.  When they can't solve a word, we are right there to prompt them for the reading behaviors that we have introduced to them.  It's a beautiful thing.  When a child comes to an unknown word and he or she uses the known strategies and rereads to gather more meaning, but can't get it, we give them a told.  After the reading, we might take them back to the word to show them what they could have done to figure it out.  If they couldn't have figured it out with what they know, we let it go, noting the things that the child tried.  
But what happens when they are reading on their own?  Sometimes, without intending to, teachers become codependent to the needs of the children.  I like to compare it to swimming.  When children first enter the water, we hold onto them and make sure they don't go under for too long (read aloud).  Then, as they are beginning to have a foothold on the technique we are teaching them, we let them do more and more of the work (shared reading).  Then, when it becomes evident that they are almost there and we know they can do it, we let them, standing close enough just in case (guided reading).  The goal is for them to do it all on their own (independent reading).  Sometimes we are so afraid that they can't do it we stand too close and jump in too much so that they don't have the opportunity (in swimming and in reading).  
We won't know what the children have a firm grasp on unless we watch them while they are independently reading.  No one has shown them the front cover or taken them to a few places in the book.  They haven't given them an introduction or set them up for the just right amount of work.  It's a fresh book that they have never seen before and no one has made sure that it is at the right instructional level.  The teacher has already taught them how to pick a just right book so we need to see if they can and what they do with the words that trick them.  
I have been able to get so much valuable information from watching children independently read.  I had assumed that they would be doing the same things in their independent books that they had done at the guided reading table under my watchful eye.  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.  My point is that we really need to make sure that we take the time to listen in when they are working on their own.  We need to just listen.  No prompting allowed right away.  You want to see what they can do.  
I remember Adam.  He was my star reader of the day in that he had nailed all of the tricky words at the guided reading table on his own.  I told him what he did and how it helped him as a reader.  He beamed with pride and walked off to read independently.  My coach, having watched the lesson told me how great it was to see Adam do so well after he had struggled for so long.  It felt great!  
My coach asked me how Adam did on his own.  I looked at him as if he had gone daft and told him that I listened to him every day and that he did very well.  Then he said, "No.  I mean how does Adam do in his independent reading books?"  Honestly, I had no idea.  I was pulling reading groups while he was reading those books.  My coach went over and sat next to Adam on the carpet and motioned me over.  He told me to just listen to Adam read aloud.  I did and what I heard almost made me gasp aloud.  Every time he came to an unknown word, Adam would mumble something and read on!  
I looked at my coach, dumbfounded.  
We stood up and moved away from Adam.  He asked me what I thought and I told him that I noticed that Adam was a different reader with me than he was on his own.  I knew Adam could do it, but he just didn't make the effort without being at my guided reading table.  It was as if he knew the expectations at the table but he thought that they were there for the purpose of reading at the table.  
I can tell you that my mini-lessons stayed pretty much the same after that.  I did know what my kids needed and how they needed it taught (level of support).  What did change in my mini-lessons was that I now included the connection that some of them weren't making in their independent reading.  I listened in when they were reading every day as part of my routine and I took notes and shared examples.  The difference in their reading was almost instant.  
If you are reading this post, I hope it has challenged you to think about how you listen to your students read and what you are looking for.  It can't just be at the guided reading table.  There is so much more to our readers.  We need to know what they do when they choose the book, when the book is nonfiction or poetry, fantasy or science fiction.  Oh, and try not to jump in when they are reading independently.  Just listen.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Create, Build, Wonder

I have a new job this year.  I didn't ask for the job.  I was asked to do the job.  I think the world of my principal, so how could I say no?  I am always up for an adventure or a challenge, depending on how you look at it.  :)
The most exciting (and terrifying) thing about my job is that I was able to create it.  There wasn't an existing curriculum.  No one had ever done it before.  It was up to me.  When I took the job I had no idea what I would do with it.  I decided that I wanted to incorporate passion projects, technology and stem.
As the year began and I tried to sit down to do some planning, I just couldn't think of what the children might love.  I had some ideas of course, but planning for 520 kids ages 5 through 11 made it quite a challenge.  I was used to knowing my students, their likes, interests, strengths and needs.  I didn't know how to teach children that I didn't know.  So the plan became just to begin and see where it went.
The kids were able to choose any passion project that they wanted.  The buzz in the room was amazing!  Some kids were sewing, while others were learning magic tricks, guitar, keyboard, diy projects and coding to name a few.  I didn't have to know everything that they were doing.  I only needed the desire to learn, which I did.  I became very clever about how to get materials too.  Once people hear about what you are doing, and that the kids are excited, people in the community are very willing to donate materials.  I didn't get any corporate sponsors.  I just had to put it out into the universe and things would show up in my classroom.
At some point, some of the kids were ready to move on to something else.  After talking to several kids, I decided to start JW Wonders.  They all loved Wonderopolis so we decided to put out our own website to share what we were learning.  You can check it out at jwwonders.weebly.com.
Now I am at the point where some kids want to wonder while others are ready for something else.  I decided not to throw the baby out with the bath water, so we continue our wondering, but we also have a creativity challenge and a stem challenge.
I am so happy with the things that the children are doing.  I think that creating and stem and time to wonder are all important parts of a child's life.  I was observing a student building the other day for the stem challenge.  He told me that he feels like stem is so cool because he loves physics and he loves to think about all the things that could effect his structure as he builds.  I love what I do and my cup is full every day.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Slice of Life 2017!

This is my third year participating in the Slice of Life Challenge.  I didn't do a very good job of posting every day last year.  My goal this year is to actually post every single day.
I love participating in the Slice of Life.  I love putting my stories to "paper".  They are fun to remember and I love to share them.  I also have to admit that I love when people comment on them as well.  To begin, I am going to write about what writing means to me.

Writing is...
...an opening into my soul, allowing me to squeeze out both the joy and the pain.
...  a reminder - I can't seem to remember anything on my own anymore.
...  a list - I love to write lists and then cross things off as I finish them.
...  a keepsake - I have a trunk full of writing from my own children.
... a memory - My grandma's message forever on a canvas on my wall.
...  a promise - to have and to hold, to honor and cherish.
...  a message - to think upon and to ponder.

The truth is that writing is a gift in so many ways.  I am so glad that I can write and that I can share my writing with you.  I am blessed that you share your writing too.