All of the accolades are true – mecca, Mothership, inspiration- yes, Teacher’s College is really that for so many teachers of ELA. No matter how many times I have been there is something so special about being here. Learning among dedicated colleagues, interacting closely with so many of our educational mentors, inspiring keynotes, and the added bonus of being in NYC. This year has been no different, from Lucy’s emotional opening keynote through Newbery Award winner, Matt De LaPena’s keynote yesterday afternoon, I am awash in new ideas that I can’t wait to share and try.
There is no doubt that Lucy has a way with words. She uses them to rally us to action, to feel intense emotions, and to drive us to be better for our students. Her message was pushing the idea of community, safe places, and being better people. We and our students are doing hard and important work, and we need a community of supports to do this work. We need to be provided a safe place, a nest, to be at our best – and our students do too. The studies and statistics she shared around these ideas were sobering: the number of people who say they have NO close friends has doubled, suicide rates are the highest in 30 years, and 80% of Americans feel disengaged from their jobs. She reminded us that learning to read involves more risk and fear than most of us realize. She encouraged us to rely on great books to help establish these safe places of community in our classrooms. She wrapped up her keynote with the idea of becoming better people and helping our students with this too. Each of us has two conflicting sides: a resume Adam longing for success and ambition and an obituary Adam longing for a life well lived. Lucy posed the question of which Adam do we teach to? We were left with the final thought that “our work is bigger than the standards.”
Supporting Struggling Readers: Upper Grade Teachers Need the Secrets That Lower Grade Teachers Know
My morning advanced session is with Natalie Louis. She is pushing our thinking about how to think about reading and how to intervene. So far we have been introduced to the first 3 secrets: 1. Reading is a process 2. Writing teaches reading 3. Oral language is the basis of all literacy learning. I won’t elaborate on the secrets yet. They are still unfolding and I want to have the complete picture before sharing. There are more secrets to come and more to learn about what she has introduced. A tidbit to entice you to secret 1 – Natalie enlightened me to rethink the wheel of strategic actions from Fountas and Pinnell. I have looked at it so many times, but now see that I have not used it to the deep levels I should have. I will be writing more detailed posts about this topic very soon.
Falling in Love with Close Reading of Nonfiction (and learning transferable skills
For my second daily advanced session I chose Kate Roberts’ session on close reading of nonfiction. This has been an area of need on our campus and in our district. Kate taught us two methods of close reading: reading rounds and annotation. We tried both using adult texts and discussed the benefits and concerns with both of them. Again, I will write more detailed blogs about each one soon. We tried them with NF text that we brought with our students in mind to identify predictable problems. She showed us several of the tools from her DIY Literacy book and provided an opportunity for us to make a tool. Of course, the sharing after was a favorite for most participants. Some important messages I will carry back to my teachers are:
The act of close reading is the work of strong emotion.
We want kids to close read the world.
We should launch this work with the idea that children already know how to do it.
It is something that students should be doing independently.
Most packaged reading programs punish the struggles.
We also spent time looking at tough text and what Kate calls “bananas text” (so hard we struggle with something in every sentence or even every clause). We explored what makes a text tough and some ways to help students make some meaning of it. She is not advocating the reading of tough texts, but rather was giving us strategies to help students deal with text that may be required reading.
Choice Workshops and Matt De LaPena Keynote
Each day we are able to select a choice workshop. On day one I attended a session on helping reluctant readers to actually start reading. Choice was certainly a key idea. We brainstormed solutions to common problems. One of my favorite ideas was having kids leave post-it’s to future readers inside books. Another is to create clubs around common interests.
On day 2 I attended a session with Mary Ehrenworth about taking our strong readers to extraordinary levels. She cited research from Richard Allington about what all readers need, including our good readers:
- Access to books they find fascinating.
- Protected time to read (note from Mary – move from thinking about 30 minutes of reading to as much as humanly possible.)
- Expert instruction
When working with our strongest reader there are four ideas to keep in mind:
1. Choose books more purposefully – encourage reading a whole series (teachers need to do this as well to be more effective at conferring with students reading this way), encourage investigating an author,or becoming an expert on a subject.
2. Series, series, series – Think about characters and themes across the entire series. Make connections across many pages and develop the stamina for longer novels.
3. Strong partnerships and clubs – Utilize bands of text complexity. For each band ask What is challenging and fascinating? What new work will you do? Introduce next band to kids (and parents).
4. Form informal clubs -These can be cross grade levels, might be child and adult together, and can be same book, series or genre.
Mary infuses so many thought-provoking tidbits in her sessions. Here area few from yesterday:
The research of Alfred Tatum on high poverty/high performing schools and high poverty/low performing schools showed one of the biggest differences is teacher expectations.
Don’t think only about your current strong readers but also the potentially strong readers.
Teachers need to live the life of a reader you want your kids to have.
Reading levels should change so rapidly they are not part of their reading identity.
Any book that gets a kid to read is a good book.
Matt De LaPena is the author of the Newbery Award winning book, Last Stop on Market Street and several young adult titles. Big threads of his keynote addressed the need for diverse texts, that we need to help young people acquire more possibilities for their futures, and that everyone just wants others to know that they exist. His speech was inspiring and I am moving his book, We Were Here to the top of my pile.
I will be writing more when I return home (it is much easier to post using my laptop that is home.) Keep watching for more posts soon.
Living the workshop with you,