Monday, July 14, 2014

preparing to start

The most successful people I know got that way by ignoring the race to find the elusive, 
there's-only-one-and-no-one-has-found-it right answer, and instead had the guts to look 
at the infinite landscape of choices and pick a better problem instead.

- Seth Godin

When I first started teaching, every new situation I encountered seemed like a monumental problem to be solved. I was exhausted all the time from solving problems, most of which stemmed from just not knowing enough. I struggled to keep up with the pace of planning, instruction, assessment, reflection, planning, instruction... and balance committees and parents and find time to learn more about the areas in which I needed further professional development. I didn't know how to pick the better problem, because I did think there was one right answer and I was sure to mess it up. I know now, of course, that this is not true. And that even the solution to a problem one time is not likely to fix the situation the next time. So it is more important to spend energy on the big picture. 

Summer break is a wonderful time to reflect on the past year and plan for the future year. For teachers unsure where they will be teaching in the fall, the summer, though, can also be a time of anxiety. One thing that you can consider doing is joining one of the free MOOC (massive open online course) for new teachers through the New Teacher Center. The New Teacher Center is offering MOOCs designed specifically for new elementary and secondary teachers to provide them will some tools to start the year successfully. Each 4 week course starts July 21st, with an expected work load of 2-4 hrs/week. Not too much time involved, it's free, and it might be a way to channel any nervous energy for new teachers.

If you decide to try it, stop back and comment on this post to let us know how it went!

Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here

Monday, June 16, 2014

guest blogger: reflections on fieldwork

Guest Blogger: Kelsey Riesterer, Teacher candidate from the University of Minnesota, Student teacher at Earle Brown IB World School in Brooklyn Center, MN

As the year comes to a close and I finish the first half of my student teaching I am both happy and sad. I’m sad to be leaving wonderful fifth grade students that I have gotten to know well. Next year they will venture onto middle school and I look forward to them experiencing their next step. I am also happy to be able to meet a new bunch of kids in the fall. In the fall my cooperating teacher and I will be transferring to fourth grade. I’m excited to work with a new grade and experience the differences. 
I am worried about classroom discipline as I get to know the students and they get to know me. I will try to stay firm so the students know my expectations. If I need help I hope to be able to ask my fellow fourth grade teachers for guidance. I may make mistakes but I will take each day at a time. I will get to know each of my students so I can teach in a way that helps each student. 
I believe that my grade level professional learning community and International Baccalaureate meetings will be beneficial each week. Each week I can talk about what I have been teaching and receive feedback from the other teachers. I will reflect on this feedback and change my teaching and plans as necessary. I will use these meetings as important personal development. Each day I will reflect on my teaching with my cooperating teacher. During this I will be able to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. This will be important as I continue to work on my teaching skills. 
Overall I am incredibly excited to continue my student teaching, learn more each day, and help each student on their way to success. 
Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here

Monday, June 9, 2014

coming to a close

Everything has to come to an end, sometime.
― L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

For those of you dear readers in the midwest (a.k.a. the land of the polar vortex), many of you had your school years extended due to school closings for cold and snow. Those days were necessary at the time, but for many, those added days are challenging now that summer has finally descended. 

The end of a school year is frantic, busy, and bittersweet. I find the reflecting stage of the end of the year invigorating. Many teachers find that they have them most interesting ideas for improvement during the ending weeks of the year and through the summer. Make sure you have a place where you can keep track of your ideas and that they don't get lost in the hustle and bustle of end-of-year packing (and throughout the summer at home). 

This time of year can also be a bit disheartening. There's so much I didn't get accomplished! This can lead to new ideas, though, and you can't forget all that you did accomplish! 

Congratulations on the end of the 2013-2014 school year. For you first year teachers, this is a particularly momentous ending. But with that ending comes anticipation for the 2014-2015 school year. Just don't forget to enjoy a bit of summer before then!

I'll be continuing to post throughout the summer. If any readers out there are interested in learning more about anything related to teaching, particularly as it relates to new teachers, complete the survey below with suggestions:
Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

student reflections on the year

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
  - Soren Kierkegaard

Spring can be a particularly challenging time of the academic year. With testing and IEPs and professional development added on top of the regular curriculum (not to mention squirrely students), it can be hard to keep the big picture in mind. Taking some time at the end of the year to prompt students to reflect on their learning can help show them (and you) the big take-aways from the year. Not only can you find out what students found valuable, you can also see what might not have been prominent (that you wished was) and use this as a formative assessment in your planning for next year.

I'll be honest - here at St. Kate's where I teach preservice and inservice teachers, we love to reflect. We do it all the time. But as the opening quote indicates, the ability to understand our lives (teaching or otherwise) only really comes when we reflect on where we have been. So how can you do this with your P-12 students? Begin by asking students to reflect on what they've learned, how they've grown, and goals for continued learning.

Some blog posts with reflection prompts for students can be found here and here. I found this article from Choice Literacy a thoughtful one in thinking about planning for the end of the school year. And hey, while your students are reflecting, maybe you can do a little reflecting of your own.

Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here

Sunday, April 27, 2014


In the midst of testing season, it can feel as though the end of the year is right around the corner. In one way, it is. But most schools have 6 weeks remaining - valuable learning time - to the academic year.

One way to make this an even more valuable time is focusing students on their self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is someone's belief in their ability to succeed in a given situation. Many underachieving students do not believe they will be successful when facing tasks, and this lack of self-efficacy contributes to their ongoing struggles in school.

There are direct ways teachers can influence students' self-efficacy. Robert Marzano discusses seven phases for self-efficacy in an article in Educational Leadership.

The phases include helping your students reflect on the following questions:
  1. What do I want to accomplish?
  2. Who else has accomplished the same goal, and who will support me?
  3. What skills and resources will I need to accomplish my goal?
  4. What will I have to change about myself to achieve my goal?
  5. What is my plan for achieving my goal, and how hard will it be?
  6. What small steps can I take right now?
  7. How have I been doing, and what have I learned about myself?
Perhaps a focus on these phases can help support students in the finals days of the year. And as I reflect on these questions, I think I will go through this process myself to improve my teaching for the remainder of the year. These questions can be just as helpful in supporting teacher efficacy as in developing student self-efficacy.

How do you support your students' self-efficacy through the year?

Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

text-dependent questions

The last post was dedicated to the Close Reading (CCSS Reading Standard 1) of complex text (CCSS Standard 10), which is a way to teach students to read a text which enables them to do the work required in the CCSS Reading Standards 2-9.

But in order to maximize a close reading, teachers need to prepare complex, text-dependent questions for students to answer. Questions that ask students to go back to the text for the answer, rather than their prior knowledge or experiences. Questions that probe the deeper meaning of text, rather than move to questions beyond the text before the levels of meaning have been uncovered. Engage NY has a great video to introduce the idea of text-dependent questions. As in the last post, we have been so good at teaching text-to-self connections, we sometimes leave it at that for comprehension. Students are left thinking that comprehension comes from their prior knowledge and experiences, rather than an investigation of the text. We need students to get lots of practice answering questions that require them to go back to the text to respond.

But writing thoughtful, complex questions requires planning. The first step is really understanding the benchmarks for your grade level. These benchmarks provide the framework for the type of questions to ask. Focus on key ideas and details, then the craft and structure, and finally, the integration of ideas, just as the benchmarks are laid out. Achieve the Core has a great Guide to Creating Text Dependent Questions, as well as a Checklist for Evaluating Question Quality of your own questions or those that come with your published materials.

Something that ALL teachers need to keep in mind is that these standards, the CCSS, can be met in all classes. Close reading of text and text-dependent questions can be a part of any content area. Indeed, any class that relies on text of any sort can keep close reading and text-dependent questions in mind throughout planning.

Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

close reading

Anchor Standard for Reading #1: 
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and 
make logical inferences from it; 
cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking 
to support conclusions drawn from the text. 

It seems as though everyone is talking about close reading these days. Though the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) have been in place in most states for about 4 years now, there is still a lot of unfamiliarity with the content of the standards. The CCSS are designed in a way that students need to closely read and reread (Anchor Standard 1) complex text (Anchor Standard 10) in order to achieve Standards 2-9. But what is "close reading" and how can (all) teachers support this important practice in their classrooms?

Defining Close Reading

There are a number of definitions of "close read" out there, but in general, it refers to the deep reading of complex text in order to understand key ideas and details, analyze text craft and structure, and evaluate the text in comparison with other texts through multiple readings and discussion. Basically, it is the reading that is necessary to meet the CCSS in Reading fiction and nonfiction texts.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) defines close reading as the following:
Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole. (PARCC, 2011, p. 7)
The movement toward close reading is somewhat in response to the pervasiveness of "making connections" in reading. Many times, the teaching of reading is dominated by asking students to connect personally to text in any way - sometimes in ways that are unrelated or irrelevant to the text - as the main means for understanding text. This isn't to say that making connections needs to go away, just that students need to be making connections as they read instead of through guidance with the teacher before or after reading. This is a time for students to dive into a text without a preview led by the teacher - students should preview the text on their own. If there is key information students need about the source or context, then teachers should include this information, but only if students can't get that information through the reading of the text.

When to Read Closely

Now, this practice is not intended to be used with every text students read. This type of reading could kill the love of reading in students if they were asked to closely read every piece of text they came across during a school day. Indeed, selection of text is key for this strategy. Not all texts are worthy of close reading. Close reading is not a good teaching tool when readers need to only getting the gist of a text, reading for pleasure, or for longer pieces of text.

For close reading activities, short pieces of text are best. The CCSS suggest using traditional literature - folktales, legends, myths, fables - as well as short stories, poetry, and scenes from plays as texts that lend themselves to close reading. Nonfiction recommendations include short articles, biographies, personal narratives, and primary-source materials, such as speeches, the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, or sayings from Poor Richard's Almanac. Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards includes many recommendations, including picture book suggestions that can be used with younger readers. As you can see, many types of text can be used for this, but the key is that it is short text that can be uncovered through multiple readings.

How to Teach Reading Closely
Once you've found a piece of shorty, meaty text, plan your close reading lesson. Lessons include:
  1. Multiple readings of a text (with a pencil) 
  2. Text-based questions and discussion that focuses on discrete elements of text  
  3. Discussion amongst students 
  4. Writing about the text
When encouraging students to annotate text, some key annotations include:
  1. Number the parts (or paragraphs) of the text.
  2. Circle important and/or unknown words
  3. Underline important parts/key details
  4. Note relevant connections to a portion of the text
  5. ?  Confusing parts
To prepare for this reading, teachers should read the text for important ideas and create text-dependent questions for students to answer. Teachers can then categorize the questions/information from the text into three levels: in the text (literal), things to think about and search for in the text (inferential), and thoughts connected to the text (generalizable/evaluative)

Here's an example of a guide for the multiple readings:

First read:
  • What does the text say?
    • Readers should focus on the essential (literal) meaning of the text, and be able to paraphrase the text. Summarizing and retell are the main strategies employed during this reading.
Second read:
  •  How does the text say it?
    •  Reading focuses on how the author communicates the message of the text (inferential). Strategies employed at this stage include identification of text structure and inference.
    • Nancy Boyles includes a really helpful chart for developing questions about craft in her article in Educational Leadership: Closing in on Close Reading.
Third reading:
  •  What does the text mean?
    • Readers now focus on an analysis (evaluation) of the text, including the author's purpose, drawing conclusions, comparing to other texts, and making connections to the text. Strategies readers might employ include determining theme, identifying author's purpose, and making text connections.
    • Some questions that might guide this analysis include:
      • What question is the author trying to answer?
      • What is the author's purpose in writing this text?
      • Is the author clear or vague and confusing?
      • Is the author precise in description?
      • What is the author's point of view?
      • What assumptions does the author make?
      • What information does the author include, or choose to leave out?
      • What does this text make you think of, or what does the author's message make you think of?
The key here, though, is that students need lots of explicit instruction in how to do a close read before they will likely be ready to engage in it on their own. MODEL everything, thinking aloud as you engage with text so that students can see the process. This will take time for students to be independent in the process.

For more information, here are a few sources:
Up Close with Close Reading
Close Reading and the CCSS
Grade 4 video example
Kindergarten video example 
Video from The Reading & Writing Project

Next time, we'll tackle text-dependent questions!

Want to give suggestions for future topics for New Teacher Talk? Interested in participating in research around NTT and induction? Consider taking the brief survey found here.