Monday, December 30, 2013

guest post: renewal

 Guest blogger: Jehanne Beaton, Roosevelt High School, Minneapolis

Although it was more than two decades ago, I remember how desperate I was during those December weeks of my first year of teaching.  I just ached for a break.  I counted down to my two weeks away from school and teaching and my students.  My first teaching job landed me in a small, growing city on the opposite end of the country from home and family.  I didn’t know a soul there when I took the job, and it took me a while to develop friends.  Teaching consumed me.  I arrived at school hours before school started and, most days, stayed long after the students had left.  When I wasn’t at school, I was sitting in my miserable, basement studio apartment and grading stacks of middle school social studies assignments at a makeshift desk of a cardboard box covered with beach towels.  Like many young teachers, I had taken on additional work:  coaching, after school tutoring, chaperoning dances, and serving on multiple committees.  I enjoyed my students, but that didn’t mean they didn’t test me.  On the final Friday when the bell rang, signaling school’s two-week hiatus, I left my students’ papers in neat stacks in my classroom and sprinted to my car, driving three hours to the nearest airport.  I just couldn’t get home fast enough.

While away, I searched for ways to renew and sustain my energy and strength.  I reconnected with friends and loved ones, slept as much as my parents would let me, and read for pleasure, rather than out of responsibility.  And I came up with strategies to maintain my beliefs about teaching and kids and to remind myself why I became a teacher in the first place.   Since many of you may be in a similar situation of your own, I thought I’d share two that have served me well.

1.     Seek out your own teacher mentor.  Some districts have figured out that young teachers benefit from consistent and meaningful support from district and building mentors, and they have invested in hiring talented, thoughtful master teachers to serve as coaches and reinforcement.  Other districts, short on funds or foresight, may not.  When I was a young teacher, no such support structure existed at my school.  So I set about finding my own.   By winter break, I had a good sense of which veteran teachers in my building were held in high esteem.  (Ask your students who they believe are their best teachers, the teachers from whom they learn the most, whose classes they most want to attend.  They know and will tell you.)  Then, throwing any discomfort or anxiety out the window, I asked two teachers, one in my department and one who taught Spanish, if I could meet with each of them for lunch every so often to talk teaching.  Since that first year and in every school since, I have sought professional conversation and support from colleagues of my choice, most often teachers whom the students most admired and regarded most highly.  I have asked them to come and observe me teach during their prep time, or if they would give me feedback on a lesson or summative assessment.  By developing these informal mentoring relationships, you will support your own reflective practice and communicate your own growth mindset to your colleagues.  Further, it provides you with a trusted teacher friend who comes to know you and your work.  This person can be an invaluable resource for you in your early years of teaching.

2.     Create a “Why I Teach” Folder:  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at it:  every teacher has horrible days. Any teacher who says they don’t is a big, fat liar.  But for each teacher, we also have moments, hours, days that remind us why we entered into this work.  Maybe you’ve received a touching thank you letter from a student or parent.  Maybe one of your students has worked past the edges of their abilities and surpassed your – or even their own – expectations of themselves.  Maybe there’s this moment when you see the learning light up for a student, and they ask a speaker a question that shows you they’ve been listening, they’re thinking, the work you’re doing in class is sinking in….  These are artifacts to hang on to and place in your “Why I Teach” Folder.  I started my “Why I Teach” folder over winter break my first year of teaching.  Every year since then, I drop a few items into it.  It’s thick now, and some items are weathered and stained.  Every time I return to it, thumbing through its contents, I come away more deeply committed to teaching.  Your “Why I Teach” folder will become a place for reflection, contemplation and renewal too, especially when days are hard.  The next time you read some non-teacher newspaper editorialist bad-mouth our profession, or that student of yours, Joe Bagodonuts, has worked your last nerve, or the teacher next door has been condescending about your ‘new teacher ideas’, or you have too much to grade and lessons to write and it seems like you and your students are stuck:  dig out your “Why I Teach” folder.  Re-examine and remember the good of the work.  Of your work.  I can’t tell you how much it helps. 

These two weeks will bring a needed respite to everyone:  your colleagues, your students, even your principals. And it stands as a giant milestone in your first year of teaching:  you’re almost half way there. 

I wish you a wonderful break.  Enjoy every moment.  On your way back, whether it be a three hour drive back from an airport or just Sunday night, at your cardboard box of a desk, scrambling to get those assignments recorded in the gradebook and your lesson plan ironed out for Monday morning, ready yourself with these strategies as one more way to help take care of your professional self. 

Jehanne Beaton spent 14 years in the classroom as a secondary social studies teacher.  Currently, she works as a partnership liaison at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis and is working to complete her Ph.D in Teacher Education and Social Studies Education. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

nonfiction book resources

I’m preparing to teach one of my favorite preservice teacher education classes, Content Area Literacy in the Elementary Classroom in January. Many of the preservice teachers in the class remember negative experiences with nonfiction from elementary school. They read nonfiction only in the context of writing the Animal or State report, and found little enjoyment in the texts they found. I get the opportunity to open their eyes to the wonderful nonfiction books available to students now, books that excite students, not bore them.

And seems as though everyone is talking about nonfiction lately. With the Common Core State Standards requiring students to read more and more nonfiction, teachers of all grade levels are on the lookout for high-quality nonfiction to incorporate in their classrooms. Here are some of my go-to resources for nonfiction in the classroom.

In a joint project between the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council, the organizations publish a list of outstanding science trade books, K-12 every year. The lists can be found here. Some of my favorite recent winners include: Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (local author!), Bomb! by Steve Sheinkin, The Mighty Mars Rover by Elizabeth Rusch, and Lives of Scientists by Kathleen Krull.

Kirkus also publishes a “Best of” list which includes categories on nonfiction. Check out the categories here. One of my favorites from the “Best Middle Grade Books That Make History Come Alive” is Russell Freedman’s Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-Maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty.

Here are some other great resources:
  1. I follow the blog There’s a Book for That, and there is a fabulous list on nonfiction read alouds available here.
  2. If you’re looking for digital texts, there are many nonfiction texts available from the Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Project.
  3. And then, of course, there’s the ALA’s Sibert Medal, NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award and IRA’s Children’s and Young Adult Book Awards
Happy nonfiction reading!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

apprenticeship of observation

Guest Bloggers: University of St. Thomas faculty members Muffet Trout, PhD and Debbie Monson, PhD
We often think about beginning teachers as being new to the classroom. For most, however, classrooms are very familiar places. Lortie (1975) describes this familiarity as an apprenticeship of observation. This apprenticeship begins long before beginning teachers become leaders of their own classrooms. All teachers were students at one time, and as such, have been in several classroom settings with different types of teachers creating both positive and negative memories. Watching one’s teachers over the course of K-12th grade is the apprenticeship to which Lortie refers. His concern is that these formative years as a student define how new teachers will teach. Without careful analysis of the complexities that make up teaching, this apprenticeship can hinder teachers from imagining different ways of approaching their practices.

We want all of us teachers to recognize our experiences in education prior to becoming classroom teachers.  Like Lortie argues, we have been students at the elementary, secondary and college levels and have been student teachers during our teacher preparation. Britzman (1991) describes these times when teachers learn about teaching as four chronologies. The first chronology begins when we are K-12 students, the second begins when we take university courses in general and in teacher preparation, the third commences with student teaching and the fourth begins when we assume full-time status as teachers.

As members of the TC2 community, your experience in the second and third chronologies to which Britzman refers is different than most K-12 educators’ experiences.  As members of the TC2 experience you have taken coursework on methods, psychology, general education and other topics while essentially teaching fulltime. You have had opportunities to apply learning from your coursework directly to the classroom.  For the first year, TC2 graduates, you are now officially on your own and trying to make use of all the knowledge you learned from both coursework and classroom experience to create a meaningful learning environment for your students. 

Looking back at Lortie’s  apprenticeship of observation and Britzman’s four chronologies, it would be interesting to see which of those times in your lives are the most impactful now.  Do you refer to “how you were taught” when thinking about how to plan lessons or manage your classes? Do you tap into theories when envisioning how you want to design units or lessons? And how do your students factor in to your teaching style and choices?  What is the center of your decision-making process, your experience, your content, your students, your schooling, or a combination of all of these?  And it would be interesting to see how that evolves over time.  How do the pressures of your first year compare to that of student teaching?  And how will that ease over time and give you the flexibility that most teachers feel to begin to evolve and create the environment you want?

Hopefully your time in TC2 and all of your other experiences have taught you to keep learning, growing, and searching for ways to connect to ALL of your students.

Britzman, D. P. (1991).  Practice makes practice. New York: State University of New York Press.

Lortie, Dan C.  1975  Schoolteacher: a sociological study.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

About the authors:
Muffet Trout is an assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of St. Thomas. Muffet started at UST in 2012, bringing with her more than 25 years of teaching experience pre-K through doctoral level classrooms. Muffet specializes in care theory and effective teaching practices that cultivate relationships.

Debbie Monson is an assistant professor of mathematics education at the University of St. Thomas. She spent 14 years teaching in St. Paul before completing her doctoral work and joining the UST faculty. Debbie’s research focuses on the relationship between beliefs and practices for teachers using a reform mathematics curriculum.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Welcome back from Thanksgiving break! I hope you all had a lovely chance to recharge with family and friends and are ready to power through the next three weeks before winter break! 

I was in an elementary classroom last week and in observing the teacher, I noted what a masterful kidwatcher he was. Kidwatching (Owocki & Goodman, 2002) has several key components:. (1) it involves noticing and taking note of what students know and can do, (2), it is the attempt to understand students' ways of constructing and expressing knowledge, and (3), it is the use of this data to inform instruction and assessment. We all know that students can be more or less successful in certain contexts, and understanding these contexts can help teachers plan for the most effective instruction for students.

In a classroom with an expert kidwatching teacher, you would see teachers interacting meaningfully with students in small groups and as individuals, taking notes on what s/he learns. They might have a note-taking form for whole class observation, such as the one below. The teacher would note students' academic work and social interactions throughout the day.






Teachers might also take notes on individual students, especially those that are in need of intervention instruction in a particular area. Teachers would note what they observe students doing in their individual work, in small group settings, and in whole-class activities. This information can be used to determine the best form of instruction for students, and give the teacher (and student) a better understanding of what the student knows and can do. Some of the questions a teacher might ask him/herself and take notes on could include:
  1. In which settings does the student appear comfortable?
  2. In which contexts does the student choose to work independently?
  3. With whom does the student prefer to work?
  4. Which activities does the student initiate?
  5. When does the student seem confused?
  6. In which settings does the student need additional support?
  7. What work is being attempted and/or completed by the student?
Answering these questions can help plan future instruction and inform parents about progress. These are general questions, but can be adapted to be more content-focused, depending on what you teach and/or what area you might be concerned about with a certain student or students.

If you aren't already, become a kidwatcher - you'll be impressed with what you learn!

Owocki, G. & Goodman, Y. (2002). Kidwatching: Documenting children's literacy development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. [I highly recommend this book, especially for the forms in the back for kidwatching in literacy development]

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

classroom management

You've made it through the first two months of school, and you're settling into the routine and the heart of the year for learning progress. Something I hear every time I talk with teachers is that they are looking for ways to better manage their classrooms. This can be such a challenging aspect of teaching, and knowing that all teachers have discipline problems at some point with some students can help keep your concerns in perspective.

Effective teachers match their strategies to suit the specific needs of their students and classroom routines. They know their students well, and understand their students' goals, both academically and behaviorally, and communicate that with students. Here are some suggestions if you find yourself needing to make some adjustments to your classroom management plan.
  • Greet students at the door, and have a positive interaction with students to start the class.
  • Have something meaningful for students to begin as soon as they enter the room. So much of classroom management concerns begin when students are not engaged in academic work. This work should be evaluated in some way, as students need to know this is meaningful work or they might not be motivated to do this work.
  • Asking for an observation for your management techniques can be a helpful thing to do at this point in the school year. It can be intimidating, having someone look for your use of and provide guidance for classroom management techniques. However, as new teachers, this is one of the top (if not THE top) concern and challenge - admitting you need some support is a great way to actually get support. See if an administrator or a trusted colleague can come sit in on their prep time and watch the way you manage the classroom. They might notice ways that your techniques are being undermined or provide ideas for additional ways to manage the classroom.
  • Provide a list of expectations to parents and students. Parents are your partners here, but only if they know the expecations and are communicated with regularly with concerns. Make sure they are consistent with district and building policies, and limit your rules to five so that they are not overwhelming. The rules should be posted in the classroom.
  • Something you might want to consider is whether you are using sarcasm as a method of connecting with or disciplining students. I wrote an entire post about sarcasm that might be interesting for you to read.          
  • And as difficult as this can be, try to let each student start each day with a clean slate. It's important for students to know their goals and to have help monitoring their progress, but it is important to try to allow students to show you that they are working on making progress.
There are several other posts about classroom management available on the blog. You can review them all here.

What are some classrsoom management techniques that have worked well for you?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

from good to great

I've been reading Good to Great Teaching: Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters by Mary Howard. She wrote this text to help teachers identify time and tasks that support learning, as well as identify time and tasks that could be eliminated.

She opens her book asking readers to imagine a time we were engaged in a fulfilling learning experience and to use as many descriptive words as possible to characterize that experience. She guesses at the words or experiences that were not on our list: no worksheets showed up, no round-robin reading, no boring or frustrating texts or tasks, no embarrassment.

What are some other examples of negative practices?
  • failure to incorporate adequate modeling
  • lack of guided practice and scaffolding (round-robin reading)
  • skill and drill without application (fill in the blank, circle, underline; passive worksheets)
  • assigning over teaching (as well as teachers at desks while students are working)
  • rigid adherence to scripts or guides without considering student learning needs
  • busy tasks without connection to learning targets (crosswords, search-and-find)
What are some descriptors and examples then, of good and great work?
  • active engagement in learning tasks (interactive read alouds, work with manipulatives, creative thinking tasks)
  • access to high-quality and high-success texts (texts that are purposively selected for student needs and interests; building a rich school and classroom library)
  • gradual release of teacher support
  • flexible grouping (guided reading, writing and math groups, with changes according to student need)
  • less time on whole-group work (so no round robin reading of textbooks or other texts - opting for independent reading or peer reading if necessary)
  • peer collaboration opportunities
  • ongoing independent application with formative feedback
  • problem-solving opportunities
  • interdisciplinary lessons
  • focus on strategic thinking
She recommends watching a video of yourself teaching (or, better yet) working with an instructional coach to see what happens in your classroom that could be eliminated to make room for more effective practices. I recently videotaped my own teaching and looked for bad and for good practices. It was a very humbling and thought-provoking exercise, to reflect on ways that I could improve my teaching. Her point is not to add more, but to adapt current practices to be more effective.

The book is chock full of examples from real teachers' classrooms in order to illustrate the changes that can happen to make teaching and learning richer for students. Might be a good book to add to your wish list!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

staying organized

ARGH! If you're anything like me, this is the time of the year I begin to get buried in a pile of papers, slips, newsletters, mailings, etc that make my desk (and my sanity) a bit of a mess. I am always looking for tips to help me stay organized, and here are some great ones to help you get through the year. Now that the excitement of the beginning of the year has worn off a bit and the reality of teaching and work has settled in, the more we can stay on top of the mess, the more we can focus on what really matters - the teaching and students.

There are several tech tools that can help you and your students stay organized. Remind 101 is a way to text students and parents reminders about homework, projects, and other deadlines in a safe, easy way. 43 Things is a place to list and track goals for yourself, which can help remind you what the big goals you have for your teaching are and to keep working on them. You can connect with others to get support along the way. Use Planboard for tracking lesson plans and connecting with others for ideas. Get lots of questions about an assignment? Use jing to record yourself talking through an assignment using screen-capture technology and email the link to students and parents so they have the info they need.

Teachers love binders. I've got loads of them for different aspects of my teaching now, and kept many when I was teaching K-12 too. These binders can be for curriculum materials, but you can also use them for the other parts of a teacher's job, such as assessment data and progress monitoring, PLC and grade-level team meetings, parent communication logs, volunteer logs and responsibilities, and emergency sub plans. A kind teacher at I Teach 5th has an editable binder with organization sheets for you to create. A different resource of templates for an organizational binder is found here. Another version of a weekly to-do/calendar is available here. Pinterest is full of examples of classroom binder templates, so you're bound to find one there that meets your needs. Prefer a web-based binder? Check one out here.

Here are some other small organization ideas to get the juices flowing about ways you can better organize your room and paperwork.

Use coded binder clips to track what's been graded, what needs to be graded, filed, copied etc.

Or, if you are like me and sometimes have more of the graded or passed back than would fit in a binder, you could use plastic file holder inside an old bag for easy transport from home to school or to the office to copy.

Use plastic soap containers from the travel size section of the store for keeping track of flash and playing cards.

And here are some sites for additional resources for your classroom:

Trade books for free on Paper Book Swap - you can get rid of books that your students don't enjoy and refresh your classroom library with new ones!

Need or want something for your classroom? Post on Donors Choose, and see what happens.

Give and get free stuff in your area using the website Freecycle. Great for furniture, books, technology stuff.

What are some of your tricks for staying organized?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Guest Blogger: Effort and Persistence

We are lucky to hear from guest blogger Rob Reetz:  Professional Learning Specialist, Moundsview Schools and TC2 Residency faculty this month. Rob writes about the importance of and how to encourage students' effort and persistence.


In 2010 Daniel Willingham authored a book that asked Why Don’t Students like school?  His answer? Thinking is hard. It’s hard for people of all ages. In fact, our brains naturally reduce engagement during routine activities as a vacation from all those times we force them to think deeply. It is as though the human mind would prefer to not think.  Yes, thinking is hard, but it’s also never been more important. The kindergarten students that learn in 2013 classrooms will retire in 2073. Is there any doubt our schools are preparing students for a future we can’t predict?  As Dylan Wiliam says, today’s learners must be capable of success in situations for which they are not specifically prepared.

So thinking is hard, and thinking is important. Thus, it is imperative students learn to persevere and maintain effort in the face of thought fatigue.   But what can we do as educators to encourage students’ effort and persistence, and what are we doing that discourages their effort and persistence?

How do educators unintentionally discourage students’ effort and persistence?

1.    Through inequitable grading practices.  Traditional grading methods rank among the greatest drains on students’ effort and persistence. Reeves (2010) argues grades elicit an emotional response and wrongfully signal an end to learning. Worse, letter grades provide poor feedback on learning. If you disagree, ask an “A” student to list their academic strengths. Many will struggle to specifically articulate learning strengths, mostly because the primary feedback they receive is in the form of an A, B, C, D or F (which really tells them nothing).  Even when teachers litter student work with all kinds of feedback, most students won’t read much past the letter grade atop the page.  When that letter grade is consistently average or below, students develop a mindset that they’re “just not that smart,” thus reducing effort and persistence.

2.   By focusing on weakness. Schools are conditioned to focus on student weaknesses rather than student strengths. We track the same students in intervention classes designed to address areas of academic weakness.  Why do we do this? Yvette Jackson (2010) writes of the Pedagogy of Confidence, and states that student motivation to learn is directly affected by teachers' confidence in their students' potential. If teachers don’t act in ways that express belief in all students’ capacity to learn, students will opt-out when learning becomes hard. 

3.   By lacking efficacy. Low self-efficacy among teachers leads to reduced effort and persistence among students. In Finding Your Leadership Focus: What Matters Most for Student Results, Reeves defines educator efficacy as “the personal conviction of teachers and administrators that their actions are the primary influences on the academic success of students” (Reeves, 2011).  When teachers fail to see in themselves the ability to motivate students when learning becomes hard, traditionally underserved, unsuccessful students will persist less.

4.   By ignoring performance character. Schools don’t traditionally teach students important character traits like perseverance, grit, self-control, optimism, and curiosity. Tough (2012) argues that to help chronically low performing but intelligent students, educators must first recognize that character is as important as intellect. If we don’t help students develop habits aligned with academic and intellectual success, they will fail to persist when learning becomes difficult.

What can teachers do to encourage students’ effort and persistence?

1.    Grade more effectively. Teachers can encourage student effort and persistence by providing feedback that is timely, targeted, and requires more thinking and more work on behalf of the student. Whereas grades denote an end to learning, comment only grading allows students to see failure and mistakes as integral components of the learning process. In addition to providing actionable feedback, teachers increase the effort and persistence of their learners when they allow students to self-assess/self-grade their learning. When given the chance to grade their own learning, many students become quite critical of their understanding, and reflect upon what they might do differently to show growth. 

2.   Connect to students. Schools strong in Student connectedness graduate students strong in effort and persistence. Delpit (2012) writes that students learn as much for their teachers as they do from their teachers.  The stronger the connection a student has to their teacher, their classmates and the curriculum, the more likely they are to persist when learning is hard. School systems can establish stronger connections to students and their families by becoming more culturally and linguistically responsive. All teachers’ classrooms, content and actions need to reflect and validate the home experiences of the students they serve.

3.   Care differently. I’ve never met a teacher that didn’t care deeply for each of their learners. We care so much, in fact, that we avoid addressing students’ failure and/or unintentionally lower expectations and rigor. Teachers will show students they care differently when they accept their struggles and failures as necessary components of the learning process. Students’ effort sustains when they aren’t penalized for the extra time they needed to learn content or show understanding.

4.   Learn from each other. Teachers can no longer view learning as just for the students. Schools become vibrant learning cultures where teachers view each other as leaning resources. When teachers start utilizing each other’s genius, students will benefit and entire schools systems will give more effort.

If students don’t learn to persist, gaps in student achievement will.  School leaders across the country must begin to ask their teachers what they’re doing to encourage or discourage effort and persistence so that students can begin to develop habits and mindsets that yield increased success. All schools can narrow gaps in student achievement and prepare students for an unpredictable world if teachers begin to care differently by acting in ways that ensure students learn to persist.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

beginning of the year read-alouds

It's hard to believe that this is the third annual post about beginning of the year read-alouds! You can find other recommendations in posts from 2012 and 2011

With all read alouds, it's really important to review the book first. You know your school and community and need to make decisions about what texts will work best for your students. As books for older readers, there can sometimes be language and situations that some might object to in a read-aloud. It's important to have a rationale for the books you select that you can share if necessary.

Also important are selecting books that represent the diversity of your classroom. Not every book can reach every student, but it's essential to read a range of texts to students. Make your selections interesting, relevant, and worthy of discussion.
So just about every teacher I know is on Pintrest, and there are a couple of beginning of the year boards that you might be interested in. There are boards here and here that have a lot of suggestions.

Below are some elementary, middle school, and high school suggestions with some (very) brief summaries.

Elementary School:

There's a great blog post at the NY Times about back-to-school read recommendations for parents to read to children or for new readers to pick up on their own. These would work well as classroom read alouds as well.

Here are some more picks:
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt: sweet story about accidentally learning to overcome fears

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud and David Messing: helps kids see the joy of being kind to others

My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook and Carrie Hartman: Louis just can't help saying everything that comes to him, but learns how to wait his turn to speak

Donovan's Word Jar by Monalisa DeGross and Cheryl Hanna: Donovan loves words and keeps them in a jar, until the jar runs out of room. What will he do?

Ruby the Copycat by Margaret Rathmann: a first-day of school story about learning to be yourself

Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth by Marie-Louise Gay: a great story about the power of imagination

Splat the Cat: Back to School Splat! by Rob Scotton: sharing summer adventures during the first-day of school show-and-tell

More than Anything Else by Marie Bradby and  Chris K. Soentpiet: a fictionalized story of Booker T. Washington and his wish to learn to read

The Bee Tree by Patricia Polocco: charming book about reading and learning from grandparents

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky, and Lane Smith: these three authors/illutrators' work comes together to tell the story of a powerful teacher

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Gary Rubinstein and Mark Pett: it's ok to make mistakes!

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane by Kate DiCamillo and Bagram Ibatoulline: loss and love

Middle School:

A Teaspoon of Courage for Kids by Bradley Trevor Greive: the first weeks of middle school can be great. They can also be tough. A little pick-me-up for kids.

Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller: story of author Richard Wright's struggle to gain access to a public library

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Lots of buzz with this book about a boy born with Treacher-Collins syndrome told in multiple voices

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor: Addie doesn't let her situation get her down, but is waiting for a more normal life to settle into

Cinder by Marissa Meyer: sci-fi twist on cinderella as a cyborg

Girl, Stolen by April Henry: an accidental kidnapping begins this page-turner

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz-Ryan and Peter Sis: biography, poetry, and fiction blend to create this magical realism story of poet Pablo Neruda 

Storm Runners and Peak by Roland Smith: If your students like adventure, Smith writes some good ones

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz: funny and scary tales of Hansel and Gretel finding themselves in other Grimm fairy tales

Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen: a story of true friendship and keeping secrets 

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Dawn Metcalf , Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones: today's popular authors tell their personal stories of bullying - as bullies, victims and bystanders

Savvy by Ingrid Law: a great story about growing up and the importance of family

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson: historical fiction set in 1918 tells of orphan Hattie leaving Iowa for Montana to search for a real home

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick: If you have a doc cam, this is a beautiful book for a read aloud. In fact, I like this follow-up by Selznick even more than The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Yeah, I said it.

High School:

Monstrumologist by Richard Yancey: gory and full of adventure - a definite page-turner

The Late Homecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang: Yang beautifully shares her family's escape from Thailand and the challenge of adapting to life in the US.

Trapped by Michael Northrop: thriller survival story of teens caught in a blizzard
Guardian by Julius Lester: set in segregated south, the story of the lynching of a black man falsely accused of rape told through a boy who knows the truth but keeps silent

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins: The first in a series about a girl who discovers she's a witch. classic teen drama and situations

Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti: yes, a Holocaust book, but a really good one

Short stories/essays by David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Sarah Vowell, Augusten Burroughs, David Boyne

What are your favorite beginning of the year read alouds? Add your suggestions in the comments! Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

gearing up

We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.”
 - Stephen King, 11/22/63

Whenever I'm out shopping in July, I get to the "Back to School" section in the store and have to turn away. "I'm not ready for back-to-school! The 4th of July was just last week!" But then August 1 hits, and I start to plan and prepare, and I start looking at the new pencils and notebooks and just like that, I'm ready to get back into another school year.

Some of you are still looking for jobs. Check out the websites at this previous post for suggestions of where to look for MN job postings. For some of you, this will be your first year as a teacher. You've finally graduated and secured your license and are thrilled to be planning for your first year of teaching - the culmination of so many hopes, dreams, tears, frustrations, and joys. You might want to check out this post about setting up a classroom. Some of you have been at it already a few years or more. No matter how long I teach, I still get excited for the beginning of the year - a new year holds so much promise!

If you're like most teachers I know, you've been scouring Pinterest for cool new bulletin board, organization, and unit/lesson planning ideas. Maybe you've read one of the books that are getting lots of buzz in schools, like  (I'll be writing more about these later on this year). Maybe you attended a conference or workshop this summer. Did you come up with a new plan for technology for the upcoming year? Now is a great time to review what you've pinned, notes you've taken, or workshop handouts. Taking some time now just before back-to-school-workshops start to review your great ideas will help ensure you make the time to implement them.

Whether you've worked all summer or not, take a few moments here or there in the fleeting days of your summer break doing what you enjoy most. For me, it's a walk along the river and dinner on a patio. Being refreshed at the start of the year, even if it doesn't last long, helps you feel ready to take on the roller coaster of teaching!

Next up - the annual first day of school read aloud suggestion post!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

formative assessment

I've been reading and thinking about assessment a lot lately. It's such an essential part of the teaching process, and I've been working on ways to improve my formative assessment plan for my own teaching. In doing so, I've read a couple of great resources that you might be interested in that I thought I'd share with you, dear readers.

As a literacy person, I was drawn first to Fisher & Frey's The Formative Assessment Action Plan: Practical Steps to More Successful Teaching and Learning. I know of Fisher & Frey through their literacy work, particularly in content literacy, so I was excited to read about their take on formative assessment. Though these educators come from a literacy background, the text is one that is applicable across disciplines. They have based their action plan on the work of Hattie & Temperley (2007), and their proposed formative assessment system of three components: feed-up, feedback, feed-forward. Each component is guided by a question:

Feed-up: Where am I going?
Feedback: How am I doing?
Feed-forward: Where am I going next?

Essentially, feed-up is helping students establish a purpose to the assingment/assessment, feedback provides students with information about what has been successful or needs work, and feed-forward is using assessment data in order to plan instruction. ASCD has published a study guide for this text, in case you're interested in using it as a part of a PLC or grade-level discussion.

Another text on formative assessment that has been helpful for me this summer as I've re-thought my assessment plans is Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam. Wiliam presents a review of the varied definitions of formative assessment and a historical look at formative assessment processes in schools that is helpful in developing a context for formative assessment. Every chapter provides examples and practical techniques to help teachers rethink their assessment processes.

Finally, I've returned to Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide by Linda Suskie. Though this text is a bigger picture for higher education faculty on assessment, there are some really helpful chapters on a successful assessment culture, organizing an assessment process, and using assessment results effectively.

What are your go-to resources for formative assessment?

Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2011). The formative assessment action plan: Practical steps to more successful teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Hattie, J., & Temperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77, 81-112.
Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd ed.). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution-Tree Press.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

writing with a lowercase w

Last summer, I had the absolute privilege of not only hearing Ralph Fletcher give his keynote talk at the Minnesota Reading Association's annual conference, but of sitting across from him at dinner that evening. If you aren't familiar with his work, Ralph Fletcher is an amazing writer, writing picturebooks and chapter books for young children, books for young writers, and books about teaching writing. When I was first teaching, I came across his books for teachers and found them inspiring and so practical. I use his books in my university courses now, and I was pretty geeked out to get to meet him.

At the table at dinner, we had a delightful conversation that spanned many topics - both professional and personal. At one point, we circled back to writing. We were talking about the troubling trend that has left little time in schools for writing. Writing with a lowercase w. The playful, creative, engaging writing that motivates students.Writing to learn. Writing that isn't the 4th grade animal report or the 5 paragraph essay.

His book How Writer's Work is very helpful in thinking about the conditions that nurture writing. Writing is not a prescribed process, one-size-fits-all, and this text can be really helpful in thinking about planning for writing in your classroom that support interesting, motivated writing from students. If you're thinking about revamping the writing in your classroom for next year, check it out!

Ralph Fletcher blogs regularly at The Writer's Desk and he tweets too. Keep up with his thoughts there!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guest Blogger: Hidden Resources

Guest blogger: Mary Mandel, Instructional Coach for QComp, TERI School-based Faculty Liaison, Peer Assistance Program Coordinator

Hidden Resources

New hires in any district have an enormous amount to learn.   As a newly hired employee you will probably be presented with a staff handbook that outlines protocols and procedures. There are, however, some hidden resources that may not be identified in the handbook.  Developing  knowledge of them will help you in your new school environment.

There is a very important person that you should build a relationship with from the start - the school secretary.  This staff member is the backbone of a school and is aware of what is going on within the school on a day-to-day basis.  This makes him or her an excellent source of information for all those questions not found in the staff handbook.

Another invaluable resource that you should get to know is the school custodial staff.   These staff members spend their day on their feet working tirelessly to keep the building in working order.  They are the people you call when the faucet is leaking, the chair is broken, or when a student has a personal accident. 

Last, but not least, are the paraprofessionals that support the teachers.  “Relief” is how many teachers describe their initial reaction after learning that a paraprofessional will support them.  Having a trained paraprofessional can make an enormous difference in the efficiency of your classroom.  Such help is generally a welcome prospect for the overworked classroom teacher.

Remember your hidden resources.  Finding them will make your job easier.  Have a great year!