Friday, November 20, 2015

The Power of Process

Some days you happen to pop into the right classroom at just right the time and see what becomes the highlight of your day. At the end of the day I walked into a 1st grade class. Even though school was almost over, everyone was busy. The students were all working hard, very engaged in whatever they were working on. The teachers were surrounded by children, answering one question while looking at another's work.
Student: Is it ready?
Teacher: Almost. I just need to tie this part so it stays bound and you need to glue your photo down on the "About The Author" page.
Student: (after gluing the photo). Now is it ready?
Teacher: Yes!
Student: Really? It's all finished?
And then it happened. The biggest, brightest, proudest smile ever. I'm only sad I couldn't get a photo because it was that special. I asked him to read his Personal Narrative to me and he proudly took his published book over to me, read each word, let me tell him my favorite part of his story all still with the same beaming smile on his face. This made my day. Not just because he was proud or because the end product looked so good (neatly typed with his careful illustrations), but because I know how hard he, and his teachers, worked throughout the process of writing this piece.

Last week, I had a similar experience in a 2nd grade class. The students were all very busy writing their nonfiction pieces. They had spent a great deal of time researching different teachers, classes and spaces in the school through observation and interview and were in the process of drafting their piece on their topic. The had read nonfiction, talked about main idea, details, facts and opinions. I noticed one student with a full page of writing (he's not typically one with volume) and asked him to tell me what he had so far. He read his work to me and then said, "but I'm not done! I have so much more to write!" He then ran to his teacher to get more paper telling her, "I'm on a roll today! I've NEVER written this much in one writing time. EVER!" The beauty here is that his smile didn't come from seeing a finished product. He was thrilled about the writing that was happening. He was so engrossed in the process from the very first day that he came up with questions  to the day he was ready to start drafting. He had experience reading books and articles that were written with then intent of teaching the reader about something specific. He was ready to do the same. He had information and now he was the author.

It's easy to say you believe in the process, but it's also easy to plan an activity that is finished in a day or two, gets to the point and looks good. It's not always easy to really trust the process, to dive head first into teaching kids as readers and writers what really matters, to find the content and create the interest and enthusiasm, to keep the reading and writing connected so it makes sense for kids. It's easy to teach isolated skills or to let them always write what they want. It's not always easy to create connections or to challenge kids to move out of their comfort zone. Sometimes reading and writing become complicated and messy. Teachers will often say to me, "but it's all over the place- the kids, the writing, the reading, I just don't know if it's going to work." My response? "It's ok to let it get messy. It just means a lot is happening. Trust the process." When it's happening, when the kids are so engrossed in what they are doing that they suddenly can't stop writing or when they make a comment during a read aloud that connects to a minilesson in you taught during Writer's Workshop, that's when you see it all come together.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Using a Digital Word Wall to Support Student Writing

This week in KA, we introduced a digital word wall! We realized that the physical word wall wasn't as effective as we would have hoped for two reasons. First, because of the placement and the size of the room, the word wall wasn't visible from all writing spots. In addition, especially in Kindergarten, some students can't read all of the words. So for instance, if a student wanted to write 'with', even if they knew it was on the word wall and that it started with a w, they were having trouble figuring out which word was 'with' on the word wall. Therefore, we created a digital word wall for the iPads. On this word wall, when the student presses on the word our voice says the word for them so that they can ensure that they are using the word that they intend to. The file was created in SMART Notebook, and uploaded to Dropbox. Students then downloaded it onto their iPads and were able to use it independently!

It was really exciting to see students using the word wall in a more purposeful way. Also, after a class discussion, they understood that they didn't all need their iPads at the same time. Instead, they retrieved their iPads when they were ready to write!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Classroom Charts

I have been thinking quite a bit about the charts our first graders use on a regular basis and those that just seem to be there because we created them together. The walls can quickly become covered with charts which are a history of our learning, but do they help students? Charts are on the walls to build independence. They should be alive and front and center so our students can use them with ease. I follow the Chartchums blog and this month the authors shared an amazing podcast. I thought I would share it with all of you. It really helped me sort through my ideas about charting and rethink some of my practices.   

Monday, November 18, 2013

Contribute to our Global Poetry Audiobook!

Our first grade class at The School at Columbia is making a Global Poetry Audiobook and we need your help! We'd love for your class to pick a poem that you would like to share and make a page for our book, using Book Creator. Each page should have the name of your class (or grade), the name of the school, the location of the school, a picture of the poem, and an audio recording of it. Any kind of poem works and other embellishments on the page are welcome!

Please make sure that your pages are in the landscape format, or we won't be able to use them. When your page is complete, email it to and we will add it to the book! If you need help navigating Book Creator, here's the app support forum, and definitely feel free to email if you have any questions!

Thanks so much for your help in making our Global Poetry Audiobook come to life!

Taking poetry outside our classroom

First graders have been studying poetry for the past few weeks. We've discussed looking through a poet's eyes, the rhythm in poetry, how poems can express big feelings, and most recently how to implement line breaks to affect the reading. Throughout this process, we've been using many poems to illustrate the different elements of poetry. Each time we read a poem, the students in 1B get a smaller copy of it to put in their own poetry binders.

Our students love these binders. Not only are they able to be personalized, they're just the right size for small hands! During free time, they ask to read their poetry binders, and can often be heard chanting the poems together in pairs or small groups. Their fluency has increased, and their love of poetry seems to be blossoming.

At the same time as our poetry study, we've been implementing literacy workstations twice a week. We now have 4 stations: Library Reading, Read to Teacher, Word Work, and Writing. We are about to launch our Listen to Reading station. In the past, we've had a variety of audio books on the iPad, many purchased, some recorded by teachers and uploaded on Dropbox. But we've never had any recorded poetry.

A few weeks ago, I attended EdCampNYC, which, if you've never been, is an amazing, motivating, exhilarating event, that not only allows you to connect with other educators, but leaves you reinvigorated and excited about trying new things in your classroom. I attended a session entitled "Global Collaboration on the iPad," led by Meg Wilson (iPodsibilities on Twitter- I highly recommend you follow her). She led a presentation on how she utilized the app Book Creator with her students in order to create a "Global Book" about neighborhoods.

That's when the idea hit me.

A global poetry book! We'd send out the plea on Twitter for classrooms around the country (and maybe world?) to pick a poem, take a picture of the poem, and record the students reading the poem, using Book Creator. These pages would be collected, and made into a "Global Poetry Book," which would not only allow my students to have poetry to listen to when we launch the new workstation, but would open up the walls of our classroom.

I introduced this idea to our students and they jumped on the idea, eagerly asking questions like, "what if we get the same poem from different classes?" and "what if we get the same poem, but in different languages?" We've since picked our poem and have begun practicing it. I'm going to use the space on this blog to create the "Twitter plea" for participation. Fingers crossed it gets retweeted and we get responses!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Blogging in 1B- A New Approach to Shared Writing

 1B has been doing some very purposeful blogging during our nonfiction unit of study. We have been practicing elements of nonfiction using our 1B Blog to inform our readers and teach them about life in our community. We began with a morning sign in –“Please sign in with a food you eat at school. Draw and label." This was then turned into a list, which we did as a shared writing on our blog. The post was drafted and published on the Smartboard with all of the steps that a blogger follows. Seeing the process before their eyes and then publishing was powerful. The need for a heading was obvious-it stood alone and informed the reader what this entry was about in a very obvious way. Our next entry was a captioned picture of 1B at the park. The blog provided a box for caption -  what could be better. As we continue studying nonfiction elements, we will reach out to the larger world of readers with entries, which show a diagram of our classroom, questions and answers about the 1B day, how to do learning on the rug and mini bios of our Ugly Dolls. Blogging has put a new, very exciting twist on shared writing.

Need ideas for Writer's Workshop? Just ask the kids.

We launched our first literacy unit with the grand idea of making a connection from our study of family to our Nonfiction writing. It seemed like a great idea to kill two birds with one stone- we could combine the information we were gathering about 1B families with their own writing. After all, they ARE experts on their own families. We modeled making lists about family members, activities they do with family, foods they eat, places they go, and sent them on their way. However, even though they were proficient in the Nonfiction features we had drilled into their heads (captions, lists, headings, bold words, etc.), they immediately ran into road blocks, and Writer's Workshop was painful to get through. It felt WAY too teacher directed and lacked the spark that is present when students are writing about meaningful, self-selected topics.

Break down time. After our literacy meeting, we brainstormed with Bonnie about ways we could revamp our study. Together we realized that it didn't matter WHAT they were writing about, as long as they were practicing the Nonfiction writing process: recognizing what you already know (your schema), what questions you still have, gathering data (either from books or peers), and interpreting it.

We came back as a group of writers and looked at our Morning Message sign-ins to compile the topics they care about. At this point, the room began buzzing with excitement, as students shared ideas about their passions. We made a list of possible topics, and each child chose 2 or 3 ideas that they wanted to write about. They are going to be working in small groups to record their schema, ask questions, do research, and draft their work.

We'll keep you posted on the outcome, but we definitely walked away from our writing period today feeling more comfortable with our very child-centered approach.

An example of topic choosing.

(A little side note from Bonnie...) Yay! I must say that it was so exciting to have that conversation and see teachers going from uninspired about the work happening in the room to totally excited and then to walk into the room and see how the changes they made were working with the students. In the end, the beauty is that although it might have felt like it wasn't going to be about "Family," it still totally is. For example, Chess comes from a list of "Games My Family Plays." Part of the research can be to learn about other games that families play, friends who play the same game, and some facts about the game. I'm excited to see how the students now go on to collect data about their topics from their peers and other sources and to see how the published piece comes together.