Some of the best things I learned during my week in New York are things that I don't need to look back at my notes to remember, of course. One of my favorites, that I've been applying since my return is, "We don't need to give CPR to the whole class just because 3 students can't breathe."-Shanna Schwartz In other words, if a reaction to considering sending home just right books with our students is that it's a bad idea because the students will lose them or never bring them back, we need to stop ourselves and consider, "Do I really believe this about my whole class or only a few?" Naturally it's usually the latter. And as such, we shouldn't be punishing the whole class for the extra needs of a few. We should be implementing the plan, but then brainstorming how to address the concern with the students and families that might be less involved/responsive/responsible/etc. At the start of this year, when our Literacy team met to discuss the idea of having a school-wide word study program that would utilize the same type of work in all classrooms, I was speaking to the benefits of the Words Their Way program from my own experience with having done it with kindergarten students in the same demographic for the last 3 years. One of the first grade teachers was very much against using it in her classroom in regards to the fact that students use word cards cut from a sheet to sort sounds and said, "This isn't a program that makes sense in kindergarten because our kindergartners can't cut." I was dumbfounded mostly because I had just explained that I had used this successfully with kindergartners for three years. I was actually speechless, as I didn't know how to "combat" that without making her look bad and thus seeming disrespectful. In New York, I learned a great response to use for a situation like that, as I've found this type of objection is common. What I should have said then and what I'll say in the future to "My students can't...." is "Which ones?" If she truly is concerned about the cutting, I should have said "Which ones have problems? Let's see if we could seat them in a small group on cutting days so you can work with them to help them get their words cut out. It would be a great way to increase their fine motor development to boot."
How to "combat" resistance in teachers to try new things was among the most useful of things I learned, as it's the greatest obstacle in my current situation. I learned a ton of other great tips for coaching teachers in Literacy. If you are interested to know what they are, email me or comment here and I will create a post. I know most of my readers are teachers, though, rather than coaches, so here are things/tips I learned that were useful from a teacher's perspective:
- When conferring with students, encourage more student voice with things like "Say more about that." As teachers, we tend to feel like we are not doing our jobs if we're not teaching (the ones talking). Aim for half the conference to be in the student's voice and half in the teacher's voice.
- During mini-lessons, don't read the WHOLE book. Save that for read alouds. Use parts of the book--most ideally, parts of books they already have read with you--to highlight your teaching point.
- Aim for 3-4 minute conferences. Kids can't learn if you're with them too long and also, you can't be with many kids a day if you are spending more than 4 minutes with them. Don't be afraid to move on without having taught them anything. (Sounds, crazy, right?! :)
- When you pull students to do a strategy group, when you finish with them, leave them where they are and then pull another group elsewhere. Moving kids too much and transition times can impede learning.
- Kidney tables can be barriers between you and the students. Try to eliminate barriers and pull kids to the rug to work with you instead. (I love this idea because my postage-stamp room is cramped and I would love to get rid of furniture! I already tried this last week and really felt like I was so much more connected to my kids.)
- Always give an intro to a book you are going to read to the students for the first time. Warm them up to it to get their minds working. Read aloud time is one of the best ways to teach comprehension in isolation.
- Use read aloud to expand student vocabulary: "What do you think 'thoughtful' means?"
- Choose shorter books for Interactive read alouds (IRA's). Every IRA should have accountable talk (turn and talks during the reading followed by a grand conversation afterwards). If you choose to use a chapter book, don't spend more than 2.5 weeks on it.
- After many student ideas are shared during a Read Aloud, do a "sayback": "I heard....and....and....and... Now turn and talk about one of those."
- For students reading levels J and above, invite them to bring their own books to be read during read aloud. Afterwards, have students turn and talk to share how they will apply skills taught in their own books.
- In Kindergarten, mini-lessons should be less than 10 minutes, 7-12 minutes for higher grades.
- Don't involve students during the "Teach" part of your mini-lesson. This is the time you are modeling for them.
- Students through level L should have 10-12 just right books at a time to read and explore in their book baggies.
- During Shared reading, model decoding strategies. If you are running short on time in the lesson, don't be afraid to scrap the rest of the lesson's teaching points and just read the rest of the book.
- Don't answer the questions, "Why will this best for the teachers? parents? schedule?". Always answer, "Why will this be best for students?"
- Reading levels C, J, M, and R are common "stuck" levels. They are not levels that students can gradually slope up/advance through/beyond to the next level. They are plateaus butted up to a cliff that has to be climbed to get to the next level.
- Instead of having kids do "Intro Work/Morning Work/Entry Task" of some random worksheet, have a "Talk Now" in every classroom, the same topic all week, where kids discuss this topic with those at their table or in desk partnerships. The teacher can record notes on all their ideas s/he overhears, then create a shared talk/shared reading lesson on a summary of what they discussed. (In areas where students speak a dialect of English, the summary should be written in that dialect and the teacher can make the shared reading a lesson in English grammar and on editing.)
- Children's books we used in K/1/2 at P.S. 11 in Chelsea, NYC: Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer, Katie Woo chapter books, A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, Iris and Walter chapter books
- Children's book with a character development focus recommended for use in all classrooms: How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham
- Professional texts: Great by Choice by Jim Collins, Stray, Visible Learning by John Hattie, Professional Capital, Choice Words, Opening Minds, Lost at School
- Website for student growth: sni.scholastic.com (for Non-Fiction articles to use in class with students)
Sorry this is so long! Again, if you want a summary of tips I learned from a coaching and leadership perspective, just ask and I'll try to get to it before July. Otherwise, that's when you can expect it. :)