Monday, December 13, 2010

"Don't Quote Me on That" Monday

"The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives. "

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Don't Quote Me on That" Monday

"The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."

--Lady Dorothy Nevill,
British writer and socialite

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Don't Quote Me on That" Monday

"A commitment to professional learning is important, not because teaching is of poor quality and must be 'fixed,' but rather because teaching is so hard that we can always improve it."

-Charlotte Danielson in "Evaluations That Help Teachers Learn"  Educational Leadership December 2010/January 2011

"Don't Quote Me on That" Monday is a new feature on the RWTS blog.  Each Monday I will feature a different quote related to educating teachers and students.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let's Play Ball!

I love my job. My responsibilities are exactly what I envisioned they would be when I was working toward my Master's degree in Reading and my Reading Specialist certification.  My primary role is to collaborate with teachers to advance practices in literacy instruction with the ultimate goal being to increase student achievement.  Ideally, this means providing professional support through co-planning, co-teaching, modeling, facilitating book studies, analyzing data, etc.

However, sometimes my job isn't so ideal. Budget cuts have led to decreased staffing and increased class sizes. An unsettled contract means morale is low and teachers aren't willing to put in any extra time beyond the contractual hours. At the same time, a change in administration has brought in a whirlwind of curriculum and program changes. 

That's right ... new programs and curriculum means it is time to step up to the plate Ms. Reading Specialist - you are at bat.  Now is the time to take a swing at the fast balls, spit balls, and curve balls that are being thrown at you and your TNT Teammates so you can show them how it's done, or at the very least, help coach them through it.  It has been challenging to help my colleagues acclimate to all of the changes that have been presented. Teachers are stressed and pushed to the limit and (as always) just out of time.  Somehow collaboration doesn't seem to be at the top of their priority list right now. So, how can I do my job (let alone do it well) when my colleagues aren't willing to "play a little ball"?

I started thinking about why they don't want to "play," and it always comes back to not having enough time.  So, I have gotten creative by finding ways to give back time to my TNT Teammates (or at least not consume what little they feel like they possess).  I have taken on more of the "planning" part of co-planning. I have taken stacks of writing and graphic organizers to be reviewed and commented upon. I have put conducted a share of writing conferences to help my TNT Teammates move more quickly through all of the students. This is co-teaching, collaborating, working together in the name of helping kids grow as readers, writers, and thinkers. 

All the while, professional development is taking place. It just happens to be in disguise.  I am modeling conferencing strategies and techniques when I confer with students. I am modeling reflective thinking when I debrief with my TNT teammates about what I might do differently or how I might plan for tomorrow based upon what took place today.  I am modeling thoughtful lesson planning when I take on a little more of the co-planning and explain how and why I made the decisions that I did when creating a mini-lesson.  The key to all of this disguised professional development is the reflective conversations that occur between my colleagues and me.  Learning is social, after all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Motivating Teachers

What motivates you to be a learner, to be reflective, and to do your best even when it means hard work? 

When you aren't feeling motivated, what can a colleague or an administrator do to give you the support and the nudge you need to get going again?

What is discouraging?  When do you find yourself saying you don't care to learn anymore?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Woo-hoo! I Won!

Last week, I was catching up on one of my favorite blogs: Two Writing Teachers by Ruth and Stacey.  One particular post kicked off a series of four posts related to children's literature that address bullying.  I was smiling from ear-to-ear when I read the excerpts of The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee.  As luck would have it, the Two Writing Teachers blog was going to give away a copy of the book to one lucky winner who posted a comment to that day's post.  Of course, I entered a comment about this adorable book that very minute.

The Boss Baby made me smile so much that the next day I was in my favorite big box book store searching for it.  It took all of my will power to keep from purchasing that book right then and there.  I told myself I only had to wait for a week to see if I would win the contest, and if I didn't win I could make another trip to the big box book store (Oh, darn! I guess if I have to ...) to look for it again.

Lo and behold, it was my lucky day! I checked out the Two Writing Teachers blog this evening, and guess what? I won a copy of The Boss Baby!  Woo-hoo! If it wasn't so late on a Sunday night, I'd be up dancing around the family room in celebration.
Mr. RWTS was just as lucky as me today.  He is traveling for work this evening, and when he checked into his hotel he was told he was the "guest of the day" which entitled him to a free goodie bag full of treats, snacks, and bottled water.  As Mr. RWTS said, with all of this good luck between the two of us today, we should have bought a lottery ticket! Oh well, we can't win 'em all. :o)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Proud Mama :o)

Last night, Mr. RWTS and I were debating who was going to take our oldest son to basketball practice (from 7:30 to 9:00 on a Friday night - let's just add insult to injury by making us admit that we have no social life, and therefore, nothing else to do on a Friday night besides hang out at the elementary gymnasium watching 9- and 10-year olds shoot hoops - alas, I digress). The big selling point was that the parent who would be taking in sweaty, stale air and listening to the bounce-bounce-bouncing of the dribblers would also be the one who got to spend a solid, uninterrupted, hour-and-a-half reading.

Mr. RWTS generously offered to let me head to practice and spend some time reading or doing work - whatever I wanted.  As I took him up on the offer, a brief interjection from our son made me smile.
Mrs. RWTS: Okay, I'll take him to practice. Yes, I have work to do, but I would rather read.
Son #1: (incredulously) Who wouldn't?
That's my boy!!! Proud mama moment! :o)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Who's Benefitting from the Use of Gimmicks, Really?

I spent the day discussing curriculum with a group of administrators and TNT Teammates from several school districts.  For part of the morning, our discussions revolved around best practices, engaging activities, and effective strategies being implemented in our schools with regard to language arts literacy instruction.  Some of our TNT Teammates brought up examples of what they termed "gimmicks" used to motivate their friends to write well or improve their writing.  Listen to the gimmick Miss Suzy uses:
Miss Suzy has a poster with a space for each friend to earn 5 stars (one star for each writing piece they work on over a period of time).  A friend can earn a star when s/he scores well on the writing rubric (a score of 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale) - in other words, the friends produced an effective piece of writing.
Picture in your mind, the poster is up on the wall ... Miss Suzy has placed stars  by the names of the friends who scored 4s and 5s ... it is visually evident which friends need to improve their writing in order to earn a star ... Miss Suzy is thinking, "Now those starless friends are motivated to improve their writing! I know they want that star!" ... and our starless friends are thinking a variety of things - I want a star, too ... I don't think I am a good writer ... I don't care if I don't have a star ... what can I do to get a star - if only we could be in their heads (I digress - back to Miss Suzy).
With this visual reminder in front of her, Miss Suzy confers with the friends who did not score a 4 or 5, makes a suggestion or two for revising, and sends the friends off to make their improvements.  When those friends have improved their writing to a level that would earn a 4 or 5, a star goes up on the poster. They wanted that star so badly that they were motivated to improve their writing.  Hooray! The motivation technique worked for our friends!
Or did it?  Is anyone else thinking what I am thinking right now?  For whom did this star poster "gimmick" work?  Was it really motivating?  Here is how I see it: the poster wasn't motivating at all to our friends.  Rather, the poster was motivating for Miss Suzy.  The poster gave Miss Suzy the visual motivator she needed to narrow her focus and determine specifically which friends still needed some feedback and guidance to improve their writing.  The poster held Miss Suzy accountable to meeting the needs of her friends.

Miss Suzy's friends improved their writing not because they wanted a star on the poster (although they very well might have).  I believe Miss Suzy's friends improved their writing because of direct feedback from their TN Teacher, Miss Suzy. 

The power in helping children grow as writers lies in our hands, minds, and mouths, folks.  We cannot be satisfied and ready to move on with the knowledge that these friends "earned stars" and these friends did not. Once we know who "earned" stars who didn't, the most important part of our job begins.  Conferring with our friends who still need their "stars" is critical.

So, kudos, Miss Suzy for putting that poster up in your room! Not because it was "gimmick" that motivated your students, but because it was a "gimmick" that motivated you.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Time for a Name Change?

I am huge a fan of differentiating instruction in order to provide our young friends (a.k.a., students who have not graduated from high school) with relevant, engaging and challenging lessons.  So, naturally, I am advocate of guided reading. However, it seems some of my Top-Notch Teaching Teammates (and I mean that sincerely) have convinced themselves that guided reading can only be about reading a leveled book.

Sample conversation:
TNT Teammate: He's a level K.  We're doing guided reading with a level K book.
Mrs. RWTS: So what are you working on with him?
TNT Teammate: The level K book.  We're working on the story at level K.
Mrs. RWTS: <hopefully rephrasing> What specific needs will you focus on addressing with the young friend while using the level K book?
TNT Teammate: Ummm...making sure he understands the level K book? <stated like a question as Stellar Colleague is feeling unsure of herself now>

Never mind that our young friends have some struggles with decoding and might need some work on building strategies for figuring out those unknown words.  Or even, <gasp!>, some explicit and direct phonics instruction.  Some of our friends can say the words on a page with remarkable accuracy and come away with good comprehension, but those friends might also sound like the Economics teacher on Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Ya think those friends might need a little work on reading with expression?  And, some of our young friends sound like we do when we read aloud (c'mon, you know you're a performer when you read aloud).  Even with sounding so great and reading accurately - are you ready for this? - they aren't comprehending.  And therefore, folks, I would have to say these friends are not really reading.  Because isn't the entire point of reading text to make meaning, to understand the author's message, to comprehend?!?!? Whew - take a deep breath.

I'm wondering if my TNT Teammates are so wrapped up in the idea that they have to "do guided reading" that they are losing sight of the big picture?  Said picture being one in which we paint ourselves guiding our young friends to become more strategic readers who can comprehend increasingly challenging text.  

So, folks, perhaps the time has come for a name change.  Should we be looking at our "guided reading" time as more of a "needs-based literacy group" time? Would something as simple as a name change help our TNT Teammates see the big picture, feel enabled to do more than "just read the leveled book," and base their instructional decisions on specific student needs rather than a mere level?  If the answer is yes, then perhaps it is time for Guided Reading to stand in line at the local Social Security office.

Standing on the Edge ...

I am taking a leap of faith, venturing into the unknown, (insert an applicable cliché here).  This exploration into blogging is new to me, but here is what I know:
  1. I enjoy reading other blogs by educators who inspire me by sharing their thoughts on reading, writing, and teaching.
  2. As I age, I realize that I have so many thought-provoking, Hmmmm-causing, I-should-really-try-this ideas. And I need to "get them down on paper" or else they will quickly turn into "now-what-were-those-really-important-thoughts-I-was-thinking-and-didn't-want-to-forget" ideas. Those of you over 30 with kids know what I am talking about.
  3. I am passionate about my beliefs regarding the teaching of reading and writing, and I can't help but voice my opinion.
  4. The pros will tell you to be a better teacher of writing, you need to live the writing life.  Here is my stab at writing. Please be merciful. :o)
  5. Sometimes a girl just needs to vent. Here is my forum.  I may or may not be heard, but I will feel better for getting it out.
So, we'll see where this blog takes me. Wish me luck. One, two, three ... JUMP!