Author: Guest Author

Informational Writing in the Primary Grades: Linda Hoyt!

Guest Robb Review Author: Linda Hoyt!

For many years, I have called for a stronger emphasis on informational sources in primary classrooms.  Now, it is exciting to see primary teachers actively helping children understand that they can learn about the world while they learn to read and write.  Everywhere I go, I see more informational selections on display and in the hands of independent readers.  I celebrate as emergent and developing writers capture facts in pictures, labels, notes, sentences and multiple page books!  These eager researchers read and write in collaboration with partners and take great pride in generating questions that fuel more reading, more research, and more writing!  (Can you hear me clapping?)

Most of all, I applaud the increasing number of teachers who are clearly understand that their role is not to transmit information, but rather to ignite a sense of wonder—to help kids live a curious life.  In classrooms that are driven by curiosity and wonder, learners erupt with literate vigor and writing becomes a natural extension of the learning.

Informational writing used to be saved for genre studies in which young writers created a set of directions or engaged in crafting a report about animals.  But, evidence now suggests that this limited view of nonfiction writing is too little—too late!  We now know that forward-thinking educators weave explicit scaffolds for nonfiction reading and nonfiction writing into the fabric of daily literacy instruction, making sure that children write for a wide variety of purposes and experience a broad base of nonfiction text types in every subject area—every day.

Some teachers express concern that informational writing should wait until foundational skills are in place. But, extensive evidence suggests children do not need to have correct spelling, complete sentence structures, deep content knowledge, or well-developed writing traits in place before they begin to engage as nonfiction writers.  They will develop these essential skills as a natural extension of modeled writing, coaching conferences, revising, editing and presenting their work.  They WILL learn as they go.  With each successive writing experience, word-building skills will grow and the writing will gain sophistication.

The key:  Don’t expect perfection—expect growth.

Modeled writing is a critical element of accelerating the development of informational writing. Take time to think aloud as you write under the watchful eyes of your students.  Let them hear what is in your mind as you capture an interesting fact on paper, insert a label on a diagram, or list the attributes of a tree frog.  Help them to notice that sketches carry information and support the message, and that even adult writers pause frequently and experiment with different ways to craft a sentence.  When young children see you write, they have a powerful window into meaning, grammar, word construction, and use of space on the page.  So, dive in and “Just do it!”

I am so excited about how the children are writing, especially in comparison to years past.  It is early in the year and my kindergarteners are confident with several text types and absolutely love to write.  We have lists, notes, and multi-page books that look like they were done by much older students.  Thank you for helping me to believe… They are more accomplished writers and I am a more accomplished teacher.  

 Sandy Gordon, kindergarten teacher, Hudson, Ohio

Learn more about Linda! Check out her website!

Follow Linda on Twitter:  @lindavhoyt 

Dennis Schug: Learning, Leadership, and Lists

Enjoy this great post by our guest author, middle school principal, Dennis Schug!  Dennis shares some wisdom to make us all more effective at what we do!

Ask any educator to share a memory of working with a student, a family, or a colleague, and you’ll likely be inspired. These become learning and leadership milestones, cornerstones to how we define ourselves as educators, and marks of our legacy and the reputation of our profession.

But when was the last time you made time to notice when you evolved as a professional learner?

For me, becoming a Connected Educator has been a personal-professional tipping point. But it wasn’t Twitter, Edcamps, or experimenting with instructional technology that has had the greatest impact. It’s been my renewed approach why I lead, how I learn best, and what I can do to maximize my impact as a school leader.

One such practical meeting place, quite simply, lies in my use of lists.

Who among us, hasn’t (or doesn’t) use lists? To-do lists. Grocery lists. “Honeydew” lists.

Lists have withstood the test of time, in getting us on-track, and keeping us on-track with personal and professional productivity. And lists are precisely where we can keep learning forward.

Here’s how.

“To-Learn” lists

We should all be keeping a list of “professional to-do’s”. You likely have developed this on your own, with your school or district team, and as part of any external professional organizations to which you belong. When you attend a traditional professional development workshop, an Edcamp, or a national conference, you will encounter new ideas, new concepts, and others, willing to share their success, so it becomes your success. Here’s one way to avoid what’s commonly known as “drinking from the fire hose”:

TOMORROW: What is one new practice, tool, or protocol that I will try in my classroom/school/district?
THIS WEEK: What is one learning conversation I will initiate with a professional colleague?
THIS MONTH: What is one resource I will share with someone in a different professional position than the one I hold?
THIS YEAR: What is one project or initiative I will explore, for gradual future implementation with my colleagues?

Use your tool of choice and organize and maintain this list in the way that works best for your learning style. Revisit it and monitor it often. Keep it updated. And invite others to help you stay accountable to what you’ve set out to do.

Twitter lists

As someone who has been using Twitter as a professional learning tool for the last four years, it just isn’t humanly possible to keep up with all the learning, the people, and the resources that are available 24/7/365. To remain productive, purposeful, and focused, consider establishing and using Twitter lists that will support your goals. For example, I keep Twitter lists to curate resources for my weekly Monday Memo for Faculty. I refer often to a list of personal-professional mentors who I can count on for modeling, support, and feedback. And I use lists to keep up with what my friends with whom I collaborate on all things educational leadership. And for fun and in an attempt to be part of something else larger than myself, I maintain a Twitter list of over 2,000 NY Connected Educators. While each of these can be used for professional enrichment, using lists in this way accomplishes something else vitally important in our field and in our schools, they make the world a smaller place. They help us to realize, we’re all more alike than different. And they encourage learning in and across communities.

To-Be-Read lists

This idea of lists is not a new one. In fact, this very idea was re-framed for me at my first Edcamp by one of my leading personal-professional mentors who has since become a dear friend. The session I had attended was about…a book, The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande. To this day, I continue to recommend this title, since it offers such low-input, high-output strategy work for being more efficient and effective, in work and in life.

As an avid reader of content both in and out of the education field, I keep a running list of books, authors, and series that I refer to often and update regularly. A To-Be-Read list can keep us in touch with what our students are excited to be reading, it can fuel us professionally, and it can allow us to cross-pollinate our ideas, our dialogue, and our perspective. But maybe most importantly, to-be-read lists remind us that in order to be high-impact leaders, we must first commit to being readers and learners.

Ready to evolve? What’s on your professional learning list?

Follow Dennis on Twitter @schug_dennis

We encourage our readers to check out Dennis’s blog!

Why Poetry? David L. Harrison

 

 

We posed a question to David Harrison, why poetry?

Ask a poet, “Why poetry?” the response may be a surprised look, the sort you’d expect if you’d asked, “Why do you breathe?” Perhaps it’s better to ask, “Why poets?” Who are these passionately dedicated people who throw themselves into the slow, tedious business of making poems? Good poetry is hard to write, selling poetry is next to impossible, and poets rarely make much money. So why poetry, why poets, and why should you care?
I can’t speak for other poets (although I bet they’d all answer in much the same way), but I love the challenge of beginning with an idea and facing all those decisions that must be made before I wind up with a finished poem. In music, the same notes in different combinations produce jazz, Dixieland, blues, marches, and symphonic works. In poetry, the same words in different combinations produce a marvelous variety of verse. Most days I work twelve hours, much of it writing poetry. I’m a freelance writer. No one is going to pay me if I don’t produce. Few would care or notice if I stopped. I work alone. If I spend hours trying to decide between one rhyme or another, struggling with a stubborn meter, seeking a stronger noun, searching desperately for just the right simile – who cares? Well, first of all, I care. No poet worth his salt is ever going to stop working on a poem until he reads it aloud one more time and loves what he hears.
Ask a teacher who has learned that poetry is one of the best tools in the toolbox for teaching fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and love of language, “Why poetry?” You might hear, “Couldn’t do without it!” At least I hope that’s what you hear! Teachers who routinely use poetry in their classrooms know that the rhymes and cadences of structured language make it easier to remember than prose and more fun to read repeatedly. Teachers who invite their students to write poems of their own know that children’s poetry offers a wonderful opportunity to share the rich diversity of our people.
But someone else cares too. Ask a third grader who has had positive experiences with poetry at home and/or school, “Why poetry?” You might hear, “I like poems. Sometimes they’re funny and they make me laugh.” What that third grader or first grader or fifth grader doesn’t realize is that poetry’s nuances, metaphors, echoing sounds, song-like qualities, rhymes, and cadences are providing much more than entertainment. Young readers have no idea how hard the poet worked to make them laugh or think or see something in a new light or provide them with examples of language used beautifully. Why should they? It’s their right to read good poems.
Why poetry? Ask a poet or a teacher if you want to. I’m going with the third grader.

© David L. Harrison

David L. Harrison.com

David’s Blog

Three Stages of Planning: Dr. Tony Sinanis

Enjoy this guest blog by Tony Sinanis!  Tony shares some expert ideas on planning, unit planning, backward design and how in combination they can positively impact teaching and learning!

Over the last couple of days, I have read a bunch of wonderfully written #OneWord posts. I often found myself nodding my head in agreement, especially in the case of this powerful post about empathy by my friend Bill. Although I couldn’t necessarily pick just one word, recently I have been thinking a lot about planning and how that impacts teaching and learning in our school each day. Much of my thinking has been anchored in the monthly literacy check-in conversations we have had at Cantiague where we have been discussing the integration of the new TC Units of Study and how these resources are impacting planning for literacy instruction and actual implementation.

Planning: A Personal Journey

This notion of “planning” is one I have struggled with my entire career as an educator… I could never quite plan far enough ahead yet I always over planned to make sure every minute was accounted for in my classroom. I have run the spectrum of planning… planning week to week using a plan book; planning an entire unit of study in advance using a template, and planning day to day on sheets of loose-leaf paper based on what I actually got accomplished on any given day with my students. The following graphic accurately captures what the “planning” experience looked like for me as a classroom teacher and even sometimes as a principal (be honest – how many of you can relate??)…

Fortunately, with almost 20 years experience as an educator I can confidently say that although I may have yet to master the whole planning situation, I have come to understand how important it really is to plan for learning and teaching within our classrooms. Regardless of what style or approach or format an educator uses, the bottom line is that we must plan in advance to have some sort of trajectory for the learning we hope to see unfold in our classrooms. Some of the questions I am constantly reflecting on include… What do we want our learners to master during a course of inquiry? What are the essential questions for this unit? What are the skills and strategies we want to expose our learners to during this lesson or unit? How are we going to ensure that the learning is student centered and student driven? Having reflected on questions like these (and dozens more), I have come to some personal understandings about planning. The way I see it, there are three stages of planning we could be engaging in that could have a positive impact on our students.
Stage 1: Unit Design
The first stage of planning and the one that I think is most effective and beneficial to maximizing the learning and teaching experience is unit planning. What do I mean by unit planning? I don’t mean picking up the new TC Units of Study (reading or writing) and necessarily following them verbatim (although that may work for many educators). No, I mean thinking about a unit of study that would be most beneficial to students… YOUR students. Think about what you want your students to have accomplished at the end of the unit of study. What are the essential (big & overarching) questions they should be able to answer? What knowledge and skills should students have acquired at the end of a unit? Could the TC Units of Study be the resource an educator uses as the anchor for a unit? Yes! But, the end goals should be established for the current group of students… TC Units of Study are a resource – they are not the curriculum.
After identifying the essential questions and specific knowledge and skills, now take a few steps back and think about what evidence could be “collected” during a unit to show what children have learned. This is the time to think about how the learning during a unit of study will be assessed because starting with the assessment in mind and planning backward from that point only increases the chances of academic success for learners. The final step in unit planning is thinking about the day to day learning experiences and the instruction that need to take place in order for the children to be able to answer the essential questions at the end of the unit.
A resource that is often used to facilitate this type of unit planning is the Understanding By Design model. The graphic below provides a great visual for the thinking that goes into this type of planning. What we know about systems thinking is that we plan ahead for our end goal – basically planning for our ideal situation – and working back from there.

Stage 2: Logistics, Schedules & Priorities

The second stage of planning considers all the logistics… scheduling, units of study across the different content areas and possibilities for interdisciplinary learning experiences. This is where the week to week planning gets refined and executed. If a teacher knows four students will be out of the classroom at reading at 9:30 am twice during the week, they will plan around that to ensure that the children don’t miss any new content. The second stage of planning will also consider what was accomplished the week before and what the goal is for the following week. This stage of planning drills deeper than what might be considered when planning the entire unit of study. This is where an educator considers the daily learning experiences and how they might unfold in the classroom using mini-lessons, direct instruction, guided practice, small group work and independent practice.

Stage 3: Day To Day

The third stage of planning is based on the data we collect from our students on a daily basis and this impacts the day to day instruction that unfolds in our classrooms. Yes, we may have planned a six-week unit of study in writing workshop that focuses on poetry but if we notice that the majority of our students are struggling with a strategy or skill on any given day, then that should impact, and even dictate, the next day’s mini-lesson. It might throw the unit of study slightly off course but ultimately, we must use data to guide and plan our daily instruction so that we are meeting the needs of our students and helping them work towards mastery of specific skills. The learning and teaching that unfolds in a classroom each day should not be solely based on a unit that was planned weeks in advance – it needs to be shaped and impacted by our students and their needs.

You Decide

Although there is not one size fits all approach to planning, I do believe these three stages of planning will ultimately have the most positive impact on the teaching and learning that unfolds in our classrooms each day. I hope that the readers of this post will join me in reflecting on their individual planning styles and how we can collaborate, as a PLN, to enhance our skills in this area!

Dr. Tony Sinanis is Assistant Superintendent for Learning & Instruction at Plainedge School District, NY
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonySinanis