Friday, July 21, 2017

What Makes a Successful Writer's Workshop Launch (it's not really about the writing at this point!)?

Back-to-School is right around the corner and I'll admit that I'm starting to get that "ready" feeling! Especially when it comes to building readers and writers. Last weekend I was sharing this crazy statement with a teaching friend and she was clearly not in the same place that I am. This year our principal is asking us to focus more time on teaching writing and she is not happy! I think writing scares many teachers because there are so, so many different approaches out there.  One thing I know for sure is that a successful Launch will make all the difference to your writer's workshop. 

Do you see yourself in one of these pictures? It doesn't have to be this way! Yes, writing is one of the more difficult subjects to teach well, but we can all do it.  The first thing is starting off on the right foot.  

What makes a writer’s workshop launch successful?
1. Routines and behaviors are established for writer’s workshop. These will be built upon for the entire school year.  Be sure all are involved and know exactly what is expected during writing time and what is not. 

2. We must build classroom community so why not add excitement for writing and can-do attitude in students?  Encourage writing across the day. Come together as writers, learn as writers, share information as writers. 

3. There is nothing more effective for guaranteeing student success than teacher expertise. Build your knowledge and understand the WHY and WHAT to teaching writing effectively. A launch is not only for the students, it’s for the teacher, too. You will need to build your stamina everyday during the launch, just like students are expected. 

4. Students must see themselves as writers. When this occurs, those writers will rise to their teacher’s level of expectation. Many times, they will surpass your original goals or meet them much sooner than expected. Think of Mem Fox and my favorite quote of hers, "The fastest way to teach a child to read is to teach that child to write!" 

5.  We must teach students how to think independently and critically. A successful launch supports students every step of the way. This allows students to become independent thinkers in reading and writing in a safe environment. You will not be able to conference with every writer everyday. Their independence will carry them between conferencing sessions. 

You can do this.  It's hard work, but so very well worth it.  Over many years of learning, coaching, and training teachers, I feel like I've figured a few things out. Not all, but a few. If you need a guide, click here for 1st Grade or here for 2nd Grade.  Or feel free to email me. I'm just an email away and happy to help.  Just promise me that if you want to run a successful writing workshop with your students, you will get everyone started on the right foot by launching it correctly! All kids and teachers deserve to be the best writer they can be. Good luck, writing teachers! :)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are we UNINTENTIONALLY confusing our learners with the materials we use to teach the alphabet?

This past fall, I decided to go back to the classroom after having been a literacy coach and reading specialist for the past 6 years. I was ready to re-ground myself where it matters the classroom. What I walked into was quite shocking.  When did the overuse of programs become the norm and common sense went out the window?  I know that's a pretty bold statement and I am not blaming anyone.  We are all doing the very best we can. Maybe our administrators and school leaders are so busy with everything else that somehow we got lost along the way? 

In the classroom I was moving into, I found boxes and boxes of different curriculum packages and at least four different alphabet charts! On one of these alphabet charts,  Bb was shown with a picture of balloons, another used a picture of a bat, and another used a picture of a bear. Do you see how this idea can be very confusing for a child taking on letters and sounds! To adults, this would seem attractive, colorful, even helpful. Unfortunately, to a child, it is confusing. We are already expecting children to understand that more than one word or picture can start with Bb. Many may not even realize what a Bb is, yet all of these symbols stand for it. Rather than trying to learn 26 letters and sounds, this creates over 100 different letter/sound relationships!  This just felt crazy to me! 

While cleaning out these piles of charts and resources I began thinking about how often times we complain about the amount of assessment we have to do. I agree. There is a TON, but when we set up our classroom with SEVERAL different ABC charts/wall cards, we are already setting our students up for testing, rather than teaching. I haven't even taught my students for one minute and I was already expecting them to transfer knowledge of letters from one situation to another. This transfer of knowledge can’t be taught first. There’s not enough knowledge to transfer! We must first teach and solidify letter knowledge to build a strong foundation of understanding. Then we can transfer our knowledge to other situations. 

There must be a better way to go about introducing letters and sounds to child, right? Well, I assumed there was so I began looking. And looking. And looking. Guess what?  There's really just a lot of ok stuff out there that is great in isolation, but is overwhelming and confusing when used together. So what is a new kindergarten teacher to do?  She makes her own resource and then shares it with teachers all around the world! :) Together we are going to help our students learn about letters easily. Not in a confusing and overwhelming way. 

With this new way of thinking, we are going to teach our students one picture that stands for each letter of the alphabet. We will start slow to go fast later.  All of the resources will match each other.  The wall cards will match the handwriting book.  The handwriting book will match the practice page.  The practice pages will match the playdough mats.  Everything will work together rather than against each other. I feel like this approach really makes sense? Don't you?  What do you think? 

This past year, I tried this approach with my kindergarten students.  Here's what I learned:  When teaching is clear, explicit, and easy to learn, kids learn. Almost all of my students knew all of their letters, sounds, and corresponding picture by the end of October.  We started school in September. I was shocked at how quickly this learning took place. By December, most of my students were reading at a Fountas and Pinnell Level C. All except for one were at end-of-the-year benchmark by March. I would love to say these successes were all because of me, but that's not true. It was good teaching, but it was also using materials that made sense, were engaging, and helped kids to take on the information easily.  If you're intrigued, please email me or check out the product here:  ABCs as EASY as 123