When Texts Become Our Mentors — Really

What happens when we earnestly look to the text for learning?

I mean, really look to the text.

Not some sterile passage from a basal.

Not the occasional book that seems to coincide with our unit.

Not even the mandated whole-class novel, though I have heard merits on both sides (some pros here, cons here).

I mean full-blown looking to texts as our mentors day in and day out.

Starting out units immersing ourselves in books on every level and topic we can find (our school librarian was a saint in consistently helping me prepare for the immersion stage of our units).

Getting to really get to know the author–his/her style, favorite strategies, even personality — and then talking about what ____ is doing to make us feel or think the way we do?

Setting out each day for authentic discovery within the pages of the mentor text — which, of course, means we don’t necessarily know what our students will find?

Engaging alongside students as we also seek out examples of what we’re trying to better understand as readers and writers?

I have been on both sides of this approach to mentor texts. And I’d like to share a few before/after effects I observed in my students:

Before: 

  • I rarely, if ever, heard students refer to themselves as authors
  • The writing strategies we were trying to learn about usually felt much more abstract with little context.
  • As we inevitably turned to worksheets, our approach felt more contrived.
  • Students looked to me for each day’s literary learning.

After:

  • Students saw authors as people — people who were once kids like them that had to learn and hone their craft in the exact same way we were — which led to them referring to themselves as authors, too.
  • We made it our daily mission to seek out clear context within books.
  • The strategies we were trying to learn about felt much more natural.
  • We all looked to the books for rich, co-constructed literary learning.

We become better equipped to find and share mentor texts when we read as much as we can as teachers. Whole language reading/writing workshops will also include plenty of examples of texts that coincide with each unit (One of the reasons I enjoyed Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series). But of course, there are also plenty of free online resources available, too! Here are a few:

Making the shift toward integrating mentor texts into our daily literacy learning has been pivotal for authenticity. After all, if we say it’s all about reading and writing books, shouldn’t books be our primary companions?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Magic of an AuthorLink #TeacherMom

A few weeks ago, our local library hosted Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen as they shared their newest book, “The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse.”

It was a 3-generational fan-girl geek-out.

Hearing authors read their own stories is always a treat…

…but having an illustrator demonstrating their process, too? For my young aspiring author/illustrator, it was nothing short of magical.

As we waited in line to get our copy signed, my daughter grew a little nervous. But as soon as we got up to the front of the line, she told Mac and Jon all about her large box of books she has created, and they told her to never get rid of any of them, no matter what anyone ever says (and that they still get ideas from stories they made as kids).

 

What I love most about AuthorLinks is it gives kids the chance to see authors and illustrators as real people. Suddenly, the idea of making a book isn’t some abstract fantasy, but one with concrete choices and steps and possibility. For this gift for my daughter, and for the gift for my future students with whom you can bet I’ll be sharing these photos and videos, I’m grateful! Thanks so much Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, and authors everywhere who take the time to connect with kids.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Inquiry into the Senses

There’s a reason that our first lessons on bringing detail into our writing often revolve around the 5 senses. There’s a rich, visceral connection we all make with our senses of touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell.

In this way, this week’s provocation can be a wonderful application for a writing unit, or else perhaps for science concepts such as adaptation, human development, etc.

Resource #1: s e n s e s by Whitelist

Resource #2: Nieta by Nicolás P. Villarreal, via The Kid Should See This

Resource #3: Blind Birdwatcher Sees With Sound by Great Big Story, via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: Tactile, by Death To Stock

Provocation Questions:

  • How do human senses shape the way we experience the world around us?
  • Why do we need our senses?
  • How does life change without one of our senses? Two? Three?
  • Does everyone use each of their senses in the same way? Why or why not?
  • What is the connection between our senses and details?
  • How does our use of our senses change over time?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

An Inquiry Into Student Blogging

After a summer of enthusiastic research, I jumped headlong into the world of student blogging in 2013. None of the dozens of blogs, videos, or how-to’s could quite prepare me for just how much goes into it.

Even all these years later, I’ve continued reflecting on how I could improve. While recently reading “It’s Not All About Blog: The Work Before The Blog” on Two Writing Teachers, it came to me: why not share the preparation with students through inquiry?? One of Deb’s tips is to expose kids to lots of great examples of blogging. Today’s inquiry is designed to help kids explore quality exemplars of student blogging!

Resource #1: Edublog Awards

This is where you can find Edublog’s yearly student blogger awardees. This is a great resource if you’re looking for blogs built and maintained by students.

Resource #2: AutisticAndProud

This blog is run by Fionn and his mom with the following goal: “a boy with aspergers gives some views through his eyes…” It’s a wonderful example of how blogging can help us refine our feelings and experiences with words, while also inviting others along that journey.

Resource #3: TheLivBits Blog

I highlighted Olivia as an example of powerful digital citizenship at the beginning of this year. Her blog is another great source for students to look for peer-written, inspiring content — particularly when it comes to books, words, and being true to oneself.

Resource #4: Edublogger Class Blogs (sorted by type/grade)

These class blogs aren’t necessarily run by students (some are run by teachers, etc), but it can be a helpful place to go if you are looking for blogs in a specific group (ie, 1st graders, art, mathematics, etc).

Resource #5: Professional blogs

Checking our professional blogs run by grown-ups can always be worthwhile, too. A few of my favorite consistent blogs as an educator include ones by Pernille Ripp, George Couros, and Seth Godin.

Provocation Questions:

  • What is the connection between writing blogging?
  • What do you notice about the purpose of blogging?
  • What do you notice about how they set up their blogs? (font, text size, About page, widgets in the sidebar, etc)
  • What are the responsibilities of being a blogger to yourself? To your audience?
  • How do comments work?
  • How is perspective connected to blogging?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

4 Reasons We Just Can’t Break Up with Basals (& How to Finally Move On)

The typical basal-reading program lesson frequently boils down to something like this:

  • Assigned shared text read aloud.
  • Definitions of carefully-bolded vocabulary words copied down.
  • Comprehension worksheets filled out.
  • Students and teachers alike feeling bored to tears.

The truth is, putting kids through this kind of soul-less exercise will produce authentic readers no more than the mastery of connect-the-dots sheets will produce artists.

And we know it. Master teachers refer to the need to “finesse and hybridize” basals to make sure they’re effective. ¹ (which also makes basals’ claims at “research-based effectiveness” shaky since there’s real possibility they take credit for master teachers’ adjustments).

There are so many other ways to help our students develop the reading skills they need while protecting and nurturing their love of reading. Here are a few of the messages I believe we keep getting from basal program companies to convince us otherwise.

#1: Inexperienced teachers need me!

Basals assert that new teachers won’t be able to navigate the waters of literacy instruction without their careful direction. However, if our solution for offering literacy support to new teachers is to let them muddle through a sub-par program, we’re doing a disservice to both our teachers and our students.

Furthermore, even with all the details of a basal program (many of which supply ideas for differentiation, activating background knowledge, etc), “only a well-trained teacher can make the multifaceted decisions involved in developing such instruction”² anyway. Outsourcing this training to a one-size fits all manual is simply inadequate.

P.S. Going basal-free doesn’t mean you have to/should abandon a framework. One phenomenal example is a a workshop framework by Pam Allyn that I reviewed a couple years ago.

#2: You can’t be sure students will develop skills without my guidance.

In a workshop/units of study model, not only do students develop literacy skills, but they do so with a greater degree of context and response to the ongoing trajectory of student learning.

Meanwhile, basal programs tend to spend disproportionate amounts of time drilling specific skills, such as the ones involved in reading comprehension. Consider this:

“It is critical to note that these and other reading programs allocate as much or more actual time to rehearsing comprehension skills than they allocate to teaching any other element in their language-arts program…In reality, when children experience problems comprehending text, it is much more likely due to the child’s lack of knowledge of the subject matter…The notion that we can teach students a set of skills that they will be able to apply to new and unfamiliar texts or situations is a process that cognitive psychologists call “skills transference.” This is regarded as an inordinately difficult task for our brains to pull off and, therefore, is not a practical educational goal. But it is a goal set forward by every major reading program on the market.”³

In addition, even if students develop said skills, if they never apply them because all those basal worksheets suffocated their love of reading, what’s the point? As educator Ross Cooper wrote, “First and foremost, we must promote a love of reading, not a culture of literacy-based micromanagement.4

#3: You won’t have ready access to ability-appropriate text!

Twenty years ago, this may have been the case. But just consider this small sampling of today’s possibilities:

  • Shared texts via projectors/document cameras
  • Newsela (engaging, level-able text at the click of a button)
  • Wonderopolis (text based on “more than 90,000 Wonder questions submitted by users” and differentiation features such as selected-text-to-audio and hover-to-define-vocabulary)
  • DOGO (kid-friendly news that’s also leveled at the click of a button and includes assignments, vocab, and Google Classroom integration)
  • Savvy multimedia librarians that can help identify/pull relevant texts during the immersion phase of units.

#4: You won’t have as much time without me to meet students’ individual needs!

Basal models assume that most kids’ learning takes place right at the top of the bell curve, with “differentiation tips” for the few kids on either side of the curve. But the truth is, every journey is unique. The sooner we disentangle ourselves from all the micromanaged requirements of a basal, the sooner we can spend our time where it really counts: 1-1 conferences, responsive mini-lessons, mentor text studies, student ownership/agency, etc.

No matter what promises are made to the contrary, we need to remember that “there’s no simple solution, no panacea, or miracle cure for reading. The range of ways to solve reading achievement challenges is as broad as the range of student profiles.”²

Sources:

1. http://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1507&context=ehd_theses

2. https://www.naesp.org/sites/default/files/resources/2/Principal/2009/J-F_p26.pdf

3. http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Basal_readers.pdf

4. http://www.bamradionetwork.com/edwords-blog/3-reasons-to-rethink-your-basal-reader

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Provocation for Finding Ideas

Where do we find inspiration? Why is that that one moment, ideas seem to sweep us away, and the next, they feel hopelessly out of reach? I’ve shared other provocations on finding wonder and inspiration before, but it’s such an essential flame to keep burning that I’m sharing another!

Resource #1: Where Do Ideas Come From? by Andrew Norton

Resource #2: On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein picture book by Jennifer Berne & Vladimir Radunsky

Provocation Questions:

  • When have you felt most inspired?
  • How does inspiration impact how our societies run/change?
  • Why do we feel uninspired sometimes?
  • What is our responsibility to share our ideas?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Provocation into the Power of Words

I recently came across the following image from one of my favorite comics, The Awkward Yeti, by Nick Seluk:

Language Emoji
via The Awkward Yeti, by Nick Seluk

The modes of communication have undergone such dramatic, exponential change in the past couple of decades that it makes sense that communication itself is also undergoing change. But even as language gets sometimes stripped away to basic emojis, it’s significant to examine the enduring principles of powerful word choice.

Resource #1: “The Power of Words”

Resource #2: “A Child Of Books” by Oliver Jeffers

via Amazon
via Amazon
via Amazon

Resource #3: Infographic by Grammar Check

5 Weak Words to Avoid & What to Use Instead (Infographic)
Source: www.grammarcheck.net

Provocation Questions:

  • What makes words powerful?
  • How does developing better word choice impact our lives? How does it impact our societies?
  • How is vocabulary use changing in the 21st century?
  • What is the relationship with words and language? How are they alike and how are they different?
  • How does powerful word choice impact message people share with their audiences?
  • How is powerful word choice relevant even as communication evolves?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto