Saturday, July 14, 2018

Saturday Sayings: Flummoxed by Choice

If you've been around my blog very long, sat through my writing PD, or read my book, Gatekeepers, you know how I feel about writing prompts. Simply put, I'm not a huge fan. So it's no surprise that when I teach teachers about writing, the topic of choice will come up. 

This week I had the opportunity to present my writing PD at a conference in Twin Falls, Idaho. When I shared the fact that my beliefs prevent me from buying a year's worth of writing prompts from TPT, a junior high ELA teacher expressed a valid concern. Her students don't know how to handle choice in writing when she attempts to offer it. I responded by saying that it's very possible her students don't know how to write without prompts, because from their elementary days on, they haven't been in a culture where that is the expectation. In other words, it's not their fault. 

In light of that conversation, I find it interesting that this morning I came across the following expert in 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. 

I think it's fair to say, Twin Falls is not the only place where students in the secondary classroom are "flummoxed by choice." Fortunately, skilled secondary writing teachers can turn this problem around, but I bet they'd jump for joy if we elementary teachers sent them writers who already knew how to handle choice with both ease and enthusiasm. 

I realize my views about prompts understandably make some writing teachers uncomfortable, especially if prompts were the norm throughout their education and continue to be so in the culture where they teach. I'm not here to bully anyone into abandoning all forms of writing prompts, but I would like to at least inspire teachers to ask, "Why?" and to consider what choice might do for their writers today and in the future. Will they be flummoxed or empowered?

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Miss McMorrow's Summer Book Club

I truly believe that preventing the summer slide starts on day one of school. If we wait until April, May, or June to attack this issue, we've waited too long. That's not to say there aren't some worthwhile strategies that teachers can implement as they launch students into the summer months. 

Of course, book access is key. In a perfect world, I'd send all students home with enough books to keep them engaged for the whole summer. (Did you know that Todd Nesloney's school actually made this happen? Read about it here. The whole idea makes me salivate!) I don't have the resources to pull off this kind of miracle, but I do have access to a local library and I have time to spare. 

For a few years now, I've donated an hour of my time nearly each week of the summer to meet with my students at our local library. I call it Miss McMorrow's Summer Book Club.

Since I don't want to be locked into a schedule, I simply choose a day and time on a weekly basis that works for me, so parents just have to flexible. One week we might meet on a Friday morning. The next week might be a Wednesday afternoon. I simply send an email and text to parents the day before. I invite them to drop off their child at a certain time and pick them up an hour later. I arrive at the library early enough to choose some good read-alouds, as well as some books I think students would be able to read with independence. 

Our hour together starts with time for everyone to share their summer stories. Then I read to them. That's followed by some partner reading using the books I picked out. Finally, they get to explore the library for books they want to read. 

Obviously, my book club won't meet during the week I'm away at church camp, and a few years ago, I abandoned the idea of book clubs altogether. Honestly, it was one of those years x 10, and I needed a break. Otherwise, giving up an hour per week of my summer really feels like no sacrifice at all. 

Not everyone has the luxury of time during the summer like I do, but minus incentives and myriad other "strategies" that when analyzed really don't work or align with our beliefs, how will we creatively increase the odds that our readers are readers even when they're not at our fingertips? It's a question worth asking.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Find Your Read!

I want three things from any professional book I read.

1) I want to be validated.

I hate to sound narcissistic, but in reality, I need to know I'm doing a thing or two right sometimes, and it's reassuring to find a version of my story on the pages of a highly esteemed author's book. I remember when I read The Book Whisperer and Donalyn Miller validated why independent reading is a nonnegotiable. To be able to say, "Hey, I do that too" or "I couldn't agree more" empowers my practice. Additionally, sometimes an author is able to articulate the "why" of what I do with research and explanations that I hadn't thought through well enough. She turns my unintentional practice into conscious competence.

2) I want to be inspired.

Every time I read Regie Routman's work, I am inspired to outgrow the latest version of my best self. She has a way of convincing me I can do better but without attaching the guilt of who I have been compared to who I want to be. Hope, optimism, perspective are empowering. I want to walk away from a book with a spring in my step.

3) I want to be challenged.

I've been hearing a lot about the "echo chamber" lately. Am I surrounding myself with only likeminded voices? As I previously mentioned, I enjoy and seek out validation but  when approached with new voices and ideas, I have an opportunity to stretch and question my existing pedagogy. I'm currently reading Kids 1st From Day 1 by Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz. I'm familiar with their work, so I knew even before I read the first page that it would be an uncomfortable read at times, and they do not disappoint. Though the stretch is slightly uncomfortable, I welcome the challenge and come next year, my students will be better off because I have.

Are you seeking validation, inspiration, and challenge this summer? There are so many great reads out there. It's quite literally impossible to claim there's not one written just for you from teachers who are also in the trenches and can help you along your journey in whatever capacity you need it. 

I'd like to extend an invitation to check out Gatekeepers. I'd like to think it offers validation, inspiration, and a challenge or two.

Go find your read!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My Summer Reading Routine

Besides taking a daily nap, whether I need one or not, one of my summer goals is to read more books than I did last summer. Forty-one to be exact. No problem, right? (Note: Eighteen books down and I'm well on my way.) 

Thanks mostly to Goodreads, I have both figurative and literal piles of books waiting for my attention, and even though the professional books in my stack are top-notch, my draw to fiction is hard to resist. Let's face it. I spent nine months knee-deep in all things educational. I deserve a break. Yet as I mention in my book, Gatekeepers: Let's Talk about Teaching, I'm in charge of my own professional development, and spending quality time with authors who know their stuff feeds my teacher heart. So how do I do both? How do I attack that pile of enticing fiction and read about my practice at the same time? Well, I've found a system. I've been intentional. 

Every morning after I read my Bible and devotional, I read the next portion of whatever professional book I'm working on. It's become part of my routine, and I have to say, I look forward to it every morning. If I missed it for some reason, I'd be bummed. 

So that's my solution to the dilemma. Whether it's fiction or myriad other viable reasons for just not getting the professional reading done, what intentional moves will you make this summer? You're in charge of your own professional development.  

Read on, friends.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

I Am a Writer

I'd like to imagine that most days I have a fairly decent handle on writing instruction. I understand the conditions for providing a space where writers are welcomed into the literacy club. Yet I still struggle with those who I have yet to win over -- those who would rather not say, "I am a writer." 

As a teacher in the Idaho Coaching Network, I was challenged to develop a special inquiry project this year, so with the help of Ralph Fletcher's book, Joy Write, I tackled this writing identity problem of practice. My goal was to use writing notebooks as a place to enjoy the process of playing with writing in hopes that each writer, specifically the reluctant ones, would find him/herself falling in love with writing.

At the beginning of the year I sent home a composition notebook with each student with directions to decorate the front and back cover before sending it back to school. 

At some point during the first month of school, I told my writers that their writing notebooks were designed to hold their most special thoughts and words. No strings were attached. No mandates were made. We put them in a special place where kids could grab them during Daily 5 and independently write in them if they wanted to.

My Frustrations:
  • The excessive random scribbles and pictures drove me crazy. Drawing and sketching are viable parts of the writing process for young writers, and I expected to see evidence of this. Unfortunately, it seemed like much of it had very little purpose and did not lead to writing.
  • I knew celebration would be key, because great writing is contagious. So when I saw that a writer had "invented" a way to use her writing notebook in a creative way, I made a huge deal out of it. This helped a bit but not considerably.
  • Many kids never chose to use their writing notebooks.

(early entries that we celebrated)

My solution:

  •  Over halfway through the year, I borrowed the open cycle idea from Ralph Fletcher. Between units, I took a break from genre studies and spent a week during writing workshop using only the writing notebooks. 
  • Each lesson began with a mentor text that I thought could inspire a new way of playing with writing. I never mandated that writers use the strategy, but I sure made a big deal out of how fun it would be to try.
  • Each writing time was sprinkled with lots of celebration and sharing of how they played with writing.
  • I also introduced the idea of collaboration. One day during our open cycle, writers were invited to work with a partner in their writing notebooks if they so desired.

 (open cycle pieces that included talking bubble stories, narratives, comic strips, fiction, and collaborative pieces)

  • After the open cycle, I saw that more students were choosing to write in their writing notebooks on their own time during the day.
  • There was less random scribbling, more drawing with purpose, and more actual writing.
  • I noticed more engagement from some of my reluctant writers.

For a first iteration, I'm happy with my first attempt at using writing notebooks as a way to encourage the play and joy that can lead to writing identities. I have plans to use them again next year with the intent of incorporating open cycles into my writing workshop time from the get go. I'm looking forward to seeing how this next iteration helps increase transfer of joy and identity into daily writing even more so than it did this year.

Thanks Idaho Coaching Network for encouraging a space where teachers can safely experiment with problems of practice and find solutions that benefit their students in the best of ways.

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Sunday, March 25, 2018

My Summer Reading List

It's only spring break, yet I'm already thinking ahead to my summer pile of teacher reading material. I've got plans to read:

This one is no surprise to anyone who knows me well. I have to read every word Regie Routman prints. Some day, I'd really love to sit down and have a conversation with her. She's my hero.

I'm a huge fan of these authors. If you haven't read their previous book, A Mindset for Learning, you're missing out. They're both just incredibly smart about kids and classroom practices.

I "met" Joan Wink when one of her grandsons was in my class about six years ago. She's been on my side ever since. She has an amazing story to tell. I'm so looking forward to reading this one.

Which brings me to this final book. I'm actually not going to read this one, but I'd be so honored if you did. I published Gatekeepers last June, and I've had the privilege of sharing it with over 300 people. I'd love to share it with you too. As you're making your summer wish list on Amazon or tagging books you want to read on Goodreads, I'd like to recommend Gatekeepers as an option. (You can find reviews on both sites.) I do believe with all my 24 years of teaching that it's a reflective and inspiring compilation of thoughts that any educator can learn from. I'd be so tickled to share it with you.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Visualizing: A Mathematical Must

Close your eyes. Visualize 8 on a ten frame. What do you see? How many are on top? How many on the bottom? How many blank spots are there? Turn and describe what you see to your neighbor. Go. 

This kind of thing has been happening often during the past few weeks in my classroom. Through the guidance of Christina Tondevold from, I have seen the light, and the light is called visualizingThe results leave me wondering, Why haven't I been doing this for 24 years? It seems so obvious now that it's officially become a staple of number sense in my room.

Asking my mathematicians to visualize and to visualize within the structure of a ten frame is helping them make huge connections. For one thing, it helps them with facts. If a child can visualize 8, he can see the extra 2 spots that are needed to make 10. Today my class used visualizing in order to use the Make 10 strategy. After days of visualizing, ten frames, scaffolding, and a gradual release of responsibility (all credit goes to Christina Tondevold), a majority of my students were able to explain how to solve the problem below. In fact, my notation came directly from their mouths.

"Give 2 to the 8 to make 10. That leaves 2 left out. 10 plus 2 equals 12." 
(Do not try this at home without all the essential conceptual steps.)

Why can they do this? Because they can visualize. When one of my mathematicians decided to use her free time to solve an additional problem (9 + 5), she knew to give 1 to the 9 but then got stuck in her notation. She didn't automatically know what was left from the 5. As soon as I said, "Visualize 5 on the ten frame. Now take one away. How many are left?" she instantly wrote 4. It was kind of magical.

I will forever now promote visualizing as an essential math strategy. It gives all kids access to numbers. It's really a must. Thank you Christina for leading me to the light!

P.S. It's possible I'm the only one on the planet who didn't know this already, so thanks for celebrating with me regardless. :)

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