Brushes with Greatness…

Wow, it has been far too long since I have added to this educators’ blog. Now I know what my New Year’s Resolution will be!

Let’s catch up, shall we?!

I’ve recently presented with the New York State Reading Association (NYSRA), Niagara Frontier Reading Council, and Diocese of Buffalo. I’ve met so many impassioned educators around me, and made some wonderful professional connections. I was also fortunate to have my administrators attend the 2016 NYSRA conference, where I presented to a standing-room only crowd! I had conference attendees listening from the hallway! It was an incredible honor, and so affirming to the work I do in sharing my love for pedagogy, educational technology, and intrinsic motivation as an educator.

One of the highlights of my fall was meeting THE Nell Duke. She was a keynote speaker during the closing luncheon of NYSRA. Luckily, I had a spot up front and was able to hear her approach to usage of text in project-based learning, as it fits across curricula, and supports literacy skills.

After her keynote, she was gracious enough to let me have a moment with her. Here I was, rubbing elbows with a figurehead in education/literacy research… someone I quoted/referenced in many of my graduate school papers! We even managed a selfie and she asked me to tag her so she could retweet it! (And she did!)

Dr. Nell Duke is definitely someone I look up to as a source of knowledge and inspiration. There are two of her articles that particularly speak to me. One is regarding all the USELESS literacy instruction practices we should abandon. The other is in regards to vetting websites as viable informational text resources.

As a literacy specialist, the former particularly resonates with me. Having students look up words in a dictionary and write them out is a skill they should have, but only if the vocabulary is in their zone of proximal development. I use Words their Way (WtW) to fulfill the phonics/word study component of my Readers Workshop, and differentiate word lists and tasks based upon individual students’ needs.

(And I’d like to shout-out my son’s first grade teacher for giving me a treasure trove of WtW resources beyond the commercial materials!)

There is so much high-quality, research-based, accessible and useful information in Duke’s work. I savor it as much as I can! As a person, I found her so authentic, sincere, and dedicated to making sure the time we are spending with our students is being used as efficiently as possible. I know I have been inspired to use as much of my time in the classroom for instruction, discovery, and growth!

Happy Holidays to all of you. Thank you for continuing to read my blog, and I wish all of you a happy, healthy, productive 2017!

– Kirsten

Long Time No See!

Hi everyone! images

It has been a while since I posted. I thought I would check in with you on the “latest and greatest” from my end.

Literacy: My Other Specialty

In January, I accepted a position as a literacy specialist (i.e. reading teacher) in my hometown district. It has been an incredible change, but one I was ready for and feel blessed to have been offered. In my role, I serve a kindergarten to fourth grade population, and assist struggling readers. The groups of students I “pull out” are mostly third and fourth graders, although I see a couple second graders. I also have a very lively trio of kindergarteners. Several times a week, I also “push in” to help support ELA activities for elementary classrooms.

My building has a 1:1 iPad program instituted, and I try to infuse my love for educational technology in with intervention strategies. Having recently taken a one-credit course in Digital Strategies in the Inclusive Classroom, I think edtech and literacy work very symbiotically – especially to engage and motivate elementary students.

RtI

In a very short period of time, I have adapted and grown so much in the practices of Response to Intervention (RtI). Everyday I come to school, I hope to inch every student along their path toward seeing themselves as readers. I am very direct about expecting them to make progress, and encouraging students to find their “sea of strengths” in order to decode and comprehend texts.

imagesDecoding and Comprehension

One thing that has been amazing, that my graduate training did not necessarily touch upon, is finding students who are not strong at decoding words (deciphering them) but can understand the gist of what they read. Luckily, I had some wonderful graduate professors (whom I still have contact with) that taught me how to diagnose and create strategies for attacking some of the problems struggling readers face.

Stay Tuned

Overall, I am right where I need to be, and I am loving it! I hope you will stay tuned to experience this journey, and help me create a dialogue in pedagogy of literacy and technology integration!images-1

All my very best,

Kirsten

Rigor = Motivation + Metacognition

I’ve been thinking a lot about “rigor” lately. It is a big buzz word in education right now. Last June, I was fortunate to attend the Model Schools Conference, where Dr. Bill Daggett showcased his Rigor-Relevance Framework. It was inspiring and motivating to me as an educator.Rigor_Relevance_Framework

Recently, I read a great Edutopia blog on rigor by Brian Sztabnik. You can read it here. His words and reflections resonated with me. I was especially intrigued by this statement:

Rigor is the result of work that challenges students’ thinking in new and interesting ways.

Sztabnik explains how the great novelist David Foster Wallace would not use stereotypically “classic” works of literature in his 100-level college class. Instead, Wallace chose more contemporary, culturally-popular books. He warned not to write off the books as “easy” or “blow-off” books.

In his own genius, Wallace was selecting books that were more accessible and not teaching a difficult book, but increasing the students’ ability to articulate informed opinions/reasoning of their reading responses.

This is where real rigor lies.Rigous

It is not always what we are teaching, but it is definitely how we teach it. Utilizing any tool for instruction in a way that ignites a student is where the real magic lies.

I used to have a notion that rigor meant difficulty. As I continue to try to improve my own instruction, I know that rigor does not mean “harder.” It means that students are motivated to accomplish, and that they are aware of themselves metacognitively. Rigorous learning allows students to choose to turn on their thinking.

In terms of STEM, Melissa Marshall has a great 4.5 minute TED talk here. She speaks along the lines of rigor, motivation, using Tier 3 vocabulary (she says “jargon”) in a specific, and high-level of content geared to anyone. She discusses great communication and states:

Making your ideas accessible is not the same as dumbing it down.

Edutopia also has a great infographic about what learners pay attention to here. Also worth a look.11227582_820462477989673_8302552304208145496_n

I find that the more I differentiate my instruction, the higher the overall engagement. If tasks are more creative and open-ended, students tend to let their imaginations run wild and get more immersed in the task. Immersion is actively diving into something more deeply. In my book, that is what rigor looks like.

Choice within the content material is also an accelerator of engagement, in my opinion. Giving students options on what they read, or how they present what they know has shown to foster engagement in my own classroom. This gives a confidence boost to the students who like to “swim upstream” – and allows them to shine. As confidence goes up, so does one’s commitment to learning, and rigor is the by-product.

A Year Later

So, almost a year later – how has rigor been focused on within my lessons? What have I changed? What have I eliminated? How has rigor been increased/decreased by the inception of our 1:1 iPad classrooms?

I teach 9th graders. They often have one foot in middle school, and one foot in high school. The students they are in September are vastly different than the students they are by the following June. Some of them are extremely tech savvy, and blow me away with their ability to administrate their high school courses electronically. Others struggle with the distraction the iPads present. Although we have been vigilant to minimize the distractions, they are inevitable.

I have learned not to use iPads for every task. Although I have created a paperless classroom this year (sans summative assessments), I need to allow students choice in what works best for them. For example, some prefer reading in their paper textbook, others like viewing the pdf of their textbook online.

Novelty and diversity in tasks are key. In my previous post, I discussed how “edtech” is not innovation. In the same way, difficulty is not rigor.

Metacognition is the other piece I have learned to add into each task, in order to increase engagement and rigor. Taking a moment to show students how to think about the task, open their awareness, and create a mindful group of learners makes each lesson I teach more successful than it would have been without the metacognitive piece. Discussion, and having students explain things back to me are intellectually stimulating. Pulling ideas out into the “big picture,” pushing into the micro level, applying it to their experiences in life to ignite relevance all have shown to help relate to what my students are learning. Increase of rigor is not guaranteed by these approaches, but more possible. i_heart_rigor

What do you think?

Have a happy, inspired day!

-Kirsten 🙂

Motivation to Read in the Age of Common Core

I had the pleasure of attending the Niagara Frontier Reading Council Spring 2015 Brunch on Saturday April 25th. Linda Gambrell from Clemson University spoke.

Here were my take-aways:

  • Spoken language and text language are two different languages
  • There is a second grade slump being observed – a decrease in motivation as students become aware of their proficiency
  • Reading success isn’t necessarily about ability, but opportunities to read. By increasing opportunities to read, we are increasing a student’s chances of reading success.
  • Ybarra et al (Feb 2007): Social interaction and mental exercise both increase cognitive functioning. Intellectual conversation positively affects working memory. What students talk about, they learn best and remember the longest.
  • Have students engage in a conversation about the material you are teaching: “What are the 3 most important things a person ought to know about _____?”
  • In read-alouds, give students a preview of several texts and let them vote on what they’d like to hear. This will increase student interest in the read aloud.
  • When given book choices, there are “flippers” and “wanderers.” This might be due to some readers not knowing how to properly choose a ‘just right’ book.
  • In Self Selected Reading (SSR) – students should have a NOW book, a NEXT book, and a QUICK read in their book boxes/bins. This encourages sustainability and alleviates a student being stuck with a text that doesn’t engage them.
  • The volume/amount of silent reading in schools is directly related to gains in reading and achievement.
  • All good readers know the next book they are going to read.
  • Instead of books labeled easy-medium-hard, have books labeled hard-harder-hardest!
  • Bless the Books: give snippets of books available to get students interested in picking them
  • Have a sign in your classroom the tells what you are currently reading, to ask you about it, what you are going to read next, and an invitation to share what the student is reading
  • Students LOVE hearing “I know a book you would love…”

Overall, the Niagara Frontier Reading Council does a fabulous job providing a community for professionals and educators. The professional development they offer has definitely helped me become the passionate, motivated teacher I feel that I am. Check out their website, and feel free to engage with them on social media: http://www.thenfrc.org/

Here was a poem Linda Gambrell also shared, that I thought was clever:

Confession

BY BRUCE LANSKY

I have a brief confession
that I would like to make.
If I dont get it off my chest
I’m sure my heart will break.
I didn’t do my reading.
I watched TV instead—
while munching cookies, cakes, and chips
and cinnamon raisin bread.
I didn’t wash the dishes.
I didn’t clean the mess.
Now there are roaches eating crumbs—
a million, more or less.
I didn’t turn the TV off.
I didn’t shut the light.
Just think of all the energy
I wasted through the night.
I feel so very guilty.
I did a lousy job.
I hope my students don’t find out
that I am such a slob.

Have a great day!

Kirsten