Let’s Get Together – Elementary End-of-Year Check-In

Last Saturday, Ruth Hanna and I facilitated the last of our Saturday Mid-Year Check-In courses. Over the course of 4 Saturdays, around 50 elementary school teachers gave their time to sit down and reflect on their practice and plan together for the second half of the school year. Across each course, we had rich conversations about what it means to help support a culture of reading and writing at the elementary level and how to better help all students chart pathways to reading and creating complex texts.

While we were pleased with the turnout each Saturday, we also appreciate the sacrifice of giving a Saturday to plan for our classrooms.

If I’ve been to your classroom or school over the last few months, you may recall me saying this is the “what” year of implementing our new elementary literacy resources and next year is the “how” year. Well, we wanted to make sure there’s space for thinking about the “how”.

We invite you to join us Tuesday, May 30 from 8 – 4 at Timberline pK-8 for and end-of-year check-in. Folks from across the district will be sitting down together to reflect on the close of our year and plan for how to improve our practice and learning next year.

If you can manage it, I encourage grade-level teams to come together and take a day to say, “What do we want to remember for next year?”

The course is open for registration right now through OPD – bit.ly/svvsdcheckin.

See you there!

Making the Most of Essential Questions and Exit Tickets

tickets

Most any time I’m visiting a classroom, I’m having a conversation with the students I meet. The first few questions are pretty expected –  “What are you learning about?” and “What are you doing?”

The last two questions I routinely bring to the table working with students are less expected – “Why is that important?” and “What questions do you have?”

I know those last two are less expected because they are met with silence and stares from students – no matter the grade level. For me, it raises the questions of why are students are doing what they are doing and whether they have been asked to consider the deeper implications of a text. Whether it’s a third-grade student reading The Year of Miss Agnes or a ninth-grader wrestling with Regine’s Book, our expectation must be that students can consider key ideas, themes, styles, etc. outside of the pages of what they’re reading.

Much work has been done on the transfer of knowledge and skills, and there are certainly some thoughtful, complex projects students can embark upon to show those abilities. For the purposes of this post, though, I want to focus on two activities that can build students’ understandings of their learning and thinking while helping teachers understand areas of growth and need.

Essential Question journals can help students track their thinking about essential questions within lessons or units of study. For each of the curriculum modules within our elementary curriculum resources, for instance, students are asked to consider essential questions as they read, write, and speak their way through complex texts. Journaling around those essential questions can be easy.

  • Make routine time (5-10 min) once or twice each week for students to journal their answers to the essential questions within a unit of study. As they journal, have them consider what they wrote in their previous entries and focus on what they know or understand now that they didn’t before. Ask students to share/compare their journals with their peers and then engage in whole-class conversations about reading and writing.

Standing exit tickets help your students focus on a stationary target for thinking about their learning while giving you some quick formative information on what they think they are learning and wondering.

  • Have students fill out slips of paper with their names on them at the end of each class or lesson. Have them respond to the same prompts each time – “What can you do now that you couldn’t do at the beginning of class?” and “What is one question you have as a result of your learning?” If technology is available, have students respond via a google form. Imagine being able to conference with students with not only numbers and summative assessment results, but a portfolio of their own statements of learning and inquiry as well.

Not matter their age, all learners improve their abilities and skills if they have consistent, dedicated time to reflect on their learning. By including time to journal on essential questions and checking in at the end of a class, we make that time for our learners and provide ourselves with new windows into how we can alter our instructional practice to meet students’ needs.

Family Community Literacy: Read – Talk – Repeat

family reading togetherThe Gist

Set aside one evening a week for the family to read together. Turn off all devices you’re not reading on. Set aside time before bed for everyone to talk about what they read that night.

The Whole Story

Maybe your family is still noodling over setting New Year’s Resolutions. You want something manageable while still being impactful. For you, I recommend Read – Talk – Repeat.

  1. Set aside the same time one evening each week where the entire family will power down, avoid other plans, and make sure they’re home. An hour might be ideal. Keeping the same night and time each week will help to develop habit and routine.
  2. When you’re all together, pick up whatever you’re currently reading and start reading. If you’ve got younger children, you may want to read aloud to them. Consider also the possibility of giving them a stack of picture books to work their way through during the reading time.
  3. Stop reading with enough time for everyone to share what they’ve read and to ask each other questions.
  4. Repeat this process each week without interruption.

While the whys of this process are largely self-evident, a few might not stick out to you. By committing to privileging time reading – no matter if it’s newspapers, magazines, or books – you are sending the message to your children that reading and being readers is important in your household. By making time to talk about what you’ve read and ask one another questions, you’re signaling to your children that reading can be a social activity and part of the joy of reading can be discussing the stories and ideas you encounter. Allowing everyone to read whatever they choose also gives you the chance to model a balanced reading diet that mixes fiction and non-fiction, short and long-form, current events and classics. Perhaps the best part? No planning required. Put it on the family calendar, and read.

Bonus

If you and your children know you’re going to have some time to read each week, it’s a great catalyst to visiting your local public library to browse and check out new books. This is also an easy way to access texts without worrying about your family’s budget.

 

 

Family Community Literacy: Winter Break Reading

woman and child reading together

The Gist

The more students read, the better they get at it. Winter break is a chance for your children to access many district library books.

The Whole Story

One thing research has show – the amount of reading your student does over the course of their time in kindergarten through high school has an effect on how well they comprehend complex ideas, vocabulary, new concepts.  St. Vrain Valley Schools are working hard to make sure our students have access to quality books no matter where they may be.

You kids have three specific ways to access books through the District.

  1. MyOn – For elementary and middle school students, the myon library has a wide selection of digital books students can read on their own or listen and read along with. Many schools in SVVSD run challenges trying to get their students to read as many minutes in MyOn books as possible during the school year.
  2. Physical Libraries – Every SVVSD school library has a wide selection of physical books your children can check out over break. During the last week before break, consider challenging your kids to check out new books to read as a family over break.
  3. The SVVSD District Digital Library – If you have a computer, tablet, or smartphone in your home, you have a device on which you and your students can access and read books from our district digital library. Everyone from our youngest readers to adults can find a high-interest book in the library.

BONUS: Your local public library will be ready, willing, and excited to welcome you and your children to browse and check out physical and digital books over winter break.

Suggested Activity

Take on a family winter reading challenge. Visit your local public library or your children’s school library and set a reading goal for winter break. Maybe it’s a family goal for the whole house. Maybe it’s a per person goal. Maybe it’s a competition to see who can read the most pages. Either way, set a goal and track progress. The refrigerator is a great way to keep track of reading progress.

Does your family have any special reading routines? Share them in the comments below!

 

Profile in Courage High School Essay Contest

courage-1197366_640

We know the more students have practice reading and writing, then the more they are prepared for whatever heads their way following secondary school, the essay contest below makes that connection much more concrete.

John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest
Celebrate the JFK Centennial by entering the 2017 Profile in Courage Contest. This essay contest for high school students is sponsored by The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. This year celebrates JFK’s centennial of his birth in 1917. In his book, “Profiles in Courage,” John F. Kennedy told the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers to do what was right for the nation. This essay contest asks students to write an original and creative essay that demonstrates an understanding of political courage.

Deadline: January 4, 2017

Eligibility: U.S. students in grades 9-12 in public, private, parochial, or home schools; U.S. students under age 20 enrolled in a high school correspondence/GED program; U.S. citizens attending schools overseas.

Funds: For this year only: the first-place prize will be doubled from $10,000 to $20,000 and cash prizes will be awarded to the top 25 students

Website: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Education/Profile-in-Courage-Essay-Contest.aspx

Family & Community Literacy: Book Clubs

Cousin book club

The Gist

Two factors that can help kids improve their reading and thinking about reading: 1) Having role models who help them see the skills they’re working to develop, 2) Having opportunities to question and answer questions about what they’ve read. Family or neighborhood book groups can help your children get these opportunities and build their skills and identities as readers.

The Whole Story

The idea here is not an unfamiliar or complex one. The steps to follow are:

  1. Pick a book.
  2. Set a time.
  3. Read the book.
  4. Discuss the book.

Some key variations to consider are:

  • Rotating the selection of the book across family members.
  • Make it larger than the household. If you’ve got extended family or grandparents who might want to join the group from afar, think about tools like FaceTime and Skype to help them connect. Also consider adding neighbors or family friends to the book group to show your kids they are part of a community of readers.
  • Brainstorm some standing questions. If you’re worried getting conversation started might be difficult, sit with your children to think about how you might jumpstart a book conversation.
  • Consult with your kids’ English or language arts teacher on key topics, book suggestions, or language you might try to incorporate to show school learning has a place in the home.
  • Make it about conversation and enjoying the book. There will be plenty of time for lessons on reading.

Additional Resources:

Culture of Reading & Writing: Faculty Book Recommendations

Following a conversation with the electives teachers at Coal Ridge Middle School about how to foster a school-wide culture of reading and writing, Instructional Teacher Librarian Karen Hoppis took one question “How do we help students see their teachers as readers?” and built a solution.

Hoppis utilized Green Screen by Do Ink to stock the CRMS library with teacher book recommendations that literally show students’ teachers as readers. Thrilled by this tweet, I asked Hoppis to write a few words about how she did it. Ever an overachiever, she created the slidedeck below to help teachers and teacher librarians replicate and build on her process.

Take a look. Make it your own. If you have other ideas you’re using to build a school-wide culture of reading and writing, share them in the comments below.

Helping 6-12 Students Investigate Non-Fiction Texts

Screenshot of the hmh FYI website

The Gist

While we aren’t all English teachers, it’s unlikely to find a teacher whose students wouldn’t perform better if they had more tools for reading content across all disciplines. The FYI website not only provides curated current articles aligned with standards and other English curriculum resources, it provides clear tips for helping students access, analyze, and apply information within authentic non-fiction texts. These articles and tips can be accessed in a moment’s notice to ask students to find a piece of interesting and relevant content for evaluation.

The Whole Story

Somewhere between the middle child or second cousin of HMH’s Collections curricular resources is their FYI website, a curated collection of current event articles aligned with the topics and content students explore as they move through units of study in SVVSD’s secondary English classes. The content is pulled from CNN to Science Daily, from the White House to The Columbus Dispatch.

Teachers helping students learn content and skills from any discipline would be hard-pressed to go poking around FYI and not find something relevant to their classrooms. And while timely content is already a plus for secondary schools, it’s the help in improving reading skills teachers outside English classrooms might find most helpful.

FYI’s “Reading Tips” tab includes a sidebar with help in navigating “Key Ideas and Details”, Craft and Structure”, “Integration of Knowledge and Ideas”, and “Research” – each with its own subsections.

A science teacher hoping to help students access the latest climate change study from Nature could draft some quick questions for investigation and point students to the relevant pages for tips on making sure their answers hit the mark.

History teachers helping their students understand political systems in post-colonial countries around the world could help students draft a list of questions they’re curious about and then help them review the relevant reading tips to help make sure their answers are top-notch.

Algebra teachers looking to help students pull out the most pressing details from a complicated word problem might ask students to take 10 minutes to find a reading strategy that could best help them unlock a barrier to understanding.

How are you helping students access materials to unpack non-fiction texts? Leave some examples in the comments.

Family & Community Literacy: Family Reading Talks

Family

The Gist

In the car, at the dinner table or in any other family space, take turns talking about what you’ve been reading – books, magazines, newspapers, content for work. If it’s your turn to share, talk about whether you like or dislike what you’re reading and explain why. Once sharers have finished, ask follow-up questions and make comments that offer connections between what they’ve read and other texts.

The Whole Story

It’s easy to think of reading and writing with your child as the only components of helping them become better readers and writers. While these are both tremendously powerful tools for helping them develop key skills and identities, they aren’t the only tools. By making time to talk about what you and your child are reading, and modeling what it sounds like for engaged readers to express their ideas, you’re adding another layer to family literacy.

When thinking about where these conversations might be helpful, consider one of the historically-dreaded conversations between families and their school-going students:

Family: How was school?

Child: Good.

F: What did you do?

C: Nothing.

(Family member makes frustrated face.)

[The End]

The goal with family reading conversations is to avoid the headache above, get to know what your child is doing in school, and help them learn to talk about their learning in productive ways.

Suggested Strategies

  • Model. Expecting your child to know how to talk about their thoughts and feelings about a text they’re reading without having any model to base it off of is dooming the conversation from the start. Consider the following steps:
    • State a specific fact or opinion about something/anything you’ve read.
    • Follow up with some piece of evidence or a memorable quotation from the reading to illustrate your point.
    • Ask what your child thinks about the idea or opinion.
  • Ask a specific question. Your child’s day likely includes no fewer than lessons on 5 separate subjects, all of them asking for retention of new material. Asking, “What did you do/learn about?” can very well bring back a flood of ideas that might be overwhelming to attempt to recount all at once. Thus, “Nothing.” Asking, “What is something you read today?” and then following up with, “What did you think about it?” or “Who was a character you liked/hated?” gives a more pointed line of thinking and can help your child organize their thinking for expression.
  • Share. If you read a news article that’s particularly interesting, share it with your child. If they have a text they’ve read they enjoyed, ask to borrow it. By showing interest and treating reading as peer activity, you’re inviting your child to be part of a community of readers.

Other Resources

If you’re worried your child will have trouble remembering what they’ve read, send a quick note to their teacher asking questions like, “What are you reading in class right now?” “What’s it about?” “Who are some main characters or what are some big ideas we could talk about at home?” These details can jump start conversation and show your child you’re willing to invest time in their learning too.

New Shortened Links to Navigating to District Sites

A Note from the Fine People at DTS
We now have short links for all the main digital curriculum sites that utilize single sign on so that teachers and students have an easy way to get to their curriculum if the portal is ever unavailable or if they simply prefer to type in a URL. These new links are below. Note that you still can’t bookmark these on iPads – they’re simply easier to remember and type in than some of the super-long links.
We didn’t create new links for Schoology or Discovery Ed, since these URLs are already short and memorable.


All Clever applications (i-Ready, myON, Lexia,Reading Plus, Think Through Math, VitalSource Bookshelf, VHL, and SpringBoard): stvra.in/clever

HMH (Collections and A-G-A): stvra.in/hmh
Pearson (ReadyGen and digits): stvra.in/pearson
McGraw-Hill ConnectED (Asi se Dice and high school geography): stvra.in/connected
OverDrive: stvra.in/overdrive