The Last 20 Days of Literacy Learning: 16-15 Days to Go, Literacy & Math

Post #5 in the Last 20 Days of Literacy Series… Written after the teaching week on Sunday morning while savoring a cup of coffeewell, three cups of coffee.

All posts in this blog series can be found here.

A few years ago, I was given the best advice about teaching math that I have ever received.

Christina, you will start feeling more comfortable with teaching math as soon as you make the decision to approach it in the same way you teach literacy.

Those words, spoken by my friend and then math coach, Mangla Oza, have stayed with me years later. Mangla’s words have propelled my math thinking and my students’ math learning forward since that day.

Like many of you, as an elementary school teacher, I am responsible for teaching all subjects- not just the subjects that I have most intensely studied as a student myself. If you’ve taken a look at the requirements of elementary school teachers, or if you are one yourself, you know that this is no easy feat. In my multiple subject, self contained, fifth grade classroom, lesson design, implementation, reflection, and redesign is a constant process- the kids are new each year, therefore so are many things I do. No two classes ever receive the exact same experience- nor should they!

So, for the past few years now, I’ve held Mangla’s words close. Those words have actually guided much of what I do across the entire teaching day. I now approach math (and all the other elementary school subjects) with the same thinking that guides my reading and writing decision making.

When thinking of a new lesson, I first think about what my students already know. Then, I consider ways to get them interested. More often than not, the way to get them interested is to tap into their curiosity and invite them into inquiry.

I attempted this on Thursday and Friday when we we started a study of circles. That’s right- Pi Day came late to fifth grade in room A1 at Nixon School this year. Back in March, on March 14th specifically when Pi day is traditionally celebrated in schools, we weren’t in a place in our studies where we could just throw in Pi. It would have been out of place and not exactly meaningful. Now that we are concluding our geometry unit, I thought I’d introduce it. I knew the interest was there, and gauged that my kids were ready to dig into this study based on many different assessments- informal conversations, observation during group and individual work, and student math work samples.

After some informal assessment- asking who was familiar with pi and how to measure the dimensions of a circle and listening to partner talk, we dove into inquiry using this web page on Smithsonian’s site: A World Full of Circles.

As an entire class, we viewed the first two circles on the page as a group. I invited students to ask and jot down questions, describe what they noticed, and to think about these circles using our first draft of a guiding question: Why are circles important?

After doing this with the first two images, I invited students to go through this process on their own or with a partner. So, they busily got to work observing, wondering, noticing, questioning, chatting, and jotting…

After my students’ exploration time, we shared our thinking, questions, wonderings, noticings, and observations as a whole group. My entire goal for this first day was to get students thinking and wondering about circles and why they are important. Well, as a group, we came to realize that important was not exactly the best word. We revised our initial guiding question of why are circles important, and narrowed down our new guiding question to a few contenders:

Why do developers make communities and other places circular?
Why and how are circles so often found in nature?
How can circles be made to look perfectly symmetrical?

What more can we learn about circles to apply our own lives?

The next day in class, we revisited circles. We talked a bit about our ideas from the day before and angled our workshop time to explore circles found in the classroom. So, I invited the fifth graders on an exploration of sorts- I invited them to view the classroom in a way they never had in their first 164 days there. I invited them to view it as a place to explore circles.

After student exploration around the classroom, I then introduced a way for us to think about how mathematicians might start to measure and compare circles. I wrote terminology used when thinking about circles on the whiteboard, modeled how to measure the different aspects of a circle under the document camera, and then invited students to try it on their own with the circles they found in the classroom. So, off they went to explore measuring circles…

Many students in class already had background experience with this vocabulary, as is evidenced in some of their writing from the day before. But, for others, it was brand new.

Having the time to think about this terminology, apply it to the work they did in discovering and exploring circles around the classroom, and then ultimately reflecting on what they learned through discussion and writing (some examples of this are seen below), naturally provided access points for all students. They all came to this work with different understandings about circles, and were all offered a way to explore them that hopefully fit their academic and intellectual needs.

In reflecting on the past two days’ math lessons, I’m realizing that the more I infuse the moves of good literacy instruction into my math lessons, the more engaged my students are with the work. The more engaged they are with the work, the more they will benefit from it.

Some of these moves I borrowed from literacy instruction included invitation into inquiry, reading and viewing images and descriptions, lots of group and partner discussion, writing to question/wonder, writing to think, writing to discover, and writing to reflect.

I used to think infusing literacy into other subjects meant reading aloud a picture book to go along with a lesson. I still think this is a good practice, but I now know that this practice needs to be a bit more intentional…

On Thursday, the first day of this study, I decided to read aloud a picture book that I felt would complement the lesson nicely. If you’re an upper elementary teacher or middle school math teacher, you probably guessed correctly that I read aloud Sir Cumference and the First Round Table. During the first few pages, my fifth graders loved the clever play on words, and even tried to figure out the math diagrams displayed on the pages. Then, the conversation took a different direction altogether…

"Why is it all men at the round table?" 

"The one woman is solving problems and not getting any credit."

"That's not right."

"But, it's fiction!"

"Well, the author could have decided to make things different."

I couldn’t help but smile inside when this conversation arose. It certainly isn’t one I intended, but it was an unintended bonus. My thinking then went into a different place. I thought that maybe this isn’t the best book to share with my students because it perpetuates the misguided idea that men need to be in charge. However, without this book, this conversation wouldn’t have happened on Thursday. It’s just something more to reflect on, and should probably be a whole blog post on its own.

Who knew our math learning could take us in so many different, yet really important directions! I’m really looking forward to continuing this exploration next week.

Magic seems to happen when the moves of literacy instruction are infused into math class. Perhaps there are many math teachers out there who knew this all along. I’m still on my learning journey with this idea, and it’s a wonderful journey to be on!

Now, imagine if instead I just assigned my students a worksheet?

The Last 20 days of Literacy Learning: 20 Days to Go, The Art of Comprehension

*Disclaimer- this blog series will most likely not include poetic, profound writing. Rather, it will consist of on-the-fly quick writes after my teaching day during the last 20 days of school. Reader, you’ve been warned.

Today marked day 160 of the school year. My fifth graders have 20 days left of elementary school. While we have many typical end of year festivities ahead of us- assemblies, kickball games, a pool party, promotion practice, a class party, a middle school tour, and the big promotion ceremony on the last day, we still have quite a bit of literacy learning ahead.

Rather than detail the entire day in each blog post in this series, I plan to share one or two things we did in class to continue the literacy learning through to the very end of the school year. I decided to write about the last 20 days of school for a couple reasons…

First, the last couple weeks of school do not need to be viewed as throw-away, meaningless days which often ends up being the case. These final days will likely be the ones many students remember. How do I want my fifth graders to remember their time together in my classroom?

Also, over the past few years, I have become increasingly interested in why many kids tend to read less and less on their own as they get older. So, I’m trying my best to help my students build a love of reading and writing as they leave elementary school, and hopefully continue that love in their own lives away from school. This has actually been my #1 goal all year.

As you can probably tell, I deem these last 20 days as critical ones- in my opinion, they are actually more critical than the first 20 days of school.

My goal with this blog series is to do a little bit of writing on our literacy learning in class each day, but the reality may end up being that I write about it every few days- you know how crazy the end of the school year can get! However, despite the craziness, the literacy learning will go on. It will matter. It will count.

Thanks for sharing in the literacy love and learning of the last 20 days with me!

20 Days to Go, trying something new…

The Art of Comprehension

Finally, after reading Trevor Bryan’s fantastic book, The Art of Comprehension, I introduced his Access Lenses to my class earlier this week. The Access Lenses support students in thinking more deeply about viewing art, and in turn transferring that framework for thinking over to their reading and writing.

Earlier this week, we viewed and engaged in a wonderful conversation around The Library by Jacob Lawrence. Students discussed how color and body language can give us clues to mood. The conversations were vibrant as students openly shared their differing opinions grounded in the Access Lenses that Trevor offers in his book.

Then, earlier today, during our class read aloud of The Thief of Always, I noticed my students’ conversations shifted a bit. I heard them talk about mood in reference to how the author, Clive Barker, wrote about and described facial expressions and body language. Many of them even asked to look back in the book during independent reading time to think about earlier scenes in the book using the Access Lenses. WOW! They asked to look back in the book- sure, by all means, have at it!

Now that I have finally introduced my students to the Access Lenses and saw how they have a huge impact on understanding and response, I wish I started with this work earlier in the school year.

Next school year, I plan to start right away with The Art of Comprehension!

It turns out, the last 20 days of school is a great time to try something new.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 11/19/18… We Got This

Okay, okay. It’s Tuesday, not Monday. Yesterday was my travel day after an incredible four days of connecting and learning at The National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention (NCTE18). After a few nights of restless sleep, a flight delay due to smoke in The Bay Area, and a much needed dinner of decompression with dear friends, I let Monday slip by without mentioning my reading.

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Cornelius’ ideas and insight kept me company as I was squished in the back of my United flight in seat 25D. 

However, I did not let the day slip by without getting some great reading in. My friend and teaching mentor, Cornelius Minor, just published a much needed book in the field, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be.  This much needed book kept me company on my four hour flight from Houston to San Francisco.

 

I am so excited to share his book with my colleagues- in fact, the friends I met for dinner last night were my two teaching partners. As they previewed the book, while we were waiting for our food, they kept saying, “This is what we need. This is a needed book!” Obviously, I concur. Rather than summarizing or pulling out key points, I’ll end with a quote from the book’s introduction…

“I am not OK with a world where only some people – the ones who were born on the right side of town or the ones who happen to make the right friends- get a shot at success…

As teachers, we cannot guarantee outcomes- that all kids will start businesses, lead their families, and contribute in their communities- but we can guarantee access. We can ensure that everyone gets a shot.”  -Cornelius Minor, pg. xvi

Access. Access is everything. Thank you for this work, Cornelius. I am so excited to join you and many others in this important and vital work for our society.

Friends, if you’re also reading We Got This, I’d love to chat!

 

 

You can find more of my current professional reads, 5th grade classroom read alouds, and my relax reads here. Happy reading, friends!

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My first book for teachers, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy, cowritten with Kari Yates, is now out and available from Stenhouse Publishers. Our goal with this book was to help teachers make the important practice of conferring with readers manageable, effective, and joyful! 

 

 

 

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 11/12/18

As I prepare to head off to my favorite weekend of the entire year, the annual NCTE convention, I am revisiting a few books that have played a role in shaping my path as a literacy educator. Today, I am giving much of my attention to two texts that have had a huge impact on the language choices I make in my classroom.

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Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris challenged me to grow as an educator by shifting the bulk of the work to my students in their groundbreaking book, Who’s Doing the Work? Since its release in 2016, it has been read and reread in heavy rotation as a part of my professional reading life. Jan and Kim have truly helped me say less and choose my words carefully to elevate my students’ learning.

 

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My writing partner, Kari Yates, and I have been thinking deeply about talk lately. Specifically, we have been thinking about how our teacher language impacts the relationships with and learning of our students. A pivotal text that has helped guide my thinking here is Peter Johnston’s Choice Words. This book is a gift to the profession.

 

You can find more of my current professional reads, 5th grade classroom read alouds, and my relax reads here. Happy reading, friends!

 

 

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My first book for teachers, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy, cowritten with Kari Yates, is now out and available from Stenhouse Publishers. Our goal with this book was to help teachers make the important practice of conferring with readers manageable, effective, and joyful! 

 

 

 

We are Changed Because of Our Daily Stories

 

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Our 40th shared story… Thank you, Yuyi Morales for this wonderful book!

Today was our 40th day of school.  After lunch, I read aloud our 40th picture book of the year. During that read aloud, it dawned on me that we were having natural conversation about the book during reading. I didn’t plan it out, prepare questions, or come in with learning targets or goals. I didn’t even ask my students to stop and jot, turn and talk, or to raise their hands. I simply started reading a wonderful book, and the rest took care of itself. But, this certainly didn’t happen overnight.

When you read a book aloud every single day with your class, this is what happens. A community of readers is fostered and continues to grow. When you take the time to seek out books for students to see themselves and then see others they may not meet in their daily lives, a community of thoughtful, kind, young citizens flourishes!

When I think about the simple things in my classroom that created our community of readers, I have to say there really is not one exact thing, but all other things are supported by the fact that we take the time to share a story together every single day. We do this no matter what- no matter the interruption, assembly, unexpected emergency drill, you name it. We read aloud every single day.

In today’s story, we looked out the metaphorical window into someone else’s life. We learned how stories shaped her life. We related to her through the power of books, love, and recognizing that we are all human beings who come from somewhere else with stories to share. We developed a bit of empathy for others in our community and around the country. It was beautiful.

Our community of readers was created because…

We shared stories… everyday.

We ditched the reading log and worksheets.

We started conversations.

We recommended impactful stories to each other.

We wrote our own stories.

We created meaning together.

We laughed together,

teared up together,

and even questioned together.

We shared stories… everyday.

Thank you to Jillian Heise, Donalyn Miller, and my 5th grade colleague Jennifer Ford for the inspiration to share stories everyday.  Thank you to Yuyi Morales for sharing your story with us today in my 5th grade classroom. We are different people because of your story.

Friends, I encourage you to share stories with your classes and families as well. It changes everything. 

Our stories so far this school year…

Made with Padlet

 

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My first book for teachers, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy, cowritten with Kari Yates, is now out and available from Stenhouse Publishers. Our goal with this book was to help teachers make the important practice of conferring with readers manageable, effective, and joyful!