Saturday, July 30, 2011

So What Do They Really Know?

I have to confess I had been feeling a little burn out from talking about and thinking about assessment and formative assessment. We've had lots of great pd about formative assessment the last several years in my district and it wasn't really a topic I thought I needed to read more about this summer. But then..... I started browsing Cris Tovani's new book, So What Do They Really Know? Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning  online. I was reading the free online preview of this book when suddenly I realized I was on chapter four, and had started taking lots of notes and getting lots of ideas. Hmmmm, maybe this was a book I should buy! So I did. It was an easy read. Two little girls + 2 synchronized naps (this NEVER happens) got me through it in one sitting. It confirmed a lot of prior knowledge but also gave me some new ways to think about formative assessment within my classroom. Franki, at A Year of Reading posted a great review of this book as well.

Here are some quotes and notes that got me thinking further about assessment...

  • "I knew there needed to be multiple pieces of evidence to tell me the stories of the learners in my room so that they nor I would ever be judged solely on a test score" How will I use what students say and do to get their story, and to know where to celebrate, help improve, and to take them next in their learning?
  • "Formative assessments help teachers name areas of strengths for students. Teachers can also adjust their instruction and give targeted feedback so students can improve their performance. Formative assessments nurture hope and say to students, You might not get this yet, but you will. Here is something else you can try that might help you understand and improve." This affirms what I believe that formative assessments aren't only used to figure out what kids DON'T know but are a way to figure out what to CELEBRATE what they do know and inspire and motivate them to try the next challenge! I love her positive outlook and message to kids that they WILL eventually get it with guidance from her as their teacher.
  • Formative Assessments feed teachers and, more important, feed students so they can grow. That is a lot of control, and a lot of power. Cris got me thinking about next year and how will I use data I collect to provide just in time instruction to not just categorize students but improve their performance?
  • Cris talked about the workshop model as being so important for her to be able to assess and immediately address student needs. She talks about in her workshop whoever is doing the most work is the one getting smarter. The workshop model gives the majority of her class time to read, write and discuss. I started thinking about who is doing most of the work during my reading workshop. Sometimes I get so caught up in trying to teach, teach, teach during guided reading and individual reading conferences, that I wonder if I am giving kids enough time to talk to show me the ways they are thinking about what they read.
  • "Smart coaches model for their players the skills and strategies they want their athletes to master. They plan their practices so they kids have lots of time to rehearse what they are taught. Coaches know that it's not efficient or effective to 'grade' everything their athletes do in practice. I'm wondering how well do I model what I want kids to master? Is there enough time to practice alone, together as a class, or with partners and small groups what they are taught?
  • As Cris described her workshop model she always has a "catch." This is during the work time when she pulls kids back together to re engage learners, give feedback based on patterns of confusion she may be seeing in the class, or model strong or weak work. I'm going to start implementing this in my workshop next year. I love stopping in the middle for a catch to reenergize, reteach or reconnect what we are doing during the work time.
I had lots more important thinking while reading and my highlighter was running a little dry. It was a great book to get me motivated to REALLY get to know my students as learners and strive to help them know themselves as learners. Even though it is marketed for grades 6-12 Tovani wrote about assessment in a way that any teacher could connect with and get ideas from. Her passion for teaching and connecting with kids is so evident through her words.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Conferring - The Keystone of Reader's Workshop

I first heard about Patrick Allen's book, Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop when I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Allen speak at the 2011 Dublin Literacy conference. I loved listening to Patrick describe how the readers in his classroom knew themselves as readers. It led me to start thinking...what would my readers say about themselves and the processes they go through to understand text?
Here are some notes I took while reading this great book...
What does it mean to be a wise reader?
I love how Patrick uses the word wise. He talks about how he encourages his readers to make wise decisions about what they read, about what they're thinking about as they read, and about choices they can make to get better. I loved this quote he included, "Knowledge is gaining and storing information. Wisdom, on the other hand, is knowing how to act on that knowledge." I love this! I am starting to think about how I will nudge kids to not only gain knowledge through their reading but to take action...create new understandings! I will begin the year talking a lot with my third graders on how we can become readers that are wise.

Mr. Allen gave four focus questions/principles to guide beginning of the year discussions...
1. What does it mean to understand? As readers, what does understanding look like?
2. What does it mean to remember? As readers, what might remembering look like?
3. What does it mean to extend meaning? As readers, what might extending meaning look like?
4. What does it mean when something is memorable? As readers, what does memorable look like?
My plan is to create shared language and understanding within my community guided by these questions.

Another great section in this book was about strengthening endurance and stamina within kids. I have taught stamina for several years but again I love Patrick's vocabulary-endurance. He uses beginning of the year read alouds to discuss endurance and students record signs of endurance they notice through read alouds. 
This is such a big thing for kids - getting them to endure, care about what they are doing, learn with a spirit of passion! I went to Cover to Cover bookstore today and asked someone to help me find a good read aloud for endurance and I found an AMAZING book that will be an anchor text for endurance.

If I never Forever Endeavor by Holly Meade is a very short but meaning filled book about a young bird who is considering using his new wings. He thinks of bad things that could happen if he fails, but then imagines the great possibilities of flying. He encourages the reader at the end to FLY! I am so glad that I found a text to follow Mr. Allen's lead, and learn with a spirit of endurance.

Mr. Allen also teaches his students the what and why of a workshop. He calls the three components crafting, (seeds we plant during the workshop that hopefully will emerge in independent reading) composing (the practice, time to be WISE, trying things out, and the reflecting (share what you have discovered). Mr. Allen asks kids to find the purpose of each component.

I follow this model in my readers workshop but I don't think we ever as a class have dissected the parts of the reader's workshop like this and discussed the importance, purpose of each part...Again...Brillant!! 

Through reading the rest of the book I began to think...
  • How can I take better notes during my reading conferences to "uncover students strengths, struggles, and genuine wonderings"?
  • How can I "shut up and listen to know what I need to teach". (I have never listened to a conference but I am positive I do more talking than students!!)
  • Do my kids have a "walk away" after our conference? Allen describes a walk away as a tool or strategy used or discovered as students negotiate text and develop the capacity for independence.
  • How can I get kids talking about themselves as readers the way Mr. Allen's kids did throughout the book? Reading their quotes about reading you can hear his voice guiding them through their own language. So powerful and inspiring!!
Finally, I had the best thinking about this book when I read all the other blogs about it from teachers. I heard about these great blog posts from Cathy Mere  All of their thinking was so important to my own learning. I even jumped into a twitter chat about this book with other teachers and Patrick Allen himself. I had to be a very fast reader and thinker but I left with new understandings. I had been struggling (well I still am) with the balance between guided reading and conferencing time and I loved how Patrick looks at conferences as guiding other readers through listening in or through reflecting experiences. Great stuff to think about starting out the year!