Slice of Life Tuesday: Purposeful PD is Powerful

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Purposeful PD is Powerful. I’m all about getting together — whether it’s eating lunch, traveling to an interesting new place, or meeting with fellow staff at a team meeting, I like socializing with others. But when that meeting happens because everyone wants to learn something new and improve their teaching…Wow!

Our professional development this month is based on helping our students improve writing skills. Many teachers are looking for ways to improve test scores, but we really want our students to think of themselves as writers and write well because they are sending a message to an audience. Thank goodness we have many mentor authors (and illustrators!) to guide us, and we have Jeff Anderson and Whitney LaRocca’s new book, Patterns of Power, to push us towards our goal. Jeff and Whitney are excellent teachers; I was the PD facilitator today at each grade-level team meeting. We had engaging conversations around this “powerful” professional title and learned a great deal about how to teach writing conventions using “invitations” (created by Jeff Anderson).

What do we notice about our students’ writing (in general), and how can we help them to write better sentences/paragraphs/texts? We followed Jeff’s “invitation to notice” a mentor sentence. We noticed that pauses came with commas, names had capital letters, and that “when” and “if” are “comma-causer” words, indicating that the sentence was not complete. Then came the “invitation to imitate.” This time was used to thoughtfully create sentences like the mentors. We discussed how students might do this in classrooms. We finished today by talking about “focus phrases,” a term coined first by Terry Thompson in The Construction Zone (another fabulous professional book).

Staff members are looking forward to next week, when we continue discussing the Invitational Process, and trying Patterns of Power lessons with students.

Thank you Jeff and Whitney! We appreciate your guidance!

(Patterns of Power book image from Stenhouse.com)

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Book Birthdays

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books_zackdelacruzjustmyluckSlice of Life Small Logo

So many new book birthdays today;books_asheshistorical3

“So little time,” I have to say.

I want to sit and read the books.

I want to read without the dirty looks!bookbirthdayoct4

If I had all the time in the world,

You’d find me curled, furled…

celebrating!

Images from John Schu’s Book Release Calendar 2016 and Goodreads.com

Slice of Life Tuesdays: Thanking the Authors

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Slice of Life Small LogoThank You to the authors! You made my first days of school the most exciting in years! Jeff Anderson, the shirt did the trick — just what I wanted for my mystery book talk. I’m so happy that I was persistent in asking for the T. I’m even happier that you shared with us! “Who is Zack Delacruz?” Come to room 138 to find out! Even the assistant principal and social worker stopped by to see what we were reading. I had a waitlist right away (I only had two copies at first) and the reviews coming in are “two thumbs up.”

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After Mr. Anderson’s generosity, I sent a message begging for the little pins for the debate: #teamladypancake or #teamsirfrenchtoast? The kids were buzzing the hallways, asking their neighbors, “Which side are you on?” and “I hear Mrs. Sniadecki likes pancakes better.” Thank you, Josh Funk! We DID receive pins, and trading cards, and a note from the author himself. Autograph score! Mr. Funk even wrote response emails to two of my students who wrote to him after our visit to the computer lab to see the book trailer/song.

 

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Last but not least, I wrapped up another fabulous gift for the class — from Raina Telgemeier — thank you so much! We so enjoyed the black and white version of The Babysitter’s Club graphic novel. Another autographed book! Yes! That book was in the hands of a student 20 seconds after the book talk.

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I’m having such a fabulous time in reading class this year. We are so lucky to have sharing, generous, and funny (!) authors to help students, in middle school, no less, find the time to read. This post is dedicated to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOLSC Day 22: The Best Interest of Students

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Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers (www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com) for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

The Best Interest of Students

I listened to a podcast today where Kelly Gallagher talked about his new book, In the Best Interest of Students. (Of course, I’m waiting for my copy!) In the first minute of the interview, Kelly addressed a problem with the Common Core State Standards, and I agreed. He stated that (for high school) the standards are actually quite good. (There is mention that the lower elementary grade teachers don’t seem to think that CCSS is good because they are not developmentally appropriate; since I am a middle school teacher, I’ll leave that for a different discussion.) This part of the podcast focused on “Lesson 2: Recognize the Standards by themselves are necessary, but insufficient.” Kelly explained: “The problem is, you can write down any standards on a piece of paper, but that doesn’t ensure what happens inside our classrooms when the bell rings.”

The lightbulb switched ON in my brain. Yes! I have my set of standards (although mine are Indiana State Standards) and my teaching plan, but if I don’t connect with the students, if I don’t teach them, and they don’t learn, then those standards mean nothing. One of our classroom walkthrough points for administrators (on teacher evaluation checklists) is that teachers should post the standards in the classroom and refer to them, so students will know what is expected.  I don’t mind. I typed them out and posted them on a bulletin board, and I showed them to the students. But we must not stop there! If my administrator checks that box (“Standards Posted in Classroom” or whatever it says), that doesn’t mean I’ve taught those standards. That doesn’t mean the students are learning them.

Teachers need to show students the purpose of deep learning — why those standards should matter to them. I’m thinking of a simple standard: “Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English: capitalization, punctuation, and spelling…” Just because those words are displayed in my room doesn’t mean I teach them. And how should I teach that standard, anyway? With DOL sentences? Just as I was thinking about that, Jeff Anderson showed up in my Twitter feed. “I call DOLs & their ilk ‘correct alls’ because you get the same result as you would if you took a Correct All.” LOL! No, I don’t use DOLs. They don’t work.  My students can state any error in any sentence, and correct the sentence, in isolation. They do NOT practice capitalization and punctuation in their own writing. Jeff Anderson’s books are still my favorite mentor texts for teaching grammar and writing: Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing. If you want your work published, you HAVE to capitalize the “I.” (It takes the place of your name. Names are capitalized because they are very important and specific.) You HAVE to show the reader where your thought ends. (Period) Right? (Question mark) Your voice comes through your writing in the form of punctuation. Do you want to pause? How long? Use a comma, dash, ellipses, depending on the voice and tone you want to convey.

Back to the podcast: Teachers must teach the standards so students will learn (notice how I’m NOT saying, “so students will achieve high scores“). In practice. Every day. Out there in the real world. School is a place for learning and growing; if the “necessary” Common Core State Standards stop at the classroom bulletin board, then they are “insufficient.” And that is not in the “best interest of students.”

(The podcast mentioned is from Ed Talk with Dr. Bob Bravo, Interview with Kelly Gallagher, Monday Night Live, 3/9/2015. You can hear it on ITunes.)

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