Sunday, May 27, 2012

Primarily Play

I was given this resource as part of a Kindergarten/Grade 1 Inquiry project this year.  It's a good starting point for shaping what should happen in the next few years in Primary education (i.e. finding a balance somewhere between accountability and authentic learning...we've moved too far towards being accountable and aren't giving students the freedom they need to make their learning meaningful.)
I like that this book points out the focus on play in the Kindergarten program and then the glaring absence of the word in almost all of the 1-8 curriculum documents.  It didn't contain the practical information I was looking for, however.  (How to plan, how to conduct assessment.)  I wanted more detail on those things.  As information to start a conversation about how we can make the Primary years more meaningful and engaging for our students, it has potential....

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guiding Readers - Lori Jamison Rog

A second inquiry project with which I've been involved over the past month is observing the 40-minute guided reading lesson that makes up our Early Literacy Intervention program for Grade 1s and working with other educators to discuss how guided reading in the classroom can be more closely aligned with what happens as part of the intervention program.  Around the same time as this project started, a book arrived in the mail: Guiding Readers by Lori Jamison Rog.  (Yep, that's the author of The Write Genre, for anyone asking "Where have I heard that name before?")

This year, I've adopted some of the suggestions from The Daily Five program to answer the question of "What is the rest of the class doing?" while I do guided reading.  It's working.  Oh, it's working.  Now that I have time to sit and work with a focused small group at the back of the room while the others are occupied with their literacy boxes, I'm working to fine-tune and make the most of what happens in that precious 20 minutes.

Why include a post about guided reading on a blog about technology?  Because (hold onto your seats, folks), I believe there are areas of learning where 21st-century tech is not required.  The passion and individualized response of a teacher beats any technology I've ever seen when it comes to literacy instruction.  Douglas Reeves, one of the current gurus of best practices in education, quips that, "technology is the servant, not the master, of education."  In this case, I'm inclined to agree.

When I read in The Daily Five about having students simply sit and read for 20 minutes, I'll admit I was skeptical that a 6-year-old could do that. But, we started with two minutes and worked our way up, adding and subtracting a minute a day until we had built the stamina and muscle memory needed to make it work.  In a recent ASCD newsletter, Reeves goes on to passionately proclaim:
"Perhaps one of the most important 21st century skills that teachers can impart is that of focus-devoted concentration to a task."
I think concentration is the key word there.  I can take my students to the computer lab, show them a new game that reinforces a concept, and they all appear to be focused, but there's something in that glazed-over zombie-like look in their eyes as they sit there, expressionless, clicking the mouse that I just can't call concentration.  (Think: Who or what is in control?)

That said, when we power up the LCD projector and display student work using the document camera, then there's a definite focus in the room.  When we use digital photos and video to capture student learning, there's excitement there, too.  I completely believe there is a place for technology in every classroom (that's why I started this blog!), but I also believe there are times to hold back, simplify, and remember Reeves' master/servant analogy.

Now, back to guided reading for a bit.  Talk about engagement!  We discussed in our inquiry sessions the concept of "Bottoms Up!"--that is, books that have children leaning out of their seats with excitement, ready to grab the book from the teacher's hand.  Rog writes: "Just-right texts for guided reading should have students standing on their tippy toes" (p. 12) (i.e. --exerting a bit of effort, but not toppling over).  Put those two together and you can see how there's hardly room to focus on anything else.

Another great quote from Guiding Readers? "Books are leveled, not children." (p. 13)  A running record does not tell the whole story.  In order for students to be engaged in learning, the content needs to be accessible.  There is an art to choosing the right texts for the right groups that involves knowing the child's interests, background and worldview that tells you whether a book is just right for them.  There is an onus on the teacher to make the whole experience as engaging as possible and book choice is usually where you hook 'em or lose 'em.

I read the whole book yesterday, sitting on the back deck in the sun.  I had my iPad beside me for googling and notetaking.  I was making shopping lists of simple materials to buy to enhance my guided reading lessons, looking up web resources mentioned in the book, and even crafting bits of parent communication for my next classroom newsletter.  Not to mention, I was sticky-noting up a storm.  Here's what the text looked like by the time I was through with it:

I would give this book a solid 4 stars out of 5.  There's nothing earth-shattering in here, but I like the way the book is organized and there are many new ideas on how to teach certain concepts in guided reading lessons.  I also like that the focus is on how to "make the magic happen" in the 18 minutes you've got in a typical classroom.  Since I'm teaching Grade 1, I did gloss over a few chapters on teaching older, more sophisticated readers, but there appeared to be good stuff in there, too.

For immediate access to a bunch of Lori Jamison Rog's work, download an ebook.  Guiding Readers is available for preview in its entirety on Stenhouse's website.  You can also visit Lori's website.  Scroll right to the bottom of the books page to access some quality (free) articles.

This posting is also posted on my Wired Like That education blog.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Books To Read This Summer

Professional Rereads:
The Element by Sir Ken Robinson
The Language of Art by Ann Pelo
Teaching For Comprehending and Fluency by Fountas and Pinell
Building Bridges Through Sensory Integration by Yack, Aquilla, Sutton
Conversations by Regie Routman
Where Great Teaching Begins by Anne R. Reeves
Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd Ed.) by Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, Stone
The MindUp Curriculum(K-2) by the Hawn Foundation
Creating the Opportunity To Learn by Boykin & Noguera
Differentiated Instructional Strategies by Gregory & Chapman

Books To Re-read or Re-visit:
The CAFE Book
The Daily Five
Making The Most of Small Groups

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce and Culture

We are almost finished this book!  It's been traveling back and forth between both of our household cars and has gone with us on countless road trips since I found it on the shelf at the Belleville Value Village over Christmas holidays.  (We got stuck in traffic on the 401, finally made it to Belleville, and needed to get out and stretch our legs.  Where better to do that than in the used books aisle at VV?)

I didn't think it possible, but I think I love coffee more after having read this book.  It's not just about Starbucks.  It tells the story of the rise of coffee culture in North America (okay, mostly the U.S. but I'm trying to include 'us Canadians' in the story) and the effects of Starbucks' massive growth on the coffee industry (better coffee, good news for mom 'n pop shops, hope for fair pricing for coffee farmers).  It also gives some insight into what it's like to work for the Jolly Green Mermaid Giant and some of the quirks of some of the Starbucks bigwigs.

The bits of the book I'm enjoying most, however, have to do with the history of the coffee.  It's actually really cool.  I don't want to give it all away, but I will give you the book if you're interested. ;) (It will just come with a warning from me that every few pages you read will have you craving a cup of hot java.)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Book Sale Haul

Attending the Elora Book Sale on the first weekend in May has become an annual tradition.  Arriving home to stack up my treasures and photograph them has, too!  Here are this year's fabulous finds:

From top to bottom we have:
1.  The Scottish Clans and Their Tartans
2.  The Rebel Sell ("Why The Culture Can't Be Jammed")
3.  A Short History of Progress (CBC Massey Lectures series - 2004)
4.  The Wayfinders (CBC Massey Lectures series - 2009)
5.  Leaning Towards Infinity
6.  Made To Stick
7.  Bachelor Girl ("100 Years of Breaking the Rules--A social history of living single.")
8.  Bowling Alone ("The collapse and revival of American community.")
9.  Everything Bad Is Good For You ("How today's popular culture is making us smarter.")
10.  In Praise of Slow:  How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging The Cult of Speed
11.  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
12.  The Canterbury Papers
13.  Boom Bust & Echo 2000 (An "oldie" but a goodie: this was discussed at length at a workshop I attended last weekend.)
14.  Shakespeare's Wife
15.  The Element (I <3 Sir Ken Robinson!)
16.  Girls On The Edge
17.  Bartlett's Familiar Quotations  (I used to sign this out of the library a few times a year.)

This year's collection is very heavy on the non-fiction (highlighted with green numbers).  The collection of novels at this year's event was a bit uninspiring.  I'm wondering if the popularity of ebooks is already impacting the availability of used books?  Then again, there were several great books on the table, it's just that I have the same titles on my shelves already. :)

I also scored a few teaching resources:
1.  Sign Language Fun (anything from the Key Education Resources gets my automatic stamp of approval)
2.  Raffi's singable songs for the very young album.  (We had this record in our family collection; it was also a second hand find.)

Without fail, every year after the book sale I start imagining how wonderful it would be have a little cottage somewhere and to load all of these books on to the shelves for summer reading...

I also have to give myself an annual congratulatory pat on the back for all the great deals I found.  None of these items cost more than $2.00.  The whole pile was just under $30.  Thirty dollars!  That's the price of one new book, or the running tab of overdue fines on my library account at any given time.  I do love a good book sale.