Friday, November 30, 2007

Virtual Boardwalk

In an earlier post, I described the standards-based bulletin board and Boardwalk. Yesterday, the 2nd grade team and I tried a new practice and held a Virtual Boardwalk. Why did I do this? On occasion, we've been strapped for time when physically walking the boards and not every teacher could get up close to the piece of student work we were discussing. The walk sometimes did not yield the deeper conversation and reflection I had hoped. So, I thought, why not try doing it differently.

Several of our coaches had developed a bulletin board focus walk form so teachers could preview the boards before taking the actual Boardwalk with the grade level. So, I stole their form and copied two forms for each 2nd grade ELA teacher. There task before our next meeting was to preview a colleagues board, fill out the questionnaire, and be ready to introduce the board during our Virtual Boardwalk. I also had each of them preview a 1st grade board to generate new ideas of where their work could go.

In the meantime, I snapped pictures of each of their boards. I took one overall picture and one picture of a piece of student's work. I pulled the student's work and commentary off the board to copy and create a packet. The packet would allow the teachers to have the work in front of them for discussion at the meeting. After making the packets and taking the pictures, I pasted the pictures in a Powerpoint in preparation.

For the Virtual Boardwalk held in the administrative conference room, I set up the computer and projector to display the pictures. We walked through each board with the visuals and the teachers introduced their colleagues board. Our dialogue was rich and focused on student work. We also talked about implications to our pacing guide for the next year, and several teachers walked away with new lesson ideas they were going to take immediately back to their classrooms.

In my opinion, this Virtual Boardwalk was a great success. The teachers now have a deeper understanding of the importance of the boards, and will be using the boards to analyze student work which is the main purpose of the board. And, can you get any better than directly impacting student instruction during a short teacher meeting?

Thursday, November 29, 2007


For a coach having a snapshot of instruction across the school is important. The information I gather is valuable in fully understanding where the school is as a whole and where our next steps should be. I assist the Leadership Team in planning professional development activities and gleam information that may help all coaches school-wide plan next steps.

To get my snapshot, I simply do a 5x5 (five by five). 5x5's consist of me taking five steps into a classroom and observing for five minutes. You can't imagine how quick and easy this snapshot is to take and how valuable the information is in keeping your thumb on the pulse of the school's instruction. The walk also lets teachers know that you value their work and are excited to see them in action.

Yesterday, I did 5x5's on the top floor of our building including stops in all third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms, as well as two second grade classrooms. The "snapshots" below highlight some of the instruction I caught in action.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Pocket Full of Mentors

I’ve given much thought to mentors recently. Often when I hear a presentation, read an article or book, or talk to a leader, they give accolades to their mentor. Usually, they mention that one person in their professional life that has given them the most support and advice; the one person that can accelerate them to the next level.

Recently, I read a blog post from Once Upon a Teacher. She had written about things she was thankful for and shared a video entitled the Last Lecture. Intrigued, I followed the link and discovered a moving and must watch lecture from Randy Pausch, a 47 year old professor at Carnegie Mellon who is stricken with cancer but has the most upbeat outlook on life. In this taped segment, he shares pieces of advice and at one point says to find a feedback loop and cherish it.

The comment got me thinking about how critically important it is to have that in a mentor. For me, the feeback loop has been a critical component of moving my work forward. I listen to the feedback, reflect, and put new suggestions into practice immediately. It also got me thinking, am I a successful part of anyone else's feedback loop? What would the teachers I coach say about my abilities in this area?

Randy mentions his mentor on several occasions which got me thinking about this whole topic. So, I spent awhile reflecting and think perhaps I have been blessed with a unique experience.

You see, I don't have a mentor, or even two. I've been blessed with many. To understand, you'd have to consider my professional phases.

I tend to surround myself with people who know much more than I know and from whom I want to learn. I had a principal who took me under her wing and continues to mentor me in the Leadership realm. I sought colleagues that had a passion for math when I needed to become a better math teacher and presenter. When I was given the opportunity to coach literacy, I latched onto two literacy pros. I’m sure I drive them crazy with my questions and I’m confident many days they think I’m apart of their shadow. When the buzz turned to Web 2.0, blogging, Ustream, and Twitter. I quickly attached, like a leach some might say, to our webmaster who tends to always stay on the cutting edge. I don’t necessary stalk them—ok, maybe they would think I do--- but I do spend as much time as I can around them, I have dialogue with them, I copy what they do (if they twitter, so be it, so will I) and I read what they read. Like a sponge I soak in all they say and take their advice for next steps. These people collectively are my mentors and part of my feedback loop, and I wouldn't be the same without them.

So, I ask, who is in your feedback loop? Do you rely on a mentor? Do you have one or do you have several? And, are you apart of someone else’s feedback loop? What would they say about your input?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Our Life as a Reader

At Chets Creek, students are expected to read one million words a year. Why one million words? Research indicates that reading frequency and volume predicts reading success and overall academic achievement. Students who read a million words a year add about a thousand new words to their working vocabulary, develop higher levels of fluency, can comprehend text on a higher level, can write better, and become better spellers. Not to mention the knowledge they are exposed to when they are reading non-fiction text.

To read a million words in a year, a first-grader will need to read four picture books a day and a fifth-grader 25 chapter books a year. All types of reading count including self-selected books on a student's independent reading level, web site and digital text, newspapers, and magazines. Reading can take place in school and at home.

Research indicates that students who read on an average of 40 minutes a day fall in the 90th percentile; students reading 12 minutes a day fall in the 50th percentile range; students who read 2 minutes a day are in the 10th percentile. So, if we know that children become better readers when they read and reading helps them learn in school, what can we do to help?

Like many schools, we have text rich environments, leveled and genre libraries in our classrooms, a Readers' Workshop model that allows students to read in their independent levels during reading, and students keep book logs. Additionally, nightly reading is required as part of student's homework.

What we do, in my opinion, that sets us apart from some schools is that we lead our own lives as readers. We read leisurely. We read professionally. We read as part of a professional book study. We discuss our lives as readers with our students. We bring with us our nightstand books, our magazines, our professional reading text, our children's picture books, or we pull up our digital text and show students an interesting website we found the night before. We know that children read more when they see other people reading, so we model by showing our life as a reader.

We make our reading visible for all students, teachers, and parents. On the outside of our classroom doors there are four plaques that hang. One of the plaques highlights the books we are currently reading, and indicates our favorite texts. Some teachers write on the laminated paper with overhead markers, some type in their reading lists, and others print off a picture of the book jacket to display. Regardless of the manner in which the teachers display theIr reading, the purpose is the same. By making visible the books we are reading we are creating the expectation of our students' reading. This promotes dialogue that many times turns to book recommendations and book talks about literature. We are creating learners prepared for work in the 21st Century and reading a million words a year will be the norm not the exception. Happy Reading!

Our Traditions

Our learning community has firmly established Rituals, Routines, and Traditions. The traditions are embedded throughout our school year and offer rich and meaningful experiences for our young learners. Some of the traditions are designed for the entire school to enjoy like the Literary Pumpkin Festival, Wreath Auction, and Cultural Arts Events. Others are designed for specific grade levels.

First Grade--Sleepover
Second Grade--Holiday Play
Third Grade--End of the Year Play

Some of the traditons are designed for parents like 4th Grade Write Night where teachers take the opportunity to share state expectations with parents.

No matter what the event, our traditions are extremely embedded in our culture, and it takes everyone from the grade level teachers, resource team, and parent volunteers for an event to occur with this type of depth. I applaud all of those participants for offering such rich and meaningful experiences for our students. These are the times they will remember for a lifetime.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Life is a Juggling Act

Amazing Juggling Finale
Ever feel like you were juggling more balls than you can handle? The life of a coach is much like that of a juggler. People expect jugglers to lightly toss balls in the air and gracefully catch and release them over and over again. The magic is the ease at which the juggler appears to gracefully be able to handle the task. Although, the task gets much more complex when the audience wants the juggler to move more quickly, juggle more than three balls, or even juggle a variety of objects. Sound like your coaching job?

Reading the article Life is a Juggling Act brought clarity to my feelings. On more than one occassion the last few weeks, I've felt like I was juggling too many balls. I felt like if I dropped even one, then the rest would ultimately come crashing down.

When I begin feeling like I am juggling too much, I try to get back to the basics and keep my eyes on the big picture. I prioritize and spend the majority of my time juggling the items that will help me get to my ultimate goal.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Boardwalk: A Focus on Student Work

I caught a glimpse of the 4th grade Professional Learning Community doing their standards-based boardwalk today, and thought I’d give you a quick look into this best practice.

At the beginning of each month, excluding December, CCE teachers display a standards-based bulletin board. The boards are an avenue to exhibit student work. The boards specific elements include:
o Title
o Standards
o Task
o Circumstances of Performance
o Student Work
o Commentary.

As you stroll through the CCE hallways, it is not uncommon to see parents or students reading the work on the board. You may also catch a glimpse of an entire classroom of students sitting in front of the board as their teacher reads work to them. Coaches, adminstrators, and visitors read the work and have dialogue about the instruction that led to the production of the student work.

As importantly, teachers use the boards to read student work and benchmark their work against standard pieces. After a new board has been displayed, communities of teachers take a boardwalk. They explain to other teachers the purpose of working on the standard the board exhibits, the classroom assignment or task students were asked to complete, and the circumstances under which the piece was created (individually, in groups, after a teacher conference, during work period… etc…). Then, they read some of the student work and discuss how the work meets the standard (teacher’s commentary). In some instances, like on this board, students have compared their own work to the standard and written their own commentary. This allows for a self-assessment of the piece.

Boardwalks are a great way to bring student work to the table. Comparing student work across a grade level allows teachers to have professional dialogue about work that meets the standard. Boardwalks also allow teachers to see if the student work coming out of their room benchmarks against work from other rooms. Often, this comparing of student work leads to discussion about classroom practice and lessons. This gives entry into sharing ideas and improving instruction. Afterall, isn't that what it is all about?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fluent Readers

Second-grade teachers in an effort to ensure that their students are fluent readers are studying the text, The Fluent Reader by Timothy Rasinski. Teachers are reading to embrace and employ reading strategies in their classrooms to help every student realize their fullest reading potential.

In chapter 1, the author outlines four ways to build reading fluency.

1) Model Good Oral Reading
2) Provide Oral Support for Readers
o Choral Reading
o Paired Reading
o Using Recorded Materials
3) Offer Plenty of Practice Opportunities
o Repeated Readings
4) Encourage Fluency Through Phrasing

Most teachers know the importance of reading aloud to students so they can hear what a fluent reader who “reads quickly, effortlessly, and efficiently with good, meaningful expression” sounds like. Not surprisingly, modeling hits the top of the list, and when I visit most classrooms I see them using this best practice.

We have also studied the importance of choral and paired reading, and use paired reading quite effectively in the Readers’ Workshop. However, we could embrace more choral reading opportunities.

This week at our 2nd Grade Teacher Meeting, teachers got a videotaped glimpse into a 1st grade CCE classroom as Maria taught a shared reading lesson. The teacher modeled fluent reading of the text before beginning the lesson. Then, she concentrated on a few pages of the text having students point out the words in italics, bold print words, and punctuation. She taught them how to read these pages fluently. Then, students chorally read the pages. She was going to do this same lesson the next day and then have students chorally read the whole text. Second grade teachers responded by brainstorming ways they could put this type of lesson into their own classrooms on a more consistent basis.

The part of this chapter that resonated with me, came with the authors writing of using recorded materials. The reader can listen to a text and simultaneously read along with the recording. This helps students become more fluent, just like choral reading. In particular, the author states that “tape-recorded books have exceptional potential for improving the reading of English language learners.” Teachers can even send home an audio recorder with ELL students. In many circumstances, the ELL parent cannot provide additional practice at home, so this reading recommendation could allow them to be involved in helping their children learn to read more fluently. At our ELL evening last week, it was apparent that these parents want to be actively involved and supportive, and this would be a great way to get started.

However, there is a pitfall when it comes to recorded texts. Students need to read the text simultaneously as they listen. If they just listen to the text, there is little to no reading benefit. I’m wondering how we could monitor whether they are reading along? If you have an idea, please leave a comment on this post. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Another beneficial tip is to have closed caption on the TV as students are watching a program. This way, students read the captions while they listen. I'm thinking of ways we could possibly do this with a lunch bunch group.

In terms of repeated readings, I think we are fully implemented. We have students check books out once a week in our Readers’ Workshop rather than every day. By keeping five to ten books in their independent bags, students in the primary grades can reread texts. Rereading these texts helps them build fluency.

The author’s final point here entails phrasing and comes with this example:
The young man the jungle gym.
Are you having difficulty reading this fluently with meaning? How about now?
The young/ man the jungle gym.

Teaching students to read in phrases rather than word- to- word is important, but they must know that they have to adjust their reading to find meaning.

Another example about phrasing comes with this sentence:

The principal said the teacher is the best in the school district.

The author wants you to read this sentence first as if the principal is the best. Then, read it so the teacher is the best. These two examples demonstrate the importance of phrasing as students grapple with reading fluency.

I'll keep you posted on our fluency journey. If you have any suggested readings, please send them my way. Good luck on your journey.

Our Future... Our Dreams...

We all know that behind a great school is a well-thought out, articulated, and implemented vision. A strong vision allows schools to look into the future with focus and to set long-term and short-term goals to reach beyond the ordinary.

At CCE’s inception in 1998, teams of teachers with the principal poured over their beliefs and viewpoints to create a foundational vision that would lead Chets into the future. The team agreed on Chets Creek’s vision, mission, and learner expectations, and not much has changed in regard to these since those original planning days. Each summer, as we add new teachers, we spend a day explaining to them our history, our expectations, our vision. We hire those with the same philosophy.

Recently, I’ve given much thought to vision, and wonder if anything has fundamentally changed or if we still believe our vision aligns with where we are headed in our future. I wonder, do we still hold true to the same learner expectations or are there those we would delete or perhaps add? Much has happened in the world since 1998 especially in terms of the fiercely competitive global marketplace and technology. I’m thinking it is imperative to reflect on our vision, mission, and learner expectations to ensure our sustained success.

Where do we see Chets Creek in five years? How will we get there? When will we know we’ve gotten there? Where will our students be five years from now, or twenty years from now? Will our organization have prepared them to lead successful futures?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Memo

In a school of nearly 100 staff members, one would think that communicating the same message to the entire faculty would be difficult. I’m sure you have images of a crowded monthly faculty meeting where the principal stands before the staff to disseminate information. This is not the case at Chets.

The dissemination of information is important, especially in a school as large as ours, at approximately 1,200 students, but the principal uses the vehicle of digital communication via a weekly newsletter, The Memo. All staff members receive The Memo as an attachment to an email on Friday afternoon. And, this thematic newsletter, although a dissemination tool, offers so much more.

The Memo is a seven part document which includes the following key elements:
o Principal’s Message—a link to the principal’s blog where she leaves a message.
o Pixie Pointer—a staff initiated recognition/questioning corner.
o Weekly Events Schedule—day by day calendar of events.
o A Whole New Mind—weekly academic announcements.
o Keys to the Kingdom—housekeeping items.
o Birthday Wishes—building relationships through celebration.
o Tinkerbell’s Magical Moments—public recognition for teachers.

As you peruse this week’s Memo pay particular attention to Tinkerbell’s Magical Moments. This is a method of public recognition for staff that gives them a pat on the back for work well done. This section of the communication tool reaches far beyond the dissemination of information and slants the focus toward academic accomplishments. It opens the door to each classroom so the rest of the staff gets a bird’s eye view into the work of others. It celebrates success.

As a coach, I can assist the principal in gathering celebrations for this section. My job has a focus on curriculum and instruction, and includes the most time spent in teacher’s classrooms observing and as a classroom supporter. I assist the principal in being the positive eyes and ears of the school’s academic happenings, and debrief with her about the awe inspiring things I see on a daily basis. Other coaches in my school also share celebrations with the principal. Collectively between the coaches’ weekly observations and the principal’s direct observations, she can craft Tinkerbell’s Magical Moments. The public recognition not only pats a teacher on the back but opens the knowledge to the entire staff.

Do you want to get started? I encourage you to share this post with your principal. If your principal embraces this idea celebrate, you can help by building the academic corner and gathering snippets for the celebration’s corner. If your principal declines, move beyond the barrier, and start your own memo. You could begin with a newsletter to staff with the academic corner and celebrations. Perhaps, from there, the idea will grow. Good luck on your journey.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pangea Day

As I begin writing this post, we are 187 days 6 hours 44 minutes and 56 seconds from Pangea Day. Why is that significant? Because this is my call to my school community to unite and submit a film.

"Pangea Day taps the power of films to strengthen tolerance and compassion while uniting millions of people to build a better future." On May 10, 2008 the world will unite through a simultaneously broadcast program in an effort to assist in healing our world's conflict. They will broadcast films, speakers, and musicians that offer powerful glimpses into our lives. No longer will they rely on a few to dictate the message broadcast to millions. They are calling on citizens from across our globe, from you and I, to submit films about our lives. The films may show hope, fear, freedom, success, compassion... almost anything.

At Chets Creek, we have a story. We have a story of freedom, diversity, hope, acceptance... Are you ready to get on board? Click on Pangea Day, read about its purpose, look at the contributors list, watch their sample films, then come see me and let's make a plan for film submission. One school can help bring a better future... let's get started.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Focus on Mathematics

To become fluent mathematicians, students need to build understanding and connections in math skills, concepts, and problem solving. Chets' teachers are committed to teaching in a Math Workshop format which fosters an environment safe for students to explore multiple strategies.

Math instruction does not consist of a teacher showing students a set of procedures to solve a problem. And, does not require students to regurgitate an answer. We foster the process. We foster student's next steps. We foster understanding. This is a much different approach in contrast to traditional math education in this country, and one we embrace and celebrate for the achievement of our students.

However, we know that because teachers were not taught the way we are now teaching, professional development must take center stage. Therefore, our principal makes sure to support a math coaching position in her budget. Presently, two coaches share that one position. They share a classroom, and each have half a day of release time to coach in other classrooms. Weekly they run teacher meetings in grades 3-5 where teachers discuss curriculum and instruction, analyze diagnostic assessments, work on common assessments, analyze student work, discuss professional literature, and explore multiple strategies. They also have an entire day each quarter to spend with a grade level where they observe demonstration lessons and debrief the lessons.

In grades K-2, two math teachers who carry full day classroom loads, act as math lead teachers. They run their grade level teacher meetings and WOW Days. On occasion, they are released from their classroom to coach in other classrooms.

In addition to coaching, we embrace digital professional development. We've utilized Math Video Clips of two of the coaches talking teachers through math strategies in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I'm sure they will be delighted that I've linked you to their site :) We've used video streaming demonstration lessons, and one of our math leads, Melissa, has used her blog to begin sharing s wealth of information including linking sites to her posts that she finds useful for students to use from home. Two other sites I've found helpful include the National Library of Interactive Math and a Teacher Resource site. Also, we've used our CCE website to share math information.

You'll notice as a list on this blog, I also recommend math texts that every math teacher and coach should have in their bag of tricks. If you have further suggestions for professional development that we can embrace to move our work forward, please pen me a comment on this post. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Be Our Guest

Throughout the year, Chets Creek hosts hundreds of visitors. Educators and business people alike come from near and far to capture a glimpse inside our magical kingdom. These go-getters spend the day with us in hopes of capturing the essence of what we do and replicating best practices in their own schools.

The day consists of a focus walk, lesson observations, and debriefing. We also spend time sharing artifacts and showing blog posts or video clips in the conference room. Visitors walk away enthusiastic to implement some of their new ideas, and we benefit when they bring suggestions to the table for how best to improve our own practice. Another benefit to us comes from the reflective nature of explaining our work to others and clarifying when they ask specific questions. At the end of the day, when we bid goodbye to the visitors, you can commonly find the host team chatting away in the conference room about the day's experience.

If you are a Chets Creek teacher that would like a bird's eye view, drop me a comment, and I'll be sure to invite you to help host a visiting group. If you are an educator that would like to visit our magical kingdom, drop me a comment, and we'd be delighted to have you Be Our Guest.

It Is All About Alignment

You will often hear educators and parents who are against standardized assessment say that high stakes testing just makes teachers teach toward the test. As an educator and parent who values accountability, I say, why not teach toward the test. If the guiding standard is good enough and curriculum and instruction are aligned, then why not teach toward the test. At the very least we are holding teachers and students accountable.

With that said, I understand that some states have standards that are not strong enough or aligned enough with the assessment. This does offer a pitfall. But, rather than bashing the assessment piece, let's work toward making sure every state has strong standards, curriculum, and instruction. Let's ensure that every student can reach a high standard and that we will offer safety nets to ensure their success.

I found this article, What's So Bad About Teaching to the Test?, very informative. If you want to find out how your state's standards and assessments measure up, be sure to click on the study by the American Federation of Teachers and scroll down to page 8.

In my state, Florida, we appear to measure up in Math and Science across the board in grades 3 through high school. However, our Reading analysis is scary with only grades 3 and 4 meeting the recommendations. Hopefully, my state will take a good hard look at this data to make needed improvements.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Find of the Week

One role in coaching is as a resource provider. Coaches expand teachers' use of a variety of resources to improve instruction. They are avid readers of professional literature, surfers of the web, scouts of educational conferences, connoisseurs of children's literature, and great collegial conversationalists. They are constantly in search of new ideas to improve student achievement.

The only thing better than a coach with a great new resource is a self-directed teacher who has spent hours delving into books and searching the web for a great idea. Who hits a gold mine and immediately alerts her whole team that this great tool exists. This week's find of the week comes from a 2nd grade teacher, Eyleen. If you are in search of Readers' or Writers' Workshop Lesson Plans written using the architecture of a mini-lesson then you'll love this Denver Ed. website. Enjoy...