Saturday, November 22, 2008

What can a Christmas list tell you about your child's education?

Like so many children, my seven year old, first grader, sat down to create his Christmas list this week. He didn't have any trouble coming up with ideas, as you can tell when you click on the picture and zoom in on his writing. He wrote feverishly for about 15 minutes to write the front page early in the week, and then this morning, he sat and reread his list. After rereading, he flipped his paper over and wrote feverishly for another 15 minutes. He presented his paper to me with a big grin and high hopes. I laughed out loud as I read each item. I could have stopped there, but the teacher in me wouldn't allow it, so here I sit creating a post to answer the question-- What can a Christmas list tell you about your child's education?
Here goes...

1) He's been taught to THINK BIG, the sky is the limit and he will reach it, all things are possible. Do you notice that he put on his list a laptop computer, baby brother/sister, female toy "yourkey" dog? And, that even though he has a PS 2, Wii, and PSP, he still adds another gaming system--the XBOX 360. (Maybe that should be my clue that I should examine the word...spoiled.)
2) He's been taught to WRITE FLUENTLY, hence two pages in about half an hour. He doesn't hesitate to pick up a pencil and write independently, and share his writing with others. He's been taught that writing is a way to express yourself and sell your ideas to others. He's also been taught to reread his writing and add to it. Lucky me that he came up with page two. How will I chose which hopes I dash?

3) He's been taught to SPELL, and writes almost all high frequency words correctly, and those that are not high frequency words, he spells following phonetic rules. He also spells higher level words correctly. Notice that alien, force, suit, computer, memory, clone, life sized, light, female, world, picture frame, book mark, brother, sister, and motorcycle are all spelled correctly. And, notice that you can still read his misspelled words-machen, sighn, ultmate, sliipers, gersey, glassess, and hellmet. I find it extremely sweet that he spells words from his studies this year correctly like Australia. I guess it is time that I taught him how to spell his middle name, since he spelled it incorrectly on his paper--Christtopher. :) He's even taken a good stab at the proper nouns. He spelled Rothlisberger, a football player, "Roflessburger," and Polamalu, another player, "Pulomulu," not a bad attempt.
More importantly,
4) He's been taught to love learning. Thank you to Maria and Cheryl. He's added world map and a world ball to his list because they've turned him on to geography. He's constantly looking for countries they mention in their classroom. He's added books to his list including "The Mixed-up Chamilyon" by Eric Carle and a book mark.
Your child's Christmas list can teach you a lot about your child's education and I'm so glad I took a few minutes to reflect on my child's list.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Response to Literature, Grade 2

I often walk classrooms. Sometimes, I ask students questions like, "What are you working on?" "What did you learn in your mini-lesson today?" and sometimes, I simply rummage through portfolios looking at student work. The work itself answers these types of questions for me without even talking to the kids. I can clearly see which lessons have been taught that were internalized by students and applied to their work.

In addition, I often have teachers simply drop by my desk at the end of a busy day with student work in hand. They are there to celebrate the accomplishments of a particular student or show me work that impressed them. I really enjoy when teachers invite me into their celebration of student work and it is quite evident the focused instruction that goes into the production of quality student work.
Today, at the end of the day, when I returned to my desk, I had a pleasant surprise. Mrs. McLeod, a second grade teacher, left a few Response to Literature student papers on my desk. The pieces clearly met the standard for Grade 2 writers. I thought you may enjoy reading one of the student samples she shared with me. You may notice the student's introduction, detailed retelling, use of dialogue, ability to give the moral of the story, developed vocabulary use, or the closing of his piece. I think, after you read his piece, you'll understand why I love teachers including me in their celebration of student work. If you would like a closer look, please click on the picture to zoom in. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The In-Between Game, Grade 5

On Friday, we streamed our first live videoconferenced math lessons of the year into our district's professional development site, the Schultz Center for Teaching and Leadership. Approximately 100 Academy of Math participants from around the district gathered at the site for a day of PD. And, one component of the day was watching and debriefing a math lesson from the grade level you teach. Our live streams, from CCE, came from Kindergarten and Grade 5.

As a coach, I attend as many of the live lesson streams as possible, because classroom observation and classroom supporter is part of my role. And, on Friday, I must say that I was right at home, having taught on the Grade 5 Math/Science Team for four years myself.

The Grade 5 lesson was live from Bridget O'Connor's classroom. Bridget's students are currently in a unit of study focusing on fractions, decimals, and percents. Her mini-lesson focused on introducing students to a new game, In-Between. In the game players take turns placing a card next to another card. The card can be placed to the right of 10%, to the left or right of 50%, and to the left of 90% (think it like a number line), or under a percentage card if it is an equivalent fraction. As students place the cards, they explain their reasoning by stating the fraction and the equivalent percentage. The cards, as you look from left to right, must be in correct numerical order. They cannot place a card between two cards that are already touching. For example, if 1/6 was played touching 10% card, then 1/8 could not be played. The goal of the game is to try and place more cards than your competition. The student voluneer and Ms. O played a practice round, from the board in the front of the room, so students would be ready to tackle the game in pairs.

As the class transitioned from their mini-lesson to Work Period, Bridget pulled a small guided math group. She reexplain the directions and got the students started. She observed during their first round to make sure they understood and then began circulating the room conferring with pairs of students. She listened in on student's conversations, asked them probing questions, took their strategy in the game to the next level, and took notes if she wished to share their strategy, question, or conversation in Closing Session.
As I watched Bridget in action, I stayed as far out of site from the video camera as possible, but sat with pairs of students to listen in on their conversation and strategy. I was enamored with the depth of their thinking. I overhead one student say to another, "Why are you placing 3/8 next to 1/4?" And, the other replied, "I know 3/8 is 37 1/2% because 1/8= 12 1/2% and 2/8 is equivalent to 1/4, which equals 25%, so 3/8 is 12 1/2% + 25%." She went on to say, "I placed 3/8 there because I am blocking you from begin able to play your 2/6 card." She giggles, "You will get stuck with that card!" In another conversation, I heard one young man say to another, "I'm saving all my equivalent fraction cards for last (1/10, 1/2, 9/10), because I can always play them under the percentage cards." He continued, "I am wasting a turn if I place them any sooner."

After about 25 minutes of Work Period, Ms. O'Connor had students return to their seats for Closing Session. Once again she used the giant sized magnetic game board she had created at the front of her classroom to demonstrate. She focused on a few relevant conversations and strategies to move student thinking forward.
1) "One student moved the percentage cards further apart even after fraction cards were placed. Why did he do this?", she asked.
2) She presented a comment that was asked of her as she circulated, "Ms. O, we need to think fast, don't cut ourselves off, and look at my partner's cards before I make a play." She asked the students, "What does this mean?"
3) Ms. O asked a student to come to the front and present a strategy she saw him use, because he had formed a misconception. After working it out in front of the class, he discovered his error, corrected it, and decided he was leaving his equivalent fractions for last.
4) She asked, "Why did it take you longer to place the cards like 1/6, 5/6, 1/8, and 3/8?"

The Closing was interactive dialogue between the students and teacher. I think you'll agree it is a powerful part of the workshop model, one that should never be missed. And, one in which the student learning is deepened and where they build powerful connections.

This game, the In-Between Game, is one of student thinking, understanding, and connecting. It is also a game of strategy with the added element of a little luck--the students quickly figured out that they loved the equivalent fraction cards. And, there are many variations. I'm sure you'll agree that this is a game students should revisit frequently during Choice Time, and one in which they will become very strategic. Now, that is the way to develop young mathematicians!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Grade 3 Snapshot

I took a stroll through Grade 3 today. The grade level consists of 4 co-teach classrooms and 2 departmentalized teams--eight classrooms in all.

Math Workshop Work Period was in full swing in three of the rooms, and it was evident that the Grade 3 team is on the same page when it comes to math instruction. They were all working in the MI unit, Landmarks in the Hundreds, and were all teaching about factors of a number. One classroom was working on a student sheet solving factors of 36, and another classroom was solving for factors of 24. In the classroom where students were solving for factors of 24, the teacher had a small guided math group pulled to a corner of the room working with them to solve their factors. The rituals and routines were well established because the students remaining at the tables continued to work diligently although the teacher was working with a small group.

As I entered the third math classroom, soft music was playing, and there was a slight hum of students at work. They were diligently working on using 100 beads or macaroni to decide how to break 100 up into equal groups. The guiding questions/statements glued to the bottom of their sheet were:

  • How to break 100 up into equal groups.

  • What are the factors of 100?

  • Write an equation to represent this picture of 100.

The teacher had also provided them with a very helpful tool, a Self-Assessment Rubric, to ensure that each student had the elements the teacher expected in the assignment.

In the fourth room, students were gathered on the floor participating in EDC, Every Day Counts Calendar Math. The students were working with the teacher to build coordinates on a graph.

Not only did I focus on instruction, but I also looked for evidence of current teaching charts, word walls, and portfolios. These specific artifacts are important evidence of math learning and extremely helpful for student reference. In some of the classrooms the artifacts were in place, and in others my hope is that the teachers are moving toward this goal.

Below you will find a slide show of the photographs I captured while in these math classrooms. You will notice that some of the teaching charts are an excellent reference for students.

Two classrooms were in Readers' Workshop. In the first room, Opening Session of Readers' Workshop included a read aloud from our October Book of the Month, Grace for President. The students were gathered on the floor, their Reader's Notebooks in hand, feverishly taking two column notes comparing the characters of Grace and Thomas, when the teacher paused in her reading. During the read aloud the teacher also stopped appropriately to question students on unknown vocabulary and to ask questions that offered students a chance to infer. It appeared that this was not the students' first introduction to this text.

In the other classroom, the students were taking a Reading Comprehension Assessment, and soft music played in the background. This cold assessment was a non-fiction article on Native Americas. Both teachers in this classroom were working with a small group of students. The mood in this room was calm and relaxed, and students each worked at their own pace to complete the assessment. Teachers use these cold assessments to assess student's progress with all reading standards, and to prescribe whole group and small groups instruction.

The other ELA classroom was in Writers' Workshop Work Period. I sat down next to one student and asked her to explain to me what she was doing. She eagerly pulled her Author Study folder from underneath her Writers' Sourcebook and explained that all her material was keep together in this folder. She explained, "First, the teacher did a read aloud of two Allen Say books, Music for Alice and Kamishibai Man." "Then, I completed a venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two books." "Now, I have to write a Response to Literature." She explained that her Response to Literature Rubric helped her to make sure she included all the standards in her writing. She told me that she would write some of her paper, reread it, and then check her rubric to make sure it was "all there", as she described it, before she moved on. The rubric included the elements of the RtL standards, an I think... column, and a My peer thinks... column. I can't wait to return after she finishes so I can read her Response--I am confident that it will meet the standard with the tools the teacher has given her! As I conferred with the student, the teacher continued conferring with students throughout the room about their writing.

In the ELA rooms I also looked for specific artifacts including reading and writing portfolios, word walls, and current teaching charts. Again, some of the teachers showed ample evidence in their classrooms, while others were working toward this goal.

Unlike the math instruction, the alignment between ELA instruction in each classroom was not clear to me. I'll have to check the pacing guide tomorrow to try and get a clear picture of the genre study currently occurring. Having teachers within the same genre of study, though their lessons may vary, is important to compare work across the grade level, and offer consistent instruction between classrooms.

In the eighth room I visited, I caught the tail end of a Science Workshop lesson on condensation. The teacher was holding a jar, previously dry, over a hot plate with a boiling pot of water. As the steam rose from the boiling water, it collected in the jar, and began slowly raining back into the pan. This demonstration had students predicting why the jar had previously gone from dry to wet, and why the water then began to drip back into the pan. The co-teacher and I spoke briefly and she said I should have come in a few minutes before--I would have walked into the middle of an ice tossing contest. Why? Because the teacher was showing that a solid form of water could become a liquid quickly. I'm sure students appreciated this demonstration much more than simply reading it from a science textbook. :) The slideshow below shows this lesson. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

EDC Math Videotapes Grade 3 & Grade 1

Every Day Counts® Calendar Math is a supplementary curriculum tool that we use in addition to our core curriculum TERC Math Investigations. These two programs fit nicely together to form our 75 minute math block. Every Day Counts Calendar Math reviews, previews, and reinforces NCTM grade level standards.

As a source of professional development within our school, CCE teachers have graciously agreed to be videotaped to share their instructional practices with others. The Every Day Counts Calendar Math lesson plans are read and implemented by each of our teachers, but implementation may look slightly different in each classroom. Therefore, the videotaping of lessons each month assists all of our teachers in reflection of their own practices, and allows them to virtually visit one another's classrooms.

To watch Ashley Russell's 3rd grade EDC Calendar Math, click here.

1st grade - Calendar Math 10-08 from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Activity Reports

My last post gave you a general overview of the role of an instructional coach. Five of the roles were marked with asterisks which signify that they are power roles, and a great majority of my time should be concentrated in these areas. One category not defined as a power role, but still included was the role of accountability. You may ask, "What does that mean?" Well, in my district, an instructional coach is funded in part by the district. To hold coach's accountable for their time and to report our benefit to our school board, our district decided that coaches would keep an Activity Report. The report, created on an EXCEL spreadsheet, allows the coach to log the date, activity, and the coaching role in which they are serving. The Instructional Coaches' Activity Reports are submitted each month to our district's professional development site and the data compiled in a complete report to our school board. Although, you can't read this well, you may be able to make out that Column 1 includes the date, Column 2 the amount of hours logged (each 15 minutes), Column 3 the activity, Column 4 my school number, and Column 5 the role in which I served. What you see here is a four day snapshot.

Last year, the simple excel sheet, like the one above, seemed like an extra burden in an already overcrowded scheduled. Due in part, I suppose, because I never took the time to sort the data and analyze how I was really spending my time. Therefore, I used the tool in compliance mode. This year, with the new spreadsheet which includes a tab for each month, a summary report, monthly graphs, and a yearly graph, I've attempted to move from compliance to commitment. Ok, I admit, commitment might be stretching it, because I don't know anyone who wants to log what they do every 15 minutes for months at a time. However, at least this year, I acknowledge the benefit of having the data. And, I've made an attempt to follow through and analyze my data.

So here is what I learned:

  • I worked 21 days in October. (There were 23 working days, but I had two personal days.)
  • I worked a total of 196.75 hours. (At least that I actually logged.)
  • Divide the number of hours by days worked and I average 9.37 hours a day. (Seems reasonable to me)
  • I spend most of my time in the roles of Classroom Supporter and Learning Facilitator. (2 Power Roles)
  • I spent the least amount of time as Data Coach. (That's because Dibels and DRA's are in August and September, and FCAT is in February and March.)
  • I spend more time observing and giving feedback than I do modeling. (I'm wondering if this is because we have so much capacity, and so many demos in other teacher's classrooms. Or, perhaps I just need to do more modeling.)
  • I work with many grade levels often, especially 2nd - 5th. (Am I stretching too thin, offering some support to all, but not good support to any?)
  • I was a Learner 15% of my time. (Really, this is not an accurate percentage. I could combine my observation time with my actual Learner time to get the bigger total, because I learn every day from the incredibly talented teachers I observe.)

Now, I'm wondering...

  • If we had Power Roles for the teacher, including things like Planner, Implementer, Learner, Data Collector/Analyzer, Curriculum Specialist etc... How would their time be divided?

  • If my school of 1,250 students had 2 full-time coaches, would I spend more quality time in classrooms?

  • Should I be spending less time doing some of the things I am currently doing?

  • Do teachers know what I do and do they find it helpful for moving their work along?

  • Is my work transparent enough to each staff member?

  • Do school board members see the benefit of what I did in October? How about enough to continue funding?

If the actual Activity Report interests you, feel free to take a look at mine. ttp://

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What is the Role of an Instructional Coach?

In my district, Duval County Florida, each school has an instructional coach. Until this year, that instructional coach was paid for using district funds. However, with budgets tightening and funding on the downslide, cuts were made, and this year, the district supports only 1/2 day instructional coaches. Some schools, including my own, have made coaching a priority so the school funds the other 1/2 day. In a school my size with 1,250 students, even the funding of a full day instructional coach, more coaching support is necessary to make sure each job role gets fulfilled.

The district urges schools to use coaches in the role of curriculum and instruction rather than as another administrator. They have defined the role of the instructional coach as a classroom supporter, instructional specialist, curriculum specialist, data coach, learning facilitator, and learner. Although, they recognize that school support and accountability are unavoidable at times. I've listed the descriptors for each of the roles below. You may be interested in the one listed accountability because it mentions the use of an activity report. Stay tuned to my next post to learn more about this report and to get an up close and personal picture of how I spend most of my days.

CL* Classroom Supporter
Increases the quality and effectiveness of classroom instruction. Assist with planning lessons with teachers, observes in classrooms, models lessons, co-teaches, debriefs with teachers, analyzes student work, measures work against standards, gives specific feedback, develops coaching plans, and coaches follow up lessons.

IS* Instructional Specialist
Aligns instruction with curriculum to meet the needs of all students. Assists teachers to use formative assessment to guide instructional planning, recommend instructional strategies appropriate for learner needs, and differentiate instruction. Assists teachers connect the rituals and routines of instruction with the school discipline plan.

CS* Curriculum Specialist
Ensures implementation of adopted curriculum. Assists teachers implement the adopted curriculum, adhere to the learning schedule, and provide expertise in blending content knowledge with the workshop model. Uses alignment tools (District Implementation Rubric, Professional Development Implementation Rubrics, Look Fors, Focus Walks, etc.) to assess the fidelity of curriculum with instruction and the transfer of training to the classroom.

LF* Learning Facilitator
Designs collaborative, job-embedded, standards-based professional learning. Plans, delivers, follows up, and assesses professional development at the school. Develops teachers' content knowledge and expertise with the workshop model. Assesses teachers to determine instructional needs in assigned teaching areas.

DC* Data Coach
Ensures that student achievement data drive instructional decisions at the classroom and school level. Assists the principal/leadership team disaggregate student performance data (formative and summative) and assess instructional needs of individual students and school training needs. Guides data discussions with teachers and facilitates the examination of student work. Plans with teachers for focused instruction based on data.

LR Learner
Models continuous learning, to keep current, and to be a thought leader in the school. Participates in professional development including Coaching Academy, Academy of Math, book study, action research, conferences, visits to district model classrooms, certification work and other training.

AC Accountability
Completes and submits Activity Reports monthly.

SS School Support
Provides school support not directly related to the coaching role including test coordinator, test administration, bus duty, hall monitoring, substituting, lunch duty, parent conferences, office duty, etc.