Monday, September 21, 2009

Reading the Room

Today is Monday, the start of the fifth week of school, a time when rituals and routines are firmly established, and the steady hum of the school engine can rhythmically be heard. Which makes it a good time for me to just walk the building to observe instruction in classrooms. What are the students doing? What are the teachers doing? What artifacts are in place to map out the learning that is occurring? Many times, I question kids, read their writing, watch them participate in a math lesson, or have them walk me through their Science journals. But today, instead of doing that, I simply wanted to see what I could learn about teaching and learning from the posted artifacts in the classroom. What would I learn in a classroom where the kids and students weren't present?

I went to a departmentalized Grade 2 English Language Arts classroom while the students were at resource and the teacher was out of the room. What I learned is that you can find out a lot about a classroom by simply reading the room.

What I learned, in this particular classroom, is that there is an established Skills Block. Students have been learning high frequency spelling words and the language skills like nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Students have also reviewed punctuation. There is evidence of multiple presentation styles including embedded strategies in songs. In writing, students are working on Personal Narratives. They've learned about the story elements including how to make their seed idea grow, and how to sprinkle details throughout their writing. They've also learned how to write leads that engage the reader. In addition, students have learned editing skills to make their writing stronger. Students' writing samples are proudly displayed in the classroom and on the bulletin board in the hallway. And, they student has work in their writing journals tucked neatly in their desks.

Furthermore, it is very apparent that the teacher has provided an environment to grow an avid reader. There is an ample classroom library which includes a leveled library, genre library, and guided reading library. There are comfy reading nooks for students to relax and enjoy a good book. They've learned the habits of what good readers do, and have learned what a good listener looks like. The teacher has taught them the procedures for listening to a read aloud. Completed read alouds are displayed on a chart. The students are learning to identify the main idea in a passage or in their independent reading book, and are keeping book logs of the books they've read. I also noticed that the teacher has assessed students using the DRA 2, because on one table in the room the teacher has sticky notes with student's names listed on a pile of Guided Reading books. So, I assume her small groups will get started soon. The room is print rich. Vocabulary words, like contagious and distraction, are displayed on the word wall next to the Text Talk read aloud stories. In addition, students have an individual book bag with books that are on their reading levels.

I'm sure you would agree that reading the room is a valuable tool from the coaching perspective. You don't need long to get a snapshot of teaching and learning. And, it can be a valuable learning tool for other teachers. Visiting a colleague's classroom can inspire an "ahhh haaa" moment that may give you a fresh new idea.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009


FAIR, I know the word conjures up memories of ferris wheels, pony rides, cheesy games, cotton candy, and funnel cake, but all over the state of Florida, Reading teachers have learned that FAIR, in the educational realm, actually stands for Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading. A Reading inventory developed by the Florida Center for Reading Research given statewide to diagnose and prescribe instruction.

As you can imagine, with any new assessment comes training for the staff and first time implementation glitches. As mentioned in my last post, this training occurred in our last Early Release session. So, the next step after training was implementation. To support the teachers in Second Grade, I offered my services all week. On Monday morning, I watched dayle timmons model a FAIR assessment by administering it to a student while a small group of us watched. Then, we debriefed to make sure we understood the process.

Next, I dove in by modeling the FAIR with a student while several teachers watched me and then I watched as they administered a few. In K-2, this is a one-on-one test that also requires the states PMRN site to be up and running properly. In 3rd-5th, it is a whole group assessment administered in a computer lab. So, as our technology coach assisted in the tech lab, I went classroom to classroom to support classroom teachers' assessment work.

To our surprise, the week got off to a good start with relatively few computer glitches, and we began to feel confident that perhaps this FAIR assessment was going to work. Then, the major problems began Thursday morning. When we tried to log in, the PMRN site simply didn't work.
We waited about an hour and the issue was resolved. But, on Friday, not one student was tested, because the site was down all day. The testing window is a month and I'm sure our classroom teachers will be able to complete the assessments, if the computer issues on the PMRN site get resolved. If they don't, I'll be disappointed, because as I look at the reports, I think the teachers will get valuable information for planning instruction.

My advice, for teachers, at this point would be, to have a back up plan. Teachers will have to go in to each day with a plan to administer FAIR, but if it doesn't work, they'll need a back up plan. I know this is frustrating for teachers, but I also know they don't want to waste any classroom instructional time. In addition, I would caution teachers throughout the state that each student's test looks somewhat different because it follows a different path based on the student's needs. I administered three assessments in a row on Wednesday in about 25 minutes, but the next child took me 35 minutes, and when the computer kicked me off, I still wasn't done. I'm hoping that when I log back in on Monday, the student's data will be saved. However, some of my colleagues have logged back in to find vanished data. I know that there will be frustrations including time and computer issues, but I'm hoping that with firmly established rituals and routines, and tons of patience on the part of teachers, they will see the value in administering an assessment that gives them accurate information to prescribe instruction. I'm also hoping educators doing the computer lab scheduling don't simply give up, because they have to continually rebook students into a lab.

My advice, for coaches, at this point would be, dive in and help. Going classroom to classroom and assisting teachers has taught me a lot about the assessment itself, and about the problems teachers may encounter. It also has given me information that may assist in offering support to struggling students. I hope that the teachers I've assisted have felt better having someone standing beside them to get them started. Do I have tons of other things to get done? Absolutely. But, none as valuable as offering classroom support to teachers in their time of need.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Early Release

Last Wednesday was our first Early Release professional development session of the year. That means that we had approximately 80 minutes of dedicated time for quality teacher instruction.
All English Language Arts teachers and their co-teachers attended FAIR, Florida Assessments in Instruction in Reading, training. There was a Kindergarten session led by dayle timmons, a First Grade session led by Rachel Bridges, a Second Grade session led by myself, and a Grade 3,4,5 session led in the computer lab by Jenny Nash. Our 80 minute session focused on the administration of the assessment. A follow up session will be held to focus on analyzing the results, printing the reports, and prescribing instruction in whole groups and small groups based on the results.

All 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th departmentalized Science teachers were led on an outstanding investigation of density of water in different states by "Rick Nye the Science Guy", Rick Pinchot. The group explored the scientific method and discussed the integration of math with science when doing hands-on labs. They also made connections to how the lesson they participated in together correlated with content they teach at 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. The time ended with a discussion on misconceptions and buoyancy as related to density. Scientific minds were certainly at work and the conversations the group had were very meaningful!

Tom Ruark, mathematician extraordinaire, led the 5th grade departmentalized math team in the analysis of student work and alignment to the standards. Comparing work to standards is always an excellent way to ensure student performance.

This first Early Release proved that one size did not fit all and thanks to the diversified leadership at Chets Creek, there were ample leaders to provide separate sessions to meet everyone's needs. I am convinced that just in time delivery and content focus is exactly what is needed in professional development to have engage teachers.

Monday, September 7, 2009

September Book of the Month

Each month, Principal Susan Phillips, serving as our instructional leader, introduces a new children's literature text to teachers, and teaches them a new strategy to implement with their students. Her book selection is diverse and her reasons for selecting a particular book varies significantly. But, some things remain the same. She purchases a text for each classroom, expects the teachers to read the book aloud to the students, and wants the book to be accessible for students' reading enjoyment. At her monthly 40 minute Book of the Month presentation, she always gives teachers a one page handout with a summary of the book, a paragraph on why she selected the text, and a summary of the new strategy she is introducing. This long standing tradition, first brought to us by the America's Choice School Design, remains a stable constant in our culture.

Last year, our technology coach Melanie Holtsman, had the idea of building a wiki to house each Book of the Month. This digital warehouse acts as a bank not only for our CCE teachers but for teachers nationally who visit our school in person or virtually. Many times, the wiki holds not only the book selection and one page summary sheet, but also a video of Principal Phillips delivering Book of the Month to her faculty, or a video of Mrs. Phillips reading the book.

On Friday, although Principal Phillips wasn't in school, she introduced September's Book of the Month, Carmen Agra Deedy's new text, 14 Cows FOR AMERICA in remembrance of
9-11. Her Skyped conversation with faculty began with a water buffalo gift video, and then conversation about intangible items. She followed the video by explaining why she selected 14 Cows FOR AMERICA as September's Book of the Month, and she read the book to the faculty. And, she shared ideas on a new strategy taken from the professional text, Deeper Comprehension. You can visit the 2009/2010 tab on the Book of the Month wiki to read Mrs. Phillips' summary page and learn more about this text. In addition, you can check in with us monthly, on this BOM wiki, to see which titles and strategies we will be introducing to our elementary students this year.

Read Aloud of 14 Cows for America from Melanie Holtsman on Vimeo.

The First Two Weeks at the Blink of an Eye

The smiling kids, dressed in their first day attire with their new shoes and book bag saddled backs, arrive, and before you know it two weeks has whizzed by at the blink of an eye. You would think that this would be the least busy time of the year for an instructional coach, because after all, what teacher wants to be coached on instructional content when they are getting to know a new group of youngsters and settle into familiar rituals and routines. But, you'd be mistaken.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm watching instruction, offering feedback, and asking questions. Rather, the focus has been as classroom supporter. I'm making sure that each teacher has the resources and materials they need to plan and deliver quality instruction. I've filled in a few critical needs that somehow got missed at the end of last year like the delivery of a few standards books, professional texts, new leveled books, and DRA 2 kits to name just a few. I've also focus walked classrooms to ensure that teacher's needs were being met. And, I've focused much of my attention on analyzing data to assist in completing this year's School Improvement Plan and Professional Development Plans. I don't mind any of these tasks because I feel like it is the foundation that will ensure a solid school year.

However, I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that now, just 9 days into the school year, we are entering my favorite part, the beginning of Teacher Meetings. Because, working side by side with teachers to plan instruction, offer feedback, and question practice is one highlight of my work that I enjoy. On Thursday, during common planning time, each grade level team met for their first round of Professional Development specific to their grade level needs. I sat in on the 2nd Grade ELA meeting where they discussed their pacing guide, Skills Block implementation, and worked on meaningful homework ideas and formats to support their teaching. This dynamic group worked together, bounced ideas off one another, and compromised on a common plan. I could tell, even from the start, that this team of professionals will have a productive year full of professional growth. And, I know around our school as each team met, much of the same thing was happening. Working at CCE where teachers value professional growth and meeting the needs of each student takes center stage is one of my greatest joys. This is a community that knows, "No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it." an I am grateful to be a part of the Chets Creek orchestra.