Saturday, August 27, 2011

Teaching with Daily 5/Cafe for Summer School -- My Reflections

This is a cross-post from my staff blog...the first of my blog posts to model reflection for my teachers (and "putting myself out there" for them).

Since I am asking all teachers to teach using the Daily 5 Framework for Literacy this year, I felt that it was important for me to dip my hands in this as well. How can I ask my teachers to do something that I haven't ever done? During our 2nd session of summer school I taught 6th Grade English Language Arts (students going into 6th grade) and used the Daily 2 (Read to Self and Work on Writing) as my framework and taught Cafe Strategies. One disclaimer I must mention is that this was only 3 weeks (12 days) for this session and I only had 7-9 students each day.

Since our 5th graders were used to the Daily 3 (Read to Self, Work on Writing and Word Work) I decided to continue with Read to Self and Work on Writing, but did not add Word Work due to only having them for 3 weeks.

Here are my reflections from my experience:

  • I began my planning for this class by using the Daily 5 and Cafe For Dummies guide that I found on the ProTeacher message board (I'm sorry to not give credit that's due, but I do not know who created this). From looking at the Daily 5 and Cafe books, this packet combines the lessons for the first 25 days from both of the books so you don't have to be flipping through both books. I found this packet extremely helpful. I did still find myself turning to the Daily 5 and Cafe books--they really become your "bible" as you are teaching. The Daily 5 book gives a great list of picture books for mini-lessons, however, I wish I could have found a list that was more specific, identifying picture books for each cafe strategy and specific to grade levels. After wishing that I could find this I decided to start a document in our school shared file (in the Cafe folder) so that as teachers develop their lesson they can add to this. Teachers- I encourage you to add to this document throughout the year so we can work smarter together!
  • After the first day with my students I realized how important it is to have MANY MANY books in your classroom library and a wide variety to meet their interests. If a student cannot find a book that they are interested in then they are going to have a difficult time increasing their stamina (it reminds me of how many times I have fallen asleep while trying to watch a Western movie with my husband--I have no interest in them!) When I was a classroom teacher I spent most of my money and effort to make sure I had enough leveled books, but during this summer school class found myself going to the library and gathering as many books as I could that I felt would appeal to the wide variety of interests of this group of students, because the classroom library wasn't meeting their reading appetite. As a leader, this also tells me how we need to be spending our book money at school--on classroom libraries.
  • I had this group of students from 8:00-9:10 and found it was not even close to enough time. After a class meeting and a mini lesson, we often only had one round of Daily2 and then gathered together before it was time to go. I'm glad that we have made 90 minute literacy blocks a priority in our building, but also now realize why the 2nd grade teachers have told me they can not teach science and social studies as separate subjects--to have enough time for literacy, they must integrate those content areas into literacy. With limited time and a sense of urgency for what I wanted to accomplish during this 70 minute period, I realized that I could not be doing all the talking in my mini-lessons...the person who does the most work does the most learning. I found the Whole Class Lesson Elements on pages 95-96 of the CAFE book a good reminder for how to engage students in learning and for them to be doing the most work---not me.
  • In regards to time and time spent on writing, I also found that Daily 5 time cannot be your only time for writing. Regie Routman says, "kids who have a purpose care about their writing and the people who will read it." In the Daily 5 book, the sisters distinguish between Work on Writing and Writers' Workshop (they do have a separate Writer's Workshop time in addition to D5 time): "Typically children use Work on Writing time to continue the work they have been doing during writer's workshop. The main difference between the two is that during the workshop, we may ask students to produce a piece of writing based on a strategy or genre being taught, but during the Daily Five it is sustained writing of their choice."
  • I began using the Daily framework and taught a Cafe strategy from the first day and could not imagine teaching without the Cafe strategies. I know that many teachers begin by teaching only with Daily 5 and then read the Cafe book to add on after they feel comfortable with the Daily 5 framework, but Daily 5 just gives you the HOW--how your students are using their time during literacy. Cafe gives you the WHAT--the strategies you are teaching them to use during that literacy time. I can now see how a teacher might end up reverting back to old reading practices (pulling out the basal and workbooks) because Daily 5 is not enough.
  • I realized how important it is for students to set their purpose before they go to a round. I started out by having them tell me where they were going (Read to Self or Work on Writing) but then found one student spending quite a bit of time flipping through pages of his writers notebook, not accomplishing anything. Since he was not being independent and building his stamina I ended that round, came back and reviewed the I-Charts. Before having them go the next round I talked about how they also had to set their purpose. That student picked Work on Writing again, but this time I asked him what his purpose was, what was he going to work on? He told me he wanted to write about going camping. Guess what he did for the next round? He was completely focused and wrote the entire time--we actually ran out of time for him and he asked me if he could take his notebook home to finish that night (and he did)! The sisters say, "for each Daily Five choice the sense of urgency comes from understanding the why. The purpose for each task is clear, so the activity becomes worthy of concentrated effort and time. When we begin each lesson by telling our children why we are taking time to teach the idea or concept, we consistenly see more motivation and on-task behavior no matter what we are teaching."
  • After my first week and a half of trying to decide what CAFE strategies I was going to teach and how, I realized there is an entire section in the back of the CAFE book to help you out (DUH!!) starting on page 153. Put a big, bright tab there, because you will be using that section!
  • This is just "cosmetic" but I think the CAFE board we created would have looked better if I made the colored paper long enough to cover the length of the board (like the Sisters show). I don't really like how mine looked. I think it also looks more uniform when sentence strip paper is used instead of what I did (just cutting up construction paper that didn't end up being strips of the same size).
  • 1:1 Conferring and "The Pensieve": I set up a pensieve for conferring with students and used the forms that the Sisters recommend in their book. I used the calendar to write down when I planned to confer with students (although I found this did not always get followed). I used the Keeping Track Form to document the dates for when I conferred with students for reading and writing. I found this more helpful for me, because it was a quick visual to see that which students I hadn't met with much at all (I tried to confer with the below readers every day for reading and only a few times for the higher readers during this 12 period session). I also used the Reading Conference with Icons form, but didn't find this to be very helpful when looking back to try to look for patterns/trends in a student's reading habits. After this session of summer school, Stacey Johnson shared with me a form she created that I liked much better, because it gives more of a checklist of what to listen for (so see her if you want to borrow or adapt it for your grade). I also found it helpful to keep a reflection page for myself in the Pensieve--I could turn to this and quickly jot a reflection note for myself in just 30 seconds (I am using my list of quick reflections to write this post).
  • I wish I could go back in time and teach with the Daily 5/Cafe. I cannot tell you how enjoyable and relaxing it was. I think back to teaching with guided reading/literacy centers and all the time/effort I spent to creating those centers, trying to decide what/how to grade centers work and really how much more work I did than the students. With Daily 5/Cafe, the students are doing the work, applying the strategies, and improving as readers. When given a choice, students have the motivation and develop a love for reading and writing.
  • As I said in the beginning of this post, I think it is essential that as the leader, I experience teaching with Daily 5/Cafe and that I continue to learn along with you through this journey at Dodgeland. I would love to spend more time in the classrooms teaching alongside teachers, not just coming in to observe. If anyone is open to this, I would love to come into a classroom for a week at a time to co-teach during the literacy block. Let me know if you're interested!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Twitter for Teachers

At the Regional Summer Teacher Academy a few teachers said they were torn between attending my session and another one, so I told them to go ahead and go to the other one and I would make a screencast and help them after school someday if they are still interested/need help.
Here are the screencasts of my session. By the way, this was my first time ever making screencasts. I think this is going to become a great tool for me to share resources with my teachers. I used screenomatic to create these--if I can figure it out, then almost anyone can!

Twitter for Teachers Part 1

Twitter for Teachers Part 2

Twitter for Teachers Part 3

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Differentiating Learning for Teachers

A few weeks ago I "attended" Principal Lyn Hilt's session: "Differentiating Learning: It's Not Just for Students!" at the Reform Symposium Worldwide E-Conference. (By the way, all session recordings from RSCON3 are here. If you need help figuring out how to navigate this, let me know and I'd be glad to help.)

A common comment/complaint I've heard from other administrators is that their teachers have become complacent, lost their spark or are stuck in their old (teaching) habits. After attending Lyn's session, I started to wonder: Why have they become complacent? Why are they not continuing their own professional learning? Have we given teachers an environment in which they have had an opportunity to continue to grow as professionals? Have we given them the autonomy to expand their knowledge/skills and take risk in the classroom?

We are all too familiar with professional development being something that is done to you. It may have been an outside speaker that came in for what I call a "drive by" in-service or top-down professional development that teachers had no input on. Maybe you attended a conference and then didn't take the time to reflect and implement what you learned.

What I am learning about professional development is:
1. It must include differentiation for staff
2. It must include deep reflection

When an educator is learning something new this is the concrete experience part of the experiential cycle. This could be while reading about a new strategy, observing another classroom, or learning at a conference. Next they need to try to implement this in their classroom with students. Then, the teacher needs to have an opportunity for reflection. I'm sure we've all been in a conference/training in which we were asked to jot down a thought on an exit slip or a post-it note at the end as a method of reflection (I've asked my teachers to do this). While this is better than nothing, it is not enough. Reflection needs to be deep and involve analysis. You need to dig deep: this could be blogging, discussing with others. Reflection needs to be systemic and is an expected part of the process in order to be powerful. Then you will be ready to make conclusions and generate conclusions on the effectiveness of your strategy and its impact on student learning.

Just this past week my teachers (and teachers from 5 area districts) had the opportunity to attend the Regional Summer Teacher Academy and choose different sessions that they were interested in. This was a first ever opportunity for our teachers that I organized with another principal, Aaron Olson. This took many, many hours for us to plan and pull off, but it was worth it for our teachers. You can find out more about it here.

While our time is limited, I hope to continue providing teachers with more choice in their professional learning this year. I am going to start Tech Tuesdays so that once a month teachers can share (if they want to) any resources/tools/tricks &tips that they have with others. Our monthly staff meetings will be professional development meetings (I sure hope they will all pay attention to my emails that contain the "nuts and bolts" news, because I don't want to waste time on that in the meetings). As we implement Daily 5/Cafe school-wide I realize that teachers are all in different phases of implementation. Some of them have taught with Daily 5/Cafe for a year or more and some will just be getting started. I want to organize our time so that they will all benefit and continue to learn from each other.

In addition, I want to try to model learning and professional growth for my teachers by being transparent about my learning. I have previously kept this blog, my personal/professional blog, a secret and maintained a separate blog for my staff that just contained my weekly memos. This year I plan to share this blog with them and cross-post some of my reflections with them. In addition, I am going to ask for teachers that will allow me to join them in the classroom and co-teach with them so I can continue to practice the best strategies that I want my teachers to use. Finally, as we add an instructional coach to our staff this year, I want to find ways that we can model for the staff how to give feedback and learn from each other (I don't know how this will look yet).

photo credit to:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

When life gives you a windy day go fly a kite.

Today my 5 year-old was disappointed that it wasn't "pool weather" outside. It rained a couple times, the sky was cloudy and it was windy. Instead of letting him sit in the house and watch Backyardigans over and over (which just means headache for me) I got his Buzz Light-Year kite and took both the boys outside to take advantage of the wind. If you know anything about kite flying (which I do not) then you'll know that you cannot just stand there and expect the kite to rise in the air. We had to work together--me holding the string/handle and Nathan holding the kite 30 feet from me trying to toss it up in the air. After a few tries, the wind caught it and up went our kite. We tried to watch Buzz fly up in the sky, but really spent most of our time running around the yard--me pulling on the handle to try to keep him from nose-diving into the yard and both my boys running, trying to catch the ribbon tails spiraling behind the kite.

We were in our backyard, so of course the kite landed in a tree at one point. Did we freak out? Well, Nathan did at first, but I just calmly said it was no big deal, grabbed the ladder, retrieved the kite and got it back up again. When Nathan took over the handle and got used to battling the pull of it, he decided to unravel the string and let the kite go as high as he could. I knew the risks we were running, but I wanted him to have fun and see what would happen. In between wind gusts, our kite landed at the top of a pine tree (way up there!) and got completely tangled. My ladder was useless. So, I went and got the bigger ladder (you know--that really neat ladder that folds all different ways-I'm sure you've seen it on a late night infomercial). I extended the ladder as high as it would go and climbed up 20 feet. While holding on to a tree limb so I wouldn't fall, waved a rake above me to get the kite down.

During our whole kite flying escapade I made several connection between our roles and actions we can take in education. First of all, there are so many things that we cannot control--federal/state/district demands, students' socio-economic status, parent support, budgets, technology glitches, etc. What we can control is what we do with our students during the school day and how we react to situations. Time and time again, I have heard the complaints about "parents these days," "kids these days," "the schedule doesn't allow that" and "insert your complaint here, because I'm sure it's the same at any school." You can complain about a student lacking parent support (which will not help) or you can choose to do your best during the time you have him--build a relationship, help him make goals, teach, give him feedback, and help him achieve his goals. You can throw your hands in the air and say you don't know how to help a student or you can reach out to your Professional Learning Network to find something else to try.

Back to the kite flying: I knew that when I let Nathan unravel all the string for his kite that it would probably mean trouble, but I also knew that he wanted to take that risk and he needed to learn from that experience himself. I know that this is not the best analogy for education, because I would never allow a teacher to do something that I knew would be bad for kids (so please don't read it that way). As administrators, we need to give our teachers autonomy and allow them to take risks so they can reflect and learn along with their students. Todd Whitaker says, "If you didn't learn anything, you probably didn't teach anything either." Two years ago when one of my teachers asked to try teaching with the Daily 5 framework in her classroom, it turned out to be one of the best paid off risks for our students.

My son could have sat in the house all day complaining about the weather wrecking his pool plans, but instead I used the weather and turned into fun. When the wild winds pulled our kite every which way, I could have just let go and let it blow away, but instead I kept moving around with it, trying to keep it up in the air...just as good teachers remain flexible and are able to take student feedback and create teachable moments.