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The Magic of Writing Workshop May 6, 2009
In the life a curriculum coach, today was a magical day!
Two of the teachers I work with had agreed to try out a new Unit of Study for Poetry in both Readers and Writer’s Workshop. While they are both using Calkins’ Units of Study in Writer’s Workshop for the second year, reading instruction has been a harder challenge for the grade level. I had given them a three week unit of reading and writing study based on one from the DPS website that starts by really immersing the students in poetry.
Not only did a child’s poem give me goosebumps when it was read aloud (he wrote a poem for two voices), but I about cried when one of the teachers shared with me the poem she was inspired to write for her grandmothers using the techniques she’s learned from teaching the unit so far. How amazing is that? Writing Workshop really does allow all participants to grow in ways that can’t even be anticipated some days.
Some of their comments I would have paid money to have on tape (Since I didn’t have a recorder I am paraphrasing from memory as best I can) for this blog:
“I’m amazed at how much more capable my students are than I realized. I didn’t realize how much we stifled them by only teaching them certain forms before. ”
“I keep talking about this unit all the time. I’m doing some of the best teaching I’ve ever done!”
“I am so much more involved in my students’ writing. I can hardly wait to meet with them to see the progress they’ve made from day to day.”
“The kids told me it’s the first time they’ve like poetry.”
“Even my most struggling student has been able to be successful. He’s shared in discussions and written an amazing poem for his mom.”
“The ninety minutes absolutely fly by!’
“You will love teaching this unit.”
After a week of slow boulder rolling up a steep mountain, it felt great to hear their comments today!
They are also reading aloud Love That Dog by Sharon Creech and feel it is a great tie-in as the boy experiences poetry writing as well.
If you’d are a fourth grade teacher and would like to try the poetry UOS, leave me a comment with your e-mail and I’ll send you a link.
What an amazing learning experience the TCRWP Institute was for me in so many ways!
Almost anyone would benefit from attending a TC Institute as long as you had some background in reading/writing workshop. The only suggestion I would make is that I think they should record their sessions and put videos on-line, similar to Choice Literacy. Then they could have a subscription fee for those who can’t attend, but would like to view the staff development opportunities/professional learning.
Here is a reflection I wrote a couple weeks about the Institute. State Testing weeks here in Ohio don’t put many people in very happy moods, which is where I was (smack in the middle of the dark place of testing) when I wrote this reflection. I hope you, the reader will read more of what I’ve written in order to realize that I am not often so gloomy.
Reflection– April 2009
I learned so many positive things through my attendance at the Third Annual Literacy Leaders/Coaches Institute at Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I met amazing people from around the country and world. I heard how so many schools are trying to work through similar problems as the district that I come from. I learned about the great work TCRWP is doing in regards to Reading Units of Study. I was able to personally witness the amazing possibilities that exist when a school district the size of NYC puts its resources and energy into a focused endeavor.
I was inspired to set up a “Mega Lab site” of my own for students and teachers. I was motivated to try yet again to open conversations among grade level colleagues about the benefits of having a shared curricular calendar. I’ve been motivated to read and learn more on my own since my return. I can’t get enough reading/learning to fill up all the possibilities about which I wonder.
I’ve also learned how far I still have to come in my own learning about the teaching of reading and writing and how much further we as a district still need to come. I’m trying to focus on the latter as a positive, but it is hard having what you have suspected for years come and hit you full-force in the face with its reality. As we had an opportunity to discuss at TC, this is a lonely position in the vastness of education. Laurie Pessah and Lucy Calkins would say that we need to start by establishing our “non-negotiables”. That’s easier said than done in a district where teachers have always been allowed to do whatever they want as we are considered an “excellent” district by the state. How do you counteract the mentality that we are successful just because a test(s) says we are when we don’t examine our practice on a regular basis? How do you convey that “good enough” is not really good enough? We owe it to our students and community to be so much better. Does that mean we have uncaring and unmotivated teachers? Quite the opposite. Our teachers and administrators work incredibly hard and want children to be successful. It’s not unusual to find teachers in the buildings working all hours of the morning, night, weekends, and summers (and no they don’t get paid for those additional hours.) But just as a person won’t ever truly learn to speak Spanish fluently if they aren’t made to speak aloud, teachers cannot be certain that we are truly doing what’s best for all students if we are not willing to examine our practices on a regular basis. As TC stated, “One of the greatest gifts a school district has is the collective intelligence of all their teachers”. Good ideas are not meant to be hoarded. Can I really not accept responsibility for any other students than the ones in my own classroom? Can it be okay for me to have thousands of books for my students to read and enjoy if the teacher next door has one hundred that are not at a level that can be accessed by her students independently? Yes, I bought them myself, but that is not the point right now.
For too long, some district have treated its teachers like American Idol contestants where some will get voted off and others will go on to win the adoration of the community, the accolades of their principal, and parents will wrestle with other parents wanting their students placed in one or two certain classrooms within a grade level. One of the greatest things that has come out of my participation with The Literacy Connection and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project workshops is the common conversations colleagues (both locally and nationally) and I can then have about raising the level of all students’ learning. Our district has begun making those baby steps to being collegial colleagues
Definition of Collegial:
Collegiality is the relationship between colleagues. Colleagues are those explicitly united in a common purpose and respecting each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose. Thus, the word collegiality can connote respect for another’s commitment to the common purpose and ability to work toward it.
I see one of my greatest tasks to come is to continue the work to try to help district teachers, “explicitly unite in a common purpose and respect each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose”. When I am feeling positive, I realize that it is one drop of water at a time that made the Grand Canyon. Each drop towards reform I can make is progress. Some days my personal perfectionism and sense of obligation to our community make the progress of growing a Grand Canyon remarkably frustrating. I can only continue to be the drips, hoping that the erosion of one layer will cause a landslide of progress underneath.
School Visit-Sixth Grade in the Bronx March 20, 2009
Isn’t this an amazing doorknob?
It is the handle to leave the classroom where we did what they call a Mega Lab visit to a sixth grade classroom to watch our coach Audra model a revision lesson. I even managed some great video on my Flip that I will post from her lesson. I also have a lot to communicate about the school, principal, teachers, students and the whole experience this morning. Wow! In some ways this beautiful doorknob is symbolic of the whole experience. I need to collect my thoughts so I can coherently describe the experience.
Next up tomorrow Teacher College Saturday Reunion! Another early morning, long day, and tons of learning. I can’t wait!
Today’s Institute kicked off in a beautiful chapel with Lucy Calkins describing the institute as the “emerging crown jewel of the Teachers College Institutes”. She went to relate a wonderful story about her 90 year old father who has just accepted a new job as a doctor and the TC Think Tank Thursdays.
She assured us our heads would be “exploding” with good ideas of how to work with our colleagues; She was not exaggerating-mine already is!
Thursdays for the year are dedicated time when 75-80 of Lucy Calkins colleagues get together to do their best thinking. A dedicated day once a week for thirty years has been one of many reasons Teachers College has been so successful. The need to make time for what we value in terms of our personal literacy beliefs was emphasized.
Everything from how to handle late arrivals to meetings to different parts of the 5 week cycles of Study Groups, Support Groups, Work Groups, and Courses she participates was discussed. I’ll have more to say about that topic when I’m not quite so tired.
The last session of the day was facilitated by Audra Robb, whose study group I have been assigned to for the work within the NYC schools. We found out that we will be observing her teach a lesson in a lab site classroom, as well as teaching a lesson with a partner tomorrow morning!
I will be presenting the Mini-Lesson Demonstration/Teaching and Active Engagement parts of a revision lesson from UOS to a class of sixth graders. My partner will start with the Connection part of the Mini-lesson and wrap up with the Link before we both confer with students about their work. I need to bring in a chart of a piece of my writing that we can use during the lesson as a model. I’d better get to it!
I’m sure I’m going to say this again, but I am so excited! The Literacy Coaching Institute at The Teachers College starts Thursday. I have been medium excited all day, but now that I just got an e-mail from another participant who is leaving tomorrow morning (from Ethiopia!!!) I have hit that excitement threshold where it will be difficult to sleep! I’ve included part of the description along with many of the presenters.
“The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is pleased to offer the third annual Institute on Literacy Coaching and Whole-School Reform. This intimate and intensive institute will enable educators to learn the Project’s newest and most powerful methods of providing staff development by equipping literacy coaches, principals, lead teachers, and other literacy leaders with the tools, techniques, mentors, and intellectual community needed to provide state-of-the-art literacy leadership.”
Randy and Katherine Bomer
This institute will include, at its center, the TCRWP’s Saturday Reunion, a conference that will offer major addresses by:
Pam Munoz Ryan
as well as more than a hundred workshops.
“Participants will work in small groups led by one of the Project’s senior staff developers. Your small-group will work side-by-side in classrooms, observing, trying on, and receiving coaching in methods of staff development in writing. You’ll become adept at demonstration teaching, collaborative coaching, classroom-based lab-sites, using formative assessment to inform curriculum and teaching, and methods for supporting whole-school reform.”
Coaching Institute February 22, 2009
No, not coaching, as in a sport, but Literacy Coaching. I am so excited to be attending the Teacher College Reading and Writing Project’s Literacy Coaching Institute over my school’s spring break. I am trying to get as much Calkins, Anderson, and other professional reading as I can before next month arrives. So excited. Dublin’s Literacy Conference yesterday gave me a little taste of being surrounded by other educators who are also learning and now I can hardly wait!