Monday, July 1, 2013

A new thinking space...

Our Camp Read-A-Lot has been wonderful to me over the past 3 years! It has helped me think deeper, connect with colleagues, and share wonderful books I've read. But in my heart, it's tied to me as a first grade teacher. In case you haven't heard, I'll be teaching 4th grade in the fall. Knowing that, I have created a new space where I'll be sharing my journey through musings on literacy, life, and learning.

Beginning today, I'll be sharing my writing on my new blog Ruminate and Invigorate. I'd love it if you'd follow me there so we can continue our conversations and learn together!

If you are joining us for the always-thought-provoking #cyberPD event, please know that I'll be posting on my new blog rather than here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

And this year's #cyberPD book is...

After much discussion and searching through all of the amazing summer professional reading stacks, Cathy, Jill and I are thrilled to announce the title for this year's #cyberPD extravaganza! We'll be reading Who Owns the Learning? Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age by Alan November. It is available both in paperback and Kindle. Truth be told, Cathy, Jill and I had some entertaining conversations as we tried to come up with a book for this year's event. In the past two years, there was a clear-cut "winner" out of the books people posted. This year? Notsomuch. In fact, there was a plethora of absolutely wonderful titles that people shared, but we had a hard time finding a title that was common in the majority of stacks. In any case, this title grabbed our attention and looks like it is going to provide a great base for our discussion this year. I'm really looking forward to diving right in to this one. I previewed it online and really appreciated what I saw!

Who Owns the Learning?
Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age
by Alan November

The Details
July 3rd - hosted at Cathy Mere's Reflect and Refine  (Intro, Chapters 1 & 2)
July 10th - hosted at Jill Fisch's My Primary Passion (Chapters 3 & 4)
July 17th - hosted right here at Our Camp Read-A-Lot (Chapters 5 & 6, Epilogue)
TBD - We'll finish up with a live Twitter chat after our final posting date.

Don't worry if you don't already have your own professional blog. (This is a great opportunity to get started, though!!) You can participate in a variety of ways, including (but certainly not limited to)...
*writing your reflections and posting them on your blog
*include your reflections in the comments on the host blog for the week
*comment on other participants' blog posts
*tweeting about the book using #cyberPD hashtag
*any other way that works for you. Just be sure to link up to Twitter so we can find it!

The History
Have you missed our previous events? Do you want to learn more as to what it's all about? Check out our last two years' events!

#cyberPD 2011 Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen

#cyberPD 2012 Opening Minds by Peter Johnston

We hope you'll join us this year as we read, reflect, question, and discuss this year's chosen title!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Summer Professional Reads - #cyberPD

My Stack(s)
When you look at your professional TBR pile, do you see it going from "wow" to "ok, seriously?" to "This is borderline insane!?" There are so many outstanding books out there that I continue to add to my pile often, but it never seems to get any smaller. I guess that's a good problem to have!

I'm super excited for this one to be released
so I can get my hands on it!!

I'll be downloading this one soon!

I tried to go through my stack, ahem... box, of professional books that I plan on reading and pull out the ones I really think I need to read now. Going in to my new grade level (4th) and a new school (next door to my old one,) I have a lot of learning to do! I'm moving to a building that is already working with 1:1 Kuno tablets and has already implemented a new basal reading series. All of these factored in to my decisions on what to read. And of course, when I listen in on what people are talking about on Twitter, I will probably change/add/rearrange my stack to incorporate their suggestions! I can hardly wait to sneak a peek at everyone else's stacks today!!

I would be remiss if I didn't include two books that I plan on rereading, now from the perspective of a 4th grade teacher. I've read The Book Whisperer twice already, but I'm sure it will help me to reread it again. I read Book Love over Winter Break last year but am curious to see what else I can glean from it with my new upper elementary perspective.

The #cyberPD plan
As people post their stacks today, Cathy, Jill, and I will try to look for one title that seems to appear often. After that decision is made and shared, we'll provide more details on what people can do to participate. If you'd like to join in the fun, you can start by sharing your summer stack of professional reads...

*by tweeting out a picture and including the #cyberPD hashtag
*by writing a blog post and linking it on one of the three host blogs
*by adding a comment on one of the three host blogs (Reflect and Refine, My Primary Passion, or here)
*by any other way you choose! :)

And now, I'm off to start perusing other stacks...

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

#cyberPD kicks off year 3!

I'm writing today from beautiful, quaint Mackinac Island in Michigan! That being said, I have very sketchy internet access here and am typing quickly to post this before I leave the small wi-fi area.

Cathy Mere, Jill Fisch and I will be leading #cyberPD again this summer. It's hard to believe we've kicking off our 3rd year! For those who haven't joined us before, we'll choose a professional read based on the stacks of books people share as their possible summer reads. From there, participants will read, tweet, and blog about what the chosen book during the month of July. We're also open to other ways of sharing, too - the sky's the limit! :)

To help us get started, we're asking people to post their professional summer reading stack on June 12th. Feel free to share your stack in any way you'd like, but be sure to share the link using the #cyberPD hashtag. Soon after the 12th, we'll choose a title... and then the real fun begins!

More details will emerge after June 12th. Stay tuned, and we hope you'll join in (and bring a friend!)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Assessment in Perspective - Stenhouse Blog Tour

My thoughts on the book...
I'll admit it. I typically cringe when I think about or hear about testing, assessment, and data. I may have even uttered the phrase "data schmata" once or twice (thanks to a brilliant Twitter friend for coining the phrase!) But I can honestly say that I enjoyed reading Assessment in Perspective and know it has already started impacting my thinking.

Referring back to Cambourne's challenge to Debbie Miller, Clare and Tammy accepted the challenge to list 2 or 3 things that they know for sure. They include how assessment is more than a number, assessment and instruction are inseparable, and how instruction can meet high standards while still being developmentally appropriate. These three key ideas really do lay the foundation for their book!

If we believe it's the process that's important (not just the product,) then Tammy and Clare's book makes a lot of sense. Yes, we need information gleaned from assessments, but it will not tell us the whole story without knowing the reader as an individual. We have to use these numbers as a base and not as a ceiling for our knowledge about our kids. Using all forms of data only helps us gain a better understanding and have a wider range of knowledge about the individuals in our classrooms. Assessment literacy is key in being able to use the data in a way that will impact students directly.

Assessment in Perspective is an important read for elementary educators, especially now in the testing frenzy we face. I appreciated how Clare and Tammy also spent time discussing the importance of sharing data with our students to help them understand and set goals for themselves.

And now... please enjoy my Q&A session with Tammy and Clare!

I received the news recently that I’ll be moving from 1st grade to 4th grade next year. What differences do you see in teachers' attitudes about assessment at primary grades versus upper elementary?

We do not see a big difference in teachers’ attitudes about assessment at the primary versus upper elementary.  It seems that our upper grade colleagues have the pressure of high-stakes tests directly on their shoulders, but our primary grade colleagues have various mandated assessments to administer on our youngest of learners.   We all want to help our students meet high standards and the extra pressure to have our students meet or exceed benchmark is stressful regardless of grade level.   We have such respect for all of our colleagues, who even in the face of this pressure, use formative data in their classrooms to get a day-to-day perspective on how their students are developing as readers.  They never seem to lose focus on what 
is important for the learners sitting in front of them.

The idea of "teaching to the test" is something many teachers struggle with, especially in the primary grades. How would you help teachers deal with these feelings?
Research shows that readers who read well authentically perform best on high-stakes tests.  With that being said, we do believe students need to become familiar with the test-taking genre.  We show children what is expected on the high stakes tests and how to use the reading strategies they know when taking a test.  We treat test prep like any other genre -- students need to read, see and experience the genre so they can understand the nuances of it and know how to effectively apply the strategies they have learned as readers.
Triangulation is incredibly important. What do you do if your school/district places more weight on one specific test?

If a school/district places more weight on one specific test then we begin the triangulation process with that assessment.  You have to begin somewhere.  If we have an inquiry stance around assessment and use it to truly understand our readers it doesn’t matter which assessment we use to begin the process.  Once we notice patterns, or when questions arise, we gain the opportunity to purposefully triangulate the data with other sources of information.  
You talked about moving past the numbers to be able to talk about instruction and individual learners. How can we help our colleagues (and ourselves) to make this step?
For us it helps when we analyze data with a specific question in mind.   Setting the purpose for looking at the data pushes us to either focus on how we can improve our instructional strategies or differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of certain learners.  We try to focus on only one aspect of the data at a time such as one question type, one standard, one group of students, one student, or one thing that surprised us in the data so that we are not overwhelmed by trying to analyze too many aspects at one time.  We then triangulate that one aspect by observing in the classroom so we can understand what each reader needs instructionally.
When we collect data in the classroom we find it helpful to talk with our students about their data.  Once we begin a dialogue with our students about what we are noticing about them as learners we cannot help but take the step to move beyond the numbers.  When we connect with our students around data it automatically shifts the conversation to goals and instructional strategies.  Our students provide the why behind the number and this helps us think about how we can design our instruction to help them meet the grade level expectations.
What do you do if you know you are using best practices in your classroom, but the assessment data isn't showing that your kids are growing as much as you'd like?
We always need to base our instruction on the learner –so if it is not working we try something else until we see growth in our readers.  Assessment is the window into understanding what our students know and what they need to learn.  When we observe our readers in the act of learning we not only get a better understanding of their zone of proximal development but a clearer picture of how they learn.  We find that one of our best strategies is to talk with our readers about what we are noticing and ask them to explain how the process of learning is going for them.  When our students share with us which strategies are helpful and which are confusing we can design our instruction to maximize their growth.  Our students are key to their growth so we need to involve them in the process.

Spelling tests. Weekly reading tests. Unit tests. Progress monitoring. Standardized tests. Many of our kids are dealing with an overabundance of testing. How much is too much? 
This is the rule we try to live by:  If it is not informing instruction or lifting the quality of instruction then stop doing it.  We realize this rule assumes we have control over the tests we use and we know that is not always the case.  Our next rule is that if we give an assessment we use it.  It is better than not using it.  We do think that we are over-assessing some students and not assessing other students enough.  When it comes to assessment we think fair is not equal.  Our at-risk readers need more diagnostic assessments that help us pinpoint what they need and monitor their progress.  Other readers do not need the myriad of summative assessments we are giving.  In the ideal world we should use assessments that provide us insight into how our readers authentically use strategies to decode and comprehend texts.   We hope the CCSS will move us toward using more formative assessments that are authentic and embedded in our daily instruction.
We suggest that schools/districts look at all the assessments they are giving and think about the purpose for each assessment.  We often find that schools/districts are over-assessing in some areas and have no assessments in other areas of reading.  Schools/districts need to have a balanced common assessment plan that serves a meaningful purpose for teachers and administrators.  If we are giving an assessment but cannot provide a valid, useful reason for giving it then we suggest that schools/districts stop giving it.  If it is not useful it is too much.
What do you want readers to know before they read your book?
We do all of our work in collaboration with others.  We cannot imagine trying to do this work by ourselves.  We understand that not all teachers are working on a team or are given time to collaborate in teams, but we do believe that analyzing and using assessments is most productive when we are working in teams.  The conversations, the on-going dialogue and the sharing of instructional strategies are what we find to be the most powerful part of the assessment process. We hope this book inspires more questions than answers and that this book is the beginning of a long and productive dialogue among educators.

The blog tour continues...
Thanks again to Stenhouse, Tammy and Clare for including me! Be sure to check out the rest of the tour...

Please feel free to add to the conversation by leaving a comment below and by following along with the rest of the tour!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Connected from the Start - A Review

I have learned the power of connecting through my involvement on Twitter.  This "social media" site has transformed my reading, learning, and teaching.  My colleagues on Twitter have inspired me to take even more risks, stand up for what I believe in, and expand my thinking.  This has spilled over into my classroom, and I strive to provide these same opportunities for my first graders. But I am still learning and figuring out how to make it happen!
Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades
by Kathy Cassidy, Published by PLP Network
A new book was released in the past week that affirmed much of what I am already doing and has motivated me to do more. It will absolutely need to be on your list of "must read" books! Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades was written by Kathy Cassidy of Moose Jaw, SK, Canada. I am not kidding when I tell you to stop what you're doing and head over to the PLP Network site to download it!

As I've written about before, we have somewhat limited technology access at my school. Kathy's insights have pushed me to continue to seek out opportunities and make the most of what we do have. She shares her journey with all of its trials and successes, as well as many of the tools she has used to help her students get connected.

What resonated with me throughout the book was Kathy's idea of teaching young learners safety and etiquette for being digital learners right from the start. Instead of limiting their access and connections, we have to assume they are already participating in these online communities. It's important to teach them safe ways of being a part of a global society and model appropriate ways of interacting.

For those who don't consider themselves "tech-savvy," Kathy breaks down her message into easy-to-read and easy-to-manage directions to help you move forward. She will walk you through everything from Skype to blogging. There are lots of links and videos that add to her message and illustrate her students' learning. There was very much an "If I can do it, you can do it" feel to the book, so don't be afraid to jump in!

I've been fortunate to have a connection with Kathy through our weekly #1stchat on Twitter. She is a regular contributor who joins in the conversation, asks important questions, and shares her thinking.  I very easily could have finished reading her book in one sitting, but just like our weekly chats, my brain was on fire and I had to pause to let some of it simmer down. Since I did plow through the book on my first reading, I do plan on returning to it to reread and savor what Kathy offers us. I will also be recommending it to my colleagues (and anyone else who will listen!)

I'm excited to chat with others who have read Kathy's book to compare notes and ideas! It's a book that I know will have a profound impact on teachers.

My review, submitted to PLP Network's site:
"Kathy Cassidy's newly released e-book is an absolute must-read for elementary educators. This media-rich book is filled with practical tips, years of experience, and honest writing from a teacher's perspective. She opens teachers' eyes while calming their fears about seamlessly integrating technology into classrooms, even in the earliest grades. Authentic learning is the focus of her work, and she inspires us to do more with whatever we have. This is a book you won't want to miss!'"  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Access - Slice of Life

It's an exciting time to be an educator in my district! We are moving forward in so many ways and are implementing new ways of helping our students to achieve in greater capacities. As we work our way through this sometimes overwhelming process, I'm finding that many of us are using the excuse of "not having access to technology" as a way to justify keeping our years-old routines. For a long time, I have been one of those people. Up until recently.

In my classroom, I have one desktop computer and (as of last week) a built-in LCD projector. And yet...

We have a class blog.
My kids have their own individual KidBlogs.
We connect with other classes through our Twitter account.
We've Skyped with an author.
We use Biblionasium as one way to keep track of our reading.
We use the Today's Meet site as a means of sharing our thinking.
We use digital cameras to take pictures of our work and show our thinking.

We're making it happen. I've taken advantage of what we have in our classroom as well as our computer labs which sit empty for much of the day. Would we love to have access to more tech tools? Well, of course! But we are making things happen with what we do have.

Because my own learning and connecting has changed dramatically in recent years, I know the power of being connected. I strive to provide these opportunities for my first graders, in ways that are "safe" and appropriate for them. I am very fortunate to have an amazing network of educators at my fingertips through Twitter which makes it easier for us to connect with other classes.

I know that I have a lot to learn and that there is so much more I could/should/will be doing... but it's a start.