Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mayhem in the Mountains, Conferring, and #cyberPD...

Snowmobiling in the mountains is breathtaking. Literally. Especially when it's 20 degrees below zero. It is also beautiful. Majestic. Adventurous. Magical. Risky.

What does this have to do with #cyberPD?! I'll get to that...

My friend Jason "called" New Years. So 11 of my closest friends and I made our way to Salt Lake City this past December. Because that's just what we do. In the months leading up to our trip, it was my mission to find a place to go snowmobiling. In the mountains. After doing some research, I found that Chad and Lisa were also super excited to do it, too. I found a number of places, each with their own perks. We decided on a place (Lofty Peaks) which offered a 2 hour guided snowmobile tour. Our enthusiasm was contagious, and everyone ended up joining us! We had varying levels of snowmobile experience. I've ridden snowmobiles since I was a little girl. A few others had tried it a few times. Keelie had never ridden or driven one. But off we went!

Tom was our tour guide that day. He gave us directions on how to operate the snowmobile, what to do if we cornered too quickly, and how to stop. Tom made sure he told us about the hand warmers on the handlebars, too. Crucial on a frigid day like this one! We started off, each on our own sled, riding at our own pace but trying to keep up with the 10 other snowmobiles. Two minutes into our ride, we stopped. Seems that Sue had a hard time keeping up... and met up with a tree instead. She was fine (unlike her snowmobile,) so she hopped on with Bill, who became her driver for the rest of the trip. Tom guided us up, up, up. Feeling confident, I stuck to the front of the pack. At one point, I looked down only to realize I was doing 85 m.p.h. And I was falling behind. Poor Keelie, on her rookie snowmobile ride, was way in the back. Luckily, Chad was bringing up the rear and didn't mind sticking with her. The rest of us continued along at our own pace, just making sure we were on the right trail and could see the pack.

The Bowl at Lofty Peaks
About 45 minutes into our ride, we came to a huge open area way up in the mountains. Tom referred to this as "The Bowl." It's where my picture was taken. He gave us some safety instructions (ride up on the left, come down on the right, watch for other snowmobiles, look out for moguls.) Then, he set us loose. It took all of five seconds before three of us took off. Full speed ahead. Throwing caution to the wind, I gripped as hard as I could. Tried to keep up with the boys. Hooted and hollered on my way up. Giggled and screamed on my way down. HUGE jumps. Almost falling off. But learning as I went. When I reached the bottom, I tried to convince the others to join in. Give it a whirl. A few did. Others just watched. Keelie and Jacquie tried to defrost their fingers unsuccessfully in the heavily falling snow. After spending some time playing, Tom led us back down... but not without incident. Ben had no headlights. Jason was being Jason and didn't listen when Tom said not to veer off the path or you'll get stuck in the snow. As I rounded a turn, I watched Jason plow into the almost 8 feet of snow. I inched forward. Ever. So. Slowly. No, not to help. To take pictures to document his stupidity, of course! People pitched in and dug him out. We came down off the mountain in the dark, overlooking the lights of Park City. What a day. What an adventure.

Still... what does this have to do with #cyberPD? Well, you see, earlier this summer, Cathy Mere and Jill Fisch discovered that all three of us had Conferring by Patrick Allen on our summer TBR pile of professional books. After talking more, they came up with the idea of a blog book chat. They asked me if I'd be willing to join in the craziness, which I readily accepted! Once we got going, others joined the ride. Some, like Cathy and Jill, had experience with conferring. Others, like me, had tried it once or twice. Still others will be embarking on their rookie ride with conferring. We've even had friends watchiing from afar and "bringing up the rear." And Patrick... Patrick has served as our tour guide. He's given us pointers, directions, and has lots of experience with the conferring ride. During the next school year, I expect we may encounter some "trees" blocking our path. "Snowbanks" of which we have to help dig each other out. "Headlights" that aren't working and needing help from others to see the light. Maybe even someone to take pictures and record things so we can look back on our mishaps. :) And along the way, I know we'll all enjoy the risks, the beauty, the adventure of our conferring journey. Together.

A far fetched idea? A forced analogy? Maybe. Maybe not. I was so incredibly moved by our Mayhem in the Mountains, just as I have been so incredibly moved by the connections and learning that has taken place during our #cyberPD. Both experiences fed my adventurous spirit. Both adventures left me laughing. But mostly, I'm happy I got to enjoy each journey with friends.

~Komos :)

P.S. Names have NOT been changed to protect my friends' identities. Ask Chad and Lisa if they'd do it again. If you talk to Jacquie, ask her if her fingers have defrosted yet. If you ever meet Sue, mention the tree. Go ahead. I dare you. ;)

Our Snowmobiling Crew
Jason's Mishap
Two more pics,
per Jacquie's request.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

You need a mint ! ~ Conferring Part III

Welcome back to our third and final week of our Conferring blog bookchat! For those just joining in the conversation, you can see our previous discussion on Cathy Mere's Reflect and Refine (week 1) and Jill Fisch's My Primary Passion (week 2.) Links can also be found on the Conferring Jog, thanks to Cathy! So far, we've learned and reflected on  what brings about a good conference and the essential components of conferring. This week, we look at what exactly emerges from reading conferences... hosted right here at Our Camp Read-A-Lot!

My Thoughts...
Humor gets me every time. I'm drawn to people and things that make me laugh. For that reason, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how "CONFERRING AIN'T EASY." (p. 175) The premises listed made me realize that amazing literacy leaders like Patrick (among others) have struggled with conferring. It gives me hope that, while I may struggle, I know I can (and will!) do this.
Many smiles as Patrick was honest with these little quips....
*Shut up and listen (We've already learned how important this is!)
*Conferring is teaching, not fault finding (Oh, how I struggle with this!)
*What did we talk about? (Keeping notes and USING them is key!)
*Help, I'm drowning! (I will rely on my #cyberPD PLN if this happens!)
*You need a mint (Hahahaha!!)
The Conferring Walk-Aways sum up so many things that can emerge from a conference. As a first grade teacher working with many beginning readers, I tend to focus on assessing miscues and strategies. I need to open my mind to all of the other possibilities! My favorite walk-away was how attention is fully given to each reader. This is something that is nearly impossible to do in small group instruction. Even in a group of 3 readers, their needs are incredibly different! While I know I will still provide small group instruction of sorts, I know that I can do a much better job of meeting my students' needs by conferring one on one.

I really appreciated the Q & A section when Patrick answered "What do I do about small groups?" It makes perfect sense to me to pull groups based on needs rather than levels. I have been teaching guided reading by levels for 16 years, so it is taking me some time to make the switch! I think that conferring with readers will help me to see when the switch is necessary. I especially tuned in when he talked about being in a place where small groups are mandated (which I am.) He suggests keeping the groups flexible and purpose driven. As Debbie Miller says, "when our practices match what we believe, and when we clearly articulate what we do and why we do it, people listen." I am confident in knowing why I'm doing what I'm doing, so if it should ever come up with my admin team, it will be a conversation I'll welcome.
My favorite, favorite paragraph is the first full one on page 181. It encompasses exactly what I believe and what I need to stick to!
    "We need to slow down and get back to the business of knowing children, of knowing readers. If we want children to remember, understand, extend meaning, and make their reading experiences memorable, they have to be in a classroom where there's time for that to happen."
I'll let you read the rest for yourself, but I am so moved by this! For so long, I've fought to get books in children's hands... especially for those children who are pre-readers or struggling readers. With all of the RtI initiatives and data-driven instruction today, I still firmly believe the most powerful tool I can use with a child is providing him/her with good books.
This quote from Patrick (p. 156) sums up exactly why I think conferring is essential.
"Perhaps we could build something grand and long lasting -
independent and engaged readers
who walk away from conferences with strategies and tools
to help them become confident, effective, and deeper readers."
I'm inspired and excited to begin really conferring with my new first graders!

As I closed the book after finishing it, it felt like the conversation with a mentor was over. But knowing that I'd be able to continue the conversation with all of you made me smile. I am excited to read your responses and reflections!

Remember, to participate, you can...
*Comment on my post!
*Post your reflections on your blog and place a link in the comments below so I can add your link here!
*Visit other blogs and continue conversations
*Comment on Twitter using hashtag #cyberPD.

~Komos :)

The conversation continues...
*Karen from Literate Lives talks about bravery in being a reflective teacher in Conferring - Walk Aways (Part 3) 

*Jill at My Primary Passion shares her Walk Aways including making her small g guided reading have more of a conference feel.

*Michelle from Literacy Leraning Zone shares her idea for an "exit slip" to use with students to help extend learning in her post CyberPD - Conferring Part 3.

*Tony from atychiphobia shares his quest for organic reading and conferring in this era of data, test, data, test (puke!) through his entertaining post, Crunchy Granola!

*Cathy at Reflect and Refine makes the case for the value of conferring. She also shares her walk aways and links her thoughts to take aways from David N. Perkins' book Making Learning Whole. Find her supportive thoughts in her post "Conferring Ain't Easy."

*Chris from Reading Amid the Chaos shares her thoughtful plans for incorporating conferring into her resource room in Conferring Part 3: Walk Aways.

*Barbara at Love to Teach reflects on slowing down and digging deeper while conferring in her post Conferring Ain't Easy - Part 3 Conferring.

*Nicole from Nicole's Book Nook reflects on Patrick's role as a mentor. She realizes she needs to slow down and reflect on the journey in her post Conferring Reflection Part III: It's time to start ploughing.

*Carol of Carol's Corner hits home when referring to Don Graves question, "What's it for?" She stresses the importance of giving kids time to practice in her Conferring CyberPD post..

*Julie from Raising Readers and Writers takes us with her on her "authentic learning soapbox" and talks with us about building a foundation with students in My Walk Aways.

*Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning reflects on how her Kindergarten students will be "tinkering" with literacy as she guides them with her conferences. Read her thoughts at Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop Part 3.

*Deb from Island Beaches Primary Perspective makes her case for creating authentic readers in Conferring: Keystone of Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen reflection III..

*Tara from A Teaching Life joins in the conversation this week with her honest look at her teaching practices and plans for improving her Reading Workshop in her post Conferring in Reading Workshop.

*Shelley from Thoughts of a Teacher shares her memories of growing up with "programmed reading" and how it impacts her beliefs on conferring in Reflections on Conferring - Part 3.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An Open Mind and a Listening Ear ~ Conferring Part II

This week, our Blog Bookchat revolves around Part II of Patrick Allen's book Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop. The links this week are hosted by Jill Fisch at My Primary Passion. Hop on over to check out thoughts by the many amazing educators who have joined in on our July #CyberPD! If you're just joining us, be sure to check out the conversation from last week at Cathy Mere's Reflect and Refine.

I have to start off with the concept of an open mind and a listening ear. When I read that, it really encompasses what I need to repeat to myself over and over again this year while I embark on my conferring journey. Enter each and every conference with an open mind. Be ready to listen. If I con focus on that, I think my conferences will be the more natural conversations that I want them to be.

While reading this section of the book, I found that Patrick's model for conferences (RIP) was very similar to the Sisters' model and Cathy Mere's idea for conferences. Starting off with taking a few moments to review notes and listen to the child read while recording observations. Providing instruction and insights before setting plans for future conferences and reading. I really appreciated Patrick's examples for Teacher Language during conferences! It seems like very natural, conversational language that "real readers" would be having. The language also really puts the ball in the reader's court and allows time for them to share, rather than digging for bits of language the teacher implanted earlier.
For the past few years, I've really struggled with guided reading in my classroom. (More on this later, especially after I finish Cathy Mere's book!) When Patrick talks about "rigor," I feel like that is what's missing during my guided reading time. Although students are grouped by same reading levels, students still have very unique needs and strengths. I think conferring with readers will help me to provide that rigor and bridge the gap for what I feel is missing. I do love the quote by Dana Berg on page 103: "Every child deserves that moment of an intimate personal conversation that can open and grow his or her worldly understandings and conceptions." Maybe that will help me!
Utopia. Ah, utopia. Patrick's hilarious, yet eerily familiar, description of himself with his "perfect" way of keeping track of his notes  This is exactly how I imagined myself with my Pensieve. It is beautiful. It's sparkly. It's filled with good intentions and good forms. And there it sits. On my bookshelf. Used only a handful of times. After reading this section of the book, I'm convinced more than ever that paper isn't the way to go (at least for me.) I know I need to find a way that I can be consistent with my note taking and record keeping. Through conversations with my amazing Twitter PLN, I am leaning towards using Evernote. I love Patrick's honesty about his original reason for taking notes (simply because someone told him he should take notes when conferring with students.) Honestly, I think that's part of what I do. If I had my notes in an easily accessible, portable place... I am sure I would use that information more often. And after all, the goal is to confer not to collect. Right, Patrick? :)
SOAPBOX ALERT!!! Patrick hit a nerve (but in a funny way) when he mentions that D word. Data. I cringe just typing that. I will admit that I had a minor (okay, maybe not so minor) breakdown towards the end of this last school year when I was attending yet another meeting that involved numbers, test scores, and graphing data points. I believe my rant went a little something like this. Ahem. Are we ever going to have a chance to share the amazing books our first graders are reading? Will we ever get to talk about picture books that lead to deep conversations with our readers? When do I get to tell you that my kids knocked my socks off when they read for over 14,300 minutes at home during the month of May? Is there a meeting when I get to tell everyone about the conversation Kaitlyn and I had to have with the rest of the class when she recommended a book to me and that book made me cry... a lot? When do we get to talk about what really matters? I think you get my point. END OF SOAP BOX RANT.
Just like with my guided reading lessons, I agree that conferences should be short meetings to give the reader just enough to move forward. I have always been of the mindset that I have to keep it simple and focused. Otherwise, my readers are walking away on overload! I know that this will carry over to my conferring time, too. My former principal (and mentor) taught me to focus on just one MVTP (Most Valuable Teaching Point) when meeting with a group of readers. That keeps instruction focused, short, and to the point. That always weighs heavily on my mind when I meet with students. Just one MVTP.

When Patrick talked about "impromptu exchanges," I started thinking about my whole group read alouds. In my classroom, this is a time when very natural conversations, language, and reactions take place. It's all centered around a book I'm sharing or that children have requested. Throughout the story, we pause and reflect on our thinking. We laugh. We ask questions. We make connections. In fact, these conversations are the very reasons why I choose particular books for reading aloud. A teammate of mine starts her read alouds by telling her class that it is her job to read the book to them, and it is their turn to look and listen. I can't imagine not having the occasional outbursts of "OH NO!" or "That reminds me of MY sister!" while we're all sharing a story.  This is the same vision I have for my conferring time. I want to be able to have these conversations with individuals. That is what is driving me... creating those joyful, purposeful, voracious readers.

I'll admit it. I shed some tears when I read the quote by Bev Bos. "What your children take home in their hearts is far more important than what they take home in their hands." I will be posting this in my classroom and referring to it often.

Overall, this section of Patrick's book affirmed my thinking that I need to just jump in and start conferring with kids. What I've been doing for the most part is "Touchstone Conferences," as he calls them. I'm already pumped about incorporating conferences into our daily routine!
More to come next week (July 20,) hosted right here at Camp Read-A-Lot, on what emerges from our reading conferences. This will be followed by our wrap up Twitter chat!
~Komos :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Conferring, not conferencing! Conferring Part 1

This week, our Blog Bookchat revolved around Part 1 of Patrick Allen's Conferring book. The links are hosted this week by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine. Hop over and check out other blogs and reflections on this week's reading!
My overall reaction to the first part is a feeling of relief and optimism. Relief that Patrick says the art of conferring takes time; optimism that I can (and will!) be able to do this! That being said, here are my "A-ha" moments for Part 1 of our Conferring #cyberPD.  
*I have noted the difference between "conferring" and a "conference." I love Patrick's explanation! I never thought about this before, just simply used the words interchangeably. I now know and vow to use the correct term. Conferring = verb. Conference = noun. Noted. :)

*"Learning to confer is an art; we know that. It's not easy; it takes practice. But it's one of the most important and beneficial instructional moves I use with my students." (Allen, p.8) I believe this! I need to post it somewhere where I will see it often to encourage me to keep going.
* I need to do more exploring with the Confer app for iPad. I've attempted to use all sorts of recording tools while I've conferred with small groups and individuals, but I haven't found anything that works well for me! One challenge for me is going to be to use the Confer app for iPad to hold me accountable for information I gain from my conferences.
*The Don Graves quote on page 21 really struck me. "If you have even one colleague with whom you can share ideas, readings, and questions, you can draw from that enough energy to maintain your motivation and ability to grow professionally." I cannot say enough about the power of Twitter in doing just that! I have hundreds of colleagues that have stretched my professional thinking and have taught me about tools I never would have considered!  
*Patrick talks about his four ultimate goals for his students. I think they are very powerful and would definitely agree with them. In my first grade classroom, I need to think about the beginning readers I'm entrusted with. Ultimately, yes... I want them all to be thoughtful, deep readers. My challenge is to get them to that point! For me, I think I'd have to go back to the Cafe model by the Sisters. I've adapted it to fit my style so it has become CAMP! I think my goals to create those thoughtful, deep readers would start with the components of camp. Those would be:
          Comprehension (I understand and remember what I read.)
          Accuracy (I can read most of the words.)
          Make reading fluent (I can read accurately with good expression.)
           Practice new vocabulary (I can find and read interesting words.)
By sticking to the menu I created and the format, I think it will help drive my conferences and will guide my conferring in the right direction.
*Patrick asks us to take a deeper look at our classrooms. I really do love the layout of my classroom! Now, that's not to say I won't change or improve things, but overall, I am very happy with the image it portrays. I love walking in to my room when the lamps are casting off a soft glow, the main llghts are off, and the nature music is playing. Seeing twenty-something first graders curled up with good books in my classroom puts a smile on my face. When Patrick talks about significant physical aspects of the environment, I loved the part about personal touches. This is what has led me to create my "Camp Read-a-Lot." Not only does it create a warm, friendly, comfortable environment, but it also portrays something that I love and enjoy sharing with students (reading AND camping!) I have stepped outside of my classroom and tried to see what a newcomer would see if entering Camp Read-a-Lot for the first time. I think they'd like what they see!
*I love the idea of charting what stamina means. We do talk about this at the beginning of the year when we're practicing the Daily Five. But I never considered defining exactly what stamina looks like and feels like, as Patrick suggests.  Talking about what builds and what breaks down stamina might help to put it into more definite terms for my firsties. I do love the book Superdog: The Heart of a Hero for talking about building stamina. A good fit for first graders!  Then, following up that discussion with the term "endurance" would just bring it to a new level and make my students more aware of what exactly we need to be doing during D5/RW.
*Patrick suggests recording a conference that we have with a student. What a great idea! I think I would see growth in my conferring skills if I did this at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. I wonder if there's a way to do that on my iPad. VoiceThread maybe? Might need to investigate!
*I absolutely LOVE Ellin Keene's quote on page 81. It reminds me of a quote my dad often said which was, "Good, better, best. Never let it rest till you're good is better and your better is the best." That is what really drives me! Yes, what I'm doing is good. But how can I make it better? Is this the best I can do for my firsties? This, to me, is the key to why I'm reading this book and working on my conferring skills.
*I really liked Patrick's planning guide for strategy studies. I like the way in which it really focuses on the gradual release of responsibility. Too often, I tend to introduce a skill or strategy... and then just come back to it sporadically. There isn't a rhyme or reason to what I'm doing. I think I need to update my CAMP (CAFE) menu and plan more effectively.
 More to come next week (July 13) for Part 2, hosted at Jill Fisch's My Primary Passion! We'll be reflecting on the Essential Components of Conferring.
~Komos :)