Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Opening Minds Part 3

Today marks the third part of our blog book chat around Peter Johnston's newest book, Opening Minds. It's available from Stenhouse for 20% off right now in case you don't already have it.

Peter is also the featured author on Stenhouse's Blogstitute this week and writes about the impact of reducing instruction time while increasing engagement. Lots to ponder!

Our conversation started at Cathy Mere's Reflect and Refine blog. It continued in week two over at My Primary Passion with Jill Fisch. This week, I'm hosting our reflections on the final chapters of the book. We'll also have a Twitter chat on Thursday, July 26th. You can also find a cumulative collection of our posts on Jog the Web, too (Thanks, Cathy!)

My thoughts on chapters 7-9...

"That's distracting to me, so would you please stop?" (p. 87)
Such a simple statement, yet it's so... extraordinary. Isn't this how we'd want our students to talk to each other? I had to read and reread the "Social Reasoning, Caring, and Social Action" section (on pages 87 and 88) several times. And then I had to stop. And I immediately fired off a text to Nicole. So, you know that calendar I mentioned in last week's post? Yeah. Well... up until I read this section and talked more with Nicole, I was still using it. My reason? It was a way to communicate daily with parents about their child's behavior. Behavior. As in, did they comply with what I wanted them to do? That is so not the environment I want to have in our classroom! I truly want it to be all about learning how to get along and problem solve together. I want us to be able to respectfully ask someone to stop doing something. I want us to be able to work our way through problems and not "punish" by taking away a stamp on that stinkin' calendar. When problems arise, I plan to confer with the child (like I've been doing all along) and together, come up with a plan for how we are going to tackle the issue... together. We'll continue to use class meetings as a way to practice and plan for problem solving as well. And no more discipline calendars.

"Individual minds are nurtured in the conversations - the interactive thinking - of the community." (P. 96)
Reading all of Johnston's evidence for why this is true led me back, yet again, to thinking about this professional development opportunity we've all chosen to share. Many of us have said our thinking has been challenged, pushed, extended so far beyond what it would have been if we had read Peter's book on our own. Standing alone, the book is incredible. The book and a bunch of minds thinking about the classroom applications of Johnston's work... incredible times 100. Being able to share my thinking with Twitter friends on a range of topics deepens my thinking, expands my thinking, and sometimes, changes my thinking. Wouldn't we want opportunities like this for our students? The answer for me is a resounding yes.

So through this whole book, I've been thinking about how I can foster these conversations and opportunities in my first grade classroom. I know that I don't have all of the answers yet, but I have more questions and resources for how we're going to get there!

A few specifics I'm pondering...
*spending more time sitting in a circle rather than in an "audience" formation
*providing more time for exploring (with our reading, writing, math, and nonfiction studies)
*different ways in which we can recommend books to each other
*finding ways to connect more with people outside of our classroom
*rearranging the classroom to foster more collaboration
*being even more deliberate in choosing books to be shared during our "thinking together with books" time

"Jesse's question is the lever that makes the shift from 'reading for meaning' to 'reading for meaningful action." (p. 123)
If you haven't read Ellin Keene's newest book Talk About Understanding, it is one that I highly recommend. In it, she details her "Outcomes of Understanding" as a means of rethinking comprehension instruction and a way to foster deeper thinking. As I read the quote I listed above, my mind immediately went to Ellin's Outcomes. One of these is that deeper thinking is evidenced by wanting to take action based on something we've read. There are so many overlaps and so much similarity between Peter and Ellin's findings. It truly makes me believe now is the time to move forward with making the changes necessary to ensure that our students are getting the time they deserve to dig deeper, talk more, and share their findings, while I practice "channeling my inner Silent Bob," as Tony so brilliantly put it! :)

The conversation continues...
Thursday, July 26th at 7 p.m. CST on Twitter
After speaking with Peter, he is going to do his best to dive in to Twitter and possibly join us for a part of the conversation! He has already been peeking in on the conversation and reading some of our posts. :)

Wednesday, August 1st at Carol's Corner
Thanks to Carol, we've extended the conversation by a week for anyone who is interested! Carol volunteered to host on her blog, Carol's Corner. We'll use Wednesday, August 1st for posting final reflections, cheat sheets, thoughts after the Twitter chat, and whatever else you'd like to include.

Thanks again to everyone for making this event such an incredible learning experience!

Participating blogs this week... (check back as I'll be adding to this list!)

*Tracy from Thinking Stems speaks to the power of connections in her post Opening Minds...Cyber PD... Part 3.

*Maria from Teaching in the 21st Century reflects on what's been going well in her classroom and some things she'd like to work on as she begins thinking about the new school year in her post Opening Minds Ch. 7-9.

*Dawn from Literacy Toolbox encourages us to think about how we can make each moment count in her post #CyberPD - Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston.

*Suz from Heart of a Teacher challenges our thinking with some big questions in her post #CyberPD Opening Minds Chapters 7-9.

*Jill from My Primary Passion shares her goals for the upcoming school year in her post Learning to Talk, Talking to Learn: Opening Minds Chapters 7-9.

*Val from The Sensibly Savvy Teacher discusses the importance of taking the time to listen and to notice things in our classrooms in her post The Power of Listening - #CyberPD Part 3.

*Cathy from Reflect and Refine shares her insight to how she establishes a learning community in her first grade classroom in her post Building a Learning Community: #cyberPD Part 3.

*Michelle from Literacy Learning Zone emphasizes how she plans to "use language to change lives" in her post #cyberPD: Opening Minds - Part 3.

*Carol from Carol's Corner reflects on events in the past week to help explain her thoughts in her post Cyber PD - Opening Minds.

*Kim from Learning Tour Writing Stop gives us a glimpse into her new discipline plan in her post Thinking About Behavior and Discipline.

*Amanda from Snapshots of Mrs V thinks about how Johnston's book will impact her work with students in her college courses in her post Opening Minds: Chapters 7-9.

*Amber and Lisa from focUS: Clarity through Collaborative Research share their newest thoughts (and titles) about social imagination in their post Thinking Together About Books: Building Social Imagination.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Opening Minds Part 2

Before I add my two cents here, I want to tell you how impressed I am with all of the stimulating, thought-provoking, honest reflections we've had this week! I'm so looking forward to continuing the conversation with all of you this week. Remember, this week is being hosted at Jill's blog, My Primary Passion. You can also read last week's installment at Cathy's blog, Reflect and Refine. Cathy is also helping us get our cyber-exercise by putting together our Jog the Web for this year's event. Ok, here we go...

My thoughts on chapters 4-6...

"Whenever we publicly say "good" to one student and then follow it with "excellent" to another, suddenly "good" isn't worth as much." (p.41)
After I read this quote, I had to stop and ponder for a moment. It brought me back to a conversation I had with a parent some years ago. She came in for our fall parent-teacher conferences and asked if we could speak about her son's calendar in his folder. (There was a calendar in the take-home folder as a quick means of communicating with parents. Children received a stamp on the date or a note from the teacher if it had been a rough day. The stamps were all animals and holiday related.) She wanted to know what the hierarchy of the stamps was. I had to ask her for further information, but even though the stamps didn't even have words on them, her son had convinced himself some stamps meant he'd had a better day than others. He figured some stamps weren't worth as much as others. What a learning moment for me. This quote brought that all back, and it made me think further when Johnston says, "Praise is related to power and control." (p. 44)

"...books are not merely to entertain or to teach kids to figure out words or even to learn things from. They are tools for growing minds." (p. 56)
This quote got 3 post-it flags! Tools for growing minds. Oh, how I love that! It is in the dialogue that our thinking is challenged, stretched, changed. Our CyberPD event is a perfect example of this!  As adult readers, we engage in these book conversations where we come to understand other people's perspectives and opinions... so why wouldn't we want the same thing for our students? I think this is a phrase I will need to remember as I make more time in our day for engaging in these conversations. I have to provide the time for us to use those important tools to grow our minds and to have those reader-to-reader conversations. I really liked Peter's analogy of saying that it's "as if (kids) are stretching to the next rock in the stream and become aware they need to reach out to others for a balancing hand." (p. 59)

"The hardest part for most of us is then keeping our mouths shut and not judging what children say." (p. 77)
I have worked really hard on this, especially in the past year. No, I don't feel like I am quick to pass judgment on what my first graders say... but I do feel like I tend to talk too much. I forced myself to take a step back during the last school year and not jump in. I made myself listen more and talk less. No longer do I feel like I am the "keeper of the knowledge"... or the person with all of the answers. It really was a liberating feeling!

"Social imagination enables social decision making, and since learning, literacy, and inquiry are fundamentally social, we should approach teaching in ways that foster it." (p. 80)
Johnston begins chapter 6 by talking about how learning is fundamentally social. I think this speaks volumes to the world in which we live today. We are so "connected" with so many people in so many ways, and we have to find ways to foster that social connection face-to-face. Children need opportunities to talk about how their actions impact others around them, and they need to practice the social skills needed for life. I'd also add that bringing down those classroom walls aids in making our learning more global. It's something I'm really striving for this year. How can I help my students to make those social connections, both face-to-face and with our global community?

And I'll leave you with this... something I stumbled upon when playing on Pinterest...
"Talking with quiet confidence will always beat screaming with obvious insecurity."
There wasn't an author listed, but I'd like to thank him/her for hitting the nail on the head with that one!

#CyberPD continues next week!
July 25 here at Our Camp-Read-A-Lot
July 26 on Twitter (time to be announced soon!)

The conversation will continue on Twitter using the #cyberPD hashtag. Wallwisher is also a place to jot down your favorite quotes, questions, and quandaries! Let's keep the conversation rolling! :)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Where do you keep your mentor texts?"

My friend Nicole and I had quite a thought-provoking conversation (via text message!) yesterday which went from leveled book tubs to classroom libraries to mentor texts to book baskets to classroom decor... and more! She always has a way of pushing my thinking, and this conversation was no exception. I was lying in bed, wide awake at 1 a.m., rearranging my classroom in my head and figuring out how I was going to incorporate what we talked about. 

One of our topics led to mentor texts... and I can't stop thinking about this. Right now, I keep the picture books I use for minilessons (reading, writing, nonfiction studies) in my cabinet so that I can find them easily. Once I've shared them with kids, the books go on a display shelf until the shelf is full. Then I put those books back in the cabinet... but I will ALWAYS get them back out if one of my readers asks for a book. 

*Enter Nicole and her marvelous questions*

What if we had a mentor text basket? Accessible to kids but easy for us to find.
Who are the books for... us or them?
What good are the books if they're sitting on my shelf?
We wouldn't have paid $16 (for hardcover books) if they weren't great!

See? She makes such good points! We both agreed that it's hard to keep these books in a place where kids can always access them because a) it makes it harder for us to find the books when we need them for read alouds/lessons and b) we want to keep these books in good condition since they're the ones we use for teaching. We both have extensive classroom libraries so kids have plenty of great books to read, but...

So, as you can tell, I'm still torn on what to do. We asked some of our Twitter friends, but I wanted to ask here, too. Where do you keep your mentor texts? Are they kept separate or mixed in with your classroom library? Do you keep a master list of mentor texts and possible minilessons for those books? 

I'm looking forward to hearing your thinking!

You can see a small portion of my classroom library in this picture.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Opening Minds Part 1

#CyberPD 2012
Today is our official kick-off for this summer's #cyberPD, based on Peter Johnston's new book Opening Minds. Cathy Mere is hosting today's event, so please make sure you head over to her blog to link your post and to see what everyone else is thinking!

My thoughts on chapters 1-3...

"As teachers, we choose our words, and, in the process, construct the classroom worlds for our students and ourselves." (p. 1)
I've been teaching for over 17 years now, and I absolutely, positively know this statement to be true. My actions, reactions and my words in the classroom determine the atmosphere in which we live for over 7 hours a day. I always find it amazing (and a little scary) when I hear kids start to use the phrases and language that I have used with them. This leads me to believe they are also picking up on my nonverbal cues and my actions/reactions. I know all of these will stick with them for a long time, so I'm very aware of choosing carefully. Do I make mistakes? Of course. But reading Peter's book (among others) reminds me to be careful with the language I choose.

"Teaching is planned opportunism... Teaching requires constant improvisation." (p.4)
Isn't this so true?! We just never know where our little learners are going to take the conversation. We have to be ready to just go with it and be "in the moment" every day. Some (or I'd argue, most) of the best lessons come out of conversations that just pop up. Isn't this how real life learning is, too? Yes, I go to workshops and teacher conventions with the intention of learning about something specific... but in conversations with colleagues at those workshops, I get something entirely new out of it!

"Honey, when you grow up I want you to be assertive, independent and strong-willed. But while you're a kid, I want you to be passive, pliable and obedient." (cartoon, p. 7)
This cartoon really resonated with me. I can't stop thinking about it. What message are we really sending to kids? It makes me really think about my classroom community and my expectations for my first graders. Am I giving them plenty of opportunities to think for themselves? Am I fostering independence and assertiveness... or dependence and passiveness?

Fixed vs. Dynamic Theory
Honestly, I don't know that I ever thought about this before. It really opened my mind to phrases and ideas I try to instill in my students... and what message those statements relay. The power of the word "yet" was quite evident in what Peter wrote.

With so much emphasis on data and test scores now, I wonder how it will impact children in years to come. Will they learn to judge themselves based on single test scores, or will they learn to look for patterns of growth? How can we encourage children to always work hard? Will this allow them to realize they do grow and change, or will they fall victim to thinking they will always perform the same way?

On page 15, when Peter talks about the fixed-performance frame, it made me think of myself in terms of reading. I consider myself a good reader. I've always been a good reader... until I compare myself to my Nerdy Book Club friends who read voraciously and seem to remember everything they read! It's so important for us to help children to step out of this frame of mind!

"Your brain is changing and so is the way you experience ideas. Expect to change." (p. 26)
Oh, I loved the way Pegeen Jensen handled it when her first graders told her they'd already heard a book she was about to read aloud! Pointing out that we have changed and that we may think differently when we hear a book again is really important. I always compare rereads to watching our favorite movies again and again, but I am definitely going to take Pegeen's idea and incorporate it into my repertoire.

Below, I linked a podcast where Pat Johnson interviews Peter, and he expands on this idea of fixed vs. dynamic theory. Sometimes it's good to hear it another time in another way! :)


#CyberPD continues next week!!!
July 18 at My Primary Passion with Jill Fisch
July 25 here at Our Camp Read-A-Lot!
July 26 on Twitter (time TBD)

You can also keep the conversation going any time on Twitter using the #cyberPD hashtag. AND... you can add your thoughts to the Wallwisher for this event!

I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's posts to see what their takeaways were this week!