ISTE Reflections – It’s the People

A week has passed since ISTE 2015 ended in Philadelphia and I switched into tourist mode with my wife who flew out to join me for a little vacation.  While visiting all the tourist attractions in the city, I often thought about what I’d blog, yet never wrote a sentence.  I came to the conference with a number of learning goals and feel I thoroughly accomplished all of them, and so there’s lots that I could talk about, and I might later, but I keep coming back to the most profound part of the ISTE experience: the people.

This was my first major conference anywhere away from home, and my number one goal was to meet as many of the wonderful educators from my PLN that I’ve been talking to online for years as I could.  Everyone I introduced myself to was so friendly, and many people felt like we’ve known each other for years.  I guess we have. Though I’m not a major player in the online world of edtech, a number of people knew me and introduced themselves too.  This networking was very intentional because I wanted to develop deeper relationships with the people I already knew, and many new friends too.  Just like with students, learning happens better with someone you have a solid relationship with.  I want to be able to reach out to my PLN and ask for help and advice, and receive it from friends helping each other out, rather than as a professional courtesy (thought it’s always appreciated!). I also want to have a greater common ground on which to think deeper with people.  After five days of networking (and learning a lot), I can safely say mission accomplished.  If for no other reason, the people alone made it worth travelling the 4000 km from Nanaimo to Philadelphia.  I look forward to learning working and learning with all of you!

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Kids Love to Read. Let them.

I had the privilege of hearing Pernille Ripp and Erin Klein speak a couple of times at ISTE.  The topic of their presentations, and of many conversations with them so many other incredible educators was literacy.  In short, the message was clear: kids love to read. Let them!

An incredible thing happened at my school this year.  We got out of the way and let kids read, and did they ever! Let me explain how.  At the beginning of the school year, the entire staff agreed to take a different approach to literacy education and get kids reading.  All kids.  Often.

We did it by looking at the Daily 5, by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser and implementing common language across the school.  Different classes implemented more, or less of the elements of the Daily 5 framework, but we were all committed to Read-to-self and the common language in the framework.  Read-to-self, stamina, urgency, independence and most importantly good-fit-books became words that all students were familiar with.  We taught students how to select good fit books.  They understood that, like a pair of shoes, what fits me might not fit you and that’s okay as long as we all can find a pair of shoes.  We taught them that nobody starts as a good reader, but with practise, anyone can become one.  Day after day, we built stamina, and students independently chose the books that led to successful reading and a love of reading.  Wondrously, our times to read-to-self became magical times in classrooms as students lost themselves in books of their choice.  No tests, no logs, no reports, just book after book after book.

Reimagining Daily 5 and CAFE for intermediate grades: Readers’ CRAFT.

Beginnings

I was first really introduced to the Daily 5 about a year ago when my wife and I requested a meeting with our daughter’s teacher to learn more about this program that was happening in their class.  I immediately liked it, and began to imagine how it could work in my grade 6/7 class. Due to other circumstances (see my last post), I had a lot on my mind and didn’t pursue the matter…  Fast forward a year and I find myself teaching grade 6/7 in that same school my students attend.  There is a whole-school focus to implement elements of the Daily 5, but we have 10 primary divisions and only 5 intermediate divisions.  Needless to say things are often primary focussed and I again found myself thinking about how the this could all work in upper intermediate. My principal ordered a copy of The Daily 5 book (by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser) for each staff member, so I figured I could start with Read to Self and have time to figure our the rest when the book arrived, so I jumped right in with both feet.

Students immediately took to Read to Self and had a sense of purpose with their independent reading that I haven’t experienced before.  We made I-charts, built stamina, learned all about good-fit-books, and plotted our progress…

Read to Self Plot

Very shortly, the class had built up their stamina to sustain their reading for forty minutes and I didn’t know what to do with the time because the book hadn’t arrived yet.  However, The Daily 5 book arrived shortly before Christmas break and I devoured it before picking up The CAFE Book too.  Over these past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to continue.

Next Steps

Now that I’ve read the books, I know how to break down my literacy time, insert mini lessons, conference with students and add new elements of the Daily 5.  The next element will be Work on Writing, but more on that shortly.

What I’m looking forward to right now are those mini lessons and student conferences.  But this is where it’s taken a lot of thought to adjust for upper intermediate.  Much of the Daily 5 focuses on emergent reader strategies, and by grade 6/7 there are few of them left.  Does that mean that I drop Listen to Reading or Read to Someone? No, I don’t think so, but they might look different than what’s presented in the books.  Many of the strategies might look different too, especially under the Accuracy and Fluency headings.

Reading some blog posts at Ladybug’s Teacher Files and Runde’s Room also got me thinking about the CAFE analogy.  I like what these two have done and changed it to Readers’ CRAFT.  First, I connect more to this constructivist approach as it reminds us that we are doing more than taking in items off of a menu (an over simplification, I know), but we, as readers, are selecting the tools needed to build ourselves up as good readers.  I’ve gone so far as to call the new menu a Readers’ Craft Toolbox.

In the Reader’s CRAFT, C, A and F are taken from CAFE to be Comprehension, Accuracy and Fluency, but R is for Response to Text and T is for Text Elements, or Terms and Vocabulary, depending on who you talk to. The author of Ladybug’s Teacher Files uses Text Elements because her grade 5 class is has a high number of ELL students, and that works for her, but I think that’s just an expansion of the Use text features strategy from the Comprehension category.  I prefer the idea of Terms and Vocabulary both because it stays closer to Boushey and Moser’s Expand Vocabulary, and because Jen Runde’s descriptor is: I can find, understand, and use interesting words. Which both speaks to the constructivist in me and is again close to Boushey and Moser’s intent.

Response to Text is the significant difference in the change from CAFE to CRAFT.  I know that it begins to move away from Boushey and Moser’s focus solely on the reading, but in the intermediate grades, where literacy moves from learning to read toward reading to learn, reading responses have an integral part and I feel that they can be integrated into the CAFE structure both formally and informally as students develop as good readers. This structure will help me leverage them better as part of a more holistic program.

Reader's CRAFT

Work on Writing

The next element of the Daily 5 that I intend to introduce is Work on Writing. I’m not quite ready to do that yet because I want to do some more research.  In my reading of books and countless blogs these past few weeks I came across one blog were the author developed a writing menu based on the Six Traits of Writing for a K/1/2 classes.  I’ve used the Six Traits to structure my writing program in previous years and love the idea of integrating it into a CAFE type menu, so I’ll see what I can do for grade 6/7.  Unfortunately, I can’t find that blog again as I write this, but I’ll update the post to give credit if/when I come across it again. But it’s likely somewhere in one of the posts I’ve pinned on my Daily 5 Pinterest Board. I also just noticed (literally) that Jen Runde has rearranged the traits: Ideas, Organization, Voice, (Excellent) Word Choice, Sentence Fluency and Conventions into a VOICES menu.  I think I’ll have to take a closer look at this and see how the Six Trait strategies can be used this way… there’s so much to learn hers, and I’m so excited about it!

More Integration

I also need to spend more time Adrienne Gear’s Reading Power and Writing Power books.  The strategies in those will fit well into both CRAFT and VOICES, so to start, I don’t think that I’ll give students a personal copy of these but will instead give them a blank copy that they can fill in with the strategies that we learn in the mini lessons.  That way, I’ll be able to modify the lists as I learn alongside the students.

FREEBIES

CRAFT and VOICES are a work in progress for me, and I still need to figure out if it will be Daily 5 or Daily 4 (I don’t see Word Work working out with my class, unless it’s just a time to work on their spelling program) but because I’ve spent a ton of time on it, and I like to share, this link is a free copy of the CRAFT board and other forms I recreated to setup my Daily 5 pensieve. I’ve provided a PDF of the CRAFT board headers to preserve the fonts because I created it in a Mac version of MS Word that many might not have standard fonts, but I’ve included the .docx file of everything to make it free to change and personalize.

CRAFT Board Headers (PDF, docx)
Individual Reading Conference (PDF, docx)
Individual Writing Conference (PDF, docx)
Keeping Track Conference Record (PDF, docx)
Menu Cards (docx)
Reader’s CRAFT Toolbox (PDF, docx)
Strategy Groups Instruction (PDF, docx)

The files are licensed under a Creative Commons, non-commercial, share-alike license, meaning you’re free to use them and tweak them, as long as you give credit to me for my contribution (as I have done for those I have built upon) and don’t make any financial gain.

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Reluctantly, I will be voting yes, but yes nonetheless.

Tomorrow our union votes.  This may be the most important union vote I have taken in my 10 year career, and is most definitely the most difficult.  Voting to stand up for fully funded public education and lose many weeks of pay was easy. This is hard.  Through marathon bargaining session the BCTF and BCPSEA (i.e. BC Liberals) came to tentative agreement.  But does it give teachers and students what they deserve? Not even close. Does it really address the issues that we went out for? Hardly. Most of what it does is prevent further cuts to the system. Yet with a government that seems intent on dismantling public education, not losing might just be winning.

Being realistic, I think this is the best we were going to do.  All the stars eventually aligned and we had the best mediator in the business, tremendous public support, moral and financial support from unions across the country and internationally, pressure from international students and a Premier that needed to save face after causing this mess–before she leaves on a trade mission to India.

There are many reasons to vote no (http://goo.gl/GDAq6h, http://goo.gl/ccsh7n, http://goo.gl/a5BkYr), but then what? What’s the plan to move forward? Will the stars stay aligned? I doubt it.  Voting no will alienate the parents who have stood by teachers throughout this. They are the basis for public support.  Vince Ready is gone.  Finances can only hold out so long.  Union leadership will come into question.

There are also many reasons to vote yes, (http://goo.gl/qSwlVZ, http://goo.gl/TL6Pzt) and I think we need to look long term here.  We have brought the issues of class size and composition to the forefront.  More people than ever before are beginning to understand the complexity of teaching and the environments we do it in, and they are supportive of making public education better.  By voting yes we can leverage that support for continued positive change.  We can activate apathetic voters for bigger change. We can keep education a key public policy.  In the short term, we can get kids back into classes to learn.  We can do what we are passionate about, and collect a modest paycheque while doing so.

Reluctantly, I will be voting yes, but yes nonetheless.  I encourage my colleagues to do so as well.

Education in the News

Two major education topics have been in the news a lot recently: Surrey School District is expanding on its pilot to eliminate letter grades, and in light of the recent PISA results showing decreasing performance in math scores for Canadian students, there are calls to “go back to basics” with math instruction.  Now instead of initiating lively, critical discussions, these topics seem to have sparked passionate, but reactionary comments and I am disheartened by it because many of these comments lack reason.

The two main arguments against eliminating grades focus on motivational aspects of grades and their communicative value.   Suggesting that grades are motivating, simply isn’t true, beyond that beyond those very few, highly successful students who are similarly highly motivated anyway.  In the same way, motivating underachieving and struggling students with a C- or a Fail, doesn’t work either.  I understand that parents want to know how how their students are “doing,” in school, but without the letter grades, the conversation can move toward the specifics of what students are demonstrating in terms of competencies, concepts and content knowledge–arguably a much richer conversation than with letter grades.

All too often, public reaction to education issues is founded in the mindset that if it was good enough enough for me, then it’s good enough for today’s students.  This kind of thinking is driving is driving the call for back-to-basics math instruction.  What this fails to recognize is that change in inevitable.  Society changes, educational theory changes and educational practise changes in response to both.  While the pendulum may have swung too far in some cases, focussing solely on memorization and algorithms endangers students’ ability to learn and practise real-world logic and problem solving skills.  It would seem that, as in most things, a balanced approach is best.

Reading about educational topics in the popular media is always disheartening because the voices of reason are often drowned out by those who are quick to respond and slow to think; however, I think it’s important to engage in these spaces nonetheless in order that those are not the only voices heard.

Sunshine Blog Meme Homework

Well, it was a beautiful sunny day today and having recently completed grad school, I don’t have homework, or at least I didn’t until deciding to kick-start my blogging (or lack thereof) with this blog meme.  I wasn’t specifically tagged in the game, but I haven’t exactly been a prolific blogger either.  Either way, I took the questions from Dean Shareski’s blog.

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 Random Facts About Myself

  1. I love big-band swing music.
  2. I’ve played the drums since I was in grade 6. I don’t have a kit anymore, but I still cary around a pair of drumsticks in my school bag and my wife thinks that my air drumming is hilarious.
  3. I’ve danced competitively in the latin, swing and ballroom styles.
  4. My favourite snack foods are fruit and veggies.
  5. I’m very particular about the way my clothes are folded.
  6. I’m a stickler for grammar.
  7. I still have a re-occurring nightmare about failing math class.
  8. I didn’t fail, my first undergrad was a B.Sc with minors in math and chemistry.
  9. I have a sleep disorder.
  10. I used to umpire Sr. Mens’ Fastpitch Softball until it began to interfere with family time.
  11. On our first date–only our second meeting–I knew I’d marry my wife. 

Questions for me:

  1. How do you feel about pants? I prefer shorts.  I wore them up until Thanksgiving, then it got too cold.
  2. What was the last movie you saw in a theatre? The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  3. Where are your car keys? One is hanging by the door, the other is deprogrammed and on my dresser.  It still opens the door, but won’t start the engine.  It’ll cost me $270 to get it reprogrammed.
  4. What time is it? 10:35 PM PST
  5. What’s the last tweet you favorited? 
    Dan Scratch ‏@DanScratch0316 Dec@jeremyinscho Definitely. It was great dropping in on #bcedchat. I’m hoping to start up the #abedchat for Albertans in the new year!”
  6. Outside of your immediate family, which relative do you like to spend time with? My mother-in-law. 
  7. Have you ever been to Saskatchewan? No, I’ve only been east of Edmonton once, and flew to Winnipeg on that occasion. 
  8. How long did it take you to walk to school as a kid? 5 minutes.  The elementary and high schools that I went to are a 10 minute walk apart.  Our houses were right between the two; we moved to the house over the back fence when I was in grade one or two.
  9. Besides you, which blogger should I be paying attention to? Victoria Olson.  She’s up-and-coming and will be very influential.  Just wait and see.
  10. Name one golf course. Pryde Vista On the one or two occasions a year that I golf, this executive 9-hole course is enough to challenge my lack of skill.
  11. What’s your favorite Seinfeld episode or line? “No soup for you!” I’m not a Seinfeld fan, but this line never gets old, or runs out of practical applications.

Now it’s your Turn:

  1. Victoria Olson
  2. DJ Thompson
  3. Ben Wilkoff
  4. Erin Luong
  5. Sheri Edwards
  6. Karen Young
  7. Charla Agnoletti
  8. Denise Krebs
  9. Susan Spellman Cann
  10. Jas Kooner
  11. You. (this includes all the people I didn’t name because I figured they thought  they were too cool to do this as well as those I never even thought, which could be you. Either way, I’ll read what you write)

QUESTIONS FOR ME:

  1. What was your favourite class in university?
  2. If you could only read one blogger next year, who would it be?
  3. If you could have your choice of career changes tomorrow, what would you choose?
  4. What is your favourite way to relax?
  5. How do you burn off energy when needed?
  6. Who is your favourite author and book/series?
  7. Introvert or extrovert?
  8. Mac, PC, or other?
  9. Which is your favourite social media?
  10. Who is the most influential member of your PLN?
  11. Do you have any quirky habits?

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write this. Go on, you have homework to do.

Teaching the Tough Topics

In every age there are those topics that are the “tough” ones.  We know there are valuable lessons there, but the content isn’t directly in the curriculum.  Sometimes we skirt around them because they’re often controversial.  They deal with the important life lessons, and the content contained within them is not only controversial (at least to be talking openly about it) but sometimes graphic. Topics vary from sexual health, to aboriginal education, cybersafety, bullying and LGBT rights.  Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but each of these brings up so many questions:  Should we teach about (or through) these topics?  Should we leave it to parents to broach the subject?  Should we inform parents ahead of time if we choose to “go there”?  Should there be some sort of protocol for dealing with these types of topics and appropriately preparing students, and debriefing afterward?  There are no shortages of examples out there, good and bad, that give us opportunity to reflect on, “what would I do in that case?”

Just last month, a teacher in St. Vital, Manitoba showed the Love Is All You Need Video to his grade 7 class and got in hot water when one of his students suffered a medical emergency and passed out as a result of viewing the video.  In it, a “hetero” girl is bullied by the dominant LGBT culture in a role reversal that results in her committing suicide.

Of course, if we don’t teach about these topics, and give students the tools they need to navigate an increasingly difficult adolescence, then the results can be as just as devastating, as was hammered home by Amanda Todd’s suicide, shortly after posting this video on YouTube.

In my classroom, I take these topics very personally and teach through them.  We regularly hold talking circles in which we do our best to respect the ancient tradition, and use it as a tool to build community and have open, frank discussions about the hard topics and what’s happening in student’s lives: both the good and bad.  One of the norms that we rely on, is what’s said in the circle, stays in the circle (with the caveat that I am bound by law to report some things).

Not only has First Nations’ tradition given me a tool to work on these topics, it is one too.  I work hard to break down stereotypes and racial barriers in my class.  Of course, many of the stereo types have deep roots in the Indian Act (in Canada) and in Indian Residential Schools (on both sides of the boarder) and the atrocities that took place there.  Dealing with these has the potential to bring in a lot of graphic discussion and material–but it’s also the truth; and there can be no reconciliation without it.  I think it needs to be done though, and I don’t ask permission and I don’t send out warnings, but I do respect students, I do respect culture and varying viewpoints, and I do both prepare and debrief students.  Perhaps I should do some things differently.  Perhaps not.

What do you do?