Monday, October 21, 2013

New Blog

I started a new blog to document my thinking related to my professional career, as well as to document my Slice of Life stories. I view Snapshots of Mrs. V as an artifact of an exciting and very important phase of my career. Please join me over at Read. Write. Think. Grow. as I continue on my journey as an educator and mother.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Summer of the Mariposas Blog Tour

After reading and loving Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Pura Belpré award winnerUnder the Mesquite, I am excited to be a part of the blog tour for her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas. The book jacket describes, "Summer of the Mariposas is not just a magical Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, it is a celebration of sisterhood and the true meaning of family and home." With well-known cultural references that my students know and love, La Llorona and the chupacabras, I am excited to see how they enjoy the book.

In the following guest post (originally written around Thanksgiving), Garcia McCall shares insights into how she thinks her book can be powerful for adolescents. I noticed how her statements, such as a focus on reading like writers and writing like readers closely aligning with workshop philosophy. Enjoy!


"Looking at Books through the Eyes of a Writer" 
—Dreaming Up Teaching Ideas for Summer of the Mariposas as the Turkey Roasts in the Oven—by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

There are so many critical thinking skills a teacher can develop in her students using a novel, especially one dealing with a different culture. One skill that I think students need to develop as readers is to look at text through the writer's lens and explore the what, how, and why of the choices the author made as an expert writer. As both an English (writing) teacher and an author, this is something I think about a lot. Reading and writing are wedded. They are connected in a way that is natural and organic and therefore should be taught together, as two sides of the same coin. Students should read as writers and write as readers. 

One interesting element of Summer of the Mariposas that students can explore in this context is plot. The plot structure of Summer of the Mariposas is based on The Hero's Journey, the ancient form used by the Greeks to develop the plots of such fantastical stories as "The Odyssey" and "Jason and The Argonauts."  First, I would ask students to research The Hero's Journey and outline the form and structure of that basic plot in a graphic organizer of their own design. How does the plot of "The Odyssey" or "Jason and The Argonauts" fit into that basic structure? How does the plot of Summer of the Mariposas fit? 

Next, I would have students think about why the author of Summer of the Mariposas would use such an archaic plotting device to create a contemporary novel. Here are some questions to help guide discussion:

• Did the author change the structure, play with it, move pieces around, or reformat it in any way? If she did change or play with the structural components, why do you think she did it? 

• What Greek supernatural elements were replaced with something in the author's culture? Can you correlate characters from "The Odyssey" to characters in Summer of the Mariposas based on their names, descriptions, or actions? 

• In your opinion, which structural pieces from The Hero's Journey were well suited for the plot development of this novel? Which pieces didn't fit as well? Research other plot forms and structures. Would any of them have served the author's purpose of developing the story of the Garza girls? Which one? Why? How?

I hope these ideas help educators teach students to think critically about books and help them grow not only as readers but also as writers. There is so much more I could say here, but the Thanksgiving turkey is almost done, and my family is stirring awake. Have a blessed Holiday Season!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reading Logs: This Year

Different years I have played around with and experimented with reading logs. I even had a year when I tossed them out and went by books read or pages read after reading resources from Nancie Atwell and Donalyn Miller, as well as reflecting on my own reading life. Nonetheless, I have realized that in my teaching context, reading logs are part of the school wide culture from kindergarten to fifth grade and it made sense to continue that on through 8th grade.

In addition, juggling reading in two languages and knowing that kids sometimes read multiple books at a time, I noticed that reading logs are a valuable tool in tracking students' reading lives. This summer I was reading resources by Lucy Calkins and colleagues (Pathways to the Common Core and the reading PDFs). I appreciated the way that they highlighted reading logs as a tool for student self reflection in addition to a teacher tool. As I reconsidered reading logs in preparation for the new school year, those ideas influenced my thinking.

This year, based on having students doing their independent reading in three different classrooms, I decided to have students record both their in school and at home reading onto the same log (rather than the log being for at home reading and doing a status of the class for in school reading). Even if they were all still in my class, I appreciate the way that having their two reading times side by side allows for a better snapshot into their reading lives. It also allows students to be more accountable for their reading lives and the decisions they are making as readers.

Students are expected to read the 35 minutes of independent reading at school Monday to Thursday and 30 minutes at home Monday-Friday. I include Saturday and Sunday on the reading log as optional days. Before I tried to be as efficient as possible with paper, such as getting a quarter long reading log set up; however, this year I decided to go week by week in order to preserve that record by reducing the chance of students losing a reading log that had weeks worth of data on it.

Instead, each Thursday they file their complete reading log into a folder that stays in the classroom  and receive a new one. There is a self-assessment on the back of the reading log where they assess themselves in two categories: time reading and engagement while reading.

If students meet the minimum reading requirements and are engaged while reading, they earn a 90% A. If they go above and beyond by either reading over 30 minutes during the week or by reading on the weekend, they earn a 100% A. If they miss reading sessions the grade decreases (i.e. 1 session B, 2 sessions C, 3-5 sessions D, more than 5 F). Their grade for the week is calculated first by time spent reading, but then they have to have the reading engagement behaviors to maintain that grade. For example, if the reader met the minimum time requirements but frequently switched books/grabbing random books off the shelf, they would not earn an A.

The rubric has opened up conversations about what they can be doing in order to support their growth as a reader, as well as behaviors and habits that can stifle that growth. At the end of each quarter students will revisit all of their logs so far and write a reflection on their reading lives, including goals for the next quarter.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Common Reading Time: Data and QRIs

Yesterday I started an update of how our shift to a 6th-8th grade common reading time is going so far. I explained what it was like the first couple of days. Today, I am going to continue on by sharing what my push-in colleague and I did next.

On the third day we took what we had observed in the various classes, as well as our background knowledge of the various students and met to map out a plan for starting QRIs. From previous years, we knew that conducting QRIs could end up taking a large portion of classroom time. We did not want it to stretch out over a period of a month and a half as it easily had before (or worse, even longer as a result of having all three classes at the same time).

Previously I had administered QRIs on my own to all 6th graders (since they were new to me) and to a select group of 7th and 8th graders since I had already had them for a couple of years. Instead, this year we prioritized students and mapped out a plan. We narrowed down to new students and students that we want to monitor more closely. Once we got to that point, we still wanted to think about efficiency. When we considered how long it would take us to complete the QRIs if we did multiple passages with students, we both agreed that we would want to avoid that length of time.

Instead, we chose one passage to use with all of the students in order to get a general snapshot. We know that we can always go back later and do more in depth QRIs with some of the students if needed. The fourth day we were able to begin the process. Because each of the grade levels was in a classroom with a teacher, we were able to pull students from the classroom to conduct QRIs and we were able to be fully present to the students, rather than also being in a supervisory role of the rest of the class. We also did not have to worry abou the interference of students overhearing responses of students before them. Walking in the hall we were able to have quick asides with students about the books they were reading.

By having both of us conducting QRIs, by being able to fully focus on the student that is with us at the time, and by going in with a plan for one passage, we have been able to move through our lists efficiently. Most likely, we will be able to finish up next Monday or Tuesday. At the end of each session, we typically have a little bit of time where there is not enough time to check in with one more student, so we have been quickly debriefing about what we are noticing so far.

And we are still observing... As we go into classrooms to get students, we notice student engagement. Even though it slows down the QRI process, we make sure to have quick check-ins with students who really need it in order to find the right book. As a team, we talk about what we are seeing and the possibilities of our next steps now that we have a little bit more flexibility in what we do. We consider how we can best meet the needs of the students in the different classes.

Time and time again, I am discovering that one of the aspects that I most appreciate about teaching alongside my colleague is the opportunity to have deep conversations about adolescents and reading and the history behind what we are doing and new possibilities.

In the future I will be doing posts about a shift in the way that we are doing reading logs this year and how that is working out, as well as a post about our post-QRI steps.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Scheduling Update

A little bit before the school year started, I posted about some changes in scheduling for this year. Now that we are two weeks and two days into the school year, I thought that I would give an update on how the shift to a common reading time for our 6th-8th grade classes (just one class/grade level) has been going.

We started school on a Thursday, but we did not begin our independent reading time slot until Monday. In some ways, my first two days of school felt rushed. Thursday was busy with First Day activity, and Friday I knew that I needed to make sure that every student checked out a book and was ready for Monday. I also needed to explain the new reading log to them that they will be using to log both their at school and at home reading requirements.

Monday mid-morning rolled around and each of the classes were reading - the building was silent. My push-in colleague and I quietly moved through the three classrooms to observe for signs of student engagement. We were able to have quick hallway asides about what we noticed as we were in the classrooms at different times. We began to formulate lists of students who we might be most concerned about, students who we would want to focus on in order to connect them with books in contrast to student who have already established a sense of the joy of reading. We continued doing so on the second day.

Those first days the reading block was actually longer than typical because of a 4th-8th grade common language development time that had not yet started. Teachers decided to use the time to facilitate talk about books. Each teacher did it differently with a mixture of talking about the books they were reading, whole class student sharing, partner sharing, and small group sharing. As I rotated between classes, it felt odd to be on the periphery of these interactions. Teachers had already set the stage for the conversations, so instead, I sat back and observed, taking notes on my iPad, highlighting what each teacher was bringing to the table to enrich the literate lives of our students. I thought about how seeing glimpses into each classroom would allow for common conversations of what seemed to be working really well.

By the end of the second day, we felt like for the most part, the various classes had settled in. We had checked in with some students about making sure that they were reading books that were a good fit for their interests and where they are at right now as readers. We were ready to move into a different phase, in order to get into a more active role, rather than observing and scaffolding the first days.

Tomorrow I will be posting about how we shifted to considering data and mapping out a plan on the third day.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Scheduling, Scheduling, Scheduling

As maybe all workshop teachers, each year is a new opportunity to consider how to maximize the time that I have for each class period, determining how to prioritize. Over the last three years that I have taught the amount of time that I have had has varied as our school has grown and schedules have changed. The third year when trying to squeeze everything in, I ended up not including word study or a read aloud with my 6th-8th graders. Nonetheless, I wasn't happy with the shift. It was just one possible way to try to provide sufficient time for students to read and write, balanced with instruction/discussions. I continued to reflect on the impact of those decisions throughout the year.

Last year when I took a leave of absence, I let the teacher who was filling in for me know about the rationale for my decisions but also about how I discovered that I would have wanted to try to layer both back in if I was going to be in the classroom again. She met the same challenges with time though.

This summer when thinking through how we could reconfigure the schedule, one option that came up was having a common time where all students are doing their independent reading. I had mixed feelings about it. On one hand it made me nervous. It was hard enough for me and my push-in colleague to feel like we were able to confer regularly enough with all students. How would that feel with all three grade levels in one common time? Nonetheless, when I looked past that nervousness and considered the alternative, facing the time crunch, I realized that it was time to also consider the advantages of the change in the schedule.

The top advantage is that students will have a guaranteed time and space for reading independently four days a week (Friday the schedule is completely different for PBLs and Electives). Another huge benefit that I love about it is that students will get to see all of their teachers as readers and adults who care about them as readers. In addition, students receiving special education services for reading were pulled out during my reading workshop and did not have an opportunity to have choice in what they were reading during their pull-out session. Now they will be able to participate in the independent reading portion of the day and still receive their pull-out services at another time.

I also thought about how while my colleague and I won't necessarily be able to interact with each student as regularly, we will have at least three other teachers to help us. Here is the initial vision of how it will look:

  • 6th, 7th, and 8th grade will each be in a classroom. The fourth teacher on our prep school team who does not have her own classroom will be in mine. The push-in teacher and I will have flexibility to rotate around the three rooms. I recently found out that we will most likely also have one special education assistant who will push-in as well.
  • Our first priority will be making sure that kids are engaged and motivated to read. As a team of 5-6 adults, we will be closely observing to see who already has an established habit of reading and a high motivation versus students who can use more support to make sure that they have a book they will enjoy.
  • My push-in colleague and I will be able to provide support with conferring. The great thing about conferring is that it will not require any outside planning/preparation (other than conversations about it and time to reflect) - something that we wanted to be careful about when considering how the shift would impact other teachers.
  • Eventually we will layer in book clubs. Having one common reading time will allow for multi-grade face-to-face book clubs. The groupings will be more flexible. Other teachers will have the option of opting in or to continue conferring, as facilitating a book club would require time outside of the independent reading time slot in order to read a book along with the students. Other staff, such as administrators are interested in seeing if they can participate in book clubs at times as well. 

Reconfiguring how the space for students to have choice and read independently shifts other aspects of my typical routines and procedures. I have been thinking through the check-out process for books as well as status of the class. I have been thinking about goal setting and students playing a more active role through self-assessments and reflection.

I look forward to seeing how it all emerges as well as the deep reflection that is sure to come with a shift like this. Sometimes in education, it is necessary to try something even though aspects of it make us a little nervous. Looking beyond those feelings to consider how there is the potential for something great and then problem solving how the logistics of a shift can have a big pay off.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

This time last year for the first time since I started teaching I was not setting up my classroom. Instead I was helping a colleague set up her classroom as I took a one year leave of absence in order to fill in as a sabbatical replacement in teacher education. I have not blogged as much as I would have liked to as my experiences last year, possibly because the experiences were different than the general topics I typically write about on my blog.

In many ways, taking the leave of absence was a great way to stand back and reflect on my classroom practice while also revisiting my own teacher preparation program. Interacting with pre-service teachers and seeing education through their lenses reminded me of the dynamics of those in my teacher ed program. It reminded me of my passion and my vision for education before I stepped into my first full-time teaching position. It was a chance to reflect on which aspects may have been forgotten through the busy first years of my career, as well as to celebrate what I was able to do that aligned with my teaching and learning philosophy.

Tomorrow I will officially step back into my role as a 6th-8th grade language arts teacher in English and Spanish at a public dual immersion charter school. I have already set up most of my classroom library, including a new shelf for graduated students who have moved onto the high school. I have been thinking through what the school year will look like and how I will launch reading and writing workshop this year. I will also have the opportunity to provide one period a week of push-in support for a couple of Spanish immersion colleagues in the younger grades. I look forward to learning and growing with them, gaining familiarity with their 2/3 and 4/5 students. Fall term I will also have an opportunity to keep one foot in higher ed as I will be teaching one adjunct course.

Last year I savored the time to think, reflect, and grow through both the final year of my doctoral program and through the sabbatical replacement. I am energized to start my 8th year as an educator.