Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reflections on 2010-2011

As the school year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on my work this year.  As you know, it was my first year in a new district and school.  The school has had Literacy Instructional Coaches in the past, so most of the teachers were familiar with the coaching model.
I spent the first five to six months of the school year facilitating multiple Learning Teams of mixed content teachers (science, social studies and language arts).  There were about 30 teachers across the three teams.  These teams met twice weekly for professional development and lesson planning.  The professional development topics were chosen from weak performance areas on our state standardized tests.  Topics included:  cause-effect text structure, headings, inferring, identifying author’s purpose, evaluating website credibility and using context clues (vocabulary/word study).  The staff development sessions led to a common language and structure around these skills.  The hope was that students would encounter the same structure of say, inference, in multiple contents and contexts throughout their day.  The raw scores of our 2011 test are back, but we do not have access to specific item analysis yet, so I can’t judge the effectiveness of this approach.
For the last three to four months of school, there were no Learning Teams.  (Long story; don’t ask.)  I spent time working with teachers to continue the work that started in Learning Teams.  I also reached out to some teachers who needed additional support in their classrooms.  For some, this involved weekly planning sessions.  For others, it involved co-teaching multiple times per week.
Mainly in the second half of the school year, I facilitated a team of language arts teachers in a major revision of our curriculum maps.  This was a HUGE undertaking and we spent months completing this work.  Knowing that the revised curriculum maps would include Readers’-Writers’ Workshop as the main instructional format, the Literacy Coaches developed several staff development sessions to boost teachers’ comfort level.  We presented an overview of Readers’-Writers’ Workshop (format, structure, routines, common language, etc.).  We hosted a make-and-take session centered on Readers’-Writers’ Notebooks so teachers could add to their notebooks all summer and use it as a model for students in the fall.  Lastly, I presented an overview session of Literature Circles as our district is moving away from the whole-class novel.
All told, this was a good year.  I know there were missed opportunities, but with coaching, building relationships and trust is vital to having difficult conversations.  I think next year I would be able to go more deeply with my staff and see a greater level of growth.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Who wouldn’t love a year of study abroad? How about your senior year of high school? You would have to leave all your friends and everyone you know to travel to a country whose language you don’t speak. You would have to start over.

Anna from Atlanta (ha, ha!) gets to spend her senior year of high school at a boarding school in Paris.  The problem is, it wasn’t her idea.  Anna’s dad is a popular romance novelist and with his new money has come a concern to keep up appearances.  He decides to send Anna to the prestigious School of America’s in Paris.

Anna doesn’t even speak French, she took Spanish at her old high school in Atlanta. She doesn't want to leave her friends or her little brother, Sean. Faced with new situations, Anna must adapt and thankfully, her new neighbor, Meredith, invites Anna to join her group of friends.  There’s Rashmi, the beautiful Indian girl who’s dating Josh, the Senator’s son and a talented artist.  Then, there’s Etienne St. Clair, the gorgeous, charming boy who lives on the floor above Anna and Meredith.  Everyone’s in love with St. Clair, but he has a girlfriend.

Anna grows to love Paris, learns to speak French, learns a ton about herself and finds her true love. 

Although not a totally predictable romance, it’s still a romance that kept me up until 1am reading. The characters are complex and it is very well-written, especially for YA.

Themes:  friendship/relationships, loneliness, love

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Planning for Summer (Reading and Writing)

As we wrap up the school year (whoo, hoo!), it's time to think of our plans for summer reading and writing and set some goals. I created a document (click to see Google Doc) to assist teachers and students in planning and setting goals for the summer.

I am also wondering how this can translate into the first weeks of school in the fall. Will students have an opportunity to share their writing? How about give a book talk about their summer reading? What will that look like?

Anybody have goals for summer reading and writing you’d like to share?

Monday, June 6, 2011

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

Are you a risk taker? Would you take an adventure without knowing where you are going, who you will meet and what you will learn? This is what happens to 17-year-old Virginia Blackstone. Ginny’s aunt, Peg, abruptly leaves New York with no explanation. A while later, the family learns that Aunt Peg has passed away. Ginny receives a package in the mail containing 13 little blue envelopes and instructions to board a plane for London and open an envelope for further instructions. Aunt Peg has an adventure in store for Ginny, but is Ginny up for the challenge?

Themes: risk-taking, relationships, family, trust

Sequel:  The Last Little Blue Envelope

Saturday, June 4, 2011

PLN: Book Study - Focus Summary

In order to FOCUS, we must have:
  • A sound, coherent curriculum, with fewer standards.
  • Rich, engaging lessons. (modeling, guided practice, checks for understanding)
  • Meaningful reading and writing in all content areas.
We need teams of teachers, working together to monitor the implementation of the above. Until we do these things well, we should do nothing else.
If you had to evaluate your school today, how Focused are you?

Friday, June 3, 2011

PLN: Book Study - Focus, Chapter 7

Data shows that more students fail in math than any other subject. If we want students to be “confident, comfortable, knowledgeable users of math,” we must give math meaning for students.

Chapter 7: Making Math Meaningful
  • Reduce the number of standards by 50% (201). Recruit math and science professionals to review the standards with teachers.
  • Use effective teaching strategies:
    • Modeling, guided practice, checks for understanding
  • Create and integrate opportunities for students to apply essential math concepts. (202)
  • Integrate reading, writing, and discussion into problem solving, application, and interpretation.” (202)
  • Students should have 15-20 opportunities per year to read current articles and see math in action.
  • These articles should contain raw information or data and students should be asked to “make inferences, support arguments, and draw conclusions” using these sources. (207)
  • Close, slow reading of the textbook would allow students to “hone their ‘technical reading’ ability from texts that include procedures, directions, and instructional manuals.” (208)
  • Writing is a powerful tool for problem solving. Students should be asked to explain, interpret or evaluate a solution in writing.

A major point in this chapter might ruffle some feathers. Schmoker advocates for states to “suspend the requirement for Algebra II until we reexamine the need for it.” (200) Many professionals in the math and science community do not utilize much Algebra. We should focus on essential, practical math standards. Schmoker asks, “would it be sewer to replace seem of our advanced courses with applied math, statistics, or data analysis of the kind that actually gets used in the working world?” (199) The thought is that students would be able to apply more basic math skills to complex situations and problems they will find in the workplace and the world.