Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What Do Literacy Coaches Do?

About three years ago, I made the move from teaching third grade (previously, fourth grade) to being a Literacy Coach. It was a big one. I accepted the position in July, and then I cried about it every day for over a month. Then school started and I had no time to cry. (Except for the first day, when I sat in my new Literacy Coach room, devoid of students and new school supplies, and pathetically thought, "No one needs me. I'm useless. I've made a huge mistake."

That was the last time I ever felt that way, by the way. Now I feel like, "How many places can I be at once? If I can only be in three places at once today, maybe I can accomplish what I wrote on my schedule."

Because now I know the answer to the big question: What do literacy coaches do all day?

I've been asked that question by many people from online teaching land. They're teachers who are interested in becoming literacy coaches, for the most part. And a few of them have been teachers who just accepted the role as an instructional coach at a school and are really nervous. I understand. So here's my best attempt at describing what we do all day. Keep in mind, this totally depends on your district, principal, and job description. Every school has its own needs. These are just the things I do the most.

1. We support teachers.

This is, by far, where I spend most of my time and it's the most important thing! We have to build our teachers up!  Supporting teachers can take on a lot of vestiges. It can include...
     * Modeling lessons or strategies in the teachers' classrooms.
     * Setting up teachers to observe each other.
     * Planning with teachers using our curriculum from the district, state standards, our resources, and our ideas!
     *Meeting with teachers about specific concerns or questions they are having. Teachers may have me come in and observe students and meet with them afterwards to discuss what they can do to help them. They may have concerns about how their kids did on a recent assessment, so we sit down and look at the tests together and figure out next steps. Or they may even just want to discuss scheduling issues or worries, or advice
     *Doing tasks that will help teachers out. Of course, this has to happen within reason. For example, I couldn't take a day to make all the copies the teachers need for their upcoming lessons. But if it would help an entire grade level for me to lay out a rubric they brainstormed and have it made into posters, I'll do it. Or maybe they're trying to build an assessment that tests certain standards. I'll write it for them and save a copy for next year. I make the copies of our DRA for the teachers to save them time.
     *Visiting classrooms. I pop in to classrooms across the school every week or two to see how we're doing. I can evaluate how kids are receiving the instruction and look for areas to address in upcoming PLCs or professional developments.
     *RtI: I schedule, coordinate, and sit in on RtI. We host meetings a few times a year, provide suggestions/feedback/next steps to teachers, and hopefully meet our students' needs.

2. We work with small groups of students.

You have to be careful with this one. While I love working with students, and I miss having a class of my own (as demonstrated by my pathetic outcry on my first day), it would be very easy to spend your entire day working with students. This might sound fine, until you think about how your job is to support and help grow teachers and your entire school. If you are meeting with six students in a small group for forty-five minutes a day, that's almost four hours a week that you aren't working with teachers. It adds up, surprisingly fast. So choose your groups carefully and limit the time you schedule to work with them. We identify students on the cusp of success and I work with them on a regular schedule. I review the data the teachers have about those students and I plan lessons to address their areas of need.

3. We analyze data.

Data can be less-than-fun, and we have to be careful about what it actually means. Interpretation can be inaccurate when we don't consider all the necessary factors. However, as a literacy coach, you have to understand what is happening in your classrooms, so it's important to keep up with how the kids have demonstrated their skills on the assessments they are given. Then, this data has to be shared with teachers to discuss what you will do about it! We meet once a week with each grade level to discuss any new data and figure out what to do next.

4. We plan and deliver professional development to the campus.

This is very important. The best professional development models are the ones where the trainer stays on campus! You can follow up with teachers and see how the learning is panning out in the classrooms. I have conducted trainings on school instructional initiatives like guided reading, shared reading, word study, writing, district required assessments, understanding state assessments, and depths of knowledge. 

I've also hosted school-wide, grade level, and optional book studies on various books and topics. I  throw in a little professional development during our PLCs where we plan for new units. During that time, I try to share new strategies we might want to include in our upcoming plans.

5. We plan and run school-wide events and programs.

This is a very fun part of my job. School-wide events include family literacy nights, our fun book buddies program, reading and English camps, and our new reading lounge. I also write a family literacy newsletter a few times a year and help run our 25 Book Campaign and our Read Across America celebration. I put up bulletin boards and displays for different events or themes, work with the librarian on our bookmark design contest, and I host the Harry Potter Book Club
I started building up our multiple copies lending library and we have our end of year writing contest coming up. Honestly, these events can be kind of stressful, but if that was all I did all day, I'd have a blast! Who doesn't love to plan an afternoon making golden snitches and figure out where to find enough griddles for a Book Buddies Breakfast!

6. We do whatever the principal wants us to do.

I'm very lucky. My principal is an intelligent, kind, and excellent person. I have been blessed to work for someone who understands literacy, kids, and schools. You might not be so blessed (just sayin'). The things my principal wants me to do, while they sometimes mount up and can be almost insurmountable, are usually good things. We  meet once a week for a few hours on a leadership team to plan next steps and see how we're doing. Sometimes we might be to help out at awards ceremonies, or spend some time in a particular classroom. We might work with another person to coordinate trainings, or to pull in a group of kids for intervention. We also will be asked to administer small group state testing, or other boring but necessary stuff. So it can be a mixed bag. Choose your administrator wisely.

7. We do whatever central office wants us to do.

Again, it's a mixed bag. Sometimes it's great stuff - my latest assignment is to assemble the awesome Scholastic guided reading library they purchased us! But sometimes, it's to deliver trainings to other campuses or to attend meetings that may or may not meet my teachers' needs. It's all part of the job!

 8. We are always thinking about how to help our school.

I collect books that "might be good for something," and I make connections with organizations who can donate books to our campus. I write grants and hunt for great blogs and ideas to share. I read professional books to figure out what we can do to improve the way we work with children and each other. I sit in on Leadership meetings every week to monitor our progress and think about next steps. And most of all, I worry. I worry about our people and our work all the time. Just like you do. I consider the teachers my class, because they are my responsibility, just like a teachers' kids are hers. And I care about them and want them to be successful. 
Does this sound familiar to you literacy coaches? If you're looking into being a coach, just know it's a great job. I love what I do. Anybody about to make the move out of the classroom?
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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Watermelon Memory Books

Check out the post over at Primary Powers about Watermelon Memory Books! It was a fun way to wrap up our year of buddy class experiences.



 Check it out on Primary Powers!

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Potter Fans: Harry Potter Book Club Activities

Harry Potter Fan Club!
Is that not the best reason to go to work? Every Wednesday, from 3:00 to 4:00, an adorable group of students arrives at my room to read Harry Potter. They are the cutest, because they are staying after school, by choice, to read! 
I started out by inviting any interested Potter Fans:

After we started reading, one of the early activities we did was making bookmarks to mark our books!

  After Harry got his wand at Ollivander's, we logged on to http://www.pottermore.com to see what wand we  would receive!

When we read about Harry and Ron on the Hogwarts Express, we made these chocolate frog boxes using this template I found at The Leaky Cauldron.

I had students choose their most interesting character and we started these character maps, using evidence from the text that shows us what the character is like!


We started a couple handy charts based on the kids' observations after reading a few chapters.
We hunted for characteristics of each Hogwarts house.

 After they noticed the connections between Harry and Voldemort, we started a Venn diagram.

We used an online quiz to figure out which house each student is in (BTW, I'm totally down with Hufflepuff).

 And then we worked on creating our house crests!

We took pictures and put it all together for a nice little display outside my classroom door! The Potter Fans are in!

We made some fun golden snitches using these materials: styrofoam balls, spray glue (which I managed to spray pretty much all over my table, and papers stuck there for weeks), glitter, sparkly pipe cleaners, and sparkly gold foam fun felt.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Rainforest Museum for Earth Day!

I've been teaching for twelve years. Unfortunately, I really didn't start documenting and photographing my teaching  until about four years ago. That means there are about eight undocumented years of teaching. And that really stinks, because during that time I remember doing some very awesome stuff with my kids. 

There was the year we collected funds for the World Wildlife Fund, made informative presentations about endangered species, and invited classes from around the school to learn about why we should protect the environment.
A jaguar in its rainforest habitat.
There was the year we made books based on "When I Was Young in the Mountains." Each student wrote a memoir and created a bare book to read to their little first grade buddies.
I don't have one single picture of these events. So please, take pictures of your teaching. You'll wish you had them.
Today, I came across a set of pictures about six years ago that I didn't know I had. They were from our fourth grade museum.

For several years in a row, the fourth grade hosted "Fourth Grade Science Museums" at the end of the school year. We chose a science topic that we had to teach at that time and each section took a different part of it. For example, one year, we divided up the Earth and Space standards among six sections and I got the objects in the sky part. Another year, we divided up the Changes to Earth standards, and I took fast changes - volcanoes and earthquakes.
A lemur, lollygagging in a rainforest tree.

This was the year of the biomes. Each teacher took one biome, and I had the rainforest. We. Had. A. Blast. I took black butcher paper and covered the entire back wall of our room. Each student received colored chalk to create a mural of the rainforest. It was beautiful! Of course, I don't have pictures of that.
Each student chose an animal to research. We used Zoobooks from the classroom, library books, and a multitude of resources online. I provided a list of some great places to get rainforest research below.
The golden lion tamarind, resting against a tree.

After gathering their information, students created a short presentation about their animal. At home, they built a model of the animal including important details about their habitats. 

They each created a book about their animal. I provided each student with a small bare book and we discussed how to create a nonfiction book - we planned out the pages: life cycle, food chain, a description of the animal's habitat and more. Then we added glossaries in the back. I love having students create books! Bare books are the best investment!

The last piece was a powerpoint presentation - each student added one slide about their animals to a class presentation. We projected it and left it on a loop. Classes from across the grade and a few from around the school were invited to come and visit our presentation. We set up a schedule to visit each others' classes. The students were so proud to share their learning! And I truly believe it helped increase their environmental consciousness. 
Students teaching each other about their animals.
Teaching about the rainforest? Check out these resources:




I love these Magic Tree House guides - 
full of great information and very readable!



And here's a handy product to use with The Greak Kapok Tree. It integrates the story, reading about rainforest animals, and ideas for extensions! Grab it on TPT!


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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Five Ways to Keep Test Prep Fun!

Dun-dun-dunnnnn. It's that time again. That all-dreaded testing season. If you're like me, you love your job from August - January and then you'd like to use up all of your saved-up sick days to take a vacation until May.

Actually administering a state test is a horrendous experience. There are dozens of hilarious tips about what you can do during testing, but the truth of the matter is, you can do nothing. Nothing but walk around incessantly, glancing to "make sure students are working on the appropriate section of the test" but not looking closely enough to actually read the test. You have to look over their bubble sheet to notice that they bubbled, but not close enough to notice what they bubbled. Not that it matters, because you have no idea what's on that test anyway.

Basically, the test is a blind date your friend set you up with who gets to judge you by watching you through the window of the restaurant as you wait patiently for them to arrive. You don't actually get to meet them yourself, or to hear the results of this observation until months later, when you're no longer interested in meeting such a creepy person, and your opinion does not matter.
Anyway, there's not much I can do to make delivering the test more interesting, but your test preparation and review can be fun. Here are four tips to keep your test prep engaging and interesting! I've used each of these tips in third - fifth grade classes, and they worked for me!

#1 Play BUMP!

 Target: Get kids moving while practicing strategies with accuracy. Timing it creates a sense of urgency.

This is a great way to get kids moving when all you're really doing is having them answer questions you would've had them answer at their desks. To play BUMP, you'll need the questions you want students to answer all cut apart. Because I require students to use strategies on each question, I make enough copies of the question so each student can have their own.
You stack all the copies of #1 up on one desk, and all the copies of #2 at the next desk, and so on. When you say, "GO!" the kids have to use their strategy to answer the question. You give them an appropriate amount of time (maybe three minutes) and then shout, "BUMP!" The kids have to move to the next question (and I make them take their copy of the question they just answered with them) and answer that. Then you shout "BUMP!" again and the process continues. My kids loved it!

To keep it focused, I always do a little minilesson on the strategy first and then all the questions are focused on kids using that exact strategy. 

#2 Toss the question ball.

Target: Hold everyone accountable, but in a (slightly) fun way.

My kids loved anything where they got to move. To keep them all engaged during not-so-exciting test prep lessons, I used to use the "Smushy Apple of Knowledge." It was just one of those little stress reliever apples. Being soft is important, because basically, I spent entire lessons throwing the apple at my students.

 Oriental trading has a whole collection here. I also used to have a little Earth that we called, "The Smushy Earth of Science". We were inspired by Bill Nye.

These are the rules:
- I ask a question.
- I say a name and toss the ball to that person.
- They must answer.
- I ask another question
- They have only three seconds to decide who to toss it to.
- They say the name and toss it to that person.
- If you take longer than three seconds, I choose where the apple goes.
- If the ball bounces away from the person it was aiming for, only one person who is closest can get up to get the ball and give it to the original person.
- No one can ask for the apple. No one raises their hand; no one shouts out, "ME!" 

The last two rules were (obviously) the result of trying to use the smush apple and realizing I needed some specifics. They keep two things from happening. 1. A student will be ready to toss the apple but spend five minutes looking around the room at all the eager faces, thinking about who to toss it to, and saying, "ummmm." 2. Half a dozen students abruptly leap out of their seats and head for the same tiny apple. 3. Half the class has their hands waving frantically in the air, shouting "OVER HERE!" and the other half isn't worried about participating because those other kids will get the apple.

#3 Partner A/Partner B

Target: Each student is accountable to their partner. Great for differentiation.

In any class, you have a diverse bunch of kids. If your class requires a lot of differentiation (even in their testing), this strategy works well. Even if it doesn't require that, this will still work well. You just won't differentiate the questions.

Here's how it works:
You identify who is Partner A and who is Partner B throughout the class. You assign one problem to Partner As and one problem to Partner Bs.  This is where you can differentiate, subtly. There can be a difference in the problem you assign Partner A and Partner B.

Each student is given an appropriate amount of time to work on their problem. Then they meet with their assigned partner. Partner A teaches their problem to Partner B and Partner B then teaches their problem to Partner A. Easy peasy, but it gets kids showing their best work, communicating about their work, and listening to another student.

# 4 Stations with test prep questions

Target: Have students practice a variety of concepts or one concept in a variety of ways. Includes some movement, and timing it creates a sense of urgency.

Stations are a great way to get kids to move through a variety of practice materials while creating a sense of structure. The day feels pretty long when everyone does this, and then everyone does that, and then you do this other thing, etc. By using stations, students feel like there is a little more energy and movement in the room and adding a timer helps them stay focused and energized.

Look at the concepts you want students to learn. For third grade math, for example, I isolated six main concepts I wanted students to practice. I made a stations activity - usually a matching activity - for each concept. For example, for fractions, I made this fractions comparing station:

For 3-D shapes, I provided students with the 3-D shape forms they could hold and manipulate, and a table to record their faces, edges, and vertices.You can also find it here.

Then, I found about five test-ish questions for each concept. I wanted students to do something hands-on and then apply that immediately to some test questions. This is the bridge we have to build for many of our struggling students. They learn the content, but they don't always know how to demonstrate that on a test! I could then collect those questions and identify who was on target and who needed more support in which areas.

You can also read these posts about the fractions stations I used to prepare my kids for their test! Fraction Fanatic and Fraction Frenzy.

#5 Sorts

Target: Have kids think critically in an easily manageable format.

I love sorting activities! To help my students prepare for their big reading test, I made a sort that included the categories of the main genres tested (fiction, drama, expository, and poetry) and little cards with the characteristics of each genre and the strategies they would need to use. Then I added a sample of each genre and a ton of questions.

They had to sort the characteristics, strategies, and sample into each genre category. Then they had to read the questions, mark up their observations and decide which genre this probably came from. For example, if the question says, "Read the following stage directions from 'Bill and Pete,'" I know it's asking about a drama.

What fun ways do you get kids energized about test preparation?
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