Sunday, February 7, 2016

Beyond Rubrics: Five Steps to Better Revision *Freebie!

Picture this: Tommy is hard at work on his latest expository piece; all about whales. Tommy has poured his blood, sweat, and tears into this piece. He knows it's incredible. It's full of facts and, best of all, all the words are spelled right. Clearly, top-notch writing. 

Before Tommy hands in his paper, you say, "Tommy, did you revise this piece?" 

Uh-oh! Close one! thinks Tommy. He races back to his desk, furrows his brow, and quickly erases the word, "big." In place of the word "big," he writes "gigantic." Phwew! Glad to be done with that chore of revision! Then he races back to the turn-in basket, slaps his paper on top of the stack of reports on hamsters and elephants, and heads back to his desk, accomplished.

If you're like me, this makes your heart hurt a little. We ask for revision, but our little guys have no idea what we're talking about.
Revision? You mean spelling?

You know it's true. How often does the first draft of Tommy's piece look exactly like his final draft? 

Like...almost every time!

But we made a rubric! We wrote it together! I modeled! I conferred! I cajoled! 

To no avail. Kids are still clueless when it comes to revising. Some people are probably excellent at making rubrics work, but for me and my kids, they serve the same purpose as a Carson-Dellosa apple hanging on the wall: decoration.

This. Must. End. We must teach better revision! And here's how, in five steps:

1. Use a rubric to create thought-provoking questions. 
Kids look at rubrics and go, "Yes, yes, I did all of that. I obviously earned a four." But they don't always have any actual reason for that. After having several writing conferences with children who are clearly experts in their field of writing, I'm ready to tear my hair out. Or cry. Or have a nice big glass of wine.

Instead of using a rubric full of criteria or statements, devolve that rubric into organized questions that get kids thinking. Stay focused on the criteria for the rubric and then ask yourself questions that writers ask! 
For example, to help kids think about organization, ask...
* What organizational structure did the writer use?
* Are the ideas easy to follow or does the reader get lost?
* Can you find some meaningful transitions that connect ideas and help the writing flow?

These questions require students to hunt back in the text and find evidence, and that's the difference between thoughtful revision and just looking at a rubric.

This is the Revision Guide I put together for my students this year. Grab it for free on Google Drive!

2. Collaborate by using the questions to analyze a strong piece of writing
Don't start with the worst piece ever. That's overwhelming. We want kids to know "What should it look like," before they learn what it shouldn't look like, or else they have nothing to compare it to. Let's start with the end in mind! You'll still have plenty to talk about. 
There should still be some advice you could give the "writer" (even if they're not in the room) about what they should do on their next piece.
3. Guide students through analyzing a piece of writing on their own
Give everyone the same piece. Ask a question and have students hunt for evidence to respond to the question. Then give them time to talk in teams - that's the important piece. You're building a community of writers with a common language for talking about writing! YESSS!
4. Have students analyze a partner's piece of writing
Revision circles are awesome! Everybody passes their writing to the left and the kids use the questions as a guide for providing feedback for the writer to use when they revise their writing. The writer can decide whether they want to use that feedback or not, but they have some thoughtful ideas to start with!

5. Have students analyze their own writing, every time they write a piece
If students are expected to revise a piece of writing, provide them with the questions so they can find spots for revision in their piece. 

This takes a lot of time, yes, but it is time well spent! Kids who can talk about writing in an informed and thoughtful way become better writers! (That goes for adults, too!) So try it out! 

Need some tools to get started? Check out my brand-new product: Expository Writing Revision Guides on TPT! It's full of tips, revision guides, and samples to make this work in your own classroom!

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Monday, February 1, 2016

The Test: What Teaching is All About

So a week ago, I got an email that I needed to report to a "mandatory meeting" about the "state test" after school. Needless to say, I. Was. Psyched.

I mean, let's get real: that's why I got into teaching! Watching kids fill in little tiny bubbles with #2 pencils? Who could ask for a more fulfilling day? So I made sure to arrive early at the meeting. I brought my handy dandy notebook and a purple pen. I staked out a spot in the front. I didn't want to miss a thing.

When my AP arrived at the meeting, I could tell she was pretty excited about the training, too. She'd made a powerpoint and everything! And it was full of citations of legal documents and pictures of non-examples! This was going to be good.

I was riveted during the whole meeting. Here are some of the things I learned about:
The day before the test, I get to plan out a new seating arrangement for my room! The kids shouldn't be able to communicate at all. Let's get real here; that's not what education is about. It's about choosing the right answer out of four choices! That's what we do in real life! 

So anyway, my seating chart is really really important. At any time during the test, some person I don't know and have never seen before (can you say Mystery Date?!) can come into my room and demand to see it! I have to show where each nine-year-old is sitting and write their test booklet number and their student ID! Now, that's thorough!
During the test, I get to do this really cool thing called, "Active Monitoring." That means that while the kids are taking their four-hour test, I don't have to sit behind my desk and read a boring magazine or et some work done onmy laptop. In fact, I'm not supposed to bring my laptop on that day at all! Instead, I'm going to actively monitor my students by walking around the room and making sure they're working on the right part of the test.

Here's the really challenging part: I can't actually look at the test! I have to make sure they're working on the test without looking at it! What a riot! I'm really looking forward to challenging my management skills with this fun paradox. At this point in the meeting, I made a cute little sketch of my classroom in my notebook. I used a yellow highlighter to mark the path I plan to take around my room for four hours.

Planning this fun day makes me look forward to it even more!
We learned a lot about what happens when you don't do active monitoring. And that includes: public shaming, getting fired, and losing your your teaching certificate! Wow! I feel really good that our state takes this so seriously.
It's going to be a fun day for my students, too. It'll be their 'time to shine' and show what they know! I know they're looking forward to it because they talk about it all the time. Sometimes I feel like that's what they think school is about! Ha! Aren't kids funny?

I'm so glad I've been working on independent reading stamina, because it's finally going to pay off on the test day! I'm so relieved, because I always felt like it was so much wasted time. It turns out, the kids will have four hours to complete a 40-some question test with about five or six passages. Finally, an opportunity to put all that time spent reading to good use!
During the four hour test, if they take a bathroom break, I have to make a note on their answer sheet. They don't get that time back or anything, but data collection is kind of a hobby of mine. I'm really excited to have data on my kids' bathroom habits. I think it's the missing piece to my instruction. I might even make it into a data wall.

I haven't even told you the best part: this test is going to determine if I am a good teacher and if my students are good learners! I have to say, I am really impressed by whoever came up with this system. Why spend so much time on 'authentic assessment' when a one-shot deal will serve just as well? I can't wait to find out if I'm a good teacher!
Too bad the results on some of the tests won't be ready until a week after school lets out in the summer. At least I'll have something to do on my long, boring days at home by myself! Shout it with me: DISAGGREGATE!

I have to be honest. I was totally pumped about this awesome new teaching challenge, but I was also starting to feel stressed about administering this top-secret test. I mean, it's obviously the most important thing I'm going to do in my teaching career! I don't want to mess it up! 

Fortunately, we're going to have lots of opportunities to learn. I'll get to take some online courses about 'testing security', participate in a few more faculty meetings, and read a really long handbook that will probably clear up all of my questions. When the big day finally comes, I think I'll be ready!
Do you get to give a 'high stakes test', too? Are you as pumped as me?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My dog is not normal.

I think something's wrong with my dog Stevie.

I have two dogs. (I used to have three, but our dear Penny passed away a few months ago.) My two dogs are Lucy, who is very smart, enjoys taking walks, can sit and follow basic directions, and is incredibly loving. When you look into Lucy's eyes, you see what a person she is.
And then there's Stevie, who is... none of those things. He can't follow basic directions or sit or stay, he's completely self-preserving, and when you look in Stevie's eyes, you see shiny little black eyeballs. And that's it.

Don't misunderstand me - I love Stevie. He's an adorable little pup, and very sweet.

But...there's something wrong there. I can't say what it is exactly, but he's just not...normal.

It took him almost two years to learn how to run into his kennel. Now, if we only did this every once in a while, I could understand it. But we bring him in every single night, put his food bowl in his kennel, and say, "Go to bed."
He runs to the kennel, and then he sits and stares at it and cries. And then I scootch him in and he's perfectly happy. He just couldn't bring himself to walk inside of his own volition.
So the other day, I had a genius idea. I thought, "I'm going to take Lucy AND Stevie on a walk!" This might not sound like such an amazing idea. The only reason I never took Stevie on a walk before is because Penny didn't like walking (being a stubby dachsund) and so I'd leave Stevie behind to keep her company while I took Lucy on a walk. Which she loves. Like a normal dog.

And I thought, "Well, Lucy loves to walk, and Stevie loves to be with Lucy! He'll be so happy!" 
So I harness up my two dogs, (this was a whole feat in itself - putting a collar on Stevie is like putting a collar on a goldfish) and of course, Lucy is already pulling at the reigns, ready to drag me down the street. And then I look back at Stevie. He's whimpering and jerking his head back and forth to get free of the leash.
And I stupidly thought, "Well, maybe we just have to get started."
I opened the front door, and Lucy blasted forward. I peeked back at Stevie, the leash curled around my legs, and I saw his look of fear. His eyes looked into mine and silently cried, "Leave me! Just save yourself!"
I shut the door behind us and strode out confidently, thinking, "Once we get going, he'll see how nice it is. He'll like taking walks." I start down the sidewalk, taking nice long strides. The weather was beautiful - golden sunlight on a January afternoon. My two lovely dogs and I are out for a walk on a gorgeous day.
Lucy continued to pull at the leash ahead, and I felt a tug, tug on Stevie's leash behind. I look back and realized I am literally dragging my dog down the street. He's sitting down on his tush with his legs out in front like a baby, and and he's absolutely refusing to budge. But I didn't know this, I'm basically pulling him along like a little furry wagon.
And I stupidly thought, "Oh, maybe he'll get rolling once we're down the street a bit."
I want you to picture this: Lucy clawing forward, trying to drag me (and Steve) down the street. And Stevie whimpering three feet behind me, his butt planted firmly on the ground and sliding down the sidewalk as I drag him along. I can only imagine what my neighbors thought.
I finally gave up and carried him all the way back home. You know, I make myself look goofy enough all by myself. I don't need Steve's help to look stupid.

So anyway, now I know that I'll still be taking one-dog walks. Because Stevie isn't smart enough to...walk. And as Lucy and I walk down the street, Stevie will whimper and whine that he isn't being included. But I know better.
Please tell me I'm not the only one with a dog like Steve.

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

4 critical questions for managing your time as an instructional coach

Look at your to-do list. I mean, really look at it. If it looks like mine, it looks like this:
This list is like any other: full of important, time-sensitive, necessary things. It's also full of small, chore-like, and not-so-important things. It's just a list of things that need to be done.

If you've taken my previous advice, this list is housed in your notebook which you carry everywhere and stacked on top of your one calendar of important dates. So that's a start.

But even with a list, it's easy to be overwhelmed. What do you do first? What should you add to the list? How do you spend your time?

Over the last few years as an instructional coach, I've been thinking about this question. What's important? I still don't have the answers, but I do have a few questions that help me think about it more clearly.

1. Will this task encourage or grow better teaching practice? 
You are an instructional coach for teachers. Your job is to push, pull, grow greatness in your teachers. That doesn't mean you are better than them - I personally know many teachers who I think are truly incredible and I have learned from them. But if you see an opportunity from your third-person perspective, it's your job to make it happen. That's where most of your time should be spent.

Some examples:
- Modeling! This is huge!
- Coteaching
- Observing teachers
- Providing quality feedback and coaching one-on-one
- Mentoring new teachers
- Sharing resources with teachers
- Researching new or tried-and-true instructional strategies
- Planning quality trainings for teachers and delivering those trainings

2. Will this task result in long-term gains in student learning?
Obviously, if the work you do doesn't impact kids, it's not worth it. That's the bottom line really: support teachers to support kids. This doesn't always look the same. These are some tasks that might support long-term gains in student learning:

Some examples:
- Reviewing data and planning next steps with teachers
- Becoming learned in and training teachers in new strategies to support learners in need of intervention or extension. This might include attending (quality) trainings, reading books and articles, or communicating with your PLN.
- Planning an intervention plan with teachers whose students are in need
- Observing a small group of students during class to provide support to their teacher

3. Will this task empower teachers?
That's your job! The way you've 'made it' as an instructional coach is (sadly) when your teachers don't need you! Isn't that what we want for our kids? We want them to become independent learners who use the inquiry model to figure out problems in their lives. That's exactly what we want for our teachers, too!
Some examples:
- Working with a cadre of teachers on a new campus initiative
- Planning with teachers during PLC
- Working with teachers to put together a pitch for admin
4. Will this task build a positive, supportive relationship with teachers?
I think this is incredibly important, even if it's not considered so popular. No one wants to learn or work with someone if they don't value their opinion. You can't walk in the door and tell teachers what to do. Without a positive, supportive, and respectful relationship, you're dead in the water.

Sometimes tasks are important because the people they are for are important.

Some examples:
- Writing a thank-you note to a teacher who has gone out of her way to support her colleagues or you.
- Creating a resource that teachers need but don't have the time to make themselves.
- Writing thoughtful feedback to a teacher who has asked for help
- Looking into resources that might assist a teacher who's asked for help
- Listening to teachers' struggles and accomplishments
- Building a positive relationship with teachers through honest communication - take the time to really listen and share honestly
A few thoughts on prioritizing:
Some tasks have to be done. Bulletin boards, for example, might not exactly fit into one of these categories, but it has to happen every now and then, and it creates a positive school environment. Monitoring the cafeteria for the Thanksgiving luncheon doesn't exactly achieve a long-term literacy goal, but it is part of the job and does serve an important purpose. That's just the reality.

Some things can only be accomplished when teachers and students are actively teaching and learning! You can't observe teachers' instructional methods when the kids are at home. Build your schedule around the school day. Tasks like copies, creating resources, and planning your trainings can be done after school or when kids are at lunch or PE. Tasks like observing classrooms, modeling, and observing kids can only be done when they're in the classroom.
If you're going to be out for training, make it count. You can only do the work of the campus when you're on campus. Coaches who like to schedule trainings all the time because they 'love the learning' are only fighting half the battle.

No matter what you learn, if you're not on campus enough to turn it around and provide consistent support, you're missing the opportunity to grow your teachers and kids. And that's your job. 
Choose only the best and most essential trainings to attend, and make a plan to turn the best of those trainings around to your teachers.

I made a sample week's log of things I usually do, in case it will help you out! Download it from Google Docs!

And if you're interested in more materials, visit TPT to check out my Instructional Coaching MegaPack! It's over 140 pages of documentation, records, organizational tools, observation forms, planning guides and more, for instructional coaches!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

10 Ugly Truths about My Winter Break

You know the drill. It's December 31 and I can see the end of my winter break looming ever closer. 
Without the structure of a school day, I've basically been a misshapen lump growing out of my couch. Like Homer, I've worn butt-grooves into the cushion. No one else will be comfortable on that couch ever again; I have claimed it. 

There are many ugly truths about how I have squandered my time this winter break. Here are ten of them.

10. I have eaten cookies instead of dinner on three different occasions. I didn't set out to eat cookies instead of dinner. It just happened. I started eating cookies at about, oh, three-thirty, and continued eating them until about seven, at which point I realized three things: It was seven, I'd been eating cookies for three and a half hours, and I was no longer hungry for anything of value. So I ate a few more cookies and called it a night.

9. I spent an obscene amount at after-Christmas sales. This one is kind of a secret (that I'm not sharing with the world via blogland). After Christmas, I buy a TON of gifts for throughout the year and for, yes, next Christmas. I have a special closet I keep the gifts in, and a list with everyone I love and what I've already bought for them. This year, I bought a LOT of gifts after Christmas... and a few decorations (read: fifty decorations).

8. The hour I want to open a bottle of wine has crept forward, to the point that now, at 2:30, I'm thinking... "Well, it's closer to five pm than eight am, right?"

7. I don't think I've actually had any water to drink since two days before Christmas. My beverage list is as follows: hot chocolate, coffee, wine, hot tea, a delicious sweet concoction called Rumchata, Butterscotch Schnapps, and Irish Cream.

6. I'm not sure how many hours I've spent staring at my cat and thinking about how much I'd like to be one. Cats don't go to work. Cats go where they want. Cats get attention when they want it, and they don't when they don't. Cats have it all.

5. I have watched absolute garbage on TV. You won't believe me if I tell you, but let's just say it included the epitome of awful Christmas specials: A Very Brady Christmas. Yes, I went there.

4. If I made even one out of every ten Tasty videos I've watched, I could open a restaurant. I am absolutely addicted to those short, action-packed recipe videos. Everything looks incredible: Garlic Parmesan Potato Wedges? Yum! Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes? Oh, yes! Nutella Cream Cheese Turnovers? I'll take two!

 I dare you to watch that without drooling.

3. I haven't shaved my legs in a week and a half. I look more like Chewy than Leia.

2. I only wear shoes when I leave the house, which means 90% of this break, I've worn fuzzy slipper socks. My floors are spotless...unlike the rest of the house.

1.  I am absolutely positive my pants no longer fit, but I am also too afraid to try them on. This is all I have to say about that.
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Friday, December 11, 2015

Five for FRIDAY!! December style

Holy cow, is it Christmas break yet? Seriously, this week was rough. I was at school at 7:00 in the morning twice this week, and I left school after 6:00 twice this week.  I made two trips to Wal-Mart, baked (and ate) about twenty five cookies, and made two dozen burritos.

On Friday, we had our giant Christmas program. It's an incredible show. We didn't get out until about 8:30. So naturally, on Saturday morning I was very excited to wake up early to help out at our area Grit Conference. I wasn't alone. After the conference ended at 12:30, I raced home to make cookies for our campus cookie exchange! I made butterscotch & white chocolate chip cookies...they were like candy.
 Get the recipe on Google Drive!

 I decided to buy all the felt at Wal-Mart and make a felt Christmas tree with ornaments for my niece. My husband keeps walking into the den, looking at the piles of crafting crap all over the table, and turning right back around to watch TV in the bedroom.

 But I don't care! Because this tree is cute and she's going to love it!

Another project I worked on was our Poet-tree! We actually have three: a K-2 tree in English, a K-2 tree in Spanish, and a 3-5 tree in English. Each ornament has a poem printed on it and I decorated them with glitter paint. Our librarian tied on a ribbon and we hang them on our tree! When students visit the library, they can choose an ornament to keep.

And then I made two dozen burritos. At our school, the last twelve days before winter break, we have the 12 Days of Christmas. Each grade level/group is assigned a day. We were the 8th day. We decided to make burritos. This was my idea. At the time, I thought, "Oh, burritos will be a nice change from sweets," which is what most groups bring on their day. But then, the night before I realized that I would have to make 24 burritos... in the morning... before I went to work. I had to get up at 5:30. 5:30, people! I. Do. Not. Get. Up. Before. Six.

But I did. I set my alarm, and I woke up. I dragged myself into an upright position. I sat there for a minute, but then I was afraid I'd fall asleep sitting up. So I pulled myself out of bed and got myself ready. I remember thinking, "This was a stupid idea," but I quickly reminded myself that it was MY stupid idea.

Then I mixed up about 40 eggs and poured them into a pan with butter. I reheated the potatoes I'd cooked the night before, and warmed tortillas. I rolled and rolled and rolled. Until I had 24 burritos. I stuffed them into a tray and raced to work. In all, we'd made 100 burritos for our faculty.

This is my favorite. We hosted a Disguise a Gingerbread Man contest in the library. Students could swing by and pick up a cardstock gingerbread man to decorate, to help him escape. It had to be from a book.

We had a ton of submissions, and some of them were so clever and creative!

Hulk Hogan - something tells me this wasn't a book.
Pancho Villa


Ruby the Reindeer


These entries were from our teachers! The Abominable Snowman, Lily (from Lily's Purple Plastic Purse) and Skippyjon Jones! Are they precious or what?
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