Sunday, December 10, 2017

Disguise a Gingerbread Man Library Contest

One of the most fun partnerships of my job was working with our school librarian. We worked Family Literacy Nights, Read Across America Celebrations, and our fun library contests! The library contests came about as a way to reach our kids and parents and engage them in fun activities that they would enjoy. We wanted our kids and parents to:
together on our

* love reading and love books.
* talk to each other about books.
* create something special together.

To do this, we invented our library contests! They were totally voluntary. One of our library contests that took place in December was Disguise a Gingerbread Man.

We posted posters around the school to let kids know we planned to host a contest.

When kids came to the library to ask about the contest, we provided a gingerbread man template on cardstock and the directions on a flyer.

The kids had about three weeks to disguise their gingerbread man as a character from a book they enjoy.

They returned the completed project (with their name, teacher's name, character name, and book title on the back) to the library by the due date.

Then we had a couple judges identify the winners! We chose many, many winners, because the prize was a big one. We booked a bus and a field trip to Barnes & Noble!

Our original idea was to give the winners gift cards to Barnes & Noble, but we realized that our population of kids might not be able to find transportation to get there to spend their card. So my incredible principal suggested the field trip!

We collected winners from the three contests in the fall (Disguise-a-Pumpkin, Turkey in Disguise, and Disguise a Gingerbread Man) and took them all to Barnes & Noble!

They gave each child a piece of chocolate and a tiny sample of a frappuccino (I don't have to tell you how fancy the kids thought that  was!) and then the school paid for one book of the child's choosing. It was a beautiful day!

To grab the editable version of these fun projects (and more: bunnies, snowmen, and designing bookmarks!) just head over to my TpT store!
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Sunday, December 3, 2017

Supporting struggling students without pulling them out

One of the biggest challenges to instructional coaching is time management. Where do you spend
your time? I've written about this before, but I'd like to address a specific problem that comes up frequently.
The dilemma:
Should instructional coaches pull out students for intervention?

A lot of this depends on your job description. If you're more of a reading specialist, this might be what your job is mostly about. My job description was about supporting teachers to grow our school's instruction, so that's where I'm coming from.

Sometimes instructional coaches (or literacy coaches, math coaches, whatever your district calls them) are viewed as the safety net for struggling kids. The RtI standby is "Have so-and-so pull the kids out for a small group intervention."

While this is clearly a better support for kids than sticking them on a computer-based program (another old standby), there are issues that arise with this philosophy.

I've done some thinking about this, and here's what I've come up with.

The student is pulled out by someone who is trained highly in their area of need.
This might not always be true. I have known people who weren't highly trained in their area of coaching and I was confused about how they were placed in that position. But in general, people in support positions should be very knowledgeable in their intervention practices. Students can benefit from a one-on-one or small group setting with a highly trained individual. 

If the student is at a level all of his own, he will get support at that level.
It's hard (sometimes impossible) for teachers to schedule support for students who have no peers at the same learning level. That is a tremendous challenge for teachers in the classroom with students significantly below (or above) their peers.

The student is pulled out of class.
This is a huge issue that I believe doesn't get enough attention. Our kids who are pulled out are at a serious disadvantage. They are missing what's happening in their home class and are interacting with someone who doesn't know them as well as their teacher.

Learning doesn't always transfer. 
Kids compartmentalize learning. (Adults do, too, incidentally.) To bridge this requires a conscious effort on the part of the classroom teacher and the pullout teacher.

This keeps the coach from working with teachers or meeting other school-wide needs.
This is also huge. If you're working with a small group, you're affecting maybe six people on your campus, tops. That's not a great ratio, when you consider the number of kids and teachers you're there to serve.

Coaches are frequently pulled from duties.
It's hard to be consistent when you're sent to trainings, pulled to monitor classrooms or to serve as support during other emergencies. Support only works when it's consistent. I really want to avoid committing to a teacher if I might not be able to follow through on that.

This doesn't solve the underlying issue.
The student will continue to go back to class with the underlying issue: something about their school day isn't serving their learning.

My proposed solution:

In order to support kids in the long-term, instructional coaches have to support their teachers. My thinking is in five steps.

1. Meet with the teacher to discuss the area of students' needs.
  • Ask specific questions to get specific details.
  • What has the teacher already tried?
  • How have students responded to that support?
2. Observe the teacher working with the students to fully understand what is going on.
  • Take careful notes.
  • Look for what the teacher has alrady explained to you.
  • Notice what the teacher does when students struggle.
  • Notice how students react to teacher instruction.
3. Plan with the teacher an approach that might work with students.
  • Be specific - use the lesson plan template or structure that the teacher is using.
  • Plan out steps.
  • Choose materials.
  • Write questions and dialogue together.
4. Model the plan.
  • Work with the small group using the plan you created.
  • Debrief with the teacher: what went well? what didn't? what needs to be changed?
5. Carry out the plan: observe and provide feedback.
  • Watch the teacher deliver the plan.
  • Check in with the teacher: how's it going?
  • Watch for student progress.
  • Model again as necessary.
I don't have all the answers. You might really disagree with this! And this won't always work, honestly. But it might help you minimize the number of students who need to be pulled out while growing your teachers' intervention strategies. Both of these outcomes are important for instructional coaching.

 Interested in getting yourself organized? Check out my Instructional Coaching MegaPack on TPT for records, observation forms, planning documents, binder covers, and more for coaches!

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