Teaching Literacy From The CORE

Ms. Beckee walked into her very first classroom eager to teach her students to love reading and writing.

She strongly believed literacy is transformational for student success.

Ms. Beckee knew she had a big job ahead of her, though. The school where she worked had had low test scores in reading for the past several years, most of her students were labeled as “at-risk,” and she would have a limited classroom library. What Ms. Beckee wasn’t expecting, however, was the difficulty she would face in reaching students who came from backgrounds unlike her own. She began to ask herself, “How do I reclaim and sustain transformational literacy practices so that my students are successful, lifelong lovers of reading and writing?”

Situations like the one Ms. Beckee faced are quite common.

With the increasingly diverse makeup of students, pressures of standardized testing, and lack of funding, teachers often feel overwhelmed with the task of transforming their students into strong readers and writers.

Although this task does take time, mystery doesn’t have to surround it, and fear doesn’t have to drive it. Being a strong literacy teacher requires a lot of skill and a lot of heart (Freire, 2000). But it’s easy to lose heart when testing, pressure, and fear take over.

What I offer here is an invitation to examine your core and ground your knowledge and skills of teaching literacy in your heart.

The Framework

What I refer to as the CORE of your pedagogy are the four concepts to consider when reclaiming and sustaining transformational literacy practices. They are as follows:

C – Cultivate sociological mindfulness.

O – Operate from a critical social justice mindset.

R – Reframe learning as equity and excellence.

E – Exercise self-care.

These concepts are not linear, but looping in nature. This means that you don’t need to perfect one before you can move on to the next. Think of each concept as interrelated, both independent of and dependent on one another.

Cultivate sociological mindfulness.

Being sociologically mindful calls for awareness of the present, how the present has been affected by the past, and how the decisions you make now could affect the future (Schwalbe, 2017). This means paying attention and posing critical questions: What do you know; what do you think you know; and what don’t you know about your students? Ask yourself:

  • What are the experiences this student brings into the classroom every day?
  • How does my understanding of these experiences affect how I teach?
  • Why do the experiences of others matter?

Operate from a critical social justice mindset.

A critical social justice mindset for literacy “is an evolving process where teachers and students always consider cultural relevancy, employ critical literacy, and work for social justice as they relate to the word and the world” (Stachowiak, 2016). Ask yourself:

  • Whose voice is included in this read-aloud? In this decision making? In this literacy lesson?
  • Do the books I have in my classroom library reflect the diversity of the world, without harmful stereotypes and biases?
  • How can the lessons I teach continue to affect my students when they leave my classroom?

Reframe learning as equity and excellence.

Equity is about giving people what they need to be successful. When we reframe our literacy practices with this in mind, we shift to a true focus on individual student excellence. Excellence is about creating transformational spaces for learners to recognize humanity, engage in critical dialogue with their peers, and reflect. Ask yourself:

  • What does this student need to be successful? Who could I ask for support?
  • Does every student have access to information that would benefit them the most?
  • Are the resources I give my students equitable?

Exercise self-care.

As teachers, it is in our nature to take care of others and, in doing so, it’s easy for us to forget about taking care of ourselves. But self-care is an incredibly important and necessary part of being a great teacher. Make sure to put a self-care activity on your calendar weekly—and commit to it. Some examples of self-care include:

  • going to your favorite kickboxing class at the gym (kick that stress out!);
  • engaging in a sitting, walking, or eating meditation; and
  • practicing self-compassion: Forgive yourself, take sick leave when you’re sick, set boundaries.

Putting CORE Into Action

Teaching literacy from the CORE begins with making a commitment to critically reflect on the abovementioned questions. This self and classroom inventory will pave the way to transformational and sustainable literacy practices!

Dr. StachowiakDr. Stachowiak is an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and a literacy consultant with The Educator Collaborative. Her interests are in literacy curriculum, equity literacy, and gender issues in education.

Recommended Websites

Recommended Readings

  • Culturally Affirming Literacy Practices for Urban Elementary Students, edited by Lakia M. Scott & Barbara Purdum-Cassidy
  • Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word, by Linda Christensen

References

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Schwalbe, M. (2017). The sociologically examined life: Pieces of the conversation (5th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Stachowiak, D. M. (2016). A framework for critical social justice literacy in urban elementary schools. In L. M. Scott & B. Purdum-Cassidy (Eds.), Culturally affirming literacy practices for urban elementary students (pp. 13–26). Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield.

Create A Video To Welcome New Parents

Communicating with parents and guardians can be daunting. It often begins at school registration, continues the first day of school, extends into Open House night, and then is sustained throughout the school year. With the high U.S. student mobility rate (according to the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study [National Center for Education Statistics, 2017], 42% of students make at least one school change between kindergarten and fifth grade), plenty of beginning and mid-year parent and guardian communication is necessary. How can a teacher maintain this level of communication without adding to the already-hectic workload? The answer is simple: Turn to technology and create a video.

YouTube for Teachers (and other platforms), and the ease of creating CDs, make it simple to create a video to share both at Open House and throughout the year as new families join your classroom. You and your students (with media permission from parents/guardians) perform in the video and include the following:

1. Introduction

Parents want to know who you are, what your background is, and that you have the skills to teach their children. Don’t be shy about mentioning your educational degrees and any special training received.

2. Curriculum

Groups of students can discuss each of the core areas. This is a great place to mention education standards and show a website where parents can access the standards.

3. Class Rules

Have students discuss the class rules, how they were formed, what they are, and the consequences for breaking the rules.

4. Daily Schedule

Students should highlight the daily schedule. This can be generalized but should include activity periods (art, music, etc.), lunch, and opening and closing bell times.

5. Volunteers

Discuss how parents are cleared to assist in the classroom (background check, etc.). For parents who cannot assist in the classroom but want to help, tell them how to find out about activities they can do at home (cutting out things, donating items, etc.). Some teachers have a “giving tree” in the classroom (a tree branch in a bucket filled with rocks or concrete with leaves listing items to donate to the classroom). These items are also listed on the classroom website or newsletter.

6. Special Projects

Explain any special projects that are planned during the school year and when these occur.

7. Illness

Have students explain what parents are supposed to do if their student is going to miss school due to an illness (including obtaining makeup work) or if he or she becomes ill during the school day.

8. Closing

This final section is completed by the teacher only. Discuss communication issues such as how and when parents/guardians should communicate with you, how and when you will respond to them, and how you will communicate with them on a regular basis (weekly newsletter, website, etc.); pick-up procedures and how to make changes; child custody paperwork; and other items unique to your school environment. End the video on a positive note, thanking the parents for sharing their children with you and pledging that you will provide them a quality education in a supportive environment.

By creating a video once, you lighten your workload for the future. Parents/guardians feel welcomed and informed and know their child will be well cared for.

Dr. Kovarik has experience as an elementary teacher, a guidance counselor, a primary specialist, and a school administrator. She currently teaches graduate TESOL courses in the online program at Notre Dame de Namur University. She coauthored The ABC’s of Classroom Management, 2nd Edition, which is highly recommended for all new teachers.

Reference

National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Early childhood longitudinal study (ECLS). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/ecls

 

Food Systems Education: Linking Big Ideas Across The School Community

HopeStartsHere

Farm to School (FTS) programs are cropping up around the country, connecting students to sustainability efforts in their own school communities.

The 3Cs framework of FTS puts the learner at the center of the school food system, connecting the Cafeteria, Classroom, and Community through education and action. FTS helps students access nutritious and fresh foods, provides meaningful and relevant curriculum, and connects student learning to the real world of farming and food systems. Most importantly, it highlights each student’s role within the food system, as a participant and potential agent of sustainable change.

Food systems education is where educators play a vital role in this whole-school–whole-community approach. You can bring math, literacy, social studies, and science alive when you connect students to the elegant simplicity and complexity of local to global food systems.

The Big Ideas of Sustainability (bit.ly/ SFBigIdeas) can inspire cross-disciplinary connections and school-wide engagement, as well as deepen community partnerships, campus practices, and culture. Try these suggestions.

Start with big ideas, themes and standards

The Big Idea of Change links with thematic strands (www.socialstudies.org/standards/strands) in the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies such as People, Places, and Environments; Culture; and Time, Continuity, and Change. These standards help us develop learning outcomes—knowledge and skills we want students to gain.

Add inquiry

Learners are naturally curious. Give them a question that they can engage with and develop an understanding of over time. An essential question such as, “In what ways does the land shape culture?” invites deep crosscurricular exploration and learning.

Next, layer on food systems and your local place

By integrating food production and engaging with local farmers, historians, and the students’ families, they begin to see the connections to their place and lives. You can create learning activities to explore why people settled near rivers in your community, how human migration patterns have changed over time, and how shifting demographics have shaped the food and culture of your city.

Wrap up with an assessment:

You may have purposefully linked big ideas, standards, the local place, and food systems, but did your students get it? Create an assessment that helps you see what your students understand. For example, a class could create a museum display for their community illustrating how human migration has impacted the natural and agricultural systems in their city.

Suggested Activities

  • Write haikus about your fresh fruit and vegetable snacks.
  • Plant seeds for a school garden exploring plant life cycles.
  • Learn about food access and healthy foods in your community.
  • Start a school-run farmers’ market.
  • Run a semester-long inquiry into food justice.

No matter where you begin, a wealth of resources is available to get you started.

Resources

Image result for jen cirillo shelburne farmsMs. Cirillo is the Director of Professional Learning at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. She supports educators and schools to use the lens of sustainability for curriculum, campus practices and culture, and community partnerships.

Environment As the Third Teacher

DoctorIsIn

Dear Dr. P.,

I am excited about my new classroom, but I’m feeling completely overwhelmed looking at the bare walls and thinking about how I’m going to make the classroom come to life and be organized for the students. Any suggestions?

Thank you, Classroom Setup Crunch


Dear Crunch,

Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of Reggio Emilia preschools, would be enthusiastic about your question. He believed that environment is such an important part of making learning meaningful that he coined the term “environment as the third teacher” (Gandini, 2011).

The Reggio Emilia approach provokes educators to think differently about the aesthetics of a classroom. Instead of purchased “decorations,” students are the creators of the aesthetic through learning. For example, instead of buying an alphabet chart to put at the front of the room, young learners can create one themselves out of sticks found on the playground or materials recycled from another unit. The students not only use the finished chart, but they also engage in an in-depth way by constructing it to make meaning for themselves. Older students can use similar techniques to create a periodic table or an anchor chart.

Student-made alphabet chart adorns the hallway at the IPS/Butler Lab School.

Consider what supplies you can keep out on a regular basis instead of just pulling them out for a short time. You’ll notice this inspires a creative work process. Imagine if you encourage students to use the set of magnifying glasses at recess and beyond! In Reggio Emilia-inspired classrooms, you’ll often see glass jars or recycled storage containers (like baskets) filled with materials for learners’ easy access.

Ms. Marielle Keller’s kindergarten classroom at the IPS/Butler Lab School.

Think about how students move around your class to collaborate. Where are they able to work in small groups? What is the easiest access to supplies without disrupting classmates? At the beginning of the year, have students role-play the appropriate and inappropriate ways to move about the room. This “interactive modeling” also can help you assess what does and does not work. After you’ve built a strong class community, why not give students a chance to redesign the room and think about the ways the classroom can morph and change to support their growing needs?

Lastly, calming spots, relaxation stations, and “amygdala reset areas” are important for students who might need a break for behavior or academic reasons. These areas are usually a soft space away from the busyness of the classroom. They don’t have to be large, just safe spots for kids to take a break in a proactive way.

Lastly, and I know this goes against the grain, but I highly encourage you to not feel pressure to spend money on your classroom environment (although we’ve all done it). From an administrative and community perspective, it gives a false sense of budget needs. Many new teachers have had tremendous success with Donorschoose.org for supplies like pillows and lamps for calming spots. Businesses also have allotted money for school donations and, in many cases, all you must do is fill out a simple form. PTAs and parent groups are also eager to support environment when possible.

Enjoy establishing your new community and your new environment!

Dr. P.

Image result for catherine hagerman panganDr. Pangan, a former elementary teacher and current Professor at Butler University (Indianapolis), loves to help build and support strong, healthy schools. Please send your question for Dr. P. to cpangan@butler.edu.

Reference

Gandini, L. (2011). Play and the hundred languages of children: An interview with Lella Gandini. American Journal of Play, 4(1), 1–18.

Technically Speaking: Ed Tech for the Danielson Domains

Hello, friends! In this issue, I am sharing educational technology tools across the Danielson domains.

TechDanielson

The Danielson domains refer to four domains of teacher responsibility as defined within the Framework for Teaching (www.danielsongroup.org/framework). This is a curated list from preservice teachers at Grove City College, who were tasked with identifying a tech tool for each domain.

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation

Domain 1 focuses on knowing your students beyond the student interest survey, understanding the content area and how to best teach it with evidencebased practices, assessing students’ learning, and ensuring that your content is coherent in sequence and scope.

  • Share My Lesson
  • Teachers Pay Teachers – Find a library of resources created by teachers, for teachers! Edit the lessons for your students’ needs.
  • Planboard – Organize lessons, share documents, track standards, and collaborate with other educators in your district. Record attendance, grades, and observations within this easy-to-use tech tool!

Domain 2: Classroom Environment

Domain 2 is about creating a classroom of respect and rapport among students, and between students and teachers. It is a space where students feel safe to think creatively, solve problems, and collaborate.

  • Classtools – Classtools is an EdTech treasure trove with a QR code creator, random name picker, Fakebook, fake Twitter, and more.
  • Adobe Spark
  • Canva – Don’t buy a motivational poster—make your own! Or better yet, have your students make them and display their work.

Domain 3: Instruction

Domain 3 is the heart of the framework, focusing on engaging students in learning and instruction. It pulls in features of teaching such as assessment, communication, and being a flexible educator.

  • Screencast-O-Matic – Record a lesson or presentation that is easy to share and embed in your class website or LMS.
  • Padlet – Add comments, links, pictures, and videos to this virtual sticky note board.
  • EdPuzzle – Do you want to make sure that students watched the video before class? Try this tool to embed questions into videos.
  • Kahoot
  • Gimkit
  • Socrative – These tools offer fun ways to conduct formative assessments.

Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

Domain 4 relates to the power of reflection. You don’t want to be that teacher who uses the same lessons each year. Shake it up. Ask yourself, what is best for my students? This domain also relates to professional development (PD) and growing as an educator of excellence.

How can you implement educational technology based on the domains? Share your ideas!

Image result for sam fecich grove city collegeDr. Fecich is a former special education teacher and now is Assistant Professor and Instructional Technologist at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. She enjoys connecting with other educators about teacher prep, STEM, augmented reality, and mobile learning. Please send your educational technology questions to Sfecich@gmail.com.

Looking Deeper: Visual Thinking Strategies

VisualThinking

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the story of every piece of artwork is in the imagination of the viewer. Teachers practicing Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) can use selected works to get a better understanding of what their students are thinking while simultaneously building students’ critical thinking and observational skills. VTS is a method of inquiry that asks students to observe and comment on a work of art. VTS is an offshoot of Abigail Housen’s (1999) work on aesthetic development. Although her original research was done in anticipation of outcomes for the art world, VTS can be used in a wide range of school subjects with favorable results.

How can you use VTS in your classroom?

VTS can be used for a variety of outcomes and across grade levels and class subjects.

  • Hook students with an interesting image that relates to the class subject and get them talking about it.
  • Assess what students already know through their comments during an informal conversation about the artwork.
  • Build language skills by reframing student comments with correct grammar and more sophisticated wording.
  • Spur critical thinking by asking students to support their opinion with evidence.

How does VTS work?

Ask the students what they see in the work of art, which puts the student in the role of “expert.” Instead of asking the student to come up with the correct answer, you are asking them to share what they know. As students listen to one another, they begin to see that more than one correct answer, with multiple perspectives, is possible. When you ask the students to look for more clues in the picture, you are encouraging their observational skills. These skills have been shown to transfer across subject areas after students become familiar with the process (Huh, 2016).

How can you implement VTS?

  1. Select a work of art that is accessible to the class and has something going on in it.
  2. Invite students to silently observe the work for a minute or so, giving them time to form ideas about it.
  3. Start the conversation by asking “What’s going on in this picture?” As a student makes their observation, point out what is being addressed in the work so that everyone can follow along.
  4. Paraphrase the students’ observation, correcting any grammatical errors and using appropriate vocabulary. This ensures that students understand what the speaker is saying, and it gives the speaker feedback.
  5. Ask the speaker, “What do you see that makes you say that?” Encourage the student to give supporting evidence for their claim.
  6. When the conversation has ended, ask, “What more do you see?” to the class, and move on to the next observation.
  7. Throughout the conversation, keep an even tone, neither praising nor condemning anyone’s ideas.
  8. Thank students for participating at the end of the session.

How do you choose a piece of art to view?

When selecting a piece of art for students to view, consider the audience: What subject matter might especially appeal to the age group or acknowledge their cultural background? Choose a piece that has a narrative; abstract art will not work for beginning viewers. Be sensitive to topics that might cause emotional upset to your particular population.

What should you expect from VTS?

Using this practice requires getting comfortable with silence. When you first start using this technique, students won’t know what to expect. Most students are used to being asked for the “correct” answer, so a new approach might take a little getting used to. VTS also will require you to share your status of “expert in the room.” The rewards of which could be a better understanding of the students in your class and a more genuine learning environment.

Finally, while VTS can be a great way to begin a lesson, you have no guarantee that the conversation will go in the direction you anticipate. You must be prepared to alter your lesson based on where students take the conversation. The tradeoff is that you will be teaching a lesson in which students are truly engaged and interested.

Image result for christina connors family and consumer scienceMs. Connors has been teaching Family and Consumer Science at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School for 13 years. She attended the Visual Thinking Strategies Practicum at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2014. Ms. Connors aspires to create students who are as curious and excited to learn new things as she is.

Additional Resources

Visual Thinking Strategies (https://vtshome.org)

  • Trainings in VTS offered nationwide.
  • Subscription includes printable classroom materials, student assessments, facilitator reflection, and image curriculum for Grades PreK–8.

References

Housen, A. (1999). Eye of the beholder: Research, theory and practice. Retrieved from https://vtshome.org/research

Huh, K. (2016). Visual thinking strategies and creativity in English education. Indian Journal of Science and Technology, 9(S1).

4 Steps To Engage Students In The Close Reading Process

CloseReading

You know that close reading is important and necessary due to Common Core mandates, but do you feel uncomfortable when it is time to teach close reading and implement close reading strategies with your students?

Does your current mode of instruction leave your students disengaged and uninterested in reading?

What can you do to change the current atmosphere in your classroom regarding close reading and close reading strategies?

With the adoption of the Common Core Standards, teachers were pushed to incorporate close reading into their curriculum (Dollins, 2016). It sent teachers into a frenzy to find ways of promoting close reading within their classrooms. Close reading is defined as uncovering layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension of complex text (Boyles, 2014). But how does one effectively do this? One way is by using close reading strategies—concepts that help students actively think about close reading in a formulaic manner.

Figuring out which strategies are the most effective in engaging students while allowing them to deeply comprehend the selected course reading is a daunting task for a newer teacher. However, you can do four things to ensure that your students get the most out of the close reading process.

1. Choose interesting and culturally relevant text.

Choose text and passages that are interesting to your students. When students find no interest or relevance in the text, they will be disengaged and uninterested. Choose texts that are age appropriate, intellectually stimulating, and culturally relevant. When books contain characters or situations that are representative of students, children are more likely to remain engaged and show curiosity (May, Bingham, & Pendergast, 2014).

2. Use graphic organizers.

Graphic organizers encourage your students to engage with complex text by organizing key ideas from the reading (Flynt & Cooter, 2005; Singleton & Filce, 2015). Foldable graphic organizers are interactive and will keep kinesthetic learners engaged as they fill in important information from the text.

3. Read the text in different methods.

Students should not sit and read independently as the only form of reading. Chunk the text into smaller, shorter passages, depending on the length of the text. Then, allow students to read with a partner, read with a whole group, read independently, or listen to audiobooks. You can even read aloud to your students. Use all methods in a balanced manner, being sure that students do not become fatigued from reading and shut down.

4. Discuss.

What’s the point in reading literature if there’s no discussion? Give students the opportunity to share their learning, discuss opinions, make predictions, and share alternate endings for the text. After engaging in the close reading of a text, the best way to encourage engagement and interest is to allow students to share their ideas about a text.

Today’s classroom teachers don’t have the luxury of simply assigning text and allowing students to self-monitor for comprehension.

When expecting students to closely read a text, teachers must be hands-on throughout the close reading process, especially to ensure engagement with, foster interest in, and allow students to derive meaning from the text. There’s no need for the frenzy of trying to figure out how to promote close reading in the classroom. Implement these simple close reading strategies for stress-free, engaged, and interesting close reading throughout your class.

Image result for sharonica nelson university of alabama birmingham Dr. Nelson is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English/ Language Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her research interests include urban education, writing instruction, and close reading.

References

Boyles, N. (2014). Close reading without tears. Educational Leadership, 72(1), 32–37.

Dollins, C. A. (2016). Crafting creative nonfiction: From close reading to close writing. The Reading Teacher, 70(1), 49–58. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1465

Flynt, E. S., & Cooter Jr., R. B. (2005). Improving middle-grades reading in urban schools: The Memphis Comprehension Framework. Reading Teacher, 58(8), 774–780.

May, L. A., Bingham, G. E., & Pendergast, M. L. (2014). Culturally and linguistically relevant readalouds. Multicultural Perspectives, 16(4), 210–218. https://doi.org/10.1080/15210960.2014.952299

Singleton, S. M., & Filce, H. G. (2015). Graphic organizers for secondary students with learning disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 48(2), 110–117. https://doi.org/10.1177/0040059915605799