CCIRA 2020 Recap: Ideas Galore for Teachers!

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.  Mark Twain

I have been attending the wonderful CCIRA (Colorado Association of the International Literacy Association) conference for over 20 years, and have presented there many times, including two different presentations this year, one on using Lego projects to foster reading and writing skills, the other on teaching literacy through genre studies (More on these presentations in future blogs!). I chose these session topics since the theme of the conference was “Innovation: Imagining the future of literacy.” While working in schools, I used shared my notes and learnings with the teachers at my school, but since I’m retired, I’m going to share all that I learned about teaching reading and writing with all of you!  I hope that you are able to grab a few good ideas from the sessions I attended.

At her session on teaching writing skills first to students so they can learn to read as a writer, Colleen Cruz, one of the authors of the Units of Study series, shared several ideas that resounded with me:

  • We need to let kids talk about books that they “love to hate”. Of course, as teachers, we always need to foster a love (or at least a strong liking) for reading, but it’s unrealistic to expect that all students will love all the books they read. We teachers all have books we LOVE to hate! Mine are a few gems from Honors English in high school: The Odyssey by Homer and The Prince by Machiavelli. There are several books I’ve abandoned as adults, but I can’t say I hated them like I hated those two. What about you? What books do you love to hate?  Share in the comments below!
  • Cruz made a great point about the difference between editing and revising, saying that anyone can edit writing, even someone else’s writing. But not just anyone can revise someone’s writing…the author should be the only one to. This gave me a pause, as while working with students on many a writing piece, I feel that the younger students need to have someone explicitly model how to revise as that is a very high-level thinking skill. They can quickly understand the concept of fixing mistakes, but too often they feel that once that is done, they are done with the piece. I’ve had to approach this skill very tactfully, by giving them suggestions and ideas on improving their writing such as, “Do you think it would make more sense…” or “Do you think this sounds better…” or “Would your character really say or do this?” But I fully agree that once students are older and understand the concept of revising, they should be in charge of the revision.
  • Critical literacy was a theme at not only Cruz’s presentation, but at a session on Media Literacy, presented by Tracie King, a media specialist from my former district, Douglas County Schools in Colorado. Both Cruz and King shared videos from the Fortnite game. We had discussions about not only the violence in the videos but the lack of emotion from the characters when they end up to be the last man standing…having killed all the others and blown up many buildings. Cruz made the point that video games have become the new “backyard”; many parents just open the back door and let them go play, without thinking of the consequences of what they might be playing at. She also had kids watch a video clip from Thor and count how many times violent acts appear in the video. King uses these questions adapted from the Center for Media Literacy:Screen Shot 2020-02-08 at 1.28.12 PM
  • I once again attended an excellent presentation on exploring narrative possibilities by a former Douglas County district colleague, Jennifer Gottshalk, a writing specialist.  She offered so many fun ideas for kids in narrative writing:
    • She presented several old, run-of-the-mill prompts to use on National Tell a Lie Day, April 4th (I had no idea this holiday existed). She had us take one of these “tired” prompts and craft a believable lie around it. I wrote one about a trip to Australia (never been there) and the horrific journey there, with canceled flights, terrible hotels, etc. IMG_5967
    • Another great option for writing prompts…a kid-friendly version of the Cards Against Humanity, called Not Parent Approved.  This game (which I am planning to get for the whole family, grandkids included) has some hysterical prompts on cards that your students would love writing about!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.08.12 AM
    • Another fabulous idea…you can type in your search bar the words: Visual Writing Prompt and find some amazing ideas to use with your students! You can filter the results to match your grade level or types of prompts (note: check it out first on your own before you project to students; internet searches can yield some “interesting” things!)Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.04.05 AM
      • Jennifer offered another source for photos, but without captions, for writing prompts, Unsplash. My tip for the same kind of photos is Pixabay.
    • A few other ideas for writing prompts from Jennifer:
      • What is the “cheese touch” on your school’s playground? (And check out the hilarious clip from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie!)
      • How about this for a prompt…memoirs from a Disney Princess (or any other franchise character kids like!). Jennifer first showed us this video clip from Wreck-it Ralph which features pretty much every Disney princess ever…this will help kids to choose one. Here’s my “memoir” from Cinderella: “Everyone remembers me as sweet, good, kind, cheerful, blah blah blah. But that’s not really me…that’s what you saw in the movie. I am a fully rounded person with good AND bad traits! For example, when riding the royal carriage, I silently swear at other carriage drivers. I also send anonymous hate Tweets to my stepmother and stepsisters (they deserve it!). And, when eating at the royal banquets, I’m supposed to eat like a bird, so I grab some extra rolls and put them in my royal handbag to enjoy later…”
    • By the way, Jennifer is a published author of some young adult books! Check out her website!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.32.33 AM
  • Todd Mitchell, another Colorado children’s book author, shared with us some ideas for quick writing games, mostly around poetry. One is a “Lost and Found” poem; he had us make a list of things we have lost, then things we have found. He said these items you love and find should not be objects; he pushed us (as we should do with students), to go deeper than that. Here is my attempt as the poem:
    • I lost…my ability to go down the stairs without holding on to a rail.
    • I lost my little daughters who are now grown up into young women.
    • I lost my “school family” when I retired.
    • I found my purpose when I became a teacher
    • I found sleep when I retired from teaching
    • I found a new family when I married my husband.
  • After we wrote these poems in our session, he asked someone to share, then he had another person volunteer to be the “official listener”; they were the person who would listen carefully, then volunteer their feedback. Todd only allows positive feedback from the official listener. I think this is such a great idea; this ensures that someone is going to offer the brave soul who shares their poem some feedback!

That wraps up my feedback for CCIRA! I hope that you are able to try a few of these ideas in your classroom; if you do, please post in the comments!  Stay tuned for my blog posts on using Legos for reading and writing activities and teaching literacy through Genre Studies (Part 2). Here are a few sneak peek photos!

You CAN Do it All! Juggling Balanced Literacy Elements in the Classroom

All balanced literacy elements defined! Stay tuned for more blog posts going more into depth on these elements and how they can be used in content area!

This past week I had the honor of presenting three sessions at the annual conference of the Colorado Council of the International Reading (CCIRA). It so happened that my three sessions were on the same day, so it made for a very LONG day, but in retrospect, it was probably better as that was my entire focus for the day.  This post will be the first of several covering the highlights of each of my presentations.

First up, balanced literacy! Depending on where you look, there are many different definitions of balanced literacy. Here are the ones I used in my presentation, and the ones I agree with based on my training and experiences.

fullsizeoutput_4d40In my district literacy training sessions for the Douglas County School District in Colorado, I trained hundreds of teachers on a total of TEN balanced literacy elements! WOW! The number one question I received… “How do you fit all of these into your daily literacy block?”  The answer…you DON’T! In order for all of the elements to receive the same amount of attention, teachers MUST use these elements in ALL parts of the day…every content area! This should continue into secondary schools with content area and elective teachers using literacy in their classes as well.  The importance of content area literacy cannot be stressed enough!

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In this first post, I’m going to define each of these elements for you…some, of course, you will be very familiar with, but others may be new to you.

ALL OF THE ELEMENTS BELOW WILL BE DISCUSSED IN FURTHER BLOG POSTS!

Read Aloud with a Purpose (I Do): This is a separate time from the “sit on the floor in front of the teacher and listen to her/him read a great children’s book”…which IS always important to do in classrooms, especially primary, as it instills a love of reading and introduces genres and authors to kids.  However, Read Aloud with a Purpose is used in short increments several times during the school day. It’s defined as:

  • The teacher chooses a read aloud based on a specific teaching purpose (strategy).
  • As the teacher reads aloud, she/he “thinks aloud” about the reading and offers explicit instruction on the strategy.
  • Students then will practice the modeled strategy in guided and independent reading.

Picture-2-1-225x300Shared Reading (We Do): In shared reading, the text is once again chosen by the teacher for a specific strategy. The students and teacher all look at a projected or enlarged piece of text together and read in unison. If this sounds like choral reading, it’s not, because again, the teacher is using that text for a specific teacher purpose and a lesson comes during or after the choral reading. The bonus is that students are practicing fluency skills and hearing a fluent reader read with them. Shared reading works especially well when the text is a bit more complex than the usual text students read. (Image from this website.)

IMG_0648-2Guided Reading (We Do): I’m sure readers of this blog have different understandings of what guided reading is…I am using the most common interpretation popularized by Marie Clay and Fountas and Pinell, among others.  Guided reading is a time for strategic teaching based on the needs of the students, ones who have been grouped together because they have similar strengths and weaknesses. There is a specific purpose for the lesson each day, and the teacher works with both the entire group, as well as individuals as needed. This is also an excellent time for teachers to observe reading behaviors in their students.

Book Club ScheduleBook Clubs (We Do/You Do):  Just as with adult book clubs, these are small groups reading and discussing works of literature that are appropriate for them. I’m torn between “we do” and “you do”.  Teachers do have to provide the initial guidelines and structure, but then he/she must be willing to step away and be a part of the book club, as both a participant and observer.  This is an excellent opportunity to just enjoy reading and discussion without specific teaching strategies, but the teacher can gain a great deal of information on both students’ reading behaviors, as well as comprehension and vocabulary skills.

Independent Reading (You Do): Most students should now be ready to take the skills and strategies learned in the previous elements and apply them to their own independent reading.  The teacher is either observing reading behaviors among his/her students or conducting individual reading conferences.

Modeled Writing (I Do): This is the teacher’s time to write in front of the students using a specific teaching purpose. The teacher uses a write-aloud to let the students know the process he/she is using. In addition to being a model for good writing, it’s also important that the students see mistakes and frustration from the teacher and how he/she works through that.

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Interactive Writing: (We Do): This is sometimes called Shared Writing. The teacher and students negotiate the wording in a planned piece of text and then share the pen to create the writing. Once again, the teacher has a goal and purpose with this element, although often when the students have the pen, many other teaching opportunities may arise.  This is an excellent way to create anchor charts of the classroom instead of the teacher creating one or purchasing one. The students have much more ownership and understanding of the chart if they are involved in the creation.

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Guided Writing (We Do): Just as in guided reading, the teacher has created groups of students that reflect strengths and weaknesses observed in students or obtained from data. The teacher has a specific teacher purpose and collaborates with the students on creating a piece of writing. Often this writing can be used as a model when the student continues independent writing on their own.

Independent Writing (I Do): The student takes all of the strategies and new learnings from the teacher modeling and group collaborative work and uses them in his/her own writing.  The teacher should use this time to do 1-1 writing conferences so he/she can observe the student’s writing behaviors, as well as provide support in difficult areas.

Interactive Editing

Interactive Editing (We Do:) This is probably the element that you are least familiar with, and it has nothing to do with the type of “editing” done in writing. In this element, the teacher guides students in using higher-level thinking, as well as creativity, in transforming a piece of text into another format, such as a summary, three column notes, a text, message, etc. This is an element that is already used in content areas!

Independent Centers or Independent Work: While the teacher is working in Guided Reading or Writing groups, the students can be engaged in independent work or centers…and the centers do not just have to be literacy-based; they can be based on any content areas!

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In future posts, I will share more ideas on how you can use all of these balanced literacy elements in not only reading but in all content areas!

 

 

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Photos courtesy of @chelleslacks

Photo Credits:
Featured Image: Pixabay
All other photos, unless otherwise noted, from my personal photo files