Slice of Life - It's hard building a reading community, or is it?

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  Join us each week and come to love this awesome writing community.

Six years ago, I had an epiphany about what my students needed.  At that time, I wasn't sure how I was going to help them get to where they needed to go.  I simply started to take one small step at a time. I am certain that I had moments of frustration. It was probably hard at times. However, I simply kept my goal in mind and tried to have as much fun along the way that I never really thought about it as being hard.

Initially, my goal was to help students improve their ability to read. Since I never really belonged to a community of readers as a child, I wasn't really thinking about developing a reading community at the time.  I knew others who liked to read, and I would tell someone what I was reading if they asked but there wasn't a lot of discussing books together.  I was actually sort of private with my reading.  Yet, somehow, I did realize that I needed to take my love for reading beyond my comfort zone and share it with others, especially if my students were going to become readers. I had this simple kernel of thought that began to grow inside me. If I am excited about books and I share that enthusiasm then maybe they will be excited about books.  And do you know what? It worked.

Of course along the way, I met other kindred spirits who also loved to read and who were further along the journey than I was. By being open to allowing my feet to follow the path wherever it would take me I met some amazing individuals who then connected me to other amazing people, and one of the things we all had in common was our love of books.

And then there are those days when I encounter teachers who say they want to build a reading community, but do not realize that what they are doing may be hindering their ability to do what they say they want.  Rather than looking at the journey, they are only looking at how hard the path is.  Instead of thinking that if this is something that you love then you will want to make time for it, they simply get caught up in all of the other tasks clamoring for their attention.

When I look back on my journey, I know that I could have as easily wandered down another path rather than the one I ended up on. What if I had not found a few books that re-kindled my love for reading? What if I had not met some of the inspiring teachers on twitter and Facebook that I have since met? What if I had never written an email to an author whose book touched me deeply and in turn received a response back from that author? I probably would be doing something completely different.

Building a reading community in a single classroom certainly is a challenge.  Now what does it take to build it school-wide? The challenge grows exponentially when expanding it to multiple campuses within a district. Can it be done? I believe it can.  The work is slower and sometimes it really does feel like it is harder. And then I receive an email from a teacher or staff telling me of how they see their school developing into a reading community and I have to rejoice a lot.

Next year, I am setting my sites on a couple of middle schools. This will be a whole new world for me.  Though my focus continues to be on elementary school literacy, I am excited to explore a few things with older students.  And to take a page from the past...I think I will go one step at a time.

Slice of Life - Writing With Young Children

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  Join us each week and come to love this awesome writing community.

For the past several months, I have been seriously thinking about ways to encourage children to write. I have particularly focused on students in grades K to 2.  This isn't the first time that I have pondered how to encourage and support writing in the younger grades, but lately I feel a bit obsessed. Children need to have a voice and a way of expressing themselves.  They need to be able to advocate on their on behalf, as well as, express their unique ideas and learning.   Not only should this communication be orally but in writing as well.

But how do you best do this as a teacher when you have large class sizes and many students who are English Language Learners or who do not have strong role models for reading or writing?

It is not that I am opposed to writing prompts or sentence starters or using graphic organizers or other techniques to support students, but somewhere we lose sight of the real goal - providing students with a voice to share ideas, and stories, and feelings.

Sometimes I feel like the ideas coming out of some schools of thought do not adequately address the challenges in writing with children in urban settings.  Other times, I feel like the ideas created specifically for children who are English Language Learners are too restrictive and do not produce the results that we hope for. Where is the happy medium? What is the best technique for the kindergarten teacher with a very diverse classroom of nearly 30 young students?

So, I am reaching out to my on-line Professional Learning Community and asking, what has worked for you in teaching and nurturing young children to write? What techniques or strategies have been particularly helpful? Have you tried these ideas with diverse populations? How does it fit into your daily routine? Any other thoughts?

If you can leave some of your thoughts in the comment area, I would love to read them. And thank you for being a responsive sounding board as well.

Slice of Life - Couch Potato to Marathon Reader: Building a Reading Community

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  Join us each week and come to love this awesome writing community.

For the past three years, I have had the opportunity to serve on the Scholastic Book Fair's Principals' Advisory Board (PAB).  I have met principals from across the country with an enthusiasm and passion for connecting children with books.  I have also met some wonderful Scholastic Book Fair staff during this time as well.  However, I have developed a very special relationship with my local Book Fair Reps.

In February, I attended a PAB meeting in Orlando, Florida.  While there, we talked about reading communities, and helping children become independent readers, classroom libraries, and summer reading plans. I wasn't sure how I would apply what I was thinking about to real life, but I knew I wanted to do something.  Currently, I am working with about eight elementary schools and it means I need to be a bit more creative when implementing plans.

When I arrived home, I emailed one of my local reps, Heather Biggs and asked to get together. As we put our heads together, I thought it would be fun to bring together teams from each school that I work with and share with them some of what I learned.  Heather was up for the challenge.

Heather and I came up with the idea of using the Couch to 5K model as a theme for our meeting. We called it Couch Potato to Marathon Reader.  We also thought it would be fun if our presentation followed along with the theme.  We created a game board, and pieces to use as we talked about each area.

It is not easy getting everyone to attend a meeting afterschool, even when you offer food and goodies, but we did have a few schools show up.  The smaller number of participants allowed us to provide each school team with more individualized attention.

Each participant received smile stickers to indicate things that they have done or are trying to do in their classrooms or at their schools.  Items ranged from showing interest in developing a reading community (coming to the meeting) to bigger things like having a classroom library with more than 300 books or hosting a Family Literacy Night at the school.

After going through our presentation, we provided teams with a form that they could use to set some goals towards creating a reading community.  We asked them to work in their school teams.  Since it was a bit late, I really did expect teams to want to rush out.  However, I was super thrilled when they stayed and engaged in some very meaningful dialogue with one another and asked Heather and I about possible support.

When Heather and I took time to debrief after the meeting, we recognized that there were things that could be strengthened.  Yet, at the same time, we were thrilled for how the evening went and in the potential for future meetings. Though we have a ways to go, I will continue to bring this group together in a Literacy PLC to explore what it means to be a reading community. 

Slice of Life - Letter of Recommendation

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  After the the March Slice Challenge, I decided to continue weekly with Slice posts.

Unless you have recently looked for a job or applied for something that required a current letter or letters of recommendation, then you probably have not solicited any new ones. Recently, I had several colleagues ask me to write letters on their behalf. Sometimes these are hard to write, even when I really like the person and think very highly of their work. 

When I write a letter of recommendation, I want it to be clear that I know this person and the words contained on the page need to be meaningful and honest. These words without a doubt should let others know how I feel about this person, and what I think of the quality of their work and their character. 

While talking with a friend, she made a comment that everyone should ask for letters of recommendation on a yearly basis.  Her belief is that reading the letter is beneficial and uplifting to the person receiving it. I truly have to agree with her.

Think about this...When I ask a friend to write a letter of recommendation, I usually trust them to write a positive letter or I would not be asking.  Upon receiving the finished letter, I am eager to see what they wrote? Was it unique or a standard format style used to provide a generic letter? As I read through the letter, I am often pleasantly surprised.  Since many of us tend not to let others know when we think they did a good job, people are sometimes unsure of our true thoughts about them.  A sincere letter is like a window into someone's thoughts and provides us with a new understanding of ourselves.

I love when I start reading and I notice someone has commented positively about an area that I think I am not as strong in. The feeling is amazing if the tone of the letter can be read sincerely.  Often times it is just the pick up boost that I need.  

If you are in need of a bit of a pick-me-up, then update your personal files with a few letters of recommendation.  Not only will your files be ready in case you need them, but you will have just the boost that you need.

Slice of Life - 31 of 31 posts!

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers on Tuesdays.  For the month of March, I am participating in the March Challenge by posting a slice daily.

As I was thinking about how to wrap up the March Slice of Life Challenge, I was going through all of the posts that I have written this month.  Wow! I still surprise myself that I actually did it. There were days when I almost gave up and a couple of days were I posted later in the day, but I did it. I posted 31 Slice of Life posts.

Out of curiosity, I wondered which Slice posts resonated the most with other readers. One way of telling was to see how many people stopped by to read each post.  Here were the top five posts:

# 5 - March 8, 2014 - A Splash of Red

#4 - March 23, 2014 - The One Where I Attempt a Poem

Tied for 2nd:
#2 - March 16, 2014 - New Obsession: Caramel Macchiato

#2 - March 25, 2014 - Finding My Writing Voice

#1 - March 21, 2014 - The One Where I Get Personal

From this writing challenge, I developed a better sense of what it must feel like to be a student who struggles to write. I have new insights and hopefully it will make me a better teacher or at least one who is more understanding.

Though I look forward to gaining some time back to devote to reading, I plan to continue with the weekly Slice of Life posts and the Saturday Celebrate This Week Posts. And I do look forward to continuing with this amazing community of writers who have taught me so much and encouraged me on this journey.