Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's Time to Think About Summer Reading

For those of us in NY, the school year is at the 90% mark and we still have lots of important teaching/learning days ahead of us.  I'm planning mini-units on writing quick poems and responses about what you read for my second graders.  I have plans to introduce series books and talk about the best graphic novels with my third graders.  I can't wait to begin my words in the sand (paper) mini unit with kindergartners and perhaps the best part of June will be to show my first graders how far they have come as readers (a few days on self reflection). 

Like the NY TIMES, I am also beginning to think about what I will read this summer.  There is a list near my desk of teacher and kids books that I hope to download, read and savor.  There is also a stack of books that my mother has already read waiting for me!  SO, when this article appeared in my feed, I knew that the Times wanted to remind me to look ahead to the days that teachers "get" as not only rewards for working very hard all year through, but also as a chance to prepare for the students that will come our way next year.

So now you know what I will be doing when the kids leave, writing, reading and getting ready for the new year (that starts in September for teachers - no in January)! 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Vocabulary Instruction Can Be Fun

My grad students and I read about vocabulary strategies this week (Ellery, V. (2009). Vocabulary.  In Creating Strategic Readers (129-169).  Newark, DE: International Reading Association.)

Check out the mini lessons they did for the Four Corners Strategy (above) and the List / Group Strategy below!  Pretty great work!
You can find out more about these strategies by checking out this blog post!

Summer Writing Camp (for TEACHERS!)

Long, long ago (before some of you were even born), I went to a National Writing Project Summer program for a week.  It changed the way I thought about and taught writing.  Since then I have also attended summer writing workshops at Teachers College that have strengthened my resolve and helped me to reflect on my own writing. During this past year, I have begun participating in Two Writing Teachers' sponsored virtual writing / sharing experiences and it has encouraged me to write publicly not just about my profession, but also about "slices of my life!"

Today, I found this link on my Facebook (it's not just for sharing our travels anymore) page. 

What a great idea:  SUMMER WRITING CAMP for teachers and librarians. 

I'll be participating!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Starstruck in Stormville

We have deer, wild turkeys and buffalo, but no grocery store.  We have a maximum security prison and a (new) pizzeria; however, our "claim to fame" is a "flea market" at a small, retired airport on Saturdays and Sundays of holiday weekends.  It's big and has a mix of old (antiques and junk), new (out of date cosmetics and knock off clothing) and foodstuff (from farm grown spring garlic to fried oreos).  While it's fun to walk around and look at relics of my childhood that I have already thrown out, I go to buy veggies from a farmer who consistently sells the BEST fresh radishes, kale, beets and garlic! Such was my purpose late Saturday afternoon as the storm clouds rolled into Stormville (this really was the closest shopping location)!  I was hoping there would be some veggies left.  I was NOT in my wildest dreams expecting the HGTV crews, lights and cameras!  I can now assure you that those reality TV shows really do go out of their way to find out of the way places and capture small town America at its finest flea and garlic seeking moments!

Just Sharing: Creating Multiple Choice Questions

Most elementary teachers do not use multiple choice questions to assess learning on a regular basis.   I'm guessing many of us do not consider writing multiple choice questions to be an area of strength.  I guess that is why THIS article jumped out at me as I read this morning.  Perhaps we do NOT need to buy all those artificial test practice books.....

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Writing About Reading

I'm challenging my grad students to write about their reading in a variety of genre during this Summer I semester.  ONE of the ways they can publicly share is through this blog.  It's a bit scary at first; but it gets easier and easier as you share your writing with others!  HONESTLY! 
There is also something WONDERFUL that happens WHEN your share....but rather then tell you about it....I hope you will find it out for know...the CONSTRUCTIVIST way! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tea Time

It started the usual way
Bills; power points; laundry; vacuuming; scrubbing; exercising; cooking; care-giving.
I was feeling a bit guilty as I passed my husband
Saturday afternoon lawn mowing was on his agenda.
  I felt a bit stressed, but I rushed out. 

Then, I entered Maize's Tea House 
I was transformed in time and space to a world
Where time to talk and share is valued.
You don't rush when you do afternoon tea;
 Instead, you linger much like tea leaves in a pot.
You embrace tiny tomato and goat cheese sandwiches, trying them all. 
You savor homemade scones with cream and lemon curd,
You feel like a princess. 
You smile as little girls describe the sweetness
Finding melting sugar cubes in the bottom of a cup. 
My heart was full as I sipped my Lady Londenberry (no sugar cube needed).  
Thinking about the sweetness of sharing an afternoon,
Women from four to four plus many,
Talking, laughing, reflecting, and loving,
Inspired by our time with the tea.  


Sunday, May 20, 2012


I didn't think of it, but I sure wish I did.  Think of the "school publishing centers" of the '90s where dedicated parents typed up and published children's stories meets new century!  I'm hoping it might be a way to encourage reluctant readers?  NO matter what, the potential of technology to encourage and support writers is pretty amazing!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Inspiration and Perspiration (Racing Minds)

I woke up this morning with my mind racing (too bad that doesn't burn calories)!  I was  thinking about teachers – those already in the profession - the great ones who have retired and the great ones whose retirement celebrations were this week - and those who dream of entering this wonderful profession where we really do make a difference every day by what we do.  I suspect that some of the mind racing was do to the intermingling of angst about restructuring teacher evaluation processes while simultaneously revamping curriculum and raising levels of achievement.  I really do support these initiatives (at least in theory) because it is through change that we all force ourselves to look at what we do through new lenses. (Even changing a classroom is probably a good thing - but the thought of all that packing! ) I really do think we ALL need to look critically at our practice and can ALL improve on aspects of our professional (and personal lives).   I am confident that setting goals (raising expectations, losing weight, exercising, writing every day) helps us to make them part of our being and increases our chance at change. 
Yet, all of these thoughts were contributing to me being wide awake at a time on Saturday morning when I should have been asleep!
So I logged onto catch up with Two Writing Teachers and there was this great interview with Talor Mail that was definitely what I needed this morning as I write up the summary and reflect on my personal and professional goals for this school year that is drawing to a close - so quickly.  I must admit that I had never heard of Mail before (and I read a lot)!  It helped me to remember that we (teachers) need to advocate for our profession and be leaders WHILE being inspirations to our students. We guide them through the curriculum and the multiple land mines of life supporting, encouraging and caring. We really do make a difference. 

A review copy of this book was provided by the Penguin Group who is also giving away three copies of this book to three different readers who leave a comment on this post.  Details follow after Taylor's interview.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Perfectly Imperfect

Ruth's words were probably still in my head as the first graders swirled around me last Friday.  The objective was writing "words and phrases that describe" and I had modeled (with their help) describing words and phrases about our principal and about my own mom in the form of a poem.  (Our writing workshops are wrapping up a poetry focus!)

Perhaps it was the looming holiday or perhaps it was my words still in their heads as they began to eagerly write personally meaningful texts about their own moms. No one would have suspected that these students were with me for reading and writing support!  The energy in the room was palpable!  The word "beautiful" may have been overused; however, there was also evidence of similes (my mom is like cake!) and negation (my mom is not crazy!). All of the poems were evidence of beginning writers attempting to put love into words.

On a whim (or perhaps because of Ruth's words buzzing in my ear) as they finished drafts, I saved them all by taking quick pictures with my "epad."  I saved them all (the great ones and the attempts) and we celebrated "instantly" by watching an "instantly published" Smart-board slide show of their ideas. The "finished products" reflected the diversity of the writers in the room as well as the diversity of mothers!  The day was a powerful reminder that we all have something to say and that we all appreciate recognition of our work (feedback)!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Most of us don't live in Hallmark Land: A Mothers' Day Perspective

Most of us (and most of our students) do not live in "Hallmark Land" where joyous families eagerly celebrate every holiday surrounded by generations of people who all: live forever, remember the holiday; get along together always; buy the perfect gift (not too big, not too small); get married to the perfect partner; have perfect jobs; have perfect mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents;  live in perfect houses; have perfect children (or don't have children) according to their own plan; have perfectly behaved children who always do perfectly in school.........

After grading another grad school paper early this morning and before heading into the kitchen to make a gourmet-ish lunch to share with my own aging and frail mother, I stopped to read a bit of the NYTimes online.

Brian's perspective is one that will stay with me today and tomorrow as I talk to others about this holiday with, hopefully, sensitivity to its potential stress.  I'll take this perspective with me this afternoon as I help my mom, like so many others, "muddle" through this holiday because she lost one of her kids.  

So, if your Mother's Day is less than "Hallmark" perfect, this one if for all of us! 
PS If one of my own kids should find this post and think I am sad today - please know I am just reflective of the stresses of so many people around this holiday.  And, don't worry about the gifts - I shopped for myself - 25% off - at Talbot's yesterday:)  As Grandma Ferreri used to say, "You gotta take care of yourself!"

Monday, May 7, 2012

Put me in coach, I'm ready to play..

Endure hours on the sidelines and court,
Travel with sweat, cheers and tears,
Tan at the edge of the stands,
Shiver in stadiums,
Count seconds,
Know the competition.
Yearn for dinners at home,
Celebrate success, agonize over defeat,  
Worry about individuals and teamwork,
Accept criticism,
Considered "effective" based on scores,
Tolerate jeers and pleas from parents,
Run on empty
Need patience, compassion, strength
Teachers of winning, losing and living. 

You Need Deep Roots

My niece saw this tree as she walked her morning miles and posted the image and words to her circle of friends on the networking giant Facebook.  The image stayed with me as I prayed for peace and strength for  myself and others today.  The image represents the assaults on our bodies and our souls as we travel through life.  It's pretty powerful! 

Like this tree, 
People get cut down,
If strong,
Deeply rooted, 
They continue.
Images and words by Tracey Ferreri

Sunday, May 6, 2012

To Be A Teacher: 21st Century

"It was the best of times and it was the worst of times" was the way Charles Dickens said it.  I suspect that it's a WHOLE lot better for us...than for many people during Dickens's time!  No matter where you teach or what you teach....put the kids first...and you will be fine....

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What do valid and reliable tests look like? IDK

My Opinion

I am busy this weekend trying to understand all I can about Annual Professional Performance Review and reading the inspirational Common Core based units of my grad students who aspire to make a difference in the lives of children; meanwhile, there is a quite furor over a pineapple question that fuels the controversy about teacher evaluations.  Believe me, I think teachers must be on their "A" game all the time because what we say and do every moment of every day impacts our students; however, the proposed teacher AND student evaluations do not reflect the attributes of teaching and learning that matter.

From the NY TIMES

Pearson Says Its Tests Are 'Valid and Reliable'

May 4, 2012, 6:46 p.m.

A national test publisher has defended a controversial question involving a talking pineapple on one of its reading tests for New York State, saying it was confident that its tests were “valid and reliable.”
In a letter to the State Education Department disclosed on Friday, the company, Pearson, said the passage about a pineapple that races a hare, included in a test administered to eighth graders, was used to measure students’ understanding of character traits, motivation and behavior.
The company said the question had been used in several other states without complaints. But Pearson did not mention that the question was mocked on a Facebook page established in 2010 and on a blog starting with a 2007 post from a parent in Illinois, who was soon joined by a long string of others in Alabama, Arkansas, New Mexico and now, New York.
The company said it had been field-tested among students in New York and vetted by a local testing committee to ensure it was valid.
“Pearson is confident” that the tests it prepared in both reading and math “have been developed to support valid and reliable interpretations of scores for their intended uses,” the letter said.
The pineapple passage, a parody of Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare, was part of a reading test administered on April 17. It caused an immediate uproar among students, parents and teachers in New York, who said it was nonsensical and unfair. Three days later, the state announced it would not count it in children’s scores.
New York’s decision to void the question’s results was a huge embarrassment for Pearson, which has a $32 million testing contract with New York and contracts with other states.
Soon after, the state threw out questions on two math tests because of errors in the questions or answers, and warned that another math question had two possible correct answers.
Pearson’s letter, which was first reported Friday by Time magazine online, was dated April 22, two days after the state nullified the pineapple question. Pearson sent the letter unsolicited, according to Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the State Education Department.
But the letter did not mollify some educators.
Sharon Emick Fougner, a principal in Great Neck, N.Y., who wrote a letter on Tuesday to the state education commissioner, John B. King Jr., asking for a review of the math tests, said in an e-mail on Friday: “The only thing more absurd than ‘The Hare and the Pineapple’ is Pearson’s lengthy, verbose and ludicrous defense of this passage. If the tests had not been so damaging to children, this memo would be comical.”
In the test, the pineapple story was attributed to Daniel Pinkwater, a popular writer of funny, often absurd tales for children. But Mr. Pinkwater’s original story, about an eggplant and a rabbit, had been so thoroughly bowdlerized that when the controversy erupted in New York, he disowned the version that appeared in the test.
Ms. Fougner said “even noneducators” recognized that test questions about which animal in the story was the wisest and why the animals ate the pineapple when it lost the race “required students to render an opinion that could not be validly substantiated by the text.”
Pearson disagreed, saying the answers could be derived through “evidence” from the text. The wisest animal was the owl, Pearson wrote in its letter: “The owl declares that ‘Pineapples don’t have sleeves,’ which is a factually accurate statement. This statement is presented as the moral of the story, allowing a careful reader to infer that the owl is the wisest animal.”
In interviews after taking the test, however, many New York schoolchildren said it was hard for them to believe that the owl was the wisest because the statement that pineapples don’t have sleeves — which later became a running joke at some schools — was so dumb. (The moral of Mr. Pinkwater’s original story was, “Never bet on an eggplant.”)
Some children said they found the story funny, but were disturbed by the humor because they had learned from past experience that test questions were not supposed to be funny.
Ms. Fougner, echoing the anger of many teachers, said she could only assume the purpose of such questions was to “deceive, demoralize, exhaust and frustrate students.”
The Pearson letter said the pineapple story had been used since 2004 in six other states and three large cities, Chicago, Fort Worth and Houston, without incident. But the letter did not address informal complaints, like those in a blog called In the Break Room.
Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, said Friday that she thought the pineapple question made sense in context, but that in hindsight, the passage should not have been used because it added fuel to arguments by those who oppose using testing in teacher evaluations.
“Listen, I’m not going to defend the pineapple story,” Dr. Tisch said. “I don’t like excuses. When you need to execute something, you need to do it. I don’t believe this chorus of, ‘Well, these mistakes happen all the time.’”
But she said the furor had been amplified by the antitesting movement and had given ammunition to opponents of using testing to evaluate students and teachers.
“It gives them momentum, and I believe that’s what’s going on here,” she said.
Maria Newman contributed reporting.
Anemona Hartocollis covers health issues in New York City for The New York Times.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Why is she whispering?

While my students were taking the high stakes ELA and Math tests that would serve as benchmarks of their learning and indicators of my effectiveness as a teacher, I was reading The Book Whisperer! I downloaded the text to my Kindle because this phrase caught my eye, "Miller is a 6th grade Language Arts teacher who advocates an unconventional approach to teaching in her book, The Book Whisperer.

I do think it was a bit of destiny that led me to Donalyn Miller's reminder about reading as the way to engage readers.  Miller is a Texas teacher who despises book reports and avoids comprehension worksheets.  She believes students should be empowered to read personally selected texts!  She gives students choices about what to read in a classroom full of high interest books!  Her students consistently get high marks on the state tests!

This book reiterates what we have known about learning for  many years.  At first I was almost insulted that someone needs to put "common sense" into print; however, as I reflected on the increasingly intense focus on high stakes those tests, I was reminded that we all (teachers, administrators, parents and lawmakers) need to hear this message loud and clear!  Somehow, we have forgotten what common sense might tell us: if you want a society of devoted readers, we have to have classrooms filled with high interest texts where kids are reading and talking about their books! 

Can you hear me loud and clear?,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&biw=1024&bih=715&wrapid=tlif133573378930610&q=The+book+whisperer&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=shop&cid=12866553534142300202&sa=X&ei=sK-dT4m4Febl6QH89KnvDg&ved=0CGYQ8wIwAw#
The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child [Book]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Do you think it's a problem that my students do their best writing during indoor recess?

It was the end of a long day and yet there was a bit of an urgency in the plea to stop on my way up the hallway.  As usual when teachers talk, the conversation started with small talk about student progress but quickly drifted to a more pressing issue, "Do  you think it is a problem if my students write better stories during indoor recess?"  The teacher showed me some amazing drafts from indoor recess to support her question!  Great realistic fiction and fantasy stories about planes that looked like birds and animals that acted like humans.  There were characters, settings, problems and solutions.  There was great voice in each of the pieces.  They were the kind of writing we want kids to do!

My mind raced back to the days before writing workshop....back before writing gurus such as Donald Graves, Nancy Atwell, and Lucy Calkins proposed students needed dedicated time and space to write about personally meaningful topics for real audiences.  They called such times, writing workshops as they were places where students could work like real writers in supported environments.  It was a seminal idea that changed the way writing was taught in our schools.  It empowered a whole generation of writers; however, there were a few problems. Most students wrote more and more and became better and better writers; however, others needed more guidance and support to create the kinds of writing valued in schools.
So, those great minds suggested we needed more models and more teacher control over the writing workshop. The writing gurus softened their stances on student choice, a bit, and proposed lots of mini lessons modeling craft.  Slowly, ever so slowly, as curriculum demands for consistently and the added demands of high stakes assessments have wafted into our classrooms, writing workshops have become places where students produce more and more required documents - the kind of writing valued in our schools. 

Let's talk about how you can have more student choice during writing workshop, I responded before I left for the day; however, I continued to think about the dilemma. Perhaps we need a student takeover of the writing workshop in order to return the power to write about personally meaningful topics to our students!  Perhaps the really good news is that students are confident enough and love writing enough to want to write during designated "free times."  Perhaps, we can hope for lots of rainy days so that students have time to write down the stories that churn inside of each of them!