Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Taking Charge of our Learning

Our profession is evolving; there is no doubt about it.  Everyday, we must ask ourselves if we are ready for the challenges that await us when we walk through our school’s doors.  Technology, the economy, changing demographics and diversity, politics, and increased demand for accountability make our jobs high stake every day.   Ultimately,  we have two choices.  We can sit back and talk about the “good old days,” or we can march forward and model learning for the sake of the young people in our charge and our own sanity.  
Tom Whitby says that to be better teachers, we must be better learners.  Like the students we teach, we seek to be actively engaged in our learning to make it meaningful and authentic.  Also like our students, we come from different backgrounds, fields of thought, and experiences.  For this reason, the days of staff development, or “sit and get” are numbered.  
Today, I heard a potential teacher candidate say he “craved innovative learning experiences” for himself.  If that isn’t powerful testimony to the importance of personalized professional learning, I don’t know what is!  As administrators and coaches, we must provide a diverse menu of opportunities for our staff.  These opportunities should be job-embedded to be immediately meaningful and applicable.   At the same time, as educators, we must take responsibility for our learning.   As lead learners, our time is too valuable to wait until the next staff development day to be told what we are to learn. By consciously reflecting on our practices, we are better able to create purposeful learning goals for ourselves. We must actively seek learning opportunities in the form of workshops, learning walks, books, blogs, coaching conversations, and Twitter Chats which can all serve to expand our Professional Learning Networks.  
Two teams use peer coaching strategies to review lesson outcomes.
One strategy we have been implementing at Horizon is peer coaching.  With the help of Steve Barkley, our Instructional Leadership Team has been trained in strategies for peer coaching. They have been modeling the process by inviting colleagues into their classrooms to observe.  Prior to the observation, they meet and have a conversation to plan for what specific feedback the teacher might want from the observer.  Following the observation, a second conversation takes place to reflect and plan next steps.  It has been a slow, but exciting process watching literal doors open as teachers become more comfortable with vulnerability.   An added bonus is that feedback from those involved in peer coaching has allowed us to plan for workshops and book studies to differentiate for our more introverted crowd. Most importantly, this is teacher-lead and teacher-driven learning. Now, isn’t that what we want to be modeling for our students?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Sound It Out

                                                   “Sound It Out”

Early in my career as a second grade teacher, my student “Sam” was reading aloud to me as part of the “listening in” portion of a guided reading lesson.  The story is about a dog who can’t make up his mind of which way to go.  Sam reads, “And the dog ran off in a new ____________.”  When faced with the word “direction”, Sam stops.  I prompted him with the only strategy I knew- “Sound it out Sam”.  Sam tries the strategy I gave him- “duh-ihh-rrr-eh-k-taa-ihh-aww-n”.

When I look back at this (and how I failed this poor reader) what I should have prompted him with was “Think about what is happening in this story and reread the whole sentence”.  Be sure to say the first sound of that tricky word when you get to it”.  If Sam would have had this better teaching prompt and read “And the dog ran off in a new direction”, I would then say “Does that make sense? Does that look right? Does that sound right?”

Sound it out” has always been the go to strategy for many teachers and parents when a reader encounters an unknown word.  This is because many of us were likely taught this way when we encountered difficulties with words in our own reading.  Unfortunately, “sounding it out” is often not efficient or sufficient in decoding all words.  We would better serve children by teaching them to flexibly apply multiple strategies when coming to an unknown word.  Decoding a new word is best seen as a problem solving activity and readers need to use a variety of strategies to solve the problem.

Skilled and automatic decoding is necessary for reading, and visual information (phonics) is crucial.  We also want our readers to use their knowledge of English to say a word that sounds right and their knowledge of the story (context and illustrations) to decide what word would make sense.

For example, complete the following sentence;
The boy studied for the big test all ___________.
Chance are you generated words like:  day, night, evening, afternoon, morning, week.

Notice that all the words were nouns.  Proficient speakers of English know that a noun will come in this place in the sentence- only a noun would “sound right”.  You likely generated nouns of time.  Because we expect English to “make sense” we use our semantic understanding to predict a meaningful word for the context.

Now, look at this sentence;
The boy studied for the test all n____________.

You are likely to say “night” because it looks right, sounds right and makes sense.  If you tried to sound out “night” you may run into trouble, especially as a developing reader if you do not know that the “gh” is silent. 

“Sounding it out” might be useful, but not a sufficient tool for an early or striving reader.
So, if you are working with a reader at whatever stage they are at- remember there are more strategies than just “sounding it out” (visual cues).  Understanding of the story (meaning) and understanding of the English language (syntax) can be useful as well.

‘Children are small; their minds are not.’ – Glenda Bissex

Twitter Questions
Q1:  Introduce yourself and name your favorite Dr. Seuss book.
Q2:  What do you remember about your own process of learning to read?
Q3:  Describe an instructional strategy you have used with a developing reader when they encountered an unknown word.
Q4:  Should students be taught phonics in isolation, or in a meaningful context?
Q5:  How can writing enhance phonics skills?