As educators, we are always learning and growing. We asked colleagues and Choice Literacy contributors to share with us the goals they set this year.
Cris Tovani, Author of I Read It, but I Don't Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers and Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?
Last spring, after teaching 16 years in the same building, I decided to make a move. This change has re-energized me, and given me the opportunity to learn more about English language learners, students in poverty, and advanced readers who aren't progressing. I will still get to teach high school students and coach colleagues in my new position. The big difference is that I'll be able to work in several new schools.
For half of the week, I teach at the most diverse school in Colorado. On any given day one, you could hear 41 different languages spoken in the halls of Overland High School. Teachers in this building work very hard to meet a wide range of literacy and numeracy needs of these English language learners. I've already found myself learning about the Congo with Roriane who has only been in the U.S. for seven months. She is brave, beautiful, and really in need of literacy support. Her trust that our school will prepare her for adulthood is humbling.
The other half of my week is spent serving middle and high schools. My first charge is to figure out why advanced students in upwardly mobile neighborhoods aren't meeting their learning targets. I am curious to know why students who are labeled as advanced learners on summative assessments aren't making more gains. It will be interesting to work with students on the other end of the spectrum. Once again, I find myself fortunate to be in the middle of a steep learning curve. How lucky I am to be a teacher!
I have moved away from always trying to launch new projects at the beginning of school years. Rather than something new, my work this year is a continuation of where I left off last spring.
As a literacy coach, I am continuing to build leadership capacity within the school — working with grade level team leaders and curriculum leaders so that they have the knowledge, skills, tools, and confidence to facilitate district work around curriculum planning with their peers. Not only does this maximize resources within the system without added costs, it also strengthens our leadership team. My goal this year is to continue to work with team leaders, thus strengthening our infrastructure so that it can sustain itself over time.
We are teaching a webinar course for the first time this year through Choice Literacy. We know the impact this technology is having on professional development, and it seemed like it was time for us to give it a go! The format makes professional development more accessible for many teachers, and has the potential to bring teachers together from across the country. It is powerful to think about the possibilities for sharing expertise and collaborating through webinars.
We have been practicing with this new format and while we love it, we are struggling with not being able to interact immediately with our audience. We are trying to find ways to make the webinar more interactive, even though the conversations can be awkward online. It feels a bit more like a lecture to us, so we are experimenting with ways to allow our audience to participate during the webinar. Right now, it is so new to us that we find ourselves having to really pay attention to the technological aspects of the webinar. At times, it is difficult to focus on content. Over time, we hope the technical aspects become routine so that we can enjoy presenting over the web and getting to know our audience virtually.
Carol Wilcox, Author of the Carol's Corner Blog
I am working on my presentation style. I'm trying to move away from the "same old same old" boring Powerpoint presentation that I've done for the last few years. I've been intrigued, as I have watched several other skilled presenters, by their use of visual images. The most interesting presenters I've seen recently simply put up an interesting photo or graphic, and talk for a few minutes, or lead their audience through some kind of activity, then move to another interesting image. These same facilitators often incorporate music into their presentations, which I'm also not very skilled at doing.
I'm trying to move toward that "image-centered" presentation style. Toward that end, I've spent some time talking to other skilled presenters, and have also been following the Presentation Zen website. I tried out some of my new learning for a three-hour workshop I did at my school this fall. I started by creating a Powerpoint, but then took each slide and found an appropriate image. I was pleased with the way it turned out, and am working on another presentation that I have to give later this week. I'd also like to start using more visual images in my work with students, especially during mini-lessons with my intermediate grade kiddos, because I think this would be really effective.
As I move toward this more "image-centered" presentation style, I'm in the process of addressing several critical questions. First, what are some of the best websites/resources to gather images? I know there are lots out there, but I just haven't used that many. Closely related to that, and maybe another area of new learning, might be how to use the new camera I bought for Mother's Day, but have barely taken out of the case. Secondly, I wonder about handouts. Do I still use a handout with my presentations? Do I give people the presenter's notes that I create for myself? Or do I just trust that people will simply take notes on what they want/need and leave it at that?
And then there are all of those amazing Literacy 2.0 tools that I have barely begun to use. . .
Mary Lee Hahn, 4th Grade Teacher and author of Reconsidering Read-Aloud
This year I'm working hard to say no to new commitments and get a few of the old ones off of my plate. I want to focus on my teaching with more intention and greater depth. I am tired of using up all my energy on committee work and not having sufficient energy left for my teaching.
I was successful with this goal when my principal recently asked me to be on the building data team. I suggested that he either ask a colleague who had expressed interest in building leadership positions last spring, or a newer staff member for whom such a position would be fabulous professional development.
Sometimes getting something off your plate takes more effort than just ignoring it there. For example, in order to get our land lab into the hands of someone who will maintain it, I am starting a building-wide garden club. In the short term, this will be a huge time and energy drain. In the long term, I will be able to enjoy the land lab without the stress of having to maintain it.
Katie DiCesare, 1st Grade Teacher and Video Author of Two Workshops
Younger students (5 and 6 years olds) aren't always ready for the demands of a full day of thinking during the first weeks of school. This year I wanted to help transition students for a full day in first grade by integrating a guided playtime in the morning in between workshops. This "in-between time" is officially time I will gradually add on to reading and writing workshops, and later phase out the morning play period.
In the past when allowing for downtime, I just opened up the cupboards of toys and let the kids go (in a way similar to indoor recess). I noticed the same kids would play with the same toys. Many children needed help sharing, taking turns, cleaning up and even coming up with ideas for play. Using some ideas from my kindergarten teacher friend Maureen, I started creating plastic drawers of exploratory and play items. I then introduced five areas of play that I wanted kids to explore like play dough, straws and connectors, animals and blocks, alphabet beads, and lace and stencils. On the first day of school I read Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems and we talked about what playing together would look like and feel like.
Over the first few weeks, the students had a chance to play with many of the items in our room this year, and I have taken advantage of some informal conferring and data collection at the alphabet play area. If the students or I notice issues or ideas during play that need to be shared, I can bring them up during morning meeting. I have also taken many pictures of their creations during play, which I hope sends the message that their play is valued.
Mandy Robek, Kindergarten Teacher
I've done two things this year that are new. I rearranged my typical schedule to allow for smaller chunks of time together on the carpet, and then time to work on our own. My goal was to provide a content time in the morning to help foster integrated reading and writing work later in our day. My second content time in the afternoon is for the children to make choices, finish up work for the day, do a project in smaller groups, or maybe work with me in a small group. The schedule changes are encouraging more movement for my students (which is needed). I also need to watch and observe, making adjustments to our daily plans as I see their energy levels rise and decrease.
I've also learned from my students we need to spend time talking about navigating school life and "living" together. For example, after four days of school we needed to talk about personal space and how we could think about others and ourselves. I'm putting together a collection of books to use as mentor texts and plan to write an article. The kindergarten students need to take things slow. They need modeling and guidance for walking in the hallways, routines, and taking care of their own things. It's all about building community in a safe and caring way.
Cathy Mere, 1st Grade Teacher and Author of More Than Guided Reading
Shopping for an iPod cover for my nephew, I noticed a small child playing with a display smart phone while waiting for her parents. She quickly picked it up, and was well into finding her way through its applications. Scenes like this can be witnessed at the park, movies, shopping malls, libraries, and any place kids have technology in their hands. Scenes like these have pushed me to make a huge shift in my teaching. Hello world!
This year I hope to help my students use digital technology to learn, create and share their thinking. Time on Twitter, reading blogs, and chatting in professional book talks with colleagues has given me support in making these changes. The time has come! This year my hope is to have students using technology more for creating, writing, reflecting, and sharing. Applications like Photo Booth, Pixie, Kidblog, Flipshare, and VoiceThread will be used to allow my first grade students to compose, create, and share their thinking. Collecting these artifacts into a digital file for students, much like a "portfolio," is going to be a challenge. Yet these changes seem necessary if my classroom is to look more like the world we are living in today.
Karen Terlecky, 5th Grade Teacher and Video Author of Two Workshops
There are two things I want to learn how to use as effectively as possible this year. The first goal came about when I heard about Presentation Zen, a book by Garr Reynolds. This text focuses on how to create presentations that are interesting, and aren't just duplicates of facts or information you might distribute in a handout to your audience. I just tried my first one this past weekend. After reading Presentation Zen I reformatted my entire parent curriculum night presentation. I scrapped my PowerPoint presentation (it will help with my handouts) and tried a very visual/very few words presentation. It was my first attempt but I am pleased with the process. Like anything new, I trust that I will get more sophisticated at doing this over time. It really helped me focus on the main messages I wanted parents to have when they left my room on parent curriculum night. It will continue to help me with other presentations as well.
The second goal came when I received a Smart Board in my room this summer. My goal with the Smart Board is to find ways that the students and I use it together in interactive ways. One of the immediate things I did to take away from the "all desks facing the Smart Board area" was to clear out the space in front of the Smart Board and make it our class meeting area. Right now we do simple things like lunch count (students moving their name to their lunch choice), read aloud notes (it is replacing the multiple chart papers I used before and lets us access the needed page quicker), writing workshop as both the students and I model our writing, math whole group and small group work, and showing science visuals or lab directions. It's a start, but I have a lot yet to learn. I look forward to the challenge of learning how to make the Smart Board more interactive.