New at Reading by Example: Book Study Page, Google+ Community, Going into July

To help organize posts for Literacy Essentials and future book studies, as well as to promote conversation beyond what is written here, the following updates were made.

  1. New Online Book Study Page
  2. New Google+ Community
  3. Extending Book Study into July

Every time a post is written in relation to a specific book, it will also be linked to and within the corresponding page.

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The parent page “Online Book Study” offers general direction in how one might participate in the study.

Within the page for the book itself, readers can access every article written so far. They can also follow a link to the new Google+ Community for this blog.

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A widget in the sidebar of this blog will also be available to follow to this Google+ Community.

Additionally, participants in the book study can post questions and comments on the book’s page as a way to contribute and discuss.

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The list of posts may get quite long (which is a good thing) as we plan to continue the conversation around Literacy Essentials into July! New contributors are preparing articles related to Regie’s book.

We hope you have found this online book study informative and engaging. If you have additional suggestions for making this discussion better, please share in the comments.

Mindful Literacy Assessment

A teacher came up to me in the hallway, holding printed reports. Her grimace conveyed her frustration before she even spoke. “How can my students have such nice growth from fall to winter, only to see them slide back in the spring?” She was referring to our screener results, the computerized assessments we have our students take in fall, winter, and spring. They are supposed to serve us as initial indicators for which students need more support and which students need enrichment.

Unfortunately, educators too often end up in service to the assessment. For example, the teacher and I discussed the context in which the assessment took place: the middle of May, beautiful weather, and we are asking pre-adolescents to put forth their best effort on a test that has little to no meaning to them. “What should we expect at this time of the year?” I wondered aloud with the teacher. It didn’t resolve the issue, though. We left this brief conversation with more questions than answers.

When we limit ourselves to only one way of assessing student learning, we become dependent on the tools we use. An outcome is usually a number or a level. The assessments that lead to these results are often commercial products with little opportunity for local control. We can blame the tools, but what good does that do?

This lack of agency over the results of student learning could be described as “mindless assessment”. We accept the results as gospel even if they cause anxiety rather than inform our practice. To question them runs counter to the proclamation by the assessment companies that their technologies are “valid” and “reliable” to ensure fidelity within RtI. Yet when you look closely at the research to support some of these tools, many of the studies are self-funded and self-selected. The anecdotal and circumstantial evidence we collect in classrooms is, conversely, often viewed with skepticism.

So what can we move toward as a profession assessment-wise that can give back some control over the outcomes of learning to students and teachers? I don’t prescribe one approach over another. Rather, I would direct our attention to more mindful literacy assessment. The concept of mindfulness has been heavily researched with positive results. One scientist, Dr. Ellen Langer, defines mindfulness within her book of the same title as:

  • continuous creation of new categories,
  • openness to new information, and
  • aware of more than one perspective.

Mindfulness is about being more aware of the present and worrying less about the past or the future. When people are mindful, they notice what is happening right now with an objective point of view. They resist judging, although they do question sources of information from a place of curiosity. As I read Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018), I couldn’t help but notice all of the connections between mindfulness and the authentic assessment practices she describes. In the rest of this post, I categorize some of these ideas within the context of mindful literacy assessment from past, future, and present perspectives.

Forget the Past (at least for a while)

One of the best aspects of a new school year is the opportunity to begin again in our learning journey. Students have a new teacher who knows little about them other than what might be passed up through the faculty grapevine and reputation.

Instead of reviewing their assessment data from the previous years, what if we came into a new classroom with expectations that all students will be successful? Could we hold off on passing judgment about a kid until we got to know them a little better?

Regie advocates for this. In the very first section on engagement, she calls for teachers to build trusting relationships as a priority during the first days of school. It isn’t about just literacy. “We simply cannot underestimate the power of positive relationships on the health, well-being, and achievement of all school community members” (10). For students to be able to learn, their basic needs have to be met. A strong relationship between student and teacher and as a classroom community are essential.

But what about all the time we are losing by not addressing reading and writing from day one? I hear you. What is being asked – slowing down and getting to know one another – seems contrary to the norm. Yet to be open to new ways of seeing each other, ourselves, and the world (the essence of mindfulness), this time in developing trust and relationships has to be a priority. The assessments will be there waiting.

Keep the Future in Perspective

The discussion described previously between the teacher and me is one example of the larger concern about student evaluation in general. I see a pattern where the further the assessment is removed from the context of the classroom, the less accurate yet more anxiety-producing them become. This is largely due to the desire of outsiders to publicize school report cards that are dependent on standardized tests. As Regie notes in her book, what information these scores reveal is limited at best.

We knowingly ignore the wide body of research that confirms that test scores primarily reflect family income. (312)

I have studied this phenomenon myself in my state of Wisconsin and I can attest to the accuracy of Regie’s statement. She offers sage advice for educators who worry too much about ensuring that their students reach expected goals and outcomes (318):

If we focus on the process, the product will improve.

This process that Regie speaks of suggests practices that help teachers focus on the present.

Be Present

Easy to say, hard to do. I know. I am in classrooms regularly and I can confirm the challenges inherent in moving toward more mindful and authentic assessment practices. Classroom routines, room arrangement, and a strong community with a focus on student independence are a prerequisite for this level of practice.

Once these conditions are established, ongoing formative assessment can begin. Assessment for learning (vs. “of” learning) is always mindful: it resists categorization, it is open to new information, and it can guide teacher and student to consider multiple perspectives. Results are typically qualitative and anecdotal. Formative assessments don’t serve as the total answer to the assessment conundrum but rather as an important piece within an evaluation framework.

Triangulation within RtI

Conferring notes are one such example of ongoing formative assessment. Teachers can use technology, such as a stylus, an iPad, and a notetaking application such as Evernote or Notability. One of our first-grade teachers uses Notability to not only write information about each reader and writer but also to audio record the students reading aloud an independent text or their own writing. Students can listen to themselves reading and then self-assess their fluency.

Paper and pen/pencil are a tried and true technology. Another one of our teachers uses different colors of ink for every time she confers with her readers and writers. This gives her and her students a visual way of distinguishing the conferring notes.

 

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Done systematically, conferring notes and other forms of ongoing, formative assessment can serve as a counter to the sometimes anxiety-inducing interim and summative evaluations. They breathe life into what can be a stagnant process. More responsive assessment practices conducted during instruction provide a richer picture of students, helping teachers see each kid as a unique individual. In addition, formative assessment guides instruction in response to each learner needs. As Regie notes, “quality formative assessments have the potential to create equal opportunities to learn for all students” (314). I would add that it also helps everyone be more mindful of what’s most important.

This post is part of a book study around Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018). Check out more resources associated with the text at this website (https://sites.stenhouse.com/literacyessentials/), including a free curriculum for teaching an undergraduate course using Literacy Essentials.

May Round-up: Online Book Study for Literacy Essentials #litessentials

For the second year in a row, this blog has facilitated an online book study. In 2017, we read Becoming a Literacy Leader: Supporting Learning and Change, 2nd edition by Jennifer Allen (Stenhouse, 2016). This year, we are reading Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellent, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018).

The following links go to the five most recent posts from May for the study:

The rest of this post addresses a few questions readers might have about the study.

How do I participate?

An online book study hosted on this site is not like a Twitter chat, or an in-person book club for that matter. You could almost describe this learning experience as a “slow chat”. Contributors write responses (blog posts) to the common resource. Readers write comments. The contributor may respond to the comments, in which case an actual online conversation may ensue.

Blog posts are also shared on various social media channels. Any time a contributor publishes here, I share their post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and Linkedin. If you like what contributors here are writing, I would encourage you to do the same. If people are not on these social media channels, they can subscribe to this blog with their email address or their WordPress credentials.

Can I contribute to this study?

When a book is selected, a post is published calling for contributors to participate directly on this site. If you have missed this opportunity, readers are encouraged to still respond to the book by posting on their own blog or website. A nice example comes from the blog “Literacy Pages”: Meaningful Professional Development. By including the designated hashtag and Twitter handles when sharing out a post, it helps ensure that I and/or the author will pick up on it and promote it.

If uncomfortable at this time in writing your own posts, then readers are encouraged to comment on what is published. The goal of these online book studies, beyond promoting an excellent resource, is to grow every educator to become a better literacy leader. The more interaction we have in the comments, the smarter we may become.

Does the author participate in their book study?

Yes! As to how frequently and deeply depends on the author’s schedule. These are unique opportunities to interact with the author as you read and respond to their text.

Authors such as Regie are also likely to promote these posts on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. There is certainly a place for these types of connections in relation to their work. That said, high-quality professional development is a slow and steady process. There are no quick fixes. Improving in our own capacities is a lifetime of work, enjoyable and rewarding as long as we view it as more than just a brief encounter.

Question: How would you like to extend these conversations beyond the blog? For example, should there be a social media group set up to facilitate more discussion about the topics from the study? If so, where? Please leave your ideas in the comments!

 

How do we create a community of readers? @StenhousePub #litessentials

I long ago lost count the number of mistakes I have made as a school principal and literacy leader. My errors are often the product of not practicing what I preach as it relates to effective literacy instruction for students.

For example, I created a vision board in our staff lounge and invited faculty to join me in adding to it.

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Can you guess how many contributions staff have made to it? If you said “zero”, you are wiser than I was in the beginning. I even added the title “Vision Board” to the top to be clear about what it was. Similarly, I attempted to host a staff book club using Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s memoir, encouraging teachers to respond in writing to a part of the text. A few teachers wrote pieces at first, but the project faded over the course of the year.

Initially, I felt guilty about the time and resources spent in developing these activities. At one point, I even experienced resentment that the faculty did not respond more positively. When a teacher expressed concern on behalf of colleagues that they didn’t have the time, I was tempted to counter with “Then how can we be okay with expecting our students to read 20 minutes a night, or demanding that students’ parents sign off on their reading logs each evening?”

Of course, if I had expressed these feelings, it would not have ended well. Even if I were right, it wouldn’t have been the right response. Teachers likely would have become upset by my reaction. Negative feelings could have been created around a literacy activity, which was counterintuitive to my purpose of building a community of readers.

What is the goal?

Mistakes can be reframed as opportunities for learning, instead of stewing on them or feeling guilty about initially unsuccessful actions. In the case of the two activities I described here, I learned through reflection that I didn’t involve faculty in the development of them. I was creating something for the staff instead of co-creating the experience with them. This omission resulted in a lack of engagement and ownership in the work, which led to little to no empowerment of faculty to help lead and guide this community-building experience.

So where does this leave us? How can we co-create a community of readers as a faculty with the larger goal of modeling for our students what we want to see in their lives as literate individuals? When I don’t have the answers, I turn to people wiser than me. In this case, Regie Routman offers an entire section of her new book Literacy Essentials on engagement.

Regie defines engagement as “the attention, commitment, and eagerness learners show in inquiring, creating, and responding to a question or a learning opportunity” (6). This understanding is different than how one might initial describe engagement. It’s good to clarify that engagement is not just focusing our mind on the task at hand; it is becoming emotionally and cognitively involved in the process of the learning experience. When I asked our teacher to participate in the community activities, there was no opportunity for them to commit. Additionally, they had little involvement in the creation of the vision board or the book club.

Spring is an opportune time to rethink our upcoming professional learning experiences. Our instructional leadership team and I are discussing next year’s focus on deepening our understanding of effective reading instruction and applying these practices to the classroom. With these teacher leaders, we decided to spend the first three months of the coming fall to do a deep dive into self-selected resources on the topic. We generated a list of books, online resources, and even possible site visits to other schools as options for teachers to take advantage of in the fall. In addition, all faculty will have the option to add resource options to this list. Voice and choice would be paramount in our work.

To emulate a true learning community, we have plans to facilitate a book club-like atmosphere once a month during our weekly PLC time. Time would be provided to read/explore the resources, discuss the information in self-selected groups, and report back to the whole faculty about what was learned. My anticipated role will be to document our increased understanding visibly, such as through a KWL. At the end of this experience, teachers could also be invited (not expected) to provide reviews for the resources they explored and encourage colleagues to continue learning once this deep dive had ended.

The Paradox of School Leadership

As administrators, we feel the pressure to have our students perform at high levels of success. This expectation can lead to principals chasing excellence without first engaging the faculty and students in this collaborative journey. It is the wrong pathway. The paradox of school leadership is that in order to achieve schoolwide student success, we have to give up some level of control over the process. Yet the best results we can hope to attain in our schools is a product of a shared vision and plan we can all celebrate.

Literacy Essentials: A Video Introduction with Regie Routman @StenhousePub #litessentials

We are kicking off our book club with a video from Regie Routman, author of the text we will be reading and responding to together: Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellent, and Equity for All Learners (Stenhouse, 2018).
 

Next are titles for upcoming posts here related to Regie’s excellent resource.

  • How can we create a community of readers?
  • Why celebrating with our students is worth it
  • Agency in the Classroom
  • Inviting students into learning: Literacy-rich learning spaces
  • Expert Teaching through Frontloading
  • How can reading conferences work in math?

This online book study is open to all educators. We encourage readers to respond in the comments to posts and create a conversation around this professional learning.

Recommended Additional Resource: Angela Watson: A Conversation with Regie Routman

The Art of the Blog

I was searching my own blog, something I wrote that I could simply repost here which would convey strategies and ideas for blogging as an educator. This repost would have served as a quick guide of sorts for contributors for our upcoming book study that starts May 14. Here is what I have found so far:

The Writing Principal: Tips for Administrators Considering Blogging (October 2012)

If I post my blog and no one reads it, did I really write it? (April 2013)

Why Should Educators Blog? (July 2014)

Blogging is Writing and So Much More (July 2016)

These posts are just the ones I could find. This blog is over six years old, with almost 500 posts to search within. None of them fit the bill, hence the post you are about to read.

As I read through each piece listed above, I could see how I have grown as a writer. My writing has not followed some type of straight trajectory in terms of improvement. Rather, it has been a gradual process, with some successes and many more failures. For example, coming across as an expert has been a challenge that I have become more aware of in my writing.

But it is with the failures that I have learned the most. Specifically, through constant blogging about my practice as a literacy leader, I have come closer to understanding not only my profession but also the general principles of a blog post that is well received and remembered. I thought I would share a few ideas here, not as an expert but instead as a constant learner.

  • Be passionate about your topic.

I address this first principle for a wide audience. Whatever we decide to blog about, it has to be something that we care deeply about and want to create more visibility around. For me, I did not see a lot of content out there around literacy leadership. That lead me to start chronicling my new experiences in leading a reading-writing initiative in an elementary school. My passion came from the realizations of learning with my faculty and seeing these understandings applied within the classrooms of our school.

Blogging tip: When starting a blog, give it a title that encompasses what subject(s) you are writing about. It can be direct (see Mark Levine’s blog Mindful Literacy) or more general (check out Vicki Vinton’s blog To Make a Prairie). If direction changes, you can always change the title later.

  • Write from a place of curiosity.

When I first started this blog, I was a new elementary principal with limited knowledge about excellent literacy instruction. My ignorance as a classroom teacher was quickly revealed to me through our collective study of the reading-writing connection via the Regie Routman in Residence online professional development program. Through this experience, I was able to dig into my own learning from the perspective of a principal trying to lead this type of initiative through modeling, support, and consistent feedback.

Blogging Tip: Post titles that pose a question often see more views.

  • Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Being vulnerable makes you relatable as a writer for your audience. They likely recognize your own struggles within themselves. This is especially important for literacy leaders such as school principals and instructional coaches. We often don’t have readily available colleagues to bounce ideas off of or share concerns with at the moment. A blog, written from a place of humility, can be the inspiration needed for other literacy leaders who share similar struggles and are searching for better ways to be effective.

Blogging Tip: If you are unsure about how a post might be received online, ask someone to review it first. You can assign a reviewer within WordPress.

  • Worry less about visuals.

I used to get caught up in finding that perfect picture to embed with my text. While a visual can catch the eye of a reader via Pinterest and Facebook, we have to remember that readers come for the writing. One impact of blogging is the staying power of the post. It exists on the Internet for time unseen. I have pieces on this site written years ago that still garner many views. Many of the most memorable blog posts I have curated from other writers have zero visuals. That said, I highly recommend Unsplash for images that are copyright free. Consider citing the photographer as a thank you. Also, Canva is a fun graphic design tool for promoting events, such as our book club starting next week.

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Blogging tip: When writing online, use lots of white space and try to keep paragraphs limited to eight lines or less (which I fail at constantly – see this post).

  • Make writing a habit.

Imagine climbing a mountain. With the many dips and rises, a writer is gradually heading upwards and onward. Persistence is critical. Jordan Rosenfeld, author of A Writer’s Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice (Writers Digest Books, 2015), expands on this concept. “Persistence is the key factor, the dividing line, between writers who succeed and writers who merely wish to. It comes not from mental acuity or superstrength but from finding the deep meaning and joy at the root of your writing practice and calling on this joy to get you through the challenges. (1)” I am rereading Jordan’s guide and highly recommend it for all writers.

Blogging tip: Post at the minimum once a month, and preferably at least once a week.

What suggestions do you have for future and current bloggers? Please share in the comments.

 

How I Read as a Literacy Leader

cesar-viteri-426877-unsplashSchoool leaders cannot know literacy without being a reader. Therefore we have to read. Here, I share five suggestions for becoming a more intentional reader.

  • Read widely.

This means reading across a variety of genres and modes. Both online and offline. The main benefit is that we don’t get pinned within one type of prose. Otherwise, we might get into a reading rut. Like well-worn tire tracks in the woods, we can get stuck within these constraints and not realize the variety that literature has so much to offer. We should also read newspapers, magazines, blog posts, tweets…anything worth our attention.

Consider: When’s the last time you read fiction? As a school leader, I can relate to our busy lives. Reading fiction may seem superfluous. But at what cost? Research shows many benefits to reading fiction, including building a broader perspective and developing empathy. Nonfiction is also enjoyable; however, the best nonfiction has a narrative arc. This is not a post about reading fiction as much as it is to stress the importance of reading widely and becoming a well-rounded individual.

  • Read regularly.

Habits take time and intention. We repeat what we enjoy. So it is important that we construct our environments for optimal times for reading and accessing text. For example, I always have a to-read pile on my bedside table. I’ll even organize this stack based on which book I plan to read next… #nerdalert

During the school day, I sometimes carry a book or article with me on the off-chance of downtime, what Donalyn Miller refers to as a “reading emergency”. My two children have emulated my practice. Imagine what your students might do if you tried the same thing. If life is too busy for even that, consider audiobooks. Audible offers a monthly membership where you can download any book to listen to in the car to and from school. Whatever life throws at you, just read.

  • Read publicly.

Reading in public view is one of the best ways to encourage everyone to be a reader. We make it visibly acceptable to be a reader wherever we may be. I think there is this cultural aspect that has formed, where it is now okay to check in with our smartphones constantly, while reading a book becomes less of a norm. And to write in public…aghast! You will get weird looks at worst, apathy at best.

Digitally speaking, I post my book covers in my email signature from Goodreads. When I update my book I am reading, the cover changes. I am a part of a community of readers through Goodreads, which gives me access to others’ reviews of books I have read plus ideas for future reading. This is something you as a leader can share with students, who can emulate this practice through Biblionaisum. If online is not to your taste, maybe have a book board where you print off covers of titles you are reading by your door, like our school librarian.

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  • Read critically.

It’s good to remember that every text is the author’s take on the truth. That means I read with a critical lens. I’ll have a pen in hand and write in the margins. It’s a transactional process, where I am interpreting what I am reading through my current and limited thinking (why I need a reading community, see prior). As an example, I will sometimes highlight a few words in the text and accompany this annotation with a question or a comment. The author and I are (almost) having a conversation in this sense.

Sometimes, I will even select a text that runs counter to my current beliefs. At the very least, I will understand multiple sides of an issue. It’s also possible that my thinking will change on a topic. For example, I have picked up The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. This text, critical of reading online, will pair well with Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art by Virginia Heffernan. I can read both with a critical stance, knowing the two authors are coming at this similar topic from different perspectives, which could expand my own point of view regarding new literacies.

  • Read selectively.

For some professional resources, I have moved away from feeling I have to read the whole book. Some of the content is more relevant than other parts. My time is limited. Furthermore, I don’t have time for bad writing. The official reviews on Amazon, from legitimate sites and sources, are often reliable. We have to remember that we have permission to say “no” with regard to our precious time.

Same goes for recreational reading. For example, if someone recommends a book to me, and upon preview it is not of interest, I feel okay about declining. That said, I have been more careful about my own book recommendations to others. With others, I might say “You might find this book interesting. If you want, check it out. If you are not interested, feel free to throw it my mailbox.”

How do you read as a leader? What strategies or books have helped you know literacy? Please share in the comments.