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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Literacy Teacher's Playbook - Chapter One

Welcome to week one of A Teacher Mom's book study of The Literacy Teacher's Playbook Grades K-2.  I am glad Abbey started this study, otherwise I would have probably never picked up this book. Not because I don't read professionally...but assessment data? Again? More tests? Why not just shoot me now! Did any of your schools just go through SAGE testing? That pretty much sums up my thinking of assessment data right now. Do I need more? Wow, such negativity forming in my mind. But in the first page of the introduction, the author had me in the palm of her hand. Why? Because she so perfectly stated something that has been going through my mind. "I didn't quite understand as I now do the difference between teaching a class of children and teaching curriculum and to the standards."  Why didn't I find those words to tell my team that I wasn't going to plan out a big scope and sequence for the entire next year as I have in years past? Instead I skirted around the real reason. I didn't do it, but I left with one of my team members still hoping I will. I should have been more upfront.  I can tell Jennifer Serravallo and I would be great teaching pals. So let's dip into The Literacy Teacher's Playbook.

"This book is about being empowered by data and assessment, not bogged down by it." (p. xv)
How many of us feel bogged down rather than empowered?  Is your answer different in October than it would be in April or May? In October I am mostly choosing the assessments I want to give but in April and May I am loaded down with district and state assessments that I won't even see the results while I still have the same students. By the time I see any results, I have a whole new group of learners. There is nothing empowering about it, which is probably the basis for my negativity. This type of testing does nothing to help me teach to the needs of my students. So let's take a look at the type of assessment talked about in Chapter One - Collecting Data.

"To me, data are not only the numbers and letters, but also the actual stuff that a student produces...much of what you can pull out of your students' messy seat pocket is actually data." (p. 2)

Seriously? Is she saying we already have the data? This is exactly what I mean about her having me in the palm of her hand. I'm not looking to give more assessments and now I have someone telling me I don't need to give more, I just need to collect, interpret and plan instruction based on the data I already have.

What kind of data should I be looking for?

According to the author, she recommends "that you try to collect at least one student artifact from each of the following lenses." (p. 3)
  • Reading Engagement
"Research has proven time and again that for students to improve, they must read for long stretches of time, with just-right material, enjoying their texts." (p. 5)

I think I have been unofficially assessing this for years. I know the affective side of reading is so important. I look for enthusiasm, kids talking about books and recommending books to each other, kids who are shutting out the world for their book. But what about something tangible? That's more difficult. I had to look back a few years to come up with something I've done. In years past I have created a student recommendation chart where students write down books they love and other students can look for recommendations. I'm pretty sure the idea came from Debbie Miller's Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades.  I think it just became one of those things I forgot about the next year. I'll definitely be bringing it back. I think it would be a great way to see who is excited enough about a book to recommend it. Another thing I have done in the past is book logs. Now in first grade I think it's just too much work for students to write down every book they read. It would take forever for some children. So I have done a weekly tally that they tape on their desk. At the end of the week, they tell me the number of books they've read and I record the number, then they can take it home to show their families. I have used this a lot but mostly when I have a class with students who are not engaged during independent reading.  I have to admit it can be very motivating for some children to see how many books they read. The only drawback is not letting the students who read a million books take the lime light. This needs to be more of a quiet one-on-one discussion with students. But if you use this book tally for just right books, it should level out and maybe even give your higher leveled readers less tally marks.
Click on the picture to download a copy of this.
Graphic by djinkers/font by KG Fonts

  • Reading Fluency
"Reading rate or speed is one piece of the fluency puzzle...It's helpful to also consider accuracy, automaticity, expression (prosody), and parsing (phrasing)..." (p. 10)

I know there's more to fluency than speed and I look for it. I even try to teach it by using Jokes for Fluency which is based off a Reading Teaching article by Molly Ness titled "Laughing Through Rereadings: Using Joke Books to Build Fluency." But an artifact? That I'm most definitely lacking. There's nothing in my students' messy desks for this one. One of the upper grade teachers at my school is using iPads for students to record their fluency. Students can self assess and practice before rerecording to show improvement. This is something I've been meaning to consider but haven't quite gotten to it. The author does use a fluency record where she can show the student's phrasing.   I love this idea, but I also know that I would never have the words already printed and ready to go. This is something I'll have to give some more thought.
Page 11

  • Print Work/Decoding
"Analyzing an instructional-level running record is often much more revealing than an independent-level running record." (p.16)

Finally an artifact I am really good at gathering! I take tons of running records on my low readers, a good amount on my on-level readers and not so many on my high readers. But even beyond that realization, I think the thing that hit me the most is how much more helpful an artifact with 92% accuracy will be rather than one with 100% accuracy. You have to have something to analyze. I know a lot of teachers use running records to make sure their students are on the correct level and that is fabulous but this book is all about using data to inform instruction, which means we have to have something to analyze. So I'll be thinking about taking a record on a first read rather then waiting for a second read next year.

Another interesting note on running records is her recommendation for when it's time to begin taking running records on emerging readers on page 14. She also talks about how quickly they need to be moving through level A and B books. Some students may need more reading readiness activities before beginning guided reading. Making it more of a decision based on individuals rather than a previously decided upon date.
  • Reading Comprehension
"Somehow, sometimes, something goes awry with students and they misunderstand what it means to read." (p.17)

Somehow? It might be because while reading is all about comprehension, we still forget that when trying to teach a child to read. For kindergarten and first grade it becomes all about decoding. That's not just a complaint about teachers, I can't even count the number of times I've told parents that they need to keep reading to their children. But having an artifact in my hands for comprehension? That's a different story. I assess comprehension during a benchmark assessment but I don't usually write notes. We discuss books all the time, but once again I don't have data for each student. We use reading response journals and I could definitely use these to assess comprehension for most of my students but there are always those students who don't put much into their writing. Here are a few examples that I think would be usable:
I felt sad because Squanto's family died.

I don't understand why the white men stole Squanto.

I think that is mean.

I learned that on the first Thanksgiving the pilgrims

became friends with the Indians and at first they wanted to fight but Squanto said not to fight so they did not fight.

I don't like that white people tricked Squanto by taking Squanto

to dinner on the white people's ship. Then when Squanto was eating dinner they set sail.

I wish the author said when he died. I'm not

sure I like the story. I felt sad cause his family died.
  • Conversation
"Student conversations about their reading...give teachers a window into students' understanding." (p. 23)

Now this is one place where I keep no physical data. The author suggests a conversation record such as this:
Page 24
This is definitely where I see myself getting overwhelmed in trying to record conversations. The circle shows the seating of everyone with check marks to show how many times each child added to the conversation. Obviously she only jotted down a few of the comments compared to the number of check marks but still this would be hard for me in a whole class setting. I might be able to make this work in a small group setting. More food for thought!

And don't forget writing. Reading and writing are complementary skills. They not only go hand in hand but writing is the most authentic way to practice letter/sound skills.
  • Writing Engagement
"A child's attitudes toward, beliefs about, and desire to write are the stepping-stones to producing good writing." (p. 25)

Hooray! I definitely have a record of the number of pieces a child has taken through the writing process. I don't know what to do with it, but I have it.
  • Qualities of Good Writing
"...assessing writing can feel a bit more accessible than assessing reading because we have a visual artifact..." (p. 26)

The author suggests that we will want to look at writing that has been through the writing process as well as on demand writing. While it makes sense to me that using on demand writing shows exactly what the students can do independently, I rarely give these types of assignments for the purpose of data even though it's exactly how our end of the year district assessment is given. I don't know why I've never thought of it. Another great idea that has fallen by the wayside is a spelling inventory. I used to give one every year and this is something I will be bringing back. The author recommends using Words Their Way (Bear et al. 2011) for a list of words to use.

Ok, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed with the task of coming up with an artifact from each of these 7 areas for every one of my 26 students and even if I did it, would it be worth my time? Ms. Serravallo, you are going to have to help me out a little more, but don't worry I'll be back for more. You've definitely got my attention!

Oh, and one more thing I forgot to mention...I love that this book recommends some other great professional books for each of the areas. She gives quite a few that I've already read, a few that I own but haven't read and some new ones to check out. 

What's next? On June 25 we will be talking about the first half of chapter two which is all about taking these student work samples and looking for teaching opportunities. I'm really excited to continue with this book study. I hope you'll come back too.

To read what more about chapter one, hop on over to A Teacher Mom for links to more bloggers who are also participating in this link up.
A Teacher Mom

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