July 29, 2015

Perspectives on the Best Standards Ever Written!

           As I wrote about yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend a Key Note presentation by Dr. Jim Cunningham that was held in my district.  If you missed my first post, it is found here.  During this presentation, Dr. Cunningham shared why the Common Core Writing Standards are the BEST writing standards ever written!  He enlightened the audience to some hidden gems right in the standards themselves.  Then, he went on to talk about some very different perspectives than those that most teachers have about writing and the Writing Process-that’s what we will focus on-perspectives!  Here we go!

            DON’T grade all of their writing!  Students are reluctant to write because of a lot of reasons, many of which come back to the fact that they are worried about how and what will be grades, even in the very early grades.  My first graders would always ask things like, “How long should it be?” “Is it for a grade?”  The first question I wouldn’t address except with, “What do you think is acceptable to me,” but the second one I would always answer with “Yes!”   How else would I determine how they were doing!  Boy, was I wrong!  We should let kids write and SHARE-lots of sharing should go on!  By sharing, students begin to write.  By writing more, they become less reluctant!  By answering NO to grades, they become less reluctant!  By grading less, we actually practice the Standards, especially in grades K and 1.  Language Standard 1 actually speaks to this very thing!  See, perspective!  By practicing the standards, we can actually open up kids’ hearts to this whole process and eliminate reluctance!  Amazing! (Hang on, because he talked about assessing!)

            Write more and in more ways!  He talked a lot about Quick Writes, including ideas such as writing DURING learning.  One of the best ways to address rigor in a lesson is to conduct a Quick Write that gets them writing in a different way!  A great question to respond to that adds rigor is “What was the hardest part for you?”  Again, perspective!  How to look at writing in different ways!

            Next, Dr. Cunningham pointed out that the Writing Process is NOT a skill!  We make it a skill, us big people!  We blow it!  Why?  He quickly pointed out that the Writing Process is for TEACHERS not students!  We use it to focus on skills to teach, to guide our instruction.  Yet, we want kids to do it.  It’s like we get it totally backwards and his perspective opens thoughts and ideas about a whole new world of understanding!  And publishing!  According to the latest research, it is over rated!  Students learn NOTHING from publishing!  WHAT!  He has a good point!  Think about how kids REALLY feel about publishing!  Just go there for a second!  Perspective!  What should we focus on?  Dr. Cunningham quickly points towards 1.  Planning, 2.  Revising, and 3.  Editing! 

            Let’s start with Planning!  “If we are to teach them opinion, informational, and narrative writing, then we better teach prompts.”  Thank you Dr. Cunningham!  Can I say I almost stood up and cheered!  “We aren’t doing kids favors with free writing.”  WHOOT!  I know this breaks the mold of most primary teachers, but I’ve believed this for years!  I’ve tried free writing and it was a mess.  Most kids didn’t have a clue of what to do!  Dr. Cunningham points directly to the fact that if kids are going to grow into writers for the real world, then they better be able to write to a prompt.  Think about almost everything you write right now-prompt writing, isn’t it!  Even this piece!  What is my goal-to communicate information!  What is my prompt-changed perspectives about writing!  Changed perspectives are key!  The nice thing is, Dr. Cunningham points to mentor texts as being a key element in teaching kids to write!  Think about all the fun you can have with prompts based on ideas from mentor texts!  So, kids need to have a prompt, create a plan (used to keep their writing focused) and write, write, and write some more!

Here’s another perspective breaker-Have students write, share, and store FIRST DRAFTS!  Huh??!!  That was my perspective.  What about that whole great Writing Process deal he was going to be speaking about?  Perspective right!  Well, he explained that since kids are already reluctantly writing, they’re even more reluctant when it gets to revising!  My experience speaks to this totally!  They will edit, but when asked to do more-no way!  And he says research points to this!   There is no benefit to kids revising because they DON’T WANT TOO!  That is so TRUE!  However, there are ways to fix this!  Get ready for some real perspective!!  Don’t do any revising UNTIL you have written at least 3 of a type of writing!  For instance, on your third narrative you can begin to revise.  Kids by then will have learned to write without the fear of something else “coming”.  He also points to providing guidelines for revisions-and guess where they come from?  The Standards also provide the guidelines for revision! I LOVE this guy’s perspective!  Use the Standards to find your guidelines and then have kids go through ONE guideline to improve.  Slowly work through them, with EVERYONE revising-either by adding to the piece or creating a more in depth piece (such as the opening).  Genius!!!  Follow the same plan for editing because, guess what, they are in the STANDARDS! 

One more thing that he really opened a new perspective to was grading-and it was eye opening.  He stressed using Formative Assessments a lot.  It is a relatively simple idea-pick ONE skill and check how students are progressing and changing.  Use that information to guide your instruction with either small groups or whole groups!  This can be used in looking at the type of writing they are doing, focus skills such as organization, steps in revising (one), and editing skills (one).  And, here’s one more real perspective changer-when we do assess kids formally, it should be a FIRST DRAFT document!  Dr. Cunningham stressed that this draft was what the student could really do, really write!  That is where we should be looking, investigating our student successes and strengths!  This is where we should find new perspectives! 

Wow, that’s a lot of new perspectives to share!  I am excited to try a lot of these in my class this year, to brighten my students’ views on writing, and to add rigor!  Thank you Dr. Cunningham for sharing such great insights into our current writing trends and The Best Standards EVER! 

July 28, 2015

The Best Standards Ever Written-Part 1

           Today I was lucky enough to attend a Key Note Session for my district’s conference.  I was aware that it was about writing and that James Cunningham was the speaker, but that was all that I was aware of.  Dr. James Cunningham is a professor at the University of North Carolina and this man knew his stuff!  The focus was what current research says and what works with the Common Core State Standards-and, in his words, “The Best Standards Ever Written” for writing instruction.  I’d have to say, after hearing him, he is right!  So, let’s dive right in!

            He quickly pointed to the “Bad News”.  The “Bad News” was to point out the reasons why writing doesn’t work in most classrooms.  Rigor demands that we focus on it, but we don’t-research says so, scores point to it being so!  Why is this?  First, and foremost, it mainly points to being the most unimportant in people’s eyes, not just teachers.  Research (I’m going to say this A LOT!) points to the fact that we, the adults, don’t take it serious.  Why?  It is “undervalued by those who remember when it wasn’t important.”  That’s us folks!  Right there, in our classrooms.  Our memories of writing keep us from making it important!  Parent’s memories of writing keep them from seeing it as important!  Yet, the demands in our jobs, and in our students’ future jobs, all point to it being a key element in success!  One of the surprising things Mr. Cunningham shared was that when the Great Recession hit, secretaries decreased while laptop use increase!  More low paying jobs were eliminated, those that didn’t involve writing, while jobs involving writing increased.  Plus, more and more college classes are involving both formal writing and writing online responses.  Writing truly is KEY to our future!  Yet, our assigned writing times in our classrooms lag behind both reading and math!  Not good!  But, there is some good news!

            The “GOOD news “ is something that may be VERY surprising to many of us.  I know it was to me!  Writing is EASIER to teach than either math or reading!  Not only that, but it doesn’t depend on a student’s home background like it does in reading!  That means that it is an equal opportunity in my book!  I can totally see this as fact in my experiences in teaching.  This year one of my struggling students was one of my BEST writers!  It was amazing to me, but this research backs it up!  Plus, as we have always known, it improves reading.  BUT, it also improves content area learning!  Think about all the applications in the content area that writing is applied too!  We just don’t always see that the writing is a KEY element! 

            What makes these the BEST Standards Ever Written?  Dr. Cunningham pointed to three key standards-Writing Standard 4, 10, and 5-and in that order!  Check this out!  Standard 4 is the WHOLE GOAL of writing in life!  Stop looking for goals, because it is RIGHT THERE!  Wow!  That was kinda eye opening!  It has been glaring at us all along, right there!  This man has it going on!  Next, Standard 10 points to a key to get kids writing-ROUTINE!  Writing has to become ROUTINE!  And it is, again, RIGHT THERE!  How about 5??  It is the Writing Process!  But wait-not like we use it, not like we want the kids to use it-but to STRENGTHEN writing in a different way! 

            This is it for right now!  Digest that, because some of his ideas and thoughts and research are kinda MIND BLOWING, yet they are things that we know, have developed an understanding for, but are used differently!  So, stay tuned-more to come tomorrow about these great new ideas coming from the most current research! 

July 15, 2015

My Favorite Vacation EVER! Over and Over Again to Recharge and Reenergize!

Florida-the land of Disney World, beaches, palm trees, sand, and UGH!  Yes, that’s right, UGH!  I live in Florida and this time of year is literally UGH!  You go outside and you instantly break a sweat.  If your palm tree isn’t trimmed high enough, then you get either covered in the water that is dripping from it because it has rained and made the 100% humidity become 200% or the spines in it stick you and it hurts!  Oh, and it’s only 8:00 a.m.  That’s right, 8 a.m. and it hits you like a ton of bricks!  So, you spend most of your time in the ac, avoiding the beach because it isn’t much better out there in the salt flavored bath water (no kidding-today it was 87 degrees in the water!!!).  No, I did not escape to Florida for my favorite vacation-I’m easier to please!   I escaped to my favorite vacation ever-over and over again-ever!!!  North Carolina!

You see, I’m easy to please.   I have lots of ideas for my favorite vacation ever-England, Ireland, Australia, Alaska-and notice, most are cooler places, but I haven’t been able to do those and may never be able to do those, so I go with easy, and cool, North Carolina.  Why, well, here’s why:

 1.  A cabin, a REAL cabin!  We are always blessed to find an economical location, but this one is my favorite-a REAL cabin!  No insulation, no luxury, no protection from bugs and other things-a REAL cabin!  Did I mention it is strikingly similar to the cabin I stayed in when I was in elementary school in Canada for two weeks every summer?  The only thing missing from this and my childhood memory would be the great big lake that we had in Canada, but there is a replacement.


In fact, many if we wanted to wander further out, where there would be lots of people!  Instead, we headed to Schoolhouse Falls (can’t ever escape that word!)  When we got there, only two people were there and they were sleeping in hammocks!  Cool water, beautiful sight, no one to bug us!  YES!  Exactly what I would call FAVORITE vacation detail! 

3.  History! 

I am slowly discovering the fun of Florida’s history-we camp a lot when Florida is friendly to its residence-but there really isn’t anything like this! Biltmore, home to one of the most financially influential families in America!  I could easily put my entire house in the library of this home!  And kids were FREE this visit!  YES!  And, my two teenaged boys like it! They LIKED IT!!  We even visited the flower garden and they liked it!  Did I mention that part of the reason why this is my favorite vacation EVER is because of the…

4.  Plants.  

I know that many people love the tropical “loveliness” of Florida’s tropical plants.  Well, not so  much here!  I’ve learned, over time, to find things I like, but, in North Carolina they have real trees, real grass, and really, really, really beautiful flowers!  I could spend all day looking, just looking at plants and flowers and loving them! 

5.  Walks!  

I have an adventurer and I am one too, so walks are so great for us!  We can find so many things on our walks-like REAL rocks that have mica in them and real trees, REAL TREES, and mountains!  In fact, we can go up so high on our mountain walks that we are looking at the mountain tops that were up above us before!  Long walks that make our legs hurt, but not enough to not get back to the cabin.  Walks that still allow you to run down the hills to the flats where you are out of breath with fun, even with your little dogs with short legs along, who have just as much fun as you, walks.  Did I mention how this is my FAVORITE over and over again!

6.  Mountain Air-
This is down at the Lake.  Take off about 5 degrees in the Mountains!  

Cool, cool mountain air, so cool that at night it makes your teeth chatter because it is in the 50’s and it is July cool.  So cool that you have to sleep in winter pajamas cool.  Enough cool air to soak in and make you think about it over and over as the wind blows and you stand with your arms stretched out, soaking every bit of it in , knowing you won’t feel it again until December, if you are luck, cool!  Feel it, remember it, cool! 
Trying to stay warm in the rain!

Mountains that you can see sitting on a porch that was built just for that, just to look.  Reading on that porch is a distraction because you can’t help but look, rolling into one another, off in the distance, but wondering if anyone was looking at your mountain, thinking the same thing.  Watching the clouds roll over those same mountains and, then, watching them disappear as the rain rolls in and brings the cool mountain air that makes you put on a jacket. 

8.  Fireflies-

Waiting for dark to come, just so the bushes will light up. There are fireflies in Florida, if you know where to look.  Last time we went camping we saw one.  Here, they light up the yard.  With very few other bugs to bug you!  So great to walk out and watch.  Sadly, my boys are beyond the age of trying to catch them-but that didn’t stop my sad attempt one night, or my adventurers the last night.  No luck, but worth every second. 

Today, I have commented on 3 different photos of people visiting other mountains in North Carolina about how much I wish I was still there.  It helped to clear my head.  It helped to refocus my thinking.  It helped me to get mentally aware of where I need to be and where I need to go.  It helped me be me, to find me again.  It put me in a FAVORITE place-peace. 

If you are blogging, and you have time, take a few moments to share your favorite vacation on the linky found at I Heart 3rd Grade!  I know it made me want to sit down and jot things out.  It was a great way to get me back into my blog and reflect on a great vacation all at once!