My Reading Week… So Far

It’s not Monday, but boy, have I been reading!  Here’s a snapshot from my bookshelf this week…

Thanks to a great recommendation by my friend (@literacydocent), I was lucky enough to find several copies of series books by Jake Maddox during my recent trip to Bull Moose Music (which, by the way, is the BEST kept secret in children’s books! Wait- did I just shoot myself in the foot?!)  Anyway, the Jake Maddox series is a great entry into early chapter books. They are high-interest sports-based books that boys and girls alike are devouring!  I’ve test-driven them during my summer reading transition program where I’m working this summer and all the kiddos agree- Jake’s books are a hit! Lots of white space, decodable text, and relatable storylines! A great series to introduce to reluctant or dormant readers!

ImageMy next greatest discovery, which has been on my TBR (To Be Read) List for awhile now, was “Bluebird” by Bob Staake. This wordless book literally moved me to tears. A testament to friendship, loyalty, and hope, this text would make a great pairing with so many wonderful texts on the topic of bullying and true friendship, in particular. I can’t wait to share this book with kiddos this year.  It has the potential to spark some powerful conversations for readers of all ages.

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I have been so excited and inspired by my newest professional book, “Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator” by Dave Burgess! Educators, if you are looking for a great text to fire you up for the upcoming school year, you definitely need to check out this title!  There is so much talk about this book out there in the “twittersphere,” that there are multiple weekly TLAP chats for English, Science, and Humanities teachers, along with a general TLAP chat, in which I take part each week. I’m jazzed to begin my virtual book group, as well as perhaps facilitating a book group in my school communities with this text as soon as possible!

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That’s my reading week so far… What does yours look like?

Big Picture vs. Small Steps: The Power of Scaffolding

    Several months ago I began to experience excruciating back and leg pain and, at the time, I was sure I had just overdone a workout; if I rested, it would be ok.  As it turned out, I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. I continue to see a chiropractor on a regular basis, who has truly been my salvation through all of this.  
    I can’t say there have been many times in my life when I was not able to muster a sliver of a positive outlook, but since March, there have been days I thought I would NEVER be pain-free again. It was intense and constant… unrelenting. I just wanted to give up and didn’t see how I would be able to continue carrying on with my regular life.  I felt utterly hopeless.
    In my role as a literacy coach, part of my work is as an interventionist.  I have seen hopelessness in the eyes of students who struggle, students who feel no reprieve.  As teachers, we often feel the need to paint the “big picture” for our students.  Don’t get me wrong, it is important for kids to have a sense of why they are learning certain things. Instruction without a sense of authenticity is shallow and does not encourage students’ real world connections.  However, if we constantly focus on the “big picture,” we may miss some crucial scaffolds along the way.  We may inadvertently undermine our instruction.
    After learning of my condition, several of my friends and colleagues asked what my doctor’s long-term plans were for me to be healthy and remain pain-free. Would I eventually need surgery?  What would the ‘end result‘ be?  I very politely told them that my chiropractor’s mantra to me through all of this has been, “Let’s work together to get this immediate situation under control so that your pain is managed. Then we’ll talk about long-term plans.”  My doctor knows that we must focus on the many little steps that need to build upon one another first before the big picture will even seem attainable.  For that, I am grateful.  When one is that overwhelmed, and the focus remains just on an end result, it’s easy to overlook and forget to monitor the little steps… the small points of progress that slowly give us back our hope.
    Oftentimes, I think it is in our urgency to have our students “arrive” at a particular benchmark, standard, or number on a rubric, that we might tend to place more distance between the “rungs” of our scaffold ladders, thinking it may get them there faster, yet if the distance becomes too great, they are unable to reach the next level of success.  
    One example of this is the guided practice component of a workshop framework.  This component of a gradual release of responsibility model cannot be overstated. Yet it is a component which is sometimes eliminated, for the sake of moving on to independent practice.  Likewise, we can’t simply think that by  providing merely one opportunity to practice the task modeled in the mini-lesson, that it will always be sufficient for the majority of learners.  Repeated over time, this will also reinforce our struggling learners’ belief that they will never attain the end goal, (the “big picture.”)  The time invested in guided practice will ultimately reap more independent gains.  
    Sibberson & Szymusiak in their text, Still learning to read: Teaching students in grades 3-6 (Stenhouse, 2003) state:    

“It is tempting to make a list of all the concepts and skills that our students need to learn and check them off as we teach them. But, these strategies are complex, and we expect our students to use them all their lives. We can’t expect children to be able to use these strategies independently, without support, after just a few lessons.  As teachers, we work to design whole-class, small-group, and individual experiences that model and scaffold our students’ learning and give them the time they need to develop independence” (p. 74).    

I’m getting better.  I was at the point of being pain-free for over three weeks before I decided that I would increase my level of independence and try a day of canoeing over Independence Day weekend.  (Ironic, I know!) Did I have a setback? You bet. I had completely forgotten how many back muscles (and the demands of controlling those muscles) are involved in that activity.  My chiropractor did what great teachers do: he reminded me that I needed more practice with the little steps, such as balancing, building my stamina, and utilizing the right tools in order to be successful.  I had taken away my own scaffolds too quickly because I was too focused on only my ultimate goal rather than what needed to be in place for it to be achieved. 

There’s a good reason it’s called the GRADUAL release of responsibility.  

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It’s Monday! What Are YOU Reading?

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What I Read Last Week:

Last week was a busy reading week for me, but today I’ll be sharing two of the texts I read…
I think my favorite book of the week was Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s, One For the Murphys. This book was recommended to me by a dear teacher friend and what a great recommendation it was! The main character, Carly Connors, is a 12-year-old girl who unexpectedly finds herself placed in a foster home when her mother is unable to take care of her. The Murphys are the quintessential all-American family, which makes Carly resent being with them even more. This heartwarming story of trust, honesty, and love is sure to bring more than a tear or two to readers. One For the Murphys is somewhat reminiscent for me of Cynthia Lord’s Touch Blue, however where Lord’s story is told from the perspective of one of the siblings in the foster family, Lynda Mullaly Hunt tells the story through the voice of the foster child herself. These two texts paired together would work well for a study on point of view with intermediate students.

While browsing in one of my favorite Indie bookstores last week, I stumbled across an AUTOGRAPHED copy of the Caldecott Honor book, Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds. I was pleasantly surprised at this fun and humorous picture book about Jasper Rabbit who loves to eat carrots from Crackenhopper Field. He eats them morning, noon, and night until one day things take a turn for the “very creepy!” Peter Brown’s black and white illustrations, with a bright pop of orange, add to the tone of the text. Can’t wait to share this one with my first-third grade friends!