Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Parent-Teacher Conferences: 6 Things Parents Want You to Know

For longer that I really want to admit to, I have been a teacher and a parent.  Yes, I am that old!  I have had over 20 years experience of being on both sides of the proverbial desk. And yet despite that experience, I still get a little bit nervous about attending my child's first parent-teacher conference of the year. And I know that I am not alone, as I have heard many other parents express the same thing.

As I prepare to attend my middle son's conference next week, I started thinking about what parents, whether or not they are also teachers, want teachers to know.  

6 Tips For a Great Conference: A Parent's Point of View

1.  Parents are sometimes a little anxious about sitting down to chat with the teacher even if our child is doing well academically and socially.  As a parent to a child that struggled in elementary school with social and behavior issues, my anxiousness was magnified.  As a way to break the ice, share with us three positives about our child at the beginning of the conference.  

2.  If you are able to, send home a pre-conference question sheet the week or so before the conference.  Designate a place for parents to ask questions and to share concerns about the curriculum or the child's progress, or to share issues at home that may affect the child's attitude, behavior, or learning at school. This response sheet will help you plan the meeting to address the parent concerns.  In addition, if you run out of time, you will have a written update from the parent that notifies you of important changes. Parents want teachers to know that sometimes we get overwhelmed and forget to share information with you or we forget to ask specific questions during the actual conference.  It doesn't have to be fancy and can consist of a small list of open-ended questions.

3. Of course every parent wants to hear the good stuff about their kids, but they also want to know the negative stuff and they don't want it sugar-coated.  At least this parent doesn't want it sugar-coated. Sure, some of us may get defensive, but behind that initial reaction is a parent that wants to know what we can do at home to help our child be successful at school.  If I have a child that is excelling in all areas, give me ideas of what I can do at home to challenge him.

4.  We do value your assignments and expectations, but sometimes life gets in the way. We forget to sign the reader's log, sign the progress report, or complete the field trip slip.  And they aren't excuses... for many of us, we are doing the best that we can under our circumstances. Other times, we are allowing our child to take responsibility and face natural consequences if the work is not completed. But, but please do not take away my child's or any child's recess as a consequence and punishment. As the mother to three boys, I can tell you that this only creates more problems in the classroom if my active little one is not able to take a break that his brain and body needs. As a teacher, I was an advocate for this as well.  Have them stay after school, miss part of a fun activity, contact me at home, or give them a zero on the assignment.

5.  Show us samples of work that has been completed in class.  I realize and completely understand why some work (especially writing) cannot be sent home.  Select a few pieces that showcase their work across the content areas including written projects, journals, and group work.

6.  And lastly, we want you to know that we respect you and are often times in complete awe as to how you do what you do- all with a smile on your face and having what appears to be the patience of Job.  And most likely, we will forget to tell you, but that doesn't mean that we are unappreciative. This parent has made it a priority this year to encourage my son's teacher and to tell him what an amazing job I think he is doing.  And because I will most likely forget to tell him next week at our conference, I will send him a handwritten note or an email.

I'm linking up with HoJo's Teaching Adventures.  Click the pic below to visit her site to find more elementary blog posts and helpful resources!

Do you have additional tips to share?  Please leave a comment!

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Using In November as a Mentor Text for Pattern Poetry

One of the many things that I like about using mentor texts is that I can often use one book and get more "bang for my buck" by relating it to both reading and writing in the same lesson.  I integrate reading and writing on most days because the lines between the two are often blurred in the "real world". We read for pleasure, but we also read as a writer and write as a reader.  A few weeks ago, I was teaching a mini-lesson on using imagery and descriptive language in writing. We were learning how using imagery that creates, paints a picture in the reader's mind makes our own writing more interesting and makes what we read more fun and enjoyable. I used Cynthia Rylant's In November as a mentor text.

After we read the story once and enjoyed and soaked in Rylant's beautiful poetic description of November, we then went back to take a close look at the sensory imagery she used.  We  found examples and recorded them on this graphic organizer:

Then, I gave the challenge of having us write a poem { not a story or a paragraph} of our favorite season or month. We used another copy of the same organizer to brainstorm specific images about our topic.  I chose autumn and my son chose the month of January (his birthday month!) as the topics of our poems.

Next, was drafting time.  I created a structured form {see above}for writing the first draft.  The form of the poem is really like a "list poem" and uses Rylant's In November as a model for my take on a pattern poetry task.

I shared my final copy as a model and as an example (I also worked along side my son as I always do with writing, going through each step of the writing process).

And below is my 8 year old's final copy which he wanted to type and use a fancy border!  He was very proud of his writing, which was really a stretch for him to use such descriptive images!

If you would like the printables for this lesson, click the pic below to download them from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

I'm linking up with HoJo's Teaching Adventures.  Click the pic below to visit her site to find more elementary resources!


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Monday, October 12, 2015

More Reading and Writing, Less "Stuff"!

About a month or so ago, I started a series on my Facebook page called Nurturing Literacy as a way to promote best practices in literacy instruction. As well, I wanted to share reminders of how to foster a love of reading and writing in our students.  My most recent tip is pictured above and is really something that is at the core of my teaching philosophy. When I was a classroom teacher and later a reading specialist/literacy coach, I found that I had to be very intentional in making sure that one, I was not doing most of the talking most of the day and two, that during reading and writing blocks, and in content lessons that my students were doing actual, authentic reading and writing.

At least for me, I can get so caught up in pre-reading activities such as activating schema, building background information, and pre-teaching vocabulary, that there isn't that much time left for the students to actually read.  Again, I have to keep myself in check and be intentional in limiting before reading activities so that students have a large chunk of time to read.  Richard Allington confirms my beliefs:

The issue is less stuff vs. reading than it is a question of what sorts of and how much of stuff. When stuff dominates instructional time, warning flags should go up. This is true even when the activity, in some form, has been shown to be useful. Activating students' background knowledge before reading (Pearson & Fielding, 1991) and generating discussion after reading (Fall, Webb & Chudowsky, 2000) is useful. But three to five minutes of building background knowledge is probably enough; spending most of a 90 minute reading block on building background knowledge seems an unlikely strategy for improving reading proficiencies.  
(2002 Richard Allington, http://www.readingrockets.org/article/six-ts-effective-elementary-literacy-instruction)

And then there are during and after reading activities. My stance on this is that we should not drown students in questions to answer and worksheets to complete.  Personally, I cringe when I see a 100 page packet for students to complete during and after reading a chapter book or novel. After 25 years in education, I have found that this practice does not motivate students, does not foster a love for reading, and is really not necessary to have them answer a plethora of questions for each and every chapter. Time would be better spent having students answer a reader response question and then having them get back to reading.

Another article written by Allington and Rachael E. Gabriel states:

First, eliminate almost all worksheets and workbooks. Use the money saved to purchase books for classroom libraries; use the time saved for self-selected reading, self-selected writing, literary conversations, and read-alouds. 

 ( 2012 ASCD http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar12/vol69/num06/Every-Child,-Every-Day.aspx)

Many renowned and seasoned teachers such as Nancie Atwell, Regie Routman, Donald Graves, Jeffrey Wilhelm, et al,as well as recent teacher-researchers such as Kelly Gallagher an Donalyn Miller all emphasize that it is critical that teachers create many opportunities for students to read and write throughout the day. I am very selective in the tasks and activities that my students complete.  Is this worksheet really necessary?  Should I continue to do DOL (Daily Oral Language) or have students read or write at the beginning of the day or class period? As for the latter, I did eliminate my DOL and instead had students writing in their journal (a part of their Writer's Notebook) for "bell ringer" work.  And fast finishers?  Instead of another worksheet or skill practice, I allow my students to do independent reading.  Again, these practices are not only supported by research, but also from my own personal experiences.  Kelly Gallagher, author of Readicide, makes a plea to teachers:

Readers need to read a lot before they become good readers.  This should be nonnegotiable. Unfortunately, I have found that schools have become such extremely busy places that authentic reading experiences are often buried under lectures, group work, films, worksheets, and test preparation.  ( Readicide, p. 58)

Of course, this does not mean that there is never a time and place for the occasional worksheet, craft, or explicit teaching.  One lesson that I have learned is that we need to teach with a sense of urgency, but even more importantly, we need to encourage, inspire, and motivate our students to grow as independent readers and writers. As I am creating a lesson plan, I ask myself two questions:  Is this best practice according to the research and my own action research? And, I ask myself if my plans will help to develop my students as motivated and independent readers, writers, and thinkers. What do my students need to be successful?  Do they need 1:1 explicit teaching and support?  Would it be best for them to be in a guided reading or writing group? What about test prep and CCSS alignment, curricular scope and sequence?  Well, let's just say that I often teach like a pirate! Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, explains pirate teaching this way:

Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success.  They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence. They are entrepreneurs who take risks and are willing to travel to the ends o the earth for that which they value (p. xii).

If you can show your admin that your teaching practices get results, then you will be supported even if you stray from the norm.  I am thankful for the trailblazers like Nancie Atwell, Donalyn Miller, Paul Solarz, and Dave Burgess, just to name a few.  Not only did they take a risk, step out of their comfort zones, and eliminate the fluff and stuff from their lesson plans, but they documented their learning and experiences, thus providing rich research from which we can learn.

The answer to the complicated questions and concerns about our nation's schools, students, and test data may be really simple: allow time, much more time in the classroom for students to read and write.

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