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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cloud Collaboration : Dropbox and Amazon Clouddrive


I’m headed into this school year looking for ways to increase PLC collaboration within my new grade level team. On my “To-Do” list this week are a couple of quick tech set-ups that are make sharing ideas, skill tasks, assessments, reading passages, and lesson hooks easy. Creating a digital cloud is number one on my list because it quickly fosters collaboration and sharing.

If you’ve ever changed grade levels, you may have found yourself wondering something along these lines… “This school has been open for ten years.  How is there not a single notebook, binder, file cabinet, etc with a collection of tests, resources, and activities that students have done in this grade over the past 10 years??? The problem is that when teachers change grade levels, they take their hard work with them, only to forget about it in an old computer file. It’s time to start leaving a digital footprint and stop reinventing the wheel every time there’s an upheaval in teaching assignments.

Set up a “cloud” for your team with folders that match content areas, and subfolders that match standards.  Then, have your team members upload content that can be used in all classrooms.  On my team, we upload common assessments, workshop task cards, video clips, pictures of anchor charts, and any worthwhile PDF that matches our standards.  Our main rule is that content that is uploaded needs to be premium content that is innovative, purposeful, and not a traditional worksheet. We also keep a copy of the instructional calendars on the cloud drive.   Sharing our digital content enables us to make sure that all team members have access to materials, reduces clogs in our email, and leaves a digital footprint for future teams.


The two clouds I would recommend are Amazon Cloud Drive and Dropbox.  Both are free, but limit the amount of content that can be held.  I have used Amazon Cloud Drive for several years because it’s easy to navigate and allows a large amount of content on the cloud before meeting a size limit.  DropBox has a smaller content limit, but downloading files to your computer is an easier process. I'm leaning towards switching to Dropbox this year because I'd like to reach out to other 3rd grade teams outside of my schools to collaborate, and Dropbox seems to be the more widely used cloud.


Good luck to everyone with pre-planning!  My next post will focus on #2 on my To-Do list: Using Padlet to facilitate "shared leadership" roles on a PLC team.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Welcome to Unpacking the Balanced Literacy Classroom Workshop!  

I've spent the past four years navigating Balanced Literacy in my 3rd-5th grade classrooms.  There's been quite a bit of trial, reflection, and fine-tuning of the process, but the positive impact that the program has on my students makes it worthwhile. I'm looking forward to sharing my experience with other teachers in Fulton County!

In an effort to save trees and provide you with digital copies, we'll use the links below throughout the workshop.  Please do not work ahead of the pace of the class by opening links before we get to them.  Thanks for your cooperation!


Let's get started...

Before the class begins:
While you wait for the class to begin, please respond to the following question by using the Padlet link below.  These responses will be sorted and organized following the workshop, and available for your viewing throughout the summer.  I bet we'll see a lot of great ideas that can quickly be implemented into our classrooms!
What new reading strategy or task have you implemented successfully in your classroom?
 http://padlet.com/wall/balancedsuccess

Read Aloud
If you'd like to hear more from Ken Robinson, check out his book: Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.

Lesson Hook
If you'd like to use the Zones of Comfort, Risk, and Danger protocol with a PLC group, you can download the graphic here




Additional protocols can be found on the National School Reform Faculty website.


Mini-Lesson: 
Here's the big idea...  Balanced Literacy is more like cooking rather than baking.  It's a pinch of this, a smidge of that, add a little zest. Amounts vary.  It is not an exact science or prescribed recipe.  Lessons are built off of a standard, driven by assessments, and individualized to the student.  The Balanced Literacy classroom uses authentic text and personalized learning to meet students' diverse needs.

Balance Literacy Classroom Schedule
One of the main questions I often receive about a Balanced Literacy classroom is how the schedule looks throughout the day.  When do you give tests? How do you have time for a science lab or presentation? The key word is flexibility!  I've posted a schedule below that I've used when I prefer larger groups that meet frequently.  Other times during the year, I'll tweak the schedule to accommodate smaller groups that meet less often for a longer duration. Click on the pictures to download sample schedules.

Shared Reading Lesson
The Shared Reading Lesson is an excellent time to use a complex text that integrates the Science or Social Studies curriculum. The text should be unleveled, but provide scaffolding for students that need it.  I love to integrate writing and "partner talk" into the lesson by using Lucy Calkin's Pushing Your Thinking writing stems. Writing on a graffiti table makes the lesson even more engaging for students! For an outline of my lesson process, click here.


Balanced Literacy Workshop Rotations
We're going to continue to follow the routine of a Balanced Literacy classroom by breaking into small groups and rotating through stations. Your groups will be based on your self-assessment you posted on the Balanced Lit continuum.  You'll be grouped by your experience with Balanced Literacy. Please follow the norms that we created before moving to small groups.  Sometimes, a noisy group of adults makes learning harder than a loud classroom of kids. Thanks!


Rotation #1: Computers~ Independent Exploration of Project-Based Learning (K-5)
I've created a slideshow with active weblinks that presents some of my favorite tech tools for the elementary classroom. I've used almost all of these websites in my classroom for student projects.  In some cases, I've included links to view completed projects by Fulton County students. If you haven't yet introduced Edmodo into your classroom, I highly recommend it for this new school year.  I rely on it to run a Balanced Lit classroom! Click on the slide show below.  You'll need the password from the Rotation sign to access it.


Rotation #2: Differentiation ~ Partner Exploration of Differentiation Ideas (K-5)
In this rotation, you'll work with a partner to explore the use of choice menus, literature circles, alternative assessments, and Think Dots during the workshop rotations.  My students always enjoy the Book Club choice menus as formative and summative assessment options. You can explore the printed copies of these differentiated tasks and/or use this time to download your own copies.  Click on the pictures below to download:





Check out this Wiki for differentiated Choice Menus spanning K-5: Dare to Differentiate

Rotation #3: Guided Reading Using Leveled Text
 We will meet together to discuss using leveled, authentic text to drive small group instruction. If you have questions, this will be the time to ask them.

Closing: Goal-Setting
Take a deep breath!  Neither Rome nor a Balanced Literacy classroom was built in a day. The best advice I received in the early stages of my shift in teaching was to pick one to two areas to build.  Once those elements were in place, I layered in the additional elements of Balanced Literacy.  I started with my strength.  With an undergraduate degree in writing, I was most comfortable targeting the Writing Workshop and developing leveled Book Clubs.  With those foundation pieces in place, I added 1:1 conferencing, and the Reader's Workshop format. As the routine developed with my students, I then began moving away from a whole-class Science or Social Studies block, and began integrating those lessons into authentic texts throughout our morning. I adjusted the schedule on the days that called for science labs or Social Studies projects. Finally, I zeroed in on differentiating our tasks, integrating technology, and building skills through project-based learning.  My classroom continues to be a work in progress!

If you are at the point of shifting to Balanced Literacy or tweaking an existing program, I encourage you to use the Goal-Setting document below to help you navigate the process.  Good Luck!



Redelivery for Schools and PLCs in Fulton County:
If you would like to use the all or part of the PowerPoint used in the workshop to redeliver to schools and/or PLCs in the Fulton County School System, you may download a copy below. You will need the same password you used to access the Tech Tools Slideshare to open this PowerPoint. Under no circumstances may all or part of the presentation be copied and used for presentations outside of the Fulton County School System without permission.  In addition, all or part of the slides may not be copied and resold through popular teacher profit websites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers or other venues.  Thank you for your cooperation!
Click on the image to access the PowerPoint








Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Does the Daily 5 Fit into Balanced Literacy?

The quick answer is yes, but the implementation will vary based on grade level, whether science and social studies are integrated into the primary reading block, and your local school initiatives related to upgrading independent workshop tasks.

The Daily 5 is a literacy framework designed by two veteran teachers, Gail Boushey and Jane Moser, intended to improve differentiation, classroom environment, structure of groups, and overall paperwork. If you look at the structure below, you’ll find that it matches up nicely with Balanced Literacy tasks peppered throughout your literacy blocks:

Daily 5
Balanced Literacy Model
Read to Yourself
SSR (Self-Selected Reading) + 1:1 Conferences
Read to Someone
Buddy Reading with a Choice Menu or Think Dots
Work on Writing
Writing Choice Menu / Journal Response
Listen to Reading
Modeled Reading and/or Listening Center
Spelling/Word Work
Spelling / Word Work

I didn’t set out to implement a true Daily 5 model, but you’ll find, as I did, that the best practices of a Balanced Lit classroom are instructional strategies that should be found in all literacy classrooms: independent reading & writing, shared reading, modeled reading, and word work. Because I’m concerned that the Daily 5 model has the potential to lack rigor, I make sure that most (not all, though) literacy tasks involve a written response, draft, or final product. I keep it simple, though, and it doesn’t involve worksheets!

In a primary classroom, many Balanced Lit teachers follow the structure of the Daily 5 closely during the reading workshop/guided reading portion of the day.  As students get older, though, I think that teachers need to consider modifying the Daily 5 in order to work project based-learning tasks and tasks connected with science and social studies units into the workshop model. 

In my 3rd and 4th grade classrooms, I’ve structured my literacy blocks to include at least three of the “Daily 5” components each day, and multiple “Daily 5” tasks each week. I also incorporate these tasks into homework. The two “Daily 5” components that I make sure are completed every day are the “Read to Self” (aka Self-Selected Reading/SSR) and “Work on Writing.” I believe the single greatest movement in reading levels is directly connected with daily independent reading and writing time. I set aside 35 minutes at the end of the day for SSR/Writing Response time.  During this time, I’m conferencing 1:1 with students or meeting with strategy groups. I also use this time for student-led Book Clubs to meet.

The one “Daily 5” that I do not include as part of workshop rotations is the “Listen to Reading” task. On the high-support end of a Balanced Lit classroom is the “modeled reading” (aka The Read Aloud).  I read aloud and think aloud to my students every day.  By 3rd grade, I have moved the “Listen to Reading” station into my RTI toolkit, and use it as needed. Instead of a “listening station,” I make sure that I have a project-based task as part of the workshop rotation.  This project-based task may be related to a Book Club text, Science or Social Studies unit, or integrated writing & technology project. This task may run from a week to a month in duration.  I create a rubric for these projects and a checklist with mini-due dates to help students manage their time. During 1:1 conferences, I check-in with the progress of the project.

Balanced Literacy empowers teachers to make curriculum choices.  The Daily 5 model will be a good fit for some classrooms and a stepping stone for others.  Use your professional judgment!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Assessments in a Balanced Lit Classroom

     In a balanced literacy classroom, assessment-based planning is at the heart of the literacy model. It should be on-going, and drive instructional decisions. These assessments provide a clear window into each student’s reading life. Once you introduce a variety of assessments into your reading classroom, you’ll quickly see that there are no longer red birds, bluebirds, and yellow birds, but rather a unique ecosystem of readers constantly adapting and changing.  And, to keep with the ecosystem metaphor, you’ll find quite a few readers so sly with camouflage that they have hidden their literacy deficits under the canopy of good test-taking skills.

     Assessments in my classroom continue to evolve, and have become increasingly tied to my PLC grade level assessment decisions. Below you’ll find a summary of the assessment tools and opportunities for student reflection that I incorporate into my Balanced Literacy classroom.

Materials & Tools

DIBELS & Running Records (Formative/ non-graded) 
This is the area most in flux in my Balanced Lit classroom at the moment.  For several years, I have used DIBELS to assess reading fluency and basic comprehension.  I’ve had mixed feelings on this tool because, ultimately, this is beneficial to monitor non-fluent readers, and a waste of time (IMHO) for fluent readers. Last year, I moved to only using DIBELS as a progress monitoring tool for RTI. When it comes to running records, we all know that it’s time consuming.  In the past, I used running records for RTI. This upcoming school year, I plan to reverse it and use running records on all of my students.  I’ll do an initial assessment during the first weeks of school, and then shift the tool into my conferencing time throughout the year. I share DIBELS results, running records, and anecdotal notes with parents during parent conferences. 


Performance Assessments (Summative / test grade) 
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!!! After most extended text readings, whether through guided reading, modeled reading, or book clubs, students typically complete a creative performance assessment based on the text and standard(s) that we have been working on. I often use a choice menu of tasks or presentation modes to differentiate the process and product. You must create a rubric for this!  I promise, it takes a little hard work upfront learning to create rubrics, but it gets easier. If this is a common assessment among your grade level, be sure to share your rubric with your PLC members. I grade these projects, hang them in the classroom, and then send the graded rubric and project home to parents.

Reading Response (formative/ quiz grade) 
I use a reading response journal for quick formative checks. Students are given a 3-ring binder that contains a response choice menu, reading log, and written response section. (I created mine based off of Beth Newingham’s blog suggestions). Students will either bring their journals to our 1:1 conference or I will peruse responses every two weeks and assign a grade based on a response rubric.  *I just saw an idea on Pinterest where you have mini-rubrics on label stickers that you can attach to reading responses. It saves paper and time! I send these response journals home to parents twice a quarter.

Cold-Read Assessments once every two weeks at their current grade level  (formative/quiz grade) 
The easiest source for this is to use a Science or Social Studies passage/lesson from the textbook, with a correlated quiz from the textbook teaching materials. It’s essentially an open-book quiz.  I know…it’s a textbook and super traditional!  But, it’s non-fiction, relevant, rigorous and (supposedly) on grade level. We also can’t ignore that our students are assessed in a multiple choice format on standardized tests, typically using science and social studies passages. Other resources for these cold-read passages with comprehension questions include www.readworks.org, and test prep books. These cold-read assessments should be at their current grade level, not the instructional level.  

Grade level Common Assessments (formative or summative/ graded) 
An entire blog post…no, make that a book…could be written on developing common assessments among your PLC. Look for a post on this topic later, but here’s the gist.  Balanced Literacy uses the Backwards-Design model, meaning you must decide what you want your student learning outcome to be related to the standard, and then design the assessment using a variety of DOK levels before you begin to actually write your lesson plans.  Your PLC needs to be able to answer these questions before drafting the assessment:

                What do we want the students to learn?
                How will we know when each student has learned it?
                How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty 
                in learning?

In my PLC, we typically look ahead in our instructional calendar and decide which standards will be assessed in an upcoming unit.  We then divide up the writing of the initial draft for each assessment. Initially, my PLC had content “leaders” that took charge of their content’s initial draft of assessments.  This only worked, though, for those content leaders with less assessments. We found that we needed more frequent language arts, and vocabulary tests than reading, science and social studies.  The distribution of assessments was uneven and led to quick burnout.  We later changed our process to creating a list of needed assessments and divided it up equally. 

Individualized instructional level assessments  - My school has used the Accelerated Reader program for several years to assess reading at student’s independent levels. For the past two years, we have taken a quiz grade every two weeks, using the average of all quizzes. While I liked the potential that the AR comprehension assessment data might have provided me, I was often concerned that the data was skewed.  When kids didn’t manage their time well, they would rush through books to meet the deadline impacting scores, or try to slip in a book below their instructional level to read it fast. 
My school is moving away from the AR program this school year.  I’m not sure yet what that will mean for this category of assessments. Stay tuned…

Conferencing (formative / non-graded) – Look for a blog post on 1:1 conferencing.  It’s a vital component in a Balanced Literacy classroom!