Monday, October 2, 2017

Literacy Coaches Network (LCN) - Meeting 1

Last year, at Former School, we had a literacy coach from the intermediate school district working one day per week in our school. Her and I got connected and worked together a little bit. She told me about this group called the Literacy Coaches Network which meets throughout the school year to support literacy instruction in our classrooms. Fortunately you do not have to be a coach to be part of it (I would say at least half of the people in the elementary division of it are classroom teachers). I only attended one meeting last year but I made it a point to join again this year when the notices came out and if the first meeting was the only one I went to this year, I would definitely have gotten my money's worth!

It's structured so that you begin with a short general session (less than one hour) where we discuss the overall concept guiding our work for the current year. This year that is moving from looking at data to looking at the impact of using that data to guide instruction. 

Then you break out into various sessions. You sign up for your sessions when you register. I chose to attend a session called K-3 and 4-5 Essentials. Michigan has a new reading law that focuses upon K-3 and being proficient in reading by the end of third grade so this was a session I knew I wanted to be part of (and this was the very part where I feel like I got my money's worth from just the one session!). 

After that breakout we had a spotlight session with a district sharing what they are doing that has been working. It was actually really informative to hear this particular district talk about their challenges and what they are doing to overcome them.

There is a lunch break after that followed by the second breakout session. I chose to attend a session called Academically Productive Talk, which was also super informative.

After that final session there is a short networking time and then time for teams to meet to plan and whatnot. Since I am the only one from my school who attends, I am able to leave at that time if I choose to do so.

I'd like to share a bit about each of my breakout sessions because they were so informative and helpful and I left feeling like I could really go out and use what I had learned to impact my kids (which directly correlates to the opening session on impact, so bonus!).

Academically Productive Talk
I'm going to start with the second session first, on Academically Productive Talk. I selected this session because my students are not active talkers about academics. They are social beings, to be sure, but they do not know how to speak to each other in an academic context. I know how absolutely important it is that they are able to do this so I selected this session to get some tips and tricks. 

We did some brainstorming about the types of talk we think we see in our classrooms now and how our classrooms might be set up to support those types of conversations. Ideas ranged from partner sharing to circle discussions to sitting on a rug with everyone facing each other to having desks arranged in a big circle. We also talked about why talk is important. The facilitator is a science person so we looked at it through the  lens of a science teacher but you could apply it to any disciplinary area. 

We looked through the Talk Science Primer and how there are appropriate talk formats depending upon the situation (whole group, small group and partner talk). The primer is a really good resource. It is geared for science obviously but it would apply to any academic talk situation.  I am super excited to learn more in this session the next time because I want my students to know that they SHOULD be talking in class about academic content and that they will learn so much more if they are engaged aloud with what we are learning because it will allow them to process the information better.

She also told us about the book Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford which I ordered and am excited to dig into. 

K-3 and 4-5 Essentials
I can't say enough how much I enjoyed this session and how deeply it spoke to me. Our work is really guided by this document that lists the essential practices that should occur in every early literacy classroom. (There is also this companion document which discusses the essential practices in literacy for fourth and fifth grade.) 

For this session we really focused on standard 3 which is about small group instruction. We talked about grouping strategies such as leveled groups, need based groups (from diagnostic data), interest based groups and paired or partner reading groups. At one point they said if you always use leveled groups, your students will never be exposed to grade level content. This is not true for me and I was kind of bothered by the idea. When we had time to work with our table group to discuss this, I mentioned my concern about it and one of the other ladies said she felt since my groups are leveled BUT I also insist upon teaching grade level text, it isn't the same as what the facilitators of the group were suggesting. That made me feel a bit better because of course I level my kids, but it also got me thinking about how I could change things up a bit to make a bigger impact while having kids work with peers outside of their group.

I am STOKED to give this idea a shot during this next literacy cycle (which conveniently begins this week!). Here's what I am going to do:
  • Continue my leveled reading groups but switch the days I am working with each group. Previously I had Group A and B on the same days. These are my lowest readers. Starting this week, I will see Group A and Group C  on the same day (lowest readers and the bubble kids) and Group B and Group D on the same day (almost bubble kids and highest readers). 
  • The groups will be run separately but on the days they do not meet with me, they will work with a new partner from the other group to complete their vocabulary and their word work. Basically I am pairing kids in a way that will allow the lower readers to have a support person who is a bit of a better reader while they navigate the grade level material together. This should allow the higher of the two readers to gain skill as they may need to explain to their partner what is going on, but it will also hopefully allow the lower of the two readers a boost up because they are able to process their thinking through talk and will hopefully get more out of each activity. 
First of all, I can't believe I have NEVER thought to do this before. As I was brainstorming it, I had a moment where I literally wanted to smack myself in the forehead like "really?! How have you NEVER come up with this before?!" I will give myself a little grace on this because with the way our learning blocks have been structured in years past, I would have never had the time to do it anyway!

In addition, since we have a dedicated intervention time four days per week, I can use the Dibels Deep data we will get next week along with my MAP baseline data AND data from our bi-weekly story tests to make strategy groups that I can pull during intervention time. This means I don't have to disrupt my usual reading group time but can get some bang for my buck with pulling the groups for 5-10 minutes during the intervention block too. 

I got all of that from a 2 hour session! WELL worth the measly amount of money it cost me to join this year. I am so excited and cannot wait to try these strategies out along with my small group reading practices and see how it helps boost my students' achievement in reading.


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