Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Thoughts from the Lucy Calkins 10th Annual Coaching Institute

Beth and I just got back from attending the 10th Annual Coaching Institute on Supporting Whole-School Instruction in Writing at Columbia University in New York. Wow!  I highly recommend attending this Institute next year if you are a coach, but just a word of advice, it fills QUICKLY..apply the moment it opens or you may not get accepted. Click here if you want more information on TCRWP.

Here is picture of Beth and I waiting to board the plane to head to New York(we love you Starbucks).

Photo: We love you Starbucks!  NYC here we come!!!!!!

Once we arrived in NYC  and we headed to Columbia University to hear Lucy Calkins speak.  Seeing her in person, speaking to us about the importance of teaching writing in education, was definitely a highlight of our visit.She has a true love for teaching writing to children and as the week progressed, we realized we did too! As I type this post up, I can feel the energy that surrounded us during the entire Institute..overwhelmingly it was all positive, student centered, workshop approached. We not only learned the in's and out's of teaching writer's workshop, we also learned valuable tools to help coach teachers in our buildings on writing instruction. I am going do my best to give you an overview of what we experienced during the first days of the Institute in hopes that we can inspire you the way we were inspired by Lucy Calkins and her team.

After listening to our keynote speaker, Lucy Calkins, our next stop was meeting with our cohort group, which was around 29 people. Our TCRWP Cohort Leader, Celena (along with her assistant Lindsay), amazed, inspired and challenged us from the get go. After a LONG day of travel (we left Indy at 5:30 and didn't meet with our cohort group until 5:00 that evening), we instantly realized that this Institute was no joke. Here is a quick snapshot of  the first 30 minutes of this session:

Celina (our cohort leader) began by having us break into the level of experience we had in Writer's Workshop. Once we were divided into our comfort level of WW, we were asked to divide into triads ( we were each assigned a letter a, b, or c), then a cohort group of 6,(we were assigned a number from 1-6) , and finally we had to find a partner within our cohort based on the numbers in our cohort using odd and even. From there we had to instantly plan a jigsaw lesson with our cohort  to teach to ACTUAL students the next day(we were assigned a part of a lesson based on the number we were assigned in our cohort).

Here is a picture of our amazing cohort group on the last day of the Institute:
Photo: Cohort 5 / 6 rocked it!! #tcrwp

It was a great way to step out of our comfort zone and instantly apply what we knew about writing and coaching as well as think about what areas we needed to grow in as a coach. I think this would also be  a great model to use during a staff meeting. It would provide the staff with a new way to learn curriculum as well as create a shared experience where they learn to depend on each other for support and guidance while also being actively engaged in curriculum development.

After the initial day was over, Beth and I left exhausted, overwhelmed, but ultimately excited to learn more. Celena was not someone you wanted to disappoint...she meant business, but was also knowledgeable and extremely helpful at the same time! I began to wonder if that is in fact what all coaches should inspire to be... tough, approachable and knowledgeable?

At dinner that night, Beth and I tried to digest all the information gained from that day and began to try to organize our notes. However, as we began to talk, we realized just talking was really what we needed. Someone to help organize the thoughts, ideas and frustrations that we were processing. This soon became our  theme of the week...TALK, LISTEN, SUPPORT, REPEAT.

We began each morning of the Institute around 5:30, we had to catch a 90 minute subway ride to a school in Brooklyn. So we had a lot of time to TALK, LISTEN, and SUPPORT each other, ironically, our best conversations were during these early morning walks to the subway and on our subway ride to and from Brooklyn each day. The reason I share that is because as a coach, teacher, administrator, etc., I think we often forget how valuable a hallway conversation can be, it is informal, non threatening, non judgmental, instead it is usually a quick chat about a celebration, challenge or simply making a connection with a coworker that you may not have had otherwise.

Here is a photo of our ride to Brooklyn on the last day of the Institute.

Photo: Last ride to Brooklyn.  Leading lab sites today and then back to Columbia University.  Be home at midnight!

Lesson #1 from the Institute to is to really take time to find a coworker who you can TALK, LISTEN and SUPPORT!

Check back with our blog over the next couple weeks as we will begin to dive into the coaching techniques learned, Professional Development ideas and additional resources we discovered while attending the Institute.

We would love to hear from you, let us know what you would like us to share to help you stay Instructionally Fit!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Writing Workshop Fitness

Lucy Calkins, Matt Glover, Smekens, Common Core …ah!  So many good ideas, I’m feeling overwhelmed.  Where do I begin? 

Does this sound familiar?  We often feel the same way, so we decided to take some time to think through the components of Writer’s Workshop and how that looks for you in your individual classrooms.   To begin, let’s look closely at the components of Writer’s Workshop.

Essential components of Writer’s Workshop includes: 
Writing Mini-Lesson (10ish min.)
Student Writing (at least 20min.)
Reflection & Closure (5ish min.)

What could be going on during these times?

Writing Mini-Lesson
Teacher:  modeling writing, reading mentor texts, thinking aloud, introducing anchor charts, embedding writing, grammar, and spelling into lesson

Student:  receiving whole group instruction

Remember:  This is a “one size fits all” lesson.  Keep it short and specific.  You can differentiate and individualize instruction during conferences. 

Student Writing Time
Teacher:  meeting with individual students or groups to discuss specific skills or to set goals for their writing, referring to anchor charts and mentor texts as needed and supporting students’ needs

Student:  writing individually or conferring with their teacher individually or  in a small group  

Remember:  The longer this time, the better!  This is your opportunity to differentiate and help students grow as writers.  They will also build an excellent writing stamina.   

Reflection & Closure
Teacher:  refocusing students back or selecting exemplary examples to share with the group

Students:  celebrating accomplishments, reflecting and making connections

So what is next?
The next step is to think about your students’ needs, teaching style, and curricular needs.  Try asking yourself these questions to help you plan:
·        How much time do I have in my schedule to teach writing?
·        Which genres of writing do I feel most comfortable teaching?
·  What writing genres do I want my students to walk away feeling comfortable writing?
·         What “Units of Study” would be most appropriate for this school year?
·       What grammar or other skills do I need to embed into my mini lessons and student conferences?
·        In which order should I teach these units?
·        What mentor texts can I use to support my writing instruction?
·        What do I know about my students as writers?

Lucy Calkins reminds us to “teach the writer, not the writing”. So allow yourself some time to reflect on the questions above to help you plan out your year.  Once you decide on the genres, skills and units your students need, begin mapping out your year accordingly.  (Ex/ Launching the workshop (procedures), Narrative Writing, Illustration studies). 

Take it one day at time. Find a teaching buddy to plan, reflect and celebrate with as you go.  Have fun and get ready to be amazed by what your students can accomplish.

Launching the workshop can be intimidating and a bit overwhelming.  We encourage you to take the risk and share your trials and tribulations as well as your celebrations with us.  We look forward to hearing from you!

“Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.” Jane Yolen  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why Change?

Welcome to Instructional Fitness, Beth and I hope this blog helps inspire you to try new and creative ways to teach your students. Teachers are busy people.  We are parents, spouses, friends, caretakers, and much more.  We don't always have time to search for resources or plan for hours. We created this blog to serve as a resource to help teachers stay current in education.

You may also be wondering why this blog is entitled Instructional Fitness and what it has to do with education?  Let's think of how education and fitness are related.

How many of you rely on your old workout routines when trying to get back in shape?  I know I always start with walking and slowly begin to pick up the pace to a jog and eventually a run. I love knowing exactly what to expect, how long it will take and being in charge of my own routine. Running has been my passion for the last 15 years, but lately I started noticing that I'm getting bored, my knees are starting to ache (yes I'm getting older) and I am not getting the same satisfaction from running that I once did. Sure I feel better than if I was just laying around watching Bravo TV and eating ice cream, but am I really challenging my body or myself?  I think it's time to step out of my comfort zone and try a new routine. I still plan to run, but I also hope to try a little yoga, weight lifting and maybe even Zumba (this is way out of my comfort zone.. just ask my husband about my dance moves). My hope is that if I step out of my comfort zone, I will feel stronger and let's face it, my knees will last longer too!

You may still be thinking, how does this relate to education? Well, how many of you rely on last years lesson plans when planning for the start of the new school year?

Beth and I know we did.  We may have changed up themes or certain routines in our classrooms, but ultimately we used the same tools to teach year after year. It worked, our students showed growth and we felt confident in what we were teaching. But did we really push our students or ourselves to the next level? Did we challenge ourselves to try new teaching methods or did we find ourselves in a routine that we didn't feel needed to change?

Teaching is hard work, we come in early, stay late and work nights and weekends to plan the perfect lesson. Once we find what works we feel great, as we should, so we stick with it, after all we spent hours on hours organizing, creating and planning and the students loved it. Yes, success! So why change? The same reason we need to change up our work out routine, to stretch ourselves and our students further, to learn, grow and ultimately to give our students what they deserve, an education that isn't stagnate but one that is filled with excitement, challenges, and new opportunities to learn.

As with all new things we try, if we want to really see ourselves grow we have to be willing to take risk.  We may make mistakes, but if we don't try...will we really ever grow?  Our goal with this blog is to provide you with tools that help you to keep your instruction fit.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


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