Going From Good to Great a Journey Not a Destination

Those of you who follow us know we are involved in a weekly Twitter Chat, #G2Great with Dr. Mary Howard. If you don’t know, the  focus of the chat is all about blogg2great2teacher reflection. We meet every Thursday night at 8:30PM EST.  If you are curious, and everyone is welcome – we would be glad to “see” you.  This work has evolved into a new phase of learning involving Voxer.  If you don’t know Voxer it is worth checking out –http://www.voxer.com/    It is sort of like a huge conference
call where you can talk and share pictures/videos. In short it is a dynamic learning space that can
accommodate a free flowing exchange of ideas.

Our Voxer challenge, emerged from fellow connected educators: Amy Brennan (@brennanamy) and Jean Marie Mazzaferro (@SunflowerLit). The work  was to use the Reflective Lesson Analysis and Interactive Samples form: http://www.heinemann.com/shared/studyGuides/E04369/GoodtoGreatTeachingWebForm1.pdf  as a way to reflect on our current practice.  In order to really fully understand the context and to benefit from Dr. Howard’s work, we highly recommend reading her book Good to Great Teaching. http://www.heinemann.com/products/E04369.aspx  and following her on Twitter (@DrMaryHoward) just because she is AMAZING! What makes her so amazing? She is an author who cares deeply for children and teachers.  She is in touch and brings research seamlessly into practice.  Truly a teacher to admire; she is a mentor for all those who want to do the hard work of reflection.

For this challenge, we co-taught a mini-lesson in Reader’s Workshop entitled “Mystery Readers Look Closely At How Secondary Characters Change The Story”. Need another reason to check out Twitter? Our work this year in our mystery unit of study has been vastly influenced by another dynamic member of our PLN on Twitter – Jenna Hansen (@jehansen13 ).  So this work that we are sharing is truly a compilation of many voices from all over the nation in one classroom on Long Island, New York.  Upon completion of the lesson, we had a coaching session to reflect on how it went in terms of bad, good and great practices that were present.  This is how it went.

“Bad” practices:  We are teachers who believe strongly in pairing visual representations with our words whenever possible.  When looking at this lesson, we realized that during the active engagement part we were using visual representations to model our thinking but this was not included on our anchor chart.  We are all about students having tools and realized we were missing a huge opportunity here.  As part of our recent practice we post daily mini-lessons up so we have a visual representation of the mini-lessons that have been taught.  Instead of making this a way for the teacher to stay organized and to keep records of mini-lessons, we want to make it more valuable and turn it into a student resource that they can revisit during their independent work.  This fits into our bigger plan for this school year to find organizational systems to encourage and engage our students to use tools to foster independence.

“Good” practices.  Read aloud is the foundation for our workshop mini-lessons.  The use of our mentor text allowed the children to connect to our teaching point anblogg2greatd pushed their thinking to a higher level.  We have been reading aloud Encyclopedia Brown and doing a lot of comprehension work around it.  However, this mini-lesson asked the children to look more deeply at characters in the mystery which is not the usual thinking children are used to when reading mystery.  ( shout out to Jenna Hansen). They are usually focused on searching for clues and solving the mystery so this work involving character development was at a much deeper level. They were able to engage in this type of thinking because the foundation was already laid as we read aloud and worked within our mentor text.  Also, during the independent reading time, the children were actively engaged and capturing their thinking.  As we conferenced, it was evident that they knew the focus and were rising up to the challenge.

“Great” practices: This involved the level of student engagement during the active engagement portion of the mini-lesson.  Student dialogue was rich and it revealed genuine, authentic understanding of the character development.  Dialogue sparked debate as character behavior was questioned and the children used accountable talk naturally to support their opinions, push the group’s  thinking and to question their counterpart.  In one part, students worked together and took on the role of teacher and expert as they discussed the characters in the book.  This strong understanding allowed the children to synthesize their ideas and build strong theories about the characters including lessons they could learn from them.

Instructional Adjustments: One thing we were going to try is to make copies of the characters from the mentor text ahead of time so we can manipulate them and add them to the anchor chart as a quick and easy way to use visual representations.  Also, the discussion during the mini-lesson made us think about making relational connections between character development and text structure; compare and contrast, problem and solution, and cause and affect.

How did it go: The next mini-lesson we did was “Mystery Readers Compare and Contrast Characters To Better Understand Their Relationships”.  Students were able to use the venn diagram to show how the characters are different and then ask what they have in common (common goals).  After doing this the B9HzEasIAAIAEmpchildren were asked to look through an author’s eye and discuss why the author chose to make the characters this way.  The discussions that followed were so insightful.  Students chose suspects to compare and contrast and realized that the author made choices so the readers would be interested in the mystery, would be questioning guilt and would want to read to figure out which of the suspects did it.  Some chose two detectives and realized the author gave them  traits that complimented each other and this allowed them to work together to put the pieces together to be successful.  On Monday, we will focus on problem and solution structure analyzing if our character is part of the problem or the solution and how this impacts the mystery.  We will keep you posted on how it goes.

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