The Importance of Doing the Laundry: Maintenance Matters

by Kate Roberts, 2017 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

A little while ago, I attended a keynote on the importance of innovation in our schools, classrooms, and nation. It was a rousing speech, and I agreed with all of it. Of course, we need fresh, inspiring ideas to help solve some of our most pernicious problems in education. Of course, we want educators who are able to think in new and creative ways about how to best reach and raise our children. I left energized and rearing to go.

Kate RobertsAs I began to implement these innovative ideas, I hit wall after wall of reality. I didn’t have the resources I needed. I didn’t have the experience to truly teach or guide the new ideas I had, so that when my students had trouble, I was not sure where to go. I still had my old, “un-innovative” curriculum to contend with, plus the assessments that seem unmovable, plus the grading system of my school. My foray into innovation gave me a few days of shiny new practices, but they soon gave way to the gravitational pull of normal.

I was tempted to say, “This just doesn’t work.” (Ok, I did say it.)

I was wrong and, at the same time, right. Many innovative ideas can work – as long as we are able and supported in devoting great amounts of labor to them for the long haul.

Innovation needs maintenance. So does normalcy. In fact, without maintenance, the whole thing (our classrooms, our homes, our world) just falls apart. But there are few keynotes given or books written in praise of the need to carry on and keep things going. There are few PD sessions on the power of grinding away at the same old stuff making sure things are working well enough.

But there should be.

In their Aeon article “Hail the Maintainers,” Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel make a case for the importance of supporting the maintainers in any profession. From the fall of the Iron Curtain to the inequity arising out of Silicon Valley, they point out that while novel ideas are integral to our evolution, these ideas wind up really taking on a very small percentage of the actual work.

Russell and Vinsel argue that the hard (and mundane) work of maintenance opens up the space for innovation to exist:

“…focusing on infrastructure or on old, existing things rather than novel ones reminds us of the absolute centrality of the work that goes into keeping the entire world going. Despite recurring fantasies about the end of work or the automation of everything, the central fact of our industrial civilization is labour, and most of this work falls far outside the realm of innovation.”

I would argue we do not spend enough time talking about and celebrating the labor of teachers – all the maintenance it takes to get great and innovative ideas up off of the ground and into the world. And we do not spend enough time helping each other to find sustainable ways to practice that maintenance and keep it going.

If innovation requires the essential and mundane work of maintenance, we must carve out ways to support and nurture this unglamorous work. Here are a few ways that we can support the maintenance that takes innovation going:

  1. Consider the systems and structures first.

When an innovative idea comes along, create systems in your classroom to maintain and support that idea, keeping it accountable for you and your students. For example, you go to a workshop on student blogging and expanding their intellectual social network. Great idea. Now, how much class time per week will you devote to this practice and when will that happen? Wednesdays for 20 minutes? Every Friday? Without repetition, innovative ideas will stay flashes in the pan.

Next, ask yourself, where will they do this work? What platform will they use and how will you make sure your kids know how to use it.

Finally, what is the expectation for the outcome? How will you hold them accountable?

When creating a system to maintain innovation, lean on the building blocks of reality:

TIME: When will students practice this innovation and how will they be         reminded?

SPACE: Where will students practice this innovation and how will you know?

MATTER:  (Ok, this is a stretch in the science metaphor) How will the work    take shape, as in, what is the accountable expectation in your classroom.

Without these systems in place, any new idea will be a flash of something promising, yet struggle to take root.

  1. Listen when it feels like too much work.

If you are listening to a speaker or reading a book and begin to feel overwhelmed (like, what is being presented is way too much work for you to actually get up and going), then, honestly, it probably is, at least completely. The answer to innovation cannot be that teachers just take on more and more work into infinity. And yet that is often the implied suggestion behind every professional development session, every new idea, every exhortation to “lift the level of …”

I am not suggesting that you shut down when things feel like too much work. But when you feel like you cannot do it, I am suggesting that you pause, step back, and realize that you will not be able to get everything in place – at least not right now. Ask yourself, “which part of this do I feel like I can tackle right now? Which part feels like it will take some work, but not so much work that my sliver of work/life balance won’t be obliterated?”

This way, you can begin.

  1. Focus on what matters and be willing to let go of the rest.

Innovative ideas can often come packaged in ideals. And yet, as often quoted, perfect is very much the enemy of the good. We can strive to always ask ourselves, “what is truly important about this work? What is the heart of it? Often, when we name what the most important work is, it helps us to set priorities or to simplify the work ahead of us. We can always work on perfecting things, but let’s get the good stuff going first.

When I was in my 20’s, it felt like I was innovating my life. New relationships, new jobs, new cities and friends. But with each new huge life changing experience, I noticed things were falling apart around me. Heaps of dirty clothes piled on the floor. Stacks of bills to be paid. Unreturned phone calls. Before long, the new things  – relationships, jobs and experiences – paled in comparison to the need to maintain. I realized then that the only way I could create this new life for myself was to keep up the day-to-day stuff; this behind-the-scenes maintenance helped me create the headlines in the newspaper of my life.

We can be innovative. But in order to do so we must also maintain.

References

Russell, Andrew and Vinsel, Lee. “Hail the Maintainers.” Aeon.com. https://aeon.co/essays/innovation-is-overvalued-maintenance-often-matters-more. (Accessed August 6th, 2017).

Save the Day with Flipped Lessons: Our Superheroes in Reading and Writing Workshop

DanaSonja- thumbnail

by Guest Bloggers and Literacy for All Conference Speakers Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul

Are you like us? Do you occasionally turn to YouTube for tips and tutorials? From baking salmon so that it’s flaky and crispy to changing a flat tire, we turn to YouTube to learn. It has also helped us in the classroom. If we have a tough grammar or writing concept that we’re going to teach, we might refer to TeacherTube and YouTube as resources. These online tutorials have been like superheroes to us as adults, and we began wondering how we could create online lessons to help our students too.

Over the past few years, we have been thinking deeply about the pedagogical approach known as flipped learning. Traditionally, flipped learning has been defined as a learning environment where students learn new content independently. Such learning has typically occurred outside of the classroom for homework, and this approach has been used primarily with high school students in content areas such as science or math.

We were intrigued. And yet, we had questions. Does flipped learning work for elementary and middle school students? How could we incorporate flipped learning in reading and writing workshop? Could we design lessons to be used in the classroom, as well as out? Could we use flipped lessons to teach new content and to review previously taught material? But mostly, would flipped learning truly benefit our readers and writers in elementary and middle school and if so, how?

Picture a reading or writing workshop with a whole-class minilesson and the teacher conferring with students one at a time after the minilesson. Now, add to this image a few students learning additional reading and writing strategies from a flipped lesson on their own after the minilesson. In this blended-learning environment, students can take ownership of their learning and access instruction on reading and writing concepts that have been previously taught or concepts that are new. Flipped learning allows each student to move at his or her own pace. We discovered additional benefits as well.

  • Individualized Instruction – We love the gentle chaos of the reading and writing workshop. By gentle chaos, we mean the individualized learning that is taking place. Our students are not in lockstep and our instruction is differentiated. Flipped learning helps our students access the instruction they need, when they need it. How many times have we had students who say, “I’m done!” during the first week of a unit? And how many times have we had students who need to review strategies over and over throughout the course of the year? When using a flipped learning approach in writing workshop, students can set goals at the start of the workshop, mid-way through the workshop, or at the end. In these ways and more, flipped lessons can be used to foster individualized learning in the classroom.
  • Efficiency – How many times in our classrooms have we wondered aloud, “If there were only two more of me…” or exclaimed, “If only I could just clone myself!” In the reading or writing workshop, teachers are juggling multiple balls in the air on any given day. Flipped learning can be used to help our workshops run more efficiently. Picture this. On any given day, some students need help with a revision strategy. Others need practice inferencing. And still others need help getting started with selecting a book or an idea to write about. All of this is happening while you’re trying to confer with students or teach a minilesson to a small group. Flipped lessons function as superheroes who save the day! Flipped learning helps all students get the specific instruction they need, when they need it.
  • Engagement – Flipped learning is a way to increase motivation and student engagement in reading and writing workshop. These short, creative lessons capture students’ attention and they feel encouraged to apply what they have learned to their reading or writing. We want to encourage our students to become active participants in their learning. Flipped learning helps students take initiative and become engaged learners.
  • Assessment – Flipped learning requires rich, iterative assessment to move students forward. It is not a replacement for face-to-face interactions with teachers, and neither is it the panacea for all writing ailments in the classroom. Our role as teachers is critical. Our students NEED us to teach, guide, and follow up. As a result of accessing a flipped lesson, a pathway for students to assess themselves and receive additional support is key. Also, students should have a clear understanding of exactly how their teacher plans to assess their progress. This assessment can take many forms from conferring with students, to reviewing their reading or writing notebook or drafts, to completing an entrance/exit ticket, and more.

For these reasons and many others, we began using flipped learning in our reading and writing workshops. If you’re intrigued about flipped learning in your writing workshop, a great place to start is to think about 3-5 lessons that would be good to flip. Ask yourself, “Which lessons do I find myself reteaching during the school year?” These might include: a lesson about how to write a single paragraph, a lesson about how to identify a theme in reading, or a lesson about dialogue punctuation. Then ask yourself, “Are there any lessons that my novice readers and writers might want to refer to over and over throughout the year?” “Any for my advanced readers and writers?” Reflecting on questions such as these along with the needs of your students can help you to brainstorm your first lessons to flip.

We’re looking forward to talking much more about flipped learning at the Literacy For All conference in October. If you’re curious about flipped learning in the reading and writing workshop and would like to start making flipped lessons, come join us!


Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul, authors of Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach & Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning, are speaking at the Literacy for All Conference being held October 23-25, 2016 in Providence, RI. You can also find Dana and Sonja on Twitter at @LitLearnAct and on their Facebook Group called LitLearnAct.

Dana and Sonja’s session at the conference is:

Monday, October 24, 2016

10:30 pm – 12:00 pm- “Flipping Without Flipping Out in Reading and Writing Workshop”  (Grades 5-8)

Young Writers and Sensory Detail

by Guest Blogger Brian Heinz, Author and 2016 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker

Brian Heinz

Remember that February trip to Puerto Rico? You stepped from the airport into warm tradewinds carrying the scent of the sea and hibiscus blooms. The chatter of fluttering bananaquits filled the treetops, and the cricket-like croak of the the tiny, elusive coqui punctuated the Spanish dialog and tropical music. Never been to Puerto Rico? It doesn’t matter. When you experience any place fully, it is internalized through your senses.

In my years of teaching Language Arts to elementary and middle school students, one of the shortcomings common to weak writing was the absence of sensory detail. Our young writers tend to be ‘visual’ writers, naming things that the reader can visualize, but forgetting that we experience places and events through all five senses. Many of my books for young readers are researched on location – riding a dog sled at -20 degrees in Canada, ten days in the Cheyenne River Canyon with wild mustangs, rafting swift rivers, or camping in wolf country. I amass sensory details that allow my readers to vicariously experience the environments and the events portrayed in my narrative fiction and nonfiction books.

With my young writers, I’ll often employ a “sensory template” to create a pool of words from which they can draw to enhance their writing. This list includes the five basic physical senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. (But remember, not only do your fingers ‘feel’ things. Our hair lifts with the breeze, our skin feels the dampness of a fog, your feet sink into mud or moss.)

We start with a statement that incorporates three critical elements of ‘story,’ the character’s name, a principal verb to create an action, and the setting (time and place.) This opening image launches our word bank. For example, if we decide to create a piece about a boy boating on a pond, the statement and choices may look much like this collection from a fourth grade class:

Michael is rowing his boat on a pond at sunrise.

See? : water, waves, ripples, flowers, grass, lily pads, fish (eel?), frogs, dragonflies, ducks, swan, trees (pines, oaks, or maples?), other boats, house, log, dock, people, clouds, bubbles, rocks, sand, reflections, alligator, turtle

Hear: croak, pop, buzz, splash, whoosh (wind), quack, crunch, plop, rustle (leaves), voices, laughing, chirp, thunder (rumble), snap, hiss, squeak (the rusty oarlocks, or a mouse)

Feel: wind, wet, rocking of the boat, sweat, raindrops, wooden oars (in his hands), tired, sleepy, warm sun on his face

Smell: roses (garden), smoke (fireplace), barbecue, dead fish

Taste: candy, chocolate, gum, sweat, peanut butter sandwich

I reminded this class that they need not include all five senses on their opening page. If Michael is rowing a boat, he may not be eating at the moment. This is the writer’s choice. The parentheses above are my doing, as I push my writers to be specific, to use precise language. Readers cannot visualize a ‘fish,’ but a mind readily captures the image of an eel. Keep a wary eye for students who generalize. Have them name flowers, or trees, or fish, or birds.

At this point, I create an opening paragraph using some of their words, which I underlined:

Michael pulled on the wooden oars. The boat rocked forward on a row of ripples. Frogs croaked from the lily pads and the sweet smell of roses drifted across the water.”

This paragraph pulls the reader immediately into the story. Now I can add another critical element: The Problem. Imagine this as the next paragraph: “At the center of the pond, Michael rested a moment. Suddenly, something large and dark raced upward and slammed into the floor of the boat, almost tossing Michael into the water.” Perhaps it’s the alligator from our word list? I haven’t said so yet. This creates suspense. Every student would want to turn the page. I could continue: “The water settled down. All was peaceful. A second time the boat was struck, splitting the floorboards, and water rushed in.” Now, I can mention that Michael can’t swim. The class is riveted. I’ve compounded the problem, still employing sensory detail.

In choosing mentor books, examine where, and how often, the authors employ sensory detail. Many of my books are used as mentor texts by teachers around the country. These include The Wolves, Cheyenne Medicine Hat, and NANUK: Lord of the Ice.

When a student, writing about being on the beach last summer, writes this – “While I was walking along the beach, I could smell food cooking on the barbecue.” – I don’t share in the experience. The sentence is permeated with passive verbs, general terms, and lack of sensory detail. But rewrite the idea this way – “My feet sank into warm beach sand as hot dogs sizzled on the grill.” We feel the sand, see the beach, hear the food cook, and smell a specific meat!

In a shorter sentence, the scene has become vivid. We have pulled the reader into the scene and allowed them to re-live the experience by using specific language and sensory details.

A word of caution as your students begin to employ their sensory details. There is often a transitional stage where students tell their readers what to experience by using preparatory terms like I felt… I saw… I heard… I smelled…  and I tasted.

Examine these two paragraphs, the first with the telling tags, the second without such tags.

“When I was at the beach I heard sea gulls screaming. I saw them diving into the water. I felt the sun on my face and I felt the wind blowing my hair. I saw a wave coming and I heard it crash on the shore. I could smell cotton candy from the refreshment stand.”

“At the beach, screaming sea gulls dove into the water. The sun beat down on my face and waves crashed onto the shore. Wind blew through my hair and carried the scent of cotton candy from the refreshment stand.”

 

Brian Heinz is the award-winning author of 18 books for young readers. His picture books include fiction and nonfiction, in prose and in verse, and in multiple genres including historical, fantasy, nature, adventure, and coming-of-age tales. His teachers’ text, Construction & Revision: A Writer’s Handbook for the Language Arts Classroom, will be released this September. A native of Long Island, he taught Language Arts and Science for 28 years. He now presents at more than ninety schools and conferences a year, and teaches “Writing for Children” at the prestigious Hofstra University Summer Writers Program. Visit him on the web at www.brianheinz.com to peruse his works, awards, and program offerings.

Brian Heinz is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference on:

Monday (10/24):

1:30pm – 3:00pm: Story: How Do I Tell Thee? Let Me Count the Ways (Grades 5-8).

3:30pm – 5:00pm: Revision & Editing: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth (Grades 3-8)

Tuesday (10/25):

10:15a – 11:45am: Revision & Editing: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth (Grades 3-8) *repeat session

A First Timer’s Guide to Registering for Literacy for All

We’re excited to announce we’ve opened registration for the 26th Annual Literacy for All Conference, co-hosted with The University of Maine, the University of Connecticut, and New York University. This year the conference will be held November 15–17, 2015 in Providence, Rhode Island. While we know many of you are veteran LFA attendees, each year we have more and more new faces joining us in Providence. Welcome to all first timers!

We have made it even easier to register for the Literacy for All Conference! Simply visit https://www.regonline.com/lfa2015 and enter your email address to begin your registration process. We’ve put together a little guide to our online registration system to help make the process as quick and painless as possible.

An Important Note

We have created an online registration process that seamlessly guides you through the steps of registration. Please do not use your Internet browser’s “back” button if you want to go back and make a change, as it will cause errors and you will not be able to complete your registration. Instead, if you need to change something, complete your registration and then email us at literacy@lesley.edu, and we will make the changes for you.

Before You Register

First, you should make a list of all the sessions you want to attend. You can find the full list on our website. Each time block is listed with a letter, ie: LCA, LCB, etc. Then, each session within that time block is numbered. So the full session code will read something like LCA-1 or LCC-4. You can only choose one session per time block, so you should have one LCA, one LCB, and so on.

The only variation is in the In Depth sessions, which occur either in the C or F blocks. In Depth sessions are three hours long, not the normal 90 minutes, so if you choose an In Depth session for your C or F, you will not be able to choose a D or G, respectively, as the In Depth session will run through that time.

If a session doesn’t appear on the drop-down menu that means it is sold out and you will have to choose another session. Sessions do sell out, so we recommend registering as early as possible to ensure you get all your first choices.

Second, know your method of payment. If your district will be paying for you with a purchase order, you don’t need to know the purchase order number to register. If your district will be paying for you with a credit card, you can still register yourself. When you get to the checkout screen, simply choose “Pay with Purchase Order” and then have your district call us with the credit card number, or fax or email us the PO within ten business days of registering. Please note, if you are paying with a purchase order (PO), we require that you submit a copy of your PO to secure your registration. If your PO has not been received by the opening of the institute, you will be required to provide a credit card in order to attend the institute.

We recommend that all attendees register themselves. The process begins with an email validation– you’ll receive an email with a secure link, which you’ll need to click on in order to continue your registration. Forwarding these emails can sometimes be tricky, so we recommend you register yourself to avoid confusion.

If someone else has to register for you, we recommend that you choose your sessions ahead of time and give the list to the person registering you. If someone else chooses your sessions and you have to change more than 75% of them after October 1, 2015, it will be considered a paper registration and a $15 charge will be applied to your account for processing.

When entering in your personal information, please note that there are separate spaces to enter your school district and your school name. When entering your district, please don’t use abbreviations like RSD or UFSD– if the district has a separate name (ie: Oxford Hills School District) please use that; alternately, please spell out the words Regional School District. This will help us keep uniformity in printing name badges, and help match up registrants to purchase orders when we receive them.

Confirmation

When you’re done registering, you will see a screen with a green box confirming that your registration is complete. If you don’t get the green box, you haven’t finished registering yet! Once you get to that screen, be sure to read it thoroughly, as it contains details about which sessions have required readings and materials, a list of conference policies, your own detailed agenda based on the sessions you selected, and other helpful links.

In addition to the confirmation page, a confirmation email will be automatically sent to the email address you provided. If it doesn’t appear within an hour of you registering, check your spam and junk folders, as some email providers mark emails from RegOnline as spam by mistake. In the past, many were not able to receive RegOnline emails, because many schools block emails from RegOnline, so if you have a personal email address, we encourage you to use it, instead of your school email, when registering. If you don’t receive your confirmation email at all, please email literacy@lesley.edu and we will re-send it to you.

Please help us be environmentally conscious! Do not print out your confirmation message to mail in with your check or PO. Instead, just make sure your full name and district are written on the PO or in the item line of the check. That’s all we need to match up your payment with your record in the system.

Conference Events, Exhibit Fair, and Other Information

The conference registration desk hours are as follows:

Sunday, November 15, 2015: 10:00 am–6:00 pm

Monday, November 16, 2015: 7:00 am–5:00 pm

Tuesday, November 17, 2015: 7:30 am–9:00 am

The conference help desk will be open 7:00 am – 6:00 pm each day.

Literacy for All also includes an exhibit fair with booths showcasing classroom services and products for all grade levels and subjects. Exhibit hours are 4:00–6:00 pm on Sunday, 10:00–6:00 on Monday, with the Exhibit Fair from 5:00–6:00; and 7:30–2:30 on Tuesday. During the Exhibit Fair on Monday, you can enter to win something from our prize raffle, and get books signed by some of our featured and keynote speakers.

Please visit the conference website, for information on hotels, parking, attendance policy and certificates of attendance, and sessions with required readings/handouts/materials.

Have questions? You can contact us anytime at literacy@lesley.edu or by phone at 617.349.8402.

Looking forward to seeing you all in November!