Recently, my school district hosted a 3-day reading symposium. The morning was filled with great speakers who were sharing their expertise about reading and how to make this year as rigorous and engaging as possible.
Nancy Frey was our keynote speaker each day. She is very knowledgeable and has written many books tied to literacy and instruction.
Here's some of the highlights I gleaned from Nancy.
The Most Controllable Factor
There are a lot of things in the classroom that we have no control over. We can't control who is chosen to be in our classrooms. We can't control family dynamics or study and sleep habits at home. Of course, we can always give advice or suggestions, but that's all they are.
We can't control the choices parents or kids make. We can't control pandemics or health crises. Goodness, we can't even control decisions our school districts make, regardless of if it's for the best. Again, we can contact someone somewhere and give advice or make suggestions, but that's all they are.
You hear the phrase 'learning loss' being thrown around (or at least one similar to it) from nearly a year and a half of inconsistent schooling for some kids. Nancy suggested we flip this phrase around and change our mindset on the hard work ahead of us. She called it 'deficit thinking.'
Nancy wanted to focused our learning this week on the things we can control in the classroom, specifically things that will give us the biggest bang for our buck, that will yield the best outcome.
Two things that she said have the highest return rate are the quality of teaching and teacher AND the collective teacher efficacy in the school and district.
There's a difference in needing to know something and things that are neat to know. Good teaching will focus on the 'need to know' when there's not enough time for the 'neat to know.' When there's a lot of deficits, good teaching will frontload, or pre-teach, to help kids recall and build their background knowledge and vocabulary. Also, good teaching keeps a perky pace with as much student involvement as possible.
It's also important for a teaching community to have confidence in each other, to support each other, and to share in their vision for the kids. Everyone in the school community should value learning, even learning from each other, whether it's a first year teacher with lots of energy and ideas or an experienced teacher with a lot of wisdom.
These are the things that influence the students and their progress towards goals and learning the most. These are all things we can control.
Develop a Restorative Culture
When I heard this from Nancy... Yeesss!!!
When students do something wrong, it's important to hold students accountable, AND it's important to teach them.
Sometimes I think the education system, principals, teachers go a little too far to one side or the other. I think we're currently working on moving a little too far into teach them, back towards holding students accountable. Well, I hope that's the direction we're moving, anyway.
What people often forget is the restoration part of having a restorative culture. When a teacher emotionally gets to the point that they need to ask that a student be removed from the classroom, there needs to be restoration in the teacher-student relationship. Sometimes this is misunderstood or forgotten.
There also needs to be a restoration in the student-peer relationships, if the behaviors were bad enough to affect any other classmates. In the short time the kids are at school each day, sometimes this piece is left out. I think it needs to be a part of the kids learning that when you do something to 'hurt' another person to the point they don't want to be around you anymore (adult, kid, or whoever), you need to fix that somehow. With an action. With words. Somehow.
This can be hard sometimes. Especially if you have a kid that 'messes up' a lot. However, this is the way to help your students do their best. Forgiveness. Love. Unconditionally.
Wouldn't we all like a little more of that?
Positive Cognitive Restructuring
During one of the sessions, Nancy was talking about promoting metacognition. (Metacognition is basically thinking about how or what you're thinking.)
Interestingly, Nancy related 'I can' statements as a way to restructure the way you approach a topic. I always felt indifferent about using 'I can' statements. It seemed sort of trendy, so I could take it or leave it.
Typically, teachers will have a goal for students, like 'students will be able to read a text accurately.' An 'I can' statement alternative would be 'I can read a text accurately.' Instead of 3rd person whoever, this puts more ownership into what they are saying at the beginning of the lesson.
Also, it's not 'I will.' It's 'I can.' The kids are promoting a positive future on themselves. Like a little positive boost before we get into the meat of things where the frustration can build. They practice having a good attitude before their attitude is challenged.
Then, of course, self-assessment is important at the end of the lesson. The kids can flip that 'I can' statement around to say, "Can I?" Well, let's see... Promote metacognition and higher order thinking! That's how you help kids become better human beings and thinkers.
I was exhausted with 10 pages of information in my little notebook by the end of the third morning of the reading symposium, but it was really great! Really!
I hope you found something interesting in the nuggets I shared with you today. Do you have any thoughts or insights about any of these three topics I shared today?
I'd be interested to hear from you!