Sunday, March 24, 2013

Looking at the Met as A Huge Record Collection...

DJ Spooky explains 5 remixes currently underway at the MET during his artist residency at the museum. Love his play with complexity, non-linearity as collage.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Preventing Reading Difficulties: First Steps Taken at Urban School

1st grader teaches a younger peer to use the iPad.

I. Preventing Reading Difficulties

As many of you know, through my company--Blueprints for Learning, I have been involved in designing and now implementing along with consultants, teachers, and administrators a set of key strategies for preventing reading difficulties with K-2 children who are learning in classrooms in a northeast city in the United States. This past week I took at look at interim assessments for one of the schools in order to gauge how the work is going, and to be able to shift and intensify resources for children who may not meet the district's literacy benchmarks given their current performance.

To contextualize the work, a review of recent demographics of the school population provides this information:

  • School Size: about 900
  • School Type: PK - 8
  • Poverty % Based on Free & Reduced Lunch: 88%
  • Racial & Ethnicity Make-up:  Asian: 1%, Black: 42%, Hispanic: 56%, White: 1%
  • Gender: 55% boys, 45% girls
  • In 2011, 84% of the 3rd graders tested via the state ELA assessment were not proficient and 16% of the 3rd graders tested via the state ELA assessment were proficient. None were advanced proficient.

Of the K-2 children at this school site, 12% of them need additional support given their current performance as measured by text level reading, alphabetic knowledge identification, and other literacy tasks. All but three of these students are making progress, but the progress has been slow. The remainder of the K-2 children have either met or surpassed the district benchmarks (55%), or appear very likely to meet the benchmarks by June. In some significant ways, the data shows almost a reversal of performance that has typified the school in recent years. I want to caution that preventing reading difficulties is not the same thing as performing well on state literacy tests.  There are many differences between these outcomes.

What I can say though, is that failure to prevent reading difficulties in the primary grades best ensures low performance on any state ELA assessment.

At this site there are several Blueprints' consultants working with staff at the Pre K-2 level. Additionally we are also working with the 3-8 staff too. In total, there are 7 of us working at this site.

II.  Practices

A teacher conducting small group reading lesson.

Six consistent practices have most influenced the literacy outcomes for the K-2 children at this site:

1. Teachers, Blueprints' consultants, and administrators willingly participate in constant dialogue about teaching, learning, and the prevention of reading difficulties. The energy this produces fuels reform. Everyone is a risk taker.

2. Key literacy practices have been taught, modeled, retaught and coached. These include:
  • interactive read aloud with embedded vocabulary, comprehension, art-based practices [drawing, choral reading, narrative pantomime, reader's theater], and text dependent questions and tasks and an accompanying e-book guide 
  • interactive writing lessons and sustained independent reading and the use of individualized book boxes
  • high intensity guided literacy instruction that combines guided reading, guided phonics, and guided writing.

3. There is an ongoing shift among teachers, who have amazed all of us at Blueprints, from situating reading as a memorizing activity to resituating it as a problem-solving practice. They are tenacious in their desire to learn and refine their work.

4. Several literacy practices have been amended or eliminated such as: a form of shared and modeled writing, round robin reading, whole group basal reading as shared reading, and independent reading conducted without managed text selection (i.e., book boxes).

5. At this school, leadership is distributed:
  • teachers model newly learned instruction for colleagues and then engage in spirited dialogue about their observations
  • teachers actively observe excellent classroom instruction elsewhere in the school district accompanied by Blueprints' consultants and then plan for implementation of refined practices based on observation, making critical decisions about their teaching and learning
  • Some of the Read Aloud books
  • administrators attend all professional development sessions/PLCs, actively participating by sharing their knowledge, (mis)understandings and revisions as they actively learn alongside staff.

6. The principal and assistant principal ensure that teachers understand the shared goals and importance of this literacy project, and that they have all of the materials necessary to do the work, including a significant addition of culturally relevant texts, blocks and dramatic play materials in kindergarten, art and classroom supplies in K-2 (i.e., paints, different types of paper, magnetic letters, magnetic lap boards, markers, crayons, pencils, notebooks, etc.), and iPads with specified apps (about 5 per classroom).

7. Teachers’ understanding and use of assessments is shifting from a compliance model to a users model as they make better use of text level records, sight word notations, and other just-in-time assessments to guide their thinking when working with children and planning.

III. Next Steps

Having identified each child at risk for reading difficulties, individualized plans have been generated and will be refined as we work with the children. Their progress will be closely attended to during the next three months.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Understanding Reform As A Design Challenge

Happiness is the Longing for Repetition (M.A. Reilly, 2009)
Design is as much an act of spacing as an act of marking. - Ellen Lupton


The importance of design can not be understated, especially when contemplating the current iterations of public education (re)form that situates people as problems to be fixed. For the last year I have been involved in designing↔implementing (think möbius strip) early literacy education across more than a dozen schools in a city. It has been and continues to be a time for enormous learning. Several understandings are emerging, not with great clarity, but with an odd sense of urgency.  There is something I am learning abut schooling, reform and learning that needs to be voiced even though I am unsure of its dimension and implications.

Much of what gets situated as teacher and pupil issues appear to be surface symptoms for larger design problems. I say this as I am observing that teachers are often more than willing, even eager, to refine practices when specific conditions are created.  For example, at one site where we are working the quickness of change among teachers as they add to and refine practices has been nothing less than stunning. Likewise, children who had been largely stalled as readers and writers at school, are making critical gains in the repertoire of skills, dispositions, and strategies they use while composing--be  it as readers or writers.

At this Pre K - 8 site, there are seven consultants from my company, including myself, working with the administrators, teachers, parents, and of course the children since the end of January. Whereas most of our efforts have been aimed at K-3 literacies, we also have been collaborating to staff who teach at grades 4-8 through special education, mathematics, and literacies work which will be emphasized next school year as we continue the project.

I feel very certain that within the space of five months, the K-1 teachers at this site will prevent reading difficulties--something that has not been done to date before here. This is as school where less than 30% of the children pass the state assessments and where we first saw that the majority of primary grade children were not making progress as readers.  We highlighted just two instructional changes and have modeled, directly taught, and coached teachers as they learn these practices.  And I think it would be fair to say that the use of these practices, in part, account for increased performance at the K-2 levels.  

So often, though, this is where we stop when telling stories about reform.  But I am coming to understand that this slice of the story is at best a topping.  Beneath it is a more compelling tale.



Contrast these two recollections.

It's December when I ask second grade teachers to identify the children in their classes who they are most concerned about as readers.  They name names and when I ask them what is it that makes them concerned, they all cite DRA levels--and the levels are shockingly low.  An issue though is that the data they cite is four months old, gleaned during the opening weeks of school.  The teachers say that that have not done any additional reading assessments such as a text level reading with these children, nor have they discussed the children as a group before. The teachers exists in what Dan Lortie (1975) in his seminal study of schools (Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study) characterized as egg-carton. He wrote:
Throughout the long, formative decades of the modern school system, schools were organized around teacher separation, rather than teacher interdependence (1975, 14).
So contrast that one recollection with this more recent one: It's early morning when I arrive at the school and a colleague of mine greets me and says, "It's wonderful to see the primary grade teachers all out in the hallways taking about their children to each other.  They're talking about how the kids are progressing. There's such energy in that." 


A week or two later, the mathematics consultant who works with us is on site and I ask her to meet with my lead literacy consultant, the administrators from the school and a writer who is has come to see what is happening at the school for a book she is writing and myself.  I thought it particularly valuable to have the writer with us as we are at the beginning of something and having an outside set of eyes might prove helpful. We sit around one table and the discussion takes on rhizomatic dimension as ideas lead into ideas and the paths between and among become decidedly emergent and often co-specifying. 

One of the compelling questions we have been wrestling with is what is it that keeps children from advancing as readers and mathematicians.  This is a conversation that often ends with a discussion about teachers, parents, and children. Rarely though does the discussion extend beyond these factors and also attend about to how these factors are (in)formed by the design of the school and school system.  As we speak, I am sensing that we are in the middle of something and we are naming as a group more than we know as individuals. 

Later, I receive an email from the writer who shares these observations: 
XXX School and its whole leadership team were truly impressive. An unsung example of real excellence.  I learned a great deal from your discussion about redesigning instruction in math and ela--and was struck by the (principal's) commitment to "renew" XXX School on her own.  
The "on her own" comment is in relationship to other or program reform methods this writer has been chronicling in this city for the last year. I'm pleased as I realize that what we do with the principal and her staff has not been situated or understood as an external reform method. Working alongside, being in the middle of things, requires the agency of all.


Learner achievement is influenced by what teachers and students know and do, by the manner in which leadership occurs, as well as what each fails to know, act upon, and avoids. It resembles a tangled mess when attempting to sort this effect from that effect. But learner achievement is not only a people matter, it is a structural and environmental matter as well.  Last week I was teaching Pre-K and kindergarten teachers during a full day workshop and the conversation around the table was animated as teachers discussed their new or refined practices for independent reading and then studied video examples of vocabulary, phonics, guided writing and reading instruction.  

Almost all of what we studied is already occurring in their classrooms and the teachers were willing and able to compare their own practice with the video examples which featured not idealized practices, but actual practices recorded in classrooms.  Further, all of us who have modeled teaching--including some of the teachers--have made errors while teaching and we have been keen to note that in spite of our errors children continued to learn. The willingness to fail and learn is essential.


I am driving home form the city and think that during workshops and out in the hallways--it is the teachers' lateral conversations--to each other--that most interest me. These forged spaces act as conduits that fuel better outcomes for children. What gets marked in these spaces is changing as we (teachers and administrators and consultants) focus on what children are doing, saying, and showing and the confusions and clarity that arise alongside these noticings.  All of this produces an energy that is greater than the energy used.  It is  this shift from potential to kinetic energy that I want to lean in and better understand.

Our time at this site will extend through next school year.  We recognize that external coaching is a temporary design fix, not a permanent solution.  As such, our work with those at the sxhool is to help craft the possibility of new spaces and markings. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Books for Children

Addie, Boswell. 2008. The Rain Stomper. Illustrated by Eric Velasquez. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Childrens Books.
Alarcón, Francisco X. 2005. Laughing Tomatoes: And Other Spring Poems / Jitomates Risuenos: Y Otros Poemas de Primavera. Illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
Anderson, Maxine. 2007. Exploring Spring: 25 Great Ways to Learn About Spring. Chicago, IL: Nomad Press.
Arnosky, Jim. 2001. Rabbits and Raindrops. New York: Puffin.
Asch, Frank and Devlin Asch. 2008. Like a Windy Day. New York: Sandpiper.
Ashton, Dianna Hutts, 2007. A Seed is Sleepy. Illustrated by Sylvia Long. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle.
Berger, Carin. 2010. Forever Friends. New York: Greenwillow.
Brown, Peter. 2011. The Curious Garden.  New York: Hachette Book Group.
Carr, Jan. 2002. Splish, Splash, Spring. Illustrated by Dorothy Donohue. New York: Holiday House.
Cole, Henry. 1997. Jack’s Garden. New York: Greenwillow.
Davies, Nicola. 2012. Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature. Illustrated by Mark Herald. Cambridge MA: Candlewick Press.
Esbaum, Jill. 2010. Everything Spring. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.
Florian, Douglas. 2006. Handsprings. New York: Greenwillow.
Fogliano, Julie. 2012. And Then It’s Spring. Illustrated by Erin E. Stead. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
Frost, Helen. 2008. Monarch and Milkweed. Illustrated by Leonid Gore. New York: Atheneum.
Galbraith, Kathryn. 2011. Planting the Wild Garden. Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
Gibson, Amy. 2012. Split! Splat! Illustrated by Steve Bjorkman. New York: Scholastic.
Glaser, Linda. 2011. Not a Buzz To Be Found. Illustrated by Jaime Zollar. Minneapolis MN: Millbrook.
Glaser, Linda. 2002. It’s Spring. Illustrated by Susan Swan. Minneapolis MN: Millbrook.
Good, Elaine W. 1996.  That’s What Happens When It’s Spring! Illustrated by Susie Shenk Wenger. Good Books.
Gray, Rita (Ed.) 2010. One Big Rain: Poems for Rainy Days. Illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Havill, Juanita. 2002. Brianna, Jamaica and the Dance of Spring. Illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien.  New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Hobbie, Holly. 2012. Gem. New York: Little, Brown.
Jackson, Ellen. 2005. Earth Mother. Illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon. New York: Walker Books.
Jackson, Ellen. 2003. The Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth. Illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press.
Kimura, Ken. 2011. 999 Tadpoles. Illustrated by Yasunari Murakami. Boston, MA: NorthSouth Books.
Kurtz, Jane. 2002. Rain Romp: Stomping Away a Grouchy Day. Illustrated by Dyanna Wolcott. New York: Greenwillow.
Lee, Huy Voun. 1998. In the Park. New York: Henry Holt.
Lenski, Lois. 2005. Spring is HereNew York: Random House
London, Jonathan. 1999. Puddles. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. New York: Puffin.
Manushkin, Fran. 2008. How Mama Brought the Spring. Illustrated by Holly Berry.  New York: Dutton.
Na, Ll Sung. 2010. Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Newman, Leslea. 2007. Skunk’s Spring Surprise. Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev. Boston, MA: Harcourt.
Oelschlager. 2009. Ivy in Bloom: The Poetry of Spring from Great Poets and Writers from the Past. Illustrated by Kristin Blackwood. Vanita Books.
Ouellet, Debbie. 2009. How Robin Saved Spring. Illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli. New York: Henry Holt.
Pelletier, Andrew. 2001. Sixteen Miles to Spring. Illustrated by Kayta Krenina. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Company.
Pfeffer, Wendy. 2008. A New Beginning: Celebrating the Spring Equinox. Illustrated by Linda Bleck. New York: Dutton.
Plourde, Lynn. 2002. Spring’s Sprung. Illustrated by Greg Couch. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Purmell, Ann.2008. Maple Syrup Season. Illustrated by Jill Weber. New York: Holiday House.
Ray, Mary Lyn. 2001. Mud. Illustrated by Lauren Stringer. New York: Sandpiper.
Reed, Lynn Rowe. 2011. Basil’s Birds. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Childrens Books.
Roberts, Bethany. 2001. The Wind’s Garden. Illustrated by Melanie Hope Greenberg. New York: Henry Holt.
Rockewell, Anne F. 1996. My Spring Robin. Illustrated by Harlow Rockwell and Lizzy Rockwell. New York: Aladdin.
Schnur, Steven. 2000. Spring Thaw. Illustrated by Stacey Schuett. New York: Viking Juvenile.
Shannon, Patrick. 1996. Spring: A Haiku Song. Illustrated by Malcah Zeldis. New York: Greenwillow.
Sidman, Joyce. 2005. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Illustrated by Beckie Prange. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Spur, Elizabeth. 2012. In the Garden. Illustrated by Manelle Oliphant. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree. (Note: Board Book)
Stein, Peter. 2012. Bugs Galore. Illustrated by Bob Staake. Cambridge. MA: Candlewick.
Ward, Lindsay, 2012. When Blue Met Egg. New York: Dial.
Wheeler, Eliza. 2013. Miss Maple's Seeds. New York: Nancy Paulsen Books.
Yang-Huan. 2007. Where is Spring? Illustrated by H.Y Huang and A. Yang. Alhambra, CA: Heryin Books.
Yolleck, Joe. 2010. Paris in the Spring with Picasso. Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Zagwyn, Deborah Turney. 2004. Turtle Spring. San Francisco, CA: Tricycle Press.

Monday, March 18, 2013

10 Things I Witnessed Educators Doing During the Last Month

I am in a lot of schools and interact with, co-teach, and observe educators at work with students.  Here are just a few of the things I've witnessed during the last month:

  1. Counseling parents of a former student whose child is being bullied in and out of school and then securing help for the parent and the child
  2. Procuring eye glasses for children whose families cannot afford to do so
  3. Buying dinners for children and their families on a daily basis
  4. Buying heating fuel and having it delivered to the family of a student who did not have the money to buy it.
  5. Advocating in person for children to get into specific schools
  6. Taking instructional time to better ensure children were ready for high stakes placement tests
  7. Clothing a child and family.
  8. Reading with a child after school as she had no one at home who could do so.
  9. Volunteering to teach a child to read and doing so each day.
  10. Mentoring a former student by visiting with him in his classroom and co-teaching

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Interior: A Fascination with Windows & Light

Towards the Light (M.A. Reilly, 2013)

I've a fascination with windows and light and shadows. They reveal so much of our interior.
A few images I made yesterday in Massachusetts.

Mary Ann

A Desire (M.A. Reilly, 2013)

Corner (M.A. Reilly, 2013)
White Branches (M.A. Reilly, 2013)

Waiting (M.A. Reilly, 2013
Chain (M.A. Reilly, 2013)

Crosshatched (M.A. Reilly, 2013)

Panes (M.A. Reilly, 2013)

Shades (M.A. Reilly, 2013)
Three Windows (M.A. Reilly, 2013)

To Study (M.A. Reilly, 2013)


Thanks to @CelizMurray who tweeted out a series of links each featuring an Irish woman poet.

‘Seed’, by Paula Meehan

” The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died

to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop each
like a peace offering, or a promise,

I am suddenly grateful and would

offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,

its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter’s ended.”

‘Seed’ is © Paula Meehan, all rights reserved.
‘Seed’ is taken from  Mysteries of the Home by Paula Meehan, which will be re-issued in February 2013 byDedalus Press. Dedalus release notes for Mysteries of the Home are added here. Mysteries Of The Home was first published in 1996 by Bloodaxe Books. It will be re-issued under the Dedalus Press imprint in February 2013.
Mysteries of the Home cover

Thanks to Paula Meehan for suggesting the poems and to Dedalus editor, Pat Boran, for facilitating my queries regarding having a poem by Paula on Poethead. I had wanted one for some time and I am delighted to add Paula Meehan to my Index of Women Poets.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

When Joy, Play & Learning are Deliberate: Learning in K-2

This is such an inspiring look at literacy that is intentional, play-based, and artful.  From the UK.

Reading, Writing and Drama Playing

Lesson Plans Related to the Video:

Reception – The Gruffalo
Introducing the new story

Learning Objective:  To listen and respond to a story.

Context of Learning:  Linked to our context of Monsters and Dinosaurs we will be using the book The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.  The children will be developing their ability to listen and respond to the story, the sequence of the story and explore the setting, characters and theme of the story.   
Success Criteria: All children to be able to talk about what they can see in the pictures.  All children to be able to say if they liked the story and why.
Key Questions:  Where is this story set?  What is it like in the woods?  What is a Gruffalo?  What does the word gruffalo make you think of?  What does the gruffalo look like?  Did you like the story?  What was your favourite part?  What did you notice about the story?
Whole Class teaching
Explain we are going to be reading a new book and finding out about new characters.  Show the title page of the woods, where is this story set?  What is it like in the woods?  Discuss with talk partner what they can see and record comments around the picture.

Introduce the character of the mouse and read the blurb.  What is a gruffalo? What does the word gruffalo make you think of?  Discuss children’s thoughts and feelings.  Show the children a picture of the gruffalo.  What does the Gruffalo look like?  Tell your partner.

Read the story - Stop at varies intervals ask questions Why do the animals think the mouse looks good?  Look at the animals faces and discuss feelings, How is the animal feeling now they have seen the gruffalo?

Booktalk – Ask children to share their thoughts about the story - Did you like the story and why? What was your favourite part and why?  What did you notice about the story? (rhyming words etc)  Was their a pattern?  How did the mouse describe the gruffalo?

Independent learning activities:
Painting the gruffalo.
Retelling the story using a variety of props in a large builders tray.

Reception – The Gruffalo 

Exploring Characters

Learning objective: 
To talk about the main characters in the story and how they are feeling.
To think, say and write simple sentences for a thought bubble.
Context of Learning:  Linked to our context of Monsters and Dinosaurs we will be using the book The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.  The children will be developing their ability to listen and respond to the story, the sequence of the story and explore the setting, characters and theme of the story.   
Success Criteria:  Children will be able to explore the different feelings of the characters by using their facial expressions and words.  
Key Questions:  How is the … feeling?  How do you know?  Why is the … feeling like that?  What is the mouse thinking?  How many words in out sentence?  What is the first word?  What does it begin with?  What do we put at the end of our sentence?
Whole Class teaching
Show pages from the story and discuss how the characters are feelings and why.  Can you use your face to show that feeling? 

Explain that they are going to help to retell the story and that they must become the different characters using their bodies and faces to show how they are feeling.
Retell the story with the children joining in using a drum to indicate when to freeze frame.  Use a microphone to interview the children in role about how they are feeling and why.

Model writing 
Now we have thought about how the characters are feeling we are going to write a thought bubble.  Show the last page of the mouse eating a nut, what is the mouse thinking?  Share with your talk partner, ask children to share their ideas to the class.  Choose a sentence to write, say the sentence, count how many words.  What is the first word?  What sounds can we hear in it?  When we have written the sentence count the words has it got the correct number of words? Reread does it say what we wanted it to say? 

Independent learning activities:
With teacher children to write their own thought bubbles – think, say, write a sentence.
Using their own puppets and the theatre to retell the story.

Planned activities to support learning
Of the Gruffalo

Throughout the week planned activities both adult led and independent for the children to develop their knowledge and understanding of the story further.

  • Drawing other characters using pastels
  • Props to retell the story
  • Puppets and a theatre to retell the story
  • Puppet making
  • Book making
  • Using computer programs to draw the Gruffalo and parts of the story
  • Collage a gruffalo
  • Label body parts
  • Created storymaps and used them to retell the story in their own words
  • Using instruments to add sound effects
  • Writing speech bubble for what the characters say throughout the story
  • Learn the Gruffalo song and actions
  • Pairs/snap game using character pictures also children can describe or say a sentence about that character
  • Sand tray – props to retell story
  • Reading The gruffalo’s Child

Whole class teaching sessions

·      The children listened for the repeated phrases and joined in.
·      Shared writing – labeling around the gruffalo how the mouse describes him.  Comparing the mouse and gruffalo. 
·      Explored the theme of who was the scariest creature?  Was the mouse clever?
·      Split into groups, each groups was a different character and we retold the story and the children acted out their part.
·      Learnt The Gruffalo song and made up actions.

II. Guided Writing: Experienced-based

Guided Writing Strategy Guide

Recommended Professional Resources

Corbett, Pie & Julia Strong. (2011). Talk for Writing Across the Curriculum. London: Open University Press.
Corbett, Pie. (2008). Storyteller. London: Scholastic.
Heard, Georgia & Jennifer McDonough. (2009). A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.