Thursday, January 3, 2019

What's Your Resolution? We Have One Word For You!

A resolution…the act of determining, as described by Merriam-Webster.  A resolution is a buzz word this time of year…we are all in the process of reflecting, looking back, looking ahead, and then deciding what kinds of goals we have for ourselves for 2019. 

This year, Leach’s Literacy Training was busy…sharing our love for all things Balanced Literacy in more places than we can list.  LLT is also reflecting, thinking, growing, and setting goals.  As we reflect though, we want to share some encouragement in this Balanced Literacy journey.  Maybe you’re taking steps to take your learning to the next level.  Maybe you’re struggling with piecing it altogether and are feeling overwhelmed.  Maybe you’re not at all wanting to hear about anything “back to school” or “back to work” related right now.  Totally get it…but stick with me. 

Regardless of where you are in this great journey of education, the one constant is that we are always growing and learning new things.  Balanced Literacy has so many components- with so many moving parts within each component- that it can sometimes feel like you’re trying to eat the entire elephant in one bite. Especially, if you’ve been going through lots of training in the last year or so. 

What do we say to our students when they are learning something new…trying out a relatively new skill for the first time…relearning something after some additional instruction around a topic…and yet, they are struggling?
-You’ll get it! 
-Don’t quit!
-You haven’t gotten it…YET!
-Let me help you.
-Look at how hard you are working!
-I see that you are using _____ to help you figure this out!  Great thinking!
-This is hard, but I know you can do it.
-All of that great thinking means you are doing some GREAT learning! 

Look at all of that affirmation that we lavishly pour out onto our kids!  Seriously, kids in public education are so blessed to be in these learning environments where someone praises them for their efforts and growth.  You see, you aren’t demanding perfection the first time out of the gate.  You aren’t expecting kids to master content after hearing it in a shared reading lesson or whole group setting. 

So, here is our 2019 message to YOU as you start to wrap your brain around heading back to work.  Grace.  It’s a word but let's also make it a resolution. We all need to think about giving ourselves a little more grace.  Yes, you are rolling your eyes right now.  Yes, I am still talking to you, and if I’m totally honest, also to myself.

How often do you speak those words of encouragement that we listed to YOURSELF when you are trying something new?  J  I hear the giggles all the way over here in Central Texas.  I know, because I’m the same way.  Man, if I don’t get it right the first time?!  Or, if I make a mistake?!  Mercy.  Those moments are tough on me!  And there aren’t too many words of affirmation or “hang in there” self-speeches.  Nope.  Not at all.  I don’t know about you, but I tend to be pretty tough on me.  I don’t know about you, but perfection seems to be a bridge too far for me to cross. 

So, let’s plan to build one another up by encouraging the process, not the product.  Give yourself grace as a Balanced Literacy teacher and learner!  Let’s think about moving forward in a positive direction in terms of implementing Balanced Literacy in our classrooms.  Let’s start the process if it isn’t started…yet.  Let’s fine tune our practices if we had some ideas but learned something new or had our original thoughts tweaked as we went deeper in our understanding of it.  Here are some ways to share GRACE for yourself from some of the varied components of Balanced Literacy. 

·      Writing conferences…are you doing them? Any time that you are spending WITH a writer, AS they are writing is better than providing feedback after a final essay is submitted for a grade. 

·      Guided reading…it’s messy and there's never enough of you to go around, but that time spent putting the WORK OF THE READER back ONTO the reader is valuable!  BAD Guided Reading is better than NO Guided Reading and the more Guided Reading you do, the better you will get! 

·      Shared reading …remember MINI lesson.  Don’t try to teach ALL of your standards in one week!  Focus in on those hard-to-teach, hard-to-learn standards and really spend time in powerful demonstrations.  Set a timer…practice it when your teammates or spouse aren’t around.  Trust me…time flies when you are in-the-moment teaching. 

·      Work Stations…a focus on process, not product.  This isn’t meant to be a warehouse of worksheets.  Practice skills in meaningful, literacy-based ways! Talk with your co-workers. Have a party to share your BEST work station at the moment. You will be surprised how simple some of the BEST ones are.  

·       What have you done to build a reading culture in your classroom?   Maybe you’ve started creating a reading nook or reading space?  Maybe you are gathering books to beef up your classroom library organized by topic and not level?  Maybe you are working to figure out yourself as a reader so that you can better connect with your kids as readers?  Cheers! Well done! 

There are so many great things that you are doing with and for children.  

We just want to say thank you.  Thank you for welcoming Leach’s Literacy Training into your world.  Thank you for choosing to see what Balanced Literacy can do for your kids.  Thank you for the courage to try to something new…as terrifying as that can be!  Thank you for the GRACE you pour out on kids. 

Now it’s time for some GRACE for you!  Leach’s Literacy Training is impressed by the growth and commitment you have for kids and are anxiously awaiting our spring schedule and commitments and future interactions with each and every one of you! 

Here’s to a fabulous, LITERACY-FILLED, 2019!


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Part TWO: Books Make the Best Gifts (Upper Elementary and Middle School)

Part II of the series…where do I begin when trying to find books for Christmas gifts?!  Part I included suggestions of LOTS of books for K-1st and 2nd-3rd grade students.  Here, I’m going to make suggestions for upper elementary readers and then make suggestions for our middle school readers.  Again, when it comes to independent reading, sometimes it is nice to just curl up with a good book that we LOVE…regardless of what grade level it might be associated with or its level.  I know that I tend to curl up by the fireplace during the break and enjoy reading new books that I think students might love…definitely not worried about my level as I get lost in the stories. 

The following suggestions are books that I have read, books that some of my co-workers have read, and books that a friend of mine…the one mentioned in the last blog post with two middle school kids (one girl and one boy)…says her kids simply cannot put down!  If middle school kids say the books are good…then I think I’m going to believe them. 

Upper elementary and middle school suggestions

I’m big on exposing kids to different series…just because if they LOVE it, then there are a lot of other books that they can then select at the library to enjoy reading as well! 

I Survived! Series – This series is written about different events in history, to include wars and natural disasters.  The stories are from the perspective of survivors and what it was like during that time period or in the midst of that event.  The books are not “too big” for students who are not keen on novels, but they capture their attention from the get-go.  I know a few middle school kids who still look for these in the bookstore, hoping to get their hands on the newest release. 

 Who Is…?  What Is…?  Where Is…? Series – This series is fabulous in terms of getting kids into reading about biographies, famous places, and famous events.  It takes the non-fiction encyclopedia feel out of reading about these topics.  The covers catch the reader’s attention right away. 


Hank Zipzer series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver– So, this might date me…but do you remember The Fonz, from Happy Days??  Well, he is now an author of a FABULOUS, funny series about a boy named Hank Zipzer.  You can’t go wrong with ANY of these books in this series!! 

Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng – Comical, deep, and adventures…what a rare combination!!!  The main character can morph and change, and in each new book receives a new power.  Kids in upper elementary AND even into middle school enjoy these stories!

Survivor series by Erin Hunter – Talk about a great collection of books!  Erin Hunter has written adventure stories about animals that have captured many readers 4th grade and up!  She is a New York Times Best Selling Author…and it’s not hard to figure out why.  These books are addicting!  Boys and girls devour these stories, with characters undergoing conflict at a variety of levels, facing tough choices, and deep themes.

Spy School and the sequels by Stuart Gibbs – A middle school boy is recruited to work with the CIA…both humorous and adventurous, this book will definitely capture the attention of boys and girl alike! 

The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer and Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley – These stories take the main characters back into the fairy tales that they grew up reading.  The characters…both good and evil…are confined to their kingdom, and in order to keep trouble from brewing, they must stay that way!  These two series share a very similar plot line, so if your child loved one, then try the other!! 

The Divide Trilogy by Elizabeth Kay – A trilogy about a boy who encounters a parallel world near Costa Rica.  Mythical creatures and magic are REALITY, and he must find his way back home!

For the sports enthusiasts…Mike Lupica has written a TON of books about athletes who face various challenges in the midst of their work as an athlete.  Football, soccer, basketball, and baseball…your sports fans will enjoy the context of these stories. 

A collection of stories that will capture a reader’s interest…
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – If this one doesn’t steal your heart and tug on its strings… An impeccably written book from the perspective of a gorilla who has spent 27 years behind glass in a shopping mall.  He’s never questioned his life until he meets an elephant who starts to get him thinking about his existence.  Soon to be a movie, which is ALWAYS a fun reward for reading a book!!! 
Echo’s Sister by Paul Mosier – A story about a girl who has to learn who she is and what really matters when her sister is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. 
The War That Saved My Life and The War That I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – A story set in WWII about a girl who sneaks away with her brother to escape her mother.  Highly recommended by middle school readers, as well as a freshman in high school who devoured them both this past summer. 
The Brightest Stars of Summer by Leila Howland – A story about sisters and the lines that they do and don’t cross in life. 
Refugee by Alan Gratz – WOW!  This one has been read and discussed and read and discussed by people all over the nation!  Three characters in three different time periods in history who face fleeing their country and the struggles they face trying to find a safe place to live their lives.  Powerful…

Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger – A series full of adventure…the main character has telepathy and is hidden in among other humans.  She must figure out who she is and what her special gift means!  New York Times and USA Today best sellers!!

The Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix – A GREAT series for middle school students!  The main character is a boy who struggles with severe asthma.  This seven-book series captures his adventure from almost dying in the woods to being saved and given a key…by Mister Monday.  He must figure out why he was chosen to receive the keys to the kingdom. 

Well, hopefully these two blog posts helped you to select some great new books for some special readers in your life!  There are SO many more great books out there…keep on reading and sharing that love for great books with kids!