Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Happens In Vegas...

What a whirlwind it was! FOUR days in Vegas for two National Conferences! Crazy? Yes! But not a bad place for teachers to go. A lot was learned and hopefully a lot of F-U-N was had!  I was too busy working to really see it all. In fact aside from getting there and leaving there I never stepped foot out of the hotel! I will admit to a few glasses of wine at LAVO, the restaurant inside the hotel.  I didn't go to the CLUB (this year). You had to stay up until 11pm just to GET IN! That is what time it opened! Are you kidding me? Give me a club that opens at 8pm so I can be home and in bed by 10pm! If you think I'm kidding... I'm really not!  

Vegas was full of WORK, WORK, WORK for me and I thought I'd share a few lines about each of the 15 (yes-15) trainings I did in those 4 days! you see why I have to be home and in bed by 10pm! 

National I Teach K Conference 
Tuesday and Wednesday

Balanced Literacy Components: Tying Them All Together 
I love when I get to work with teachers and adequately EXPLAIN Balanced Literacy- what it is and what it is not and how all of the pieces work together. What I love about Balanced Literacy (besides the fact that it is an effective framework for teaching the Common Core State Standards) is that it is about teaching WELL.  Sometimes it is teaching LESS but teaching MORE in depth! Giving kids the gift of TIME and having a structure through which you can teach into the TIME they spend reading and writing. 

Blogging: A Terrific Tool for Teaching Writing 
One of the biggest things learned in this session is a tool for easy blogging with students.  Also of note is that we talked about how technology does not REPLACE the need for writing instruction, but rather gives us a venue and a vehicle for sharing our writing with a global audience. Of question was whether or not teachers should write FOR the students so their writing can be "read" online. The answer to that was NO! I could go into detail... but I think I will wait. I now have a topic for another blog post! I'm starting to really get into this so you all better keep reading! 

Number Sense and Fluency: Building Strong Math Skills
This may be one of my most favorite sessions- and it is MATH! Can you believe it? It is full of oldies but goodies! Meaning what was good instruction in number sense and fluency is STILL good instruction for number sense and fluency! It may still be marketed as a MAKE and TAKE, but we more DO and TAKE the ideas with us.  There are a lot of materials for sharing and using as we participate in the activities. I firmly believe that having teachers participate in the activity themselves makes the learning stick when they return back to their classroom and have some chicken scratch in their notes.  However... Kindergarten teachers in a session RIGHT after lunch... I earned every penny in that 75 minutes! I kept saying, "Teachers...stay with me!" 

Center Management Made Simple
Very, very simple! In this session teachers took a "tour" through my classroom. I told them to set LOW expectations before the show began as NONE of these pictures are Pinterest worthy.  We saw how simple centers can be. Melissa Leach is all about simple centers so I can spend more time thinking and planning for my Guided Reading teaching at the table. We remembered over and over again not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and that it is not about a ONE SIZE FITS ALL approach to centers, but rather finding what works for you and WORKING IT that is key.

Designing Differentiated Mathematics: Math Centers and Small Groups
I really wish I could have taught this topic ALL DAY with teachers. We know so much about differentiating reading and using a Three Tier model- meaning Tier One teaches whole group, small group, and with learning centers. However, we have yet to get much help in implementing the same learning methods in mathematics. Until NOW! There are two powerful books out there at the moment that guided me in my planning and preparation of this session. Guided Math and Math Exchanges.  This session had teachers participating in 5 different math stations (which can be tweaked to actually be closer to 10 or 15) and then they began to brainstorm their own implementation of math centers in their Kindergarten classroom.

On Safari with Differentiated Instruction
This was my smallest session at the conference- perhaps because on the level just upstairs were 6,000+ teachers at the DI Conference? Maybe teachers didn’t feel like attending a Safari? Maybe they headed down the strip to Half Price Tickets when they opened at 10? Regardless… our small group had fun. This was an active session full of talk and movement. After all- that is what a DI classroom is all about.  Kim Adsit (another fellow presenter with SDE) attended my session.  She has a full day training on DI and I was so mad at her for coming to my session! She already KNOWS all of this stuff, right? She told me I still managed to teach her a few things and for that I am happy!  The goal for this session is to teach in a way that is differentiated for participants and then help them make connections to what I did and what they can do in their own classrooms.  Kim said she is going to use the idea for Savings and Loans from my session in her new packet on early numeracy on TPT. It's not ready yet, but it is coming soon so be sure to check it out.  She showed me her ideas and I like it! 

Guided Reading: Soaring to the Next Level
While this session is titled “Soaring to the Next Level” I always have a differentiated group.  Some are using Guided Reading and perhaps consider themselves experts- and are really there needing the “next level”, others could not define Guided Reading to others.  This session provides “ah-ha’s” and “affirmations” for many.  The best part of this session would have to be the video I share teaching a Guided Reading lesson in a classroom in LA.  I do not travel with my own videographer but you can surely get a feel for what a lesson at the table is supposed to look like and the clear roles of the teacher before, during, and after. A teacher who was in Vegas last year and attended my Guided Reading session came up before another session and told me that, “Could it be…” (which is a teaching point from this session) changed her teaching practices at the Guided Reading Table! THAT right there is why I fly all over the country and feel like I live out of suitcases… THAT right there folks! I am making a difference- be it small- but made a difference for her! 

Web 2.0 Tools for Your Teacher Toolbox
Web 2 point WHAT you may ask? Many who came didn’t know what Web 2.0 is and that was the first item of business. Then we powered through over 30 FREE, yes I said it, 100% FREE, tools for teachers!  These are websites that help us do our teaching work and do it easier!  One tool is a Wiki which allows teachers to post and collaborate on a website with a few easy clicks.  Wikispaces gives free websites to teachers and would allow a grade level team to make a collaborative site with many pages where they could collect resources and always make live updates.  In my opinion the best thing about this training is that teachers receive a link to a Wiki that I will continue to add to as I learn and discover new tools.  I wish I could tell you about all of the tools, but you’ll just have to be sure and attend the session next time you see me presenting it at a conference near you!

So that is two days done... only two more to go!

National Conference on Differentiated Instruction K-12
Thursday and Friday

Guided Reading: A Powerful Tool for Differentiating Reading Instruction (K-3)
Another Guided Reading session, but with a different crowd.  I'm always amazed at the variety of instruction that is taking place across our country and this is the session where it stands out the most! Those WITH assessments to determine reading levels of students, those without. Those with resources (i.e. a Guided Reading Leveled Literacy Library) and those without.  Those who are told to DO Guided Reading and have received little IF ANY guidance as to what that really means.  The first soap box I have to stand on is that Guided Reading is not an intervention. It CAN be used as intervention- but it's what should be happening for all students regardless of additional work in Tiers as Tier ONE instruction.  Can I get an Amen!? Some teachers actually SAY amen when I say this in the training. I also love the teachers whose eyes and heads are just NODDING at me! Encouraging me on to say the things they know but want the people around them, or at their campus to hear vocalized! Another successful session. 

Become a More Confident Classroom Manager (K-3)
Or as I called it, Managing the Differentiated Environment from A-Z.  This was a new session for me! And timing was everything. We did it though! There was a lot of note taking, a lot of learning all sprinkled with laughter. I have to tell you that laughter is the best way to learn.  I wish I would have taken a poll of the room (mental note- add that to a slide before I teach it again) of the years in education that made up the classroom. It really looked to be a mix of experiences which I love! You are never too experienced to learn some new things about managing the classroom.  I really hope there were also some brand new teachers in the bunch! Overall- it was a great session. A was for Anchor Charts. If you don’t know what those are… take a look at my board on Pinterest… I will admit I’m a little obsessed and wish I could have had cuter anchor charts when I was in the classroom. Pinterest really has upped the “cute” factor in education. I’m scowling just a bit… but I did just get another idea for a later blog post! You better keep reading… ‘cause now I am fired UP to keep writing!

Liven Up and Differentiate Literacy with Learning Centers (K-3)
This session was fun. Much like the math session on centers- we don't talk about centers- we participate! This session is about simple.  Not only simple, but better than that is simple that can be easily changed to represent lots of different concepts and content related to reading, writing, speaking, and listening for students.  If you were there, what did you think? What did you like best?

Over the Rainbow with Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Letters (K-1)
In this session teachers get a solid understanding of the difference between Phonological Awareness and Phonics along with effective strategies for teaching both in their elementary classroom.  I think most helpful for teachers in the PA Continuum/Staircase.  We talked about the progression of PA and at what point we integrate PA with Phonics instruction.  Another active and fun session for teachers.  

I Can Read: Interventions for Readers who are Struggling (K-1)
Many come to this session thinking about Interventions as in Tier 2 and 3. Don't let the title fool you! We have daily interventions happening at Tier 1 as well- but we don't call them interventions! We call it good teaching in an environment that supports all learners. This session is less about what to do at a table with Tier 2 or 3, and more about what should be happening all day long in our environment and with our teaching to help kids say, "I can read!" The ideas are simple, yet powerful. I always get some of the best complements on evaluations from this session. 
Inspiring Young Writers with Writer’s Notebooks (K-2)
This was another new session for me! I have kept a Writer’s Notebook for years (blog post on this topic coming soon to partner my Reader’s Notebook post) and it was my honor to present it to teachers. I had a few teachers in the room who already had their own Writer’s Notebooks (I only wish they had had them THERE with them) and then the idea of Writer’s Notebooks was new for many!  We spent the session collecting our own PERSONAL ideas for writing because let’s be honest- write about a time when you were brave, doesn’t excite anyone to put pencil to paper! I guarantee you every teacher left the session with plenty of ideas for personal narrative writing and even some procedural and argumentative ideas!

Reader’s Workshop: Strategies for Engaged Independent Reading (K-3) 
Last session! Do I dare say we saved the best for last? Maybe it is true! Reader’s Workshop! A format for teaching the Common Core State Standards that involves explicit lessons about what readers do and time for readers to read. What a brilliant idea.  We talked in this session about management of books, time, and space. Most importantly however we learned lessons for cultivating readers and a community of readers in the classroom. I think teachers left with their first months “plans” in place. Like a train getting started… chug… chug… chug… that is how we start a workshop (whether it be reading or writing) in our classrooms. SLOW DOWN to SPEED UP- a tidbit from our colleague Debbie Diller.  I still had more to share and several slides to go- but I looked up and the participants eyes were GLAZED OVER! Not only had I taught 15 sessions… but they had attended 15 sessions.  Teachers know when to keep going… but the best teachers know when to stop! And stop we did. No one complained!  My favorite part of the day transpired after that however- a few teachers from Detroit stayed after to talk with me.  Motown is my hometown.  Hoping to hear from them again. I think they got a lot of Leach at this conference and I am hopeful I caught them on fire with my enthusiasm.

I realize this turned out to be a MUCH longer blog post than I had expected… however 15 sessions is a lot to talk about! I did make it out on Friday night to Phantom and I've been singing the songs ever since! I was so close I eve felt the breeze of the chandelier y'all! 

If you attended any of the sessions above… please make a comment! What do you remember from these sessions? I love hearing from teachers.

Until next year teachers… let me sign off the same way I did at the end of every session in Sin City. What HAPPENS in Vegas… STAYS in Vegas but what is LEARNED here… LEAVES here!



  1. Hi Melissa,

    I'm that teacher from the blogging session that told you I use 'could it be..' during guided reading now thanks to you!

    I really enjoyed the blogging session and wish I would have gone to your math session....there is always next year though!

    Thank you for such great information delivered in such a manageable format.

  2. Melissa!

    I did NOT attend any of your sessions above (the worlds tiniest violin plays for my sadness!) but I do want to leave you a comment!

    I just finished Math Exchanges and am waiting for Guided Math to arrive on loan from the public library. I cannot wait to gain more insight for how to teach math!

    I loved reading all about your sessions. It sounds like you were one busy teacher! If only I could have been a fly on the wall! I miss your brilliant ideas and laughter! :)

    I love your idea about creating simple centers so that you can focus on guided reading teaching. Especially these days with all the teacherpayteacher and pinterest expectations of cuteness, it is hard for me to keep things simple. Thanks for the reminder! I am going to hop on over to your board and check out the anchor charts.

    The Frizz in First Grade

  3. So so so happy to have found a way to get my Leach fix! I am a teacher in Killeen ISD and I have loved your leadership since attending your training a few years ago. Keep up the blog and we'll keep on reading/learning from you.


Thank you for commenting on my blog!