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    Being Professional About PD

    by Julie Scullen
     | Mar 15, 2017


    This is too long to sit.

    When will I ever use this in real life?
    Can you just hurry up and give us the information so we can leave? All this "turn and talk" is annoying.
    I have to be here TWO HOURS?
    Just so you know, I have permission to leave a few minutes early.
    Can I just have a copy of the PowerPoint? I'll read it later.

    These sound like comments someone might expect to hear from students about to earn a detention. Unfortunately, these are all statements made by teachers during professional development sessions.

    Teachers are often frustrated by these trainings, and sometimes understandably so, but they are no more frustrated than those trying to provide practical and engaging professional development for all attendees.

    TeachersProviding professional development is darn tough. Challenging. If you think differentiating for a class of 35 students is tough, put 150 adults in a room and try to meet their needs. No matter the topic, no matter who determined it was necessary, no matter how it is presented, a large number of attendees will be unhappy.

    Planning of professional development is similar to planning for classroom lessons: It seems like the more information there is to provide, the shorter the span of time allotted, and the less effective the time spent enmeshed in the learning becomes.

    The reality is that, just like students, teachers need time to process and to discuss new learning and information. They need the opportunity to collaborate and to discuss ways to incorporate the new learning into the framework of the old. In these days of shrinking professional development budgets, time to process and to collaborate becomes a tough sell. Time is money, after all.

    Honestly, those assigned to provide professional development in your school or district do not sit for weeks beforehand planning ways for their session to be unengaging and useless. Much of the time, the professional development they provide has been requested by particular teachers themselves and arduously planned. It's just really tough to do it well.

    We all must occasionally engage in professional development that is tedious but legally required. Sometimes the intended messages are designed to protect those in the room. Sometimes they represent new research or information that will be helpful to those teaching content. Sometimes they are required for relicensure.

    Providing the right professional development at the right time is difficult when teachers constantly have so much to learn. Things are changing quickly. As soon as you really understand how your computer system works, someone will come in with a new operating system. As soon as you've perfected the ability to ask high-level questions, someone will tell you to incorporate inquiry groups. Or book clubs. Or Socratic seminars.

    All these are great professional development opportunities, but they take time to learn to use effectively. Successful implementation of these wonderful ideas can't take place after a 30-minute seminar.

    My response is to put yourself out there. If you don't like the PD provided, start lobbying for choice. Start asking to help prioritize the list of needs teachers have. Ask about the long-term plan for professional development. Talk to teacher leaders in your building. It may mean having to admit there are things you don't know.

    Most important, if you have some good ideas, share them with colleagues. Teachers need teachers to support them, and there is no one better than you to do it.

    Julie ScullenJulie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors and also served as president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.


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    Bringing Real-World Motivation to Class

    By Julie Scullen
     | Feb 23, 2017

    ThinkstockPhotos-145846868_x300Think about the last thing you chose to read: a magazine article, a Facebook post, a book, a tweet. What motivated you to read it? Was it a recommendation, or did you stumble across it? What did you do afterward? I’m guessing you didn’t answer even one multiple choice question about the content. 

    I almost never finish reading an article I’ve discovered online or read in a magazine and immediately think, “Gosh, this would make a great diorama!” or “Does anyone have a hanger? I need to make a mobile so I can really show you all what this article meant to me!” It’s rare that I seek out a multiple choice question or two so that I can feel qualified and ready to discuss what I have read with colleagues or my family. 

    Adults talk about what they read. They share. They compare. They make connections to other texts on similar topics or similar historical events. They share on social media and e-mail article links to each other. Our students, however, often live in a world of worksheets and packets. No wonder reading has become a task many dread—worksheets do not often inspire.

    Let’s put a little more real world into our classrooms, across the school day. Stop talking to students about passing standardized tests and start asking them to do some authentic reading. Stop talking about how reading practice will help them get a high score on the ACT, and start talking about how reading is necessary for informed adult life. When adults become ill, they read as many things as they can about symptoms and treatment options from as many different sources as possible. They don’t prepare for a quiz in their doctor’s office.

    We need to make student reading across the school day feel as authentic, purposeful, and engaging as adult reading.

    We’ve all been in this classroom: “OK, kids, I’m handing out this article. You need to read it and answer the questions in the yellow packet. It’s important, so read it carefully—some of these questions are related to our Standards. I’m sorry, I know it is more than one full page, and it’s going to be tough reading. I think most of you will be able to complete it before the bell. If not, it is homework. Your quiz is tomorrow.” Hint: If you feel the need to apologize for assigning a reading task, something is wrong.

    Seek authenticity. Don’t turn a strategy into a worksheet or bog down a reading task with an acronym that makes the learning less engaging rather than more. Don’t ask students to read articles from their copy of a newspaper with the only goal being to “find the 5 Ws” in the articles you have chosen for them. Instead, ask students to pick up their device and find an article on a particular current event and read it with the goal of being able to tell someone else about it. Have a discussion about what happened and how it was covered in the website they found. Ask them to seek out another website with a different perspective. How do these writers convey their messages? 

    Stop connecting reading to packets and worksheets. Asking students to fill in blank after blank is encouraging shallow reading, without engagement or passion. It’s exhausting and tedious and easily forgotten. It’s also pretty darn easy to copy from someone else during study hall.

    Think of packets as the student equivalent of insurance policies and privacy notices. It’s certainly important reading to the person asking you to read it, and it may be important to you someday, but it’s darn boring to read and easily forgotten.

    Julie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors and also served as president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.

     

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    Then and Now: Encouraging All Students to Reach High

    By Julie Scullen
     | Jan 05, 2017

    ThinkstockPhotos-174530814_x300I went to a small high school in a really small town. The kind of town with only one traffic light. It blinked yellow, as if there wasn’t enough traffic to warrant a red. “They’ll close the zoo if the duck dies.”

    Really small.

    At the beginning of my senior year, I was called to the school counselor’s office because I had indicated on a survey I was going to college. I expected to get a big cheer from the counselor—a pep talk and a list of steps to take in the coming months. I was in the top 10% of my class, enrolled in all the high school courses colleges required, active in school activities, involved in every school play, first chair flute, and a voracious reader.

    Instead, he sat at his desk and gave me a sweet but patronizing smile.

    “Now, Julianne, are you sure this is the right choice for you?  You know, very few girls make it through college.” After a few beats, he asked me if I had a backup plan. Silently, I shook my head. I didn’t. I couldn’t tell you one thing he said after that, but I know the meeting was short. 

    My mind whirled. Did he know something I didn’t? Why was I not college material? The message I was getting at home was different—I was never asked if I was going to college, but where. I had never once entertained the idea of not going. He made me second-guess my goals, but only for a moment.

    Thank goodness I didn’t second-guess for long, as there was a lot to do and no Internet to help. 

    Supporting my own children through his process recently reminded me of that meeting and how different things are for high school students today. Our kids are surrounded by educational professionals willing to guide and support them, with so much information available it can be overwhelming.

    Thirty years ago, there was no Google, and everything was done by mail with paper, envelopes, and stamps. And that was only if you were interested in the school. Can you imagine? 

    There were no apps or websites for ACT or SAT preparation. We actually had to get practice tests from big, heavy books and then go back and score them on our own and find our own mistakes. 

    College applications weren’t filled out using online forms; we had to type them. Using a typewriter.

    If you weren’t prepared for college, there were no remedial courses to assist you. Intervention energy was concentrated on getting students a diploma, not prepping for college work.

    Earning college credit during high school was new, and very few students were able to take advantage of it. High school students had to actually travel to the college or university to attend class.

    I now have two children of my own in college. At their high school, no one fought about the best fertilizer for soybeans after school at the flagpole. In our community, we have many stoplights and more than one gas station and, thankfully, their college search was a completely different experience from my own.

    When they began to plan for college, they had incredible amounts of information at the click of a mouse—campus choices, programs offered, applications, financial aid, scholarships, all within reach at home or at school. There were programs designed with algorithms to help them find the perfect campus, major, and career goals. 

    Most important for my children and their classmates, no one ever told them their dreams weren’t possible. They were not asked if they had a back-up plan.

    May we never decide for a student he or she isn’t worthy of college—or any career path—because of his or her gender, race, religion, or any other reason. May no student ever lack support in reaching his or her goals.

    Julie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors and also served as president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.


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    Using the Right Strategy at the Right Time

    By Julie Scullen
     | Nov 16, 2016
    Scullen 111616

    When I tie my shoes, I no longer say to myself, “OK, first make a bunny ear….” I never once took a quiz on the steps of shoe tying in order to prove I understood the bunny strategy.

    Literacy strategies should be just like that: Students are weaned off of them when they are no longer needed or when a particular strategy proves to be unnecessary, impractical, or ineffectual.

    Teachers are always on the lookout for the newest strategy to fix student literacy issues. Websites like Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers are full of strategy examples (unfortunately, many pilfered from the work of others and recycled with a new graphics) to distill the process of comprehension and understanding into an acronym. We can teach students to UNRAAVEL, RAP, UNWRAP, SCRIP, GIST, SOAPSTONE, THIEVES, SWBS, KWL, or SQ3R their text. These strategy acronyms are printed on posters, charts, and packets of worksheets. The hope is that if students memorize and follow all the steps in the acronym, “deep comprehension” (feel free to substitute other phrases like “fabulous writing” or “high-level thinking” as needed) will result.

    Consider lit circles. Although intended as a way to help students practice critical conversation about text through various lenses, lit circles can easily become packets of role sheets completed before a mechanical and disjointed conversation—a round robin exercise that is little more than having students read their role sheet aloud. The goal of academic conversation is lost because the completion of the role sheet is what students see as their focus.

    Don’t misunderstand, I think strategies have value.

    However, I worry that a hyper-focus on steps and acronyms distracts from the real purpose of teaching strategies, which is to give students a way to organize information in text and encourage deep thinking when necessary.

    Role sheets, acronyms, and posters are tools, meant to be temporary. The goal is to teach students to understand when a strategy would be helpful and give them options when they need to use them—and when they don’t.

    The bunny strategy for shoe tying might not work for everyone. My little brother learned it as “wrap it around the loop and push it through.” With my own kids, I found it easier to just buy them shoes with Velcro straps.

    Just as every student doesn’t need a reading strategy in every instance. Voracious readers who love to share their ideas do not need to be reminded to stop and annotate every new plot point to prepare for a small group conversation. In fact, stopping the flow of the reading becomes frustrating and cumbersome, doing more harm than good.

    Strategies and acronyms themselves can easily become the learning target instead of comprehension and understanding. Students are sometimes quizzed and tested on the acronyms, not the learning gained from the text. If you give a quiz or assignment to make sure students can label the parts of the strategy, you might be missing the point.

    Let’s look at a couple of examples where the assignment focused more on the parts of the strategy than on the actual learning students should be doing:

    Example 1: “Okay, students! For full credit, you need to find and annotate six examples of places where you visualized and four examples of places you made text-to-text connections. You also need to stop and make at least three predictions as you read your book independently.” What if these particular annotations don’t make sense with the students’ text? What if they get wrapped up in the reading and forget to stop?

    Example 2: “Good morning, learners! We have been talking about context clues. In your packet you need to show you can label what you have learned. Does each passage selection contain a definition/explanation clue, a contrast/antonym clue, or an inference/general clue?” Should the point of the lesson be to identify the clue correctly or to determine the meaning of the word based on the clues given?

    Strategies are meant to be temporary. They are meant to give students a way to organize their thinking, to support and nurture their success until the thinking process reaches automaticity. The goal is to teach students to understand when a strategy might increase their understanding and then allow them to use their chosen strategy flexibly, according to their task and need.

    Here’s my advice for deciding when to use a strategy in class:

    Be selective. Before you introduce a strategy, ask yourself the following questions: How many of your students need this type of strategy? Is it useful in other situations or disciplines? Is it for fiction or nonfiction? Is it too complicated or cumbersome?

    Be flexible. Make sure students know that some strategies will be more helpful to them than others in certain texts. Remind them they can choose what makes sense for them.

    Be careful. Strategies are intended as a means to an end. They are not the end.

    Julie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors and also served as president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.


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    The Lighter Side of Survival

    By Julie Scullen
     | Oct 19, 2016

    ThinkstockPhotos-97430222_x300At our first department leader meeting this fall, I asked each person to share a one-word goal for the year. There were 14 people in the room, and three listed survival as their word. Their goal was to survive. One other said persevere and still another’s goal was serenity. Almost a third were thinking about their emotional needs and steeling themselves for what would come next. No one in the room was surprised; in fact several others said they had considered using the same word—survive—but weren’t brave enough to admit it to the group. There was a bit of nervous laughter, and we moved on to business. Teaching is a tough job, and getting tougher.

    Inspired by these teaching warriors and Shanna Peeples’ article in October’s Literacy Today, I starting asking teachers for their stories. What happened that influenced your day? What made you smile? What made you change direction?

    Hearing stories from the trenches helps us realize we’re not alone. Better yet, our students (and colleagues) might provide us with cause to laugh. I consider humor cheap therapy.

    Let me provide you with some cheap therapy.

    I was working alongside a dedicated, energetic secondary teacher. On this particular day we asked students to practice reading authentic online text and respond to what they had read. Engagement was high, keyboards were clicking purposefully, and we were feeling the rush of professional success and mentally high-fiving each other.

    One young lady who had been typically distracted and disengaged broke away from her response writing and motioned for my attention.

    “Hey, Reading Lady. Do I capitalize the ‘h’ in Hispanic right here?”

    I smiled, proud of her question. She was making such progress! “Yes, of course.”

    As I walked away, I heard her mutter to herself. “Duh. Of course I should. Hispanic is a pretty big religion!”

    End scene.

    A short time ago I was watching a phenomenal teacher perform a close reading lesson. She had the kids near her in a semicircle, each with a notebook and pencil. A few minutes into the lesson a young man popped up and headed to the pencil sharpener. He started sharpening…and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening—with occasional peeks to see if the lead was sharp enough yet.

    The teacher motioned for him to have a seat. Reluctantly and dramatically he dragged his feet back to his space.

    A moment later he popped up again, even more enthusiastically, and dashed to his chair. He dug through his backpack, tossing everything and leaving items strewn all over the floor, chair, and desk. Triumphantly he held up what he had been seeking: a small pencil sharpener.

    He smiled and skipped back to his place in the front of the room…and began sharpening. Sharpening and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening and sharpening…. The teacher, valiantly continuing to teach, walked to her desk and pulled out a pencil. She walked to him and gave him a meaningful stare as she handed him her pencil. He looked at it as she walked away, perplexed. Then his face lit up with blissful understanding, and he started sharpening her pencil.

    End scene.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

    To be fair, sometimes my colleagues provide me with cheap therapy as well. For instance, in recent years, I’ve helped to dispel many misconceptions regarding standards and testing. I’ve had conversations with colleagues referencing “formalative” assessment (as opposed to “summalative”). During curriculum writing, somone referred to our “new STRANDards.” One of my favorites is this: “What are we going to do about this CANNON Core?”

    We all need to seek out the lighter moments and collect stories from our schools to share. It’s a matter of survival.

    Do you have a good story? Share it with us on social media with #ClassroomTales.

    Julie Scullen is a former member of the ILA Board of Directors, and has also served as president of the Minnesota Reading Association and Minnesota Secondary Reading Interest Council. She taught most of her career in secondary reading intervention classrooms and now serves as Teaching and Learning Specialist for Secondary Reading in Anoka-Hennepin schools in Minnesota, working with teachers of all content areas to foster literacy achievement. She teaches graduate courses at Hamline University in St. Paul in literacy leadership and coaching, disciplinary literacy, critical literacy, and reading assessment and evaluation.



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