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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON LITERACY COACHING BY GLADYS

        Last year when I was asked to be part of the literacy team at LFHS, I thought it would involve learning how to teach reading to high school students. I imagined it to be something like what I had been taught in Literacy Volunteers many years ago when I had training for teaching adults to read. I had hopes for learning  specific skills to help my students become better readers. For the past several years I have had more and more students coming to my tenth grade biology classes lacking reading comprehension skills. Many of my students struggle with my textbook and I have had to “ digest” the material in the text and explain everything to them before I could get them to read and find answers to study guides on their own. I thought I would learn some skills on how to teach reading to high school students to help them with comprehension.
            When I found out we were taking a class on literacy coaching I was a little confused because I did not have a handle on the concept of a literacy coach. I did not expect that the training I would receive in coaching literacy would help me learn the skills to become a better teacher in biology! This year has been quite different from what I had expected and it really has changed my ideas about literacy for high school students. It has changed how I view reading and most of all it has helped me become a better teacher of biology.
            The first task we were given was to find reading materials for all levels of students in our subject areas. We were introduced to Marvel and other online resources to help us find differentiated reading materials for all levels of  students. This allowed lower level students to read material that was more suitable for them and thus they were more successful in class. I have used this method for many of my lessons and now focus less on text reading assignments and more on reading materials that are at each student’s reading level. This  has worked well and is  a good way to get lower level students reading the material at grade level. As part of the literacy team we worked with the whole faculty at LFHS and taught them how to find materials for different levels. We had our entire faculty try this with their students and then we had them share how they had used this with 3 different levels of students.  Most of the faculty found this to be helpful. The only real problems the faculty had were with the technology and having the Marvel site blocked or unavailable when they needed to use it. Some faculty had a difficulty finding enough resources.
             For the first half of the year our whole faculty read the book,  Tools for Teaching in the Block by Roberta L .Sejnost. We would meet once a month for a book discussion and training on some of the ideas presented in the book.  Faculty volunteers taught mini-lessons on Socratic Circles, QAR and how to do a Carousel.  I found the book to be a great tool and I have tried several ideas presented in the book.  One idea that I tried  and felt my students enjoyed was the Summary ABC book (page 158 Senjnost). I did this as a  culminating activity after we had been studying about cells. Students worked in groups of 2 to create an ABC Book on Cells. Each group selected a specific teacher to whom they  dedicated the book. They then were asked to write the book for the grade level the teacher taught so for example , the 6th grade book would be more in depth than one for the second grade. My original plan was to have my students go to the elementary school and share the book with the class they were giving the book to but this plan did not work out because of time and transportation. I still have hopes of going to share the books with younger students and would like to do this at the end of the year as a culmination project for the year.
       After the literacy team modeled a carousel activity, I used it during my unit on cell division. I had students get into small groups and each group was given information to read  on one of the phases of the cell cycle to become experts on.  They were asked to list the events of the phase and make a model out of Play-Doh to show what was happening during the phase. They then got into another group and they shared what they learned with their new group. Students used their laptops and took pictures of each phase and created an iMovie of the cell cycle. They created title slides, which listed the major events for each phase of the cell cycle, and added these to their movies. This activity went well and gave students practice using the new laptops and opportunities for sharing new learning. Students worked in groups to learn the events of mitosis and then took the information to make their movie. Some students went a step beyond what we did in class and created a new movie on their own. Most of my students enjoyed this project!
            The second half of the year we focused on peer coaching. We used the model of the lesson plan in Sejnost’s book and taught the faculty how to set up a lesson using this format with a quick write to activate prior knowledge, written objectives and focus questions and a closure with an exit ticket. After we introduced this lesson plan format we had faculty come into our classes and watch us model how we were using it. We then went into our colleagues’ classes and observed them using this format. Once teachers realized this was not an evaluative observation but just a way to share ideas and help them, they were less anxious about the process.
            I must be honest and say, that I found this process very frightening at first but overwhelmingly beneficial in the end! Once I got over my own fears and lack of confidence, I began to see that this process was a great tool for my own personal learning and growth as a professional. It was very enlightening to go into other classes. It was nice to see  how other classes are set up and how simple procedures like starting class and ending class could be so similar but different. It was a wonderful way to see how students respond in different environments with different teachers. It was amazing to see how these 3 simple ideas could help our school become more cohesive.  I think that the idea of a common lesson plan format will help our students make more sense of what they are doing in all classes.   I think that peer coaching has helped our faculty communicate more  about what is best for our students.
            The faculty has been cooperative and most of them have been open to the new ideas the literacy team has brought to the staff this year.  Through this process I believe that the faculty at LFHS has become more intentional in their teaching practices. They have become more open to sharing ideas with colleagues. They are working more collaboratively and working to become better at what they do. I for one have learned a great deal by being part of the  literacy team. It has helped me become more reflective my teaching practices, I have tried lots of new ideas this year and I will continue to find ways to help me to become a better teacher in the years to come!

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