Sunday, April 13, 2014

What did I learn at the MRA Conference?

Principal ponderings...

On Thursday, I attended the Massachusetts Reading Association Conference in Quincy.  The focus this year was on technology and literacy.  One thing I thought about while I was at the conference was that next year, I would like to have more opportunities for our staff to attend conferences and workshops.  I sat with a friend from another district who was there with a large group from her district.  They had received a grant that paid for all of their registrations.  I am hoping to apply for some grants so that we can send more people to conferences.  There is so much that we can learn from keynote speakers, panel discussions, presenters, and simply talking to people from other districts!

The keynote speaker on Thursday was Lucy Caulkins.  She was certainly my main motivation for attending this conference!  Lucy spoke to a packed crowd about teaching writing, in particular, teaching persuasive and informative writing.  Some key quotes from her that I took away:
"We need to be looking at student work, not to figure out which student is a good writer and which student is a bad writer.  We need to be looking at student work to figure out how we are doing as teachers."
"What is the promise that your district gives to the kids as writers?  We need whole schools to think about how to raise a writer, instead of classrooms working in isolation." (Once we have a stronger foundation in our building in regards to how we raise readers...our next step will be to look at how we are raising writers...needs to be a joint effort from each grade discussing and collaborating.)
"You don't need to wish your problems away; you can write your problems away."

Lucy shared several ideas and had us all practice at our tables talking about planning out our writing to get more details.  She shared with us samples of student writing from kindergarten up through 5th grade.
Some thoughts that I had while listening to her...
  • Loved her idea of having a 'chew and chat' session during snack time.  This could be done at all levels.  Give the kids something to discuss.  In kindergarten or 1st grade, you could have placemats at kids' tables or desks and the placemats could have different quadrants that would guide an opinion discussion.  For example, you could have the different seasons represented and the kids talk about which one they like the best and why.  
  • Or what about having kids bring in a collection of something from home, like maybe they have several action figures.  They could rank the items and talk and write about why one is the best one, why one is the worst one, etc.  
  • Have students go on a walk around the school and identify issues or concerns and then they can write about things they notice and want to change.
  • I thought it would be a good idea to think about kids writing up some quick persuasive pieces to read over morning announcements...there is a purpose and an audience that could be very motivating!
I wanted to share with you a site that Lucy Caulkins was encouraging educators to take a look at.  It's called  She is part of the committee that created this site for teachers to have a forum and share their thoughts about the various standardized tests, like PARCC, being piloted across the country.  I recommend you take a look and see what others are saying or even share your thoughts on the site.

I attended another speaker session that was led by Nancy Boyles.  She was a dynamic speaker who has written several professional books.  Surprisingly, I don't own any of her books, but I have borrowed them and read them.  Don't worry, I will probably be ordering her newest book! ;)
Nancy went through the anchor standards for ELA and shared ideas of how to address them using various picture books.  I got a handout from her with lots of titles that I will hopefully be able to purchase for our school library and our shared lit collection.  Several people in the audience also shared some great titles to use.  As Nancy said, "Start with a good book, and then you can do so many things with it."

Some of the break out sessions I attended focused on how different schools have been using technology to enhance their literacy instruction.  Everything from using Google docs to have kids collaborate on the revision process to using an app called BookCreator on the iPad to create nonfiction books full of different text features to having 1st graders blog in their classroom using KidBlog to kindergartners creating graphic organizers using an app called Popplet.  Lots of great ideas that I hope we will be able to try out with our students.

The closing speaker was an author named Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  She discussed the process she went through to write and create her award-winning picture books.  Here's a shot of some of her books:
She was amazing to listen to.  I found a clip of her explaining all of the thinking that went into creating her book, Bully.  It's a good reminder that you can get so much out of a picture book...even one that has very few words!  

And here is a great video clip of kids talking about her books:

Currently reading:
I have not mentioned any picture books in a while so let me tell you about two great books that I borrowed from Mrs. Fulreader and read recently.  The first one is called Spoon.  It's an adorable book about a self conscious spoon who is jealous of forks and knives and all they get to do.   Love the picture of spoon's family!

The other book I read was called Zero.  In this book, Zero wants to be like the other numbers and tries to change himself.  But in the end, he realizes how valuable he really is!

Events this week:
A short week before vacation begins!
Monday - Passover begins
Wednesday - Safety drill today, 3rd grade chorus practice @ 2:25 in the gym, Staff meeting @ 3:30, Multi-age informational night from 6:30-7:30
Thursday - Early release day, parent conferences in the afternoon
Friday - Good Friday, No school
**Enjoy a well-deserved vacation week.  Get's full speed ahead to the end of the year when we return from break!  And something to look forward to when you return...Teacher Appreciation Week!

Great things I noticed last week:

  • 3rd graders got to dress up in costume as they took a walk back in time to the American Revolution.
  • 4th graders demonstrated their knowledge of simple machines by creating and presenting at the Invention Convention.  One student certainly had an appropriately timed invention that helps you dye eggs without getting your fingers stained.  And another student used her invention to make pouring your breakfast cereal a little easier.
  • A student in Mrs. Guernsey's class used a chromebook to take a quick pre-assessment on measurement using Quia.
  • A first grader in Mrs. Cragg's class was going back into a book he had already read, preparing for some partner work where he was going to direct a partner to act out an important part of the story.
Check it out:
One teacher who presented at the MRA Conference (and is also one of our parents) shared some information about how her class is following the Out of Eden Walk.  This is a 21,000 mile walk that one man is doing over seven years.  He is retracing 60,000 years of human migration.  The sites that have been set up to follow him on his journey were originally set up for middle and high school students, but there are many ways that you could share this with our elementary students.  This is one more way to bring the world to our students by connecting through technology.
Hmmm...are we underestimating the math abilities of our kindergartners? Here is an article to make you think:

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