My summer journey – class one

First let me say that the journey will not physically take me anywhere, well to Gorham Monday through Friday. No this journey is the last class of my Master of Education in Literacy Education at the University of Southern Maine. I have to journal daily for the class and give pass in a hard copy but I will also post them here for your reading enjoyment. You can take the class vicariously through me (you won’t get any credits though).

The class is EDU 639 Literacy Practicum, also known as the “USM Reading and Writing Workshop” (so says the information page). It is a four week, six credit, extravaganza of teaching and learning. During this time I will be paired with two students and tutor them for 2.5 hours four times a week (M-Th). I will assess where they are on the literacy continuum, look at the goals associated with that stage of literacy, and create individualized plans that will help them reach (for) those goals. I will create a lesson plan each day and write a page(ish) journal reflection on the previous day’s lesson. In addition to the tutoring the entire class will meet together, then we will split into our smaller groups with our own literacy coach.

Today was our first class. The students will arrive on Monday. This initial meeting was to give us the program’s beliefs of Literacy Learning, talked about ‘teaching with intention’, reviewed the stages of Literacy Development, and discussed how we will use the stages in our planning and teaching. Then we broke into our smaller groups.

  1. Beliefs of Literacy Learning [These were copied verbatim from slides, I added the formatting, parentheticals are my words)
    1. Becoming literate is a developmental process. (your literacy is ALWAYS developing, it is a continuum, it is never completed)
      1. People pass through distinct stages of growth throughout their lives, marked by targeted benchmarks of ability and behavior, as they continuously acquire habits, strategies, and skills of reading, writing, and the other language arts.
    2. People learn how to read and write through voluminous interactions with text.
      1. Through an extensive engagement with a wide variety of books and other print material, people increase in ability, experience, confidence, and motivation.
    3. Literacy learning and teaching is constructivist, rooted in meaning, and rich in purpose. (Teaching with intention)
      1. Explicit instruction supports learners as they move through the stages of development. The careful use and analysis of ongoing formative assessment leads teachers to design effective instruction.

I find that these beliefs fall in very comfortably with my own (lucky for me huh?). I never say that I’m going to work, I always say I’m going to school; I still see myself as a student, I learn every day, I grow every day, and I will never stop. I believe very strongly in the second in the list. Practice, practice, practice in ways that have low, or no, stakes. I am a firm believer in SSR, I’ve had to fight for it the last two years when people wanted to co-opt it for other things. I stood my ground though and will continue to defend the twenty-minute period where all we ask of students is to read a book they chose. ( I have to remember whose shoulders I stand on with this belief and bring them to the discussion!)

The idea of teaching with intent is not new (in fact Debbie Miller wrote a book with that title; Nancy and Peter swear she stole it from them!). I do think that it is important to stop and formulate that intent; I don’t think that this happens enough. Why am I using this strategy? Why am I using this piece of writing as an example? Why am I using this activity? If I don’t know then I shouldn’t do it. I would add a word to the phrase though and make it “Teaching with transparent intent” I made a goal for myself that students should know why we’re doing something. I don’t want to hear “Why are we doing this?” and not have a valid answer; in fact I want to answer this question before it is asked. I tell my students about this goal and ask them to help me keep it. This class is going to make me be even more critical of my instructional choices. With only two students there is no real room to ‘fake it’ (not that I’d ever try). What I mean is that there is no middle of the road choice – I am tailoring my instruction to individuals so I’d better have thought out the ‘why are we doing this’ question.

The stages of Literacy Development, let’s see if I can name them without looking, Initial, Emergent, Transitional, Basic, Refinement, and switch papers and check the answers. . . rats I mixed up the first two, I almost corrected it too. Obviously the review was a good thing. So just to have to correct order here: Emergent (typically 5 and under), Initial (typically age 5-7; grades K-2), Transitional (typically age 8-11; grades 2-5), Basic (typically age 10-13; grades 5-8), Refinement (typically age 12+; grades 7+). Notice the ‘typically’ when describing the ages/grade levels. Kids develop at different speeds, not everyone in a class will be on the same stage, no matter what the grade level.

  1. Using the stages (Again this is copied from a slide except the parentheticals)
    1. Conduct the Informal Reading Inventory (IRI) (This is to be used as a guide)
    2. Suggest a stage of development
    3. Analyze IRI results to target instruction based on goals for the stage.
    4. Select approaches that will best support the targeted instruction you will design and provide.
    5. Monitor effectiveness of instruction through student progress.

In our smaller groups we shared our Teacher Coat of Arms (you can see mine here). Talked about lesson plans, got a copy of the schedule (this is going to fly by), found out the names/ages/grade level of the students we’ll be working with (I have a boy and girl, both 13, both going into 8th grade), saw the library that has been set up (awesome! and I grabbed a couple books that I think I can use right away), and discussed what Monday and Tuesday will look like.

I’m pretty excited about this class, it should be intense, but also a lot of fun. The people seem great, the small group I’m a part of already has a great vibe to it (yes I said ‘vibe’), and everyone has a positive supportive attitude.

All right, I guess I’m off to plan the first two days. Till next time. . .


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