I’m back to blogging after a bit of a hiatus. I finished my second book for Stenhouse and turned over the manuscript recently, so my writing time was pretty focused. I’ll write more about that process, but today I wanted to share a new way I’ve been using sketchnoting in classrooms.
During this year of coaching, as teachers have asked me to observe lessons, I’ve been sketchnoting the activity, interactions, and movement of the class and teacher with visual notes. These have become a powerful tool for post observation conferences.
As I take notes, I try very hard to be non-evaluative and encourage teachers to self-reflect and self-evaluate their lessons. Sketchnoting has made that so much easier for me. I capture what I see in words and images that are not filtered through my descriptive vocabulary. This has opened up greater conversations with teachers, and they love keeping a copy of the sketchnote for their portfolios.
This last week I tried something new. I often ask the teachers what they are focusing in their lessons, what their learning targets or success criteria may be, or even what they want me to notice-this guides my observation and allows me to get targeted feedback. However, this time I created a color key for the literacy areas Caroline, a 2nd grade teacher, was trying to incorporate into her science lesson. I sketchnoted her lesson and then afterwards asked her to reflect on her lesson with those areas in mind. Where did she feel like she was able to incorporate them? Where did the students engage with them? She then coded the sketchnote with those colors as we discussed the lesson.
Before color coding
After color coding
Caroline told me this was the best observation she ever had. She is already an incredibly reflective teacher, and this let her tangibly reflect and document her self-assessment. I think this could be a powerful tool for teachers to use when observing student group or independent work as well.
If you haven’t tried sketchnoting yet, I’d encourage you to check out some resources over the summer. I’ll be presenting with Tanny McGregor and Buffy Hamilton at ILA in Austin on sketchnoting. I’ll share more information on this in future blogs as well. You can check out my Padlet of resources to get started.
One More Off My TBR Stack!
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Jerome is shot and killed by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real weapon. The story is told from his perspective as a ghost as he watches his family’s agonizing struggle to seek justice for his death. The only human who can see Jerome is the police officer’s daughter Sarah, who is also struggling as her family’s life has been upended. Sarah wants to right a wrong done by her father and help Jerome, but she isn’t sure how. Jerome also meets another ghost-Emmett Till- who was lynched in 1955 and is the presumed leader of the ghost boys-murdered young black men. What does justice look like? How do people (or ghosts) heal from these tragedies. How do we face unconscious bias in our world? Jewell Parker Rhodes’ book may help start that conversation for many readers as she shows us not everything is as black and white as we see it.
Summer is a time that many teachers choose their own professional development. Many of us take courses, attend conferences and workshops, or read professional books to enhance our teaching. I’ll be doing those things as well, but I’ll be doing it a little different this summer.
For the past couple of years I’ve kept a sketchnote journal for attending conferences and workshops. It has really shaped the way I think about the information being presented as well as my ability to revisit the information and reflect more deeply with what resonated.
This summer I want to apply that way of thinking and responding to my professional reading and my podcast listening as well. As I am reading or listening, I tune in to what information inspires, challenges, or connects with my current thinking. I listen for “ah-ha’s” and visualize how that might look with my own teaching or in my life. Sometimes I sketchnote right then, other times I let things percolate and sketch what ‘sticks’.
I give it a little time and then as I revisit my sketchnotes I add small details and doodles as I meditate on the message-helping to internalize the ideas and epiphanies from the pages. I think I am going to work in black and white this summer, and then add color later to things that I plan to (or have) incorporate into my teaching and coaching. I want these to be interactive and inspirational. There are too many books I’ve read where I have thought, “That’s a great idea!” and then never applied it to my teaching. I’m hopeful that this approach will change that.
So here’s to another summer of personalized PD. May it be enlightening, inspiring, and sketchy!
What’s On My Book Radar?
Initially this book reminded me of some favorites (Maze Runner, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Scar Island) but it quickly developed into a thoughtful and poignant tale that embraced and exposed the joys and fears of childhood. “Nine on an island, orphans all, Any more, the sky might fall.” An idyllic island where once a year a boat arrives with a young orphan (a care) and the oldest orphan (elder) must depart the same day. This ‘changing’ brings stability to the island but uncertainty for those coming and going. On the day Jinny’s best friend, Deen, must depart she becomes the elder and must care for the new child, Ess. With new responsibilities and the inevitability of her limited time on the island, Jinny must come of age with no mentor. She discovers choices have consequences that affect others and that growing up reveals the world doesn’t revolve around you. This book is extraordinary-I couldn’t recommend it more. It will leave you thinking and talking about this book with kids and adults for a long time.
If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to attend a large national conference, you know that you can often come away feeling exhilarated, but overwhelmed. So many ideas, so little time to reflect and then implement them all. I have found 2 approaches to be helpful in supporting my learning and assisting me in coming away with actionable ideas and I believe they could help you, too:
I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and it has really shaped the way I think about new information coming in. As presenters share their ideas, my brain is thinking about what does that mean for ME and MY STUDENTS/STAFF? What are the big ideas I want to be able to remember and take back? What words resonate with me? What resources do I want to seek out? What quotes will inspire me to act? If I don’t think it is something I would intentionally use, I don’t jot it down. If it doesn’t inspire me to grow, it doesn’t go in my notebook, I just listen and absorb it.
These are a few of my #NCTE16 Sketchnotes. You can see them all by CLICKING HERE.
During the conference, I start thinking about how the sessions relate to one another. How could this presentation, support that presentation? What do many of these have in common? What is a theme I could extract from these? That helps me to categorize sessions by topics such as: writing strategies, teaching inspiration, book/author love, power of reading, etc. I often find myself choosing sessions that fit into themes I want to explore more deeply rather than sampling a huge variety of topics.
On the trip home, I continue synthesizing these ideas. Sitting with my sketchnote book, I begin to pull my takeaways-the big ideas I want to hold onto. Here are 3 of the biggest for me. I’d love to hear what yours are!
#1 Reading/Writing Reciprocity
This isn’t new to most of us, but a renewed emphasis on the correlations is helping me to think about how to scaffold my students more effectively. When we asked our students about what they have read (comprehension) we can invite them to ask, “What did the writer do to make you think that?” (composition). Everything we do as readers is because of something the writer did. Helping them to understand that purposeful connection as seamless can help them reflect on their own process for composing and comprehending.
We teach inverses in mathematics that help our students develop numeracy. If we think about teaching inverses with literacy we can help them to become more literate. Rather than teaching writing workshop and reading workshop separately, how can we make them more seamless? How can we help those worlds communicate with each other more effectively rather than dividing them up?
How can YOU help students use these literacy inverses to help them grow as readers and writers?
#2 Students as Learning Partners
The key to encouraging students to become more self-directed in their own learning is to cultivate engagement rather than compliance. Too often our classrooms are structured to ensure compliance to our rules, our expectations, our instructions. If we shift our focus toward increasing engagement, we will have students invested in their learning for themselves, and not just to please us.
First, we need to understand and cultivate the 3 Dimensions of Engagement
Behavioral(the quality of students’ participation in the classroom and school community)
Emotional (the quality of students’ sense of belonging and degree to which they care about learning)
Cognitive(the quality of students interest, ownership, and strategies for learning)
I’ll examine these dimensions in a future blog, but we can begin by creating relationships with students that don’t just foster a more positive classroom climate, but that establish a dynamic in which students feel invested and included in the design of the classroom. These relationships are essential for understanding the complex identities of our students in order to partner with them in their learning. Building strong relationships says, “I see you. I hear you. I am here for you.”
We can then develop “partnerships” with students by:
Using students’ writing as mentor texts
Asking students to teach/lead “expert” groups if they have a desire and strength in a particular area.
Inviting students to create the anchor charts in which to teach/learn
Asking students to weigh in on planning lessons and assessments
Encouraging students to give the book talks/recommendations to classmates
There are dozens more ways, but you get the idea. We don’t need to be the gatekeepers of learning in our classrooms when we can energize and encourage students to be our allies in this journey.
How can YOU partner more with students to create engaged learners in your own classrooms?
#3 Books Save Lives
Literally. I can’t tell you how many stories I have heard from authors and speakers who tell of the influence of a book on their lives-even to the point of saving it. But more often than preventing someone from taking their life, books save lives in ways we may not see or be aware of for years. They can save someone from a life of:
fear & bigotry
anger and hatred
We need to have books that act as mirrors (in which we can see ourselves) and windows (in which we can see into the lives of others) now more than ever. The fear of “otherness” has done great harm to people throughout history, and those who fail to learn from history are, as they say, doomed to repeat it. We need our students to see that ALL children have hopes and fears, dreams and aspirations, friends and family just like they do. We need to get those books into the hands our children and into our read alouds and lit groups. Not because they are ‘politically correct’ but because I really do believe that they save lives from being intolerant, fearful, and angry from a lack of understanding. We can prevent those beautiful children in our classroom from growing up with prejudices and biases that close off a wonderful world to them and harm the world for the rest of us.
How can YOU find and use books that could save a life?
What’s On My Book Radar?
GHOST by Jason Reynolds
Castle Crenshaw (a.k.a. “Ghost”) can run…fast. He needed to the night he and his momma escaped from his daddy who tried to kill them. But now he finds himself running for an elite track team and trying to figure out how or if he belongs. He finds that he can’t run from his anger and pain, but with the help of his coach and his new team mates, Ghost is learning to trust again and maybe become a great runner. Jason Reynolds writes with such passion and raw voice, you are immediately drawn into this world and walk in the shoes of another.
Winner of the 2017 NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction and a National Book Award Finalist..for GOOD reason-this book captures the truth and trials of many of our youth today who are marginalized and traumatized. A story that NEEDS to be told and it is told so brilliantly by Reynolds. As Jason Reynolds said at the NCTE keynote, “Magic is in the mundane. One of the greatest forms of advocacy is in the mundane.” The everyday stories of people trying to live their lives in the face of adversity may seem mundane, and that is why they are so powerful. Check out GHOST, you will be so glad you did.
A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney (illus by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson)
For Picture Book Month, I chose this amazing book. The story of The Snowy Day began over 100 years ago with the birth of Ezra Jack Keats. This beautiful biography told in verse by Pinkney shows us the incredible story of the man who brought Peter to life and how he never gave up until his dream was realized. I always loved Ezra Jack Keats’ work, and now I have grown to love the man as well. This book is a MUST for every classroom or home for children who are fans of Peter and his family/friends. Inspiring and illuminating!!
Let’s face it, we are living in a digital world. I am almost never far from some device that keeps me connected, organized, engaged. For years I would attend conferences, workshops, or classes with my laptop or iPad helping me to take copious notes. While I was able to capture a lot of what was said or presented, I wasn’t truly processing it in the moment, I was simply scribing. I would leave with my fingers aching, my mind racing, and often an overload of information. Then I would need to find time to read back through my notes and pull out the big ideas I’d like to incorporate into my teaching.
Then I started noticing the emergence of sketchnotes popping up on Twitter. In an instant I could see what the “big ideas” were for these educators. I was intrigued. I used my digital world resources to explore these medium of note taking. There were dozens of websites and hundreds of examples. I ordered Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook and I was hooked!
I haven’t totally given up my devices, but I have started to use them to help me think more visually about ideas rather than verbally! I snap photos with my phone of presenter slides rather than try to copy them down. I try to sketch out relationships or salient points that I think will be relevant for ME rather than everything that is being shared. The act of drawing/sketching is like a meditation on an idea.
I also use my devices to share out my thinking. I will tweet an important idea (sometimes with an image of my sketchnote page) and then I have my big ideas recorded on my Twitter feed-often with a comment from another teacher. I will follow a #hashtag after the session to see what big ideas surfaced for others. I haven’t given up ONE format for ANOTHER completely. I am learning to merge the tools that I think can help me best to integrate new thinking and learning into my schema.
I know I’ll revisit this topic in future blogs as consider how this might work for our students as well. Some of the biggest slices of my life involve reflection on my practice. This has certainly been some new learning for me. I’m finding it fun and fascinating to be a little “sketchy”!