The Power of a Question

In the past year, there has been one topic that has kept creeping up in my magazines, books, and thoughts. The topic has also been one of the most widely requested topics for professional development that we have gotten this year. What’s the topic? (drum roll please)….Questioning. What’s interesting is that the kind of questioning that is popping up in magazines and books is different than the kind of questioning we are getting requests for, and I have a theory as to why. Let me explain…

I was on a flight to Austin last month, and I grabbed the Spirit magazine out of the pocket of the seat in front of me. I admit-I’m a Skymall and Spirit junkie. The articles in the magazine are just perfect for that 50-minute flight to Austin. Anyway, the April edition had an article by Warren Berger titled “Chasing Beautiful Questions” about Van Phillips, an amputee who revolutionized the world of prosthetics when he created a curved prosthetic limb which allowed for more flexibility than previous prosthetics had. What was interesting to me is that while Van Phillips was the subject of the article, the main focus of the writing was on the influence that questioning has had on our society. In fact, the author wrote a book on questioning and explores how businesses, schools, and every other field could benefit from encouraging the type of inquiry that has brought about some of the most useful inventions of our time.

What I found interesting was that when we, as educators, talk about questioning, we are typically referring to the idea of asking higher-order questions. In essence, we focus on the questions that the teacher is asking. However, this article and another one titled “The Case for Curiosity” in the February 2013 edition of Educational Leadership, highlight the power of questions that come from the student (or inventor, or member of society). After all, learning begins with a question.

This recurring topic of questioning has sparked some questions in my own mind that I want to explore this summer with any of you who would like to join. We will be conducting a series of webinars throughout the summer titled (very creative….) Summer Learning Series …where we will discuss some topics of interest. Join us June 16th for our first webinar in the series-The Power of a Question. Register at www.region10.org to receive the webinar links.

Robyn Hartzell

Robyn Hartzell

Rebellious Reader & Program Coordinator for ELAR, Library, Dyslexia, and GT/Advanced Academics services

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Beyond Picture Books

After 27 ¾ years in the classroom, I have begun a new journey as the newest member of the Literacy Team at Region 10.  As honored as I am to be here, I feel a kindred spirit with Scaredy Squirrel!  I have ventured into the Unknown!  As with any new adventure, I’ve taken some wrong turns (mostly down hallways) and experienced some anxiety.  Through it all, I’ve been encouraged by my amazing teammates who have reassured me and helped me build confidence in my abilities to become more independent as an ELA Consultant.

As I reflect on the first four weeks in my new position, I’m reminded of how a growing reader often experiences unfamiliar text.  As teachers, we observe students who have some strategies in place but lack the confidence to apply them consistently.  They may stumble or take a wrong turn, but we have the opportunity to help build their confidence as they develop as a reader.   Our words of encouragement and reinforcement along their reading journey guide them to become independent readers.

I’m thankful that I took the leap of faith into the Unknown!  I’ve discovered a whole new world beyond picture books and I look forward to many new challenges along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Questions from the new SAT

Last March, the College Board announced that the SAT would be receiving a face-lift so that it could better assess students. Students will begin taking the new assessment in 2016. The biggest overall change to the test is its requirement for students to “demonstrate sound thinking, rather than test-taking skills” (Jaschik, 2014). Click on the link below to see a more in-depth explanation and an actual sample from the test as shared by Inside Higher Ed. http://tinyurl.com/ptu9x2t

Nancy McGruder

Nancy McGruder

English language arts and reading consultant. Lover of literature and good food.

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A Pep Talk in the Season of STAAR

With the first rounds of STAAR testing over, we want to extend a virtual high-five to all of the teachers, principals, and students out there.  We know that your hard work is going to show.  In this season of STAAR, we want to remind you that YOU are AWESOME with this pep talk from Kid President…  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwlhUcSGqgs

Robyn Hartzell

Robyn Hartzell

Rebellious Reader & Program Coordinator for ELAR, Library, Dyslexia, and GT/Advanced Academics services

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A Reader is Born!

Sometimes things happen that remind me what is important in this world.  One of those things happened to me this week.  I got home about 10:00pm on Monday night and was getting ready for bed when my phone buzzed.  I looked and saw that it was a text message from my sister-in-law.  I opened the message to find a video.  When I tapped the play button, I saw the best sight I could have ever asked to see.  My niece, who has fought her little 10-year-old heart out to learn to read, was READING a book BY HERSELF!  I couldn’t believe it!  We have really worried about whether she would ever learn to do what so many of us take for granted.  She is a brilliant girl with severe reading difficulties.  Thanks to wonderful teachers, she is getting the help that she needs, and she is READING.  It has taken 10 years, but she is doing it.  One little book at a time, she is doing it! Is she on level?…no.  Will she do well on STAAR?… probably not.  BUT, she is now, officially, a reader!!   My niece’s life will change because some teachers have invested in her.

Teachers….your work matters.  Thank you from a grateful aunt!

Robyn Hartzell

Robyn Hartzell

Rebellious Reader & Program Coordinator for ELAR, Library, Dyslexia, and GT/Advanced Academics services

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Just a thought

Recently I became ill with a stomach bug that my son decided to graciously share with me. And while I was at home in my misery, my colleagues came to the rescue: covering my workshops, bringing me materials I needed, texting to check on me. At first I viewed this as a negative. I sometimes struggle to ask for or receive help. But they came together to do what they felt was best for me. And while they couldn’t stop the virus, they chose to support me, regardless.

This made me think about our mentality with STAAR testing. Personally, I like the test. However, with low scores and pressures for better data, many teachers believe the test is a virus. What if we took a step back and realized that it isn’t going away; there’s no trick to “beat it”. It’s here and we are going through the growing pains of the test. Rather than complain or be upset, could we rally together and support each other? I believe that’s exactly what we need to do!  We can share best practices, make sure we educate ourselves about the test, and keep focusing on our TEKS.

There are positives to STAAR that are overshadowed by the pressures for better data. And rather than wallow in the misery and fear of the challenges we face with this test and the redesign at the high school level, my colleagues reminded me that no matter how “down and out” we are, we all have the choice to support each other and continue to do what is best for each other (and for kids)!

10|Care Online: Envisioning Graduation for All Students in Foster Care

Spend an entire day learning about strategies for enrolling and educating students in foster care, without having to leave your office. Information covered will include Foster Care for Educators 101, interviews with CASAs, interviews with foster care alumni, accessing post-secondary education, and credit achievement and recovery via the Texas Virtual School Network. The webinar will begin at 9:30 and end at 3:30. Pack a lunch and participate in our interactive midday session with foster care alumn.

Click on the link below to see the agenda.
10Careflyer

Webinar Flyer

Nancy McGruder

Nancy McGruder

English language arts and reading consultant. Lover of literature and good food.

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Bell Ringers – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

One of the great things about being an ELAR consultant for Region 10 is that we get to visit hundreds of classrooms a year. From elementary to high school, I smile to myself at how similar they are all. I can already see the secondary people crinkling up their noses at the comparison, but hear me out. If I were to compare the materials, furniture, and decorations there would be differences, but ultimately the classrooms all contain the same ingredients. Another similarity I have noticed is the dominating presence of bell ringers. Yes, I said it, BELL RINGER. If we were to investigate the history of bell ringers, we would see that they came out of necessity for secondary teachers who need to call roll, collect homework, and take care of all the other house keeping things that secondary teachers do a million times a day. But consider this, a bell ringer typically take 5-8 minutes to complete and review, which means if you only have 48 minute classes you are spending almost an entire class period a week working on bell ringers. Wait, that’s 40 minutes a week, 6.7 hours per month, and almost 3 whole days a year spent on bell ringers!!! If you have to spend this amount of time on anything in your classroom, let’s make sure it is worth every minute. Click on the link below to read the Education Week article, “When Bell-Ringers Go Bad: My Quest to Deepen Start-of-Class Activities” to see how a Texas educator made bell ringers worth every minute of her time. http://tinyurl.com/msjjypq

Let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.
-Nancy

Nancy McGruder

Nancy McGruder

English language arts and reading consultant. Lover of literature and good food.

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2014 Reading Resolutions

Well, it is a full two weeks into the new year and most of my resolutions have already been -shall we say–revised.  Keep in mind…I said MOST, not ALL.  My reading resolutions are still on track.  I resolve to read more books this year than last year and to include more classics in the mix. (After all, I should probably read some of those books that were assigned to me in high school at some point!) Surprisingly-I’m really enjoying most of them.  Who knew that I was a fan of 19th century literature?  What are some of your resolutions?  Don’t have one?  Check here for some ideas: https://www.texasbookfestival.org/new-years-reading-resolutions/

Robyn Hartzell

Robyn Hartzell

Rebellious Reader & Program Coordinator for ELAR, Library, Dyslexia, and GT/Advanced Academics services

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Lessons Gleaned From Puppy Manners Class

Trying to pay attention

Trying to pay attention

We have, Heaven help us, acquired a new puppy, a gargantuan Great Pyrenees/Golden Retriever cross intent on eating our living room. Like most doting but desperate parents, we’ve sought outside counsel, and enrolled Rory in dog obedience classes (I use this term, you understand, in the loosest possible sense.) Great Pyrenees are, apparently, “willful”, a euphemism for flat stubborn; we keep hoping the people-pleasing Golden Retriever side will surface, but so far have been disappointed. It’s a lot like looking at your husband when your children do something heinous and debating whose genes are responsible for the lapse.

I tell you this because it’s been eye-opening attending these classes, where Rory routinely disgraces himself by his wild enthusiasm and inability to focus. The instructor, who has a Masters in Animal Behavioral Science, is undaunted by his joyful uncooperativeness, encouraging us to “break down the task until he can be successful, and repeat over and over until the behavior is solidified.” There is no such thing as inability or refusal to learn; we just haven’t figured out a way to teach him….and she will brook no suggestion of resorting to “negative” reinforcement (which crosses my mind quite frequently).

This experience, where we “click-reward-repeat” ad infinitum, makes me think of the intervention research which suggests some students need 4 to 5 times the intensity of instruction as others to attain concepts. Under our instructor’s gentle scrutiny, I’ve begun reflecting on my own intervention instruction: Am I showing children exactly what to do? Am I breaking the task down into incremental steps so each can be successful? Am I rewarding successful attempts immediately and appropriately? Am I providing sufficient practice so that the skill becomes automatic? Am I setting up appropriate situations where the skill can be transferred? Am I reviewing on a regular schedule to cement the learning?

About 40 minutes into every lesson, completely overstimulated and exhausted by effort, Rory collapses in the midst of the mayhem, and falls fast asleep. This learning business, for him, is tough work. It’s a reminder to me to work a little, rest a little, work a little, rest a little…before this learning business overwhelms my struggling students, as well.

May your dogs learn willingly this joyous season, and may all your teaching be productive!

Rory flaked out

Joan Vaughan

Joan Vaughan

Before coming to Region 10, I taught in two countries, two provinces, two states, two languages, and spent twenty-two years in the classroom. My passion is teaching writing, talking about writing, modeling writing, and discussing writing with kids and teachers alike.

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