As much as I try to flatten the walls of my classroom using technology, the truth is there are still walls. It is me and 25 third graders, and most recently, a fabulous student teacher. Still, the walls are there and often I don’t get to see other teachers in action.
Last month, I had the opportunity to remedy that problem for a day. I was a participant in a Learning Walk, focused on Writing Workshop. A Learning Walk offers participants the chance to observe other teachers and students around a focus question. Participants use nonjudgemental language to share what they noticed and wondered. After the classroom visitations, the participants come back together to note patterns of what they observed and discuss the findings. Then, participants decide on next steps to put their learning into practice.
For this Learning Walk, our question was: “What evidence do we see that students are engaged in their writing and write with stamina?” The participants included our literacy coach, who facilitated the day, two first grade teachers, an ENL teacher who pushes into first grade, a second grade teacher, and me (third grade teacher). We spent about 11 minutes in each classroom and then spent 5 minutes debriefing in the hallway, sharing our noticings and wonderings, before traveling onto the next classroom.
I loved visiting each classroom and having the chance to see the way the other teachers approached their minilessons, the tools they used, the charts, the small group work, and the sharing. In one first grade classroom, the students were able to say what they worked on as a writer that day, which really impressed our group. The teachers visited my room as part of the rotations and I taught a lesson on generating ideas for our nonfiction writing unit. I carried my Interactive Demonstration Notebook, which I’ve been trying to utilize more often, especially after reading Melanie’s post about her chart notebook. This started a conversation about DIY Literacy and all the resources shared by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts in their book.
We had a follow-up professional day to share more resources and ideas inspired by our Learning Walk. Each teacher received a copy of DIY Literacy and we spent some time watching the videos and creating our own Interactive Demonstration Notebooks. We discussed student choice and creating learner centered classrooms. Our literacy coach recommended a TED talk by Alan November, entitled “Who Owns the Learning?” It led to conversations about how we can provide opportunities for students to take more ownership over their learning and their writing. In the TED talk, November quotes a students who was writing fan fiction with a huge following, but not competing assignments for her teacher. The student said, “Do I write for my teachers or publish for the world?” The student chose to publish for the world. This led to a discussion about the writing our students do and who their audiences may be. Are we teaching students to write for authentic reasons? The conversation continues!
When teachers get together, the sharing naturally happens. During this follow-up day, I had the opportunity to discuss my passion for blogging and two of my colleagues started their own blogs! They both wrote about our professional day of learning. Katie Fernandez, our literacy coach who organized the day and facilitated it, wrote about our experience here. Angela Gross, currently a first grade teacher, described the experience on her new blog, too!
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in a Learning Walk that focused on writing workshop. I loved visiting my colleagues’ classrooms and observing different grade levels. It is important to know where students are coming from as writers. I previously taught kindergarten but seeing first and second grade writers helped me see the bridge from emergent writers to the third graders I work with now. I appreciate our literacy coach organizing this day for us and the supportive community that we had among the participants. I am also grateful that my school and district value collaboration and teachers learning from each other. Teaching can be lonely and can feel isolating unless you find ways to connect with other educators. While there are many online ways to do this, there is something to be said, too, for face to face collaboration and sitting in another teacher’s room, witnessing the magic teachers cast, first-hand.