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Gay Su Pinnell Receives Honorary Degree from Lesley University

By Cynthia Downend, Lesley University

Gay Su Pinnell was recognized by Lesley University for her life-long work in the field of literacy education with an Honorary Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, at this year’s commencement ceremony held May 19th. Dr. Pinnell delivered a highly motivating speech to the graduates that inspired and offered words of advice that are helpful for all to consider no matter where they are in their careers.

Below are some highlights from her speech as featured on the Lesley University website:

“Education is nothing short of the power to change the world.”

“From everything I have learned about Lesley I conclude that people here see education broadly, including intellectual, social and aesthetic learning—what people need to prepare for vocational success, yes, but even more important, to live a quality life from the earliest years on,” Pinnell said. “Lesley faculty and students are also interested in and fully support social justice, something my own father talked about on a day-to-day basis in my home. They study it and they fight for it.”

As Pinnell discussed the power of education, she also revealed the oppression that attends a lack of education.

“There were reasons that it was illegal to teach slaves to read and that even today, the poorest children are the most likely to be taught with a mindless, unthinking curriculum, without being able to read very well,” she said.

“It’s not the mechanical act of decoding words that’s so important, they get taught that really well and it is essential,” Pinnell added. “It’s the way the words are strung together to create language that enters the human being’s mind from the earliest listening to a book to the extensive reading I know all of you engage in. It is power over language. It’s the thinking that emerges from deep comprehension of text after text, of talking with others about ideas, and being inspired. As teachers, that’s what we do.”

Gay urged the audience to hold on to optimism and determination in a world that can sometimes seem divisive. She also encouraged all to not try to be perfect; don’t be afraid to fail; make lofty goals but break them down into small manageable steps; find good work companions with whom you can laugh; know the theory and rationales behind your teaching; and never give up your dreams.

Please feel free to congratulate Gay in the comments section of the blog.

Straight as an Arrow – Not!

Think of an accomplishment you have experienced in your personal life—something you felt compelled to complete.  Some examples might include:  landscaping your yard, painting a room, changing careers, learning to play an instrument,  putting a swing set together…the list goes on! Now reflect on a professional accomplishment—finishing a course, earning a degree, reaching a hard-to-teach student, organizing literacy night, introducing peers to team teaching….

Consider this: Were you able to immediately accomplish the task, or did you encounter issues and obstacles along the way? Let’s think about painting a room. It sounds like a simple, straightforward plan–get the paint, move the furniture, tape the woodwork, and GO, right? Except that, somewhere along the way you forgot to pick up a paint roller, and the brush you planned to use has disappeared. So you make a trip back to the store and then begin preparing the room. Wow! That big roll of painter’s tape—well, it looked like there was plenty on the roll! But no, one more trip to the store! So now you’ve taped the woodwork, created a workspace around the room, protected the floor, set the ladder in place, stirred and poured the paint in the pan, you’re set to go. This is exciting! You like the color, you’ve got the hang of edging the ceiling, the paint is going on smoothly, then you look back and realize the darker color underneath is showing through. You sigh, wondering if it’s going to take two coats, even though the paint label and the salesperson guaranteed one coat would cover!! Well, you’ll have to see what it looks like when it’s dry. Turn the corner of the room—oops! The ladder won’t fit, you have to move some furniture, your son comes in looking for a video game somewhere under the furniture covers, there’s a substantial crack in a corner that needs several coats to look good….Eventually you succeed in painting the room, and you are happy! It has taken far longer than you expected, you’re tired, covered with paint, sore from climbing up and down a ladder, but you’re happy. You can’t wait to see it in the morning light! And then…the morning light reveals it is definitely going to need another coat. More »

Why Inquiry in the act of coaching a Colleague?

I have long seen the power of inquiry in effective teaching.

Through interactive read-aloud, having a pair share around author’s purpose, how a character changed and why, exploring author’s craft to discover what seems the same and what are differences across books by the same author.

Through reading and writing workshop, becoming familiar with characteristics of a genre by reading and discussing many quality examples that then informs writing in that genre.

Through word study, examining the way words work and applying that understanding to other words to strengthen meaning, spelling and grammar.

Through poetry, discussing meaning and noticing how poems are crafted.

Lately I have been thinking about the strong role inquiry plays in coaching as well, and will share some thinking that will strengthen the power of coaching in reflective teaching that leads to more effective practice.

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Supporting Independent Learning

Donald Graves has said, “It is the learners’ perception of who they are and what they can do that has the greatest effect on what they can learn.”  This is at the forefront of my mind as I make decisions in the classroom. Everyone has a movie playing in their mind; a movie that tells us who we are, what we are capable of, and what we will do each day. Teachers help students to ‘write’ scripts that put them in the position of power and control over their learning. One way that we can support students’ “perception of who they are and what they can do” is to build environments that cultivate and nurture independent learning.

A classroom environment where students are engaging in inquiry, setting goals for themselves, and reflecting on the choices they are making empowers students to be in control of their learning.

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Envisioning Systemic Change

Nineteen primary level teams completed the first three days of Lesley University’s Literacy Leadership Team Institute.  During this time, six-member school literacy teams – comprised of the principal, the literacy coach, classroom teachers, interventionists, and other key literacy personnel- had the opportunity to explore issues critical to systemic school improvement.

One of my favorite parts of this training is an activity where teams construct a model of their school based on nine components– values and beliefs, leadership, standards, assessment, classroom, teaching, supplemental teaching, home/school community partnerships, professional development and implementation.  Each group creates a visual representation that illustrates how they would like these nine components to build and depend upon each other in their school.

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Putting the Research Where the Action Is

It is often said that good teachers are good students. Action research, also known as collaborative inquiry, action learning, and emancipatory research, provides a valuable tool for teachers to become students of their own teaching practices.  Action research helps teachers and schools engage in a continual process of quality improvement through inquiry and reflection.

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Creating Change in Systems through Professional Teamwork

Real change in the educational system can only happen when teachers and administrators work together on behalf of all the students.  Too often educators are focused on their individual roles and the power of the team in changing the landscape is lost. The quality of teamwork has the power to improve the expertise of all members of the team and the children will benefit.

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A Fresh Start in a New Year: What Should Teachers Consider?

clip art pencilA new calendar year lies before us! Most schools are approximately half way through their instructional year, which makes this a perfect time to take stock of what we have accomplished to this point, and what is yet to be accomplished this year. We have worked through the fall months, when we normally see students adjust to a new setting and level of expectation, and begin to learn appropriate concepts and skills. Ahead of us are several more months when amazing growth can take place for many students. How can we be sure we approach and use that time in the most productive way possible?

We have heard it said over and over that teachers play a huge part in the learning and development of children. We must make daily decisions about students’ learning, often in split-second time! Fullan and Hargreaves (1996, p. 65) remind us, “There are always things to be done, decisions to be made, children’s  needs to be met, not just every day, but every minute, every second. This is the stuff of teaching. There is no let-up.” We know teaching is not an 8:00-4:00 job!  We come to expect the pressures of time, initiatives, and added responsibilities, and we can find ourselves on overload, seeing only what is directly in front of us. This is when a deep breath is needed—and now is the time to take it. Reflection is required to check on what we are actually doing and why (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996); this helps us see the broader picture of what we want to accomplish. More »

Interactive Read-Aloud as a Foundational Practice

Clip read aloud  Literacy Collaborative trainers, coaches, and the teachers with whom they work understand how foundational the Interactive Read-Aloud is. We know because we’ve experienced the power in building conversation around a text to construct meaning, and we’re awed by the thinking that our students display day in and day out as we provide opportunities through this all-important context.

I spent some time recently in a 5th grade classroom with students who had never experienced an Interactive Read-Aloud. After modeling the practice and engaging students on six different occasions, I interviewed the teacher to get her impressions. One of the comments she made was, “I think as a typical classroom teacher, we feel the pressure of having to deliver so much, but this is a perfect tie-in to let them learn. I don’t have to give the answer. I don’t have to deliver it all. They do the delivering. They teach each other. They build those ideas and even prompt questions in me. I think that’s something we have to do more of. We don’t make enough time in the day to do that. I think this Interactive Read-Aloud is very valuable.” More »

What does research say about vocabulary learning and instruction?

Most teachers and coaches know that our readers and writers need support in developing their vocabulary, and most of us are wondering what’s the best way to provide that support and does that mean that teachers have to add something else into their instructional day?  If we take a look at the research in the area of vocabulary, it will offer some suggestions and possibly confirm the practices we are already using regularly. Too good to be true?  Not really!

As you might have expected, research does indicate the need for students to be actively involved in vocabulary learning.  It also suggests that one of the important outcomes of vocabulary learning is a positive attitude toward learning new words.  Think about the ways your learners are actively involved in learning vocabulary.  Make a list.  What have you noticed about their attitude toward learning new words and how words work?

Now consider the following.  Research supports three types of vocabulary learning:

  • Immersion in rich oral language and wide reading
  • Word or lexical-specific vocabulary instruction
  • Generative vocabulary instruction More »