A High-Poverty/High-Achieving Classroom Teacher Knows to Find the ZPD: Another Story from Vogel-Wetmore’s Fifth Grade, One I Begin with a Speck of Memoir.

Today Miss Fournier taught me something I didn’t already know. Rob pours himself an after-school bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats, pauses before the first bite and adds, First time.

Rob was in 10th grade.

So how come it took 10 years of school for one of Rob’s teachers to teach him something new?

The answer’s simple really.  His teachers didn’t know what he knew. When teachers either teach kids things they already know or try to teach a kid something he isn’t at all ready to learn, they haven’t figured out his Zone of Proximal Development.

ZPD is the edge between what the student can do without help (Zone of Actual Development) and what he can do with help. Successful teaching requires knowledge of a student’s ZPD.

It’s a basic.

Here’s how using ZPD looks in Mrs. P’s writing workshop during conferring:

First I hear Mrs. P listen carefully to what the students say about their writing. Then she asks questions to clarify and deepen her understanding. She gets the students to verbalize what they know and then assists them to tackle what they don’t yet know or do, but are ready to learn.

Tell me how you revised this. Read me the sentences that tell more. Good effort. You used the model. Here’s another way to vary your sentence beginnings.

You love lists. So does E. B. White. Here’s a copy of “Charlotte’s Web.” I bookmarked the page with his list of what was in the barn. It’s a good model.

This is not acceptable. You can do better. Tell me what you need to do when you edit for punctuation. Do it. I’ll be back in five minutes.

Real improvement over last week: you’re using commas in a series just right. Let’s look at semi-colons. “Curious George” has good model sentences.

You’re using what you know about engines here. Try an engine metaphor. Use the Gary Paulson model.

This isn’t enough writing, not for you.  I’m going to put an X here, and you need to write down to this point. I’ll be back and then we’ll talk.

This is clear, but I can’t hear you in it. I want you to read your writing aloud to your family every night this week. Begin with Max here, over in the corner.

Come to the Opportunity Room today. Put your name in the square.

The touch-each-sentence tactic works for you ordinarily; did you use it this time? You need to get in the habit of using the strategies that work for you on your own before we go over your writing.  I’ll be back.

These Vogel-Wetmore teachers I’m watching know their kids. They know what they’re bringing to school with them besides their backpacks. They have different words for different kids.

ZPD lights a teacher’s mind and teaching decisions like a bright neon sign, every day, every minute. When it isn’t on, classrooms fail. When it is, they thrive.

Rob’s teachers needed a bulb for their ZPD sign.

Patty 9/26/12

Vogel-Wetmore School Closes the Achievement Gap with WordsWordsWords. Another Story from These High-Achieving/High-Poverty Classrooms I’m Watching.

Words for How to Close the Gap: Or How to Talk to the Elephant

FACT:  Within the first four years of life, children from welfare families hear 13 million words; children from working-class families hear 26 million words; children from professional families hear 45 million words.

FACT: Words are the soil for growing knowledge; well-composted soil is going to work way better than thin soil.

FACT: The elephant in our high-poverty classrooms is the WORD GAP.

Since language is the basis of reading and writing, words have star billing in Vogel-Wetmore’s high-achieving, high-poverty classrooms.

I don’t see commercial kits with names like Build a Strong Vocabulary. I don’t see flash cards. I don’t see word lists to memorize.

I do see classrooms where students build concrete vocabulary by interacting with a complex learning environment. I see a wide, rich use of words.

Choral reads, Chants, and Readers Theater: We need to hear a word multiple times to get it into our functioning memory. Rich literature that tickles the tongue and pleases the palate provides enough repetition for the heard words to become reading sight words.

Accountable Talk: I overhear both teachers and students seriously responding to and further developing what others in the group have said. How do you know that? Can you give me some examples? Where did you find that information?  Can you show us which part of the text tells you that info? What do you mean? I know that because it says here…Can you explain that more? Say more about that. Here’s what I heard you say. Is that what you meant?

Labeled Rooms: I see signs on objects. This is the faucet; please keep it turned off to conserve. This is the pencil sharpener; use it judiciously.

I hear teachers read aloud. A lot.

I see teachers write in front of the class and then say, In your writing today, do what I just did to tell more in other words. Some of our students come into reading through the writing door.

Small reading groups meet several times a week. And it’s all about reading and discussing the words.

Students attend to words. Throughout writing and reading, math, and the content areas,I hear kids compare, combine, and contrast words; use more specific words; identify or change a word’s part of speech or tense; use the root or affix; visualize or act out a word.

Classrooms have access to several paperback book rooms.

A new study confirms what these teachers know: Understanding basic words may come from a flash of initial insight more than repetition. But the flashes of insight need the whetstone of a fertile environment. Or retention is nil.

I walk by the book rooms–the doors stay wide open and welcoming; sunlight pours in the tall windows of this ancient building; and I think, This is what it’s all about, creating readers who read, and listen, and talk–and, along the way learn tons of words.

And close that gap.

Patty 9/22/12

Weekly Photo Challenge: Solitary

The 12th century Prieur Notre Dame, in the village of Montfrion, is a lovingly restored village home belonging to Chef Carole Peck and her husband Bernard Jarrier.  I’m here to cook and cavort in a French kitchen with strangers from California, Colorado and NYC.  We quickly become friends as we dice, slice and learn from our good-humored chef.

One morning, Guest Chef Jerome arrives and together we prepare lunch ~ fish, vegetables with minced truffles and riced potatoes.

Le dessert is his gift to us ~ one perfect pear.

Toni 9/21/12