Saturday, September 29, 2012

Interview with Franki Sibberson

Last week I was blessed to have the chance to sit down and curl up with Franki Sibberson's  new book from Choice Literacy called The Joy of Planning: Designing Minilesson Cycles in Grades 3-6. It was just a beautiful book. I felt like Franki and I were sitting and having this conversation over a cup of coffee. She made me rethink some things about planning, gave me new ideas, and left me inspired. I immediately gave a copy to both of my sons' teachers and let my student teacher borrow mine. This is a book you must have in your collection- even if you aren't in grades 3-6. There is information there for everyone. 

Upon finishing there was so much I wanted to ask Franki about this book, and so many days left until NCTE, so she kindly agreed to an interview. Hope her answers will inspire you as they did me. And I highly recommend her new book. An excellent addition to your professional development library. 

Where did the seeds for this book originate?
Well, when I left my classroom and went into a position as a school librarian, I did a lot of work with teachers, choosing books for lessons, units, etc. I had never really thought about the process of my planning until I had the opportunity to work with so many other teachers. I also never had the time to really think about the ways in which books and resources scaffold students in different ways. As a librarian, I often read a book over and over to different groups of children. Some books naturally invited certain kinds of conversations with children. So, this book is kind of a reflective journey of my planning process. I had done other work on deciding what to teach but this one really focused on the process that comes after that decision and what I discovered about how to get children from where they are to where we want them to be as readers.

If you were speaking to a new teacher, what advice would you give them in regard to planning?
I think planning has to be about thinking about your children first. We have to know where are students are and where we hope to take them as readers. Once we know that, they it is about planning a very flexible journey. My other piece of advice would be to overplan and then to be okay with not getting to everything. What I’ve learned is that when I overplan, I am able to be really flexible each day with where I go next based on how students respond. When I overplan, I have more books and ideas than I need and I can pick and choose from this menu as we move along. For years. I overplanned and then became frustrated that I couldn’t get to anything. Now, I understand that the planning process is a way for me to understand where I am going and to think through what support students might need to get there. Then I get started, knowing I won’t follow the exact plan I created.

I like how your digital reading life has made such an impression that you share it with your students. What do you feel that teachers must share about digital reading with their students?
I am all about authenticity and I realized this year that when I share my reading and writing lives with students, I can’t possibly be honest without including the digital piece of that.  So much of my reading life is the same but so much is different over the last few years. For me, it is about really sitting down before I do any minilesson work in which I share my own life as a reader and being really honest. I have to really think through my reading—how much of it is actual books, how much I read on my Kindle, how much time I spend reading blogs. So, if teachers have a piece of their reading life that is digital, I feel like that has to be part of our teaching in order to keep it authentic and grounded.

When you sit down to plan, do you plan out the next cycle only or do you have a rough sketch for the semester?
I have a sketch that never works out. I think I know where I am going for the year, then I meet the kids. And usually, they are not where I plan for them to be so I need to revamp. I wouldn’t say I have a rough sketch in a calendar, but I do have thoughts about which cycles I am pretty sure will be included each year. I know I want to teach kids to support their thinking with evidence from the text. I know I will want to do lots with nonfiction. Theme is usually important. But I am never sure where those will fit into the year until I see where kids come in to the classroom.  I try to start with the thing that will move them forward fastest and then build from there. So, I have a list maybe, rather than a calendar and even the list changes. 

What do you feel is most often overlooked in regard to planning?
I think the small scaffolds are critical and often, when we don’t plan big picture, we miss those. The things we are teaching kids as readers are very complex and without breaking them down for ourselves, it is hard to break them down for students. For me, when I am in a hurry or don’t have the time to put into planning that I need, I tend to plan without this careful attention to the scaffolds that will take kids forward in small steps.

I think that planning has gotten such a bad rap by teachers and I love how you seem to look forward to it. What is your number one recommendation to help teachers make this switch in attitudes?
I think this is really an issue of time.  So much is demanded of teachers today that planning often takes a back seat. I like to plan when I have time to plan and to plan well. I need time to sit at the bookstore or library and find the right resources. I need time to spread out at my kitchen table and think through the whole of it. Without giving ourselves time to plan well, it is no fun.  A good 2 hour block gets me to feel really good about my work but anything less than that is hard. So I think it is about not trying to plan in 30 minute chunks but to really give ourselves time to plan well if we are to enjoy it.

With Common Core becoming so important in our planning, I was glad to see that you had a balance of non-fiction and fiction lessons. I think many people see the need to increase our readings of non-fiction texts but I believe fiction will still have its place. After studying the standards, what do you feel we need to be aware of?
I feel like the nonfiction piece is really telling us that we need more reading and writing across the day.  We need to embed literacy in our science and math classrooms. So I don’t think  more nonfiction means taking time away from fiction. Instead I think the Common Core standards give students the opportunity to read and write for a variety of purposes across the school day.

Colby Sharp tweeted yesterday that reading your book may be expensive – he wants to read every book you mentioned. I had the same problem as I read it this week, so I’m going to ask you the impossible question. If you had to grab five picture books before your collection was lost in a fire – what would those five be and why?
Hah!  I have old favorites but I tend to love my newest books most. I love falling in love with new books and I am tempted to tell you about the ones I used this week with kids. However, I guess if I had to choose 7 books (5 is impossible!), books that kids have learned from over and over again in minilesson work (and I am going to stick with picture books), it would be the following.  I think these books (along with a ton of others) have lots of possibilities. They invite lots of conversations naturally and kids can grow so much as readers.

How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham
City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems
The Summer My Father Was Ten by Pat Brisson
Walk On! By Marla Frazee
Emma’s Rug by Allen Say
Twilight Comes Twice by Ralph Fletcher
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Note from Katherine: See what I mean? Now there are even more books I NEED to purchase! Franki, thanks for letting me interview you!