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3 Inspirational Tips for National Reading Month

As a first-grade teacher, I always made a big deal about reading, but March was a different kind of beast.

From favorite -author-door-decorating-challenges to reading minute goals. From ‘Caught ya Reading’ phone calls home to guest readers practically coming out of our ears. March was full of reading & full of fun.

And because we rallied around the joys of reading, and warmer weather started filling our recess time, March was always one of my favorite teaching seasons.

This March is my first time experiencing National Reading Month as a parent, and let me tell you, it is really interesting being on this side of the fence. As I approach this month through literacy-loving parent glasses, I find myself making a mental list of things I would revise & ditch from my classroom Reading Month festivities.

I figured since we aren’t too deep into reading month I would share some of my thinking with you. Hopefully, this will inspire you to revamp your already amazing National Reading Month supply. Or possibly help you to think about what Reading Month might look like in the future.

Let’s start with what I would revise…

Mystery Readers {Through Zoom!}

One of my favorite things I did as a first-grade teacher was inviting Mystery Readers into my classroom. Parents, siblings, school celebrities/ local celebrities would do a read-aloud for our class every Wednesday-all year long. Each Wednesday, I would read a set of clues sent in by the Mystery Reader and we would try to guess who our Mystery Reader was. At the end of the day, our reader would show up, shock us with their identity, and read to us.

My favorite part was the reading life interviews. At the end of the book, our class would interrogate our guest reader. We’d ask questions about their reading lives, their all-time favorite books, their favorite place to read, or how reading has helped them in their career.

The kids loved Mystery Readers and the Mystery Readers loved the experience, too.

During March is Reading Month, we always ramped up our Mystery Readers inviting one a day, or some years I crammed them all into our final day which was always a Read-In {you know-the PJs, flashlight, read all day kind of Read-In}. It was always such a fun way to wrap up Reading Month with a bow.

With this year being incredibly unconventional, I could easily revise this fun reading activity by hosting Mystery Readers through platforms like Google Meet or Zoom. What a great way to make families a part of your classroom when they aren’t able to join you in person. Give it a try! Let us know how it goes.

What I might add to my Reading Month activities?

Reading Challenges

My daughter’s school has incorporated weekly challenges to celebrate National Reading Month. Each week the students get a list of reading challenges to try.

  1. Reading Forts: This week our challenge was to build a reading fort. With every unused sheet in the house, we built a giant fort and enjoyed books together. Her teacher used their Seesaw app for the challenge. The kids shared pictures or videos of their reading forts. we loved seeing all the different reading forts from her class.
  2. Favortie Character Costume: Next week, our challenge is to create a costume of a favorite character from a book and wear it on Friday. I don’t think it will be a big surprise to her teacher or friends when Molly shows up as Hermoine. Yes, we are living in a Hogwart’s world right now and loving every minute of it.
  3. Book-Inspired Snack: Another challenge is to create a snack inspired by a book you have read. Harry Potter Pumpkin Juice recipes are already sitting on my counter. Doesn’t that sound delicious? I will let you know:)

These reading challenges have been easy and fun. They’ve shown me how we can easily provide joyful reading experiences that are simply tied to loving books, loving where they take us & loving how they change us.

Bedtime Stories

Each night my daughter’s school is posting pre-recorded bedtime stories from the teachers in her school. They are shared through email, on the school’s Facebook page, and my daughter’s Seesaw account. My kids are LOVING these!

As I watch these, I can’t help but think of all the possibilities. You could do take this one yourself, sending one each Sunday. Or you could see if you have families interested in recording bedtime stories to share with the class. What about including your very own readers? You could have students sign up to record themselves reading during independent reading and then share those videos as bedtime stories for your families. So many possibilities. Right?

Finally, what would I ditch?

Rewards for Reading

Research shows that when we offer rewards for activities we might otherwise enjoy, it actually squelches our enthusiasm for that activity. I noticed this firsthand with my daughter this past week. She didn’t read much more or any less than what she typically reads, but this week most of her reading was not happening because she wanted to enjoy a good book. Instead, her time was tied to these little twenty-minute reading slips that she had to cut out, sign, and return to school. Each slip was entered into a drawing with a chance to win some little trinkety prize.

Molly really wants the darn prize. This week, I have felt a little pit in my stomach as the kid who would have picked up a book anyway was suddenly only focused on how much time she read and how many reading slips she earned.

For some kids, these incentives might make them read more in March. However, when they aren’t reading for the sake of reading, and when the reward goes away, research shows that the reading will likely go away, too.

This isn’t what I want for any of my readers. How about you?

So, if you are a teacher handing out reading prizes, don’t beat yourself up over it. I was the queen of reading prizes and I have had my fair share of regrets this month as Facebook memory kindly reminds me of all the incentives I pushed with my students over the years. Let’s continue to grow together and more importantly–let’s continue to grow readers together.

As a first-grade teacher, I always made a big deal about reading, but March was a different kind of beast. From favorite -author-door-decorating-challenges to reading minute goals. From ‘Caught ya Reading’ phone calls home to guest readers practically coming out of our ears. March was full of reading & full of fun. And because we rallied around the joys of reading, and warmer weather started filling our recess time, March was always one of my favorite teaching seasons. This March is my first time experiencing National Reading Month as a parent, and let me tell you, it is really interesting being on this side of the fence. As I approach this month through literacy-loving parent glasses, I find myself making a mental list of things I would revise & ditch from my classroom Reading Month festivities. I figured since we aren’t too deep into reading month I would share some of my thinking with you. Hopefully, this will inspire you to revamp your already amazing National Reading Month supply. Or possibly help you to think about what Reading Month might look like in the future. Let’s start with what I would revise… Mystery Readers {Through Zoom!} One of my favorite things I did as a first-grade teacher was inviting Mystery Readers into my classroom. Parents, siblings, school celebrities/ local celebrities would do a read-aloud for our class every Wednesday-all year long. Each Wednesday, I would read a set of clues sent in by the Mystery Reader and we would try to guess who our Mystery Reader was. At the end of the day, our reader would show up, shock us with their identity, and read to us. My favorite part was the reading life interviews. At the end of the book, our class would interrogate our guest reader. We’d ask questions about their reading lives, their all-time favorite books, their favorite place to read, or how reading has helped them in their career. The kids loved Mystery Readers and the Mystery Readers loved the experience, too. During March is Reading Month, we always ramped up our Mystery Readers inviting one a day, or some years I crammed them all into our final day which was always a Read-In {you know-the PJs, flashlight, read all day kind of Read-In}. It was always such a fun way to wrap up Reading Month with a bow. With this year being incredibly unconventional, I could easily revise this fun reading activity by hosting Mystery Readers through platforms like Google Meet or Zoom. What a great way to make families a part of your classroom when they aren’t able to join you in person. Give it a try! Let us know how it goes. What I might add to my Reading Month activities? Reading Challenges My daughter’s school has incorporated weekly challenges to celebrate National Reading Month. Each week the students get a list of reading challenges to try. Reading Forts: This week our challenge was to build a reading fort. With every unused sheet in the house, we built a giant fort and enjoyed books together. Her teacher used their Seesaw app for the challenge. The kids shared pictures or videos of their reading forts. we loved seeing all the different reading forts from her class. Favortie Character Costume: Next week, our challenge is to create a costume of a favorite character from a book and wear it on Friday. I don’t think it will be a big surprise to her teacher or friends when Molly shows up as Hermoine. Yes, we are living in a Hogwart’s world right now and loving every minute of it. Book-Inspired Snack: Another challenge is to create a snack inspired by a book you have read. Harry Potter Pumpkin Juice recipes are already sitting on my counter. Doesn’t that sound delicious? I will let you know:) These reading challenges have been easy and fun. They’ve shown me how we can easily provide joyful reading experiences that are simply tied to loving books, loving where they take us & loving how they change us. Bedtime Stories Each night my daughter’s school is posting pre-recorded bedtime stories from the teachers in her school. They are shared through email, on the school’s Facebook page, and my daughter’s Seesaw account. My kids are LOVING these! As I watch these, I can’t help but think of all the possibilities. You could do take this one yourself, sending one each Sunday. Or you could see if you have families interested in recording bedtime stories to share with the class. What about including your very own readers? You could have students sign up to record themselves reading during independent reading and then share those videos as bedtime stories for your families. So many possibilities. Right? Finally, what would I ditch? Rewards for Reading Research shows that when we offer rewards for activities we might otherwise enjoy, it actually squelches our enthusiasm for that activity. I noticed this firsthand with my daughter this past week. She didn’t read much more or any less than what she typically reads, but this week most of her reading was not happening because she wanted to enjoy a good book. Instead, her time was tied to these little twenty-minute reading slips that she had to cut out, sign, and return to school. Each slip was entered into a drawing with a chance to win some little trinkety prize. Molly really wants the darn prize. This week, I have felt a little pit in my stomach as the kid who would have picked up a book anyway was suddenly only focused on how much time she read and how many reading slips she earned. For some kids, these incentives might make them read more in March. However, when they aren’t reading for the sake of reading, and when the reward goes away, research shows that the reading will likely go away, too. This isn’t what I want for any of my readers. How about you? So, if you are a teacher handing out reading prizes, don’t beat yourself up over it. I was the queen of reading prizes and I have had my fair share of regrets this month as Facebook memory kindly reminds me of all the incentives I pushed with my students over the years. Let’s continue to grow together and more importantly–let’s continue to grow readers …

3 Must-Have Tips for Launching Your Digital Classroom

The month of March brought about rapid and unforeseen changes to the way we live our daily lives – changes that we unfortunately weren’t able to spend summer curriculum hours preparing for. In seemingly the blink of an eye, so many of us have gone from face-to-face instruction to designing online distance learning lessons for our students of all ages.

As I set off to tackle this new way of teaching, I worried about how we would start this work with our school-aged students who are equally unacclimated to this digital mode of daily learning from home. I wanted to set my students up for success and not overwhelm them or their families in a time that is already filled with much angst and worry. I also wanted to create an online classroom that provided some structure and connection that many of our students are no doubt craving as their days, too, have been turned upside down.

Sifting through the resources, podcasts, and conversations with colleagues, I am sharing the three tips that I found most helpful when embarking on this work. As we launch our digital classrooms, we need to consider how we are teaching into and setting students up for success in both their physical environments and digital environments, and how we can foster our now online classroom community.

1. Physical Environment

Set up a comfortable and productive “classroom space” for both you and your students.

I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to figure out where I was going to set up my own “classroom” at home. I have lugged crates of books, notebooks, papers, folders, binders, markers, chart paper, etc. home with me. First, I tried my bedroom as my teaching-learning space and I quickly realized that my bed was not making a good backdrop for my Zoom meetings or pre-recorded read-alouds! So I moved to my kitchen where my quarantined teenagers were frequenting the fridge and pantry too often for me to be able to concentrate. I finally found a spot that I settled on in my living room. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best option that I found so far and it’s working pretty well.

Here is my colleague Ashley’s digital classroom set up:

Finding a physical space where we can concentrate and focus on our work is important, and this is one of the first things we need to teach our students. When we are learning from home, we need to look around our house and consider what spaces work best for us.

I like to create a chart for students as we talk about these considerations for our physical space:

  • Noise level: First, we need to think about the noise level. Is the spot that we are choosing free from noise that is distracting? Siblings, other family members, the television, video games are all things that can create noise and distractions that can easily pull our focus away from our work.
  • Lighting: Additionally, we need to consider the lighting in our space to be sure we can see the materials that we are working on without straining our eyes.
  • Seating: We may also want to consider things like the type of seating we work best in. I work best sitting in a chair with a firm back; I find that it keeps me alert. If I sit in my bed or living room chair, for example, I actually get a little too comfy and find myself daydreaming or worse, drifting off!
  • Materials: Just like when we are in the classroom, we want to make sure we have all of the materials we need for our classwork. Think about having a place for your books, notebooks, pencils, markers, etc. so that you have these handy and ready for your digital classroom work.

Talk through these important considerations and any others you or your students may come up with and ask them to share out where in their homes they’ve found best for their “at-home classroom”. Some students may find spaces that can be permanently set up for school – that is ideal; however, this is not always possible. For some students, they may be finding a good learning spot each new day.



2. Digital Environment

Start with technology tools that are simple to use and that you and your students feel comfortable with.

There are many amazing tech tools and enticing platforms available, and I want to learn how to use them all! As I started to prepare my digital classroom, I had to keep reminding myself, these tools/platforms are here to help leverage my teaching, and I do not need to become an overnight master of all things tech!

In addition to prioritizing what we tackle from the tech side of things, we also need to teach our students about and acclimate them to the digital platforms we will be using. We need to be careful not to make assumptions that all of our students are tech-savvy and digital natives and therefore do not need to be taught how to access and use the online components of their new digital environments.

It is best to start simple here by using, whenever possible, tools that you and your students have already used in the past. If you are learning around any new tools, choose ones YOU are most comfortable with. Our school already utilizes Google Classroom in most of our grade levels, so we are sticking with that as our primary way to share information with students and families. In addition to this, I found Flipgrid and Seesaw platforms to be extremely user-friendly for both teachers and students. There are a ton of different options available that are amazing, but in the beginning, simple is best. (Note: You can always add more tech tools as your comfort level increases!).

Then orient students to your digital classroom.

Once you have your digital classroom up and running, you will want to give students an overview and tour of the setup.

  • Introduce the tech tools: Show students how to access and log in to all components that they will be using and allow students time to orient and practice.
  • Set up routines and expectations: Teach students what routines to expect in this digital learning space and what responsibilities they will have. This is much like your very first week of school when you teach students how to navigate their physical classroom(s) and go over the class schedule and responsibilities. Be sure to address: When are live sessions being scheduled? Where can they find recorded sessions? What predictable structures will be in place for assignments and asking for help?

I’ve included two video examples for your viewing. One is a lesson on what to expect in online lessons. Here is an anchor chart that accompanies this lesson:

VIDEO: Launching Your Digital Classroom: What to Expect in Online Lessons

The other lesson is a quick lesson to teach students how to use our Flipgrid platform.

VIDEO: Launching Your Digital Classroom: Teaching Students How to Use Flipgrid

Neither video is perfect or edited; I created both of these in one take. As you embark on this work, I strongly urge all of you to embrace “good is good enough” and get your teaching out to students without overloading yourselves with perfectionism and video editing.

3. Building Your Digital Classroom Community

Reestablish your classroom community (only digitally this time!).

Before diving right into the academics, we need to take time to reconnect and reestablish our classroom community. As much as possible, we want to give students opportunities to see their teachers’ and classmates’ faces, as this builds a more intimate connection in the distant digital space.

Verbal communication: Communicating and interacting with one another in online platforms feels different than when everyone is sharing the same physical space. We need to acknowledge this and give students more wait time for response and participation. Allowing students to set up thinking prior to sharing out verbally or in the chatbox is also helpful. Demonstrating how to use features like muting when another is sharing, hand raising, and even using gestures are also important to include in your first days online together.

Nonverbal communication: Additionally, it’s important to point out that much of online communication takes place nonverbally. Our facial expressions can say a lot when our faces are featured in boxed windows! To prepare students (and yourself), set up some whole-class conversations around relevant topics to reconnect and give students practice interacting in their new digital platform.

As you go along, you may consider co-creating an etiquette chart that captures these rules and norms of how to participate in your new digital classroom. I’ve included an example here.

I hope these tips are helpful to you as you navigate this uncharted territory! Leave us a comment below to share what is working in your digital classroom or things you would like us to post next!

References/Acknowledgements:

Thanks to the tips and tools Kristen Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris are putting out there for teachers! Check out their site for more distance learning support and ideas: Read the World

Thanks, also, to Maggie Beattie Roberts for the brainstorming and conversation around distance learning! Learn more from Maggie at: Kate and Maggie

The month of March brought about rapid and unforeseen changes to the way we live our daily lives – changes that we unfortunately weren’t able to spend summer curriculum hours preparing for. In seemingly the blink of an eye, so many of us have gone from face-to-face instruction to designing online distance learning lessons for our students of all ages. As I set off to tackle this new way of teaching, I worried about how we would start this work with our school-aged students who are equally unacclimated to this digital mode of daily learning from home. I wanted to set my students up for success and not overwhelm them or their families in a time that is already filled with much angst and worry. I also wanted to create an online classroom that provided some structure and connection that many of our students are no doubt craving as their days, too, have been turned upside down. Sifting through the resources, podcasts, and conversations with colleagues, I am sharing the three tips that I found most helpful when embarking on this work. As we launch our digital classrooms, we need to consider how we are teaching into and setting students up for success in both their physical environments and digital environments, and how we can foster our now online classroom community. 1. Physical Environment Set up a comfortable and productive “classroom space” for both you and your students. I don’t know about you, but it took me a while to figure out where I was going to set up my own “classroom” at home. I have lugged crates of books, notebooks, papers, folders, binders, markers, chart paper, etc. home with me. First, I tried my bedroom as my teaching-learning space and I quickly realized that my bed was not making a good backdrop for my Zoom meetings or pre-recorded read-alouds! So I moved to my kitchen where my quarantined teenagers were frequenting the fridge and pantry too often for me to be able to concentrate. I finally found a spot that I settled on in my living room. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best option that I found so far and it’s working pretty well. Here is my colleague Ashley’s digital classroom set up: Finding a physical space where we can concentrate and focus on our work is important, and this is one of the first things we need to teach our students. When we are learning from home, we need to look around our house and consider what spaces work best for us. I like to create a chart for students as we talk about these considerations for our physical space: Noise level: First, we need to think about the noise level. Is the spot that we are choosing free from noise that is distracting? Siblings, other family members, the television, video games are all things that can create noise and distractions that can easily pull our focus away from our work. Lighting: Additionally, we need to consider the lighting in our space to be sure we can see the materials that we are working on without straining our eyes. Seating: We may also want to consider things like the type of seating we work best in. I work best sitting in a chair with a firm back; I find that it keeps me alert. If I sit in my bed or living room chair, for example, I actually get a little too comfy and find myself daydreaming or worse, drifting off! Materials: Just like when we are in the classroom, we want to make sure we have all of the materials we need for our classwork. Think about having a place for your books, notebooks, pencils, markers, etc. so that you have these handy and ready for your digital classroom work. Talk through these important considerations and any others you or your students may come up with and ask them to share out where in their homes they’ve found best for their “at-home classroom”. Some students may find spaces that can be permanently set up for school – that is ideal; however, this is not always possible. For some students, they may be finding a good learning spot each new day. 2. Digital Environment Start with technology tools that are simple to use and that you and your students feel comfortable with. There are many amazing tech tools and enticing platforms available, and I want to learn how to use them all! As I started to prepare my digital classroom, I had to keep reminding myself, these tools/platforms are here to help leverage my teaching, and I do not need to become an overnight master of all things tech! In addition to prioritizing what we tackle from the tech side of things, we also need to teach our students about and acclimate them to the digital platforms we will be using. We need to be careful not to make assumptions that all of our students are tech-savvy and digital natives and therefore do not need to be taught how to access and use the online components of their new digital environments. It is best to start simple here by using, whenever possible, tools that you and your students have already used in the past. If you are learning around any new tools, choose ones YOU are most comfortable with. Our school already utilizes Google Classroom in most of our grade levels, so we are sticking with that as our primary way to share information with students and families. In addition to this, I found Flipgrid and Seesaw platforms to be extremely user-friendly for both teachers and students. There are a ton of different options available that are amazing, but in the beginning, simple is best. (Note: You can always add more tech tools as your comfort level increases!). Then orient students to your digital classroom. Once you have your digital classroom up and running, you will want to give students an overview and tour of the setup. Introduce the tech tools: Show students how to access and log in to all components that they will be using and allow students time to orient and practice. Set up routines and expectations: Teach students what routines to expect in this digital learning space and what responsibilities they will have. This is much like your very first week of school when you teach students how to navigate their physical classroom(s) and go over the class schedule and responsibilities. Be sure to address: When are live sessions being scheduled? Where can they find recorded sessions? What predictable structures will be in place for assignments and asking for help? I’ve included two video examples for your viewing. One is a lesson on what to expect in online lessons. Here is an anchor chart that accompanies this lesson: VIDEO: Launching Your Digital Classroom: What to Expect in Online Lessons The other lesson is a quick lesson to teach students how to use our Flipgrid platform. VIDEO: Launching Your Digital Classroom: Teaching Students How to Use Flipgrid Neither video is perfect or edited; I created both of these in one take. As you embark on this work, I strongly urge all of you to embrace “good is good enough” and get your teaching out to students without overloading yourselves with perfectionism and video editing. 3. Building Your Digital Classroom Community Reestablish your classroom community (only digitally this time!). Before diving right into the academics, we need to take time to reconnect and reestablish our classroom community. As much as possible, we want to give students opportunities to see their teachers’ and classmates’ faces, as this builds a more intimate connection in the distant digital space. Verbal communication: Communicating and interacting with one another in online platforms feels different than when everyone is sharing the same physical space. We need to acknowledge this and give students more wait time for response and participation. Allowing students to set up thinking prior to sharing out verbally or in the chatbox is also helpful. Demonstrating how to use features like muting when another is sharing, hand raising, and even using gestures are also important to include in your first days online together. Nonverbal communication: Additionally, it’s important to point out that much of online communication takes place nonverbally. Our facial expressions can say a lot when our faces are featured in boxed windows! To prepare students (and yourself), set up some whole-class conversations around relevant topics to reconnect and give students practice interacting in their new digital platform. As you go along, you may consider co-creating an etiquette chart that captures these rules and norms of how to participate in your new digital classroom. I’ve included an example here. I hope these tips are helpful to you as you navigate this uncharted territory! Leave us a comment below to share what is working in your digital classroom or things you would like us to post next! References/Acknowledgements: Thanks to the tips and tools Kristen Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris are putting out there for teachers! Check out their site for more distance learning support and ideas: Read the World Thanks, also, to Maggie Beattie Roberts for the brainstorming and conversation around distance learning! Learn more from Maggie at: Kate and …

3 Simple Techniques for When Students Can’t Think of a Writing Topic

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive when I lead professional development on writing instruction is: “What do you do when kids just don’t want to write?”

It’s a fair question because it can be one of the most challenging parts of teaching writing.

Why Students Struggle with Writing

In my experience, I have found two main reasons that kids (grown-ups, too) won’t write:

  1. They have never been given explicit instruction on how to write. (Instead, they have just been assigned to write).
  2. They don’t know what to write about.

Reason #1 is beyond the scope of what I can address in this short blog post, but you can find some tips on explicit instruction in my blog series called Telling Isn’t Teaching.

In this post, I’d like to address reason #2: students don’t know what to write about.

Don’t Do This–Learn from My Mistakes

When I first started teaching writing, I used to assign a journal topic every day. I wrote it on the board and assigned students to write about it. You know, those topics like, “If I were six inches tall…” or “If I were a pencil…”

Not the most authentic topics, right? Some kids liked them, but many others did not and they continued to stare at the blank page.

As I progressed in my knowledge of how to teach writing, I learned that writers need to choose their topics. Choice gives students agency and increases motivation and engagement.

This new learning prompted me to say this each day: “You can write about whatever you want in your journals today. If you can’t think of something to write about, here is a prompt.”

You see, I just didn’t trust that my students could think of their own topics. I knew some would, but what about the rest? I was afraid they would just sit there.

And guess what? They did. My problem wasn’t solved.

As I continued to deepen my understanding of the teaching of writing, I learned that generating writing topics is part of the writing process. And just like students need strategies for every other part of the writing process, they need strategies for generating ideas, too!

Can we say “gamechanger”?!

What to Do Instead

So I switched my focus to actually teaching students how to generate topics. And like magic, I dramatically decreased the amount of writer’s block in my classroom and the number of students who “couldn’t think of anything to write about.”

I wanted to share some of my tips, so I created a YouTube playlist for you. It’s called:

I Can’t Think of Anything to Write About!

I will continue to add to this playlist, but for now, these are 3 of my favorite, high-leverage strategies for generating writing ideas:

  1. Running Topics Board
  2. Mine Your Memories
  3. Write About What You Know

Check out the videos for step-by-step instructions and be sure to

subscribe to our channel!

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive when I lead professional development on writing instruction is: “What do you do when kids just don’t want to write?” It’s a fair question because it can be one of the most challenging parts of teaching writing. Why Students Struggle with Writing In my experience, I have found two main reasons that kids (grown-ups, too) won’t write: They have never been given explicit instruction on how to write. (Instead, they have just been assigned to write). They don’t know what to write about. Reason #1 is beyond the scope of what I can address in this short blog post, but you can find some tips on explicit instruction in my blog series called Telling Isn’t Teaching. In this post, I’d like to address reason #2: students don’t know what to write about. Don’t Do This–Learn from My Mistakes When I first started teaching writing, I used to assign a journal topic every day. I wrote it on the board and assigned students to write about it. You know, those topics like, “If I were six inches tall…” or “If I were a pencil…” Not the most authentic topics, right? Some kids liked them, but many others did not and they continued to stare at the blank page. As I progressed in my knowledge of how to teach writing, I learned that writers need to choose their topics. Choice gives students agency and increases motivation and engagement. This new learning prompted me to say this each day: “You can write about whatever you want in your journals today. If you can’t think of something to write about, here is a prompt.” You see, I just didn’t trust that my students could think of their own topics. I knew some would, but what about the rest? I was afraid they would just sit there. And guess what? They did. My problem wasn’t solved. As I continued to deepen my understanding of the teaching of writing, I learned that generating writing topics is part of the writing process. And just like students need strategies for every other part of the writing process, they need strategies for generating ideas, too! Can we say “gamechanger”?! What to Do Instead So I switched my focus to actually teaching students how to generate topics. And like magic, I dramatically decreased the amount of writer’s block in my classroom and the number of students who “couldn’t think of anything to write about.” I wanted to share some of my tips, so I created a YouTube playlist for you. It’s called: I Can’t Think of Anything to Write About! I will continue to add to this playlist, but for now, these are 3 of my favorite, high-leverage strategies for generating writing ideas: Running Topics Board Mine Your Memories Write About What You Know Check out the videos for step-by-step instructions and be sure to subscribe to our …

4 Foundations of Reciprocal Teaching
  1. Scaffolding: Providing support, coaching, and corrective feedback for students as they begin to use reciprocal teaching strategies.
  2. Think-alouds: Modeling the use of cognitive strategies by pausing to reflect aloud in front of students. Making thinking visible to students.
  3. Metacognition: Thinking about one’s own thinking. Through reciprocal teaching, students learn to reflect on their own cognitive processes.
  4. Collaborative learning: Students work together to construct meaning from text.

Source: Reciprocal Teaching at Work: Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension by Lori Oczkus, IRA, 2003.

Scaffolding: Providing support, coaching, and corrective feedback for students as they begin to use reciprocal teaching strategies. Think-alouds: Modeling the use of cognitive strategies by pausing to reflect aloud in front of students. Making thinking visible to students. Metacognition: Thinking about one’s own thinking. Through reciprocal teaching, students learn to reflect on their own cognitive processes. Collaborative learning: Students work together to construct meaning from text. Source: Reciprocal Teaching at Work: Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension by Lori Oczkus, IRA, …

7 Simple Tips to Get Kids Reading at Home

Reading has always been something that was easy to fit into our at-home routine. Bedtime stories are gold in our chaotic house. It is a sacred time, and when it’s missed, there are always tears.

We try really hard in our home to treat reading as a gift and not a chore. Because that is exactly what reading is…a gift.

Now that our children aren’t in school, I have felt the pressure to find more pockets in our day for reading. My biggest challenge has been keeping reading a cherished activity and not a “read because I said so” activity.

The first weekend we were quarantined to our home, my husband and I excitedly introduced our children to the Nintendo Wii. All it took was one game of Wii bowling and our kindergartner was obsessed. We had a little gamer on our hands and she wanted MORE.

With a global pandemic making its way from sea to shining sea, we added a new routine to our household…homeschool. Wii boundaries had to be set. Video games became a weekend activity, and homeschooling became a weekday priority.

I approached this new role as Teacher-Mom differently than many people I admired on social media. With a 2-, 4-, and 6-year-old at home, I didn’t have an elaborate schedule for our day. I settled on the following homeschool checklist…

A daily checklist for at-home learning

While I waited for our school district to provide us with a virtual learning plan, I put my Teacher-Mom hat on and made reading our biggest priority.

We started really strong adding new reading routines at home. We chose cozy reading spots. We built our own “To Be Read” book stacks, and then created fancy book bags to house those books. We made reading time one of our first activities of the day. We were off to a great start.

However, as home quarantine time passed, it was becoming harder and harder to get my readers, the readers who BEG for more bedtime stories, reading. They were instead begging for one more show or one more snack. I have a feeling you can relate.

Then one Wednesday afternoon, Molly pleaded for Wii time. My response still makes me cringe.

“How about you trade reading time for Wii time?”

Wow! Three days into this ‘making-sure-my-daughter-reads-at-home-because-she-isn’t- at-school-business’ and I officially turned reading into a chore and video games into a reward.

I needed to do better. We had to get back to our reading roots. I had to make the shift from making my kids read daily to making them want to read daily.

If you or your school families are also struggling to find joyful pockets for reading during the day, read on for my 7 simple tips that any family can use and then download a printable below that your students’ families can hang on their refrigerators.

1. Books and Breakfast

Something new we are trying in our home is Books and Breakfast. Before I go to bed, I wipe the kitchen table down for the 47th time and add a small pile of books to enjoy in the morning. When the kids wake up they go right to the table to see what books are waiting for them. Some mornings they find paper so they can make their own books. Now we are reading and writing before 8:00 a.m.–not too shabby!

2. Book Picnic

Don’t let the word picnic confuse you. This has nothing to do with food, although I am sure at some point it will. In our reading picnic, we set a blanket outside with a basket of books. My kids ride their bikes and run around and when they need mom time or a break, they sit with me…on a blanket surrounded by books.

My children are getting some rare one on one time with me while enjoying some of their favorite books. Win-win!

3. Audiobooks

My kids have been obsessed with coloring since Christmas. Lately, while trying to squeeze in more reading time with my children I have relied on audiobooks. I place our Bluetooth speaker on the kitchen table, find a few audiobooks, and press play. We mostly color and listen, but lately, we have added audiobooks to snack time or lunchtime. You can even squeeze one in the next time you are out for a walk.

We love going to author’s websites to find recordings of favorite books. Robert Munsch’s collection is quite entertaining. There are so many ways you can access audiobooks. Audible, Epic!, and YouTube are our other favorite places to listen to stories.

4. Flashlights & Books

While we have been stuck at home, we have tried to keep our bedtime routine consistent. Bath, brush teeth, books, and bed. Now that we don’t have to rush anywhere in the morning, we have allowed our kids to keep reading when the lights go out. They bring books into their beds, turn on their headlamps and they start clocking in more reading minutes. I love this addition to our routine. They might not be sleeping, but I get to unwind from the busy day, knowing they are happily reading and soon they will be sound asleep.

5. Baking and Books

I love to bake with my kids. Next time you whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies or Funfetti cupcakes don’t forget the final ingredient…books! Once those cookies have cooled enjoy them with a glass of milk and some reading time. Cookie reading parties are the best! Not one to bake? Pop some popcorn and have a Popcorn reading party. Next on my list..sundaes and stories.

6. Forts, Tents, & Trampolines

We recently made a really cool fort in our family room. We made it super cozy with pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals. We added flashlights, lanterns, books, and voila…we had a really great place to read. Did I have to beg my people to read? Not a chance. They read for an hour and you can bet they were in and out of that fort for the majority of the day..and they kept reading.

Have a tent? Tents are great for camping…and reading! On nice days, we love to take our little play tent outside with us. Speaking of outside…have a big trampoline in your yard? Have your kids take blankets and books on the trampoline. Tents and trampolines make really great reading retreats.

Check out this cute reading fort, Molly’s best buddy, Addy made. Kid-tested, teacher-approved.

7. Let Them See You Reading

From as early as I can remember, my mom had a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup tucked in her arm at all times. I always told myself I would never drink coffee like my mom, but here I am living my adult quarantined life, panicking that I might run out of coffee.

You know that saying, “Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate”? Listen, if the ideas I shared aren’t for you, just find some joyful pockets for your own reading. Let your kids witness those moments. Whether you believe it or not, your children want to be just like you, doing what you do.

Last week, I decided I would let the kids take a really long bath. Instead of playing with them, I grabbed a book, a small stool, and quietly read. I would not call it joyful reading, but a week later during bath time, this happened…

Mission accomplished if you ask me.

I hope you found some new inspiration here, if not for you, for your school families. Wishing you many joyful reading moments from our quarantined home to yours. Hang in there and happy reading.

Download the 7 Tips printable to share with your students’ families!

Reading has always been something that was easy to fit into our at-home routine. Bedtime stories are gold in our chaotic house. It is a sacred time, and when it’s missed, there are always tears. We try really hard in our home to treat reading as a gift and not a chore. Because that is exactly what reading is…a gift. Now that our children aren’t in school, I have felt the pressure to find more pockets in our day for reading. My biggest challenge has been keeping reading a cherished activity and not a “read because I said so” activity. The first weekend we were quarantined to our home, my husband and I excitedly introduced our children to the Nintendo Wii. All it took was one game of Wii bowling and our kindergartner was obsessed. We had a little gamer on our hands and she wanted MORE. With a global pandemic making its way from sea to shining sea, we added a new routine to our household…homeschool. Wii boundaries had to be set. Video games became a weekend activity, and homeschooling became a weekday priority. I approached this new role as Teacher-Mom differently than many people I admired on social media. With a 2-, 4-, and 6-year-old at home, I didn’t have an elaborate schedule for our day. I settled on the following homeschool checklist… While I waited for our school district to provide us with a virtual learning plan, I put my Teacher-Mom hat on and made reading our biggest priority. We started really strong adding new reading routines at home. We chose cozy reading spots. We built our own “To Be Read” book stacks, and then created fancy book bags to house those books. We made reading time one of our first activities of the day. We were off to a great start. However, as home quarantine time passed, it was becoming harder and harder to get my readers, the readers who BEG for more bedtime stories, reading. They were instead begging for one more show or one more snack. I have a feeling you can relate. Then one Wednesday afternoon, Molly pleaded for Wii time. My response still makes me cringe. “How about you trade reading time for Wii time?” Wow! Three days into this ‘making-sure-my-daughter-reads-at-home-because-she-isn’t- at-school-business’ and I officially turned reading into a chore and video games into a reward. I needed to do better. We had to get back to our reading roots. I had to make the shift from making my kids read daily to making them want to read daily. If you or your school families are also struggling to find joyful pockets for reading during the day, read on for my 7 simple tips that any family can use and then download a printable below that your students’ families can hang on their refrigerators. 1. Books and Breakfast Something new we are trying in our home is Books and Breakfast. Before I go to bed, I wipe the kitchen table down for the 47th time and add a small pile of books to enjoy in the morning. When the kids wake up they go right to the table to see what books are waiting for them. Some mornings they find paper so they can make their own books. Now we are reading and writing before 8:00 a.m.–not too shabby! 2. Book Picnic Don’t let the word picnic confuse you. This has nothing to do with food, although I am sure at some point it will. In our reading picnic, we set a blanket outside with a basket of books. My kids ride their bikes and run around and when they need mom time or a break, they sit with me…on a blanket surrounded by books. My children are getting some rare one on one time with me while enjoying some of their favorite books. Win-win! 3. Audiobooks My kids have been obsessed with coloring since Christmas. Lately, while trying to squeeze in more reading time with my children I have relied on audiobooks. I place our Bluetooth speaker on the kitchen table, find a few audiobooks, and press play. We mostly color and listen, but lately, we have added audiobooks to snack time or lunchtime. You can even squeeze one in the next time you are out for a walk. We love going to author’s websites to find recordings of favorite books. Robert Munsch’s collection is quite entertaining. There are so many ways you can access audiobooks. Audible, Epic!, and YouTube are our other favorite places to listen to stories. 4. Flashlights & Books While we have been stuck at home, we have tried to keep our bedtime routine consistent. Bath, brush teeth, books, and bed. Now that we don’t have to rush anywhere in the morning, we have allowed our kids to keep reading when the lights go out. They bring books into their beds, turn on their headlamps and they start clocking in more reading minutes. I love this addition to our routine. They might not be sleeping, but I get to unwind from the busy day, knowing they are happily reading and soon they will be sound asleep. 5. Baking and Books I love to bake with my kids. Next time you whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies or Funfetti cupcakes don’t forget the final ingredient…books! Once those cookies have cooled enjoy them with a glass of milk and some reading time. Cookie reading parties are the best! Not one to bake? Pop some popcorn and have a Popcorn reading party. Next on my list..sundaes and stories. 6. Forts, Tents, & Trampolines We recently made a really cool fort in our family room. We made it super cozy with pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals. We added flashlights, lanterns, books, and voila…we had a really great place to read. Did I have to beg my people to read? Not a chance. They read for an hour and you can bet they were in and out of that fort for the majority of the day..and they kept reading. Have a tent? Tents are great for camping…and reading! On nice days, we love to take our little play tent outside with us. Speaking of outside…have a big trampoline in your yard? Have your kids take blankets and books on the trampoline. Tents and trampolines make really great reading retreats. Check out this cute reading fort, Molly’s best buddy, Addy made. Kid-tested, teacher-approved. 7. Let Them See You Reading From as early as I can remember, my mom had a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup tucked in her arm at all times. I always told myself I would never drink coffee like my mom, but here I am living my adult quarantined life, panicking that I might run out of coffee. You know that saying, “Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate”? Listen, if the ideas I shared aren’t for you, just find some joyful pockets for your own reading. Let your kids witness those moments. Whether you believe it or not, your children want to be just like you, doing what you do. Last week, I decided I would let the kids take a really long bath. Instead of playing with them, I grabbed a book, a small stool, and quietly read. I would not call it joyful reading, but a week later during bath time, this happened… Mission accomplished if you ask me. I hope you found some new inspiration here, if not for you, for your school families. Wishing you many joyful reading moments from our quarantined home to yours. Hang in there and happy reading. Download the 7 Tips printable to share with your students’ …

Amazing Resources to Support Your Poetry Writing Unit

I LOVE teaching poetry writing! I mean, I really love teaching poetry. But I didn’t always feel that way. Free verse poetry used to scare me!

How One Student Changed My Attitude Toward Teaching Poetry

My poetry-teacher-life changed one day when Joey Q. wrote this poem:

First, let me tell you a little bit about Joey. He was in my second-grade class and looped with me to third grade. Now I am pretty good at reading primary students’ developmental spelling, but I really struggled to read Joey’s writing in second grade. As I learned more about Joey, I discovered that he didn’t talk until he was three years old. He struggled to hear until he was two years old when they got his chronic ear infections under control. Joey had a lot of phonological awareness gaps that really surfaced in second grade.

In any event, Joey really struggled with writing. But the year that I had Joey in my second-grade class was the year that I decided to take the plunge with free verse poetry. Joey took to poetry immediately and wrote this poem all by himself. He became a poetry superstar. The other kids noticed and they caught the bug, too.

Honestly, it wasn’t a fluke. Every year that I have taught free verse poetry writing, budding poets have emerged!

Minilessons for Teaching Free Verse Poetry

How about you? Have you tried it? If not, would you make this the year? I promise that you won’t be disappointed!

Not sure where to start? I did a round-up of some of my favorite poetry lessons on our website:

If (when) you try them, would you let us know how they go? We’d love to be inspired by your budding poets!

Professional Book Recommendations

I’d also like to share a few of my favorite poetry resources:

Kids’ Poems by Regie Routman
This is where I got my poetry teaching start. I just taught the lessons exactly like Regie suggested and I showed my students the student samples in the back of the book. That’s it, and boy was it magical—every time! (The link above will take you to the first-grade version but there are books for grades K-4. If you teach above 4th grade, the grades 3-4 book is very relevant for older students). Here is a link to examples of my students’ poems after just a handful of lessons from these books.

Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
I haven’t read this yet. Why am I recommending it then?! Because I am currently reading it on my spring break vacation to Gulf Shores (yes, I read professional books on the beach). I’m also recommending it because the author became a friend of mine two years ago, and she is an amazing teacher and author. I KNOW this book will be awesome, and I don’t want to wait another year to recommend it!

Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard
Once I dipped my toe into free verse poetry writing with Regie Routman, this book was the natural next step. In my opinion, Georgia Heard is THE poetry princess for writing teachers. If you read or have read her books, you will see her influence on me in the blog posts linked above.

I hope these poetry resources inspire you to ignite a poetry passion in your students.

I LOVE teaching poetry writing! I mean, I really love teaching poetry. But I didn’t always feel that way. Free verse poetry used to scare me! How One Student Changed My Attitude Toward Teaching Poetry My poetry-teacher-life changed one day when Joey Q. wrote this poem: First, let me tell you a little bit about Joey. He was in my second-grade class and looped with me to third grade. Now I am pretty good at reading primary students’ developmental spelling, but I really struggled to read Joey’s writing in second grade. As I learned more about Joey, I discovered that he didn’t talk until he was three years old. He struggled to hear until he was two years old when they got his chronic ear infections under control. Joey had a lot of phonological awareness gaps that really surfaced in second grade. In any event, Joey really struggled with writing. But the year that I had Joey in my second-grade class was the year that I decided to take the plunge with free verse poetry. Joey took to poetry immediately and wrote this poem all by himself. He became a poetry superstar. The other kids noticed and they caught the bug, too. Honestly, it wasn’t a fluke. Every year that I have taught free verse poetry writing, budding poets have emerged! Minilessons for Teaching Free Verse Poetry How about you? Have you tried it? If not, would you make this the year? I promise that you won’t be disappointed! Not sure where to start? I did a round-up of some of my favorite poetry lessons on our website: Free Verse Poetry Ordinary to Poetic Fishing Expedition for Poetry Put It on the Page So It Looks Like a Poem Found Poems Six-Room Poem If (when) you try them, would you let us know how they go? We’d love to be inspired by your budding poets! Professional Book Recommendations I’d also like to share a few of my favorite poetry resources: Kids’ Poems by Regie RoutmanThis is where I got my poetry teaching start. I just taught the lessons exactly like Regie suggested and I showed my students the student samples in the back of the book. That’s it, and boy was it magical—every time! (The link above will take you to the first-grade version but there are books for grades K-4. If you teach above 4th grade, the grades 3-4 book is very relevant for older students). Here is a link to examples of my students’ poems after just a handful of lessons from these books. Poems Are Teachers: How Studying Poetry Strengthens Writing in All Genres by Amy Ludwig VanDerwaterI haven’t read this yet. Why am I recommending it then?! Because I am currently reading it on my spring break vacation to Gulf Shores (yes, I read professional books on the beach). I’m also recommending it because the author became a friend of mine two years ago, and she is an amazing teacher and author. I KNOW this book will be awesome, and I don’t want to wait another year to recommend it! Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia HeardOnce I dipped my toe into free verse poetry writing with Regie Routman, this book was the natural next step. In my opinion, Georgia Heard is THE poetry princess for writing teachers. If you read or have read her books, you will see her influence on me in the blog posts linked above. I hope these poetry resources inspire you to ignite a poetry passion in your …

Apostrophe Detectives

Writing Trait/Strategy:
Writing conventions

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Alphie the Apostrophe by Moira Rose Donohue
The Girl’s Like Spaghetti by Lynne Truss
Greedy Apostrophe by Jan Carr
The Perfect Pop-Up Punctuation Book by Kate Petty and Jennie Maizels

Description:
This lesson focuses on apostrophes, but the procedures can be used for any writing convention. I noticed that my students were very confused about the proper usage of apostrophes. As with anything new, learners tend to overuse punctuation–some of them even started using apostrophes in every plural noun (“I have three cat’s.” “The flower’s are blooming.”).

The writer "uses but confuses" apostrophes

I decided to launch an investigation that we called “Apostrophe Detectives.” Each student searched through their independent reading books for words that contained apostrophes and wrote both the word and the phrase or sentence that contained the word.

Next I had the students work in small groups to discuss what they noticed. As a class we made charts of some of our “noticings.” We talked about why the apostrophe is an important punctuation mark and what happens when it is used incorrectly.

Next I read Greedy Apostrophe  to wrap up our discussion. Then I asked them to look through their writer’s notebooks to find any “greedy apostrophes” in their own writing. After our investigation, my students didn’t all go off and immediately start using apostrophes correctly, but this investigation made them much more aware of this little punctuation mark in both their reading and writing and helped them gain a more solid understanding of its proper use. I invited them to continue to search for “greedy apostrophes” in their own work and in the world. This is a common error—even among adults. Just a few days after our discussion, I found this “greedy apostrophe” at a local store! 

For more information on using mentor texts to teach grammar and punctuation skills, I highly recommend the following resources:

Patterns of Power by Jeff Anderson
A Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation by Janet Angelillo
Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson

Writing Trait/Strategy:Writing conventions Mentor Text Suggestions:Alphie the Apostrophe by Moira Rose DonohueThe Girl’s Like Spaghetti by Lynne TrussGreedy Apostrophe by Jan CarrThe Perfect Pop-Up Punctuation Book by Kate Petty and Jennie Maizels Description:This lesson focuses on apostrophes, but the procedures can be used for any writing convention. I noticed that my students were very confused about the proper usage of apostrophes. As with anything new, learners tend to overuse punctuation–some of them even started using apostrophes in every plural noun (“I have three cat’s.” “The flower’s are blooming.”). I decided to launch an investigation that we called “Apostrophe Detectives.” Each student searched through their independent reading books for words that contained apostrophes and wrote both the word and the phrase or sentence that contained the word. Next I had the students work in small groups to discuss what they noticed. As a class we made charts of some of our “noticings.” We talked about why the apostrophe is an important punctuation mark and what happens when it is used incorrectly. Next I read Greedy Apostrophe  to wrap up our discussion. Then I asked them to look through their writer’s notebooks to find any “greedy apostrophes” in their own writing. After our investigation, my students didn’t all go off and immediately start using apostrophes correctly, but this investigation made them much more aware of this little punctuation mark in both their reading and writing and helped them gain a more solid understanding of its proper use. I invited them to continue to search for “greedy apostrophes” in their own work and in the world. This is a common error—even among adults. Just a few days after our discussion, I found this “greedy apostrophe” at a local store!  For more information on using mentor texts to teach grammar and punctuation skills, I highly recommend the following resources: Patterns of Power by Jeff AndersonA Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation by Janet AngelilloEveryday Editing by Jeff …

Are Books Limited at Home? 4 Ideas to Get Your Kids Reading

My littles are really lucky to have SO many books at their fingertips. I know most families don’t have access to books like my kids do. However, as I have made independent reading time a priority in our home, I realized that some of the reading material that fills my children’s reading time could be accessible in many homes, not just the home of a former first-grade teacher. Stick with me and check out some of the ways we are being resourceful to rake in the reading time.

What Kids Can Read At Home When Books are Limited

1. Cookbooks

With recipes so easy to access from my phone, I rarely pop open a cookbook anymore. However, I do have a small shelf in my kitchen that houses some of my favorite cookbooks. Last week, I added a couple of cookbooks to Molly’s reading bin. She was so excited to look through the cookbooks and choose some new dinners for our family. When Molly found yummy recipes, she wrote down the ingredients in a shopping list. Reading, writing, AND meal planning. Not bad, right?

2. Karaoke Lyrics

Step into our home and you are certain to witness a performance of some sort. This Christmas, Molly got a karaoke microphone. It is rose-gold. It is loud. And it even has the ability to make your voice echo. Pretty swanky, right? She loves the darn thing. My relationship with the microphone is much less amiable.

I recently formed a more endearing bond with Molly’s microphone when I realized she was getting some extra reading time with every performance. If your school-age children are lacking reading material, open up a Frozen karaoke video on YouTube. No rose-gold microphone required. It is kind of like sneaking kale into your spaghetti sauce. Next thing you know your child is getting a healthy dose of reading time, and you are getting another cute, free concert.

3. Greeting Cards

I promise I am not a hoarder, but there are some random things I can’t seem to throw away. Every birthday, holiday, and special event I save the greeting cards people give to my kids. Molly was so excited to open up her book box and find her stack of recital, valentine, and birthday cards. She clocked in an hour of reading time, reading all of her special messages. If you have any special cards lying around, add them to your child’s reading stack. They will love it!

Not a hoarder?

4. Write Books Together

Molly loves to write stories. Most of the time she writes them, but there are days I sit beside her and type up her literary creations. If you don’t have enough reading material for your kids at home, let your child create the books they will read during reading time. Real authors are perfect writing mentors. We love Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books so much that Molly just started her own similar series, Bacon and Pig. Once Molly finishes writing her stories, we type them up and add them to her “Books I Can Read” stack. Low on ink? Just let them read their own writing.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out the other reading materials in my daughter’s read-at-home book bin.

  • Pioneer Valley’s Read-At-Home Books.
  • Children’s magazines like Ranger Rick.
  • Familiar picture books we have read hundreds of times as a family.
  • High-interest informational books like her Daddy’s book about MLB ballparks.

What is she reading digitally?

  • Scholastic BOOKFLIX
  • Epic!– a digital library of over 40,000 books that readers love. Educators and parents can sign up for a free access.
  • Pioneer Valley Digital-at-Home Books- Parents and teachers can sign up here and set up leveled book rooms for their readers at a really reasonable price.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Desperate for books? We must get creative. If we think outside-the-box, there are endless reading possibilities tucked inside our homes.

My littles are really lucky to have SO many books at their fingertips. I know most families don’t have access to books like my kids do. However, as I have made independent reading time a priority in our home, I realized that some of the reading material that fills my children’s reading time could be accessible in many homes, not just the home of a former first-grade teacher. Stick with me and check out some of the ways we are being resourceful to rake in the reading time. What Kids Can Read At Home When Books are Limited 1. Cookbooks With recipes so easy to access from my phone, I rarely pop open a cookbook anymore. However, I do have a small shelf in my kitchen that houses some of my favorite cookbooks. Last week, I added a couple of cookbooks to Molly’s reading bin. She was so excited to look through the cookbooks and choose some new dinners for our family. When Molly found yummy recipes, she wrote down the ingredients in a shopping list. Reading, writing, AND meal planning. Not bad, right? 2. Karaoke Lyrics Step into our home and you are certain to witness a performance of some sort. This Christmas, Molly got a karaoke microphone. It is rose-gold. It is loud. And it even has the ability to make your voice echo. Pretty swanky, right? She loves the darn thing. My relationship with the microphone is much less amiable. I recently formed a more endearing bond with Molly’s microphone when I realized she was getting some extra reading time with every performance. If your school-age children are lacking reading material, open up a Frozen karaoke video on YouTube. No rose-gold microphone required. It is kind of like sneaking kale into your spaghetti sauce. Next thing you know your child is getting a healthy dose of reading time, and you are getting another cute, free concert. 3. Greeting Cards I promise I am not a hoarder, but there are some random things I can’t seem to throw away. Every birthday, holiday, and special event I save the greeting cards people give to my kids. Molly was so excited to open up her book box and find her stack of recital, valentine, and birthday cards. She clocked in an hour of reading time, reading all of her special messages. If you have any special cards lying around, add them to your child’s reading stack. They will love it! Not a hoarder? 4. Write Books Together Molly loves to write stories. Most of the time she writes them, but there are days I sit beside her and type up her literary creations. If you don’t have enough reading material for your kids at home, let your child create the books they will read during reading time. Real authors are perfect writing mentors. We love Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books so much that Molly just started her own similar series, Bacon and Pig. Once Molly finishes writing her stories, we type them up and add them to her “Books I Can Read” stack. Low on ink? Just let them read their own writing. Looking for more inspiration? Check out the other reading materials in my daughter’s read-at-home book bin. Pioneer Valley’s Read-At-Home Books. Children’s magazines like Ranger Rick. Familiar picture books we have read hundreds of times as a family. High-interest informational books like her Daddy’s book about MLB ballparks. What is she reading digitally? Scholastic BOOKFLIX Epic!– a digital library of over 40,000 books that readers love. Educators and parents can sign up for a free access. Pioneer Valley Digital-at-Home Books- Parents and teachers can sign up here and set up leveled book rooms for their readers at a really reasonable price. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Desperate for books? We must get creative. If we think outside-the-box, there are endless reading possibilities tucked inside our …

Attention-Grabbing Leads

Writing Trait/Strategy:
Organization

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Hey Al by Arthur Yorinks (description of character and question)
Bigmama’s by Donald Crews (question)
My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray (description of a person)
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen (setting the mood)
All About Owls by Jim Arnosky (question lead)
Vote! by Eileen Christelow (What if..? Scenario)
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles (quote)
My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris (anecdote)

Description:
It is amazing how even this one mini-lesson can dramatically improve student writing. When a writer begins with a good lead s/he sets the tone for the entire story and entices the reader to read on. It is important that the first few sentences of a story grab the reader’s attention. Young writers often fall into the trap of beginning with a generic lead that is boring and dry. We can begin to teach students how to develop good leads by first showing them how not to grab the reader’s attention. I begin this mini-lesson by shaking my students’ hands using a limp handshake. I explain that when we meet someone for the first time, we want to look them in the eye, smile, and give them a firm handshake. In other words, we want to make a good first impression. Writers want to do the same thing.

Then I introduce some ways NOT to make a good first impression in our writing. Some of these ways include:

  • Hi! My name is…
  • My story is about…
  • Once upon a time…
  • One sunny day…

Students will recognize these beginnings from their own stories and even begin to chuckle when they realize how boring they sound.

Here is one of my students’ “stick to the facts” boring leads:

Boring Lead
The next step is to give students some specific techniques that can be used to grab the reader’s attention. These techniques include:

  • Use dialogue: have the main character talking to someone.
  • Jump right into the action of the story
  • Pose a thought-provoking question
  • Describe a character’s thoughts or feelings
  • Begin with an astonishing fact
  • Use a sound effect
  • Start with a quotation from an expert or someone well-known
  • Describe a setting
  • Use humor or word play

While presenting these techniques to students, it is helpful to read examples of them in children’s literature and have students try to identify which technique(s) the author used.

Next give students a topic and have them practice writing 2 or 3 leads, trying out various techniques. Explain that authors usually try out several leads before settling on one. Share the fact that E.B. White experimented with over a dozen leads before settling on one. You may want to show some of them to your students. You can find some of them here: Charlotte’s Web leads.

I have my students purposely write boring leads and then revise them using the techniques we have studies.  Here are some examples of their boring leads and revisions:

Writing Trait/Strategy:Organization Mentor Text Suggestions:Hey Al by Arthur Yorinks (description of character and question)Bigmama’s by Donald Crews (question)My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray (description of a person)Owl Moon by Jane Yolen (setting the mood)All About Owls by Jim Arnosky (question lead)Vote! by Eileen Christelow (What if..? Scenario)The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles (quote)My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris (anecdote) Description:It is amazing how even this one mini-lesson can dramatically improve student writing. When a writer begins with a good lead s/he sets the tone for the entire story and entices the reader to read on. It is important that the first few sentences of a story grab the reader’s attention. Young writers often fall into the trap of beginning with a generic lead that is boring and dry. We can begin to teach students how to develop good leads by first showing them how not to grab the reader’s attention. I begin this mini-lesson by shaking my students’ hands using a limp handshake. I explain that when we meet someone for the first time, we want to look them in the eye, smile, and give them a firm handshake. In other words, we want to make a good first impression. Writers want to do the same thing. Then I introduce some ways NOT to make a good first impression in our writing. Some of these ways include: Hi! My name is… My story is about… Once upon a time… One sunny day… Students will recognize these beginnings from their own stories and even begin to chuckle when they realize how boring they sound. Here is one of my students’ “stick to the facts” boring leads: Boring LeadThe next step is to give students some specific techniques that can be used to grab the reader’s attention. These techniques include: Use dialogue: have the main character talking to someone. Jump right into the action of the story Pose a thought-provoking question Describe a character’s thoughts or feelings Begin with an astonishing fact Use a sound effect Start with a quotation from an expert or someone well-known Describe a setting Use humor or word play While presenting these techniques to students, it is helpful to read examples of them in children’s literature and have students try to identify which technique(s) the author used. Next give students a topic and have them practice writing 2 or 3 leads, trying out various techniques. Explain that authors usually try out several leads before settling on one. Share the fact that E.B. White experimented with over a dozen leads before settling on one. You may want to show some of them to your students. You can find some of them here: Charlotte’s Web leads. I have my students purposely write boring leads and then revise them using the techniques we have studies.  Here are some examples of their boring leads and …

Be Specific

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Beach by Elisha Cooper
Big Mama’s by Donald Crews
Outside, Inside by Carolyn Crimi
In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells
 

Description:
One way to dramatically improve student writing is to teach them about specificity of nouns and verbs. Many students have been taught that adding adjective makes writing more descriptive. The truth is, stronger nouns and verbs hold the secret to better descriptive writing.

“Verbs are the engines of sentences. The more specific the verb, the more energy and specificity the sentence will have.”

     –Georgia Heard, The Revision Toolbox

“Verbs are the most important of all your tools. They push the sentence forward and give it momentum…flail, poke, dazzle, squash, beguile, pamper, swagger, wheedle, vex.”

     –William Zinssner, On Writing Well

“If verbs are the ‘engines’ of sentences, “nouns are the wheels on which that engine rides. They need to be sturdy, solid, and specific.”

     –Georgia Heard, The Revision Toolbox

Specific Nouns and Verbs
The more specific the verb, the more accurately the writer can convey an image or create a scene. Give students a sentence with the verb blanked out. Have them brainstorm a list of verbs that could be used to complete the sentence.

The car _________ down the road.

(skidded, raced, swerved, putzed, flew)

Nouns need to be specific and concrete, too. Have students brainstorm specific nouns for a list of vague ones.

bird = cardinal 
dog = German shepherd 
things = paper clips 
flower = chrysanthemum 
boy = student

Proper Nouns
Encourage students to revise some of their common nouns and replace them with proper nouns. This is another effective way to achieve specificity. Using people names, place names, or brand names brings credibility to a text and conjures up stronger images for the reader.

Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester Laminack
Uptown by Brian Collier
Come On, Rain! by Karen Hess
Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
Baby by Patricia MacLachlan

Color Words
Color words can also be spruced up a bit with a dose of specificity. Color words do not have to be limited to the primary colors or the colors of the rainbow. Try bringing in strips of paint samples or having students look through their crayon boxes and making lists of synonyms for the basic colors. Why write blue when we could write sapphire, powder blue, azure, Air Force blue, cobalt, electric blue, denim, cyan, cornflower, indigo, royal blue, steel blue, ultramarine, or sky blue…and this list could go on. Click here for more writing mini-lessons and mentor texts that use color.

Hyphenated Adjectives
While strings of adjectives do not generally enhance descriptive writing, the use of hyphenated adjectives can add specificity and voice to a piece. Adjectives should be powerful, purposeful, fresh, and interesting. (Cappelli and Dorfman, 2007). A hyphen indicates that two words should be thought of as one, especially when using two adjectives or groups of words that are acting as a unit. (Anderson, 2005). Share examples from mentor texts and then invite students to try some on their own. Try giving them fill-in-the-blank phrases to practice.

The Divide by Michael Bedard
Up North at the Cabin by Marsha Wilson Chall
My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray
Baseball, Snakes, and Summer Squash by Donald Graves

Examples from  My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray:

“Bless the world it feels like a tip-tapping song-singing finger-snapping kind of day.”

“…out we’d go into the red-orange morning with kites and balloons tied to our wrists.”

Mentor Text Suggestions:Beach by Elisha CooperBig Mama’s by Donald CrewsOutside, Inside by Carolyn CrimiIn the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise FlemingLilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin HenkesBunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells  Description:One way to dramatically improve student writing is to teach them about specificity of nouns and verbs. Many students have been taught that adding adjective makes writing more descriptive. The truth is, stronger nouns and verbs hold the secret to better descriptive writing. “Verbs are the engines of sentences. The more specific the verb, the more energy and specificity the sentence will have.”      –Georgia Heard, The Revision Toolbox “Verbs are the most important of all your tools. They push the sentence forward and give it momentum…flail, poke, dazzle, squash, beguile, pamper, swagger, wheedle, vex.”      –William Zinssner, On Writing Well “If verbs are the ‘engines’ of sentences, “nouns are the wheels on which that engine rides. They need to be sturdy, solid, and specific.”      –Georgia Heard, The Revision Toolbox Specific Nouns and VerbsThe more specific the verb, the more accurately the writer can convey an image or create a scene. Give students a sentence with the verb blanked out. Have them brainstorm a list of verbs that could be used to complete the sentence. The car _________ down the road. (skidded, raced, swerved, putzed, flew) Nouns need to be specific and concrete, too. Have students brainstorm specific nouns for a list of vague ones. bird = cardinal dog = German shepherd things = paper clips flower = chrysanthemum boy = student Proper NounsEncourage students to revise some of their common nouns and replace them with proper nouns. This is another effective way to achieve specificity. Using people names, place names, or brand names brings credibility to a text and conjures up stronger images for the reader. Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester LaminackUptown by Brian CollierCome On, Rain! by Karen HessMissing May by Cynthia RylantBaby by Patricia MacLachlan Color WordsColor words can also be spruced up a bit with a dose of specificity. Color words do not have to be limited to the primary colors or the colors of the rainbow. Try bringing in strips of paint samples or having students look through their crayon boxes and making lists of synonyms for the basic colors. Why write blue when we could write sapphire, powder blue, azure, Air Force blue, cobalt, electric blue, denim, cyan, cornflower, indigo, royal blue, steel blue, ultramarine, or sky blue…and this list could go on. Click here for more writing mini-lessons and mentor texts that use color. Hyphenated AdjectivesWhile strings of adjectives do not generally enhance descriptive writing, the use of hyphenated adjectives can add specificity and voice to a piece. Adjectives should be powerful, purposeful, fresh, and interesting. (Cappelli and Dorfman, 2007). A hyphen indicates that two words should be thought of as one, especially when using two adjectives or groups of words that are acting as a unit. (Anderson, 2005). Share examples from mentor texts and then invite students to try some on their own. Try giving them fill-in-the-blank phrases to practice. The Divide by Michael BedardUp North at the Cabin by Marsha Wilson ChallMy Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore GrayBaseball, Snakes, and Summer Squash by Donald Graves Examples from  My Mama Had a Dancing Heart by Libba Moore Gray: “Bless the world it feels like a tip-tapping song-singing finger-snapping kind of day.” “…out we’d go into the red-orange morning with kites and balloons tied to our …

Bolstering Student Participation in Synchronous Distance Learning

Teaching in digital platforms has a whole new and different feel to it. It has no doubt been a challenge to pump up my enthusiasm as I stare at my laptop screen instead of student faces. It can feel like the students (or blacked-out boxes) cannot quite see or hear from such a distance, and I often find myself seemingly pulling teeth to get a conversation going verbally or in the chat box, despite my longer wait times.

This got me thinking – there has to be ways to bolster student participation in these synchronous virtual classrooms. I began researching different techniques and am sharing three approaches that I have found to be successful: 1) planned interruptions; 2) breakout rooms; 3) asynchronous responses.

Planned Interruptions

Prior to teaching a synchronous session, you want to think of places you will interrupt teaching to have students engage with the content. Taking the idea of interrupted reading from Shades of Meaning and applying it to online teaching, we want students to be “learning awake”, or actively thinking and engaging in the class. Once you’ve determined places you will pause your teaching for student participation, you’ll want to set students up for that participation prior to the interruption. For example, if you are going to be teaching students how to revise a narrative to include showing, rather than telling language, you will want to invite students to notice the kinds of changes you made to your own writing before you teach them how to do this kind of revision. Then, once you’ve demonstrated your revision work, you can pause your teaching and set students up to share their thoughts with one another verbally and/or in the chat options of your digital platform. Setting students up for thinking prior to the teaching itself allows students to prepare for that interaction, thus increasing the overall participation.

Breakout Rooms

Another way you can increase student interaction and participation in your digital classroom is through the use of breakout rooms. Zoom is one video chat app that I have been using that allows for this configuration. Just like in the face-to-face classroom, some students will struggle to participate in the whole class setting; therefore, small group collaboration and discussions can give students opportunities to participate in a more interactive way that can feel more connected and safe. Small groups typically work best with four students whenever possible and these groups should remain the same for the duration of a unit so that students can get to know one another and grow comfortable communicating with these peers. Just like in the previous section, think about where in your session you want to pause for student interaction and set students up to do the thinking prior to the interruption. Then, when you come to that interruption, send students to their breakout rooms by groups and pop into these rooms to listen and coach into discussions.

Check out this a quick tutorial on how to create and manage Zoom Breakout Rooms:

Asynchronous Responses

Another approach that has been successful in increasing student participation and interaction with content in digital classrooms is through asynchronous response opportunities. After a session of teaching, you can link students off to practice new strategies and think around content individually, and then ask them to share their learning with others asynchronously. Some popular asynchronous platforms that allow for students’ participation include Google Classroom discussions, SeeSaw, and FlipGrid. SeeSaw and FlipGrid are two that allow students to easily upload videos of themselves, in addition to sharing text-based responses. Using an asynchronous response approach allows you as the teacher to see each students’ interaction with and progress in the content you are teaching. Additionally, you can set these platforms up to allow for other students in the class to engage with one another’s posts through the use of emoticons and comments, much like social media platforms many students are accustomed to.

To get started in setting up SeeSaw and/or FlipGrid, please see links below.

SeeSaw

FlipGrid

I hope you give these three approaches a try and that you find them helpful. We love to hear about other ways that you are bolstering student participation in the comments below. Keep up the great work you have been doing for our learners at home!

Resources/Acknowledgements

Shades of Meaning: Comprehension and Interpretation in Middle School by Donna Santman.

Teaching in digital platforms has a whole new and different feel to it. It has no doubt been a challenge to pump up my enthusiasm as I stare at my laptop screen instead of student faces. It can feel like the students (or blacked-out boxes) cannot quite see or hear from such a distance, and I often find myself seemingly pulling teeth to get a conversation going verbally or in the chat box, despite my longer wait times. This got me thinking – there has to be ways to bolster student participation in these synchronous virtual classrooms. I began researching different techniques and am sharing three approaches that I have found to be successful: 1) planned interruptions; 2) breakout rooms; 3) asynchronous responses. Planned Interruptions Prior to teaching a synchronous session, you want to think of places you will interrupt teaching to have students engage with the content. Taking the idea of interrupted reading from Shades of Meaning and applying it to online teaching, we want students to be “learning awake”, or actively thinking and engaging in the class. Once you’ve determined places you will pause your teaching for student participation, you’ll want to set students up for that participation prior to the interruption. For example, if you are going to be teaching students how to revise a narrative to include showing, rather than telling language, you will want to invite students to notice the kinds of changes you made to your own writing before you teach them how to do this kind of revision. Then, once you’ve demonstrated your revision work, you can pause your teaching and set students up to share their thoughts with one another verbally and/or in the chat options of your digital platform. Setting students up for thinking prior to the teaching itself allows students to prepare for that interaction, thus increasing the overall participation. Breakout Rooms Another way you can increase student interaction and participation in your digital classroom is through the use of breakout rooms. Zoom is one video chat app that I have been using that allows for this configuration. Just like in the face-to-face classroom, some students will struggle to participate in the whole class setting; therefore, small group collaboration and discussions can give students opportunities to participate in a more interactive way that can feel more connected and safe. Small groups typically work best with four students whenever possible and these groups should remain the same for the duration of a unit so that students can get to know one another and grow comfortable communicating with these peers. Just like in the previous section, think about where in your session you want to pause for student interaction and set students up to do the thinking prior to the interruption. Then, when you come to that interruption, send students to their breakout rooms by groups and pop into these rooms to listen and coach into discussions. Check out this a quick tutorial on how to create and manage Zoom Breakout Rooms: Asynchronous Responses Another approach that has been successful in increasing student participation and interaction with content in digital classrooms is through asynchronous response opportunities. After a session of teaching, you can link students off to practice new strategies and think around content individually, and then ask them to share their learning with others asynchronously. Some popular asynchronous platforms that allow for students’ participation include Google Classroom discussions, SeeSaw, and FlipGrid. SeeSaw and FlipGrid are two that allow students to easily upload videos of themselves, in addition to sharing text-based responses. Using an asynchronous response approach allows you as the teacher to see each students’ interaction with and progress in the content you are teaching. Additionally, you can set these platforms up to allow for other students in the class to engage with one another’s posts through the use of emoticons and comments, much like social media platforms many students are accustomed to. To get started in setting up SeeSaw and/or FlipGrid, please see links below. SeeSaw FlipGrid I hope you give these three approaches a try and that you find them helpful. We love to hear about other ways that you are bolstering student participation in the comments below. Keep up the great work you have been doing for our learners at home! Resources/Acknowledgements Shades of Meaning: Comprehension and Interpretation in Middle School by Donna …

Book Recommendation: Change Sings! Happy Autumn Equinox!

I finally received my copy of the much-anticipated book Change Sings! How many of you pre-ordered this book like I did after hearing Amanda Gorman recite her goosebump-inducing poem The Hill We Climb on Inauguration Day?

Even though I’ve been waiting 8 long months for the arrival of this book, it seems it couldn’t have arrived on a more perfect day – the fall equinox. The CHANGING of seasons, particularly the fall equinox, is a time when people have historically reflected on the balance of light and dark in their lives and all that the passing season has brought to them before embracing another shift, a CHANGE, once again.

As I excitedly opened my Amazon package to get to the book inside, Amanda’s words seemed to echo from the podium on that cold January day – “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”

This past year-and-a-half of education has been like nothing before. CHANGE is certainly an understatement and though I long for the days without Covid notification emails, masks, social distancing, sickness, polarized beliefs, bullying, fear… I decided to take the time to look into the positive CHANGE this time has brought upon us.

Because, as I was reminded by Amanda Gorman – “Even as we grieved, we grew. Even as we hurt, we hoped. Even as we tired, we tried”.

We CHANGED. Our students CHANGED. The ways we teach CHANGED. And the ways our students learn has CHANGED. As a matter of fact, we are STILL CHANGING.

There is no doubt that CHANGE can be tough and it seems like a natural instinct to try to resist it, but Amanda’s brand new book beautifully captures the power each individual possesses in making and leading needed CHANGE in this world. She empowers readers to believe we can be the CHANGE we want to see.

3 Tips for Using This Book

  1. It’s the perfect read-aloud to inspire our students to advocate for themselves and for others and to foster conversation around using our voices to make an impact on our classrooms, school, community, world. As Amanda stated in her Inaugural Day poem: “There is always light…if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it”.
  2. This book would also work wonderfully to launch into opinion/argument writing of any kind or to launch into a modern or historical study of activists and the power of people who have made marks on where we are today. For higher level analytic work, it could be read through a critical reading lens to interpret social themes and political undertones.
  3. It’s also perfect for just reading to enjoy the craft of the words and illustrations and the feelings they evoke. It’s one of those books that can be read again and again, each time offering a new insight or new conversation to be had.

I’ve included a LINK of me reading the book aloud for all of you to enjoy.

“We all hear CHANGE strumming. Won’t you sing along?”

I finally received my copy of the much-anticipated book Change Sings! How many of you pre-ordered this book like I did after hearing Amanda Gorman recite her goosebump-inducing poem The Hill We Climb on Inauguration Day? Even though I’ve been waiting 8 long months for the arrival of this book, it seems it couldn’t have arrived on a more perfect day – the fall equinox. The CHANGING of seasons, particularly the fall equinox, is a time when people have historically reflected on the balance of light and dark in their lives and all that the passing season has brought to them before embracing another shift, a CHANGE, once again. As I excitedly opened my Amazon package to get to the book inside, Amanda’s words seemed to echo from the podium on that cold January day – “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” This past year-and-a-half of education has been like nothing before. CHANGE is certainly an understatement and though I long for the days without Covid notification emails, masks, social distancing, sickness, polarized beliefs, bullying, fear… I decided to take the time to look into the positive CHANGE this time has brought upon us. Because, as I was reminded by Amanda Gorman – “Even as we grieved, we grew. Even as we hurt, we hoped. Even as we tired, we tried”. We CHANGED. Our students CHANGED. The ways we teach CHANGED. And the ways our students learn has CHANGED. As a matter of fact, we are STILL CHANGING. There is no doubt that CHANGE can be tough and it seems like a natural instinct to try to resist it, but Amanda’s brand new book beautifully captures the power each individual possesses in making and leading needed CHANGE in this world. She empowers readers to believe we can be the CHANGE we want to see. 3 Tips for Using This Book It’s the perfect read-aloud to inspire our students to advocate for themselves and for others and to foster conversation around using our voices to make an impact on our classrooms, school, community, world. As Amanda stated in her Inaugural Day poem: “There is always light…if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it”. This book would also work wonderfully to launch into opinion/argument writing of any kind or to launch into a modern or historical study of activists and the power of people who have made marks on where we are today. For higher level analytic work, it could be read through a critical reading lens to interpret social themes and political undertones. It’s also perfect for just reading to enjoy the craft of the words and illustrations and the feelings they evoke. It’s one of those books that can be read again and again, each time offering a new insight or new conversation to be had. I’ve included a LINK of me reading the book aloud for all of you to enjoy. “We all hear CHANGE strumming. Won’t you sing …

Book Scavenger Hunt

I don’t know about you, but I hit a wall this week.

Somewhere between the predictable moments like the constant loading and unloading of the dishwasher.

And the unpredictable moments like the middle child falling from a tree, puncturing his cute little tummy on a sharp stick during a dang pandemic…

I hit a wall.

I’m just going to go out on a limb here and guess that your kids and your students are hitting a wall, too.

With a serious case of the blahs over here, we were in the market for a little change.

Thanks to a suggestion from a dear friend and literacy coach, Monique Alberts, we recently tried a new way to do reading time at home. We broke away from the monotony and found some much needed, joyful reading.

Looking for a fun and engaging activity that will keep your readers reading while they find their best reading spot? Look no further. Your readers must try a Book Scavenger Hunt.

How Did We Do Our Book Scavenger Hunt?

I simply took the books Molly was reading and placed them in cozy reading spots all over the house. I told her two important pieces of information to support her on her hunt:

  1. the number of books I hid
  2. that the books were hidden in comfortable places to read

With an “On your mark, get set, GO!” she was off and running to every comfy corner of our home.

I periodically checked on her, put some laundry away, played with the boys, and thirty minutes later she emerged with the biggest smile plastered across her face.

“Can we do that again tomorrow?”

I asked her to show me the place where she did her best reading. We walked hand-in-hand to her bedroom where she led me to her bed. Snuggled up together, surrounded by her corona-free, cotton-filled best friends, we wrapped up reading time with one more book.

Suddenly that wall we hit this week, came crumbling down.

Looking for more inspiration to break down those walls and build better at-home reading routines? Check out some of our most recent posts. We’ve got you covered.

I don’t know about you, but I hit a wall this week. Somewhere between the predictable moments like the constant loading and unloading of the dishwasher. And the unpredictable moments like the middle child falling from a tree, puncturing his cute little tummy on a sharp stick during a dang pandemic… I hit a wall. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and guess that your kids and your students are hitting a wall, too. With a serious case of the blahs over here, we were in the market for a little change. Thanks to a suggestion from a dear friend and literacy coach, Monique Alberts, we recently tried a new way to do reading time at home. We broke away from the monotony and found some much needed, joyful reading. Looking for a fun and engaging activity that will keep your readers reading while they find their best reading spot? Look no further. Your readers must try a Book Scavenger Hunt. How Did We Do Our Book Scavenger Hunt? I simply took the books Molly was reading and placed them in cozy reading spots all over the house. I told her two important pieces of information to support her on her hunt: the number of books I hid that the books were hidden in comfortable places to read With an “On your mark, get set, GO!” she was off and running to every comfy corner of our home. I periodically checked on her, put some laundry away, played with the boys, and thirty minutes later she emerged with the biggest smile plastered across her face. “Can we do that again tomorrow?” I asked her to show me the place where she did her best reading. We walked hand-in-hand to her bedroom where she led me to her bed. Snuggled up together, surrounded by her corona-free, cotton-filled best friends, we wrapped up reading time with one more book. Suddenly that wall we hit this week, came crumbling down. Looking for more inspiration to break down those walls and build better at-home reading routines? Check out some of our most recent posts. We’ve got you covered. Mini-Unit and Videos to Support Building a Reading Life at Home Simple Tips to Get Kids Reading at …

Brain-Friendly Ways to Teach Sight Words

Did you know that there are 109 words in the English language that account for 50% of written English in children’s texts? Did you know that 13 of those account for 25%?

We call these high-frequency words. These high-leverage, high-frequency words are absolutely worth teaching.

In fact, we want these high-frequency words to become sight words (recognized with automaticity and accuracy) as quickly as possible.

How We Teach Sight Words Matters

BUT we need to teach them according to how the reading brain learns to read them.

When I first learned the brain research about 5 years ago, I was convicted that I had been using and teaching others to use some unhelpful and even some harmful practices to “teach” sight words.

I am now doing everything I can to rectify this! That’s why I want to invite you to a BYOC (Bring Your Own Coffee) –our series of free bite-sized PD webinars:

Simple and Brain-Friendly Ways to Teach Sight Words
(What to Do and What NOT to Do)

How to Know If You Should Watch This Webinar

Below is a list of common practices that I see in classrooms:

  • Using flashcards to learn sight words
  • Telling students or parents that these words need to be memorized
  • Rainbow words
  • Drawing shapes around words
  • Writing the words multiple times
  • Exposing students to the words in shared reading and hoping they would get them through repetition
  • Chanting the spellings of words
  • Posting sight words on an alphabetic word wall

If you are using any of these, this webinar is for you. And no judgment here. I have at some point in my teaching career used every single one.

Yes, I have done all of those. But now that I know better, I do better.

What About Tricky Sight Words?

Maybe you don’t do any of those things, but you don’t know what the brain research says about learning tricky sight words.

Or maybe you have wondered why kids have trouble remembering the difference between words like want and went, or was and saw. ‘Is this a sign of dyslexia?’ you have maybe asked.

In this webinar, I will answer all of these questions and give you some super simple tips that you can use right away. No prep involved! A few small moves with a big impact.

Simple and Brain-Friendly Ways to Teach Sight Words (What to Do and What NOT to Do)

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Did you know that there are 109 words in the English language that account for 50% of written English in children’s texts? Did you know that 13 of those account for 25%? We call these high-frequency words. These high-leverage, high-frequency words are absolutely worth teaching. In fact, we want these high-frequency words to become sight words (recognized with automaticity and accuracy) as quickly as possible. How We Teach Sight Words Matters BUT we need to teach them according to how the reading brain learns to read them. When I first learned the brain research about 5 years ago, I was convicted that I had been using and teaching others to use some unhelpful and even some harmful practices to “teach” sight words. I am now doing everything I can to rectify this! That’s why I want to invite you to a BYOC (Bring Your Own Coffee) –our series of free bite-sized PD webinars: Simple and Brain-Friendly Ways to Teach Sight Words (What to Do and What NOT to Do) How to Know If You Should Watch This Webinar Below is a list of common practices that I see in classrooms: Using flashcards to learn sight words Telling students or parents that these words need to be memorized Rainbow words Drawing shapes around words Writing the words multiple times Exposing students to the words in shared reading and hoping they would get them through repetition Chanting the spellings of words Posting sight words on an alphabetic word wall If you are using any of these, this webinar is for you. And no judgment here. I have at some point in my teaching career used every single one. Yes, I have done all of those. But now that I know better, I do better. What About Tricky Sight Words? Maybe you don’t do any of those things, but you don’t know what the brain research says about learning tricky sight words. Or maybe you have wondered why kids have trouble remembering the difference between words like want and went, or was and saw. ‘Is this a sign of dyslexia?’ you have maybe asked. In this webinar, I will answer all of these questions and give you some super simple tips that you can use right away. No prep involved! A few small moves with a big …

Breaking Skills Into Strategies

The last several posts have been devoted to unpacking skills and strategies.  I have used Jennifer Serravallo’s definition of strategy: “step-by-step how tos that lead toward skilled performance”.  When I think about strategies, the question that always pops into my mind is, “How can I break this down?”  If a learner is struggling with a skill, it may be that the skill needs to be broken down into manageable steps. 

So how do we break skills down? This can be more challenging than it might seem. If you have been reading this series of posts, you may have already watched the baseball video clip.  If not, please take 30 seconds to watch it now:  

 

We have already talked about how the father in the video told Max to “use two hands” while Drew modeled it. Why do you think Drew was more strategic in his teaching?  We can only speculate here, but one idea I have is that the father learned to catch a ball a long time ago, and Drew’s learning was more recent.  The father no longer needs to think about each step as he catches a ball—he does it automatically.  In other words, the strategies have gone underground.

I think this is one of the things that makes teaching so hard.  We are teaching children to do things that we are already proficient or skilled at.  We don’t need strategies anymore.  But our students still do!  That means we have to put ourselves back into the shoes of a novice reader, writer, etc. and think about the steps we take. I find that it helps to “spy on myself” as a reader and writer, and while listing across my fingers, say,

  1. “First I…”
  2. “Then I…”
  3. “Next I…”
  4. “Finally I…”

If I can break my steps down in this manner, I am well on my way toward providing the strategic supports my learners need.

Let me give you are real-word example of what this might look like.  Last week I took a class at the Apple Store called “Going Further with Your Mac”.  One part of the class was devoted to using shortcuts.  I already use a number of shortcuts on my computer, but this teacher taught us some cool ones that I didn’t know existed. Some people in the class were becoming frustrated because he was showing us so many and we couldn’t memorize them that fast. Then the teacher stopped and said, “Now don’t get overwhelmed.  Let me give you a tip and show you how I have become proficient at using these shortcuts.”  Here is how he broke it down for us:

“Whenever you find yourself executing a task on your computer, stop and notice if the menu gives you a shortcut. If you see a shortcut, take a second to look at it. Instead of completing the action the long way, force yourself to use the shortcut.  Do it two or three times in a row right then to get some muscle memory. Work on memorizing and automatically using just 3-4 shortcuts at a time.  Once you have mastered those, set a goal for yourself to learn another set.  Before you know it, you will have a whole repertoire of shortcuts!”

Do you see what the teacher did?  First he recognized his students’ frustration. Then he thought about how he learned to use shortcuts himself.  Finally he shared these step-by-step tips in a way that seemed manageable for his students. The students’ next step will be to practice—the critical step in mastering a skill as described in a previous post.

Before I close out this post, did you notice what I just did in that last paragraph?  Let me write that paragraph below in a different format: 

Do you see what the teacher did?

  1. First he recognized his students’ frustration.
  2. Then he thought about how he learned to use shortcuts himself.
  3. Finally he shared these step-by-step tips in a way that seemed manageable for his students.

See? Anything you are trying to teach can be broken down into step-by-step strategies—even teaching someone how to break something down into a strategy!

The last several posts have been devoted to unpacking skills and strategies.  I have used Jennifer Serravallo’s definition of strategy: “step-by-step how tos that lead toward skilled performance”.  When I think about strategies, the question that always pops into my mind is, “How can I break this down?”  If a learner is struggling with a skill, it may be that the skill needs to be broken down into manageable steps.  So how do we break skills down? This can be more challenging than it might seem. If you have been reading this series of posts, you may have already watched the baseball video clip.  If not, please take 30 seconds to watch it now:     We have already talked about how the father in the video told Max to “use two hands” while Drew modeled it. Why do you think Drew was more strategic in his teaching?  We can only speculate here, but one idea I have is that the father learned to catch a ball a long time ago, and Drew’s learning was more recent.  The father no longer needs to think about each step as he catches a ball—he does it automatically.  In other words, the strategies have gone underground. I think this is one of the things that makes teaching so hard.  We are teaching children to do things that we are already proficient or skilled at.  We don’t need strategies anymore.  But our students still do!  That means we have to put ourselves back into the shoes of a novice reader, writer, etc. and think about the steps we take. I find that it helps to “spy on myself” as a reader and writer, and while listing across my fingers, say, “First I…” “Then I…” “Next I…” “Finally I…” If I can break my steps down in this manner, I am well on my way toward providing the strategic supports my learners need. Let me give you are real-word example of what this might look like.  Last week I took a class at the Apple Store called “Going Further with Your Mac”.  One part of the class was devoted to using shortcuts.  I already use a number of shortcuts on my computer, but this teacher taught us some cool ones that I didn’t know existed. Some people in the class were becoming frustrated because he was showing us so many and we couldn’t memorize them that fast. Then the teacher stopped and said, “Now don’t get overwhelmed.  Let me give you a tip and show you how I have become proficient at using these shortcuts.”  Here is how he broke it down for us: “Whenever you find yourself executing a task on your computer, stop and notice if the menu gives you a shortcut. If you see a shortcut, take a second to look at it. Instead of completing the action the long way, force yourself to use the shortcut.  Do it two or three times in a row right then to get some muscle memory. Work on memorizing and automatically using just 3-4 shortcuts at a time.  Once you have mastered those, set a goal for yourself to learn another set.  Before you know it, you will have a whole repertoire of shortcuts!” Do you see what the teacher did?  First he recognized his students’ frustration. Then he thought about how he learned to use shortcuts himself.  Finally he shared these step-by-step tips in a way that seemed manageable for his students. The students’ next step will be to practice—the critical step in mastering a skill as described in a previous post. Before I close out this post, did you notice what I just did in that last paragraph?  Let me write that paragraph below in a different format:  Do you see what the teacher did? First he recognized his students’ frustration. Then he thought about how he learned to use shortcuts himself. Finally he shared these step-by-step tips in a way that seemed manageable for his students. See? Anything you are trying to teach can be broken down into step-by-step strategies—even teaching someone how to break something down into a …

Breaking the Cycle

As this new school year begins, I am going to write a short series of reflections on the teaching of reading.  I believe it is critical that teachers approach all teaching with some self-reflection.  Topping my list of self-reflective questions is always “What are my beliefs about how children learn and do my practices match these beliefs?”  If there is a disconnect, I start to think about why it is there and what I can do about it. 

The self-reflection of my literacy practices began during my first year of teaching when I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working.  I began by thinking about how I became a reader (my own personal literacy history) and how I could help my students do the same.   More recently, I wrote these experiences into a mini-memoir piece that I would like to share with you below:

Breaking the Cycle

When you go to school you learn to read. That’s what I always thought. I couldn’t wait to start school so that I could begin to unlock the mysteries on the pages of books. I didn’t attend kindergarten, so I had to wait until I was in first grade, 6 ½ long years to begin my formal literacy journey. I don’t remember much about my first day of school except what happened after I arrived home. I rode the bus home trying to hold in the tears, only allowing them to spill down my cheeks as I ran up the driveway. My mom was sweeping the garage as she anxiously waited to hear about her firstborn’s adventure. She quickly put down her broom when she noticed the distress on my face. “What’s the matter, honey?”

“I didn’t learn to read today,” I sobbed. “You said I would learn to read when I went to school.” She consoled me with some homemade cookies as she broke the news that learning to read is a long process. Not the news I wanted to hear, but news I learned to accept.

I was still so naïve, though. There was so much to do before we could read. We started in the “blue workbook”. The alphabet letters were lined up above the chalkboard, but the pictures were masked.  My teacher would uncover just one letter at a time, a process that would take weeks. First came the letter “m”.  She ceremoniously revealed the picture of an ice cream cone beneath the letter “m”. Of course. Ice cream cone because you say “mmm” when you lick one. It made sense at the time. I dutifully drew rows of “m’s” in my workbook and the first day’s reading lesson was finished. Next came the letter “s”. Tire stood for “s”. The sound of air escaping a pierced tire. Intuitive, I suppose. Next came the first vowel, the letter “e”, and now I could read and write the words “me” and “see”. I found it all very exciting, but it still wasn’t what I expected. I still couldn’t decipher the words in my books at home. We had to complete all of the blue workbook and then the gold one before we were handed our first readers, and it would be months before that would happen.

 I somehow learned to read (and like it) in spite of the disappointing start. Fast forward two years. My third grade teacher introduced me to Scholastic book orders, and a whole new world opened up to me. I still own my first two book purchases: A Pony for the Winter and a biography of Helen Keller. I clearly remember the day I sat in class deeply entrenched in Helen Keller, not realizing that the teacher had begun teaching the math lesson. That is the day I remember becoming a reader. From that point on I would never be without a book. I traveled to faraway places, met interesting people, and lived vicariously through the characters in my books. Even though money was tight, my mom allowed me to purchase two new paperbacks from the book orders every month. My older cousins began giving me the books they had finished. Soon my dad had to build me a special bookshelf to hold all of my prized possessions.

I became a reader, but there was something I could never understand. If I liked to read so much, why did I so dread reading class at school? I was a product of the three reading group/round robin reading/workbook era. Each day was exactly the same—take turns reading the story aloud, answer the comprehension questions, complete the appropriate workbook pages, and if you finish early, begin your SRA cards. This cycle continued throughout elementary school.

Fast forward again. I was now 22 years old in a classroom of my own. My first class consisted of 23 second-graders in an urban school district. This school grouped classes homogeneously, so being the new teacher, I received the low class—23 second-graders on kindergarten and first grade reading levels. My charge was to get them up to grade level using only basal readers and workbooks, to follow the prescribed order of the books, and to be on the correct page each month when the reading specialist came to check on my progress. In addition, I was to do all of this while every 15 minutes a new group of students was pulled out for Title I math and reading services and speech therapy. I knew I was the new kid on the block, but something about this did not seem right. How could I subject my students to the same drudgery that I endured in elementary school? More importantly, how could I find a way to instill in my students the joy of reading that I had known? These children didn’t have cousins giving them boxes of books, moms providing a book allowance each month, or dads building them bookshelves. If these children were going to become readers, it would be mostly up to me.

As this new school year begins, I am going to write a short series of reflections on the teaching of reading.  I believe it is critical that teachers approach all teaching with some self-reflection.  Topping my list of self-reflective questions is always “What are my beliefs about how children learn and do my practices match these beliefs?”  If there is a disconnect, I start to think about why it is there and what I can do about it.  The self-reflection of my literacy practices began during my first year of teaching when I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working.  I began by thinking about how I became a reader (my own personal literacy history) and how I could help my students do the same.   More recently, I wrote these experiences into a mini-memoir piece that I would like to share with you below: Breaking the Cycle When you go to school you learn to read. That’s what I always thought. I couldn’t wait to start school so that I could begin to unlock the mysteries on the pages of books. I didn’t attend kindergarten, so I had to wait until I was in first grade, 6 ½ long years to begin my formal literacy journey. I don’t remember much about my first day of school except what happened after I arrived home. I rode the bus home trying to hold in the tears, only allowing them to spill down my cheeks as I ran up the driveway. My mom was sweeping the garage as she anxiously waited to hear about her firstborn’s adventure. She quickly put down her broom when she noticed the distress on my face. “What’s the matter, honey?” “I didn’t learn to read today,” I sobbed. “You said I would learn to read when I went to school.” She consoled me with some homemade cookies as she broke the news that learning to read is a long process. Not the news I wanted to hear, but news I learned to accept. I was still so naïve, though. There was so much to do before we could read. We started in the “blue workbook”. The alphabet letters were lined up above the chalkboard, but the pictures were masked.  My teacher would uncover just one letter at a time, a process that would take weeks. First came the letter “m”.  She ceremoniously revealed the picture of an ice cream cone beneath the letter “m”. Of course. Ice cream cone because you say “mmm” when you lick one. It made sense at the time. I dutifully drew rows of “m’s” in my workbook and the first day’s reading lesson was finished. Next came the letter “s”. Tire stood for “s”. The sound of air escaping a pierced tire. Intuitive, I suppose. Next came the first vowel, the letter “e”, and now I could read and write the words “me” and “see”. I found it all very exciting, but it still wasn’t what I expected. I still couldn’t decipher the words in my books at home. We had to complete all of the blue workbook and then the gold one before we were handed our first readers, and it would be months before that would happen.  I somehow learned to read (and like it) in spite of the disappointing start. Fast forward two years. My third grade teacher introduced me to Scholastic book orders, and a whole new world opened up to me. I still own my first two book purchases: A Pony for the Winter and a biography of Helen Keller. I clearly remember the day I sat in class deeply entrenched in Helen Keller, not realizing that the teacher had begun teaching the math lesson. That is the day I remember becoming a reader. From that point on I would never be without a book. I traveled to faraway places, met interesting people, and lived vicariously through the characters in my books. Even though money was tight, my mom allowed me to purchase two new paperbacks from the book orders every month. My older cousins began giving me the books they had finished. Soon my dad had to build me a special bookshelf to hold all of my prized possessions. I became a reader, but there was something I could never understand. If I liked to read so much, why did I so dread reading class at school? I was a product of the three reading group/round robin reading/workbook era. Each day was exactly the same—take turns reading the story aloud, answer the comprehension questions, complete the appropriate workbook pages, and if you finish early, begin your SRA cards. This cycle continued throughout elementary school. Fast forward again. I was now 22 years old in a classroom of my own. My first class consisted of 23 second-graders in an urban school district. This school grouped classes homogeneously, so being the new teacher, I received the low class—23 second-graders on kindergarten and first grade reading levels. My charge was to get them up to grade level using only basal readers and workbooks, to follow the prescribed order of the books, and to be on the correct page each month when the reading specialist came to check on my progress. In addition, I was to do all of this while every 15 minutes a new group of students was pulled out for Title I math and reading services and speech therapy. I knew I was the new kid on the block, but something about this did not seem right. How could I subject my students to the same drudgery that I endured in elementary school? More importantly, how could I find a way to instill in my students the joy of reading that I had known? These children didn’t have cousins giving them boxes of books, moms providing a book allowance each month, or dads building them bookshelves. If these children were going to become readers, it would be mostly up to …

Building Community Through Empathy

A couple of months ago I wrote about an anchor experience I had at the post office during the summer Olympics. Yesterday I had another interesting post office encounter. I was waiting in line to mail a letter, along with seven other people. A young man approached the counter and explained that, just minutes before, he had purchased a money order for $625 to pay his rent. He had walked next door to Rite Aid, and somewhere along the way he lost the money order. He had come back to see what he could do about it.

This is a small post office, so all seven customers overheard the conversation. The group of strangers was transformed into an instant, albeit temporary, community. An older woman behind me said, “Oh, no.” Almost everyone gave some sort of sigh and shook their heads. They weren’t responding out of judgment but out of empathy. No doubt, they were thinking about how they would feel if this had happened to them.

The strangers began thinking of possible solutions. One woman said, “Are you sure you looked inside your wallet? Maybe you stuck it in there.” A man said, “I bet it will cost him $35 to stop payment on it.” Another said, “Yes, but that is better than losing $625.” One man went into the parking lot with the young man and started looking under cars to see if it had blown underneath one. On my way to my car, I found myself scouring the parking lot for a loose slip of paper, too.

This got me thinking about the communities we build in our classrooms, and I was reminded of a passage I recently re-read in Lucy Calkins’ A Guide to the Reading Workshop. On pp. 79-80 in the chapter about read aloud, Lucy tells the story of a teacher who had mastered the science of teaching. She had a beautiful classroom library, well-executed minilessons, effective classroom management, etc. But it seemed that something was missing. There was no spark in this classroom. Readers and writers were just going through the motions. Then one day a Teachers College Reading and Writing Project staff developer walked in and noticed an energy present in the room. Children were invested in their reading and writing. The staff developer asked the teacher what she had done to create such a transformation.

The teacher’s response? “We read together. That’s all. We read sad, sad stories like A Taste of Blackberries and Bridge to Terabithia.” The teacher explained that she also shared painful stories from her own life, and soon her students were doing the same. Reading aloud has a magical way of bringing children together into a community of readers and writers.

I’m not suggesting that we only read sad stories to our students. We need to read from all genres and about many themes and topics. Humor and silliness plays an important role. But we shouldn’t avoid painful stories. If they haven’t already, children will experience and witness others experiencing painful situations. When we share some of these stories with our students, we bring them together as not only readers and writers but as empathetic human beings. In this shared experience they can discuss, laugh, and cry together and learn to work through important life issues.

If a man losing a $625 check can bring together a small community of strangers in the post office, imagine what can happen to students who have shared a whole school year of common experiences through these anchor texts . If you are ever tempted or coerced into abandoning your daily read-aloud time in an effort to fill your day with more “score-raising” work, I urge you to consider all that is accomplished during this daily ritual.

A couple of months ago I wrote about an anchor experience I had at the post office during the summer Olympics. Yesterday I had another interesting post office encounter. I was waiting in line to mail a letter, along with seven other people. A young man approached the counter and explained that, just minutes before, he had purchased a money order for $625 to pay his rent. He had walked next door to Rite Aid, and somewhere along the way he lost the money order. He had come back to see what he could do about it. This is a small post office, so all seven customers overheard the conversation. The group of strangers was transformed into an instant, albeit temporary, community. An older woman behind me said, “Oh, no.” Almost everyone gave some sort of sigh and shook their heads. They weren’t responding out of judgment but out of empathy. No doubt, they were thinking about how they would feel if this had happened to them. The strangers began thinking of possible solutions. One woman said, “Are you sure you looked inside your wallet? Maybe you stuck it in there.” A man said, “I bet it will cost him $35 to stop payment on it.” Another said, “Yes, but that is better than losing $625.” One man went into the parking lot with the young man and started looking under cars to see if it had blown underneath one. On my way to my car, I found myself scouring the parking lot for a loose slip of paper, too. This got me thinking about the communities we build in our classrooms, and I was reminded of a passage I recently re-read in Lucy Calkins’ A Guide to the Reading Workshop. On pp. 79-80 in the chapter about read aloud, Lucy tells the story of a teacher who had mastered the science of teaching. She had a beautiful classroom library, well-executed minilessons, effective classroom management, etc. But it seemed that something was missing. There was no spark in this classroom. Readers and writers were just going through the motions. Then one day a Teachers College Reading and Writing Project staff developer walked in and noticed an energy present in the room. Children were invested in their reading and writing. The staff developer asked the teacher what she had done to create such a transformation. The teacher’s response? “We read together. That’s all. We read sad, sad stories like A Taste of Blackberries and Bridge to Terabithia.” The teacher explained that she also shared painful stories from her own life, and soon her students were doing the same. Reading aloud has a magical way of bringing children together into a community of readers and writers. I’m not suggesting that we only read sad stories to our students. We need to read from all genres and about many themes and topics. Humor and silliness plays an important role. But we shouldn’t avoid painful stories. If they haven’t already, children will experience and witness others experiencing painful situations. When we share some of these stories with our students, we bring them together as not only readers and writers but as empathetic human beings. In this shared experience they can discuss, laugh, and cry together and learn to work through important life issues. If a man losing a $625 check can bring together a small community of strangers in the post office, imagine what can happen to students who have shared a whole school year of common experiences through these anchor texts . If you are ever tempted or coerced into abandoning your daily read-aloud time in an effort to fill your day with more “score-raising” work, I urge you to consider all that is accomplished during this daily …

Building Suspense

Building tension or suspense in a narrative is an advanced writing skill but one that can be explicitly taught, even to young writers. Once students understand 1) that stories have beginnings, middles, and ends and that it is time that navigates the reader through a narrative (story) and 2) how to elaborate by adding specific details like action, dialogue, and description, the writer is ready to bring the reader into the story even more by building tension or suspense. The strategies below are some concrete ways to do this.

Slow Down the Action or Explode a Moment

Teach students to take one important event in the story, stretch it out , and slow down the action by giving a play-by-play description.  For example, if the main character is being chased, the writer can describe.

  • how the character feels
  • what she sees and hears
  • what she is thinking
  • how she is breathing
  • anything she might be saying (aloud or to herself).  

Have students practice this by giving them several scenarios from which to choose and having them ask questions (such as the questions above) that will help them elaborate.  Then invite students to find events in their own narratives that they can “explode”.

Student Sample:

Instead of writing “I fell through the ice.  My friend Matt pulled me out.”, this student writer slowed down the action and gave a play-by-play description.

I was almost to the bottom when I remembered what my mom had said, “Try not to go on the ice.  It’s not very thick.”  I quickly turned the sled, trying not to go on the ice.  But before I could even think, I crashed onto the ice.  The ice started to crack.  I quickly turned around, “Help!” I yelled.  Matt was down in a flash.  I felt water rushing up my leg.  Matt grabbed onto my arm.  I pushed off the ice that was left.  With the pull of Matt and my push I was able to get back on land.

The Magic of Three

The following is an effective technique for building suspense and is described by Barbara Mariconda in The Most Wonderful Writing Lessons Ever.  It is called “the magic of three.”  It is the technique used in stories like The Three Little Pigs, The Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  It works like this:

The First Hint: The character detects something strange.  The hint might be a noise or any other sensory cue.  The main character tries to discover what it is, but finds nothing.  The character reacts.
The Second Hint: The character sees, hears, or feels something again, tries to discover what it is but finds nothing.  The character reacts.
The Third Hint:  The character sees, hears, or feels something again.  The character tries to discover what it is and makes a discovery.

 Student Samples:

 

Building tension or suspense in a narrative is an advanced writing skill but one that can be explicitly taught, even to young writers. Once students understand 1) that stories have beginnings, middles, and ends and that it is time that navigates the reader through a narrative (story) and 2) how to elaborate by adding specific details like action, dialogue, and description, the writer is ready to bring the reader into the story even more by building tension or suspense. The strategies below are some concrete ways to do this. Slow Down the Action or Explode a Moment Teach students to take one important event in the story, stretch it out , and slow down the action by giving a play-by-play description.  For example, if the main character is being chased, the writer can describe. how the character feels what she sees and hears what she is thinking how she is breathing anything she might be saying (aloud or to herself).   Have students practice this by giving them several scenarios from which to choose and having them ask questions (such as the questions above) that will help them elaborate.  Then invite students to find events in their own narratives that they can “explode”. Student Sample: Instead of writing “I fell through the ice.  My friend Matt pulled me out.”, this student writer slowed down the action and gave a play-by-play description. I was almost to the bottom when I remembered what my mom had said, “Try not to go on the ice.  It’s not very thick.”  I quickly turned the sled, trying not to go on the ice.  But before I could even think, I crashed onto the ice.  The ice started to crack.  I quickly turned around, “Help!” I yelled.  Matt was down in a flash.  I felt water rushing up my leg.  Matt grabbed onto my arm.  I pushed off the ice that was left.  With the pull of Matt and my push I was able to get back on land. The Magic of Three The following is an effective technique for building suspense and is described by Barbara Mariconda in The Most Wonderful Writing Lessons Ever.  It is called “the magic of three.”  It is the technique used in stories like The Three Little Pigs, The Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.  It works like this: The First Hint: The character detects something strange.  The hint might be a noise or any other sensory cue.  The main character tries to discover what it is, but finds nothing.  The character reacts.The Second Hint: The character sees, hears, or feels something again, tries to discover what it is but finds nothing.  The character reacts.The Third Hint:  The character sees, hears, or feels something again.  The character tries to discover what it is and makes a discovery.  Student Samples: …

But How Do I Give a Reading Grade?

I have heard this question many times during the past several months.  I have been working with a number of teachers who are in various phases of implementing a workshop approach for reading and/or writing.  Most of us who have moved to a workshop approach have at some point asked this question and have had to reconcile doing what we know is best for kids and fulfilling our obligation to report to parents and administrators where kids stand.

When I am asked this question, I usually begin by clarifying the difference between assessing and evaluating our students.  For me, assessment takes place every minute of the day as I observe my students, listen to them, confer with them, watch them interact with text and other students, read what they have written, etc., etc. I assess to inform my teaching and to guide my instruction.  Evaluation happens when I put a value judgment on the assessments I have made. How do I come up with a grade? I wish I could tell you that I have this magic formula into which I plug a bunch of numbers and out comes a grade. It doesn’t work that way. The best I can tell you is that when I am diligent about observing and taking anecdotal notes on my students in every area of their reading development (sight words, fluency, retellings, book chats, partner discussions, written response logs, reading logs, at-home reading, etc.), I have a clear picture of where each child’s strengths and weaknesses are and it is much easier to give a report card grade.  You can read about about some of my assessment tools by clicking here.

In addition to my tools, I want to share with you a book that I just purchased.  When a teacher shared it at a recent  workshop, I knew I had to have it, so I came home and immediately ordered it.  It is called Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak.  When I saw who the authors were, I knew I would like this book—they are the authors of Beyond Leveled Books and Still Learning to Read: Teaching Students in Grades 3-6. When the book arrived just a few days later, I immediately began reading it.  Here is how chapter 1 begins:

“Good teaching begins with knowing our students.  We can teach wisely and well when we have taken the time to understand them, think about what they need, and plan ways to move them toward independence.  We need to know them as learners and as human beings. And, of course, as teachers of reading, we also need to know them as readers.”

That’s all I needed to read to know that this would be my kind of book.  It is filled with numerous authentic assessment tools, and yes, the authors even share how they translate all of these assessments into grades.

So if you have been struggling with how to make informed instructional decisions during your reading workshop and find ways to give authentic grades, I think you will find this resource to be invaluable.

I have heard this question many times during the past several months.  I have been working with a number of teachers who are in various phases of implementing a workshop approach for reading and/or writing.  Most of us who have moved to a workshop approach have at some point asked this question and have had to reconcile doing what we know is best for kids and fulfilling our obligation to report to parents and administrators where kids stand. When I am asked this question, I usually begin by clarifying the difference between assessing and evaluating our students.  For me, assessment takes place every minute of the day as I observe my students, listen to them, confer with them, watch them interact with text and other students, read what they have written, etc., etc. I assess to inform my teaching and to guide my instruction.  Evaluation happens when I put a value judgment on the assessments I have made. How do I come up with a grade? I wish I could tell you that I have this magic formula into which I plug a bunch of numbers and out comes a grade. It doesn’t work that way. The best I can tell you is that when I am diligent about observing and taking anecdotal notes on my students in every area of their reading development (sight words, fluency, retellings, book chats, partner discussions, written response logs, reading logs, at-home reading, etc.), I have a clear picture of where each child’s strengths and weaknesses are and it is much easier to give a report card grade.  You can read about about some of my assessment tools by clicking here. In addition to my tools, I want to share with you a book that I just purchased.  When a teacher shared it at a recent  workshop, I knew I had to have it, so I came home and immediately ordered it.  It is called Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak.  When I saw who the authors were, I knew I would like this book—they are the authors of Beyond Leveled Books and Still Learning to Read: Teaching Students in Grades 3-6. When the book arrived just a few days later, I immediately began reading it.  Here is how chapter 1 begins: “Good teaching begins with knowing our students.  We can teach wisely and well when we have taken the time to understand them, think about what they need, and plan ways to move them toward independence.  We need to know them as learners and as human beings. And, of course, as teachers of reading, we also need to know them as readers.” That’s all I needed to read to know that this would be my kind of book.  It is filled with numerous authentic assessment tools, and yes, the authors even share how they translate all of these assessments into grades. So if you have been struggling with how to make informed instructional decisions during your reading workshop and find ways to give authentic grades, I think you will find this resource to be …

But how do you spell…?

If you teach young children, you probably hear this question on an almost-daily basis.  I am often asked by teachers, “What do you do when children refuse to write unless they know the correct spelling?”  This is a really important question that I will attempt to answer here.  First, let me remind you of the importance of encouraging children to “sound out” or “invent” the spellings of words they don’t know.  According to expert spelling researcher Richard Gentry,  the practice of inventing spelling leads children to consciously try to hear the sounds in words so they can match letters to the sounds. Invented spelling is an excellent way to further develop phonemic awareness (Gentry, 2000) which we know is critical for early reading success. Research shows that invented spelling can have a positive effect on helping children develop as spellers and writers but also as readers. Spelling ability fosters word recognition by enabling a letter-sound association storage of words in memory (Gentry, 1997).

I was once in a kindergarten classroom looking over the students’ writing journals and was alarmed to see every single child’s journal neatly printed with no spelling or punctuation errors.  I decided to stay and observe what was happening during writing time.  This is how it went: the children were told to think of a story and draw a picture to go with it.  (So far, so good).  Then the teacher went around the room and asked each child to dictate his/her story while she wrote it down on a separate piece of paper.  The children were then instructed to recopy the story using only the correct spelling and punctuation.  Never once were the children given the opportunity to say the words, stretch them out, and listen for the sounds in the words.  I really believe that we are robbing our students of important literacy opportunities when we don’t allow them to struggle through this process a bit.  We are also teaching them to be dependent on adults in order to write and that conventions are more important than ideas. 

So we know that we shouldn’t just hand out the correct spelling to children every time they ask, but what do we do about it?  For some children, telling them to “just use your very best first-grade spelling” is enough.  Many other children will not be satisfied with this suggestion, so here are a few techniques you might try:

Magic Lines

I first read about “magic lines” in Lola Schaefer’s Teaching Young Writers: Strategies That Work. This technique helps young writers remember to leave spaces between words. It also helps emerging writers separate the text into manageable units that they are then able to “stretch out” and attempt to spell.

Begin by having the student decide on a sentence of text. Then have him count the number of words in the text on his fingers. Next have the student draw the appropriate number of lines on the paper—one line for each word. Once the lines are drawn, the child may begin stretching out the sounds in the words and writing them on the magic lines. Even if they can only hear the first letter, they feel like they are beginning to write words.  

Below are some samples from Schaefer’s book (click to enlarge).  As you can see, this helps children move through the developmental spelling stages.  Once they no longer need this tool, the lines begin to disappear.




I’m Not Afraid of My Words 
Many children have rich speaking vocabularies, but because they can’t spell these words yet, they “play it safe” and only include in their written stories the words they know how to spell correctly.  This ritual called “I’m Not Afraid of My Words”, developed by Lisa Cleavland and described in About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleavland, encourages children to take risks with their writing and celebrates their approximations.  When a child attempts a difficult word, s/he gets to write his/her name on the chart (see below).  The teacher writes the child’s spelling and the conventional spelling.  Take a look at the last word on the chart.  This first-grader was attempting to write “sea anemone”.  Notice the “kne” at the end of the word.  He was spelling by analogy because he knew that the “n” sound in “knee” is spelled with a “kn”.  That’s some pretty sophisticated spelling for a first-grader, if you ask me!

Turtle Talk 
This is a strategy you can teach your young spellers to help them slow down a word to hear more sounds.  Tell them to “talk like a turtle”, saying the word very slowly and stretching it out so that they can hear each sound.   Then have them write just the sounds they hear.  Don’t worry if they don’t spell the word conventionally yet.  This is a great way to build their phonemic awareness. 

I hope these strategies will help your student writers become more independent when attempting to spell words they don’t know.

If you teach young children, you probably hear this question on an almost-daily basis.  I am often asked by teachers, “What do you do when children refuse to write unless they know the correct spelling?”  This is a really important question that I will attempt to answer here.  First, let me remind you of the importance of encouraging children to “sound out” or “invent” the spellings of words they don’t know.  According to expert spelling researcher Richard Gentry,  the practice of inventing spelling leads children to consciously try to hear the sounds in words so they can match letters to the sounds. Invented spelling is an excellent way to further develop phonemic awareness (Gentry, 2000) which we know is critical for early reading success. Research shows that invented spelling can have a positive effect on helping children develop as spellers and writers but also as readers. Spelling ability fosters word recognition by enabling a letter-sound association storage of words in memory (Gentry, 1997). I was once in a kindergarten classroom looking over the students’ writing journals and was alarmed to see every single child’s journal neatly printed with no spelling or punctuation errors.  I decided to stay and observe what was happening during writing time.  This is how it went: the children were told to think of a story and draw a picture to go with it.  (So far, so good).  Then the teacher went around the room and asked each child to dictate his/her story while she wrote it down on a separate piece of paper.  The children were then instructed to recopy the story using only the correct spelling and punctuation.  Never once were the children given the opportunity to say the words, stretch them out, and listen for the sounds in the words.  I really believe that we are robbing our students of important literacy opportunities when we don’t allow them to struggle through this process a bit.  We are also teaching them to be dependent on adults in order to write and that conventions are more important than ideas.  So we know that we shouldn’t just hand out the correct spelling to children every time they ask, but what do we do about it?  For some children, telling them to “just use your very best first-grade spelling” is enough.  Many other children will not be satisfied with this suggestion, so here are a few techniques you might try: Magic Lines I first read about “magic lines” in Lola Schaefer’s Teaching Young Writers: Strategies That Work. This technique helps young writers remember to leave spaces between words. It also helps emerging writers separate the text into manageable units that they are then able to “stretch out” and attempt to spell. Begin by having the student decide on a sentence of text. Then have him count the number of words in the text on his fingers. Next have the student draw the appropriate number of lines on the paper—one line for each word. Once the lines are drawn, the child may begin stretching out the sounds in the words and writing them on the magic lines. Even if they can only hear the first letter, they feel like they are beginning to write words.   Below are some samples from Schaefer’s book (click to enlarge).  As you can see, this helps children move through the developmental spelling stages.  Once they no longer need this tool, the lines begin to disappear. I’m Not Afraid of My Words Many children have rich speaking vocabularies, but because they can’t spell these words yet, they “play it safe” and only include in their written stories the words they know how to spell correctly.  This ritual called “I’m Not Afraid of My Words”, developed by Lisa Cleavland and described in About the Authors: Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers by Katie Wood Ray and Lisa Cleavland, encourages children to take risks with their writing and celebrates their approximations.  When a child attempts a difficult word, s/he gets to write his/her name on the chart (see below).  The teacher writes the child’s spelling and the conventional spelling.  Take a look at the last word on the chart.  This first-grader was attempting to write “sea anemone”.  Notice the “kne” at the end of the word.  He was spelling by analogy because he knew that the “n” sound in “knee” is spelled with a “kn”.  That’s some pretty sophisticated spelling for a first-grader, if you ask me! Turtle Talk This is a strategy you can teach your young spellers to help them slow down a word to hear more sounds.  Tell them to “talk like a turtle”, saying the word very slowly and stretching it out so that they can hear each sound.   Then have them write just the sounds they hear.  Don’t worry if they don’t spell the word conventionally yet.  This is a great way to build their phonemic awareness.  I hope these strategies will help your student writers become more independent when attempting to spell words they don’t …

Celebrate poetry month AND Mother’s Day with this {FREE} mini-unit!

This week I opened a dresser drawer that holds mementos from various times of my life. A whole category of mementos comes from the period of time that my children were in elementary school. Of course, I have saved and treasured every card they ever made for me. But I also found things like this:

I’m wondering–if you have children or grandchildren, what do you do with these things?! Some of them have broken over the years, so I just saved the pieces. Then there are the things my kids made like potted marigolds that are now long gone.

This got me thinking about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day coming up. After I became a mom, I changed the kinds of gifts I had my students make for their caregivers. Instead of potted plants and refrigerator magnets, I shifted to “gifts of writing”.

I KNEW that most parents, if they were like me, would probably treasure and keep these gifts–not because they are easier to store, but because they are THAT meaningful.

Since April is National Poetry Month, I started using April to create Mother’s Day poetry anthologies. Then in May we repeated the unit with more independence for Father’s Day. I am linking you to this poetry unit.Included are downloadable planning templates and samples of some of my students’ work. If you give it a try, drop us a line or leave a comment below to let us know how it goes!

A quick note: These poems are not the free-verse poems that I wrote about in another post. Instead, these are “form poems” like cinquain, rhyming couplets, limericks, etc. My students always had a ball writing these. The secret to getting good poems is to model, model, model, not assign, assign, assign.

This week I opened a dresser drawer that holds mementos from various times of my life. A whole category of mementos comes from the period of time that my children were in elementary school. Of course, I have saved and treasured every card they ever made for me. But I also found things like this: I’m wondering–if you have children or grandchildren, what do you do with these things?! Some of them have broken over the years, so I just saved the pieces. Then there are the things my kids made like potted marigolds that are now long gone. This got me thinking about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day coming up. After I became a mom, I changed the kinds of gifts I had my students make for their caregivers. Instead of potted plants and refrigerator magnets, I shifted to “gifts of writing”. I KNEW that most parents, if they were like me, would probably treasure and keep these gifts–not because they are easier to store, but because they are THAT meaningful. Since April is National Poetry Month, I started using April to create Mother’s Day poetry anthologies. Then in May we repeated the unit with more independence for Father’s Day. I am linking you to this poetry unit.Included are downloadable planning templates and samples of some of my students’ work. If you give it a try, drop us a line or leave a comment below to let us know how it goes! A quick note: These poems are not the free-verse poems that I wrote about in another post. Instead, these are “form poems” like cinquain, rhyming couplets, limericks, etc. My students always had a ball writing these. The secret to getting good poems is to model, model, model, not assign, assign, …

Clarifying Mini-Lessons and Practice Activities

During the clarifying step of reciprocal teaching, students are asked to monitor their own comprehension of a passage, identify and explain difficult words and ideas, and use a variety of strategies to clear up confusion. Most students find it easier to identify words that they cannot decode or do not understand than to identify unclear ideas. Students must be taught to monitor their own comprehension by constantly asking themselves, “Does this make sense?” “Do I understand what I am reading?” It is our job to help students notice more as they read—to help them pay attention to story structure, text features, headings, etc. The clarification strategy helps students realize that they should always be monitoring their reading for meaning.

Red Flags

It is important to teach readers how to know when they are stuck on a word or idea. Cris Tovani teaches her students to recognize the following signals when comprehension is breaking down.

  1. The voice inside the reader’s head isn’t interacting with the text.
  2. The camera inside the reader’s head shuts off.
  3. The reader’s mind begins to wander.
  4. The reader can’t remember what has been read.
  5. Clarifying questions asked by the reader are not answered.
  6. The reader re-encounters a character and has no recollection when that character was introduced.

Source: I Read It, But I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani, Stenhouse, 2000.

Fix-Up Strategies

Once students are taught to recognize when comprehension is breaking down, they need to learn how to repair comprehension problems. It is important for students to realize that all readers, even proficient ones, struggle with words and ideas. The difference is that proficient readers use a variety of strategies or fix-up tools to help them clarify. With explicit instruction, struggling readers can be equipped with these same tools. Not all strategies will work all the time, so it is important for readers to have a repertoire to pull from. Below are some strategies used by good readers.

Context Clues: It has been estimated that the average upper elementary age student encounters approximately 3000 new words each year. Since only 300-500 are taught through direct vocabulary instruction, students need to be taught additional strategies for learning new vocabulary independently. Using context clues is a beneficial way for students to acquire new vocabulary through independent reading, but many students need to be explicitly taught this skill. Modeling through think-alouds is an effective way to teach students how to derive meaning through context clues.

Adjust Reading Rate: Many struggling readers think that good readers read everything quickly. This is a misconception that must be cleared up. Proficient readers adjust their reading rates constantly—they speed up and even skim easy, boring, or unimportant parts and slow down to concentrate on difficult or confusing parts. They select the reading rate that meets the needs of the task at hand.

Substitute Another Word: Context clues help bring meaning to many unfamiliar words, but at times even this strategy fails. Substituting another word that makes sense in the sentence can often help a reader sustain meaning even if s/he cannot figure out the exact pronunciation or meaning of a particular word.

Sound It Out: Some struggling readers have a tendency to guess at words using only the beginning consonant. They need to be encouraged to look at the entire word, syllable by syllable if needed, and check to see if the sounds they pronounced match the letters in the word.

Look for Meaning: When a passage doesn’t make sense, when students aren’t able to construct meaning from the text, they aren’t really reading. They need to be encouraged to stop as soon as comprehension breaks down, and use one or more strategies.

Ask Someone: During reciprocal teaching, students are encouraged to ask other groups members for help in clarifying a word or idea.

Look for Word Chunks: Many struggling readers have a tendency to skim over words that at first glance appear too big or complicated. By teaching students to look for chunks in words, including prefixes, suffixes, and smaller words they recognize, even multi-syllabic words can be easily decoded.

Visualize: Creating mental images can help a reader more fully interact with and understand a text. For more on visualizing, see pp. 35-36.

Use Schema (Background Knowledge): Encourage students to stop and think about what they already know about a concept or text. Relating new information to existing knowledge greatly increases comprehension.

Use Sticky Notes: Sometimes it’s not practical to stop reading to look up a word in the dictionary or even ask someone. Putting a sticky note on a page containing a confusing word or idea and returning to it later often helps students maintain their focus during reading and reminds them to return to the text for clarification later.

Read on: Sometimes when comprehension begins to break down, the best thing to do is to continue to read on. If reading on does not help, the reader must not continue to read—he must find another fix-up strategy.

Reread: Often, simply rereading a text will clear up confusion. Point out to students that this doesn’t always mean rereading everything. Sometimes rereading a couple of sentences or a paragraph is sufficient. Even skimming what has just been read can be helpful.

Think-Alouds

A powerful way to teach clarifying and make metacognitive processes explicit to students is through teacher think-alouds. Try using a short piece of text such as a nursery rhyme to model the decoding of a confusing word. Demonstrate how to use the fix-up strategies described above. Be sure to emphasize that the purpose in using these strategies is to construct meaning from the text.

Providing Prompts

As students are learning to monitor their understanding, it is often helpful to respond to their attempts with prompts to jump-start their problem solving processes.

  • Does that look right?
  • Where’s the tricky part of the word?
  • Why did you stop?
  • I like the way you worked on that word.
  • I like the way you figured that out.
  • You almost got that. See if you can find what is wrong.
  • You’ve got the first part of the word right. Try that again.
  • Try it another way.
  • Check the middle of the word.
  • Does that make sense?
  • Does that look right?
  • Does that sound right?
  • Does that look like another word you know?
  • Look at the prefix, suffix.
  • Cover up the end of the word.
  • What strategy can you try?
  • What else can you try?
  • Start from the beginning and read it again.
  • Can you think of a word that would make sense?

Read-Cover-Remember-Retell

Many struggling readers continue to plow through a text even when they don’t understand what they are reading. This partner activity forces students to slow down their reading process and focus on the meaning of the text. Students are taught to:

READ only as much as their hand can cover.
COVER up the part of the story they just read.
REMEMBER to think about what they just read.
RETELL what they just read to a partner.

Source: Revisit, Reflect, Retell by Linda Hoyt, Heinemann, 1999.

Guess the Covered Word

This is an activity that requires students to use several strategies to cross-check to decode unknown words in a text. On an overhead transparency display several sentences or a paragraph. Using sticky notes, cover several key words in the text. Have students read the first sentence, saying “blank” for the covered word. Make a class list of possible words that could fit in the blank. Students will be relying only on word length and meaning during this step. Next, uncover the beginning consonant or consonant cluster (everything up to the first vowel). Have students revise their guesses. Now students will be cross-checking using word length, meaning, and beginning phonemes

Source: Month-by-Month Phonics by Patricia Cunningham and Dorothy P. Hall, Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company, Inc., 1998.

Sticky Notes

Review strategies used by good readers to clarify words and ideas. Give students two sticky notes of different colors—one for clarifying a word and the other for an idea. Have students silently read a selection. After they have read the text, ask them to go back and find one word and one idea that they had to clarify or that they still need to clarify and write them on the respective sticky notes. Have students share their sticky notes and strategies they used for clarifying.

During the clarifying step of reciprocal teaching, students are asked to monitor their own comprehension of a passage, identify and explain difficult words and ideas, and use a variety of strategies to clear up confusion. Most students find it easier to identify words that they cannot decode or do not understand than to identify unclear ideas. Students must be taught to monitor their own comprehension by constantly asking themselves, “Does this make sense?” “Do I understand what I am reading?” It is our job to help students notice more as they read—to help them pay attention to story structure, text features, headings, etc. The clarification strategy helps students realize that they should always be monitoring their reading for meaning. Red Flags It is important to teach readers how to know when they are stuck on a word or idea. Cris Tovani teaches her students to recognize the following signals when comprehension is breaking down. The voice inside the reader’s head isn’t interacting with the text. The camera inside the reader’s head shuts off. The reader’s mind begins to wander. The reader can’t remember what has been read. Clarifying questions asked by the reader are not answered. The reader re-encounters a character and has no recollection when that character was introduced. Source: I Read It, But I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani, Stenhouse, 2000. Fix-Up Strategies Once students are taught to recognize when comprehension is breaking down, they need to learn how to repair comprehension problems. It is important for students to realize that all readers, even proficient ones, struggle with words and ideas. The difference is that proficient readers use a variety of strategies or fix-up tools to help them clarify. With explicit instruction, struggling readers can be equipped with these same tools. Not all strategies will work all the time, so it is important for readers to have a repertoire to pull from. Below are some strategies used by good readers. Context Clues: It has been estimated that the average upper elementary age student encounters approximately 3000 new words each year. Since only 300-500 are taught through direct vocabulary instruction, students need to be taught additional strategies for learning new vocabulary independently. Using context clues is a beneficial way for students to acquire new vocabulary through independent reading, but many students need to be explicitly taught this skill. Modeling through think-alouds is an effective way to teach students how to derive meaning through context clues. Adjust Reading Rate: Many struggling readers think that good readers read everything quickly. This is a misconception that must be cleared up. Proficient readers adjust their reading rates constantly—they speed up and even skim easy, boring, or unimportant parts and slow down to concentrate on difficult or confusing parts. They select the reading rate that meets the needs of the task at hand. Substitute Another Word: Context clues help bring meaning to many unfamiliar words, but at times even this strategy fails. Substituting another word that makes sense in the sentence can often help a reader sustain meaning even if s/he cannot figure out the exact pronunciation or meaning of a particular word. Sound It Out: Some struggling readers have a tendency to guess at words using only the beginning consonant. They need to be encouraged to look at the entire word, syllable by syllable if needed, and check to see if the sounds they pronounced match the letters in the word. Look for Meaning: When a passage doesn’t make sense, when students aren’t able to construct meaning from the text, they aren’t really reading. They need to be encouraged to stop as soon as comprehension breaks down, and use one or more strategies. Ask Someone: During reciprocal teaching, students are encouraged to ask other groups members for help in clarifying a word or idea. Look for Word Chunks: Many struggling readers have a tendency to skim over words that at first glance appear too big or complicated. By teaching students to look for chunks in words, including prefixes, suffixes, and smaller words they recognize, even multi-syllabic words can be easily decoded. Visualize: Creating mental images can help a reader more fully interact with and understand a text. For more on visualizing, see pp. 35-36. Use Schema (Background Knowledge): Encourage students to stop and think about what they already know about a concept or text. Relating new information to existing knowledge greatly increases comprehension. Use Sticky Notes: Sometimes it’s not practical to stop reading to look up a word in the dictionary or even ask someone. Putting a sticky note on a page containing a confusing word or idea and returning to it later often helps students maintain their focus during reading and reminds them to return to the text for clarification later. Read on: Sometimes when comprehension begins to break down, the best thing to do is to continue to read on. If reading on does not help, the reader must not continue to read—he must find another fix-up strategy. Reread: Often, simply rereading a text will clear up confusion. Point out to students that this doesn’t always mean rereading everything. Sometimes rereading a couple of sentences or a paragraph is sufficient. Even skimming what has just been read can be helpful. Think-Alouds A powerful way to teach clarifying and make metacognitive processes explicit to students is through teacher think-alouds. Try using a short piece of text such as a nursery rhyme to model the decoding of a confusing word. Demonstrate how to use the fix-up strategies described above. Be sure to emphasize that the purpose in using these strategies is to construct meaning from the text. Providing Prompts As students are learning to monitor their understanding, it is often helpful to respond to their attempts with prompts to jump-start their problem solving processes. Does that look right? Where’s the tricky part of the word? Why did you stop? I like the way you worked on that word. I like the way you figured that out. You almost got that. See if you can find what is wrong. You’ve got the first part of the word right. Try that again. Try it another way. Check the middle of the word. Does that make sense? Does that look right? Does that sound right? Does that look like another word you know? Look at the prefix, suffix. Cover up the end of the word. What strategy can you try? What else can you try? Start from the beginning and read it again. Can you think of a word that would make sense? Read-Cover-Remember-Retell Many struggling readers continue to plow through a text even when they don’t understand what they are reading. This partner activity forces students to slow down their reading process and focus on the meaning of the text. Students are taught to: READ only as much as their hand can cover.COVER up the part of the story they just read.REMEMBER to think about what they just read.RETELL what they just read to a partner. Source: Revisit, Reflect, Retell by Linda Hoyt, Heinemann, 1999. Guess the Covered Word This is an activity that requires students to use several strategies to cross-check to decode unknown words in a text. On an overhead transparency display several sentences or a paragraph. Using sticky notes, cover several key words in the text. Have students read the first sentence, saying “blank” for the covered word. Make a class list of possible words that could fit in the blank. Students will be relying only on word length and meaning during this step. Next, uncover the beginning consonant or consonant cluster (everything up to the first vowel). Have students revise their guesses. Now students will be cross-checking using word length, meaning, and beginning phonemes Source: Month-by-Month Phonics by Patricia Cunningham and Dorothy P. Hall, Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company, Inc., 1998. Sticky Notes Review strategies used by good readers to clarify words and ideas. Give students two sticky notes of different colors—one for clarifying a word and the other for an idea. Have students silently read a selection. After they have read the text, ask them to go back and find one word and one idea that they had to clarify or that they still need to clarify and write them on the respective sticky notes. Have students share their sticky notes and strategies they used for …

Coaching Toolkit: A Template for Building Relationships

Building relationships with our students is a crucial step to creating a classroom of thriving learners. When students walk through our door, they will be motivated to learn from us when they know we care about them.

Strong Relationships Impact Student Achievement

John Hattie’s research validates that teachers who have strong relationships with their students also have a strong impact on achievement. (Hattie, 2009)

Taking time to build relationships isn’t optional–it is a priority.

Relationship-Building Matters for Coaches, Too!

As educators transition into roles as literacy leaders and begin working with adults rather than children, it is strikingly clear that what is best for our students is also what is best for our adult learners, too.

The relationships that are built between teachers and coaches are critical to the success of the coaching process.

As a literacy coach, it might be helpful to have a place where you can keep track of the information you are learning about your coachees or colleagues.

Be Intentional About Building Relationships with Your Coachees

One of my favorite ways to be intentional about building relationships with the educators I serve is by using this Relationship Template. I created this form to capture information unique to teachers and administrators with whom I am working more closely.

Want to hear an explanation of how I use this? Check out this YouTube video.


Building relationships with our students is a crucial step to creating a classroom of thriving learners. When students walk through our door, they will be motivated to learn from us when they know we care about them. Strong Relationships Impact Student Achievement John Hattie’s research validates that teachers who have strong relationships with their students also have a strong impact on achievement. (Hattie, 2009) Taking time to build relationships isn’t optional–it is a priority. Relationship-Building Matters for Coaches, Too! As educators transition into roles as literacy leaders and begin working with adults rather than children, it is strikingly clear that what is best for our students is also what is best for our adult learners, too. The relationships that are built between teachers and coaches are critical to the success of the coaching process. As a literacy coach, it might be helpful to have a place where you can keep track of the information you are learning about your coachees or colleagues. Be Intentional About Building Relationships with Your Coachees One of my favorite ways to be intentional about building relationships with the educators I serve is by using this Relationship Template. I created this form to capture information unique to teachers and administrators with whom I am working more closely. Want to hear an explanation of how I use this? Check out this YouTube …

Coaching Toolkit: Share Your Expertise with Humility

As literacy leaders in a district, it is easy to default to sharing our expertise with the people we coach or the teachers we lead.

Leading With Humility Builds Relationships

There is nothing wrong with sharing our expertise. It is a huge part of our job. It is easy to share what has worked for us in the past. In fact, sharing things that have worked in your classroom (or classrooms you’ve supported) can help you gain credibility in your role as a literacy leader.

However, we have to walk a fine line of always sharing our expertise. It is important for us to find ways to share our expertise with humility.

When we lead with humility, we can build positive relationships, empower our coachees, and make them more comfortable to work with us.

So how do we do that? Let’s dig into this coaching hurdle.

Three tips to help you share your expertise with humility:

  1. Make someone else famous
    One way we can share expertise as a literacy leader is to share an idea, but give someone else the credit (even if the idea was your own). Giving another teacher or an article you’ve read credit, can level the playing field for you and your coachee. In this case, you are still sharing a tip or strategy that will support this teacher, but not placing you as the expert with all the answers and good ideas.

    You can try this by using one of these sentence stems…
    “I saw a teacher….”
    “I read in an article….”
    “I was in a classroom and the students…”
  2. Share your insecurities
    Another way you can share your expertise with humility is to allow yourself to be vulnerable with your coachees. While coaching or leading, highlight your insecurities, thinking aloud as you work them. We know that often times our coachees can feel vulnerable working with a coach. Sharing your own vulnerabilities will help them see that what they are feeling is a normal part of the process.
  3. Share your mistakes
    Be open and honest about mistakes you have made in your own journey. Be transparent about how your own mistakes help you to grow and learn, as you put better practice into place.

    Sharing your mistakes will validate for your coachee that making mistakes and learning from them is not only normal, but the secret ingredient that helps us to grow in our practice. Highlighting our own learning journeys will allow our coachees to see that the progress they want to make is achievable–not a hill too hard to climb.

    And finally, remember that the coaching relationships we form are about the people we are working with, not us. We can model our humility by trusting that through our coaching, our coachees will be able to problem solve and find solutions to challenges they are facing without us naming the solutions for them.

Hope these tips help as you lead others!

Hey coaches and literacy leaders! Would you like to see more of our coaching tools? Join our private coaching group, the LitFORCE Coaching Huddle for access to the full Coaching Toolkit!

As literacy leaders in a district, it is easy to default to sharing our expertise with the people we coach or the teachers we lead. Leading With Humility Builds Relationships There is nothing wrong with sharing our expertise. It is a huge part of our job. It is easy to share what has worked for us in the past. In fact, sharing things that have worked in your classroom (or classrooms you’ve supported) can help you gain credibility in your role as a literacy leader. However, we have to walk a fine line of always sharing our expertise. It is important for us to find ways to share our expertise with humility. When we lead with humility, we can build positive relationships, empower our coachees, and make them more comfortable to work with us. So how do we do that? Let’s dig into this coaching hurdle. Three tips to help you share your expertise with humility: Make someone else famousOne way we can share expertise as a literacy leader is to share an idea, but give someone else the credit (even if the idea was your own). Giving another teacher or an article you’ve read credit, can level the playing field for you and your coachee. In this case, you are still sharing a tip or strategy that will support this teacher, but not placing you as the expert with all the answers and good ideas. You can try this by using one of these sentence stems…“I saw a teacher….”“I read in an article….”“I was in a classroom and the students…” Share your insecuritiesAnother way you can share your expertise with humility is to allow yourself to be vulnerable with your coachees. While coaching or leading, highlight your insecurities, thinking aloud as you work them. We know that often times our coachees can feel vulnerable working with a coach. Sharing your own vulnerabilities will help them see that what they are feeling is a normal part of the process. Share your mistakesBe open and honest about mistakes you have made in your own journey. Be transparent about how your own mistakes help you to grow and learn, as you put better practice into place. Sharing your mistakes will validate for your coachee that making mistakes and learning from them is not only normal, but the secret ingredient that helps us to grow in our practice. Highlighting our own learning journeys will allow our coachees to see that the progress they want to make is achievable–not a hill too hard to climb. And finally, remember that the coaching relationships we form are about the people we are working with, not us. We can model our humility by trusting that through our coaching, our coachees will be able to problem solve and find solutions to challenges they are facing without us naming the solutions for them. Hope these tips help as you lead …

Conferring Toolkit: Improve Student Writing with Micro-Progressions

Conferring Toolkit: Improve Student Writing with Micro-Progressions

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In a recent blog post, I shared how I use “tabbed up” mentor texts as powerful conferring tools to support our developing writers.

But did you know that mentor texts aren’t the only tools that we can add to our conferring toolkits?

Another one that I absolutely love is micro-progressions! Micro-progressions have the power to dramatically lift the level of student work. And they are so simple to create! Here is a sneak peek of one:

How to Introduce Micro-Progressions to Your Students

When I introduce a micro-progression to students, I like to use “video game terminology.” I say, “You know how when you are playing your favorite video game and you try to complete all of the tasks to power up to the next level? Well, we want to do the same thing with our writing. Just like we are always trying to get better and better at a game, we are always trying to make our writing stronger and stronger.”

Examples of Powerful Micro-Progressions for Writing

A micro-progression can give even the youngest of writers the clear path they need to make their writing stronger. Want to know more?

Here is a video I created to show you some sample micro-progressions and how to create them.

 

Conferring Toolkit: Improve Student Writing with Micro-Progressions

Share on facebook Facebook Share on twitter Twitter Share on linkedin LinkedIn In a recent blog post, I shared how I use “tabbed up” mentor texts as powerful conferring tools to support our developing writers. But did you know that mentor texts aren’t the only tools that we can add to our conferring toolkits? Another one that I absolutely love is micro-progressions! Micro-progressions have the power to dramatically lift the level of student work. And they are so simple to create! Here is a sneak peek of one: How to Introduce Micro-Progressions to Your Students When I introduce a micro-progression to students, I like to use “video game terminology.” I say, “You know how when you are playing your favorite video game and you try to complete all of the tasks to power up to the next level? Well, we want to do the same thing with our writing. Just like we are always trying to get better and better at a game, we are always trying to make our writing stronger and stronger.” Examples of Powerful Micro-Progressions for Writing A micro-progression can give even the youngest of writers the clear path they need to make their writing stronger. Want to know more? Here is a video I created to show you some sample micro-progressions and how to create them.

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Help Your Students Become Test Warriors [FREE Webinar and Mini-Unit]

Spring is finally here! You know what that means: longer days, more sunlight, warmer weather…and state testing.  Along with testing season comes test anxiety for many of our kiddos. Factors That Cause Test Anxiety for Students [and a Solution!] Do your students ever experience these “test villains”: A negative test mindset? A feeling of overwhelm? Difficulty budgeting time? Feeling frustrated with the testing format/questions? Yeah, mine, too! That is why I recently developed a mini test-taking unit with teachers in my school.  Help Your Students Conquer Their “Test Villains” We wanted to equip our students with strategies to help them overcome their feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, as well as teach them specific ways they can approach the test to help set them up for success. We also wanted this mini-unit to be playful and fun, so we created a “conquer your test villains” theme that the students have loved! Not only have they been highly engaged and excited to learn about ways to become “test warriors”, they have actually been transferring their new-found strategies into their practice! Free Test Prep Mini-Unit That got me thinking…maybe you and your students could benefit from these strategies, too! So I decided to make this unit available through a recent webinar that I taught: A Playful Approach to Test Prep:  Strategies to Help Students Overcome Their Test Villains! If your students feel anxious or overwhelmed by the demands of testing…and/or if you want to help your students unlock test-taking strategies that will set them up for success, you can get instant access here: Yes, please send me instant

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Using Positive Affirmations to Drive Our Coaching Work

For many of our readers, yesterday marked the first day of Daylight Saving Time. For some of us that means the days are about to get longer, and warmer days are headed our way. Thank goodness! It also means that we will all be a little more sleep-deprived. Isn’t it amazing what one little hour can do? It’s sort of like a paper-cut. One teeny-tiny cut, not severely damaging, but oh-so-painful. What Are Positive Affirmations? ​So as you approach this new and possibly sleep-deprived week ahead of you, we thought the timing was right to share a tool for creating positive affirmations that drive your work. Our tired minds are probably going to need some positive thoughts and lots of coffee to get us through the coming days. What are positive affirmations, you ask? Positive affirmations are phrases that become our positive inner dialogue or beliefs that drive our actions. Positive affirmations are like little superheroes that take our negative thoughts or beliefs that we have and morph them into positive thoughts and beliefs. When we turn negative beliefs into positive affirmations, we can repeat them often and change our inner dialogue for the better. Positive Affirmation Example Here is an example of a positive affirmation that I use in my everyday life: I am not a huge fan of a sink of dirty dishes. How about you? Yet, it’s a chore we are faced with almost every single day. We could approach a sink full of dirty dishes with negative thoughts like, “UGH! I hate the dishes” or “A sink full of dirty dishes again?” Or we could look at it this way… “Because we have food to eat, we have dishes that need a good cleaning. How fortunate I am to get to do the dishes.” or “Cleaning dishes is good for our environment. I get to clean dishes instead of loading our landfills with paper and plastic. “ Approaching a sink full of dirty dishes is a much easier and, dare I say, more enjoyable chore when our minds are filled with a positive or grateful inner voice. Positive Affirmations in Our Coaching Work So what does this have to do with coaching? Let me share a few scenarios where positive affirmations could come in handy in our coaching work.​ Scenario 1: When you aren’t feeling good enough…You’ve probably heard us say this once or twice—coaching is a lonely job. When you are on an island by yourself, it is easy to get into a headspace where you feel like you aren’t good enough for the job. We are far too often stretched too thin, and sometimes it can feel like we aren’t getting enough accomplished. When you aren’t feeling good enough, get rid of those negative beliefs and replace them with the good ones. Try creating some positive affirmations for yourself. Scenario 2: When you are working with a teacher who doesn’t want coaching.Sometimes we find ourselves coaching a teacher who is reluctant to work with us. These coaching relationships can be challenging. While digging into The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar, I stumbled across a quote that has stuck with me ever since, “No one can learn from you if you think they suck.” Changing our negative thoughts about the work we are doing with a reluctant coachee into positive affirmations will change our attitude and increase our confidence in working with that individual. Scenario 3: When you are supporting coachees who need to change their beliefs about themselves.One of our biggest roles as a coach is to hold up a mirror to our coaches so they can see their strengths. When we are working with a teacher who is lacking in confidence and struggling to see the good in their work, you could coach them into writing some positive affirmations. If positive affirmations are a powerful tool for us, why wouldn’t they work for our coachees, too? Taking the Next Steps with Positive Affirmations Love this idea and want to get started? You might need some help writing positive affirmations. No worries! Here is a little cheat sheet that will help you do just that! ​ Not a literacy coach? We have good news, positive affirmations work for everyone. Give it a try with your students, your spouse, your kids, or the next time you are pumping gas in the freezing cold. And if you create some positive affirmations, we’d love to hear how they’ve

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Increase Student Engagement by “Gifting” a Book

While digging through baskets of books in our library at home, my son Cameron found a volcano book with a sticky note stuck to the cover. “Who is John?” he asked. One look at that crinkled-up sticky note and I was instantaneously transported back to my classroom. Although I don’t remember this particular sticky note. I do remember John. I can picture him smiling as he found this book knowing that it was chosen just for him. The discovery of this little sticky note reminded me of the power of going out of our way to get just the right book into a child’s hands at just the right time. As a classroom teacher, I was really fortunate to have a huge classroom library, full of engaging, high-interest books. Even with this beautiful library, I still had students who struggled to find books they loved reading. What Are Gifts Books? One of my favorite weekly rituals was to “gift” books to students. These weren’t necessarily books students would keep forever. Instead, these were books from our classroom collection, school library, or public library picked just for them to enjoy during reading workshop or during a soft start to the day. When they were finished, they could pass it along to a friend or simply return it to me. Each week, I made it my mission to think of a reader in my class and to find a book that let them know that I was thinking of them. With each gifted book, I wanted to send a message that I not only cared about their reading life, but also who they were as a person. After finding the right book, I’d plop a little note on the book and slide it into their book bin or leave it on their desk. This was an easy thing to do and I want to believe it made a difference in at least one reader’s life. In the book Striving to Thriving Annie Ward shared a story of her daughter being surprised with new books from “The Reading Fairy ”. For primary teachers, how fun would it be to have a “Reading Fairy” that selects special books for readers in your classroom? I can only imagine the excitement a child would feel when they walk into the classroom and see that “The Reading Fairy” left them something to read. Students Can “Gift” Books, Too! One last thing you should know…you don’t have to do this work alone. What about having your students “gift” books to each other? ​​With my big kids both in school full-time, Monday mornings have been library days with my littlest guy. On our first Monday library adventure, Ryan decided to pick out books for his big brother and sister. Now book gifting is part of our library routine, and everyone is reaping the benefits. Check out our latest lot from the library last week. The simple act of being surprised by a book has sent reading engagement through the roof in our home. Want to give it a try in your classroom? Leave out a stack of sticky notes and pens, then invite students to “gift” books to each other. With March is Reading Month now in full swing, let this ritual be one way you celebrate reading in your classroom. I challenge you to “gift” a few books this week to some special readers. We love hearing from you. Leave a comment to let us know how it

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Mentor Texts: Must-Have Tools for Your Conferring Toolkit

Have you heard the following piece of advice before? “Teach the writer not the writing.” If so, have you ever thought about what it means? What It Means to “Teach the Writer” I first heard this saying many years ago when I was learning how to confer with writers, and it made me realize that I had been more focused on helping students “fix up” and edit the one piece of writing in front of them rather than making my conferences transferable. In other words, what I was teaching in this one conference would improve this one piece of writing, but it would do very little to help the writer apply this learning in future pieces of writing. Once I understood that, I still had questions. The big one was HOW? How does one teach in a way that makes the writer smarter, not just this piece better? What It Looks Like to Teach the Writer, Not Just the Writing Then one day I was watching some Carl Anderson conferring videos. If you have heard of Carl, you probably know that he is THE conferring guru. As I watched conference after conference, I noticed a pattern. In every conference, he would pull out a mentor text or a piece of his own writing to demonstrate a writer’s craft or quality of strong writing. Then, after doing a little demo, he would turn to the child’s piece of writing and say, “Let’s see if we can try this in your writing.” Next, he would coach the child to do the work. At the end of the conference, he would remind the writer to use that skill in future pieces of writing. That made sense but I was still stuck. I didn’t have those mentor texts ready at my fingertips and honestly, even if I did, I wouldn’t have known what skills to pull out of them. Eventually I figured out that I didn’t need a ton of mentor texts. I just needed one or two in the genre that I was teaching. But the key, the game changer for me, was having them prepared ahead of time. Preparing Mentor Texts for Conferring I started “tabbing up” my mentor texts so that I have them on hand for quick, easy reference. (Those of you who have worked with me in person know that I have this odd love affair with sticky note tabs!) But geekiness aside, a lot of teachers have seen my “tabbed up mentor texts” and asked to take pictures of them so they can replicate them. I decided it might be helpful to give our LitFORCE a little tour of some of these texts in case you want to copy mine. Or better yet, copy-change them to tab up your own! Add Mentor Texts to YOUR Conferring Toolkit Here are links to some videos where I show you how to create your own “tabbed up mentor texts” to add to your own conferring toolkit:  

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Coaching Toolkit: A Template for Building Relationships

Building relationships with our students is a crucial step to creating a classroom of thriving learners. When students walk through our door, they will be motivated to learn from us when they know we care about them. Strong Relationships Impact Student Achievement John Hattie’s research validates that teachers who have strong relationships with their students also have a strong impact on achievement. (Hattie, 2009) Taking time to build relationships isn’t optional–it is a priority. Relationship-Building Matters for Coaches, Too! As educators transition into roles as literacy leaders and begin working with adults rather than children, it is strikingly clear that what is best for our students is also what is best for our adult learners, too. The relationships that are built between teachers and coaches are critical to the success of the coaching process. As a literacy coach, it might be helpful to have a place where you can keep track of the information you are learning about your coachees or colleagues. Be Intentional About Building Relationships with Your Coachees One of my favorite ways to be intentional about building relationships with the educators I serve is by using this Relationship Template. I created this form to capture information unique to teachers and administrators with whom I am working more closely. Want to hear an explanation of how I use this? Check out this YouTube

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Share on facebook Facebook Share on twitter Twitter Share on linkedin LinkedIn In a recent blog post, I shared how I use “tabbed up” mentor texts as powerful conferring tools to support our developing writers. But did you know that mentor texts aren’t the only tools that we can add to our conferring toolkits? Another one that I absolutely love is micro-progressions! Micro-progressions have the power to dramatically lift the level of student work. And they are so simple to create! Here is a sneak peek of one: How to Introduce Micro-Progressions to Your Students When I introduce a micro-progression to students, I like to use “video game terminology.” I say, “You know how when you are playing your favorite video game and you try to complete all of the tasks to power up to the next level? Well, we want to do the same thing with our writing. Just like we are always trying to get better and better at a game, we are always trying to make our writing stronger and stronger.” Examples of Powerful Micro-Progressions for Writing A micro-progression can give even the youngest of writers the clear path they need to make their writing stronger. Want to know more? Here is a video I created to show you some sample micro-progressions and how to create them. …

Daily Dictation Sentences

I used to use Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) to teach many grammar and usage concepts to my students. I thought I used it pretty effectively, too. Then I started to hear rumblings that maybe this was not the best practice, but I didn’t really know why, so kept doing it but behind closed doors. Even though I didn’t feel that I was doing any severe damage to my students, if there was a better way I wanted to know what it was so I began researching this.

In a nutshell, here is what convinced me: If we want students to improve their use of conventions, we need to show them good models, not bad ones! It only makes sense. A common rebuttal to this argument is, “But don’t I also need to teach students to edit? Isn’t this just editing?” Yes, we do need to teach them to edit, but 1) First they need to understand how to use conventions, and “sentence fixing” exercises don’t teach this and 2) It’s way more engaging and effective to teach editing through students’ own writing.

One alternative to D.O.L. exercises is to use mentor sentences. You can read more about that here:

Another alternative is daily dictation sentences which I first saw a few years ago in a first grade classroom. Each day at the end of writing workshop students would quickly put away their writing folders and take out an individual white board and marker. The teacher would dictate a sentence and the students would write it.

As soon as they finished, they would hold up their boards, and the teacher immediately gave feedback and hadstudents make corrections. The sentences did not come from a teacher’s manual. Instead, as the teacher conferred with individual students during writing workshop, she made note of high-frequency words they were misspelling or punctuation they were omitting. Then she made up sentences containing those skills. She would insert quick microlessons as needed: “I noticed that many of you are remembering to use periods at the ends of your sentences. Remember, sometimes we need question marks or exclamation points. Think about how you want your reader to say this sentence to decide which you should use.”

I love this daily routine because:

  • It’s quick and doesn’t take extra planning time.
  • It is assessment-based and targets skills students need at that very moment.
  • It’s not a one-size-fits-all activity from a teacher’s manual or worksheet.
  • It takes conventions work into students’ own writing.
  • It helps students develop automaticity.
  • It gives students practice with both using and editing for conventions.

If you want to read more about grammar practices that work and those that don’t, check out these links:

Be sure to check out other posts in my series: Where’s the Grammar?!

I used to use Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) to teach many grammar and usage concepts to my students. I thought I used it pretty effectively, too. Then I started to hear rumblings that maybe this was not the best practice, but I didn’t really know why, so kept doing it but behind closed doors. Even though I didn’t feel that I was doing any severe damage to my students, if there was a better way I wanted to know what it was so I began researching this. In a nutshell, here is what convinced me: If we want students to improve their use of conventions, we need to show them good models, not bad ones! It only makes sense. A common rebuttal to this argument is, “But don’t I also need to teach students to edit? Isn’t this just editing?” Yes, we do need to teach them to edit, but 1) First they need to understand how to use conventions, and “sentence fixing” exercises don’t teach this and 2) It’s way more engaging and effective to teach editing through students’ own writing. One alternative to D.O.L. exercises is to use mentor sentences. You can read more about that here: Step-by-Step: The Why and How of Mentor Sentences Mentor Sentences in Action Mastering Grammar with Mentor Sentences Another alternative is daily dictation sentences which I first saw a few years ago in a first grade classroom. Each day at the end of writing workshop students would quickly put away their writing folders and take out an individual white board and marker. The teacher would dictate a sentence and the students would write it. As soon as they finished, they would hold up their boards, and the teacher immediately gave feedback and hadstudents make corrections. The sentences did not come from a teacher’s manual. Instead, as the teacher conferred with individual students during writing workshop, she made note of high-frequency words they were misspelling or punctuation they were omitting. Then she made up sentences containing those skills. She would insert quick microlessons as needed: “I noticed that many of you are remembering to use periods at the ends of your sentences. Remember, sometimes we need question marks or exclamation points. Think about how you want your reader to say this sentence to decide which you should use.” I love this daily routine because: It’s quick and doesn’t take extra planning time. It is assessment-based and targets skills students need at that very moment. It’s not a one-size-fits-all activity from a teacher’s manual or worksheet. It takes conventions work into students’ own writing. It helps students develop automaticity. It gives students practice with both using and editing for conventions. If you want to read more about grammar practices that work and those that don’t, check out these links: Five Recommendations for Teaching Common Core Grammar to Elementary Students Teaching Grammar: What Works and What Doesn’t Why I Don’t Use Sentence Fixing with My Students Be sure to check out other posts in my series: Where’s the …

Developmental Spelling Inventory

J. Richard Gentry developed a developmental spelling inventory, sometimes called the “monster test”, which is an easy way to determine a child’s developmental spelling stage.  It does not give as detailed information about students’ phonics development as the Words Their Way spelling inventories do, but it’s a quick and efficient way to get some valuable information, especially with our pre-K through 2nd grade spellers.

For complete directions and reproducible recording sheet follow the links below.

Directions for Developmental Spelling Assessment

Download Blank Inventory Form

Books by J. Richard Gentry:

J. Richard Gentry developed a developmental spelling inventory, sometimes called the “monster test”, which is an easy way to determine a child’s developmental spelling stage.  It does not give as detailed information about students’ phonics development as the Words Their Way spelling inventories do, but it’s a quick and efficient way to get some valuable information, especially with our pre-K through 2nd grade spellers. For complete directions and reproducible recording sheet follow the links below. Directions for Developmental Spelling Assessment Download Blank Inventory Form Books by J. Richard Gentry: Brain Words: How the Science of Reading Informs Teaching The Science of Spelling Kid Writing Spel is a Four-Letter Word My Kid Can’t …

Developmental Spelling Stages

Children progress through spelling stages on their literacy journey. J. Richard Gentry lists these five stages of development:

Stage 1 – Precommunicative

Stage 2 – Semiphonetic

Stage 3 – Phonetic

Stage 4 – Transitional

Stage 5 – Conventional

Follow this link to read more about these developmental spelling stages.

Kid Writing in the 21st Century, a book Gentry co-authored with Feldgus and Cardonick and that is endorsed by Richard Allington, teaches teachers how to honor children’s developmental stages, build on strengths, and move them to more sophisticated spelling. This process helps them develop as spellers, but more importantly as readers and writers. Check out this video to learn more: What is Kid Writing?

 

Children progress through spelling stages on their literacy journey. J. Richard Gentry lists these five stages of development: Stage 1 – Precommunicative Stage 2 – Semiphonetic Stage 3 – Phonetic Stage 4 – Transitional Stage 5 – Conventional Follow this link to read more about these developmental spelling stages. Kid Writing in the 21st Century, a book Gentry co-authored with Feldgus and Cardonick and that is endorsed by Richard Allington, teaches teachers how to honor children’s developmental stages, build on strengths, and move them to more sophisticated spelling. This process helps them develop as spellers, but more importantly as readers and writers. Check out this video to learn more: What is Kid Writing? …

Distance Learning Mini-Unit on Building a Reading Life at Home

With school now taking place virtually in homes across the world, it’s critical that we take the time to help students build their reading lives in their at-home spaces. Research on reading achievement has concluded that volume of reading is directly and positively correlated to reading growth. Just like anything that we want to get better at, we have to put in the time to practice. Much like an athlete or a quilter, the more we immerse ourselves into the sport or craft, the more our expertise grows.

This is why it’s of utmost importance to take the time to directly teach students about the habits of avid readers and to teach them how to develop strong reading lives.

In this blog post, I’ve outlined three sessions of teaching that I believe will quickly help remind students of strong reading habits and set the foundation for them to build their reading lives in their homes. Many of the ideas presented here are from my own learning from utilizing the Units of Study for Teaching Reading from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP). I hope these prioritized sessions and examples of each will be helpful for you in your own teaching.

Session 1: Making Reading a Habit!

In this initial session, I teach students three tips for starting a reading life at home.

  1. Reading space: First, not just any spot will work well; students must put some thought into the space they choose to read. Considering things like the number of distractions in the space, noise level, lighting, and even seating choices are important as they need to find a space that allows them to focus and think. The best spots will be ones that allow students to read for a period of time without much interruption so they can increase their volume and stamina.
  2. Optimal time/s of day: Secondly, students need to find times in their day that work well for them to read. When teaching this, I discuss my own trial and error of searching for times to read in my day. We want to teach students that they will need to experiment with this a bit, especially now that their typical days have gone to the wayside, and once they find times that work well, they need to make those times a habit.
  3. Reading material: Lastly, as they are setting up their reading lives, students need to curate a collection of things they are excited to read. Reminding students of their text choices (both analog and digital) and talking through some of the text selections you have made will be helpful as they set off to find their own. Check back tomorrow for some great free resources for building students’ at-home libraries!

Check out this mini video lesson I created for students I work with: Session 1 Video

*Please note, all of the videos shared here are true one-takes, meaning I only record them one time. In some sessions, you’ll hear my cat in the background, see my daughter pass by in her robe, or you’ll notice my own wording can get tripped up. I keep going and then I post! It was hard for me to get used to this at first, but I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with this. Hang in there–it will get easier for you, too!

Session 2: Setting Goals for Reading

In this second session, I teach students that readers with strong habits set goals for how much reading they want to do. This teaching will help students build their pace of reading, which in turn will increase their overall volume of reading. In my teaching, I demonstrate my own decision-making around goal-setting with an example text, considering things like how much time I have and how much text is on the pages to determine the amount of reading I think I can push myself to do. I reiterate the learning from the previous session and then encourage students to start their own reading by setting goals.

Watch a mini video lesson I created for Session 2 here: Session 2 Video

Session 3: Share Your Reading with Others

In this final session, I remind students that people with strong reading lives share and talk about what they are reading with others. In real life (outside of classroom or digital classroom walls), people with avid reading lives get excited to talk about what they are thinking as they are reading, and sharing texts with one another helps to give us ideas about what we might want to read next. Having students share the things they are reading is a great way to foster a reading community in your virtual classroom. In the mini video lesson below, you will see that I demonstrate a quick book introduction for students using a favorite book of my own. In my share, I include the title and author, the genre of the text, a quick summary (without giving anything away), and I read a favorite part.

Watch a mini video lesson of Session 3 here: Session 3 Video

I hope these reading life session ideas and our other mini video lesson examples are helpful for you to be thinking around how you teach your students how to develop strong reading lives at home!

References/Acknowledgements: Thank you to Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) and their Units of Study for Teaching Reading. To learn more about the importance of building a reading life and how to do so, visit their website.


With school now taking place virtually in homes across the world, it’s critical that we take the time to help students build their reading lives in their at-home spaces. Research on reading achievement has concluded that volume of reading is directly and positively correlated to reading growth. Just like anything that we want to get better at, we have to put in the time to practice. Much like an athlete or a quilter, the more we immerse ourselves into the sport or craft, the more our expertise grows. This is why it’s of utmost importance to take the time to directly teach students about the habits of avid readers and to teach them how to develop strong reading lives. In this blog post, I’ve outlined three sessions of teaching that I believe will quickly help remind students of strong reading habits and set the foundation for them to build their reading lives in their homes. Many of the ideas presented here are from my own learning from utilizing the Units of Study for Teaching Reading from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP). I hope these prioritized sessions and examples of each will be helpful for you in your own teaching. Session 1: Making Reading a Habit! In this initial session, I teach students three tips for starting a reading life at home. Reading space: First, not just any spot will work well; students must put some thought into the space they choose to read. Considering things like the number of distractions in the space, noise level, lighting, and even seating choices are important as they need to find a space that allows them to focus and think. The best spots will be ones that allow students to read for a period of time without much interruption so they can increase their volume and stamina. Optimal time/s of day: Secondly, students need to find times in their day that work well for them to read. When teaching this, I discuss my own trial and error of searching for times to read in my day. We want to teach students that they will need to experiment with this a bit, especially now that their typical days have gone to the wayside, and once they find times that work well, they need to make those times a habit. Reading material: Lastly, as they are setting up their reading lives, students need to curate a collection of things they are excited to read. Reminding students of their text choices (both analog and digital) and talking through some of the text selections you have made will be helpful as they set off to find their own. Check back tomorrow for some great free resources for building students’ at-home libraries! Check out this mini video lesson I created for students I work with: Session 1 Video *Please note, all of the videos shared here are true one-takes, meaning I only record them one time. In some sessions, you’ll hear my cat in the background, see my daughter pass by in her robe, or you’ll notice my own wording can get tripped up. I keep going and then I post! It was hard for me to get used to this at first, but I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with this. Hang in there–it will get easier for you, too! Session 2: Setting Goals for Reading In this second session, I teach students that readers with strong habits set goals for how much reading they want to do. This teaching will help students build their pace of reading, which in turn will increase their overall volume of reading. In my teaching, I demonstrate my own decision-making around goal-setting with an example text, considering things like how much time I have and how much text is on the pages to determine the amount of reading I think I can push myself to do. I reiterate the learning from the previous session and then encourage students to start their own reading by setting goals. Watch a mini video lesson I created for Session 2 here: Session 2 Video Session 3: Share Your Reading with Others In this final session, I remind students that people with strong reading lives share and talk about what they are reading with others. In real life (outside of classroom or digital classroom walls), people with avid reading lives get excited to talk about what they are thinking as they are reading, and sharing texts with one another helps to give us ideas about what we might want to read next. Having students share the things they are reading is a great way to foster a reading community in your virtual classroom. In the mini video lesson below, you will see that I demonstrate a quick book introduction for students using a favorite book of my own. In my share, I include the title and author, the genre of the text, a quick summary (without giving anything away), and I read a favorite part. Watch a mini video lesson of Session 3 here: Session 3 Video I hope these reading life session ideas and our other mini video lesson examples are helpful for you to be thinking around how you teach your students how to develop strong reading lives at home! References/Acknowledgements: Thank you to Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) and their Units of Study for Teaching Reading. To learn more about the importance of building a reading life and how to do so, visit their …

Distance Learning: Consider Your Audience

As teachers, we know how important it is to think about our audience as we plan our lessons. We have worked all year getting to know our audience and adjusting our teaching to meet the needs of the students who sit in front of us each day. My-oh-my, how our audience has changed.

Your audience today is much different than it was just a month ago. Getting a handle on how your audience has evolved might feel nearly impossible. A good place to start is just to recognize that everyone’s COVID-19 story is different.

Here are 4 things you should consider as you teach this new and unfamiliar audience.

1. Consider Your Audience When Planning What You Will Teach

I am going to go out on a limb and guess that your audience isn’t used to putting in all of their learning time at home. Your audience isn’t used to their little brother hitting buttons on their device every time they are near. Your audience didn’t have a Barbie Dreamhouse, video game console, television or Easter candy in their previous learning space.

In order to be successful in their new learning environments, your audience might need explicit instruction around making good choices about where they will do their work.  Not sure where to start with your virtual teaching? Model how YOU chose your home teaching location. Want an example of how a lesson like this would go? Check out Christy’s lesson on starting a reading life at home. You can also check out the entire mini-unit here.

You cannot possibly translate everything you teach in your classroom into virtual lessons. First-graders aren’t going to sit at a computer all day. Fifth-graders aren’t going to sit at the computer all day.  As we make plans for what we are going to teach from a distance, it is important that we prioritize our teaching.

You cannot possibly recreate everything you teach in your classroom into virtual lessons. Third graders aren’t going to sit at the computer all day.  As we make plans for what we are going to teach from a distance, it is important that we prioritize our teaching.

Prioritize your lessons based on what is most important for your students’ success in their new classroom.  Is it important that we teach historical fiction right now when our students have limited access to historical fiction books, or should we focus on building independent reading lives at home where choice and engagement come first? We need to give ourselves the flexibility to abandon what we would have taught in the classroom for what is most important to teach right now.

2. Consider Your Audience When Planning How You Will Teach

Not all teachers teach in districts where students have the necessary devices for virtual learning. Not all students have access to the internet. If you are planning to teach virtually, make a plan for students who may be facing technology deficits.

Some students will have trouble making it to scheduled synchronous lessons. Plan ahead. If you are teaching using a synchronous platform, try to record your session so your students who couldn’t make it to the live lesson will still be able to access the information.

Don’t forget the teaching methods that work best for your students. Keep your teaching concise. Provide teacher modeling so students have an example of what is being asked of them. Don’t just tell them to write a review about their dinner last night. Write one of your own, share a real-world example of a review, provide a checklist for support. We can’t just assign the work, we must teach.

3. Consider Your Audience’s Emotional State 

For some kids, school is their safe place…their happy place. Find ways to connect with your students emotionally. Offer suggestions for ways students can interact with you. My daughter is able to communicate with her teacher through SeeSaw. From the second she posts her videos, she is pulling on my sleeve and asking, “Did she respond yet?” My daughter desperately misses her school family. I promise you, your students miss you, too.

And while we are on this subject, let me just leave you with this. When cute little Molly sends you eleven selfies, with attached “I miss you” recordings, you have my permission to send one “I miss you, too” message back.

Here is a picture my daughter drew for her teacher on SeeSaw.
Here is just one of the twenty cute pictures Molly has sent to her Kindergarten teacher.

Many teachers are taking steps to make students feel more comfortable in their digital space. Some children aren’t comfortable with other kids seeing their home, their room, their out-of-school life. I bet some teachers are feeling this same angst, too. Some teachers have offered students solutions like blacking out screens in synchronous lessons. Keep in mind that those students with blacked-out screens might be the kids playing Fortnite during your writing lesson. Hopefully, they aren’t. If you can, contact those children with black screens. Chat about the lesson. Check on them.


Did I mention this was really challenging work?

4. Consider Your Audience While Acknowledging Your Emotions

At some point along this journey, you might begin to feel frustrated with your audience. Maybe they are not participating the way you hoped they would. Remember the challenges they are facing might be more than your own.

Please avoid shaming your students. Instead think about how to support them.

Is it possible there is a language barrier at home? Are parents’ work schedules conflicting with student support? Is someone sick in their home? That would be pretty unnerving during a pandemic. A personal call or email might be just what they need to get back on track.

That child who missed your Zoom call didn’t actually want to. Their internet was down all day.

And that parent that just asked for their child’s login and password information (the information you sent in a very detailed email last week), is also an overwhelmed essential working dad of three school-aged children. I promise you he is trying hard to keep it together.

Listen, I know it is annoying to send the same information over and over again. I get it. However, let’s save those frustrated heavy sighs for a normal school year. Just kindly send it again. Don’t let these unsettling times be a source of irritation, but a signal that life is a little out of hand right now. Understandably so.

It is important now more than ever that our school families extend teachers grace as we brave this new way of teaching. 

It is just as important that teachers extend that same amount of grace to our students and their families, our new audience, as they dance through this new way of learning with us. 

As teachers, we know how important it is to think about our audience as we plan our lessons. We have worked all year getting to know our audience and adjusting our teaching to meet the needs of the students who sit in front of us each day. My-oh-my, how our audience has changed. Your audience today is much different than it was just a month ago. Getting a handle on how your audience has evolved might feel nearly impossible. A good place to start is just to recognize that everyone’s COVID-19 story is different. Here are 4 things you should consider as you teach this new and unfamiliar audience. 1. Consider Your Audience When Planning What You Will Teach I am going to go out on a limb and guess that your audience isn’t used to putting in all of their learning time at home. Your audience isn’t used to their little brother hitting buttons on their device every time they are near. Your audience didn’t have a Barbie Dreamhouse, video game console, television or Easter candy in their previous learning space. In order to be successful in their new learning environments, your audience might need explicit instruction around making good choices about where they will do their work.  Not sure where to start with your virtual teaching? Model how YOU chose your home teaching location. Want an example of how a lesson like this would go? Check out Christy’s lesson on starting a reading life at home. You can also check out the entire mini-unit here. You cannot possibly translate everything you teach in your classroom into virtual lessons. First-graders aren’t going to sit at a computer all day. Fifth-graders aren’t going to sit at the computer all day.  As we make plans for what we are going to teach from a distance, it is important that we prioritize our teaching. You cannot possibly recreate everything you teach in your classroom into virtual lessons. Third graders aren’t going to sit at the computer all day.  As we make plans for what we are going to teach from a distance, it is important that we prioritize our teaching. Prioritize your lessons based on what is most important for your students’ success in their new classroom.  Is it important that we teach historical fiction right now when our students have limited access to historical fiction books, or should we focus on building independent reading lives at home where choice and engagement come first? We need to give ourselves the flexibility to abandon what we would have taught in the classroom for what is most important to teach right now. 2. Consider Your Audience When Planning How You Will Teach Not all teachers teach in districts where students have the necessary devices for virtual learning. Not all students have access to the internet. If you are planning to teach virtually, make a plan for students who may be facing technology deficits. Some students will have trouble making it to scheduled synchronous lessons. Plan ahead. If you are teaching using a synchronous platform, try to record your session so your students who couldn’t make it to the live lesson will still be able to access the information. Don’t forget the teaching methods that work best for your students. Keep your teaching concise. Provide teacher modeling so students have an example of what is being asked of them. Don’t just tell them to write a review about their dinner last night. Write one of your own, share a real-world example of a review, provide a checklist for support. We can’t just assign the work, we must teach. 3. Consider Your Audience’s Emotional State  For some kids, school is their safe place…their happy place. Find ways to connect with your students emotionally. Offer suggestions for ways students can interact with you. My daughter is able to communicate with her teacher through SeeSaw. From the second she posts her videos, she is pulling on my sleeve and asking, “Did she respond yet?” My daughter desperately misses her school family. I promise you, your students miss you, too. And while we are on this subject, let me just leave you with this. When cute little Molly sends you eleven selfies, with attached “I miss you” recordings, you have my permission to send one “I miss you, too” message back. Many teachers are taking steps to make students feel more comfortable in their digital space. Some children aren’t comfortable with other kids seeing their home, their room, their out-of-school life. I bet some teachers are feeling this same angst, too. Some teachers have offered students solutions like blacking out screens in synchronous lessons. Keep in mind that those students with blacked-out screens might be the kids playing Fortnite during your writing lesson. Hopefully, they aren’t. If you can, contact those children with black screens. Chat about the lesson. Check on them. Did I mention this was really challenging work? 4. Consider Your Audience While Acknowledging Your Emotions At some point along this journey, you might begin to feel frustrated with your audience. Maybe they are not participating the way you hoped they would. Remember the challenges they are facing might be more than your own. Please avoid shaming your students. Instead think about how to support them. Is it possible there is a language barrier at home? Are parents’ work schedules conflicting with student support? Is someone sick in their home? That would be pretty unnerving during a pandemic. A personal call or email might be just what they need to get back on track. That child who missed your Zoom call didn’t actually want to. Their internet was down all day. And that parent that just asked for their child’s login and password information (the information you sent in a very detailed email last week), is also an overwhelmed essential working dad of three school-aged children. I promise you he is trying hard to keep it together. Listen, I know it is annoying to send the same information over and over again. I get it. However, let’s save those frustrated heavy sighs for a normal school year. Just kindly send it again. Don’t let these unsettling times be a source of irritation, but a signal that life is a little out of hand right now. Understandably so. It is important now more than ever that our school families extend teachers grace as we brave this new way of teaching.  It is just as important that teachers extend that same amount of grace to our students and their families, our new audience, as they dance through this new way of learning with …

Do Conferring Notes Really Matter?

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked this question.  Teachers who ask this are not questioning the value of conferring itself, just the notetaking that comes during/after the conference.

Typical reasons I hear against notetaking:

  • “If I spend time writing notes, I end up conferring with fewer students.”
  • “I don’t know which is the right form to use or the right way to do it.”

Even before I was immersed in workshop teaching, I always believed that it was important to keep anecdotal notes on my students.  That doesn’t mean I was good at it, but I did do it. I am here to tell you that there is not one right form or method, but I do believe that notetaking is a non-negotiable.  Here are a few of my reasons:

We are in an age of accountability.  If I don’t take notes on the valuable instruction I am providing during one-on-one and small group conferences, I have no record or evidence of that instruction.  When a parent or administrator asks what I am doing for a particular child, I want to be able to whip out my notes with specifics.

My memory just isn’t that good. I often can’t remember what I had for dinner the day before.  How can I remember the teaching points for 25-30 students as I conduct ongoing conferences with them?  I use my notes not only to keep track of what I did with a child, but also to note ideas for further instruction.  I simply can’t keep all of that in my head.

At parent-teacher conference time, I love to be able to show parents what their child has been working on.  A grade on a report card means nothing. It is the evidence that supports that grade that counts.  I will never forget the time that a parent looked me in the eye during a conference and said, “Thank you for taking specific notes on my child.  That means a lot to me.”

So now that you know my stance that conferring notes are non-negotiable, how can we remove some roadblocks?

First, what is the right form to use? There isn’t one.  I have changed mine often.  I have used something as simple as a piece of notebook paper for each student placed behind a tab labeled for that student in my conferring notebook.  When I did this, I either wrote notes directly on the page or wrote them on computer labels that I carried on a clipboard and later placed on the child’s notebook page.

I have also created and adapted from other teachers a variety of forms.  Here are just a few that you are welcome to use or (more likely) adapt to meet your needs:

  • Reading (includes 2 pages/student–make additional copies of page 2 as needed)
  • Reading  (one student/page)
  • Reading (2-column form)
  • Writing  (15 students/page)
  • Writing  (includes 2 pages/student–make additional copies of page 2 as needed)
  • Writing (2-column form)
  • Writing (one student/page)

Next, what about the concern that if we take time to keep records, we meet with fewer students?  I say, “So what.” So what if I confer with five students instead of six today. I’ve never given myself a conferring quota for the day.  I prefer to shoot for quality, not quantity, and for me, jotting a few notes during/after each conference contributes to the quality of the conference.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked this question.  Teachers who ask this are not questioning the value of conferring itself, just the notetaking that comes during/after the conference. Typical reasons I hear against notetaking: “If I spend time writing notes, I end up conferring with fewer students.” “I don’t know which is the right form to use or the right way to do it.” Even before I was immersed in workshop teaching, I always believed that it was important to keep anecdotal notes on my students.  That doesn’t mean I was good at it, but I did do it. I am here to tell you that there is not one right form or method, but I do believe that notetaking is a non-negotiable.  Here are a few of my reasons: We are in an age of accountability.  If I don’t take notes on the valuable instruction I am providing during one-on-one and small group conferences, I have no record or evidence of that instruction.  When a parent or administrator asks what I am doing for a particular child, I want to be able to whip out my notes with specifics. My memory just isn’t that good. I often can’t remember what I had for dinner the day before.  How can I remember the teaching points for 25-30 students as I conduct ongoing conferences with them?  I use my notes not only to keep track of what I did with a child, but also to note ideas for further instruction.  I simply can’t keep all of that in my head. At parent-teacher conference time, I love to be able to show parents what their child has been working on.  A grade on a report card means nothing. It is the evidence that supports that grade that counts.  I will never forget the time that a parent looked me in the eye during a conference and said, “Thank you for taking specific notes on my child.  That means a lot to me.” So now that you know my stance that conferring notes are non-negotiable, how can we remove some roadblocks? First, what is the right form to use? There isn’t one.  I have changed mine often.  I have used something as simple as a piece of notebook paper for each student placed behind a tab labeled for that student in my conferring notebook.  When I did this, I either wrote notes directly on the page or wrote them on computer labels that I carried on a clipboard and later placed on the child’s notebook page. I have also created and adapted from other teachers a variety of forms.  Here are just a few that you are welcome to use or (more likely) adapt to meet your needs: Reading (includes 2 pages/student–make additional copies of page 2 as needed) Reading  (one student/page) Reading (2-column form) Writing  (15 students/page) Writing  (includes 2 pages/student–make additional copies of page 2 as needed) Writing (2-column form) Writing (one student/page) Next, what about the concern that if we take time to keep records, we meet with fewer students?  I say, “So what.” So what if I confer with five students instead of six today. I’ve never given myself a conferring quota for the day.  I prefer to shoot for quality, not quantity, and for me, jotting a few notes during/after each conference contributes to the quality of the …

Doctors and Conferring

I’ve been struggling with some neck pain for a little over a year.  Several weeks ago I finally went to see my doctor about it. As I was waiting for him to enter my exam room, I was thinking about conferring with our students.  Weird, I know, but follow my line of thinking here. I heard my doctor in the room next door and knew he would be coming to my room next. I heard the door close, but it was several minutes before he came into my room.  Why? You know the answer—he was taking notes about his previous patient. Conferring notes!

Think about what doctors do when they meet with their patients:

  • Research: They ask questions and run diagnostic tests.
  • Decide:  Based on their research, they make decisions.
  • Treat: They prescribe a course of action—medication, surgery, physical therapy, etc.

Then what do they do?  They follow up by seeing their patients in X number of days/weeks to see how things are progressing.  They do some more researching, deciding, and possibly more treating.

Does this sound familiar to what teachers do during a reading/writing conference?  We:

  • Research: Ask our students questions, administer formal and informal diagnostic assessments.
  • Decide:  Based on our research, we make decisions about what to compliment and what/how to teach.
  • Teach: We teach the reader/writer a strategy through demonstration, explanation, examples, or guided practice.

Now, let’s go back to those conferring notes.  My last post dealt with whether or not conferring notes are necessary.  If you read that post, you know my opinion on the matter.

Let me ask you a few questions.

  • Is it important for your doctor to keep conferring (exam) records?
  • Do you appreciate the doctors that remember what you talked about at your last visit?
  • Do you think doctors really remember trivia about your job or family, or did they just take some good notes to jog their memories and develop a relationship with you?
  • Does it annoy you when a doctor doesn’t keep good records or fails to read what s/he wrote last time and keeps asking you the same questions over and over again?
  • Do you feel valued as a patient/person when each visit seems like you are explaining your situation again as if for the first time?

What implication does this have for our classrooms?  What if we thought of our students as our little patients and if each time we met with them we were researching, deciding, and teaching them to be the healthiest readers and writers they can be?

I’ve been struggling with some neck pain for a little over a year.  Several weeks ago I finally went to see my doctor about it. As I was waiting for him to enter my exam room, I was thinking about conferring with our students.  Weird, I know, but follow my line of thinking here. I heard my doctor in the room next door and knew he would be coming to my room next. I heard the door close, but it was several minutes before he came into my room.  Why? You know the answer—he was taking notes about his previous patient. Conferring notes! Think about what doctors do when they meet with their patients: Research: They ask questions and run diagnostic tests. Decide:  Based on their research, they make decisions. Treat: They prescribe a course of action—medication, surgery, physical therapy, etc. Then what do they do?  They follow up by seeing their patients in X number of days/weeks to see how things are progressing.  They do some more researching, deciding, and possibly more treating. Does this sound familiar to what teachers do during a reading/writing conference?  We: Research: Ask our students questions, administer formal and informal diagnostic assessments. Decide:  Based on our research, we make decisions about what to compliment and what/how to teach. Teach: We teach the reader/writer a strategy through demonstration, explanation, examples, or guided practice. Now, let’s go back to those conferring notes.  My last post dealt with whether or not conferring notes are necessary.  If you read that post, you know my opinion on the matter. Let me ask you a few questions. Is it important for your doctor to keep conferring (exam) records? Do you appreciate the doctors that remember what you talked about at your last visit? Do you think doctors really remember trivia about your job or family, or did they just take some good notes to jog their memories and develop a relationship with you? Does it annoy you when a doctor doesn’t keep good records or fails to read what s/he wrote last time and keeps asking you the same questions over and over again? Do you feel valued as a patient/person when each visit seems like you are explaining your situation again as if for the first time? What implication does this have for our classrooms?  What if we thought of our students as our little patients and if each time we met with them we were researching, deciding, and teaching them to be the healthiest readers and writers they can …

Does Student Choice in Writing Really Matter?

I recently had a conversation with a group of teachers about whether allowing students to select their own writing topics really matters.  In the words of Lucy Calkins, “Choice matters. Not a little, but a lot.” In this case, she was talking about self-selected reading, but I think it applies to writing as well.  Since this question seems to surface often in my professional development work, I thought it was worth exploring a bit in a few blogposts.

For today, I would like to address just three key reasons why I believe choice in student writing does matter.

1) Engagement

When students find their work meaningful, they are more engaged, motivated learners.  “Intrinsic motivation arises from a desire to learn a topic due to its inherent interests, for self-fulfillment, enjoyment and to achieve a mastery of the subject.” (Karin Kirk)  Try doing a Google search with the phrase “student choice and motivation” and you will find a wealth of research that points to choice as a key motivational factor.  You will also find that motivation is linked to achievement. When students write about topics they care about, they are more engaged and they simply write more and write better.

2) Agency

In order to empower our students, we must help them develop a sense of personal agency—the knowledge that they are competent and in control of their own learning. In his book, Choice Words, Peter Johnston writes that “this desire for agency persists throughout life and is so powerful that when people feel there is no relationship between what they do and what happens, they become depressed and helpless.  Having a sense of agency, then, is fundamental.” He goes on to say that “children who doubt their competence set low goals and choose easy tasks, and they plan poorly. In the long run they disengage, decrease effort, generate fewer ideas, and become passive and discouraged.”  I don’t know about you, but that is NOT how I want children leaving my classroom! “Encouraging students to use their words to change the world is the aspiration of the writing workshop. When students are given choices in their learning, they will feel in control and motivated.  They will question, reason, and analyze important ideas. Most important, they will rise up and change the world for the better.” from Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz.

3) Independence

I’m wondering how students will become independent thinkers and writers in our classrooms if we always choose their writing topics for them.  “Many teachers fear that giving students more choice will lead to their losing control over classroom management. Research tells us that in fact the opposite happens. When students understand their role as agent (the one in charge) over their feeling, thinking, and learning behaviors, they are more likely to take responsibility for their learning. To be autonomous learners, however, students need to have some choice and control. And teachers need to learn how to help students develop the ability to make appropriate choices and take control over their own learning.” (American Psychological Association)

I could go on with even more reasons for providing choice of writing topics for our students, but I will stop there.  I know that these reasons still leave some unanswered questions like, “What about students who don’t choose to write about anything?” and “What about teaching students to write to a prompt for a writing assessment?”  In the next few days I am going to address these and some other concerns regarding student choice in writing, so stay tuned…

I recently had a conversation with a group of teachers about whether allowing students to select their own writing topics really matters.  In the words of Lucy Calkins, “Choice matters. Not a little, but a lot.” In this case, she was talking about self-selected reading, but I think it applies to writing as well.  Since this question seems to surface often in my professional development work, I thought it was worth exploring a bit in a few blogposts. For today, I would like to address just three key reasons why I believe choice in student writing does matter. 1) Engagement When students find their work meaningful, they are more engaged, motivated learners.  “Intrinsic motivation arises from a desire to learn a topic due to its inherent interests, for self-fulfillment, enjoyment and to achieve a mastery of the subject.” (Karin Kirk)  Try doing a Google search with the phrase “student choice and motivation” and you will find a wealth of research that points to choice as a key motivational factor.  You will also find that motivation is linked to achievement. When students write about topics they care about, they are more engaged and they simply write more and write better. 2) Agency In order to empower our students, we must help them develop a sense of personal agency—the knowledge that they are competent and in control of their own learning. In his book, Choice Words, Peter Johnston writes that “this desire for agency persists throughout life and is so powerful that when people feel there is no relationship between what they do and what happens, they become depressed and helpless.  Having a sense of agency, then, is fundamental.” He goes on to say that “children who doubt their competence set low goals and choose easy tasks, and they plan poorly. In the long run they disengage, decrease effort, generate fewer ideas, and become passive and discouraged.”  I don’t know about you, but that is NOT how I want children leaving my classroom! “Encouraging students to use their words to change the world is the aspiration of the writing workshop. When students are given choices in their learning, they will feel in control and motivated.  They will question, reason, and analyze important ideas. Most important, they will rise up and change the world for the better.” from Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz. 3) Independence I’m wondering how students will become independent thinkers and writers in our classrooms if we always choose their writing topics for them.  “Many teachers fear that giving students more choice will lead to their losing control over classroom management. Research tells us that in fact the opposite happens. When students understand their role as agent (the one in charge) over their feeling, thinking, and learning behaviors, they are more likely to take responsibility for their learning. To be autonomous learners, however, students need to have some choice and control. And teachers need to learn how to help students develop the ability to make appropriate choices and take control over their own learning.” (American Psychological Association) I could go on with even more reasons for providing choice of writing topics for our students, but I will stop there.  I know that these reasons still leave some unanswered questions like, “What about students who don’t choose to write about anything?” and “What about teaching students to write to a prompt for a writing assessment?”  In the next few days I am going to address these and some other concerns regarding student choice in writing, so stay …

Effectiveness of Reciprocal Teaching

Research has clearly shown that when students are asked to learn information without actively using procedures to construct understanding, they ultimately forget the content. Through reciprocal teaching, teachers explicitly guide students through the meaning-making process.

Reciprocal teaching has a well-documented record of improving students’ reading comprehension proficiency (NIH, 2000). Palinscar and Brown (1986) found that when the reciprocal teaching model was used as an intervention technique with struggling students for as few 15-20 days, their reading comprehension scores improved from 30% to 80%. Follow-up testing indicated that these students maintained these scores up to a year later.

Research has clearly shown that when students are asked to learn information without actively using procedures to construct understanding, they ultimately forget the content. Through reciprocal teaching, teachers explicitly guide students through the meaning-making process. Reciprocal teaching has a well-documented record of improving students’ reading comprehension proficiency (NIH, 2000). Palinscar and Brown (1986) found that when the reciprocal teaching model was used as an intervention technique with struggling students for as few 15-20 days, their reading comprehension scores improved from 30% to 80%. Follow-up testing indicated that these students maintained these scores up to a year …

Elkonin Sound Boxes

I have found this technique to be extremely effective with my young spellers who have not developed full phonemic awareness. It helps them train their ears to hear each part of a word and eventually be able to represent each sound with a written letter.  

View a slide show demo of sound boxes.

  1. Draw a rectangle with three boxes.
  2. Say a familiar word composed of three sounds such as cat, sun, dog, pan. It is helpful to show children pictures of these objects. (I cut short vowel pictures from an old phonics workbook and laminated them).
  3. The child says the word, stretching out the sounds.
  4. The child pushes a chip into each box as he says the sound. It is important to note that the boxes represent sounds (phonemes), not letters. The words cake and duck have four letters but only three sounds and would be segmented into three sound boxes.
  5. After the child masters words with three phonemes, he may progress to four-phoneme words such as truck, crash, and nest.
  6. Once children can push chips to represent sounds, they can push letter cards into boxes, and eventually they can write letters in the boxes as they are attempting to spell words they are writing (Elkonin, 1973; Cunningham, 2000).

This teacher uses Elkonin sound boxes to work on phonemic awareness with an individual student:

This teacher demonstrates the use of sound boxes during small group instruction:

I have found this technique to be extremely effective with my young spellers who have not developed full phonemic awareness. It helps them train their ears to hear each part of a word and eventually be able to represent each sound with a written letter.   View a slide show demo of sound boxes. Draw a rectangle with three boxes. Say a familiar word composed of three sounds such as cat, sun, dog, pan. It is helpful to show children pictures of these objects. (I cut short vowel pictures from an old phonics workbook and laminated them). The child says the word, stretching out the sounds. The child pushes a chip into each box as he says the sound. It is important to note that the boxes represent sounds (phonemes), not letters. The words cake and duck have four letters but only three sounds and would be segmented into three sound boxes. After the child masters words with three phonemes, he may progress to four-phoneme words such as truck, crash, and nest. Once children can push chips to represent sounds, they can push letter cards into boxes, and eventually they can write letters in the boxes as they are attempting to spell words they are writing (Elkonin, 1973; Cunningham, 2000). This teacher uses Elkonin sound boxes to work on phonemic awareness with an individual student: This teacher demonstrates the use of sound boxes during small group …

Explicit Teaching From a Distance

As we embark on distance learning in our digital/virtual classrooms, it is now more important than ever to be sure our teaching is clear and concise. Distance learning needs to be more than a place where we post assignments, activities, and questions to respond to. We have the responsibility to teach while we are socially distanced, and what we decide to teach needs to be prioritized and explicit. Without students having their teachers and peers for support, they need to receive short chunks of instruction with a clear learning target and opportunities to be shown how to do that strategy or skill of the teaching target.

Smiling woman works on a laptop

When planning digital mini lessons, make sure to:
1) Name your teaching target;
2) Teach how to do it; and
3) Keep it brief.

Prioritize and Name Your Teaching Target

With online learning, less is often more. As you set out to decide what you will be teaching students, prioritize the most essentials skills so that students can be most successful in their application. What skills will give the most bang for their buck in student growth – identify these and rank. As you prioritize and rank, also think about what teaching seems most relevant to students in this current time period. Making choices about teaching what is most important is not always easy but it is necessary if we want to have the biggest impact on our students’ growth and progress.

Once the teaching priorities are decided, gather (from my unit resources) or create the teaching points to match. Naming what is being taught is essential for making teaching as concrete as possible. Following the TCRWP’s framing, I often name the teaching with phrases like, “Today I want to teach you…” or “Today I want to remind you…”

Teach!

Believe it or not, teaching is something that is easy to leave out of distance learning! The distance itself and the digital platforms we are using lend themselves to assigning learning tasks and activities, rather than teaching students how to utilize strategies or execute a skill. What NOT to do: Things like – 1) read this part of the text and respond with your thoughts; 2) write a journal entry about how you are feeling; 3) watch this video and then pick a side – are all examples of assignments. It’s important that after we decide on the prioritized teaching targets and name them we show how to do the strategy or skill for students! I often transition from the naming of the teaching point to the actual teaching with phrases like: “Let me show you how this might look” or “Let me show you an example of this work”. Then, as I demonstrate and/or talk to examples, I refer back to the teaching point by saying things like, “Did you see how I (name teaching point)”.

Keep It Brief

Interacting in the digital classroom has a much different feel than interacting in the face-to-face classroom. Whether you are teaching synchronously or asynchronously, you want to be sure that you are structuring your teaching to include short chunks of instruction, followed by interaction and practice, to keep students focused and engaged. Mini lessons should be around 4-8 minutes and should link students off to attempt the strategy/skills you’ve taught. The mini lesson will include your connection, the naming of the teaching point, and your demonstration/example. Referring back to the teaching point prior to linking off gives students one more chance to hear the teaching before going off to try it.

In asynchronous sessions, you may ask students to pause the video and come back after they’ve practiced. Or alternatively, you may end the video and refer students to a place they can try this work and share (Google Classroom, SeeSaw, FlipGrid).

In synchronous sessions, you may choose to stay connected for a certain period of time after the mini lesson while students work independently, side-by-side, as they would in the classroom. This helps with accountability and ensures supports as students need them. Brevity and chunks of instruction, followed by chunks of practice, is essential to keeping students engaged in their learning from a distance.

Here is an example video mini-lesson I created for 4th graders I work with. The session is an adaptation from TCRWP’s Poetry Unit for 2nd grade. As you view, listen for the explicit teaching in the naming of the teaching, the demonstration, and the overall brevity:

View the mini-lesson video here.
References/Acknowledgements:

Thanks to the tips and tools Kristen Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris are putting out there for teachers!  Check out their site for more distance learning support and ideas.

Thank you to Teachers College Reading and Writing Project I(TCRWP) and their Units of Study for Teaching Reading.

Thanks, also, to Maggie Beattie Roberts for the brainstorming and conversation around distance learning! Learn more from Maggie at Kate and Maggie.

As we embark on distance learning in our digital/virtual classrooms, it is now more important than ever to be sure our teaching is clear and concise. Distance learning needs to be more than a place where we post assignments, activities, and questions to respond to. We have the responsibility to teach while we are socially distanced, and what we decide to teach needs to be prioritized and explicit. Without students having their teachers and peers for support, they need to receive short chunks of instruction with a clear learning target and opportunities to be shown how to do that strategy or skill of the teaching target. When planning digital mini lessons, make sure to: 1) Name your teaching target; 2) Teach how to do it; and 3) Keep it brief. Prioritize and Name Your Teaching Target With online learning, less is often more. As you set out to decide what you will be teaching students, prioritize the most essentials skills so that students can be most successful in their application. What skills will give the most bang for their buck in student growth – identify these and rank. As you prioritize and rank, also think about what teaching seems most relevant to students in this current time period. Making choices about teaching what is most important is not always easy but it is necessary if we want to have the biggest impact on our students’ growth and progress. Once the teaching priorities are decided, gather (from my unit resources) or create the teaching points to match. Naming what is being taught is essential for making teaching as concrete as possible. Following the TCRWP’s framing, I often name the teaching with phrases like, “Today I want to teach you…” or “Today I want to remind you…” Teach! Believe it or not, teaching is something that is easy to leave out of distance learning! The distance itself and the digital platforms we are using lend themselves to assigning learning tasks and activities, rather than teaching students how to utilize strategies or execute a skill. What NOT to do: Things like – 1) read this part of the text and respond with your thoughts; 2) write a journal entry about how you are feeling; 3) watch this video and then pick a side – are all examples of assignments. It’s important that after we decide on the prioritized teaching targets and name them we show how to do the strategy or skill for students! I often transition from the naming of the teaching point to the actual teaching with phrases like: “Let me show you how this might look” or “Let me show you an example of this work”. Then, as I demonstrate and/or talk to examples, I refer back to the teaching point by saying things like, “Did you see how I (name teaching point)”. Keep It Brief Interacting in the digital classroom has a much different feel than interacting in the face-to-face classroom. Whether you are teaching synchronously or asynchronously, you want to be sure that you are structuring your teaching to include short chunks of instruction, followed by interaction and practice, to keep students focused and engaged. Mini lessons should be around 4-8 minutes and should link students off to attempt the strategy/skills you’ve taught. The mini lesson will include your connection, the naming of the teaching point, and your demonstration/example. Referring back to the teaching point prior to linking off gives students one more chance to hear the teaching before going off to try it. In asynchronous sessions, you may ask students to pause the video and come back after they’ve practiced. Or alternatively, you may end the video and refer students to a place they can try this work and share (Google Classroom, SeeSaw, FlipGrid). In synchronous sessions, you may choose to stay connected for a certain period of time after the mini lesson while students work independently, side-by-side, as they would in the classroom. This helps with accountability and ensures supports as students need them. Brevity and chunks of instruction, followed by chunks of practice, is essential to keeping students engaged in their learning from a distance. Here is an example video mini-lesson I created for 4th graders I work with. The session is an adaptation from TCRWP’s Poetry Unit for 2nd grade. As you view, listen for the explicit teaching in the naming of the teaching, the demonstration, and the overall brevity: References/Acknowledgements: Thanks to the tips and tools Kristen Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris are putting out there for teachers!  Check out their site for more distance learning support and ideas. Thank you to Teachers College Reading and Writing Project I(TCRWP) and their Units of Study for Teaching Reading. Thanks, also, to Maggie Beattie Roberts for the brainstorming and conversation around distance learning! Learn more from Maggie at Kate and …

Expository Text Features Booklet
Writing Trait/Strategy:

Organization; text features

 

Mentor Text Suggestions:
  • nonfiction picture books

  • Ranger Rick magazine

  • National Geographic for Kids magazine

  • Kids Discover magazine

  • Time for Kids magazine

Description:

Once students are aware of the differences between narrative and expository text, it is important for them to be exposed to the text features nonfiction writers use to most effectively communicate their information. I introduce these text features during a series of reading workshop minilessons to prepare them for a writing unit on nonfiction feature articles. After each text feature is introduced, students are asked to complete a page in their Text Features Booklets (see directions below).

 

 

 

On some pages they glue in an example that I provide:

 

On other pages they search their independent reading books for examples of that feature and draw or write them into the booklets.

 

 

 

To make text features booklets download the file below:

 Text Features Booklet

 

 

Photocopy one for each student and bind.  As each text feature is studied, have students glue or draw an example in the box. The following lists the information on each page of the booklet:

  • Table of contents: A table of contents gives the heading and beginning page number of each section in a book.

  • Heading: A heading tells you what the section is about.

  • Photograph: A photograph is a picture made with a camera that shows how things look in real life.

  • Label: A label is a word that tells about a picture.

  • Caption: A caption is a sentence that tells about a picture.

  • Bold Print: Bold print shows you new or important words.

  • Colored Print: Colored print shows you new or important words.

  • Glossary: A glossary lists new or important words and shows or tells what they mean.

  • Index: An index tells you what page to find information in a book. It is in ABC order.

  • Diagram: A diagram is a labeled picture that shows the parts of something.

  • Size Comparison Diagram: A size comparison is a diagram that compares the size of one thing to another.

  • Pictograph: A pictograph is a graph that uses pictures to show and compare information.

  • Bar Graph: A bar graph is a graph that uses bars to show and compare information.

  • Map: A map is a picture that shows the location of things or places.

  • Table: A table is a chart of information used to compare things.

  • Timeline: A timeline is a chart that shows events in order.

 

 

 

Writing Trait/Strategy: Organization; text features   Mentor Text Suggestions: nonfiction picture books Ranger Rick magazine National Geographic for Kids magazine Kids Discover magazine Time for Kids magazine Description: Once students are aware of the differences between narrative and expository text, it is important for them to be exposed to the text features nonfiction writers use to most effectively communicate their information. I introduce these text features during a series of reading workshop minilessons to prepare them for a writing unit on nonfiction feature articles. After each text feature is introduced, students are asked to complete a page in their Text Features Booklets (see directions below).       On some pages they glue in an example that I provide:   On other pages they search their independent reading books for examples of that feature and draw or write them into the booklets.       To make text features booklets download the file below:  Text Features Booklet     Photocopy one for each student and bind.  As each text feature is studied, have students glue or draw an example in the box. The following lists the information on each page of the booklet: Table of contents: A table of contents gives the heading and beginning page number of each section in a book. Heading: A heading tells you what the section is about. Photograph: A photograph is a picture made with a camera that shows how things look in real life. Label: A label is a word that tells about a picture. Caption: A caption is a sentence that tells about a picture. Bold Print: Bold print shows you new or important words. Colored Print: Colored print shows you new or important words. Glossary: A glossary lists new or important words and shows or tells what they mean. Index: An index tells you what page to find information in a book. It is in ABC order. Diagram: A diagram is a labeled picture that shows the parts of something. Size Comparison Diagram: A size comparison is a diagram that compares the size of one thing to another. Pictograph: A pictograph is a graph that uses pictures to show and compare information. Bar Graph: A bar graph is a graph that uses bars to show and compare information. Map: A map is a picture that shows the location of things or places. Table: A table is a chart of information used to compare things. Timeline: A timeline is a chart that shows events in order.     …

Family Dinner, The Olympics, and Anchor Texts

In some sessions I recently led at a literacy conference, I shared about the importance of using anchor texts and anchor experiences as we scaffold high level reading and writing with our students.  During my last conference I met a wonderful teacher who approached me after one session to get more clarification on anchor texts. I explained that an anchor text read-aloud provides a common experience for all students (regardless of reading level) and can be referred to many times throughout the year to teach or reinforce a skill or strategy.  In other words, this text provides a common reference point for the whole class, regardless of what students are reading or writing independently.

Since that conversation, I have thought a lot about anchor texts and anchor experiences. I shared my thoughts this past week with a group of colleagues who have been meeting this summer to discuss Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman. (By the way, I highly recommend this book for anyone trying to understand the Common Core State Standards for ELA). One of my very wise colleagues used a life analogy that highlights the importance of anchor experiences. She said [I’m paraphrasing], “You know how there are times when your family members all seem to be running in different directions? Everyone has their own agenda, and family members see each other mostly in passing. You realize what you need is a family dinner. Everyone sits down together, shares a meal and conversation, and you come back together as a family, not a group of individuals. That is an anchoring experience.

I think this is a great metaphor for what we are trying to accomplish when we bring our students together around a common text, an anchor text. When we have this shared experience, we build a community, our conversations around text become richer, our thoughts become deeper. The day after my book discussion an interesting thing happened as I was waiting in line at the post office. The postal clerk was excitedly talking to a customer about something she had seen on the Olympics the night before. I knew exactly what she was talking about, so when I approached the counter, I added to the discussion, as did a couple of other customers who had also watched the night before. Immediately we were able to take our conversation beyond the level of summarizing the event to the level of analyzing it and enjoying it. All because we had a shared experience. As the week has progressed, I have noticed that everywhere I go people are talking about the Olympics. This is one of the reasons I love the Olympics so much. For two weeks our country comes together and supports our amazing athletes. The Olympics provides that anchor experience which allows us to do this.

As you are beginning your new school year or preparing to begin, I encourage you to think about the anchor experiences you will provide for your students. I hope you will consider your read-alouds among these experiences and use these texts as a way to bring together all of the readers in your classroom. Think of it as important as bringing your family together around the dinner table. Think of it as effective as the Olympics for bringing a country together.

In some sessions I recently led at a literacy conference, I shared about the importance of using anchor texts and anchor experiences as we scaffold high level reading and writing with our students.  During my last conference I met a wonderful teacher who approached me after one session to get more clarification on anchor texts. I explained that an anchor text read-aloud provides a common experience for all students (regardless of reading level) and can be referred to many times throughout the year to teach or reinforce a skill or strategy.  In other words, this text provides a common reference point for the whole class, regardless of what students are reading or writing independently. Since that conversation, I have thought a lot about anchor texts and anchor experiences. I shared my thoughts this past week with a group of colleagues who have been meeting this summer to discuss Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Christopher Lehman. (By the way, I highly recommend this book for anyone trying to understand the Common Core State Standards for ELA). One of my very wise colleagues used a life analogy that highlights the importance of anchor experiences. She said [I’m paraphrasing], “You know how there are times when your family members all seem to be running in different directions? Everyone has their own agenda, and family members see each other mostly in passing. You realize what you need is a family dinner. Everyone sits down together, shares a meal and conversation, and you come back together as a family, not a group of individuals. That is an anchoring experience. I think this is a great metaphor for what we are trying to accomplish when we bring our students together around a common text, an anchor text. When we have this shared experience, we build a community, our conversations around text become richer, our thoughts become deeper. The day after my book discussion an interesting thing happened as I was waiting in line at the post office. The postal clerk was excitedly talking to a customer about something she had seen on the Olympics the night before. I knew exactly what she was talking about, so when I approached the counter, I added to the discussion, as did a couple of other customers who had also watched the night before. Immediately we were able to take our conversation beyond the level of summarizing the event to the level of analyzing it and enjoying it. All because we had a shared experience. As the week has progressed, I have noticed that everywhere I go people are talking about the Olympics. This is one of the reasons I love the Olympics so much. For two weeks our country comes together and supports our amazing athletes. The Olympics provides that anchor experience which allows us to do this. As you are beginning your new school year or preparing to begin, I encourage you to think about the anchor experiences you will provide for your students. I hope you will consider your read-alouds among these experiences and use these texts as a way to bring together all of the readers in your classroom. Think of it as important as bringing your family together around the dinner table. Think of it as effective as the Olympics for bringing a country …

Fancy Words

Writing Trait/Strategy:
Word choice/Word awareness

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Fancy Nancy series by Jane O’Connor
Donovan’s Word Jar by Monlisa Degross
Miss Alaineous by Debra Frazier
Max’s Words by Kate Banks
The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter

Description:
Read aloud one or several of the listed mentor texts. Designate a bulletin board, chart paper, or section of the chalkboard for students to record new, interesting, or unusual words. Set aside a few minutes daily to discuss these words. I especially like to focus on synonyms for overused words. Many of these words surface during read aloud time. I introduce the words naturally in the context of the story: “’Dilemma. That’s an interesting word. Does anyone know what that means? It’s a fancy word for ‘problem’.” We add it to our Fancy Word board, and I encourage students to use the word in context in their speaking and writing throughout the day.

We also keep special lists for words like “said” and “went” that have many more interesting synonyms. The students become very excited about finding these words in their independent reading, during read aloud, and during conversations. A study on word learning in the elementary grades suggests that this intentional focus on words has great impact on students’ overall word learning (Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982).

I have also used the phrase “rice cake” and “salsa words” to help remind students to be intentional in their word choice. I give each student pieces of bland rice cakes and sample-size cups of mild salsa. As they taste each, we talk about how we want to use salsa words, not rice cake words in their writing. We open up our writer’s notebooks and look for examples of rice cake words and try to replace them with salsa words.

Writing Trait/Strategy:Word choice/Word awareness Mentor Text Suggestions:Fancy Nancy series by Jane O’ConnorDonovan’s Word Jar by Monlisa DegrossMiss Alaineous by Debra FrazierMax’s Words by Kate BanksThe Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter Description:Read aloud one or several of the listed mentor texts. Designate a bulletin board, chart paper, or section of the chalkboard for students to record new, interesting, or unusual words. Set aside a few minutes daily to discuss these words. I especially like to focus on synonyms for overused words. Many of these words surface during read aloud time. I introduce the words naturally in the context of the story: “’Dilemma. That’s an interesting word. Does anyone know what that means? It’s a fancy word for ‘problem’.” We add it to our Fancy Word board, and I encourage students to use the word in context in their speaking and writing throughout the day. We also keep special lists for words like “said” and “went” that have many more interesting synonyms. The students become very excited about finding these words in their independent reading, during read aloud, and during conversations. A study on word learning in the elementary grades suggests that this intentional focus on words has great impact on students’ overall word learning (Beck, Perfetti, & McKeown, 1982). I have also used the phrase “rice cake” and “salsa words” to help remind students to be intentional in their word choice. I give each student pieces of bland rice cakes and sample-size cups of mild salsa. As they taste each, we talk about how we want to use salsa words, not rice cake words in their writing. We open up our writer’s notebooks and look for examples of rice cake words and try to replace them with salsa …

First You Need to Love Me

The author Avi once told a group of teachers, “If you are going to teach me to read and to write, first you need to love me.” I love that thought!  Our students are human beings first and one of their most basic needs is to feel loved.  Lucy Calkins says that our first job as teachers is to fall in love with each and every child—right away.  One of the best ways for me to do that is to use a few tools that help my students and their parents teach me about themselves.  One of my favorites is this parent survey:

Download Parent Survey

I have found that this simple survey, with just a few open-ended questions, gives my students’ parents the opportunity to tell me anything they feel I should know.  I have filled out many of these types of surveys over the years for my own three children, but I like this one the best.  It is not overwhelming, parents can tell me as little or as much as they want, and it gives me exactly the kind of information I need as I begin to fall in love with each child in my room.

If you don’t already have a parent survey, consider using this one.  You can send it home before school starts with your welcome letter or distribute it at Open House.  I think you will appreciate the information you receive about your students, and I think your students’ parents will appreciate the opportunity to tell you about their children.

The author Avi once told a group of teachers, “If you are going to teach me to read and to write, first you need to love me.” I love that thought!  Our students are human beings first and one of their most basic needs is to feel loved.  Lucy Calkins says that our first job as teachers is to fall in love with each and every child—right away.  One of the best ways for me to do that is to use a few tools that help my students and their parents teach me about themselves.  One of my favorites is this parent survey: Download Parent Survey I have found that this simple survey, with just a few open-ended questions, gives my students’ parents the opportunity to tell me anything they feel I should know.  I have filled out many of these types of surveys over the years for my own three children, but I like this one the best.  It is not overwhelming, parents can tell me as little or as much as they want, and it gives me exactly the kind of information I need as I begin to fall in love with each child in my room. If you don’t already have a parent survey, consider using this one.  You can send it home before school starts with your welcome letter or distribute it at Open House.  I think you will appreciate the information you receive about your students, and I think your students’ parents will appreciate the opportunity to tell you about their …

Fishing Expedition for Poetry

I like to start my poetry units by first immersing students in free verse poetry books and encouraging them to name what they notice about this type of poetry.  Then I help them realize that poems are hiding everywhere by taking poetry walks around the classroom and outside of the school.  Early on in the unit—even before I have done minilessons on things like using line breaks, repetition, or metaphor—I have them try their hand at writing some poems of their own.  Most students jump right in and try it, but there are some that are hesitant and not quite sure where to start.

I would like to share some strategies for helping students get their thoughts down in free verse poem form.  I encourage you to try this out with a poem of your own along with your students. A few summers ago I participated in the Oakland Writing Project (affiliated with the National Writing Project).  We did an exercise called a “fishing expedition”, which eventually led to my very first poem (other than some limericks and haiku poems I wrote in elementary school).

First we thought about places that poems might be hiding in our lives.  You can see my list here:

The next thing we did was pick one item from our lists and write it at the top of a clean page in our writer’s notebooks.  I chose my washing machine.  I had known for awhile that a poem was hiding there.  Here’s why: It seemed that every time I did laundry I would open my washing machine to find items that my children had neglected to remove from their pockets when sorting their dirty clothes.  As I would pull the trinkets out, they seemed to tell me a story about what my children had been up to lately. I hadn’t really thought about how this might look as a poem, but since I needed a topic for my assignment, I wrote “washing machine” at the top of the page. We were then invited to start jotting words and phrases as a list separated by commas in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.  We were timed for several minutes and told to write as quickly as we could, any ideas that popped into our minds. Here is my list:

When I read back over my list, I realized that the beginning of the list included very concrete objects.  But as I exhausted all of those, I had to dig deeper and the words began to represent more abstract ideas.  I was surprised by how effective this “fishing expedition” was for drawing out those thoughts.

Our next task was to “put it on the page so it looks like a poem”. Here is what my first attempts looked like:

As part of this four-week institute, we were required to take a few pieces of writing through the entire writing process.  This was one of the pieces I chose to spend some time on. Here is the finished poem:

Laundered Treasures

I am a treasure hunter.
Each time the spinning stops
I pry open my washing machine door
and peer inside.
I don’t try to predict
what gems I will find.
Each load reveals this day’s catch:
a Lego, an acorn top,
a shrunken Jolly Rancher,
a faded sweet tart wrapper,
a Game boy cartridge (will it still work?),
a hair band, sometimes two or three,
and always “cool” stones.

I am an anthropologist.
I arrange the laundered artifacts,
a collage on top of my machine.
I study my human subjects
and reconstruct the past week.
Little boys
create Lego starfighters,
make acorn whistles,
and collect one more fossil rock.

I am a detective.
The jewels are my clues.
Little girl,
accessorizing every outfit
with matching hair bands,
sneaks a piece of candy
but forgets to eat it.

Once a source of annoyance,
this ritual
of retrieving
the past week’s cache
has become
an exercise in reminiscence.
One day my treasure trove will run dry
and no longer be
the secret window
through which I have a view
into my children’s daily lives.
~Annemarie Johnson

I was pleased with the final product, but I think it was the process that I enjoyed most.  I really was surprised by how much these three simple strategies helped spark the ideas that led to the finished piece:

  1. Look for places where poetry is hiding.
  2. Go on a fishing expedition with your topic.
  3. Put your ideas on a page so they look like a poem.

If your students seem reluctant to write poetry, I hope these will be some tools you can use.  But first, try it out yourself!  Remember, as Katie Wood Ray says, we have to try, at least once, to do the things we are asking our students to do in order to understand the process of writing as insiders.
 

I like to start my poetry units by first immersing students in free verse poetry books and encouraging them to name what they notice about this type of poetry.  Then I help them realize that poems are hiding everywhere by taking poetry walks around the classroom and outside of the school.  Early on in the unit—even before I have done minilessons on things like using line breaks, repetition, or metaphor—I have them try their hand at writing some poems of their own.  Most students jump right in and try it, but there are some that are hesitant and not quite sure where to start. I would like to share some strategies for helping students get their thoughts down in free verse poem form.  I encourage you to try this out with a poem of your own along with your students. A few summers ago I participated in the Oakland Writing Project (affiliated with the National Writing Project).  We did an exercise called a “fishing expedition”, which eventually led to my very first poem (other than some limericks and haiku poems I wrote in elementary school). First we thought about places that poems might be hiding in our lives.  You can see my list here: The next thing we did was pick one item from our lists and write it at the top of a clean page in our writer’s notebooks.  I chose my washing machine.  I had known for awhile that a poem was hiding there.  Here’s why: It seemed that every time I did laundry I would open my washing machine to find items that my children had neglected to remove from their pockets when sorting their dirty clothes.  As I would pull the trinkets out, they seemed to tell me a story about what my children had been up to lately. I hadn’t really thought about how this might look as a poem, but since I needed a topic for my assignment, I wrote “washing machine” at the top of the page. We were then invited to start jotting words and phrases as a list separated by commas in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.  We were timed for several minutes and told to write as quickly as we could, any ideas that popped into our minds. Here is my list: When I read back over my list, I realized that the beginning of the list included very concrete objects.  But as I exhausted all of those, I had to dig deeper and the words began to represent more abstract ideas.  I was surprised by how effective this “fishing expedition” was for drawing out those thoughts. Our next task was to “put it on the page so it looks like a poem”. Here is what my first attempts looked like: As part of this four-week institute, we were required to take a few pieces of writing through the entire writing process.  This was one of the pieces I chose to spend some time on. Here is the finished poem: Laundered Treasures I am a treasure hunter.Each time the spinning stopsI pry open my washing machine doorand peer inside.I don’t try to predictwhat gems I will find.Each load reveals this day’s catch:a Lego, an acorn top,a shrunken Jolly Rancher,a faded sweet tart wrapper,a Game boy cartridge (will it still work?),a hair band, sometimes two or three,and always “cool” stones. I am an anthropologist.I arrange the laundered artifacts,a collage on top of my machine.I study my human subjectsand reconstruct the past week.Little boyscreate Lego starfighters,make acorn whistles,and collect one more fossil rock. I am a detective.The jewels are my clues.Little girl,accessorizing every outfitwith matching hair bands,sneaks a piece of candybut forgets to eat it. Once a source of annoyance,this ritualof retrievingthe past week’s cachehas becomean exercise in reminiscence.One day my treasure trove will run dryand no longer bethe secret windowthrough which I have a viewinto my children’s daily lives.~Annemarie Johnson I was pleased with the final product, but I think it was the process that I enjoyed most.  I really was surprised by how much these three simple strategies helped spark the ideas that led to the finished piece: Look for places where poetry is hiding. Go on a fishing expedition with your topic. Put your ideas on a page so they look like a poem. If your students seem reluctant to write poetry, I hope these will be some tools you can use.  But first, try it out yourself!  Remember, as Katie Wood Ray says, we have to try, at least once, to do the things we are asking our students to do in order to understand the process of writing as …

Found Poems

I had never heard of “found poetry” until I read about it a few years ago in Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature K-6 (Dorfman and Cappelli, 2007). Poets.org explains that “found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems,”

I haven’t actually used this technique with students yet, but it looks really fun and I want to!  I decided to try it myself today and create my own mentor text to have ready when the opportunity to use it with students arises.

I selected an expository picture book called The Penguin.  Here is the text I used to “find my poem”:

Fishing Champions
On the Antarctic islands, there is almost nothing except pebbles and some plants.  Luckily the Antarctic Ocean is full of fish for penguins to eat.  With their streamlined bodies, short necks, and waterproof feathers, penguins are champion swimmers and divers.  Penguins use their flippers to propel themselves forward and press their feet close to their tail to act as a rudder. They move fast in the water, especially when hunting for food.

And here is the poem I “found”:

Fishing Champions

Antarctic islands:

nothing

except pebbles and some plants.

Antarctic Ocean:

full of fish.

Streamlined bodies,

short necks,

waterproof feathers.

Penguins propel

themselves forward.

They move fast,

hunting

for

food.

I must say that this was a satisfying exercise.  It was very easy to find a text to use—really, anything will do.  I had to read it several times—once for understanding and then a couple more times to pull out words and phrases.  It felt non-threatening, and even though the original words weren’t mine, the poem felt like mine.

Try it and see if your experience is similar.  I would love to see what kinds of poems you and your students “find”.

I had never heard of “found poetry” until I read about it a few years ago in Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature K-6 (Dorfman and Cappelli, 2007). Poets.org explains that “found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems,” I haven’t actually used this technique with students yet, but it looks really fun and I want to!  I decided to try it myself today and create my own mentor text to have ready when the opportunity to use it with students arises. I selected an expository picture book called The Penguin.  Here is the text I used to “find my poem”: Fishing ChampionsOn the Antarctic islands, there is almost nothing except pebbles and some plants.  Luckily the Antarctic Ocean is full of fish for penguins to eat.  With their streamlined bodies, short necks, and waterproof feathers, penguins are champion swimmers and divers.  Penguins use their flippers to propel themselves forward and press their feet close to their tail to act as a rudder. They move fast in the water, especially when hunting for food. And here is the poem I “found”: Fishing Champions Antarctic islands: nothing except pebbles and some plants. Antarctic Ocean: full of fish. Streamlined bodies, short necks, waterproof feathers. Penguins propel themselves forward. They move fast, hunting for food. I must say that this was a satisfying exercise.  It was very easy to find a text to use—really, anything will do.  I had to read it several times—once for understanding and then a couple more times to pull out words and phrases.  It felt non-threatening, and even though the original words weren’t mine, the poem felt like mine. Try it and see if your experience is similar.  I would love to see what kinds of poems you and your students …

FREE Downloadable Reciprocal Teaching Resources

Below are links to free downloadable reproducibles and resources that will help you implement reciprocal teaching in your classroom:

Below are links to free downloadable reproducibles and resources that will help you implement reciprocal teaching in your classroom: Reciprocal Teaching Worksheet Question Prompts Predict-Confirm-Adjust Chart Spin a Question Board:  Copy onto cardstock and attach a spinner. Reciprocal Teaching Prompt Cards:  Reproduce, cut, and place cards on a looseleaf ring. Provide one set for each group of students.  The student who is leading the lesson at the time works through the prompt cards to help guide the discussion.  These should be used in the early stages only.  Once students are comfortable leading the lesson, the prompt cards are no longer needed. Reciprocal Teaching Teacher Assessment Form Reciprocal Teaching Self-Evaluation Reciprocal Teaching Posters:  These can be enlarged to 11 x 17 …

Free Resources to Support Independent Reading at Home

The research couldn’t be more clear: to grow readers, we need to get them reading…a lot! And to get them reading, they MUST.HAVE.BOOKS! In his seminal book on the effects of free voluntary reading, The Power of Reading, Stephen Krashen says this about access: “It is certainly true that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. But first we must make sure the water is there. And when it is, horses always eventually drink.” He goes on to explain that the same is true for readers and books. You can read a great excerpt from his book here.

Most of us know this is true, which is why we go to great lengths (often at our own expense) to acquire books for our classroom libraries and why we spend our summers organizing them in ways that entice our students to fall in love with them. Sadly, our classroom libraries are now gathering dust as we wait out the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether I am leading staff development for teachers or teaching children in a classroom, I always say that I bring my “friends” (my books) to help me teach. Being away from our classrooms means we are also away from some of our best friends–our books.

So if these two facts are true: 1) readers need access to quality books and 2) physical access to books is limited right now, then we need alternatives, right?

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are a few resources I have curated that we can share with families to help keep their children (and themselves!) supplied with engaging FREE reading materials.

Above all, we need to continue to emphasize to parents that one of the most important and powerful things their children can be doing right now is building an incredibly strong reading life at home. You can access our Distance Learning Mini-Unit for Building Reading Lives at Home here.

Resources for Free Access to Reading Material During the Pandemic

Loving2Read


Get Epic


SCRIBD



Unite for Literacy


Audible


Pioneer Valley Bookbuilder Online


NewsELA


These two resources are websites/apps that can be linked to your public library to access free ebooks, audiobooks, videos, and music all the time (not just during this time of crisis):

Libby App

Hoopla


Don’t forget about your own reading life!

Many of the resources above have adult reads, so be sure to treat yourself to some great stories, too.

Want to do a little professional reading but don’t have as much time now as you thought you would have? Heinemann has opened up their audio library, so you can listen to one of your favorite professional authors to get some inspiration:

The research couldn’t be more clear: to grow readers, we need to get them reading…a lot! And to get them reading, they MUST.HAVE.BOOKS! In his seminal book on the effects of free voluntary reading, The Power of Reading, Stephen Krashen says this about access: “It is certainly true that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. But first we must make sure the water is there. And when it is, horses always eventually drink.” He goes on to explain that the same is true for readers and books. You can read a great excerpt from his book here. Most of us know this is true, which is why we go to great lengths (often at our own expense) to acquire books for our classroom libraries and why we spend our summers organizing them in ways that entice our students to fall in love with them. Sadly, our classroom libraries are now gathering dust as we wait out the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether I am leading staff development for teachers or teaching children in a classroom, I always say that I bring my “friends” (my books) to help me teach. Being away from our classrooms means we are also away from some of our best friends–our books. So if these two facts are true: 1) readers need access to quality books and 2) physical access to books is limited right now, then we need alternatives, right? While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are a few resources I have curated that we can share with families to help keep their children (and themselves!) supplied with engaging FREE reading materials. Above all, we need to continue to emphasize to parents that one of the most important and powerful things their children can be doing right now is building an incredibly strong reading life at home. You can access our Distance Learning Mini-Unit for Building Reading Lives at Home here. Resources for Free Access to Reading Material During the Pandemic Loving2Read Get Epic SCRIBD Unite for Literacy Audible Pioneer Valley Bookbuilder Online NewsELA These two resources are websites/apps that can be linked to your public library to access free ebooks, audiobooks, videos, and music all the time (not just during this time of crisis): Libby App Hoopla Don’t forget about your own reading life! Many of the resources above have adult reads, so be sure to treat yourself to some great stories, too. Want to do a little professional reading but don’t have as much time now as you thought you would have? Heinemann has opened up their audio library, so you can listen to one of your favorite professional authors to get some …

Free Verse Poetry

As Georgia Heard says, “We all have poetry inside of us, and poetry is for everyone.”  One of the best ways to improve student writing is to begin by teaching them to write free verse poetry. Free verse poetry differs from “form” poems such as haiku, cinquain, and rhyming couplet in that it doesn’t follow rules or a regular pattern of rhythm or rhyme.  This can be intimidating at first, but with specific mini-lessons, students quickly learn that they, too, “have poetry inside of them.”  One of my favorite resources for teaching free verse poetry to young writers is Regie Routman’s series call Kids’ Poems. Click here to learn more. 

The following activities help create a poetry-friendly climate in our classrooms that can lay groundwork for successful free verse poetry writing: 

Poetry Pause
Reading poetry aloud to students on a regular basis is a must! I found that I needed to be more intentional about reading poetry so I added a poetry pause to our daily routine. You can read all about this read aloud ritual here

What Do We Notice?
After my students have been exposed to a great deal of free verse poetry, we are ready to begin writing some of our own.  We begin by first making a list of what we have noticed about free verse poetry as we have read and shared it aloud:

The next step is to begin making a list of  possible poetry topics:

Where Poetry Hides
This is an idea that comes from Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard.  Ask students to take home their notebooks and spend some time searching their houses for places where poems are hiding.  Many poems are written about everyday, ordinary objects.  The key to turning the ordinary topic into poetry is to be as specific as possible and to create images or word pictures for the reader.  Reading aloud poems from books like All the Small Poems and Fourteen More by Valerie Worth can help students see that poetry hides in the most obscure places.

Where Poetry Hides for Mrs. Johnson:

  • floor of my van
  • refrigerator
  • my veggie garden
  • washing machine
  • my calendar
  • my lists
  • in books
  • my computer
  • craft  room
  • garage
  • Lauryn’s closet
  • scrapbooks/
  • photo albums
  • old neighborhood
  • on airplanes
  • in airports
  • hotel rooms
  • in the camper
  • the bottoms of shoes
  • snooze alarm
  • my freezer
  • Mom J’s “scary closet”
  • drywall
  • bathroom project
  • pile of shoes in closet

Poetry Walk
Take students outside for a walk with pencils and clipboards.  Invite them to write down what they see, hear, feel, etc.  Remind them that there is no talking during these short walks so everyone can use all of their senses to notice the things around them and think like writers.  After returning to class, allow students to share their notes with one another.  Invite students to use their observations to compose free verse poetry.  

As Georgia Heard says, “We all have poetry inside of us, and poetry is for everyone.”  One of the best ways to improve student writing is to begin by teaching them to write free verse poetry. Free verse poetry differs from “form” poems such as haiku, cinquain, and rhyming couplet in that it doesn’t follow rules or a regular pattern of rhythm or rhyme.  This can be intimidating at first, but with specific mini-lessons, students quickly learn that they, too, “have poetry inside of them.”  One of my favorite resources for teaching free verse poetry to young writers is Regie Routman’s series call Kids’ Poems. Click here to learn more.  The following activities help create a poetry-friendly climate in our classrooms that can lay groundwork for successful free verse poetry writing:  Poetry PauseReading poetry aloud to students on a regular basis is a must! I found that I needed to be more intentional about reading poetry so I added a poetry pause to our daily routine. You can read all about this read aloud ritual here.  What Do We Notice?After my students have been exposed to a great deal of free verse poetry, we are ready to begin writing some of our own.  We begin by first making a list of what we have noticed about free verse poetry as we have read and shared it aloud: The next step is to begin making a list of  possible poetry topics: Where Poetry HidesThis is an idea that comes from Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard.  Ask students to take home their notebooks and spend some time searching their houses for places where poems are hiding.  Many poems are written about everyday, ordinary objects.  The key to turning the ordinary topic into poetry is to be as specific as possible and to create images or word pictures for the reader.  Reading aloud poems from books like All the Small Poems and Fourteen More by Valerie Worth can help students see that poetry hides in the most obscure places. Where Poetry Hides for Mrs. Johnson: floor of my van refrigerator my veggie garden washing machine my calendar my lists in books my computer craft  room garage Lauryn’s closet scrapbooks/ photo albums old neighborhood on airplanes in airports hotel rooms in the camper the bottoms of shoes snooze alarm my freezer Mom J’s “scary closet” drywall bathroom project pile of shoes in closet Poetry WalkTake students outside for a walk with pencils and clipboards.  Invite them to write down what they see, hear, feel, etc.  Remind them that there is no talking during these short walks so everyone can use all of their senses to notice the things around them and think like writers.  After returning to class, allow students to share their notes with one another.  Invite students to use their observations to compose free verse poetry. …

Glue Words (Transitions)

Writing Trait/Strategy:
word choice; organization; revision

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Cow by Jules Older
One Dark Night by Lisa Wheeler
When a Monster is Born by Sean Taylor
The Other Dog by Madeline L’Engle

Description:
Do you have students who begin every sentence with “And then…” or students who begin every sentence the same way as this student did?

These are writers who need a mini-lesson on transition words or “glue words”—those words and phrases that hold a piece together and help the reader navigate smoothly through the text. In Super Story-Writing Strategies and Activities, Barbara Mariconda calls these transitions “red flags” that tell the reader that there is a shift in the plot.

Have students begin a list of “glue word and phrases” like the one below to which they can refer when they are writing. When I encounter a child during a writing conference who seems to use the same transitional words repeatedly, we circle those words, refer to our chart, and find some suitable replacements.

  • After…
  • After that…
  • Afterward…
  • At first…
  • At the same time…
  • A moment later..
  • Before…
  • Before I knew it…
  • During…
  • Earlier…
  • Finally…
  • First…
  • For now…
  • For the time being…
  • In the blink of an eye…
  • In the meantime…
  • In time…
  • In turn…
  • Just as I realized…
  • Later…
  • Later on…
  • Meanwhile…
  • Next…
  • Now last…
  • Often…
  • Second…
  • Simultaneously…
  • Sometimes…
  • Soon…
  • Suddenly…
  • The next step…
  • The next thing I knew…
  • Then …
  • Third…
  • While…

For an extensive list of transitional words and phrases, go to the following website:
Study Guides and Strategies

Try retyping a portion of a published text omitting the transition words. Copy onto a transparency and work together to fill in the transitions. Examine the original text to see how the class transitions compare with the author’s.
 

Writing Trait/Strategy:word choice; organization; revision Mentor Text Suggestions:Cow by Jules OlderOne Dark Night by Lisa WheelerWhen a Monster is Born by Sean TaylorThe Other Dog by Madeline L’Engle Description:Do you have students who begin every sentence with “And then…” or students who begin every sentence the same way as this student did? These are writers who need a mini-lesson on transition words or “glue words”—those words and phrases that hold a piece together and help the reader navigate smoothly through the text. In Super Story-Writing Strategies and Activities, Barbara Mariconda calls these transitions “red flags” that tell the reader that there is a shift in the plot. Have students begin a list of “glue word and phrases” like the one below to which they can refer when they are writing. When I encounter a child during a writing conference who seems to use the same transitional words repeatedly, we circle those words, refer to our chart, and find some suitable replacements. After… After that… Afterward… At first… At the same time… A moment later.. Before… Before I knew it… During… Earlier… Finally… First… For now… For the time being… In the blink of an eye… In the meantime… In time… In turn… Just as I realized… Later… Later on… Meanwhile… Next… Now last… Often… Second… Simultaneously… Sometimes… Soon… Suddenly… The next step… The next thing I knew… Then … Third… While… For an extensive list of transitional words and phrases, go to the following website:Study Guides and Strategies Try retyping a portion of a published text omitting the transition words. Copy onto a transparency and work together to fill in the transitions. Examine the original text to see how the class transitions compare with the …

Goal Setting Ideas for Reading Workshop

At the end of each grading period, I ask students to select 2 reading engagement goals for the following grading period.  As part of a whole class mini-lesson, we brainstorm ideas for possible goals. After they have written their goals,  I meet with each child during an individual conference to review goals and check for appropriateness. I reserve the option to add a third goal if I see fit.

 Downloads:

Here are some possible engagement goals which students may set:

  • Read ___ fictional books.
  • Read at least ___ nonfiction books.
  • Finish at least ___ books.
  • Return all borrowed books.
  • Meet the minimum requirements for weekly reading at home .
  • Try to abandon no more than ___ books this grading period.
  • Pick out all “just right” books this grading period.
  • Enter all books read on the weekly reading log.
  • Remember to bring book to class each day.
  • Increase weekly home reading .
  • Try reading a new genre (name the genre).
  • Try a new author.

For more ideas on goal setting for reading, check out Jennifer Serravallo’s What Can I Work on as a Reader self-reflection tool.

At the end of each grading period, I ask students to select 2 reading engagement goals for the following grading period.  As part of a whole class mini-lesson, we brainstorm ideas for possible goals. After they have written their goals,  I meet with each child during an individual conference to review goals and check for appropriateness. I reserve the option to add a third goal if I see fit.  Downloads: Goal Setting Form Goal Setting Ideas Reading Self-Evaluations Here are some possible engagement goals which students may set: Read ___ fictional books. Read at least ___ nonfiction books. Finish at least ___ books. Return all borrowed books. Meet the minimum requirements for weekly reading at home . Try to abandon no more than ___ books this grading period. Pick out all “just right” books this grading period. Enter all books read on the weekly reading log. Remember to bring book to class each day. Increase weekly home reading . Try reading a new genre (name the genre). Try a new author. For more ideas on goal setting for reading, check out Jennifer Serravallo’s What Can I Work on as a Reader self-reflection …

Gradual Release of Responsibility

The optimal learning model or gradual release of responsibility takes Vygotsky’s ideas about the zone of proximal development and puts theory into practice. In this research-based model, the responsibility for task completion shifts gradually over time from the teacher to the student. The following steps describe this shift:

Teacher Modeling: Explain the strategy, demonstrate how to use it, and think aloud while demonstrating.

Guided Practice: Practice using the strategy with students during shared writing and mini-lessons. Allow students to share their thinking processes. Give feedback and support. Gradually release responsibility to students.

Independent Practice: Students try to apply the strategy on their own, receiving feedback from teacher and other students.

Application of the Strategy: Students apply the strategy in a new format or more difficult text.

When we employ mentor texts as part of our writing instruction, we work through this recursive process of modeling, guiding, and providing practice, as students progress from noticing what mentor authors do to envisioning using these crafts themselves to finally incorporating these techniques in their own writing.

The optimal learning model or gradual release of responsibility takes Vygotsky’s ideas about the zone of proximal development and puts theory into practice. In this research-based model, the responsibility for task completion shifts gradually over time from the teacher to the student. The following steps describe this shift: Teacher Modeling: Explain the strategy, demonstrate how to use it, and think aloud while demonstrating. Guided Practice: Practice using the strategy with students during shared writing and mini-lessons. Allow students to share their thinking processes. Give feedback and support. Gradually release responsibility to students. Independent Practice: Students try to apply the strategy on their own, receiving feedback from teacher and other students. Application of the Strategy: Students apply the strategy in a new format or more difficult text. When we employ mentor texts as part of our writing instruction, we work through this recursive process of modeling, guiding, and providing practice, as students progress from noticing what mentor authors do to envisioning using these crafts themselves to finally incorporating these techniques in their own …

Growing Readers Out of a Pizza Box? Yup!

Today I want to share a tip for K-2 teachers or teachers who might have young readers at home. Young readers need a place to keep the books they are reading for the week. When my daughter was learning from home this school year, one of my challenges was making sure she had a supply of books she could access quickly when it was time for reading.

Then an empty pizza box walked into our lives and changed everything. Most people saw an empty pizza box. Not this lady. I saw a magical book bin that doubled as a reading mat. Not only was it fun to decorate, but it could hold a lot of books of all shapes and sizes.

 Are your reading bins looking a little shabby? Or do you just need a little something to get your young readers re-energized and re-excited about independent reading time? Maybe pizza boxes are just what you need!

Today I want to share a tip for K-2 teachers or teachers who might have young readers at home. Young readers need a place to keep the books they are reading for the week. When my daughter was learning from home this school year, one of my challenges was making sure she had a supply of books she could access quickly when it was time for reading. Then an empty pizza box walked into our lives and changed everything. Most people saw an empty pizza box. Not this lady. I saw a magical book bin that doubled as a reading mat. Not only was it fun to decorate, but it could hold a lot of books of all shapes and sizes.  Are your reading bins looking a little shabby? Or do you just need a little something to get your young readers re-energized and re-excited about independent reading time? Maybe pizza boxes are just what you need! ​ …

Help Your Students Become Test Warriors [FREE Webinar and Mini-Unit]

Spring is finally here! You know what that means: longer days, more sunlight, warmer weather…and state testing.  Along with testing season comes test anxiety for many of our kiddos.

Factors That Cause Test Anxiety for Students [and a Solution!]

Do your students ever experience these “test villains”:
  • A negative test mindset?
  • A feeling of overwhelm?
  • Difficulty budgeting time?
  • Feeling frustrated with the testing format/questions?

Yeah, mine, too! That is why I recently developed a mini test-taking unit with teachers in my school. 

Help Your Students Conquer Their "Test Villains"

We wanted to equip our students with strategies to help them overcome their feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, as well as teach them specific ways they can approach the test to help set them up for success.

We also wanted this mini-unit to be playful and fun, so we created a “conquer your test villains” theme that the students have loved!

Not only have they been highly engaged and excited to learn about ways to become “test warriors”, they have actually been transferring their new-found strategies into their practice!

Free Test Prep Mini-Unit

That got me thinking…maybe you and your students could benefit from these strategies, too!

So I decided to make this unit available through a recent webinar that I taught:

A Playful Approach to Test Prep:
 Strategies to Help Students Overcome Their Test Villains!

If your students feel anxious or overwhelmed by the demands of testing…and/or if you want to help your students unlock test-taking strategies that will set them up for success, you can get instant access here:

Spring is finally here! You know what that means: longer days, more sunlight, warmer weather…and state testing.  Along with testing season comes test anxiety for many of our kiddos. Factors That Cause Test Anxiety for Students [and a Solution!] Do your students ever experience these “test villains”: A negative test mindset? A feeling of overwhelm? Difficulty budgeting time? Feeling frustrated with the testing format/questions? Yeah, mine, too! That is why I recently developed a mini test-taking unit with teachers in my school.  Help Your Students Conquer Their “Test Villains” We wanted to equip our students with strategies to help them overcome their feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, as well as teach them specific ways they can approach the test to help set them up for success. We also wanted this mini-unit to be playful and fun, so we created a “conquer your test villains” theme that the students have loved! Not only have they been highly engaged and excited to learn about ways to become “test warriors”, they have actually been transferring their new-found strategies into their practice! Free Test Prep Mini-Unit That got me thinking…maybe you and your students could benefit from these strategies, too! So I decided to make this unit available through a recent webinar that I taught: A Playful Approach to Test Prep:  Strategies to Help Students Overcome Their Test Villains! If your students feel anxious or overwhelmed by the demands of testing…and/or if you want to help your students unlock test-taking strategies that will set them up for success, you can get instant access here: Yes, please send me instant …

Helpers of the Day

On the first day of school have each student create a self-portrait on a paper plate which has been labeled with his/her name. Punch one hole in the top of each paper plate and place the girls on one metal loose leaf ring and the boys on another. Each morning the paper plates are turned to reveal the next “Helpers of the Day”. These two students are responsible for leading the line, running errands, assisting the teacher, etc.  I have found that this system eliminates the “teacher’s pet” syndrome and allows all students to be special helpers.  It also eliminates the weekly jobs chart that I find a tedious chore.

On the first day of school have each student create a self-portrait on a paper plate which has been labeled with his/her name. Punch one hole in the top of each paper plate and place the girls on one metal loose leaf ring and the boys on another. Each morning the paper plates are turned to reveal the next “Helpers of the Day”. These two students are responsible for leading the line, running errands, assisting the teacher, etc.  I have found that this system eliminates the “teacher’s pet” syndrome and allows all students to be special helpers.  It also eliminates the weekly jobs chart that I find a tedious …

Homemade I Spy Game: Fun With Phonics

Last week was exhausting. We are no longer knee-deep in a pandemic–it’s more like chest-deep with no end in sight. My children are missing their friends and their cousins. And the colder weather outside means more time for my people to run around the inside of the house like little lunatics. Just to top things off, one sweet child unsuccessfully turned himself into Olaf by sticking a carrot far up his nose and someone else I love peed in my water bottle. He said it was an emergency. Do you also find it strange that I found my water bottle next to the toilet?

I desperately needed an activity that kept my kids safe, busy, and out of trouble. While I couldn’t do anything about the dropping temperatures outside, I needed to do something to save my sanity.

One night after my little angels were sound asleep, I was scrolling through social media and found a really great homemade I SPY game. Was this the sanity saver I was looking for? All I needed was a large piece of paper and some stickers. I decided to give it a try. Here is what we did…

How to Make Your Own I Spy Game

Just place your giant paper at a table or on the floor and let the kids start putting stickers-of all kinds- anywhere on the paper. No giant rolls of paper in your home, any paper will work. If you don’t have stickers, have your big kids cut out the pictures from magazines or store flyers and glue them on the paper.

We played a little game to get the stickers disbursed evenly. We turned on music and every time a song ended the kids had to get up, move to a new spot around the paper, and keep going.

It took a lot of breaks and a few days to fill it up. In the end, this is what we had…

How to Use Your I Spy Game

School Age

  • Letter-sound correspondence- “Find the letter M”, “Find something that starts with /b/”
  • Recording sounds-“Stretch the word three on this post-it note and then find the number three. Lable it with your post-it note”
  • Vowels-“Find something with a short i”
  • Segmenting-“Find an object with two syllables”, “Find a word that ends with a /t/”
  • Rhyming-“Find something that rhymes with fall”
  • Digraphs/Blends- “Find something that begins with the blend sp“, “Find spider and record the blend”, “Find something that starts with s-h”

You can have some math fun, too! My 6 year old had fun finding cylinders, cones and two-digit numbers.

My favorite part of this I Spy game was how easily it could be differentiated for children of all skill levels.

Preschooler

  • find colors and shapes
  • Find letters or numbers
  • work on counting-“Find ten frogs”

Toddler

  • find objects- “Find a spider”
  • find colors- “Find something that is blue”
  • find shapes- “Can you find a circle?”

If you are looking for an activity that keeps kids of all ages engaged, busy, and away from screens, I think you should give this one a try.

Last week was exhausting. We are no longer knee-deep in a pandemic–it’s more like chest-deep with no end in sight. My children are missing their friends and their cousins. And the colder weather outside means more time for my people to run around the inside of the house like little lunatics. Just to top things off, one sweet child unsuccessfully turned himself into Olaf by sticking a carrot far up his nose and someone else I love peed in my water bottle. He said it was an emergency. Do you also find it strange that I found my water bottle next to the toilet? I desperately needed an activity that kept my kids safe, busy, and out of trouble. While I couldn’t do anything about the dropping temperatures outside, I needed to do something to save my sanity. One night after my little angels were sound asleep, I was scrolling through social media and found a really great homemade I SPY game. Was this the sanity saver I was looking for? All I needed was a large piece of paper and some stickers. I decided to give it a try. Here is what we did… How to Make Your Own I Spy Game Just place your giant paper at a table or on the floor and let the kids start putting stickers-of all kinds- anywhere on the paper. No giant rolls of paper in your home, any paper will work. If you don’t have stickers, have your big kids cut out the pictures from magazines or store flyers and glue them on the paper. We played a little game to get the stickers disbursed evenly. We turned on music and every time a song ended the kids had to get up, move to a new spot around the paper, and keep going. It took a lot of breaks and a few days to fill it up. In the end, this is what we had… How to Use Your I Spy Game School Age Letter-sound correspondence- “Find the letter M”, “Find something that starts with /b/” Recording sounds-“Stretch the word three on this post-it note and then find the number three. Lable it with your post-it note” Vowels-“Find something with a short i” Segmenting-“Find an object with two syllables”, “Find a word that ends with a /t/” Rhyming-“Find something that rhymes with fall” Digraphs/Blends- “Find something that begins with the blend sp“, “Find spider and record the blend”, “Find something that starts with s-h” You can have some math fun, too! My 6 year old had fun finding cylinders, cones and two-digit numbers. My favorite part of this I Spy game was how easily it could be differentiated for children of all skill levels. Preschooler find colors and shapes Find letters or numbers work on counting-“Find ten frogs” Toddler find objects- “Find a spider” find colors- “Find something that is blue” find shapes- “Can you find a circle?” If you are looking for an activity that keeps kids of all ages engaged, busy, and away from screens, I think you should give this one a …

How Do We Teach Close Reading?

I’m reading a book that is changing the way I read and the way I talk to kids about their reading.  This happened to me once before–back in 1997 when I first read Mosaic of Thought by Zimmerman and Keene.  If you have read this book, you know what I mean.  In Mosaic of Thought the authors explained that proficient readers use a variety of comprehension strategies to make sense of text and that we can actually teach children to use these strategies as they read.  After I read that book, every time I picked up a text, I found myself being metacognitive about my own thinking/reading strategies.  I began teaching my students to use these strategies and watched them become more interactive with texts, too.

But something has always bugged me.  Sometimes I feel like students use the strategies of connecting, visualizing, synthesizing, determining importance, etc. as an end in itself.  I have often asked myself if I am teaching strategic reading or just isolated strategies that students parrot back. Mosaic of Thought, and books that followed such as Strategies That Work by Harvey and Goudvis and Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller, helped me transform my reading instruction and teach not just test comprehension.

But now I am reading another book that is taking my comprehension instruction to a whole new level.  This book is called Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading  by Kylen Beers and Robert Probst.  Notice and Note lays out six different “signposts” for students to notice as they read.  Each signpost is designed to show students when in their texts they should stop to think and what they should be thinking about.  Through their research, Beers and Probst found that almost all upper elementary and young adult novels contain these signposts and that even the most struggling readers can be taught to identify them and think about them.

These are the six signposts:

Contrasts and Contradictions: a sharp contrast between what we would expect and what we observe the character doing; behavior that contradicts previous behavior or well-established patterns

Aha Moment: a character’s realization of some that shifts his action or understanding of himself, others, or the world around him

Tough Questions: questions a character raises that reveal his or her inner struggles

Words of the Wiser: the advice or insight a wiser character, who is usually older, offers about life to the main character

Again and Again: events, images, or particular words that recur over a portion of the novel

Memory Moment: a recollection by a character that interrupts the forward progress of the story

Beers and Probst discovered that when readers think about these signposts as they encounter them in the text, they naturally begin to make predictions and connections, to infer and synthesize, to uncover the themes and big ideas.  They don’t say, “I’m predicting that…”; they just naturally predict. In other words, they are reading strategically and thinking as they read instead of “reading on autopilot”.

I was recently in a second grade classroom and saw this anchor chart:

I loved that these second-graders were learning that they aren’t truly reading if they aren’t thinking as they read. Beers and Probst (drawing on the research of Louise Rosenblatt) describe it this way:  “Meaning is created not purely and simply from the words on the page, but from the transaction with those words that takes place in the reader’s mind.”  But how do we teach kids to do this, to really think as they interact with text? I believe that the close reading strategies described in Notice and Note will help us do just that.  This book is a must-have book for every reading teacher of grades 3 and up!

You can read a nice sampling of the book here:  Notice and Note Sample Chapters

I’m reading a book that is changing the way I read and the way I talk to kids about their reading.  This happened to me once before–back in 1997 when I first read Mosaic of Thought by Zimmerman and Keene.  If you have read this book, you know what I mean.  In Mosaic of Thought the authors explained that proficient readers use a variety of comprehension strategies to make sense of text and that we can actually teach children to use these strategies as they read.  After I read that book, every time I picked up a text, I found myself being metacognitive about my own thinking/reading strategies.  I began teaching my students to use these strategies and watched them become more interactive with texts, too. But something has always bugged me.  Sometimes I feel like students use the strategies of connecting, visualizing, synthesizing, determining importance, etc. as an end in itself.  I have often asked myself if I am teaching strategic reading or just isolated strategies that students parrot back. Mosaic of Thought, and books that followed such as Strategies That Work by Harvey and Goudvis and Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller, helped me transform my reading instruction and teach not just test comprehension. But now I am reading another book that is taking my comprehension instruction to a whole new level.  This book is called Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading  by Kylen Beers and Robert Probst.  Notice and Note lays out six different “signposts” for students to notice as they read.  Each signpost is designed to show students when in their texts they should stop to think and what they should be thinking about.  Through their research, Beers and Probst found that almost all upper elementary and young adult novels contain these signposts and that even the most struggling readers can be taught to identify them and think about them. These are the six signposts: Contrasts and Contradictions: a sharp contrast between what we would expect and what we observe the character doing; behavior that contradicts previous behavior or well-established patterns Aha Moment: a character’s realization of some that shifts his action or understanding of himself, others, or the world around him Tough Questions: questions a character raises that reveal his or her inner struggles Words of the Wiser: the advice or insight a wiser character, who is usually older, offers about life to the main character Again and Again: events, images, or particular words that recur over a portion of the novel Memory Moment: a recollection by a character that interrupts the forward progress of the story Beers and Probst discovered that when readers think about these signposts as they encounter them in the text, they naturally begin to make predictions and connections, to infer and synthesize, to uncover the themes and big ideas.  They don’t say, “I’m predicting that…”; they just naturally predict. In other words, they are reading strategically and thinking as they read instead of “reading on autopilot”. I was recently in a second grade classroom and saw this anchor chart: I loved that these second-graders were learning that they aren’t truly reading if they aren’t thinking as they read. Beers and Probst (drawing on the research of Louise Rosenblatt) describe it this way:  “Meaning is created not purely and simply from the words on the page, but from the transaction with those words that takes place in the reader’s mind.”  But how do we teach kids to do this, to really think as they interact with text? I believe that the close reading strategies described in Notice and Note will help us do just that.  This book is a must-have book for every reading teacher of grades 3 and up! You can read a nice sampling of the book here:  Notice and Note Sample Chapters …

How Do Writers Work?

Writing Trait/Strategy:
Ideas trait; studying how real authors work

Mentor Text Suggestions:  
Arthur Writes a Story by Marc Brown
Author: A True Story by Helen Lester
Chester by Melanie Watt (revision)
From Idea to Book by Pam Marshall
From Pictures to Words by Janet Stevens
How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher
If You Were a Writer by Joan Lowery Nixon
Look at My Book by Loreen Leedy
Nothing Happens on 90th Street by Roni Schotter
Show, Don’t Tell: Secrets of Writing by Josephine Nobisso
The Day Eddie Met the Authors by Louise Borden
The MEET THE AUTHOR SERIES published by Richard C. Owens Publishers. Example: Still Fire Talking. This series gives you a close-up look at many authors you will recognize. 
What Do Authors Do by Eileen Christelow
You Can Write a Story by Lisa Bullard
You Have to Write by Janet Wong

Description:
As Katie Wood Ray says in Wondrous Words, “we don’t have students choose their own topics because it feels good—we have them choose their own topics because it matches what real writers do.” What other decisions do real writers make as they craft their writing? Why do they select a certain genre or text structure? Why do they use the words they do? Where do their ideas come from? Why do they even write in the first place?

An important way to use mentor authors is to study how they do their work and let students in on these authors’ secrets. We can do this in a variety of ways.

Ways to Study an Author’s Work and Processes

1. Attend author talks at conferences and share that information with our students

2. Study professional books about authors’ work and use that information in our mini-lessons. Some helpful resources include:

3. Read aloud the picture books listed at the top of this page. These books all deal specifically with the act of writing and can be used to help students get inside the minds of writers.

4. Use the internet. There are many websites that provide biographical information about children’s authors, and many of them include advice or tips from the these authors.

Here are some helpful sites:

http://www.rhteacherslibrarians.com/

http://www.canteach.ca/links/linkspecific.html

http://teacher.scholastic.com/read/all-about-authors.htm

http://www.scholastic.com/teacher/ab/biolist_cd.htm

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/author-author-0/

We can use all of this information to help students envision possibilities for their own writing and ask, “I wonder if I could do that?”

Below are some useful questions that can guide our discussions as we teach students to study how writers work:

  • What is there in this author’s process that might work for me as a writer?”
  • Where does this author get ideas? Could I try this too?”
  • How did this author develop this idea before it was drafted? Could I try this too?
  • How is this author already like me? How is he or she different from me as a writer?
  • What authors mentored this writer? Could they be mentors for me as well?
  • What does this author understand about writing that I had never thought about? (Ray, 1999)

Writing Trait/Strategy:Ideas trait; studying how real authors work Mentor Text Suggestions:  Arthur Writes a Story by Marc BrownAuthor: A True Story by Helen LesterChester by Melanie Watt (revision)From Idea to Book by Pam MarshallFrom Pictures to Words by Janet StevensHow to Write Your Life Story by Ralph FletcherIf You Were a Writer by Joan Lowery NixonLook at My Book by Loreen LeedyNothing Happens on 90th Street by Roni SchotterShow, Don’t Tell: Secrets of Writing by Josephine NobissoThe Day Eddie Met the Authors by Louise BordenThe MEET THE AUTHOR SERIES published by Richard C. Owens Publishers. Example: Still Fire Talking. This series gives you a close-up look at many authors you will recognize. What Do Authors Do by Eileen ChristelowYou Can Write a Story by Lisa BullardYou Have to Write by Janet Wong Description:As Katie Wood Ray says in Wondrous Words, “we don’t have students choose their own topics because it feels good—we have them choose their own topics because it matches what real writers do.” What other decisions do real writers make as they craft their writing? Why do they select a certain genre or text structure? Why do they use the words they do? Where do their ideas come from? Why do they even write in the first place? An important way to use mentor authors is to study how they do their work and let students in on these authors’ secrets. We can do this in a variety of ways. Ways to Study an Author’s Work and Processes 1. Attend author talks at conferences and share that information with our students 2. Study professional books about authors’ work and use that information in our mini-lessons. Some helpful resources include: What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins How Writers Write by Pamela Lloyd Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers by Donald Murray Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way by Georgia Heard Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg Reading Like a Writer by Francise Prose 3. Read aloud the picture books listed at the top of this page. These books all deal specifically with the act of writing and can be used to help students get inside the minds of writers. 4. Use the internet. There are many websites that provide biographical information about children’s authors, and many of them include advice or tips from the these authors. Here are some helpful sites: http://www.rhteacherslibrarians.com/ http://www.canteach.ca/links/linkspecific.html http://teacher.scholastic.com/read/all-about-authors.htm http://www.scholastic.com/teacher/ab/biolist_cd.htm https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/author-author-0/ We can use all of this information to help students envision possibilities for their own writing and ask, “I wonder if I could do that?” Below are some useful questions that can guide our discussions as we teach students to study how writers work: What is there in this author’s process that might work for me as a writer?” Where does this author get ideas? Could I try this too?” How did this author develop this idea before it was drafted? Could I try this too? How is this author already like me? How is he or she different from me as a writer? What authors mentored this writer? Could they be mentors for me as well? What does this author understand about writing that I had never thought about? (Ray, …

How Long Does It Take for a Strategy to Give Way to a Skill?

In my last two posts I wrote about the difference between telling and teaching and the distinction between a skill and a strategy. I shared a story about how author Jennifer Serravallo learned to draw people by using the strategy of lightly drawing shapes and then adding the details of the person. This strategy gave way to skilled performance. We could take any skill we want to learn and break it down into step-by-step how-tos that lead to skilled performance.

Today’s question is:  how long does it take before a learner becomes skilled and no longer needs the strategy? (Remember—strategies are scaffolds that are meant to be removed eventually).  Well, in Serravallo’s story, she said it took months of practice before  she could draw people without the strategy.

I wonder how often we have unrealistic expectations about how long it should take our students to master a particular reading or writing skill.  How many times have we said or thought to ourselves, “I taught a minilesson on X yesterday.  Why are my students still not getting it?”

Several months ago I purchased my first Mac computer after many years of using only a PC.  I’m a pretty quick learner when it comes to technology, so I started using my new computer right away.  I signed up for One-to-One tutoring at the Apple Store to help me make the transition as quickly as possible.  I spent a lot of time practicing at home. Guess how long it took before I actually started using my new computer to present seminars?  Three full months!  Even though I was using my new computer exclusively at home, it took me that long to feel confident and fluent enough to present with it in front of large groups of people.  If I had been told that I needed to be immediately proficient, I would have been pretty stressed out!

My point here is that it is not enough to think only in terms of breaking skills down into strategies.  We must also give the learner ample time to practice.  That may mean lots of stops and starts.  It means allowing students to approximate for awhile.  I become very frustrated when I see teachers teach a minilesson, send students off for independent reading or writing, and then walk around with a checklist of skills, using conferring time to check in with students to see who has mastered that day’s teaching. Learning doesn’t work this way!  

So the next time you find yourself wondering why a student hasn’t mastered a skill you have taught, here are a few questions that might be helpful in thinking about next steps for this learner:

  • Has the learner had enough time to practice?
  • Is the skill within the learner’s zone of proximal development?
  • Is there a different skill that is “higher on the food chain” for this learner?
  • Does the learner need a strategy to help her move toward skilled performance?
  • Does the learner need a different strategy to help him move toward skilled performance?
  • Am I expecting all students to move lock-step through the curriculum and master skills in the same order and at the same rate or am I allowing for individual learning styles and rates? 

It’s not enough to think only in terms of
breaking skills down into strategies.
We must also give the learner ample time to practice.

In my last two posts I wrote about the difference between telling and teaching and the distinction between a skill and a strategy. I shared a story about how author Jennifer Serravallo learned to draw people by using the strategy of lightly drawing shapes and then adding the details of the person. This strategy gave way to skilled performance. We could take any skill we want to learn and break it down into step-by-step how-tos that lead to skilled performance. Today’s question is:  how long does it take before a learner becomes skilled and no longer needs the strategy? (Remember—strategies are scaffolds that are meant to be removed eventually).  Well, in Serravallo’s story, she said it took months of practice before  she could draw people without the strategy. I wonder how often we have unrealistic expectations about how long it should take our students to master a particular reading or writing skill.  How many times have we said or thought to ourselves, “I taught a minilesson on X yesterday.  Why are my students still not getting it?” Several months ago I purchased my first Mac computer after many years of using only a PC.  I’m a pretty quick learner when it comes to technology, so I started using my new computer right away.  I signed up for One-to-One tutoring at the Apple Store to help me make the transition as quickly as possible.  I spent a lot of time practicing at home. Guess how long it took before I actually started using my new computer to present seminars?  Three full months!  Even though I was using my new computer exclusively at home, it took me that long to feel confident and fluent enough to present with it in front of large groups of people.  If I had been told that I needed to be immediately proficient, I would have been pretty stressed out! My point here is that it is not enough to think only in terms of breaking skills down into strategies.  We must also give the learner ample time to practice.  That may mean lots of stops and starts.  It means allowing students to approximate for awhile.  I become very frustrated when I see teachers teach a minilesson, send students off for independent reading or writing, and then walk around with a checklist of skills, using conferring time to check in with students to see who has mastered that day’s teaching. Learning doesn’t work this way!   So the next time you find yourself wondering why a student hasn’t mastered a skill you have taught, here are a few questions that might be helpful in thinking about next steps for this learner: Has the learner had enough time to practice? Is the skill within the learner’s zone of proximal development? Is there a different skill that is “higher on the food chain” for this learner? Does the learner need a strategy to help her move toward skilled performance? Does the learner need a different strategy to help him move toward skilled performance? Am I expecting all students to move lock-step through the curriculum and master skills in the same order and at the same rate or am I allowing for individual learning styles and rates?  It’s not enough to think only in terms ofbreaking skills down into strategies.We must also give the learner ample time to …

How to Be a Stay-at-Home, Work-from-Home Mom: 5 Practical Tips

Before we all became Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Moms, I was a Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom. Let me tell you something you’ve already figured out while social distancing: it is really hard to juggle both. Here is what you don’t know, and what you aren’t giving yourself enough credit for…this gig of yours is WAY harder today than it was for me just one month ago.

One month ago, no one else needed our home office. Ninja Turtles could hide under the desk and eat “pizza” whenever they wanted. Now I am awkwardly pulling screaming Ninja Turtles out from under that desk while daddy is on video calls with his entire team. Should I wave, or pretend I’m invisible? So awkward–insert heavy sigh here. Not sure what I am worried about; I bet their wives are wearing their raggedy robes and cozy llama knee-high socks this morning, too.

One month ago, I could easily find a time slot for grocery pick up. If I was out of diapers, we simply went to the store, without homemade masks, and grabbed what we needed–all while my kids happily licked the shopping carts.

One month ago, I could break up the day with a trip to the park or plan a playdate. I could get a dose of adult interaction while my kids could get a break from each other. Or if I needed help, my mom could swing by and play with my babies while I cranked out a couple of hours of work. I had breaks.

One month ago, working from home while having children to take care of was not a walk in the park. It was difficult. Today it is much more challenging. So here I am, offering you some advice from one Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom to another. Hopefully, the following 5 tips will grant you a little extra time to get your work done or possibly relieve some unnecessary pressure.

1. Expect Interruptions

Do you hear the cast of High School Musical singing, “We’re all in this together” every time you hear someone say, “We are all in this together”? Whether this song is your internal soundtrack right now or not, we keep hearing this phrase and it couldn’t be more true…we are all in this together. As you are trying to work from home, just know that there will be interruptions. Your kids are going to need you, the dog is going to bark, your internet is going to drop.

Try not to get frustrated. Remember to breathe. If you can, laugh. You are not the only one in your virtual staff meeting with someone yelling, “Mom, Mommy, Mom, MOOOOOOOOM”. You are not the only one with a dog barking at a squirrel during your live read-aloud.

Interruptions are not something new to you. Just remember how you handled the “Mrs. Furr, we need your attendance” interruptions during morning meeting or the, “It is my uncle’s birthday” interruptions during your math lesson. You have a master’s degree in interruptions.

When I conferred with readers and writers in my classroom, we had a 3 B interruption rule. You could not interrupt someone else’s conferring time unless you were bleeding, barfing, or broken. If your problem didn’t fit in one of the 3 B categories then you needed to be a problem solver or keep reading/writing. Guess what? The 3 B rule can also be applied to your own children while mommy is teaching a virtual lesson.

So, expect the interruptions. Accept the interruptions. We’re all going to have them. Try not to be hard on your kids, your dog, or your internet. We’re all in this together.

2. Good is Good Enough

I am often haunted by my first classroom observation. My principal wanted to see a guided reading lesson. I spent a ridiculous amount of time prepping for that 15-minute lesson. I had written notes to myself on sticky notes and placed them all over the book. I wanted that lesson to be perfect.

The second the lesson was over I regretted trying to be perfect. Those notes I made myself just got in the way of my teaching. If I would have just been myself and taught like it was any old day in Room 5, I wouldn’t carry such guilt today. By trying to have the PERFECT lesson, I distracted myself from the teaching I was already capable of.

As teachers, we get really comfortable with the audience we teach in our classrooms. The second we add someone else to the mix (like all the parents who are now at home while you are teaching virtually), it can be intimidating. Just be yourself. Don’t try to be perfect. Treat each lesson as if you are in your classroom–teaching to those same kids that adore you.

When creating digital lessons, stick to one-takes. Don’t record and re-record in hopes that this time your dog won’t bark or you won’t say voice with a lisp. Hit record, teach, hit stop. Be done. With ALL the demands you are currently facing, please remember: good is good enough.

3. Prepare for What Your Little People Might Need

Like you, I have had a lot of virtual meetings lately. They usually run anywhere from one to two hours. This means I am often planning how to keep my littles busy and safe while I work. I think about what my kids might need from me and I plan accordingly. Honestly, it is a little like planning a birthday party–just without the cake, presents, and a house full of other people’s children. Here’s what you will need:

  • A Quick Tidy-up: right before your guests arrive for a party you probably do a quick trip around your house to make sure your home is in tip-top shape. Right before I start working, I do a quick glance around the house to make sure my house is safe…lord knows it isn’t clean. A few weeks ago, I cut up apples for the kids before a meeting. I left the knife and cutting board out on the counter and got to work. Five minutes into the call, my 4-year-old proudly brought me some cute apple slices. My heart stopped. I counted all his fingers. We got lucky. I told you this gig was hard.
  • Drinks & Snacks: I make sure each child has a water bottle filled and accessible. Those people of yours will be thirsty. I set out a snack tray. Yes, you read that correctly, a whole tray. I fill it with pretzels, nuts, fruit, cheese, carrot sticks, anything I can find in the pantry. I promise you they will be hungry.
  • Activities: My children know that when Mommy is working they can color, draw, read, build, or create. Together we make a plan for acceptable, independent activities. Magna-tiles, good. Making slime, bad.

4. Set Boundaries

Let’s face it, we are all aware that our job consumes much more than a 40-hour workweek. We are used to bringing our work home with us, usually in five different brightly colored bags. We already have a hard time setting boundaries when it comes to lesson planning, professional learning, email, etc. Now that your classroom is living under the same roof as your family, it is even harder to set boundaries. It is important that you figure out where to draw the line with work-life and home-life and begin setting some limits now.

Set work hours. Whether you set them or your district sets them for you, have a schedule of when you will be working and stick to it. Communicate those times with your school families and your own family, too. While you are at it, tell your mom, too. Now that she isn’t working, she needs to know the appropriate time to call you and tell you about the strawberry cheesecake she just made.

When I first became a mom, I made myself a little rule. When I got home from work, I set my phone on the charger in the kitchen and I didn’t pick it up until after Molly was in bed. I deserved that time to be with my daughter. I realized really quickly once I had kids that the emails could wait. Now that your kids are home full-time and navigating virtual learning, they deserve your time, too.

5. Get Yourself a Babysitter

Babysitters are key when you are trying to work from home with littles. I know babysitters are scarce right now, but let me introduce you to the one I like to use. Her name is Screen Time. The kids really love her, she is really patient with them, and she won’t charge you. Well, technically she isn’t free, but you know what I mean.

Right now there is a lot of guilt around kids and screen time. We all know screen time needs to be limited. Can I be the one to tell you it’s okay? Good, thanks. It’s okay for your kids to watch a show while you get some work done. It’s okay for your kids to do one of those drawing classes on Youtube while you plan a lesson. It’s okay if they play a video game while you catch up on email.

Right now you have work to do and your kids need to be safe. If it means they are getting screen time, please DON’T beat yourself up over it. Once you get through your work, you can get back to spending quality screen-free time with your kids. Your kids are going to be just fine and darling, so are you.

Here’s a picture of my little middle’s latest artwork– in our bathroom. He created this masterpiece during my last virtual meeting. When I found it, he smiled proudly. “It says I love you, Mom”. We hugged, I snapped this picture, and then I showed him how to erase it. Please remember, what we are currently facing in this topsy-turvy world, is NOT typical. This is challenging work. All of it. Be kind to your kids. Be kind to yourself. Best of luck to you and your bathroom walls.

If you have any tips for how you manage life as a Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom, drop a comment below because like Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens told us long ago, “We’re all in this together.”

Before we all became Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Moms, I was a Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom. Let me tell you something you’ve already figured out while social distancing: it is really hard to juggle both. Here is what you don’t know, and what you aren’t giving yourself enough credit for…this gig of yours is WAY harder today than it was for me just one month ago. One month ago, no one else needed our home office. Ninja Turtles could hide under the desk and eat “pizza” whenever they wanted. Now I am awkwardly pulling screaming Ninja Turtles out from under that desk while daddy is on video calls with his entire team. Should I wave, or pretend I’m invisible? So awkward–insert heavy sigh here. Not sure what I am worried about; I bet their wives are wearing their raggedy robes and cozy llama knee-high socks this morning, too. One month ago, I could easily find a time slot for grocery pick up. If I was out of diapers, we simply went to the store, without homemade masks, and grabbed what we needed–all while my kids happily licked the shopping carts. One month ago, I could break up the day with a trip to the park or plan a playdate. I could get a dose of adult interaction while my kids could get a break from each other. Or if I needed help, my mom could swing by and play with my babies while I cranked out a couple of hours of work. I had breaks. One month ago, working from home while having children to take care of was not a walk in the park. It was difficult. Today it is much more challenging. So here I am, offering you some advice from one Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom to another. Hopefully, the following 5 tips will grant you a little extra time to get your work done or possibly relieve some unnecessary pressure. 1. Expect Interruptions Do you hear the cast of High School Musical singing, “We’re all in this together” every time you hear someone say, “We are all in this together”? Whether this song is your internal soundtrack right now or not, we keep hearing this phrase and it couldn’t be more true…we are all in this together. As you are trying to work from home, just know that there will be interruptions. Your kids are going to need you, the dog is going to bark, your internet is going to drop. Try not to get frustrated. Remember to breathe. If you can, laugh. You are not the only one in your virtual staff meeting with someone yelling, “Mom, Mommy, Mom, MOOOOOOOOM”. You are not the only one with a dog barking at a squirrel during your live read-aloud. Interruptions are not something new to you. Just remember how you handled the “Mrs. Furr, we need your attendance” interruptions during morning meeting or the, “It is my uncle’s birthday” interruptions during your math lesson. You have a master’s degree in interruptions. When I conferred with readers and writers in my classroom, we had a 3 B interruption rule. You could not interrupt someone else’s conferring time unless you were bleeding, barfing, or broken. If your problem didn’t fit in one of the 3 B categories then you needed to be a problem solver or keep reading/writing. Guess what? The 3 B rule can also be applied to your own children while mommy is teaching a virtual lesson. So, expect the interruptions. Accept the interruptions. We’re all going to have them. Try not to be hard on your kids, your dog, or your internet. We’re all in this together. 2. Good is Good Enough I am often haunted by my first classroom observation. My principal wanted to see a guided reading lesson. I spent a ridiculous amount of time prepping for that 15-minute lesson. I had written notes to myself on sticky notes and placed them all over the book. I wanted that lesson to be perfect. The second the lesson was over I regretted trying to be perfect. Those notes I made myself just got in the way of my teaching. If I would have just been myself and taught like it was any old day in Room 5, I wouldn’t carry such guilt today. By trying to have the PERFECT lesson, I distracted myself from the teaching I was already capable of. As teachers, we get really comfortable with the audience we teach in our classrooms. The second we add someone else to the mix (like all the parents who are now at home while you are teaching virtually), it can be intimidating. Just be yourself. Don’t try to be perfect. Treat each lesson as if you are in your classroom–teaching to those same kids that adore you. When creating digital lessons, stick to one-takes. Don’t record and re-record in hopes that this time your dog won’t bark or you won’t say voice with a lisp. Hit record, teach, hit stop. Be done. With ALL the demands you are currently facing, please remember: good is good enough. 3. Prepare for What Your Little People Might Need Like you, I have had a lot of virtual meetings lately. They usually run anywhere from one to two hours. This means I am often planning how to keep my littles busy and safe while I work. I think about what my kids might need from me and I plan accordingly. Honestly, it is a little like planning a birthday party–just without the cake, presents, and a house full of other people’s children. Here’s what you will need: A Quick Tidy-up: right before your guests arrive for a party you probably do a quick trip around your house to make sure your home is in tip-top shape. Right before I start working, I do a quick glance around the house to make sure my house is safe…lord knows it isn’t clean. A few weeks ago, I cut up apples for the kids before a meeting. I left the knife and cutting board out on the counter and got to work. Five minutes into the call, my 4-year-old proudly brought me some cute apple slices. My heart stopped. I counted all his fingers. We got lucky. I told you this gig was hard. Drinks & Snacks: I make sure each child has a water bottle filled and accessible. Those people of yours will be thirsty. I set out a snack tray. Yes, you read that correctly, a whole tray. I fill it with pretzels, nuts, fruit, cheese, carrot sticks, anything I can find in the pantry. I promise you they will be hungry. Activities: My children know that when Mommy is working they can color, draw, read, build, or create. Together we make a plan for acceptable, independent activities. Magna-tiles, good. Making slime, bad. 4. Set Boundaries Let’s face it, we are all aware that our job consumes much more than a 40-hour workweek. We are used to bringing our work home with us, usually in five different brightly colored bags. We already have a hard time setting boundaries when it comes to lesson planning, professional learning, email, etc. Now that your classroom is living under the same roof as your family, it is even harder to set boundaries. It is important that you figure out where to draw the line with work-life and home-life and begin setting some limits now. Set work hours. Whether you set them or your district sets them for you, have a schedule of when you will be working and stick to it. Communicate those times with your school families and your own family, too. While you are at it, tell your mom, too. Now that she isn’t working, she needs to know the appropriate time to call you and tell you about the strawberry cheesecake she just made. When I first became a mom, I made myself a little rule. When I got home from work, I set my phone on the charger in the kitchen and I didn’t pick it up until after Molly was in bed. I deserved that time to be with my daughter. I realized really quickly once I had kids that the emails could wait. Now that your kids are home full-time and navigating virtual learning, they deserve your time, too. 5. Get Yourself a Babysitter Babysitters are key when you are trying to work from home with littles. I know babysitters are scarce right now, but let me introduce you to the one I like to use. Her name is Screen Time. The kids really love her, she is really patient with them, and she won’t charge you. Well, technically she isn’t free, but you know what I mean. Right now there is a lot of guilt around kids and screen time. We all know screen time needs to be limited. Can I be the one to tell you it’s okay? Good, thanks. It’s okay for your kids to watch a show while you get some work done. It’s okay for your kids to do one of those drawing classes on Youtube while you plan a lesson. It’s okay if they play a video game while you catch up on email. Right now you have work to do and your kids need to be safe. If it means they are getting screen time, please DON’T beat yourself up over it. Once you get through your work, you can get back to spending quality screen-free time with your kids. Your kids are going to be just fine and darling, so are you. Here’s a picture of my little middle’s latest artwork– in our bathroom. He created this masterpiece during my last virtual meeting. When I found it, he smiled proudly. “It says I love you, Mom”. We hugged, I snapped this picture, and then I showed him how to erase it. Please remember, what we are currently facing in this topsy-turvy world, is NOT typical. This is challenging work. All of it. Be kind to your kids. Be kind to yourself. Best of luck to you and your bathroom walls. If you have any tips for how you manage life as a Stay-at-Home/Work-from-Home Mom, drop a comment below because like Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens told us long ago, “We’re all in this …

How to Increase Student Engagement, Thinking, and Comprehension

Kids Need to Talk in Order to Learn

Kids like to talk. No, kids LOVE to talk. I know I’m not telling you anything new. Managing talkative students can be one of our most challenging classroom management issues.

But did you know that kids NEED to talk in order to learn? In fact, whoever is doing the talking is doing the thinking. Talking is out-loud thinking. And listening to students talk provides a window into their thinking–in fact, it’s one of the most valuable tools we have for assessing comprehension.

A Common Problem in Most Reading Classrooms

About 15 years ago, I learned about a common classroom discourse pattern. After I learned about it, I cringed as a realized that it was often the go-to pattern in my own classroom.

It goes like this:

  1. Teacher initiates. (asks a question)
  2. Student responds.
  3. Teacher evaluates.

It might sound something like this:

  1. Teacher: “Who can tell me how the main character changed from the beginning of the story to the end?”
  2. Student: “At the beginning of the story the character ____, but by the end the character _____.”
  3. Teacher: “Great thinking!”

Courtney Cazden named this pattern the I.R.E pattern back in 1988. Sadly, over 30 years later, it is still the most common discourse pattern that I observe in classrooms today.

Here’s the thing: even after I worked really hard on asking higher-order thinking questions, I was still falling into the I.R.E. pattern. And that pattern was laden with problems. BTW, asking students how a character changed throughout a text (like the example above) is a GOOD question. The question isn’t the problem--it’s the discourse pattern that is problematic.

A Simple Solution

But the good news is that a few small moves can change this pattern and have a dramatic impact on student engagement, thinking, and comprehension.


I would love to show you 3 simple moves that you can implement immediately. They won’t take extra time out of your day and aren’t hard to plan, but they will have a dramatic effect on student achievement and engagement. One of them is something I just recently learned about, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be new to you, too!


Kids Need to Talk in Order to Learn Kids like to talk. No, kids LOVE to talk. I know I’m not telling you anything new. Managing talkative students can be one of our most challenging classroom management issues. But did you know that kids NEED to talk in order to learn? In fact, whoever is doing the talking is doing the thinking. Talking is out-loud thinking. And listening to students talk provides a window into their thinking–in fact, it’s one of the most valuable tools we have for assessing comprehension. A Common Problem in Most Reading Classrooms About 15 years ago, I learned about a common classroom discourse pattern. After I learned about it, I cringed as a realized that it was often the go-to pattern in my own classroom. It goes like this: Teacher initiates. (asks a question) Student responds. Teacher evaluates. It might sound something like this: Teacher: “Who can tell me how the main character changed from the beginning of the story to the end?” Student: “At the beginning of the story the character ____, but by the end the character _____.” Teacher: “Great thinking!” Courtney Cazden named this pattern the I.R.E pattern back in 1988. Sadly, over 30 years later, it is still the most common discourse pattern that I observe in classrooms today. Here’s the thing: even after I worked really hard on asking higher-order thinking questions, I was still falling into the I.R.E. pattern. And that pattern was laden with problems. BTW, asking students how a character changed throughout a text (like the example above) is a GOOD question. The question isn’t the problem–it’s the discourse pattern that is problematic. A Simple Solution But the good news is that a few small moves can change this pattern and have a dramatic impact on student engagement, thinking, and comprehension. I would love to show you 3 simple moves that you can implement immediately. They won’t take extra time out of your day and aren’t hard to plan, but they will have a dramatic effect on student achievement and engagement. One of them is something I just recently learned about, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be new to you, …

How to Keep Students Engaged During Virtual Learning

Everything about this new normal is challenging. Just thinking about all of the “unknowns” is enough to make you want to pop a Xanax. In our recent post about connecting with students, we suggested that we turn our attention to what we know for sure and what we actually have control over. Let’s continue down that path today. In addition to building relationships with students

There are so many unknowns. So today, can we focus on one thing that we know for sure? Engagement matters! Not a little, but a lot. It mattered when we were in our classrooms and it matters now. Did you know that engagement is linked to achievement? It makes sense: when a learner is engaged in a task, they spend more time doing it, which means they are practicing more. More practice leads to greater skill.

In her Reading Strategies Book and Writing Strategies Book, Jen Serravallo says,

“Engagement is everything! Without engagement, we’ve got nothing.”

Jennifer Serravallo

In fact, in her Hierarchy of Reading Skills she places the goal area of engagement at the tippy-top. Whether we are face-to-face with our students or sitting across a computer screen, engagement still matters.

I get it. Preparing online lessons is hard. We feel uncomfortable videotaping ourselves. We fumble with the technology in our live sessions. Let’s extend grace to ourselves as we try to flatten our own learning curve. But once we have a bit of a handle on our learning platforms and schedules, can we quickly turn our attention to making our lessons and interactions with students more engaging? Because, here’s the thing: if our lessons aren’t engaging, once the novelty of the virtual classroom tools wears off, we have lost our students and our time was wasted. One of my friends recently told me that her son’s middle school class convinced the teacher to let them black out their screens because they felt too embarrassed to be seen on camera. Her son used that as an opportunity to let the lesson play, the teacher’s voice drone on, while he went into another room to play. [insert “face screaming in fear” emoji].

So how can we keep engagement high during online lessons? First, can we talk about two things that are not engaging?

  1. Packets. Packets are not engaging. I realize that not all students have internet access and that some schools are still getting their online platforms set up. I’m not addressing that audience right now. But I’m not just talking about the paper packets that have staples in the corner. Even the online version of worksheets is not engaging and will not grow authentic readers and writers.
  2. Google slides. I love me a good slideshow to disseminate lots of information quickly. But slideshows are not going to maintain student engagement–even if your own voice is narrated over the slides.

There are many ways to engage our students, so let’s address a few: (still brainstorming here)

  1. Stories
  2. Visuals– talk about using document camera interactive anchor charts instead of slides
  3. Goal setting – examples of having students set their own learning goals
  4. Build community
  5. Keep lessons short and explicit
  6. Active involvement: thumbs up
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Everything about this new normal is challenging. Just thinking about all of the “unknowns” is enough to make you want to pop a Xanax. In our recent post about connecting with students, we suggested that we turn our attention to what we know for sure and what we actually have control over. Let’s continue down that path today. In addition to building relationships with students There are so many unknowns. So today, can we focus on one thing that we know for sure? Engagement matters! Not a little, but a lot. It mattered when we were in our classrooms and it matters now. Did you know that engagement is linked to achievement? It makes sense: when a learner is engaged in a task, they spend more time doing it, which means they are practicing more. More practice leads to greater skill. In her Reading Strategies Book and Writing Strategies Book, Jen Serravallo says, “Engagement is everything! Without engagement, we’ve got nothing.” Jennifer Serravallo In fact, in her Hierarchy of Reading Skills she places the goal area of engagement at the tippy-top. Whether we are face-to-face with our students or sitting across a computer screen, engagement still matters. I get it. Preparing online lessons is hard. We feel uncomfortable videotaping ourselves. We fumble with the technology in our live sessions. Let’s extend grace to ourselves as we try to flatten our own learning curve. But once we have a bit of a handle on our learning platforms and schedules, can we quickly turn our attention to making our lessons and interactions with students more engaging? Because, here’s the thing: if our lessons aren’t engaging, once the novelty of the virtual classroom tools wears off, we have lost our students and our time was wasted. One of my friends recently told me that her son’s middle school class convinced the teacher to let them black out their screens because they felt too embarrassed to be seen on camera. Her son used that as an opportunity to let the lesson play, the teacher’s voice drone on, while he went into another room to play. [insert “face screaming in fear” emoji]. So how can we keep engagement high during online lessons? First, can we talk about two things that are not engaging? Packets. Packets are not engaging. I realize that not all students have internet access and that some schools are still getting their online platforms set up. I’m not addressing that audience right now. But I’m not just talking about the paper packets that have staples in the corner. Even the online version of worksheets is not engaging and will not grow authentic readers and writers. Google slides. I love me a good slideshow to disseminate lots of information quickly. But slideshows are not going to maintain student engagement–even if your own voice is narrated over the slides. There are many ways to engage our students, so let’s address a few: (still brainstorming here) Stories Visuals– talk about using document camera interactive anchor charts instead of slides Goal setting – examples of having students set their own learning goals Build community Keep lessons short and explicit Active involvement: thumbs …

How to Make the Best Use of Time in Your Literacy Classroom

We Never Have Enough Time

When you are an educator, time is a precious resource. I have had a lot of conversations with teachers over the years about TIME. There just isn’t enough of it… EVER. As a classroom teacher, I felt it, too.

Lately these conversations with teachers seem to be the only conversations I’m having.

“If you could have more of something, what would you need?”

“TIME.”

“What is your biggest challenge?”

“TIME.”

“What is standing in the way of you being able to do what is best for kids?”

“TIME.”

As I have these conversations with teachers it is crystal clear that more and more is being added to your plates, but nothing seems to be taken off AND you just don’t have enough time.

Pulling the Weeds in Our Daily Schedules

Sometimes when we look into our classrooms and our schedules, we find something that just isn’t working for us. Something that is just not worth the TIME that it is getting. Sometimes that something is an activity, a routine, a program. When we can identify something that isn’t quite working, we find opportunities for change.

When I taught first grade I was always reflective about what was stealing my time. I was constantly revising my schedule and my routines to better suit me and more importantly my students. I was constantly looking for opportunities for change.

I liked to call this little reflection work I did, pulling the weeds.

What About Morning Work?

Let me tell you about a weed I pulled in my classroom that not only gave me more time but also set the tone for a happier classroom environment each and every day.

I pulled the Morning Work weed.

Before I ditched my morning work, I used to spend time choosing worksheets that would start our day. I spent time making copies. I spent time giving students directions when they entered the room. I spent time correcting morning work. I spent time putting morning work in mailboxes. I spent time worrying about the student who struggled to complete the morning work.

The truth is, I spent a lot of time wasting time on morning work.

Getting rid of morning work was one of the best things I did as a teacher. And if morning work or bell work isn’t working for you, I am giving you permission to pull that weed, too.

So if you don’t start your day with morning work or your class period with bell work, then what do you do instead?

The Alternative to Morning Work

The answer for me was Soft Starts. Soft Starts is a term used to describe time at the beginning of your day, your class period, or lesson where students choose a quiet activity or interest to pursue on their own, in pairs, or in small groups. Soft starts allow students to begin their day with choice, and ease students into the school day or lesson.

In my classroom we mostly used our soft start time to dig into high interest books, sharing them with a friend. We started our day enjoying books. Does it get much better than that?

Buy Back Some Time and Reduce Stress for You and Your Students

Soft starts freed me up to have conversations and make connections with students. Soft starts freed me up to work one on one with a student or pull a small group. Soft starts allowed me to take attendance and lunch count and all of the other morning tasks that were pulling at me. Soft starts gave me back time—more than you might expect.

What did they do for my students? Soft starts gave my students more time with eyes on print, more time to build relationships with books, more time to build relationships with peers, and more time to explore passions.

And maybe the most important thing that happened when I ditched the morning work was that my students never had to start another school day behind with unfinished work. And you know that kid that struggled in math, writing, and reading? They didn’t have to struggle with morning work, too.

There are so many ways you can begin your day with soft starts. You could try independent reading like we did, or you can test out some of the following suggestions…

  • Free write: writing in a writer’s notebook, making cards for family, or letters for friends.
  • Share good news: yup, just giving kids time to talk.
  • Watch an animal web cam and jot down wonderings and noticings.
  • Listen to a podcast.
  • Play with morning tubs at tables: exploring with math manipulatives, MagnaTiles, playing cards, puzzles, stencils, play dough. Don’t worry—play is learning!

I promise your students will hang up backpacks, make lunch choices, and turn in folders much faster if they are excited about how they start their day. There is nothing exciting about another worksheet.

I hope these tips empower you to find opportunities for change in your classroom. If you are feeling like there just isn’t enough time, I encourage you to look into your classroom and your daily schedule. Identify things that aren’t working for you and embrace a change.

And if you are brave enough to ditch that morning work, let us know how it’s going? We’d love to hear from you!

Want to know more about soft starts? You need to check out the book, The Curious Classroom by Harvey Daniels. This book is one of my absolute favorites and has an entire chapter devoted to soft starts.

We Never Have Enough Time When you are an educator, time is a precious resource. I have had a lot of conversations with teachers over the years about TIME. There just isn’t enough of it… EVER. As a classroom teacher, I felt it, too. Lately these conversations with teachers seem to be the only conversations I’m having. “If you could have more of something, what would you need?” “TIME.” “What is your biggest challenge?” “TIME.” “What is standing in the way of you being able to do what is best for kids?” “TIME.” As I have these conversations with teachers it is crystal clear that more and more is being added to your plates, but nothing seems to be taken off AND you just don’t have enough time. Pulling the Weeds in Our Daily Schedules Sometimes when we look into our classrooms and our schedules, we find something that just isn’t working for us. Something that is just not worth the TIME that it is getting. Sometimes that something is an activity, a routine, a program. When we can identify something that isn’t quite working, we find opportunities for change. When I taught first grade I was always reflective about what was stealing my time. I was constantly revising my schedule and my routines to better suit me and more importantly my students. I was constantly looking for opportunities for change. I liked to call this little reflection work I did, pulling the weeds. What About Morning Work? Let me tell you about a weed I pulled in my classroom that not only gave me more time but also set the tone for a happier classroom environment each and every day. I pulled the Morning Work weed. Before I ditched my morning work, I used to spend time choosing worksheets that would start our day. I spent time making copies. I spent time giving students directions when they entered the room. I spent time correcting morning work. I spent time putting morning work in mailboxes. I spent time worrying about the student who struggled to complete the morning work. The truth is, I spent a lot of time wasting time on morning work. Getting rid of morning work was one of the best things I did as a teacher. And if morning work or bell work isn’t working for you, I am giving you permission to pull that weed, too. So if you don’t start your day with morning work or your class period with bell work, then what do you do instead? The Alternative to Morning Work The answer for me was Soft Starts. Soft Starts is a term used to describe time at the beginning of your day, your class period, or lesson where students choose a quiet activity or interest to pursue on their own, in pairs, or in small groups. Soft starts allow students to begin their day with choice, and ease students into the school day or lesson. In my classroom we mostly used our soft start time to dig into high interest books, sharing them with a friend. We started our day enjoying books. Does it get much better than that? Buy Back Some Time and Reduce Stress for You and Your Students Soft starts freed me up to have conversations and make connections with students. Soft starts freed me up to work one on one with a student or pull a small group. Soft starts allowed me to take attendance and lunch count and all of the other morning tasks that were pulling at me. Soft starts gave me back time—more than you might expect. What did they do for my students? Soft starts gave my students more time with eyes on print, more time to build relationships with books, more time to build relationships with peers, and more time to explore passions. And maybe the most important thing that happened when I ditched the morning work was that my students never had to start another school day behind with unfinished work. And you know that kid that struggled in math, writing, and reading? They didn’t have to struggle with morning work, too. There are so many ways you can begin your day with soft starts. You could try independent reading like we did, or you can test out some of the following suggestions… Free write: writing in a writer’s notebook, making cards for family, or letters for friends. Share good news: yup, just giving kids time to talk. Watch an animal web cam and jot down wonderings and noticings. Listen to a podcast. Play with morning tubs at tables: exploring with math manipulatives, MagnaTiles, playing cards, puzzles, stencils, play dough. Don’t worry—play is learning! I promise your students will hang up backpacks, make lunch choices, and turn in folders much faster if they are excited about how they start their day. There is nothing exciting about another worksheet. I hope these tips empower you to find opportunities for change in your classroom. If you are feeling like there just isn’t enough time, I encourage you to look into your classroom and your daily schedule. Identify things that aren’t working for you and embrace a change. And if you are brave enough to ditch that morning work, let us know how it’s going? We’d love to hear from you! Want to know more about soft starts? You need to check out the book, The Curious Classroom by Harvey Daniels. This book is one of my absolute favorites and has an entire chapter devoted to soft …

How to Show Students and Families What Matters in Our Literacy Classrooms

Last week, the school district where my children learn and grow started posting on social media about their newest outdoor learning space. This might be the most beautiful garden I’ve ever laid my eyes on and I couldn’t wait to share it with you. This is literally a garden that grows readers.

Check it out hereYou just have to see it for yourself!

As I scrolled through picture after picture of students snuggled in hammocks reading books, smiles plastered across their faces, this Hammock Garden really got me thinking. These prideful posts sent a strong message to our community. They told us that reading is valued in our district. As a parent and educator, I am grateful.

The more I thought about this little garden the more I thought about the students who get to spend time in such a space. What does this garden say to them?

This beautiful garden shows them that reading is enjoyable—that getting cozy and lost in a story is worth your time. This garden shows these students that reading MATTERS.

I’m not sharing about this garden to make you run out and build a hammock garden at your school. Although, I wish you could.

Instead, I’m sharing this garden with you because it really got me thinking, we don’t have to have a hammock garden to show our students that reading is valued.

If your halls and walls could talk in your school and your classroom, what would they tell your community and your students about what you value?

5 Easy Ways to Show That You Value Reading

As you ponder that question, let me share some easy ways you can show your students that reading matters…

  1. Read aloud to your students every.single.day.
  2. Make independent reading a daily priority for your students.
  3. Carve out time to live your own readerly life and share your reading life with your students.
  4. Take a look at your classroom library. Edit and revise those shelves to draw your students to your books. Not enough books in your classroom? Let’s prioritize getting more.
  5. How about ditching the morning worksheets and beginning your day or class period with kids enjoying books right from the start?

This list is just a starting point. We love hearing from you! Email us or add your comments below to share the ways you are showing your students that reading matters.

Looking for a professional text to dig deeper? One of my favorites is Game Changer: Book Access For All Kids by Donalyn Miller & Colby Sharp. This book is full of ways we can take small steps in our schools that will send big messages about reading to our staff, students, and families.

Last week, the school district where my children learn and grow started posting on social media about their newest outdoor learning space. This might be the most beautiful garden I’ve ever laid my eyes on and I couldn’t wait to share it with you. This is literally a garden that grows readers. Check it out here. You just have to see it for yourself! As I scrolled through picture after picture of students snuggled in hammocks reading books, smiles plastered across their faces, this Hammock Garden really got me thinking. These prideful posts sent a strong message to our community. They told us that reading is valued in our district. As a parent and educator, I am grateful. The more I thought about this little garden the more I thought about the students who get to spend time in such a space. What does this garden say to them? This beautiful garden shows them that reading is enjoyable—that getting cozy and lost in a story is worth your time. This garden shows these students that reading MATTERS. I’m not sharing about this garden to make you run out and build a hammock garden at your school. Although, I wish you could. Instead, I’m sharing this garden with you because it really got me thinking, we don’t have to have a hammock garden to show our students that reading is valued. If your halls and walls could talk in your school and your classroom, what would they tell your community and your students about what you value? 5 Easy Ways to Show That You Value Reading As you ponder that question, let me share some easy ways you can show your students that reading matters… Read aloud to your students every.single.day. Make independent reading a daily priority for your students. Carve out time to live your own readerly life and share your reading life with your students. Take a look at your classroom library. Edit and revise those shelves to draw your students to your books. Not enough books in your classroom? Let’s prioritize getting more. How about ditching the morning worksheets and beginning your day or class period with kids enjoying books right from the start? This list is just a starting point. We love hearing from you! Email us or add your comments below to share the ways you are showing your students that reading matters. Looking for a professional text to dig deeper? One of my favorites is Game Changer: Book Access For All Kids by Donalyn Miller & Colby Sharp. This book is full of ways we can take small steps in our schools that will send big messages about reading to our staff, students, and …

How Will You Live Your Life Differently? Part 1

When your students finish reading a book, what is the next thing they are expected to do? Take an AR quiz? Write a book report? Create a diorama? Begin a new book? Or do they stop to reflect on what they have just read?

When I finish reading a book, whether it is memoir, historical fiction, or contemporary fiction, I like to think about this question:  “How will I live my life differently or think about the world differently as a result of reading this book?” This is a great thought-provoking question to ask at the end of a whole class read-aloud or during a conference with a reader who has recently finished a book.

With the arrival of the Common Core State Standards during the past several years, there is a lot of discussion these days about increasing the quantity of nonfiction text our students read. I agree that this is a necessary step and that most of our students don’t currently spend enough time poring over nonfiction. But I caution you not to abandon fictional reading! A colleague recently shared with me that she is currently teaching a nonfiction reading unit of study, so her read-aloud time has been strictly devoted to sharing nonfiction books.  But she confessed that she misses having an ongoing chapter book read-aloud. I don’t blame her—I would miss it, too! We talked about ways that she could fit both types of read-aloud into her packed school day.

In the book Readicide, author Kelly Gallagher cites the work of philosopher Kenneth Burke (1968) who asserts that when children read novels it provides them with “imaginative rehearsals” for the real world.  Imaginative rehearsals. I love that! Gallagher writes, “When children read books, they are not just reading stories. They are being given the opportunity to understand the complex world they live in.”  When children read great books, they not only get to “walk in a character’s shoes”, but they also get to think about their own lives and how they might act in similar situations in the future.

In my new favorite professional book Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, Beers and Probst devote an entire chapter to the role of fiction!  Here are my favorite quotes from the chapter:

“Listening to and telling stories is [our] way of making sense of the world.”

“It is imaginative literature that offers readers a chance to think about the human issues that concern us all:  love, hate, hope, fear, and all the other emotions, problems, situations, and experiences of living.”

“Nonfiction lets us learn more; fiction lets us be more.”

“Current research shows that [fiction] affects the way we interact with one another.”

“Contemporary research in psychology and brain functioning confirms the value of fiction in our intellectual and emotional lives, telling us that the effects of reading fiction are far more significant than the mere pleasure of vicarious experiences and the temporary and insignificant release of momentary escape from the present.”

“A good book…can change us.”

Tune in tomorrow for some book recommendations that might inspire you and your students to look at life a little differently after reading them!

When your students finish reading a book, what is the next thing they are expected to do? Take an AR quiz? Write a book report? Create a diorama? Begin a new book? Or do they stop to reflect on what they have just read? When I finish reading a book, whether it is memoir, historical fiction, or contemporary fiction, I like to think about this question:  “How will I live my life differently or think about the world differently as a result of reading this book?” This is a great thought-provoking question to ask at the end of a whole class read-aloud or during a conference with a reader who has recently finished a book. With the arrival of the Common Core State Standards during the past several years, there is a lot of discussion these days about increasing the quantity of nonfiction text our students read. I agree that this is a necessary step and that most of our students don’t currently spend enough time poring over nonfiction. But I caution you not to abandon fictional reading! A colleague recently shared with me that she is currently teaching a nonfiction reading unit of study, so her read-aloud time has been strictly devoted to sharing nonfiction books.  But she confessed that she misses having an ongoing chapter book read-aloud. I don’t blame her—I would miss it, too! We talked about ways that she could fit both types of read-aloud into her packed school day. In the book Readicide, author Kelly Gallagher cites the work of philosopher Kenneth Burke (1968) who asserts that when children read novels it provides them with “imaginative rehearsals” for the real world.  Imaginative rehearsals. I love that! Gallagher writes, “When children read books, they are not just reading stories. They are being given the opportunity to understand the complex world they live in.”  When children read great books, they not only get to “walk in a character’s shoes”, but they also get to think about their own lives and how they might act in similar situations in the future. In my new favorite professional book Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, Beers and Probst devote an entire chapter to the role of fiction!  Here are my favorite quotes from the chapter: “Listening to and telling stories is [our] way of making sense of the world.” “It is imaginative literature that offers readers a chance to think about the human issues that concern us all:  love, hate, hope, fear, and all the other emotions, problems, situations, and experiences of living.” “Nonfiction lets us learn more; fiction lets us be more.” “Current research shows that [fiction] affects the way we interact with one another.” “Contemporary research in psychology and brain functioning confirms the value of fiction in our intellectual and emotional lives, telling us that the effects of reading fiction are far more significant than the mere pleasure of vicarious experiences and the temporary and insignificant release of momentary escape from the present.” “A good book…can change us.” Tune in tomorrow for some book recommendations that might inspire you and your students to look at life a little differently after reading …

How Will You Live Your Life Differently? Part 2

Have you ever read a book and known that you will never be the same person you were before you started it?  That the words on the pages will stick with you long after the back cover is closed for the final time? When you read aloud a book like this with your students, do you stop to reflect with them?  As I mentioned in the previous post, a great question to ask our students is “How will you look at the world differently or live your life differently as a result of reading this book?”

I just finished reading two books that have this effect—one is a novel appropriate for middle schoolers 5th grade and up and the other is a picture book that is appropriate for young children through adult.

 Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a book that many 5th grade teachers in my county are reading aloud or have recently read aloud as part of a reading workshop unit on character.  I have heard so much about it that I had to read it for myself. I wouldn’t recommend it for grades younger than 5th, but if you teach a younger grade, I encourage you to read it just for yourself.  It is that good. Wonder is a beautifully written, well-developed novel about ten-year-old August, a boy born with severe facial deformities.  He enters school for the first time as a 5th grade middle schooler. Like all middle schoolers, fitting in is a top priority.  But when you stand out as much as August, fitting in seems nearly impossible. Told from multiple points of view, this book confronts the reader with many life issues including bullying, compassion, and empathy for those who are different from ourselves.  Nicholas Sparks must have felt the same way I did after reading this book, as evidenced by his quote: “Wonder touches the heart in the most life-affirming, unexpected ways, delivering in August Pullman a character whom readers will remember forever. Do yourself a favor and read this book – your life will be better for it.

Click here for resources for Wonder and cranial facial disease.

My good friend Kristen Remenar recently introduced this book to me.  My Heart Will Not Sit Down is one of those stories that truly tugs at your heartstrings and lingers with you long after you have finished it.  Set in Africa’s Cameroon during America’s Great Depression, this book tells the story of a young girl who inspired her poor village to collect money to send to the hungry children in New York City.  The money only amounted to $3.77 but for the villagers, this would have been a fortune. The best part of this book? It is based on a true story. You can’t read this book without being touched and wondering, “how can I make a difference in my corner of the world?”  I encourage you to share this book with your students and have them answer this question for themselves.

Have you ever read a book and known that you will never be the same person you were before you started it?  That the words on the pages will stick with you long after the back cover is closed for the final time? When you read aloud a book like this with your students, do you stop to reflect with them?  As I mentioned in the previous post, a great question to ask our students is “How will you look at the world differently or live your life differently as a result of reading this book?” I just finished reading two books that have this effect—one is a novel appropriate for middle schoolers 5th grade and up and the other is a picture book that is appropriate for young children through adult.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a book that many 5th grade teachers in my county are reading aloud or have recently read aloud as part of a reading workshop unit on character.  I have heard so much about it that I had to read it for myself. I wouldn’t recommend it for grades younger than 5th, but if you teach a younger grade, I encourage you to read it just for yourself.  It is that good. Wonder is a beautifully written, well-developed novel about ten-year-old August, a boy born with severe facial deformities.  He enters school for the first time as a 5th grade middle schooler. Like all middle schoolers, fitting in is a top priority.  But when you stand out as much as August, fitting in seems nearly impossible. Told from multiple points of view, this book confronts the reader with many life issues including bullying, compassion, and empathy for those who are different from ourselves.  Nicholas Sparks must have felt the same way I did after reading this book, as evidenced by his quote: “Wonder touches the heart in the most life-affirming, unexpected ways, delivering in August Pullman a character whom readers will remember forever. Do yourself a favor and read this book – your life will be better for it.“ Click here for resources for Wonder and cranial facial disease. My good friend Kristen Remenar recently introduced this book to me.  My Heart Will Not Sit Down is one of those stories that truly tugs at your heartstrings and lingers with you long after you have finished it.  Set in Africa’s Cameroon during America’s Great Depression, this book tells the story of a young girl who inspired her poor village to collect money to send to the hungry children in New York City.  The money only amounted to $3.77 but for the villagers, this would have been a fortune. The best part of this book? It is based on a true story. You can’t read this book without being touched and wondering, “how can I make a difference in my corner of the world?”  I encourage you to share this book with your students and have them answer this question for …

Implementing Reciprocal Teaching

Introduction of the Four Strategies:

During this stage the teacher introduces the four strategies involved in a reciprocal teaching lesson. Each strategy is explicitly taught and practiced. During this stage it is important to teach students when, how, and why to use each strategy. This has been shown to help increase student motivation. It also helps students internalize and use strategies independently. See pp. 9-27 for mini-lessons. The purpose of these mini-lessons and practice activities is to prepare students to engage in reciprocal teaching dialogue. The activities, done in isolation, are not reciprocal teaching

Teacher-Led Stage:

During this stage the teacher assumes the role of the student leader in a reciprocal teaching group and models the use of the four strategies through think-alouds and demonstration. Gradually students are invited to participate and begin to assume group leadership roles. The purpose of this stage is to prepare students for reciprocal teaching dialogue. Guided reading groups provide an ideal setting fro this stage of implementation.

Collaborative Stage:

Students work in pairs and eventually in groups of four or five and begin to assume more leadership responsibility. Coaching and corrective feedback are crucial aspects of this stage. Guided reading groups provide a natural setting for this stage, as well, because the teacher is available to guide students and give the necessary feedback.

Reciprocal Stage: 

At this stage reciprocal teaching is fully implemented. Heterogeneous groups of four to five students work independently as the teacher moves from the role of coach to the role of observer. Stronger students help support less capable students. Literature circles and book clubs are a natural setting for this stage.

Source: A Practical Guide to Reciprocal Teaching by Shira Lubliner, Wright Group/McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Introduction of the Four Strategies: During this stage the teacher introduces the four strategies involved in a reciprocal teaching lesson. Each strategy is explicitly taught and practiced. During this stage it is important to teach students when, how, and why to use each strategy. This has been shown to help increase student motivation. It also helps students internalize and use strategies independently. See pp. 9-27 for mini-lessons. The purpose of these mini-lessons and practice activities is to prepare students to engage in reciprocal teaching dialogue. The activities, done in isolation, are not reciprocal teaching Teacher-Led Stage: During this stage the teacher assumes the role of the student leader in a reciprocal teaching group and models the use of the four strategies through think-alouds and demonstration. Gradually students are invited to participate and begin to assume group leadership roles. The purpose of this stage is to prepare students for reciprocal teaching dialogue. Guided reading groups provide an ideal setting fro this stage of implementation. Collaborative Stage: Students work in pairs and eventually in groups of four or five and begin to assume more leadership responsibility. Coaching and corrective feedback are crucial aspects of this stage. Guided reading groups provide a natural setting for this stage, as well, because the teacher is available to guide students and give the necessary feedback. Reciprocal Stage:  At this stage reciprocal teaching is fully implemented. Heterogeneous groups of four to five students work independently as the teacher moves from the role of coach to the role of observer. Stronger students help support less capable students. Literature circles and book clubs are a natural setting for this stage. Source: A Practical Guide to Reciprocal Teaching by Shira Lubliner, Wright Group/McGraw-Hill, …

Importance of Think-Alouds

Think-alouds are the cornerstone to comprehension instruction. Think-alouds help make reading strategies concrete by allowing students to “see” what is happening inside the teacher’s head as s/he reads. During a think-aloud the teacher reads aloud a text, stopping at strategic points to explain what she is thinking and how she is solving problems. Nancie Atwell calls this “taking off the top of my head” and inviting students to hear her thinking and see what she does as an adult reader and writer. Think-alouds are an effective way to model metacognition for students.

Think-alouds help students:

  1. Understand that reading should make sense.
  2. Move beyond the literal meaning of the text
  3. Learn how to read using a variety of strategies.
  4. Use particular strategies when reading particular types of text.
  5. Become more metacognitive readers (able to think about their own reading and thinking processes).

Conducting a Think-Aloud

  1. Select a strategy to highlight.
  2. Choose a short, interesting piece of text.
  3. Explain the purpose and how this strategy improves reading.
  4. Read the text aloud to students. Stop periodically to think aloud, focusing on the target strategy.
  5. Have students identify words and phrases that helped you use a strategy.
  6. Help students identify other situations in which they could use the same strategy.
  7. Provide follow-up lessons that reinforce the think-aloud.

Source: Improving Comprehension with Think-Aloud Strategies by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, Ph.D., Scholastic, 2001.

Think-alouds are the cornerstone to comprehension instruction. Think-alouds help make reading strategies concrete by allowing students to “see” what is happening inside the teacher’s head as s/he reads. During a think-aloud the teacher reads aloud a text, stopping at strategic points to explain what she is thinking and how she is solving problems. Nancie Atwell calls this “taking off the top of my head” and inviting students to hear her thinking and see what she does as an adult reader and writer. Think-alouds are an effective way to model metacognition for students. Think-alouds help students: Understand that reading should make sense. Move beyond the literal meaning of the text Learn how to read using a variety of strategies. Use particular strategies when reading particular types of text. Become more metacognitive readers (able to think about their own reading and thinking processes). Conducting a Think-Aloud Select a strategy to highlight. Choose a short, interesting piece of text. Explain the purpose and how this strategy improves reading. Read the text aloud to students. Stop periodically to think aloud, focusing on the target strategy. Have students identify words and phrases that helped you use a strategy. Help students identify other situations in which they could use the same strategy. Provide follow-up lessons that reinforce the think-aloud. Source: Improving Comprehension with Think-Aloud Strategies by Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, Ph.D., Scholastic, …

Increase Student Engagement by “Gifting” a Book

While digging through baskets of books in our library at home, my son Cameron found a volcano book with a sticky note stuck to the cover.

“Who is John?” he asked.

One look at that crinkled-up sticky note and I was instantaneously transported back to my classroom. Although I don’t remember this particular sticky note. I do remember John. I can picture him smiling as he found this book knowing that it was chosen just for him.

The discovery of this little sticky note reminded me of the power of going out of our way to get just the right book into a child’s hands at just the right time.

As a classroom teacher, I was really fortunate to have a huge classroom library, full of engaging, high-interest books. Even with this beautiful library, I still had students who struggled to find books they loved reading.

What Are Gifts Books?

One of my favorite weekly rituals was to “gift” books to students. These weren’t necessarily books students would keep forever. Instead, these were books from our classroom collection, school library, or public library picked just for them to enjoy during reading workshop or during a soft start to the day. When they were finished, they could pass it along to a friend or simply return it to me.

Each week, I made it my mission to think of a reader in my class and to find a book that let them know that I was thinking of them. With each gifted book, I wanted to send a message that I not only cared about their reading life, but also who they were as a person.

After finding the right book, I’d plop a little note on the book and slide it into their book bin or leave it on their desk.

This was an easy thing to do and I want to believe it made a difference in at least one reader’s life.

In the book Striving to Thriving Annie Ward shared a story of her daughter being surprised with new books from “The Reading Fairy ”. For primary teachers, how fun would it be to have a “Reading Fairy” that selects special books for readers in your classroom? I can only imagine the excitement a child would feel when they walk into the classroom and see that “The Reading Fairy” left them something to read.

Students Can “Gift” Books, Too!

One last thing you should know…you don’t have to do this work alone. What about having your students “gift” books to each other? ​

With my big kids both in school full-time, Monday mornings have been library days with my littlest guy. On our first Monday library adventure, Ryan decided to pick out books for his big brother and sister. Now book gifting is part of our library routine, and everyone is reaping the benefits.

Check out our latest lot from the library last week. The simple act of being surprised by a book has sent reading engagement through the roof in our home.

Want to give it a try in your classroom? Leave out a stack of sticky notes and pens, then invite students to “gift” books to each other.

With March is Reading Month now in full swing, let this ritual be one way you celebrate reading in your classroom.

I challenge you to “gift” a few books this week to some special readers. We love hearing from you. Leave a comment to let us know how it goes.

While digging through baskets of books in our library at home, my son Cameron found a volcano book with a sticky note stuck to the cover. “Who is John?” he asked. One look at that crinkled-up sticky note and I was instantaneously transported back to my classroom. Although I don’t remember this particular sticky note. I do remember John. I can picture him smiling as he found this book knowing that it was chosen just for him. The discovery of this little sticky note reminded me of the power of going out of our way to get just the right book into a child’s hands at just the right time. As a classroom teacher, I was really fortunate to have a huge classroom library, full of engaging, high-interest books. Even with this beautiful library, I still had students who struggled to find books they loved reading. What Are Gifts Books? One of my favorite weekly rituals was to “gift” books to students. These weren’t necessarily books students would keep forever. Instead, these were books from our classroom collection, school library, or public library picked just for them to enjoy during reading workshop or during a soft start to the day. When they were finished, they could pass it along to a friend or simply return it to me. Each week, I made it my mission to think of a reader in my class and to find a book that let them know that I was thinking of them. With each gifted book, I wanted to send a message that I not only cared about their reading life, but also who they were as a person. After finding the right book, I’d plop a little note on the book and slide it into their book bin or leave it on their desk. This was an easy thing to do and I want to believe it made a difference in at least one reader’s life. In the book Striving to Thriving Annie Ward shared a story of her daughter being surprised with new books from “The Reading Fairy ”. For primary teachers, how fun would it be to have a “Reading Fairy” that selects special books for readers in your classroom? I can only imagine the excitement a child would feel when they walk into the classroom and see that “The Reading Fairy” left them something to read. Students Can “Gift” Books, Too! One last thing you should know…you don’t have to do this work alone. What about having your students “gift” books to each other? ​​With my big kids both in school full-time, Monday mornings have been library days with my littlest guy. On our first Monday library adventure, Ryan decided to pick out books for his big brother and sister. Now book gifting is part of our library routine, and everyone is reaping the benefits. Check out our latest lot from the library last week. The simple act of being surprised by a book has sent reading engagement through the roof in our home. Want to give it a try in your classroom? Leave out a stack of sticky notes and pens, then invite students to “gift” books to each other. With March is Reading Month now in full swing, let this ritual be one way you celebrate reading in your classroom. I challenge you to “gift” a few books this week to some special readers. We love hearing from you. Leave a comment to let us know how it …

Invented Spelling

Invented spelling has become a dirty word in many circles. For this reason I prefer the following terms to describe this stage in a literacy learner’s life:

  • temporary spelling
  • developmental spelling
  • sound spelling

The practice of inventing spelling leads children to consciously try to hear the sounds in words so they can match letters to the sounds. Invented spelling is an excellent way to further develop phonemic awareness (Gentry, 2000). Research shows that invented spelling can have a positive effect on helping children develop as spellers and writers but also as readers. Spelling ability fosters word recognition by enabling a letter-sound association storage of words in memory (Gentry, 1997).

“Each invented spelling is a permanent record of an individual’s journey to spelling competence. If we collect these snapshots, these invented spellings, and analyze them, we can put together a remarkable album that shows milestones along the way. Since the journey unfolds developmentally in patterns that are predictable and systematic, we can chart the journey with precision and accuracy.” (Gentry, 2000)

Caution: Be sure that parents understand what invented spelling is and that you do not have a “spell it any way you want” attitude. Explain that when children invent-spell, they are teaching themselves about phonics and that invented spellings are a wonderful diagnostic tool for discovering a child’s developmental spelling stage. Encourage students to use everything they know about sounds, letters, patterns, and meaning to “stretch out” the word and make a best attempt at spelling it (Routman, 2000).

Read more on invented spelling.

Update on invented spelling May 2017: Invented Spelling Leads to Better Reading, Study Says

Invented spelling has become a dirty word in many circles. For this reason I prefer the following terms to describe this stage in a literacy learner’s life: temporary spelling developmental spelling sound spelling The practice of inventing spelling leads children to consciously try to hear the sounds in words so they can match letters to the sounds. Invented spelling is an excellent way to further develop phonemic awareness (Gentry, 2000). Research shows that invented spelling can have a positive effect on helping children develop as spellers and writers but also as readers. Spelling ability fosters word recognition by enabling a letter-sound association storage of words in memory (Gentry, 1997). “Each invented spelling is a permanent record of an individual’s journey to spelling competence. If we collect these snapshots, these invented spellings, and analyze them, we can put together a remarkable album that shows milestones along the way. Since the journey unfolds developmentally in patterns that are predictable and systematic, we can chart the journey with precision and accuracy.” (Gentry, 2000) Caution: Be sure that parents understand what invented spelling is and that you do not have a “spell it any way you want” attitude. Explain that when children invent-spell, they are teaching themselves about phonics and that invented spellings are a wonderful diagnostic tool for discovering a child’s developmental spelling stage. Encourage students to use everything they know about sounds, letters, patterns, and meaning to “stretch out” the word and make a best attempt at spelling it (Routman, 2000). Read more on invented spelling. Update on invented spelling May 2017: Invented Spelling Leads to Better Reading, Study …

It Seems to Work for Patricia Polacco

In a recent post I wrote about the importance of allowing students to choose their writing topics.  Whenever I make that statement, I am always prepared to hear the “Yes, but…” responses.  “Yes, choice seems important, but don’t I have to teach my students how to write for a prompt?”  “Yes, but my students have to be able to pass the state writing assessments, and the state test doesn’t give them a choice.”  “Yes, but what if my students say they don’t have anything to write about?  They just don’t have background experiences, so they can’t think of good topics.” 

I want to make sure there are no misunderstandings here.  Is there ever a time when students need to write to a prompt?  Yes!  Should we teach them how to write for a prompt?  Yes!  I believe it would be educational malpractice if we didn’t.  HOWEVER, this is NOT the only type of writing that should be happening in our classrooms.  I have had many teachers tell me that this is the only type of writing their districts require them to teach all year.

Let me give you one way to think about this.  Writing to a prompt or test-taking writing is one genre of writing.  It is worth spending time on a test-taking unit of study to help prepare students for these tests.  However, this is only one genre for writing.  We need to expose our students to many genres through varied units of study throughout the year.  These units may include personal narrative, personal essay, literary essay, book reviews, memoir, poetry, fictional narrative, editorials, and the list goes on.

The units of study at each grade level may not be negotiable at your school, but the students’ topic choices within those units should be.  Teachers sometimes ask, “What about the child who wants to write about the same topic over and over?”  What about that child? 

A couple of years ago I heard Patricia Polacco speak at the Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference.  She said we should be encouraging students to linger over topics longer and write multiple pieces on the same topic.  She said that she, herself, really only writes about one thing—family stories.  Think about her picture books.  They all stem from stories of her own life or those of her relatives.

I’ve always had my students keep a list of their writing “territories.”  This was a technique I learned in my early writing workshop days from Nancie Atwell in her book In the Middle.  Hearing Patricia Polacco’s advice made me think more about these territories.  These are the areas in our lives where we are experts.  Territories are not single topics—they contain multiple topics.  We should be encouraging our students to write deep, not wide.

A couple of weeks ago a teacher told me that she has a student who is obsessed with hunting and would want to write about hunting all the time if given the choice.  Perfect!  I love when students are passionate about something.  Along with that passion comes loads of writing topics.  I told this teacher that I wouldn’t care if he only wrote about hunting all year.  Here are some pieces I imagine him writing:

  • a personal narrative or memoir about a time he went hunting with his dad (he may have several).  I’m thinking of Owl Moon by Jane Yolen or Crow Call by Lois Lowry as possible mentor texts for this type of writing.
  • a safety manual for hunters
  • a persuasive essay on gun control
  • a personal essay on how hunting is a great father-son bonding experience
  • a how-to piece like “how to become a successful bow hunter”

Do you get the picture?  You could help a child who is passionate about hunting find topics in every genre unit of study and keep him engaged all year.  He becomes the class expert on hunting.  Pretty soon, other students decide they want to become the class expert on something, and they begin to find their areas of passion and interest.  It’s contagious!

It sure seems to work for Patricia Polacco.  Want to know what some other professional authors have to say about choosing writing topics?  Here are a few:

“Write what’s in front of your nose.”  —William Carlos Williams

“You’re welcome to write about anything, but the places and spaces where you spend time, that’s where you’ll know the details. That’s how you can take readers anywhere, make them see and feel.”    —Jeff Anderson

 “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.  I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something.  A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”  —Kurt Vonnegut

   

In a recent post I wrote about the importance of allowing students to choose their writing topics.  Whenever I make that statement, I am always prepared to hear the “Yes, but…” responses.  “Yes, choice seems important, but don’t I have to teach my students how to write for a prompt?”  “Yes, but my students have to be able to pass the state writing assessments, and the state test doesn’t give them a choice.”  “Yes, but what if my students say they don’t have anything to write about?  They just don’t have background experiences, so they can’t think of good topics.”  I want to make sure there are no misunderstandings here.  Is there ever a time when students need to write to a prompt?  Yes!  Should we teach them how to write for a prompt?  Yes!  I believe it would be educational malpractice if we didn’t.  HOWEVER, this is NOT the only type of writing that should be happening in our classrooms.  I have had many teachers tell me that this is the only type of writing their districts require them to teach all year. Let me give you one way to think about this.  Writing to a prompt or test-taking writing is one genre of writing.  It is worth spending time on a test-taking unit of study to help prepare students for these tests.  However, this is only one genre for writing.  We need to expose our students to many genres through varied units of study throughout the year.  These units may include personal narrative, personal essay, literary essay, book reviews, memoir, poetry, fictional narrative, editorials, and the list goes on. The units of study at each grade level may not be negotiable at your school, but the students’ topic choices within those units should be.  Teachers sometimes ask, “What about the child who wants to write about the same topic over and over?”  What about that child?  A couple of years ago I heard Patricia Polacco speak at the Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference.  She said we should be encouraging students to linger over topics longer and write multiple pieces on the same topic.  She said that she, herself, really only writes about one thing—family stories.  Think about her picture books.  They all stem from stories of her own life or those of her relatives. I’ve always had my students keep a list of their writing “territories.”  This was a technique I learned in my early writing workshop days from Nancie Atwell in her book In the Middle.  Hearing Patricia Polacco’s advice made me think more about these territories.  These are the areas in our lives where we are experts.  Territories are not single topics—they contain multiple topics.  We should be encouraging our students to write deep, not wide. A couple of weeks ago a teacher told me that she has a student who is obsessed with hunting and would want to write about hunting all the time if given the choice.  Perfect!  I love when students are passionate about something.  Along with that passion comes loads of writing topics.  I told this teacher that I wouldn’t care if he only wrote about hunting all year.  Here are some pieces I imagine him writing: a personal narrative or memoir about a time he went hunting with his dad (he may have several).  I’m thinking of Owl Moon by Jane Yolen or Crow Call by Lois Lowry as possible mentor texts for this type of writing. a safety manual for hunters a persuasive essay on gun control a personal essay on how hunting is a great father-son bonding experience a how-to piece like “how to become a successful bow hunter” Do you get the picture?  You could help a child who is passionate about hunting find topics in every genre unit of study and keep him engaged all year.  He becomes the class expert on hunting.  Pretty soon, other students decide they want to become the class expert on something, and they begin to find their areas of passion and interest.  It’s contagious! It sure seems to work for Patricia Polacco.  Want to know what some other professional authors have to say about choosing writing topics?  Here are a few: “Write what’s in front of your nose.”  —William Carlos Williams “You’re welcome to write about anything, but the places and spaces where you spend time, that’s where you’ll know the details. That’s how you can take readers anywhere, make them see and feel.”    —Jeff Anderson  “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.  I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something.  A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”  —Kurt Vonnegut   …

Legos and Editing

When my sons were younger, they liked to play in our basement playroom. If I didn’t go down to check on the condition of the playroom every day, I would sometimes find the entire floor covered with toys and would have to make the announcement that is was time for all toys to be put back in their proper places. It would sound something like this: “This playroom is a mess! You need to get this entire room cleaned up before dinner.” I would leave them to the task, only to come back later to find that the mess was still there and sometimes it looked even worse! They usually weren’t intentionally ignoring my commands, but they certainly weren’t following them either. I noticed that they would get easily distracted and that while putting away one toy, they would start playing with it instead or that they seemed to have no plan for how to get the room quickly and efficiently straightened.

I decided to try a different approach that sounded something like this: “Nathan, I would like you to pick up all of the Legos and put them in this tub. Richard, I would like you to pick up all of the K’Nex and put them in this tub. Ready, go!” Like magic, the playroom floor would begin to reappear.

I sometimes feel that we approach teaching our students to edit in much the same way that I initially asked my sons to straighten the playroom. We say, “You have finished your piece; now it’s time to get it all cleaned up. Go.” They turn in their papers and we find that most of the errors are still there–even the ones they know how to fix. Are they just being lazy? Do they not care about their work? I don’t think that is usually the case. I think they are often overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.

When I gave my sons a specific tub of toys to pick up, they began to see the playroom through a specific lens rather than becoming overwhelmed by the mess on the floor. We can do the same thing with our students. Instead of asking them to try to find every conventions error at once, we can ask them to read their writing through a particular lens. Once they have combed through a piece of writing for one convention, they can read through it again through another lens.

Check out my post called One-Minute Editing Checks for one way to do this. Be sure to also check out other posts in my series: Where’s the Grammar?!

When my sons were younger, they liked to play in our basement playroom. If I didn’t go down to check on the condition of the playroom every day, I would sometimes find the entire floor covered with toys and would have to make the announcement that is was time for all toys to be put back in their proper places. It would sound something like this: “This playroom is a mess! You need to get this entire room cleaned up before dinner.” I would leave them to the task, only to come back later to find that the mess was still there and sometimes it looked even worse! They usually weren’t intentionally ignoring my commands, but they certainly weren’t following them either. I noticed that they would get easily distracted and that while putting away one toy, they would start playing with it instead or that they seemed to have no plan for how to get the room quickly and efficiently straightened. I decided to try a different approach that sounded something like this: “Nathan, I would like you to pick up all of the Legos and put them in this tub. Richard, I would like you to pick up all of the K’Nex and put them in this tub. Ready, go!” Like magic, the playroom floor would begin to reappear. I sometimes feel that we approach teaching our students to edit in much the same way that I initially asked my sons to straighten the playroom. We say, “You have finished your piece; now it’s time to get it all cleaned up. Go.” They turn in their papers and we find that most of the errors are still there–even the ones they know how to fix. Are they just being lazy? Do they not care about their work? I don’t think that is usually the case. I think they are often overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin. When I gave my sons a specific tub of toys to pick up, they began to see the playroom through a specific lens rather than becoming overwhelmed by the mess on the floor. We can do the same thing with our students. Instead of asking them to try to find every conventions error at once, we can ask them to read their writing through a particular lens. Once they have combed through a piece of writing for one convention, they can read through it again through another lens. Check out my post called One-Minute Editing Checks for one way to do this. Be sure to also check out other posts in my series: Where’s the …

Make Your Teaching Stickier by Being More Explicit

Years ago, if I had been asked the question “Are you teaching or just telling?”, I would have been insulted. Of course I was teaching! Or was I?

I have done a lot of self-reflection on my own instruction, and one thing I have worked really hard at is making my teaching as.explicit.as.possible. It has made all the difference.

I now listen for comments like these from my students:

“Oh, I get it now.”

“You made that seem so easy.”

“Now it makes sense.”

“Nobody ever explained it like that to me before.”

When I hear statements like these, I know students are telling me that I was explicit in my teaching–that I broke big concepts down into step-by-step, doable strategies.

I’ve gotten pretty good at it, actually. I want you to be really good at it, too!

It doesn’t matter what curriculum you are using, what subject you are teaching, or how old your students are. Every lesson can be made stickier by making it more explicit.

Want to know my secret? Here’s a little roundup of some previous blogposts where I show you exactly what I have learned about explicit teaching and how to get really good at it. Enjoy!

One more thing: Did you know that being explicit in your teaching can improve not only your teaching life but also your home life? In the blogpost Skills vs. Strategies I share a personal story about how understanding the difference between skills and strategies dramatically changed the bedtime struggle when my son was about 6 years old! I’m telling you, this works for EVERYTHING!

Years ago, if I had been asked the question “Are you teaching or just telling?”, I would have been insulted. Of course I was teaching! Or was I? I have done a lot of self-reflection on my own instruction, and one thing I have worked really hard at is making my teaching as.explicit.as.possible. It has made all the difference. I now listen for comments like these from my students: “Oh, I get it now.” “You made that seem so easy.” “Now it makes sense.” “Nobody ever explained it like that to me before.” When I hear statements like these, I know students are telling me that I was explicit in my teaching–that I broke big concepts down into step-by-step, doable strategies. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, actually. I want you to be really good at it, too! It doesn’t matter what curriculum you are using, what subject you are teaching, or how old your students are. Every lesson can be made stickier by making it more explicit. Want to know my secret? Here’s a little roundup of some previous blogposts where I show you exactly what I have learned about explicit teaching and how to get really good at it. Enjoy! Telling Isn’t Teaching Skills vs. Strategies How Long Does It Take for a Strategy to Give Way to a Skill? Breaking Skills into Strategies One more thing: Did you know that being explicit in your teaching can improve not only your teaching life but also your home life? In the blogpost Skills vs. Strategies I share a personal story about how understanding the difference between skills and strategies dramatically changed the bedtime struggle when my son was about 6 years old! I’m telling you, this works for …

Making Sense of the Science of Reading vs. Balanced Literacy Conversation

Not long after I started teaching in the late 1980s, literacy educators were involved in a “reading war”. For those too young to remember, it was the “whole language vs. phonics” debate.

While I embraced much of the whole language philosophy, I never abandoned systematic phonics instruction. I learned to read with a phonics approach and couldn’t imagine teaching children to read without teaching them the rules that govern our language.

The New Reading War

So about five years ago when I first became aware that a new “reading war” was brewing, I started diving into the research. I discovered that we have a lot of new information about how the brain learns to read. Important information that I never learned. Information that you probably never learned. I felt that I had done a disservice to my students, especially those who struggled with reading.

So I started sharing bits of information in almost every seminar and conversation that I had with teachers, coaches, and administrators.

I should clarify that I am “all in” when it comes to balanced literacy. Balanced literacy is NOT the same as whole language. BUT, I also believe that there is much to learn and apply from the science of reading research. I actually find it fascinating and exciting.

How to Embrace Both the Science of Reading and Balanced Literacy (and yes, you can do BOTH!)

That is why, when Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates was published earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

 

Since then, the book hasn’t left my desktop or school bag. I even wrote a thank you note to the authors to tell them how much I appreciate the work they did on behalf of all of us who are trying to make sense of some often confusing information.

I truly believe that this book is a masterpiece and that every literacy educator should read it. It is marketed toward K-2 educators, but I believe it’s for all of us–especially if you have ever worked with an older reader who struggled.

Lots of Ways to Join the Discussion

Don’t have time to read the book right now? Jan and Kari (yes, we are on a first-name basis now) have provided so many entry points to join the conversation. Here are a few of their amazing resources and most of them are free:

Want to Dig Deeper?

Are you the kind of person who likes to dig deeper? Jan and Kari have put together an amazing online course that goes way beyond what they could address in the book. I recently finished this course and it is one of the best professional development courses I have taken (and I have taken a lot!). I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Jan and Kari offer this course multiple times per year. You can click here to learn more about it, register, or get on their waiting list.

If you are wanting to both learn more about the research AND learn tons of strategies for putting it into practice immediately, this course is for you!

One of the best ways to stay connected with the work Jan and Kari are doing is to subscribe to their newsletter.

Not long after I started teaching in the late 1980s, literacy educators were involved in a “reading war”. For those too young to remember, it was the “whole language vs. phonics” debate. While I embraced much of the whole language philosophy, I never abandoned systematic phonics instruction. I learned to read with a phonics approach and couldn’t imagine teaching children to read without teaching them the rules that govern our language. The New Reading War So about five years ago when I first became aware that a new “reading war” was brewing, I started diving into the research. I discovered that we have a lot of new information about how the brain learns to read. Important information that I never learned. Information that you probably never learned. I felt that I had done a disservice to my students, especially those who struggled with reading. So I started sharing bits of information in almost every seminar and conversation that I had with teachers, coaches, and administrators. I should clarify that I am “all in” when it comes to balanced literacy. Balanced literacy is NOT the same as whole language. BUT, I also believe that there is much to learn and apply from the science of reading research. I actually find it fascinating and exciting. How to Embrace Both the Science of Reading and Balanced Literacy (and yes, you can do BOTH!) That is why, when Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates was published earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.   Since then, the book hasn’t left my desktop or school bag. I even wrote a thank you note to the authors to tell them how much I appreciate the work they did on behalf of all of us who are trying to make sense of some often confusing information. I truly believe that this book is a masterpiece and that every literacy educator should read it. It is marketed toward K-2 educators, but I believe it’s for all of us–especially if you have ever worked with an older reader who struggled. Lots of Ways to Join the Discussion Don’t have time to read the book right now? Jan and Kari (yes, we are on a first-name basis now) have provided so many entry points to join the conversation. Here are a few of their amazing resources and most of them are free: A website​ A blog YouTube Videos​​ A podcast​ Tons of FREE downloads (and they are SO GOOD!) Want to Dig Deeper? Are you the kind of person who likes to dig deeper? Jan and Kari have put together an amazing online course that goes way beyond what they could address in the book. I recently finished this course and it is one of the best professional development courses I have taken (and I have taken a lot!). I can’t recommend it highly enough! Jan and Kari offer this course multiple times per year. You can click here to learn more about it, register, or get on their waiting list. If you are wanting to both learn more about the research AND learn tons of strategies for putting it into practice immediately, this course is for you! One of the best ways to stay connected with the work Jan and Kari are doing is to subscribe to their …

Mapping for Ideas

Writing Trait/Strategy:
Generating Ideas; prewriting strategies; techniques authors use to generate writing topics

Mentor Text Suggestions:
My Map Book by Sara Fanelli
Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher
As the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps by Gail Hartman
The Once Upon a Time Map Book by B.B. Hennessy
My Heart is a Magic House by Julie Jacobs (heart map)

Description:
I get a lot of mileage from this lesson. This activity helps students generate many possible writing topics. To introduce this strategy, I read aloud the picture book My Map Book by Sara Fanelli. I explain that mapping is an effective way for authors to explore a variety of topics. I show them the inside front cover of Ralph Fletcher’s Marshfield Dreams where he sketched his childhood neighborhood. The stories in this short memoir all take place in this neighborhood.

 

Heart Mapping

Have your students use their writer’s notebooks to do some mapping of their own. You might want to try heart mapping. This idea comes from Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard. Explain to students that writers speak from their hearts. They write about things they care deeply about. Ask students to look inside their hearts, find what really matters to them and then “map” their hearts. Questions to ask: What is in your heart? What has really affected you? What people are really important to you? What memories, secrets, fears, joys are in your heart?

Neighborhood Mapping

You may also want to try neighborhood mapping. The first time I took part in this activity as a writer, I was amazed at the number of stories and memories that came flooding back to me. Before trying this with your students, I encourage you to try it yourself first and take note of what happens in your mind as you draw. After you finish sketching, try doing some quick writes on the following topics:

  • What were your initial thoughts?
  • What was your favorite place in your neighborhood?
  • Who was the nicest person in your neighborhood?
  • Where did you go to be alone?
  • Were there any forbidden places in your neighborhood?
  • Describe some of the sounds in your neighborhood.
  • Describe some of the smells.
  • Was there a place where everyone seemed to gather?

Writing Trait/Strategy:Generating Ideas; prewriting strategies; techniques authors use to generate writing topics Mentor Text Suggestions:My Map Book by Sara FanelliMarshfield Dreams by Ralph FletcherAs the Crow Flies: A First Book of Maps by Gail HartmanThe Once Upon a Time Map Book by B.B. HennessyMy Heart is a Magic House by Julie Jacobs (heart map) Description:I get a lot of mileage from this lesson. This activity helps students generate many possible writing topics. To introduce this strategy, I read aloud the picture book My Map Book by Sara Fanelli. I explain that mapping is an effective way for authors to explore a variety of topics. I show them the inside front cover of Ralph Fletcher’s Marshfield Dreams where he sketched his childhood neighborhood. The stories in this short memoir all take place in this neighborhood.   Heart Mapping Have your students use their writer’s notebooks to do some mapping of their own. You might want to try heart mapping. This idea comes from Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School by Georgia Heard. Explain to students that writers speak from their hearts. They write about things they care deeply about. Ask students to look inside their hearts, find what really matters to them and then “map” their hearts. Questions to ask: What is in your heart? What has really affected you? What people are really important to you? What memories, secrets, fears, joys are in your heart? Neighborhood Mapping You may also want to try neighborhood mapping. The first time I took part in this activity as a writer, I was amazed at the number of stories and memories that came flooding back to me. Before trying this with your students, I encourage you to try it yourself first and take note of what happens in your mind as you draw. After you finish sketching, try doing some quick writes on the following topics: What were your initial thoughts? What was your favorite place in your neighborhood? Who was the nicest person in your neighborhood? Where did you go to be alone? Were there any forbidden places in your neighborhood? Describe some of the sounds in your neighborhood. Describe some of the smells. Was there a place where everyone seemed to …

Matching Readers with Text

Reading Interview

One of the best ways to discover what a child likes to read is to ask. At the beginning of the year, interview and/or ask each child to complete a reading interest survey to assess reading interests, attitudes, and knowledge of reading strategies. Interview questions may include:

  • Do you like to read? Why or why not?
  • What do you like to read?
  • What is the last good book you read?
  • Do you like when adults read aloud to you?
  • What is the most important thing about reading?
  • When you are reading, what are you trying to do?
  • What is reading?
  • When you come to a word you don’t know, what do you do?
  • Do you think it’s important to read every word correctly? Why or why not?
  • What makes a person a good reader?
  • Do you think good readers ever come to a word they don’t know? If yes, what do you think they do?

Reading Interest Inventories

Quick and easy to administer, interest inventories provide another great way to determine students’ interests and attitudes toward reading.

Reading Interest Inventory Page 1

Reading Interest Inventory Page 2

Five Finger Rule

Have students read the first page or two of a book.  Tell them to put up one finger for each word they cannot read.  If all five fingers are up at the end of a page or two, the book is probably too difficult and they should find an easier book to read. If they only have one or two fingers up, it may be a “just right” book—they should try reading a few pages.  If they understand and enjoy the book, it is just right.  The picture book Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians is a great way to introduce the 5 Finger Rule.

Individual Reading Conferences

The individual reading conference is an invaluable tool for differentiating instruction and matching children with appropriate books.  An individual conference allows the teacher to work one-on-one with each child, addressing that child’s specific needs and providing the necessary reading guidance.

Status of the Class

Status of the class is like a mini-conference at the beginning of each reading workshop session. During status of the class the teacher asks each reader what he is reading and the page he is on. This information is recorded daily at the beginning of reading workshop. Through this five-minute activity, the teacher gathers valuable information including:  who is finishing and abandoning books, patterns in readers’ book preferences, who needs help selecting  “just right” books, and more. See Status of the Class for a more detailed description.

Status of the Class PDF

Self-Evaluation and Goal Setting

As students learn to evaluate their own reading preferences and behaviors, they can begin to notice patterns in their reading habits.  The teacher and student can use this information to set future reading goals that will help the reader expand and enrich his reading diet. 

Goal Setting Ideas PDF

My Reading Goals Recording Sheet PDF

Reading Self-Evaluation PDF

Reading Interview One of the best ways to discover what a child likes to read is to ask. At the beginning of the year, interview and/or ask each child to complete a reading interest survey to assess reading interests, attitudes, and knowledge of reading strategies. Interview questions may include: Do you like to read? Why or why not? What do you like to read? What is the last good book you read? Do you like when adults read aloud to you? What is the most important thing about reading? When you are reading, what are you trying to do? What is reading? When you come to a word you don’t know, what do you do? Do you think it’s important to read every word correctly? Why or why not? What makes a person a good reader? Do you think good readers ever come to a word they don’t know? If yes, what do you think they do? Reading Interest Inventories Quick and easy to administer, interest inventories provide another great way to determine students’ interests and attitudes toward reading. Reading Interest Inventory Page 1 Reading Interest Inventory Page 2 Five Finger Rule Have students read the first page or two of a book.  Tell them to put up one finger for each word they cannot read.  If all five fingers are up at the end of a page or two, the book is probably too difficult and they should find an easier book to read. If they only have one or two fingers up, it may be a “just right” book—they should try reading a few pages.  If they understand and enjoy the book, it is just right.  The picture book Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians is a great way to introduce the 5 Finger Rule. Individual Reading Conferences The individual reading conference is an invaluable tool for differentiating instruction and matching children with appropriate books.  An individual conference allows the teacher to work one-on-one with each child, addressing that child’s specific needs and providing the necessary reading guidance. Status of the Class Status of the class is like a mini-conference at the beginning of each reading workshop session. During status of the class the teacher asks each reader what he is reading and the page he is on. This information is recorded daily at the beginning of reading workshop. Through this five-minute activity, the teacher gathers valuable information including:  who is finishing and abandoning books, patterns in readers’ book preferences, who needs help selecting  “just right” books, and more. See Status of the Class for a more detailed description. Status of the Class PDF Self-Evaluation and Goal Setting As students learn to evaluate their own reading preferences and behaviors, they can begin to notice patterns in their reading habits.  The teacher and student can use this information to set future reading goals that will help the reader expand and enrich his reading diet.  Goal Setting Ideas PDF My Reading Goals Recording Sheet PDF Reading Self-Evaluation …

Materials Needed for Reciprocal Teaching

No special materials are required to implement the reciprocal teaching model. Because reciprocal teaching was designed to be an interactive dialogue, most of the time is spent talking! Chart paper and/or an overhead are helpful for modeling during whole- or small-group introductory or practice lessons. Paper-pencil activities can provide reinforcement as students are introduced to the four strategies. Once students begin integrating the four strategies, however, the emphasis is almost strictly on reading and dialoguing.

No special materials are required to implement the reciprocal teaching model. Because reciprocal teaching was designed to be an interactive dialogue, most of the time is spent talking! Chart paper and/or an overhead are helpful for modeling during whole- or small-group introductory or practice lessons. Paper-pencil activities can provide reinforcement as students are introduced to the four strategies. Once students begin integrating the four strategies, however, the emphasis is almost strictly on reading and …

Mentor Text Background

What Are Mentor Texts?

  • A mentor text is any piece of writing that can be used to teach a writer about  some aspect of writer’s craft.
  • Mentor texts can take the form of any genre:  picture book, excerpt from a chapter book, a magazine or newspaper article, an editorial, a cookbook, etc.  Relatively short pieces of text work best.
  • Some professional literature distinguishes between “touchstone texts” and “mentor texts”, defining  touchstone texts as those used by a teacher to model a particular craft for a community of learners and mentor texts as those used by individual writers who are apprenticing themselves to an author’s work or body of work.  For the sake of simplicity and clarity,  I will use the term “mentor text” to refer to any piece of writing (published or written by a teacher or student) that is used to demonstrate writer’s craft to groups of students during mini-lessons or to individual students during writing conferences.
  • The best mentor texts are those that can be used numerous times throughout the school year to demonstrate many different craft moves.
  • Most mentor text mini-lessons fall into one of three categories:
    • Idea: the text inspires the writer to create an original idea based on one from the text.
    • Structure: the text presents on organizational structure that the writer tries to emulate using original ideas.
    • Written Craft: the author’s writing style, ways with words, or sentence structure inspires the writer to try out these techniques.
  • As we build our mentor text lists and libraries, we should consciously look for texts from all three categories.
  • When using mentor texts, it is important to remember that we are teaching a particular strategy or craft move—we are not teaching the book.

Why Use Mentor Texts?

  • Mentor texts help students envision possibilities for their own writing.
  • They provide a model of what good writing looks like.
  • Use of mentor texts is consistent with Vygotsky’s Zones of Development and with the Optimal Learning Model (gradual release of responsibility).
  • They help students grow as writers by giving them something to emulate.
  • Exposure to mentor texts encourages students to take risks in their writing, to try something new.
  • Mentor texts inspire and ignite writers.
  • Mentor texts help us “show” not just “tell” our students what good writing looks like.
  • This is how  real writers work—they look to other writers for ideas and ways to craft and structure their writing.  Why not teach children to do what the professionals do?

Selecting Mentor Texts

With so many books filling the shelves of bookstores and libraries, how do we begin to select the right mentor texts for our mini-lessons?  The truth is, there isn’t just one right text that will do the trick.  As Katie Wood Ray explains in Wondrous Words, writing style is individual but it is not unique.  In other words, a close look at the writing of many different authors reveals that authors use the same techniques or crafts.  As we begin to “read like a writer” we notice that there are more similarities than differences.  While there is not one right mentor text for each craft we hope to teach, some texts are obviously more effective than others.  Below is some criteria that can aid in selecting mentor texts (Nia, 1999 and Wood, 1999):

  • Picture books and other short pieces are ideal for mentor texts.
  • You have read the text and you love it.
  • You and your students have talked about the text as readers first.
  • You find many things to teach in the text:
    • Ways with words; powerful language
    • Interesting structures
    • Interesting ideas or writing concepts
    • Conventions
  • You can imagine talking about the text for a very long time.
  • Your entire class can have access to the text.
  • Your students can read the text independently or with some support.
  • The text is a little more sophisticated than the writing of your best students.
  • The text is written by a writer you trust.
  • The text is a good example of a particular kind of writing (genre).
  • The text is of a genre you are studying.
  • It has background information included.
  • It reminds you of other texts.

Ultimately we want to be able to select our own mentor texts, but when we’re just getting started, it is helpful to have some lists to rely on.  See mentor text websites and professional books for resources that list quality mentor texts. 

What Are Mentor Texts? A mentor text is any piece of writing that can be used to teach a writer about  some aspect of writer’s craft. Mentor texts can take the form of any genre:  picture book, excerpt from a chapter book, a magazine or newspaper article, an editorial, a cookbook, etc.  Relatively short pieces of text work best. Some professional literature distinguishes between “touchstone texts” and “mentor texts”, defining  touchstone texts as those used by a teacher to model a particular craft for a community of learners and mentor texts as those used by individual writers who are apprenticing themselves to an author’s work or body of work.  For the sake of simplicity and clarity,  I will use the term “mentor text” to refer to any piece of writing (published or written by a teacher or student) that is used to demonstrate writer’s craft to groups of students during mini-lessons or to individual students during writing conferences. The best mentor texts are those that can be used numerous times throughout the school year to demonstrate many different craft moves. Most mentor text mini-lessons fall into one of three categories: Idea: the text inspires the writer to create an original idea based on one from the text. Structure: the text presents on organizational structure that the writer tries to emulate using original ideas. Written Craft: the author’s writing style, ways with words, or sentence structure inspires the writer to try out these techniques. As we build our mentor text lists and libraries, we should consciously look for texts from all three categories. When using mentor texts, it is important to remember that we are teaching a particular strategy or craft move—we are not teaching the book. Why Use Mentor Texts? Mentor texts help students envision possibilities for their own writing. They provide a model of what good writing looks like. Use of mentor texts is consistent with Vygotsky’s Zones of Development and with the Optimal Learning Model (gradual release of responsibility). They help students grow as writers by giving them something to emulate. Exposure to mentor texts encourages students to take risks in their writing, to try something new. Mentor texts inspire and ignite writers. Mentor texts help us “show” not just “tell” our students what good writing looks like. This is how  real writers work—they look to other writers for ideas and ways to craft and structure their writing.  Why not teach children to do what the professionals do? Selecting Mentor Texts With so many books filling the shelves of bookstores and libraries, how do we begin to select the right mentor texts for our mini-lessons?  The truth is, there isn’t just one right text that will do the trick.  As Katie Wood Ray explains in Wondrous Words, writing style is individual but it is not unique.  In other words, a close look at the writing of many different authors reveals that authors use the same techniques or crafts.  As we begin to “read like a writer” we notice that there are more similarities than differences.  While there is not one right mentor text for each craft we hope to teach, some texts are obviously more effective than others.  Below is some criteria that can aid in selecting mentor texts (Nia, 1999 and Wood, 1999): Picture books and other short pieces are ideal for mentor texts. You have read the text and you love it. You and your students have talked about the text as readers first. You find many things to teach in the text: Ways with words; powerful language Interesting structures Interesting ideas or writing concepts Conventions You can imagine talking about the text for a very long time. Your entire class can have access to the text. Your students can read the text independently or with some support. The text is a little more sophisticated than the writing of your best students. The text is written by a writer you trust. The text is a good example of a particular kind of writing (genre). The text is of a genre you are studying. It has background information included. It reminds you of other texts. Ultimately we want to be able to select our own mentor texts, but when we’re just getting started, it is helpful to have some lists to rely on.  See mentor text websites and professional books for resources that list quality mentor …

Mentor Texts: Must-Have Tools for Your Conferring Toolkit

Have you heard the following piece of advice before?

Teach the writer not the writing.”

If so, have you ever thought about what it means?

What It Means to “Teach the Writer”

I first heard this saying many years ago when I was learning how to confer with writers, and it made me realize that I had been more focused on helping students “fix up” and edit the one piece of writing in front of them rather than making my conferences transferable. In other words, what I was teaching in this one conference would improve this one piece of writing, but it would do very little to help the writer apply this learning in future pieces of writing.

Once I understood that, I still had questions. The big one was HOW? How does one teach in a way that makes the writer smarter, not just this piece better?

What It Looks Like to Teach the Writer, Not Just the Writing

Then one day I was watching some Carl Anderson conferring videos. If you have heard of Carl, you probably know that he is THE conferring guru. As I watched conference after conference, I noticed a pattern.

In every conference, he would pull out a mentor text or a piece of his own writing to demonstrate a writer’s craft or quality of strong writing. Then, after doing a little demo, he would turn to the child’s piece of writing and say, “Let’s see if we can try this in your writing.” Next, he would coach the child to do the work. At the end of the conference, he would remind the writer to use that skill in future pieces of writing.

That made sense but I was still stuck. I didn’t have those mentor texts ready at my fingertips and honestly, even if I did, I wouldn’t have known what skills to pull out of them.

Eventually I figured out that I didn’t need a ton of mentor texts. I just needed one or two in the genre that I was teaching. But the key, the game changer for me, was having them prepared ahead of time.

Preparing Mentor Texts for Conferring

I started “tabbing up” my mentor texts so that I have them on hand for quick, easy reference. (Those of you who have worked with me in person know that I have this odd love affair with sticky note tabs!)

But geekiness aside, a lot of teachers have seen my “tabbed up mentor texts” and asked to take pictures of them so they can replicate them. I decided it might be helpful to give our LitFORCE a little tour of some of these texts in case you want to copy mine. Or better yet, copy-change them to tab up your own!

Add Mentor Texts to YOUR Conferring Toolkit

Here are links to some videos where I show you how to create your own “tabbed up mentor texts” to add to your own conferring toolkit:

Using Mentor Texts in Your Conferring Toolkit
 (tab up a mentor text for narrative structure)

 

Conferring Tools for Narrative Writing (tab a mentor text to teach how to add details to narrative writing)

 

Conferring Tools for Author’s Craft (tab a mentor text for author’s craft)

Have you heard the following piece of advice before? “Teach the writer not the writing.” If so, have you ever thought about what it means? What It Means to “Teach the Writer” I first heard this saying many years ago when I was learning how to confer with writers, and it made me realize that I had been more focused on helping students “fix up” and edit the one piece of writing in front of them rather than making my conferences transferable. In other words, what I was teaching in this one conference would improve this one piece of writing, but it would do very little to help the writer apply this learning in future pieces of writing. Once I understood that, I still had questions. The big one was HOW? How does one teach in a way that makes the writer smarter, not just this piece better? What It Looks Like to Teach the Writer, Not Just the Writing Then one day I was watching some Carl Anderson conferring videos. If you have heard of Carl, you probably know that he is THE conferring guru. As I watched conference after conference, I noticed a pattern. In every conference, he would pull out a mentor text or a piece of his own writing to demonstrate a writer’s craft or quality of strong writing. Then, after doing a little demo, he would turn to the child’s piece of writing and say, “Let’s see if we can try this in your writing.” Next, he would coach the child to do the work. At the end of the conference, he would remind the writer to use that skill in future pieces of writing. That made sense but I was still stuck. I didn’t have those mentor texts ready at my fingertips and honestly, even if I did, I wouldn’t have known what skills to pull out of them. Eventually I figured out that I didn’t need a ton of mentor texts. I just needed one or two in the genre that I was teaching. But the key, the game changer for me, was having them prepared ahead of time. Preparing Mentor Texts for Conferring I started “tabbing up” my mentor texts so that I have them on hand for quick, easy reference. (Those of you who have worked with me in person know that I have this odd love affair with sticky note tabs!) But geekiness aside, a lot of teachers have seen my “tabbed up mentor texts” and asked to take pictures of them so they can replicate them. I decided it might be helpful to give our LitFORCE a little tour of some of these texts in case you want to copy mine. Or better yet, copy-change them to tab up your own! Add Mentor Texts to YOUR Conferring Toolkit Here are links to some videos where I show you how to create your own “tabbed up mentor texts” to add to your own conferring toolkit:   …

Mining Memories

Writing Trait/Strategy:
Where authors get ideas; ideas trait

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
Memory String by Eve Bunting
The Memory Box by Mary Bahr
Pictures from Our Vacation by Lynne Rae Perkins
Letters to the Lake by Susan Swanson
Night Tree by Eve Bunting
When I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis

Description:
Some of the best topics come from our own memories. While it is important for writers to learn to generate their own topics, it is sometimes helpful to give them topics to jog their memories. These topics often become “seed” ideas for future poems, memoirs, or personal narratives. Below is a list of questions that can be used as writer’s notebook topics or just added to students’ personal writing territories or topics lists:

  • What are your first memories of home?
  • Have you ever moved? What was that like?
  • What was your favorite activity as a preschooler? First grader?
  • How did you make your first friend?
  • How did you feel when your best friend moved away?
  • Write about pets you’ve had over the years.
  • What has been the most significant event in your life? Why?
  • What are the small everyday moments that you treasure for some reason?
  • Write about a trip you’ve taken that has had a lasting impact on you. It could be a cross-country vacation or a trip to the mall.
  • Write about a special tradition your family celebrates.
  • Interview family and friends about your past.
  • Get out your old photos and free-write about them.

Reading aloud the picture books listed above is a great way to help students spark more memory topics. See below for some example lessons.

Read aloud Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. This book is about a young boy who tries to help his elderly friend regain her memory. After reading the book, have students bring in a shoebox or paper bag filled with 5 objects representing memories (something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh, something as precious as gold). For 5 days have students share one object each day with a partner and then write about the memory.

Read aloud When I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis. In their writer’s notebooks, have students make a list beginning with “When I was little…”. I like to get them started by sharing a few of my own:

  • When I was little, I colored all over the lampshade with a yellow crayon (my favorite color).
  • When I was little, my brother and I hung socks over the bed slats underneath my bed.
  • When I was little, I was afraid of people and wouldn’t talk to them.

Set a timer and have students write as many as they can think of. Then have them share their lists with their writing partners. Give them a couple of minutes to add to their lists ideas that may have been sparked by the sharing. Next have them circle one idea on the list, turn to a clean page in their writer’s notebooks, and write a full entry on this one topic.

Writing Trait/Strategy:Where authors get ideas; ideas trait Mentor Text Suggestions:Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem FoxMemory String by Eve BuntingThe Memory Box by Mary BahrPictures from Our Vacation by Lynne Rae PerkinsLetters to the Lake by Susan SwansonNight Tree by Eve BuntingWhen I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis Description:Some of the best topics come from our own memories. While it is important for writers to learn to generate their own topics, it is sometimes helpful to give them topics to jog their memories. These topics often become “seed” ideas for future poems, memoirs, or personal narratives. Below is a list of questions that can be used as writer’s notebook topics or just added to students’ personal writing territories or topics lists: What are your first memories of home? Have you ever moved? What was that like? What was your favorite activity as a preschooler? First grader? How did you make your first friend? How did you feel when your best friend moved away? Write about pets you’ve had over the years. What has been the most significant event in your life? Why? What are the small everyday moments that you treasure for some reason? Write about a trip you’ve taken that has had a lasting impact on you. It could be a cross-country vacation or a trip to the mall. Write about a special tradition your family celebrates. Interview family and friends about your past. Get out your old photos and free-write about them. Reading aloud the picture books listed above is a great way to help students spark more memory topics. See below for some example lessons. Read aloud Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox. This book is about a young boy who tries to help his elderly friend regain her memory. After reading the book, have students bring in a shoebox or paper bag filled with 5 objects representing memories (something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cry, something that makes you laugh, something as precious as gold). For 5 days have students share one object each day with a partner and then write about the memory. Read aloud When I Was Little by Jamie Lee Curtis. In their writer’s notebooks, have students make a list beginning with “When I was little…”. I like to get them started by sharing a few of my own: When I was little, I colored all over the lampshade with a yellow crayon (my favorite color). When I was little, my brother and I hung socks over the bed slats underneath my bed. When I was little, I was afraid of people and wouldn’t talk to them. Set a timer and have students write as many as they can think of. Then have them share their lists with their writing partners. Give them a couple of minutes to add to their lists ideas that may have been sparked by the sharing. Next have them circle one idea on the list, turn to a clean page in their writer’s notebooks, and write a full entry on this one …

Name Dropping

Writing Trait/Strategy:
Generating ideas; write about what you know

Mentor Text Suggestions:

Description:
I am always encouraging/reminding my students to “write about what you know,” and I look for ways to steer them toward meaningful topics. A topic that is near and dear to most children is their own names. I read aloud a book like Chrysanthemum to open the conversation about our names. I also bring in baby name books and allow them to search through to find the meanings of their names, other forms of their names, etc. I share with them that many authors have written about their names and that we can, too. To get them started, I write about my own name as they watch, and then I invite them to do the same. I am amazed at the type of writing this lesson inspires. Some children write about their nicknames and have humorous stories to tell. Others write about being made fun of because of their names and how that makes them feel. Some love their names and celebrate that in their pieces.

See below for a sample of modeled writing I did for my students about my own name. Then read the writing samples of some of my students below. Notice the influence that my writing had on my students’ pieces. We can be powerful writing mentors for our students. (see Teachers as Writing Mentors)

No, not Anne. Not Ann. Not Anna. No, no, no! Not Ann Marie or Anna Marie. No! It’s all one word—Annemarie. No, I don’t have a middle name. No, “Marie” is NOT my middle name. My name is Annemarie—all one word.

Ever since I was little, people have messed up my name. They either spell it wrong or say it wrong. Even though they mess it up, I still like my name. When I was in college somebody heard my name and called me Emery instead. After that my friends thought that was funny and started calling me Emery Board. Then they shortened it to just Board. So my nickname in college was Emery Board or just plain Board.

Student Samples:

     Nathan:

Conner:

Writing Trait/Strategy:Generating ideas; write about what you know Mentor Text Suggestions: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry “My Name” from The House of Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros Journey by Patricia MacLachlan Baby name books Teacher original story modeled for students Description:I am always encouraging/reminding my students to “write about what you know,” and I look for ways to steer them toward meaningful topics. A topic that is near and dear to most children is their own names. I read aloud a book like Chrysanthemum to open the conversation about our names. I also bring in baby name books and allow them to search through to find the meanings of their names, other forms of their names, etc. I share with them that many authors have written about their names and that we can, too. To get them started, I write about my own name as they watch, and then I invite them to do the same. I am amazed at the type of writing this lesson inspires. Some children write about their nicknames and have humorous stories to tell. Others write about being made fun of because of their names and how that makes them feel. Some love their names and celebrate that in their pieces. See below for a sample of modeled writing I did for my students about my own name. Then read the writing samples of some of my students below. Notice the influence that my writing had on my students’ pieces. We can be powerful writing mentors for our students. (see Teachers as Writing Mentors) No, not Anne. Not Ann. Not Anna. No, no, no! Not Ann Marie or Anna Marie. No! It’s all one word—Annemarie. No, I don’t have a middle name. No, “Marie” is NOT my middle name. My name is Annemarie—all one word. Ever since I was little, people have messed up my name. They either spell it wrong or say it wrong. Even though they mess it up, I still like my name. When I was in college somebody heard my name and called me Emery instead. After that my friends thought that was funny and started calling me Emery Board. Then they shortened it to just Board. So my nickname in college was Emery Board or just plain Board. Student Samples:      Nathan: …

Narrative vs. Expository

Writing Trait/Strategy:

text structure; organization

 

Mentor Text Suggestions:
(links at end of post)

 
Description:

To help students see the difference between narrative and expository text, begin by reading aloud two companion books about the same topic—one narrative and one expository. Example: Miss Spider’s Tea Party by Kirk, Neeley and White (narrative) and Spiders by Gail Gibbons (expository). Discuss the text features of each and record students’ observations on chart paper. Lead students to conclude that the narrative (story) has characters, setting, problem, solution and the author’s purpose is mainly to entertain. Conclusions about the expository (informational) text should include that it uses facts to explain, describe, persuade, instruct, or retell. The author’s purpose is mainly to inform the reader rather than entertain. During subsequent read aloud sessions, ask students to identify whether the text is narrative or expository and to give their supporting reasons.

 

 

 

Narrative vs. Expository
Companion Books
 

  
 
 
Miss Spider’s Tea Party  vs.  Spiders
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Owl Moon vs.  Birds of Prey: Learn About Eagles, Owls, Falcons, Hawks And Other Powerful Predators Of The Air

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep the Lights Burning Abbie vs.

Beacons of Light: Lighthouses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Stellaluna vs.

Bats! Strange and Wonderful

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The Snowy Day vs.

White Out! A Book About Blizzards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tacky the Penguin vs. Penguins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

The Pirate Meets the Queen vs.

You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pirate’s Prisoner!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

Writing Trait/Strategy: text structure; organization   Mentor Text Suggestions: (links at end of post)   Description: To help students see the difference between narrative and expository text, begin by reading aloud two companion books about the same topic—one narrative and one expository. Example: Miss Spider’s Tea Party by Kirk, Neeley and White (narrative) and Spiders by Gail Gibbons (expository). Discuss the text features of each and record students’ observations on chart paper. Lead students to conclude that the narrative (story) has characters, setting, problem, solution and the author’s purpose is mainly to entertain. Conclusions about the expository (informational) text should include that it uses facts to explain, describe, persuade, instruct, or retell. The author’s purpose is mainly to inform the reader rather than entertain. During subsequent read aloud sessions, ask students to identify whether the text is narrative or expository and to give their supporting reasons.       Narrative vs. Expository Companion Books          Miss Spider’s Tea Party  vs.  Spiders               Owl Moon vs.  Birds of Prey: Learn About Eagles, Owls, Falcons, Hawks And Other Powerful Predators Of The Air                                 Keep the Lights Burning Abbie vs. Beacons of Light: Lighthouses                                Stellaluna vs. Bats! Strange and Wonderful                                  The Snowy Day vs. White Out! A Book About Blizzards                     Tacky the Penguin vs. Penguins                                       The Pirate Meets the Queen vs. You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pirate’s Prisoner!                   …

One School, One Book

I first read about this program in an issue of Reading Today, an IRA publication.  As soon as I read this article, I knew I wanted to try this idea.  This is a program in which one book is selected and the entire school community—parents, volunteers, and teachers—reads that book at home over the course of an entire month. Each morning the principal reads a trivia question designed to pique and promote interest in the book, to encourage attentive listening at home, and to serve as a daily reminder of the program. For more information about this exciting program visit Read to Them.  Here you can find a more detailed description, additional resources, and a couple of video clips.

This past year our school used this program during the month of March for National Reading Month.  We are a K-5 building so we wanted to select a book that would interest a wide age range.  We selected The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney and it was a huge hit!  Below are some of the ideas and activities we used to enhance the reading experience.  You may download any of the reproducibles for use in your school or adapt the ideas for other books.  If you use any books from the Humphrey series, be sure to check out Betty Birney’s website.  She is a very approachable author.  We contacted her to let her know about the program, and she agreed to write a letter to our school and even answer questions the children had about Humphrey or her books.

Parent Letter
Staff Letter
Family Activities
Reading Calendar
Trivia Questions
Template for Humphrey Contest
World According to Humphrey Teacher’s Guide  
(from the author’s website)

For the Humphrey Contest we invited students  to write a story and draw a picture about a new adventure that Humphrey might have at their school.  We selected one winner from each classroom and awarded the winning contestants a stuffed hamster which we had purchased at Amazon.com. It was neat to see the students trying to emulate the author’s writing style by adding some of Humphrey’s mannerisms and sayings.  Below is a sample of one of the winners:

 

 

I first read about this program in an issue of Reading Today, an IRA publication.  As soon as I read this article, I knew I wanted to try this idea.  This is a program in which one book is selected and the entire school community—parents, volunteers, and teachers—reads that book at home over the course of an entire month. Each morning the principal reads a trivia question designed to pique and promote interest in the book, to encourage attentive listening at home, and to serve as a daily reminder of the program. For more information about this exciting program visit Read to Them.  Here you can find a more detailed description, additional resources, and a couple of video clips. This past year our school used this program during the month of March for National Reading Month.  We are a K-5 building so we wanted to select a book that would interest a wide age range.  We selected The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney and it was a huge hit!  Below are some of the ideas and activities we used to enhance the reading experience.  You may download any of the reproducibles for use in your school or adapt the ideas for other books.  If you use any books from the Humphrey series, be sure to check out Betty Birney’s website.  She is a very approachable author.  We contacted her to let her know about the program, and she agreed to write a letter to our school and even answer questions the children had about Humphrey or her books. Parent LetterStaff LetterFamily ActivitiesReading CalendarTrivia QuestionsTemplate for Humphrey ContestWorld According to Humphrey Teacher’s Guide  (from the author’s website) For the Humphrey Contest we invited students  to write a story and draw a picture about a new adventure that Humphrey might have at their school.  We selected one winner from each classroom and awarded the winning contestants a stuffed hamster which we had purchased at Amazon.com. It was neat to see the students trying to emulate the author’s writing style by adding some of Humphrey’s mannerisms and sayings.  Below is a sample of one of the winners:   …

One-Minute Editing Check

Today’s post gives a strategy for teaching editing, but also helps students develop automaticity using language conventions as I described in the blogpost Tidy-as-You-Go.  In the middle of independent writing time, instead of or in addition to doing a mid-workshop teaching point, consider stopping to do a one-minute editing check. The key is that the editing needs to be done through a lens: instead of “take a minute to edit everything you have just written”, it sounds more like this:

“I’m noticing that many of you are using proper nouns in your writing. That’s what writers do when they are trying to create movies in the reader’s mind—they use specific nouns rather than general ones. For example, they say ‘Fairmount Elementary School’ instead of just ‘the school’. So, here’s the thing: when we use specific nouns that are the exact names of people or places, we call those proper nouns and they need to be capitalized. So right now, let’s read our drafts through the lens of proper nouns and use our green pencils to add the editor’s marks for capitalization (three stacked lines) and edit for proper nouns today. Ready? One minute. Go!”

  • At the end of one minute, you might ask students to share what they found with a partner. Then they immediately go back to drafting.
  • They provide a quick opportunity to re-visit conventions that have been taught but are not automatic yet.
  • They teach students the skill of editing (which is different than just knowing what a convention is).
  • They allow us to embed conventions into the writing workshop without over-emphasizing them above structure and development.
  • They heighten students’ awareness which is the first step in learning.
  • They don’t take much time out of the day and they involve no extra materials or lesson planning.
  • They help students apply conventions to their own writing instead of practicing in isolated grammar exercises that research shows does not transfer.
  • They encourage teachers to be responsive to students’ needs and to meet them at their zone of proximal development.

Wow! So many benefits to an instructional practice that takes just over a minute! Be sure to check out other posts in my series: Where’s the Grammar?!

Today’s post gives a strategy for teaching editing, but also helps students develop automaticity using language conventions as I described in the blogpost Tidy-as-You-Go.  In the middle of independent writing time, instead of or in addition to doing a mid-workshop teaching point, consider stopping to do a one-minute editing check. The key is that the editing needs to be done through a lens: instead of “take a minute to edit everything you have just written”, it sounds more like this: “I’m noticing that many of you are using proper nouns in your writing. That’s what writers do when they are trying to create movies in the reader’s mind—they use specific nouns rather than general ones. For example, they say ‘Fairmount Elementary School’ instead of just ‘the school’. So, here’s the thing: when we use specific nouns that are the exact names of people or places, we call those proper nouns and they need to be capitalized. So right now, let’s read our drafts through the lens of proper nouns and use our green pencils to add the editor’s marks for capitalization (three stacked lines) and edit for proper nouns today. Ready? One minute. Go!” At the end of one minute, you might ask students to share what they found with a partner. Then they immediately go back to drafting. They provide a quick opportunity to re-visit conventions that have been taught but are not automatic yet. They teach students the skill of editing (which is different than just knowing what a convention is). They allow us to embed conventions into the writing workshop without over-emphasizing them above structure and development. They heighten students’ awareness which is the first step in learning. They don’t take much time out of the day and they involve no extra materials or lesson planning. They help students apply conventions to their own writing instead of practicing in isolated grammar exercises that research shows does not transfer. They encourage teachers to be responsive to students’ needs and to meet them at their zone of proximal development. Wow! So many benefits to an instructional practice that takes just over a minute! Be sure to check out other posts in my series: Where’s the …

Ordinary to Poetic

One of the keys to helping students write great free verse poetry is to heighten their awareness about things they see every day and to begin to look at these objects with new lenses. The following activities can help prime the pump for poetry writing and help students see ordinary objects through new eyes:

One of the keys to helping students write great free verse poetry is to heighten their awareness about things they see every day and to begin to look at these objects with new lenses. The following activities can help prime the pump for poetry writing and help students see ordinary objects through new eyes:

Poetry Walk

Take students outside for a walk with pencils and clipboards. Invite them to write down what they see, hear, feel, etc. Remind them that there is no talking during these short walks so everyone can use all of their senses to notice the things around them and think like writers. After returning to class, allow students to share their notes with one another. Invite students to use their observations to compose free verse poetry. 

Ordinary to Poetic

We also call this activity “Look at  a ________ through a poet’s eyes.”  Choose a subject.  Things from nature or everyday objects work well.  Have students use ordinary words and phrases to describe the subject.  Then have them look at the subject in a different way and use metaphor and simile to describe it (Heard, 1999).   Here is an example of one that my students did while looking at this conch shell:
 

One of the keys to helping students write great free verse poetry is to heighten their awareness about things they see every day and to begin to look at these objects with new lenses. The following activities can help prime the pump for poetry writing and help students see ordinary objects through new eyes: One of the keys to helping students write great free verse poetry is to heighten their awareness about things they see every day and to begin to look at these objects with new lenses. The following activities can help prime the pump for poetry writing and help students see ordinary objects through new eyes: Poetry Walk Take students outside for a walk with pencils and clipboards. Invite them to write down what they see, hear, feel, etc. Remind them that there is no talking during these short walks so everyone can use all of their senses to notice the things around them and think like writers. After returning to class, allow students to share their notes with one another. Invite students to use their observations to compose free verse poetry.  Ordinary to Poetic We also call this activity “Look at  a ________ through a poet’s eyes.”  Choose a subject.  Things from nature or everyday objects work well.  Have students use ordinary words and phrases to describe the subject.  Then have them look at the subject in a different way and use metaphor and simile to describe it (Heard, 1999).   Here is an example of one that my students did while looking at this conch …

Paint a Picture

Writing Trait/Strategy:
Word Choice; Sentence Fluency

Mentor Text Suggestions:
Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse
The Storm Book by Charlotte Zolotow
Twilight Comes Twice by Ralph Fletcher
White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt
All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan
Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan

Description:
To introduce this technique, select a picture of something from a catalog or magazine. Without showing it to the students, tell them that you have a picture of an “amazing car”, “a cute puppy,” “an awesome bicycle,” or whatever. Ask students to form a mental image of it and then draw a picture of it. If they ask for more details, give them adjectives like neat, great, fantastic, delicious. After giving them time to draw, show them the actual picture and compare. Students will realize that you did not give them enough specific details.

Next read aloud well-written descriptions from a mentor text to model how to describe a character, object, or place.

When ready to have students begin elaborating on a description, assign a topic sentence about a character, a setting, or object. Before they begin writing, ask them to “take a mental snapshot” and have them practice listing all the questions that a reader might ask about the subject. For example, if writing a description to follow the sentence, “I found an old box in the corner,” questions might include:

  • How big was the box?
  • Was it open or closed?
  • What room was it in?
  • To whom did it belong?
  • What did the outside of it look like?
  • Was there anything in it?
  • Did you open it?
  • What was it made out of?
  • What condition was it in? (Mariconda, 1999)

After they have listed and answered the questions, students can write their descriptions. This should first be modeled as a whole group mini-lesson, and then students should each write their own answers and descriptions.

When students are just getting started, it is helpful to give them a list of sentence starters so that their descriptions don’t end up being just a “grocery list” of adjectives or descriptive phrases. Some helpful sentence starters include:

  • I noticed…
  • It was evident that…
  • As I ran my hand down…
  • They were surprised to see…
  • He couldn’t help but notice…
  • My eye was drawn to…
  • She could make out the sound of…​

Student Sample:

 

Writing Trait/Strategy:Word Choice; Sentence Fluency Mentor Text Suggestions:Come On, Rain! by Karen HesseThe Storm Book by Charlotte ZolotowTwilight Comes Twice by Ralph FletcherWhite Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin TresseltAll the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlanHello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan Description:To introduce this technique, select a picture of something from a catalog or magazine. Without showing it to the students, tell them that you have a picture of an “amazing car”, “a cute puppy,” “an awesome bicycle,” or whatever. Ask students to form a mental image of it and then draw a picture of it. If they ask for more details, give them adjectives like neat, great, fantastic, delicious. After giving them time to draw, show them the actual picture and compare. Students will realize that you did not give them enough specific details. Next read aloud well-written descriptions from a mentor text to model how to describe a character, object, or place. When ready to have students begin elaborating on a description, assign a topic sentence about a character, a setting, or object. Before they begin writing, ask them to “take a mental snapshot” and have them practice listing all the questions that a reader might ask about the subject. For example, if writing a description to follow the sentence, “I found an old box in the corner,” questions might include: How big was the box? Was it open or closed? What room was it in? To whom did it belong? What did the outside of it look like? Was there anything in it? Did you open it? What was it made out of? What condition was it in? (Mariconda, 1999) After they have listed and answered the questions, students can write their descriptions. This should first be modeled as a whole group mini-lesson, and then students should each write their own answers and descriptions. When students are just getting started, it is helpful to give them a list of sentence starters so that their descriptions don’t end up being just a “grocery list” of adjectives or descriptive phrases. Some helpful sentence starters include: I noticed… It was evident that… As I ran my hand down… They were surprised to see… He couldn’t help but notice… My eye was drawn to… She could make out the sound of…​ Student Sample: …

Personal Word Wall

Word walls are great tools for teaching vocabulary, high-frequency words, and word patterns.  It is often a challenge to get students to use these tools, however.  “Word Wall Bobs” provide great opportunities for students to have repeated exposure to the words on our word walls and for encouraging students to use them independently.

Some children still struggle, however, to use the word wall as a resource for spelling in their daily writing because they can’t make the transfer from the wall to their papers.  If you have students who have difficulty making this transfer, you might want to try using a personal word wall.  Here is one that I created for some students this year:

 Download Personal Word Wall

How it works:

1. Photocopy the form above onto 8 1/2” x 11” cardstock.

2. Cut off the right edge.  (This makes it the perfect size to use in a standard composition notebook).

3. Tape the lower half into the inside back cover of the student’s notebook.

4. Fold on the line so that the sheet is hidden when the notebook is closed.

5. When they are writing in their writer’s notebooks, encourage them to flip the card up so that it is visible while they write.  When students misspell high-frequency words in their daily writing, add or have them add the words to their personal lists.

I have my students create individualized spelling lists that are based on pattern words and on words they misspell in their daily writing, so this tool is also a great way to collect those words for their spelling lists.

 

 

 
 

Word walls are great tools for teaching vocabulary, high-frequency words, and word patterns.  It is often a challenge to get students to use these tools, however.  “Word Wall Bobs” provide great opportunities for students to have repeated exposure to the words on our word walls and for encouraging students to use them independently. Some children still struggle, however, to use the word wall as a resource for spelling in their daily writing because they can’t make the transfer from the wall to their papers.  If you have students who have difficulty making this transfer, you might want to try using a personal word wall.  Here is one that I created for some students this year:  Download Personal Word Wall How it works: 1. Photocopy the form above onto 8 1/2” x 11” cardstock. 2. Cut off the right edge.  (This makes it the perfect size to use in a standard composition notebook). 3. Tape the lower half into the inside back cover of the student’s notebook. 4. Fold on the line so that the sheet is hidden when the notebook is closed. 5. When they are writing in their writer’s notebooks, encourage them to flip the card up so that it is visible while they write.  When students misspell high-frequency words in their daily writing, add or have them add the words to their personal lists. I have my students create individualized spelling lists that are based on pattern words and on words they misspell in their daily writing, so this tool is also a great way to collect those words for their spelling lists.     …

Personification

Writing Trait/Strategy:
Word choice; personification; poetry tools

Mentor Text Suggestions:

Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller
Dirty Laundry Pile by Paul Janeczko (ed.)
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
The Scarecrow and His Servant by Philip Pullman
The Goldfish Yawned by Elizabeth Sayles
School Supplies: A Book of Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins
The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton

Description:
Personification is a comparison in which something that is not human is described with human qualities. This tool is used especially by poets, but authors of other texts as well, to create mind pictures for the reader. Introduce this literary craft to students by pointing out examples in mentor texts such as those listed above.

Activity:
Have students go on a “personification walk.” Have them make a list of things they notice (trees, clouds, rocks, grass, wind, etc.) Ask them to choose one and make a list of ways their subject seems human or animal-like. Example: Trees = Giant hands reaching toward the sky. (Heard, 1999).

Writing Trait/Strategy:Word choice; personification; poetry tools Mentor Text Suggestions: Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie KellerDirty Laundry Pile by Paul Janeczko (ed.)Leaf Man by Lois EhlertThe Scarecrow and His Servant by Philip PullmanThe Goldfish Yawned by Elizabeth SaylesSchool Supplies: A Book of Poems by Lee Bennett HopkinsThe People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton Description:Personification is a comparison in which something that is not human is described with human qualities. This tool is used especially by poets, but authors of other texts as well, to create mind pictures for the reader. Introduce this literary craft to students by pointing out examples in mentor texts such as those listed above. Activity:Have students go on a “personification walk.” Have them make a list of things they notice (trees, clouds, rocks, grass, wind, etc.) Ask them to choose one and make a list of ways their subject seems human or animal-like. Example: Trees = Giant hands reaching toward the sky. (Heard, …

Physical Therapists and Conferring

I’ve been thinking a lot about conferring again.  I’ve recently read a couple of books on the topic and have decided it is an area I want to focus on for the rest of this school year. Several posts ago I shared my epiphany about how much the daily work of a teacher is like that of a doctor in Doctors and Conferring.  Today…more thoughts on this topic.

My doctor ended up sending me to a physical therapist.  While having my neck manipulated by the PT, I told her I was going to write this blog about her.  She was sharing with me how much she loves the work she does and how her philosophy of treating patients has changed over the years.  She said, “I used to prescribe a pre-determined plan for my patients. I used to think that I already knew what they needed.” She went on to explain that she now takes time to talk with and listen to her patients, get to know them, and really get to the cause of the pain, not just treat the symptoms.

As workshop teachers, how often have we sat down to confer with a child with a pre-determined plan for what to teach that child that day?  In his book How’s It Going? Carl Anderson teaches us that the first step in a writing conference is to find out what the writer is working on.  My favorite way to begin a conference is with the question “What are you working on as a reader/writer today?”  As I probe and listen to the child, my job is to figure out what the reader/writer is trying to do and teach into that intention.  It is my job to ask what this reader/writer needs today.  Sometimes that means putting aside what I thought I might teach the child.

I recently adopted a 4th-grade class where I can spend some time conferring with readers. Today I conferred with one reader for the first time. I had planned on getting to know her a bit, talking to her about her current independent reading book, and assessing some of her reading skills and strategies.  My plan was to determine which reading skills might be a focus for future conferences or strategy groups. Within the first 30 seconds of the conference, my plans were already foiled. When I asked her what prompted her to select her current book, she said, “Oh, I just picked it off the shelf.”  Further probing revealed that this is how she generally chooses her books. Right then, the conference shifted course. I knew that today we would not be working on fluency or comprehension or any other specific reading skills. Instead, we needed to talk about living a “readerly life”. If this reader is going to be a lifelong reader, she needs to learn strategies for selecting books.  Just “picking a book off the shelf” is not likely to keep her engaged in books for long. Undoubtedly, her teacher has discussed book selection with her class in the past, but for today, she needed to hear it one more time.

On subsequent physical therapy visits, I noticed that my PT drew on her expertise and her experience with other patients, but she never let that trump the information she gathered by listening to her patients each day and never presumed to have that day’s regimen already planned.  As literacy teachers, we have a lot of expertise about the teaching of reading and writing, and of course we should draw on that knowledge and our experience. But I think we can all take a lesson from this physical therapist and learn to listen to each student as we conduct our conferring research to determine what will most move them forward today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about conferring again.  I’ve recently read a couple of books on the topic and have decided it is an area I want to focus on for the rest of this scho