Wednesday, August 22, 2012

To Begin Again

Here I am at the waning days of summer and it seems like the mind is swimming with ideas.  This leads me to the subject of this post: Environment.  I want to draw on the collective intelligence of the digital world and share some great places to find some great ideas about environment.

It is always great to post a poem at the entrance of your classroom door.  A poem is an invitation to fall in love with words.  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater wrote an incredible poem for her students.  It is posted below and can be found on her blog at

Another great poem to "roll out the carpet" to the beginning of a new school year is Invitation by Shel Silverstein.  I think I stumbled onto the idea for this poem when visiting Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres blog at  several years ago.

"If you are a dreamer,
come in,
 If you are a dreamer,
a wisher, a liar, 
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer... 
If you're a pretender,
come sit by my fire 
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!  

Finally, a poem  that will be a mantra that will echo in student minds all year long and fuel a love of reading is Good Books, Good Times by Lee Bennett Hopkins.  This poem provides wonderful opportunities for shared and choral reading as kids love the beat, pace and power of this poem.

Friday, August 17, 2012

New Assessments, Tools, Mini-Lessons and Mentor Texts to Support State of the Art Instruction in Persuasive Essay with Kate Roberts

Kate Roberts is a digital maven at weaving technological tools in the workshop to inspire, educate and engage writers.  She had us view a clip, which helped us examine the nature of a logical argument.  In fact, she shared several clips that could serve as digital touchstone or mentor texts that kids could use to learn different moves that writers use to persuade or convince others.  The following clip was a clip that we revisited throughout the week.  We mined different mentor texts and clips to articulate the different moves that writers use to persuade others.  

The following were some of our observations after rolling up our sleeves and examining a few different persuasive texts:

Persuasive Writers . . . 
Use facts, tell stories and anecdotes, appeal to the emotions of their audience, set a tone, name reasons, anticipate counter-argument, demonstrate an author's passion about a particular topic, rant, include different kinds of evidence, couch big ideas inside of smaller, specific details, are accessible to readers through the author’s tone or decisions about evidence to include/or exclude, craft their writing so that it has rhythm, a repeated slogan, at times, a hidden agenda and includes lists of facts in a rapid fire fashion

At the start of the week, Kate (as the teacher) modeled through think-aloud and demonstration writing an attempt to persuade her mother to follow her advice about a certain matter.  We took on the role of students, and studied the moves that she made in order to persuade her mother.  After the modeling and demonstration, she invited us to give it a go.

On-Demand Assessment
We were given a short burst of time to write an on-demand piece of writing.  An on-demand is a writing assessment that is produced at the start of the unit (as a formative assessment) to help the teacher take the temperature of the class and determine where the class is, in terms, of persuasive or argument writing.  We were given the following option if we were stuck for an argument: Write to convince people which flavor is better – vanilla or chocolate. 

An on-demand is an important tool if we want to show growth because it gives us a before snapshot of what the student was able to produce before the unit, and so at the end of the unit, it will be important to provide students with the chance to write another on-demand piece of argument/persuasive writing so as to examine the effects of our teaching.  The CCLS name persuasive under the umbrella of argument or opinion writing. 

Assessment is in the spotlight with the demands of the CCLS and other initiatives like Race to the Top exerting their influence on schools.  The TCRWP is an excellent model and resource for assessment tools that inform instruction and the argument/opinion continuum is a tool – like the narrative continuum – that helps teachers determine where a child is at in terms of argument/opinion writing, in order to, figure out what is in that child’s ZPD and decide on next steps for that child as a writer.  

Readers, what kinds of tools (or formative assessments) are we using to inform our instruction and guide our teaching in writing workshop? Have we gotten our 'feet wet' with on-demand writing? What methods have we used to integrate technology into our workshop?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

TCRWP August Writing Institute 2012

Tomorrow I am going to be heading out to NYC to get together with some friends and "get smarter" about writing.  The summer institutes at the TCRWP are the all time greatest opportunities for professional development in the field of literacy in the universe.  The topics that I will be rolling up my sleeves and delving into next week are entitled:

New Assessments, Tools, Minilessons and Mentor Texts Support State of the Art Instruction in Persuasive Essay (4-8) with Kate Roberts.

Revision Comes Not from Applying the Teacher’s Newest Strategy, but from Rereading, Internalized Rubrics and a Growing Knowledge of What Works (3-8) with Audra Robb.

I am looking forward to getting together with some new friends from my Twitter community and sharing our learning and thinking together online through blog posts and tweets.  

Please visit periodically throughout the week as I will be posting daily about the learning come out of the institute and hope to bring all of you with me so that you are part of the conversation.  Be sure to leave questions – thoughts – and comments related to posts and I promise to bring these to my respective sections and respond.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Using Read Aloud to Build Caring Classroom Communities


all of you awesome teachers!  What I realize about our choices is that just as books help our students craft readerly lives the read alouds we choose help to shape our classroom communities – from The Tiger Rising to The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to The Year of the Book. All have the potential to create caring classroom communities – where students not only care about reading, but care about each other as well.  

When speaking about helping our students explore their reading identities, Jennifer Serravallo in Independent Reading Assessment: Fiction says that, “Too often, I hear students refer to themselves as a level.  “I’m a P,” they’ll say to a classmate. Part of me wants to giggle at the image of a big letter P walking around with the student’s legs, arms and head stuck to it. The other part of me is saddened – this is a student who only sees himself as a letter, without an identity of his or her own.” What a sad, but true commentary – as much as  I know that it is important for kids to have books in their hands that they can read with a high degree (96% or better) of accuracy, fluency and comprehension – at times, I feel like leveling comes with a price.  Therefore, I think we need to do all that we can to downplay leveling in our classrooms. However, at the same time, as Hattie’s research shows, feedback and goal setting are important to achievement, so it begs the question: how can we be honest with a child and at the same time preserve their dignity?  

I think a lot of it has to do with tone and encouraging kids to look forward instead of looking back with words like “I know that you’re here right now . . . but with a little spirit and guts . . . you’ll be moving in leaps and bounds in no time!”  This is really the spirit behind Lucy’s early lessons on The Best of Times and the Worst of Times for those of you who are familiar with the Reading UOS Series Grades 3-5.  Colleagues, what do you do at the start of the year to help students craft readerly lives and see themselves – not as levels – but as readers? What do you do to downplay the negative effect levels can have on how a child sees herself as a reader?  I stumbled upon this video and thought – in striving to bring technology into the workshop – wouldn't it be a great idea to have students create videos of reading recommendations. Check it out here:

It would draw on their love of tech (a great motivator) and inspire them to share books they loved with others (and help with summarizing the key ideas and supporting details which is  CCLS RL 4.2) – it’s all about creating a culture of caring about reading and each other.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Independent Reading Assessment: Fiction

I am "getting my feet wet" with the Independent Reading Assessment: Fiction (Grades 3 – 5) by Jennifer Serravallo.  It is in a word: AWESOME! This is the tool teachers have been waiting for - and it is going to transform how teachers assess, plan and teach readers in workshops across the globe.  It's not that teachers might not have been doing this kind of work - looking at student post-its and reading entries, listening to their conversations, and using that data to inform their instruction.  However, for the first time, this assessment tool helps to organize the teacher’s thinking and sharpens their focus in looking through particular lenses.  

Further, it give the teacher a full picture of a reader’s experience with a text, from start to finish and provides an abundance of resources along with Jen’s incredible guidance and expertise through this vast terrain.  I am using it with a student I am tutoring and I was floored with the responses to some of the questions in a text that was deemed just-right for this particular reader based on running records.  Readers, for those who have experience using the assessment, what have you discovered? Did student responses surprise you? How did you use it to create instructional plans for students?  If you would like more information or would like to order it for your classroom or school, you can find more information and a short video clip about it at the following link:

Designing Tool Kits for Teaching Readers

After attending the following section at the July Summer Reading Institute with Shana Frazin, Close Reading of Texts: Teaching Kids to Monitor for Sense, Infer and Interpret, I am determined to design my own reading and writing toolkits in order to support my teaching during workshop.  I am researching the web – looking high and low – for examples to support my design.  Shana shared her toolkits with us at the institute, which also gives me an image of what I am working toward, but I still feel like I am a bit confused about how to make the different elements of the toolkit more interactive.

I will be posting here the next few days to document my progress in making the kit.  I think that I will design the kit around the different units that punctuate the year.  So I decided to start with Exploring My Reading Life in September. I thought about the goals of the unit – studying ourselves as readers, reading with volume and stamina, choosing books we’ll love and will help us to grow, building stronger conversations around books and started designing charts with teaching points.  However, I am not sure if this is what I am supposed to do.  I included some photos of this work in progress.  What are your thoughts, readers?  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Exploring A Reading Life

I want to extend the work of the last post a little bit.  As teachers of reading, we can never underestimate the importance of engagement and inspiration.  In the words of Calkins, we need to “wear our love of reading on our shirt sleeve.”  What are some different methods that we have used or plan to use in the upcoming month in order to help students see themselves as readers, reflect on their own reading lives, and cultivate reading identities as we launch that first unit entitled: Building a Reading Life? What are our plans for INSPIRING students to become the kinds of people that state: Hold on! Just one more chapter.  Although I am thinking of changing that title to: Exploring and Nurturing Our Reading Life.  Building a Reading Life leads one to believe that kids don't come into classrooms with their own reading histories. What do you think?  What are some goals that we weave throughout this unit?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

First Read Aloud

"Consider the energy harnessed by having the minds in your classroom community come together and focus on the language and events of the story you are putting in the air.  Consider the power of beginning your day with all that energy traveling on a common current; every member of the community rubbing shoulders with the same characters – pondering their dilemmas, cheering their accomplishments, and sharing in the pains of their struggles and losses.  Consider having the cumulative effect of all those readings as a common touchstone across the days, weeks and months of the school year." Lester Laminack from Learning Under the Influence of Language and Literature.

I love summer.  I love summer because it is all about renewal of the spirit.  I love turning the page to the next chapter, another class, another chance for revision.  A lot of thought goes into that first read aloud that we are going to come together around.  I think I found that September book that I HOPE all of the kids will love as much as I did.  Anna is the kind of reader that I hope the kids can imagine themselves into being (or perhaps already believe themselves to be). What is that all important first read aloud  that you are planning to use to start off your year? Is it a old favorite or a new read?  Please share the title and I will upload pictures on a wall in the blog (after I figure out how) to celebrate our intentions and launch us all off on another glorious reading-rich, buzzing about books school year. 

Finding Inspiration: The J Factor

In her closing speech at a the Reading Institute last month, Calkins shared some interesting pointers on holding tight to happiness in our profession.

1. Have Mentors in Happiness
We need to learn for each other.  Find others who can be points of light – who know things that we ourselves need to learn – and observe and talk with these ones to draw on their talents, knowledge and expertise.

2. Student Work

This is where the rubber meets the road.  Student work needs to be central to the conversations that go on within schools.  It should almost be a MUST that inside of curriculum conversations or conversations around student or teacher learning that there is an artifact that stands in the center of the conversation.  Find JOY inside of the stories of children – it is there – as a teacher we need to find those gems and hold them up for all to see.

3. Bring the Spirit of the Institute into the Fabric of the School
Our professional learning can be a deep, meaningful life-altering incredible driving force or it could be a bunch of notes in a closed notebook tucked inside of our bookcase and forgotten.  We need to bring the learning spirit into our classrooms and schools so that it becomes a well of inspiration and a motivating force that moves our communities to new heights.

4. What Brings True Happiness? 
The ultimate determining factor in achieving happiness is whether or not we are working on a mission that matters, that is, a purpose that we believe in, alongside others.

Friday, August 3, 2012


I have decided to give the blog a new look and even a new address.  I hope this will be a "querencia" for teachers of reading and writing.  In Writing Toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find You Way Georgia Heard describes querencia as "a place where one feels safe (something we all need in these times of reform where it feels like the earth is moving under our feet).  It is a place where one's strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home.  It comes from the verb querer, which means to desire, to want.

Reflecting on the Principal Gala at the Botanical Gardens (2015)

It is important for leaders to retreat to the mountains. This event stands at a cross-section. We need it to determine the road ahead. ...