Eavesdropping 101 #sol18


Eavesdropping 101 #sol18

March 10, 2018

I never really thought much about eavesdropping until I had the pleasure of listening to Sarah Weeks last weekend at the TCRWPW reunion.  She actually recommended eavesdropping as the way she gets great snippets for her writing.  She told a wonderful story about eavesdropping on a proposal (turned down) at Starbucks.  This story and the idea of eavesdropping got me thinking,  not about proposals but about listening in.  So here’s some of the ways I eavesdrop.


Meetings are a wonderful place to listen in.  During professional learning communities,  and others just listen in.   I admit readily in this company that this silence can be a challenge.  However, when  successful,  opportunity abound to learn something.  Nine times out of ten,  it’s something I had no idea about.  These tidbits could be things teachers are already trying,  things their worried about, how assessments work for them, and what they are hoping for with their students.   It’s mostly fair.  They know I’m there,  I try to blend in.  Most of the time it works out.

Random Snippets between Educators

This is slightly sneakier.  The act is unintentional.  I’m waiting… at the copier, for the bathroom or I’m walking down the hall, to the parking lot.  Lots of times, the educators include me in the chat which technically isn’t eavesdropping.  Also,  the conversations aren’t all that secret since we are all in public and they know I’m there.  I see what they are copying,  what their reading.  I notice what they ask each other about.

Random Snippets between Kiddos

Mostly this just helps me know about them.  What they like, what they read,  what they play,  who they chat most with.  Sometimes though,  I get real gems.  What they ask each other help in. How they support each other… or don’t.  When I have them turn and talk,  I get a full blast of whether I got the teach across.

Other Peoples’ Coaching

This is one of my favorite things, but I don’t get much opportunity to do this.  My current favorite humans to do this with are Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan.  They are wonderful at coaching kiddos and their teachers.  If I had my notebook with me right now,  I’d drop some of their knowledge right on you.  For now,  follow Clare’s blog,  she’s pretty transparent about her coaching.

I also encourage people to eavesdrop on me.

When I am having a chat with a student

Definitely not so much for what I’m saying, but what the kiddos say.  This week I got a chance to plop down at a table with a bunch of coloring kindergarteners.  They were making books, but not stories.  As I began to talk to them about making these drawing collections into stories,  their teacher began to listen to me and more importantly to them.  The stories they created were wonderful treasures.  We didn’t miss out on the moment.

I love conferring in other peoples’ classrooms.  I’m pretty good at chat and I just chat up one child after another about whatever it is that they are working on.  It’s difficult for a teacher to get around to everyone every day, but when I am there, she can hear a snippet and run with it later.

Working with a small group

Usually,  when I work with one kiddo,  other friends around us hear.  Even when I’m quiet,  I’m not all that quiet.  Sometimes,  I gear my talk to the table, or a nearby friends that wouldn’t chat me up himself.  This works best in that active engagement or link.  Most of the time,  a review of focus lesson might ignite some thinking.

Talking to other teachers

Collaboration time for me in generally 1:1,  but sometimes people drop by or hear something and join in.  Hearing others’ questions or attempts can ignite a spark .

The Usual

I do like listening to nearby restaurant tables, people in line, folks in the waiting area… anywhere.  I haven’t taken to writing it down, yet.

Eavesdropping is noticing.  Noticing what matters to folks.  Noticing what people talk about day to day.  Noticing what is important.  Noticing leads to thinking.  Thinking leads to innovation.

img_1716 Still working on my writing every day in March thanks to the Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers.


Reasoned Understanding of Evidence #sol17

Reasoned Understanding of Evidence


October 10, 2017

Last week,  Rainer Weiss, the chair of the physics department at MIT won the Nobel Prize for Physics.  This probably isn’t that much of a surprise, though Dr. Weiss said his chances were about 20%,  MIT has had 32 Nobel Prize winners.

What struck me in Ray Weiss’ interview on NPR was that he said what was important was the reasoned understanding of evidence.  A happenstance that Dr. Weiss fears is in jeopardy.

I was thinking that day (last Tuesday) and the days that followed about what a reasoned understanding of evidence might be.  I think of it in light of the fairly substantial amount of evidence we collectively collect regarding students in the fall of each year and in the shadow of examining that data together in our teams.  What does it mean to have a reasoned understanding of evidence?  As literacy professionals we looked at the words reasoned understanding and we take them to mean  comprehension of evidence based on well thought out logic and good sense.

We are fortunate at our school to take the time to carefully construct understandings of the assessment measures,  the results of those assessments, and importantly triangulate that information with what we have found out in other ways:  observation, practice, and other assessments.  We triage results and take the time to return to reflection, recording, and more conversation after our initial meetings.

In the best scenarios and honestly often,  we come to a new understanding of students and a new plan for moving forward, considering what might be the bedrock skill to begin with, miraculously considering all of the variables of planning, grouping, materials, motivation, and sometimes, sheer will.

I read last week that teachers have to make more decisions during the day than brain surgeons.  Some estimates are 1500 decisions.  But these decision,  how to group students, what to instruct whole class,  what to revisit, what goals to set, what questions to ask,  determine the instructional underpinnings of the students in our view.

So when I meet with teachers over the next few days, weeks, months, years,  as a coach and a collaborator,  I want to be a catalyst, a cheerleader, a co-conspirator, a sounding board.  Rai Weiss had a long struggle to that Nobel Prize.  He dropped out of MIT one time and his research on gravitational waves spans 30 years peppered with missteps and false starts.  We might have similar missteps and false starts, however we’ll start together. I want us to say together what Rai Weiss said when he was interviewed last Tuesday after he made that reasoned understanding of evidence,  ” It’s very, very exciting that it worked out in the end.”

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating, maintaining and inspiring this platform.  You can read some amazing slices of life here.




The Pigeon Lives Here #sol17

IMG_9903The Pigeon Lives Here #sol17

October 3, 2017

Over the course of the last week or so, as the first graders pass by the literacy center on their way to lunch,  I began to overhear one student after another mention “Pigeon”.  I didn’t think much about it, but then the first grade PLC leader dropped by the literacy center on her way back from specials one day.  Here’s her story.

The students noticed you have THE Pigeon in here, she said.  You have to start moving it every day.  

I was confused, but then I remembered that I had purchased Pigeon,  Piggie, and Gerard over the summer and they were gently tucked into the new book shelves surrounding my desk.  I thought they might be popular with the students at the time, but over weeks, they were just blending in for me.  She continued.

We told the first graders that Pigeon comes to check the libraries in our rooms at night and he leaves them all messages.  You have to move him around because now they think he lives in the Literacy Center. 

It makes sense.  The Literacy Center is one big library of teacher resources and leveled text.  I thought, why not?   That very afternoon,  I moved Pigeon to prominently display on the shelf right inside my door.  Do you know what happened next?

Pandemonium!   When the first graders came down the hall that day to go to lunch and the Pigeon- THE PIGEON -was right there looking at them,  the buzz went up and I’m not sure how anyone got to lunch that day.

So… here I am.  The Pigeon has become my own personal Elf on the Shelf.  I try to remember to move him each afternoon before I go home. There he is every morning waiting to be magical in the eyes of some very perceptive six year old.


I’m grateful today for six year old magic, for first grade teachers who wanted to include me in the fun, for Mo Willems for creating such a wonderful character for children to relate to, and for the opportunity this and so many other days to be part of the world of elementary school.




Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM I’m grateful to Two Writing Teachers for giving me a reason to think about the magic of my day and then write about it.  You can read more Slices here.



Launching Books #IMWAYR


Mentor Texts for the Beginning and the Long Haul

July 17, 2017

Every summer  I find a back to school mentor text.  Usually,  this text is a uplifting mentor about mindset for learning.  This year’s choices are no exception to that.  It’s the right way to go for the first few days.

Being a teacher for a number of years,  there are a lot of first days books in my library.  This year,  the hunt is different.  Let’s make these books go the long haul.  I want to return to them for meaning work, construction work, beginnings, endings, author’s moves, and theme.  That’s a lot to ask of one book.  However, the more familiar the story,  the more meaningful it is as a mentor tool.

the thing lou couldn't do Many of you will already be familiar with The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do and by its author,  Ashley Spires, author of the amazing, The Most Magnificent Thing, another well-used mentor text.  Without reading,  we can already do so much work on the cover,

lou thingloucouldntdo insert

right?  Essential Questions, Predictions, Foreshadowing.  This book doesn’t hold back,  Lou knows she can do the thing.  She avoids it.  She negotiates with it.  The best part is that (spoiler alert),  it doesn’t all work out in the end. It has a perfect Carol Dweck moment.  Read to find out.  Ok, all well and good but what else.  Taking just three ideas from Calkins UOS Reading 2nd Grade Authors Have Intentions, we can talk about theme.  (this will work for any grade)

Here’s where my practice is shifting.  I don’t have to have these questions answered to ask them.  The students often have better, deeper, richer ideas.  I think I know, but that’s not important.

jabari jumps cover

I couldn’t wait for my next title to arrive, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall.  Reviews were awesome and LOOK at that cover.  So much to talk about after summer break!

But then there’s the first page,  and we can talk about Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 8.30.37 AM.pngor  details in the story or crafting an ending. We can use dialogue.  I can use the preview of the book video to notice, and wonder with the class.


My last book is purposeful.  I’m committed to add an Amy Krouse Rosenthal book to as many lists and as

the ok book cover.jpg

many demonstrations as I can.  This book isn’t new like my other two choices and honestly,  I may have used it for back to school before.  The video of The OK book will be how Literacy Bootcamp  begins this year.



Because in the world of must be amazing,  it’s ok to be ok while you’re figuring it out.  Illustrations, simple repetitive text, a thoughtful ending.  One great mentor.

inside the ok book

Happy hunting for your mentors.  Remember to make them go the distance.

Technique Thursday: A Change will Good You Good


A Guide to (Teacher) Self (Workshop) Improvement

July 6, 2017

Let’s say you (or I) want to improve upon our writing workshop,  what might we do?

Apply anything you want to change to this model. 

When we think about getting better at anything, there are so many metaphors for improvement.  Insert your best improvement metaphor here.  What made you want to improve?  What did you notice that you didn’t like?  What could you keep but improve?  Make a list right now…

It’s difficult to target what might be getting under our skin about the workshop.  The workshop has 3-4 components:  minilesson,  guided practice which includes strategy groups and conferring,  and independent practice.  I would include share and a quick tip time too.  

In his book,  The Construction Zone,  Terry Thompson writes about focus, flexibility, responsibility (by student), and feedback.  The focus is our road map.  I often talk to newish teachers about ‘trying to teach everything’ until they have a solid vision of their destinations.  I want to amend that in light of clearer, more concise thinking.  If I could envision what I wanted it to look like and sound like,  what would that be?   Maybe you are in a place where you can picture that.  If not,  here are a few ways to get there.  

Reread  The Guide to the Writing Workshop by Lucy Calkins.  

Think about each part of your workshop:  minilesson,  gradual release, conferring, conferring notes, goal setting, independent work,  interactive writing, and share.

Think about how to leverage your reading work with your writing work

What strong minilessons and gradual release/strategy work do you have in your reading workshop that gets to author’s craft/technique/mind work?  For example,  if you can teach structure in informational reading,  it’s not a long journey to informational writing.  


Watch videos (TCRWP VImeos are great),  other teachers,  your students.  Have someone teach your students, video your own workshop, or watch someone else teach.


For me, planning is about assessment and observation.  IF you’re planning now for an unknown future class,  what did your last class succeed/struggle with?  One thing I’ve noticed is looking at the grade before and ‘pre/reteaching’ is so helpful.   It’s also helpful to do a quick/flash draft to see what your students are starting from.  Use a checklist or rubric to see what techniques you want to focus on?  


What is the most difficult thing for you?  For me,  it’s narrative.  Read blogs,  read books, practice,  write… One blog is key, Two Writing Teachers

One last word about success,  change,  and getting it right.  Generally,  if it feels wrong,  we should think… is this fun?  My friends,  Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan, reminded me last week to keep a playful stance about the WORK.  Good advice.  

rattlesnake footprints

raccoon tracksMay 10, 2017

Recently there was a news story about a child and his stepfather who were lost in a nearby woods.  When interviewed the child (around 8) said there weren’t any rattlesnakes or anything, but there were a lot of animals with feet.  

Isn’t that just like all of us children and adults,  we are looking for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad and then right in front of us is something amazing and inspiring? In my conjecture,  I suppose either the child was frightened and then realizing there wasn’t anything that was going to immediately kill him, began to enjoy his surroundings noticing footprints or the adult senses fear explained that there weren’t any rattlesnakes and did he notice those raccoon tracks.

So,  in our classrooms who is doing the noticing?  Are we bringing the horses to water and waiting for them to drink?  Do we understand the gradual release? Are we keeping in our minds and in hearts… and in our words where we are trying to go?  Are we keeping ourselves open to the possibilities?  Are we always the ones who are driving the instruction forward or are some of those amazing possibilities coming from our students?


View from the Balcony #sol17

BalconyA View from the Balcony

May 2, 2017

I’ve been rushed lately or at least I feel rushed, like my to-do list is too long and I’m just racing through the days.  But today something slowed me down.  Today I was able to take in a view of our intermediate classrooms from the balcony so to speak.  I accompanied some consultants that were taking a quick view of our intermediate literacy block.  It was amazing to watch the reading workshops in action without having an agenda… or a role to play.   Clare referred me to an idea called ‘ watch from the balcony, lead from the floor’.   Think about how much we could learn, observe, think about when we just move through the classrooms and watch.

So today I moved through the intermediate classrooms in our building for just an hour or so during their reading workshop.  I moved quickly not staying too long in any one spot, but returning to see a little minilesson, small group, and a little independent work.  Most of these rooms, I’m in every single day.  During those days,  I have a purpose, a mission, goals.  Today,  I just watched.  Just looked.  The teachers were interested in what the consultants noticed.  No one asked me what I noticed, so the gems are my personal treasure.

I knew you all were amazing teachers but today I noticed…

Your students are listening.  They’ve learned the talk of reading workshop.  They can turn and talk, and really turn and talk.

You teach with ease.  You’re light on your feet.  You’re enjoying yourselves.  You know your stuff.

Everything in your rooms shows who you are as a teacher.  You treasure your anchor books you’ve shared.  You have a place for students to give feedback to you and each other.  You’re sharing yourselves with your students.

There’s trust.  The students trust you,  you trust them… and you all trust me.  No one hesitated for one second when I came and went from your room.  You smiled, the students smiled.  I smiled.

My smile was real.  I see the work that you’ve done.  The work that you’ve done with your students.  The work that we’ve done together.

I feel filled up.  I hope to take more of these side trips and I’m going to make sure you can take them too.