GPS in Place #sol18

Winding-Road-300x225Classroom GPS #sol18

March 7, 2018

Big Question for Today (everyday?)

How do we expect the kids to get in the car, if they don’t know where we are going?

Before we turn to beautiful projects, anchor charts, and even books,  we have to look at those little kiddos in front of us and think what are we going to teach you.  In order to think about what we are going to teach them,  we have to think about what they already know.  In order to think about what they already know, I am sorry to say friends,  we have to have assessments.  And that is the house that learning built.

It isn’t about  a learning objective posted on the wall.  It is this… hey,  kiddos,  today I’m going to teach you…I know this seems simple, but it speaks volumes.

When I explain to the students quickly and succinctly what we are all about in this time, this month, this year,  as a educator,  I do so many things.  I respect them.  I say we are partners in this work.  I set the table.  I frame the learning.  I make the ground we stand on very firm.  We all need that.

When I say remember yesterday we were….. now today we are going to …  I remind us that we are not starting from scratch.  We are building something here.  There are steps involved.  I think you’ve got this.

When I keep my focus lesson short,  I remind all of us that the time the students are doing the work is the most important time.  I remind them that I want them to have the maximum amount of time to read,  write, try things out, and learn.  I remind all of us that I don’t think the learning happens when I am reading a story, talking or explaining.  The learning happens when they are DOING.

When I have time that is dedicated to students doing the work,  trying it out,  when I am just a coach on the side most of the time,  when I ground my talk in the focus lesson,  I keep the lanes steady.  I make it clearer to see what we are working on,  what we are working towards, and what it will look like when we get there.

When I think about making connections across the day, across the school, across the week, across the year,  I am building thinking skills.

When lessons fail and they do, it’s mostly because we didn’t use the GPS.  We didn’t think where are we going.  Those first years of teaching are tough.  You only can see as far as your headlight beams.  You haven’t had enough experiences to know where the potholes might be or the best place to stop for coffee or even the most common traffic patterns.  In those times and many later times,  we can rely on conversations with our colleagues and our students.  We can rely on the standards,  our assessments, and our observations.  We can rely on the GPS.

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.  Lao Tzu




Introductions #sol18

IMG_9597Introductions #sol18

March 2, 2018

Just like me to skip over introductions the first slice and dive right into whatever fleeting idea comes through my head.

So…  by way of introduction… and backtrack…

Here I am in my capacity as one of the literacy coaches for my Massachusetts school district.  One of my favorite activities,  the yearly new teacher literacy induction annual selfie.  One of these years I’ll buy myself a selfie stick and this will be much better looking but perhaps not nearly as fun.

I refer to myself as a literacy coach these days, though others might use reading, specialist, or intervention in my descriptive title.  I answer to all, but my heart is in coaching.  I want to be a coach.  Coaches are funny, inspiring, tough with a soft heart, and mostly successful.  Coaches get right in there and inspire others to their best selves.  I don’t wear a whistle, but I have been known to sneak some sneakers into my daily look.

I’m in transition.  My principal says I can’t say I’m in transition anymore as I have been in this position in Massachusetts for eight years. However,  I left at least a good portion of my heart in the Chicago suburbs.  My wagon wheels still long for the ruts that were comfortable there including some trails to amazing pizza and frozen custard and hot dogs… and people.  I left behind our family including my man-child oldest and so many educators that formed by beliefs and watched my back.

I’ve been an administrator, but my passion is kids.  I am energized by them.  I adore their talk, their thinking, and their honesty.  I have a desk in our literacy center, but you’d be hard pressed to find me there during the school day unless it’s to find you a book.

I consider myself a reader first and never until recently ever entertained the idea I could be any type of writer.  I’m not sure what scarred me in my youth, but I’m guessing it was the five paragraph essay.  I remember in my undergrad and several rounds of graduate school laboring over writing anything.  I wanted to write like I talk and thank goodness this seems to give me an outlet and a forgiving audience to do that.

Technology is my partner.  I don’t know what I did before IPads and mobile phones and laptops brought me amazing things like word press and instagram and TWITTER.   I was experimenting with text-speech this morning in my car because there is so MUCH wasted time between that commute and when I’m in the shower WHEN I THINK OF SOME REALLY good ideas.  It’s frustrating.  My handbag and book bag and desk are full of notebooks for blogging, conferring, conferring with students, planning, scheming, and generally keeping track of my day.

So that’s me in a large nutshell.  Looking forward to a month of writing with you.


Day 2 of 31 day writing challenge. Thank you to my fellow bloggers for inspiration and encouragement and to TWO WRITING TEACHERS for creating this opportunity.  Read more amazing blogs and join the writing here.

Books to Spotlight Small Moments #IMWAYR


Examining Small Moments and Personal Narratives in the Workshop

December 4, 2017

In our building, we have been spending some planning and instruction time examining small moments, both in reading and writing workshop.  Having a few small moments or personal narratives to examine in writing workshop was never a problem.  We have our favorites:  Shortcut, Fireflies, Come on, Rain.  Small moments are easier to find perhaps than personal narratives.  What if the personal narrative isn’t exactly personal?  Some of my favorites:  Roller Coaster, The Snowy Day, The Relatives Came aren’t really told in the first person.  Does that diminish their usefulness as a mentor texts to our aspiring writers?

Here are a few things to consider when teaching small moments and personal narrative. Remembering that the purpose of small moment writing is that the writing is finite.  This gives our younger authors the ability to write in detail showing character’s small actions, dialogue and internal thinking.  We are working on stories becoming more and more cohesive with greater and greater detail.

What is our purpose for using a particular mentor text?  Are we working on watermelon/seed ideas?  Then texts like The Snowy Day, Blackout, and Roller Coaster are wonderful, inspiring text for our students to think about their own small moments.  I also use small books in their levels to tryout thinking.  In our Fountas and Pinnell  Leveled Literacy collection, The Muddy Mess is one book that are definitely about a small moment that many kids might have.  Soccer Game in Scholastic Hello Readers!  uses descriptive words to talk about just one soccer game.  This book is written in the first person and could be used as a interactive read aloud.

IMG_0424To pair a simple book like Soccer Game!  as a mentor text in small moment writing,  we could think about another game, perhaps one on the playground where we would use descriptions to go part by part through the game.

In Joy Cowley’s The New Cat,  the words are simple, describing the action in the pictures.  The pictures may help explain our younger readers and writers  thinking,  while the words describe a particular part.

Many other books might show real photos while explaining a child’s exploration of shopping, the aquarium or other places.  These books are wonderful for interactive read aloud or mentors for interactive writing so students can see themselves reading or writing themselves.

In a focus lesson, we can work with our students in a more difficult text.  One, where when we are the readers,  students can do the challenging thinking work.  In Owl Moon, a great text for 2nd grade, students can imagine why Jane Yolen chose to write this book while contemplating the small moment of going owling after dark.

In Sophie Was Really,  Really Angry or No David!,  students can use illustrations to think about the small moments along with strong feelings.  While No,David!  tells the story from the author’s point of view,  Sophie Was Really,  Really  Angry using third person.  Could we discuss with the students what words we might use if we were writing about feeling this way ourselves?

IMG_0421Sometimes,  books are long(ish),  after sharing the book in a read aloud, we might just use a page or a two-page spread to talk about a specific aspect of writing.  In The Relatives Came or Yard Sale,  we might stop at a page and talk about descriptions or stretching the moment, or making a picture in our minds.



Sometimes,  we might use a completely different type of book, perhaps one that is a familiar read,  to focus on one aspect of an author’s craft:  clever endings,  strong leads,  rich details.  These books are endless and part of your natural library.  In my use, I try to limit these books to have human characters, thought it is particularly hard to avoid using the wonderful richness of Kevin Henkes’ and Lily’s Plastic Purse and others for small moments.

So,  my advice,  relax.  Sometimes we will have focus lessons and this won’t be work students are doing in their independent reading.  Sometimes,  we pair or double pair students up to do focus lesson work in picture books that we have chosen for the group. Sometimes, we won’t.  Perhaps, we will work through small moment, narrative arc work in interactive read aloud and we will have students look for a particular aspect, for example,  rich details, in all the text they are reading.  Whatever work we are doing,  it should be reflective our standards,  our formative assessments,  our student needs, and be an rich experience.


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.

small batch coaching #sol17

Smallbatch-300x300 Small Batch Coaching

April 18, 2017

I have been thinking a great deal about instructional coaching of late; having a coaching cycle in place in my role as a literacy specialist:  teachers I meet with weekly,  co-teaching in place with a few teachers to varying degrees of formality, PLCs I meet with regularly and semi-regularly.  Those are all great and working well, but this past week I was thinking about ‘small batch’ coaching.

So small batch can come in a few different forms, most successful  it has a connection to your underlying goals in your building, with your team, or in some cases, with your hidden agenda.  I admit it. Sometimes I have a not-so-hidden agenda.  I will say it outright when asked.  Here’s one example of a small batch/not hidden agenda.

I dropped by one day as a intervention teacher was lead teaching in a classroom.  My purpose was to ask her about intervention with a student for a conference later that day.  When I arrived in the classroom the class had just completed a read-aloud of The Mouse, The Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, a perennial classic for kindergarten.  IMG_8594That was wonderful, but then…  I saw this.

IMG_8592 I think it’s safe to say and will not surprise anyone who has worked with me that I immediately started thinking how I could suggest a change-up in this activity or even shift the students’ thinking myself.

The probable goal of this sheet was sequencing and the students all sat at tables coloring the paper waiting for permission to cut and then glue .  I said to the teacher,  I love this book!   … Another thing  you might have done is let the students interact with the book, create props and do a retell on their own.  Perhaps that would have gotten to your objective too,  sequencing strength.  Well, maybe next time…or words to that effect. 

I went on about my day and then as the students were going to lunch, they stopped by the literacy center.FullSizeRender

There before me were dozens of little mice complete with mouse ears and a very large construction paper strawberry.   The teacher had thought about it and given it a go right away.  The students were thrilled and eager to share what they had done.

Now, do I wish that the students had made the ears and the strawberry, and had props and such from the beginning?  Yes.   However, changing our practice, changing our stance, shifting our outlooks takes time.  Much like we scaffold and linger and try out with our students, we should be willing to move at that same pace with their teachers.

So here’s to small batches of coaching, gentle nudges.  May they be casual chat over coffee, a notice of something wonderful tried, an interesting website/article/video sent with a quick note, a drop in, and encouraging smile.  After all,  we are just giving it a go too.


Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for coordinating the Slice of Life Community.  Join or read more here.

Writers are Readers #sol17

IMG_8534Reducing Cognitive Load by Pairing Reading/Writing Work

March 30, 2017

Lucy Calkins says in the The Art of Teaching Reading that reading and writing are like ‘running from one side of the boat to the other’.  Thinking about that movement from one side to the other and I’m searching for balance.  Previously, I thought that students were wonderful readers and then they became writers.  Perhaps it is because that is how I remember it for myself.  Reading, Reading, Reading.  Talking, Talking, talking.   Then struggling to write.   

What I’ve learned from a year of collaborating in writing and reading through the units of study is this.  Reading and writing should not be separated.  They are the peanut butter and jelly of learning.  I have upended my thinking and believe that writing is the easier craft, even if that might not be true for me.  What I’ve noticed is that writing work scaffolds the reading work.  When we teach into informational writing and then begin a unit in informational reading a few weeks later, we can teach into the strategies we are using to write and the style of the mentor texts we have examined as writers to teach into the reading strategies in informational reading.   I can say to a student, remember in writing we were working on text features to teach different aspects of our topic.  We can use what we know about writing text features to examine what the author is trying to tell us in our books.  If you are thinking about poetry these days,  this teaching move makes sense.  Teach into the writing of various types of poetry,  then give the mentor texts double duty  as readers,  read and reread those poems.  The more we write poetry, the more we understand the reading of it.  The more we read poetry, the better our writing is.

Writing provides a lot more room for error.  It’s slower paced.  We can edit and revise to our heart’s content.  In writing,  the pressure is less.  So while I still have student who are doodling on the paper,  they are getting the sentences written as well.  They have wait time and think time.  They are constructing as constructivists.  Writing scaffolds reading in so many ways that we knew.  Practicing phonics skills while spelling during writing strengthens decoding skills in reading.  Deeply studying a genre of writing strengthens predictive skills needed when reading particularly genres which are unfamiliar.

Studying reading and writing in the same genres keeps underlying truths in the same zip code.  As in our biography study where we used our narrative arc writing structure to describe the composition of the subject’s story,  using our writing structures explains new or different reading structures to students.  After we have taught text structures in second grade writing, when these students read informational text, they notice the text structures and anticipate the author’s meaning and purpose.  We apply the narrative writing structure to clarify theme, purpose, and determine importance.

As when I am looking for connections  I see them everywhere,  we have connected not just reading and writing in a grade level, but now see connections across grade.  Creating those connections across grade, content, and genre provides a platform for students to move to deeper thinking, richer work, and increasing confidence.

IMG_8436 (3)

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and the March Slice of Life Challenge Community for inspiration and encouragement.  Read their amazing blogs here.