Hero #sol18

thumbnail_IMG_6575Hero #sol 18

March 4, 2018

Today’s writing challenge: write about a hero, someone who has changed your life. I watched  some of the PBS videos on We’ll Meet Again.  Inspiring… truly.  They aren’t my hero story.

My hero didn’t rescue me from Mt. St. Helens or an earthquake.  In fact,  my hero doesn’t know my name.  She couldn’t pick me out in a crowd.  In the last eight years, we have spoke to each other four or five times.  The longest exchange was yesterday.  We spoke for about ten minutes.  She gave me her full attention.  She asked me what was going on in my school. And then she moved on to the very important work she had to do.

I wanted to ask her for a photograph together.  I have thought that every time I’ve seen her for these six-seven years.  I am not sure why, but I can’t ask her for that.  If I had one,  it would be on my desk and perhaps on my phone because this one singular woman has changed my life.

If you read my blog or know me personally or were in the crowd at Riverside Church with me yesterday,  you already know who I mean.  Lucy Calkins.  I contemplated writing in all caps or a different color or some other way to type in a way that I say it.

Sixish years ago, my friend MaryLynne,  convinced me to get up at 3:00 am,  drive to New York (235 miles give or take) and spend the day with 3,000 other educators shuffling around at Columbia,  eating a bag lunch,  furiously taking notes, and trying to slip into our consciousness the utter brilliance that is the thinking, speaking, acting, existing that is the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project only to process the 200 miles home arriving after 8 pm.   MaryLynne was already aware,  she had attended.  She knew the project members and the buildings and New York.

Back to Lucy.  I know,  shouldn’t I call her Dr. Calkins or something?   All of us seem to call her Lucy.  Lucy’s words,  her colleagues,  the people she draws together,  the books she’s inspired,  the speakers I’ve met that have worked with her,  all have come together to inform my current practice as a literacy coach.  Her reach is amazing and all of it is grounded in a simple and profound place.

Yesterday I wrote down just three lines in her twenty minute speech.

Intimacy is when someone listens to your writing. 

Love is when the difference between giving and taking is as little as it can be (Siddhartha)

It’s the personal that matters. 

I am certain that Lucy Calkins and I will never have a thumbnail_IMG_0789.jpgpersonal relationship.  However,  her sharing of her beliefs,  the path she choice,  the words she speaks and writes,  will be a part of all of my coaching and my teaching.  I know she knew that in those moments we spoke yesterday.  I know that she doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.

So Mrs. Calkins,  how is it going in my school community?  What I should have said is that it’s growing exponentially because you took an interest in growing my practice, in encouraging me to help others grow their practice, to care about the personal.  

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 9.10.00 PM  Today,  day 4 of the 31 day Slice of Life Writing Challenge,  thank you to all of the bloggers and readers and learners and writers that fuel my learning because it’s through writing that I explore my thinking.  It’s through writing that I think about teaching writing.  When I become a writer,  I join a community.  Here’s to the writing community created by Two Writing Teachers.  


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.  

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.

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