Wednesday, November 29, 2017

November - Reading Takeaways from NCTE 2017

How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More: Developing Agentive Readers

Session led by: Jan Burkins, JoAnne Duncan, Gravity Goldberg, Renee Houser & Kim Yaris

  • “When we are given a set of questions to answer, what we pay attention to is already chosen for us. Our main goal is to find the correct answers. Readers who can articulate their reading process, explain how they always have questions running through their minds as they read and these self-created questions help them better understand the text than any given to them by others.” – What do I Teach Readers Tomorrow? by Gravity Goldberg & Renee Houser
  • If we give kids worksheets and the questions, we never get to know what students are actually thinking. 
  • Give yourself permission to listen to the student.
  • Conferring with students about books we have not read – We are not trying to figure out the book, but we are trying to figure out the thinking the reader is doing.
  • When we say less, students say more…
    •  It helps us to be more responsive
    • We make more targeted teaching decisions

When supporting students with prompts, who is doing most of the work, you or your students?

Within a unit of study, thinking can be divided into four areas, two for fiction (understanding characters & interpreting themes) and two for nonfiction (synthesizing information & understanding perspectives). According to Goldberg, all the reading work we do in fiction and nonfiction can be tied to these four areas.

  • What kind of thinking are students doing? Listen in to notice and name what they are doing.

*I own these books, if you would like to learn more.

Individual Reading and Writing Conferences: How Do We Know What To Say Next?

Session led by: Carl Anderson, Dan Feigelson, & Matt Glover

  • Belief Statement: Our teaching of comprehension should prioritize the journey, not the destination. 
  • Focus on the journey, not the end. How your thinking has changed across the text?
  • Appreciative inquiry - how to get kids to name what they are doing. Teach to their strengths. If we conferred and I constantly told you what you did wrong, how would you feel? Teach to their ZPD. Pushing kids to go further.

4 Conversation Moves

  • Start with a thinking question, not a retell. When you talk to your friend about a book, you don’t give them a retell.
  • Conferring notes - write down the interesting notes and phrases from the students that show deeper, interesting thinking
  • Name what the student is doing in generalizable and transferrable language
  • Ask for an example
We tend to write down our interpretation of a kid’s thinking, not their exact thoughts.
By writing a student’s exact words, you can look for patterns of thinking.
Dan uses these strategies as he confers.

When we ask kids to talk about a book, they will give us a retell. We need to own that. Students have been conditioned to do this.

During a student’s retell, listen to what he/she is saying. By noticing their thinking, you can tie it to a comprehension strategy.

I created a Google doc of this handout. Click here.

We need to listen more, 3 times more during the research phase of the conference.

My final and favorite takeaway.

If you like to know more about any of my takeaways, please let me know. I can always share my notes with you. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

October 2017 - Minilessons

Minilessons, Mini?

A few years ago, I realized that I teach my own children how to master skills, okay, household tasks, by using the minilesson architecture. There have been countless times I’ve taught Henry and Lilly, who are now 10 and 7, how to do something by engaging them in a minilesson.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I found ourselves busy with work and other household jobs around the house when Lilly let it be known she was hungry for a snack, a chocolate chip toaster waffle to be exact. Knowing Lilly had expressed an interest in learning how to cook, I asked if she’d be willing to make it herself while I continued packing lunches for the next day. She agreed.

Seeing as Lilly had never operated a toaster before (a very complicated kitchen appliance you know), I needed to teach her how to use it safely. First, I connected to her prior knowledge, since she had seen us use the toaster many times. Next, I delivered my teaching point (the what + the how + the why). Afterward, I demonstrated the process of retrieving the toaster, plugging it into the wall, and removing the hot waffle from the toaster. Next, I allowed Lilly to make her own waffle while I observed. I gave her a lean prompt when I noticed how she was extracting the waffle from the toaster. I reminded her not to stick her hand into the slot of the toaster. Finally, I reminded her that anytime she wanted a toaster waffle, she could do x, y, and z to make sure she stays safe.

My teaching with Lilly was quick. I gave her a chance to practice the skill while I observed her and offered support when needed. Finally, I set Lilly up for success so she’d know how to make a chocolate chip toaster waffle in the future.

Minilessons for reading and writing do not have to be complicated either. With the Reading and Writing Units of Study, the architecture of a minilesson and some scaffolding language are provided so you’ll feel confident in the instruction for the young readers and writers you teach. From what I have found the hardest part with the resource is keeping the minilesson “mini,” because of all the information presented in one session. “Today, I’m going to teach you how to plan a minilesson in 10 minutes and to keep a minilesson to 10 minutes. Teachers do this by keeping their using precise words to demonstrate the skill, so readers and writers have time to 'work' in workshop.” (Did you notice what I just did???)
  • Set a timer. I always set a timer, albeit a kitchen timer, for ten minutes. When it ended, I knew I was done. It was time to stop talking and let students engage in workshop. If you want one less job, you could even have a student set the timer and keep you updated on time by letting you know with hand signals how many minutes are left, based on increments that work for you.
  • When planning the minilesson, write the information on sticky notes. Stick to your notes on the sticky notes. Remember the more you write, the more you will say.
  • Repeat your teaching point at least three times during your minilesson (using the same language): at the end of the connection, during the teaching, and in the link.
  • Make sure your demonstration matches your teaching point. Also, make sure the active engagement matches your teaching demonstration.
  • When you set up the demonstration, make sure students know what they’re going to see, what they should be looking for, and/or what they should be doing.
  • Struggle a bit in front of your students. When students watch us model reading/writing in front of them, we have typically have it planned, maybe even rehearsed it before teaching it. They never get to see or hear us struggle with something, so they think things come easily for us. Show how you wrestle with tricky words, generating story ideas, choosing the best detail, or select the best evidence.

What are minilessons?
Minilessons are a time to gather the whole class in the meeting area to raise a concern, explore an issue, model a technique, or reinforce a strategy (Calkins, 1994, 193). In addition, minilessons are also times when you teach students procedures for how to do something in the workshop. Typically, minilessons are ten minutes in length, teach readers/writers ONE thing, and provide students time to practice it before they head off to work independently as readers and writers.

Tips for Keeping it “Mini

  • The minilesson is for exposure, not mastery. Students are not expected to walk away from the carpet mastering the skill. They need time to practice it during the independent time of workshop. During workshop time, you could be coaching students on this skill or other skills in the repertoire of strategies taught previously. 
  • It should not take you more time to plan the minilesson, than it does to teach it. 

Planning a Minilesson

On the slide below are two ways to plan a minilesson to keep it short.

In option one, first read the teaching point, read only the bold print for the Teach, Active Engagement and Link. Finally, skim the connection, if you have time. Remember, the print in between the bold text is providing a possible interaction between a teacher and students during the minilesson. It gives you the full-length movie version.
For option two, you will need five sticky notes, one for the Connection, Teaching Point, Teach, Active Engagement, and Link. Stick the five Post-its in the book, and only give yourself that much space to record your notes. The sticky note for the Teaching Point can be used to mark it, because you need to say it exactly as written. You want to read it exactly, because the repetition in same language helps students learn and keeps you focused. For the Connection, follow the bold portions and jot down what to do, what you will do and what the kids will do. For the Teach, you will need to follow the bold parts and think about which model of teaching you will use (demonstration, guided practice, explain an example, or inquiry). Now, look at the bold parts of the Active Engagement to determine how will the students practice the teaching point. The final sticky note is for the Link, which restates the Teaching Point and reminds students of their repertoire of strategies they know as readers and writers (you could easily refer to an anchor chart).

Things to Remember
  • The minilesson is for exposure, not mastery. Students are not expected to walk away from the carpet mastering the skill. They need time to practice it during the independent time of workshop. During workshop time, you could be coaching students on this skill or other skills in the repertoire of strategies taught previously. 
  • It should not take you more time to plan the minilesson, than it does to teach it. 

Additional Resources for Minilessons
Lucy Calkins on Minilessons

Ways to Vary Your Minilessons (Thanks Aimee Vogt!)

Packet of Information on Minilesson (Things I have collected over the years)

The Art of Teaching Writing, Calkins
The Art of Teaching Reading, Calkins
TCRWP Home Grown Institutes for Reading & Writing
TCRWP Coaching Institute

Monday, September 25, 2017

September 2017

The Read Aloud

As a child, my first interactions with books were curling up in the lap of my mom, dad or grandmother to listen to a book. My all-time favorite book came from the World Book Childcraft series, the one and only Poems and Rhymes book (see photo below). I loved listening to the playful language of the poems and nursery rhymes, and eventually I memorized a majority of the poems, which I proudly annoyed all family members by constantly reciting the nursery rhymes over and over to them. I LOVED this book so much that I kept this book over the years, and I have shared it with my own children…the book can currently be found on Lilly’s bookshelf. To this day, I still love read alouds…picture books, audio books, podcasts, etc.

Over the years, the read aloud in classrooms has been pushed aside, because more time was needed to cover the growing state standards. If you are like me, you still made sure students received their daily dose of a read aloud (I’m sure you have your favorites too, so please add your favorite to the list). Instead of foregoing the read aloud, we as teachers need to make this a reality for our students EVERY DAY. Reading aloud is, according to the landmark 1985 report "Becoming a Nation of Readers," "the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading." Other research concludes that reading aloud builds many important foundational skills, introduces vocabulary, provides a model of fluent, expressive reading, and helps children recognize what reading for pleasure is all about.

What’s your read aloud practice?
  • ·       Should a read aloud be for pleasure only, no instruction?

Lester Laminack would suggest the first time we read aloud to students it should be a gift to unwrap, free of teaching. He suggests once kids have heard the book once, it is a familiar friend that you can revisit to analyze it as a reader or writer; therefore, it’s important that we choose our read alouds wisely.

  • ·         Should the read aloud be an interactive read aloud?

“During the interactive read aloud, the teacher reads aloud to students in ways that allow the whole group to experience a text together. The read aloud also allows a teacher to demonstrate the orchestration of strategies that characterize proficient reading. Sometimes the read aloud especially highlights a few skills or strategies, with the teacher shifting from demonstration to guided practice, going between think alouds and prompts that help students engage in similar thinking” (TCRWP, 2017, p. 10).

Is one way better? For me, the answer is no. I believe students need to experience both types of read alouds. It is about finding the right balance for students, listening to a story for pleasure vs. listening to a story for instruction.

To learn more from Lester Laminack’s approach, please check out the following videos.

If you would like to learn more about the interactive read aloud and suggestions, please check out this document.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Let me know what you think.

Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (July, 2017). Summer Institute on the Teaching of Reading packet.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Welcome Back - August 2017


I hope that you found time this summer to relax and rejuvenate with family and friends. I can already feel the excitement and energy in the air as we begin our new year!

Please take the time to read the updates regarding ELA. At your grade level or vertical team meeting, I will discuss any questions.

Below you will find surveys to get to know your students as readers and writers, GRL chart, directions for entering GRLs into SIS, writing prompts, writing checklists, and portfolio information.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

Before you begin to assess your students this year, I encourage you to spend time getting to know your students. What books do your students like to read? Favorite authors? Please let your first meeting with a student be a conversation, not an assessment. Below I linked some reading surveys, interest surveys and attitude surveys. In addition to the student surveys, I linked one for parents to complete too.

Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessments

The Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment: drives instruction, helps make appropriate teaching decisions for students based on current assessment data, provides teachers the opportunity for 1-on-1 assessment early in the year to identify each student’s strengths and targeted areas for growth, helps identify students in need of early intervention, and the list goes on and on.

Please also find a “cheat sheet” (see below) for review of the administration and scoring procedures for the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System.

REMINDER: If you need more information on a student, please know you can use Fountas & Pinnell kit outside the assessment window.

When are the Fountas & Pinnell BAS Windows?

Beginning of the Year - August 21 - September 22 DUE: September 25
Middle of the Year - January 8 - February 15 DUE: February 16th
End of the Year - April 16 - May 17 DUE: May 18th

REVISED LEVELS for 2017-2018

After looking at the data with Dr. Denbow and the K-5 facilitators, we decided that the GRL chart needed to be updated. We looked at other districts' GRL charts, Fountas and Pinnell's Instructional Level Expectations (2015 - see link below), and the correlation of GRL scores to NWEA data. After looking at all of these pieces of information, we decided that levels needed to be increased. If you are interested in seeing the data, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would love to meet with you to share the data.

Entering GRLs into SIS

Again, this year you will enter GRLs into SIS. For directions on how to input this data, Tim Brown created a how-to video for you. Below is a link to the video Tim created. GRLs need to be entered by the end of the day on September 25.

District Writing Assessment

When scoring students' writing, you will look at the writer from a holistic point of view. Are students applying the curriculum items taught at their grade level (i.e. organization, audience, conventions, etc.) on conferred pieces and on-demand pieces?

Writing needs to have an emphasis in our classrooms. Students are expected to write narrative, expository/informational and opinion/argumentative pieces at every grade. Writing is not limited to just these three types of writing, so there is still the opportunity to add in other units.

At the end of the three main types of writing (narrative, information, and opinion), students will complete an on-demand piece. These prompts, available for all three genres, direct students to compose the best piece of writing they can - narrative, information, or argument-in a fixed period of time. The prompts for each type of writing are linked (see below). At the end of the year, each on-demand piece from each type of writing will be placed inside the Fountas and Pinnell Student Folder.

For teachers using the Units of Study for Writing, you will continue to pre-assess and post-assess your students.

Writing Checklists

In these checklists, it spells out writing expectations in ways that will make sense to students. You'll notice the checklists are written in first person, in the "I" voice, and in student-friendly language.

Checklists most definitely cannot be a substitute for instruction! Students will need instruction for each item on the checklist.

Links to the checklists are embedded below this information (Each grade level folder contains the three checklists needed - narrative, information, opinion). Students can use the checklists to assess their own writing, set goals for themselves, and with your help, work to make progress toward those goals.

In addition to students using the checklists, teachers can use the same checklist to score on-demand pieces and report student progress.


At the end of each year, please keep the final Fountas and Pinnell Assessment and the post-assessment from each the three types of writing (narrative, information, and opinion/argument). All assessments should be placed inside the Fountas and Pinnell Student Folder (white file folder that tracks student progress - see folder photo below). This folder will be sent to the next teacher at the end of the year or beginning of the next year.

Have a Wonderful Year!

Please do not hesitate to contact your building’s ELA Teacher Facilitator or me with any questions, concerns, or feedback. 

Thank you and have a wonderful year!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April Post

Anchor Charts

Have you increased the amount of chart paper you order every year? Do your markers run out faster than years previously? If you answered yes to these questions, then you are an anchor chart master. If you answered no, well, you have probably noticed anchor charts on Pinterest, on Twitter, or even on the walls in classrooms in your building. However, do you know the purpose of anchor charts?

Why Anchor Charts?
Anchor charts are created during the mini-lesson to capture the strategies readers and writers need to be successful during independent reading and writing time. As you move through a unit of study, teachers and students add ideas to an anchor chart as they apply new learning, discover interesting ideas, or develop useful strategies for problem-solving or skill application.

Anchor charts serve as a resource tool for students during independent work time. To help create independent strategic readers and writers, we need to teach students how to use these tools. For these tools to be useful, we must refer to the charts during mini-lessons, strategy groups, and one-on-one conferring.

When do I Make my Anchor Charts?
When I first started using anchor charts in my room (many years ago…don’t ask), I would make them prior to the mini-lesson. However, I noticed that students were not even looking at the chart when I referred to it during the mini-lesson; therefore, I shifted to creating the charts with students. Students were now engaged during the creating process of the chart, and I was able to capture their thoughts and learning on the chart. The only downside was my charts were not as pretty, but I learned to let that go. The benefits of creating the charts with students far outweighed my poor handwriting. If that bothers you, you can always recreate the poster later.

What do I do After I Make the Chart?
You finished the mini-lessons that involve a chart, so now what? As long as you are in the same unit of study, you will need to keep the chart posted. Students need to be able to access this chart for strategies during this unit, so it should be in a place where students can easily see it. If students have to hunt around for chart (strategies), they are losing valuable independent work time.

In my classroom, I dedicated parts of my room to each content area. I also used the clothesline with clothes pins that hung from the ceiling - one for reading charts and one for writing. As you can imagine, I spent time scaling ladders, desks, or whatever to change posters. By having the charts clustered together, students knew exactly where to look for a needed strategy.

At the beginning of the year, you will probably need to create management and procedural charts for reading and writing. If the structures are the same (i.e. the jobs of the teacher and student during the mini-lesson), then you only need to create one chart. Once students are familiar with the procedures, you can remove the charts. At some point in the school year, you may need to revisit those charts so don’t get rid of them.

As we think about our classroom spaces, I would like you to think about what’s on your classroom walls. Are your anchor charts wallpaper or wallpower? Do your charts or pre-bought posters help create strategic independent readers and writers?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 2017

Classroom Library

As an undergraduate, I remember designing a diorama of my future classroom. In my classroom, I envisioned walls of bookcases filled with books, comfortable seating, a rug for a meeting area, lamps, and desks arranged in groups of four. That's probably why I spent a small fortune on purchasing books for my classroom. On Saturdays, I shopped garage sales, resale shops, and Scholastic warehouse sales. At one point, I even raided my parent's house to take back the books from my childhood…thankfully they saved them. 

After I attended the Coaching Institute at the Teachers College in October and worked in classrooms while I was there, my awareness towards classroom libraries became heightened. The classrooms at PS 1 Alfred E. Smith Elementary had books EVERYWHERE. Students were surrounded by books (pictures included are from the 4th grade clasroom I taught in while I was in NY).

Reading Engagement

The International Literacy Association completed a global study examining the relationship between students' reading engagement and their academic success. It was measured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam and grade point averages. This study concluded that "attitude toward reading, frequency of leisure reading, and diversity of reading materials" were crucial factors in reading achievement and measured by grade point averages (Brozo, Shiel, and Topping 2007, 311).

Does your classroom library offer diverse reading material? Are students able to see themselves in the books in your classroom? As you pack up for the summer and think about your supplies for next year, I challenge you to think about these questions. Would your students answer the same way?

According to Jennifer Serravallo (see chart below), students must be engaged with a text before they can tackle the more complicated work in reading. This begs another question, are the books in your classroom library current and on topics that interest students? I know classroom libraries are a costly upkeep, but we need to make sure we have current titles students want to read. Recently, I read/heard a teacher should lose 10% of their classroom library every year. If you are “losing” texts, then students are keeping your books. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure about you, but I always thought it was my responsibility to help students to find that “ONE” book that made them become life-long readers...personally, I loved the challenge. If students are not engaged in reading, then they have not found “that book.”

How Many Books?

As you look at pictures on this blog post, you will notice the wealth of reading material available in this one classroom. When thinking about your classroom library, it helps to think about your readers (number of struggling readers, on level readers, above level readers) and the units you will teach across the year. Do you have enough books for ALL readers to read books with in the unit?

Now to the numbers. For this example, I want you to think about levels of texts your students read. Below is a chart (based on TCRWP & Jennifer Serravallo’ research) for how many books each reader needs a week. Do you have enough books?

Books I’ll Need for the Week
J, K
8 – 10 Books
L, M
4 – 6 Books
N, O, P, Q
2 – 4 Books
R, S, T
1 – 3 Books
U, V, W
1 – 3 Books

Bottom line, our students need access to books they want to read. How will you help your students find their love of reading?

Brozo, W., Shiel, G., & Topping, K. (2007). Engagement in reading: Lessons learned from three PISA countries. International Reading Association, 51, 304-315.
Goldberg, G. & Serravallo, J. (2007). Conferring with Readers: Supporting Each Student's Growth and Independence. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

February 2017

Students NEED Independent Reading

How valuable is independent reading? How long should I allow my students to read? Should my students read at home? Should I hold them accountable for reading at home? At some point in your teaching career you have probably struggled with these questions or will struggle with these inquiries. With all the demands on teachers to meet the ever-changing standards, sustained silent reading seems to be the first to go from classroom schedules. As teachers, we want our students to be life-long readers and learners, but also feel the pressure to have our students perform on state assessments. Let’s set state assessments aside and focus on what we believe is right for our students…time spent reading.

How valuable is independent reading?

Independent reading is giving students the time to read materials of their personal choice. Students have the opportunity to read for information or pleasure, and NO ONE ASSIGNS IT! A book report is not required either! According to Richard Allington, the most important activity for developing literacy is inducing students to read independently. For students to become life-long readers, we need to give them TIME in school to read and CHOICE.

In addition to readers becoming life-long readers, they also increase their knowledge by having time to read. “I think it is clear that vocabulary knowledge is largely a product of independent engaged reading (Stahl & Nagy, 2006). But there is also evidence that almost everything, from phonemic awareness, to phonics, to comprehension is developed through independent reading and writing (Allington, 2009a).” Krashen, Cunninham, and Stanovich research proves students who read independently become better readers, score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas, and have greater content knowledge than those who do not (Krashen 1993; Cunningham and Stanovich 1991; Stanovich and Cunningham 1993).

Do students really need choice?

The easy response to this question, and a slightly arrogant response would be, do you want students to be engaged while reading? Penny Kittle believes, “Students need to make choices in reading that reflect their interests because interest drives engagement. Teachers should encourage wide reading in all genres as well as students who pursue an author or genre study. Allow students to reread favorite books and to abandon a book that no longer interests them.” Students need to be in charge of their reading lives. Our goal as teachers is to guide students in selecting “good fit” books and to introduce them to different genres. By giving students choice in their reading, they will be empowered lifelong readers.

How much time do students need?

We have all heard the collective groans from our students when we announce reading time is over for the day. Of course, this was music to my ears. However, I always wondered if my students were getting enough eyes on print time. Many times during the reading block “other stuff” tended to creep into the sacred time and rob students of their reading time.

When you think about your students’ reading block, how much time do they spend reading? According to Richard Allington, “In many classrooms, a 90 minute 'reading block' produces only 10–15 minutes of actual reading, or less than 20 percent of the allocated reading time is spent reading. Worse, in many classrooms, 20 minutes of actual reading across the school day (Knapp, 1995) is a common event, which includes reading in science, social studies, math, and other subjects. Thus, less than ten percent of the day is actually spent reading and 90 percent or more of the time is spent doing stuff.

I’m assuming now you are wrestling with a new question – how do I make sure all students have time for protected reading time every day? I think as teachers we need to ask ourselves, what do we value for our students? If it is time spent reading, then we need to do whatever we can do to guard this time – keep the minilesson to 10 minutes, avoid letting other “stuff” sneak into reading, and avoid students leaving the room during this time. By giving students time and choice, we can give students the gift of becoming lifelong readers.

Allington, R. (2013) What Really Matters When Working with Struggling Readers, 66 (7), 4-14. Newark, DE: International Literacy Association.

Kittle, P. (2013). Book Love. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Summer Learning Opportunities