Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December - Writing about Reading

Writing about Reading

During the session, Writing as a Tool for Lifting the Level of Reading, Lucy Calkins stood in front of a jammed packed conference room, and asked, “If you drug a giant net through your school to collect all the writing about reading, what would it look like? Would it be good or bad for readers?” Lucy believes most of it would be bad.
            This month, I thought we could dive into writing about reading. What does it look like in your classroom? Does it lift the level of student thinking? How could students write about their reading?

Top 5 Reasons Students Say They Write About Their Reading in School
1.    To prove to the teacher they did the reading or assignment
2.    Because their teacher said they had to
3.    To get a good grade
4.    “I don’t know why.”
5.    To remember something
What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow? Nonfiction, Goldberg & Houser, 2017

In order to better understand students’ perspectives about why they write about reading, Goldberg and Houser interviewed a group of fourth grade students.  I thought I would share the above responses with you because these are common student perspectives that will help you get to know your students and, if needed, shift them. I’m sure these findings are not surprising to you. Many students view writing about reading as purposeless busywork. In What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow, Goldberg and Houser list the following questions for reflection:
·         What are we communicating to students about writing about reading?
·         What are we modeling for students?
·         How are our practices and moves creating these students’ perspectives?
·         What else could we try?

When I began thinking about writing as an access point for understanding, I decided to  examine my own writing life (exercise taken from What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow). Over the course of last weekend, I tracked the reasons and ways I authentically used writing as a tool. The following is summary of what I found:
Over the weekend, I wrote:
·         emails to friends about upcoming plans
·         emails to colleagues
·         Facebook comments
·         a grocery list
·         a holiday shopping list
·         margin notes in a book I was reading
·         lesson plans for my undergraduate course
·         an agenda for an upcoming meeting
·         comments on lesson plans and papers completed by undergraduate students
·         meal ideas for a holiday party
·         holiday cards
·         a summary of my physical therapy workouts and plans

            After creating this list, I wanted to look at the “why” I used writing as a tool.
·         Remembering - grocery and shopping lists
·         Organizing my thinking - physical therapy summary
·         Sharing with others – emails
·         Recording my thinking for reflection - margin notes

If you were to replicate this same exercise, would your writing fall into the same categories? I noticed my list never had the word, ACCOUNTABILITY, on it, even though students think that’s why we write. Would your list include accountability? bet your writing would be similar to my list because it is authentic and purposeful in our lives. “Writing is often our representation of the world made visible, embodying both process and product” (Emig, 1977, p.122).

            When we think about our reading and writing lives, it can inform the practices in our classroom. I mean do we read a chapter and write about it? Probably not. After I read something, I want to talk to someone about it. We need to get kids to love reading, and writing about reading can be a turn-off for kids. I am not saying we do not want students to write about their reading, but we should use efficient and meaningful ways for students to respond. Writing about reading should not be done at the expense of independent reading time.

            According to Lucy Calkins, we need to draw on what we know about teaching writing to help us use writing as a tool to lift the level or reading.

·         Teach the writer, not the writing
o   We want our students to live writerly lives, and pay attention to what they read in the text. Be alert readers!
o   Rothko - “Your life isn’t insignificant, but it is your response to it.” How do we get kids to respond significantly to text?
o   We bring a writerly consciousness to our reading.

Ø  During this portion of the workshop, Lucy shared this article from The New York Times. It’s a husband’s letter to the doctors and nurses at CHA Cambridge Hospital that took care of his wife after she suffered an asthma attack and later died.
o   Take a moment to read the article. How would you respond to the article? What would you write? What if I asked you to make a t-chart?

o   “Reading is no longer reading, if you control my mind” (Calkins). Kids need to make their own meaning as readers.
·         Choice matters – students need to have choice in the texts they read and how to respond
o   Texts that are genuinely ones they want to read
o   Texts that inspire them to write about reading
o   Texts that are written by gifted writers
o   Texts about a variety of topics
·         Give clear images of good work
o   What does good work look like? As they read, should it look like a lit essay? Should it be more meandering? Free write?
o   John Hattie, the author of Visible Learning, says kids need images of what good work looks like
·         Explicitly teach qualities of good writing about reading
o   Model how to take an idea and go with it for a bit
o   Look at your Post-its. Are you using literary language? Go back and look at your sticky notes
·         Revising and thinking about audience
·         Study growth over time
o   Are students looking at their growth over time? “I used to write like this…, and now I write like this…”

Ways to Write about Reading
·         Sticky notes or jots
·         Reading Notebooks
·         Annotating a text (i.e. a printed article)

Sticky notes, oh, sticky notes. I have a love/hate relationship with sticky notes. When I was in the classroom, we went through TONS of sticky notes, which is a good and bad thing. Yes, students were responding to text, but sticky notes are expensive. Also, they seldom stuck in the books, so we were always finding lost sticky notes. Sticky notes are great because students have a limited amount of space to write; therefore, it is a quick jot about something and back to reading. Many books have been written on how students can stop and respond to parts in the text (i.e. Notice and Note by Beers and Probst….one of my favorites), but there’s no “one” way to have students respond. Students need to find a way that works for them. The sticky notes are helpful when you confer with students because you can see what they are taking note of when they read. Are students stopping at significant or insignificant parts of the book? They are also helpful for students when they meet with partners and/or book clubs so they can share their thinking. We want to push students away from just retelling a part of the story on their sticky notes to discern what’s important to jot about while reading. In the Reading Units of Study, samples of students’ sticky notes are included so you can use those to show ways students could respond. You could also share your sticky notes as a reader. When do you stop and jot? How do you stop and jot?

Reading notebooks are another way for students to share their thinking about a book. Goldberg and Houser define a reading notebook as a place to collect, develop, and revisit ideas about a text. They also found that when students make the choices about what, how, and when to record their thinking in their notebooks, and the teachers back off of nudging and assigning, students’ notebooks came alive. “Students must feel free to own their own thinking and aspirations…otherwise they will simply do what is asked and nothing more” (Swinehart, 2009, p. 33). Of course, you, as the teacher, model how to use the reading notebook and then allows the students to make their own choices of what and how to write in them.

Most of you know that I am pretty linear thinker so it will not surprise you that I am not
Sketchnoting kind of person. Shocker, I know! However, many of our students may not be this kind of thinker and note taker; therefore, we need to share ways that our not comfortable with us. At the resources at the bottom of this page, I included links to more information about Sketchnoting.

“In Visible Learning for Literacy (2016), Fischer, Frey, and Hattie explain that the writing practices we teach in reading notebook are highly effective at improving learning. For example, when students create their own concept maps and use a variety of ways to summarize in writing, more visible learning is likely to happen. They claim, ‘writing should be a means to uncover one’s own thinking in the process’ (p. 125). But writing about reading is much more effective when students create their own thinking maps as a tool for understanding rather than filling out worksheets or creating an entry without purpose. Purposeless writing does not help with learning” (Goldberg & Houser, 2017, p. 77).


Sources for this blog posts
Notes from Writing as a Tool for Lifting the Level of Reading session at 2017 NCTE with Lucy Calkins, Katie Clements, and Carl Anderson
What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow? Nonfiction by Gravity Goldberg and Renee Houser
Writing as a Mode of Learning by Janet Emig

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!