Saturday, December 12, 2015

Here is the lesson of the month from Corbett and Dena Harrison. Some great resources shared. Enjoy!

Happy almost-New Year, writing teachers and writing friends,
I'm pleased to say this month's lesson is our 40th lesson of the month!  Thanks to all of you who've supported us in this venture over the years.  We are also less than 1000 members from having 30,000 followers of this online collection of lessons, which is pretty cool.
1.  This month's lesson -- Community of Writers = Neighbors Who Talk -- was inspired by the last few workshops I did for teachers.  A common question was "How do you get your students to talk to each other in a productive way during writing time?"  My answers was 'A Community of Writers,' which is a term I've used since reading Nancie Atwell way back when, but I realized I didn't have a lot at the website that explained how I build that community; this lesson is a short peek into that process, and it will be followed with other peeks in the year to come.  Be sure to notice Dena's new project at the lesson: "Take What You Need" Posters, which come with instructions for how to freely download the first three posters she's made from our newly-established Teachers Pay Teachers store.
2.  Help me in congratulating Michigan 8th grader -- Collin -- whose popcorn bowl metaphor for his writer's notebook and his teacher's Pinterest campaign earned him bragging rights as most popular writer's notebook metaphor in 2015.  You can enjoy all four of the top metaphors (and the poem those metaphors inspired me to write) using this link: We will sponsor this competition again in September of 2016!
3.  And a shout-out to all those primary writing teachers who are doing such a great job building a foundation of writing skills that those of us teaching higher up the academic "food chain" benefit from.  I couldn't do any of this without the four great feeder schools in my school's zone.  Say THANK YOU to your favorite primary teacher this year by directing them to the website of my former Co-Director of the Northern Nevada Writing Project -- Jodie Black: "Start To Learn"  There, she has complementary model lessons, and she also sells her wonderful resource workbooks (for practically nothing!) that she gives to all participants who take her VERY POPULAR local inservice classes for recertification credit!  I haven't met one primary teacher who has taken either of her two writing inservice classes who didn't tell me it was the best workshop they EVER attended.  Thank you, Jodie, but thank you also to all those primary colleagues who are making writing instruction both fun and skill-focused!
Have a great end of December, all of you!  Keep up the great teaching!
--Corbett & Dena Harrison (Always Write and WritingFix websites)
Visit Writing Lesson of the Month Network at:

Here is a great article on stamina and engagement. Enjoy. Courtesy of Choice Literacy

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
November 21, 2015 - Issue #459
If you are having trouble reading this newsletter, click here for a Web-based version.

The mere brute pleasure of reading - the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing.

                                                                     Lord Chesterfield

Last month I visited reading workshop in Katrina Edwards’ first-grade classroom in West Linn, Oregon. It was early in the year, and students were honing their partner-reading skills. After 20 minutes of independent reading, the children paired up with their designated partners. Melinda and Jared sat 10 feet from me, side by side. Melinda opened her book and the conversation went something like this:

Melinda: Okay, so. . .
Melinda: No, wait . . .

Melinda jumped out of her seat, threw Jared a “oh you are so in trouble buddy” glare, and marched over to Katrina on the other side of the room. I couldn’t hear what she said to her teacher, but I could imagine.

Is it terrible that I live for these moments when I am observing in classrooms? I love seeing the amazing things kids can do. And I love even more seeing the amazing things teachers do when kids behave in unexpected ways.

Katrina walked over to Jared and said, “Come with me. I want to look at some of our friends’ reading partnerships that are strong and take some pictures, and I want you to come with me.” Katrina walked across the room, and as she moved between clusters of students, she gathered up a couple more kids who weren’t focused in their partnerships, becoming a sort of Pied Piper of Problem Children. As she made her way to the center of the classroom, she stopped with the group at different reading pairs, asking the young readers at work what they were talking about and how they decided who went first in the conversation, all the while snapping pictures with her iPad as the group watched the partners in action. After a few minutes of quietly observing and talking to different pairs of students, she turned to each child in her walking group, looked them in the eye, and asked them individually,

“What did you notice?”

“What were your friends doing in their reading partnerships? How did they help each other?”

“What problem were you having in your partnership? How might you solve it?”

The entire stroll through the classroom collecting students, observing three different successful student partnerships, and debriefing with each struggling child took only six minutes to complete.

I thought of what Katrina didn’t do. She didn’t sit down with Jared and ask him why he was mooing instead of talking with Melinda. (Who knows? Maybe he was reading about cows? Maybe he thought he was a cow? Maybe he’d put too much milk on his cereal? Does it really matter?)  She didn’t tell Jared how he was supposed to behave. She didn’t threaten him that he had better straighten up and fly right OR ELSE. Instead, she let his classmates show him and others with similar needs what a successful reading partnership looks like.

We talk about “showing, not telling” all the time in writing instruction. But the principle is just as useful in helping children monitor their reading and writing in classroom communities. And the showing not telling does double duty - many successful children may not be fully conscious of their skills, but their metacognitive awareness is built as those skills are noted, recorded, and reflected upon by peers.

It’s hard for any teacher to see a child who is mooing instead of reading and conversing as a gift, especially when you’ve got a visitor in your classroom eagerly scribbling away in her notebook, writing down your every move. But watching Katrina improvise her way through the Case of the Mooing Reading Partner was the best present I’ve received in weeks.
This week we consider student engagement and stamina. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Brenda Power
Founder, Choice Literacy
Free for All
[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:

Are the words stamina and engagement synonymous? Cathy Mere defines the terms by observing her first graders:

Stamina is a term we use often in literacy instruction, but it can be tricky for students and teachers to define in classroom contexts.  Heather Rader looks at the specific attributes of writing stamina, as well as how to model it for students:

Melissa Taylor has tips for parents when reading is too "sitty" for active kids -- these strategies can help children build reading interest and stamina:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Reflections on Chapter 7. Write your reflection and comment on two of your colleagues' posts.

Reflect on the use of checklists, benchmark papers, and learning progressions when conferencing with students one on one or in small groups at your grade level.  Give examples.

Lucy Calkins on 6-8 Writing Instruction - YouTube
Mar 25, 2014 - Uploaded by Heinemann Publishing
Lucy Calkins discusses the unique challenges of middle school writing instruction, such as the expansive ...

Reflection on Checklists, Chapter 5.

Please write a response to the following reflections and comment on two of your colleagues'.

1.  Explain the following quote from Calkins as it relates to the use of the checklist in the writing classroom and share your opinion.
" Checklists are especially important if the person is intent on not just pulling off a complicated project, but also on getting better at that work --- on improving the odds of success, raising the rates, maximizing the progress. "

2.  Explain the following quote from Paul Tough as it relates to the use of the checklist in the writing classroom and share your opinion.
"When kids believe that they can change their intelligence they actually do better.  They try harder."

Following is a great video that relates to the above quote.  Enjoy. 

The language you use to praise students can help encourage or discourage a growth mindset and has broad implications for how students persevere in the face o...

Notes for the November 12, 2015 Writing Committee Meeting at Vinalhaven School

The writing committee met on November 12, 2015.  Prior to the meeting, teachers collected narrative writing samples K-12.  As a committee, they reviewed writing samples using Calkins’ rubrics.  The following areas of focus were identified,  based on student samples, K-1.
Students need to:
  •  be able to write a complete sentence early on.
  • be able to create a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • be able to write for sustained periods of time.
  •  be able to revise their work.
  •  be able to use upper case and lower case letters correctly.
  • be able to use transition words.
Teachers need to:
  • consider administering the assessment to small groups so they can scribe as the students write, as well as observe writing behaviors included in the rubrics.
  • consider using three pieces of paper for writing stories – one for the beginning, middle and end of a story.  This might help students understand the concept.
Next Steps:
The writing committee will:
·     Create a glossary for terms to be used by teachers when teaching writing. 
o  Entries to include:
§  Sentence
§  Story
§  Beginning, Middle, End
·     For the next meeting read chapters 5/7 in Calkins' Writing Pathways.
·     Bring copies of a high, middle, and low student narrative samples for your grade level (2-12).  We will score them when we get together and continue to look for trends.
·     Bring copies of scoring guide from Calkins’  text.
·     Write response on Vinalhaven blog on Darlene’s post on Chapters 5/7.  Comment on two of your colleague’s posts.
·     Our next meeting will be held on December 14.  The entire committee will meet that day to continue to look and score narrative samples.

Thank you all for your hard work.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reflections from Reading Caulkins.

If any of us coauthor a student’s piece of writing, making it vastly better than anything the student could possibly do on his own, and if we do this by working so far outside the student’s zone of proximal development that the student doesn’t learn to do what we teach on is own, then even if this produces better writing, it is essentially for naught.”

Sunday, November 1, 2015

October 26, 2015 Vinalhaven Writing Committee Meeting #1

The writing committee met on October 26, 2015.  They identified the following areas to focus on based on    
student performance.
Students need to:
  •  be able to describe their thinking process when writing - including the rationale for evidence.
  • be fluent writers able to write for sustained periods of time.
  •  be able to revise their work.
  •  be able to score their own writing on appropriate rubrics.
  • be able to understand and apply grammar.
Teachers need to:
  • develop a common vocabulary around writing across all content areas and grades.
  • develop a common set of annotations for writing across all content areas and grades.
  • develop a common set of proofreading annotations for writing across all content areas and grades.
Next Steps:
The writing committee will:
  • use Calkins' Writing Pathways to collect writing samples and look for trends throughout the year at the Vinalhaven School.
  • Create rubrics for use.
  • Create a writing continuum for Vinalhaven School to
    serve as a framework for the writing program.

Our next meeting will be held in November - on the 12th or 13th (Amanda is taking a poll).  The entire committee will meet that day to look at narrative samples.

Thanks go to:  Helena, Mae, Robb, Missy, Hilary, and Cherie for all of their hard work.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A great article on coaching. Vinalhaven is one of the lucky school districts. Go Cherie and Hilary. Courtsey of ASCD Smart Brief.

Instructional coaches make a comeback

Teacher Helping Grade School Students in Class
(Cavan Images)
Some school districts are reintroducing instructional coaches to the classroom to support implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Nearly every school in the District of Columbia Public Schools system has a coach, and other large school districts have increased their numbers. One California district administrator describes coaches as the "linchpin" of Common Core implementation. District Administration magazine online (3/13)
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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Here are some great ideas - defining - about student research. Courtesy of Choice Literacy.

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
February 7, 2015 - Issue #419

Rereading the Classics
Classics are books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.
                                                                     Italo Calvino

I recently met several of my reading friends for brunch.  We talked as we always do--rambunctiously and enthusiastically, with our words coming rapidly and spilling over one another.  We are always so excited when we get together--we love to talk about what books we have read, podcasts we have enjoyed, and texts are helping us grow as teachers. 
When it was my turn, I told my friends how my current reading has been an inadvertent re-visitation of classics.  It all started when I read The Mockingbird Next Door, a story of an unlikely friendship with elusive author Harper Lee.  That had led me to reread To Kill a Mockingbird.  Which led me to seek out other classics from my reading past.  Buoyed by a holiday break at school, I worked my way through many of the books I remembered as important to me as a student, from Where the Red Fern Grows to Anna Karenina to Light in August.
I told my friends over our omelets, "It's fascinating how my reaction to these books now, as an educator in my forties, is so different from how I remember my reaction the first time I read them."
"How?" someone asked.
"Well, for example, The Great Gatsby," I said.  "I read it when I was 16.  And then again at 20, maybe?  At the time, I thought the characters lived such exotic, complicated, dramatic, difficult, wonderful lives. I envied their sophistication.  I thought it was high-class to drink cocktails for breakfast.  To throw elaborate parties.  To gaze longingly over Long Island's north shore in hopes of seeing someone you loved deeply.  To travel into the city to carry out an elaborate extramarital affair." 
"What do you think about the book now?" one of my friends prompted.
I struggled to find the right words.  "Now, I see the characters as deeply unhappy.  They are people with insurmountable problems--depression and alcoholism mostly, but other stuff too. They hurt one another, over and over, for selfish and meaningless reasons."
My friend Gretchen, a high school English teacher, made a sound that mixed a squeal and a wail.  "I just had this conversation with my students!" she said. "They drive me crazy with their reactions to Gatsby.  They think--especially the girls!--that Gatsby is the ultimate romantic character.  They swoon at all the things he does to get Daisy back.  They think it's sweet."  She paused a moment.  "But in reality, his behavior is delusional."
Those girls aren't wrong. They love how Gatsby loves Daisy. They love the lengths he goes to in his quest to show his love.  It's genuine and real for them. Just because we (older readers who have seen too much to admire Gatsby's efforts) may not agree, we have to respect where our students are when they read a text.
Our brunch conversation reminded me how a reaction to a book we read changes depending on where we are in life--what we are experiencing, what we are managing, who we are spending time with.  It's a pendulum, really--our connections to a character or a story swing gently back and forth over time.
That's why it's a good exercise for teachers to go back and reread classics that made an impact on us when we were students--even if they are not texts we will actually teach. It gives us a simple reminder how our thinking about texts is never set in stone. Our reactions will be fluid and dynamic.  Keeping that perspective will give us a broader net to cast when helping our students analyze texts.
This week we look at student research. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Jennifer Schwanke
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio.

Free for All

[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Ruth Ayres uses an analogy to explore the research process in "We Gather Together": On Research and Weddings:
Melanie Swider and her fifth-grade students are taking A Peek into Nonfiction Research over at the Two Reflective Teachers blog:
A feasibility study is a great way to explore with students whether a new project makes sense. Don Wettrick over at the Genius Hour explains how they work:
Anna Gratz Cockerille has suggestions for helping students conduct effective internet research:

Franki Sibberson is offering two online courses next month, The Tech-Savvy Literacy Teacher (March 4-15) and Text Complexity in Grades 3-5 (March 18-29). Each course includes three webcasts, a book, DVD, and personal responses from Franki on the class discussion board. For more details or to register online, click on the link below: