Literary Essay

Some of our Third Grade teachers have been using Ruby the Copycat to support the work of teaching children how to think about character and create a “baby” literary essay.  We watched the read-aloud of the children’s book and noted character traits and evidence.  Then we wrote one paragraph of the essay together discussing one trait.  Students went on to write an additional two paragraphs about Ruby to create the body of the literary essay.

Scaffolding for Students

I worked with a group of teachers the other day around using the math exemplar problems in their classrooms.  (yes, me, the literacy gal).  We’ve been thinking and talking about how to provide more opportunities for students to work through the inquiry process and to engage in productive struggle to solve a problem.  But as we observed students working with the open-ended inquiry process, we noticed that many of them were not productive, they were just struggling.  Not what we wanted.

At the same time, we were very aware that these students lacked confidence in their own abilities and they had a school history of having learning “handed” to them.  The children were far more accustomed to direct instruction with guided practice than they were to inquiry and investigation.  We did not want to reinforce that proclivity.  We wanted to support the children and to create that PRODUCTIVE kind of struggling with a challenging problem.

We developed a scaffold of support for them.  We did some struggling of our own as we constructed it.  How could we provide “just enough” support, without over supporting them?  How could be push them to work, but ensure that the work would ultimately be successful and productive?

We decided that we would watch the students closely as they worked.  Together we would attempt to identify signs of productivity.  If, after about 3 minutes, a child was clearly unproductive, we would provide the next level of scaffolded support.  If a child was struggling, but appeared to be engaged in productive struggle, we would leave them at their current level of support and check on them again in another 3 minutes of so.

Here’s what we came up with:


  1.  Give them the problem and no support, nothing — simply read the problem and let the kids go.  In effect, we were providing NO support.  We were just allowing space for the struggle.
  2.  Provide a chart for them to identify the numbers they need to find in order to solve the problem.  At this level of the scaffold, we are providing the children with the “outline” for what they need to find or solve in order to be successful with the problem.  But we are NOT providing the ‘how’ or the ‘what’.
  3. Provide a diagram or picture support to scaffold the students’ thinking. At this point, we are providing the ‘how’ of solving the problem.  We are giving the student the diagram or model that provides the answer.  The child still needs to interpret that model and arrive at the correct answer or conclusion, but the work is right there for them.
  4. Provide the answer and ask the students to work backward to prove why that IS the answer.  At this final level of support, we have given them the actual answer.  They already have the chart and the model (from the previous levels — because we are NOT skipping levels of support with them).  They now have to work backwards and re-construct the answer from all that they have.


In Search of Quality Feedback

Several of my schools have been working on a goal of providing quality feedback to students.  We’ve already started using a checklist and asking teachers to self-assess against the checklist.  Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 10.13.46 AM

Right now, one of my schools is moving to the next step.  Each of my colleagues has set a goal, based on their self-assessment using that checklist.  Then, we’ve worked together to identify three hallmarks of that goal.  We asked ourselves the question: Could it be XYZ if it didn’t have this?  Each teachers list of three hallmarks is different, personalized by them for them.

Now, the teachers are making a series of quick, informal videos of themselves giving feedback to students.  They are scoring these new videos against their three hallmarks.  We’re using a simple check, check, no-check, sort of a system.  Our principal is collecting data from each of us around how often we hit each of our hallmarks and how often we hit the 100% mark.


Conferring with Readers

I worked with a group of teachers today around reading conferences.  We talked about the wide variety of conferences that happen in our classrooms.  We all have the classic Research-Decide-Teach conference structure in our repertoire, but the reality of classroom life is that not every conference follows that format.  We decided to make a list of the types of conferences we actually conduct with our students.

  1. Classic Research-Decide-Teach conference
  2. Compliment Conference: in this conference we do the research portion of the classic conference.  We explore what they’re doing as readers.  Then we identify one thing to compliment.  We look for one strategy or skill that we want the child to continue to use and we highlight it and compliment the child.  Then we walk away, leaving the child on a high note.  This conference practically guarantees that the child will continue to do that particular strategy and will solidify it into their repertoire.
  3. Assessment Conference: here we spend our time gathering information on the child.  We’re not researching in the same way as the classic research.  We might be taking a running record on a child.  We might be talking through a reading inventory or a survey.  We might be running through a quick check on sight words or phonics skills with younger readers.  We assess, record data, and thank the child.
  4. Tip Conference: this conference may include the research component,  but then offers the child a quick tip that they can implement immediately. It is not as specific or weighty as a teaching point.  But it is actionable and immediate for the child.
  5. Coaching Conference:  This is an opportunity to coach a student through the execution of a process that we’ve already taught them.  We work on transfer and independence by building success.
  6. Pre-researched Teach Conference: this is probably my oldest standby.  I would take data from assessments such as the F&P, and I have pre-determined what I need to teach this child.  I don’t invest my conference time in research, I use the information from the assessments.  I spend the time in the conference on teaching and coaching the student on the skill that I’ve selected.

Digital Tools: Camera

I promised you the other super easy, super effective tools that Kristen Ziemke shared.  So, next up:  the camera on the ipad or laptop.

  1.  Take a selfie with your favorite book (and for bonus points, post it to Padlet!).  This creates a status of the class for the teacher, but it also creates a menu for the students of what they might read next.
  2. Video reflections:  Students make a quick video of their thinking or reflecting on what they’ve done for reading/writing work.  Essentially the video serves as an exit slip.
  3. Record partnership conversations.  You know how we send students off to work in partnerships and we wish that we could listen in?  Well, having students record their partnership work allows us to do just that.  And it lifts the level of the partnership work just by the presence of the recording device.


I spent last Thursday with Kristin Ziemke, learning about ways to incorporate technology in meaningful and effective ways.  One of the things that she said that stuck with me was “we need effective pedagogy before we grab onto technology”.  Well, she spent the rest of the day giving us both effective pedagogy and effective technology.

One tool that she shared (I promise I’ll share the others too) was Padlet.  Now, I was not new to Padlet.  I’d used it in staff development sessions before.  But I had never realized the pedagogical potential of it.  So here’s how I’m planning on making use of Padlet with both teachers and kids.


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  1.  Creating a curated set of resources:  Padlet will allow you to collect a set of resources that you have pre-approved for student use.  This prevents the problem of students wandering aimlessly through the internet in search of resources for a project or report.
  2. Status of the class: Kristin had the kids take selfies with their current independent reading book and post to padlet.  It gives the teacher an instant status of the class snapshot.  I started to imagine ways you could do the same thing with projects in Science or Social Studies as well.  This might mean the end of late night, last minute projects.
  3. Exit slips: I’m always looking for a way for kids to quickly show teachers that they’ve grasped a lesson.  A quick snapshot of work posted to padlet gives the teacher a whole class view of how everyone is doing.  Imagine a padlet of snapshots of math problems, Words Their Way sorts, sorts of fiction and nonfiction titles, sorting living and non-living things — the possibilities are endless!
  4. Book reviews: students take a selfie with the book that they’re reviewing and post a few lines about the book.  Instant book recommendation board for the rest of the class to use when they can’t decide what to read next.


I am obsessed with TED talks these days.  This one talks about choices and why we should NOT be giving our students unlimited choices.


After we watched this TED talk,  a few of us got to talking about personalized learning and student choice.   We realized that with the advent of the 1:1 initiative, we were in serious danger of giving our students TOO MANY choices.  The internet and the digital environment provide limitless options – but that doesn’t mean that our young learners should be encountering that vast expanse of uncharted territory.

Our children easily become overwhelmed by choices.  Our instructional decision-making about digital learning is no different than our instructional decision-making about other things.  We provide scaffolded choices.  “You can do A or B.”  With older students we might even offer A, B, C, or D.  But we don’t offer the whole wide world.


Coaching Workshop

My colleagues and I had the pleasure of working with Peter DeWitt the past few days during a coaching workshop.  I loved one particular statement that Peter made (which is not to say that there was not one metric ton of great stuff — I promise, I’ll share my notes later).

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DataWise: MOOC

You really want to head over here and register for Harvard’s DataWise MOOC.  For those of you who have not experienced a MOOC before, this is free online coursework that is the same as what you would get if you went to Harvard for the week.


I attended the DataWise Institute at Harvard a few summers ago.  It was a phenomenal experience.  The presenters were dynamic and engaging.  We heard from top of the line experts in education.  We had opportunities to engage with one another around specific data in our building.  It changed so many things, big and small, about the way that we operate in our school.

Now, Harvard and DataWise have launched this as a MOOC. This means that you and your team can attend this same amazing institute without traveling to Boston, without applying to Harvard, without any of the hassle.  You can do this in your jammies with a glass of wine.

This would make a great group goal for a grade level or a team within a school.  Attend the MOOC and transform your practice.

Its that time of year!!

The beginning of the year — a clean, fresh slate, a chance to do it over again and get it better this time.  Notice, we’re never going to get it “right” — but we can always get it better.  We are the only profession in the world that gets TWO chances at New Year’s Resolutions.


I’m talking with many teachers about setting expectations and establishing routines for monitoring student behavior and learning.

Here are some posts I’ve collected that are some of the strategies I’m reminding my teacher to use:

Google Forms for Reading Logs

Work Mats for Support Student Choice

A Sample Launch Unit

Using the Teaching Board to Sharpen Minilessons

Using a Teaching Folder to Organize Your Work

Staying Organized

Read Alouds To Start the Year