Friday, November 3, 2017


Conferring with a focus on the writer, not the writing.

Our monthly literacy PD time this month was focused on conferring around narrative writing. We began the time by reflecting on how narrative writing changes as we move up the grades. Teachers shared what they noticed and commented on how beneficial it was to see the different levels of writing in one space.




Then we jumped into conferring. This summer Katie Clements was my small group leader at the summer writing institute. She immersed us in practicing our conferring language to focus on the writer, not the writing.

During a writing conference, we are not telling students how to “fix” their writing or what they should or should not do to make this particular piece better. Rather, we are aiming to teach them a transferable strategy they might use in any similar piece of writing. Give tips and teaching points that could push writers in all kinds of writing.

I used writing samples from the Units of Study, as well as, our teacher’s own student samples to practice this work. We reviewed the moves in a writing conference: Research, Decide, Teach, Link;  then we shared our compliment and our teaching point.



We looked in the If…Then book to help revise our teaching point to ensure it moves the writer forward, not just this piece of writing. For example:

Instead of…

Your ending just drops off. You should tell more about how the boy felt when he found his mom.
Try…

Sometimes it seems like your ending just trail off, and they aren’t as powerful as they could be because of that. Writers know that the ending of a story is the last thing with a reader will be left. Today, I want to teach you one tip for writing an ending that is particularly powerful. Writers ask, “What is this story really about?” Once they have the answer, they add dialogue, internal thinking, descriptive detail or a small action that ties back to the true meaning.
Instead of…

You should reread to add paragraphs.
Try…

A paragraph is a signal to our reader. It says, “Halt! Take a tiny break. Do you understand what is going on here? OK, keep going.” It alerts your reader to changes in scenes or new dialogue. I want to teach you that writers use paragraphs to indicate a new time event, a new place, a new time or when a new character speaks.
Calkins, Lucy. (2013) If…Then…Curriculum: Assessment-Based Instruction. Heinemann. Portsmouth, NH.

Our teachers took turns rephrasing their conferring language to mirror language from the If…Then book so that we were pushing the writer and not just fixing the writing.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Planning & Reading MiniLessons




Once a month our elementary teachers meet with me as I help facilitate new learning around literacy.  Our building goal is centered around writing this year. To help support this goal, I am centering the new learning around writing, in particular, around the new learning I experienced out at Teacher's College this summer.

My small group leader, Katie Clements shared with us a way to get teacher's to plan a 10 minute minilesson in 10 minutes. As some of you might know, the lessons in the Units of Study books can be very long, as they are designed to have professional development embedded right in them. This can be overwhelming for teachers, though. When listening to Lucy Calkins this summer, she said if you take 60 minutes to plan a 10 minute lesson, it really is  not going to be 5x better than if you spent only 10 minutes. I completely agree, but how could this really be done in a time efficient manner? 

I walked our teacher's through the same process Katie walked us through. 
  • First you spend about 1-2 minutes reading the teaching point. It is crucial that you know the what and the how of the lesson before you plan.
  • The next 5 minutes are spend getting the flow of the lesson. How does it start? Will you gather students or have them stay at their desks? Will they need to be by their partner? If you do gather, what will they need to bring? How does the teaching go? How will the active engagement go? What will be the link?
  • The third step is to rewrite the lesson teaching point, if  necessary. This takes 1-3 minutes. I find this is rarely going to be the case, as the teaching points in the Unit of Study books are so crystal clear. However, our 5th grade teachers found that in one of their  narrative lessons, the teaching point asked students to use both foreshadowing and flashbacks. They found this was too much at once for their students and crafted two minilessons, one for each literary technique.
  • Lastly, spend time filling in any parts you might need (1-2 min). Do you need to cross out parts? Add in more authentic language to make it sound more like yourself? Bring in some of your own examples?




We spend 30  minutes together during this month's literacy PD time. Our teachers' picked a partner. They each chose to plan an upcoming lesson, in succession. They then taught each other the lesson to try it out. Most teachers were very pleased to have two lessons planned and have heard the language in this short time. They now have a strategy to be efficient in planning their writing lessons.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer Writing Institute: Grammar!

I attended Mary Ehrenworth’s choice session on Grammar! Demonstrations, Inquiries, and Extravaganzas. This session was packed and the energy was high. I know, right? High energy around grammar?! I think we were all excited and anticipating some words of wisdom from Mary, as she invests herself in this topic and has written about it.
Image result for powerful grammar by mary ehrenworth

The session began by Mary sharing with us some recent research around the Stages of Grammar Acquisition.



Stages of Grammar Acquisition
  • Recognition: very unlikely students will do things in writing they have not said orally or seen in text
    • Spoken, lots of power in our spoken languguage especially if it mirrors academic language as this builds academic capital. Think about the words you are using in your oral interactions with students.
    • Read aloud, literary language is very complex, and the way to boost this in our kids is to read aloud.
      • 80% of the words you know are learned by the time you are 6
      • Social Language is very simple. It lacks sentence structure
    • Independent Reading
      • Sometimes a grammar acquisition deficit is really a reading problem
  • Approximation
    • Ss will be in this stage the entire time they are with you. This is a new concept to me, as I think I am always looking for mastery.
    • This is where students will be doing “it” with support.
    • Embrace this (ex. 1st graders use end punctuation in narrative, but not in information because that got hard). This also aligned with what Cornelious Minor told us about kids using technology. Their cognitive load is focused on learning the technology, therefore, some writing moves may slide.
    • Sometimes we fix this with damaging fixes. Ouch!
  • Mastery
    • You will know by looking at their on-demand writing. Simulates high stakes writing.
    • What are they beginning to master more? Look for this as your students continue to grow and move out of approximations.
  • Slippage
    • Process of learning and unlearning happening at the same time. What? This actually happens.
  • Code Switching
    • For example, 5th graders unlearn how to see “i” is not capitalized. The code for capitalizing I has been rewritten.


Some more about slippage and code switching...

Encoding: This is how we spell. It is the patterning in our brain, as our brain remembers the thousands of times we have seen a word. It cycles through these times and then retrieves what it believes to be the correct spelling.
Where this can be a problem is when you show students two examples of something as they learn, but only one is right. Now there brain encodes this. (think DOL). Now think of this in math. Would we do this as students begin to learn multiplication? Circle which is right: 2 x 4 = 8 or 2 x 4 = 10.  Now both are encoded in those students’ brains.

Fragmentation: You unlearn it. Wow. I had no idea.
For example, by 3rd grade, students have sight words spelled right. The knowledge of sight word spelling goes down after that. Students unlearn them. Mary suggests that you have students reprogram their phones to not allow “bcc”, make sure it is “because”. Have their phone automatically make the “i” capital.

Next she moved into spelling.

Types of Spelling Work
  • High Frequency Words
    • Said, their, because (use word instead of gdocs, because it is proprietary)
  • Spelling patterns
    • Words their way, initial consonants, final consonants, short vowel, lack of transfer when they don’t find those words in their reading and writing
  • Technical Vocabulary (Iroquois, Constitution, Photosynthesis)

Mary said that spelling is important, but it is not correlated to intelligence.

Lastly Mary asked us to consider our attitudes towards grammar. Then shared some methods.

Methods
  • Demonstration: Do this with any grammar that is worth a writing workshop lesson.
  • Inquiry: This is for things that are interesting, but not good for a writing lesson.
    • Do this in revision stage, in the same genre they are writing in.
    • Use mentor texts, for example where dialogue tags go.
      • Frog & Toad, Invisible Stanley, anything by Cynthia Rylant
    • Inquiry Center: use real books, don’t photocopy, as Ss need to see they can find them on their own
    • Do this for 20 min, then have Ss look in their own writing and try it out.
  • Interludes & Extravaganzas
    • Grammar boot camp, maybe with 2-3 days left before a break
    • Ss choose something they want to study, they make teaching tools for other kids.
Mary had a group of kids study this video as a mentor for how they wanted to teach homophone.


Don't worry about teaching the technology, the students will figure this out. It can be a highly motivating  way for students to be in charge of their own grammar learning.

She encouraged us to think about grammar minilessons, and also think about the ways we would teach those grammar lessons with our colleagues. You could use this as your guide, or rearrange it, or add or delete items. This is important work to do with your teams.

This session was so full of amazing information. Mary moved through it so fast, as she tried to give us as much as she could in the short amount of time we had. I hope my reflection did it justice. 





Thursday, August 3, 2017

August Writing Institute 2017 Day 4


I bought my first coffee today. It was the most money I had ever spent on a coffee, but at least I got a little love.

Grades 4 & 5 stayed with Lucy today to learn more about information and opinion writing.



During small group, Katie took us through some more coaching moves when thinking about conferring. She is so sweet and smart in the way she delivers her coaching suggestions. This session really got me thinking about the kind of feedback teachers give students in conferences. Are they teaching the writer or the writing? Her feedback was so transferable. This type of feedback is going to keep our students moving in their writing, as we cannot get to every student, every day.

Mary Ehrenworth gave a choice workshop on Grammar! Inquiries, Demonstrations, and Extravaganzas. Her session was very thought provoking and I will be blogging about it in a separate post when I have more time to do it justice.



Our closing speaker today was Carmen Agra Deedy.  She has authored many children's books, including 14 Cows for America and The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark.  She is hilarious. She told us a descriptive story from her childhood that had us all laughing.



Lastly, I have stayed pretty close to TC, to say the least, this week. I have been focused on learning and a little nervous about heading out. However, this afternoon, Krista, was my guide as we toured Central Park on foot. This run was exactly what I needed. We followed it up with a yummy dinner. Thanks Krista!!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

August Writing Institute Day 3

Day three was a blur. It seems like when my mind was not working, by body was.

It started with a run...

I love to run and see new places on foot. This morning I was joined by a Wisconsin colleague, Lisa.

Next it was off to large group with Lucy where we spent some time practicing small group work and analyzing student information writing. 


My small group leader is the brilliant Katie Clements. I was thrilled when I received notice that she was my small group section leader, as I admire her from afar on Twitter, and have learned so much from her already through #TCRWP Twitter chats. I have not talked about my small group sessions at all, because I am intending on synthesizing that work later, as it focuses more on coaching around the units of study. However, I wanted to share this tip we learned today. Katie reminded us that a 10 minute minilesson should only take 10 minutes to plan. She had us do this work today and she was right. She handed us a copy of a minilesson from a UOS book. She coached us through the process and then we taught the lesson. 
It worked! I look forward to sharing this with the teachers I work with.


In our choice workshops, I attended Audra Robb's section on Assessing Writers in Middle School: The Intersection of Assessment, Feedback, and Grading. She was real and gave us some great resources to consider as we handle the challenges of having 100+ students in our classes.


The closing for today was Daniel Beaty. He treated us to some of his solo play, Emergency, in which he plays 40 characters. It was brilliant. He also shared some of his childhood heartache and heroes that shaped him into the man he is today. 


Lastly, I headed down Broadway to see an iconic landmark. My husband is a huge Seinfeld fan, and hence I became one too. I had heard that Monk's (now known as Tom's Restaurant) was nearby. I found it.





Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August Writing Institute 2017 Day 2

Day 2 did not disappoint. The day started with Lucy Calkins in our large group session that was targeted for grades 3-5. She focused on the management of the workshop and the parts of the minilesson.




Management of the Workshop
We act as if management is something only the first year teachers worry about. Lucy says that management of her people is one of the hardest parts of her job.


  • Way to signal to kids it is a way to signal to kids that it is workshop time.
  • Bring kids to the meeting area (get kids to do this in 15 sec)
  • Ss sit in their assigned seats at the meeting area with their partner (mixed gender, mixed ability-not the same in reading) Don’t put the high and low together
  • Sit down when you teach (it must signal something different than traditional lessons)
  • Have Ss always bring everything (pencil, notebook, etc)
  • Give minilesson
  • Send them off (link) “Off you go”
    • Get started on their writing immediately, then whisper for them to go back to their seats one at a time, leaving the small 5 to gather a small group
    • Back row go...next row
    • Red table go…
    • Those of you who are going to be doing...get started. Those who have no clue, stay here.
  • Move around the writing space, and move from kids to kid to kid. Use your non verbals. Don’t start by having a conference right away until they all know how to get writing. Maybe by November, you can do this.
  • Then small group work (mostly at the beginning of year), then conferring
  • Midworkshop interruption: stand in the middle of the room.”Writers…” In the beginning of the year, this could be partner share time to help build stamina
  • Share usually backends with the minilesson and it is shared with partner work. Sometimes it is a whole class share


For a choice session, I attended Cornelius Minor’s session titled Writing Workshop 2.0: Using Digital Tools across the Writing Process to Support Collaboration, Revision, and Feedback.


I have been following @MisterMinor on Twitter for a few years and enjoy learning from him long distance. I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to hear him present today. His energy is inspiring, and his love for teaching kids shined through his presentation. He really encouraged us to let kids use whatever tool works for them in the writing process, as the writing notebook is just a metaphor for whatever holds your ideas.


The Writing Cycle:
  • Is not linear
  • Can backtrack, zoom ahead, skip…
  • Can be interrupted
  • Can overlap or happen in parallel ways
  • Changes depending on the purpose or audience
  • Can happen without distinctions from phase to phase
  • Can be repurposed to suit the needs of the writer


Remember there is no such thing as THE way to go through the writing process.


Lastly, we were all fortunate to hear Katherine Patterson speak.


She is the author of many books including...
Image result for bridge to terabithia Image result for katherine paterson books

I was in awe at her humble nature, quick wit, and openness to share some of her most devastating heartaches with us. Tears rolled down my cheeks as she told the story of her young son’s best friend’s death that came in the same year she found a lump, and how these two things in the summer of 1974 set in motion the writing of Bridge to Terabithia. Towards her close Katherine brought everything full circle. To know yourself loved by those who you thought you hated is a very special gift. The reason crimes are committed, wars are fought is because some believe others are disposable. We, as teachers, have an awesome opportunity to love our students.