Mentoring New Teachers Podcast — Episode III: Effective guided reading groups

This is the third episode of our podcast series with Stenhouse author Shawna Coppola and kindergarten teacher Laura, who is in her first year of teaching.

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast – Episode III: Effective guided reading groups
By Shawna Coppola

In the last episode of our Mentoring New Teachers podcast, kindergarten teacher Laura talked about the high social-emotional demands of her kindergarten students and that she sometimes felt as though she was “drowning in behavior charts.” This led to a discussion about the importance of integrating social-emotional learning throughout the day, and I shared with her how kidwatching and documentation—even when focused on one or two particular students at a time—can help educators root out some of the causes of student behaviors that frequently derail the development of a healthy classroom community.

In this episode, Laura shares how well her students are adjusting to the routines they’ve established around their classroom literacy centers and how frequent check-ins are helping students develop their ability to reflect on their work in peer partnerships. With literacy centers running more smoothly, Laura talks about wanting to begin facilitating guided reading groups so that she may support her students as they read connected text within their zone of proximal development. I explain to her the original intention of guided reading and share how that intention has become somewhat lost as a result of the nature of many existing guided reading programs, and I offer Laura some advice for how to begin the challenging work of facilitating effective guided reading groups without becoming too overwhelmed.

Check out Episode 1 and Episode 2 of this podcast.


Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2006). The Daily 5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Burkins, Jan & Melody M. Croft. (2017.) Preventing Misguided Reading: Next Generation Guided Reading Strategies. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.


Shawna Coppola:

Hey there.




How are you doing?


All right. Plugging through.


Good, so, well, tell me what’s going on with you and your students?


So, we’ve been making adjustments with, we started up our new like center routine right after break. So, they’ve kind of been learning to do that. And we’ve been really making, I’ve been trying to make sure I really establish like our schedule at this point. Um, and that we’re kind of doing the same thing every day now. And more with that comes like the more parts of the day where they’re able to work independently.


What do the routines look like for students or what are their expectations?


Right now, it’s like seven different centers, um, that are the same all the time and I’ll just rotate like themes on some of them for each month. But yeah, they work with a partner and we do two rotations. So usually we kind of group and do a small lesson before they start and then I send them and they’re learning, how to like, find their name and look to see what’s next to it. Um, so which center they have. And then I have a shelf that has boxes that match `the pictures on the chart, um, for like puzzles and writing and different things that they go and they pull them out. My principal actually observed that week and was at least impressed that they knew where everything was and were able to get it. Which is nice. And then I’m not super like strict about where in the room they’re working and stuff, except for ones that are kind of stuck in one place, like listening. But as long as they are able to work quietly and they’re staying in one place.


It sort of reminds me of Daily Five expectations in a sense where like find a good fit spot and stay in one spot the whole time. Is that sort of what you’ve been working off of?


Yeah, I read the Daily Five book at the beginning of the year, actually, and I was like I love a lot of this stuff. But I was finding that having like too many kids doing listening and too many kids reading to a partner, whatever, they just got very like out of control. Um, and, it just was kind of crazy. And when I went to a conference in November, there was a speaker there that was talking about what she does which was like this partner, she has like twelve centers…


Wow, twelve centers?


Yeah.  And so, I was like, oh, I’ll give that a try. And just working in partners, I had known from doing some other things that I was like I think it might be better. And it has been better, where I just have, I have too many kids who, a lot of boys and a lot who need a lot of work on self-regulation. And so,  it’s made it a lot easier to just pair them so that, for the most part they’re able to work with that one person.


And I love that idea of pairing them with a student, a classmate, too, because not only are they working on their routines you set up for centers, but just honing their collaboration skills is so great for them. Are these partners that they have chosen or are they strategically arranged partners?


Right now, they’re arranged. Especially with all of the behavior things going on in here.  we’ve talked about how, what we can show that we know how to do each center responsibly. Then I could start having some days where they get to choose their center. Um, and then same thing, once I’ve seen that they’re able to work with their classmates responsibly then we can have some times that they could choose their partner. So, we’re kind of working towards that and trying to keep track of the work, like how well we’re doing. And right now, they actually have like a little, like a punch card to start off to reinforce like checking on did you do your work? Were you working with your partner? Were you staying in one place? Kind of checking back through those things.


Do they look at that punch card at the end of the whole sort of period?


After each, we do two centers so after each one we check in with that.


What are the centers that you have set up?

Laura has a variety of literacy centers set up around her classroom that help to reinforce students’ developing literacy skills, including their letter-sound correspondence, their sight-word knowledge, and of course their ability to read and write connected texts of their own choosing.


So, with the centers what do you think it’s going really, really well for you and the students?


I think the big part is the, like, organizational, independence part of it. At this point, as long as I’ve moved their cards to where they need to be, pretty much all of them can walk over, know where they need to go and go get what they need. Um, and so that’s been, that didn’t seem to take long, which was awesome. So yeah, that’s definitely the big one. That and just that they’re working well with having partners…


Have you had any major partner arguments or problems that need to be solved?


I have a couple. There’s one boy and he decided like a few days in that he didn’t want to be with his partner, which there is always the option of them working on some things alone. Some of them will take a day and do something and then be like I don’t want to do this by myself. But, but with him I’m trying to have the partners, also that set up so that I could pull them both and they’d be working on something similar with me.  With him it was hard to figure out somebody that would be able to work well with him that would also fall into that category. Otherwise most of the rest of them have done pretty well.


Well, that’s great. And so, there’s a lot that seems like it’s going well.  I remember when we were first talking about the kinds of things you were doing your classroom routines were something that they were, they were sort of taking too pretty well and I remember you saying that you love the independence of those Daily Five choices, um, which is nice to see that’s still sort of continuing.  So, I know that initially you had talked about wanting to discuss group or working in small groups?


I’m just trying to like, anticipate starting those small group…and so making sure that I’m well prepared to use that time well was kind of my thinking. And I’ve done, I mean like from student teaching and stuff we did small group work but it ended up just like we almost always did the exact same like reading a little book from the curriculum that they had. And they did it kind of the same way every time. That was that. So, I didn’t get to see like a whole lot of very individualized instruction.




So, are you anticipating that, so when you say working with small groups, are you looking at doing some guided reaching specifically?




And have you started sort of thinking about what you want to do? Or have you just thought, you know what, this is sort of a missing piece in what I’m doing, and I want to just get some small group guided reading groups started?


I mean to start off I do want to try to make sure we’re just taking a lot of chances to read books that are at their level.  So my plan for now was just that I was going to start off there. But I know there’s a lot of skills that we just have a hard time addressing as a whole group that I would like to be able to also get to during that time.


What kind of skills?


Just like, doing more work on letters and sounds and kind of the building words part of things. And I mean some of the decoding stuff would be through doing those books together. But just more targeted lessons there. And even pull in some more of the writing stuff that we’re working on, pull that into that…


So, what have you, from your, sort of school experience, what do you know about guided reading? Did they talk about that a lot? Did they give you readings to do in relation to guided reading? Or people to follow?


Yeah, I mean I felt like they went over a lot of different stuff. But because we went over a lot some of it just wasn’t very much in depth. And I know my school was big on a lot of our learning being out at other schools and seeing what teachers were using.  Although with that it kind of, some of it depended on who you ended up with. We had a couple classes that we spent a lot of time going through like just the different reading skills and strategies to use for those, not necessarily specified at how to do that with a group but at least how to identify the skills that they needed and find different ways to be teaching those. Some of the stuff, I’m just looking back, and I forget way too much too easily.


Well it’s a lot. I mean if you think about, all the things that you have to keep in your head as a classroom teacher. you know, I’m a literacy specialist, and just focusing on all the literacy components that…you have this person telling you to do all this stuff and then this group of people saying nope, balanced literacy includes these components and it’s really, really overwhelming. And like you said, a lot of times in our university setting, our college setting, we don’t get a lot of in depth practice with them But one of the thing that I know about guided reading…it’s really changed a lot over the years. And so, a lot of times when I talk to teachers about guided reading they’re thinking of certain, you know, particular programs or curriculums that have been really, really popular where guided reading originally was really just meant to be a small group conversation, very sort of I don’t know if informal’s the right word but certainly not a lesson with, you know, we’re going to go over these three skills. Because it’s really meant to be a dynamic sort of session where you’re sort of reading a text together, like you said. It doesn’t even have to be the same text. But sort of reading with the intent to gain meaning from the text. So, of course that means that sometimes you’re working on decoding because you need to understand, or you need to be able to identify those words to gain meaning from the text that sometimes it might be just talking about the text as well. And it’s just really meant to be really dynamic. So one of the things that has worked for me in the past, I know that a lot of programs have, you know these leveled books that they use and that can be useful as well, but I find that using short poems or songs is really useful as a, as sort of a common text can be useful to do during guided reading, particularly because if they’re familiar to the students, especially the songs…you guys sing songs in your class? Do they have those printed out at all?


We’ve done a couple that we’ve, like yeah… or ones that we have as like old posters that we put together and stuff to be able to read.


Yeah, so like maybe starting with something like that where let’s say you start with, I don’t know, three students and you start with a really, really familiar song. And most of your intent for that meeting would be to just see what they do and that’s how you can sort of build your guided reading curriculum off of just seeing what these, three or four children do as you’re going through that song. And so, one of the things you might notice are oh, well, I’m noticing that this child is following the text as he reads with his finger. And so, if that’s something that you’re noticing happening you can sort of stop and just say oh my gosh…look at what he’s doing with his finger when he’s trying to read this song or when he comes to a part that he may be forgot or wasn’t sure what the word says. Let’s try that and see if that helps us while we’re reading. But starting something that they’re pretty familiar with is a nice way to start because you know, they’ll experience that success right away.

I find that, if I’m focusing on noticing what kids are doing or what they’re not doing that helps me build my curriculum. So, I maybe would have an idea of what I might do, but that often changes when I see what they actually do. So that actually happened to me the other day. I had a group of three girls who I was working with and my intent was to read a particular poem but like, we had a booklet full of poetry that I had created for them with poems that I’d thought they’d enjoy and that I kind of could sense that it was at a good instructional level for them, that most of the words they would know and some they’d have to figure out. And of course, my intention was to start with this particular poem. and they didn’t, you know, they were like oh, can we do this one? And I was like sure, that sounds fine, let’s start with that. Because of course for me engagement makes everything easier for readers. You know, if you’re more engaged in something you’re more likely to want to try to figure it out.

 So, it was actually a great poem to do because there were several tricky words. So, we talked about well, how do you know? How do you figure out what, you know, how do you figure out that word? And they could really help each other out. I mean at one point I sort of sat back and was like, they’re literally teaching each other right now. I mean I don’t even need to…it was so great.

I was just sort of facilitating the conversation. And originally that’s sort of what guided reading was about, was really just facilitating conversation about a text. And really focusing on strategies, but what it sort of transformed into is more of everybody at the same level, and we go in with a lot more preconceived notions of what we’re going to talk about. So, it’s just interesting how it’s evolved. I think some of the intent of guided reading has gotten lost along the way. But I find it really fun. However, I will say that I think a lot of teachers become very overwhelmed with guided reading. So, my question for you is when you’re thinking of working with small groups are you thinking of rotating through so that eventually you get to all the kids in your class? Or are you just thinking of a targeted group of students who could use an extra little boost at this point in time?


At least to start out I was just going to rotate more through.


Yeah. Well, being a first-year teacher and sort of having this feeling of being overwhelmed by what you’d learned about guided reading and knowing there’s so much to sort of think about and there are so many resources to go back to, my suggestion to you would be to really give yourself the gift of identifying a particular small group that really just want to work with that could maybe use an extra boost but maybe aren’t, aren’t the biggest challenge for you, just to hone your guided reading sort of skills.  And sort of think about what is working and what’s not working. Because I think what happens is that a lot of teachers, veteran teachers included, they feel this pressure to say, well every child must get guided reading. And that’s not the case. It’s a good tool in our tool box of when we’re thinking of balanced literacy. But it’s not something that I believe is necessary for everybody. Of course, you want to offer something that seems to be beneficial to every child. But I also think that as teachers we expect too much of ourselves. And so especially, like I said, this being your first year, and you feeling a little unfamiliar with guided reading, I would definitely suggest that you just, you know, if you leave here and say I can’t just do one group, at the very least two groups. And just work with those two groups and really sort of reflect on how guided reading is going, what’s working well, what’s not, what’s not working well, where do you need some extra support? And then not feeling so overwhelmed because you have now five guided reading groups that you’re feeling overwhelmed with but rather you might have one or two. So that’s my best advice to you.  What do you think about that?


I think it’s worth a try.


I mean I’m still in my infancy stage of teaching, being here almost for two decades. You know, you think about how long many teachers stay in the profession, but I have not once met a teacher who feels like she does everything well. And I think part of the reason for that is because we’re constantly just piling on, especially with literacy.


You know, there’s so much you could be doing. But you don’t have to do everything. And you don’t have to do everything for every child either. So, I definitely feel strongly that it would be in your best benefit and for your students too to say, you know, I’m going to work with one group.  I’m going to work with one group and really try to, you know, just do a little bit of catching up on some guided reading sources that you might have from your, your year in school, the years that you had in school and some of the readings you had and looking online at what people are doing and sort of picking and choosing things that you think would work for your kids who you know best.

And I actually, I just have to tell you about this amazing source that helped me so much. It’s not overwhelming and it’s one of those books that you can dip in and out. And it’s called Preventing Misguided Readings. Have you heard of that?


I don’t think so.


What’s really interesting, I did not plan this, I swear. But they have a brand-new version out. So, it’s a book, let me try and find it right now so I can tell you…it really helped me so much. So, it’s called Preventing Misguided Reading and the subtitle is Next Generation Guided Reading Strategies.  You get sort of the history of guided reading and what its intent is. Which I think is really useful because with so many things in education over time it tends to get lost. And then it talks about all of these different ways that you can stay true to that intent and also give kids what they need.


I just find it really useful. And like I said it’s one of those that you can dip in and out. It’s not one that you have to read from front to back cover.  If you look at it you’ll notice a lot of similarities to Daily Five as well, in terms of talk about strategies and grouping based on, not on level but on what strategy do you want to teach that day or what strategy do you think these students need.  But as you’re thinking about who you think would benefit most from guided reading, working in a small group with you.  Start, start jotting down as you’re, as they’re in stations or as they’re working at that read to self station, what are some of the things that you’re noticing that they are doing. And build off of those. Because as you know, if they experience success first then they’re more likely to try something new and unfamiliar.


Oh, when it started today I was reading a little book to the class before we started, and I let them choose that to go back through if they wanted to and look over. And two of them were sitting there trying to tell the whole story over again.


Aw, I love that. And that’s even something, you know, even if you had the small group and you said, and you noticed that…let’s say you had a group, a group of students who you just noticed that one of the things that they don’t do is they don’t pay much attention the pictures, that they’re so focused on learning the words even though it’s really hard for them. That they’re not enjoying the reading experience because they’re not sort of practicing that idea that you can read pictures, or that you can retell a story you already know. That could be a guided reading session. It’s just retelling a story they already know. And just talking about how do we do that.

You know it doesn’t’ have to be super formal. And with my guided reason…I shouldn’t call them lessons ‘cause they’re really just sort of conversations…but you know, let’s say I’ll set aside twenty minutes to work with this group. And sometimes after ten minutes we’re like all right, great. You know, it’s just very dynamic. And based on what I’m noticing, where they’re engaged and when we’re sort of done with the conversation. And it’s like there’s no reason to keep going just ‘cause I think it should last twenty minutes. So, you know, sort of being flexible about that is, you know, taking that pressure off of what things have to be like is something that I think we can always practice as teachers.


Mm hmm, yeah.


Yeah, and as you’re thinking, too, about who you might want to work with or kind of practice this guided reading with and you’re trying to brainstorm possible sessions, you know, possible focuses for a session or you know, these are the things I’m noticing. What do I do with it. Feel free to send those along or take a picture of it if you need someone to sort of bounce ideas off of, too. Cause another thing with teaching is it’s really isolating. And if you don’t have people to bounce ideas off of it can be, it can feel really defeating. And I know you have a great support system in your school, but if you need an outside view I’m happy to take a look or just talk. I have, you know, we can set up just another conversation to kind of troubleshoot. So, does that sound okay?




Okay, all right. Well, it was great to talk to you. And I’m excited for your kids to sort of get started with the small groups.




It was good to see you.


You too.

Add comment May 10th, 2018

See you at NCSM/NCTM!

We are excited to head to Washington, D.C., where you will find us at both NCSM and NCTM conferences. Be sure to stop by to browse our books, meet our authors, and more! At both conferences we will be offering a 25% educator discount and you will have a chance to pick up one of our free tote bags.


We will be at Booth #206 and for the first time, we will be able to sell books in the exhibit hall! Stop by to meet with:
Lucy West: Monday @ 1:45
Tracy Zager: Tuesday @ 9:15
Mike Flynn: Wednesday @ 9:45 (at Salon G/H immediately following his session there)

And be sure to attend our authors’ conference sessions:
Nancy Anderson: How to Talk Mathematics So Students Learn, Mon 11:15-12:15, Room 145B
Mike Flynn: Understanding the Resistant Teacher–Why Change Is Harder for Some People and How We Can Support Them, Mon 12:30-1:15, Hall A
Mike Flynn: Understanding the Resistant Teacher–Changing Our Narrative to Foster Stronger Relationships, Wed 8:45-9:45, Salon G/H
Cathy Humphreys: Cultivating Students’ Mathematical Ability, Tue 8:15-9:15, Room 146A
Ruth Parker: Transforming Teaching and Learning Through Number Talks, Mon 1:45-2:45, Room 152A
Lucy West & Antonia Cameron: Content Coaching: It Transforms Instruction, Mon 12:30-1:30, Salon I
Antonia Cameron: Start with Heart: Transforming Teacher Practice by Exploring Our Own Beliefs, Mon 3:00-4:00, Room 144A
Tracy Zager: Teachers First–Everything Else Follows, Mon 11:15-12:15, Salon G/H
Megan Franke: How and Why Attention to Student Thinking Supports Teacher and Student Learning, Mon 12:30-1:30, Salon G/H
Megan Franke: Research-Practice Partnerships to Support Continuity in Mathematics Curricula, Tue 11:15-12:15, Room 150A
Amanda Jansen: What Is Rough Draft Thinking and How Can It Be Integrated into Mathematics Classrooms? Tue 8:15-9:15, Room 145A
Robert Kaplinsky: Challenging Problems Worth Solving, Mon 9:30-10:30, Salon I
Robert Kaplinsky: Supporting and Inspiring Mathematics Specialists, Leaders, and Coaches, Mon 4:15-5:15, Salon G/H
Robert Kaplinsky: What’s the Deal with Honors and Acceleration? Tue 10:00-10:45, Hall A
Nicora Placa: Mathematics Coaching: A Beginning Playbook, Wed 8:45-9:45, Room 145A


We have an exciting lineup of mini-sessions at booth #153. Stop by, have a seat, and listen to some great teacher/authors present for 10 minutes or so before getting your book signed.

8:45 a.m.: Tracy Zager: “How Will We Know What They’re Thinking?”
9:30 am.: Christopher Danielson: “What Is the Plural of Grapefruit? Adventures in #unitchat”
12:45 p.m.: Linda Dacey: “Make Writing About Math as Successful as Talking About It”
1:30 p.m.: Lucy West: “Let’s Talk About Math Talk”
2:30 p.m.: Mike Flynn: “Supporting Active Engagement in Elementary Math Classrooms”

Noon: Karen Gartland & Jayne Bamford Lynch: “Partnering with Students Through Games”
1:00 p.m.: Alison Hintz & Elham Kazemi: “What’s The Difference Between Classroom Talk and Classroom Discussion?”
3:00 p.m.: Lucy West (signing)

And be sure to attend our authors’ conference sessions:
Nancy Anderson: Keep Calm and Use Talk Moves, Fri 1:30-2:30, Marriott Marquis, Independence Ballroom F-H
Linda Dacey: The Power of Writing about Mathematical Thinking, Fri 4:30-5:30, Room 151 A
Karen Gartland: Meeting the Instructional Needs of Struggling Learners, Sat 9:45-11:00, Room 150 B
Christopher Danielson: From Counting to Calculus: All Students Are Mathematicians, Fri 4:30-5:30, Ballroom A
Mike Flynn: Engaging Students in the Standards for Mathematical Practice through Robotics and Planning, Thu 11:00-12:00, Room 152 A
Elham Kazemi & Allison Hintz: Creating Equitable Mathematics Classrooms: Listening to What Children Have to Teach Us, Fri 3:00-4:00, Ballroom B
Allison Hintz: Supporting Early Mathematics through Children’s Literature, Fri 9:45-11:00, Room 202 B
Lucy West: Enticing All Students to Contribute to Rich Math Discussions, Fri 1:30-2:30, Marriott Marquis, Marquic Ballroom Salon 6
Lucy West: Ignite! We’ll Enlighten You and We’ll Make It Quick (with 7 other educators), Fri 6:00-7:00pm, Ballroom B
Tracy Zager: Not Just Answering Someone Else’s Questions: Making Math Class More Like Mathematics, Fri 9:30-10:30, Ballroom A
Antonia Cameron: Routines to Grow Problem-Solving Strategies in Early Childhood, Fri 8:00-9:15, Room 144 ABC
Antonia Cameron: Interactive Early Algebra Puzzles for Young Learners: Free Web-Based Activities for Your Classroom, Fri 9:45-11:00, Marriott Marquis, Independence Ballroom E
Antonia Cameron: Harnessing the Power of Mathematical Models to Re-Envision Early Childhood Routines, Fri 3:15-4:30, Marriott Marquis, Marquic Ballroom Salon 9-10
Robert Kaplinsky: Challenging Math Problems Worth Solving, Thu 11:00-12:00, Ballroom B

Add comment April 20th, 2018

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast – Episode II: Social-Emotional Learning

We continue our podcast series with Stenhouse author Shawna Coppola and kindergarten teacher Laura, who is in her first year of teaching. In this episode, they tackle behavior charts and social-emotional learning.

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast – Episode II: Social-Emotional Learning
By Shawna Coppola

In the first episode of our podcast focusing on mentoring new teachers, Laura and I discussed ways to cope with the all-too-familiar feeling of worrying about “fitting it all in,” especially in regard to literacy. Too often, classroom teachers are pressured to include so many different components of what constitutes a “balanced” literacy program that we are frequently left feeling as if we are doing none of them justice. During that first conversation, I advised Laura to keep a close eye on the big picture when it came to her students’ literacy experiences and to try to identify the experiences that gave both her and her students the “best bang for [their] buck”–a difficult, yet important, task.

As she continued to experiment with how to incorporate literacy instruction into her students’ day in a way that felt more integrated and less piecemeal, Laura expressed to me that she was beginning to feel challenged by the social/emotional demands of her kindergartners. Like many classroom teachers, Laura is forced to juggle a wide variety of student needs with very little sustained guidance. She feels as though she is “drowning in behavior charts,” which runs counter to her desire to co-construct a healthy classroom community with her students. In this podcast episode, Laura and I discuss how social-emotional learning is at the heart of all good teaching, and I explain how both kidwatching and documentation can help her root out some of the causes of those behaviors that frequently derail the development of the community she and her students are working so hard to create.


Buckley, Mary Anne. 2015. Sharing the Blue Crayon: How to Integrate Social, Emotional, and Literacy Learning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Mraz. K. & Hertz, C. 2015. A mindset for learning: Teaching the traits of joyful, independent growth. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mraz, Kristine. Kinderconfidential [Blog].

Goodbye Clip Charts, Marble Jars, and Stickers for Behavior


Add comment March 30th, 2018

Free webinar with Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris

janandkimcropHow to Make Learning Stick: 3 Ways to Boost Your Reading Instruction
Wednesday, March 28, 2 p.m. ET

Have you ever felt frustrated when students don’t apply the skills and strategies you know you have taught them? You might ask yourself, “Why is this happening? Why isn’t my instruction transferring?”

Through their work in classrooms across the country, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris have identified three elements that determine how well instruction transfers, and they will share them with you in this hourlong webinar. You’ll learn:
• The most important part of any reading lesson;
• Why instruction can fail even when a lesson is instructionally sound;
• How to avoid unintentionally creating learned helplessness in readers.
Jan and Kim will suggest specific strategies that you can put to use immediately, and they will help teachers, principals, and administrators work together to create independent, empowered readers.

Jan and Kim are the authors of the bestselling book, Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More and the upcoming Who’s Doing the Work? Lesson Sets.

When: Wednesday, March 28, 2 p.m. EST
Can’t make the date? Register anyway for access to the archived version!

Who should attend: K-5 teachers, literacy specialists, principals, and district administrators.

Add comment March 23rd, 2018

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast – Episode I: Fitting It All In

We are excited to launch a new podcast series about mentoring new teachers. Stenhouse author Shawna Coppola has been talking with Laura, a new kindergarten teacher. Join us and follow along as they discuss Laura’s first year of teaching.

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast-Episode 1: Fitting It All In
By Shawna Coppola

When Stenhouse asked me if I wanted to mentor a new teacher through her first year and record the experience for posterity, I barely took a breath before saying yes. As someone who has taught for nearly two decades, I still feel the desire to be mentored, to surround myself with supportive individuals who understand the joyful, yet challenging, life of an educator and can occasionally offer a sage piece of advice, a thought-provoking question, a listening ear, or–most importantly, for me anyway–a much-needed laugh.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway, and loudly, for those sitting in the back) that teachers are engaged in some of the most complex work imaginable. If you don’t believe me, spend a day in a public school classroom; it’s all the time you’ll need to witness the hundreds of important decisions made (often on the fly), the masterful integration of a seemingly endless variety of skills, and the near-superhuman capacity for empathy and grace.

Laura is an educator who, even in her first year, demonstrates all of these things. A kindergarten teacher in a K-6 public school serving approximately 300 students, Laura confessed to me during our very first conversation together that she knew from early on that she wanted to work with children. This year, she teaches–largely independently, with only occasional access to a classroom aide–22 of them, although the number varies depending on the fluctuation of families moving in and out of the community. According to Laura, the students she has this year are kind, motivated to learn, and, for the most part, “want to be” in school.

Like many teachers, though, Laura finds it difficult to balance building positive, healthy relationships with her students alongside “managing” them as a whole group. One of her biggest challenges is related to planning and making all of the (aforementioned) decisions she must make as a teacher–both ahead of time and “in the moment.” She worries about how to fit in valuable instruction around skills that many perceive as “non-academic” or “soft” along with more traditionally-recognized “academic” skills.

In this first audio post, which was recorded in October of 2017,  Laura and I discuss the enormous, all-too-familiar challenge of “fitting it all in”–particularly with regard to literacy–and how to maintain a daily schedule for her students that is meaningful, engaging, and developmentally appropriate.


Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2006). The Daily 5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

#kinderchat (Twitter chat, Mondays 9:00 PM EST)

Mraz. K. & Hertz, C. (2015). A mindset for learning: Teaching the traits of joyful, independent growth. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mraz, Kristine. Kinderconfidential [Blog].

Keep reading for the full transcript!

Add comment February 27th, 2018

Fostering Professional Relationships to Facilitate Peer Observations

In the third installment of our series by elementary principal Matt Renwick, he talks about how–and why–he encourages his teachers to observe each other in the classroom.

We know that one of the best ways to improve collective instruction in a school is by watching excellent teaching in action and then applying these strategies to our practice. We know this, yet we often fail to act even though excellence might be a few doors down from our classroom.

What dissuades teachers from watching each other teach? Time, for sure. We also might feel guilty about leaving our own students in order to invest in ourselves through peer observation and peer coaching. “What will our kids do without us?” we might ask.

In my own previous prodding and nudging of teachers to get into other classrooms, often resulting either in failure or compliance, I have discovered there needs to be a safe and innovative school environment for genuine peer-to-peer learning. Teachers need to feel like they can take risks in letting someone come into their classroom, as well as in acknowledging that they may still have something to learn.

A high-quality learning environment has two elements in place: strong levels of trust and clear communication within the building. You can see evidence of this in schools, such as in the informal collegial conversations among faculty and in the high-quality student work posted in the school hallways. The walls do talk.

When trust and communication are high, professional relationships have the potential to be formed. Relationships can be defined as “the way two people are connected”. This connection, even a loose tie, is a prerequisite for effective peer observations to take place.

The rest of this article describes the steps our school took to facilitate peer observations with our kindergarten teachers. The purpose was to discover new ideas for literacy instruction.

Identifying a Need

Our school’s newest hire is one of our kindergarten teachers. Knowing high-quality professional learning includes peer observations and peer coaching (Routman, 2018, pg. 76), I connected with the kindergarten team to consider this possibility. All were open to it.

A Connection to Relationships: It helped that this team has taken the initiative to create a collaborative learning environment not only for their students, but also for themselves. For example, they turned their storage space into a team meeting room. They use this room to meet for PLCs as well as to have lunch together during their noon break.

Scheduling the Visits

One of those challenges with peer observations is finding coverage for the visiting teacher. I offered my time, although I am sometimes called away as the principal to deal with a behavior issue or a pressing matter. Fortunately, our district leadership had the foresight to create an instructional coaching position. This person stepped up and offered to teach kindergarten while one teacher was observing their colleague’s instruction.

A Connection to Relationships: Our instructional coach, new this year, has gone out of her way to foster connections with every faculty member in the building. One way is by stopping into classrooms on a regular basis. “I am simply coming in to get to know you and your students a little better” was her brief explanation at a staff meeting early in the school year. These regular touches, non-threatening and from a point of curiosity, has fostered professional relationships in several classrooms. The results has been multiple teachers volunteering for coaching cycles with this specialist, including this learning experience.

Initiating the Peer Observations

The day had come. Our new teacher was up first, coming into visit a more veteran colleague. The other two observations would commence in the subsequent days. The host teacher shared her intentions for the day’s lesson ahead of time. My role was to provide minimal guidance for our new teacher. I gave them a form I use when conducting my instructional walks as a way to frame the observation.

Student Goals Written by Teacher

Student Goals Written by Teacher


A Connection to Relationships: Prior to this learning experience, I had been a frequent visitor to every classroom. Acknowledging the positive aspects of teachers’ literacy instruction has helped create the conditions for this innovative work to occur. They have become comfortable with my presence as a principal because I focused first on strengths. From the teachers’ perspective, I imagine having another teacher in their room might be even less threatening.

Celebrating and Reflecting on the Experience

“I was impressed with how she is already having her students learning sight words.” This comment, shared with me from a veteran teacher, came after she had observed our newest colleague. Soon after, I relayed this information to the first year teacher. “Oh, wow, that’s nice to hear,” she responded.

We could have gone with a structured reflection and debrief led by me. But it didn’t feel right. I wanted to give them ownership in the process and treat them like the professionals that they are. Plus, they had taken time out of their busy days to make this happen. So I provided lunch the next day, along with a thank you for participating in this experience. “If you want to just chat and enjoy yourselves, that would be great. Not necessary to have any formal reflection.”

A Connection to Relationships: Did any debriefing happen? I’d like to think so. Even if not, I felt good about how the peer coaching experience went based on their comments and my observations. Regie shares her own wisdom in building trusting relationships among administrators during a school visit. “I know they were surprised when I said, ‘Let’s not work through lunch. Let’s take a well-deserved break and just enjoy our time together.’ We wound up talking about our families, hobbies, cooking, and favorite things to do and eat. At the end of lunch, I felt closer to each one of them” (pg. 10). The relationships formed today can lead to powerful learning in the future.

Giving teachers time to form relationships, with their students and with each other, is built on the foundation of trust and communication. The experiences we facilitate in our schools, such as peer coaching, can only be successful with these elements in place. While the ultimate goal is literacy engagement, excellence, and equity for all learners, as literacy leaders we have to remember and attend to the means to achieve this end.

Add comment February 26th, 2018

The Secret to Teaching Writing Well

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge kicks off March 1 and we are excited to have this guest post from author Stacey Shubitz on the secret to teaching writing well. (Shhh, it has to do with being a writer!)

The Secret to Teaching Writing Well
By Stacey Shubitz

secret-2725302_1280Last month, I was eating lunch alongside a dedicated fourth-grade teacher whom I’ve been working with this year. She’s the kind of teacher who reads professional literature regularly. She co-creates charts alongside her students and refers to them in mini-lessons. She spends hours providing feedback to her students on their drafts. Despite doing all of these things, she felt as though the teaching of writing challenges her in ways she didn’t anticipate when she began using the workshop model a year-and-a-half ago.

“Am I doing anything wrong?” she asked.

“Not from where I stand. You’re well-prepared daily and consume so many professional texts.”

“What’s the secret?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“What’s the secret to being a great writing teacher?” she asked.

“No one’s every asked me that before,” I said. I pondered her question, then asked her one of my own. “Are you writing every day?”

She looked away and said, “no.”

“That’s the secret. You have to be a teacher who writes.”

“But I don’t have time to write every day,” she confessed.

“What if writing every day will make everything you do with your students easier? Would you be able to find ten minutes in your day – daily – to do it?”

“If it would make teaching writing easier, then I would,” she said.

“Well, let’s work together to help you find the time.”


My first literacy coach, Pat Werner, told me I needed to write alongside my students if I wanted to teach writing well. I was a first-year teacher who wanted to succeed so I did everything Pat told me to do. I published a piece of writing every single time my students completed a unit of study (which was eight times during my first year of teaching!). In addition, I started a writer’s notebook, which I wrote in regularly. I listened to Pat and therefore have never taught writing without writing regularly.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that being a teacher who writes is the secret to teaching writing well since you are a bona fide part of the classroom writing community. When teachers write in-service of creating teacher-written mentor texts for their minilessons, they’re able to tailor their teaching so they are not only teaching what a strategy is and why it matters, but how to carry out a strategy in their writing. Teachers who write and share their writing show their students the attempts they’ve made. When their attempts become mistakes, they’re able to talk about them and show students how they’ve grown as a writer by taking writing-related risks. In addition, teachers who write can anticipate the hard parts of the writing process during a unit of study, which helps them respond empathetically to students.

Living a writerly life can happen by devoting ten minutes of every day to writing in a notebook. However, many people find writing in a notebook isn’t enough for them since they need accountability partners and an audience to read and respond to their writing. If you fall into the second category, then I invite you to join the 11th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge on Two Writing Teachers.

(Click to enlarge.)

(Click to enlarge.)

The Slice of Life Story Challenge began on Two Writing Teachers in 2008. The online challenge’s mission is to support teachers who want to develop and sustain a daily writing habit. Over the years, the challenge has given rise to a community of teacher-writers who are better able to support the students they serve in writing workshops by helping them to live a writerly life. Every day, for the month of March, teachers are invited to write a slice of life story – an anecdotal piece of writing about a segment of one’s day – on their own blogs and then share the link to their story on Two Writing Teachers. Each person who leaves a link to his/her own blog visits at least three other people’s blogs to comment on their slice-of-life writing.

Many teachers have found daily participation in the Slice of Life Story Challenge has helped them find a tribe of like-minded educators who they can share pieces of their life with. Many of us meet up at local, state, and national conferences so we can connect in-person, not just online, about teaching and writing. In addition, participation in the Slice of Life Story Challenge provides many teachers with a special kind of camaraderie with their students. Being a teacher-writer means teachers can transform their students’ lives because they believe in the power of writing.

The people who participate in the Slice of Life Story Challenge are a welcoming community of teacher-writers – at varying points in their educational careers – who come together to share blog posts about the ordinary moments every Tuesday and every day during the month of March. I hope you will join us for the 11th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, which begins on Thursday, March 1st. Click here to find out how to join our community of writers.


Stacey Shubitz is an independent literacy consultant, an adjunct professor, and a former elementary school teacher. She’s the author Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts and the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective PracticeShe is presently working on a book with Lynne Dorfman, which has the working title of WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP (anticipated publication date: Winter 2018/19). She blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter @sshubitz.


2 comments February 16th, 2018

Communication Strategies for Partnering with Parents

In this second in a series of blog posts, elementary principal Matt Renwick shares how his schools uses the strategies found in Regie Routman’s new book Literacy Essentials to form lasting, productive partnerships with parents.

Communication Strategies for Partnering with Parents
Matt Renwick

“When parents are truly viewed as partners and not obstacles, students are more likely to be successful regardless of where they go to school.” – Regie Routman

The people both inside and outside our schools form an opinion of our work with students. This is why we are intentional in our efforts to communicate and partner with parents in our important work. In her new book Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners, Regie highlights important strategies in this area (pgs. 19-23). Our school district in Mineral Point, Wisconsin has been leading the way in leveraging technologies to communicate with families, with a special focus on reading and writing in the classroom. Next is a list of strategies Regie recommends for partnering with parents, along with the digital tools used to help facilitate this essential part of literacy leadership.

  • Invite parents to join us as partners. Families with students enrolled in our schools should be our champions, our biggest advocates in our quest for excellent literacy opportunities for all students. (It may not be a coincidence that “parents” and “partners” are almost anagrams!) Their perceptions about the learning experience in our school are critical for a school’s success. Our district has an active Facebook page that regularly posts pictures, videos, and announcements. Some of these posts encourage families and community members to work with the school in various ways, such as donating books to a classroom library or running for an open school board position.
  • Make contact early in the school year. Several of our teachers gather contact information from parents during Meet and Greet night in the early fall. They set up school messenger accounts through Remind and other applications. Parents receive notifications on their smartphones and computers about what is happening in the classroom, sometimes on a daily basis. Families can comment on these posts and even message their child’s teacher if questions come up. Because this form of communication is online, only information that is positive and informative is shared.
  • Share visual snapshots of life in the classroom. A professional goal of mine is to capture and celebrate learning happening in our classrooms on a regular basis. A preferred mode of mine for public celebration is Twitter. I use this social media because it is open to anyone in the world to view and respond. My posts are pretty simple; a recent tweet highlighted a 4K teacher introducing an author/writer center to her students. Yet from a parent’s point of view, the text and images or video of this experience creates a window into the classroom. With each tweet, I include our self-selected hashtag #pointernation to ensure visibility with parents and the school community.


  • Create personal, classroom, or school blogs. Using blogs, also known as “web logs”, to communicate the classroom experience with parents can go many ways. Teachers can maintain a personal blog using tools such as Edublogs to document the teaching and learning happening in their classrooms. Also, each student can maintain a personal classroom blog through Kidblog, a safe and secure technology where kids can share their learning artifacts and comment on the work of other students. WordPress is another popular tool that schools can leverage for their websites and parent communications. I have a school-based blog on our WordPress-powered website, where I publish 2-4 posts a month that highlight current school news and learning experiences.
  • Provide easy access to information. Parents and teachers are busy. Educators are wise to communicate about each child’s school experience in smarter ways. Digital portolio tools such as FreshGrade and Seesaw give students the ability to document their learning as it happens. For example, students can video record each other reading aloud a favorite book and then post this artifact of fluency and comprehension into their portfolios. If completed monthly, parents and teacher get a regular update about each student’s reading progress over time. This information can be just as powerful for assessing literacy growth as a benchmark assessment or a screener.




  • Incorporate weekly newsletters. Our school office assistant utilizes Smore, a web-based newsletter tool that Regie recommends in her book as well. Images, video, and web links can be naturally embedded within important text such as announcements and reminders. We also utilize Smore to celebrate all of the good things happening in our school. For instance, we post scheduled family literacy night dates along with a link to RSVP. After an event, images from the experience are shared in a future newsletter. Examples of literacy events we host include Popcorn, Movie, and a Book (movie based on a book) and Take a Book to the Beach. These weekly communications help build a culture that embraces literacy, community, and celebration.

Certainly, these technologies are nice, sometimes necessary. Yet for all of our efforts in connecting online with families, nothing can replace the in-person communications that we facilitate within our schools. For example, we installed a book shelf and a nice bench in the front lobby of our building. Parents use this space to read aloud to a younger sibling while they wait for an older brother or sister to be dismissed at the end of the day.


Technology is a means for our communication efforts. The ends are the goals of our school: to build essential literacy skills for a lifetime and ensure engagement, excellence, and equity for all learners.

Add comment January 29th, 2018

Building a Literacy Culture with Instructional Walks

“A thriving, trusting culture helps any organization succeed and is a major factor in why people choose to stay. Without trust, we are all less likely to invest our energies in taking on new tasks and challenges. Everything meaningful that happens in a classroom, a school, and a district depends on a bedrock foundation of mutual respect, trust, collaboration, fairness, and physical and emotional safety.”

– Regie Routman, Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners (Stenhouse, 2018)

In the first of three articles, elementary principal Matt Renwick shares how he builds a literacy culture by developing a sense of trust through instructional walks. The second and third articles will highlight relationships and communication, respectively.

Building a Literacy Culture with Instructional Walks
By Matt Renwick

Instructional walks are the daily visits a school leader makes in classrooms. They are non-evaluative in nature. Rather, the purpose is to build a sense of trust with teachers by communicating both verbally and nonverbally that the school leader is here to support their important work. With the way our current educational system has been set up, with teachers’ practice broken down into isolated criteria and scored, administrators are sometimes pitted against teachers. This is unfortunate. Just as “trusting relationships are a necessity for students and teachers to engage in serious learning and for all learners in a school to flourish” (Routman, 2018, pg. 9), so to should school leaders partner with their teachers.

In the beginning of my tenure as a school leader, I have used instructional walks to observe what is happening in the classroom and affirm the good work that is already taking place. It might be a simple comment, such as “Your bulletin board with the students’ book reviews really caught my eye when I came in to your classroom.” A typical response to this affirmation is a smile along with an explanation of the students’ work.



I might also write a small note with a similar comment and leave it on their desk. I get custom stationary made for these affirmations and celebrations. Using professionally made materials conveys the importance of our interactions. Over the years, I have found that teachers treasure these notes much more than any evaluation I might conduct, sometimes pinning them on tagboard by their desk.

Once I feel that teachers are comfortable with me coming into their classrooms (the students are fine; they are the most adaptable people in a school), I will start writing longer narratives about what I notice in the classroom. I’ll generally give teachers a heads up on this transition at a staff meeting, reinforcing that these instructional walks are not evaluative, although they are welcome to take whatever I write and use those comments for their professional portfolios and as artifacts for their teacher evaluations. In the past, I’ve waited too long to start conducting longer visits with instructional walks. That’s a mistake. The sooner I get into classrooms and stick around for longer periods of time, anywhere from ten to twenty minutes, the sooner teachers feel this practice is the new normal. Also, because the instructional walks focus first on recognizing teachers’ strengths, trust develops as a by-product.

Building trust is a complex task that requires a recipe for success. So what are the necessary ingredients for a successful instructional walk?

  • Pen and paper (or a tablet and stylus if you prefer)
  • Time scheduled in the day to visit classrooms
  • Guiding questions to help focus the instructional walk
  • A positive, growth-oriented mindset

Of these four, the most important ingredient is the positive, growth-oriented mindset. To build trust, we have to show that we trust our teachers. With regard to the guiding questions, Regie Routman offers several examples to keep in mind when observing instruction in classrooms (2014, pg. 202). Below are a few of my favorites when getting start with instructional walks.

  • Who’s doing most of the talking? Are all students’ voices being heard?
  • Are the language and conversations moving student learning forward?
  • How are choices being provided for students?
  • Is assessment for learning, by teachers and students, taking place daily?
  • Is time being provided for sustained and deliberate practice?

I like these general instruction questions to start with, as all teachers can be expected to provide at minimum an effective learning experience for students.

Next are artifacts from an instructional walk I conducted in my school. We had previously learned about how to organize a classroom library with students. All teachers were expected to try and apply this teaching strategy. My observations take place in a 1st grade classroom.

The teacher shares new books to place in their classroom library. “How should we organize them?”

The teacher shares new books to place in their classroom library. “How should we organize them?”


Students and the teacher decide to put them in groups based on the genre of nonfiction they represent.

Students and the teacher decide to put them in groups based on the genre of nonfiction they represent.


Students write and attach appropriate labels to the books before shelving them.

Students write and attach appropriate labels to the books before shelving them.


Students place the books in their proper location.

Students place the books in their proper location.


Teacher debriefs with a shared writing summary of the classroom library experience.

Teacher debriefs with a shared writing summary of the classroom library experience.


My notes, which are emailed to the teacher.

My notes, which are emailed to the teacher.

Before leaving the classroom, I made a point of affirming the teacher’s efforts. “Every student was engaged in this activity in a purposeful way!” We discussed how much more the students are using the classroom library during independent reading and taking books home to read. The teacher also noted that instruction around genres is happening within the context of this authentic activity. We agreed that organizing a classroom library can be an ongoing instructional experience throughout the school year.

One of the most important actions I make as a school leader when building a literacy culture is conducting instructional walks. They allow me to celebrate what teachers are already doing well, reinforce new strategies that are tried and applied in the classroom, and ensure that all students are experiencing high-quality instruction. Trust is a natural outcome of visiting classrooms on a regular, positive, and intentional basis.


Routman, R. (2018). Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Routman, R. (2014). Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

(Thanks go to our first grade teachers at Mineral Point Elementary School for letting me share their work here, and to Kimberly O’Donnell, principal, for her helpful feedback on this article.)

Add comment January 16th, 2018

‘Test prep isn’t comprehension at all’

“If kids read a lot and use comprehension strategies flexibly and knowledgeably, they will do pretty well on the tests.”

In our latest video conversation with Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, authors of Strategies That Work, Third Edition, talk about how teaching comprehension strategies and allowing kids plenty of time to read ultimately result not only better test results, but more importantly in kids who are life-long readers.

Join Steph and Anne on Twitter this Thursday, 12/14, at 8:30 p.m. EST for a #G2Great chat where they will answer all of your questions!


Add comment December 11th, 2017

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