We recently had a lovely post from Sarah Cooper about the importance of taking things slow in the classroom. Today’s post from Tracy Zager is based on the same idea — giving students the space and time to figure things out on their own. Tracy was reminded of this important lesson by her daughter during a car ride. Read her story and watch the video and then head over to visit Tracy’s new blog!
“You just listened, so then I could figure it out”
My daughters and I climbed in the car to go shoe shopping before their first day of school. I sat in the driver’s seat while they buckled themselves into their car seats and noticed I was keeping track of the loud clicks I heard for each buckle. I took the opportunity to open a math conversation with my kids.
“I didn’t look, but I know you’re all buckled. How could I know that?”
Daphne, age 5, said, “You looked in the mirror!”
“I did not look in the mirror!”
Maya, age 7, said, “You must have counted the clicks! So, you heard 6 clicks and knew we were all buckled.”
I asked, “How would 6 clicks tell me you’re both buckled?”
Maya answered, “Because each car seat has 3 buckles, and 3 times 2 is 6.”
Daphne started to cry. “That’s what I was going to say!”
I turned to Daphne. “Tell me where the 6 comes from, in your own words.”
Daphne said, “Each car seat has 3 buckles, and 3 plus 3 is 6.”
Ah! There was my first opening.
“Maya, you said 3 times 2 is 6. And Daphne, you said 3 plus 3 is 6. Can those both be true? They sound different.”
Maya and I played with this idea for a few minutes, but I could see in the mirror that we were losing Daphne. When Maya and I were done, I asked a question just for Daphne.
“Daphne, what if we had 3 car seats? How many clicks would I hear then?”
There was a long pause while she thought, Maya waited, and I drove.
“How did you figure that out?”
“Well, I remembered the 6, and then I said 7, 8, 9.”
Maya gasped. “Daphne, you’re counting on again!”
Daphne beamed and said, “I know!”
We were all excited because Daphne had counted on for the very first time that morning, when we were baking popovers.
I asked, laughing, “Since when are you counting on? How did you learn that?”
Daphne said, “Well, you gave me a lot of time to think. You didn’t say anything, and you didn’t tell me what to do. You just listened, so then I could figure it out for myself.”
My jaw dropped. For the rest of the car ride, Daphne talked about how school should be filled with lots of time when the teacher “doesn’t say anything and lets the kids think, because that’s how we can learn. The teacher can just listen.” There was so much wisdom in what she was saying that I asked her if we could make a quick video once I parked the car.
Daphne knows what she needs to learn math: time and something tricky to figure out.
“Do you like when a problem is tricky?”
“Because then I get some time to think, and I learn something.”
I am a teacher, and I also coach other teachers. How many times have we all talked about think time, and how important it is? But, here’s the truth: about halfway through the time Daphne was thinking about the fourth car seat, I got a little nervous. I tried to keep my face encouraging on the outside, but on the inside I heard a tiny voice:
“Uh-oh. Maybe this problem is too hard. Should I help her? What would be a good question to help her?”
While I was secretly worrying, Daphne was calmly figuring out how many clicks 4 car seats would make. To a teacher who makes decisions every few seconds, 20 seconds of think time—which is what Daphne took to solve this problem—feels like an eternity. New teachers, in particular, tend to break silences after a second or two with some kind of “help.” With practice, I’ve learned how valuable think time is, and I now sustain those long silences. But internally, I still find it hard to quiet that worried voice.
Later that night, after we watched the video together, I asked Daphne about the reason she gave for why counting on is challenging. She’d said, “You have to remember while talking about something else.”
“What did you mean by that, Daph?”
“Well, you have to remember a whole bunch of things. Like, I had to remember the 6, because that’s where I started. And I had to remember the 3, because I had to stop after 3. And I was counting at the same time. It’s a lot to remember!”
“It sure is. Can I tell you something? While you were doing all that, I was wondering if I should help you.”
She looked shocked. “But I didn’t need help, Mommy! I was just thinking!”
“What would have happened if I had said something while you were remembering where to start and where to stop while you were counting?”
“I would have forgotten what I was doing and had to start all over again! That wouldn’t have helped at all, Mommy! That would have been so frustrating!”
“You know, Daphne, you’re making me a better teacher. You’re teaching me, again, that sometimes when teachers want to ‘help’ a student, we’re actually not helping at all. Sometimes we just need to be quiet. And we need to be comfortable with silence.”
“Yeah. So kids can think!”
We were quiet for a minute together, each thinking.
“Mommy, can you tell other teachers that too? Tell them what I taught you? To not interrupt us when we’re thinking, and just listen while we figure it out?”
“Yes, honey, I think I can.”
Tracy Johnston Zager is the author of the upcoming Stenhouse book Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms. You can find her on twitter at @tracyzager, and at http://tjzager.wordpress.com.
September 17th, 2014
My teenage children hate history. It was always my favorite subject, and that was mostly with teachers who believed in names and dates, and little else. During homework hour at night (or hours these days), I try and explain Faulkner’s famous quote to my kids: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And I’m greeted with blank stares or a roll of the eyes and always another complaint about history being boring and irrelevant. I don’t expect it to be their favorite subject, but irrelevant? I could go on and on…
One of the ways a book gets published is that an editor has a zeal and passion for the manuscript. This is especially true in the trade world where countless examples exist of a famous book turned down sixty times before some editor read it, loved it, and made sure everyone in the office knew just how wonderful it was. We are not a trade house, but passion still plays a significant role.
I love the three books we currently publish on ways to teach history that are meaningful and engaging. Making History Mine by Sarah Cooper, Eyewitness to the Past by Joan Brodsky Schur, and Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer? by Bruce Lesh. What they give history teachers are the tools to prove to kids that while names and dates are important, history is much more than that. Kids research and interpret history. They learn firsthand what historians actually do. It’s nonfiction that requires full engagement of the imagination. What a wonderful blend!
September 16th, 2014
When students talk about their ideas for writing, they often exhibit spark, personality, and pizzazz, expressing interesting ideas fearlessly and creatively. Yet the writing they submit lacks this same enthusiasm and originality. They have the ideas, but what happens between that talk and the written draft?
Jeff Anderson and Debbie Dean provide a practical framework for smoothing the space between ideas and drafting in their new book, Revision Decisions. Starting at the sentence level, Jeff and Debbie show you how to create learning experiences where students discover and practice the many options available to them as writers.
The heart of the book is a series of ten lesson sets with printable handouts that will give your students a repertoire of revision techniques using elements such as serial commas, interrupters, and sentence branching. A key part of the lessons is talk—collaborating in small groups on revision decisions and developing a writer’s vocabulary in whole-class discussions.
Revision Decisions helps teachers engage their students in the tinkering, playing, and thinking that are essential to clarify and elevate writing. You can now preview Chapter 1, “Revision Decisions Are Possible: Actively Processing to Develop Options for Revision.”
September 15th, 2014
We are celebrating International Literacy Day today and so a few of our lovely Stenhouse employees shared why they love to read. Head over to Twitter to follow us all day long with more reasons to read from our authors. Tweet us why you read and you could win a free Stenhouse book! Just use this form, take a selfie, and tweet to @stenhousebup using the hashtag #whyiread!
Louisa, our newest employee
Chandra, our conference guru
Stenhouse President Dan Tobin
September 8th, 2014
On September 8 we are joining the International Book Bank in celebrating International Literacy Day with the hashtag #whyiread, and we need your help to remind your friends and the world that:
- Currently 775.4 million adults cannot read or write; two thirds are women.
- Illiteracy affects an individual’s access to education, ability to exercise her civil rights, and even impacts her health and development.
- The consequences of illiteracy are devastating for the individual, the community and the world.
In 1965, UNESCO declared September 8 International Literacy Day (ILD) in an effort to focus attention on global literacy issues. You can be a part of the effort by doing the following on September 8:
(1) Write! Using our printable form, tell us why you read.
(2) Take a selfie! Snap a photo of yourself with your sign.
(3) Share! We want to see the many (and varied) reasons people read around the world. Post your photo on Twitter using #whyiread and be sure to tag IBB and @stenhousepub. We’ll be retweeting and sharing #whyiread posts from Stenhouse authors all day long. We’ll also raffle off five free books at the end of the day, so be sure to mention @stenhousepub in your Tweet!
Stenhouse Blog editor Zsofi McMullin
September 3rd, 2014
How can you intentionally help your students find balance and purposeful direction in their reading lives–weaving together reading for relaxation, informational reading, reading for meaning, fluency, and selecting texts–to become their best reading selves?
In their new book, Reading Wellness, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris take you beyond reading strategies to give you specific ways to support your students’ enjoyment, perseverance, risk-taking, and connection-making as readers.
Anchored by four key intentions–alignment, balance, sustainability, and joy–Jan and Kim offer field-tested lessons, organizers, book lists, and other practical ways to teach reading skills while instilling the long-term attitudes and habits that your students need to become lifelong readers.
Reading Wellness will inspire you to stay connected to your broader vision of students as readers as you address the external requirements of educational standards. Preview the entire book online now!
August 28th, 2014
Summer is winding down and many of you are back in your classrooms and back to the hectic days of fall. In her new post Sarah Cooper invites you to linger in summer for a bit longer and consider what the slow pace of summer can teach you about, well, teaching. “The more time I take, the more sophisticated the students’ work becomes, and the more I understand how they learn,” she writes. Sarah teaches U.S. History at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada, California and she is the author of Making History Mine.
Striving for Slow
Summer is the land of slow for teachers.
Slow mornings when we have time to sit and read the paper. Slow afternoons when we drink coffee with a colleague and talk in terms of what-ifs, not what must be done, in the classroom next year.
Even those of us who teach summer school, take care of family or attend professional growth seminars find that the days dance to a different rhythm. Calmer. Not dictated by bells or meetings. Subject to more of our control, our curiosity.
The “slow teaching movement” has gained momentum in the past several years, often encouraging us to let go of technology’s grip a bit.
Right now, I’m not talking as much about technology as about time.
As a friend and I commiserate every August, “Why can’t we bring more of the summer pace into the school year?”
We can’t always fight against a schedule cramped for minutes. But we can give our students time within that schedule to think, reflect, and discover themselves as learners.
From the lazy, mellow perspective of summer’s end, I’ll share a few slow stories, two about our students and one about us as teachers.
Story 1: More Research Time in Class = More Fun
Last year, for an extended research project, my eighth-grade U.S. history students did easily 80 percent of the work in class. I kept reserving more and more days in our library computer lab and ended up with ten 43-minute periods, about seven hours total.
With all of this time to work in class, students could:
- Land on a topic they really cared about, not one they picked because they had to make a quick choice. (“This guy’s last name is the same as my favorite soccer player…”)
- Find rich sources, not just the first ones they stumbled across late at night while they were also texting their friends.
- Ask questions about how to do a works cited list and parenthetical citation.
- Paraphrase quotations thoroughly to ensure they weren’t plagiarizing.
- Find additional sources once they started writing if they realized their argument needed more support.
This ended up being the most library time I had ever spent on an assignment. I expected that the projects would be better as a result, and they were. The students found scholarly sources, discovered insightful quotations within them, and linked the facts more adroitly because of the extra time.
What I didn’t expect were the comments from students that the project was fun only because they had enough time to work on it, inside and outside of class. This statement, repeated again and again in their written feedback, has convinced me of the power of slow projects to increase engagement.
(Not incidentally, giving time to work in class also meant that students were not distracted by electronic devices, making their focus sharper.)
Story 2: More Writing Time in Class = More Creativity
At the end of a unit on civil rights during the Civil War with “Glory” as centerpiece, I wanted students to follow their curiosity. They could explore any question they had about the topic through a mini-research project.
However, we didn’t have much time: two days in class doing research, and Monday class plus Monday night’s homework to do a 250-word creative or interpretive response.
As students wrote their reflections that Monday morning, many of them were just starting to hit their stride when we had ten minutes left.
I envisioned the homework saga that night: Some students would want to spend an hour finishing but would become distracted or pulled away by other homework or extracurriculars. The final products, hurriedly stapled on Tuesday morning, would seem rushed and unfinished. Oh, and all the eighth graders were going on a class trip on Wednesday.
So I nixed the preview of nuclear warfare I had planned and instead gave everyone the day to work, with the absolute stipulation that they needed to finish by the end of class.
The eighth graders were grateful, and I really enjoyed reading their projects, including one by Wylie that combined visual and linguistic literacy, comparing Navy recruiting posters from the Civil War and World War I.
The World War I poster, featuring a man tinkering with a sub’s diesel engine, “seems more like an inspirational drawing,” Wylie said, “while the emblem and big title on the Civil War poster give it a very straightforward look.”
Story 3: Less is More, Period
Every year I try to do less and make that less count more – by addressing multiple standards and skills through a close reading of one primary source document rather than three, for instance.
Every time I forget to do less – which happens regularly when I hope to cram in one last skill or idea – I end up driving myself and my students a little crazy.
Last month I taught a weeklong summer school English class for ninth graders. We worked with five elements of voice, as described by Nancy Dean in her excellent Voice Lessons.
The class lasted two hours each day, with a ten-minute break in the middle. For each 55-minute session, I imagined we would read aloud a piece of literature, annotate it, discuss it as a class, pair up to identify elements of voice, come back together to talk about them, and write individual thesis statements on the passage. And then I thought I’d “fill in” the rest of the time with a ten-minute sponge activity on diction or imagery.
It’s funny, even writing out that entire list makes me tired. And I realized on the first day that, even though a number of kids in the back were restless here and there, we would gain more from staying with a document five extra minutes than we would from a sharp transition to something else.
So we stayed with it.
During pairs work, I took the time to look at passages each group had annotated, asked students to go deeper in many instances, and circled back to check that they had.
During full-class discussion, we looked at several more lines of poetry than I usually would. When arms and legs started twitching, I asked the kids if they wanted a stretch break. No, they said, being polite.
So a minute later, when one student volunteered the word “nonchalant” to describe a poem’s tone, we defined it and then I asked them all to stand “nonchalantly.” After they sat down, full of attitude, we looked at one more fabulous metaphor with new eyes.
Going Slowly Isn’t Easy
It can be easier to assign a rat-a-tat series of activities, as I did for my first years teaching, than it can be to listen to, critique and circle back to students’ ideas. It’s less messy to assign research to be done at home than to supervise it in class, with the inevitable off-task moments and dead ends.
But it’s not less fulfilling. The more time I take, the more sophisticated the students’ work becomes, and the more I understand how they learn.
Now, can someone please remind me about all of this slow summer thinking when the frenzy of October comes along?
August 21st, 2014
When it comes to grammar instruction, we know what doesn’t work: isolated, skill and drill methods. In fact, research offers strong evidence that traditional grammar instruction has a negative effect on student writing. We also know that a solid understanding and usage of grammar is essential to good writing. So how best to teach it?
Lynne Dorfman (Mentor Texts) and Diane Dougherty provide the answers in their new book, Grammar Matters. Within the framework of writing workshop and the three text types identified in the Common Core standards, Lynne and Diane guide teachers with specific strategies for teaching writing and classroom management while providing practical, grammar-focused lessons.
You’ll get a plan for the entire year with eight units of study and examples of whole-class conversations about mentor texts, one-on-one conferences, and ways to assess student growth. The appendixes provide numerous quick-reference lists, practical tips, and a “Treasure Chest” of children’s books, annotated to highlight specific grammar and conventions modeled by each.
By using Grammar Matters, K-6 teachers can move away from isolated grammar instruction and instead embed grammar in their daily teaching of argument, informative/explanatory, and narrative writing. Your students will retain their knowledge of grammar and carry it over into their everyday writing.
Preview the entire book online now!
August 18th, 2014
Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2
Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley
360 pp•$28.00•Available late August•Preview now
Perfect Pairs, which marries fiction and nonfiction picture books focused on life science, helps educators think about and teach life science in a whole new way.
Lessons, Tips, and Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6
Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty
344 pp • $24.00 • Available late August • Preview now
Get your kids excited about learning grammar through conversation, conferences, lessons, and mentor texts. Includes an extensive list of children’s books that fit naturally into grammar instruction.
Lessons in Independence and Proficiency
Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris • Foreword by Christopher Lehman
Grades 1-5 • 232 pp • $21.00 • Available early September
An essential tool for developing a love of reading in your students, this practical book offers a series of classroom-tested lessons that help children read closely and carefully while honoring their interests, passions, and agency as readers.
Talking Through Sentences and Beyond
Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean
Grades 4-10 • 200 pp • $24.00 • Available late October
Engage your students in the tinkering, playing, and thinking that are essential to clarify and elevate writing. Focusing on sentences and mentor texts, the book’s narratives, setup lessons, and templates show you how to move students toward independence.
Lessons for Responding to Narrative and Informational Text
Grades 3-8 • 208 pp • $21.00 • Available late October
Provides 91 practical lessons for helping students of all ability levels go beyond summarizing and use readers’ notebooks to think critically, on their own, one step at a time, while developing key comprehension skills.
Number Sense Routines That Build Mathematical Understanding
Grades K-5 • 99-min. DVD + viewing guide • $150 • Available now
Building on her book, Number Sense Routines, Jessica Shumway invites you and your staff into three elementary classrooms for an in-depth look at how these short warm-ups help students internalize and deepen their facility with numbers.
August 13th, 2014
We last checked in with Matt Renwick, an elementary school principal in Wisconsin, just as school was wrapping up in June. Now that school is about to start again, Matt talks about how his school sustains the reading program he and his staff launched in an effort to create lifelong readers.
As I was getting myself a cup of coffee in the staff lounge this spring, I noticed these posted on the wall:
Staff members had taken their favorite recommendations from a book-a-day calendar and taped them to the wall. Inscribed on many of the sheets were short comments about the title, which briefly explained why they liked it and why you should read it.
While I waited for the Keurig machine to finish brewing, several questions popped in my head. Who started this? Why is it sustaining itself? Where will this lead? These inquiries led to more questions about how it relates to our school in general. How do we get all of our K-5 students to this place, where they see responding to reading as something enjoyable? Is this an idea our learners would naturally come up with as a way to connect with others? In other words, how do we transition our students from formalized literacy instruction to lifelong reading?
This year, we attempted to answer these questions with the advent of an after school book club. We hired two advisers to facilitate an intervention that would no longer be referred to as an intervention. Although our lowest readers received special invitations, we encouraged all of our intermediate students to join us in developing this new community of readers.
Before we got the club started, the advisers and I sat down and went over some ground rules:
- No quizzes
- No reading requirements or logs
- Let them read just about anything they want
- Let them talk to each other about reading
- Give them opportunities to share their reading lives
- Provide just enough structure for these activities to be successful
These ideas, deriving from literacy experts such as Gay Ivey, Peter Johnston, and Donalyn Miller, seemed counter to everything we thought we knew about school. But for at least a few of our students, more of the same would not have served them well. If any one of us were asked to extend our own school day, how would we like to spend it?
The advisers, both avid readers themselves but not classroom teachers, could hardly contain their excitement. After some heavy recruiting, they got almost 20 students to initially enroll in the club. One of their first activities was for each student to bring in a favorite title, throw it in the middle of the table, pick a new one, and try to guess who originally submitted it.
This was actually a pre-assessment. Not of their reading levels, but of the level of enjoyment they experience as readers. Questions that were answered for the advisors included: Who knows who as a reader? Which genres, authors, and titles are the kids into right now? How comfortable was each student in being seen as a reader? This activity led to many more activities, such as hosting personal interviews with each other, facilitating book talks, reading aloud, and lots of independent reading.
Due to budget constraints, the book club could only meet two nights a week after school. This meant that they had to extend the day in ways that were meaningful for the students. One tool they used was Kidblog. Each student was given access to a blog in order to reflect on their reading as well as comment on others’ thinking. In addition, students were given access to eReaders that contained many titles of their choosing, all within one device. Through these activities that helped them connect with others, students could see that reading did not have to be sequestered to the literacy block.
We did not expect our students to make substantial gains from two and a half hours of extra reading practice. Our goal was to develop lifelong readers. With anything, people will engage in something over and over if they find joy, success, and recognition for their work. That is why the advisers and students culminated their time together with a readers theater performance. The play itself came from our school’s anthology series. This was okay, because the kids selected it.
After many re-readings and rehearsals, they were read to present in front of the entire school.
Someone could say that the activities these students engaged in – peer discussions, blogging, readers theater – are not interventions that have evidence for improving reading in students. But I think these people are looking at reading only through the lens of the act itself. We can quickly forget that reading is just as much an emotional endeavor as it is a cognitive one.
My own reading life didn’t begin until 3rd grade. That was the year my teacher read aloud Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. The rest, as they say, is history. It is not to suggest that I received poor instruction in my K-2 years. I just hadn’t developed an affinity for reading yet. I had the skills, but lacked the engagement.
Gay Ivey noted at the 2014 Wisconsin State Reading Association convention that readers don’t read to accumulate a required number of minutes or to fill out a reading log. They read because they love reading. The minutes and logs that we demand are a result of this engagement. In an educational world that highly values the scientific side of literacy, we need to continuously cultivate a community of connected readers and engage them in a lifelong and joyful journey of learning.
Matt Renwick is a 15-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he served as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary school leader in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example, tweets @ReadByExample and writes for EdTech magazine. His book Digital Student Porfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Improvement will be published by Powerful Learning Press in July.
August 11th, 2014