Lasting and meaningful grammar instruction

In their new PD video, Getting into Grammar, Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty bring you and your staff into two elementary classrooms to see how expert teachers weave grammar into literacy instruction using both nonfiction and fiction mentor texts.

Building on their bestselling book Grammar Matters, Lynne and Diane team with teachers in second- and fifth-grade classrooms to demonstrate lessons over two days. You’ll see examples of effective guided practice, roving conferences, shared writing, and other teaching strategies, and learn from the post-lesson debriefs and reflections shared by the teachers and authors. The streaming version includes a bonus segment from a kindergarten classroom.

Teaching grammar every day is important to developing readers and writers, and Getting into Grammar demonstrates how to do it with purpose and lasting impact. Watch the 8-minute segment “Exploring Prepositional Phrases” online!

Add comment November 18th, 2015

See you in Minneapolis!

This it the time of the year when we pack our suitcases, our books — and this year our snow boots as well! — and head to the annual NCTE conference in Minneapolis. We hope to see you there this weekend at booth #510! We’ll have our latest books on hand, as well as some of our amazing authors. We’ll be offering a 25% conference discount on all of our books and videos and you can also pick up our new tote bag.

The full booth signing schedule is below and you can download it, along with a list of all Stenhouse authors presenting at the conference.


2 p.m.: Ralph Fletcher (Making Nonfiction from Scratch) — hot off the press and available at NCTE!
4 p.m.: Jennifer Fletcher (Teaching Arguments)
5:15 p.m.: Steven Layne (In Defense of Real-Aloud)

9:30 a.m.: Debbie Diller (Growing Independent Learners)
11 a.m.: Terry Thompson (The Construction Zone)
11:30 a.m.: Paula Bourque (Close Writing)
12:15 p.m.: Dorothy Barnhouse (Readers Front & Center)
12:45 p.m.: Mark Overmeyer (Let’s Talk)
4:15: Kelly Gallagher (In the Best Interest of Students)

10 a.m.: Mary Cappellini (Balancing Reading and Language Learning)
10 a.m.: Elizabeth Hale (Readers Writing)
10:30 a.m.: Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean (Revision Decisions)
Noon: Jen Roberts (Power Up)


Add comment November 16th, 2015

Scaffolding Waits

Terry Thompson is our guest blogger today with this great post that invites teachers to slow down the scaffolding process, to allow students the time and space they need as they learn new skills. It’s easy to feel rushed — especially  because it’s already November! — but what if we all stopped to enjoy our students?

Scaffolding Waits

the-construction-zone“I can’t believe it’s already November!”

If you haven’t said this out loud yet, you’ve probably been thinking it. The transition from October to November can be one of the most exhausting times for teachers. We’re well into the school year, the newness has worn off, and everything’s up and rolling. But sometimes it feels like things are rolling just a little too fast and we’re on a gerbil wheel that never seems to stop.

This morning was pretty typical. I jumped out of bed at 5:30, stumbled to the kitchen to start the coffee, got myself ready, walked the dogs, threw some clothes in the wash, and made a beeline to the car before making a hectic drive through rush hour traffic, skidding into the parking lot, throwing my bags on my desk and darting to breakfast duty, arriving – whew! – just in time.

And that was all before 7:00 AM!

If you’re anything like me (and every other teacher I know), you probably feel this same, constant state of hurriedness. We’re in such a rush! We dash to recess. We bolt to lunch. We hustle to that last minute assembly everyone else seemed to have on their calendar but us.

And, if we aren’t mindful, this culture of constant of haste can permeate the best part of our work – our face to face instructional time with children. We rush to get assessments done. We rush to get to the next lesson. We rush to get readers to the next level. We rush and we rush and we rush.

But, what if we didn’t?

As I continue to contemplate the concepts about instructional scaffolding I explored in The Construction Zone, I keep returning to the many things that a more knowing other knows. And, one of those things that a more knowing other knows is that the scaffolding process can’t be rushed. We may try to rush it – but scaffolding takes its time.

Scaffolding waits.

Think about the classic scaffolding examples from outside the classroom like teaching children to walk or ride a bike. No one has to remind parents to take their time with these processes. There’s no rush. They follow the needs of the child, supporting when needed and pulling back when it’s time. It all unfurls naturally.

These same qualities apply to the scaffolds we build in our classrooms. As more knowing others in the scaffolding process, we know that there is a difference between a sense of urgency and a flurry of haste. We know it takes time to get to know learners. It takes time to reflect. And we make room for this.

We take time for assessments as we get to know our learners and their needs. We take time for observations and conferences that tell us more. And, we take time for the important things like read-alouds and community building. We take time to be present and enjoy the learners in front of us. We take time to relax with our kids and a good book. We take Time to reflect.

Yes, it’s November. The holidays are already upon us and the mid year mark is coming fast. And, yes, everything seems to be pulling on our schedule all at once. But what if we hit pause for a moment and took a deep breath? What if we resisted the urge to rush? What if – instead of rushing students through the next assessment, the next conference, the next lesson, the next guided reading level – we slowed things down and lingered in the wonder of the incredible work we get to do every day?

So, as you skid into the holiday season (and then directly into the following semester), give yourself permission to slow down. Breathe. Trust yourself. Enjoy your students. And, enjoy the scaffolding process.

2 comments November 6th, 2015

Complaining about what students don’t know vs. addressing the situation

We are excited to have a guest post from Geoff Krall today who calls on all teachers to take the initiative to find the help, resources, and advice they need to help close the gaps in their  students’  knowledge. Check out Geoff’s blog Emergent Math and also follow him on Twitter!


It’s a lot easier to complain that students don’t know, say, their multiplication tables than to actually teach multiplication.

Setting aside the oft problematic mindset of a teacher complaining about what “these kids” don’t know for the time being, consider actually teaching to the gaps you feel are present.

Let’s be clear: not a single one of us have entered the school year 100% satisfied with where 100% of our students are at math-wise. There’s always something that was allegedly “covered” in previous years and for whatever reason was not retained by the students. A couple years ago I was at a relatively well-off suburban school where 99% of their students graduate and go on to college and even those teachers were complaining about what their students did and didn’t know.

Often under the guise of unspecific complaints about students “not knowing their basic math facts” or “numeracy”, teachers sometimes pass blame upon students, The Calculator, or their prior schooling. What I often don’t see happen is addressing those gaps in knowledge. Sometimes a cursory remediation worksheet is handed out, and after-school tutoring is offered, but many times I don’t see teachers actually teach to those gaps. Y’know: teaching kids these lugubrious “basic math facts.” Even more specific complaints about how students “don’t know how to do fractions” (whatever “do” means) are ripe for teaching opportunities, rather than tsk-tsk-ing.

Which is unfortunate because there’s never been a more robust cache of resources to remediate in a healthy, fun way. It reminds me of that bit from Arrested Development where Lucille Bluth brushes off her poor raising of Buster because “kids don’t come with a handbook.”

[Ron Howard voice] In fact, there are countless books that address the very learning gap you’re complaining about. NCTM has so many publications that would probably be perfect. Or go here and click on the grade lower than you. Shoot, just go to amazon and type in what you feel your students are struggling with.


If you feel your students lagging in a particular area of their learning, I’d suggest rather than complaining and sending them to a worksheet or instructional video, consider doing some learning yourself and find a book, blog, text, paper, resource, or teacher to teach you how to teach to this area. I’ve learned so much from my non-grade level colleagues about teaching number sense, rounding, fractions, ratios / proportions, and even an alleged area of expertise of mine: algebra (thanks Andrew!).

I mean, if you need a specific recommendation, I’d consider learning how to facilitate some number talks via Elham and Allison’s Intentional Talk and go from there. Or follow ’em on twitter and get their awesome advice for free! (But seriously, get their book.)

Also, we’re not talking about shutting everything else down classroom-wise, lest you’re worried about losing precious class time. While coverage is overrated, let’s put that aside for now, shall we? We’re talking 10-20 minute activities and discussion here, maybe a couple times a week. Stop complaining and start learning how to teach this stuff. If we want students to learn, we probably ought to do some learning ourselves, no?

Besides, teaching these skills and concepts is fun. This has probably been my biggest takeaway of the year so far: leading number talks is so fun, I’d do it even if I wasn’t addressing learning gaps.

Add comment November 3rd, 2015

Catch up on our chat with Jake Wizner

Thanks to MiddleWeb, we had the opportunity to chat with Jake Wizner, author of Worth Writing About, about writing memoir with middle-grade students. He shared some great ideas and strategies, as well as his favorite mentor texts. You can preview Jake’s book online now in its entirety!

Add comment October 23rd, 2015

Video Podcast: Debbie Diller on why she wrote Growing Independent Learners

Debbie Diller’s new book Growing Independent Learners will be available late winter, but until then here is our brief chat with her on how the book came about.

Add comment October 22nd, 2015

Moving from Lightning-Speed to Glacial

Sarah Cooper, author of Making History Mine, is back this week with this thoughtful post about how to slow down and engage with texts and ideas in a world that’s racing past us and our students.

Cooper author photo bigger resolutionMoving From Lightning-Speed to Glacial

By Sarah Cooper

It is so hard for me to slow down as a teacher.

I want to expose students to everything possible over the course of a year.

I want to communicate the excitement of in-the-moment links between then and now – to see these connections flicker like lightning in the air.

And I really don’t want students to be bored. Once they lose the glint in their eyes, the straightness in their spines, I’m mentally out of there, thinking about how to move to the next thing.

We’re working in a world primed for speed, a world in which the pace of the classroom can sometimes seem painfully slow.

At the same time, I’m fighting for that glacial pace, especially when it comes to reading and writing.

Taking slow time to think deeply about a topic. Returning to the same concepts and skills in different ways over several days. Revisiting concepts over many weeks, giving “spaced practice” and “interleaving” concepts, as the authors of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning suggest.

As a student myself over the past year, taking history classes for a master’s program, I’ve been reminded of the power of sustained engagement with texts.

Here is what I do for each 1,000-word response paper:

  1. Read, with pen in hand, slowly, stopping frequently to cement information in longer-term memory. Without such annotations and pauses, a great book might as well be a sieve for me.
  1. Go through the annotations and type out key quotations.
  1. Print out the quotations and drop them into possible paragraphs. Then write a thesis statement for a weekly response paper. This always takes longer than I think because there are so many possibilities.
  1. Write a draft of the paper, starting sometimes with the introduction and sometimes in the middle.
  1. Go to NoodleTools to compile a Works Cited list. This is a relief because I don’t have to think. It’s also satisfying because there’s a right answer.
  1. Let the draft sit for several days, and then return to it in hard copy to see problems and edits.
  1. Revise, read over one more time and submit online.

After engaging with the text this deeply, what do I remember? Not every annotation I wrote in the margins. Not anything I didn’t annotate.

Instead, I remember what I wrote about and took notes on. The material I worked over in my brain.

This is what’s in long-term memory, what can be applied and used. This is the information I can play with, stare at, pull out to make an odd or unexpected connection with a poem or a current event.

How often do we ask our students to do this kind of sustained engagement with a text or a film or an image? At least for my students, the answer is not nearly enough.

What are we afraid of? Standards. Tests. Boredom. Not “covering” everything. I wish we could coin a new word for “covering.” How about “papering over” or “dashing through”?

We can easily forget the power of time. Of sitting down with a book on your lap, a gripping novel or powerful history narrative. Of wrestling a one-page primary source to the ground. Of knowing and understanding.

Last week, I tried more of this. We spent an entire day on the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. With partners, the eighth graders paraphrased line by line, and then we discussed their “translations.”

Beforehand I worried about boredom, and I worried about saturating students with text.

They may have been saturated. But they also really understood, for instance, why humans are “disposed to suffer when evils are sufferable,” and they related this idea to moments in their lives, such as trying to break bad habits or ignore family conflict.

There’s such a satisfaction in this personal connection to difficult words, and I’d like to give students more of it. More repeated interactions with a text, through notes and discussion and writing. More re-exposures to a text or an idea long after we first introduce it. A layering of knowledge that builds and revisits and rethinks, throughout the year.

Like ice accumulating on a glacier.

Add comment October 14th, 2015

3 Vocabulary Strategies Help Students Decipher Unknown Words

By Brenda Overturf

vocabulariansHow powerful can one word be?

Jacob, a seventh grader, sits staring at a challenging text he has tried to read. He knows the other words in the paragraph but is stuck on a multisyllabic word he has never seen before. Jacob sounds out the word, but because he has also never heard it, it still doesn’t make sense.

Finally, he just gives up and moves on. Yet the one word Jacob doesn’t know holds the key to comprehending the entire passage. Sound familiar? Kids like Jacob occupy many middle level classrooms, and they are not necessarily struggling readers.


Read Brenda’s full article on MiddleWeb

Add comment October 6th, 2015

Now Online: Story

storyThis is a wonderful book: generous in its ideas, rich in its examples, and humble in the simplicity of its approach.
—Linda Rief

This book will encourage teachers to restore the study of story to its rightful place in the curriculum.
—Kelly Gallagher

Teaching reading and writing strategies is essential, but in Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning, Katie Egan Cunningham reminds us that when we bridge strategy with the power of story, we deepen literacy learning and foster authentic engagement.

This inspiring book shows you how to honor students’ identities and interests through story selection, expertly find stories from a wide variety of sources and genres, and incorporate the power of stories into your teaching of reading, writing, and classroom conversations.

You’ll get specific ways to build a classroom library that reflects our diverse society through rich, purposeful, and varied texts. The practical toolkit at the end of each chapter and annotated bibliography of texts, videos, songs, and websites will help you implement the book’s central ideas in your classroom.

Preview the entire book online now!

Add comment October 5th, 2015

In the Schoolyard: Where Do I Sit?

The weather might be getting cooler, but it’s still a great time to take your class outdoors! Here are some tips from Herb Broda on finding the best seat in the house — or out of the house. Herb is the author of Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning and Moving the Classroom Outdoors.

When is the best time for outdoor learning? Any month will work, but the start of the school year is ideal!

“But, what should I do first?” I strongly encourage folks to begin by locating a suitable staging area near the school. I like to call it the “Teaching/Meeting Area.”

The teaching/ meeting area is more than just a location—it’s a powerful classroom management tool. Rather than just running out the door and scattering on the lawn, students know that they are to move directly to the meeting area where they will sit, hear directions for the activity or receive materials—actually experience an introduction to a lesson just as they would indoors.

As you plan the outdoor meeting area, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Keep it close to the building. The less walking time the better. The longer the walk to the teaching/meeting area, the longer it will take to bring everyone back on task.
  2. Be aware of distractions and student traffic patterns. Avoid nearby playground equipment and walking routes that students and adults typically use.
  3. Be aware of sun and shade. If you know there will be a certain time of day when the space will get heavy usage, try to find a spot that may be a bit sheltered from the sun

The best news is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on an outdoor meeting area! Here are a few basic ideas:

Logs provide ideal seating material! They are inexpensive or free, very easily obtained, and readily moved. Logs placed vertically will accommodate varying student heights and, by including several log diameters, most any size posterior can also be accommodated!
Probably the major downside to using logs is that they are destined to disappear! Especially in damp areas, logs will rot in a few years and will need to be replaced. Contact a local nature center to learn what types of trees are most rot resistant in your area. Some teachers have also noted that logs may attract nests of insects, so inspect and replace is a good policy.


Although replacement will be necessary, a rotting log beautifully turns into a teaching tool when its useful life as a seat is over. Just lay the log on its side near your outdoor learning area and let students watch how the log becomes a habitat for tiny critters, and eventually enriches the soil.

Rocks and Boulders
Rocks and stones are certainly durable, but also heavy! Before installing a rock or boulder seating area you need to be very sure that your location will not need to be changed.

Another potential down side of rock seating is the difficulty of trimming around the rocks if they are in a grassy area. Logs can be easily rolled aside for mowing, but rocks require manual trimming or things can look overgrown by mid-summer.

No need to spend a lot of money on benches. Just make sure that they are sturdy and safe. One Wisconsin school just used one long sturdy bench as its teaching meeting area. You can also position logs horizontally, or as supports for boards to create a bench.

Flexible and Cheap!
It’s best to use the same location for your meeting area, but you don’t have to have fixed seating in place. Students can carry old stadium cushions to the outdoor teaching/meeting area. Put out a general call for cushions and you may receive more than you need! Another option is to take gallon freezer bags and stuff them with rags or paper– a throwback to the sit-upons made popular by Girl Scouts. Some companies make bags larger than one gallon, which makes it easier to accommodate bigger students.

A school in Michigan contacted a local home improvement store and received a classroom set of plastic pails. The buckets can be inverted to create seating, and also provide a handy way to carry materials outside.


A word about commercial seating products
An internet search for “outdoor seating” will yield thousands of options! The only limit is your budget! If you decide to invest in commercial seating, I would encourage the use of tables that also provide seating. Many schools have utilized sturdy picnic tables, some of which are convertible from bench to picnic table. A sturdy table/seat that is weather resistant and tough enough to last for many years will be expensive. I encourage schools to use inexpensive items like logs or simple benches until you are certain where you want to permanently place the meeting area.

For further information: Chapter Two, “Enhancing the Schoolyard for Outdoor Learning”, from Moving the Classroom Outdoors (Stenhouse Publishers) has additional information and pictures relating to setting up an outdoor teaching/meeting space.

Add comment September 21st, 2015

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