Archive for February, 2009

Poetry Friday: The Writer

This week Bill Varner picked a poem that we can all relate to.

The Writer
By Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

Read the entire poem here.

Add comment February 27th, 2009

Study group discussion: Of Primary Importance – Part II

A group of teachers from Riverside Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio, have been reading and discussing Ann Marie Corgill’s book, Of Primary Importance since December. This month, two second-grade teachers share their reflections on the book. First, read about how the group started its work.

Debbie’s reflections:

I started out with the Personal Narratives. We shared some stories from Ralph Fletcher’s book Marshfield Dreams – When I Was A Kid. My class made a list of things that they were experts about at the beginning of the year for their writer’s notebooks. We continue to add to that list for reference and ideas.

They picked one idea to write about for their personal narrative and then we edited and published. I loved the ‘comment’ page we included at the end of the book. The children shared with each other and read the comments readers gave them. We shared with our first grade reading buddies also. We would like to arrange a time with all of second grade where the kids can browse the other class’s personal narratives and make comments.

I think that being able to read the comments others have made, drives home the idea that you are writing for an audience. As a beginning teacher many years ago, I read books by Donald Graves for my writing workshop. I feel that Of Primary Importance reinforces many of those ideas I continue to hold valuable for my writers in my classroom, i.e. the writing folders, the sharing of the writing, the ease to implement the writing process for young children, having supplies out and available for them to access.

Anita’s reflections:

After reading Of Primary Importance, I wanted to try to slow down and dig deeper with my students. I’m also working on giving them more time and choice with their work.

I have encouraged students to write several stories and choose thier favorite one to publish. We will celebrate their finished piece of writing at the end of the unit.

As a team we have have also discussed how the celebrations can extend beyond invidual classrooms. We are brainstorming ways for the entire second grade can share their writing with each other.

Add comment February 26th, 2009

Blog Tour: Engaging the Eye Generation

Engaging the Eye Generation takes a fresh approach to infusing twenty-first century skills into the classroom. In addition to practical examples of lessons and units, Johanna shares her own learning process, which will allow the reader to easily adopt the best practices outlined in the book. Her attention to sound pedagogical practices, with an emphasis on both visual and information literacy, will support teachers as they move their students toward the skills they will need to succeed!—Kathy Schrock, Creator of Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators and Administrator for Technology for the Nauset Public School

Library specialist and National Board Certified Teacher Johanna Riddle draws on twenty-five years of education experience to show teachers how to update the curriculum for twenty-first-century learning in her new book, Engaging the Eye Generation.

“We have to link real learning to real lives,” Johanna writes in the Introduction to her book. “If we genuinely want to reach our students where they are, show them how to apply technology meaningfully and substantively, and encourage independent, cricial, and creative thinking, we must be prepared to help them navigate life in the twenty-first century.”

Explore Johanna’s book during a four-stop blog book tour with bloggers who cover education and technology. Read Johanna’s book online, ask questions, and start discussions at the following blogs starting Tuesday, March 3.

March 3: Archipelago
March 6: Teching Around the Web 2.0
March 9: Technology in the Middle
March 13: Once Upon a Teacher

Visit these blogs to read reviews and Q&As with the author.

1 comment February 25th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Creating a learning space

In Responsive Literacy Coaching, Cheryl Dozier offers thoughtful and purposeful coaching to help teachers learn multiple ways to improve literacy instruction and student achievement.  In this week’s tip, Cheryl talks about how she designs a learning environment for teachers that promotes collaboration and sharing.

When designing a meeting space, the choices I make are based on community building. If I’m meeting one on one, I want to create a private, invitational space. I look for comfortable chairs. Where can we sit together so there is no power differential? I look for places where we can easily sit side by side to talk together and to look at documents, artifacts, student writing, and work samples.

For larger groups, I look to see where I can most easily create a comfortable learning space. The first thing I do for group meetings is organize the environment so that we can all see one another and have enough room to write comfortably and share student work samples. I consider the following to ensure that everyone can be part of the conversation: Round tables invite collaboration. Long tables have to be placed to keep the space invitational so that distance is not created. What spaces do we need to share our artifacts? Mentor texts? What about our environment invites writing, collaboration, and learning?

Transfer to Classroom

Just as I work to create a learning space when working with teachers, I ask teachers to consider physical learning spaces when they are creating their classrooms. Do they prefer desks? Round tables? Long tables? How are learning centers organized and placed within the classroom? Is there an area for gathering together to look at the easel, the overhead projector, or the classroom library? Where are the areas that encourage sustained opportunities for collaboration? Where to students get to put their materials?


I believe it is important that we all address each other by name. If some of the teachers are new to the building or district, I make sure to provide name cards and markers. It is interesting to see how people choose to represent themselves as they decorate their cards. For some, color matters. I’ve had teachers wait several minutes to get the color they wanted.

I also make a seating chart for myself for each session and am mindful to quickly learn the name of each teacher. Students notice when we learn their names as well. When I wander through the halls, I feel better when I address the children by name.


Good things happen around food. Food invites sharing, collaboration, and a bringing together of community. From the chocolate on my desk at work, to the treats we organize for our time together, food matters.

Add comment February 24th, 2009

Poetry Friday: The City

This week’s poem was selected by Stenhouse web coordinator Zsofi McMullin.

This poem by Constantine Cavafy, a Greek poet, has always been one of my favorites. I have always been attracted to and mystified by the idea that where we come from, our origins, determine our destiny. It’s not just our ancestors or our DNA that shape who we are, but also the places where we lived, loved, learned.

The City
Constantine Cavafy

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”

Read the entire poem here

1 comment February 20th, 2009

Stenhouse goes to the Oscars

Teaching is not often associated with glamour – except when movie directors take this noble profession to the big screen. While we at Stenhouse Publishers are as far away from the glamour of Hollywood as we can possibly get, with the approach of the Academy Awards this weekend we wondered: What are some of the best movies about education and teachers?

We asked some of our authors to share their picks. Happy viewing!

Ann Marie Corgill
My favorite is Pay It Forward.  I’ve loved this movie enough to watch it again from time to time (and I don’t really like to sit still long enough unless the movie is really great.)  I loved it because one child changed the world, and that’s really what school is all about.  We want our students to believe they can change the world for the better.  Such a great story!  And a tear jerker too.

Kathy Collins
I would recommend Half Nelson–it’s not exactly a “feel-good” classroom movie, and many parts of it are hard to watch (and stomach), but I appreciated the complexities it presented.  Ryan Gosling plays a new teacher, but he doesn’t portray that stereotypical image we often see, that of an idealistic, shiny, new teacher who moves mountains in his first year of teaching.  No, this guy has issues, major issues, mixed in with his idealism and deep concern for his students.  I wouldn’t call it an enjoyable movie, but I would say it’s thought-provoking.

I’ve heard that The Class is a wonderful French movie about teaching and learning that casts actual students, not actors.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I plan to watch it when it’s available on Netflix.

Although it’s not a movie about schools and teachers, I highly recommend Season 4 of The Wire, an HBO series.  The whole season takes place largely in a middle school setting, and it deals with the intersection of school reform, urban education issues, politics of education, and so on.  My suggestion is that you begin with Season 1 and work your way through the series. There are threads, characters, and story lines that run across the seasons and it will help you to understand what’s going on in Season 4.

Liz Hale
I am probably not alone in saying that Stand and Deliver is one of my favorite teaching movies.  Inspiring every time I watch it (and well-acted which makes many viewings possible), this movie is based on the true story of high school teacher Jaime Escalante, who helped his far below grade level high school students eventually pass the AP Calculus exam.

My favorite scene is when Jaime is teaching negative numbers and using an analogy of digging a hole in the sand (negative) and then filling the hole (positive). He approaches Angel, a resistant gang member, and asks him several times what +1 and -1 equal.  After a few “Come on…just fill the hole” encouragements, Angel finally quietly says the right answer, zero, to which Jaime responds, “Good”.  The fact that negative numbers is a concept usually learned in middle school is not brought up.  What this scene and the movie drive home for me is the power teachers have to affect the way students see themselves.  Students have to feel successful, even if in small ways, if they are going to believe in themselves, and they’ll only think we believe in them if we don’t resist where they are.

Jeff Anderson
Even though the movie, Field of Dreams is not about teaching, it had a huge influence on me as I decided that teaching was what I wanted to give my life to. It made me sure. In the movie, Doc “Moonlight” Graham, played by Burt Lancaster, didn’t go on to the baseball career he dreamed of (something he sometimes regretted–or thought he did). Instead, he became a doctor and was able to help people and children, and that was a life worth living. Yeah, he missed the stardom and life of a pro ball player, but dreams are truly fulfilled when we make others’ lives better. That’s what satisfies our soul. His discovery was mine. And I have never been sorry that I have given my life to children and the people who serve them. That’s the life I built, and boy did the joy come.

Add comment February 19th, 2009

Meeting of great minds

Debbie Diller and Debbie Miller

Debbie Diller and Debbie Miller

Debbie Diller and Debbie Miller ran into each other at the Stenhouse booth during the Reading for the Love Of It conference in Toronto last week. They both stopped to chat with teachers and to sign their new books. Debbie Diller’s latest, Spaces & Places explores how classroom space supports instruction. Debbie Miller’s new book, Teaching with Intention, offers a compelling reminder that effective teaching begins with a strong set of beliefs.

Add comment February 18th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Making ELL students feel safe

Many ELL tudents in Tess Pardini and Emelie Parker’s elementary classroom arrive midway through the school year, unfamiliar with American schools and the English language. Even simple things like the bustle of the cafeteria line can be stressful for these students. In this week’s tip, Emelie and Tess, authors of The Words Came Down!” offer ways to comfort these students and help them get used to their new school environment.

Nonverbal Ways to Help Children Feel Safe, Secure, and Welcome

When children come to our school, we have to know that they may never have seen a water fountain, ridden on a school bus, walked down a cafeteria line, eaten a pizza or hot dog, seen a fire alarm box, heard a fire alarm, or encountered a jack o’lantern. During all these new experiences, we have to be there gently for children in case they need us. This awareness and meeting of unspoken needs is the way a strong classroom community wraps its arms around newcomers.

Making sure children that have just arrived in our country are not the first in line at the water fountain on the first day and making sure they find something that is appealing to eat in the cafeteria is part of helping children learn to trust us and know that they are safe. During the first fire drill, we stand close to the newest children and are ready to comfort them. We warn them with hand signs what is coming. As we hold their hands, touch their shoulders, or stand next to them in line, the children will know we will protect them.

Children often come in late in the year. We greet new students with their names already written at a table, their own coat hooks, book boxes, and journals. We sit them next to a child who speaks their language if possible. The class practices pronouncing new students’ names correctly. Two students give a tour of the room. The rest of the day children squabble over who will get to take them through the lunch line, eat with them at lunch, be their friend at recess, introduce them to the music teacher, or buddy read with them. Having a language buddy or another student buddy can help children through their first days.

A new student is like a breath of fresh air coming into the class. During the first day the teacher will make informal assessments as the child interacts with children, uses books, and participates in workshops. We will observe what he or she knows about books, reading, writing, math, and oral language. This helps us know where to start when planning for the child’s instruction on the next day.

Some children experience a very rough beginning as they join our school community, and we have to work extra hard for them to feel safe and secure. Antony arrived at Tess’s door one morning, midway through first grade. He was terrified and his fearful crying made it difficult to continue teaching that morning. Thankfully, the other children were deeply concerned and patiently tried to help in any way they could. Antony survived lunch because Tess stayed at his side throughout the lunch period. A large cafeteria like ours has to move children quickly through the lines and out into a large seating area in order to operate efficiently, so it can be an overwhelming experience for young children, especially children new to our school culture.

Later that afternoon when Tess took the class to the gym for their PE lesson, Antony broke down again and clung to her as she tried to leave. Tess took him back to the classroom with her. They were both exhausted. She would need to come up with a plan to help both of them.

Tess remembered another student who had arrived under similar circumstances several years before. Julio was now in fifth grade. After school, Tess caught Julio and asked him if he would be willing to help her with Antony since he had been through a similar experience. Naturally, he said he would. Tess went to ask Julio’s teacher if she could borrow Julio for some brief blocks of time over the next two or three days. She also checked with the PE and music teachers to make sure that they would not object to Julio accompanying the class to their lessons.

Julio waited with Tess the next morning to greet Antony, and he sat next to him in the circle as the class held their morning meeting. He rejoined them at lunchtime, and Antony was willing to sit next to him in the cafeteria. Once Tess knew Antony was calm, she was able to leave. Julio held Antony’s hand as they went to the gym later that afternoon and stayed with him for PE. Because Julio was able to help Tess foster a sense of trust in Antony, the school experience became a little less frightening for him, and he gradually settled into the routine.

Emelie remembers when Huy arrived from Vietnam. At school, he was screaming and crying, kicking his feet on the floor, running away at recess, and pulling out his hair. She solved the problem by inviting his mother to come into the class and stay. For two weeks, Huy and his mother squatted together on the floor and learned about school in America. Later on during a home visit, Emelie discovered that his mother had learned to speak English by practicing the songs and poems on the charts Emelie had sent home. They were hanging on the wall in the living room. Huy, now in high school, gives back to Bailey’s through a service club called Raider Readers. Raider Readers is a club at our neighboring high school for ELLs, sponsored by their ELL teachers. The high school students choose and practice reading picture books for Bailey’s kindergarten. The students walk to Bailey’s once a month to read and discuss the books with two or three children. This club benefits both high school and elementary students.

Add comment February 17th, 2009

Readicide blog tour roundup

Kelly Gallagher’s new book, Readicide, has just been released. Kelly just wrapped up a tour of five popular education blogs. Follow the links below to read (and hear) what others are saying about the book, Kelly’s response to questions, and the first installment of a new podcast. And you can still preview the entire text of Readicide online.

At A Year of Reading, Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn asked Kelly about his motivations for writing Readicide and his hopes for the book. “I want educators to ask themselves an important question: In the quest to raise test scores, am I damaging the long-term prospects of my students becoming lifelong readers? I hope the book generates hard talk between educators,” said Kelly, adding that the idea for the book came out of experiences with his own students and from the “horror stories” he heard from other teachers across the country.

Bill Ferriter, the voice behind The Tempered Radical blog, conducted a four-day conversation with Kelly and other educators. Listen as Kelly addresses such important issues as the role of technology in readicide and how libraries can play an important role in enticing students to read.

On The Dream Teacher blog, hosted by Cindi Rigsbee, Kelly answered questions about how to help teachers whose students are struggling with reading and what to do about kids who don’t actually read during classroom reading time.

At The Reading Zone, blogger Sarah Mulhern posted a question from a reader about how to help students love reading, but also help them do well on tests. “If you turn students into readers, they will do fine on the tests. There is a direct and strong correlation between time spent reading and performance on mandated reading tests,” Kelly responded. Read the rest of the questions and responses here:

On the final stop of the tour, blogger Donalyn Miller from The Book Whisperer posted a Q&A with Kelly covering issues ranging from the role of parents to promoting understanding without under- or over-teaching a text.

“For the most part, my students can read text, they can read at a literal level, they can Google, they can find information quickly…but if you ask them to analyze or synthesize or evaluate, they have a real hard time doing that.”

Add comment February 16th, 2009

Poetry Friday: The Embrace

Bill Varner is back this week with a Valentine’s Day poetry selection.

Valentine’s Day is upon us. I’m not really one for the overly romantic stuff, like Byron’s She Walks in Beauty Like the Night, which to me is one of the most obtuse similes of all time. And I have one friend who thinks that Valentine’s Day was created by Hallmark. But the following poem by Mark Doty reminds me how important love is in our daily lives, how ephemeral, yet lasting, and necessary.

The Embrace
By Mark Doty

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

Read the rest of the poem

Add comment February 13th, 2009

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