Posts filed under 'Literacy'

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].

Full transcript:


Hello, and welcome to our first Stenhouse ( Mentoring) Podcast. I’m Shawna Coppola, author of the book Renew, Become a Better and More Authentic Writing Techer. In this series of audio posts, you will hear how a K-6 literacy specialist, that’s me, mentors Laura, a young kindergarten teacher through her first year of teaching. In this episode Laura and I discuss the enormous, all too familiar challenge of trying to fit it all in, particularly with regard to literacy. And I offer her some advice about how to do this while also maintaining a daily schedule for her students that is meaningful, engaging, and developmentally appropriate.


Hi Laura!




How are you?



SHAWNA:  Do you want to just tell me a little bit about what’s going on or, you know, what sort of..what you’ve been thinking about?


A lot of things. For kindergarten we’re getting into the part of the year where…there’s a lot of things that we need to be covering now. And I mean I’m still trying to make sure I take the time I need for some of the more social emotional stuff and what not. But it’s, I’m still kind of figuring out where a good balance is where they’re engaged and they’re learning. Um, and still giving them, like, the social opportunities and even like play time that kindergartners really need.




Cause we started off the year doing like, we had play time in the morning, we had an extra recess and we had regular recess. Um, but then now we’ve dropped that down to like two things. Either play time or an extra recess and the regular recess. And so some of my students have not handled that as well.


You’ve noticed a difference?


Oh yeah. Uh, not…I mean for the most part they’re doing well with it but there’s just a few who you could tell, especially some of my younger ones …




And that’s a lot. And so I’ve been trying to figure out how to make things so that they’re succeeding but also be doing what we need to for the whole group.


Do you have a certain set curriculum that you have to follow? Is there something like do you have a mandate like I need to do, you know, thirty minutes of this and forty minutes of this? What are some of the limits on you as a teacher?


There’s actually not a lot.


Oh, that’s good.


We only have curriculum for like reading and math. The district does have, they have (atlas) for like curriculum mapping. So I do have a map that I’m supposed to generally follow. And that’s where I can find more of their like science and social studies topics. But there’s a lot of flexibility within everything since we have a lot of new hires when we were talking who were like: Is there some schedule you want us to follow? And it basically was like, well, we’ll give you your special schedule and we’ll give you your lunch and recess. And other than that it’s kind of our decision on how we want to structure the day. So, it’s good to have the freedom but it also has been overwhelming at times to figure that ( ).


Yeah, I can imagine cause you know, for, for me going into my, I think eighteenth year, that’s like a dream come true. You’re like wow, you’re going to tell me what my specials and my lunch recess are and I get to choose everything else. It’s so amazing. And it’s great to have that autonomy, but you’re right. At the same time, too much choice and autonomy can be super overwhelming, especially when you’re just starting out. Uh, and even it can be overwhelming for teachers who are veteran teachers too. It depends, you know, on a lot of different things. So, so, okay, so it sounds like you’re taking some of the pieces that you like from different things? Which is great. But it sounds like you’re feeling like something’s missing? You talked about not being able to fit it all into a day. So, what are you able to fit in that you feel really good about?



Laura has her students for just under six and a half hours. And her day sounds a lot like a typical day of kindergarten: morning meeting, which sometimes includes a social lesson or read aloud, forty to fifty minutes of mathematics, a large literacy block and choice time, with some movement breaks, snack, lunch and recess interspersed throughout the days. She finds her literacy block to be the most challenging. Like many teachers, she’s not sure how to fit together each of the pieces of the literacy puzzle. And she worries that in trying to include everything she’s making some haphazard decisions.



It’s kind of like picking and choosing which days I’m going to do what which is part of the scheduling that I’m still trying to figure out ( ) Not do enough of anything. I want them to get their letters, I want them to get their sight words, but it’s been hard to find any like consistent way to keep up with all of that. And then, yeah, they go to lunch at ( ) 11:50 and don’t have them again until 1. So I get from like 1:05, is usually, 1:10 maybe even, is by the time we get inside until like 1:50, 1:55. And that chunk of time is when I have to get them packed up and then I have a short amount of time to do something else. So that’s also been where scheduling has been like some days that’s when we do our writing, if I feel like we didn’t get much in the morning. And then other times that’s when I’m trying to pull in like some more science and social studies focused lessons. Or a combination of things ( ) get some integration. But it’s that, it’s that before lunch and afternoon, those two blocks of time where I find myself making all these decisions about what we’re going to do and not, not really sure about this whole part of things.


All right, so that actually is really helpful, like looking at sort of your day at a glance, in a sense. So I can just tell you, though, that I work at a small school but it’s the, the teachers that I do work with have a wide varying range of experiences. And I have to tell you that every single teacher I’ve ever talked to says the same stuff. They say I cannot fit it all in. I need more time in the day. As a matter of fact last week at our leadership team meeting my principal who’s amazing, she said we need to figure out how to give each other more time. We need to figure out how to make more time in the day. And we all sort of laughed. We’re like, we can’t physically create time. But we all feel that need to do that. We all feel, have that desire to have more time with kids. So you’re definitely not alone. So first know that that’s true. I feel like there’s going to be, you know, moments where you’re like oh my gosh, that really worked well as far as I feel like I’m getting a lot of bang for my buck. But if my experiences are any indication it’s just one of those things that as teachers we always feel like we need more of is time. So it’s hard. And there’s never a right, perfect answer. But I can suggest a couple of things, and this is something, when I first started my work, one of the things that we did, uh, when I first got there is they were saying the same stuff to me. They were like we just don’t, especially with literacy, we don’t know how to fit it all in. They wanted to do read aloud and they wanted to do writing of course. And letters and sounds, and um, singing and handwriting and all this stuff. Um, and so one of the things we did was we wrote down everything that they have ever done for literacy. So we just kind of listed it all there. Um, and then what we did was we looked at, so what’s the purpose of each of these things? We used a program called Lively Letters. Have you heard of that?


I don’t think so.


It’s, it’s basically a letter, letter name and letter sound program that was, it was actually created to use with speech language pathologists or in conjunction with a speech language pathologist in the classroom. But um, a lot of people use it as, you know, one of the thing that they have in the whole, the core classroom. But I bring it up because that was one of the things that they were really adamant they wanted to keep in their repertoire. But they also said well, when do we talk about vocabulary and when do we do read aloud, and when do we do guided reading groups? And so one of, so like I said what we did was we just listed all the possibilities or all the things that they’ve ever done during that time. And in the second column we said okay, so if you have done lively letter work, what’s the purpose of that? What’s the outcome of using lively letters in the classroom? And so for example with your Daily Five center time, so that’s one of the things that you do. Then in your next column you can say, okay so what’s the purpose of that? So just to think about that. So why, and I don’t mean this to say we’re looking critically at any of these practices, but we’re trying to kind of get at, are there places where, where maybe we’re overlapping or maybe we can integrate more or combine things for that higher purpose. So if you were to think about Daily Five center time what are the, what are the outcomes or what are the reasons why you’d want to have that be a part of your literacy instruction? Cause I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons, right? So what is it that you like about that?


Well, for one, just building their independence. I mean I’ve worked with kindergartens who don’t do much of anything like that. And I just find that the kids are just not able to work independently. They just expect that they get correction for one thing and they do it and then they move onto the next thing. And there’s just a lack of being able to work that way and being able to work, you know, with a group and things like that. Um, I also like just that it gives them different opportunities to experience reading and to experience working with words and like they can listen to a story, they can read to themselves, they can read with a partner. And I love that they can have the choice. And although they have to kind of hit some of those things at some point during the week, they choice definitely I can see their engagement just from the first day is like, yeah, like they’re excited because they’re making the choice for themselves and then they’re doing it. And so, and as time goes on that’ll be reading, especially the independent reading part of it, like they, that’s something that I find so important in kindergarten is that they build that confidence that I can read a book to myself. Actually today there was like a little sight word book I printed off that had Halloween things in it and we’ve been working on. We’ve done ” I” and “see”  and ” the” and this book happened to have on every page it was like ” I see the little pumpkin, I see the little leaf.:” And so they read it with me and then they got to take it for themselves. And like seeing their excitement over, like I did just read that page.


That’s the best..


But it was like, so that was something I don’t want to lose that part of it. And then also like the word work and the writing part of it, that’s where I see a lot of their making connections and applying some of the stuff that they are learning. Like seeing them `pick up on those sight words and start building them.


So I’m hearing you, sort of in what you’re saying that that’s a really good assessment time for you, that you’re able to do some kid watching then?


And I’m even, yeah, and eventually I’ll even work with small groups and one on one during that time, so then I’ll ( ) need it even more.




For sure.


Okay, so it sounds like that, there’s a ton there. So there’s a lot of benefit to keeping something like Daily Five around. I know you talked a little bit about maybe having some lessons with new letters or sight words? Can you talk maybe about like, give me an example of something that you’ve done?



Laura explained that she uses a popular story and song based program to teach her student their letters and sounds. And that she makes sure they get regular handwriting instruction. As far as leaning sight words, the work she and her students do includes going on word hunts in their little books and practicing writing these words on individual white boards.



I have a couple of thoughts. I definitely, I mean, again, there’s never enough time in the day, so that’s the rule number one. I definitely think that’s just the nature of our work. There’s just only so much we can do. And one of the things that I’m constantly telling my colleagues who often tend to come to me, you know, sort of just for emotional and moral support would be that you’re not a miracle worker and you’re doing the very best that you can every day. And that’s really important to actually, you know, say to yourself. I actually have to leave my work sometimes and say you know, I’m there three days a week and I sometimes feel, often, actually feel the same way, that there’s not enough time. I didn’t meet with enough teachers. I wasn’t in enough classrooms. But I’m doing the very best I can and so that’s what’s really important. And it’s important to remind yourself of that. I have some suggestions for some people who I think would be really great, if you don’t know of them already for you to sort of check out some of their work. Um, because as I’m thinking of things that might help you to incorporate literacy throughout other parts of your day in a way that feels natural and not like an add on, ( ) they’re coming from them. So, have you heard of Kristine Mraz? She’s out of New York City.


I’m not sure.


She has a blog called Kinder Confidential. And it’s amazing. And she’s just a great person to sort of get to know. Um, but I definitely will send you a link to her blog cause she has some great ideas for um, how she incorporates literacy, not only across the day but particularly during choice and play time. Um, so that’s one thing you can think about is, you know, if you have their un, sort of their unstructured play, can you tell me a little bit about what that looks like? Do they get to, do they have centers or what happens during playtime?


Usually I choose, every week I choose like five, six options. And so they get to just choose from those six.


Can you give me some examples of something they might choose to do?


Yeah, I mean actually usually I always have some sort of building type thing, like the blocks or the Lincoln Logs or the Legos. So some sort of building, sometimes two of those options. They ( ) those. And then I’ll often pull out just either, I have like dinosaurs or animals or like some felt people. So I do something along those. I usually do some sort of puzzle type group. And then I also have like alphabet puzzles that I’ll do sometimes. Or I have some regular like puzzles to ( ) use. And then a lot of times I let them choose coloring as an option. Although I find that half the class wants to choose coloring all the time. Some of them spend the whole time writing words instead of drawing pictures. So, like, of course you can choose that. Um, those are usually some combination of those.


Yeah, and so the coloring station, do they have like things that are printed out? Or do they have blank paper or what..?


It’s usually just blank paper and crayons and they can make their own decision.


How fun. Okay, so just a couple of thoughts about the play time, cause those are all awesome kinds of stations. And, obviously, you know, that kind of choice time is so important, as you know. There’s so much of, with the engagement and building independence and just playing that, you know, I think that the play stuff sort of tends to get lost the older kids get. And one of the things that I advocate for is having unstructured play and choice time, even in the older grades. Last year one of my colleagues who taught in the 5/6 classroom started doing choice time in the afternoons and it was like the best time. The kids loved it, it was great and they seemed to be engaged more the rest of the day. So I definitely loved that, you know, cause you sometimes look into kindergarten classrooms and that’s not happening. So it’s nice to see that happening. With the puzzles, I’m wondering if, have you ever done any name puzzles, like have their names kind of cut up in puzzle form?


We did something kind of like that back when we were working on ( ). Where they had, cause they each have like a laminated shape that has like their name written out that they can trace with a finger and that they can trace with a dry erase marker. And then it had space on the bottom where they could put pieces together to make their name.


Oh, perfect.




Yeah, that’s awesome.  One of the things that someone showed me, too, um, with those kinds of laminated sheets is are they..I mean I don’t know how they’re doing with their names but um, they would use that puffy paint that you use on t-shirts and they would draw over the, the typed out name so that there’s even that kinesthetic piece, which I thought was really cool. Work intensive but cool. I’m like, oh, man, that’ll take me forever to do. But that sounds, that sounds really fun. The dinosaurs and the animals, I bet what you’re seeing there is I bet they’re telling stories while they’re playing. Is that what you’re noticing, or..?


A lot of the time. When it’s not a matter of splitting up the ones who are like fighting with them.


YEah. Cause that could be a really great time to just really encourage them to tell stories and to think about you know, what kind of stories they might then write about, you know, if they’re really engaged in something, even with the building parts. You know, what are you, what’s going on here and, because often times what comes out of some of this playtime would be great ideas for writing. And um, so having some kind of, and this is actually adding, not subtracting to your day, but maybe, but having some sort of share time. Do you have any sort of reflection or debrief after the play time?


Not usually.


Yeah, that might, that might be something to think about, only because what you could do, potentially with that is, as they sort of reflect on how it went you could do so much with that that would bring in some of that social emotional stuff that I know is really important to you and to them. So for example you could start sort of charting or talking about you know, what problems came up today or what conflicts came up that, that you were able to` work through? Or what’s a problem that you weren’t able to solve? Let’s maybe talk it through today. That could be just, a possibility. Another kind of share after playtime that would, it sounds again like I’m adding on but it, it actually I think would benefit other areas of the day would be to say something like, you know, what kind of stories did you tell during your play today? And oh my gosh, that sounds like that would make `a really fun book. Or that sounds like that would make  a really fun story to do during writing. And you know, they’ll start to see that stories and ideas for writing come from everywhere. Which is really. Cause a lot of times kids are like I don’t know what to write about. Not so much at this age but definitely the older they get. So the more we’re able to show them where stories and other ideas come from, the better I think they are, you know, it would be for them.


And actually we were talking about characters last week. We made a poster together where I wrote down all their ideas. Um, and then over the weekend I added little pictures to go with them to put up so that they had it to look at when they were doing writing. And..


Oh yes, see. That’s awesome.


I didn’t even think about that but..




Like most of them were in that…and actually only a few were trying to name like people and things, which I was like wow, like they’re thinking. I mean I was impressed by their ( )ideas.


Yeah, yeah. I mean there’s just, I mean even with the blocks and stuff , you know, if kids are doing, or building something or creating something you can you know, sort of talk about that, you know, there are so many books out there about how to do something or how to make something. And you can, you know, sort of, sort of plant the seed that that’s something that could happen as a result of their play. That that could be the seed for maybe a, you know, a story or a book idea later on.


Sometimes being able to share motivates them a lot. Cause that’s (for writing) that’s a big thing is that I try to section it in a time when they’ll have time to write and then at least ( ) they’ll have time to share with the class what they’re working on. And there’s quite a few who normally are pretty slow to pick up that for themselves. But if they’re informed that they get to share it they’re following directions quickly and coming to the carpet then…( )move.


Yeah, and again, like I said, that…you know, one of the things that you could focus on, you know, if they’re having a particularly difficult week is just, is problem solving or really even identifying problems. So you know, you always have those students who, for whom, you know, he didn’t get a chance to sit next to the person he wanted to on the rug. It’s a really big deal. And cries and cries and cries and cries. And you have kids for whom that’s not a big deal but, um, you know, running so fast while they’re looking behind them and then bumping into a wall, that’s a big deal. So you know, talking about the differentiation between kinds of problems that we have and how might we react to them, um, is something that could come up in a share like that after paly time, which I think is really useful. So, but that’s just one thought. And then the other thought I had about trying to incorporate something, you know, more literacy stuff throughout the day that feels not like too much additional work but where you feel like you’re getting more in, more bang for your buck involves, you know, just doing a ton of labeling around the classroom. Do you guys do any of that stuff?


Yeah, some.


Yeah. I just think it’s, you know, even during their play time encouraging them to, you know, if they, if they build a structure and I don’t know if they ever have the chance to sort of leave things up but they could always make signs, anytime you have any sort of literacy tools available to them they’ll find a way to use them. Like I would, I don’t know if you have any sort of dress up or restaurant area or anything like that in your classroom? Do you have anything like pretend play?


Oh, part of it is the space, the classroom actually. Like I constantly find myself wishing I had more room to put things on the walls or to put things, to leave things out but the space is pretty ( ). So, yeah.


And that might be, that might be something you bring up to kids. You could say, you know, I really want you to be able to do some, you know, pretend sort of play where maybe you have a section or, that one day if you wanted to make a post office you could make a post office. What could we, how could we figure that out together when you’re talking about, you know, I have all this stuff and I barely can potentially get to social studies and science. Well, that’s where social studies and science can come in, too, is integrating that kind of problem based work. So, um, real life problems in your classroom like not having a space for pretend play or, or maybe wanting to have a space but not knowing how to sort of structure, how do we include this when we have all of this too, could be a potential sort of inquiry that you could do where you end up talking about needs and wants and materials and what’s costly and what’s not and space concerns and stuff like that. So those are just some ideas. But, again, I know that it’s tough. There’s just so much, so much to do and they’re so eager to learn. I mean can you just imagine if we were to, you know, if I said okay, Laura take us through your entire day and tell me every single decision that you make. I don’t, people just don’t understand, the general public does not understand the amount of decisions you have to make on any given day as a teacher. It’s crazy. You said something about, during morning meeting one of the things, you do have the schedule up on the white board. And you said you have picture, like picture cues, is that right?




One of the things you might consider is having them, you know, if there are parts that they can reach you might have one or two sort of maybe try to `write in their approximation of what that time is and that could be just another opportunity. And you know how kids love writing on white boards, especially if the whole class is going to look at it. Um, so that could be another opportunity just to get some  of that sort of literacy engagement/practice in, potentially. But I guess one of the things that I would just consider thinking about in the next few weeks is sort of you know, when you’re looking at all the things that you do, what is giving you the most bang for your buck? So, what is, what is reaching, maybe what is reaching the most students and what is sort of, where are you seeing the greatest benefit? So, for example, clearly Daily Five times. I mean you just sort of like rolled off, it rolled off your tongue, all these things that were bent with, that the kids were benefitting from from that. The building independence and the experiencing literacy in different ways. Um, the choice and the engagement and the confidence building. So clearly that’s a huge, like bang for your buck. You’re getting so much out `of that. But if you were to sort of just reflect a little bit and it doesn’t’ have to be formally, but just think about you know, what are they, you know, what are the benefits of this and what, are there areas where, like overlapping a lot. Where we’re doing a lot of, you know, one thing and less of another. And sort of look at it as a whole. And just see if there are areas where you feel like, okay, I’m definitely not getting enough of this in. And then we can sort of brainstorm ways to incorporate that a little bit more or maybe balance things out  a little bit. Where talk about, you know, what might give you the best bang for your buck. But I know it’s not an easy task for sure. And I think, I mean I would, I wish I could come visit you. I want to come visit your class because I’m so, I’m like in awe of all that you do. I just can’t believe, I’m looking at my notes and I’m like oh my gosh. I just want to see all this in action. Um, but I will, what I’ll do, too, is I’ll send you that blog that I was talking about. Are you on twitter at all?




One of the things that they had, I think it’s Monday night, it’s a little late for me. It’s 9:00 but there’s a chat called Kinder Chat. I don’t know if you’ve ever participated in a chat before.




On twitter? You have? Do you know Kinder chat?


No, I mostly just did…my college actually did like education ones. In ( ) classes they had us be involved in that.


Quite honestly I think a lot of educational chats, especially some of the literacy chats are sort of, you know, it’s sort of like everybody’s’ vying to say the right answer and it’s not super, super useful. But I have found that the few times I’ve participated in Kinder Chat, and often I’m on twitter, on Mondays during that time for another reason. And I see a lot of that feed. And the people who are involved in that are super supportive. And you seem to sort of share a philosophy with them. And I think that might be a good sort of support system for you, potentially. But so I’ll send you some of that information and we’ll try to not send you so much that you’re overwhelmed because I know it doesn’t help just to pile stuff on someone who’s’ already doing so much work. But it just might be useful for you to check those people out. Cause the more support that you have, you know, we can’t ever get enough. So, but yeah, just think about, over the next few weeks just sort of all the things that you’re doing and is there anything that you’re sort of doing, and you’re not really sure what, you know, that you’re not really sure that you’re seeing much of a benefit. Or you’re seeing a benefit in a really small percentage and then maybe we can talk about what those are what could be done instead of that. Does that sound okay?




Okay. All right. It was good to talk to you again.  Have a good night.









Thanks for listening to our first Stenhouse mentor podcase. What advice would you give a colleague about fitting it all in? Feel free to comment with your ideas and words of wisdom. And don’t forget to check out the resources we referenced today. Next time on the podcast Laura and I discuss how to manage student behaviors while also developing a safe, collaborative classroom community. See you then.


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

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

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week

Teaching is not just a job — it’s a profession, a calling, a passion. And it’s hard work. For Teacher Appreciation Week we asked some of our authors why they love to teach, what keeps them passionate and engaged in the classroom or while writing professional books. Watch Stacey Shubitz (Craft Moves), Paula Bourque (Close Writing), Jennifer McDonough (Conferring with Young Writers), and Katie Cunningham (Story), talk about their love for the profession.

Why do you love to teach? Leave your response in the comments for a chance to win $100 in your choice of Stenhouse books. (Please comment by Friday, May 12, 2017, to be eligible for the drawing.)

8 comments May 2nd, 2017

Strategies That Work – images from you

As we prepare for the publication of the new, third edition of Strategies That Work, we enjoyed seeing pictures of your well-loved and used copies of the previous two editions. The winner who will receive a free copy of the new edition is Karla Silbernagel. Here are some of the images you sent us:


Add comment April 17th, 2017

Creating an online workshop with Debbie Diller

2016-03-21 09.07.33Stenhouse editor Tori Bachman gives us a behind-the-scenes peek into creating the Growing Independent Learners online workshop with Debbie Diller. The workshop is now available on our website!

By Tori Bachman
Stenhouse Editor

As we neared the finish line of editing the manuscript for Debbie Diller’s Growing Independent Learners, Debbie brought up a new Big Idea: an online workshop to help teachers really dig in to the ideas presented in the book, to show how to assemble all these pieces from standards to team planning to classroom organization to whole-group instruction, small-group differentiation, and ultimately, independent literacy work at stations.

Stenhouse has never created an online course, but as we started to research and think it through, it became more and more clear that this was a perfect book to start with.

After about a year of planning, Stenhouse video editor Nate Butler and I traveled to Houston to film the video portion of the online course. Nate has done many video projects in his career; I have not. In a way my newness was a good thing: I didn’t know what to expect, so I just paid close attention and tried not to get in the way. But in the end, I not only learned a lot about video production, I also learned a lot about Deb’s teaching philosophy, her instincts in the classroom, and her gift with children. And reflecting on the experience, I see three main points that apply both to the creation of the video and Deb’s Growing Independent Learners model:

Planning and organization are critical to success – and help you make in-the-moment decisions

Deb and I spent a full year, along with Nate and our colleagues, planning the outline and structure first, then filling in details to flesh out our vision for what to capture on film. We wrote a script for Deb to follow in the scenes in which she’s addressing the camera, along with bullet points we wanted Deb and the teachers to discuss in more off-the-cuff conversations. Nate and Deb created a shot list, and from that Nate developed a shooting schedule. We had a professional crew on site – cameraman, sound engineer, and teleprompter – to bring all this planning to fruition. We shot for three full days in two locations – Deb’s house and an elementary school in Houston. All that advance planning made the small hiccups completely manageable. We all had a clear vision and direction for the project, so we were able to make decisions in the moment, and we were able to add and take away and go with the flow. Planning! It’s critical. And a big part of Deb’s philosophy of teaching. I get it now.

There’s no substitute for a good team – in school, in the workplace, during a video shoot

A big evolution in Deb’s teaching over the years has been the critical role of teachers working together to plan instruction. We see it big time in the new book, then watch teachers planning with Deb in the online workshop. As I sat behind the scenes on the video shoot, it struck me how important our team was in the process: every person had a role and a distinct skill or strength to bring to the project. I know nothing about operating a boom mic or sound board, for instance, but James knew what every dial and knob on that board controls. It’s the same in your school, too, I’m sure: You may have a knack for teaching the finer points of writing, but your colleague really shines when it comes to breaking down mathematical thinking. You work together to fine-tune how your students learn and grow their thinking.

Kids really can reach independence – and they’ll have fun doing it – within a few months

Seeing literacy work stations in action, I have to admit, was a highlight of this past year for me. It’s one thing to read about children working independently – understanding it cognitively, seeing photos, hearing anecdotes – but my understanding and appreciation reached a whole new level as I watched first graders reading and writing together, listening to books and retelling to their partner, using academic vocabulary and pretty sophisticated language…and all on their own. Their teacher, Tracy Gilbert, taught small groups during work station time, using smaller versions of anchor charts she’d created with the kids during previous whole-group lessons.

We know these kids didn’t jump right in to independent work from day one. Literacy work stations take planning, teamwork, and thoughtful scaffolding through whole-group lessons and small-group instruction.

At the end of the three-day shoot, I returned home tired yet completely energized. This has been perhaps the most collaborative and creative project I’ve worked on – and seeing Deb in her “natural environment” in front of a room full of antsy, eager, brilliant little ones was the perfect culmination of over a year of work.

4 comments November 1st, 2016

Poems, right from the start

Shirley McPhillips

Shirley McPhillips

In her book Poem Central: Word Journeys with Readers and Writers, author and poet Shirley McPhillips shows how teachers can include poetry in the daily life of the classroom and in the lives of students. Dozens of poems throughout the book can be used as mentor texts as they serve to instruct and inspire. In her latest guest post, Shirl helps us consider the importance of getting poems out into the classroom airwaves on day one, to lay a foundation for engagement and growth throughout the year.

Poems, right from the start
By Shirley McPhillips

I became a poet because of poetry’s great mystery and partly because of a second-grade teacher I had who believed poetry was at the center of the universe.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
Here’s a story:

One steamy first day of school in eighth grade, the students, still barefoot on the beaches of their minds, sat in muted reverie. The teacher, Miss Eloise, smiled, said hello, then bravely picked up her faded blue copy of Emily Dickinson. She looked at the students for a time, to let some seriousness sink in, then “introduced” herself.

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Miss Eloise said hearing a poem once was never enough for her. She wondered if anyone else would like to read it to the class. She waited. Daryl’s hand went up. That got everybody’s attention. He tried to use the same expression as Miss Eloise, to the amusement of all. She smiled appreciatively and thanked Daryl for his “spirited” rendition.

That was it! No rules and regulations. Just hanging a poem in the air. This was my new class. My new teacher! A rare and strange feeling (as Dickinson said herself) came over me, as if the top of my head were taken off. I didn’t understand that poem really, nor some poems we read later, but I felt their power. And the power of a teacher who believed in words to instruct and inspire. Believed is us. Had faith that when we became friendly enough with poems, we would make connections. We would find out how they might work, on paper and in our lives.

I no longer recall what happened next that first day so long ago. I do recall we didn’t dissect the poem, or try to figure out what we thought it “meant.” I remember at the end of class Miss Eloise gave each of us a small packet of poems, as a welcome to the new year. Perhaps we might find one we liked, she said. If not, we needn’t worry. There were plenty of poems in the world for everyone. We would find what we wanted, what we needed. And leave the rest for others.

The waters parted.

Of course, as the year went on, no matter what other subject matter presented itself, there were always poems. We were building up a friendship with them. We opened up to talk about them, to consider our own connections. To consider our own questions, not just answer Miss Eloise’s. We collected poems in folders and began to write our own. That was the beginning of my discovery, with poet Mary Oliver, that poems can be a “life cherishing force.” That understanding has lasted to this day. Ever growing.


Poems are short. It doesn’t take much time to read a poem and think about it. And that’s what our students who hope to live with poems, who hope to write poems, need to do. Day one / week one, we can get poems out into the airwaves, pin them up against the light. Give them a chance to circulate with pleasure. It works best if the habit of poetry is embedded in our experiences from day to day, where we live. Not just on special occasions.

To build up a friendship with poems that will be the foundation for going deeper over time, we need some foundational beliefs about what might support students in this goal. Once we say, “Yes, that sounds like something important for readers and writers of poems,” the next question becomes, “So what can we arrange that will give this a chance of happening?” Considering the first question, here’s my short list for now. You might want to revise and add to it.

Students need opportunities to:

•read and listen to some poems without an expectation to “do” anything.

Just breathe them in and out. Not to “analyze.” Just hear the sounds. Feel the rhythms. Experience. Get a “taste.” Crack open the door of fear to let a little light come in. Realize one can be moved by words without always knowing why. Just like we can be moved by music without knowing why. A little mystery is good. Not everything has an answer, in poems and in life.

•read poems more than once, the more often the better

Revisit poems they’re attracted to for different reasons. To be allowed time to “request” poems to listen to and read together again. To revisit and share poems they’ve collected, or that have been charted, or tagged.

•choose their own poems to enjoy, explore, talk with others about
(in addition to those the teacher will want to introduce them to).

Collecting poems, sharing with each other, reading poems consistently across time, students build up their own personal taste, an identity with poems and poets.

•write out lines and poems they like

For sounds of language, for image, for memories they evoke, because of an intimate connection. Writing (or typing) out a poem helps you know it more closely. You are doing exactly what the poet did, and what you can do any time you want.

•listen to and read different types of poems, by different authors, to broaden the field and welcome challenges.

Becoming more familiar with different ways poems can look and sound, we become more comfortable with tasting something new. Like a traveler who happily anticipates trying new cuisine instead of turning up her nose because it’s “different.” If we feel we have to do something “serious” with every poem we read, we won’t read enough of them to get a sense of what they can be, of finding those that stick with us.

•give voice by reading poems aloud, individually and in chorus with others.

To catch the sounds and tune the ear. To bring poems inside. And out again. Poetry is a “bodily art” says poet Robert Pinsky. Reading aloud, we can begin to intuit a feel for craft. Craft is partly what directs us how to read a poem.

•excuse themselves from the company of those who would beat a poem “with a hose to find out what it really means” (Collins 2001, 16).

“Meaning” is made at the point where a reader connects with the “voice”—some inner verbal music— of a poem. An immense intimacy is felt. An exchange takes place in which something new is created. This is a personal relationship. Mysterious and miraculous. We do want to get closer to some poems as we go, especially as writers learning craft. Also, to take pleasure in the challenges of the poem, in what the writer has done to delight or move us.

•respond naturally and openly to poems

To begin, simply “say something.” Or, “What do you notice?” “What does this make you think?” Noticing and thinking. Two actions we want to become habits. They can last all year, carry over to other endeavors, the responses and interactions becoming deeper and more extended. A good way for teachers to observe, listen, get to know the students: What is she noticing? What is she thinking based on that observation? From that information, notice how the ability to observe and think deepens with consistency, experience and the work of the community. This is a foundation for those who will be writing poems.


In the beginning of the year (and always) I choose to read poems aloud that I delight in, that move me in some way, that show extraordinary craft. I also hope these poems will help set a tone of openness and thoughtfulness; will help build “community think.” At the same time, I want to encourage a curiosity for the limitless ways poems can be. We will revisit these poems along the way. Some of the specifics I list here may be helpful in choosing many other poems for read aloud and discussion. You’ll find your own.

A very few examples. Key:—perhaps older students, •perhaps younger students, **perhaps both

“Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell Luscious words, wonderful metaphor, September experience

“Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon
Anaphora (repetition of first lines), tapping into memories, things that represent a life, springboard for sharing appreciation of life’s moments, great as a model for exploring one’s own life

“Unfolding Bud” by Naoshi Koriyama
Amazing metaphor for unfolding of a poem, for reading again and again

“The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes” by Mekeel McBride
Different perspectives of ordinary object, touch of humor, human condition we can relate to, conversational tone, comparison to a poem

“Deformed Finger” by Hal Sirowitz From the author’s collection of advice from his mother, funny stream-of -consciousness, identifiable, poems from the ordinary made extraordinary

** Stone Bench in an Empty Park selected by Paul Janeczko
Anthology of haiku that shows poets looking carefully at what’s around them in the city.
Intriguing images, like taking a walk and looking around.

** “Teased” from Secrets of a Smaller Brother Richard Margolis
Short, sensitive poem, few words with deep underlying emotion. Collection of typical sibling situations. Oldie but goody.

“Dear Apples” by Takayo Noda
Speaker talks to apple, sensuous language, detail, no rhyme (the young need that too)

“Skyscrapers” by Rachael Field
A list of all questions. Could extend to notice, ask questions of objects, standard rhyme

“A Lazy Thought” by Eve Merriam
Strong noisy verbs, questions inside, internal rhyme not the usual, good for choral reading, provocative ending

“Beginning on Paper” by Ruth Krauss
Jazzy rhythm, list in syncopation, repeated phrase, great images, surprise ending, nice human touch, good for choral reading. Note: Can find poem in this wonderful anthology:

And so it goes…

Shirl is Poet Laureate for Choice Literacy online. Read some of her poems and reflections at ChoiceLiteracy.

7 comments August 24th, 2016

Now Online: Teaching Globally

Teaching GloballyIn today’s globally connected world, it’s essential for students to have an understanding of multiple cultures and perspectives. In Teaching Globally, Kathy Short, Deanna Day, and Jean Schroeder bring together fourteen educators who use global children’s literature to help students explore their own cultural identities and broaden their knowledge of the world.

Contributors take you into a wide range of classrooms—from Mexican-American students in Southern Arizona learning about their heritage through the picture book Esperanza Rising, to a diverse group of seventh graders immersing themselves in the culture of Nigeria through a global novel.

Teaching Globally lays out why this kind of global curriculum is important and how to make space for it within district and state mandates. Built around a curriculum framework developed by Kathy, the ideas and strategies will help teachers integrate a global focus into existing literacy and social studies curricula.

Teaching Globally is filled with vignettes from K-8 urban and rural schools, as well as an extensive lists of book recommendations, websites, professional books, and an appendix of global text sets.

The book is available for preview in its entirety now!

Add comment July 21st, 2016

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