A Note from Ruth Culham As writing instruction continues to evolve, I’m committed to ensuring educators like you are prepared to meet their writing goals. That’s why I want to personally invite you to attend my upcoming hands-on PD workshop on October 21st in Atlanta.
Read the Writing, Teach the Writer: Smart Ideas to Transform Writing Instruction for You and Your Students is your chance to learn first-hand my latest thinking on strategies for effective writing instruction. These will empower you to teach writing in a way that really reflects how today’s students are thinking and learning. Register today!
This full-day workshop shows teachers how to:
Use assessments to help students set goals based on specific traits of writing;
Give constructive feedback to children on specific writing goals that can strengthen their writing, revising, and editing;
Connect reading quality children’s books to writing instruction and assessment;
Show students how different modes (narrative, informational, opinion) intersect and blend to form interesting student writing—that you’ll want to read; and
Teach writing in engaging, student-centered ways.
The registration fee is $269 per person, and includes continental breakfast, boxed lunch, and a certificate of attendence with contact hours. Group rates are available for as low as $229 per person. Space is limited and will be filled on a first-come first-served basis. For details and registration info follow this link:
We are excited to have Matt Renwick back on our blog today with a guest post. He has written before about his school’s efforts to develop lifelong readers. This time he is back with some pointers on getting started with action research for both teachers and administrators.
Getting Started with Action Research
We recently facilitated action research for twenty of our district teachers. They came from all areas in grades K–12. The course was led by Dr. Beth Giles and Dr. Mark Dziedzic from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Teachers met one evening a month to explore their driving questions, set up action plans, collect and organize data, and prepare their work for an inquiry showcase this spring. Here are some of the questions that were specific to literacy, and what we learned.
What happens when we provide choice in reading and learning?
Three teachers investigated this tenet of engagement. A second-grade teacher conducted Genius Hour at the end of the day, a time in which students could tinker and make things of their choosing. A third-grade teacher allowed her students to decide how their classroom should look and feel regarding furniture and resources. A reading interventionist embedded choice within her instruction, including letting the students select one book a month to keep.
What they found out was that choice affected each student in different ways. For example, the reading interventionist discovered that if a student’s basic needs were not being met, he or she had a hard time progressing. She countered this reality by bringing families into school to engage in literacy activities, such as building bookshelves. The third-grade teacher realized that some students liked working with peers regularly, whereas others needed quiet time to read and write. The second-grade teacher found that, for one student in particular, a half hour of tinkering every day led to a reduction in office referrals by 70 percent from fall to spring. Providing choice in school helped teachers better understand their students and adjust their instruction.
What happens when students are taught to ask questions and reflect about their reading?
A fourth- and fifth-grade teacher working with multiple curriculums in a split classroom realized that addressing the needs of a wide variety of learners was a tall order. Therefore, she wanted to find out if teaching her students to ask their own questions of the books they read and to reflect on their thinking in authentic ways through reading journals would lead to more independence.
She modeled these skills and strategies with her own reading. Gradually, she released the responsibility of questioning and reflecting to the students. Data she gathered were anecdotal and powerful. Students not only kept reflections of their own reading, they also noted what their peers were reading. Recommendations for what to read next led to students creating “Want to Read” lists in their journals. Also, students emulated how their teacher talked in their book discussions. This teacher later noted that she was looking forward to working with next year’s fifth graders in the fall.
What happens when teachers reveal themselves as learners?
A secondary reading interventionist was frustrated with her past students’ inability to exit her program in a timely manner. She decided to focus on how her language might promote a growth mind-set in her most reluctant readers and writers. First, she wrote in front of her students about the struggles she was having as a teacher and as a parent. These were day-to-day ordeals—ordinary issues she was sharing publicly. Students were also asked to write about their struggles. Few initially took her up on it. But as the teacher continued to model a growth mind-set, more students followed her lead.
Because the teacher was so open about her own learning, students felt safe in her classroom to take risks. They started to shed their rough exteriors, revealing frustrations about classes and their home lives. This led to exploring literature that students could personally relate to, populated with characters and settings in which they could reside. Pretty soon, her students were coming to her with improved progress reports to share and celebrate. A few kids exited her reading intervention earlier than anticipated but didn’t want to leave. This teacher eventually published her action research in the Wisconsin State Reading Association journal.
What happens when we let kids read?
A fifth-grade teacher and I teamed up to provide her students with a lot of texts to read, and we decreased the reading requirements placed upon them. I would come in once a month with a box full of high-interest books and do a quick blurb about each one. The teacher also used her allocated funds to enhance the classroom library. She taught the students how to have a conversation with peers and frequently conferred with students about their reading and goals. Her work derived from the research by Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston, highlighted in a Stenhouse blog post four years ago.
My role as coresearcher was to survey the students once a month using a tool developed by Ivey and Johnston. What we learned was that every student was different. Their reading lives varied from month to month. One student who proclaimed “I hate reading!” in February was excited about a new series he discovered in March. Other students also became more honest about reading in school. “I am SO glad to be done with my reading contract, so I can read whatever I want.” This type of data was more powerful than any screener or test score. Reading lives look more like a heartbeat than a straight line. Readers—kids and adults—have their ups and downs.
In observing these teachers’ journeys, I have discovered new truths about principalship. Just as students need to be engaged in their learning, teachers have to be engaged in their work. Not merely busy or working collegially with staff, but really engaged. We need to trust in their professionalism. We need to provide teachers the room to ask questions and grow. We need to honor the process as much as the outcomes. We need to celebrate both their mistakes and their successes, always striving to become better every day as professionals. Letting go of some control as a school leader is hard. Yet when we do, teachers are able to be the leaders of their own learning.
Tips for Getting Started in Action Research
If you are a teacher…
Ask yourself, “Why do I want to engage in action research?” If you can identify the purpose for this work in your professional life, it will motivate you to get started.
Do your homework on action research to build a knowledge base about the topic. Excellent resources include Living the Questions by Ruth Shagoury and Brenda Power (Stenhouse, 2012) and The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research by Nancy Fichtman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey (Corwin, 2014).
Develop a community of professionals who also want to engage in action research. You can leverage the power of the group to persuade your principal to support this initiative as part of the professional development plan. If you cannot collaborate in person, check out online communities related to classroom research, such as The Teachers Guild.
Find a question that you want to explore and that is embedded within your current practice. This wondering should relate to your professional learning goals and offer artifacts that can serve as evidence for your evaluation system.
Include your students in your action research as much as possible. They will become a great source of information as you study the impact of your work on their learning. They will also come to see you as a learner, which enhances the entire classroom community.
If you are an administrator…
Be deliberate when considering action research as a possible professional learning experience. The phrase action research can scare off some teachers who might otherwise be interested in this approach. Start small, maybe offering it as a voluntary course beyond the school day for graduate credit or pay.
Connect with outside organizations that can facilitate a course instead of trying to host it yourself. There is vulnerability involved in action research. The more we can have others lead the initiative, the more likely teachers will be willing to open up and take risks in their pursuits of becoming better practitioners.
Conduct action research yourself. I did this, using the resource The Action Research Guidebook by Richard Sagor (Corwin, 2012). The author offers several examples of a principal engaging in professional inquiry at a schoolwide level. I would share my findings and reflections in staff newsletters and at meetings. The message you send is the same one teacher-researchers convey to their students: We are all learners here.
Prepare a multiyear plan for facilitating action research in your school or district. Teacher questions seemed to lead to more questions during the school year. At the inquiry showcase, teachers were already asking if they could conduct action research again. “I feel like I just discovered my question,” noted one teacher.
Kristin and Jennifer have a deeply rooted personal philosophy that children don’t have to fall into the categories of either “good writers” or “not‑so‑good writers.” With their approachable and down-to-earth style, they provide the specific ideas and strategies to help us become more confident and successful when conferring with writers.
—Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, The 2 Sisters
If you’ve ever sat down to confer with a child and felt at a loss for what to say or how to help move him or her forward as a writer, this book is for you. If you are a strong teacher of writing but are not seeing results from your students, this book is for you.
Authors Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough have been teaching writing for several years and know that conferring can be a murky and messy process—perhaps the hardest component of writing instruction. Conferring with Young Writers is based on what Kristin and Jen call the “three Fs”: frequency, focus, and follow‑up. They’ve created a classroom management system that offers routine and structure for giving the most effective feedback in a writing conference.
This book will help writing teachers—and their students—learn to break down and utilize the qualities that enable good writing: elaboration, voice, structure, conventions, and focus.
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.
BUILDING UP A FRIENDSHIP WITH POETRY
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.
CHOOSING POEMS, RIGHT FROM THE START
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.
We recently asked some of our authors for their best tips for starting the new school year. In the first installment, Katie Egan Cunningham and Jennifer McDonough both discuss the importance of building relationships with students:
The first edition of Becoming a Literacy Leader chronicled Jennifer’s work as she moved to a new school and a new job as a literacy specialist. She found herself tackling everything from teacher study groups to state-mandated assessment plans.
The new edition of her book is a thoughtful, reflective evolution of her work as she rethinks how her identity and role as a literacy leader have evolved. She focuses on three ideas to describe her work: the concept of layered leadership, shared experiences in making meaning together, and the importance of rowing in the same direction as a school community.
Jennifer describes the layers of support that coaches can implement within a school and provides an explicit framework for implementing these layers and explains how administrators can use the literacy leader position to build and sustain change within their schools.
Danielson’s book reveals the wonder and freedom of expression that many children don’t often experience in mathematics. A single, simple question puts children in a position to speak mathematically even at early ages. Ask students of all ages “Which one doesn’t belong?” and revel in the reasoning and conversation that results.
How can I recommend this highly enough? Christopher Danielson emphasizes the stimulation of curiosity and that math is about making precise things that we—and children—can informally observe, without having to learn any mathematical language first. Which One Doesn’t Belong? is a glorious book for adults and children to explore together, and the Teacher’s Guide makes it into a profound mathematical resource.
—Eugenia Cheng, pure mathematician, University of Sheffield and School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and author of How to Bake Pi
Which One Doesn’t Belong? is a children’s book about shapes. More generally, it’s a book about mathematics. When children look for sameness and difference; when they work hard to put their ideas into words; when they evaluate whether somebody’s else’s justification makes sense—in all of these cases, children engage in real mathematical thinking. They build mathematical knowledge they can be proud of. They develop new questions. They argue. They wonder.
In the accompanying teacher’s guide, author Christopher Danielson equips teachers to get maximum benefit from Which One Doesn’t Belong? Through classroom stories, he models listening to and finding delight in students’ thinking about shapes. In clear, approachable language, Danielson explores the mathematical concepts likely to emerge and helps teachers facilitate meaningful discussions about them.
In the decade since the first edition of Still Learning to Read was published, the prevalence of testing and various standards have changed what is expected of both teachers and students.
The new edition takes into account this sense of urgency that changing times impose on classrooms and focuses on the needs of students in grades 3-6 in all aspects of reading workshop: read-aloud, classroom design, digital tools, fiction, nonfiction, and close reading.
The book provides expanded examples of mini-lessons and routines that promote deeper thinking about learning. A new chapter includes information on scaffolding for nonfiction and showcases the authors’ latest thinking on close reading and text complexity. Online videos provide glimpses into classrooms as students make book choices, work in small groups, and discuss their reading notebooks.
We are excited to bring you a new lineup of professional development books from well-known authors as well as some new voices. Browse the list below and look for our fall catalog in the mail in the coming weeks—or download it now.
Craft Moves Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts
Foreword by Lester Laminack
Stacey Shubitz, cofounder of the Two Writing Teachers website, does the heavy lifting of finding mentor texts for you: using twenty recently published picture books, she creates more than 180 lessons to teach various craft moves that will help your students become better writers. Follow Stacey on Twitter: @sshubitz
Join the Facebook discussion group for Craft Moves: https://www.facebook.com/groups/craftmoves/
The Author’s Apprentice Developing Writing Fluency, Stamina, and Motivation Through Authentic Publication
Foreword by Jeff Anderson You’ve got to read this book.
Help improve your middle level students’ writing fluency, stamina, and motivation by letting them do what professional writers do. You’ll see how to build “writerly” routines through projects like National Novel Writing Month. Follow Vicki on Twitter: @VMeigsK
Teaching Globally Reading the World Through Literature
Edited by Kathy G. Short, Deanna Day, and Jean Schroeder Teaching Globally brings together fourteen classroom teachers and university professors who use global children’s literature to help students explore their own cultural identities and broaden their knowledge of the world.
Which One Doesn’t Belong? A Shapes Book and Teacher’s Guide
Christopher Danielson Which One Doesn’t Belong? is a children’s book about shapes and a book about mathematics. When children look for sameness or difference, when they work hard to put their ideas into words, they engage in real mathematical thinking. They develop new questions. They argue. They wonder. The companion Teacher’s Guide shows how to facilitate rich discussions and teach mathematical argumentation. Follow Christopher on Twitter: @Trianglemancsd
Starting Strong Evidence-Based Early Literacy Practice
Katrin Blamey and Katherine Beauchat Starting Strong shows teachers how to use four proven instructional approaches—standards based, evidence based, assessment based, and student based—to improve their teaching practice in all areas of early literacy. Follow Katrin on Twitter: @KatrinBlamey
Becoming a Literacy Leader Supporting Learning and Change
The new edition of this bestselling book is a thoughtful, reflective evolution of Jennifer’s work as a literacy leader. You’ll get an explicit framework for implementing in-class support, curriculum support & assessment, study group facilitation, and teacher leadership. Administrators will see how they can use the literacy leader position to build and sustain change within their schools.
Still Learning to Read Teaching Students in Grades 3-6
Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak
Foreword by Colby Sharp
The new edition of Still Learning to Read focuses on the needs of students in grades 3-6 in all aspects of reading workshop, including read-aloud, classroom design, digital tools, fiction, nonfiction, and close reading. Watch two short videos of coauthor Franki Sibberson talking about how the classroom environment has changed for both teachers and students since the original edition was published. Follow the authors on Twitter and join us for a Twitter chat on Monday, August 1st, at 8:30 p.m. EST: @frankisibberson, @karenszymusiak
Join the book’s Facebook group, where discussion will begin September 5th: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1111996965547648/
Conferring with Young Writers What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough
If you’ve ever sat down to confer with a child and felt at a loss for what to say, this book is for you. Conferring with Young Writers will help writing teachers—and students—learn to break down and utilize the qualities that enable good writing: elaboration, voice, structure, conventions, and focus. Follow the authors on Twitter: @kristinack1, @jenjmcdonough
Dream Wakers Mentor Texts That Celebrate Latino Culture
Foreword by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Ruth Culham focuses her love of children’s literature on books that celebrate Latino life and culture. She provides a wide variety of ideas to teach writing using some of the richest and most beautiful children’s books available. Follow Ruth on Twitter: @WritingThief
In 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.