Archive for March, 2013

White Wonderful Winter: Using Strong Verbs to Create an Image

We continue our early National Poetry Month celebration with another Your Turn Lesson from Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli, the authors of Poetry Mentor Texts on using strong verbs to create an image. Leave your short poem in the comments section for a chance to get a free copy of Poetry Mentor Texts!

White Wonderful Winter

Word choice is an important part of any kind of writing. Poets, especially, need to be conscious of the words they use as they create images with only a few words. In this lesson, writers are reminded of the power of strong verbs in writing. The scaffold provides a framework that ensures the success of all writers.

Hook: Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner is a wonderful source of verbs for this particular scaffolded poem. In the book, a young girl is cross-country skiing through the woods with her father, while under the snow is a secret world where animals eat, sleep, and hide. Students are fascinated by the activities of the animals, so it is a good idea to introduce this book as a read-aloud first before using it as a mentor text. Return to the book and ask students to listen for the verbs the author uses to describe the actions of the animals and the people. They can record them in their notebooks or on individual whiteboards.

Purpose: Writers, today I will show you how you can use strong verbs to create clear images for your reader. We will use this scaffold to create poems about winter:



White wonderful winter!

Kids _________________________

Grown-ups ___________________

White wonderful winter!

Brainstorm: Together with the class, create a t-chart of verbs. On one side, list the verbs from the book that describe the actions of the animals and people. Students can brainstorm additional verbs for winter activities. For the other side, ask the class for verbs that could be used with snow. Your chart may look something like this:

        Animals and People                                    Snow               

disappear     glide         scratch                           glistens

doze             climb        swoosh                           whispers

dodges         snooze     snore                              swirls

huddle          snuggle    scurry                             blows

cuddle          listen        build                               piles

ski                leap          cheer                              blankets

complain      toboggan    skate                            sparkles

Model: Use the scaffold to create a poem. Think aloud about the words you choose to use for the images you want to create. You can add other words, such as conjunctions or transition words, to help shape your poem. Here is an example from Rose’s notebook:


Snow blankets the earth while
Animals snooze peacefully underground
White wonderful winter!
Kids cheer joyfully and
Grown-ups cuddle by a cackling fire
White wonderful winter!

Shared/Guided Writing: Together with your students, create one or two poems. Discuss how the use of strong verbs helps create a more precise image. Students can also work in pairs or triads and share their thinking.

Independent Writing: Ask students to create their own winter poems using the scaffold. Some students may use the scaffold as a guide or adjust it slightly to meet their needs. Here is an example from a second grader:


A Winter Wonderland

by Josh

Snow falls on the earth.
Animals dream
Of a warm spring!
White wonderful winter!
Kids ice-skate in an ice rink as
Grown-ups slurp hot cocoa.
White wonderful winter!

 Reflection: Ask your students to reflect on how the writing worked for them:

Was creating the poem easy or hard? Why?

Did you revise your poem to use a stronger verb?

How did using a strong verb help you to create a clearer image in your writing?

Options: You can try this scaffold with other seasons or holidays, adjusting the phrases as needed—perhaps “Sizzling Sunny Summer” or “Thankfully Thankful Thanksgiving” or “Fabulous Festive Fall.” The book Outside, Inside by Carolyn Crimi compares and contrasts a thunderstorm brewing outside with what is happening inside a young girl’s house. It is also a good mentor text for strong verbs.

1 comment March 26th, 2013

Profiles of Effective PD Initiatives : Owen J. Roberts Middle School

We often hear of schools and districts that have built large-scale PD programs around Stenhouse books and videos. We wondered how they developed these initiatives and what sort of impact they were having on professional growth and student learning. So we’ve asked Stenhouse editor (and longtime education journalist) Holly Holland to interview the innovative staff developers and administrators behind these initiatives and write a series of case studies. In the first installment of the series, Holly writes about how the staff of the Owen J. Roberts Middle School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania restructured their thinking about assessment and grading through their work with Rick Wormeli’s book, Fair Isn’t Always Equal.

Be sure to leave a comment or ask a question — five lucky commenters will get a free copy of Fair Isn’t Always Equal!

Owen J. Roberts Middle School, Pottstown, PA

In his previous school administrative job, Robert Salladino led a faculty study of Fair Isn’t Always Equal (Stenhouse, 2006) and “felt this incredible connection” to author Rick Wormeli’s message about effective assessment and grading in the differentiated classroom. So in 2007, when Salladino became principal of Owen J. Roberts Middle School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, he made sure every teacher had a copy of the book.

Salladino and his leadership team also attended a two-day workshop with Wormeli and began encouraging teachers to implement recommended strategies such as letting students redo assignments and ensuring that all recorded grades were accurate, consistent, meaningful, and supportive of learning. The research supporting those practices is so strong that Salladino was surprised when many faculty members resisted the changes.

“We were hearing every argument that Rick mentions in the book,” Salladino said. “We were living it.”

Like Wormeli, he believes grades should indicate progress toward learning instead of reflecting an arbitrary and inconsistent collection of academic and nonacademic factors that might include test results, compliance with homework policies, subjective evaluations of effort, and points for class participation.

“The traditional way of thinking about grades is they reward kids or punish kids. We really have to say that grades are informational,” Salladino said. “One of the things we took away from Rick’s work is that in order for grades to be meaningful we have to focus on mastery learning. It should be about how well I learned, not how I turned in assignments. For late work and redoing work, for instance, we said to teachers: ‘The way we currently structure school, it’s set up so everybody should demonstrate mastery at the same time. If we let go of grades used to rank kids, what should it matter if you learned something after the teacher retaught it in a different way? It’s getting to the destination. It doesn’t matter if you needed a different route than the rest of the class. Ultimately, did you learn what we wanted you to learn?’”

Some teachers protested that letting students redo work would encourage them to shirk responsibility, whereas Wormeli and other assessment experts claim the opposite: If students have to keep revising their work until they meet high standards, they develop persistence and respect for excellence.

History teacher Michael Brilla and science teacher Stephen DeRafelo likened the philosophy to how they coach wrestling. Just as they don’t stop guiding kids when they perform poorly in a competition, which is a form of assessment about skill development, they also shouldn’t give up on students who need more time or instruction to understand subject content.

“If a kid bombed a test, why would I just move on?” asked DeRafelo. “If I’m structuring my class to build a knowledge base, it’s negligent of me to move on. The only way to offer the opportunity and encouragement for kids who didn’t get a lab right or a test is, ‘Let’s do this again.’”

Both teachers acknowledge they were initially skeptical about the value of shifting from traditional assessment and grading practices that expect everyone to learn at the same pace. Brilla had an “aha” moment when a colleague used the metaphor of two families traveling on the same day to Disney World. Must one family cancel the entire trip just because car trouble caused a delay in reaching the destination?

“As far as retests and redos, we talked about how as adults all the high-stakes tests we take you have the opportunity to do them over—the SAT, the LSAT, even the driver’s license test,” Brilla said. “The idea that you could learn from your mistakes from your first evaluation made sense to me then.”

Brilla and DeRafelo said they don’t offer retakes without reinforcing accountability. Working with students, they carefully analyze test results and design strategies that will help them do better the second time. Students and their parents must sign off on the plans, assuming ownership of the process. Brilla also asks students to complete a self-evaluation and reflection after every social studies project, which they then use to craft a plan to correct mistakes.

“I think kids are more willing to take risks than before because they know they will have the opportunity to fix things the next time,” Brilla said.

Salladino believes some teachers at Owen J. Roberts Middle School have resisted making similar changes because grading is one of the few areas in education they can control, and many are reluctant to open their practices to scrutiny. To persuade the skeptics, Salladino encourages teachers who’ve shifted to standards-based grading to share their successes with colleagues. Krista Venza, the school’s instructional support facilitator, said she also guides her colleagues to free resources, including explanatory videos and answers to common questions, which Wormeli has provided at a companion website.

“It’s really helpful for me to use Rick’s words to share with teachers,” Venza said. “It’s a different way of hearing it than maybe what I’ve been saying, another way for them to get it.”

While guiding the school’s veteran teachers toward fair and consistent grading practices, Salladino said he also questions job candidates to determine whether they would be supportive of the shift toward mastery learning. Additionally, new teachers receive copies of Day One and Beyond (Stenhouse, 2003), Wormeli’s guide for new middle-grades teachers, as part of the school’s induction program.

Salladino said he tries to model principles he expects teachers to use in the classroom in his own work with the faculty. For example, when new teachers turn in lesson plans, he does not offer a cursory and meaningless review. Instead, he suggests specific changes and asks them to resubmit the lesson plans after reflecting and revising their work. Before he distributes school communications, Salladino also seeks feedback from the assistant principal.

“We need to have the idea that all of our work needs polishing,” he said.

Math teacher Matthew Charleston took that message to heart last school year when he instituted a policy that students could retake any unit exam or major test. This school year he extended it to include all assignments, quizzes, and tests—with an important caveat. To take a similar but more difficult second assessment, students must correct and explain all errors in the previous version. High-performing students are easily motivated by the chance to improve their grades, he said. For struggling students, Charleston provides time during class or during breaks throughout the day to offer guided corrections.

“You see that ‘aha,’” he said. “They have more confidence.”

Charleston and other teachers who have adopted the changes recommended in Fair Isn’t Always Equal said they frequently encounter colleagues—including their own teaching spouses—who disagree with the different expectations. They believe evidence of their own successes will eventually sway the doubters. Having collegial conversations about difficult issues and giving teachers access to good professional resources is part of the plan to change the school’s culture one mind at a time.

“I want them to believe this is right for kids, not because my boss told me I had to do it,” Salladino said. “This has been no easy journey, but we continue to forge ahead. With each month and marking period I think we are bringing more people on board.”

14 comments March 21st, 2013

National Poetry Month: Using Your Senses

We just can’t help ourselves — we had to start celebrating National Poetry Month a few weeks early. We are going to kick things off by introducing you to our FREE Poetry Sampler e-book with tips and ideas for teaching poetry from several Stenhouse authors. You can download the e-book right now from our website.

Now through April we are going to bring you one post a week by authors Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli. Their recent book Poetry Mentor Texts explores a variety of poetic forms and each chapter includes a “Your Turn” lesson that helps teachers transfer the ideas into their classroom.

The first post from Lynne and Rose is a brand new Your Turn lesson, not found in the book. Check back next week for a new lesson and then for more inspirational posts and poetry samples from Lynne and Rose.  Poetry Mentor Texts is still available for preview on the Stenhouse website.

Your Turn: Create an Ice Cream Memory to Use Your Senses

Hook: How many of you like ice cream or sherbet? Turn and talk with your partner about your favorite flavors. Let’s share with the whole group. (Teacher records some on the board.) You may want to read Ice Cream by Elisha Cooper; The Perfect Scoop: Ice Cream, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accomplishments by David Lebovitz; or Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems.

Brainstorm (Prewrite): Make your own list in your writer’s notebook. (Students share in small groups before lists are distributed.) Take your favorite flavor and create a word storm in your notebook—feelings, senses, thoughts, opinions, associations, and so forth. You may use it later to write another notebook entry. Turn and talk with a partner.

Purpose: Today we are going to use ice cream flavors to help us recall a vivid memory for our writer’s notebook. The entry will probably be fairly short, maybe four to ten sentences. You will probably use many writing strategies quite naturally, such as appeal to the senses, color words, and vivid adjectives.

Model (for grades 3–6): Teacher writes memory on the board.

The light, tinkling music from the Good Humor truck as it rolls down Durham Street pulls the children from their houses like a powerful magnet. Slap-slaps of screen doors are followed by the jingling of coins stuffed deep into shorts and jeans pockets as we dash for the street. Each child has a favorite. Mine is the rocket with its creamy vanilla ice cream swirled with chocolate.  I like to push up the ice cream slowly so I can enjoy the cool taste on a hot August day for a long time. My younger sister Sandy, with huge baby blues and ringlets of gold that jiggle as she jumps up and down in front of the truck window, always asks for an orange Creamsicle and spatters the sidewalk with drops of sticky sweetness—a prize for the ants!

Guided Writing: Turn and talk about the memory. What did you like about it? Open your notebook and try to write an ice cream memory. (It may be helpful to have students brainstorm settings and write one sentence about each before deciding on the entry.)  For example: Boardwalk—I sat on the hard, wooden bench and watched the waves rolling in and out, licking my creamy vanilla cone in rhythm with the waves. I will walk around the room and peek at what you are doing (roving conferences with clipboard).  (After some time, have students share in small groups and in whole groups. Copy some of their sentences on the overhead to include as “expert” samples.)

Independent Practice: Now try to write a notebook entry about a real ice cream memory. Think a moment, do a web or a list to get started, refer to your word storm and settings, or just start writing. Remember, you are not writing an entire story! Here is my example. (Share on overhead or distribute your thoughts on a handout. Give students time to write and share, even if only with a partner.)

Reflection: Let’s look at my paragraph. What writing strategies did I use? Reflect on the strategies you seem to use naturally and automatically as a writer. What are your “fingerprints”?

Write and Reflect Again: If you would revise this entry, what is one thing you would absolutely do? Try it out. Perhaps rewrite your entry as a poem in any format. Compare entries. Which do you like better? Why?

Projection (Optional): Create a goal for yourself that will help your reader to visualize your words.

  • Try to appeal to a sense you don’t usually use, such as smell, taste, or touch.
  • Look at your adjectives. Are they vivid and exact?
  • Do you use color?
  • Examine past portfolio entries to see how you have used the senses to create description. Choose a piece for possible revision(s).
  • Find examples in your reading where authors appeal to the senses, and copy them into your notebooks.

Rewrite of Model Paragraph as a Poem:

Ice Cream Summers by L. Dorfman

Slowly rolling down the street
Music pulls children from houses
Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Slap-slap goes the screen doors
And pockets jingle-jangle
As we dash madly for the curb.

Cries of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry
Fill the air with sweetness—
Cool words for a steamy day.

Rocket for me to last awhile
And orange Creamsicle for sister
Who bounces on the balls of her feet.

Ringlets jiggle up and down
As her baby blues grow wide
While sticky drops spatter sidewalks . . .

Ah! The ants will have dessert!


Add comment March 20th, 2013

Review roundup

Here are samples of what bloggers are saying online about some recent Stenhouse books:

Writing to Explore
David Somoza and Peter Lourie

Kevin Hodgson, a sixth grade teacher in Southampton, Massachusetts, has been rethinking the way he approaches research projects with his students since his state adopted the Common Core. “The new standards not only increase the expectations of research-based reading and writing across the content areas, they also expect these skills to be taught in younger grades and with increasingly more complexity as the students get older,” Kevin explains. And if the expression “research project” elicits groans from you and your students, Kevin thinks the adventure essay and the strategies in Writing to Explore might be the cure. Read the full review here.

Pyrotechnics on the Page
Ralph Fletcher

Keith Schoch at Teaching with Picture Books says “I can’t recommend this book too highly!” “A good deal of the text discusses sentence structure, which is key to complex and elaborated writing as defined by the Common Core standards,” Keith writes, adding that helping students become writers also makes them better readers. Read the full review on Keith’s blog.

Reading with Meaning, Second Edition
Debbie Miller

When Stenhouse author Patrick Allen is not busy working on his new DVD Fact Finders!, he is busy interviewing other Stenhouse authors on his blog. This time he talked to Debbie Miller, author of Reading with Meaning. Read this great interview where Debbie talks about her hopes for the second edition of her landmark book and about what brings her the biggest joy as a teacher. The full interview is on Patrick’s blog, All-en-A-Day’s Work.

Igniting a Passion for Reading
Steven Layne

Some Stenhouse books travel far and wide. Steve Layne’s book made it all the way to New Zealand, where a reviewer on the Create Readers Blog by the National Library of New Zealand called it “the ‘go to’ book for teachers and librarians who are looking for well tested strategies to develop students as lifetime readers. The full review is here.

Write Like This and Academic Conversations
Kelly Gallagher and Jeff Zwiers

Ken over at RAMS English took a little bit of Kelly Gallagher, mixed it with a little bit of Jeff Zwiers and came up with his own point/counterpoint activity that takes “a fun persuasive unit activity from Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This and combines it with the core speaking skills from Jeff Zwiers’ Academic Conversations.” Sound like something you would like to try? Check out the results here.

Add comment March 18th, 2013

Now Online: Assessment in Perspective


We believe this book is a must-have for all educators. It is the perfect guide to maximizing the benefit of assessments; it will help us to truly know, understand, and teach all of our children. Clare and Tammy are top-notch teachers and world-class human beings. In this age of assessment, they are just what we need to keep assessment in perspective.

From the foreword by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, “The Sisters”

Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan, authors of Assessment in Perspective start their book with the story of Madeline, a student with significant special needs. As teachers prepared for Madeline’s arrival in their classroom, they poured over “more quantitative data than we thought could exist on one person.” But when Madeline arrived, teachers had trouble getting her to leave the playground and enter the classroom at all. At the end of the day, their mentor shared this thought with Clare and Tammy: “So, who is Madeline? Get to know Madeline. Teach her and notice how she learns, what engages her, and what she needs to learn. If you don’t understand her as a learner in your classroom, then you will never be able to teach her.”

“Assessment is more than a published test or tool that is administered formally. Assessment is also the data we collect authentically, every day,” the authors conclude.

Assessment in Perspective is about moving beyond the numbers and using assessment to find the stories they tell. This book helps teachers sort through the myriad of available assessments and use each to understand different facets of their readers. It discusses how to use a range of assessment types — from reading conference notes and student work to running records and state tests — together to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of a reader. The authors share a framework for thinking about the purpose, method, and types of different assessments. They also address the questions they ask when choosing or analyzing assessments.

The book emphasizes the importance of triangulating data by using varied sources, both formal and informal, and across multiple intervals. It explains the power of looking at different types of assessments side-by-side with displays to find patterns or inconsistencies. What’s more, students are included as valuable sources of data. Letting students in on the process of assessment is key to helping them set goals, monitor their own progress, and celebrate growth.

You can now preview the entire book online on the Stenhouse website.

1 comment March 13th, 2013

Happy World Read Aloud Day!

We are excited to once again participate in World Read Aloud Day and bring you three of our authors reading their own poems. We hope that you will all get a chance to read aloud today to your class, your kids, colleagues, or listen to a great read-aloud by someone else.

First, Lynne Dorfman reads her original poem “A Gift” from her book Poetry Mentor Texts:

Rose Cappelli reads her poem “The Coat,” inspired by Donald Graves’ poem “Summer Squash”. This poem also appears in Poetry Mentor Texts.

Steve Layne reads his poem “Read to Them” from his upcoming book Life’s Literacy Lessons, a collection of poems to be published by Stenhouse later this year:

Add comment March 6th, 2013

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