Archive for February, 2014

The Sisters talk about Math Daily 3

“The Common Core Standards require students to think and learn in a much deeper way in all subject areas, all the time, and the Math Daily 3 meets this expectation.” (From Linda Biondi, MiddleWeb reviewer)

One of the new features in the second edition of The Daily 5, is a chapter dedicated to math. In our new video conversation with Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, they discuss how the Math Daily 3 structure can be used to foster independence in students during math time.

Add comment February 27th, 2014

Now Online: Let’s Find Out!

In my own teaching, I have struggled to integrate content area concepts with literacy instruction. I have worried, along with every other teacher I’ve known, about how little time we have to teach all we want children to know. Here it all was, right before me, in Sue’s classroom.
—Ellin Oliver Keene

lets-find-outIn her new book, Let’s Find Out!, Sue Kempton invites readers into her kindergarten classroom where she incorporates music, art, movement, drama, research, and the natural world as she learns alongside her students. You’ll discover how to help children create background knowledge (schema) as they are learning to read and write.

Teachers will gain a solid understanding of why schema is so important and how they can help students develop it. The heart of the book presents stories from Sue’s classroom, illustrating how to use 20 key teaching tools—such as observation, dramatization, talking, and movement—strategically to ensure that kids develop schema for reading, writing, and other subject areas.

45 minutes of accompanying online video give you an in-depth look at Sue’s classroom—how kids support each other, use drama to enhance reading comprehension, learn effective word choice, and more.

Filled with student-teacher dialogue and writing samples, Let’s Find Out! guides primary teachers to enhance their comprehension instruction and give all of their students what they need to become proficient readers. The book will be published next month, and you can preview the entire text online now and then take a tour of Sue’s classroom in this short video

Add comment February 24th, 2014

In the Classroom with Jen: Conferring with young writers

We are excited to start a new blog series this month with Stenhouse author (A Place for Wonder with Georgia Heard) and first-grade teacher Jen McDonough. Jen will share stories and strategies from her classroom every couple of weeks, so be sure to check back often. We’ll start off the series with some ideas for streamlining writing conferences using the 3 F’s: frequency, focus, and follow-up.

Conferring with Young Writers

jenmcdonoughIt can be overwhelming at times when we sit down with kids to talk about their writing. So much to say, so many different directions we can go. One thing I know for sure is that too much teaching in a conference leads to an overwhelmed writer. As I go about working with young writers now, I try to keep what I call the “3 Fs” in mind: frequency, focus, and follow-up. These three things have streamlined my writing conferences with kids and helped make them more successful. So, what are the “3 Fs”?


I am constantly trying to come up with ways to make sure I meet with my young writers more frequently. What I have found is that in order for me to do so, I have to make sure certain things are in place during writing workshop. Management has to be in place. The kids need to know what is expected of them during writing time. We create a class expectations chart together at the beginning of the year and leave it up all year long as a reference for anyone who might be off task. When the kids are on task, I can get working with small groups or individual students.

The classroom also has to be organized. The materials the children will need to get writing work done need to be organized and accessible. I want to spend my time working with writers, not helping kids find a new pencil if one breaks. Keeping conferences short and on point also helps me see more kids, which leads me to the second F.


It is important, when meeting with young writers, not to overwhelm them with too many suggestions about how to improve their writing. Teaching too many strategies at once can leave a child struggling to do any of them independently once I walk away. One way I focus my conferences is to think about the qualities of good writing: structure, conventions, focus, voice, and elaboration. No matter what genre the writer is working on, I can always go back to these qualities to help lift the level of the writing. Instead of teaching one strategy one day and then another the next time we meet, I can help the writer set goals using one of the qualities and work on that for a bit before moving on to something else. For example, a child can set a goal for trying to elaborate more, and I can teach strategies for doing that no matter what the writer is writing about the day we meet. By staying focused on quality for a while, the conferences are more focused, move quicker, and allow the student more practice before moving on to something else.


The third F I think about when it comes to conferring is follow-up. Using the idea of frequency, I want to see writers as often as possible. When I follow up with a writer, I am always sure to compliment what is going well since our last meeting and then quickly talk about the big goal the writer has set. I ask the child to show me places in the writing where goals are being met to hold him or her accountable for what is being taught. If it is not there, I know I need to go back and reteach the strategy. If the writer is making progress, we can move on to another strategy that will help the child reach his or her writing goal. It is important to follow up and make sure that the teaching is sticking and the child is growing as a writer.

By using the “3 Fs” as overarching goals for myself as I confer with young writers, I have found that I feel more confident. The writers in my classroom know what will happen when I sit down with them and therefore feel more comfortable to discuss and work on their writing pieces.

Add comment February 19th, 2014

Are you ready for a writing challenge?


solIf you need some writing inspiration in these last, dark days of winter or if you need something to jump-start your writing routine, you are in luck! The Two Writing Teachers (Stenhouse author Stacey Shubitz and her group of bloggers) will begin their Slice of Life Writing Challenge March 1, 2014, and everyone is invited to participate.

Just like last year, there is an individual challenge open for everyone who has a blog, and a classroom challenge for teachers and their students. The most important part is that you sit down and write every day, for 31 days. And who knows? This might become a habit that will be hard to kick after March.

For more information, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog. There you will find information on how to start your own blog, how to participate in Slice of Life Tuesdays as well as the month-long challenge, and guidelines for classroom participation.

Add comment February 17th, 2014

The 2 Sisters on “barometer children”

In a new video, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser discuss how to support “barometer” children, those kids who dictate the weather in the classroom. They also explain the “Daily 3 Math” structure, new to the second edition of The Daily 5:

Add comment February 4th, 2014

Feeding the Social Animal: How Much Discussion is Too Much?

Sarah Cooper teaches U.S. history at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Canada, California. In her latest blog post she talks about how she guides classrooms discussions in her eighth-grade classroom to make sure that students have a chance to hear all perspectives, but also to build a sense of community and give students a long-lasting takeaway from their time in the classroom. Sarah is the author of Making History Mine: Meaningful Connections for Grades 5-9.

Feeding the Social Animal: How Much Discussion Is Too Much?

Cooper author photo bigger resolutionBy Sarah Cooper                

I don’t know what it’s like in your classroom, but the eighth graders in my U.S. history class often can’t stop talking.

They digress about pajama day and chicken fingers and video games. And, on good days, they also want to talk about history—not necessarily how a bill becomes a law, but how controversial topics such as affirmative action, press censorship, and privacy rights affect their lives.

Of course, I love their enthusiasm. But I also wonder: Where does the balance lie between full-class discussion and other activities that build content or skills? Can we have too much conversation that crowds out other meaningful pursuits?

Here’s an example:

We’ve hopscotched away from the text for a day to read an essay about Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves in Alan L. Lockwood and David E. Harris’s Reasoning with Democratic Values: Ethical Problems in United States History. Students often ask for more of these kinds of “stories”—anything that gives detail about people’s lives and avoids the fact-heavy textbook.

Over two nights they have read the piece for homework and responded in one-hundred-plus words to the question: “Can an action be morally right at one time in history and wrong in another?”

Students pair and share their homework responses for two minutes, and I ask them to give specific, positive feedback so their partners know they were actually listening. When we come together to talk about their views, I write a chart on the board showing both sides: morals are morals, regardless of time period or morals change with time.

The discussion wends its way through the room for fifteen minutes. Some students speak just to speak, whereas others respond to each other’s points. Five minutes in, ten hands are still waiting for airtime. Ten minutes in, five hands remain, and then three more pop up after a controversial comment.

Do I let everyone talk? Is it better to hear fifteen opinions—and for so many to voice their ideas—than for everyone to hear five opinions and then interact with those perspectives in some way? In the zero-sum game of classroom time management, in the confines of a school year, I think about this question a lot.

Interaction with the discussion, in pairs or individually, could mean picking a favorite argument from the chart, using it as a topic sentence for a theoretical paragraph, and listing three facts to support it. Or it could mean browsing a newspaper, hard copy or online, to find an article that discusses morality, then deciding how the article’s theme is similar to or different from Jefferson’s problem. This kind of follow-up assignment feels real to me, in some ways more valuable than watching discussion play itself out.

Yet the days I’ve let discussion go longer, sometimes twenty minutes or more, are often the moments students remember best. They refer to the intensity of the conversation months later and clearly understand the points raised.

So, what is the ideal way to teach?

One answer may lie in asking what students hold onto in the long term. I remembered this recently when I came face-to-face with my eighth-grade self over winter vacation (braces and all).

Visiting my dad, I started digging through boxes of old schoolwork. The first box contained papers from U.S. history when I was in middle school: a neatly handwritten chart of American explorers, a packet of worksheets on the Revolution, a stack of color-coded note cards from research projects.

All of this I had no memory of. None.

What did I remember from eighth-grade history, before I ever opened that box?

  1.  A passion for current events that led to loud arguments on the way out the door to lunch. It was 1988, and we all dug trenches for or against George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis.
  2. A Model United Nations conference in which we took China’s perspective.
  3. The friends I made in that class, many of whom I still talk with today.

All of these memories clearly involved people and discussion. Research and reading and writing also were important, but we used these tools to engage with other people’s views and ideas, often vociferously. We felt that we were talking about adult issues like adults, that we were serious contenders in the intellectual life of the country. And, in the process, we did learn “invisible” skills that I used through high school and beyond to continue to contribute to the discussions around me.

1 comment February 3rd, 2014

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