Archive for September, 2014

What they are saying about Stenhouse books

0992Midwest Book Review spotlighted two Stenhouse books on the “Education Shelf” of their Bookwatch list, deeming To Look Closely by Laurie Rubin “informed, informative, superbly organized and presented” and calling The Daily 5, 2nd Edition, “a fine ‘must’ for any educator’s collection.”

Kid Lit Frenzy featured Perfect Pairs by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley, and found that “despite how comprehensive it is, there is an ease in Perfect Pairswhich it is laid out and how it is structured. Whether someone is a new or an experienced teacher, the ideas and suggestions are easy to follow and can be implemented in the classroom.”

The Uncommon Corps says of Perfect Pairs, “What a gift for starting the school year. I hope you check out this useful, clearly written, much needed book.”

Reviewing Poem Central, MiddleWeb‘s Jenni Miller writes, “Shirley McPhillips brings us face to face with a beautiful truth: that while in many ways poetry is in hiding, the truth is that it is hiding in plain sight…McPhillips expresses this in a lovely way that gives us permission to interact with poetry on our own terms, to allow it to cohabit, so to speak, with our curriculum.”

And Linda Biondi praised Intentional Talk by Elham Kazemi and Allison Hintz, concluding “if you want to engage your students to become more critical thinkers in math class, this book is an important must-read.”

Common Core Standards in Diverse Classrooms by Jeff Zwiers, Susan O’Hara, and Robert Pritchard was highlighted by Teachers College Record reviewers who believe “teachers will find the details, instruction, and annotations fascinating, like a slowed-down movie version of an actual classroom where we have the opportunity to pause, think, and rethink, move around the room, and reflect on our normally fast-paced lessons.” Preview the entire book.

Add comment September 29th, 2014

Now Online: Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary

In her new flipchart, Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary, veteran educator and literacy expert Janet Allen deepens your understanding of effective vocabulary instruction and helps you meet the specific needs of your students and learning goals, as well as the demands of rigorous texts and high-stakes assessments.

Following the same practical format as Janet’s best-selling Tools for Teaching Content Literacy and More Tools for Teaching Content Literacy, this practical resource presents twenty instructional practices that address the four components of effective vocabulary instruction: Providing Rich and Varied Language Experiences, Teaching Individual Words, Teaching Word-Learning Strategies, and Fostering Word Consciousness.

Printable organizers, forms, and charts linked to each tool make it easy to implement the strategies in any classroom.

By adopting the practices in Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary, you’ll see improvements in your students’ writing and speaking, and ensure that all students experience the power of knowing and choosing the right word for any task.

Preview and download four tools now!

Add comment September 26th, 2014

Talking poetry

Spend an hour in good company with poet and Stenhouse author Shirley McPhillips and National Writing Project host Tanya Baker as they discuss poetry, Shirl’s new book Poem Central, and the joy of reading the right poem at the right time. So pour a cup of tea and click on this link to listen to the entire interview.

Add comment September 23rd, 2014

Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives: Teachers Get Fit with Number Sense Routines

We continue our Profiles in Effective PD series with a visit to Kearney, Nebraska, where teachers are in the middle of a three-year plan to implement the techniques discussed in Jessica Shumway’s recent book, Number Sense Routines. Stenhouse editor Holly Holland recently talked to instructional learning coach Julie Everett and shares how teachers in kindergarten and first grade are helping their students improve their number sense.

Teachers Get Fit with Number Sense Routines

By Holly Holland

Instructional learning coach Julie Everett analyzed math assessment data over several years in the five elementary schools where she works in Kearney, Nebraska, and kept noticing a persistent problem: number sense was lacking. Many students did not have basic understanding of the relationships among numbers. They did not know how to think or talk about numbers or use number sense reasoning strategies to solve problems. Without those foundational skills, Everett believed students would likely struggle in higher-level math classes.

She discussed her concerns with colleagues, and then in Spring 2013, Everett discovered Jessica Shumway, author of Number Sense Routines: Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K–3 (Stenhouse, 2011). Everett heard Shumway present at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference and knew she had found a valuable colleague and resource.

“I was highly impressed with her background knowledge and the research base she had done,” Everett said. “I had several conversations with her, and discussed how we might involve her in consulting with the district. Our curriculum and instruction team believed that we needed to be doing something more systemic and systematic with math and literacy and improving instruction with our teachers.’”

Over the next few months, they developed a three-year plan to help all elementary teachers in the school district learn the techniques that Shumway shares in her book and in her new DVD, Go Figure! Number Sense Routines that Build Mathematical Understanding (Stenhouse, 2014). Their plan started with a book study involving the kindergarten and first grade teachers, expanded to include Skype sessions with Shumway, and finally led to on-site visits where Shumway modeled routines and cotaught small- and whole-group lessons with the faculty.

In addition to reading the book, the Kearney teachers also had to write a personal reflection every month, sharing what they had learned from Shumway’s book and what they were doing differently in their classrooms as a result. Everett believes the requirement made teachers more accountable for synthesizing information and focusing on results.

“It’s just been a really cool experience,” Everett said. “At first, I have to say, our K–1 teachers were overwhelmed by the work that was expected: ‘We have to read every month? What is this all about? We don’t have time for that.’ There was grumbling at first.” But after Shumway showed the strategies in application and helped teachers take risks and raise their expectations, Everett said, “I would have to say that 80-90 percent of our K–1 teachers have now said, ‘Wow, this has totally transformed my thinking about math. I had no idea number sense was so critical.’”

The Importance of Number Sense

As Shumway relates in her book, teaching number sense is not only critical, it’s also complex. “There are many layers to it, and it is rooted within all strands of mathematics,” she writes. “Number sense facilitates problem solving, reasoning, and discussing mathematical ideas.” Students with strong number sense can visualize quantities and perform mental math, understand the relative magnitude of amounts, make comparisons among quantities, and determine the reasonableness of an answer, among other skills. “Embedded in these characteristics of number sense are big mathematical ideas; strategies that utilize number sense; skills, models, and tools for using number sense; and language for explaining number sense ideas and strategies.”

Just as athletes stretch their muscles before every game and musicians play scales to keep their technique in tune, mathematical thinkers and problem solvers can benefit from daily warm-up exercises. Shumway has developed a series of routines designed to help young students internalize and deepen their facility with numbers.

Shumway also shows teachers how to move students through what she calls the Early Number Sense Learning Trajectory, starting with subitizing, understanding magnitude, and counting and progressing to hierarchical inclusion, part/whole relationships, compensation, and unitizing. The goal is to develop children’s flexibility and fluency with math. Shumway says these methods involve teaching the meaning of numbers, rather than procedures and memorization, so that students are able to decompose numbers, visualize them and apply them in the future.

“Think about it in terms of reading,” she writes. “It is cumbersome and inefficient to sound out every letter in a word. When children begin to recognize and use chunks of letters within a word or read sight words, they become more fluent readers. This frees up their cognitive energy for more challenging words. It is the same in mathematics. Seeing groups and thinking about amounts in terms of groups leads students to become more fluent and numerically literate. Their cognitive energy can then be spent on more challenging problem solving.”

The Urgency of Understanding Math

For many elementary teachers, Shumway has instant credibility. In addition to having worked as an elementary teacher and math coach, she acknowledges having had weak preparation and understanding of how to teach math. A history major in college and a “social studies guru” when she began teaching, Shumway had to deepen her own knowledge of mathematical thinking along with her students.

“She is clear to say, “I am not a mathematician and I always felt that I was poor in math and that it was because of a lack of number sense. And what’s why I have an urgency to make sure that teachers understand the very important piece of number sense and why that leads to success for kids,’” Everett says. “Teachers could relate: ‘Oh, this is me,’ or ‘that’s how I feel.’”

As part of their book study of Number Sense Routines, Kearney’s kindergarten and first-grade teachers had to choose three students to follow in a case study through the school year. They set goals for all the students, tracked their progress in math, and shared the information and consulted with their colleagues each month. If a student achieved the goals set for him or her before the end of the year, the teachers selected other students to follow.

“It was fun to hear teachers talking about those kids,” Everett says. “They would ask, ‘How is Karl doing?’ It became very personal. We had never had those conversations before. The sharing piece is just so enlightening and refreshing. It becomes a problem-solving event, as well as a celebration of moving kids along their learning continuum.”

Teachers also taught demonstration lessons, with Shumway observing and deconstructing the vocabulary they were using with students and the questions they were asking. They observed and taught with teachers in other schools.

“I feel it’s important to talk to other teachers outside your building. It gives you more perspective,” says Marissa Schleiger-Kruse, who just finished her first year teaching first grade at Buffalo Hills Elementary in Kearney. “I feel that everyone, new or old, has benefited so much from Jessica Shumway and her Number Sense studies.”

Schleiger-Kruse says she incorporated many of the practices in Number Sense Routines, including one called Count Around the Circle, which helps students understand the pattern the teacher is describing, such as counting by twos or fives or counting backwards.

“I’ve done those every day, and it helps students learn their counting routines,” she says. “Eventually some of my higher learners, I know that it will help them with multiplication because it’s really skip counting. If we practice that daily, they get that.”

The consistent practice benefited every student, Schleiger says. By the end of first grade, her school district expects students to be able to count by twos to fifty and count by fives and tens to one-hundred.

“All of my students have mastered that, and all it takes is five or ten minutes a day,” she says. “We may start at 200 and count backward by fives or tens. They love it; it’s never boring to them. They are always trying to figure out what I’m going to start with.”

Central Elementary School first-grade teacher Tara Abdallah says she and her colleagues appreciated the practical strategies and tools Shumway shared that they could immediately use in their classrooms. One of her favorites is Dot Cards, which resemble domino tiles or dice and help students practice skip counting and recognize groupings and multiples that they can later form into equations. The visual aids help students learn to subitize, but they also let teachers continually assess how students are thinking about amounts.

Kearney teachers adapted some of the strategies in Number Sense Routines for other purposes and for subjects other than math. For example, Abdallah tweaked Shumway’s Count Around the Circle strategy to help students learn to count money, and her coteacher adapted it for guided reading. Instead of using numbers, she substituted the alphabet and phonetic sounds so students could become more fluent when reading.

“There’s some amazing stuff in this book that’s so hands-on and freeing,” Abdallah says.  “I cannot wait until next school year. I’m going to implement so much from the book!”

During the 2014-15 school year, Kearney’s second- and third-grade teams will begin the training cycle with Number Sense Routines, and the following year teachers in fourth and fifth grades will get involved. Everett says she hopes that teachers will keep the momentum going in future years, coaching their colleagues and planning collaboratively so that they can eliminate instructional gaps from one grade level to the next.

“Teachers are sharing way more than they ever have in our staff development,” she says. “This is powerful. I am super proud of the work our teachers are doing.”


Add comment September 22nd, 2014

“You just listened, so then I could figure it out”

We recently had a lovely post from Sarah Cooper about the importance of taking things slow in the classroom. Today’s post from Tracy Zager is based on the same idea — giving students the space and time to figure things out on their own. Tracy was reminded of this important lesson by her daughter during a car ride. Read her story and watch the video and then head over to visit Tracy’s new blog!

“You just listened, so then I could figure it out”

My daughters and I climbed in the car to go shoe shopping before their first day of school. I sat in the driver’s seat while they buckled themselves into their car seats and noticed I was keeping track of the loud clicks I heard for each buckle. I took the opportunity to open a math conversation with my kids.

“I didn’t look, but I know you’re all buckled. How could I know that?”

Daphne, age 5, said, “You looked in the mirror!”

“I did not look in the mirror!”

Maya, age 7, said, “You must have counted the clicks! So, you heard 6 clicks and knew we were all buckled.”

I asked, “How would 6 clicks tell me you’re both buckled?”

Maya answered, “Because each car seat has 3 buckles, and 3 times 2 is 6.”

Daphne started to cry. “That’s what I was going to say!”

I turned to Daphne. “Tell me where the 6 comes from, in your own words.”

Daphne said, “Each car seat has 3 buckles, and 3 plus 3 is 6.”

Ah! There was my first opening.

“Maya, you said 3 times 2 is 6. And Daphne, you said 3 plus 3 is 6. Can those both be true? They sound different.”

Maya and I played with this idea for a few minutes, but I could see in the mirror that we were losing Daphne. When Maya and I were done, I asked a question just for Daphne.

“Daphne, what if we had 3 car seats? How many clicks would I hear then?”

There was a long pause while she thought, Maya waited, and I drove.


“How did you figure that out?”

“Well, I remembered the 6, and then I said 7, 8, 9.”

Maya gasped. “Daphne, you’re counting on again!”

Daphne beamed and said, “I know!”

We were all excited because Daphne had counted on for the very first time that morning, when we were baking popovers.

I asked, laughing, “Since when are you counting on? How did you learn that?”

Daphne said, “Well, you gave me a lot of time to think. You didn’t say anything, and you didn’t tell me what to do. You just listened, so then I could figure it out for myself.”

My jaw dropped. For the rest of the car ride, Daphne talked about how school should be filled with lots of time when the teacher “doesn’t say anything and lets the kids think, because that’s how we can learn. The teacher can just listen.” There was so much wisdom in what she was saying that I asked her if we could make a quick video once I parked the car.


Daphne knows what she needs to learn math: time and something tricky to figure out.

“Do you like when a problem is tricky?”

She nodded.

“How come?”

“Because then I get some time to think, and I learn something.”

I am a teacher, and I also coach other teachers. How many times have we all talked about think time, and how important it is? But, here’s the truth: about halfway through the time Daphne was thinking about the fourth car seat, I got a little nervous. I tried to keep my face encouraging on the outside, but on the inside I heard a tiny voice:

“Uh-oh. Maybe this problem is too hard. Should I help her? What would be a good question to help her?”

While I was secretly worrying, Daphne was calmly figuring out how many clicks 4 car seats would make. To a teacher who makes decisions every few seconds, 20 seconds of think time—which is what Daphne took to solve this problem—feels like an eternity. New teachers, in particular, tend to break silences after a second or two with some kind of “help.” With practice, I’ve learned how valuable think time is, and I now sustain those long silences. But internally, I still find it hard to quiet that worried voice.

Later that night, after we watched the video together, I asked Daphne about the reason she gave for why counting on is challenging. She’d said, “You have to remember while talking about something else.”

“What did you mean by that, Daph?”

“Well, you have to remember a whole bunch of things. Like, I had to remember the 6, because that’s where I started. And I had to remember the 3, because I had to stop after 3. And I was counting at the same time. It’s a lot to remember!”

“It sure is. Can I tell you something? While you were doing all that, I was wondering if I should help you.”

She looked shocked. “But I didn’t need help, Mommy! I was just thinking!”

“What would have happened if I had said something while you were remembering where to start and where to stop while you were counting?”

“I would have forgotten what I was doing and had to start all over again! That wouldn’t have helped at all, Mommy! That would have been so frustrating!”

“You know, Daphne, you’re making me a better teacher. You’re teaching me, again, that sometimes when teachers want to ‘help’ a student, we’re actually not helping at all. Sometimes we just need to be quiet. And we need to be comfortable with silence.”

“Yeah. So kids can think!”


We were quiet for a minute together, each thinking.
“Mommy, can you tell other teachers that too? Tell them what I taught you? To not interrupt us when we’re thinking, and just listen while we figure it out?”

“Yes, honey, I think I can.”

Tracy Johnston Zager is the author of the upcoming Stenhouse book Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms. You can find her on twitter at @tracyzager, and at

Add comment September 17th, 2014

The Editor’s Shelf: Teaching history

My teenage children hate history. It was always my favorite subject, and that was mostly with teachers who believed in names and dates, and little else. During homework hour at night (or hours these days), I try and explain Faulkner’s famous quote to my kids: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And I’m greeted with blank stares or a roll of the eyes and always another complaint about history being boring and irrelevant. I don’t expect it to be their favorite subject, but irrelevant? I could go on and on…

One of the ways a book gets published is that an editor has a zeal and passion for the manuscript. This is especially true in the trade world where countless examples exist of a famous book turned down sixty times before some editor read it, loved it, and made sure everyone in the office knew just how wonderful it was. We are not a trade house, but passion still plays a significant role.

I love the three books we currently publish on ways to teach history that are meaningful and engaging. Making History Mine by Sarah Cooper, Eyewitness to the Past by Joan Brodsky Schur, and Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer? by Bruce Lesh. What they give history teachers are the tools to prove to kids that while names and dates are important, history is much more than that. Kids research and interpret history. They learn firsthand what historians actually do. It’s nonfiction that requires full engagement of the imagination. What a wonderful blend!

1 comment September 16th, 2014

Now Online: Revision Decisions

When students talk about their ideas for writing, they often exhibit spark, personality, and pizzazz, expressing interesting ideas fearlessly and creatively. Yet the writing they submit lacks this same enthusiasm and originality. They have the ideas, but what happens between that talk and the written draft?

Jeff Anderson and Debbie Dean provide a practical framework for smoothing the space between ideas and drafting in their new book, Revision Decisions. Starting at the sentence level, Jeff and Debbie show you how to create learning experiences where students discover and practice the many options available to them as writers.

The heart of the book is a series of ten lesson sets with printable handouts that will give your students a repertoire of revision techniques using elements such as serial commas, interrupters, and sentence branching. A key part of the lessons is talk—collaborating in small groups on revision decisions and developing a writer’s vocabulary in whole-class discussions.

Revision Decisions helps teachers engage their students in the tinkering, playing, and thinking that are essential to clarify and elevate writing. You can now preview Chapter 1, “Revision Decisions Are Possible: Actively Processing to Develop Options for Revision.”

Add comment September 15th, 2014

Why we read

We are celebrating International Literacy Day today and so a few of our lovely Stenhouse employees shared why they love to read. Head over to Twitter to follow us all day long with more reasons to read from our authors. Tweet us why you read and you could win a free Stenhouse book! Just use this form, take a selfie, and tweet to @stenhousebup using the hashtag #whyiread!

Louisa, our newest employee

Louisa, our newest employee

Chandra, our conference guru

Chandra, our conference guru

Stenhouse President Dan Tobin

Stenhouse President Dan Tobin

Add comment September 8th, 2014

Join us for International Literacy Day

On September 8 we are joining the International Book Bank in celebrating International Literacy Day with the hashtag #whyiread, and we need your help to remind your friends and the world that:

  • Currently 775.4 million adults cannot read or write; two thirds are women.
  • Illiteracy affects an individual’s access to education, ability to exercise her civil rights, and even impacts her health and development.
  • The consequences of illiteracy are devastating for the individual, the community and the world.

In 1965, UNESCO declared September 8 International Literacy Day (ILD) in an effort to focus attention on global literacy issues.  You can be a part of the effort by doing the following on September 8:

(1) Write! Using our printable form, tell us why you read.

(2) Take a selfie! Snap a photo of yourself with your sign.

(3) Share! We want to see the many (and varied) reasons people read around the world. Post your photo on Twitter using #whyiread and be sure to tag IBB and @stenhousepub. We’ll be retweeting and sharing #whyiread posts from Stenhouse authors all day long. We’ll also raffle off five free books at the end of the day, so be sure to mention @stenhousepub in your Tweet!


Stenhouse Blog editor Zsofi McMullin


Add comment September 3rd, 2014

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