Blogstitute Week 1: Debbie Miller on letting kids “dig in”

A few reminders as we kick off our third annual Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute: A new post will appear every Wednesday morning for the next 9 weeks. No need to register or sign up, just return to this space for your weekly online learning. Visit and comment every week — we will raffle off a free Stenhouse book each week. Use code BLOG on the Stenhouse website to receive 20% off your purchase during the Blogstitute.

Ready? Here we go….

Planning with kids in mind

In Reading with Meaning (2013) I identified ten principles and practices that guide me in my daily work with children. Let’s take a closer look at this one:

Because I believe children need time to practice what I’m working so hard to teach them . . . every day you’ll see them engaged in workshops with a one-third/two-thirds balance of time: one-third of the time for me to teach and two-thirds of the time for them to work.

It’s easy to understand why things can morph into just the opposite, with two-thirds of the time for teaching and only one-third of the time for kids to have at it. Our job, after all, is to teach, and children have so much to learn! But when we over-scaffold children—when we model over and over and over again—we diminish student engagement, curiosity, agency, and independence. We also increase student conformity and compliance.

Instead of teachers doing all of the work, shouldn’t kids be the ones digging in, working hard, and figuring things out? Shouldn’t they be the ones who are growing as readers and getting smarter?

When we’re committed to workshops where students are the ones doing most of the reading, writing, and talking, what does this mean for planning? How do we go about it? These five big ideas guide me (see the planning guide that follows).

Planning Guide


So, what do you notice?

It used to be that, once I’d determined the focus of children’s reading work for the following day, I’d spend most of my time planning the lesson. I’d find that “just right” book, figure out where I’d think aloud and what I’d say, and identify places where I’d ask children to talk with each other about something specific.

Nothing wrong there—but here’s the shift: Now, once I identify our learning target, I no longer dive into planning the mini-lesson. Instead, I plan what students will do during work time to grow as readers and get smarter. What will they read, write, and talk about? How can I engage them so that they will be able to increase their stamina and sense of agency, independence, and grit? How will they demonstrate their understanding of the learning target?

Once I know what kids will be doing during their work time, planning the lesson falls right into place. I ask myself the following questions:

*What will students need most from me in order to do their best during the work time?

*How will I show them?

*What resources will I need?

To get a glimpse of how this might look in the classroom, take a look at the planning circle that follows. This lesson was for a group of first graders who were working on asking questions in their reading.

Planning Circle


I also regularly use a matching assessment to help keep track of student learning.

Matching Assessment


There are two parts to this matching assessment:

  1. Children record their questions on sticky notes as they read.
  2. Near the end of the workshop, children simply transfer their questions from their books to the think sheet. (This way I can spread their think sheets out, take a look, identify who is doing—and not doing—what, and consider implications for the next day’s teaching and learning).

There is no doubt that conferring is the most important way to find out where kids are and what they need. Let’s say that, on a really good day, we’re able to confer with four or five children. That’s significant, but what about the fifteen or so others? Assessments like this one give us at least some information about where the other fifteen children are when it comes to the learning target, helping us plan effectively for the next day. And that helps ensure that no child falls through the cracks.

54 comments June 20th, 2013

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