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Teacher's Corner Podcast: Jeff Anderson & Whitney La Rocca

Posted by admin on Dec 19, 2019 11:16:41 AM

In this Teacher's Corner episode we talk with Jeff Anderson and Whitney La Rocca as they answer some frequently-asked questions from Patterns of Power Facebook Community members. If you already use the resources from the Patterns of Power family for your grammar instruction, you might learn some helpful new tips. And if you're less familiar with Jeff and Whitney's work, listen in to find out how you can use it to bridge the gap between your reading and writing instruction.


To learn more about the Patterns of Power family of resources, go to or join the Patterns of Power Community Facebook group.


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Whitney La Rocc: I'm Whitney La Rocca and this is Jeff Anderson by my side and we are here today to talk about Patterns of Power, which is an inquiry based approach to teaching grammar and conventions.

Jeff Anderson: Patterns of Power is a series of invitations that allows students to inquire into what good writing is. So instead of teaching grammar and mechanics and editing through mistakes, we teach it through beauty and the correctness that are in the texts that we read every day. It's all about making meaning and connecting reading and writing. So we hope you'll check it out and we'll talk a little bit about some of the questions you have now.

Whitney La Rocc: So one of the questions, Jeff, we had was about transfer and application and this question is what's your best strategy for seeing transfer across the day?

Jeff Anderson: Well, I think that's a great question and we get asked it a lot. One of the things you have to remember is chapter three of Patterns of Power is about into application. Those activities that we asked you to do, where you go back to your own writing and try to add it or you find pieces or you collect pieces of writing that are like the pattern you've been studying. Those are ways in which we apply the pattern. When you have a math lesson and you say, write a sentence, a compound sentence you've been studying, write a compound sentence about what you've been learning today in math or science or social studies, that gives them that application. I think sometimes we just want kids to automatically apply stuff and I get that. But writing is a very complex process and there's lots of plates to spin all at once for a child.

Jeff Anderson: So maybe when they do an introductory clause, they get the comma, but they misspell have, but they're eight, they're nine, they're 10, whatever that is, we've got to have some tolerance for that, that it's going to take time over time. And when they're not applying it, I don't think there's one way that's the best way to apply it except to use it in their own writing and their own reading would be the best ways. And authentically use them as questions and prompts to do something, do some thinking with, some actual writing work, some actual composition work with.

Whitney La Rocc: And I think to continue that inquiry of how writers use those focus phrases as well. If they go back into the books that they're reading and start to find other examples in the collect and create section of the notebook, that's a great place to collect some other samples that you find and I think that continues to add to their repertoire of the strategies that they begin to gain when thinking about how they apply it. I think the biggest thing is it's a process and it's not a one and done, now I've taught it and they should always do it. It's a constant recursive process.

Jeff Anderson: Progress, not perfection, progress, not perfection.

Whitney La Rocc: And I think elementary writers are still very much in approximation phases of writing as they continue to learn language as a whole anyway.

Jeff Anderson: And they needed our acceptance. And one of the most important things we can do as teachers of writing is to let some things go and not expect perfection. It's just not going to happen. But we do need to nudge them to apply. They won't just apply it necessarily all on their own. We have to give them lots of opportunities and we look at chapter three of the Patterns of Power book as a series of opportunities to find out about how you can use these and apply things in authentic ways.

Whitney La Rocc: And it all comes back to the choices they make as writers too. I think we have to continue to have conversations with students about the choices they make, not the choices we tell them to make, but why did they choose to do that as a writer and how will they turn around and choose to use these focus phrases in other parts of their writing as well.

Jeff Anderson: And how will it affect your reader if you do or don't make this choice, not right wrong, but meaning [crosstalk 00:04:28]. We're getting a lot of questions about whether we should do the Patterns of Power process digitally or just in conversation or just with paper and pencil. And I think that idea of paper and pencil being the things for them to touch and actually put on there without having the aid of a digital world. So some of the thoughts we have Whitney is going to start off.

Whitney La Rocc: Well I think first and foremost conversation is key. We need to make sure that we are having conversations in our classroom about author's purpose and craft-

Jeff Anderson: It's the foundation of the process, right?

Whitney La Rocc: ... Yes. And everything is grounded in that conversation and conversation raises that level of awareness. And so when we're having conversations around craft moves and grammar and conventions in the way that authors use them to make meaning for their readers, then that can move into the writing and the choices that the readers make. So I think conversation is first and foremost the most important thing here.

Jeff Anderson: So, we're starting off, that's the foundation and the earlier the kids are in the process, the earlier they are in the use of it. We need to have that conversation. It remains throughout the process. Now, at times it is appropriate to add paper and pencil activities like we have in the student notebooks, the Patterns of Power student notebooks. But we want those to be about application. We want those to be about choice. We want those to be about composition. We want those to be about thinking and recording their thinking and making a style guide for themselves, not about copying down this or making them do something to be accountable for as much as it to be a way for them to record and think and jot about what their thinking is currently as it evolves over time. And this, we think, is what's important.

Jeff Anderson: So whether it's digitally, I think digitally works great for sharing. A lot of people we've seen share a sentence digitally and then the kids all add their sentences and they go up and then all the different kids can see them and that's very motivational for the kids to do that. Great. But I don't think it's a ... what I hear in there is sometimes thinking about computerizing it and I think the human interaction and really following kids questions and kids inquiry is the key to that conversation, which is the key to the conversation with self, which is often what we put on the paper, it's author, reader, conversation. Again, that's just a conversation as well. So it's not, there's no edict, but there's lots of opportunities and I think we should use those opportunities to make it effective and change things over time so it doesn't get too mundane.

Whitney La Rocc: Okay, Jeff. We have another question. It kind of goes back to the application and transfer that we talked about earlier. But this question is about students who use run-on sentences over and over again. And this teacher has already taught a lesson on, my sentence has a noun and a verb. We're still using run-on sentences in our writing. What mentors could we use or what could we do to continue to tackle that issue?

Jeff Anderson: Well, what's interesting is understanding that the sentence has to have a subject and a verb is key and foundational. But that really helps them with fragments. It doesn't help them with run-on sentences. Run-on sentences have lots of subjects and lots of verbs. So where you look next for that is not only studying correct sentences. Every time you study a correct sentence that has now a subject and a verb and it's not a run-on. And you see that sentence boundary, you're doing that, you're applying that. Every time you have the kids go back and read their papers and draw like an orange line under their writing until they get to a piece of punctuation. Then that's making them conscious, because they can just look at their paper and see, "Wow, I went through this whole paper, I never used a period." And I'll say, "Well, What do you think that choice implies to your reader? Or how might that affect you as a reader to not have any periods in the paper?"

Jeff Anderson: And they start to see that and know that it takes time. But I think that discussion is key and powerful. Again, it goes back to that discussion about what's the effect on the reader when we don't put any punctuation. We're making them do too much work and we're ... we like to shape our message. And so really to avoid run-ons, I hate that as a goal to avoid run-ons. I think of it more as let's use compound sentences. Let's use complex sentences. And understand that part of the approximation process when you go beyond a simple sentence and compound predicates and all that, you're going to have some, you have to have some tolerance for some errors in there and you're going to continually bring them back.

Jeff Anderson: I think James Moffett used to say, "Sentences must grow rank before they can be trimmed." And I always think that like run-on sentences are a way that kids are just so excited that they want to get it in there. And it's just, it's not a one and done thing like Whitney said earlier, it's going to continually grow over time.

Whitney La Rocc: Well, and I think the way the brains, the little brains of our students are working is, they have so much going on inside their brain that they just want to get down on paper. So they are not thinking at that moment about where they're going to put their periods, because they're just trying to get all of this information, trying to keep their hand keeping up with their brain to get it all on paper. And then I think it's hard for them to go back then and think about where those periods go. And again, that just brings back to conversation about choices and the effect it has on the reader. And I think this is a great place also to bring in your editing conversation.

Whitney La Rocc: And if you're using a sentence or even two sentences or an excerpt from a mentor text or [inaudible 00:10:06] that you're doing and you just talk about what are the choices the writer made in this paragraph? Let's talk about that. And then have an editing conversation about that where you do have a couple of those with run-on sentences. And it just, again, that conversation around the choices the writer made.

Jeff Anderson: It is. And it needs to keep resurfacing. Language arts, reading, writing, grammar are process skills that have to be traced and retraced again and again and again until you grow to that place. We grow toward correctness. We don't just arrive at it. I still make mistakes, but Whitney doesn't.

Whitney La Rocc: I do. Every now and then.

Jeff Anderson: No, no, she doesn't. She doesn't.

Whitney La Rocc: I correct your mistakes now. It's easy.

Jeff Anderson: Yeah, that's true. It's true. And there's a lot of them to correct. So, for those people using the notebook, this is a question that comes up a lot and I know that's what happens when you put a space and you allow a space for an invitation to happen. It's like, "Well, what do you want me to do?" And I want us to think about that idea of thinking about both the collect and create box and the celebration thoughts box. Well, when a kid is celebrating, as we read aloud their writing, perhaps they share it in another way. Maybe I see something that my friend Whitney did that was really cool. Well, maybe I'll write that down in my celebration thoughts. Or maybe I'll come to understand something in a different way. Or maybe I'll even find a sentence in our reading that day that I'll want to put down in there that makes me think of that sentence.

Jeff Anderson: I may want to say something nice about myself. I'm really good at making people laugh with my writing. Whatever they can celebrate. What we're trying to do with the celebration thoughts is give them a space to jot down, record over time-

Whitney La Rocc: Reflect.

Jeff Anderson: ... and reflect their joyousness of writing and reaching an audience. And so, there isn't a right or wrong way to do that. It's their book and they can add to it what they want, but we want them to add something to it.

Whitney La Rocc: And I think that's the ... I think what you just said, Jeff, is key. It's their book. This is, we call it a student notebook versus a student work book. Because in a work book there's so often where that is teachers expecting all of the work to be the same in the book, right? Whereas a notebook is personal. And so in a student notebook, it's their work and it's their reflections and their thoughts and their writing. And it's a place where they can see themselves grow as writers. They can record the learning that they're doing. And then the teacher can go in and kind of get an inside look into the writer and how that writer is growing as well. So, I think with the celebration thoughts and the collect and create for sure it is about what they're thinking inside.

Jeff Anderson: Yeah. Because what if for the collect and create, again, if I find a sentence in the book I'm reading, in my guided reading book or in my independent reading, and I want to jot it down, I can jot it down. There's a place for it. If I got inspired by one of my friend's sentences that they wrote, made me think of something that I hadn't thought of and I want to write it there. I can write there. This is the place for me to create or collect beautiful ... my friend's sentences, sentences from literature collect. Or create something, maybe do a free write on that just because you've got some things you want to say now, because it made you think about swimming in your pool and you got so excited you wanted to write all about swimming in your pool. Well there you go. You've got it.

Jeff Anderson: There are some sections that may look more similar across the classroom, but those two sections are open ended. And I know that's harder to do, the open ended, but that's why we don't want kids dependent on always being prompted. We want them to start jotting down thinking for themselves, which is a form of application, which is a form of really cementing the learning. So, a lot of times we get questions about, when do you do quizzes? How do you get grades? And so to talk about that, we wanted to first ask what's your purpose for what you're asking the kids to do? And if it's true assessment, then I want to make sure that we do assessment, because the notebooks that we've set up, you don't have to get them, you don't have to use them, but they're there as a way to assess growth over time.

Jeff Anderson: And not only do that but build a style guide, a personal style guide that I can return to and see and go back to and have spaces and places to interact, to jot my thinking and to own my thinking and to own my applications of it. That's assessment. But I know sometimes people really, when they say quizzes and grades, they just mean, "Where can I get a grade?" And so, we suggest, if you're using the Patterns of Power book, just look back at the applications chapter, on chapter three.

Jeff Anderson: Any of those could happen. And when I have somebody that says, "Well, I'm teaching serial comma and I just have to have a quiz." Okay, one, no, you don't. Two, invitation to edits can add some level of how that's being transferred over to a standardized test. Three, you could always have the kids write three sentences using a serial comma. If you could think of nothing else, that's always an application. Even though we have that entire chapter on application, I just want you to know those are all invitations and any one of them can do and are much better grades than a quiz or a fill in the blank worksheet or where you go add a comma to some compound sentences. Yeah, go ahead.

Whitney La Rocc: Well, I think grades too. I know that when I used to teach and I would give a ... like a worksheet or something to get a grade, they would get a hundred on that, right? And then I would look at their writing that they were doing, and it did not match the hundred that they just received for a grade. So, I know that always made me really reflect on what are my grades that I'm putting in the grade book reflecting? Because what they should be reflecting is what children are doing in their actual writing.

Jeff Anderson: Right. That's where the rubber hits the road.

Whitney La Rocc: Right. And so when we give a quiz or something that doesn't have real writing on it, then we're not-

Jeff Anderson: Real composition.

Whitney La Rocc: ... really grading in a reflective practice. And I think that's what grades are meant to be. Grades are really out there for parents. And so, what are we telling parents out there when we're giving a grade on something that doesn't transfer over to their actual work that they're doing?

Jeff Anderson: That's a really great point.

Whitney La Rocc: Another question that we get often is about the order in which we teach the lessons or what order should I teach? Or what lesson should I start with? I'm a second grade teacher, where should I begin? And so, we did create the Patterns of Power Plus that was grade level specific to kind of help teachers get more specifically for their grade level. But when we think about order, what we need to use, of course, is our standards as to what lessons we need to be teaching. But we also need to be reflective on where our students are in their own process of learning grammar and conventions.

Jeff Anderson: Responsive teaching.

Whitney La Rocc: That's what we call it. Absolutely. And so we want to make sure that we're looking at what our writers are doing, what they're ready for, what they're already doing, and building on that to decide what lessons should I do next. And we always want to start with what they're already doing and build on that.

Jeff Anderson: So, tell them a little bit more about where they can find that work that's done. It's not that we want you to use it and that it needs to reflect that. It's like, if you have no idea where to start, it's a place to start. But you don't have to use these and we don't suggest, we don't mandate you use them. But we want you to know, to understand how the Patterns of Power resource book, the big orange resource book, works with each grade level is Patterns of Power Plus. Because there are all new lessons in Patterns of Power Plus.

Whitney La Rocc: So, on our Facebook page and also the product page on the Stenhouse website, we have a suggested full year plan that is aligned to the standards. Okay. And that's for Patterns of Power and Patterns of Power Plus together. And that's always a good starting point if you're just curious as to maybe a possible order that you can go in. But I also think that we need to understand how each one was written. So, the resource book was written across levels of complexity. We have a lot of teachers that say, "Oh, I just start on the very first lesson and go all the way through. But I'm not going to make it all the way through the book in that year."

Whitney La Rocc: No, you're not. And that's not how it was written. So it's written on levels of complexity, meaning the beginning of the book has less complex skills than the end of the book. And the chapters are written the same way. So the beginning of each chapter is less complex than the end of each chapter. And so when we're thinking about that and you're looking at your students' writing and thinking of how complex their writing is and what they're doing, you can choose lessons in that way too. And then Patterns of Power Plus, we did kind of write in an order knowing it was grade level specific of sequence. Basically starting with the simple sentence and building on that into compound and complex while adding details.

Jeff Anderson: Which is avoiding run-ons. When you teach complex and compound sentences, you're teaching kids to avoid run-ons through a positive action of how you connect your ideas and show relationships rather than not doing something. It's about how you do do something. I said do do. Yes, I did. And that sounds like a great place to stop.

Nate Butler: The Patterns of Power Family of Resources for grades one through five is available at You can also find us at the Patterns of Power community on Facebook. Next time on Teacher's Corner, Gail Boushey and Allison Behne, the coauthors of the newly expanded edition of The CAFE Book. We hope you enjoyed listening to today's podcast and we'd love to hear from you, smash like, or send your comments to us at Thanks for listening.


Topics: Teachers Corner