Day with Donalyn


The focus of the second day of the Longwood University Summer Institute was teacher, author, and now Scholastic representative Donalyn Miller.  In the morning she held a three-hour workshop for all participants and in the afternoon she offered a shorter presentation on conferring.

Donalyn’s morning presentation was titled: Voice and Choice: Fostering Reading Ownership.  Her goal was to communicate the importance of providing students with choice independent reading time in classrooms.  She sprinkled her presentation with photos and stories from her classroom along with research.  Here are some highlights:

  • There is over 60 years of research on the effectiveness of Independent Reading.  She even wrote a piece titled I Got Research Yes I Do for teachers to read and use to support this practice in their classroom.
  • She talked about the importance of creating INDEPENDENT readers (who find joy and are engaged in reading) and not dependent readers (who wait to be assigned a book by a teacher).
  • Giving students CHOICE in what they read is important.  People who lose their choice become disempowered.  In self-selecting books students increase their decision-making ability.
  • Classroom libraries are important.  Classroom libraries should contain between 300 and 2,000 books.  Teachers should get rid of books that are MUSTIE — Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, Trivial, Irrelevant, and Elsewhere.  When we discard books remember to give them to kids…not the garbage
  • Test prep does not increase test performance or reading achievement.
  • We punish children when we give rewards for reading…”Reading is so awful you need a prize to do it.” 😦
  • #1 way to determine what to read next…ask Reading Friends.  Allowing students time to talk about their books empowers them.
  • When a child struggles with finding a book give them a Preview Stack = 4 or 5 books you think they might like for them to CHOOSE from.
  • Read alouds are important to have in every classroom.  Keep track of the books read aloud by posting the titles in the room under “Texts We’ve Shared.”
  • Motivation, Background Knowledge, and Reading Level all play roles in students finding success with reading a text.  Background knowledge makes up 70% of success.

Much of Donalyn’s presentation revisited her ideas in Reading in the Wild.  After lunch Donalyn spoke about conferring.  Her Powerpoint for this presentation (and many of her other presentations) can be viewed on SlideShare.  This one has the picture of the Golden Gate Bridge on it.  Here are some big ideas about conferring:

  • Conferences are about the reader not the book.
  • Great way to start a conference is by asking, “How’s It Going?”  Then the child can guide us to where to go next.
  • There are 3 types of conferences:
    1. Content/Standards Based
    2. Comprehension
    3. Reading Habits
  • To begin the year she completes a reading essentials survey on with each student (see slideshare)
  • Everyone leaves a conference with a goal to work on (teacher and student)
  • Evernote is a great free app to help record data.

After Donalyn spoke I had her sign my #bookaday text since I only own her two books in audio form.

It was wonderful to hear Donalyn speak in person.  We hold the same philosophy on reading instruction.  I thank her for trekking to Virginia for this conference.  She had many travel problems as she describes in this Blog post.  If you are not already a subscriber to The Nerdy Book Club click on that link and subscribe now!

Want to learn more about conferring?  Check out Three Teachers Talk repost from yesterday…it is so good!


Authors’ Stories


I recently attended the 13th Annual Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute.  Day one of the institute included presentations from 5 different authors.  I always find it so interesting to hear authors share their writing process.  Hardly ever does it match the structured process that teachers traditionally instruct in school.

Below are the authors that presented this year and my takeaways from their presentations:

Marfe Ferguson Delano


Bio: Marfé Ferguson Delanois the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for children, including Master George’s People,  Earth in the Hot Seat, and award-winning biographies of Albert Einstein (Genius), Thomas Edison (Inventing the Future), and Annie Sullivan (Helen’s Eyes). Her most recent titles are the picture books Baby Animals and A Tree Grows Up. A graduate of Duke University, Marfé lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

As a writer of nonfiction Marfe stressed the importance of really getting to know your topic and experiencing it first hand.  When she was asked to write a book about caving she went caving.  For her book on Anne Sullivan she visited Helen Keller’s birthplace and school.

For her biographies she writes quotations on notecards during her research phase and then organizes her notecards, outlines the story, and then writes a first draft.  She works to include all the “oh wow, facts” she uncovered and stated that a favorite line of hers is “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

For her nonfiction picture books she has a spiral notebook for her brainstorming.  She begins with a topic and then writes down all the words that come to mind when she thinks of that topic.  As she reads up on her topic she adds words to this list.  Next, she makes a list of questions about her topic careful to check on assumptions.  She drafts her story on notecards and then types these up to send to her editor.

Steve Watkins


Bio: Steve Watkins is the author of Juvie, a young adult novel about juvenile incarceration, and Great Falls, a post-Iraq War novel.  He has four books in his middle-grade Ghosts of War series.  Steve is also the author of What Comes After, which was named by Bank Street College as one of the best YA books of 2012 and selected as a finalist for the Georgia Peach Award for YA Fiction. His YA novel Down Sand Mountain won the 2009 Golden Kite Award for Fiction from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  A graduate of Florida State University, Steve taught journalism, creative writing, and Vietnam War literature at the University of Mary Washington.

Steve Watkins was humorous in his presentation and more off the cuff.  He talked about his childhood and what lead him to be an author and a yoga instructor!  He said that he wrote his first story in grade school and that his parents made copies of it to give to family at Christmas time.

Kristen-Paige Madonia


Bio: Kristen-Paige Madonia is the author of the young adult novels Invisible Fault Lines and Fingerprints of You. Hailed by Judy Blume as “a remarkable young novelist,” Kristen-Paige was the 2012 D. H. Lawrence Fellow, and her short fiction has appeared in such publications as the Greensboro Review, Five Chapters, New Orleans Review, American Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, and the Sycamore Review. She was the 2010 recipient of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival award and was granted the Marianne Russo Fellowship to attend the 2008 Key West Literary Seminar. She holds an MFA from California State University, Long Beach, and currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia where she teaches creative writing at the University of Virginia and James Madison University.

Kristen told us that she writes books that she wished she had access to as a reader.  She shared she always has a notebook with her and said “we are watchers of the world that is.”

Mark Tyler Nobleman


Bio:  Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (which made the front page of USA Today) and Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (which inspired a TED talk…and changed pop culture history). Upcoming titles include Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, Fairy Spell, The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, and Brave Like My Brother. He has spoken at schools and conferences internationally from Thailand to Tanzania and blogs about adventures in publishing from research victories to promotional gambles at Noblemania.

Mark did not talk about his most recent book…instead he shared with us the story behind his favorite book he has written called Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.  The story was fascinating and I am excited to receive my copy in the mail today.  To get a taste of the story watch his Ted Talk below:

Louise Borden


Bio: author of over 30 books for young readers, graduated from Denison University with a degree in history.  She taught first graders and preschoolers and later was a part-owner of a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to writing children’s books, she speaks regularly to young students about the writing process. She also has done extensive research for her books including The Journey that Saved Curious George and His Name was Raoul Wallenberg.  Some of her other titles include Good Luck, Mrs. K!, which won the Christopher Award, The A+ Custodian, The Day Eddie Met the Author, Across the Blue Pacific, and Kindergarten Luck. Louise lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Louise Borden started shared with us special teachers in her life.  She talked about the important connection reading has to her writing stating “I was a reader before a writer.”

Day two of the institue was all day with Donalyn Miller.  Check back tomorrow to see what I learned from her!


Two NEW PD Opportunities

RSB SliderToday I got an email for a FREE webinar hosted by Jennifer Serravallo this Thursday, September 3rd at 5pm where she will discuss her new book.  Interested in joining too?  Click here.

If you are busy at that time but interested in the topic I recommend you still sign up for the webinar.  Usually after the event the organizers will send you a link to the recorded webinar so you can watch it on your own time.

Also today a new Facebook group was created for teachers interested in sharing their work and stories with the TCRWP Reading Units of Study.  To request permission to join that group please click here.

Once again I have to say…it is great being a teacher in 2015!


IMG_7934On my walk to Teachers College the last day of the Reading Institute I spotted this penny and picked it up.  I found it a perfect symbol for the narrative of my week.  How lucky I had been to be taken off the waiting list, able to find affordable travel accommodations on such short notice, and have a family and school system willing to support me.

I started my day at a session titled Interested in Becoming a TCRWP Staff Developer?  Having attending all the other optional early meetings I was surprised to find this session was standing room only!  If you would ever be interested in this position it is usually posted on the TCRWP website in January or February each year.


In Interpretation Book Clubs we worked on poetry to support interpretation.  This couldn’t be easier!  All you need is a baggy, a poem, and these 5 questions cut up:

  • What picture do you have in your mind?
  • What are some issues in this poem?  How do you know?
  • What poem/book does this remind you of and why?
  • What is this poem really about?
  • Look at the poem from a different perspective.

Then as my instructor always said…”just add children.”

FullSizeRenderI climbed the 7 flights of stairs in Thorndike Hall for the last time to attend Backstage to the New Units of Study.  Today we asked any final questions and had them answered.  Check the website next week for the online video training for the RUOS that will be posted!

IMG_7959In the closing keynote we were asked if we would rather be a safe merry-go-round teacher or a thrill seeking fun house teacher.  It certainly is easier on the merry-go-round because you know what will happen BUT when you step in the fun house you never know…

Teachers are like Fingerprints…

IMG_7864Since I filled up my writing notebook yesterday, on day 4 of the TCRWP Reading Institute I transitioned into 21st century note taking and brought my computer.  Although I know this new style of recording will save me the hassle of retyping my notes (yes, I did that) I am a little sad to leave my old school method behind.

Here are the highlights of my day:

I began the day in a session titled Informal Conversations Supporting Change in the Teaching of Reading.  Here we were given some great suggestions on how to start small and celebrate success.  My favorite suggestion was the idea of starting study groups with other teachers in your school.  The facilitator shared that the size of the group is not important.  Just 2 teachers who are interested in a topic can get together to form a group.  I also like that she suggested that the group be short lived (meet 3 times).  If the study is interesting you can always extend the group but if it is not working then you can move on.

IMG_7872In Interpretation Book Clubs we practiced a write around (see picture). Write arounds can be done before reading a book to active prior knowledge and engagement, during reading to help readers form theories about the book, or after reading to work on interpretation.  The goal of the write around is to use nonfiction to help interpret the text.  The supplies we used to do this work were nonfiction pictures from the time period of the text, markers, and a slice of large white paper.  This activity would be done during interactive read aloud time not reading workshop.

Here are the steps for a write around you could present to a class:

  1. Look at the photographs and jot all you see and notice.
  2. Zoom in on 1/4 of the illustration, what are you noticing about just that part?
  3. Rotate to another chart paper.  What have other readers noticed that you can respond to?
    1. “I agree with…”
    2. “I disagree with…”
    3. “One question I have is…”

At the end of the activity we were then challenged to think…”Do these images make a part of the story seem important that may not have seemed important initially? (Try to focus on themes and issues).”  The discussion was rich and I felt my interpretation of the text grow as a result.

IMG_7897In Coming Backstage in the New K-5 Reading Series we explore text complexity in nonfiction books.  Spoiler: there is a great tool in the 5th grade kit to help kids think about this!  We began our activity with a discussion of needed improvements in reading instruction with nonfiction texts.  The list was long!

My favorite thought was we need to stop the bad habit of letting kids read nonfiction with a pen in hand.  Why?  This encourages copying which is not doing any good.  What can we do instead?  Encourage readers to read more of the text and then STOP, look back over what was read, and THINK before writing or talking.  Text structures can be used to help students organize their thoughts.

FullSizeRender 2In Mystery Books Clubs and Close Reading Go Hand in Hand it was pointed out that mysteries help readers practice inference, close reading, synthesis, prediction, interpretation, to read with volume, stamina, AND engagement!  Wow!  It was clarified that close reading is when readers go back in the book to dig for clues or suspects to create initial and new understandings or revise their theories as they read.  Close reading is NOT controlled or answering prescribed questions.

FullSizeRenderFinally we were blessed to hear Ellin Keene present a beautiful talk on Your Instructional Fingerprint.  She clarified that the research on teaching encourages us to think aloud, model, demonstrate, confer, have authentic environments, and engage students BUT this should never be at the expense of our unique personalities (quirks) that make us interesting and memorable…just like our fingerprints.

What a perfect closing.

And the Learning Continues…

FullSizeRender 2I began Day 3 of the TCRWP Summer Institute at an informational meeting to find out how to bring staff developers or institutes to a school or city.  I learned that there are many ways to connect with the program which include the free Saturday reunions, Twitter Chats, Units of Study Conference Days, On-Site PD, and Homegrown Institutes.

IMG_7840In Interpretation Book Clubs we met in grade level teams to explore and then share how interpretation is taught in the Reading Units of Study in grades 3 through 8.  In 5th grade we noticed the heavy use of book clubs throughout all the units and the encouragement to get students talking.  Then we met in our book clubs where we explored our thinking of characters by using metaphors.  Our instructor gave us a bag of 5 picture cues to help facilitate our ideas (see picture) along with sentence starters.  We closed our session by using craft cards to study and explain characters in a digital text.

IMG_7842In Backstage of the Reading Units of Study we continued our role playing and discussing of minilessons in small groups.  Then as a whole group jigsawed our learning with one of the units.  My group studied kindergarten (see picture).  We ended the session by doing some adult reading and then evaluating our work against the new Progressions of Learning.  We were told that these progression are meant to be used to accelerate learning by showing students where they are and how to get better.

FullSizeRenderIn Guided Reading and Small Group Instruction to Support Nonfiction Reading we were shown “how not to have wacky at the kidney table.”  We were encourage to make our groups SHORT so that students can move on to independent reading.  Guided reading would be taught in these small groups if we wanted to help build meaning for students to be successful in a text (note: these students all get the same text).  A strategy lesson would be taught if we want to reteach a minilesson or a new reading strategy (note: these students are at all different reading levels).  I loved that they suggested these lesson be 10 – 15 minutes at most and not 30 minutes!  This allows the teacher to see more students and the students to READ!!!

IMG_7852In the closing session Teaching with Transfer and Application in the Front of Our Minds we were challenged to teach reading strategies in a way that encourages transfer. How is this done?  By using the same strategy over multiple texts to notice that it works differently in each one.  For the session we studied how characters were complicated in ways that are admiral and not.  We explored this idea by reading two texts and watching two videos (picture above).  We discovered that we can:

  • have differing ideas about characters from others
  • find characters can change
  • change our ideas of characters
  • learn about life from characters.

“We need to teach reading as a way to learn how to live.” Alfred Tatum

Literacy Is…

IMG_7836Today I completed Day 2 of the TCRWP August Reading Institute and my professional library gained two more books.  I am so excited to finally get my hands on a copy of the TC Reading Pathways!  My homework assignment tonight is to read through it and I cannot wait to dig in.

Here are the highlights of my day:

FullSizeRenderI began my day by attending If You Feel Like You’ve Entered a Conversation that is Already Underway.  Here the instructor defined all the important vocabulary associated with Minilessons, Independent Reading Time, Environment, Curriculum, and Reading in the Company of Others.

I was happy when she defined the word Bend for me.  This word is found in both the reading and writing units of study.  Each unit usually contains 3 Bends that build upon each other.  In the 1st Bend students are given a lot of support, in the 2nd Bend the goal is to “do it again with greater independence,” and then in the 3rd Bend students are given the most choice and options.  Bends build reading and writing muscles to improve the quality of work.

IMG_7809Today in Interpretation Book Clubs we worked on interpretation through an interactive read aloud, had a discussion of balanced literacy, worked on making plot mountains to help us talk about our books, and discussed themes.  My key learning was the clarification that an issue is a problem that impacts more than one character (a word – courage).  A theme is what the author wants the reader to know, think, or feel about the issue (a sentence – There is more power inside us than we realize).

FullSizeRender 2      In Coming Backstage to Understand the Principles, Methods, and Progressions that Undergird the New K-5 Reading Series we reviewed what the units in grades 3-5 contain and watched videos of what student talk looks and sounds like in a workshop environment.  We then spent the rest of our time looking at minilessons.  We watched videos, discussed, and participated in minilessons from the new units of study.  My favorite part by far was watching the videos of the minilessons and seeing how they look and sound with students.  We were greatly encouraged to WRITE DOWN the teaching points of the minilesson and to not be afraid to read them during the lesson.

FullSizeRender 3After lunch I attended Maximizing Your Small Group Instruction.  Here 5 different structures for small group work (see picture) were presented.  The groups described were quick, purposeful, and fluid. I love the question she challenged us to ask students participating in an inquiry lesson “Now, what could you do to make _____ better?”

IMG_7824 In the final session we had the honor of listening to Kylene Beers present Shift Happens: Thinking About Literacy Demands.  There were SO many great points that she discussed but by far my favorite was: “What’s the best predictor of school success?”  Teacher? Nope.  Reading level?  Wrong.  Family income?  Sorry.  Volume of reading?  Yes, yes, yes!

FullSizeRender 2 My day ended with a workshop titled Twitter Is Your PD Friend.  Afterwards I took a walk through Columbia University.  The majestic library (pictured above) certainly symbolizes what Kylene Beers discussed…literacy is power and privilege.