Teaching in 2015

Wow, each day I continue to be amazed at how cool it is to be a teacher in 2015.

This weekend I was honored to read this amazing post by jesslifteach and then get a tour of her 5th grade classroom!  Take the tour.  What do you LOVE and want to try for yourself?

I love:

  • Her graffiti wall.
  • That she is posting what she has read and what she is reading.
  • The picture books displayed at easy reach for a read aloud at any moment.
  • How she separates her fiction and nonfiction libraries.
  • Her lists created by her previous 5th grade class.
  • That she allows students to choose where they want to sit.
  • Her beautiful new chairs.
  • Her vast fiction library.
  • Her use of QRI codes.

One of Those Days…

display-career Today was one of those days.

It made me think about a post I recently read titled The Power of Expectations.  In this post Dave Stuart talks about how his two older daughters were getting frustrated that their baby sister kept messing up their puzzles…until he turned it into a game called “Marly Attacks.”  He then cleverly relates this game to our work in schools.

Here is how the post ends:

But when these things happen, do like my kids do: try to laugh, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. If everything gets destroyed, restart as best you can.

It’s part of the game. 

Sound advice.

I hope you can take the time to read the full post.  Perhaps it will help get you through “one of those days” too…with a smile.

What are YOU Wondering?

I thank jarhartz for posting this video on her blog post. Before I comment on what I love about the video I want to highlight this text found in her post:

If you’re a literacy teacher, you know about the power of talk. Talk helps get those morsels of possibility going. Things students aren’t ready to commit to paper. Things that live in their heads and could be developed, if they just talked about it.

I highlighted the you know…wondering if all literacy teachers really do know about the power of talk?  It is something that has certainly stuck with me after my week at NYC and something I am committed to fostering more with my students this year.  Something else besides the “you know” that popped out at me is the word choice of “morsel” to describe a seed of a thought.  So clever!

The video posted the following questions:

  • What if more classrooms were habitats in which wonder thrived?
  • What if classrooms were places where children knew their questions would be heard?
  • What if it were more exciting in a classroom to not know something than it was to know?

The video posted the following statements:

  • Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. – Socrates
  • Inquiry teachers don’t just teach things that will soon be forgotten.  They instill within them a hunger and a passion for learning.
  • Inquiry teachers know that their job is not to fill the children heads with soon forgotten things but rather to instill in them a hunger, a passion, to nurture that curiosity they were born with, to listen to their questions, to ensure they are comfortable with uncertainty.

The video also reference this poem:


Like Captured Fireflies

John Steinbeck

In her classroom our speculations ranged the world.

She aroused us to book waving discussions.

Every morning we came to her carrying new truths, new facts, new ideas,

Cupped and sheltered in our hands

like captured fireflies.

When she went away a sadness came over us,

But the light did not go out.

She left her signature upon us,

The literature of the teacher

who writes on children’s minds.

I’ve had many teachers who taught us

soon forgotten things,

But only a few like her who created in me a new thing a new attitude, a new hunger.

I suppose that to a large extent I am the unsigned manuscript of that teacher.

What deathless power lies

in the hands of such a person.

But of all the things I want to remember from the video it is the prompt: “What are you wondering?”  In the video this is the question the kindergarten teacher posed to her students when they found a praying mantis in their classroom.  This is all she needed to say to get the questions to soar!


FullSizeRenderAs the NYC skyline faded into the distance on the train yesterday I began to think about the topic/issue that I noticed transcended across all of my sessions at the TCRWP Reading Institute: TAWK (NYC accent…not typo).

If tawk was the issue…then I think the theme of the week was:  When time is provided to share thinking both listener and the talker grow, revise, deepen, and strengthen understanding.

TalkWhen thinking about providing students time to talk in our classrooms we need to remember that quality talk will likely need to be modeled and practiced.  This is where the Hierarchy of Talk (see picture) can help.  We can listen in on conversations, identify where the talk is falling, and teach to extend it to the next level up.

My interpretation section leader provided us with Talking to Think Sentence Starters during our book clubs.  As she listened in she would add a strip with a sentence starter in the center of the group and say “Try this…”  Here is her list of starters:

  • The thing I wonder about is…
  • What I’m not sure about is…
  • I have a question because…
  • Let me gather some relevant information…
  • I’m looking at this point…I see…This makes me think…
  • Another part that relates to this is…I see…
  • I’m starting to think that maybe…
  • The problem with this is…
  • On the other side…
  • As I’m thinking this over, I realize…
  • What I’m coming to discover about…
  • I’m starting to be persuaded that…
  • Now I see…
  • I take the position of…and my first reason is…

A favorite pass time I had during the week was collecting all the different ways I was invited to talk to those sitting around me.  Here the list I made:

  • Turn and Talk
  • Turn and Teach
  • Turn and Brainstorm
  • Turn and Process
  • Talk and Collaborate
  • Talk about…
  • Turn and Imagine

Pausing to talk helped me process and synthesize what I was learning during the sessions.  Listening to others helped me build, grow, revise, and strengthen my ideas.  As the school year begins I want to remember to teach and provide time for quality talk.

Defining Everest

Mount+Everest3Today Dave Stuart Jr. challenged his Blog followers to participate in this 5 minute activity:

The Defining Everest Activity
First, answer the following questions — in writing. There are two rules: You can only write a sentence for each one, and you only have one minute.

Here are the questions:

  1. Why did you get into this job?
  2. What is it that you hope your work with students accomplishes this school year?

Here is the reason he gave this challenge:

  •  The point in defining your Everest so that, whatever storms or avalanches or equipment failures come this year, you’ll be more likely to withstand them while keeping your eyes on what your work is all about.

Here is what we should do with it:

  • write it on an index card; turn it into the background of your phone or your school computer; share it with a trusted colleague.
  • Everything becomes informed by that sentence, by that Everest.
  • you got into this job for a reason, and too often we let the school year disabuse us of why we started out on this journey in the first place.

So here are my two answers:

  1. Teaching literacy is challenging and the best place to problem solve this challenge is working side-by-side with students and teachers.
  2. I hope that the students I work with engage in the work we do, persevere if the work gets challenging, share their thinking, kindly listen to others, proudly read outside of school, and pass their SOL tests at the end of the year.

I found keeping my answers to one sentence was extremely challenging!  As a result I broke the second rule and took longer than one minute.  So, are you up for the challenge?  Try it and if you are willing to share post your Everest in the comments below!


If you interviewed reading specialists from around the country about their position you would get a wide variety of responses about what they do! I find that even in my position what I do varies greatly from classroom to classroom.

On Friday Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative posted a great Blog titled Moving Beyond Modeling with Student-Centered Coaching.  The author Diane Sweeney provides a great illustration of hiring a tennis coach and the ineffective versus effective methods that coach might take to help improve your game.

  • YOU WATCH ME – You show up for the first lesson and he suggested that you observe as he played for the next hour. You’d probably ask for your money back.
    • When we model an entire lesson, it assumes that transfer is as easy as watching and doing. This can lead to an uneven relationship that puts the teacher in a passive role.
  • I WATCH YOU – What if he suggested that he spend the hour observing you? He’ll take some notes and then the two of you will go through it later. Again, you’d be wondering why you are paying this guy.
    • On the other hand, observing teachers may feel more like evaluation than coaching. If my tennis coach took this approach, I’d be anxiously wondering what he really thought, if I looked silly, or if I was on the right track in my game.
  • I WILL BRING YOU THE MATERIALS – What if he suggested that you focus on your game and, since you are so busy, he will help you out by picking up your balls? You would be wondering when this guy actually planned to provide you with some coaching.
    • When we serve as resource providers, we are being helpful at the expense of coaching. There is no question that teachers are overwhelmed and busy. But this is all the more reason to get in there and coach the teachers towards their goals for teaching and learning.

Ha, it is easy as a reading specialist to see how one might fall into each of these roles!  Diane goes on to describe what a good coach might do:

  • Most of us would define a good coach as someone who helps you get better at your game. Someone who is on the court, by your side, making sure you reach your goals.
    • This is co-teaching!

Here is what is GREAT about co-teaching:

  • In a classroom where co-teaching is occurring, it’s hard to tell who the teacher is and who the coach is, because both are engaged and involved partners in the delivery of the lesson.
  • To get there, the teacher and coach develop a shared vision through co-planning and then work side-by-side to ensure that they get the results they are looking for.

Here are four strategies for co-teaching as suggested in the Blog:

  • Noticing and Naming
    • Noticing happens when a teacher and coach are actively tuned in and looking for evidence of student learning.
    • Naming happens in the explicit use of this information, either on the spot or planning after the lesson, to make decisions about what the students need next.
  • Micro Modeling
    • When planning the lesson, the coach may ask, “What would you like to do? And what would you like me to do?”
  • Thinking Aloud
    • Examples of thinking aloud include; real-time problem-solving, clarifying vocabulary, supporting student engagement, or adjusting the pacing of the lesson to better align with the needs of the students.
  • Teaching in Tandem
    • With this move, the coach and teacher deliver a lesson as partners rather than as individuals.

If you have ever been fortunate enough to co-teach you know it is a lot of work BUT the work is rewarding and fun!

Building School Teams

team-building-27120189Recently I read an article on the Edutopia Blog titled 10 Truths About Building School Teams. It got me thinking about school teams I have worked on in the past and what led to some being so successful and others dreadfully unsuccessful.

According to the author Elena Aguilar to build a resilient, high-performing team we need to remember:

  • Our purpose is to serve children.
  • Our work is to learn.

I LOVE this quote: “The only way we’ll make a dent in the mountain of challenges that we face in schools is if we, the educators, never stop learning.” 

  • Emotional Intelligence matters.
  • Power matters.
  • Trust matters.
  • Building a team takes TIME.
  • Healthy teams have healthy meetings.

I LOVE this fact: “You can take the pulse of a team’s overall health by observing ten minutes of any meeting.”

and this one

“For every hour of meeting time, you should spend two to three hours planning. (Yes, that much planning time — that’s what it takes.)”

  • Communication between teammates matters.
  • Conflict needs to be dealt with not ignored.

As the new school year begins so will new school teams.  My hope is that I can serve on teams that are highly successful and that keep in mind the points stated above (and below).