Sunday, October 27, 2013


What did you learn at SAGE this year?

Some of you have already shared your learning with me, but I would really like to hear from more of you. Add a comment below and tell us what you took away from the session you attended or presented. You can learn in either situation. I always do. I learn something everywhere I go. I make a point of it.

This year I co-presented at MeLit, Manitoba Early Literacy Intervention Teachers, with Krista Bracken and Tom Code from Harold Hatcher. Our topic was Kindergarten: What is Possible? with a focus on writing in Kindergarten.

I learned many things and was reminded of things I know but do not think of often enough:

Collaborating with people who are passionate about what they do is wonderful.

Passion and excitement are infectious.

Great books are always a good place to start.

Kindergarteners can do BIG things.

Beginning writing can be joyful.

In the beginning, when writing can look look like focussing on conventions, it is up to us as teachers to keep the focus on the message and the reader. (first learned from Nancy McLean, associate of Regie Routman, in a K writing residency at John de Graff School, RETSD)

It is very fine for the principal to know what goes on in Kindergarten... good for the principal and good for Kindergarten!

When the principal is an instructional leader, great things happen in a school.

When we work on writing, we are also working on reading.

Sharing our practice as teachers enhances the practice of others and our own. It is WIN WIN.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Internet Research Made Simpler

Lifelong learners.

Professional Learning Communities.


Teacher ownership of professional learning.


Teachers teaching teachers.

These are phrases that we hear and say all the time. Last week I was involved with a group that provided a powerful example of it in action. This has happened many times before, the difference being that this time, I have a few moments to write about it.

I was at Radisson School working with the Grade 3-5 PLC. We were discussing the approach Regie Routman takes toward classroom libraries, as many of you have over the past couple of years. After viewing the video clips of Regie talking with teachers about setting their classroom libraries up in a way that supports and encourages students to take ownership and use the library independently, we got to talking about Richard Allington and his research that speaks to students needing access all day long to material they CAN read. And this led to the problem of accessing non-fiction text that kids can understand, especially online.

At this point, one of the teachers shared something she had learned through her use of Twitter as a means of professional learning. It was a revelation to me and some of the others in the group. So much so, that I was compelled to share it with you, just in case you had not come across this either.

You can search on Google, looking for text written at a basic reading level.

Type in your topic. Let's try polar bears.

On the results page, click on Search Tools, then on All results and then on Reading level.

Now choose Basic and you will get a list of sites written for kids, in language and format they can more easily understand.

Thank you to Laura Steinhoff (Follow her on Twitter @L_Steinhoff or read her blog ) for this invaluable tip.

Access to non-fiction text suitable for research into Science, Social Studies or Health topics just got easier.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Passionate about Picture Books

Seventeen of us came together for the inaugural meeting of the Passionate about Picture Books Club.  Others expressed interest and will always be welcome.  So far we are a group of elementary educators, with K- 5 represented by classroom teachers and K-6 by teacher librarians.  In bold font below, you will find the books shared at that first meeting:

Katz, Karen. The Colors of Us. New York: H. Holt and, 2012. 
         Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors. Boston: Houghton Mifflin for Children, 2009.
Parr, Todd. FEELINGS FLASH CARDS: A Great Way for Kids to Share and Learn About All Kinds of Emotions. Chronicle Llc, 2010. 
Jeffers, Oliver. Stuck. London: HarperCollins Children's, 2012. 
Beaty, Andrea, and Pascal Lemaître. Dr. Ted. New York: Atheneum for Young Readers, 2008. 

Tullet, Hervé, and Christopher Franceschelli. Press Here. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2011.  
Daywalt, Drew, and Oliver Jeffers. The Day the Crayons Quit. 2013
Polacco, Patricia. The Bee Tree. New York: Philomel, 1993. 
Fleischman, Paul, and Bagram Ibatoulline. The Matchbox Diary. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2013. 
Highway, Tomson, and John Rombough. Caribou Song. Markham, Ont.: Fifth House, 2013. 
Manceau, Édouard, and Sarah Quinn. Windblown. Toronto, Ontario: Owlkids, 2013. 
Berne, Jennifer, and Vladimir Radunsky. On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
Prats, Joan De Déu., and Francesc Rovira. Sebastian's Roller Skates. La Jolla, CA: Kane/Miller, 2005. 
Base, Graeme. Jungle Drums. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2004. 
Ternovetsky, Pat, and Zane Belton. Who Wants This Puppy? Winnipeg: Peanut Butter, 2008. 
Belloni, Giulia, and Marco Trevisan. Anything Is Possible
Hout, Mies Van. Happy. New York: Lemniscaat, 2012. 
Button, Lana, and Tania Howells. Willow Finds a Way. Toronto, ON: Kids Can, 2013. 
Dodd, Lynley. Slinky Malinki. Mallinson Rendel, 1992. 
Willems, Mo. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. Toronto: Scholastic, 2004. 

The bibliography was created by Easy bib, an app that scans the bar code of a book and gathers the bibliographical data.  There is no app that I know of that could recreate the magic of the hour and a half that followed.  Book-loving teachers sharing a favourite picture book and how they like to introduce it to students.

For me, it doesn't get any better than that.

Wait, yes it does.

We are going to repeat the experience. :)

4:30 - 6:00 p.m. at the ERC.

 Thursdays on:

December 5

February 6

April 10

June 5

Choose a picture book (or a stack!) and come to chat.  All picture book lovers welcome...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A New Year

Welcome back!  I know we have been back awhile but I am still getting into the swing of things.  Like you, I am establishing my routines and building up my stamina.  One of the routines I am trying to build in is following a couple of blogs and keeping my knowledge of kid's books current.

One I really love is is The Nerdy Book Club.  The people who write it love books as much as I do.  I learned about this blog from a couple of teachers in our division who I talk books with every chance I get.  Both of them (see you on Thursday Georgette and Sylvia!) will be at the:

Passionate About Picture Books Book Club 

on Thursday, October 3:  4:30 p.m. at the ERC.

A flyer has been sent out but this is a big school division and there is a great deal of information on the move at any given time.  I wanted to make sure you know about this so I am using every avenue available.

If you are interested in attending... just come on Thursday and bring a picture book to share.  The sharing will be informal, the conversation will be all about books AND there will be snacks.  What could be better?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words...?

But what if the picture is of words? Words carefully chosen by young writers in our schools. The first photo is a shared write from Joseph Teres. The book This + That by Amy Krause Rosenthal was the inspiration and the purpose was to make the Winnipeg Jets player coming for I Love to Read feel welcome. The audience was teachers and students in the school because the writing was posted in the hallway.

The next photos are from Harold Hatcher School. Check out these restaurant reviews. Even though I am a bit of a foodie, these writers just might make me give McDonald's another chance.

Notice the sticky notes. These were strategically placed on the board by the teacher with an invitation to respond to the writing. It was hard to tell who was more excited, the writers of the stickies or the receivers. Win win.

Notice the additional opportunity for shared writing in the description of the pieces. Think of your hallways as a place to publish, a place to find audience.

Notice the great paper. On your behalf, I asked... it comes from Dollarama.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Editing : The Final Frontier

If you don't have a quality piece of writing, who cares if the punctuation is just right?

Nancy McLean made this statement to us as teachers, just before going into the Grade 4 classroom to demonstrate working on editing.  It is a strong statement for Nancy, an educator who never misses an opportunity to lift up a learner, be they student or teacher. She said it in her gentle, celebratory way with her beautiful southern accent ensuring that it could never sound harsh or critical.  But she said it very intentionally and explicitly so that we as teachers would remember and share with students that writing is about the message first and the conventions later.

Nancy went on to say that:

Editing can be approached with joy.

You can respectfully turn it back to the writer.

In the classroom, Nancy began by having the students collectively write "I can statements".  She told them that they were doing this because they were getting to be such good writers that she wanted to create a list to remind them of the good writing they could do all the time.  To reiterate that the message is the most important part of writing, she asked for things they could do to make their message just right for their reader.

The list created by the students began in this way:

What Good Writers Do in Grade 4

I can write a hook to get the reader interested.
I can reread to make sure it makes sense for the reader.
I can use descriptive words so the reader can: feel my emotions, get a picture in his/her head.
I can cross out instead of erasing because it shows my thinking over time.
I can use details to make my writing more interesting to the reader.

Nancy told the students and classroom teacher that they would add to this list as they continued to grow as writers.

She then brought them back to thinking about the letters they were writing.  After reminding them that these letters were going to be a gift for their intended reader, Nancy talked about how they would copy the letters on pretty paper in their very best handwriting.  She said that once we have our very best writing, we edit.  We edit out of care and respect for our reader.  Editing is not about the message, it is about the conventions.  "Conventions" means that there are certain ways we do things when we are making our writing public.

Working with the editing criteria already established by the classroom teacher, Nancy told the students that they were going to work on editing for punctuation and capitalization only, that we would save spelling for the next time.  She explained that she would model how to do this with one student to teach everyone how to do it and then they would do it on their own.  We would not be helping them, she said, because they were old enough and good enough writers to do this on their own.

You get to do this by yourself.  

You get to be your own teacher.

Nancy worked with one student, showing how to take a coloured pencil to make the necessary changes. After modelling how to read line by line looking for punctuation at the end of each sentence and a capital following it, Nancy broke the process down into steps:

1. Reread one last time to make sure it makes sense.
2. Reread line by line looking for where punctuation needs to end a sentence.
3. Reread line by line putting in capital letters.
4. After you reread 3-4 times and think you are done, put it on the corner of your desk for the teacher to  see.

She then set a high standard, saying that they were expected to find all of the places where punctuation and capitals should go. This was softened a bit by the addition of the notion that they would be given one freebie.  All students got immediately down to editing, just as they had done with writing.  They knew what to do.

The next day, after reviewing the papers that night, Nancy began with celebration.

  • I noticed you using your editing pencil many times.
  • I saw that many of you added capitals and periods. 
  • Thank you for making it clear to your reader.
  • The reason I am handing this responsibility over to you is that we have discovered we teachers have been doing it for you.  That isn't giving you enough credit.  You can do this.  It is time for you to take care of this.
With the classroom teacher, Nancy had noticed that the students rarely capitalized "I".  Together they reviewed the editing chart that described how "I" is always capitalized.  Students were given their letters and the responsibility of editing for the word "I". When they returned to the carpet, Nancy told them that this would be the one and only time they would edit for "I"  and that now that they were taking responsibility for their own editing, they should always just write it with a capital letter the first time.  

Editing for spelling came next.  Nancy again connected the purpose for this back to respect for the reader, saying that spelling errors are very distracting for the reader.  They take away from the power of your message.  Students were told that they were responsible for "Grade 4 words", words we should reasonably expect you to be able to spell or words that you could find in the classroom.

This post is a description of two editing lessons in a Grade 4 classroom.  Stay tuned for some conclusions Nancy helped us draw about editing, her recommendations on what to do when writers come back with their editing only partially done and some of my recent experiences with this part of the process.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Power of Celebration

"These children put pen to paper without fear."

This was an observation made at the beginning of the second day of the writing residency.  By the end of the morning even those new to the residency knew one of the reasons why.  Celebration.  With Nancy and Regie as our mentors, we have learned to celebrate each and every writer in a very detailed way.

"Celebrating is teaching."  (Nancy McLean & Regie Routman, Winnipeg, 2013)

The first time through a piece, Nancy usually reads all of it. Then she celebrates the writers line by line.  She starts with the title, stopping to say, "I love how your title captures the gist of your story in just two words.  That is just what good writers do." and continues on to the lead, " Let me read that again.  You had me hooked with this line.  I HAD to read more." She celebrates every line, reading most of it twice and saying things about the message like:

There is so much to celebrate here.

When I read this part, my heart beat a little faster.

I had to smile because this sounded just like you talking.

As your reader I was thinking... something big is coming.

This part touched my heart.

Some of the celebration also included comments about the craft of writing:

Listen to that great lead.

This part shows that you are thinking about your reader.

Your writing shows evidence of revision, of you thinking and changing your mind as a writer.

These lines really help me get a picture in my mind.

I want to make sure that I am really clear here.  All of the celebration recorded above is for one writer.  Let me say that again. One writer. This week we heard that we should be publicly celebrating 3-4 writers four times a week.

Another gift from the week was the connection made between celebration and whole-part-whole teaching.  When we are celebrating we are working with the whole child, it is about so much more than writing.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Observing in Grade 2 and Grade 4

Tuesday was so full of observing, talking,and thinking about writing that finding the time (and energy!) to actually write was beyond me. I have decided to be kind to myself (learned this in Grade 4 where they are writing about random acts of kindness) and just be a little behind.

Grade 2...

Nancy had received letters from the Grade 2s, introducing themselves and their writing to her. She introduced herself to them by answering the questions they had asked her in their letters. Describing her answers as stories about her life, she told the students that the stories of our lives can be gifts for other people. As Nancy talked, the students occasionally interjected tidbits about themselves, as we all know they are inclined to do. Nancy would listen and say, "Now that
would be an interesting story." or "You could write about that!". She was able to use their propensity for slipping stories about themselves into almost everything as a teaching point and a way to make them feel great. I will be borrowing that. Thank you Nancy.

The modelling of choosing a topic from your life to write about began with a verbal list of several possibilities. Nancy decided to write a small moment story from her trip to Hawaii. She told the students that there was more to write about but that she wanted to focus on one part of it that they, her audience, might enjoy.

Telling students that "Good writers usually tell their story first.", Nancy did an oral rehearsal.Then she said that writers try to write about one special thing that happened rather than a list of things.

Language I heard during the think aloud included:

I want my title to be catchy. I want it to be a mystery kind of title.
I always want to start with a hook. TTYP and what does that mean?
Notice I am thinking aloud. This is the kind of thinking writers do.
See how I am skipping lines.
Let me reread.
I am writing quickly because I want to get this down.
And now I want to wrap it up for my reader.

The lesson concluded with a scaffolded conversation with a student and his journal. With skillful questioning, Nancy showed a part that she found interesting and asked if he would consider writing about that the next day. In previous times I have had kids develop criteria for journals. I have also shown them how to select a topic from their weekend and develop a small moment. I have not 'mined' the journal or Writer's Notebook for ideas to use for small moment stories. If I had, I may not have abandoned them.

Grade 4....

Don't we always begin with celebration? Nancy had been sent a first draft students had done on writing a letter to someone who was kind to them. Let's listen to what she said:

First I enjoyed your letters for the message. Then I went through looking for certain things. I noticed that you as a class are:
-rereading and thinking about your reader
-using great leads
- every one of you had a letter that sounded like you were speaking to that person.
-you included specific acts of kindness

Next came a public conference with a student. I tried to capture Nancy's language because I always find it instructive.

_________ do I have your permission to celebrate your writing and maybe make a suggestion?


I wrote on stickies what I want to celebrate and then at the bottom I have a question to help you improve because that is what teachers do. I want to start by telling you what this writing does to me as your reader.

It makes me feel...

It sounds like you, like you are talking with your mom.

A goal for this class as writers is that you need to tell more, you need to give more detail for your reader. If you tell more, the reader gets more of a picture. I want you to think about which of the 3 ideas in your piece that you might want to tell more about. Which is the most important to you?

Nancy and the classroom teacher, after reviewing the letters, decided that elaboration was the goal. Through a public conference with a student, Nancy showed the class how to cut and tape a paper so that an insert could be added. This very concrete strategy appealed to most students and allowed them to see and share their evidence of elaboration.

Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Welcome Nancy and Colleagues

The week I have been waiting for is finally here. Tomorrow my teachers are coming back to Winnipeg. Mine...and a whole lot of other people's. I am relieved that the weather has become more seasonal as I doubt that Regie Routman, Nancy McLean and Sandy Figuero own coats for 40 below.

On Tuesday we begin our third residency with Nancy at John de Graff. She will be working in two classrooms; Grade 2 and Grade 4. And that is about all I know at this point, other than that I will learn and learn and learn. I wish you could all be there and I hope that in some small way I can bring it to life on this blog. I will do my best.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

This week I want to celebrate teachers in our division who are taking what they know about Regie Routman's optimal learning model and her approach to the teaching of writing, and applying it in varied and exciting ways...

In a Grade 1/2 combined class the students are learning about weather forecasts and what your audience needs to know.  They began with conversations during their calendar time about ways you could describe different kinds of days and began making charts to describe sunny days, rainy days, snowy days and cold days.  The teacher told them that they were going to be writing forecasts for the school that would be read over the morning announcements to help students and staff be prepared for the day.  (real purpose, real audience, real fame :) ) First the teacher did a model of her own, showing what quality could look like.  Then the students worked with the teacher to create many shared weather forecasts that are read over the announcements.  They are now beginning their own individual forecasts that will be videotaped for their parents to see at Parent Teacher.

A French Immersion teacher has used the upcoming Festival du Voyageur as a means to real purpose and audience.  Her students are performing at a school assembly in February.  They will be singing a song with additional verses written by students in French.  She began by sharing the song and telling students of her idea that they could write additional verses for the performance or for a bulletin board that would also be used as a way to publish their learning and writing about the voyageur.  She modelled writing a verse herself, with much thinking aloud about the rhythm of the song and how the words needed to fit that pattern.  Several shared writes allowed further think alouds and emphasis of key teaching points.  And now they are writing their own verses.

A Grade 4 teacher is using what she has done in Language Arts in Science.  Students are researching habitats with an end goal of producing a powerpoint to share their learning with another Grade 4 class.  She has used the "I do it, we do it, we do it, we do do it" at every stage of the project.

  • She modelled doing research and using slim jims to take notes.
  • They did it together as a class.
  • They tried it alone.
  • She modelled turning her notes into an interesting powerpoint presentation with illustrations.
  • They did it together as a class.  
  • They made their own presentations. 
As we discussed the process she said two very interesting things.  The first was that at times it seemed "tedious" to her, in that it was taking much longer to do this project than in previous years and there was a lot of repetition.  The second was that the quality of these powerpoint presentations far exceeded those of previous years.  

A teacher in a culturally diverse upper elementary class used David Bouchard's If You're Not From The Prairie as inspiration.  Focussing on the page that says, "If you're not from the prairie you don't know snow", she told them they were going to write about not knowing winter if you were not from Winnipeg.  Their audience would be new Canadians who came to their school and also those who came to a Welcome Centre for new Canadians in our city.  As seven of the students were recent immigrants from places decidedly lacking in snow, it was a very engaging topic.  A Shutterfly book is in production as I write this.

Each story  includes the collaboration and support of grade level colleagues.  A climate of learning with and from each other.  A generosity of spirit and a nod to the idea that together we are stronger.

These are some of the stories I heard just this week alone.  I know there are more and I would be happy to hear... and share them.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Day 5...

We needed to make sure that every student had been celebrated in my voice before I left today.  This is more difficult than it sounds.  Thank goodness for other teachers in the room with better memories than mine because the kids wanted to be celebrated again and again.  They said things like:

  •  But I wrote another poem.
  •  But everyone needs to hear this.
  •  You haven't celebrated me for two whole days!
  •  But this review is better.
  •  Pleeeeeaaaaaasssse
All very true and compelling.  And hard to resist!  After ensuring that everyone had been celebrated, I talked again about our plans to publish and share these pieces and the need to have them perfect for our readers.  I really emphasized the readers and how writers want their writing to be the best it can be for the sake of the readers.  

Grade 2

Because we were writing free verse poetry we decided not to edit for capital letters and punctuation.  I told the students that as writers we needed to be responsible for what we could reasonably be expected to handle as a Grade 2 student and that every writer has an editor who helps with the rest.  The classroom teacher and I had decided that they would be responsible for a list of 10 - 15 words that had been on their word wall previously.  Each student chose a poem and edited for those words.  When they thought they were finished they began writing a new poem until a teacher could conference with them.  We then moved about the room, meeting with individuals, asking what they had found and directing their attention to any of the words they had missed.  Previously they had circled words they had stretched out and were unsure if they were correct or not.  Those words I described as "not Grade 2 spelling words" and said the editor (the teacher) would put those in book spelling or public spelling when she typed them.  

Grade 3
The classroom teacher reviewed with the class the things they are responsible to edit for:
  • Ending punctuation
  • Capital letters on names, I, and the start of sentences
  • Spelling words correctly that can be sound in the room and they can be reasonably expected to know
Having read Regie Routman and attending her session in the fall, the classroom teacher had been using Regie's idea of putting a dot on a line of writing as a symbol for, "there is something here you should take care of".  She had reported that her students did not like these dots and groaned whenever they saw them.  I asked if she had presented editing in terms of its importance in making our message as clear as possible for our readers and she thought there might be room for greater emphasis on that.

I modelled that with a piece of my writing and talked about how much I wanted my reader to understand and find my review valuable.  One of the observing teachers pointed out that she had heard that they were not overly fond of the dots and she wondered if they realized how helpful they were.  She encouraged them to rethink the dots and see them as "friendly dots" because without them as a guide, they would be reading the whole piece again looking for the things they were responsible for.  We heard no groans or writers saying they thought it was just fine as it was.

In one of our after school chats, the classroom teacher had described a phenomena that I have experienced and you may know as well.  You are editing with one child and you look up and you have a long tail of kids all standing in line wanting your help.  We had talked with the students earlier in the week about their job being to keep themselves writing.  Because Friday was the last day of the residency, we had everyone needing to edit at the same time.  We talked about staggering that when on your own in the room and also reminding them that standing in line was not making good use of your valuable writing time.  Instead, we suggested that they do their edit, signal their need for a conference (sign up, turn their plastic cup from green to red to show "I need you") and then go back to their writing. The Grade 3 teacher also plans to type the edited drafts, fixing up the words that are beyond grade 3 spellers herself.

And then they will put their book reviews up in a specially designed spot next to their classroom library.  The Grade 2s will publish an anthology of their own poetry, with a page by each student. So far three copies are planned for, one for their own classroom library, one for their school library and one for me to share with kids in other schools. The day that these things happen I will need to go and have a peek.  Please be understanding if I am a little late in getting to your school one day in the next couple of weeks... I will be at a very important publishing celebration.  

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day 4...And Write Some More

I have not been sad to see a Friday come since I was in Grade 2 or 3. But I am getting used to spending my afternoons (and evenings!) writing and I am feeling a little blue that tomorrow is our last day. I had not realized how much I missed kids noticing my earrings and giving me pictures.

But don't worry, this is not going to be a mournful tale. Today was absolute joy. Let me tell you about it.

Grade 2
If I am really honest, I was a little worried after yesterday. I was concerned that free verse was just too big a change for such young writers. I fretted that perhaps I had not done enough modelling and shared writing, that I had moved to the "you do it" too quickly. Today I am reminded of one of the biggest lessons I learned in the years I worked with Sandra Herbst:

Trust the process.

And so I did. As the teachers and I looked at the writing yesterday and observed the children having some difficulty in starting their poems and even more difficulty in keeping themselves writing, we decided that they needed more modelling on how to make your writing look like a poem and how to stretch out those juicy words so you could use them in your writing. This is assessment FOR learning, not failure. The students had shown us what we needed to do.

We had thirteen writers left to celebrate so I celebrated six of them, really concentrating on the lines and how you decided where to make a line break and how it sounded different when you did so.
Then they stood up and faced a new direction on the carpet and sat down to watch me model another poem. This time I wrote in "kid writing", showing them how I stretched out the words so that I could write my message. I also suggested they circle a word if they thought it didn't look right, and then to move on with the important job of getting their wonderful poems onto the paper. Another quick movement break and we were able to celebrate seven more poets and their poems.

Off they went to write, this time with blank paper and greater confidence. Every writer started to write immediately. The dictionaries did not come out, words were stretched and circled and writers kept themselves writing. All over the room. It was a thing of beauty.

Grade 3
As I walked into the room a student asked if we were going to celebrate more of their book reviews today. When I nodded, he cheered. As we sat together on the carpet and later, when the students had moved to their desks to write, the atmosphere in the room was truly joyful. They enthusiastically appreciated each other's writing and their commitment to writing more reviews was genuine. These kids kept themselves reading and writing for the entire workshop.

Tomorrow our goal is to maintain the joy and ... do just a little bit of editing.

I was reminded of the importance and power of celebration today by an eight year old writer. As he was moving into the seat beside me so that we could celebrate his writing, I said that I had thought we had celebrated already but that I realized I had done a public conference with him the day before and not a celebration. And he said, "Yeah and this is the most important part." He's in great company. Regie Routman just might agree with him.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Day 3.... The students wrote!

I am going to talk about both writing workshops as I begin because we followed a similar process in both. We began with the public conferences I described yesterday, another form of we do it. I explained that we were going to do some conferences to help us get started writing and that a student would sit beside me in front of the class.  I would ask questions and talk with that student about what they were going to write about and how they were going to get started.  If you wanted to do this, you could volunteer and the classroom teacher would select someone for me. The others were reminded that their job was to listen out of respect for their classmate and to listen for ideas they might use in their own writing.  After each conference, I asked the listeners what they had learned from the writer.  Their responses are starting to be more about what we can do as writers and less about content of the writing.

I recorded some key words on a sticky for each of the volunteers and explained how they were just a reminder, not something you had to copy.  It is still my contention that these notes cause me more trouble in K-2 than they are worth.  You almost need a modelling session on how to use the sticky note.    I am resisting this because it worked just fine at Grade 3.  If you use this strategy with younger students and have success... please share your secret.

After 4 or 5 conferences we sent off those ready to write and had a quick private conversation with those left.  I had the benefit of several teachers in the room.  If I had been on my own, they would have been just about how each writer would start, allowing me to quickly begin roving amongst the writers, stopping to read, celebrate and support.  My goal was to keep moving and I met it, although I must admit it took greater determination and self-control (on my part!) in Grade 2.

Grade 2
I did a Think Aloud about how I had decided when to change lines in our candy poem and then moved into the public conferences. When I sent them off to write, some students were able to start right away but many showed signs of needing more support.  Two issues seemed to be causing them pause:

  • figuring out how to spell the words they wanted 
  • the differences structurally in writing free verse poems and a journal entry or a story
After a few minutes of writing, I stopped them and shared a classmate's beginning.  I celebrated how he had been using his personal dictionary to look up every word and that when I reminded him of how we had stretched out delicious (dulishus) in our candy poem, he tried it with some words.  I encouraged them to use that idea in their own writing.  Five minutes later I stopped them and celebrated a classmate who was making his writing look like a poem and reminded them to try that as well.

Students continued to write and the teacher and I continued to circulate and encourage and support.  We came together for the last fifteen minutes of the day for some celebration conferences.  Again I asked a child to sit beside me, facing the group.  I chose some poems and writers to celebrate line by line, focusing on those that looked like poems and those where students had taken risks and tried to write the words they needed for their poem.  I told them that we would celebrate everyone, just not all today.The kids were clearly excited to celebrate each other and were a very appreciative audience.  We had conversations about what we were learning from each writer.  They see themselves as poetry writers.  

In our after school reflection we made a few decisions:

  • Blank paper might help them move away from filling each line as it seemed that lined paper was providing too much structure for them to write free verse.
  • They need more modelling and shared experiences.  Most of them were not quite ready to write on their own. 
  • We need to focus on keeping yourself writing, using what you know to spell the words you want to use and making our writing look and sound like a poem.
Tomorrow we will spend significant time providing this support and then giving them another block of time for writing.

Grade 3
The frontloading, modelling and shared practice were just right for this group.  After our public conferences they all got started immediately with writing.  Assessment FOR learning at its most obvious.  The writing flowed out of almost everyone, they clearly understood the genre and the criteria.   Many finished in 15-20 minutes and we celebrated extensively.  Again, this was a teaching time, another opportunity to name and describe what is important in a book review... this time with a real live example.  I read each review twice and celebrated almost line by line.

The students were interested and excited to share and celebrate.  They knew they had written well because of the responses they were getting from the audience.

I have read the pieces we did not celebrate earlier and have made notes on what I want to celebrate when we get together tomorrow.  That will take the first 20 minutes or so tomorrow and then we will return to writing, some finishing, some revising and some beginning a new one.

Thank you to those responsible for reminding me to take photos today.  Enjoy our draft writing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Day 2 We Do It

Grade 2

Imagine that you are a Grade 2 student and then imagine that you were not at school on Monday. Imagine that on Tuesday when you return someone is reading a poem about how her left foot and her eagle hurt. Imagine how confused you would be. Thankfully, enough of the students remembered what an "ego" was and we got sorted out.

You can't make this stuff up. I love it.

I reread my poem and made a few revisions, telling the kids that writers do that, they come back and make some changes. I confessed that my poem really wasn't about my left foot and so changed the title to Growing Older. This is very funny to seven year olds. I also read a couple of poems written by students their age, to remind them that poems could be about anything, that often a feeling was involved, and that they could be long or short.

The classroom teacher and I had selected three possible topics from the stickies students had written the day before. We had asked them to think of a topic that we might all know enough about to write together. The three were: candy, TV, and milk. I told them that we wouldn't be voting but that instead we would hear some thoughts on each topic and then I would choose on the basis of what they said and response from the group. I used Nancy's language and told them that no ideas would be wasted and that if we didn't pick the one they wanted they could always write about it tomorrow. And it worked. We did not get bogged down in deciding or pouting.

I forgot to take a picture of the poem but I may just be able to remember most of it... I reread it that many times!

We LOVE candy!

It tastes

It feels

It looks

WE LOVE CANDY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Almost got it. They were very excited by their poem and read with gusto. In hindsight, I wish I had talked more about the decisions I made about when to change lines. I will start that way tomorrow because I am not sure they get that yet. We have talked about how poems have white space and we have looked at how poems are placed on the page. Tomorrow we will see what is what because we will write our first poems independently. I will not forget to take pictures.

The classroom teacher made an observation today that we both found interesting. She said that several students who are normally very quiet offered thoughts and suggestions. My hunch is that it is due to the frontloading and support provided by the model and shared writing. 

Grade 3
I began by rereading my review and making a few revisions. Thank you to those who have written to say that you will be checking the book out. I will be sharing that with the Grade 3s tomorrow!

Our goal was to write a shared review of a picture book previously shared with the class. The classroom teacher and I had decided the night before that we would co-construct criteria with the students before moving into writing. We did not use the full process as described by Anne Davies but an adaptation of it. It was not the teacher's intent that these reviews all sound the same so our criteria is a combination of things you must have and choices you could make. When I forget to take pictures it is apparently for the day, so here, to the best of my recollection is our criteria:

-title and author of book
 -hooks the reader- grabs their attention
 -maybe a recommendation
 - no spoiler (don't tell the end)

Middle( Need at least 2 of:)
-details about the story
-tell about the characters
-convince the reader
-give your opinion

-make a recommendation
-make a plea
-let your reader know you are done

To add a little movement break, the students paired up and discussed the book and what could be included in the review. Again I gave my talk about me being the decision maker and I used a tip I picked up from watching Ruth Gauvreau do shared writing. I jotted some of the things the students said on the side of the paper. It allows us to hang onto those ideas if we need them later and it makes the kids feel heard. That, along with the reminder that if you really think something is a good idea, you can use it in your own writing,  helps keep the shared writing going.

I will include a picture of the review tomorrow (I hope) but for now I will say that somebody started us off with a question because the book was full of questions and we went on from there. It is not a long review but it met all of our criteria and as a group we declared it good to go.

Tomorrow we will begin with more "We do it", this time in the form of public conferences. I will ask for a volunteer to sit beside me while the others watch and learn. I will ask the writer some questions to help them get started on their piece. I will tell the audience that their job is to listen for things they might need in their own writing. This chance to remind and show what is important is what makes it a "We do".  We will do 3-5 of them and send those ready off to write.  Anyone not ready will have a quick, private conversation with the classroom teacher or me and then we will do roving conferences among the writers.  No pulling up a chair and staying with one student the whole time.  Regie says that if the support has been provided they will be ready to write.  That is why I was glad to hear the question, "When do we get to write?".  I also got the question, "Would it be okay if we wrote a poem at home tonight?" .  I pretended to think about it long and hard and then said, "I think that would be okay with me." 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Looking Back on Day 1

I have now written a book review and a free verse poem. They are still in draft form but not bad output for an afternoon. I have also met about fifty (I forgot to count or ask!) students in Grades 2 and 3 who were astounded by the sight of six teachers in their room. How great is that? The mere presence of six of us is enough to cause excitement. Trust me, this is not true in all professions.

Both lessons went largely as planned and in my view, met or worked toward the goals I described yesterday. The power of frontloading was evident as students talked about what they know or have noticed about free verse poetry or book reviews. Thank you to a teacher who sent the following links for book reviews and trailers on youtube. Frontloading can come in many formats.

She has used these for writing book reviews but also for stimulating interest in books and reported that after viewing one of these, the book in question would enjoy an upswing in popularity.

In Grade 3...

I chose to model a review of a novel I love. I was really unsure, even as I wrote the first few lines, whether I should use a book of my own or a children's book. I went with Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver because I thought I could write with more authenticity and passion. I told the kids my audience was my book club and my purpose was to convince them all to read this book so we could talk about it. As at least one member of my book club just might read this, I need to admit to making that story a little more compelling than it really is. They have read it. But most of them missed the meeting where we talked about it! It can't be a surprise to you that writers sometimes change things to get a better story. :)

Here is the review I modelled today:

Here are the things the students noticed me do:

In our after school planning we decided that tomorrow we will start by rereading my review. I will probably make a couple of revisions and then we will return to our list of "What can be in a book review". From this list we plan to build criteria for the reviews we will write together and individually. Nancy (our resident writer at John de Graff and my teacher) did not necessarily do this with every class but it did happen some of the time. We are choosing to do it because the students are accustomed to it and we think it will meet our needs. We will also move into the "we do it" phase tomorrow, doing a shared write of a review of a book the teacher plans to read in the morning. We know they are ready, because as one student said when asked what they had noticed me do, "Well you sure took charge of things. You did all of the talking."

 And that would define modelling. It may also mean that I need to work on being a little more subtle.

In Grade 2...

The teacher and students shared with me all that they had learned from reading free verse poetry. The chart speaks for itself:

I shared my thinking about how I might decide what to write about and I jotted some of the ideas I came up with on my chart paper. I said that I would ask myself questions like:
What do you like to do?
What do you know lots about?
What is something that you care about or have strong feelings about?

I decided to write about the plantar fasciitis in my left foot. Perfect choice you are thinking, and so poetic. Here is my poem:

Again we talked about what they noticed me do as a writer that they might try. In preparation for our shared writing tomorrow, I asked them each to take a sticky note and write down a topic we might all know enough about to write about it together. The teacher and I selected three that we will present tomorrow for the group to choose. One of the things I learned from Nancy was to remember that in Shared Writing I hold the pen. That means final decisions are mine. Nancy told the students that when they were writing they could choose to use ideas that they liked but for now we were going with this. It worked beautifully for her.  Tomorrow afternoon we will see how it works for me as we move into the "We do it" stage of the OLM.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Writing Residency

This week I am going to work with two teachers in our very own writing residency.  It is modelled after the amazing residency that has been going on at John de Graff for the past three years with Nancy McLean, a gifted literacy coach and associate of Regie Routman's.  I have been sharing all I have learned from Nancy with many of you in various formats, some that come very close to a residency.  But this is the first time I am going to co-teach in the same two classrooms every afternoon for a whole week!  Together, we will take the kids through the optimal learning model, every step of the way.  Can you tell I am excited?!  (This is a rhetorical question :) )

Just like Nancy, I have been emailing the teachers on and off for a month or so.  A couple of weeks ago, they decided on their writing genres.  One class will do free verse poetry and the other, book reviews.  Our next step was to decide on the audience we would be writing for and an authentic purpose for writing.  One of the key elements of Regie Routman's approach to writing is that there is an authentic purpose for writing and a real audience and both are shared with students from the outset.  When they know these two things, they care more about the writing and are therefore more engaged and committed to the project.
So here is what we have decided:

Grade 2
Genre: Free verse poetry
Purpose: Kids writing poetry for kids.  We think there is not enough of it in the world and believe that kids would like to read poetry written by other kids. We are going to publish a book of poetry for our classroom library and school library.
Audience: Students in our classroom and school.

Grade 3
Genre: Book reviews
Purpose: Our reviews are going to be published on a bulletin board near our classroom library.  We want to share great books we have read with others.
Audience: Students in our class.

Another key to Regie's approach is the importance of frontloading.  I think of this as experiences the writers will need in advance of actually writing themselves.  Both teachers have spent some time in the last week or two providing their students with some experiences that will set them up for success.

Grade 2
The teacher first asked students what they knew about poetry all ready.  I have not yet seen this chart but my hunch is that one of the things they knew was that poetry must rhyme.  Then she  read many free verse poems, written by both adults and children, to them.  And of course, they talked.

Grade 3
The teacher shared book reviews of some books she had used as Read Alouds and how they had helped her make book choices.  She also shared some student written reviews (  From these samples they began a list of what can be included in a book review which will become our criteria later in the week.  Each student has also selected two books that they might like to review.

Monday afternoon, the frontloading continues with a sharing of what they have already learned and the first stage of the Optimal Learning Model (OLM) ... the "I do it".  Think gradual release of responsibility and you will know that this is the modelling or demonstration done by the teacher.  This is not new, many of you have been writing in front of your students for years.  What is clearer to me now though, is that sharing my thinking as a writer is as important as doing the writing.  Showing them what a writer does and thinks, and why they do it.  Not just telling them.

In our email exchange today, I shared some goals I have for tomorrow:

Grade 2 writers will:

  • know the audience and purpose of our writing
  • see and talk about how poetry is different from other kinds of writing
  • see how a writer thinks about choosing a topic for a poem
  • see and talk about how you keep yourself going as a writer: stretching out words, checking word walls/personal dictionaries, trying it and moving on
  • see that writers think and change their minds

Grade 3 writers will:

  •  know the audience and purpose for our book reviews
  • see a model of a book review written with a specific purpose and audience in mind
  • see and hear that a writer thinks about their message and their audience
  • see (and soon understand) that writers think and change their minds as they write
  • talk about what they see
  • notice what is important in a book review
Stay tuned.  My hope is that I write, even briefly, about what we do and learn each day.