Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Clubs

This summer I was excited that a group of friends and I resurrected our book club. While our book club doesn’t completely mirror the book clubs in my classroom, it reminds me how important it is to emphasize that literacy is social and that there are some authentic book club norms and social behaviors that students can practice that will help them outside of school.  Below are only some of the considerations that I kept in mind while planning for and supporting book clubs in the classroom.  

Preparing for Book Clubs
Determine Books to Support Unit of Study
  • Is the unit genre-based or skill/strategy based?
  • Ensuring you have enough texts at students’ various levels
  • Some book clubs, students are reading the same text, which means they will need to be at a common reading level.
  • Some clubs are structured differently, for example in Nonfiction Research Clubs students may be in a club with others at different reading levels.  To prepare for these clubs, we begin to organize Text Sets (and as students research, they can add to the text set) that have books, articles, websites, videos.
Offering Choice
  • In my classroom, I would do book talks a week or so before beginning Book Clubs.  Students then had the opportunity to hear about what options were available that supported the upcoming unit and could take some time to see which book was 1) the most interesting 2) at their “just right” level.
  • Students then gave me their top three choices and then I would help organize who was in which club.
Prereading Considerations
  • When I taught a Historical Fiction Book Club unit, I built time in prior for students to engage in pre-reading research to build their background. We used photos, videos, short stories/ picture books.  This enriched their experience navigating their book club books.
Ownership of Clubs and Logistics
Setting expectations / norms
  • I put this in the hands of the students; but we had grand conversations regarding general norms for “clubs / teams”.  Book clubs set goals for themselves and had opportunities to reflect on their group goals as well as how they are supporting one another’s individual goals.
  • Below is a link to a video that demonstrates how to coach a small group to prepare for their book club conversation.
Managing the reading
  • I would have students organize their pages per week or pages to read for their next meeting.
  • Most book clubs were in one book for about 6-9 school days.  They would then move into a different book together.
Coaching into Clubs
  • I would spend time during mini lessons teaching to support book clubs, but most of my coaching took place while book clubs met.
  • It can be helpful to show students an exemplar of a book club meeting.  When I have used the following video, book clubs have processed and reflected on their structures to ensure their book club was functioning productively.
When clubs meet
  • In my classroom, book clubs “formally” met about twice per week for a portion of my workshop time.   However, during my daily teaching share, or closure portion of the workshop, book club members would have structured conversation time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Teaching and Supporting the Writing Process

It is important to teach students how to cycle through the writing process.  Here is a resource that might support students in monitoring their progress in a Writing Workshop.  I have used this tool as an anchor chart and have also provided this as a handout that students kept in their writing notebook.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Writing and Reading Workshop Classroom Management Considerations

This summer I have had the privilege of working with a number of educators who are preparing to implement either a reading or writing workshop next fall.  After discussing the structures and components of a workshop model, many begin considering the management tactics and considerations necessary to support student engagement and foster student independence.  Below are some of the considerations to support strong management within a workshop model.  I believe that the management norms in place should:
  • Support students understanding the predictable nature of a workshop
  • Foster student agency and independence in their work
  • Emphasize that all students feel safe to take risks within the learning community

MIni Lesson
Bringing your class together for the mini lesson
  • Teaching and practicing transitions
  • What materials are needed?
    • Mentor Texts
    • Anchor Chart
    • Demonstration notebook
Establishing long-term partnerships, research teams, and clubs
  • Consistent spots during the mini lesson
  • Practice and model how to turn and talk

Independent Reading or Writing Time
Sending students off to work: The transition from mini lesson to work time
  • Teaching students how to transition from ML to work time
  • Giving strategies as to how to get themselves reading or writing
  • Assigned reading or writing spots
  • Goal Setting Techniques
  • Teaching and modeling how students can rely on one another for support (use of partnerships)
  • Use table conferences and strategy lessons to support productivity of the class
  • Leveraging your link portion of the mini lesson so students goal set and have a plan of action
  • Pausing students during the mid-workshop interruption to help refocus or offer new inspiration
  • Teach and support reading and writing stamina

I would love to hear your tips for classroom management in a Reading or Writing Workshop!  Please add to the comments.

Resources: Calkins: A Guide to the Common Core Reading Workshop

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Reading Workshop Schedule and Structure: Fitting It All In

I spent some time with a group of middle school teachers this week discussing how to fit in the components of balanced literacy into the workshop model. We had been focusing on Reading Workshop in a 45 minute class period. Some of the pieces we needed to consider were:
-Mini Lesson
-Lots of time for reading time
-Mid Workshop Teaching Point
-Teaching Share
-Time for Partnerships or Book Clubs- Building in Accountable Talk
-Read Aloud… (Each day? A few times throughout the week? Anchor Experiences?) Including time for Accountable Talk?
- Vocabulary / Word Work instruction and follow up experiences

Below are a few “options” or ideas as to how to structure the week.  These certainly are not perfect; but, I thought perhaps worth sharing to consider how to fit it all in when time is a barrier.

The first piece that we identified is what our bottom line or non-negotiable was within workshop.  I can speak for myself and that is committing to plenty of TIME for students to read.  

Feel free to share your schedules and how you everything in in your workshop in the comments section :).

Here is a “key” to help navigate my abbreviations:
ML: Mini Lesson
IR: Independent Read
SG: Strategy Group / Small Group
MWTP: Mid-workshop Teaching Point
TS: Teaching Share
P: Partnership
BC: Book Club
Centers: This is where I fit in vocabulary instruction. First, by introducing some words and then throughout a week or two kids will engage in quick follow-up activities that are playful to practice using the words.  *I would consider bringing my “formal” vocabulary work / centers in for two weeks at a time (two weeks on, two weeks off).  This is what worked best for me in a middle school schedule, as I wanted to ensure lots of time for kids to read.
*Anchor Experience- An instructional model used when my schedule does not allow me to read aloud each day or a few times throughout the week. I may take a class period to do a read aloud and have an accountable talk session prior to a unit or twice throughout the unit to build a repertoire of mentor texts we will need to support our unit goals as I model.  Ideally, I would read each day or a few times throughout the week, but sometimes schedules do not allow for this. (LINK to Read Aloud with Accountable Talk post)

**The times I outline are purely an estimate.  It all depends on the day!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Grammar Instruction: "Sticky" Teaching for Transfer

Grammar? Grammar? Grammar?  How do you fit grammar instruction into the workshop model?  How do you teach grammar so it sticks and transfers into their independent writing?  How do you teach grammar so it is engaging?  

When I consult or teach graduate courses, this topic inevitably comes up… whether our focus is on reading or writing.  It certainly isn’t a bad question.  It is a loaded question.  When I work with staff in the area of writing, I always emphasize that students need to understand why writing is important and that their ideas are valued.  I also discuss that writing is a way of thinking - of pushing our thinking and exploring our thinking.  But this post is not about that. I want to give some insights on grammar instruction and resources I have found helpful.  

This will likely be only Part 1 of my ideas on grammar instruction.

First, some questions to ponder:
  • How do I support students’ understanding of grammar as a form of power in school and the world? (Ehrenworth)
  • How do I develop grammar instruction so as not to encroach on workshop, but still make it transferrable?
  • How do I build upon what my students can already do, instead of only looking at what they cannot do?
Next, keep the below pieces in mind as you plan grammar instruction and coach students:
  • Grammar:  Agreed upon usage of language and words and their relationships with each other
  • Code-Switching:  Changing one’s dialect depending on the circumstances or context; the conscious act of alternating between different languages or dialects and knowing when, how and why to do it
  • Syntax: Complexity of sentences and the way they are used and crafted

Question 1: Grammar and Power… What is the connection?
Mary Ehrenworth has a book, The Power of Grammar and she states that “power inhabits the linguistic codes a culture accepts” and that when one has control of grammar, he/she will obtain more access to power.  Ehrenworth elaborates on how we can teach control of language in a way that student voices can become “powerful, disruptive forces”.  This links with my beginning statement that we need to teach students that their voices are important and they should be intentional with how they share their ideas.

Question 2: “Sticky” Teaching- Making Grammar Instruction Transferrable

Our students need to know:
  • We need to teach students that “voice” is composed of word choice, punctuation, and syntax - partly of grammar.
  • Students need to be thinking about grammar before editing. Students need practice constructing knowledge of grammar as a part of what it means to write, specifically in how it is essential to create a voice that engages a reader.
    • Teach grammar throughout your unit of study, rather than at the end before publishing.
    • Teach grammar in all phases of writing process.
Question 3: Building on what my students CAN do…
Be mindful when analyzing student work. All too often, when I work with colleagues, discussions immediately drift towards what the student isn’t doing or “can’t” do.  I encourage you to shift your mindset and as you sift through student writing, first attend to what the student is doing.  Below is a chart that can be used to analyze student work.  I have used this particularly when attending to grammar usage and what I should teach the whole group, small groups, or individuals:

Some ideas for how to implement grammar instruction:
  • Direct Teaching Mini Lesson- Teacher models using a mentor text or her writing and students have an opportunity to practice either in the mentor text or in their writing.  I would recommend having students practice in their writing as often as possible during the active engagement portion of the mini lesson to foster more “stickiness” and transfer of skills.
  • Inquiry Mini Lesson or Centers / Investigation in Writing or Reading Workshop- Have students search for the grammar or convention piece in action.  Students outline where and why the grammar or convention rule is being used:

Photo Credit: Steve Sell, TCRWP Staff Developer
  • Interludes and Extravaganzas
    • Students Investigate, Create, & Teach
      • Songs
      • Picture Book / Story
      • Skit
      • Art
This is just a sliver of what I have to say on the topic.  I will post more on this topic soon. I also have ideas on incorporating vocabulary instruction into the Reading Workshop.  Below are some of the resources I reference often when digging into grammar instruction:
  • Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (
  • The Power of Grammar by Mary Ehrenworth
  • Catching Up On Conventions by Francois and Zonana
  • Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson
  • Units of Study in Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing (Calkins, TCRWP)
Share your "Sticky" teaching in the comments!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Reading Logs

As we think about the upcoming school year and developing and analyzing reading lives with our students, one way to do this is by using reading logs.  I have many thoughts on the effectiveness and use of reading logs. For me, what it truly boils down to is, what is the purpose? Are we using the log consistently to learn about our reading life or is it just a nightly expectation that needs a parent initial for compliance.  Reading logs can be a powerful way to monitor one’s reading life and artifact as to where we have been in our reading.  It can house the adventures we have taken to far away lands in our fiction reading, as well as display our footprints of learning and interests.  

In my classroom, I have used multiple types of reading logs - and for a few reasons:
  1. The purpose occasionally was adjusted from September and into the remainder of the school year.  In the beginning of the school year, we collected “data” on our reading lives to determine when we get the most productive reading done and where.  It helps confirm if we are selecting high interest and just right books.  It also supports the long term and short term goals we set. (book/author/pages/ time in school and out of school reading)
  2. Keeping track of the volume of pages and books read was something we monitored throughout the year.
  3. Having an outlet to share the books we like with peers and the world (Goodreads)
  4. Logs that allow us to reflect and write quick reviews
  5. Logs that support our need to have books “on deck” and our long-term reading plan.

I value teaching students multiple ways to track their reading and multiple purposes to track reading.  This way, throughout the year, they can select the way that works best for them.  I still use a mode to track my reading and share out with my peers what I read. I used to keep a notebook to jot the books I have read with a rating and then in the back, list books that I wanted to read.  I did this my entire life, until I came across the site,  This is the site I use now because I can see what my friends are reading and they can recommend books to me, and vice-versa.

Below are examples of reading logs I have used myself and with students:


Friday, December 26, 2014

Students Rate Their Stop & Jots

Below are some charts that were made to help students develop their stop and jots.  The first picture is blank because it can then be used with a small group of students (or whole group) who are working on stretching their thinking while jotting.  The other pictures show possible "STAR" Jot Charts.  These can be helpful for students to rate their jots and set goals regarding their jots and thinking while reading.  It is important for our students to know how to be successful in their reading work.  Offering exemplars with descriptions are an easy way to incorporate this.  Some staff I have worked with have also used these charts as student-facing rubrics and teacher rubrics for assessing reading jots.

The first column shows a star or stars.  The more stars, the more in depth the jot.

The second column includes a description of what the jot might include.  This can be done as an "I can" statement or a checklist format.

The third column is an exemplar jot.  I have seen teachers develop these exemplars with students using a read aloud.  I have also seen students take their jots from one star and revise it to make it a two, three, or four star jot.

Before developing these charts with students, it might be beneficial to develop a rating chart and exemplars with your grade level teams by looking at rubrics you use or the CCSS.  This way you can get a feel for what students are going to go through to grow their reading ideas from one star to higher level jots.