Best Book I Have Not Read

Writing, Reading, Teaching, Life, Attempting to Balance it All

TCRWP Coaching Institute Reflections-six weeks later May 5, 2009

What an amazing learning experience the TCRWP Institute was for me in so many ways! 

Almost anyone would benefit from attending a TC Institute as long as you had some background in reading/writing workshop. The only suggestion I would make is that I think they should record their sessions and put videos on-line, similar to Choice Literacy. Then they could have a subscription fee for those who can’t attend, but would like to view the staff development opportunities/professional learning.  

Here is a reflection I wrote a couple weeks about the Institute. State Testing weeks here in Ohio don’t put many people in very happy moods, which is where I was (smack in the middle of the dark place of testing) when I wrote this reflection.  I hope you, the reader will read more of what I’ve written in order to realize that I am not often so gloomy.

Reflection– April 2009

I learned so many positive things through my attendance at the Third Annual Literacy Leaders/Coaches Institute at Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.  I met amazing people from around the country and world. I heard how so many schools are trying to work through similar problems as the district that I come from. I learned about the great work TCRWP is doing in regards to Reading Units of Study. I was able to personally witness the amazing possibilities that exist when a school district the size of NYC puts its resources and energy into a focused endeavor.

I was inspired to set up a “Mega Lab site” of my own for students and teachers. I was motivated to try yet again to open conversations among grade level colleagues about the benefits of having a shared curricular calendar. I’ve been motivated to read and learn more on my own since my return. I can’t get enough reading/learning to fill up all the possibilities about which I wonder.

I’ve also learned how far I still have to come in my own learning about the teaching of reading and writing and how much further we as a district still need to come. I’m trying to focus on the latter as a positive, but it is hard having what you have suspected for years come and hit you full-force in the face with its reality. As we had an opportunity to discuss at TC, this is a lonely position in the vastness of education.  Laurie Pessah and Lucy Calkins would say that we need to start by establishing our “non-negotiables”. That’s easier said than done in a district where teachers have always been allowed to do whatever they want as we are considered an “excellent” district by the state.  How do you counteract the mentality that we are successful just because a test(s) says we are when we don’t examine our practice on a regular basis? How do you convey that “good enough” is not really good enough? We owe it to our students and community to be so much better. Does that mean we have uncaring and unmotivated teachers? Quite the opposite. Our teachers and administrators work incredibly hard and want children to be successful.  It’s not unusual to find teachers in the buildings working all hours of the morning, night, weekends, and summers (and no they don’t get paid for those additional hours.)  But just as a person won’t ever truly learn to speak Spanish fluently if they aren’t made to speak aloud, teachers cannot be certain that we are truly doing what’s best for all students if we are not willing to examine our practices on a regular basis.  As TC stated, “One of the greatest gifts a school district has is the collective intelligence of all their teachers”. Good ideas are not meant to be hoarded. Can I really not accept responsibility for any other students than the ones in my own classroom? Can it be okay for me to have thousands of books for my students to read and enjoy if the teacher next door has one hundred that are not at a level that can be accessed by her students independently?  Yes, I bought them myself, but that is not the point right now.

For too long, some district have treated its teachers like American Idol contestants where some will get voted off and others will go on to win the adoration of the community, the accolades of their principal, and parents will wrestle with other parents wanting their students placed in one or two certain classrooms within a grade level. One of the greatest things that has come out of my participation with The Literacy Connection and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project workshops is the common conversations colleagues (both locally and nationally) and I can then have about raising the level of all students’ learning.  Our district has begun making those baby steps to being collegial colleagues

                   Definition of Collegial:

                             Collegiality is the relationship between colleagues. Colleagues are those explicitly united in a common purpose and respecting each                                          other’s abilities to work toward that purpose. Thus, the word collegiality can connote respect for another’s commitment to the common                                           purpose and ability to work toward it.

                                     Source Wikipedia

I see one of my greatest tasks to come is to continue the work to try to help district teachers, “explicitly unite in a common purpose and respect each other’s abilities to work toward that purpose”. When I am feeling positive, I realize that it is one drop of water at a time that made the Grand Canyon. Each drop towards reform I can make is progress. Some days my personal perfectionism and sense of obligation to our community make the progress of growing a Grand Canyon remarkably frustrating.  I can only continue to be the drips, hoping that the erosion of one layer will cause a landslide of progress underneath.  


School Visit-Sixth Grade in the Bronx March 20, 2009

Filed under: coaching,Literacy coaching,TCRWP,writing workshop — bestbookihavenotread @ 5:23 pm
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img_17891Isn’t this an amazing doorknob?

It is the handle to leave the classroom where we did what they call a Mega Lab  visit to a sixth grade classroom to watch our coach Audra model a revision lesson. I even managed some great video on my Flip that I will post from her lesson. I also have a lot to communicate about the school, principal, teachers, students and the whole experience this morning. Wow! In some ways this beautiful doorknob is symbolic of the whole experience. I need to collect my thoughts so I can coherently describe the experience.

Next up tomorrow Teacher College Saturday Reunion! Another early morning, long day, and tons of learning. I can’t wait!


Intermediate Age Students- Read Aloud Books January 2, 2009

I had a very productive and fun day with my friend and literacy guru, Carol.  We started at our favorite Cover to Cover to peruse new books and ended up having a working lunch to talk about writing workshop in the primary grades.  

ctc_exterior_3_2005While at Cover to Cover, Carol and I were able to fulfill one of my school year goals of having a short list of common read-alouds for each grade level at the intermediate school. We have both read a lot over the years and also had the expert staff at Cover to Cover to help us. We aimed to have two “classic/Newbery*” for each grade level and two “newer” read alouds. We also tried to take into account gender, ethnicity, etc.  

Here is what we came up with:

4th Grade:ctc_interior132

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli   *

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson *

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford (review)

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look (review) (I think Moxy Maxwell  and Alvin Ho really complement each other)

Hate That Cat/Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (review) (You can’t have one without the other!)


A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck *

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant *

Along Came a Spider by James Preller

Science Fair by Dave Barry 


One-Eyed Cat by Norma Fox *

The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis *

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (review)

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester


I’m going to try to tackle Along Came a Spider by the middle of next week when I give them to the different grade levels.  That way I will have read each grade level’s “classics/Newbery” and at least one of the newer titles. Science Fair and The Girl Who Could Fly will be put at the top of the To Be Read pile.

Yeah! Happy Reading for all our students and teachers.

Thank you Carol! I hope to post a link to your new blog before the end of the month! 


Learning Community=Learning Together December 5, 2008

I had the opportunity to meet with a great group of teachers from my district as part of an ongoing book study based on Sibberson’s and Smuziak’s Day to Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop and Making the Most of Small Groups: Differentiation for All by Debbie Diller. We are also working with Jennifer Allen’s video Literature Study Groups All Year Long

I will admit I am a little biased, as I used to work with this specific group of teachers for years before entering my current position as Curriculum Coordinator.  It is so interesting getting to work with different groups of teachers. Not that I should be surprised by this, but just like your class from year to year, each grade level of teachers has their own unique group personality. Today’s group has invested a great deal of time building their community (or personality), and even though each is an individual, and may disagree on instructional delivery, all agree that while teaching is a very hard job, it is easier done in conjunction with supportive and collegial teammates.  

Every Friday you will find that one of the extended team (8 classroom teachers, 2 intervention specialist, an aide, guidance counselor, etc.) has prepared a delicious lunch for the rest of the team. holiday decorations, cute paper plates, and a table covering of some sort are often in evidence.  Of course it’s a lot of work to cook for a group, but to be able to just come and enjoy the other 11 Fridays is a great trade-off.

Most other days you’ll find the parts of the grade level, eating, grading, talking in a quiet little room named “The Dirty Dish” (I’m sure I don’t need to explain the double entendre to you).  Only rule-no nastiness. It’s okay to cry, take your outer layer off because it is too darn hot, eat more M & M’s than is good for you, but not okay to be “nasty”.

I know there are some who believe it’s better to maintain a professional distance, but after hours of teaching in your own little box, it feels good to come out and be in the warmth of adult companionship. 

This same sense of community that the teachers have built for each other is also carried over into the community built with the students of this grade level. But that needs to be the next story, or I won’t ever finish the post.


Cover It Live Lucy Calkins November 21, 2008

Click Here

I used Cover It Live to add information about the Lucy Calkins, Brenda Powers, and


Teaching with Intention by Debbie Miller and a little bit of a meander November 18, 2008

“How do you get so much reading done?” I am frequently asked by colleagues. Well, number one is that I am passionate about staying up-to-date with the literature-both children’s and professional. This year I now have a number two-my daughter is on a swim team and when we go to a meet, we are often there for six hours. Now these meets are not a hardship of any kind to me because I get to hang out with my daughter all day without the distraction of a phone or computer. I also get TONS of reading done while I’m waiting to watch her swim her event. I can tune out all the buzzers, crowd, etc. and concentrate on the book. I usually take one professional book and one Kidlit book along and make myself go back forth chapter by chapter. Saturday’s meet was one chapter of Teaching with Intention, one chapter of Breaking Dawn. If you know the two books, you know which one I got finished!

teaching-with-intentionI really enjoyed Teaching with Intention and think it should be required reading for all those going into education. Debbie Miller is so eloquent and is able to put things into words thoughts I’ve had, but had a hard time explaining to anyone else. She starts the book describing how she had to set up a “classroom” in her basement after retiring so that she had a familiar place to plan and reflect on her writing and seminars.  One of the things that hit home right away with me while reading the Introduction was the following statement. “I’m convinced that success in the classroom depends less on which beliefs we hold and more on simply having a set of beliefs that guides us in our day-to-day work with children” (p. 4).

I believe that being able to articulate your beliefs is something that many teachers struggle with.  To paraphrase Lester Laminack, when teachers begin being treated as pharmacists and asked to fill prescriptions (scripted programs, prepacked materials) dolled out by others (state department, national government), rather than as doctors-those with great knowledge that must use their own judgement to make decisions about their patients/students, part of the greatness of teachers and teaching is being taken away.   He compared it to the wizard in the Wizard of Oz-a giant talking head behind a screen with no connection to the reality of most children and their teachers. 

I believe I was born to teach. I actually did not go willingly. My parents and grandparents were educators and I saw how hard they worked for so little money.  I didn’t want a career that involved being overworked, under-appreciated, and underpaid. I started college as a psychology major, but literally one day I woke up my sophomore year and realized that I needed to be a teacher. I never looked back from that day. I love school, children, and everything about the craziness that makes up a classroom, a day, a year in a school.  I actually never imagined I would do anything but teach, I loved it so much. Sure there were things that were hard and sometimes frustrating, but I felt called to my job. So you might be asking yourself, “If she loved teaching so much, what is she doing in curriculum now?”. Well that is a good question. When the school year ended last year, I had already been plotting and planning with my friend and co-teacher all the great things we were going to do this year.  I’d agonized over where my daughter should be placed in fourth grade. I wanted her to be able to have my co-teacher, but knew it would not be good for her (or me) to have me as a teacher, even if it was one period a day. Well, summer started and my principal was promoted and asked me if I’d consider taking this position to work with him in the district. It was a leap of faith, or if you’ve read the blog earlier, a Scaredy Squirrel moment. I jumped out of the tree and while I can’t fly, I do think that I am very good at this position and needed by the district to help us through at least this year, if not longer.  I like working with adult learners and problem solving what can be done to help teachers make their jobs better, and hopefully even easier. End of tangent.

Here is a summary of the major thinking points from the book:

Defining Beliefs and Aligning Practices

Environment-“I believe that classroom environments are most effective when they are literate and purposeful, organized and accessible, and, most of all, authentic.”

Creating Classroom Culture-“What we choose to say and do in the classroom profoundly affects the ways children view their teachers, themselves, and each other.”

Lesson Design


Chapter 8 is entitled “The Thoughtful Use of Time” and begins with this quote:
“I believe that a workshop format based on the elements of time, choice, response, and community fosters active, responsive teaching and learning.” (Hansen 1987).

“At some point we reach a fork in the road. Will we give children at least thirty minutes in the primary grades and forty-five minutes or more in the intermediate grades to read every day? Will we choose to confer with children when they read, or let them be? Will we build in time for students to reflect, share, and teach? When we consciously and consistently choose to listen to the voice that serves children best, that other voice becomes more and more distant and less and less insistent, and we begin to wonder why we ever gave it the time of day.” (p. 107)

The book ends with a commentary by Peter Johnston of Choice Words and is definitely worth reading! Overall a great book and a great springboard for professional conversation for a staff.

Thanks to Kelly’s comment I now know you can still read the whole book online!


First Grade Authors November 7, 2008

Click to play 1st Grade Blog Post

I had the privilege of accompanying a group of first-grade teachers to visit another another elementary school’s Writing Workshop. Below I’ve pasted the information I got from my friend, and literacy guru, Carol, about what to expect during the visit. Carol is a retired educator from the district we went to visit.

The teachers are all experienced teachers and have worked as a team for seveal years. Their writing workshop is based on the work of Lucy Calkins and influenced by the work done at the Manhattan New School in New York City which the three teachers visited a couple of years ago.

Each writing session begins with a mini-lesson, which is followed by a student writing time, and then concludes with sharing/author’s chair. The teachers have been going through student writing folders at this time to decide what to teach and reteach before progress reports go home next week. The lessons you see on Thursday will probably come from this review of folders. Lessons the teachers and students have worked on this year include: “special moments”/personal narrative writing; content components (main idea, details and descriptive words); making sure each student’s writing has clear meaning; and the idea of ‘how do I know this piece is done’ or ‘when I am done, I have really just begun’.
They have also focued on spelling high frequency words correctly, capitals, and punctuation.

We will divide you into groups of two and you will rotate through each of the three classrooms. At the conclusion of the writing workshop time, the students have recess and the teachers will have time to talk with you and answer any questions. They are also happy to share their email addresses so you could contact them if you have further questions.

If you have time, we could stop for a quick lunch and talk about what you saw in the classrooms, any questions you have, and what ideas you might take back and try in your own setting.


First Inservice Under my Belt September 3, 2008

Ahh! Five o’clock and home from my first in-service for the elementary school. Blue Moon in an iced glass, bare feet, and fresh shirt. So glad to have the first one done. Our focus for the year is writing instruction based on staff feedback from last year as part of their continuous improvement plan.  The next post is what I sent them ahead of time (although I was up at 3 in the morning trying to decide if I should scrap it and start over again). If they want …, maybe I should just give them… I can do that really well!” , then up again at 4:30 a.m.  counter arguing the 3 a.m. argument)

On a similar, yet completely different note, If you have never seen Beth Newingham’s website in Michigan, you should check it out. She has recently had a baby and is job sharing (how many of us are jealous that her district is smart enough to know a good thing when they have it). She has amazing and useful photos and ideas. Reading and writing workshop mini lessons are great. She also does a star student and mystery reader program that I used a version of last year with great success!


Comprehension Strategies launching lesson August 28, 2008

Today I taught my first model lesson for three other teachers in fourth grade. I thought it went pretty well. I was nervous the day before when meeting with the teachers to talk about the lesson, but once I was in the classroom with the students, it felt very natural. I did have several things going in my favor: It is a lesson that I had done successfully in my classroom last year; I know many of the students since my daughter is the same age; it was in the classroom of the woman who used to be my co-teacher until this year. I don’t think I could have gotten a more comfortable setting for a first time!

The lesson is one I had read about in book entitled Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor. The lesson is called Reading Salad. I really like the set-up she describes of telling students that you bet they are really good at pretending. You then go onto to explain that they are going to pretend to the be teachers and you are going to pretend to be a student. Remind them teachers are very serious about reading, so they should be very serious because they are going to be grading me as a reader (while pretending to be a student). I selected the book Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen for my role as “student”. The book it is one that I know many of the teachers read last year as we had had several ongoing conversations about it at lunch. I read aloud (with a couple choice words removed) parts of the first two pages of the prologue. I did (accidentally) stumble over a word or two and also have to go back and reread one sentence when my “editing” made the sentence unclear.

When done I asked them to give me honest feedback about me as a reader. They were very complementary, as was last year’s group, despite my couple stumbles. When asked why they thought I was a good reader, they offered things such as “you knew all the words”, “you used expression”, “it seemed like a hard book” and other similar offerings. I then revealed to them that the first time I had read that part of the book, I had been very confused about what was going on, and also shared that I went back to the prologue and reread it many more times as I was reading the book as I figured out new things that I didn’t know when I read it the first time. They were very impressed that I would reread part of a book more than once because I wanted to.

On the fly I remembered a story that my teaching partner had shared with me about her son, who is now a senior in high school. She was very excited that he had learned to read and when she went to parent teacher conferences for the first time, she told the teacher how proud she was of his reading. The teacher (as it so happens, was my mother-which makes the story even funnier to the kids) informed my teaching partner that her son wasn’t reading, but had memorized certain books. She asked her to write some of the words out of context to see if her son could read them. He could not.

This story was a perfect tie-in to the rest of McGregor’s Reading Salad lesson as you ask the students, “Since you are so good at pretending, I bet you’ve been able to pretend you are reading or that you understand something you read, when really you didn’t.” We did a turn and talk with a partner and then shared some instances of when they have “pretended” to read or understand when they really didn’t. It is AMAZING how honest they are about times they knew the words, but didn’t understand, or only looked at the pictures, or flipped pages without reading, etc. The most promising sharing was of a student who shared that sometimes she stops and daydreams about what is happening in the books when she is reading, instead of continuing reading (perfect springboard to come back to for visualizing). 

I went on to explain the Reading Salad part of the lesson. You have a bowl with green pieces of paper marked “text” and another bowl with red pieces of paper marked “thinking” (this is opposite of what is described in her book, but a modification that I found worked better for me after last year’s students).  There is a third bowl marked “salad”. I put two students up on stools/chairs on either side of me and held the salad bowl in my lap. I read aloud Splat Cat (see earlier review) as a think aloud. Each time I read text, green text “lettuce” was added to the salad and when I stopped to do the think-aloud, red thinking “tomatoes” were added until the book was over and there was a salad. 

This year I also added orange carrots to represent unknown/unfamiliar words. The lesson ends with a specialized Venn Diagram of a book (text) intersecting with a head (thinking) for Real Reading (not pretend reading!). I will post a photo of our chart later this week so you can visualize. 

As I stated at first, this is a modified lesson from the McGregor comprehension book. She has many other great, hands-on, visual, or concrete lesson for launching your strategies lessons. 

Later this week I will then like to follow up with a lesson that Franki Sibberson describes in her book Still Learning to Read: Teaching Students in Grades 3-6.