Monthly Archives: September, 2014

SOL14: Opinion Writing Grade 4

Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsey for creating a place for us to work collaboratively.


What a fun day today as a fourth grade team reviewed opinion on-demands and worked on scoring them.  Conversations were rich as we focused on evidence of what the students “can do” and then moved on to consider the implications for instruction.


Instruction will include how students can use the Units of Study checklist to evaluate their own work and set goals.  Two definite areas that we saw for instruction were “leads” and “transitions” so that led our thinking to possibilities for charts.  (I like to “develop” them electronically in order to have a copy with me for reference as I move from building to building.)  Two charts that we are considering as we have students “reflect” on their own writing include:

lead in opinion

The first column in “rising steps of complexity” are examples of opening paragraphs.  The text boxes on the arrows name the student move(s) used.










This second chart is about transition words.  “Because” is tricky when it is used at three different levels.  Is it the only transition word used?  If so, probably not a “3 Star” use of transitions.  Because is a perfect direct link for a reason “why” but has less value as a transition as we move up the steps and through the grade levels.

After students self-assess their own writing, they can set goals and have some model words/text to help them visibly see what their targeted learning looks like.  Visible targets for students?  Increasing the likelihood that students can meet the targets – progressions that “show” students how to write better!

How are you helping your students “see” their writing targets?

SOL14: Collaboration


Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsey for creating a place for us to work collaboratively.



What does it mean to work collaboratively? defines collaboratively as:

1.  characterized or accomplished by collaboration:

collaborative methods; a collaborative report. defines collaboration as:

1. the act or process of collaborating.
2. a product resulting from collaboration:
This dictionary is a collaboration of many minds.
How do you work collaboratively?

Do you use Google Docs?  Google Hang Out?  Zoom?  Skype (some form of video conferencing) Telephone conferencing?  Email back and forth?  Texting? How does it work for you?

Do you focus more on the process or the product?


How do your students work collaboratively?

What devices do they use?  How do they use them?  Does their “quality of work” improve with collaboration? Does extra “talk” up front encourage deeper responses?  Does rehearsal with a partner in a collaborative environment promote higher levels of engagement?

Is their focus more on the process or the product?


Planning for NCTE14

It was truly a pleasure to join a Google Hang Out on Sunday with fellow NCTE14 collaborators:  Julieanne Harmatz, Steve Peterson, Mary Lee Hahn, and Vicki Vinton.  Our conversations interwove both process and product as we shared our thinking about student work and what we wanted to share. The combination of visually seeing each other and talking through our ideas was exhilarating as we added to each other’s conversations and made connections across multiple texts.












No surprise to those that know me; I have a plan that I will begin later this week with some professional development.  I hope to bring in a snapshot view of how the reading/understanding/thinking goes with both teachers and students. Because I am not in a classroom on a daily basis, I’ve been thinking about a progression of events for a bit and found what I believe to be the perfect material to use.  And as always, the plan will be flexible so that learning is the priority so maybe process and product will take a back seat for awhile.


When do you collaborate?  When do you literally have to share your thoughts with others?  How often do you work collaboratively?  What are your personal benefits from working collaboratively?



Professional Development Model

Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsey for creating a place for us to work collaboratively.


What is professional development?

Does your answer include a focus on student needs to drive decision-making, and student learning as the basis on which professional development is planned, implemented and evaluated?  If your answer also includes a focus on Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, please keep reading.  Leadership is also an important principle of professional development, whether it be the instructional leadership of the principal or the teachers within the building.  Simultaneity is another important principle to continue as no one action in school improvement occurs in a vacuum. Participative Decision Making would be a final principal for ongoing sustained professional development designed to improve student learning.


Do those principles sound familiar?

In Iowa, they form the chevron at the top of the Iowa Professional Development graphic pictured here.

Iowa PD Model

















What are the core beliefs in this model?

o All students can learn.
o The purpose of professional development is to increase student achievement.
o Professional development should be collective learning by all teachers and administrators with an emphasis on improving instruction.

The cycle of professional development includes many familiar steps:

  • Collecting/Analyzing Student Data
  • Goal Setting and Student Learning
  • Selecting Content
  • Designing a Process for Professional Development
  • and a mini-cycle that includes Training/learning opportunities; Collaboration/implementation; and Ongoing Data Collection/formative assessment
Cycles – Training/Learning, Collaboration, Formative Assessment . . . . .

With a focus on tight alignment between curriculum, instruction, and assessment, this model parallels many Professional Learning Community cycles including the functions of data teams.  The “name of the organizing framework” is not nearly as important as checking to ensure that all elements are present within any professional learning group!  Leadership needs to focus on how and when collaborative time can be provided so teachers can work together. The training includes modelling and gradual release of responsibility as the participants take over the leadership role.

Additional ideas from the Iowa Professional Development Model include:

To be able to transfer new learning into the classroom, teachers need multiple opportunities to see demonstrations, plan together, work out problems, rehearse new lessons, develop materials, engage in peer coaching, and observe each other.

Often, learning opportunities need to be interspersed with classroom practice so that questions that arise from early implementation efforts can be responded to in a timely manner.

. . participants are provided with multiple demonstrations of the teaching strategies within the model . . .[and] multiple
opportunities to practice the teaching behaviors. . .
Professional development must be designed to be sustained over time. The initiative must be designed to last until implementation data indicate that the teachers are implementing accurately and frequently and student performance goals are met. (Joyce and Showers, 1983, 2002; NSDC, 2001; Odden, et al., 2002; Wallace, LeMahieu, and Bickel, 1990.)


What elements are part of your professional development?
How do you know when your professional development model is really effective?  
How do you know when it is NOT effective?

9/11 In Remembrance


Remembering the many who gave their lives;

Remembering the many who survived!

In honor of 9/11, please check out the 9/11 Museum.  If you would like a focus for just 10 minutes, check out my list of “5 Must See’s at the 9/11 Museum” from my visit in June here.

This song written by my cousin

never forget


And the many who have served and who continue to serve our country to keep America as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

SOL14: Starting a New Year

Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsey for creating that place for us to work collaboratively.

In the Midwest, our school schedules vary.  Professional development schedules seem to vary even more.  August is always the beginning of a new year.  Sometimes it resembles March:  if it comes in like a lion, then it tiptoes out like a lamb.  Which was it this year?


Weather?  check

Relatively calm


Teachers?  check

Ready to learn


Students? check

Ready for learning


And then the late summer hit.

Hot, humid, blistering tormenting weather!

Were there any signs of the oncoming weather?

Many . . . but what good is fretting about uncontrollable weather?


Exactly one month ago yesterday my computer died. It was the fourth day of work. The fourth consecutive day of training. All links were open and live when the screen went dark and stayed dark. It would not turn back on. Not one single light was visible anywhere.  I was 50 miles away from one of our main offices with a class that had persevered in spite of the lack of air conditioning and internet access for the participants.  Black screen of death.

It wasn’t a complete surprise. I had been “limping along” waiting for “after July 1st” and the new fiscal year. But the suddenness was still a shock.  15 minutes to class time.

Fortunately, I had my personal laptop that I had been using since the June and July Writing and Reading Institutes at #TCRWP in New York City (longest battery time of all computer choices).  I was feeling a bit “schizoid” as some materials were on my computer and others were not.  It sounded like a simple solution.  “Don’t panic,” my internal voice said.  I wanted to go outside and scream, plead, bargain “PLEASE, just one more day!”

Obviously it was not meant to be.  I googled how to “present” a power point from my MacBook Air.  Settings – display – find that silly “dongle” in the backpack and the magical “tech bag” – remote . . . . . each minute went faster and faster.  My 15 minutes was gone. 3 minutes until show time.  Plans D, E, and F were vague possibilities in my brain.  “If this, then this as I pounded on the keyboard.”  Calm?  Not so much.  Was panic helping?  Not so much.

We were one minute late starting.  Some materials for the day were totally not accessible because they were locked inside the black dead shell of a computer.  Did we accomplish our goals?

Absolutely, yes!  Because at 15 minutes to start time with a dead computer my goals changed. It was survival mode. Technology was not my friend.

Life sometimes fails for the adult.  But what about our students?

Are there days when our students are in survival mode?  Are we “in tune” with their needs?  Do they need the comfort and security of the routines of our classroom?  How do we make sure they also have a way to voice their frustrations?  I’m not talking about a full day of whining and complaining.  But what if it truly is not a good learning day because of events beyond their control?

What learning will you and your students negotiate today?
When have you had to scrap everything due to technology failures?
How did you “trust” technology again? 


PS. So my good news is that I have my new computer. Last night I added:

  • skype
  • dropbox
  • Evernote
  • Twitter
  • and this morning I am polishing off this draft of my blog post.  Earth is back on its regular rotation.  Life continues on!
What challenges have you already overcome this year?
How do we learn and grow from our own challenges?




2014-15 Goal: All Students Will Bloom

ImageTuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.  Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsey for creating that place for us to work collaboratively.


When I think of flowers, I think of all the possible varieties, colors and locations where they can be.  Some plants need a lot of care while others seem to flourish with little or no attention necessary.  Some flowers grow in rocky areas courtesy of birds and other animals that have left the seeds behind.

This weekend I had the pleasure of observing moonflowers on three successive nights.  They are gorgeous white trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom ONE night for approximately 12 hours.  Here is a picture of one blooming.












(Moonflower courtesy of Julie’s garden)


Many schools have been in session for awhile during this 2014-2015 school year.  Other schools are beginning today.

 What flowers will grow in your classroom?  
What care will you provide to ensure that all are growing?  
How can they all “BLOOM” and reach their full potential?  
How many will bloom all year long?
How can we share the “blooms” with parents, family members and our entire community?


This post was also influenced by the book Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden.

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