Monthly Archives: January, 2015

#SOL15: YAY! Writing Assessments!

It’s the end of January, the temperature is in the 50’s and it’s also the week of annual district-wide writing assessments.  I.AM.SO.EXCITED!  This is the week that we celebrate student writing as we score 3rd grade narratives, 8th grade persuasive/argument letters in social studies, and 10th grade persuasive/argument letters to legislators.


I wrote about this last year in a post titled, “Orchestrating Writing Assessments“.  Check out the link for the details.  It’s an amazing week of learning.

One of the sections of the 1.25 hours of professional development that start the day is about the writing process.  I could go on and on and on and on about the writing process and its importance to students and teachers, but I won’t.  Instead I am directing you to an amazing blog post by Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, “What the Writing Process Really Looks Like“. The squiggly diagram of the “real” process is so intriguing that I’m keeping track of my process and will report on that soon (in another post – I believe I need more than ONE data point before reporting – LOL).

A second related post is, “How do we know that students are making progress in writing?” as well as this one, “Do I have to teach writing?” You can also search in the box at the top right to locate additional posts about writing assessment and instruction because, of course, quality instruction would be aligned with quality assessment. This week Two Writing Teachers have a series titled, “Aim Higher”. and it is filled with promise!


Dana opened the series today with a post titled, “Aim Higher:  Setting goals for editing” where she effectively describes the individualized editing checklists that she used with 5th grade students!   For Throwback week, Betsy chose another of Tara’s posts, “Student Self-Assessment: Introducing the Writing Checklist” and I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention, “Work Smarter:  Use Student Checklists Throughout a Unit of Study . . . and Beyond“.  You will be inspired to take action after checking out these masterful resources because assessments should not just be summative in nature!

And from the west coast Julieanne wrote about student responses to assessments in “Celebrate:  The Power of Assessments, Part 2”,  She built on Melanie’s ideas for cutting up rubrics in order to make them more “student friendly” as well as to challenge students to reach for higher levels!

One final thought on assessment:  What is the information that you will gain from the assessment that you are planning?  Clare and Tammy at Teachers for Teachers have this thought-provoking post, “Redefining Assessment” as they use Lucy Calkins definition “Assessment is the thinking teacher’s mind work.” (Because we should know so much more about these students beyond the score on a test!)  What do we know that guides our instruction?

Is writing a priority in your district?

How would an “observer” know?

How have you added to your knowledge of assessments and their use?

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 Betsy for creating a place for us to share our work.


#SOL15: Now class is a semester long, and . . .

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 Betsy for creating a place for us to share our work.

(Thanks to @tara_smith5 for the format idea from “Now the house is quiet, and  . . .” – A great read if you haven’t seen it YET!)


The graduate class is now a semester long . . and I used to complain that:

four weeks is too short to get to know them

summers are meant to be relaxing not frenzied activity

the turn-around time for feedback made me crazy

there didn’t seem like enough time for deep learning

a four credit course in four weeks is a huge commitment for students and facilitators

I was online 24/7 in order to send announcements, respond to problems/questions, provide feedback and grade student work

The class is now a semester long . . . and I rejoice in:

getting to know the students in my class

realistic time frames for feedback

time to check for understanding before assignments are completed

time to take care of learning and thinking for the assigned tasks

being able to set a schedule with online office hours so the pace does not consume anyone’s life, whether student or teacher

The class is just one day old and. . .

all but one student has logged in

introductory forum posts are thoughtful

the wonder of learning is before us and

I believe this is going to be the BEST class ever!

What kind of formats do you use to compare and contrast?

(As you can tell, this one from Tara fits MANY topics!)

#SOL15: The Unexpected

I left work last Friday with a short list of weekend “work to dos” and eagerly anticipated BOTH some reading and writing time for myself.  By the time I arrived home, I had my plan of attack.  Two tasks Friday night, one for Saturday and one for Sunday. Piece of cake.  Time allocated.  (Planning for a win/win)

However, it was not meant to be.

I had not even backed into my parking spot in front of the garage when I was intercepted and told, “Oh, no, it’s a mess!”

I remembered the frozen water line to the master bath toilet the night before.  We put a heater in the bathroom, turned the sink water on and waited.  No luck.  I left a note before I was off to work and texted to make sure that the note was received.  Out of my hands.

Hopeful that the dripping sink would help open up the cold water line

As I unloaded my bags from the car and walked to the house, I wondered, “Was it the water line? Something else?  Maybe our dog made a mess?”

If it was the water line, just how much water will drip from one frozen water line?

dripping wat

Cold weather causes many difficulties.  A week of subzero temperatures where the HIGH for two consecutive days was below zero, had resulted in a frozen water line to the toilet in the master bath.  Simple?  It’s a one story house. Durable? Yes. Walls are 8 inches of concrete surrounded by 2 inches of styrofoam on both the inside and outside (12 inch thick walls). The water line was inside an interior wall.

Not the first time!  Frozen water line in the kitchen about five years ago resulted in a patch in the hallway.

The patched seam in the hallway was more distinct because I could see it from the front door.  There was water on the kitchen floor (about a half inch) and varying depths in the two bathrooms, the master bedroom and closet and the guest bedroom.  Water was everywhere but the living room!


Squish, squish

Water, water,

Water, everywhere . . .

An industrial shop vacuum with help from neighbors quickly pulled 60 gallons of water off the floor.

Squish, squish

Water in my shoes,

Cold, wet, tired,

And weekend plans hijacked.

How much water can come from one burst half inch water line?

4 more dumps of the 16 gallon cannister on the industrial shop vacuum.

Where on earth can all this water come from?

Fans found.

Fans deployed in every room.

Break time


Cold, Tired, Wet!

Suddenly, a crash

And this was the view of the ceiling in the bathroom . . . .

Drywall on the floor.

Exhaust fan hanging . . .

Total mess!

water ceiling


No tasks completed Friday night.

Saturday a trip to Menard’s for plumbing supplies and replacement insulation.  More water vacuumed off the floor.  Sorting, pitching, cleaning.  Sunday was a repeat of Saturday.

No tasks completed Saturday or Sunday.

unexpected road

Changed plans and no reading or writing.  Time for a new plan . . .

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 Betsy for creating a place for us to share our work.

Focus: Informational Mentor Texts


What are informational texts?

The Common Core State Standards include the following in their definition of informational texts:

biographies and autobiographies; “books about history, social studies, science, and the arts”; “technical texts, including directions, forms, and information displayed in graphs, charts, or maps”; and “digital sources on a range of topics” (p. 31).

That’s a broad range so what does that really mean? Sources that can inform your work include:

Research and Policy:  Informational Texts and the Common Core Standards: What Are We Talking about, Anyway? by Beth Maloch and Randy Bomer

6 Reasons to Use Informational Text in the Primary Grades – Scholastic, Nell Duke

The Case for Informational Text – Educational Leadership, Nell Duke

Where can I find lists of Mentor Texts?

Award winning lists include:

Robert F. Sibert Medal and Honor Books

Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12

Notable Social Studies Trade Books For Young People

Mentor Texts to Support the Writers’ Workshop (Literature and Informational Texts)

This list supports writers’ workshop.  Others are readily available on Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers.

What about professional books to help me with Mentor Texts and Informational Writing?

There are many books that you can easily access.  Some of my favorite “go to” books are here. nonfiction mentor texts the writing thiefWrite Like This mentor author mentor textsFinding the Heart of Nonfiction

Nonfiction Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing through Children’s Literature K-8 by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Capeli (website)

The Writing Thief: Using Mentor Texts to Teach the Craft of Writing by Ruth Culham (Chapter 3)

Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts by Kelly Gallagher (Chapters 3 and 5)

Mentor Authors, Mentor Texts: Short Texts, Craft Notes and Practical Classroom Uses by Ralph Fletcher

Finding the Heart of Nonfiction: Teaching 7 Essential Craft Tools with Mentor Texts by Georgia Heard

and many grade level texts in the separate Units of Study of Writing by Lucy Calkins and friends at TCRWP.

What do I do with the books that I am considering as mentor texts?

Your number one task is to Read informational texts that you also like.  And then your second task is to  read these books from the lens of a writer.  Identify techniques that the author uses very successfully.  Third, talk with other teachers about the techniques and goals! To get started consider these helpful blog posts: A brilliantly written blog post on the use of a mentor text during a co-teaching instruction session by Melanie Meehan can be found in this post “Slice of Life Exploring a Fabulous Mentor Text” on the Two Reflective Teachers blog. Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris list “Our Top Eleven Nonfiction Books for Teaching . . . Everything!” here! Clare and Tammy at Teachers for Teachers also have a post titled “Two Great Nonfiction Mentor Texts”. Tara Smith writes routinely about texts.  “Mentor Texts” is a recent one. Two Writing Teachers:   mentor text archive (You can also search any of the above blogs for additional posts about Mentor Texts!) And three from my blog archives: Reading and Writing Instruction – Paired Mentor Texts #TCRWP Day 3:  Information Mentor Texts (based on Alexis Czeterko’s (@AlexisCzeterko ) Closing Workshop “Five Mentor Texts for Information Writing  – and Ways to Use Them with Power”) #SOL14:  Writing Techniques and Goals

This was a Topic Focus:  Informational Texts; Not a Compendium of all available resources . . .  Do you have a better idea of the “types of writing” included in the informational category? Did you find some new ideas?  Or revisit some old ideas with a new purpose in mind?

#SOL15: One Little Word

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 Betsy for creating a place for us to work collaboratively.

Words are so important; how do I choose just one for 2015?  I have lists of words with many scratched out and some circled. The next list has similar words including some very specific synonyms. Words scribbled in random order on post its abound!  A great deal of perseverance as well as drafting, reading, drafting, and looking up even more definitions led me to my word for 2015.










Focus:  (


Focus is defined as to concentrate on something in particular. Focus is defined as to bring into view.

  1. An example of focus is to put all of one’s energy into a science project.
  2. An example of focus is to adjust a microscope to better see a specimen.



2015 is full of promise.  By choosing to “focus”, I will be prioritizing my time every day in order to be as efficient and effective as possible and yet have time to complete the tasks that are necessary as well as things that are on my “fun” list.  Focus will allow me to set goals and strive to meet them in both my personal (soon to be grandma) and my work roles. Every day is a treasure and concentrating or focussing will allow me to reflect at the end of the day on my goals and actions!



One little word to

Center my life,

Using words to

Sustain my actions!

focus three

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