Monthly Archives: August, 2015

#SOL15: It’s all about nonfiction!

Inspired by and including ideas from #TCRWP #RUOS chat on August 24, 2015 led by Katie Clements (@clemenkat) about “Tackling Complexity” – grade 5 unit.


“All About Nonfiction”


Because you know I’m all about nonfiction

“bout that truth, no fiction

I’m all about nonfiction

‘Bout that livin’ in the world

I’m all about nonfiction

‘Bout that learnin’, no fantasy

I’m all about nonfiction . . .

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I like the real stuff

Not that made up stuff, that fantasy and sci fi,

‘Cause I like living in the real world, today’s world,

With learning in each day.

I see art, pictures, and videos showin’ pieces of real life

We choose it because it’s so real, we move in closer and closer for every detail

If you got a passion, name it and just let it rip

‘Cause learnin’ is more fun when you get to choose your own path to sail.

Because you know I’m all about nonfiction

“Bout that truth, no fiction

I’m all about nonfiction

‘Bout that livin’ in the world

I’m all about nonfiction

‘Bout that learnin’, no fantasy

I’m all about nonfiction . . .

Because you know I’m all about nonfiction

‘Bout that truth, no fiction

I’m all about nonfiction

It’s all about your world

I’m all about nonfiction

‘Bout your life – no kidding

I’m all about nonfiction!*

*Adapted from lyrics by Meghan Trainor “All About That Bass”


Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 


#RUoS #TCRWP #SOL15: “We Are Readers”

Did you know there is a Twitter Festival this week and next?

twitter festival

#TCRWP #RUoS at 7:30 ET

Ten glorious days of twitter chata about the Reading Units of Study (#RUoS) from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (#TCRWP) meet Slice of Life 15 (#SOL15) amid a hashtag pileup!

The first two chats about kindergarten units are complete and I’ve learned a lot.

DISCLAIMER:  I have the first grade units and am just beginning my study of those.  I did have both the pleasure and privilege of beginning my first grade unit study with Liz Dunford Franco during the July TCRWP Reading Institute.  I’ve been reading in the units during the last month but I’m still a novice!

What have I learned?

“I used to think . . . but now I . . .”

I used to think that kindergarten teachers had to deal with management and teach the routines FIRST, but now I know that students engaged in powerful and interesting information texts and story books are capable of self-management and the students CAN actually learn more during workshop when the materials connect to their passions.

I used to think that sending home guided reading “D” books (Kindergarten end of year targets) was the best way of sharing goals with parents, but now I know that parents must first be grounded in “great stories” so they understand that reading is meaning-making and not “racing through the levels”.

I used to think that the same topic/genre for reading workshop and writing workshop simultaneously would be too great a cognitive load for students, but now I now that I can check for transfer from one time of day to another when students are working in the same genre and also build deeper connections with multiple teaching points across the day.

I used to think that formal assessments coupled with teacher observation data were a great balance, but now I know that the way we frame the “assessment task” contributes to either the fixed or growth mindset of the students and is actually more critical than the type of assessment used.

I used to think that focusing on the end of the year target kept us grounded in our goals, but now I know that the learning target is an important factor that must not be allowed to cause an “OVER” focus on the end goals to the extent that we forget / miss what is happening in front of our eyes.

I used to think that there were some basic things that students really needed to learn before literacy instruction began, but now I know that a growth mindset will have a greater impact on perseverance and stamina than any skills work!


Specific tweets that I want to remember from our chat!

natalie we are readers begin

natalie pitfalls

natalie two

natalie three

natalie four

natalie five

natalie six

natalie seven

Can you match the tweets to my “learning” above?

What is your understanding of the “Reading Units of Study” (RUoS)?

Which twitter festival nights match your grade level interests?  

How are you growing and learning?


Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 

Beginning the School Year!


What’s your focus for the beginning of a new school year?

If your students have not yet begun:

What do you know about school, the year, your grade level, your students and yourself as you begin to plan? How do you set your priorities?  What are you planning based on your own personal belief statements?

If your students are already attending, think back to how you began the year.

the beginning

Nobody knows how much you know until they know how much you care.  Theodore Roosevelt

Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  Anonymous

How important are relationships?

As an adult, how comfortable are you in those situations where you “play” icebreaker activities?  Which ones work for you?  Which ones make you think “Is this really the best use of my time?”

Dana Murphy addressed this conundrum in her post, “The Chicken and the Egg”.  Please go read her blog if you haven’t yet!  The notion of “Significant 72” is critical. Relationships are critical.  But how can relationships, fun and academics all work together during the “Significant 72”?

Obviously in upper grades, this would not mean “boring and endless reading of the classroom rules” for we know that co-constructed roles, expectations, and norms result in increased collaboration and learning.

And then Shaelynn Farnsworth’s post, “Kicking Off Back to School with Camera Fun”, caught my eye because it combined content, learning targets and building relationships within the classroom.  Of course it was also FUN! But I also loved the ideas because they involved some form of “creation”, higher level of Bloom’s or DOK, as well as a source of formative assessment for the students, if I chose to use the student products to not only tell me about the students but also to tell me what my students currently know about 6 word memoirs.

How do you make decisions about your learning priorities?

I see Dana’s thinking about how writing together can build relationships as well as Shaelynn’s “fun” and “technology” as integral parts of first days of school relationship building and setting the classroom expectations for learning.  “It’s all about the learning” would be a mantra of mine! As well as “It’s about ALL learning“. How much do my beliefs and values enter into my decisions?

what matters atwell

Tricia Ebarvia posted this on twitter on 8.15.15 and it’s a quote that I plan to hold onto.  It matches Kylene Beers keynote at TCRWP during the March Saturday reunion as well as the August Reading Institute.  A reader has to read in order to be a better reader. How do students get that time?  How do teachers provide that time?  How do systems protect that time?

Twitter has also provided other sources of inspirations and decision making.  A favorite quote of mine from Dr. Mary Howard is “Tick Tock, Every minute counts and must be designed to make the most of precious available time with students!”

tick tock

Time is finite.  Our minutes with our students are limited.  In order to teach both the reader and the writer, we must make deliberate choices about how to spend that time.

To begin the year I choose:

  1. Quality Read Alouds – where students will choose a word, phrase or sentence that captures their “ears” that they want to linger with. (Relationships will be built as we consider who has similar words and phrases as well as WHY the choice was made.)
  2. Writing about our Read Alouds – what are some of the most important things in my world?  (Relationships will be built as we talk with partners about the ideas in Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book.)
  3. Speed Dating with Books – Read a book and share with others in my group about who might want to read it and why. (Relationships will be built as students create To Be Read, TBR, lists.)
  4. To watch and listen (no interrogations) as students talk, read, write, and speak to capture their words and the essence of their thoughts.

 Why does it matter?

Sharon Salzberg says it best, “We learn and grow and are transformed not so much by what we do but by why and how we do it.”

Check out Tara Smith’s post “Begin the Writing Workshop Year by Writing on ‘Day One'”!  It’s fabulous!

How will you begin the year with fun, learning, literacy, AND relationship building?

#SOL15: The Book Behind the Show


Sunday afternoon was delightful as several of my siblings and families met in the Indianola High School Auditorium for the community theatre presentation of the musical “Shrek”.  Our star of the show was the little red-headed magician.  Other patrons may have focused on different characters!

What is the “backstory” of Shrek?  Where did it come from?

Shrek! is a picture book written and illustrated in 1990, by William Steig.  An ogre is sent from home at the age of seven to see the world and ends up saving a princess.  The story includes many favorite fairy tale figures like the Gingerbread Boy, Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs, the Big Bad Wolf and of course, Shrek’s sidekick, the donkey.


The book and the play have similarities.  But it’s the differences between the movie and play version and the book that are quite interesting for readers.  Which has the most memorable language?  Descriptions?

After two different online book clubs this summer, writing about reading Shrek!  and writing about viewing the stage version of Shrek! was not easy to focus.  Should I write about the power of the music?  The staging of the play?  The character development?  Or was it okay to focus on the sheer enjoyment of the afternoon?

What is the purpose of writing? (Do our students know and understand?)

What would “actors” in the production say about how the play was or was not like the movie?

I wonder if the stage actors ever read the book?  What do you think?


Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 

#SOL15: And so it begins . . .

A New Year

routine to do list

Preparation the night before:

Am I ready?



Writing utensils?

Other stuff?

What else?

Oh, yeah . . . Alarm set just in case.

Finally, to sleep.

keep calm and stay focused

Wide awake

Dim awareness

What am I supposed to remember?

What was that last thought before I fell to sleep?

Did I write it down?

Seriously . . .

Another hour until the alarm goes off

Quiet, peaceful

Low stress! (Oxymoron)

HAH!  My heart is beating with anticipation!



Too early?

Definitely early!

How will it go?

Check my list again


Smile on my face?

What emoticon or emoji best describes me?


A touch of trepidation . . .

And yet, also



Ready for fun

And yet, nervous – just a little!

unexpected road

It’s the first day of class

This new year

And I am the teacher.

Am I really ready?

“Good morning, and thank you for coming to school!”


What thoughts and feelings do you have the night before that first day of class?

Do you share those with your students?


Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 

#G2Great Challenge: Beliefs About How Children Learn to Read


How do children learn to read?

What instruction?

What materials?

What environment?

How should the time best be used?

All of these questions are important for teachers to consider as they prepare their classrooms across the country for this year’s new group of students.

Where should we turn to for answers?

Professional associations include International Literacy Association (ILA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and NAEYC’s Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally AppropriatePractices for Young Children, Montessori, and Marie Clay and Reading Recovery.

In preparation for the beginning of another school year, a practical article to review is Dr. Richard Allington’s 6T’s of Effective Elementary Literacy Instruction. Those 6 T’s are:







Which ones of those are priorities in your classroom?  How would an observer know?  How would a parent know?  How will the students know?

Quality teachers, with a passion for learning, a desire to create literacy rich environments, and the ability to align instruction, assessment and curriculum know that each year brings new challenges.  The summer is often spent learning, reading, writing, and studying great texts to prepare for the year. Are any of these on your list?

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