Tag Archives: communication lines

#SOL18: March 11

Last week I introduced you to N on March 8 and March 9. We’re hyper focused on helping this 5th grader (recent move in) literally get moving in writing.  He wants to write. He listens. He participates. He talks. He uses all the language. His first on demand was rated at a kindergarten level in November and our goal is a third grade level by the end of May.  But he writes so little each day that it is hard to verify real writing growth.

Approximately 50 days to make that growth . . . we have ambitious goals!

How do you make decisions about changing instruction?  Or Practice?  Or Allocation of Time?

I like to think organically.  I use my friend Lynn’s quote often.

“I’m old.  I forget because my brain leaks.” (Lynn Selking, personal conversations)

So I like to start simply.  I’m not adding anything new until I know enough that I’m pretty sure my suggestion(s) will be productive.

So what does that really mean? 

First Step:  Current State of Instruction

I consider the balance of writing work in the classroom.  Is everything in sync? 

Mini lessons – 10 minutes or less?

Writing Time – at least 40 minutes during writing workshop?

Mid-Workshop Interruption – daily for 2-3 minutes?

Sharing – daily for 5-6 minutes?

Partnerships – daily talk and working together?

Small groups – planful and executed efficiently?

Conferences – Teach the writer and not the piece of writing?

Other writing opportunities across the day?

What is the role of TALK across the day?

What are students REALLY doing?

All of this is internal data.

No program.

No pinterest.

No TpT.

First round thinking as we consider current classroom work.

Everything is fairly solid.

Second Step: 

Name the current student behaviors with a focus on strengths.

Begin to brainstorm strategic actions to increase intensity of instruction.

With N, our draft looked like this:

Screenshot 2018-03-10 at 7.37.56 PM.png


  • What has a history of working?
  • What will maximize N’s writing time?
  • What is feasible?
  • What is efficient?
  • Are there charts/tools that we could pull from previous grades?

At this time, we know that lack of writing instruction in these grades (K, 1, 2, 3, 4, part of 5) may be part of the problem.  How can we compress time and increase productivity?


Dependent on what actually works, we have time for three or four focused two-three week cycles of instruction.  Beginning with our end goal, we are planning backwards.  Planning for lean instruction, lean conferencing, lean teacher work and ways to increase N’s independence in writing.  Is it confidence-building that he needs?  How can we  recircuit his thinking so N has a growth mindset?

What process do you use for problem solving? 

How do you use the resources that you have BEFORE looking for outside solutions? 

What would you add to this list?

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this daily forum each March. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.                                                                                                      slice of life 2016

Celebration: Learning

March is finished.  I have studied my #sol14 data.  31 days of writing charted.  Goals reviewed.  New goals considered.

Write for the weekly “slice”?


Time for a break.

Done with “Slicing” for a bit.

Time to get caught up with housework, laundry, cleaning  .   .   .   .   .


April Fool’s!


I’m back!

What?  Slicing Again?

It’s Tuesday.  Slice of Life – regular schedule!  Once a week!

I loved the routine of writing daily.  I did worry about tasks left hanging while I “sliced” daily.  Just how far behind did I get?

It doesn’t matter because I need to share this story with you.  No, I have to share this story with you!  I really want to share this story with YOU!



Yesterday was the seventh and final day of our standards – based grading sessions (K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).  It was a smaller group because sixth grade is middle school for many of our districts but we still had sixth grade teachers from nine districts working collaboratively to deepen their understanding of the Iowa Core ELA Standards.  Our purposes for the day were

Today, I can:

•Increase my knowledge of standards-based reporting
•Increase my skill at determining standards-based proficiency of a writing piece
•Locate quality sources for instruction and assessment for grade 6 ELA standards to increase student learning
•Begin to plan for communication processes for this continued work
It was a great day of professional development.  I literally talked for less than an hour at the beginning of the day.  (“What a change from the old days of PD when I was yakkkkkkkkking all day long!”)  Then the teachers moved in to the writing analysis task stage.  I wrote a bit about that process with our third grade teachers last month in this post three weeks ago.
The next big chunk of time had teachers working in table teams and multiple table groups to locate quality resources for ELA instruction and assessment.  Teachers worked collaboratively, “Have you seen xxx?” and shared freely.  The opportunity to dive into resources and share the results was a great use of time.  With a Google doc as the teacher resource, all had multiple opportunities to add exactly what they needed to their own knowledge.  Excited conversation was the “unofficial rule” of the day during this work!
The final learning chunk was about communicating changes with standards – based reporting and considering the appropriate frequency and the messenger for each level .  A tight alignment of both would also increase parents’ knowledge and inform the public.  “Have we ever ‘over-communicated’ our message to parents?”    What if that became a focus for our schools?
After participants had completed a three question evaluation/planning response, I had them line up in two lines facing each other.  We literally practiced “communication lines” (live link) with our “favorite learning from today.”  Participants had an opportunity to experience this “increased talk” or “increased practice” that could also get middle schoolers up and moving!  They worked with their first partner and one other rotation and clearly understood the value of “oral rehearsal” of a learning task.
But the best part of the day for me, was my new learning.  Yes, “My New Learning!”  A fantastic day with new learning for me!
New Learning # 1

Our new literacy specialist shared this  with me, posted it on our working site and then shared it with the entire group:



This icon (comfy red chair) is then placed on your toolbar and is readily available to turn any “article” on the web into a “better” print version that can be enlarged or even shrunk to make it fit the “reader’s needs!”


New Learning # 2 (also shared by our new literacy specialist):
From a sixth grade teacher:  Viewpure.com
Why would I want or need it?  It removes the comments and all the “clutter” around a YouTube video.  All you need is the URL of the video!
Although I was the facilitator for the day’s work, I learned about these two new tech applications from a colleague who shared one source of her own and a source shared with her by a teacher seated at her table.  Collaboration and learning at its best!
I love learning!  Yesterday’s celebration: learning about readability, learning about pureview, learning from “participants”

It was a fantastic day because I was ALSO a learner!  That’s the best part of professional development!

And thanks for feeling comfortable enough to share so everyone could learn, including me!


Slice of Life 9: #EdCampIowa and “Can Do” Prep for Writing

(During March, I am blogging daily as a part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge!)

What an historic event yesterday!  #EdCampIowa was held at five locations across Iowa.  A phenomenal bunch of educators gave up their Saturday freedom to participate in a day of collaborative learning.

Not familiar with an EdCamp?  Official information from the EdCamp wiki can be found here. Additional information about #EdCampIowa can be found here. And Shira Leiboweitz wrote a great blog post about “Why I Hosted Two EdCamps?”

I was fortunate to attend the “Central” location organized by @JamieFath and held at #SEPolk which is 1.5 hours from my home.  Many came from the Des Moines metro area, but others came to our location from Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

The call for sessions filled pretty quickly, newbies were encouraged to tweet and make new friends and the talk quickly centered around student learning.  The sessions often were posed around a question or two:  What about those students who struggle?  How do we know students are learning?  Is it about reporting the learning (based on the standards) or is it about the grades?  And in the ensuing conversations, I loved the fact that MANY people from a variety of districts were discussing instruction in terms of the “Gradual Release of Responsibility.”  Google docs allowed group participation in note-taking with many listed/ linked articles and resources.

Were deep, thoughtful answers a result with 20-25 people in a room and a spirit of “conversation” not presentation?  

I am not sure.  One particular question stuck with me as I drove home.  A second grade teacher had students that were having difficulty writing paragraphs and limited “evidence of thinking.”

How can we create success for ALL students?

It was the last session of the day.  The room was full.  Many people wanted to talk so monopolizing the conversation was not possible. Questions immediately came to my mind. How many students were having trouble?  How did they respond to Questions, Cues, and / or Prompts – guided instruction phase of Gradual Release of Responsibility (Doug Fisher/Nancy Frey)?  I needed additional information about response to instruction. Even the questions, “What did instruction look like?  How many “models” of writing by the teacher? How many collaboratively by the students?”  In hindsight, I might query, “Do the students talk in paragraphs (more than one connected sentence on the same topic)?  Do the students ask questions?”  or in other words, “What can the students do NOW?”


What do I wish there had been time to share, demonstrate, and practice?

Writing is often the “end product” for our youngest learners after much talking with a partner. What has to happen FIRST before students can or should be asked to write?  I love to see students tell a story across their fingers, a la Lucy Calkins.  No graphic organizer needed.  What happens in the story at the beginning (touch index finger), the middle (touch 2nd finger) and the end (touch ring finger)?  The student can orally rehearse the story as he/she literally tells the story by individually touching a finger for that all-important sequence development.

I would also consider the use of communication lines with students. Again these tie in nicely with Gradual Release and Quality Instruction as well in the productive group work phase. It’s also a chance for the students to get up, move, and refocus.  Have you used them?

Typically a class is divided in half with two lines of students facing each other with about six-10 inches between the faces (Students 1 and 13 from chart below).  Students in the same line are at arm’s length between each other so they can clearly hear their own two-part conversations (Students 1-12). The first chart below shows what those two lines might look like as the two “partners from Line A and B face each other” and take turns telling their story.

Then for round two, the students in Line A move three spaces (persons) to the left while students in Line B stay exactly where they began.  Each partner group of two students facing each other again take turns sharing their own story with the new partner.

Round three is the same process with students in Line A moving three more spaces (persons) to the left and the students in Line B still do not move.  With 24 students it is possible to do a fourth round depending on whether the students need the extra oral practice.


How do the conversation lines help?

All students have at least three opportunities to “tell” their story to a peer.  They also have heard three different stories.  The teacher has just increased the likelihood that ALL students will be able to write down the story that they told or that they can modify that story based on whether they want to “borrow” any details from any of the partners!  Will it work for 100% of the students?  No.  But guess what? When a student gets “stuck” remembering their story, the teacher can redirect them to their last partner for further conversation. The students are less dependent on the teacher!  Having partners share their written work at the end of the writing time also allows the partners a chance to “hear” how the stories turned out. (A video small group demo of conversation lines with ELL students is here.)

Why is this critical?

Students with IEP’s, struggling students, ELL students, or even students who have not done a lot of writing need large quantities of oral practice telling stories before they can begin to write those stories.  It is not helpful for a student to sit and stare at a blank piece of paper.  A story will not magically appear in the brain of a child.  Quick, simple strategies to increase talk/ conversation are critical in order to maximize the amount of time available for writing!

What about older students in middle school or high school?  

Many students struggle with using a “graphic organizer” for planning writing.  They believe that the organizer is the task and then do not engage in the actual drafting.  They also worry more about filling in the boxes/shapes than they do about the content of their responses. Other students don’t know if they have anything “worthy of writing” or whether it is “what the teacher wants.”  All of these students would/could benefit from oral rehearsal before beginning to draft a piece of writing.

How do you help students plan to “draft” their writing?  How do increase the “talk” before writing so students have practiced their thinking?
If you were at #EdCampIowa, how will you use your learning?

Special thanks to the hosts of the Slice of Life Challenge:  StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth.   More Slice of Life posts can be found at  Two Writing Teachers .

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