Tag Archives: writing

#SOL15: March Challenge Day 24 – Community

thank you languages

Thank you, readers, for your reading, your likes and your comments throughout this month of slicing.  There is a real sense of community among slicers especially when you consider this definition

a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

The good news is that all the “slicers” are winners even though Dana will anounce the “one” commenting winner later today.  Those that read 60 posts this last weekend are richer for their reading and those that have written 24, heading to 31, consective days of posts are richer for their writing.  We have shared laughter, tears, fear, joys and had FUN this month.

Some of us will extend this fun this weekend as slicers, courtesy of Tara, gather after the TCRWP Saturday reunion.


Will you be there at TC?  See Tara’s slice here for more info!


Check out the writers, readers and teachers who are “slicing” here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsy at “Two Writing Teachers” for creating a place for us to share our work.  So grateful for this entire community of writers who also read, write and support each other!

#SOL15: March Challenge Day 9 Inspiration


“You learn to write by writing. It’s a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it’s true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.” –William Zinsser in On Writing Well.”

This was part of Stacey’s call to post quotes this morning!  Do you REALLY believe it?  What’s the evidence?  Is it the number of words you write?  Is it the amount of time you write?



Acceptable Evidence?

Is your threshold for evidence AT LEAST what you would expect from your students?  Think about how often you require students to write “on demand” . . .

“Daily journal?”

But . . . they get to choose what they write about!

“It’s still an on demand.”

“Weekly probe?”

“But that’s required for IEP/Progress Monitoring . . . “

“Whatever you “require” for your students, you should meet or exceed as the teacher!  The March Challenge to write for 31 days straight is basically equal to requiring a weekly on demand during the school year.  And think of the stamina that is built up.”

Are you writing as much as your students?

Should you be writing MORE?

Slice of Life

Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsy at “Two Writing Teachers” for creating a place for us to share our work.

#SOL14: Prioritize!

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.


               Winter Break

Bustle, hustle,

Here and there.

Traveling on,

Places to go,

People to see,

Things to do!



Leisure Time?



How do I eke out a few minutes for me?


Up early?

Up late?

Cooking and baking?

Straightening and cleaning?

Finish reading that book?

Or write a few lines?


Can I have it all?

Do I need it all?

Do I adjust my “all” and spread my goals

Over multiple days, times, and events?


Is it the holiday?




Or is it the togetherness?

The sense of family?

The security of beliefs held tightly?


Wishing YOU





and a few moments to live

a readerly life,

a writerly life,

a family life,

however YOU best decide!

thank you languages






How do you prioritize during the holidays?

Writing: Planning, Revising, Editing, Rewriting, or Trying a New Approach (CCR. W.5)

If you are in a Common Core state, you may already have digested this standard:

“CCR. W.5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.”


If you are still trying to figure out what it means for you as the teacher (instruction) or for the students (learning) or even to real-life authors, you need to check out Kate Messner’s book:  Real Revision –  Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers.


It’s written by a REAL teacher who is also a REAL author who has REAL practical, crystal clear examples.  You can preview parts of the book online here at Stenhouse!

Not convinced?

Here is the Table of Contents:

Chapter 1: Real Revision: Where Stories Start to Sing
Chapter 2: Creating a Revision-Friendly Classroom
Chapter 3: The Elephant in the Room (And It’s Ticking Away the Minutes!)
Chapter 4: Back to Brainstorming
Chapter 5: Real Authors Don’t Plan . . . Or Do They?
Chapter 6: Big-Picture Revision
Chapter 7: Returning to Research
Chapter 8: Magic in the Details
Chapter 9: Are the People Real?
Chapter 10: Whose Voice Is It Anyway?
Chapter 11: The Words We Choose
Chapter 12: Cut! Cut! Cut!
Chapter 13: Talking It Out
Chapter 14: Clean Up: The Copyediting Process
Chapter 15: What If the Writing Is Already Good?
Chapter 16: Technology Tools of the Trade
Chapter 17: The Revision Classroom, Revisited

What grade levels would benefit from this text?

This book is listed for grades 3-9, but it could work at any grade with some thoughtful planning by the teacher. The copyright is 2011 but the strategies will withstand time!

Check it out!
“When you’re done, you’ve just begun!”   – Lucy Calkins

Preview here.



Chapter 6 “Big Picture Revision”

“Revise for:

    • theme – What is this piece really about?
    • seeing the forest instead of the trees  – Create a “to-do” list
    • reading to revise – listen to the piece; how does it sound?”


And then how is this supported by what this first grader revises here in “Austin’s Butterfly”

and what Lucy Calkins says here in “Being a Good Writer”?


Have you read this?  What did you think?

SOL: On the Importance of Reading


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

This is the third in a series about “The Importance of  . . . Check out the previous posts here

I was out of town for training and really wanted to write about assessments, processes, in the life that I was living, but that will be a secret for at least six more weeks as the wheels of bureaucracy turn.  At one point this morning I actually had six different beginnings to this post.  So it was not procrastination, but the receiving end of professional development that has moved this post to the end of the day.


*   *   *   *   *   *

Beth Moore’s call for “Slicers” today in the link above included this quote:

“I really think that reading is just as important as writing when you’re trying to be a writer because it’s the only apprenticeship we have, it’s the only way of learning how to write a story.” ~From the Brotherhood 2.0 project. – John Green



How important is reading in your life?

There are days that I feel like I cannot breathe because I haven’t read or written  anything.  As necessary as breathing – that’s my literacy life.


Do any of these quotes reflect the importance of reading in your life?

“We read to know we are not alone.”    C.S. Lewis

“Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”   Edmund Burke

“The more you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”   Frederick Douglass

“A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. ”  Abraham Lincoln


Please share your favorite quote!
How do you show that importance in your own life?

Slice of Life: On the Importance of Writing


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

What do we write?

This graphic lists many ideas.  What would you add?


Why do we write?

How important is writing?  For some, writing is a chore.  For others, writing is as necessary as breathing.  Do you fall somewhere in between?

Some authors believe that writing is the primary basis upon which one’s work, learning, and intellect will be judged—in college, in the work place and in the community. Should all that weight rest on one’s writing?  Should writing be an evaluative tool?

What about writing in school? (Real writing – not filling in blanks)  What if writing is critical in order to become a good reader?  Does that mean that writing deserves equal time in classrooms?  Does that happen?

Why do I write?  Sometimes to preserve my ideas and memories.  Sometimes to make my thinking and learning visible and permanent. But sometimes I write because I feel compelled to explain my ideas to others as well as myself.  Writing also helps me understand my life.

Ali Hale has a wonderful post about why your writing matters that you can read here with specifics for these five points:

#1: It’s Not Just a Hobby

#2: Your Writing Can Outlive You

#3: You Can Change Lives

#4: Self-Expression is Important

#5: You’re Improving with Every Word You Write


Writing was important in one-room schoolhouses.  Check out the writing on the walls in the picture below.  But also note the speakers and listeners in the room as well.  No one medium of communication is “the only one” as the connections between reading, writing, speaking and listening must all be nurtured. What does this picture say to you?


Why do you write?
What will you do, this week, to make your writing a more important part of your life?

Slice of Life 8: Studying Student Writing

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

Picture a workshop setting in a convention center (non-school environment) and 35 third grade teachers and administrators spending a day discussing and increasing their knowledge of standards-based reading, writing, speaking, listening and language as well as instruction and assessment.  Folks are literally out of their work space as the participants come from multiple districts.

The first very specific task:  Read the assigned standard, Writing Anchor 1, the expanded description and one piece of student work.  Suspending judgement based on your own knowledge of third grade writers, how well does this piece represent understanding of the standards?  What would be strengths?  What would be areas to work on? The participants were asked to do this individually and then as a table group of four or five.

This was a hard task.  Questions immediately bubbled up.

“Did the student have help?”  “Was this at the beginning of the year?”  “Was there a prompt?”

Sometimes with writing conversations/assessments there may be too much concern about the “back story” of the task.  Work with it. List your questions. Consider whether they really must be answered to complete the task. Are they “need to know?”  or “want to know?” questions that need answered before continuing the work?

The second part of the task was to consider additional standards beyond standard 1 that could be assessed with this piece of student work.  We were looking for “multiplicity” or “bundling” of standards in order to have a broader view of the writing piece.  During writing instruction, formative assessment, conferences and mini-lessons would have provided additional information about the specifics of the students’ improvement.  Teachers were urged to consider all of the third grade ELA standards:  reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language.

The conversations were rich. Highlighted words and phrases in the student work matched the highlighted sections in the standards document (color coding!).  Some annotated the student work.  The level of care and attention given to this student’s work was exactly what I would want for my child, grandchild, and all children!

The Pièce de résistance:  Three table groups met together in the foyer to discuss their conversations and findings.  There was a lot of agreement in the group of approximately 15.  But what was most memorable to me was this report to the entire group at the conclusion of this work:  “These folks discussed this writing piece for approximately 30 minutes.  Not once in the 30 minutes did a teacher mention spelling or handwriting.  That is important to note.  Kudos to these teachers.”  Wow! What is most important in student writing?  It’s easy to get sidetracked with the cosmetic appearance.  It is much harder to dig into quality instruction that gets at the heart of the claim, evidence (facts, details, reasons) and development of the ideas.

(And of course, the group did have wonderful ideas about additional standards that could be reviewed in addition to Writing Anchor 1.)

When  you study student writing to determine how the writing is progressing in relation to the standards, what is your process?  What do your conversations sound like?  
How do the teachers, students, and parents know that the writing is improving?

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 .

Reading and Writing in Grade 1

First grade teachers are believers.  They know that their students need to be “writing more” in order to meet the demands of the Common Core / Iowa Core.  But the struggle becomes more of a management than a pedagogical issue.

“How do I fit it all in?”  “How much should students write?” “What should they write?” “How much time should I devote to Writing Workshop?”  or “How much time besides Daily 5’s ‘Work with Writing’ do my students need?” are just a few of the questions that I frequently hear.

So we began by planning first grade literacy learning.  The teachers determined that the focus would be gathering evidence that the students had met this standard:

RL.1.3   Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.

Teachers using the Lucy Calkins Units of Study in Writing or Reading Units have a vast array of resources to support reading and narrative writing for their students to provide evidence of meeting this reading standard.  Other teachers may consider going to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s “Unpacked ELA Standards” for further clarification of student expectations.

“RL. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3  First grade students continue to build on the skill of asking and answering questions about key details in a text. At this level, students use key details to retell stories in their own words, reveal an understanding about the central message of the text, and tell about the story elements.

Use questions and prompts such as:
• Can you tell me what happened in the story at the beginning? What
happened after that? What happened at the end of the story?
• Can you tell me where the story took place?
• Can you tell me the important things that happened in the story?
• Who are the characters in the story? What do you know about them?”


We have been talking and thinking about a “body of evidence” that shows “mastery of learning” the standards.  How much evidence is needed?  How do we define mastery? The signposts matched our confusion!  What else did we need to consider during the planning and implementation of this study?

Before going any further our next question was, “What other English Language Arts (ELA) first grade standards are related and could possibly be combined or bundled together to provide deeper learning for students?”  In a coaching conversation with a group of teachers we identified the following ten standards as possibilities.


Our thinking was that if we were aware of all the possibilities, we could consider and experiment with an array of recording techniques. For example, we might include a checklist format for specific standards and/or utilize a narrative writing prompt that might be a “higher level” of application that could be used to demonstrate understanding in reading and writing.  We struggled with the idea of having to record every single standard in oral language, reading and writing.  Driving questions were:  “How can we make this manageable for teachers?” and “How can we show students the learning targets?”

Our next step was a look back at the kindergarten reading standard that we would be following in this work: “RL.K.3.  With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story.”

After the standards review, we created the possible checklist/rubric below. We believed that our one star rating would allow many first graders to begin with success and also showcase their kindergarten learning.  Ultimately, we would like the students to explain their own “star rating” with a reason why they chose that rating.


What process have you used to plan reading and writing instruction?  Have you found standards that “fit or bundle” together?  Does this process transfer to your grade level?

Is Our Writing Improving?

How can we measure writing so students, parents, the community, and the teachers know that students are improving?

If this is our definition of assessment, we have many options for measurement.

writing assessment

If I am a student, I can use rubrics, checklists, my personal goals and feedback from peers, teachers,  and those I communicate with through blogging, etc. to talk about what qualities are present in my writing now that were not there earlier in the year.  This could be in the form of a summative reflection that is posted with two or three papers/writings that I believe demonstrate my growth and that I would have annotated with those specific qualities for a quarter or semester or across the entire year.

But what keeps a student writing on a daily basis?  How does a student know that this week’s writing piece is better than the last piece?  Or that this piece really was the perfect match for the audience and purpose?  I believe that students need feedback to not only be able to “improve” their writing but also to have the language to explain what they are doing to others. Excitement about a topic can carry a student for several days, but at some point the enthusiasm may wane as the task of rewriting or revising becomes laborious.

John Hattie believes that feedback needs to include these factors:

“• focus on the learning intention of the task
• occur as the students are doing the learning
• provide information on how and why the student understands and misunderstands
• provides strategies to help the student to improve
• assist the student to understand the goals of the learning”  Source 

So a learner would need to know the task/goal, be able to explain what he or she is learning and have some strategies that enhance his/her understanding of the work.  The checklists in the new Units of Study in Writing, from Lucy Calkins and the many, many talented folks at Teachers College Reading and Writing, would help meet those criteria especially if the students are involved in daily writing workshops that allow them to continually stretch and grow and there is a safety net provided by the teacher and peers.

Is this the only writing format that meets these criteria?  No, other rubrics such as 6 Traits + 1 within a writing workshop model could also set up this learning and feedback environment for students.  These environments would include clear writing targets, models and strategies for students to continually plan, reflect and self-assess.  When working well, these classrooms are better than well-oiled machines; when not working well students might be saying, “I don’t know what to write.” or  “What do YOU want me to write?”

How does that all fit in a writing workshop?  Very, very carefully as a teacher combines both student-led and teacher-led activities to increase student independence!  At the end of the mini-lesson, the teacher may ask the students to go ahead and begin an example of the task/work at hand before they even leave that comfort of the writing circle.  A few students may stay for a quick conference and/or a more specific “check-in” with the teacher.  A student may have put a post it up on a strategy chart to mark the specific work that is his/her goal for today that will improve the narrative (adding action, adding dialogue, or adding thoughts).  The teacher will circulate and may have a “mid-workshop” interruption where student work that is “on target” is quickly celebrated and shared.  Students may quickly meet with writing partners to see if they are “still on course to meet their goals.”

This is an example of “knowing specifically what a student needs to do” to meet the learning target in kindergarten – first grade writing.

K end of unit one writing

The student will have a “collection” of writings in a folder that will be evidence of learning.

What will the parents and community members see?  They will see examples of early writing in a unit and later writing.  They will see “student revision” in work and evidence of student thinking.  Parents and community members will not see traditional “percentages” for grades.  They will see comments that delineate what the student CAN do.  The students will be able to tell their families what they have been working on and how that has helped them be more powerful writers.

And the teachers . . . How will they know that “students are improving”?  Teachers may have to take a step back because the “day to day work” may cloud their view when they think of overall growth for all students. But student growth, when students are writing every day in writing workship for 45 minutes to an hour, can be seen after three weeks (Lucy Calkins, June 2013 TCRWP Writing Institute).  Will it be easy?  Heck, no!  But will easy provide results that will help your students meet the demands of opinion, informational and narrative writing?

What are you waiting for?  February is the month to “Fire Up” student writing in your classroom.  Your students will love writing with you!

What questions do you have?  What do you need in order to get started?

Information about the K-5 Units of Study

Writing About Reading

What do your students “write” after reading?  Do they only complete assigned tasks or do they write because of an inner compulsion to record a very specific thought?  Do you need some new thinking?

Check out this entire week’s worth of posts from “Two Writing Teachers” and then plan to attend next Monday’s twitter chat!

Monday, January 27    Writing About Reading Blog Series: 3 Ways to Write about Reading

Tuesday, January 28   Writing About Reading Blog Series:  A Quick Guide to Quick Essays

Wednesday, January 29  Writing about Reading in the Writer’s Notebook

Thursday, January 30  Writing about Reading Blog Series: Offering Students Choice in Reading Responses

Friday, January 31  Writing about Reading Blog Series:  Opinion Writing in a K-1 Collaboration

After reading these, get ready to jump start your February “Writing about Reading!”

Storify from 02.03.14 Twitter Chat  sfy.co/hb9N

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