Category Archives: Teacher Reflection

Not Show & Tell It’s Discover & Reveal

What does the “Share” do for teaching and learning in a workshop model?  As writing teachers, we made our lists to brainstorm and clarify our thinking around this question.  What we have here is duality.  So we created an exercise to see both perspectives that of teacher and student:

Teaching (Jill)

Learning (Jenn)

  • Looking for transfer (what does and doesn’t and why)
  • Spotlighting points that are learning moments
  • Opportunity to lean in and teach connecting to their authentic work
  • Opportunity to scaffold another student
  • Provides an opening for the “grit” that goes with goal setting
  • Informal assessment to drive instruction\engagement
  • It’s a living structure to promote agency
  • Space to teach into accountable talk and elaboration
  • Use of real life work to serve as models for other students
  • Embraces the ideas inherent in “Growth Mindset”
  • Creates relationships and identities
  • Clarifies and celebrates point of view through reflection
  • Deepens understanding because it is a synthesis of real work
  • Creates authentic opportunities for children to engage in higher level discourse
  • Reinforces the learning culture of classrooms
  • It makes the classroom work have authentic meaning
  • Gives a sense of personal responsibility to learning
  • Allows for revisions in thinking (pluralistic viewpoints)

Our thinking around this came from an experience in Jill’s classroom.  During the reading “share time”,  students were eagerly sharing the great work they had been engaged in during workshop.  Kara, a humble student who is a “beyond the text” kind of  thinker,  began by sharing her work with informational text using the box and bullet strategy . As she did this work she gathered all this information about great white sharks.  Mark quickly connected to her work by asking if she learned about a mako shark since he was doing work around this too.  She honestly answered no and then a conversation begins around sharks.  Mark went on to explain how the mako shark is the “same and different” from the great white shark.  Here was an opportunity to lean in and teach by tagging this thinking with academic language – the question to the group: “What is this kind of thinking?”  Students quickly responded “comparing and contrasting”.  There was the transfer – we have done a lot of work around types of  informational text structures. A plan is made for Kara  and Mark to work together the next day to further this work.  

Now the circle opens up to John who has been reading about Mount Everett.  He has used the information he is learning to write across the three modes of of writing: informational, persuasive, and narrative.  We have been doing this kind of work for a while and find that it is helping students become more flexible.  John is using this approach as a tool to engage his learning.  He explained how the narrative part was so easy because the book was a narrative written about a man who climbed Mount Everest and that the book was informational so that was easy too because his head was “exploding with information” (got to love third grade).  After all this work, it was easy for him to write the persuasive piece because he felt so strongly that everyone should learn about his topic.  There is the elusive transfer through his writing John is becoming a more flexible writer and thinker.  He was transferring strategies around text structure, writing modes, and the informational text genre and he was able to step into the role of teacher – talk about agency.  

The circle expands again to Susie who wanted to share about her guided reading book which was a fantasy genre infused with humor.  She was talking about the writing she did around this book.  She reflected on how the humor affected her as a reader.   In a very dramatic fashion, so true to the type of learner she is, she began telling her narrative.  At first she thought it meant physically, so she said “it affected her stomach by making it expand and burst with laughter.  Then, Mrs. DeRosa told me I should add how it affected me as a reader as I interacted with the story. So I added that to my answer.”  Susie went on to talk about how the part when they tried to mail themselves to Hawaii.  How that part had really made her laugh, and she kept reading because she was so interested in seeing other silly things the family would do.  What was quick to make her laugh, eventually became an annoyance – she talked about wanting to “pull her hair out” because after all, really the car was in the garage.   Many students in the class started laughing and were begging to borrow the book.  

Literacy learning is always centered on making meaning. We teachers are always instructing towards competences in these complex skill sets.  Students are  resilient, engagement means to keep working even when the work gets difficult.  Over time students will get there if we recognize – each child comes to this learning with their own personal goals that they are aspiring towards. This is our work to discover the child and set the pathway for the goal.  The Share is the sweet spot that reveals who our students are becoming.  

An Interview: Jill’s Experiences at Teacher’s College Saturday Reunion

Jill went to the Saturday Reunion and I was unable to attend. Now we are going through her notes and reflecting on Patricia Polacco’s Keynote.

( Q ) So what were your takeaways from Patricia Polacco?

( A )  What weren’t my takeaways!  She (Polacco)  started reading from the Keeping Quilt and she made connections to her family stories as she read and said she was going to speak about her heroes in her life.

She told stories about her “rotten” brother and how to this day he is still an inspiration for her writing. She joked that she has many more book to write involving him.Patricia

In her neighborhood there was so much diversity and she was so lucky to have that.  Her best friend was Stuart, an African American boy, and he was one of her heroes.  Through her relationship with him and his family she witnessed racism first hand.   She spoke about how much she loved these people and how painful it was to watch how they were treated.

Her parents were also her heroes because even though they got divorced they worked as a team and never said an unkind word about each other.  They put their children first and provided them with rich experiences.

Also, she gave the reason her grandmother was her hero  She (Grandmother) taught her that miracles are ordinary things and they are all around you.  She shared all these moments from her childhood – her grandmother would tell all these wild stories and at the end Patricia would lean in and say, “Grandma is this true.” Her grandmother would reply, “Absolutely, but it may not have happened that way.”

The most powerful line she said, “To this day when I think I can’t face something Falker’s hand is on my back.”  A teacher, changed her life.  She went on to say: “He pulled me out of darkness and into light.”  She couldn’t remember what these special teacher did to help her she remembers the moment when she got it and could read.  Her message, was a celebration of teachers  and the significant effects we have on students’ lives forever.  That we are heros even if no one else knows it.  Teachers change lives.

( Q ) So, let’s collaborate as to how do we bring this message to our school’s culture.

( A )

Jill – It made me think back to something that you (Jenn) had mentioned the other day a celebration board.  Making a place where we can celebrate things that other teachers are doing.

Jenn – Ok let’s do that! We can include quotes from Polacco on the board, like the hero quote. We see special things that teachers do for kids.

Jill – It doesn’t always have to be academic.  It can be all those little things  classroom teachers, security guards, special area teachers all do for kids that make a difference.



Follow the Leader

This week is coming to an end with my return from Lesley University. I am part of a cohort for the Effective Literacy Coach Institute.   It’s been an intense week full of learning and insight.  I spent the last six days in Cambridge, MA.  I walked the streets full of curiosity.  This city was unknown to me, and every time I ventured out it was like a new chance to explore and discover.  I think that is the work that teachers do so well – we are curious, we ask questions, we think about the world around us and look for beauty.  March 19
I am filled with a sense of gratitude but also immense responsibility.  This work is so important, and I am so fortunate to work with talented teachers like Jill.  She is truly a master at her craft.  My thoughts returned to her work again, and again and this quote especially reminded me of the great work that happens in her classroom every day.

Children are the heart of every school.  They will reveal their brilliance to us every day, we just have to follow their lead.  Teachers are the heart of every school.  They will reveal their brilliance to us every day, we just have to follow their lead.  We call the work of teachers craft because it is truly a work of art.  There is genuine living beauty in classrooms  That made me think of my role in a new way – What is a coach?  To me a coach is  a muse.  A force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.

This week as I walk  down the hallways of my school it will be like I am looking at it with new eyes.  I will look with curiosity,  I will ask open questions so I can learn more and think deeply about the work of teachers.  My work is to inspire the greatness in every teacher.  From whatever starting point.  I choose to believe that  no matter what, there is greatness just waiting to be discovered and to waken the artist who wants to teach.

Picture Perfect

While reading a blog on Slice of Life, we were introduced to a unique way of self expression where you choose an image to represent who you are.  We wanted to apply this process to further show who we are as educators and learners.  Below is the image we chose along with a caption to describe why.  We hope it helps our readers get a better sense of who we are.

Blog Geese

This image depicts us perfectly.  Look at these two.  It is not enough that they can fly but they want to step out of what is expected of birds and do something truly innovative.  These birds are having fun, making lots of noise and working hard.  Their eyes are fixed upward as if looking towards that next step.  As they move through the water, they are making ripples that affect the world around them.



Looking For Connections-Biography Unit

We were reading one of the posts on Slice for Life which spoke about how the events in our lives make us who we are and have brought us to the moment of our life we are now in.  It was about celebrating the good and bad and realizing that if one of those events were different the path of our life would be different. The first thought that came to mind was our biography unit of study.  This year we decided to structure the unit differently than in past years.  Instead of having children study time periods which were connected to a famous person, we had the children study famous authors that we have read books about and to connect their life with their text.

As the unit was progressing, the thing that stood out the most to us was the ability of the children to find the connections between events, people, goals, disasters and many other things that have occurred in the author’s life and the writing the author produced.  They felt like they were putting together pieces of a puzzle and it made them so proud when they could explain why the author wrote a book that we have shared in class.

Contentedness in life is such an important concept for children to learn and using their natural curiosity enhances this process.  They were already curious about the books that we have read, now they were given a chance to study the author and gather the answers  to their questions.

Reflections: Good to Great

ZOOM: Connecting Life to Text

OBSERVE: Children were able to make connections between the author’s life and work


ANALYZE: Students were engaged and actively seeking the answer to their questions.  The were very proud when they were able to explain the choices of the author when looking at their work.  It is not great because they needed  more background knowledge on historic events and time periods to better inform their workReflection

ADJUST: Take a look at the pacing guide to allow for more history before the biography unit

SHIFT: For certain authors, the children had solid background information to fully understand the connections but for others this was missing.  I would make sure that the instruction before this unit sets the stage with the necessary background information.

  • Seymour Simon (We just came out of an informational unit so they had the background)
  • Dan Gutman (We continuously discuss reluctant reader so they had the background)
  • Eve Bunting ( Our unit on immigration is later in the year)
  • Patricia Polacco (Our unit on cultural diversity is later in the year)
  • Chris Van Allsburg ( We discuss social expectations for blacks (Civil Rights literature like Sister Anne’s Hands, The Sweet Smell of Roses, The Other Side)  and women (Shark Lady and Jane Goodall).  However, we have not discussed the different social expectations for men.  This would help them understand his


Going From Good To Great – Follow-up on Our Twitter Challenge

Dr. Mary Howard’s book Good to Great Teaching has been a very important professional text for us. She focuses our lens towards intentional instructional choices.  Through her work we find there are small instructional shifts that pack a big payoff.  We are not re-inventing we are refining, we are not throwing out, we are revising… This holds a  lot of appeal for a teacher.  In our last post about Hamburger writing we repurposed a tool that has value because kids “get it” but made it more meaningful through the writing process.  This is how it works:

  1. ZOOM: Organization during writing processReflection
  2. OBSERVE: Children were able to use a friendly structure that created context of writing while allowing choice and inner control (they knew where they needed to go)
  3. EVALUATE: Great
  4. ANALYZE: Students were engaged, their writing showed voice and they were able to better organize their work whereas before that wasn’t happening.
  5. ADJUST: It’s hard to say what we would change because the lesson was very successful
  6. SHIFT: Broaden the scope from one paragraph to multiple paragraphs

Do you think that having disciplined reflection is important?  Reflection  is the key to professional  growth.  While we were always reflective we didn’t break it down into specific categories . So her work is helping us to refine and hone our practice trying always to go from good to great.