Category Archives: Our Beliefs

This we believe…

Lyrical Lessons

louBy Jenn Hayhurst, and Jill DeRosa


Hello summah! We are heading south across the Ocean Beach Causeway towards the Jones Beach Amphitheater to see a classic double bill,   Bonnie Raitt and  James Taylor  Friends at our side, sunshine overhead, and carefree hearts. Life is good.

Our seats are way, way up. We peer down as James takes us back to his roots Carolina In My Mind and the crowd roars joyfully. Like a silver tear, the full moon streams across rippling waters.  This was the plan, fun, and nothing but fun. We all sing and sway and smile because this is why we came. Life is good!

James shows us mountains, lightning, and thunder through his song,  Montana.  Then I see it, a behemoth. A billowing black rain cloud, black as smoke rolling in from the east. I think, “It’ll be alright there is plenty of clear skies.”  But don’t we always know the truth? Disorienting disequilibrium signals things are about to change. Life is… good?

“You can play the game, you can act out the part. Though you know it wasn’t written for you.”  It is misting heavily (Shower the People).  The people, are beginning to leave. Their eyes downcast looking at the concrete steps leading out and away. Something inside me makes me look up. A heavy inky black sky menacing.  BAM! A torrent of rain streams down from the heavens, just as Arnold Rufus McCulle sings, “Let it RAIN.” Is he smiling?  Yes, a playful boyish smile, there for all to see.  I smile back, and shout “I own the rain!” Jumping up, I begin to dance and clap along. Water sputters and sprays with every beat. LIFE IS GOOD!

This moment reinforces our beliefs as teachers. Make a plan but never forget that control is an illusion. Teach in the moment that life hands you. Sometimes the best work can come out of the “surprises”  that surely wait for each of us. When you step into the classroom, you are stepping into the life of each student; and they are stepping into yours.

“Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel. Things are going to be just fine if you only will.”  – James Taylor



















A Process Mindset

by Jenn Hayhurst & Jill DeRosa

We are currently writing a book, it is a long process. Somewhere along the way, we discovered that writing and learning are soulmates. There is no arrival because it’s not about the destination. Our writing is inspired by the learning work we do with children and each other… 

There are three things we know for sure:
  1. Neuroplasticity means that your brain is not fixed. Your brain is wired for change. Your brain grows over time as it continues to learn, it rewires itself around that new learning. Essentially, your brain is writing the story of your life through the synaptic pathways it creates. Each pathway leads the way to a new perception.
  2. Teaching is messy because learning seldom follows a linear path. There are many alternative routes for learning to occur. Whether we are a teacher or a student our goal is the same to keep on learning.
  3. It’s time to consider adopting a Process Mindset 

What a Process Mindset is: Teachers who are ready to follow the path that the student cuts. It means leading by following where the learner needs to go.  Embracing choice and all that it requires from us. Student talk is essential data to inform instruction. Accepting and embracing that learning happens on its own timeline, not ours.

 What a Process Mindset is not: One size fits all learning. Assigning worksheets to fill minutes of the school day. Monolithic narratives.  Assigning unimportant homework that makes zero impact on student growth. It is not doing what others do because it’s always been done that way.

If we decide to be a learner for the rest our lives, our brains are up for the challenge.  If we decide to believe and act upon students’ potential they are up for the challenge too. When we allow students to direct the learning we are opening ourselves up to the Process Mindset. Just try it and see what happens next.

Sending Messages for Agency: A World of Potential

The work we do in schools should prepare students to be positive members of society.  It is in every sense the work of a lifetime.  Students should be provided opportunities to practice the skills they will need to be successful in our world.  Teachers work to inspire students to create, to grow their knowledge, and to be confident problems solvers. The question, what in our curriculums can really push students to aspire to that kind of work?   Recently we saw a great opportunity to do this as we continued in our World Communities UoS.

We began by looking at the structure of problem and solution.  How could we immerse children in an experience where this would become meaningful to them?  From this question grew the idea of putting a modern twist on the “United Nations” theme that is used in so many classrooms.  We are taking a gaming approach to this concept because it’s easily understood by children today. This would help foster critical thinking skills, collaboration between classmates, and problem solving that matters; all skills so important in the 21st century classroom.

Noticing Problems Close Reading Using the Five Social Studies Strands:

  1. Partnerships gathered on the carpet with their resources in hand.
  2. A grand conversation about what the United Nations is and its purpose begins. There are many possible ways to do this; kid friendly passages, videos, picture galleries.
  3. Brainstorming problems that may exist within the five strands. We used the history strand in a different way. We used it as a  vehicle for cause and effect, our message to students was that we can make summative predictions based on historical events. We look back at history because the power of history is that we can learn from it to gauge how things come to be or what they may become.
  4. Children get together using texts to research problems, record these problems on index cards, then evaluate and rank problems according to their importance to their country. These problem cards are used later during the mid workshop interruption.
  5. Partnerships present their problems to the “United Nations” during the mid workshop interruption and we guide the discussion about which problems should take precedent: endangered kiwi bird versus famine. In the end, it is up to the children, it is their work.  We are exploring these topics together but they are the ones who have to do the heavy lifting.  This is a vehicle for this type of thought process.  
  6. The problems are then recorded for all to see and to think about.  


Creative Solutions Synthesis At Work

Understanding world problems and hypothesizing solutions is an exercise in abstract thinking for children. How do we make this relevant for students on a level they can embrace? Gamification. Educators all over are experimenting with the concept of, “gamification”  or using  game design and mechanics to enhance non-game contexts. Students quickly learn that each nation has different “powers” or resources at their disposal.  Just as with games like Minecraft, kids can draw from a bank of resources to come up with creative solutions to real problems nations face.  This makes problem solving more concrete, a way to figure out how to use your resources for the greater good. Children are asked to consider all their country has to offer in terms of problem solving. How can their country be helpful to  another country?  What does their country have that they can share with other countries? They have to take stock and think about how one country’s  natural resources, products, knowledge, technology or values may solve another’s problems.  They also need to  think strategically, if one country helps another, what does that country have to gain?  

Our role is to oversee and critique their work asking questions, pushing them to think on multiple levels as they work through problem solving.  This makes reading and writing so much more purposeful, children see it as a way to extend their own thinking rather than a task to be completed for us.

Our Thinking
Our main purpose is to get students to read, write, and to engage in discussion that propels problem solving and critical thinking.  If we take on this work, we also have to embrace their approximations for their learning.  So not everything they come up with will be perfection, and that’s because our intention is not to memorize facts about the United Nations or natural resources that France has to offer.  We want children to be able to synthesize their thinking and create solutions as a rehearsal for work they will be doing later on in their schooling experiences.  The work they do now as third graders is working on a continuum for when they are in fifth grade, middle school, and high school.  We want to awaken their curiosity and personal power so that they see themselves as capable learners who have something to say about the world in which we live.  

The Power Is In Their Hands

Sometimes the most elegant solution is a simple one.  Goal cards are a meaningful tool that can help students take a stepwise approach to independence.  Begin with a large index card, markers, and a vision. Teachers can make a goal card  on the spot during a research conference or have it prepared ahead of time for a coaching conference.  Whatever the student need, a goal card can break down the learning into manageable bits.  They are meant to be concise and easily put to use by the student. Pairing pictures and kid friendly prompts is a way to make learning both relevant and engaging.  For example:

Goal Card

Teachers and students can use these cards flexibly  to attain quick “mini-goals” that lead towards greater independence.  They can be used in a variety of ways: nonverbal just point to the card, they can be a source for formative data during a conference, or a way to facilitate conversation during partnership work.  The possibilities are endless. Think of them as a device to help the gradual release happen for students. Once the card is inserted into the work the teacher can take a step back and observe the student put it to use.  Was it effective? Did the student get what was needed?  Either way, they reveal what “next steps” need to be taken.

A simple tool  that is easily understood and readily put  to use by students is the solution we’ve all been looking for! Anchor charts and tools are becoming much more kid friendly than their wordy cousins. The card is powerful because it can be moved around, it’s small, it fits in students’ hands as they go to work at their own learning.  Its strength is in its simplicity and proximity.  This is a tool that is made for kids and is a device for agency.  The kids are manipulating it as needed.
We believe in creating openings for students to see themselves in their own learning. We can model and show examples, and then we can explore student thinking and allow them to reveal their thinking to us. Here is a better one, as we are going through this process with children, we are giving students the power, they are creating their own tools as they construct meaning for themselves.

We were thinking about how empowering this tool can be when used strategically.  An important question came to mind, how can we do more with this tool?  A student who creates  a goal card is working at the synthesis / evaluative level. Students are vested in their learning because it has relevancy.  Agency is realized by the student as the goal card represents their best thinking at the time of the learning.  

Meet Luka. He has created a goal card that gave him the language and the actions he needs to be successful. Consider his work, it tells a story about how he is approaching word solving through both word attack and meaning making:

Luka created this card back in February, he used the strategy independently yesterday.  He no longer needs the card but he can explain the strategy and teach it to other students. This is real learning and true ownership.  

Children As Teachers- Students Leading Read Aloud

Where do great ideas come from?  

We are always on the lookout for good ideas.  One came from our dear friend, Dr. Erica Pecorale.  Erica is both generous and brilliant, she is the kind of teacher who is open to collaboration and is a source of inspiration for all who know her.  Follow her on @twitter @epecorale .  She co-moderates a  weekly chat called #simplestarts with Kari Yates @Kari_Yates and Dani Burtsfield @girlworld4 .  Erica suggested having student led read alouds where students prepare a read aloud that involves active engagement from their classmates.  They are not merely reading aloud a story but they have a plan on what they will do with the children; turn and talk, stop and jot, and follow up activities involving talking and writing around reading.

Why take the time to do this work?

This suggestion really resonated with us because our work together is focused on promoting agency in the classroom.  If we value independence, then it just makes sense to plan for it throughout the school day. Read aloud is typically the teacher’s turf, but when we share this time we are opening up potential for student learning in a multitude of ways. We are flexing our standards in ways that are both relevant and engaging.  Here are some examples of students at work:

    • As a scaffold for kids who need it, there is conferencing beforehand to focus on word solving.
    • Students are practicing read aloud as a performance piece, making fluency viable.
    • Students are reading with purpose and understanding because they are directing the reading.
    • Students are planning and executing the lessons and this makes reading for meaning vital to the process.
    • Students are planning active engagement for their peers through a multitude of  listening and speaking activities around the book.
    • Students are planning and executing writing about reading just as we would have done.
    • Students are making choices from a wide variety of genres with a rationale..

How did it roll out?

It was state testing time and we wanted an activity that would bring joy to the classroom during a difficult time of the year.  This was the perfect fit.  We began this on a volunteer basis where students chose to pick a book to read aloud and plan a lesson.  Quickly, students began to sign up and discuss their ideas with us.  When they felt ready and had sufficient practice, our students became teachers.  

What did we learn?

  • Child selected groupings: it was interesting to see how children prepared this aspect of the learning.  Some students were intuitive and pragmatic with how students should be grouped to maximize the learning.
  • Child’s perspective: this was revealing to learn how children conceptualize the teacher’s role.  Some students circulated the room and conferred with students, while other students wanted to give a grade.  Some students replied to their classmates’ answers with positive messages.
  • Focused learning: students who are prone towards distraction were completely engaged in this process.This experience afforded them insights that would otherwise have been inaccessible, would students understand what had to be done? Would they be bored? Would they like the book? These are all ways to reflect on one’s own learning as they planned for each other.  
  • Importance of play: on Thursday April 14, 2016 #G2Great had @MrazKristine @cheryltyler11 @AlisonPorcelli join the conversation and it was an inspired chat.  We were struck by how the power of play was revealed through this work. This was purposeful play where children assumed the role of the teacher to stretch and grow their thinking and actions.   

Don’t take our word for it, listen to what students had to say…

Natalie- “I had to practice a lot to make sure I did a good job.  It was hard because it is a rhyming book so I had to work hard.  I was thinking about how I was going to say things and what to ask the kids.  My head felt a little crazy with so much going on.  Before school that day, I was excited but nervous.  When I got in the reading chair, I felt very excited.  The children were noisy at first so I had to stop and wait.  I was hoping they would like their groups when they were going to act out a scene from the book.  I thought it went really good and I was proud of myself.

Tessa- “It was really fun because I got to be in charge.  I wrote down what I was going to make the kids do and I picked a book I thought was right- a funny book to entertain the kids so they weren’t bored.  I practiced the stories I was going to read.  I felt nervous but I think it went really good.  The children did a good job with my activity because they wrote a lot and really persuaded me to read this book.  They had really good reasons.  I learned it is really hard to be a teacher and go around and help everyone.”

Vinny- “When I did the read aloud  I was a little embarrassed and I didn’t know if they would like an informational book.  When I read it, I felt good.  The activity went well and the children were really writing a lot and working hard.  I could tell they learned a lot about ants.  When it was over I felt really happy that I did that read aloud.  The class was really interested, looked at the book and wanted to use the book to read the parts I skipped.  It was hard practicing reading it- I even practiced with my sister at home.  It was all worth it because it was a good time for all of us.”

Nolan- “I thought this was really fun because I was able to think about how Mrs. DeRosa taught and it helped me to teach.  When Mrs. DeRosa asks us questions and tell us to think about what we would do if we were in the story, I did the same thing.  I was talking with a lot of groups as they were working and they were working really hard.  They were connecting their work and making their thinking bigger.  I think they had a lot of fun.  I loved being the teacher!”

Rileigh- “I love reading to the class because I get to show them my favorite book and it is fun to share your ideas with everybody.  When I was little, I used to love to read to classes and I was never scared.  I like to do activities about reading all the time so I thought I would do one with the children.  I let them free style a little and I could tell when I saw the happy faces on them that they liked it.  I went around and gave children ideas as they were working and they did a great job.”  

Until We Meet Again – Bringing the Work Home: #TCRWP Reunion

Content Literacy Building Knowledge Across the Curriculum – Stephanie Harvey


  • To build foundations of knowledge we have to offer children variety; topics, genres, levels.  We may be picking the focus that children will study but they will have choice.  This is what Richard Allington calls “managed choice”.  
  • Setting up classroom structures that support collaborative learning is also important to this process.  A gallery of choices stemming from songs to expository text and narratives show children that there is a lot to learn and this is sophisticated.  This provides a space where students can gather, observe and discuss a plan for their learning.  
  • Stephanie Harvey demonstrated this work through videos.  In the videos, it was clear that the classroom teacher used these structures and it allowed us to observe how students work.  The students were engaged, collaborative, and were working with clarity.  They were intrinsically driven.

What this means:

  • We left there thinking of ways we could expand on this idea of managed choice.  We just completed a biography unit of study and students read texts within the span of their person’s life.  Students explored text sets including digital text, pictures, poems, informational text, picture books and articles relating to their person and the times they lived in.  Our next step would be to explore using lyrics and primary sources to integrate more content in student learning.  We both were accepted into The Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute so there will be more to come about this.
  • This was a confirmation of the work that is already going on in our classroom.  It is easy to have some doubt when your classroom is bustling and kids are working independently.  While this can sometimes be challenging, it was great to see that it is being valued by experts in our field.  
  • As we watched the videos, you couldn’t help but be struck by the reality and power of this type of learning.  Open ended questions generate discussion within this managed choice and serve as a springboard for next steps in their own learning.  Questioning was not the task it was a scaffold to build momentum for their own learning.

Closing – Creating a World We Believe In – Lucy Calkins


  • This was the most inspirational part of our day. Imagine thousands of teachers leaning in with rapt attention.  Lucy was talking to every one of us and what she did so well was she tapped into our shared values; ”You don’t give up your Saturday if you are not committed to the work.”  Our overwhelming sense was we were in this together.
  • We build community through story and Lucy shared the history of the Saturday Reunion as she reflected on the story of her life and how it was interwoven to the narrative of the project itself.  As we listened to her tell the story, we realized that we participated in that past and it was our shared history.  The bicycle race, Mo Willems, Patricia Polacco and Linda Darling Hammond and we began to reminisce along with the crowd.  
  • They call it a Saturday Reunion because it is a time for us to come home.  To feel “less weird” because:  we aspire to be more than what we are, we don’t shirk away from hard work and we are willing to take a risk.  

What this means:

  • We strongly believe that it’s all about what you value.  Our values are deeply connected to the kind of thinking that goes on in the project.  We believe in balanced literacy and workshop.  This is not an easy road.  We come to the Reunion Days to be with others who think the way we do.  To get strength to go back into the world  and fight for what we value for children.
  • It is really generous that the project opens their doors to share their best thinking with all of us and we respond by sharing ours.  It is like we are sharing the pen and writing this history together.  We are sharing all of our stories together in an attempt to create a narrative of excellence.  
  • Why do we keep coming?  It is refreshing to not have to justify our passionate stance, to be surrounded by people who understand our sense of urgency.  These Reunion Days are joyful times for us that we look forward to.  This time we recruited someone new, Tom who is a brand new ENL teacher.  We will encourage him to come back as he crafts his own story of what his professional life will be.

A Tradition of Learning: Coming Home to The Saturday Reunion #TCRWP

October and March calls us back to Teachers College so we can attend the Saturday Reunion. March 19, 2016 marked the 90th Saturday Reunion at the Reading & Writing Project.  Just as always, we left our houses before sunup, and met friends and colleagues at the Ronkonkoma Train Station. From there we board the 6:40 AM train to Penn Station. We do it because we know that there is  always some new idea that will shift our thinking.  There is room for new perspectives that challenge and inspire us to think deeply about teaching. We dedicate this post to Lucy Calkins and her dedicated team. Thank you for opening your doors and our minds to the possibility of what can be.

Opening: Andrew Solomon: Author of:  Far from the Tree  

Watch this moving video


  • He is using his voice to share the stories that would be otherwise hidden from us.
  • Forge meaning (finding what you need);  build identity (a place in the world).
  • Understand the power of community.

What this means:

This was an emotional experience for us both. We were humbled and thankful to hear Andrew Solomon’s Opening Keynote. A life worth living has to hold meaning. What happens when a physical or mental affliction prohibits acceptance? Andrew Solomon positioned an empathetic lens for us to get a sense of these complex and painful stories. Despite trauma and heartache there is still joy, there is still love, there is still faith. There is our shared humanity. He extended an invitation to lean in and listen without fear, to open our eyes to look without shame, and mostly he made an appeal for us to open our hearts to each other.    

Session One: Use Mystery to Support Foundational Reading Skills

Brooke Geller


  • It’s not really about teaching the genre, it’s about using mystery to teach the reading process.
  • She underscored the value of student engagement – making mystery intriguing, something they want to do.
  • This Unit of Study (UoS) is designed to hand off big critical thinking work to the students.  Their work is to make generalizations (theories) and test them out.  This all works together to provide an engaging, and  authentic way to grow foundational skills.   

What this means:

  • An instructional shift comes right away in the language used with students:
    • “The mystery OR the problem…”
    • ”The detectives ARE the main characters…”
    • “The witnesses/ suspects ARE the secondary characters, who are helpful/harmful…”
  • A Detective Notebook (pad); A Magnifying Glass (leftover stuff from an old science kit) are the vehicles to drive student engagement.  You would think they were handed GOLD! The room was buzzing around how they would use these tools and they got started right away. Perfect! They loved it.
  • With tools in hand students are actively reading to find out the mystery, and the detectives.  Their purpose is to be observant readers who are reading in an analytical way.   They are not merely following along, they are constructing meaning and recording their theories in their notebooks.  This is enhanced through partnership work, and is the foundation for the next step – MAKING GENERALIZATIONS & TESTING THEM OUT.

We will continue to blog about our learning at the #TCRWP Saturday Reunion.  Here is a preview for our next post: How Can We Help Students Become Reflective, Goal-Driven Writers? Checklists, Feedback and Goal Setting Can Accelerate Student Growth – Alexandra Marron Structures and Rituals (and a Calendar) Can Make Your Writing Workshop Support Your ELLs K-5 –Jen DeSutter







Book Recommendations & Celebrations: Mindsets & Moves

What is right when it comes to teaching towards independence?  Gravity Goldberg (@drgravityg) begins her new book: Mindsets & Moves Strategies that Help Readers Take Charge by opening up a good conversation.  One that begins with John Hattie.  “The key to understand what is going on in each student’s mind.” (Hattie 2012 p37).  The completion or non completion of tasks is a limited view of what students are really doing in the classroom.  If this is all we have, really, we are missing the point entirely. A task that is driven by a product only, is sort of like a dead end.  It fails to lead us to greater understandings of the interior thoughts of students.  We don’t want to spend a lot of time copying over writing so it can be edited for publishing.  It also does not motivate students to learn grammar and spelling to promote transfer.  If we want to understand what is going on in student’s minds then we have to set up our teaching that way.  What do we know?  If we connect back to Mary Ehrenworth’s presentation:  Yes! You Can Teach Grammar In Workshop Three Essential Methods to Tuck In Grammar Effectively  

If we believe there are access points through process that reveal  insights as to what students are learning, and what they value most.  Then our data prompts what can be taught next. Right now third graders are finishing their narratives.  Torture.  There has been so much rich work; they have been immersed throughout the writing process, they have worked with agency (using the Interactive Learning Wall); they are accomplished except… now it’s time to edit and publish.  

Let’s continue this rich work using their writing as mentor text for inquiry that allows time for students to reflect back and evaluate their own writing.  We identify areas of grammar that our students need instruction around. Making observations and gathering our data informs this process.  “When we step back we can become admirers…” (pg. 2 Mindsets & Moves)   In terms of our work, as we highlight one area of grammar usage per week (using student mentor texts paired with professional mentor texts) we facilitate the inquiry process.  After, students are able to access their published pieces and determine how this work could help elevate the grammar in their writing.  When students are in the process of generating ideas and drafting their writing it can feel overwhelming to do this additional work.  However, if they are given a time when there is only one thing to focus on, it becomes more manageable and purposeful.  They have time to do this and then transfer it to their own writing, right then and there.  

Making interpretive observations can be elusive for many of us. The classroom environment is as important to this process as the observation itself.  The environment sets up students’ work; but teachers’ beliefs shape our observational lens. That is the link to our expectations. What if we tied our beliefs to Goldberg’s four primary tenants:

  1. All students are worthy of study and to be regarded with wonder.
  2. All students are readers, yet their processes may look different.
  3. All students can learn to make purposeful choices about their reading.
  4. All students can develop ownership of their reading lives.    

Goldberg Gravity.Mindsets & Moves Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge.Thousand Oaks:Corwin Literacy, 2016. Print

Consider this – these eloquent beliefs are the tools.  Tools that enable teachers to contemplate the “what” and the “how” that drives student learning.   Our perceptions and beliefs have real consequences; armed with this stance Goldberg goes on to name and affirm the “admiring lens”

For all these reasons this is a must read book! There is no telling how Gravity Goldberg will influence our thinking. One thing is for sure –  we are excited to find out.  

Moving From Right Now to What’s Next

Everything looks good – like a lovely spread in some  teacher’s catalog. Desks are clean,  the floor is swept, the books are shelved perfectly in their bins. It’s no wonder that the beginning of the year is daunting to teachers. Let’s get real.  As we move past the beautiful pictures of the pristine classroom setup to the already lived in look of a classroom where children do the work not the teacher. This is a year of reflection for us so we can elevate our work to new levels.  We want to reflect on our practice and make room for student reflections in their day-to-day work. Ownership is essential and the buy in has to come from seven and eight year olds.

Student work begins with a value statement.  Right now, this is the driving force that cements teacher expectations as defined by her students.  It creates the world that we are going to be working in, living in – it is what makes the classroom hum.  What is valued is what will drive classroom motivation to do the work.  It’s about being invested in the challenging work that lays ahead of them.  This is a shared understanding that empowers students’ voices to define a classroom culture for agentive learners.  

This isn’t perfection – to quote Barb Golub “Every child needs everything everyday.”  It is not about starting with the perfect goal; it’s about setting the mindset.  Right now, our mission is to empower children to be reflective; and it begins with an expectation for setting goals.  It’s not the goal – it’s the idea that children can reflect and respond to their own learning – even if it’s not necessarily the goal that would be selected for them. Embrace the mess, an emphasis on process means that the final product may not look like anything that was envisioned. Eventually goal setting will be taken to a different level, but for today goal setting remains focused on empowering their roles as learners and our getting to know who those learners are.

From chaos to cultivating purpose.  Right now, we see kids sprawled across the floor reading with with partners laughing and discussing their books.  How do we build the academic muscle without taking away the fun of reading?   We redefine “fun” through inquiry – we perk their curiosity and set them free to ask questions and find answers. We encourage them to take a stance so that they have real purpose for their learning.  This is the secret for building stamina.  It’s so much more than a quantitative number of minutes; the real measure of stamina is in the qualitative work that is marked by focused motivated learning. The litmus test is when time is up and you hear the collective: “Awe! A few more minutes.”

It’s not just me, it’s also we: building a collaborative culture takes time.  Right now, we are happy to see students sitting in groups listening to each other and maybe connecting ideas. Real collaboration comes in time, and is informed by the goals we will be setting together.  Being prepared, informed, and motivated to collaborate around problem solving is a way to push their thinking as readers and writers.  They do this, as they become collectively more aware of their own learning, and how their actions make them accountable to their groups.    

Getting real doesn’t mean compromising.  Right now – we can have our professional goals and hold onto our values and still get real.  Let’s all make a promise not to be too hard on ourselves.  Teaching is not easy – it’s not something that can be served up according to some script.  It’s about building relationships, setting high expectations, and meeting students where they are – but most importantly taking them where they need to go next.  

Going From Good to Great a Journey Not a Destination

Those of you who follow us know we are involved in a weekly Twitter Chat, #G2Great with Dr. Mary Howard. If you don’t know, the  focus of the chat is all about blogg2great2teacher reflection. We meet every Thursday night at 8:30PM EST.  If you are curious, and everyone is welcome – we would be glad to “see” you.  This work has evolved into a new phase of learning involving Voxer.  If you don’t know Voxer it is worth checking out –    It is sort of like a huge conference
call where you can talk and share pictures/videos. In short it is a dynamic learning space that can
accommodate a free flowing exchange of ideas.

Our Voxer challenge, emerged from fellow connected educators: Amy Brennan (@brennanamy) and Jean Marie Mazzaferro (@SunflowerLit). The work  was to use the Reflective Lesson Analysis and Interactive Samples form:  as a way to reflect on our current practice.  In order to really fully understand the context and to benefit from Dr. Howard’s work, we highly recommend reading her book Good to Great Teaching.  and following her on Twitter (@DrMaryHoward) just because she is AMAZING! What makes her so amazing? She is an author who cares deeply for children and teachers.  She is in touch and brings research seamlessly into practice.  Truly a teacher to admire; she is a mentor for all those who want to do the hard work of reflection.

For this challenge, we co-taught a mini-lesson in Reader’s Workshop entitled “Mystery Readers Look Closely At How Secondary Characters Change The Story”. Need another reason to check out Twitter? Our work this year in our mystery unit of study has been vastly influenced by another dynamic member of our PLN on Twitter – Jenna Hansen (@jehansen13 ).  So this work that we are sharing is truly a compilation of many voices from all over the nation in one classroom on Long Island, New York.  Upon completion of the lesson, we had a coaching session to reflect on how it went in terms of bad, good and great practices that were present.  This is how it went.

“Bad” practices:  We are teachers who believe strongly in pairing visual representations with our words whenever possible.  When looking at this lesson, we realized that during the active engagement part we were using visual representations to model our thinking but this was not included on our anchor chart.  We are all about students having tools and realized we were missing a huge opportunity here.  As part of our recent practice we post daily mini-lessons up so we have a visual representation of the mini-lessons that have been taught.  Instead of making this a way for the teacher to stay organized and to keep records of mini-lessons, we want to make it more valuable and turn it into a student resource that they can revisit during their independent work.  This fits into our bigger plan for this school year to find organizational systems to encourage and engage our students to use tools to foster independence.

“Good” practices.  Read aloud is the foundation for our workshop mini-lessons.  The use of our mentor text allowed the children to connect to our teaching point anblogg2greatd pushed their thinking to a higher level.  We have been reading aloud Encyclopedia Brown and doing a lot of comprehension work around it.  However, this mini-lesson asked the children to look more deeply at characters in the mystery which is not the usual thinking children are used to when reading mystery.  ( shout out to Jenna Hansen). They are usually focused on searching for clues and solving the mystery so this work involving character development was at a much deeper level. They were able to engage in this type of thinking because the foundation was already laid as we read aloud and worked within our mentor text.  Also, during the independent reading time, the children were actively engaged and capturing their thinking.  As we conferenced, it was evident that they knew the focus and were rising up to the challenge.

“Great” practices: This involved the level of student engagement during the active engagement portion of the mini-lesson.  Student dialogue was rich and it revealed genuine, authentic understanding of the character development.  Dialogue sparked debate as character behavior was questioned and the children used accountable talk naturally to support their opinions, push the group’s  thinking and to question their counterpart.  In one part, students worked together and took on the role of teacher and expert as they discussed the characters in the book.  This strong understanding allowed the children to synthesize their ideas and build strong theories about the characters including lessons they could learn from them.

Instructional Adjustments: One thing we were going to try is to make copies of the characters from the mentor text ahead of time so we can manipulate them and add them to the anchor chart as a quick and easy way to use visual representations.  Also, the discussion during the mini-lesson made us think about making relational connections between character development and text structure; compare and contrast, problem and solution, and cause and affect.

How did it go: The next mini-lesson we did was “Mystery Readers Compare and Contrast Characters To Better Understand Their Relationships”.  Students were able to use the venn diagram to show how the characters are different and then ask what they have in common (common goals).  After doing this the B9HzEasIAAIAEmpchildren were asked to look through an author’s eye and discuss why the author chose to make the characters this way.  The discussions that followed were so insightful.  Students chose suspects to compare and contrast and realized that the author made choices so the readers would be interested in the mystery, would be questioning guilt and would want to read to figure out which of the suspects did it.  Some chose two detectives and realized the author gave them  traits that complimented each other and this allowed them to work together to put the pieces together to be successful.  On Monday, we will focus on problem and solution structure analyzing if our character is part of the problem or the solution and how this impacts the mystery.  We will keep you posted on how it goes.