Friday, December 26, 2014

Students Rate Their Stop & Jots

Below are some charts that were made to help students develop their stop and jots.  The first picture is blank because it can then be used with a small group of students (or whole group) who are working on stretching their thinking while jotting.  The other pictures show possible "STAR" Jot Charts.  These can be helpful for students to rate their jots and set goals regarding their jots and thinking while reading.  It is important for our students to know how to be successful in their reading work.  Offering exemplars with descriptions are an easy way to incorporate this.  Some staff I have worked with have also used these charts as student-facing rubrics and teacher rubrics for assessing reading jots.

The first column shows a star or stars.  The more stars, the more in depth the jot.

The second column includes a description of what the jot might include.  This can be done as an "I can" statement or a checklist format.

The third column is an exemplar jot.  I have seen teachers develop these exemplars with students using a read aloud.  I have also seen students take their jots from one star and revise it to make it a two, three, or four star jot.

Before developing these charts with students, it might be beneficial to develop a rating chart and exemplars with your grade level teams by looking at rubrics you use or the CCSS.  This way you can get a feel for what students are going to go through to grow their reading ideas from one star to higher level jots.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Conferring Scaffolds and Collaboration in Reading Workshop

I have been lucky enough to learn alongside some colleagues who are considering how conferences might go when digging through their units of study in Reading Workshop.  One of the tools they are preparing are visuals to help scaffold students in the big ideas or unit objectives (see pictures below).  This has offered powerful collaboration, as we are creating these visuals during common planning time and discussing interpretations of teaching points.  Conversations are also around what student thinking or jots might look like if they are successfully utilizing the skill or strategy (Considering the success criteria for ALL students!!)

Some of the steps we took:
1. Consider some important teaching points (the enduring understanding of the bend).

2. What do we want students to know and be able to do after having taught this bend (or set of teaching points)? What will success look like for the diverse learners in the class?

3. Discuss this success criteria and the teaching points with colleagues - What is the interpretation of the bend?

4. Create scaffolds using any tools that might support students in the work (index cards with visual prompts, sticky notes that are readily available during the conference, exemplar jots in mentor texts...)

Supporting Stop & Jots with Anchor Charts

Hi everybody!  This fall, I worked with a number of teachers on utilizing stop and jots in Reading Workshop.  Our goals included:
  • What is the purpose of stop and jots?
    • Supporting the objectives of the unit
    • Preparing for book clubs / partnerships
    • Carrying ideas across the text
  • How might students use their stop and jots?  Why and when might a student stop and jot?
    • Finding / carrying ideas across multiple texts (intertextuality)
    • Practice comprehension skills and support unit goals
    • Write long from jots - elaborating in a notebook to explore topics
    • Monitor comprehension
  • How to raise the level of student stop and jots?
    • Model, Model, Model!
    • Exemplars
    • Student-facing rubrics
    • Anchor Charts (see below!)
  • How might teachers use the stop and jots to help form instruction?
    • Formative and summative assessing
    • Develop strategy groups
    • Determine next steps for whole group
One of the exercises the participating staff members engaged in was looking closely at their unit of study and considering what kids should know and be able to do.  This consideration is followed by determining how will you be able to tell if they are understanding the concept
While digging into their units, teachers developed potential anchor charts that could be created with students to support student responses that connect to the unit goals. 
We displayed our charts and did a Gallery Walk to share out:


It was really energizing to see the creative ways the group was considering how to support students in their jots.  Some teachers developed chart ideas to support students in:
  • When to jot... ("To jot or not to jot...")
  • How to start jots... ("Jot starters")
  • Jotting specific to a genre
It is powerful to come together collaboratively and discuss teaching points and unit objectives through this lens. When planning together, it is helpful to consider the work our students will be doing and discuss the scaffolds we can provide to help students find success.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Strategy Groups in Reading Workshop

Hi all!  I wanted to share one way to organize thoughts around planning and executing strategy groups in Reading Workshop.

1. Determine what to teach:
  • Identify a the main objectives within a bend (of a unit). This may be the essential question or enduring understanding of the bend.
  • If you do not have bends to work with, determine what you want kids to know and be able to do after a week or so.
  • How are you going to tell who is getting it... who needs re-teaching... who can be extended...
    • Perhaps collect an exit slip during a read aloud, after a mini lesson, after independent reading
  • Use other data to inform groups for a strategy lesson (F&P assessment, MAP assessing, PALS...)
  • Use your conferring notes (a great tool is the Confer App)   Identify next steps after a conference
  • Find patterns - or students who have like needs
2. Determine who should participate in the group:
The above template might be used to organize strategies to be taught in small groups. Then after reflecting on conferring notes, exit slips, or other student information, you can place students in the small groups.

3. Plan the lesson / Deliver the lesson
Above is an example of a strategy lesson template (strategy lesson architecture).
  • When planning lessons, you may consider if you will use any tools or visuals
    • Mentor Texts to help model
    • Charts to help keep focus and offer examples / exemplars (see below for examples)


I like leaving these papers for the small group after I leave the kids to work.  It offers a visual reminder for what we worked on. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

What do I Say During a Reading Conference?

Hi everyone! I hope the start to the school year has been smooth. I have been M.I.A. for a while... Four months ago, my husband and I welcomed our first child - Ellsie Jane :) It has been a busy few months with lots of learning; but, the best four months ever!

I am preparing for a workshop on Conferring in the Reading Workshop and thought that the below resource was helpful. It is important to utilize the conferring architecture when meeting one-on-one with students. This way, we can be as strategic and focused as possible, which will be most beneficial for our kids. Below are some ideas as to what to say during each phase of a conference:
1. Research
2. (Decide)
3. Compliment
4. Teach
5. Coach
6. Link

Remember, it is helpful to have materials with you (your mentor text, conferring toolkit:

What We Might Say in a Reading Conference

  • “How’s it going?”
  • “What are you working on as a reader?”
    • If a student uses workshop language, say, “Tell me more about that.” or “What do you mean by that?”
    • If a reader says she tried a strategy, ask, “Can you show me a place where you tried that?"
  • “Will you give me a tour of your work (jots or reading responses/notebook)?”
  • “Will you read a little bit out loud to me?” 
  • What goals do you have as a reader?”
  • “I have to compliment you on…”
  • “You’re NOT just the kind of reader who… you are the kind of reader who…”
  • "I am impressed by how you..."
  • “I have a tip for you.”
  • “One thing I know all good readers do is… One way to do this is to…”
  • “Something you are ready for as a reader is…”
  • “Let me show you what I did… did you see how I…”
  • “Find a place in your reading where you can…”
  • “Let’s try this together.”
  • “Now it’s your turn.”
  • “You can do this not only in this book but also in all texts…”

What other prompts or sentence starters do you use frequently? Comment below to share ideas!

Sarah :)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Are You Prepared? How to REALLY Understand the Writing Work We Teach

I have been feeling really energized by thinking about how we can prepare our instruction to push our students as learners.  I feel strongly that we, as teachers, must have a very clear understanding of what we are teaching and how to teach it in order to motivate and move our students.  This morning, I am reflecting on this through the lens of Writing Workshop.

Our Writing Units of Study are filled with teaching points, tips, conferring ideas, share ideas, examples and much more.  I think the best way to process how to effectively teach a Unit of Study in Writing Workshop is to do the work (the writing) our students will be doing.  Here are some tips I have to help prepare for teaching a writing unit:
  • As you read through the unit, identify the teaching points and annotate the sides of the page with your thoughts on potential anchor charts, conferring opportunities, your own writing ideas, and so on...
  • After you have read the unit and have the "big picture" in mind, do some writing!  I find it most valuable if you do this writing with others, your colleagues. This way, you can discuss interpretations of teaching points, writing process, areas you and others are getting stuck, and share ideas

  • The writing you do can serve multiple purposes!
    • It will allow you to develop mentor texts for mini lessons, conferences, and small groups
    • It will show you places where writers get stuck...
      • As an example, you may find it difficult to come up with ideas or get started - Don't we always have kids that struggle in the same way? What do you do when you get stuck? What behaviors do you exhibit when you get stuck or struggle?  How can you help your students persevere through this?
        • Do you find yourself talking with the person next to you to or seek out some writing examples to help you get started?  Spy on yourself as you do your writing and find tips and strategies you can use with your kids.
    • It will help you find the most authentic ways of teaching. 
      • When you sit down to write a short story, maybe you first make a timeline of how the story will unfold.  You might sketch out some scenes...You will most likely talk out our story with another person to receive feedback...You might jump in and start writing to get all of your ideas down...
      • You will probably not first create a worksheet and then start writing.  Think, how do I write?  How do real writers write.  I must teach my students, no matter how young, how to really write.
    • Most importantly, it will show and prove to your students that you are a writer and have a writing life, just like them!
As you write using the teaching points and enduring understandings of the unit, you will likely have thoughts and conversations will colleagues about writing skills or strategies that your students will need some extra support in.  This is the perfect opportunity for you to quickly prepare some writing for your conferring toolkit that you will use during 1:1 conferences and during small groups:
  • You can prepare writing and deliberately leave out key elements (such as: elaboration, transitions, or any other writing component you think some of you students may need support in). In my example, I will use elaboration.
  • After you write a piece and have left out the key writing element (elaboration), make copies of that writing and put it in your conferring toolkit (See the picture below).  The reason you will make copies is because when you confer with students, you can model how you go back and reflect on not having elaboration in that portion of the writing.  You can show the student(s) right then and there how you elaboration (or add the key element you are teaching them).
  • I label my example writing with a sticky note or tab so I can easily find it in my conferring folder.
In my Writing conferring toolkit, I keep my mentor writing, sample writing with elements "left out", mentor text, conferring ring of strategies, checklists, learning progressions, and writing paper.  For older grades (3rd and above), most of my writing is in my Writing Notebook.  I could keep this in the folder, as well.
As I mentioned above, it is most beneficial to do this writing with others by your side.  However, you are probably thinking... Okay... sounds lovely; but, WHEN!?!  This is a totally fair question.  At my school we have weekly common planning time with grade level teams.  If team members come to the table already having read the Unit of Study, rather than just talking about the teaching points, time can be spent doing the work the Unit of Study calls for - write

Participating in this work will be incredibly valuable for your teaching and even more so for your students learning and growth as writers.  You will have a greater understanding of what the unit is calling your kids to do and the struggles they may face.  You will come into the unit armed and ready to teach and push them to become stronger writers!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How Is Learning Accessible to Everyone in Your Classroom?

In my district, we have been doing quite a bit of work around UDL (Universal Design for Learning).   I continue to connect the work we do in Reading and Writing Workshop to the principles of UDL: making sure learning is accessible to all... by considering:
  • How we present content or information
  • Differentiating the way students show what they have learned - offering choice
  • Stimulate motivation and interest for the learning - helping students value their learning and work
Here is how I have connected these pillars of UDL to Workshop.  I certainly have not covered every possibility- which is why I hope you comment on this post with your ideas!

Right away in the mini lesson, teachers can add value to the skill being taught by sharing a very short experience or story with the class that shows them encountering a reading or writing dilemma that needed problem solving.  Doing this adds authenticity to what you will teach the students and will also remind them that you are a reader/writer, too.  For example, in second grade Reading Workshop, the kids are working on strengthening foundational reading skills.  If the teaching point for the day is focusing on what to do when you come to a tricky word or how to infer the meaning of tricky/unknown words, the connection could sound something like this, "Readers, last night before bed, I was reading my book.  Everything was going smooth.  Then, I came to a word that made me do a double take! When I read the word ____, it made my voice sound 'like this' (using a confused higher pitched voice) and made me think, huh? If that has ever happened to you- If you have ever in your reading life come to a word that makes you say huh? give me a thumbs up.  Phew- I'm not alone! I had a feeling this was a common dilemma among readers.  So, I immediately knew what I wanted to teach you today.  Readers, lean in. Today, I want to teach you that when you come to a tricky word, you can use strategies to infer what that word means."
I think that the first minute or so of our lessons are really important.  We know we have to 'hook' the learners.  I also feel it is our responsibility to place value in what we are teaching and do so in the most authentic way we can.
Reading and Writing Workshop screams student choice, which is another way that UDL and Workshop go hand in hand.  In workshop, one of our primary goals should be to build student independence and motivation.  During the link portion of my mini lessons, I almost always ask the students to think about their goal as a reader or writer.  I may simply point to some of the anchor charts to jog their memories as to what we have been working on.  The kids know that when I sit next to them during conferences, I will be asking, "What are you working on today as a reader/writer?"  I hope to teach them to know their "trickiness" - what they are finding tricky and want help improving. 
While conferring, I make sure to have a toolkit.  I have a post ( that goes in detail regarding reading and writing toolkits.  It is really helpful to have materials to help make your teaching during a conference more visual and accessible for the student.  You can leave visual reminders for kids on post-its, start a "ring of strategies", or make a mini anchor chart on a larger sticky note with the student (see link to toolkit post).
I have only touched on a few ways Workshop connects with UDL.  I whole-heartedly believe that when Reading and Writing Workshop is implemented the way it is intended, all learners can have access to the skills and strategies that will help them grow as readers and writers.  Please comment and add other ways you find that the Workshop model helps allow learning to be accessible to all!
:) Sarah


Monday, January 6, 2014

Who Owns the Learning?

I have a confession:  I may be a bit controlling at times.  I like to know what is going on and that things are getting done (correctly!).  In my defense, I say that I am just a "rule-follower".   When I entered the teaching world, I had no idea that I would need to throw my micro-managing ways out the window (well, at school... home is a different's a work in progress).   I learned quickly that I was not the one who should "own" the learning... It needed to be the kids.

When I reflect on my philosophy as an educator, one belief I come to time and again is the importance of teaching all students to own their learning.  When creating a classroom environment of independent learners, I have found that it is important to deliberately structure my instruction in a way that helps kids see themselves as learners.  I accomplish this by knowing my students well, teaching explicitly, backing off a bit (not acting like a control freak) and trusting the kids to do their job.  I do think this requires practice, setting clear expectations, and holding kids accountable. This way of instructing puts pressure on me, the teacher, to have a clear understanding of what my students need to move forward as learners.  Above all, it puts pressure on the learner, since I am not going to handhold and do their work for them; instead, my role is to coach them to become problem solvers, thinkers, and inquirers. 

Students Must See Themselves as Learners
If we expect our kids to "own their learning" we need to make sure they see themselves as learners.  When students have authentic learning opportunities and can connect importance to the experience they are interacting with, the learning becomes more meaningful.  This is why in Writing Workshop, writers should always know who their audience is and why student choice (in books and writing topics) is a must.  Learning should always have a purpose.  As teachers, it is our responsibility to offer rich learning experiences where students:
  • Witness an example of what is being taught (a model) - This needs to be explicit and we can't always make everything look "easy".  We should be teaching students not only deliberate reading or writing moves; but we also need to be offering tips and strategies to help readers and writers persevere when they come to trouble.  It is important to show our students what it looks like to struggle and how to problem solve.
  • Have time to practice with others, as well as independently - Learning is a social act, so it is critical that our kids are able to interact with their learning targets and one another.  Students can then see how others are putting the skills and strategies into action.  Students also need to feel comfortable trying the learning on their own.  For some, this can be a huge, uncomfortable risk.  Having visuals from when you modeled can be very helpful when students are reluctant to try something independently.  For example, in Reading Workshop, we may have created an anchor chart that provides "thinking stems" to get started.  In Writing Workshop, the class shared writing example could be available for students to model their own writing after.
  • Are given feedback - The feedback from teachers should be actionable.  When conferring with students, we should be able to identify what they are doing well and then offer tips to help them push their work to the next level. 
  • Set goals -  It is important that we teach kids how exactly to do this.  When a student sets a goal, it should be reachable within a reasonable amount of time.  Students will be more likely to buy into their goals and reflect on their goals when the timeframe is short.  Goals need to be specific and should have an action plan to go along with it. (Not: I want to read harder books. I will do this by reading more.).  For example, I have had students who love fiction reading, but struggle with nonfiction reading.  This student's goal may be: "My goal is to improve my understanding when reading nonfiction.  I will do this by selecting a topic I am interested in (ie: Pandas) and use boxes and bullets to categorize my stop and jots in my Reading Response Notebook."  
I am a believer in pushing all students from being passive learners to active and involved learners.  This way of teaching requires patience and trust.  We need to be patient and allow our students to make mistakes and try again (and not do the work for them).  We need to energize our class as readers and writers - showing our students that in order to grow, we must try new things and collaborate.  We have to trust that when we say, "off you go" after the mini lesson, that they will "go off and work".  This way of teaching puts the ownership of learning on the kids ... rather than on the teacher.. 

There are so many ways to build students who hold ownership of their learning... Comment and share your ideas :)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Teaching the Reader... Not the Book: Preparing for a Small Reading Group

I am preparing for a book club with a small group of fourth grade boys.  We had selected the book, but I want to make sure that I am not teaching the book, but teaching the readers.  My preparation began with thinking about these boys as readers. I asked myself,
  • What skills do these two need in order to tackle more complex texts? 
  • What are these readers doing already that we can build upon?
  • How can I use what I know about text complexity in our small group lessons?
I began by reviewing and analyzing the students' running record assessments and recognized that both boys were reading at an instructional level Q.  I also noticed that a primary need was going to be comprehension (specifically: inferential understanding and elaborating using text evidence).  Below is what I noted first:

Strategy Group Focus:   Building Comprehension Skills to push through level Q

Student A Goal:  Comprehension (understanding unknown words and inferential understanding)

Student B Goal:  Comprehension (monitoring- slowing down and elaborating on inferential understanding)

Next, I brushed up the kinds of work that is called for when reading a level Q text.  As I reviewed this information, I had in mind the students' goals.  Here is what I figured I should cover to help push them to be independent at a level Q:

·  Identifying central problem in the story.
·  Synthesis: Asking ourselves, “What now does this text seem to be mostly about?”
·  It is okay to let go of our initial or first expectation as we read and fashion one that is more grounded in the text as it actually unrolls.
·  Think about why characters do what they do (“Another reason is…” / “Another part of this is…”)
·  Identify cause and effect – linking earlier parts to later parts
·  Keeping track and monitoring complex characters and their characteristics (ie: “Oh, there he goes again, acting…)
·  Monitoring our reading – (What we do when we stop and say, “huh?”
·  Figures of speech/metaphors/puns

Next, I read the book we had selected: Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli.  As I read, I marked places that inspired thought and offered examples of level Q characteristics.  I hope to teach these readers how to effectively "stop and jot" so it isn't painful.  I plan on doing this through modeling and showing that when we jot an idea we can carry this idea throughout the text to see if questions are answered or links are made (between character reactions, character change, characters being impacted by the central idea or problem, finding evidence to support theories...)


I have a "loose" plan that I can use with these readers.  I created this plan (the teaching points) based on the above level Q characteristic list.  Though I will offer tips and lessons from the below plan, I will also be flexible and expect that I may not follow this "plan" precisely because the group's needs and reading behaviors will be what is driving my instruction.  This is why I am calling it my "loose" plan.  Because I know these students, I was able to anticipate their needs.  Here are a few of the lessons that I could uses with this small group:
  • Lesson 1: First chapters are usually jam-packed with information.  Readers absorb as much information as they can and pay close attention to some key features.  Readers make notes of these features:
    • The problems
      • Which ones are the most important?
      • Keep an eye out for evidence and problems that are reoccurring
    • Characters
      • How do they talk and interact … what does that say about their personality or the type of person he/she is?
      • Reactions to situations
      • Both main and supporting characters
      • Realizations (main) characters have
      • Identify and note parts that are confusing
  • Lesson 2:  Readers keep track and monitor complex characters and their characteristics
    • Noticing how the two characters contrast
    • Realizations and worries of characters (this links to problems/central ideas)
  • Lesson 3: Readers think about the problems in the story to help determine a central idea.  They hang on tight to this idea and see where it shows up in the story, how characters react to the problem, and how it changes characters.
  • Lesson 4: Readers monitor while they read and know when to stop and say, huh... Readers reread and think about what is going on in the story to make sense of confusing parts. (figures of speech, puns, metaphors)
  • Lesson 5: Readers are constantly thinking about why characters are doing what they are doing.  How does this link to the central idea or problem in this story?
  • Lesson 6: Readers analyze cause and effect in stories.  They link earlier parts of the text to later parts.
As I meet with the group, I will remain contentious to teach the readers and not the book.  My goal is to offer lessons and tips that they can utilize independently across any text as they move through tougher reading levels.