Archive for November, 2009

One word for the teaching I saw in Cabot… WOW! What wonderful classrooms I visited. It was hard to tell the difference between the special education rooms and those that weren’t. The only difference was smaller class size and more adult support. It was an amazing visit! Photos below tell the story in some of the upper grade rooms I visited. More to come on primary classrooms later.

Guided reading group meets in special education classroom. Teacher uses tools on table for focused teaching.

Whole group teaching area in 4th grade. Note the use of dry erase boards hung on wall in the area.

Fourth grade has tables and stacking drawers at the end of them for organization

Wouldn't you love to curl up and read a good book in this 4th grade classroom library?

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Pictures from NCTE

I have lots to write about and catch up on from the past few days – and I will soon! Until then, here are two pictures from NCTE this past weekend. I was at the Stenhouse booth signing books and also ran into a couple of other authors.

Meeting teachers at conferences is always a lot of fun

Meeting teachers at conferences is always a lot of fun

Chatting with Jeff Anderson and Robin Turner, two other Stenhouse authors

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See you at NCTE!

I was at Arkansas Reading yesterday and I am heading to Philadelphia for the annual NCTE convention on Saturday. I will be presenting with Laura Robb and Carol Varsalona on Saturday, Nov. 21, from 9:30 until 10:45. The title of our presentation is “Reading Matters: Strategies and Tools to Engage Young Readers and Teachings in the Art of Reading for Living in the 21st Century.”

I will be at the Stenhouse booth (#608) from noon on Saturday signing my books, so make sure you stop by to say hello!

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During my visit in Manchester, PA, I met with teachers in grades 4-6 in Northeastern School District to study literacy work stations. We delved deeply into the differences between stations and centers to find out how to more effectively involve students in meaningful independent practice that they take responsibility for (rather than us doing all the work).

Teachers here have done book studies with Practice with Purpose and are eager to implement what they have learned. I shared with them the importance of having reflection as part of our instructional day, and we looked at the Sharing Time cards in the Appendix on page 164 in Practice with Purpose.

When I showed teachers the cards I created to remind us to have sharing time for 5 minutes each day, one of the principals piped up, “Your cards are orange and black—just like our school colors!” He also confessed that he owns orange sneakers! By the way, the schools were having a spirit contest while I was there, and most everyone was garbed in these colors. Hence, the strong connection. Just for fun, here’s a picture of us enjoying learning together—in orange and black! I didn’t even know to wear orange that day, but fit right in!


Teachers in grades 4-6 at Shallow Brook Intermediate sport their school colors, orange and black


I am using cards during sharing time with intermediate students


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My week in Missouri

Last week I worked with hundreds of teachers in the fine state of Missouri in two great college towns—Fulton, home of Westminster College and Columbia, land of Mizzou!

My trip began at the Stoney Creek Inn, a fun place designed to resemble a lodge. When you drive up, you’re greeted by a life-size moose (felt like I was back in Maine!) standing in a pond filled with live koi. Quite the cool sight! When you enter your room, there is a large stuffed animal on your bed (that you can purchase and take home). I was so startled by the bear on my bed that I actually jumped!

I spoke for the RPDC and at the Primary Reading Conference. It was such fun meeting all the warm and welcoming K-6 educators here during the week! Pictured below are some of the teachers I met as well as some of the sights I saw.

Columbia, MO is a fabulous town to stay in. There are quite a few fine restaurants and cool shops, and I’m so glad I took some time to explore downtown. Many unique galleries and boutiques can be found, including my new favorites– Poppy (poppyarts.com) and Bluestem Missouri Crafts. I even started to do a little Christmas shopping!

Next stops… Arkansas and Philadelphia. On the road again!


Westminster College in Fulton, MO



Large moose greets you outside Stoney Creek Inn


Large bear greets you on your bed!


Met a group of wonderful mother and daughter(s) teachers: Vicki Hammack (Malden), Amy Schoemehl (New Madrid), and Mary Lynn Jones (Scott City)


One teacher had my article from Instructor Magazine with her (I spoke on Spaces & Places) which I signed

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Working with upper grade teachers at Pleasant View, we decided to tackle deeper comprehension with a group of on-grade level 6th graders. The key was, “What text to choose to engage them in deeper thinking?” Text choice is everything in guided reading!

A great resource we used is Janet Allen’s Read Aloud Anthology from Scholastic. It is designed for read aloud, but we used it as short text for guided reading. The story we chose was called “The Escape.” It provided great opportunities for deeper thinking. I posted the question I wanted students to think about while reading on a small dry erase board. They read and took notes while I listened in to each and had a brief conversation with them about what they were thinking.

At the start of the lesson, these students told me they usually read and then stop at the end of a chapter or a story and think about what they read. By the end of the lesson, they told me, “Today I learned that when I think the whole time I’m reading, I understand a lot more.”

Guided reading in 6th grade? You bet!


Great resource for short text for guided reading in 6th grade


Our essential question for students to ponder while reading


I listen in to students read and have a conversation while others read on their own during guided reading

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While at Pleasant View Elementary, I also taught a group of 4th graders who were reading on a late 2nd grade/early 3rd grade level. The focus for the lesson was inferring about characters– something these students needed to practice with support. The teachers and I chose the book, The Magic Fish, because it had such strong characters. As I began the lesson, the children had heard of inference and said it was a kind of prediction.

I created a simple graphic organizer for them to use while reading. We talked about the main characters using the cover, title page, and what they already knew (their background knowledge). One student knew the story and had read the book in the past, so his schema was especially strong! But we were doing deeper comprehension work, so I wasn’t concerned.

After I introduced the book and told them how far I wanted them to read (about 1/2 the book), I asked each to choose a character and jot down on the organizer what they already knew about that character. Interestingly, the boys both chose the fisherman, and the girl in my group asked if she could think about the fisherman and the wife. Hallelujah! She differentiated for herself. I love when that happens! 

As the students read independently, I listened to each read and conferred with him/her for a few moments before moving to the next. I checked for their understanding and reminded them to jot down the words from the book that told them something about that character. If they made an inference (which they often did), I labeled it as such, and said, “You just inferred something about the character that wasn’t in the book.  Jot it down.” 

After they read, they shared their thinking with the group. They did a great job, especially considering that this lesson took place from 3-3:20 PM and the buses came at 3:25.  Teachers there told me that they think that adding the structure of the simple graphic organizer helped guide the children’s thinking and created an opportunity for success. That’s what guided reading is all about in my mind. Guiding students to the place where they can be successful readers with just a bit of support from the teacher.

Here are photos of what we did together:


A great book for inferring about characters


One student's thinking about two characters



Thinking about the fisherman


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Pleasant View Elementary School in Red Lion, PA

It was a beautiful autumn day in Red Lion, PA, where I had the privilege of working with wonderful teachers and their children in grades 3-6 today. The school was Pleasant View Elementary; the topic was guided reading.

It was my favorite kind of day– the kind where I work with kids!  The teachers and I worked together choosing a lesson focus, picking a text that was just right for the students, and planning a guided reading lesson. Then I taught the students in a small group while teachers observed, and we ended with debriefing– reflecting on the lesson and what both we and the children learned.

I got to teach three very different small groups today. We had a 3rd grade above-level reading group that read very well, but sometimes skipped words they’d never seen before. To guide them, we chose a text from the Internet about hamsters. Their class is getting a hamster, and the nonfiction text we chose was about getting a home for your hamster.

I showed students in this group how to highlight a new word they’d not seen before. (We used a highlighter pen, since they had a text printed from the Internet.) Then I showed them how to look carefully at the new word (usually a long word) and find the parts they know, covering up each part with their fingers after they’d read it, and then blending the parts together, using their fingers as needed. I modeled with a dry erase board and a few new words, as pictured. They helped me circle parts they knew.

When they began reading the article on their own, at first, some of them thought they knew all the words; but with guidance, they began highlighting words and trying to put the parts together. Their teacher told me that she was thinking that vocabulary was their need, but today she realized that both decoding and vocabulary were important for this group to focus on.

The students and I felt successful. They learned a lot about hamster habitats and are eager to read more tomorrow. More on the other lessons coming soon…


The lovely view outside of Pleasant View


The Pleasant View Crew- fabulous teachers!


Text from above-grade level guided reading


Some of the decoding we did together before reading

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I’m noticing that we’re getting quite a few fans from countries around the world, including a number of you from Denmark and Canada. We’d love to hear how you’re using literacy stations and small group instruction in your classrooms! Please post a comment and let us know.

I’ve worked in Canada several times and will be speaking at the upcoming Reading for the Love of It conference in Toronto on February 11-12, 2010. Hope to see some of you there! Please come by and say hello.

In fact, while working with the Edmonton Catholic Schools last year, we created a faith-based or worship station “I Can” list. We had quite a great time coming up with this idea!


Worship Station "I Can" list brainstormed with Edmonton Catholic Schools

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A new math station for addition and subtraction features bats

Last week, Mary and I examined her 1st grade math stations closely and made decisions about which to switch out. Some of the things we’d put in them the students have mastered by now, and some just needed to be updated based upon new things she’s teaching.

Because her first graders are now learning about addition and subtraction, we’ve just added a new station. Here’s what’s in this tub:

  • laminated math storyboard picturing a tree
  • little bats in a snack-size ziplock bag (for telling stories)
  • differentiated dice (with colored dots on the baggies for different groups of students)
  • cards with pictures of the students and their names
  • a picture book for retelling addition  and subtraction stories

At this station, students can tell stories about bats. They roll the dice and make a story problem using the numbers, such as this one:

Ajya saw 4 bats flying by the tree. Thomas saw 6 more bats. How many bats in all?

Children record their problem and solution with pictures, numbers, and words. Even after Halloween, they will still enjoy working with bats. When they tire of bats, we’ll add new storyboards and characters.

What addition stations are you trying in your classroom?

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