Archive for February, 2010

If you have read my book, Making the Most of Small Groups, you might already know about the flexible small groups folder I recommend making to keep track of your reading groups. It helps you organize and keep track of who is in each group and what you might focus on in teaching. There are pictures of this folder on the book’s cover and in chapter 2.
Great news! This folder is now available (already made) from Really Good Stuff . All you have to do is write each child’s name on a card and insert it in a precut strip. Everything you need is included… the strips telling what to focus on in each small group, the color-coded file folder (one color represents each small group), and the little name cards. It is a huge time-saver. Hope you like it as much as I do!

Front cover of the Flexible Reading Groups Folder from Really Good Stuff


The inside of the folder is color-coded and includes strips for what to teach at each level and name cards to show who is in that group

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Winter garden

One thing I love about living in Houston is the winter here. We don’t get snow, and there are very limited nights when our temperatures hover near freezing.

But the best thing of all is winter color in the garden! We did have a colder-than-usual spell which prompted having to pull out every bedsheet I own to cover my precious blooms. But it was worth it. The colors are amazing right now! There are pink dianthus, multi-colored cyclamen, white ornamental kale, big-faced pansies, fragrant sweet alyssum, and Swiss chard. Every time I go by my front yard, my flowers make me smile.


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How did your week go? I hope it was a peaceful one. Think about starting each day with just a few minutes of peace and quiet, a time to reflect. These minutes will grow exponentially. Try it this weekend. Breathe deeply. Be still for a few minutes.

Have a peaceful  weekend,

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How it all began

I am often asked how I got started with writing and consulting. It all began in 1983. I had taught for a while, was pregnant with my first child, and had decided to start my own business. My friend, Pat Smith in CyFair ISD, suggested I contact people she knew at two companies– Continental Press in Elizabethtown, PA (near where I grew up) and Houghton Mifflin (who had an office in Dallas where I had just moved). I made personal contact with folks in both places and began to do free-lance writing.

You might think I wrote best-selling books… I did not! I wrote bulletin board ideas, teacher resource materials, workbooks, test questions, and even Sunday School curriculum… many by hand or on a typewriter (computers were not widely used at this time). In addition, I did per diem work for book publishers. This included setting up and tearing down displays and standing all day long on hard floors at conferences. (Schlepping books is hard work; those boxes are heavy!) On weekends and during summers, I presented workshops at conferences. Many times I presented for free and paid my own way to get there.
For several years, I stayed home with my two children and worked part-time doing per-diem consulting and writing. Then I returned to teaching and continued consulting and writing in the evenings, on weekends, and in the summers along with tutoring after-school. During this time, my husband changed careers, and I supported our family while he went to optometry school. 
In 1999, I was part of a teacher research group, The Harvard Educator’s Forum, led by my dear friend, Olga McLaren in Houston. With the encouragement and support of a wonderful group of teachers, I wrote and published my first professional article for The Reading Teacher. It was about working with African-American children as a white teacher. Lisa Delpit wrote me a personal letter encouraging me in this work.
In 2000, I quit my teaching job and started as an independent full-time consultant. In 2002, Nancy Considine of QEP introduced me to Philippa Stratton at Stenhouse Publishers who published my first professional book, Literacy Work Stations, in 2003. (My first book proposal was turned down by several publishers, including Stenhouse.)
For me, the road to writing and consulting has been one filled with perseverance, discipline, and meeting just the right people at the right time who have helped make my dream come true. I give thanks for each of them!
For those of you who have a similar wish and have written asking me how to become a consultant, this is my story. I hope you will find it helpful.

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I recently returned from one of my favorite conferences of all time, the Reading for the Love if It  Conference held in Toronto, Canada. I loved meeting all the wonderful teachers I met there! The Canadians turned up in record numbers for sessions on small group reading instruction in K-3 and literacy work stations for the junior grades (gr. 4-6). I snapped a few pics of teachers waiting in line for sessions to open. Interestingly, there was less snow in Toronto than in many places we’ve been trying to visit in the southern U.S. lately!

While at the conference I saw some of my favorite Canadian friends, like David Booth and Mary Macchiusi from Pembroke Publishers. And I got one of the coveted Scaredy Squirrel (and Chester) bags from the Kids Can Press booth. If you don’t know this series of books, check them out at Amazon.  The author, Melanie Watts, is from Canada and is absolutely brilliant! Not to mention funny! There’s even a Scaredy Squirrel puppet I might have to get.

Scaredy Squirrel


Canadian teachers waiting in line

Teachers waiting for my session to begin

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“Peace and quiet.” These are words we often hear together. I’d just like some peace and quiet. There is much to be said in that three-word combo. It is hard to have peace without quiet time. Each day I begin with just 10 minutes early in the morning to sit quietly and reflect. I often pray during this time. Sometimes I write in a journal. It is in this quiet, still time that I think about what’s most important in life and make choices to direct my day.

Recently, I visited a classroom that began the day with a Morning Meeting. The children greeted each other by name around the circle. They shared news with each other. It was a peaceful start to the school day. The class began as a community of learners. A circle of trust.

Think about how you begin each day—both at home and in the classroom.

Peace be with you,

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One thing I love about Sundays is taking long drives with my husband, Tom. Sometimes we go to Galveston; other times we drive through the scenic Texas Hill Country or the Piney Woods. We might end up browsing around the galleries at Round Top or walking along the Strand during Mardi Gras.
Sundays I often cook a roast in my favorite Le Creuset red Dutch oven (the kind seen in Julie and Julia)! It’s the one day of the week where there’s time for that long slow roasting. And ooh, the aroma it creates.
Recently, I discovered a new place filled with antiques and other quirky things. Loved this sign seen there… Around the Clock Emergency Service. Doesn’t that just say it all? Except on Sundays. I take the day off!

Our view during a recent Sunday drive

Starting a roast in my favorite pot

Love this antique sign!

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Do you have a mentor? If not, it may be time to find one. Be mindful of people you meet who have wisdom to share, because they have already been on a path you are now finding yourself on. Look for someone who has wisdom and grace, who conducts himself/herself in a way that you respect.

A mentor can be a peace resource. Just ask. The right one will say, “Yes.” Or perhaps someone has asked you to be their mentor. It may be time for you to say, “Yes” to another who needs your wisdom. Join together as peace partners.

Have a peaceful weekend,

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What a great day I had working with language arts teachers at Stehlik Intermediate in Houston, too! These teachers really knew how to tackle the state test in grades 5 and 6 with a creative touch! They had students making up their own questions, working together to analyze and justify answers, and using state test question stems as guides to discussions in literature circles. All great activities that work well at literacy work stations with a test prep twist.

Here’s a snapshot of what I saw on my recent visit there.

Using fine art to teach inference

Anchor chart for plot structure

Teacher facilitates vocabulary and grammar work. These kids love using the thesaurus!

Character analysis anchor chart


Guided reading at a small group table

Small group using a bank of student desks

Yellow and red pieces of paper to signal for help at each station

Research station

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Believe it or not, spring is coming! I’d love to have you join us in Richmond, VA, for our first ever Spring Institute for K-6 teachers! We hope lots of our East Coast friends will meet us in Richmond this April 15-17 at the historic Jefferson Hotel.
It’s going to be a great time filled with lots of learning about small group reading instruction, and literacy and math work stations, too!! You can register online at www.debbiediller.com.

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