Archive for February, 2011

I feel a bit like a new mom having a puppy in the house! We’ve now rolled up all our rugs and stored them in our bedroom. (So much for that lovely living room I’d been working on!) And we have a huge crate by our stairwell (kind of like moving a playpen into the house when you have a new baby!).

To top it off, this 10-week old puppy, Atlas, has learned to open the door to the backyard! Here he is, posed for another independent escape to the backyard. He reaches up with his paw and pushes on the levered door handle. Instant escape artist! Too funny!

Atlas plotting his escape by opening the door

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Poetry Friday: Connections

Connections are such an important part of our teaching– and of our lives. Here’s a poem about connecting that I found recently in a book called Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner:

These Days

whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them

            And the dirt

Just to make clear
where they come from

-Charles Olson

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I just got an email from a teacher in Wisconsin whose class is collecting postcards from across the U.S. They are hoping to get a postcard from each of the 50 states. Thought it would be fun to put it out there for everyone’s help! If you can send a postcard from your state, mail it to:

Cormier School
c/o Kathy Kurowski
2280 S. Broadway
Green Bay, WI 54304

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A tour of Math Work Stations

A few weeks ago I shot this brief video with Stenhouse to introduce Math Work Stations. Take a look!

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My friend, Betsy Franco (poet extraordinaire and mother of actor James Franco!), has written another great book of poems. This one is called Messing Around on the Monkey Bars and Other School Poems for Two Voices. Here’s a poem to be read in two voices your kids will enjoy, I’m sure!

I Can’t Wait

Today’s the day.
I can’t wait. 
At recess time,
I won’t be late.
I’ll meet you by
the mulberry tree.

And then you’ll make the trade with me. 

I’ll trade my little green iguana…
for my little sister Donna!

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One of my favorite conferences is Reading for the Love of It! This was my 3rd year in a row to speak there. This year one of my session was on “Creating Independent Readers in the Junior Grades.” (That’s grades 4-6 in Canada.) 

I shared ideas from Practice with Purpose, including some for individual independent work (independent reading and response writing) as well as partner independent work (literacy work stations). So many teachers told me about their success with stations after hearing me speak last year. Lisa Donohue, a teacher-author from Canada, who writes for Pembroke Publishers, told me that she began integrating digital literacies into stations with her grade 5 students last year. I picked up her new book, Keepin’ It Real, while at the conference. 

A highlight of my trip was meeting the many university students who attended the conference. And, of course, getting to see my friend, David Booth, who agreed with me that math really matters! 

Signing Math Work Stations at its first conference appearance!

With author Lisa Donohue and her new book, Keepin' It Real

With a group of Canadian university students

Showing Math Work Stations to Canadian author David Booth

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Thanks to all of you who joined us in Nashville in January! We had a great time meeting everyone! And somehow we dodged the snow, too! A big thank you to all the vendors who provided door prizes:

Benchmark Education
Lakeshore Learning
Okapi Books
Really Good Stuff
Scholastic Books
Stenhouse Publishers
Whisper Phones

If you couldn’t join us, we’ll be having our Spring Institute in Richmond, VA at the fabulous, historic Jefferson Hotel on April 7-9, 2011. Register online now at www.debbiediller.com

Teachers engage in meaningful conversations with peers

Bill Eastman from Okapi talks with educators about books

Talking with teachers in Nashville


Happy teachers arriving at the Nashville Convention Center


And here are the lucky door prize winners! One teacher won the new Math Work Stations book – just off the press!

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Our new love

Tom and I just welcomed a new puppy into our lives. We’re in love with Atlas, our 30-pound, 10-week old Great Dane puppy! Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you from all of us!

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Poetry Friday: Bird-Watching

Here’s another poem on birds from The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal: You might include a children’s field guide to birds along with the poem as you share it with your students. Add a pair of binoculars and an observation journal, and you have the start of an observation station near a window by a tree. Make an “I Can” list with your kids. It might say things like:

I Can:

  • read the poem with fluency
  • learn about the birds in the poem
  • use binoculars to find and identify other birds
  • write about my observations in the journal
  • create pages for my own field guide to birds



Robins come in springtime.
In summer they nest here.
Warblers are just passing through.
Cardinals stay all year.

Juncos come in winter,
thrushes in the fall.
Some birds never come here.
I don’t see them at all.

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Do you need a teacher desk? How can you tell if you do, or if it’s just a place where you collect stuff? Here are some tips to help you decide:

First, ask yourself: “Do I want a teacher desk?”

1. Is my desk a place where I rarely sit but use it for stacking lots of papers?
2. Do I find myself sitting at a clean table to do work after school instead of at my desk?
3. Is my desk taking up lots of space in my room?

If you answered YES to these questions, you might want to get rid of your teacher desk.

4. Does my school require that a teacher desk remain in my classroom?
5. Do I like my teacher desk and keep it organized?
6. Is my desk a lovely space I can call my own?

If you answered YES to questions 4-6, keep your teacher desk.
Here are some ideas for planning for your teacher space:

  • Place your teacher desk area away from the entrance and your flow of traffic.
  • Don’t use the best corner in the room for your teacher space. Share with your students. (It often makes a great library area!)
  • Plan for your teacher desk area to be near cabinets or shelves for storing your stuff.
  • Put a calendar and display board by your teacher area (for posting notes and reminders).
  • Provide a space for everything important that will need to be handled here.

This desk has become a clutter magnet

A traditional teacher desk doesn't have to take up lots of space

The front of this third-grade teacher's desk is turned into a poetry work station with the help of magnetic words from a kit.

Two students use a corner of the teacher's desk as a writing station.

You can find more tips in my book Spaces & Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy.

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