#DigLitSunday “The Journey is Everything”

DigLitSundayA big SHOUT OUT to Margaret Simon for setting up a Twitter Chat on Aug. 28th with Katherine Bomer, author of The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them.  I wish this book made my summer reading list… I picked it up a few weeks ago at the HighAIMS summer institute and just today started reading it. So I will find myself following the chat to learn and then going back to the archive as I get more into the book (as I am only on page 22 right now).

Already I have been inspired by this text. As I read the essay “Joyas Voladoras” on page 3 (also found here), the reading teacher in me was coming up with so many teaching ideas for using this text with my 4th graders.  After reading Katherine’s inner dialogue, I realized the lens I was reading through was much different. I was not considering this text from a writing point of view but rather as a reader. However this is what makes close reading with students so fantastic. We interpret what we read in so many different ways… and there is no “one correct” way.

Thus I started to re-examine the essay and the use of language. So beautiful. If only I had more time with my students… I miss the chance to really help them develop voice as they write. Nevertheless as I examine the essay more as a writer myself through this book, I know I will find ways to squeeze in mini-lessons to help my students grow more.

For now, the ‘essay’ work my students will do comes in the form of reading response letters to me each week as homework. My students pick the text and have 2 menus of prompts to choose from (fiction and nonfiction). I scaffold them from writing a few sentences into full well-developed essays.  This year knowing I have about 90 eight to ten year olds to work with each day, I decided to “flip” my writing instruction and so I started a series of video lessons that take students through expectations as they “level up”. I know this is not the essence of Katherine’s book, but I do find that my more ‘structured’ essays give me a chance to teach and develop often very needed writing skills.

And so the mini-lessons are for students and families to access as needed: http://www.symbaloo.com/home/mix/responseletterresources

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 11.02.04 AM  I have 13 lessons so far for my new 3rd graders. Part 2 is working on taking students on from where this set ends; ideally as new 4th graders who have already leveled up…  The Journey to respond to text in a well written essay is everything for my readers at this time.

#DigLitSunday Digital Voice


When I think of “voice” in writing, I think of actually “hearing” the author speaking as I read their work. Student voice often comes through to me because I envision a conversation. I wish I had more time with my students to work on writing, but I am only “officially” a reading teacher for 3rd and 4th grade gifted students. With only one hour a day to spend with my precocious 8-10 year olds, I pack in everything I can.  So how do I integrate digital voice?

I take teaching discussion techniques very seriously. Children need to be taught how to have discourse: face-to-face and digitally. While I could write another post on ways I model face-to-face communication skills, I’m going to focus on digital discussion, and therefore how I promote students having a digital voice in my classroom. (On a side note, I explicitly teach 9 elements of digital citizenshipScreen Shot 2016-05-22 at 3.51.17 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-22 at 3.51.31 PM

As a Level 1 Certified Google teacher, I love the commenting features of #GAfE. However, when it comes to discussing text, my “go-to” tool is NowComment! NowComment is a free web-based application that allows teachers to turn documents into conversations! Let some former students show you how it works! Here’s an infomercial they did:


It is pretty easy to use! I love that I can not only work on response to reading skills but also teach digital citizenship.  Here’s a collection of helpful set up videos to help ‘convince’ you and get you started!


(The collection includes a lesson plan as well from ISTE’s Project ReImagined Library!)


Stay tuned… I’ll add more as NowComment is about to release some exciting new features very soon!


Starting a writer with a sketch to plan

As part of a great discussion on an NCTE message board recently, I had a chance to re-reflect upon why I am a fan of using a simple “sketching” process for prewriting…

One of the keys I’ve found for creating strong, eager writers is to use “sketching a plan” to get them started. It is a great pre-writing activity that starts as an initial scaffold and eventually can be scaffolded to where writers think more internally. (In fact my gifted students now use it for simple notes on ideas they want to write about…they have moved beyond the pictures.) I’ve found it really helps pull details out and get writers past the “I don’t know what to write”. I am a visual person, so here’s a video demonstrating: https://youtu.be/-R3zehA0Whs (I did this with a 1st grader I tutored one summer, but have used this in the classroom.) While there are tons of wonderful graphic organizers to use, I have found keeping this open at first helps all students. Later we integrate sketching an organizer. I think too many kids become dependent on a specific organizer and often don’t know what to do when they don’t have one. A plain planning space (I like to use large index cards) teaches kids that they can plan ideas and be flexible (my kids were able to sketch something in a margin during a test later.)

Getting kids just planning and drafting comfortably is always my 1st step. I usually focus on getting the ideas to flow. I don’t focus on targeting specific needs until they just writing. Then I start targeting one specific need at a time. Say it is just spacing between words…

This clip is working with a 3rd to 4th grader (whom I had been tutoring for awhile so she was already efficient with planning and her planning was simple.) Her scaffolding need was checking high frequency words for spelling, which we did through a revising/editing process. https://youtu.be/IwV7wGOvbu4

Sometimes it is hard to just focus on one thing at a time for students, but I think it is most effective. One of my goals is to establish a continuum of skills for reference. I started this work with a group of colleagues last year across 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, so hopefully we can finish this year. As soon as I uncover my notes, I will share what we have so far!

Beyond Classroom Walls…


Beyond the classroom walls… When snow days kept us at home last year, we started playing with a digital discussion environment called nowcomment.com. It allows us to have private discussions about texts and has become the perfect tool for promoting discourse! Even better… the format is in line with the new PARCC assessments students will have to take. My students love anything I put onto a screen for them and beg me to access work digitally from home. This tool really helped me turn my less motivated students who would only do the minimum to stretch above and beyond with their participation and thinking.

Start your own conversations with students at http://NowComment.com A FREE resource!  (Like “no comment”… :0)  Get it!)

Supporting teachers and students in writing

Even though I do not officially teach writing anymore, I am still very much immersed in supporting students and fellow teachers in writing.  In my opinion, developing a writer is all about how we scaffold.  Writing development is very much a continuum and figuring out what skills a writer already has is the first step to planning how to help move that particular writer forward.

This year several other teachers and I have planned to meet to work improve how we teach writing.  I am excited because as teachers across several grade levels, we can pull our expertise and experience.

As part of this work, I had a blast co-teaching with my awesome colleague Susan!  Here is what we have been working on with her 4th graders: Stretching an idea with sketching a plan http://youtu.be/fhFX2xVF3Ic

The importance of editing for conventions: http://bcontext.com//bfile/player/irsjr/?auth=SASQAQJG1K9QAIZLNJILUNX5GRJCEET255UVM8R91UDMBBRPNX

“You have a story to tell”

NCTE 2013 was an incredible experience!  Today as I open the packages of books that I had to have shipped back home I am reliving the experience.  If only I could have stayed longer… next year I will!

So Friday morning I had the privilege of attending a very special breakfast in honor of Donald Graves’ memory.  The more I learn about this remarkable man the more inspired I become.  I was first introduced to him through Lucy Calkins when I attended a workshop she gave.  I can’t remember the year and didn’t know it at the time, but it was the beginning of a shift in my thinking as a writing teacher.  At the breakfast I was surrounded by so many amazing Heinemann teacher-authors whose books line my shelves, sit next to my bed, and are stacked on my tables.  I didn’t get to meet them directly but did get to hear their tribute to Mr. Graves.  I was in awe.  And I hope someday to continue Donald Graves’ remarkable legacy through continuing his work.  I love listening and reading the stories my students have to tell.

Many thanks to the folks at Heinemann for inviting me and giving me the inspiration to share my story…