Tag Archives: workshop

Talkin’ Shop #sol16 30 of 31


Tonight’s plan was to head to The Montrose for some Mexican food (I was totally craving it!), do a bit of work, blog, and come home early-ish. The atmosphere at The Montrose is laid back and very conducive to writing, which I was hoping would get the creative juices flowing. After scarfing down my quesadilla, I got to work on some paperwork for school. I was taking a break from work, trying to think about what I wanted to write, when a colleague and friend of mine walked in the door.

He walked over, and I invited him to join me. He and I started talking about blogging, and I shared my experiences with the SOL challenge over the years. This led to discussions about teaching, specifically reading and writing. He happens to teach middle school language and literature, so it was right up his alley. Being a primary-only experienced educator, I was unfamiliar with what reading and writing looks like in middle school. My only assumption was that it typically looked quite different from primary. Shortly into our conversation, however, he mentioned that he taught using reading and writing workshops. Say what?!? My ears perked up, and my literacy hat came on!

From there, he and I discussed the learning happening in his classroom, the energy for writing palpable. What followed was a back and forth exchange of ideas, comparing writing workshop in primary to how it’s done in secondary. His students just finished a memoir unit (swoon!), and have just begun a persuasive writing unit. I jumped in, telling him I have some teaching resources (that just so happen to be for grades 3-8) that I can lend him. “Bring it on!” he said. That discussion led to his last unit of the school year, which is poetry. We have a shared philosophy for teaching poetry, in that we both believe it’s not effective to teach form poetry, but rather provide students with ample mentor texts to learn from and tools to use in their own writing. At this point, I shared a few mentor poems as well as my own poetry from my blog, and we realized that we’d both had the privilege of attending PD from Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger. Small world!

Anyway, our conversation continued for hours, meandering from swapping teaching ideas to ways in which we document our travels to other school stuff to travel plans in the future. Despite getting home 3 hours after I had planned, and just now getting to blogging, I am so grateful that he walked in the door. It’s been a long time since I’ve geeked out about literacy, and I was so energized by it! Spontaneous shop talks are always welcome. 🙂

Writing Under the Influence- SOL #27


Last month I attended the Literacy Institute in Hong Kong where I got to rub elbows with and learn from Kathy Collins, Matt Glover, and Carl Anderson. I know, I know…I’m a pretty lucky girl! I wanted to share a little bit of what I learned from Carl about the power of mentor texts. We all know mentor texts are important because they can give us some background on a new genre or style of writing, and we all know how important they are to writing workshop. A phrase I love that Carl used was “writing under the influence,” and I think it’s really important that we not only learn from and use mentor texts in our own writing, but teach our students to write under the influence as well.

As an engagement activity, Carl gave us 1 minute to write a poem about anything at all. I’m not joking! We had to write a poem in 1 minute! That’s a tough task, especially when you don’t have a topic, but we just had to go for it. Scrambling to think of a topic, my brain immediately went to goat cheese. Here’s my first draft of my poem (now, don’t laugh…it’s not that good!):

Goat cheese
warm or
on bread
in a quiche
any way
any day
I love it

After our initial poems, we were given a poem to read– first like a reader, then like a writer. The poem was entitled “Red” by Lilian Moore. After reading like a writer, we brainstormed things we noticed about how Lilian crafted her poem. We talked about things we liked, didn’t like, have seen before in other mentor texts, and so on. Next, we were given another minute to write a second poem about the same topic, only this time we were to write it under the influence of the mentor text, “Red.” Here’s my second draft (a little better, but not quite there):

Any way
you serve it–
whether on bread, pasta, or pizza
that tangy
distinct taste
envelopes me
in love.

We shared our poems with our table, noting how it felt the second time around, when we had a mentor text to guide our writing. Most of us found it easier. I didn’t love “Red,” so I thought it was a little bit difficult, but it was definitely easier than the first draft when we didn’t have a mentor text at all. Next we were shown “Knoxville, TN” by Nikki Giovanni, a list poem that I related to as both a reader and a writer. Many of us were able to connect to the content and feel of the poem, which told a story of a church picnic through a list. After sharing what we noticed about the author’s writing, we were ready to write. For our final draft, we were given 2 minutes to write under the influence of Nikki’s poem. Here’s my final draft (the one I’m most proud of):

I haven’t always loved
goat cheese–
but once I got that
first taste,
I was hooked.
Goat cheese bruschetta,
on toasted bread–
the crunchiness of the toast
coupled with the warm
pillowy goat cheese
drizzled with honey
and topped with roasted capsicums–
was heaven in my

What I got out of this learning engagement was the power of writing under the influence and how very important using engaging mentor texts is in writing workshop. The level of my writing was elevated by being exposed to quality texts, being able to discuss the things I noticed with my peers, and being given a time and space to write and play around with words.

What successes or challenges have you had with using mentor texts in writing workshop? How much time do you generally devote to reading mentor texts and discussing them with your students?

Personal Leadership Statement

As I stated in my previous post, our summative assessment task at this weekend’s workshop was to write our own personal leadership statements. Through discussions with our group, thought-provoking videos about effective leadership, personal surveys that determined our strengths, personality type, and leadership style, and thoughtful reflections, we each wrote our own “statement” on leadership. I say “statement” because mine turned out to be a bit unconventional. My leadership statement evolved into a poem. While I may revise it later into a more conventional statement, here’s a look at my first draft. I’d really love your feedback!

Leader Am I 

what you see is what you get.
I may not have all the answers,
and I can promise you
I will make mistakes;
but I’ll never stop
Committed to nurturing
a community of learners
who care about and support
one another.
Streams of ideas flowing,
some developed, others discarded.
Plans formed,
action taken.
Flexible and responsive
when obstacles come my way.
and true to my word.
Invested in the people
that make up the fabric
of my school.
Striving to inspire,
and develop
the strengths of my team.
Driven by a belief
in a cause
greater than myself.

Pedagogical Leadership Workshop Reflection

This weekend I attended a IB PYP workshop in Hong Kong entitled “Pedagogical Leadership in the Early Years.” Our workshop leader, Anne-Marie Evans, was phenomenal! Her thoughtful preparedness, learning engagements that were actually engaging, and pacing made this such an enjoyable learning experience for me! The workshop attendees were also great, and I was able to make connections and learn so much from all of them!

Currently, I’m sitting in the Pizza Express at the HK Airport waiting for my flight back to Shanghai, and I’m bursting with energy and excitement about all I learned and everything I want to do with my new knowledge when I get back to school. My reflections and action following this workshop will take place over the next few weeks and months, but here are a few of my major take-aways:

  • I learned some new technology ideas I can’t wait to share with my staff! Hopefully they will work in the mainland. 🙂 A few of the sites were TodaysMeet.com, an online “Twitter-like” discussion in real time; Padlet.com, a site similar to Wall Wisher, but even better and easier to use; Cousera.org, a FREE site that offers online university courses to students worldwide. To learn more about Coursera, watch this TED Talk by Daphne Koller.
  • Leadership vs. Management- This was the heart of the workshop. The mix of collaborative discussions within our group, personal surveys to identify our strengths, personality style, and leadership style, and reflection after reflection resulted in the creation of our own personal Leadership Statement, the summative assessment of the entire workshop. I’ll post my Leadership Statement in another blog entry. I’d love your feedback!
  • Group vs. Team- How often do you work together as a group, but not really as a team? I never really thought about these words being different, but during this workshop, we explored what it really meant to work as a team through several learning engagements (“Lost at Sea,” “Marshmallow Challenge,” etc.) and the truly meaningful piece for me was the reflection on each engagement. We had to reflect on how we worked together, which was made easier because each time we had a scribe to record our actions. This is the piece that I don’t do well enough with my staff. I find that I’ll lead them in engagements or show an interesting video, but then the reflection piece falls flat, and it ends up with me sharing my own thoughts with them more often than not. I would like to work on this, and thanks to Anne-Marie, I’m armed with some new strategies!
  • WHY-HOW-WHAT- We watched a moving TED Talk by Simon Sinek who shared how inspired leaders lead from the inside-out. He shared a visual of 3 concentric circles with WHY at the center, followed by HOW, and ending with WHAT. This resonated with me because as Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Wow…this was so eye-opening for me, and really sparked a desire to find out not what kind of leader I was, but get down to why I am a leader.
  • The Importance of Play- Did you know that play is essential to forming your brain? Did you also know that play doesn’t stop when you’re a young child? As someone who doesn’t have a strong Early Childhood background, this discussion was so informative. We watched this amazing video all about the science behind play, a TED Talk by Stuart Brown called “Play is More Than Fun”. I learned that play is vital for problem solving, and those who are play-deprived are actually at a disadvantage compared to their peers. I was surprised to hear that the opposite of play is depression! I cannot wait to re-watch the video and unpack it even more.

As you can tell, we had a lot of learning packed into our three days together! I am excited to dig in and expound upon what I learned, and begin to share this learning with my staff!

Conferences that Nudge Writers Forward- SOL #17

SOLS button 2013

Here’s yet another post where I share what I learned from “The Art of Teaching Literacy” workshop in Hong Kong. This session was presented by Matt Glover and it was called “Conferences that Nudge Writers Forward.” Matt Glover is an author and presenter who focuses primarily on teaching our youngest writers, grades preschool to first grade, how to write. If you missed the other posts, you can check them out here and here.

– “Conferences are in the moment teaching.” ~Matt Glover

-Nudge vs. Push

  • It’s your job to find out what they can already do to determine the next small step.
  • A nudge is something they can do that is within their zone of proximal development.

-Writing Conference Structure

  • Research– ask questions to figure out what you need to teach, this is where you decide what the student needs, allows you to differentiate
  • Name Strength– identify what they are doing well as a writer
  • Decide on ONE Teaching Point
    • You many see many things that the writer needs to improve upon, but it’s important to narrow it down to just one teaching point.
    • Choose between a focus on composition or conventions, not both.
    • Teach
      • “What can I teach you that will help you down the road?”
      • Teaching means I’m going to show you how to do something that you don’t know how to do.
      • Don’t confuse reminders, telling, or correcting with teaching.
      • Tools to have with you during your conferences:
        • Mentor texts (picture books mainly)
        • Your own writing
        • Another child’s writing
        • Matt carries around mentor texts and notes in a folder to make it easier to confer.

-Conference Viewing Form: A form to use when observing a conference or watching a video of a conference.

  • Conference length- suggested time 5-7 min, increase efficiency
  • Research- Look at types of questions asked (open-ended, filler, shifting ownership, positive presupposition, questions I already know the answer to), how many questions
  • Strengths- identify and name students’ strengths
  • Decisions- teach to their strengths or areas of need
  • Teaching Point
    • Generating a teaching point
    • Narrowing down to a teaching point
    • Sticking to a teaching point
    • Generate both composition and conventions teaching points
    • Which mentor texts to use and why
    • Do I teach to the minilesson or something else?
    • Invitational or directional teaching point?
    • Tone, language, and word choice in a conference

– Conference Tips:

  • Say “book” not “story” because when you call their writing a “story” you are implying that they are writing a story when they may be writing an informational text, list book, etc.
  • Need more time to decide on a teaching point? It’s helpful to slow down the conference by asking more questions to figure out more information.
  • Use writing samples and videos to improve skills at conferring.
  • Conferring notes should include:
    • Name/Date
    • Strengths
    • Teaching point
    • Next steps
    • Take notes AFTER the conference so the kids aren’t distracted during the conference.
    • You’ll never know if your teaching point was the best one to teach or not. You only have once chance to teach. Then you can reflect and get better next time. So don’t beat yourself up about it.

-Book recommendation- Sit Down and Teach Up by Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover- an ebook that contains videos of 15 conferences with preschool, kindergarten, and first grade students as well as notes, charts, and explanations of their thinking. You can purchase it on iBooks or download a PDF version from Heinemann’s website.

I love learning from Matt Glover. Even though he makes conferring seem effortless, when he’s presenting, he slows down the process for us, revealing his thoughts and reasoning behind the choices he made. If you haven’t read his work, you should definitely check it out! Engaging Young Writers and Already Ready (co-written with Katie Wood Ray) are great reads for teachers of young writers. And if you ever get the chance to see him present, jump at the opportunity! You will not be disappointed!


Matt and I at the conference. I was a little starstruck! 

Inquiry-Based Learning: Content Vs. Coverage- SOL #14

SOLS button 2013

Here’s another installment of sharing from “The Art of Teaching Literacy” workshop in Hong Kong. I attended one of Stephanie Harvey’s sessions entitled “Inquiry-Based Learning: Content Vs. Coverage” and learned quite a bit! As a literacy coach at a PYP school, I think a lot about teaching through inquiry, especially teaching reading and writing through inquiry. Here are my notes from the session.

Comprehension is Core!

  • Students need strategies for comprehension in order to inquire.
  • Students need to learn how to collaborate in order to inquire.
  • Students are born thinkers. They come to us already doing it.
  • We need to teach them ABOUT their thinking.
  • We want to know what the text makes them think about, rather than just have them retell the story.
  • Live a curious life- keep a wonder/research notebook to model inquiry
  • One question leads to another and another…inquiry is never-ending
  • “About 75% of reading for EAL learners should be nonfiction.” Stephanie Harvey
    • We teach kids:
      • to be aware of their thinking
      • to think strategically and above all…
      • to recognize the power of their thinking- they have power to do a lot; don’t marginalize their thinking
      • to have a sense of agency- read Choice Words & Opening Minds by Peter Johnston- Stephanie says these are great reads!
      • learning is a consequence of thinking
      • that we use comprehension strategies so we can acquire and use knowledge
      • that we can turn information into knowledge by thinking about it
      • Information in—> then thinking—> and out comes knowledge! Without thinking, it’s information in, information out. Empower them to realize they have to do the thinking on their own in order to gain knowledge; gives sense of agency.
        • “Today’s new knowledge is tomorrow’s background knowledge.”
        • Use a common language about literacy and strategies.
        • Comprehension is at the CORE!- use inquiry in ALL subject areas, not just language arts
        • “The more worksheets the kids fill out, the lower the students achieve.” Zero studies link worksheets to high achievement! They require no thinking and they don’t allow for differentiation.
        • Alternatives: Think Sheets, graphic organizers, diagrams, post its; there should be nothing there until kids work on it. Kids are working out their thinking when they do this type of work. You know what they’ve learned and what they haven’t when you’ve read their Think Sheets, so it’s an authentic assessment.


Inquiry Circles in Primary Grades: Kids Want to Know!

  • Collaboration- research says you should have 3-5 students per collaboration group (3 up to 1st, 4-5 in 2nd and up), 6 is too many
  • “Wisdom begins in wonder.” ~Socrates
  • Inquiry should permeate the day, not be in just a few projects.
  • Inquiry Circles in Action by Harvey & Daniels- Great Book!
  • Powerful Learning by Linda Darling-Hammond- highly recommended by Stephanie
  • Why is the Sky Blue? By Sally Grindley & Susan Varley- great book to teach kids about inquiry
  • Stephanie likes books that have a title as a question.


Inquiry Approach Vs. Coverage Approach:

  • Cover- synonym is “bury”
  • Schools should fit kids, not the other way around.
  • Inquiry circles- don’t require kids to be on the same level, unlike Literature Circles

Small Group Inquiry Model– not linear, cyclical, can go between phases

  • Immerse- Flood them with texts, maps, online sources, images, DVDs, etc on topic.
  • Investigate- Begin to have enough information to ask good questions. You can’t ask a good question about something you don’t know about.
  • Coalesce- Pull together information to synthesize and address what you’ve learned.
  • Go Public- Presenting information

Four Types of Inquiry Circles:

  • Mini-Inquiry– takes a student question to investigate a student’s question; Rationale- authentic, relevant, answers questions fast, teaches research process, prepares students for more in depth inquiry, engaging, honor students’ thinking
  • Curriculum Inquiry– linked to subject or Unit of Inquiry
  • Literature Circle Inquiry– takes a regular literature circle, and then the students ask questions about the books, and then those morph into mini-inquiry circles
  • Open Inquiry– kids studying something they are fascinated in that doesn’t have anything to do with what they’re learning; if you only do it once/year, do it early in the year; research and reading standards can be taught easily


Inquiry in Pre-K/Kindergarten:

  • All about images (large photo calendars offer one of the best opportunities to find great images; use last year’s calendars for cheap)
  • Students ask questions about images
  • Collaborative-model how to work together/how not to work together
  • Give prompts to inquire
  • Responding to images by drawing and writing
  • Confer to find out what they wonder and think
  • Differentiate through responses and text levels, not the instruction
  • Don’t answer questions, always have them turn and talk first
  • Art is synergistic!
    • Highly engaged in art in class
    • Not just in art
    • Teachers don’t do it, they facilitate students’ work
    • Use the content to learn how to inquire, research, and answer questions
    • Essential questions are transferrable
    • It naturally reoccurs creating opportunities to transfer to other situations and subjects
    • Provokes deep thought, lively discussion, new understanding
    • Sparks meaningful connections


Four Phases of Inquiry:

  • Immersion– Learners construct knowledge as they go; Visual word walls help students make connections and gain understanding with the words’ meanings (use google images)
  • Investigate– When we learn something new, our thinking changes; Our questions lead to a line of thinking.
  • Coalesce– Response- “I learned, I wonder, Wow!”; Use literature to synthesize ideas; Begin to infer the big ideas
  • Take Public– Demonstrate understanding; Come to care about the subject; Share with others; Put learning into action; Audience interacts by writing new learning and questions based on their classmates’ presentations

Thinking and Curiosity Matter- SOL #13

SOLS button 2013


Three weeks ago I attended a truly inspirational workshop, The Art of Teaching Literacy, in Hong Kong. I had the privilege of learning from greats in the field of literacy such as Stephanie Harvey, Matt Glover, Sara Holbrook, and Michael Salinger. There was so much learning packed into two short day. Now that I’m back at work, trying some of the strategies out, and reflecting on all I’ve learned, I thought it was time to share some of my learning. Today’s post will focus on what I learned during Stephanie Harvey’s keynote entitled “Passion and Wonder Are Contagious: Why Thinking and Curiosity Matter in the 21st Century.”

  • Buzz words- 21st century skills, college-readiness, career-readiness
  • We are currently going through the fastest change in history.
  • Did you know…Google began in 1994? Facebook is only 5 years old? Twitter is only 28 months old? ‘Friend’ is a verb in the dictionary (2010)? ‘Unfriend’ is too (2012)?
  • We, as educators, have no idea what careers there will be in the future. We are preparing our students for careers that haven’t been invented yet.
  • For future careers, we know students that will have to be thoughtful, strategic, wonder/be curious, and work together/collaborate, so we need to prepare children for this.
  • STEM- science, technology, engineering, math; STEM is the area most careers in the future will be centered around.
  • Small group work- should comprise 70% of the day; Large group- 30% of the day
  • Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google says, “Teaching will be learning how to ask the right questions. I was taught to memorize facts. Why remember them? Now you just need to learn how to search for information and sort through the burgeoning data available on computers.”
  • Eric Schmidt also says, “Instantaneous access really changes your life. What never changes is the need for curiosity. What you really need to do is teach people to be curious.”
  • Kids are naturally curious in kindergarten, but by fifth they aren’t. Conventional schooling drives curiosity out of them.
  • The more you learn, the more you wonder, therefore, you should have more questions in fifth and twelfth grades than you did when you were younger.
  • “I have no special talent. I’m only passionately curious.” ~Albert Einstein
  • We really need to be having lots of fun with our kids. The most direct link to learning is engagement, thus fun.
  • Inquiry-based learning is learning in a way that the kids’ questions matter.
  • “Interaction is at the core of engagement.” ~Harvey and Goudvis
  • Students need to constantly turn and talk; kids shouldn’t have to listen for more than 5 minutes without stopping to process and talk.
  • How do you foster and nurture curiosity in your kids’ learning and get them to ask more and more questions? (examples: post questions up around the room, wonder wall, provocations)
  • We need to live a curious life ourselves! How can we do that?
    • Model
    • Ask questions
    • Care about finding the answers (online, books, interviews)
    • Be awake to new information and revise thinking in light of new evidence
    • Confer with others
    • Construct meaning through drawing and writing (notebooks)
    • Be skeptical
  • “The questions a student asks after reading a text are a better assessment than the questions that a student can answer about a text.” ~P. David Pearson
  • Always ask “What are you still wondering?” because this allows you to gather loads of information from their questions.
  • Kids need plenty of time to just plain read! Why is it that the kids who need the most time to read get the least? We OVER-instruct them! We pull them for this or that and don’t let them just read. Every child who is a year behind needs twice as much reading as on-grade level kids. Give them class time to read. Make sure to give kids what they want to read to ignite their passion.
  • Four principles of reading achievement and learning:
    • Volume– the more kids read the better they read (texts they can and want to read; “she reads, therefore she’s smart”)
    • Response– the more kids interact, the more they learn and understand (authentic response, talking about books, taking action, writing a letter)
    • Explicit Instruction– kids need both teacher modeling and time to practice (they don’t need phonics instruction if they can read, they need time to read; modeling and giving them time to practice, it’s different than direct instruction)
    • Purpose– readers must see reading as a meaningful experience (avid readers already have an intrinsic purpose; we need to help our reluctant readers with finding a purpose, focusing on their interests)

Stephanie ended her keynote with, “Smart is not something you are, smart is something you get. And you get smart by reading, writing, drawing, talking, listening and investigating.” I believe it is imperative that we offer our students opportunities everyday to inquire, collaborate, read, write, use technology, speak, listen, experiment, play, ask questions, find the answers, and have fun. Stephanie is such a phenomenal person to learn from; she is incredibly passionate about what she does and it is evident that she truly loves children and wants them to succeed. I hope that you learned a little something today. Please leave any questions you may have in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to clarify them for you.

Procrastination- SOL #3

SOLS button 2013


Procrastination isn’t early,
it’s last minute at best.
It avoids,
finding anything
and everything
else to do,
instead of the task at hand.
It won’t earn you brownie points,
put your mind at ease,
or show the world you’re prepared.
It is lazy.
It is selfish.
It feels rushed.
It can give you anxiety
and make you pull out your hair.
It is frantic
as the deadline approaches.
Procrastination doesn’t
get you out of your work,
it just prolongs
the inevitable.

Why, oh why, do I procrastinate? I have a mountain of work staring me in the face, taunting me, daring me to begin. I know what I need to do. I’m capable of the work. In fact, I want to do it. I want to feel the sense of accomplishment. I want to feel the weight lifted. So why do I avoid it? Is it because I need my downtime? Is it because I’m lazy? Is it because I enjoy the pressure and somehow get a kick out of always managing to ‘get it all done’ just in the knick of time? I’m not quite sure. One thing I know for sure is…I can’t procrastinate any longer. Monday morning will be here soon and I have work to do!

***The poem above is a format I learned from Michael Salinger and Sara Holbrook at “The Art of Teaching Literacy” workshop in Hong Kong last weekend. It’s called a definition poem, and it can be used in all subject areas to have students really gain an understanding of a word. They gave us a graphic organizer template to plan out the poem. First, you brainstorm everything the word is, does, would, can, look like and everything the word isn’t, doesn’t, wouldn’t, can’t, doesn’t look like. Then you can use those phrases to shape your poem. This is my first attempt at a definition poem. While it’s not my best work, I love the idea and plan to use it again. I think it would be especially useful for those abstract vocabulary words that you can’t quite put your finger on such as hope, love, freedom, equality, and doubt.


A picture of the template Michael and Sara showed us.

Percentage Poem- SOL #1

SOLS button 2013

I attended “The Art of Teaching Literacy” workshop last weekend in Hong Kong and I was lucky enough to learn from some amazingly talented educators and writers- Stephanie Harvey, Matt Glover, Michael Salinger, and Sara Holbrook. There was so much learning packed into these two short days; I wish I could have soaked up their words of wisdom for a week. One thing I particularly loved was Michael and Sara’s presentation on poetry use in the classroom. Sara’s percentage poem was just too cute that I had to try my own today.

7% silly
10% sweet
8% shopping
4% neat
6% brunch
4% enthusiastic
2% glasses
9.8% sarcastic
12% reader
15% traveling
5% laughter
2.2% unraveling
3% secrets
1% fighter
3% caring
8% writer
And that adds up to,
can’t you see?
The total is
100% me!