Classroom Writing

The Notebook Investment

It is not uncommon for a teacher to ask me about notebooks. It is not uncommon for me to squirm under the pressure of that question. Why? Well, notebooks take investment and time, and if there is one thing I know about teachers, it’s that they’re already invested and time is something they’ve been searching for since they started this profession.

However, notebooks have changed the heartbeat of my classroom. They’ve given me something to fall back on as evidence of student growth; they’ve given me ways to form flexible groups around specific writing needs; they’ve given me a place to connect one-on-one with every student I’ve taught— no one gets missed.

Here are some musts for the notebooks in my classroom. They aren’t the musts for your classroom, you’ll have to make those up for yourself and change them as you go. Hopefully this list will give you some ideas as you start working with notebooks or help you think of a way you can change your list (mine changes every year).

  1. Everyone must use a composition book. I learned quickly that in order for me to bring them home and read them, I had to have them all the same size so they fit in my bag nicely (Plus the spiral bound ones tend to rip).
  2. Write every school day. The kids will write, if you give them the time.
  3. Each new day, must have a date. It doesn’t mean they can’t continue writing from yesterday, it just means you know where they ended and started. It helps me keep track of how much writing is actually happening in Writer’s Workshop and helps me to help them build stamina.
  4. Model for them. You have to show them in mini-lessons what skill you’re looking for. Then when you collect the journals, you know what to look for in their writing.
  5. Only revisions on the left. Perhaps one of my favorite rules, this lets me know if kids are revising, because that work will be done on the left. It also encourages them to leave the original work on the right. I can now trace their thinking and give feedback. Or get on them if they’re not revising ☺
  6. Read them. Everyone has to read the journals. The kids with their writing partners who offer feedback and leave it in their journals. You can read them alone and write feedback at the end, OR have the student read it to you in a conference and offer feedback.
  7. Follow up. If you gave feedback, if partners gave feedback, writers need to be held accountable for the change OR for the “Why I don’t need to change” argument.
  8. Don’t always tell them what to write in there. In order for them to feel ownership, they need to decide. Usually when kids say to me, “I don’t know what to write today.” I respond with, “Oh cool! You get to try a generating strategy first, which wall chart are you going to use?” Generally, they respond with an eye roll and then get started.
  9. Treat the notebook like gold. Make a big deal when a notebook is lost. Make a big deal when someone disrespects a notebook (throws it on the ground, reads someone else’s without being invited). Make a big deal when all the pages are filled with words. The more you model this, the more the kids will understand that notebooks are important.
  10. Put down your red/purple/whatever color pen your using. Be human. These kids are writing amazing stories of growing up; you’ll miss them if you’re always looking for correct comma patterns. Every child is doing something right in their writing, notice it, tell them, and celebrate the writer in front of you.

I’m sure I have more rules. I’m sure I could share more. But honestly, I learned the most about notebooks by diving in, flailing my arms a little, and then investing deep into the writing lives of my students.

Happy Writing Everyone!

Classroom Reading Writing

An Open Letter To My Students:

Dear Readers, I forgot to share this letter with you. It was meant for my students, and while they have read it, I feel it is important to share with you too, because you have become part of this journey. Thank you for joining along with me this year or for as long as you have been reading. Thank you for your comments and constant hits on the site, even when I lag in posting. Enjoy!



An Open Letter To My Students:

On the first day of school, the look on your faces when I told you to read five books by the end of September was priceless. And then when I told you, to write for twenty minutes a day on top of that, the fear in your eyes almost made me back down. But at seven years into teaching, I’ve learned not to trust your eyes, at least not in moments like that.

However, the truth is I wasn’t sure if you could do it. I mean my fancy teacher books, blogs, and workshops had said that you could, but I wasn’t sure. It seemed like an insane amount of reading and writing. Even when I asked my Mom about it, she thought I was crazy (and my mom, well she’s my teacher expert hero). And so what you might not have heard in the mist of your fear was the trepidation in my voice— and maybe that has been our journey. Fear.

Maybe what you don’t know about me is that I love safety. There is nothing more comforting than knowing an outcome before a task has begun. In my past, if I didn’t know the outcome, I simply would have found a different way. The risk of failing, the risk of getting hurt or worse being laughed at, has always been too great.

Yet for some reason this year, the fear felt like less of a “stop right there” and more of an “I dare you to try”.

I was at a crossroad in my career passion and you gave me your hands, your pencils, and your trust. At night, sometimes I would wake up panicked, wondering if I had a lesson that would engage you, wondering if I was giving the right amount of feedback, wondering if I was still the teacher you needed me to be.

Then came you. You guys took what I gave you, and brought it to the next level. You exceeded my expectations academically, forcing me to raise the bar again and again. But that wasn’t all; you got excited and started dreaming too. Soon your dreams and ‘what ifs’ became our new curriculum. I wasn’t alone at all; I had 75 people planning with me, giving feedback, dreaming bigger.

I need to thank you for pushing your fears aside. I need to thank you for giving me the freedom to teach you as individuals. I need to thank you for allowing me to fail and for dreaming with me again.

After 180 days together, these are the messages I hope we both take home: When life hands you a healthy dose of fear and you’re not sure you can go on, know that sometimes when fear whispers it’s less a place to stop and more of a dare to press on. When your plans fail, when something doesn’t work, and everything falls to pieces— keep dreaming, keep chasing after . . .  there is a supercar just around the corner.

In closing, I believe children’s book author A.A. Milne has said it the best, “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together . . . there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Sincerely your teacher, mentor, coach, editor, hairdresser, stain remover, relationship advice giver, DJ,  fearless dreamer,


Miss Smith


Classroom Writing


It all started with test prep. I mean, I dread test prep; I value its importance, but I dread test prep. So with persuasive writing test prep, the easiest and maybe one of the most important things I do with my kids is to have them write to a prompt, because really, I don’t give them writing prompts all year, so this practice is important.

Somewhere between test prep and moments of testing anxiety only a teacher can understand, came McLaren.

I know nothing about cars. But, I can definitely pick out a cool car. So what would be cooler than persuading the McLaren MP4-12C to come see us at school? Well, if it actually worked, nothing would be cooler than that. In fact I think it would make test prep authentic, which is really the reason I hate test prep in the first place, the lack of authenticity in the process.

When we started writing our persuasive letters to McLaren and our Principal, I was all about the details— that is providing valid persuasive techniques, putting the thesis statement in the right place, a genuine rebuttal that actually helped the paper. Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I realized their reasoning had persuaded me too, learning about this car was one of the most educational things we could do for them and if I could make it happen, I would try.

Before I knew it, the science teacher was involved doing materials science labs and talking about the strength of a carbon fiber body. Then the kids were building their own rubber band powered racecars, and it was happening, it was actually happening.

Our math teacher brought the whole project to a new level, planning out McLaren math and getting the kids to figure out Drag Speed Coefficients and things I do not understand at all. He was even e-mailing the Chief Engineer over at McLaren England; I mean really. And so what had started as a really painful test prep lesson became a community building, learning experience, across three curricular areas— oh and one really amazing day with The McLaren MP4-12C!





During this project, I saw my kids do things that really really really impressed me and tugged at my heartstrings.

  1. They struggled and didn’t give up: Each subject area really raised the bar with this one, we all expected things out of them we were not sure they had the ability to do. We all watched them fail; we all watched them try again, more than once.
  2. The helped each other: Without me suggesting it, without thinking that if they helped one team they might not win a prize, they selflessly shared tips with their core group of friends and people they rarely talked to. They really wanted everyone to succeed.
  3. They smiled: I see them smile everyday, but this project had some really excited smiles from kids who sometimes struggle to find a reason to smile (See screams of joy when Chad turned on the car stereo and played Taylor Swift for them and gasps of awe as Matt opened and shut the car door).

Then again during this project, I saw adults do things that really really really impressed me and tugged at my heartstrings.

  1. Jon, Donna, Jen & I worked together as a team: We each changed lesson plans, we each conducted research above and beyond, we were flexible and supported each other in the way coworkers should.
  2. All the people at McLaren Philadelphia and McLaren helping us and making us feel like family, answering our questions along the way, and being excited for us: They didn’t have to, they weren’t making a profit for this, they valued us when we had nothing we could give them in return.
  3. Chad, Alison, and Matt giving up their day to be with us: They stayed way longer than expected; they brought gifts for the kids; they answered countless questions. They got sunburn!
  4. Evan, typically a star in our classroom, came in to help us build cars, take photos, and make sure I stayed sane at the end of the day.
  5. Gerald Catagnus, our principal, who saw the value in our plan and welcomed McLaren into our school.

A Footnote:

This past summer, I attended Columbia University’s Reading and Writing Project Summer Institute. I remember one class I took with Colleen Cruz, author of Reaching Struggling Writers. Maybe what I remember the most, without looking at my notes, is that if you draw on something kids already think is fun, and then apply writing to it, they’ll be more likely to give you their best work.

Generally speaking, I thought I was pretty good at doing just that. However, it was in this class that I realized I may have been missing some pretty valuable teaching tools. Sports. Video Games. Hunting. Cars. Anything, that I might have previously labeled utterly and totally ummm boring boy?

I made my mind up this summer, that I would open my mind. I would try harder with a topic that my kid’s love, even if the very thought of the topic would be utterly vapid for me.

But in the end, this project, this undertaking, was anything but vapid. In fact it sits high on my teacher shelf of things I loved teaching, loved learning about, and I still can barely believe this all happened to us.


**There was a press release for this day, hence the kid pic love I’m totally able to post. If you love style of these photos, email me at [email protected] , and I can set you up with our amazing photographer Evan.


Classroom Reading Writing


When you’re a good teacher, sometimes you have to do nothing. I mean it probably looks like nothing, but sometimes when you’ve given them the tools, you’ve got to let them use them. Alone. No hand holding. No answering questions. And I’m so pretending not to see that one kid that’s struggling right now, cause it’s his fight and the best way for me to help him is to give him space.

It’s a fickle chemistry this knowing when to step in and knowing when to let them struggle. My first instinct is to always have a conference going on, always be moving around the room, but there are times when you just shouldn’t, when you should let them be with their book or their journal and let them journey the way you do.

The best part of my job is showing kids the journey, not the one that happens sitting in a school desk, the one that happens on the floor with your journal, when you shut out the world and figure out that who you are exactly isn’t who you thought you were. Cause I’ve been lost in a journal or a book and somehow in all that lostness, I’ve found myself, and maybe my job is more about helping these kids find themselves than anything else?

Classroom Writing

Guest Blogger—Lynn Balmer: The Power of Words

When my coworker, Lynn, sent me this piece of writing, I knew I had to share it with you. She is truly ahappyteacher, but this morning she was also ahappywriter.  Nothing makes me happier than passionate people, passionate people writing—they’re my BFFs.

Anyway, she wrote this as a model for her students, to show effective organization. I’m pretty sure it also shows effective voice, style, and everything good writing should be. I love Lynn for sharing like this with her kids; I love Lynn for sharing this with me; I’m sure you’ll love her too. . . .

“The Power of Words”

            I wasn’t the prettiest, smartest, or most popular person in my class.  But like any normal kid, I wanted to get attention from my peers and teachers.  Fortunately, I found a way that was positive: humor.  And no where did that humor come out more than through my writing.  I evolved as a writer from the kindergartner who gripped a pencil tightly with her tongue sticking out as she carefully formed each letter to the  teacher who still hunts and pecks as she types a mentor text for her eighth grade students.

Picture this:  a five year old with a bad hair cut from her grandfather (it was a way for a single income family to save a few bucks) and pink cat eye classes (hey, it was 1963; I was stylin’).  Eager to start school and impress the teacher, I proudly printed my first name at the top of my paper.  L  nn.  Miss McGregor walked by, glancing at my paper as I smiled up at her, despite the stern look she gave me (as the year progressed, those stern looks turned into vicious slaps meant to stifle my chattiness and humorous remarks which I never raised my hand for).   She made no comment, but later that day I got to take a note home to my mom.  My school career had just started; what did I know about notes home from the teacher.  Later that night, my mom informed me that she couldn’t practice my letters and name with me anymore.  The teacher said I wasn’t making my letters correctly, specifically the “y”, and the school had a particular way that they wanted to teach students how to write.  These were different times from today, a time when both students and parents deferred to teachers’ wisdom (and discipline), so my mom dutifully allowed the school to teach me how to write letters properly.  And while writing is much more than knowing how to write your name, my earliest memories of writing are about writing my name, my identity, backwards “Y” and all.  Fortunately, Mrs. McGregor did not smack the joy of learning out of me, nor did she quell my witty remarks, which amused the class.  I loved elementary school, especially reading and writing which came quite easily to me, and I readily accepted the role as class clown.

My writing flourished, however, when I hit middle and high school.  By now I was experimenting with the actual spelling of my name, ranging from the typical “Lyn” or “Lynne” to the more unique “Lyne” which was short-lived because people began calling me “Line”.  But the real power of writing for me came with the status it gave me as a funny person, a natural born storyteller.  Quite a few teaches allowed us to perform skits to show our knowledge, whether it was reenacting Columbus’s discovery of America in social studies or creating a different ending to a novel we’d read in English class.  And here is where I finally got to shine.  I was the writer of the script.  Naturally, I had a star role in the production too, and no matter how serious the topic, I always managed to work some humor into it.  At that time I didn’t own a type writer, but I didn’t mind filling sheet after sheet with blue ball point pen, crossing out a word here to put in a more precise one, inserting a comma there, and sometimes even ripping up the whole paper to start over.  Like most adolescents, I was painfully aware of my appearance (my stylin’ pink eye glasses now replaced by the much more hip octagon wire frames of the 70’s) and while I was limited in my ability to perfect my appearance, I was empowered with the written word, which I used to express myself and to entertain others.

By now I realized that my status in school was someone who was smart, but not too smart, and funny.  While I never ran with the most popular people, I was accepted by them because I could make them laugh.  In 11th and 12th grades I had the same English teacher, Mrs. Watkins, and under her tutelage I created literary analyses, research papers, and my personal favorite: narratives.  Stories about me and my life experiences which I could embellish and make funny.  What’s more, she let me read them aloud to the class (I always volunteered), and I can still picture it:  me at a desk with the chair attached which was in the very front of the room, the blackboard behind me with Mrs. Watkin’s perfect handwriting conveying profound words of wisdom, and the whole classes’ eyes on me as I read my story.  Not that I wanted anyone looking at me too closely back then (I never felt like I had quite the right look or clothes or hair and by now my eyes were so bad that no matter what kind of cool glasses I tried on, by the time my prescription was put into them, I looked like I was wearing the classic geek Coke bottles, definitely not a way to get a boyfriend). However, the real draw of the classes’ focus on me was the power of my written words on an audience.  Maybe Richard wasn’t going to go to the Homecoming dance with me (my fantasy), but I could make him laugh, and that kind of attention drove me to write more and more.  Poetry (most of it really bad) and letters to friends when I went off to college (long before email and texting), and eventually lesson plans as a student teacher for 7th grade English.

Because now writing was not just a way for me to be the center of attention as I made people laugh.  It was something I was good at, whether I wrote to entertain, inform, or persuade.  I chose a career to teach others how to read and write because I loved doing both these things so much, that I wanted to inspire others to love them too (or at least appreciate what the written word has to offer).  And so here I sit, hunting and pecking on my keyboard, writing a mentor text for my 8th grade students, feeling the power of the written words as they seem to almost magically appear on the page (wearing both contacts and funky reading glasses now that my myopic eyes are middle aged).   When I share this written piece with them, in hopes of inspiring them to think about how they have progressed, evolved, and grown in their own lives, I also hope that they appreciate the power of the written word.  And maybe even laugh a few times.

Classroom Reading Writing

Rigor, Detroit, & Evan

This story was written last year, and never posted. It’s strange how things get away from me sometimes. I can’t believe I’ve never shared this story on ahappyteacher; it’s one of my favorite teacher things I’ve done yet. So before I begin to try and tell you about this year’s project, I’m taking you back to last year and letting you read about . . .

Evan. It’s hard to even begin to describe this Detroit native, or why I think it’s so vitally important that you know him. But, it is.

This fall my students fell in love with Evan and Detroit. The whole thing felt sort of magical. I was running around in my backyard with sparklers on the 4th of July when I discovered my greatest lesson plan yet. I am an eighth grade language arts teacher in Pennsylvania, and when you meet your new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to Robert Paterson (Edward, from Twilight), you instantly start dreaming up ways to keep this kid in your life and use him to inspire the young, vampire obsessed teens in your classroom. What I did not know that night was just how much Evan, the young Cullen look-a-like, would change my teaching practice and my classroom.

After one look at his new house, it was apparent that Evan was not from around here. His house is one of the coolest I have seen in West Chester, with little pieces of Detroit hidden throughout it. A picture of Michigan Central Station resides on his kitchen wall next to a framed picture with the word Detroit artfully scribed upon it. On his end table sits a copy of Detroit Home. Ask Evan about Detroit, and you are sure to hear about it for quite some time. If ever a boy loved his hometown, I have certainly found him.

Remembering a Time magazine article about Detroit I had read the previous fall, I asked Evan if he would help my students to connect with the text by providing short video segments about his life and Detroit. This fall a section of my students were dubbed “Detroit” and our lessons began.

At first, the kids found the article, which was above their reading level, difficult to read and the history confusing. They didn’t understand why Detroit mattered. Enter Evan and his first video entitled, “Why I Love Detroit.” My students giggled as he referred to Coney dogs and the ability to get a Greek salad with little olives at the local gas station. They connected with him as he told them of how neither of our football teams, Philly nor Detroit, have ever won a Super bowl. They listened, surprised, as Evan told them of the musical greats that have come from his city.

Now understanding that Detroit mattered to Evan, my students began the research process. Together we learned about the history of Detroit and in turn the history of our nation. My students grew to love and even defend Detroit. They searched for more information online, and when we were stuck, we turned to Evan. We once spent an entire class looking at pictures of the Heidelberg Project. We watched YouTube videos about the city and read online articles and blogs written by true Detroiters. There were timelines charted, concept maps constructed, and comparisons drawn. We listened to their music, took in their art, and salivated over their local cuisine. Our little class had fallen for a city much bigger than ourselves.

As our project drew to a close, so a chapter was perhaps (okay so we made this up, but they’ll never know) closing for Evan too. The students were informed that Evan was faced with the decision of whether to move back to Detroit or to stay here in West Chester, PA. Each student was asked to write a persuasive letter; it became so much more. I realized how much my fourteen-year-olds loved Evan and Detroit. They wanted Evan to stay, because he is part of their lives and has had such success here. They also wanted Evan to return to Detroit– the city he so loved– because they recognized the heart of a true Detroiter: passionate, creative, and motivated. Though they loved Evan dearly, some did choose to send him home to be a part of a city that is “redefining cool.”

When I assign a writing project to eighth graders the first question out of their mouths is, “How long does it have to be?” This time it was, “I can’t pick,” and “Can he do both?” It mattered. They discussed; they read more; they even made movies of questions for Evan to watch. At the end of the week, I collected the best work I have ever seen eighth graders write, some topping four pages in length, and all supported with facts from a variety of sources. The passion with which these students were invested blew me away and brought tears to my eyes.

It was at this point that I truly began to reflect on the process. My kids gained more knowledge than I ever dreamed they would have of Detroit. We had not merely skimmed the surface instructionally; we had gone into the deep waters of comprehension. I had given the students the gift of Evan, someone who would love and celebrate them. Someone who would never dream of grading them or telling them they could or couldn’t go to the bathroom. Evan who would read their papers and write a response to them as though they were long lost friends, not a teacher checking for proper grammar or focus in writing. By letting go a little bit, I had given my students the three R’s I hear so much in the teaching field: Relationship, Relevance, and Rigor. It made all the difference.

In the end, Evan is not moving back to Detroit, but certainly a small part of Detroit has moved into Room 302, and we couldn’t be happier.

Evan teaches the boys how to add voice in their writing.

Classroom Writing

little teacher moments

This week I experienced quite a few moments that made my teacher heart smile, and rather than forget them in the busyness that can sometimes overtake me, I’ve decided to catalog a few for you in today’s blog post.

I read a student journal where the student chose to reflect on the strategies I’d been teaching in class. First he defined them with an example, which was enough to thrill me; I mean he could have picked any topic Xbox, basketball, whatever, but he went for writing strategies. Then I read the line that reminded me why I love my job, “I then began to think about how I can use this in my story.” Oh how I love when they share their thinking so freely and when they begin to revise with purpose.

It started raining on Friday, really hard. If you’re a teacher you’ve probably thought many times about how to deal with weather. I mean if it’s raining hard outside, every kid in your room will probably think that’s more entertaining than whatever you’re presenting. For me, sometimes I embrace the weather, and sometimes I close the blinds. Friday I chose to embrace it, and I was sitting with a table full of boys talking about rain stories and this one time at camp. Suddenly, a boy at the table interrupted my story, “I don’t mean to be rude Miss Smith, but I’ve got a rain story too, could you pause for a second so I could jot down my idea in my writer’s notebook? I don’t want to forget it.” That’s a writer, one who stops a conversation to remember.

I was moving around the room during writing time, when I noticed a boy writing seed ideas. I was curious; I haven’t taught them in awhile, and his looked shorter than normal so I sat down. I sat down and inquired what he was doing. His reply went something like this, “Well I was looking at an old generating list, and I liked a few stories so I decided to try out a few short sections of each one to see which one I like the best, that one I’ll write long. We’re allowed to do that right?” Actually that’s exactly what I want them to do, I just wasn’t sure anyone would remember it.

I overheard a writing conference where the writer said, “I’m working on details.”

His writing partner looked at him and said, “What do you mean?”

“Details like being specific?”

And again the writing partner, “I don’t understand what part do you want to be specific in? Characters? Setting?”

“I’m not sure, everything?”

“That’s too hard, let’s read your piece together and focus on one thing that’s important to your story.”

Asking about goals, being specific with goals, and accomplishing goals, that’s what we’re all about.

That was just the beginning of my writers coming out of their shells this week. I had kids begging me to spend more time revising, and others finding punctuation in their independent reading books that they could model in their writing. I’m starting to feel at home with these kids. I love their talk. I love their thinking. I can’t wait to see how we’ll grow as writers this year.

Classroom Writing


Backing things up a bit, I wanted to share with you a planning strategy we used in our journals before lifting the text to regular paper. I didn’t think the strategy was blog worthy (or maybe I just didn’t have the time), but now that I’ve had the chance to read through most of their journals, I can see it had power.

I often teach making timelines as a planning strategy when working with Small Moment True Stories. A timeline is exactly what you think, a series of events in the order you will write them. The difference is I usually have my kids make at least three for the same story. I do this because I want them to recognize that a story might be more powerful if it started an hour earlier or maybe even right in the action itself. They’re the authors so in the end they do the picking, but I do force them to make timelines.

In making these timelines students are looking at:

  • Which approach best tells the story?
  • Which approach best conveys why this story is important to tell?
  • Which approach is unique or follows a mentor author?

After making the timelines some students had to shift text around, others had to add on, and some simply decided to keep their story as they had written it. All completely fine options in my book, as long as the thinking was there. And after looking at their journals, I’m thinking it was . . .

Here’s an example of three different timelines that I found in H’s journal . . . they kinda’ read like a poem don’t they?

Getting ready for game

Warming up for the game

Getting starting lineups


I start at mid-field

Snowing, raining, 40 degrees out

Playing my guts out

Can’t feel my hands or legs


After playing for 60 minutes we lose

2-1 was the score

Sweat and cold air

Thought to myself maybe next year

I will never stop playing soccer

Classroom Writing


Today we went for the first big move, or lift as I’m calling it. My kids took their first idea out of their notebooks and onto drafting paper.  I love this part of the process; where they have generated thousands of ideas and tried out a few seeds of stories in their playground (err notebook), and now they’re ready to test out their story to see if it will stick (and it will . . . because I’m teaching them to revise . . . lots).

I can’t wait to teach them revision. There is something about watching a writer struggle with their own paragraph, sentence, word, that gives me the chills. I love the decision process where a writer cuts out a whole paragraph because they’ve told you too much. Or better yet, I love hearing an author read a sentence aloud four different ways until they’ve found the perfect order for their words. Then again sometimes the removal of a word or the changing from the proper noun, Zack my boyfriend, to just the measly pronoun him when you break up — oh the power my young writers have (don’t even get me started on the drama they can cause with punctuation).

I’m giving them one more day to draft this whole thing out on paper, and then I’m diving in. I’m offering up five mentor texts to them for mining of tips and strategies while we revise together together.

Mentor Texts for Small Moment True Stories:

  1. Boys, Beer, Barf, and Bonding by Bruce Hale
  2. Crow Call by Louis Lowry
  3. Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher (Chapter 2—Statue)
  4. Dead Body by Jerry Pallotta
  5. Eleven by Sandra Cisneros

Of course, I’ll be modeling with my own writing and these books— hopefully, I’ll find a break in the middle of all this and share a tip or two with you.

Classroom Reading Writing

Product of: Starbucks, Conversations, and Dreaming

Yesterday I was trying to figure out if we have been in school for two weeks or three. I’m starting to feel a sense of urgency in just about everything I do. During the summer there was Starbucks, conversation, and dreaming. Now I reflect, plan, and do, praying that a little bit of sleep makes it into the equation somewhere.

But, I feel like we are gearing up—I’m giving them the tools and structures they’re going to need for the journey this year.

  1. Lots of Reading & Post-It making
  2. A ton of Partner Talk
  3. Generating Ideas to write from

Post-Its. I’m a teacher; I love them, that comes naturally with the job. However, it wasn’t until this summer at Columbia University’s Reading Project that I understood their value for my students. I’m modeling strategies for responding to text in ten-minute mini-lessons and then watching the kids use that strategy on Post-Its in their Independent Reading book. It’s a beautiful thing to see their thinking sticking out on brightly colored notes between the pages of a book.

Partner Talk. I was pretty good about remembering partner talk last year with writing. I understand the importance of talk within the writing process, but this year I added reading partners to the mix. Now, my kids are talking purposely at least twice during the block. Once during reading; once during writing. I’m modeling this talk with my coteachers and other kids in mini-lessons, and mid-workshop interruptions. Sure, I’m hearing off topic talking. Sure, this is taking up valuable time. But, I’m thinking, give me another week or two and everyone will know my expectations for both reading and writing partners—from that point, these partner talk relationships will become invaluable to my instruction.

Generating. It’s weird to say I teach my kids to think up their own ideas. It’s even weird to me that they can’t just do it on their own. I mean they have facebook; they like to post. But, in response to their cries of, “What should I write about today?” I’ve learned the importance of teaching them to generate their own ideas. I try to give them about one generating strategy a week in the beginning of the year to get them going with ideas. Then later in the year, if they come to me with the awful, “What should I write about today?” question, I can simply point them to my wall charts and move on with a smile.

It’s the end of week two, it’s the product of: Starbucks, conversations, and dreaming.