Thursday, December 3, 2015

Classroom Libraries

As your classroom library grows it is a good idea to have a section of books clearly labeled with levels to help our students find just-right books.  Originally, I thought tubs of leveled books were just for our K-2 classrooms, but after working with our TCRWP Staff Developer, Alicia Luick,  at Mary Farmar Elementary this Fall, my thinking has changed. While the genre & favorite authors are still great tubs to have available, it is also important to also have some books in tubs marked by levels. These can be organized by level bands (see below). Students who continue to read books that aren't at their just-right level can more easily be directed to books that are right for them if the levels are clearly marked.

Other classroom library tips that our staff developer shared with us: 
  • 3rd - 5th grade students can get involved with organizing & categorizing the books. If students are involved with setting up the library, there will be more ownership and pride in keeping the library organized.
  • Keep your library fresh by keeping some books tucked away to add throughout the year. 
  • The levels of books should match the readers in your room. 

Text complexity Bands:
  • JKLM (Poppleton → Magic Treehouse)
    • Books are episodic, one story with an arc
    • Chapters that are connected - hold information across chapters
    • synthesis and determining importance
    • teach story structure
    • 3 syllable words
    • content-specific vocabulary
  • NOPQ (Amber Brown)
    • Ambivalent characters
    • Settings are “everyday” places
    • Multiple problems
    • Stay focused on main story arc (subplots can be confusing)
    • word phrases instead of just hard words
    • academic language to describe characters
  • RST (Winn Dixie, Terabithia)
    • Setting is profound and influential to the story
  • UVW (Number the Stars, Walk Two Moons)
    • Flashbacks and flashforwards
    • Symbolism

Check out these great examples of BUSD libraries that are clearly organized (Thanks Brian & Hale):

3rd Grade

5th Grade

Here are some additional resources from my Summer Institute 2014 leveled library session for K-2.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Lucy Calkins Town-Hall Style Meeting

I was so fortunate to be part of a small group of literacy leaders who gathered at the Contra Costa County Office of Education to hear Lucy Calkins speak about the implementation of the Reading & Writing Project's Units of Study (UoS) for Teaching Reading and Writing. Here are my notes and take-aways:

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Lucy has an incredible "thought per word" ratio!

Lucy opened by gushing about the Pope’s visit - saying his visit makes her feel guilty about being exhausted from her "west coast tour". Back on the East Coast, she provides staff development to one school in her hometown in Connecticut while still maintaining a full course load at Columbia Teacher’s College.

When talking about the publishing of her new grade-specific Units of Study for Reading, Lucy likened the experience to that of sending your child off to kindergarten. Think about what you would say to the teacher, “She is really special...take good care of her.” The units are really special...

Lucy is a Michael Fullan fan, “as any initiative unfolds, be sure that leaders have passion, initiative has purpose, and there is intrinsic motivation in the people - if there is a failure to do so, the initiative is sure to fail”.

Lucy's message today to the group of leaders before her is that the UoS are not just a program for the teaching of writing. The units are meant to rekindle professionalism. They ask principals to demonstrate lessons while teachers watch and this can utterly change the learning culture across a school. The units will lift the level of learning in schools, especially when we are in such a panic due to SBAC accountability. It is so very important that we create safe and joyous learning environments for our kids and staff.

She urged us to build capacity over time. Tony Bryk, from Carnegie, says that when attempting large scale change, think about whether you have the public will and pockets of capacity - if not, you probably need to see reform as a several year plan - inviting early innovators to do the work first.

The goal is full implementation. We are never going to get to CCSS standards if we don’t have an approach in which one grade builds upon the one before. Just think if math had no sequence, if we allowed teachers to have personal choice in the math skills that they taught each year. Some teachers say that they teach writing across curriculum. This is code for: "I don’t teach writing.”

It is time for kids to learn to write. It is exciting that San Diego, Oakland, and Texas are rolling out district-wide implementation of UoS. For success of these large scale implementations you must involve your leaders. Involve principals and invite them to learn along-side teachers. Teachers need to feel safe as learners and the people with the most power in the building - the principals - need to be public learners. In a good school, everyone’s learning curve is sky high, relationships are collaborative, teachers are in and out of each other’s classrooms, students are embraced as “our kids”, and teachers share tools.

Grade level protocol for learning together:  Have a team spend an hour of class time together studying the delivery of a mini-lesson. Here is how it might go: Principal teaches mini-lesson to 
Class A (teachers have prepared lesson), teachers give principal critical feedback, principal embraces feedback. Then team moves to the next class and Teacher B teaches the same lesson, everyone gives feedback. Choose a lens: i.e., watching for engagement - notice how teacher uses: whisper voice - standing up, etc. to engage students. Then Teacher C teaches the same lesson in next class.

Lucy is inspired by Brene Brown's Ted Talk. Brown, author of Daring Greatly, has a philosophy that most of us "armor up" against vulnerability. We think of vulnerability as a weakness. Think about a time when you were learning the most or you were trying something new - when you were being vulnerable. You were out growing yourself. Vulnerability is the cradle of all that we yearn for in life. If you want teachers to be learners, leaders need to learn along-side of them and allow themselves to be vulnerable.

UoS for Writing: A Marriage Between Assessment and Curriculum

Lucy led us through the following interactive example of teaching points from an Informational unit:

Do this in your mind - plan to write/teach something that you know a lot about.Think about if you were going to teach a course about something. What would it be? (Doesn’t have to be educational - - i.e., cooking or hosting a dinner party)

How would your syllabus go? You would probably plan a series of classes. What will be the topic of your first class? What are you going to teach?  Now use your fingers (best graphic organizer) to list the topics of your class.This will become the table of contents in your book. It is important to have a logical structure - sequential or some other logical structure. It could be that part 1 and part 2 of your book use different structures.

The next thing to consider is that you need chapters to be somewhat equal in size. Now imagine you are going to write one of your chapters. In the first chapter you will give a sense of how the book will go. You can’t do this until it is really clear in your mind, so you might not start with the first chapter. Before you write, are you taking a minute to think about how you are going to structure this chapter? You will need to have a logical structure. Structure is huge. The other critical thing is information. You will want lots of thoughts per word. Plan to give quotes, examples, anecdotes, and strategies. Then look at it later, brick it out to be sure you included examples, quotes, information and ideas about the topic. Lucy explained that through this activity she had just summarized the 3rd grade Informational Writing Unit.

She went on to say how important it is for principals to look at student work. Does student work reflect the Teaching Points and anchor charts? Does evidence of teaching come through in the work? Another key point is the importance of teachers giving kids feedback. Through Hattie’s research we have learned more about the incredible value of feedback. People don’t just get better by doing something. Writing, writing, writing - just doing it longer isn't enough. While there is an improvement curve at beginning when you focus on increasing the amount of time spent doing something, teachers need to give really clear and precise feedback. The feedback should be ambitious but still within the reach/grasp of the learner. Then watch to see if the learner improves.

The kids need a horizon and the teacher needs to know what it takes to get to the next level. Look at 4th grade writing checklist. The checklists help teachers give specific, precise feedback. Lucy showed us the Illustrated Writing Grade-Level Checklists (available in on-line resources). Everyone loves the writing checklists. They provide clear goals and one year builds upon the last. When students begin the year, expect them to perform at their prior grade-level or even lower.

Leaders have to find the balance between supporting, mandating, and celebrating because the UoS will only work if the teachers use the curriculum. If the units stay on the shelf, they won’t work so well. Principals could say, "This year, I’m just going to mandate that you teach two units at the same time as your colleagues over 5-6 weeks. I will provide you with support to ensure your success."

Some teachers have tried to cherry pick ideas from the units to include with their other writing resources (Step Up to Writing, Cafe, etc.) Lucy says we would never look at architectural plans for a building and pick and choose the parts to follow. The power of the UoS is actually in the design of the unit. The lessons progress through a teach - build - remind - extend sequence. Teachers should plan to teach a session in a day (there will be a session or two that takes 2 days). For example, over the progression of a 3rd grade unit kids write three books during the 5-6 week unit. If instead, the unit is taught over 15 weeks the amount of student work has been watered down. The kids learn through their work and the volume of their writing. In a 5th grade classroom you would expect to see 2 1/2 pages written per day. Ultimately what matters is the kids' volume of writing.

Pause for Q & A

How can we best use the UoS in a 44 minute block in the middle school schedule?  

Middle school teachers will have to shave the lesson. Look at a mini lesson to see what parts are critical and what parts are optional. Cross out the "connection", do the "teach". Can cut down the practice, move "link" into the "active engagement". Lucy calls these micro lessons.

Do these units meet the standards? 

Lucy wrote Pathways to the Common Core and knows the standards really well. "We have nailed the standards and we know SBAC really well too."

Lucy thinks the Middle School Writing UoS are kind of perfect. Luckily, middle school teachers majored in English and it is a blessing that they are highly literate and are writers. Usually the type of support that middle school teachers need is with methods like small group instruction and conferring. Most middle school teachers aren’t used to doing this type of work with students. Lucy suggests that middle school teachers plan a month on writing and then a month on reading. 

K-5 UoS for Reading

Business as usual isn’t going to work - just look at the SBAC scores. Lucy believes that the CCSS curriculum that many states wrote will drive people away from reading. There is no way the kids are going to do better if they hate reading. Today only half of one percent of adults read the newspaper and only 20% of kids who graduate high school say they will read a book voluntarily.  We haven't done well with bringing up a generation or readers.

It is important for kids of read up a storm. Kids need choice and to read books that they can read. You have money and 40 years of data to show you that core, basal reading programs don’t work - buy books instead! (K-2: Kaeden, Rigby; K-5 Booksource) It is vital to have classroom libraries.

It is also important to have simple, predictable structure in workshop lessons. Each lesson begins with explicit instruction in the skills and strategies students need.

Lucy's comments on specific grade-level units:

3rd Grade Nonfiction Unit: Students read to figure out boxes & bullets. We need to teach students how to find the structure, how the text goes or it becomes just like trivial pursuit. Students need to put their pencils down while reading. Copying notes is not intellectual work - that is Xerox work. We don't want kids recopying nonfiction text. Instead, teach them to read a big chunk and when they get to end of chunk, look back over it, find the main idea and details.

Helping students progress up the ladder to 5th grade text complexity is similar to when you are getting good at video games. You have to go to the harder levels and play the hard parts in order to get strategies for how to deal with the hard parts. It helps to notice how they are hard and get strategies.

Pause for Q & A

What suggestions do you have to help 4th grade teachers in California modify the American Revolution Reading Unit? 

As with any of the units, you can keep the teaching points in place and change the text and articles to reflect a different topic. It will just take time to look for new examples in different text. For example, after a third grade teacher teaches the first unit of study with Stone Fox, the next year she might choose to use Charlotte's Web as the read aloud for that unit. Also, TCRWP is in the process of adding additional text suggestions to the digital resources.

Some teachers are finding the Reading Learning Progressions to be too advanced for many students. Do you have any suggestions?

The reading progressions and grade-level assessments are aligned to CCSS. We don’t give you a bum steer even though I do disagree with some things about CCSS. (ex. Because kids' reading levels were a year behind when graduating from high school wasn't cause to raise the text complexity level so much at the elementary level. We already had 3rd graders failing with our old reading expectations. What will it mean to two-thirds of our nations' 3rd graders to be told that they are a failure?)

With that said, we do think the SBAC is a pretty good test. Connecticut students are doing well on the SBAC and they are teaching the UoS. Although, we do see the need to add a literature essay unit in 5th grade and argument lessons to 4th grade.

The theme learning progression is closely aligned to the SBAC test. The point is with these tools and with this instruction, students will make huge growth. Expect kids to be a grade-level below at the beginning of the year. Don’t make this for assessment only - make it for learning. The learning progression is a tool to accelerate learning. Show students how they can revise their work to make it better.

Lucy ended by acknowledging that the new standards are ambitious goals. As leaders we need to create a safe place for teachers to outgrow themselves, have high levels of expectation, and provide high levels of support in order to create opportunities for this exciting work!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

2015 TCRWP Reading Institute: Lucy's Keynote


After another amazing week at TCRWP's Summer Reading Institute, my mind is on fire with new learning. I'll post the highlights over the next few weeks as I reflect on the "big ideas" that I captured in my notebook and discussed over dinner with my BUSD colleagues. Our first morning began in the beautiful Riverside Church. The pews bustled with educators excited and energized about the week ahead. Lucy began her keynote by emphasizing how fortunate we were to be participating in the institute: "We received over 8,000 applications from all over the world and 1,300 of you are here today. Welcome."

Lucy's call to action: "You need to teach 25 colleagues what you learn here, become a leader of school reform in reading, and lead through influence and resolve. Rally your colleagues. Dream that your school can become a most intensely alive learning community, a place where adults, as well as kids, learn. The important thing to think about each day is not what did you teach, but (rather), what did you learn today? Did you know that the American Library Association asked 12th-grade students who were ready to graduate if they planned to read a book voluntarily - and 80% said, "No." These are students who know how to read, but are choosing not to. (Our challenge) - How do we bring up a generation of kids who read?"

Learning in 2015:  "Knowledge is doubling every thirteen months making it more important than ever to be able to read to learn. Tony Wagner's work brings to our attention the fact that teachers used to bring knowledge to the uninformed, while now we can Google information faster than we can retrieve information from our long term memory. The role of the teacher has changed to one of helping kids to access, organize, synthesize, analyze and apply knowledge. Today's standards reflect this change. None of us can opt out of the conditions that have given rise to these standards."

This work is not for the 'chickens': "We need to democratize this high-level instruction, ensuring it is available for all kids, not just the honors students. It is up to us to pull this off. When you are on fire with the teaching of reading, things will change. It will require vulnerability and openness to outgrow yourself as a teacher of reading. Brene Brown's Daring Greatly and Ted Talk speak of the importance of moving from a culture of blame & shame to one that values risk, the possibility of innovation and learning. David Rock worked with TCRWP and discussed the consequences of a fear-based culture: when you are afraid, you are less likely to be intuitive. You are literally stupid, and you have the tendency to "armor up", or disengage. 71% of Americans are disengaged from their jobs. Brene Brown says that the problem with our protecting ourselves from feeling vulnerable (translates) to protecting ourselves from connectedness, authenticity, and deep engagement. We owe it to our kids to be fully present, "all in" in the work of teaching reading & writing well. You must be a lead learner in your school. Fail early, fail often - embrace the F word. If you are not failing, you are not aiming high enough."

New Reading Units of Study:  "Today is their birthday (applause). I hope that you will join study groups to help each other get to know these units. Participate in the reading work we are asking our kids to do - read, pause & think, wonder, question. The TCRWP staff meets every Thursday in study groups. I encourage you to lead a group at your school on a topic where you feel vulnerable. Leadership from a position of vulnerability can be exquisite. You will be dazzled by the learning you will gain from your colleagues. When you are in a study group as a listener, your brain is really fired up. You will find experts in your school. You will explore topics and get to the best practices that your school believes in. Open up your classrooms to showcase this learning. This is the moment to rally your colleagues around the goal of creating a learning community that is open to risk-taking, vulnerability, authenticity, wholeheartedness, and deep connections. Create a contagious energy for learning."

"What lessons about teaching reading have you learned from your life experiences? Go out and be star-gazers, rock hounds, and trailblazers. You will get metaphors and messages to bring to your teaching. That little light of yours needs to shine, to learn about learning, to be open and vulnerable. Know what it feels like to be 'on fire'. Take that light and pass it on. Let it shine all the time."


Friday, June 26, 2015

Literacy Instruction Needs to Be Assessment Based

Running Records

Lucy recommends starting to take running records after the first three weeks of school. Looking at last year's data will help you know where to begin with each student. The Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Kit & TCRWP Running Records are two good resources.

Remember to assess until the student struggles with decoding or comprehension in order to diagnose and make a plan for the reader. Students at lower levels of text complexity will move up the levels quickly, while on-level 3rd - 5th grade students will move up approximately three levels per year. Expect deeper comprehension from students reading at higher levels of text complexity (symbolism, inferential & interpretive thinking).

Informal, on-the-fly running records taken from a student's independent reading book are also very informative. Here is a great in-book assessment tool from TCRWP, but taking notes on any slip of paper will also suffice. 

Writing About Reading Assessments

Here is a TCRWP sample comprehension assessment that asks the student to stop and jot their thinking at pre-determined points. (Teachers can also ask students to stop & jot during a read-aloud book.) When reviewing the student work from this type of assessment, Lucy recommends putting the work in piles from"crappy to amazing".  This will give you a mini-continuum and help you plan small group work and individual conferences.

Reading Logs

Analyze logs to plan conferring tips and small group work (i.e., choosing a just-right book, reading rate, etc.).


"To accelerate reading development, it is important that the learner has a crystal clear understanding of what 'better' is," says Calkins.

1.  Research, Decide, Compliment, Teach
Research: (0-2 minutes) "Show me the work you've been doing. Walk me through your notebook."
Decide: Learning progression is a great tool for this step.
Compliment: (0-1 minute) "One thing about you as a reader that is so fantastic is ..."
Teach: "Today I want to teach you _(skill)____. One way we do this is by __strategy)___."

Leave the student with a note to remind them of what you taught them. The next time you confer with the student, have them show you evidence of their understanding of the teaching point.

2.  Coaching Conference: Give quick prompts focused on a .goal (fluency: "Show me how you can read this and sound like you are talking.")

Click here for my notes from one of my favorite resources, Conferring with Readers,  by Jennifer Serravallho.

Want more assessment tips? Check out this great resource:

Teaching Reading in Small Groups, Serravallho Ch 2 Assessment

Kids Need Time to Talk About Books

"It Takes Two to Read a Book"

Here are my notes from TCRWP 2014 Summer Institute related to Accountable Talk:

Reading Partners: Start partnerships early in the year. Partners should be  matched in ability. Strong partner talk sets the foundation for book clubs.

Partners can read the same book or different books and then swap books. (Lucy suggests having struggling reading partners read the same book.) Build time in during workshop, possibly a mid-workshop interruption, for partners to talk about their books. This will change the ways the students read. They will often think, "I can't wait to tell my partner about this." Students will write notes on post-its to share with their partner during talk time. You will want your students to demonstrate strong partner talk before you move them into book clubs.

Charts from:

Partners can...

All of this great partner work will prepare you students for upcoming group work. You may want to to put two sets of compatible partners together to form a book club.

I now realize that book clubs should be a new post  - so look forward to more to come...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kids Need Explicit Instruction in the Process and Skills of Proficient Reading

Reading is Thinking

Skills & Strategies That are Important to Reading:

* stamina            *fluency            *monitoring for sense              *visualizing            *using prior knowledge

*prediction          *empathy          *growing theories about characters                      *inference     

*connections within a text            *text-text connections            *determining importance

*using text structures                   *synthesis                               *summary               *interpretation


 Minilesson Tips

Keep it simple & predictable. Remember to keep minilessons to 10 -12 minutes, or else they will become maxi-lessons!

It is very helpful to have a meeting area for explicit instruction. Also, a document camera is helpful to enlarge shared text during the lesson.

** Try to embed future teaching points (TP) into your read-aloud, you can also frame TP out of your life experiences.

At TCRWP one night's homework was to plan out each part of a minilesson. This was a great assignment. I really understood each minilesson component after planning a lesson starting with a teaching point. Here are the parts:

Architecture of a Minilesson

Connection: Name the work that students have been doing and how this lesson will fit into their lives as readers. (We've been working on ...., Something I've noticed... )

Teaching/Modeling: Tell the student what they are going to learn, name the skill and/ strategy, create charts to reinforce your teaching.
This is a "wake up call" to the students :  Name it, Unpack it, Demonstrate
(Today I want to teach you..., When I read..., Watch me as I..., Did you notice how I... Now I'm going to show you how... )
  • Demonstration
  • Guided Practice
  • Explanation with Example
  • Inquiry

Active Engagement:   (Now, it's your turn....) Students try it, often times with a shared text. Teacher observes.

Link:  The new teaching point/skills and strategies become tools in the students's tool boxes. (Whenever you read , remember..   Today and everyday.....  Off  you go...) 

Mid Workshop Interruption: (Tuck in another teaching point)

Share: Teacher chooses a way for students to share their thinking - can be at reading spot or back at meeting area.

Here is a link to a TCRWP Minilesson video clip.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Teachers Need to Read-aloud Everyday


Read-aloud time happens outside of reading workshop time. Suggested timing is 20-30 minutes a day with three of the days including planned accountable talk time (more on that later). 


Before teaching a skill or strategy in a minilesson, work with it during read-aloud first. Teachers are guiding students through text - making the invisible process of reading visible for students.While a minilesson focuses on one specific strategy, the read-aloud can be used to model multiple strategies.

It is important to spend time planning the read-aloud lesson. Teachers should first read the book that they will be teaching and note places to stop for think aloud or discussion. Here are some codes that can be used to mark read-aloud moves:

TA -     Think Aloud: the teacher models their thinking
TT -     Turn & Talk
SJ -      Stop & Jot: students quick write in notebooks or post it. If using a post its, these can be collected                  for assessment data.
SS -      Stop & Sketch
SAO -  Stop & Add On: students could discuss or write what the characters could be thinking (inference)
SAO -  Stop & Act Out: role play a portion of the story

Teachers can model different ways to respond to the story on post-it notes and share this with the students.


Read-aloud happens in the gathering space with students sitting next to their read-aloud partner. These partnerships are formed by the teacher (after the first few weeks of school) and students are assigned to be partner A and partner B for management purposes.

We watched a video of Kathleen Tolan teaching a read-aloud lesson with The Giving Tree. (Click here & scroll down to 4th video.)
 Here are some of the prompts we noticed Kathleen using in her lesson:
  • Hmm, (eyes closed) I'm picturing...
  • I want you to take a moment to picture... turn & talk about what you are picturing and what does it let you know?
  • I'm thinking about what just happened and how it fits with the title...

Book Choice

Usually a unit of study has one read-aloud book/novel that weaves throughout the unit. The idea is that teachers can refer back to sections from the read-aloud as a common text during workshop minilessons. There are also many lists available online that share great choices for Read Aloud lessons. Here is one from TCRWP.

It was also recommended to spend time reading aloud books from a series that your struggling readers will be independently reading in order to give those books more credibility (coolness factor, blessing of the teacher magic).