Using Google Forms for Student Writing Conferences


You are crouched down next to one of your students.  You have already asked the probing questions to help you figure out what that writer is working on.  On the spot, you quickly decided on one teaching point that would help that student move along the literacy continuum.  You worked with her, modeling and demonstrating until she felt comfortable enough to try it on her own.  You whispered, “Now, off you go!  Remember to keep up this important work!”   You stand up, elated.  You have just completed the best conference of your career!

Now what?  You look around your classroom at 29 other writers who need that same kind of support.  How will you remember what just happened?  How will you keep track of that work?

One of the most challenging aspects of conferring with students is how to keep track of your assessment and teaching.  Classroom time is valuable and if we are using that time to confer, we want to make sure that it is as productive as possible!  

Why do we take notes on conferring?  For many reasons…

  • To keep track of student growth
  • To keep track of your teaching points with students
  • To set goals with students
  • To refer to when lesson planning for whole or small group

Note-taking is very personal.  Everyone has a specific way to take notes that is meaningful to them.   You must decide on an organizational strategy that will work best for you.  Some teachers prefer pencil and paper notes kept in a notebook or a binder.  Others prefer keeping notes digitally.  In a previous post, I wrote about how to use Evernote as one digital option.  This post will discuss how to keep notes with Google Forms.

Google Forms

Google Forms is free, very easy to use, and can give you summary data as well as individual data.  When setting up your form, you will want to consider what your goals might be.  You can choose based on the unit, or you can make it more generic for overall writing goals.  

One of the great things about using Google Forms for conference notes is that you can have a list of things that you are looking for as you work with your writers.  This can help you focus your instruction.  And again, this list can change as your unit changes and as your goal for students change!  


To create a form like this one you need to sign up for a Google account.  To do that, you just go to and click Sign In, which is located in the top, right hand corner.  From there, you can click on Create Account and follow those directions.



Once you have a Google account, you can use all of the free Google apps, such as Docs, Presentation, Sheets and Forms.  

If you would like to see a step by step guide on how to create a Google Form for conferencing, here is a short video on how I did it.




After I email myself the form, I can open it up on my phone or my iPad and click the icon for Add to Homescreen as shown in the picture below.  Once it’s on your homescreen, your form will be very accessible to use and reuse as you work your way around the room during conferences.



Analyzing the Data

Google forms makes it easy to see how your students did as a whole group – which is very helpful for strategy groups and lesson planning.  To do that, you can simply click on “Responses” at the top of the form.  It will give you some nice bar graphs so you can see visually what your writers are doing.

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But, it can also be used to keep track of how your students did individually!  To do this, you can click on the Individual option on the Summary of Responses page.  These can even be printed off and put in a binder if you wanted a hard copy!


Google apps can be very helpful when trying to organize notes for your conferences.  And there are many ways you can set this up!  These were only a few examples.  Let us know how you record student conference notes in the comments below!


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


August 15, 2016

Here are some of the great titles I have read in the past few weeks.   To see all of my #IMWAYR posts, you can click here.  

Children’s Lit


This month, I decided to highlight some books that were chosen for the 2016 Global Read Aloud project.  The Global Read Aloud project was developed by teacher, author and blogger Pernille Ripp.  The idea is that teachers or parents read these books aloud to their students and then share their thoughts, questions and ideas with others who have also read the book.  It’s a way to virtually connect with other teachers, students and classrooms across the country and around the world.  This year’s Global Read Aloud project will take place from Oct 3 – Nov 11.  To find out how to sign up and for more information you can visit the Global Read Aloud page.

There are different categories of books you can choose from depending on the ages of your students.  To see the entire list of books, click here.  This week, I will be highlighting some of the Picture Book selections centered around the work of author and illustrator Lauren Castillo.  


This sweet story is about a boy who goes to visit his Nana in New York City.  At first, he is afraid of all the hustle and bustle.  Even Nana’s apartment rumbles and shakes when the train goes by.  The boy does not feel like the city is a good place for him or his Nana!  But that night, Nana knits him a superhero cape to wear around as they visit all the “extraordinary places” there are to see.  They go to Central Park and Times Square; they see street dancers and dog walkers; and all the while, the boy feels very brave in his cape.  When it is time for the boy to leave, he leaves his Nana the cape so she can feel brave too and he realizes that the city is a great place to be!

In this story, Lucy and her family spend a fantastic day at the beach, digging holes, running in the waves, rolling down the dunes.  When it was time to go, everyone yawned – they were so sleepy.  That evening, Mom yawned and fell asleep as she read to Lucy.  Lucy went to get her stuffed animals and they were all  tired too.  She decided to take them into bed with her as well.  After everyone is settled, Lucy and all her stuffed animals yawned, her family in the pictures yawned, even the moon yawned before Lucy fell into a contented sleep.
yard sale

This is a sad story about a family going through financial difficulties.  They have to move into a smaller apartment and so must sell their belongings that won’t fit into their new space.  They hold a Yard Sale and many people show up.  It is very difficult for Callie to watch all her things get sold, especially her headboard that she scribbled tally marks on to count all the times she read Goodnight Moon, and her red bike with training wheels.  Her neighbor and friend Sara, offers to let Callie move in with their family.  But Callie knows that she would miss her family too much.  When a customer tells Callie that she is so cute and asks how much she costs, Callie gets very upset and runs to her mom and dad.  They assure her that they would never sell her.  Callie realizes that it is not the things you own, but the people you live with that makes a home.    

Nothing makes Sierra happy like soccer.  She loves kicking the ball and running down the field.  But soccer also makes her sad because all her games end up on Saturdays, which is a day that her auntie can’t come to watch her.  She’s very busy at work.  Sierra really wants someone to be there and cheer her on, someone who knows her and loves her.  She gathers up her courage and talks to her coach about it.  At first, it doesn’t look like it’s going to work.  But in the end, her auntie is able to make it and Sierra is thrilled.  Happy Like Soccer isn’t on the list for Global Read Aloud, but is a good one for the open choice in Week 7.   We were introduced to this book by our wonderful staff developer, Emily DeLiddo and many of our teachers use it for read aloud.


Professional Read


This book is based off the research from John Hattie’s original Visible Learning, which looked at over 800 meta-analyses focusing on achievement.  This book organizes the research into sections around teaching:  Preparing the Lesson, Starting the Lesson, The Flow of the Lesson, Feedback and the End of the Lesson.  It also discusses the 8 Mindframes that teachers have to possess in order to obtain the highest levels of achievement.  These 8 Mindframes are my favorite thing about this book and something that we are beginning to explore more with the teachers in our district.  

These 8 Mindframes are:

  • My fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of my teaching on students’ learning and achievement.
  • The success and failure of my students’ learning is about what I do or don’t do. I am a change agent.
  • I want to talk more about learning than teaching.
  • Assessment is about my impact.
  • I teach through dialogue not monologue.
  • I enjoy the challenge and never retreat to “doing my best”.
  • It’s my role to develop positive relationships in class and staffrooms.
  • I inform all about the language of learning.

The research in this book is important for educators to know and understand when talking about and making decisions about how to raise achievement for students.

Fun Read


This book is about a writer who gets very ill and has to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time.  The doctors cannot figure out what is wrong with her.  Her husband does not like hospitals, and so does not show up often in the book.  He stays home with their two daughters and takes care of them.  Lucy’s mother, whom she has not seen in years, comes to stay for a week and does not leave her bedside.  It is through this visit that Lucy gets to know her mom by revisiting  her painful  past and it is then she begins to make peace with it.  This book was longlisted by the Man Booker committee for 2016.  I always look to this list for book suggestions and this book didn’t disappoint.

Join Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to share the reading you have done. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR community has read – it’s a great way to discover what to read next!

7 Ways to Ramp Up Your Student Writing Conferences


My son Ryan and I recently went to get some frozen yogurt one evening.  It never ceases to amaze me how much that boy can put away.  I stood in awe as I watched him prepare his dish – chocolate yogurt topped with marshmallow sauce, cotton candy bits, sour gummy worms and kiwi to top it all off.  He dug right in, never once considering that all those flavors might not mix well.  I watched in disbelief as he finished the entire bowl.

On the way home, Ryan turned to me and said, “My stomach kind of hurts.”


Sometimes more is NOT better.

The same is true in teaching.  Each year, we start off with grand plans for how we will ramp up our workshops to do more, accomplish more, and reach more students.  If you’re anything like me, this doesn’t always turn out well.  Often I would get overwhelmed and sometimes just give up and default to teaching the same way I always did.

I called this post 7 Ways to Ramp Up Your Student Conferences.  But I should have called it Choose 1 of These 7 Ways..  Sometimes, less is more.  Any one of these things can help make you more confident as you work on improving your student writing conferences.  And as always, the most important thing is to try something, reflect, and revise.


Make a List:  Make a list of the things you know students struggle with based on past experience.   Do students have trouble coming up with ideas?  Do they lack stamina in writing?  Do they have trouble organizing their pieces?  Do they forget simple grammar and punctuation?   Knowing what students may struggle with can help you plan ahead and give you confidence in what direction you could go with your teaching.  


Become an Expert Researcher:  Your conferences will go much better if you know what you are looking for ahead of time.  One way to do this is to read some of the student work before actually meeting with them in a conference.  Each day, have a different group of students leave their writing folders or notebooks out before they leave for lunch, or before they go home for the day.  Walk around and quickly skim their work.  Getting an idea of how their work is progressing will help you when you go to meet with them in a conference.  Another great researching tool is to ask teachers from a grade level or two above you to share some of the best writing in each genre.  What writing moves are these older students making?  Knowing where students will need to go can help you focus instruction for the better writers in your class.  Finally, make sure to ask students what they are working on as writers during your conference.  If they already have a self-directed focus, you can help them by showing them how to continue to lift the level of work in that area.  Allowing them to choose area of focus increases the likelihood that they will work on the skill you are teaching.

Be Prepared with Mentor Texts:   If you know where your students will struggle, or have some idea of what you want the students to work on, you can be ready with mentor texts for their conferences.  Mentor texts can be writing that you have done, writing other students (names removed) have done, picture books, excerpts from chapter books, articles, etc.  The key is to keep in mind the areas that you know you will address often in conferences as you read anything and then to hold onto it.  You can use post its to mark the places in the text that you want to show so that it is easily accessible for students.  Do you want to show them how a non-fiction text can be organized?  Grab your writing notebook and post-it a page where you did that kind of writing.  Do you want to show them how a writer uses details?  Grab your favorite read aloud and post it the page where a writer showed instead of told.  You can color code your post-its to make it easier to find.  Blue post-its for organization.  Pink post-its for elaboration.  Yellow post-its for conventions.  You can also write on the post-it what you want to point out on that page.  Keep your mentor texts together in a basket so they are easily accessible to you.  Having mentor texts available will make the teaching go more smoothly and can really help focus your instruction.

Work on Your Compliments:  Recently, our district was lucky enough to have Jerry Maiara come and talk to us about feedback in writing.  Jerry worked with the Teachers College Reading and Writing project for years and is now the curriculum director at a private school in New York.  Jerry talked about “Compliments 2.0” in our workshop with him.  Sometimes, we give vague compliments – “You’re doing a great job!” or simple compliments, “I like how you used paragraphs.”  He told of a time when he conferring and when he went to compliment the student, the student rolled his eyes at him.  Jerry said that students pick up on the fact that we say the same things over and over, or give each student the same or similar compliment.  When we do that, the compliment doesn’t mean much.  Jerry encouraged our teachers to kick it up a notch and really notice what the student is doing well.  And then not only say “I like how you’re doing that,”  but also add why.  For example, “I like how you are organizing your thoughts into paragraphs.  It really makes it easier for the reader to understand the big ideas of your writing.”  Giving compliments like this encourages students to continue the positive writing behaviors.


Teaching Points – Focus on Strengths:     I always considered that the compliment and the teaching point were so different.  The compliment was supposed to be something they were doing well as writers; the teaching point was something they needed to work on.  But then I realized that by focusing on strengths, students feel good about the progress they are making and are more willing to continue the work in that area.  Using the example from above, “I like how you are organizing your thoughts into paragraphs for beginning, middle and end.  It really makes it easier for the reader to understand how your story will progress.” You can build on that strength by asking the student to take the next step.  “Now, can I show you another way that helps your reader understand how dialogue is progressing?  You can use paragraphs each time a different character speaks. Let me show you.”  Sometimes, the thing that you want them to work on is something they aren’t doing well at all.  But everyone has a starting place and is achieving is some way.  If a student uses very few periods at the end of sentences, you can still compliment them for the ending punctuation that they are using.  “I like how you are starting to use end punctuation in key spots, like you did here and here.  It makes it so much easier for the reader to follow your thoughts.  Can I show you one more thing that writers do to make sure they are using enough end punctuation for readers?  Sometimes writers use Red Alarm words…”  Building on a student’s strengths rather than their weaknesses can motivate them to continue working on that area.

notebooks 1

Take Notes on Your Conferences:  As with anything in our teaching, we have to stop and first ask ourselves, What is the purpose?  What will you use the notes for?  Will you use them to plan small groups?  Will you use them to share at parent teacher conferences?  Are they just notes for you to remember what you talked about?  Knowing your purpose can help you decide what kind of notes to take.  Unfortunately, there is no one right way.  What is going to work for you will probably be different than what will work for someone else.  It will take some trial and error.  Are you a digital note-taker?  You may want to experiment with using Evernote, Google Docs or the Confer app.  Do you prefer paper notes?  You may want to try some version of the formats found here in this Google file.  Taking notes on conferences are only helpful if you will use them in some way.  Discovering your purpose for note-taking is the first and most important step in this process.


Follow Up:  One of the most important things that you can do to improve the effectiveness of your conferencing is to follow up with students.  If students know that you are going to be checking on their progress, they will be more accountable for the work.  This follow-up does not need to be another conference.  You could use the last 5 minutes of workshop, or end of the day time, to have students quickly show you how they implemented the work you talked about.  If they weren’t able to implement your teaching point, it could mean that they still don’t understand.  A small group conference might be appropriate as a next step.  Maybe they didn’t have enough time to do it – you could ask them to show you at the end of the next workshop time.  Following up with the 5-6 students you confer with each day can help ensure that the work will get done and that students are continuing to ramp up their writing skills.

Conferring is one of the most effective ways to offer individualized instruction and feedback in your writing workshop.  But it can also be the hardest and most intimidating part for teachers, too.  Trying all of these steps above would prove overwhelming.  But by focusing on one or two of them over the course of a quarter or trimester could make conferring more manageable and successful for you and your students.

Good luck!


Writing Toolkits – a DIY PD Session


As a curriculum coordinator, I plan lots of professional development for teachers.  But I have to admit, until I participated in the #cyberPD chat last week, and saw those tweets above, most of the professional development that I have coordinated or presented lately has been in the “sit and get” style.  Those tweets were a wake up call to me to help me remember that there isn’t only one way to get information.  I needed to offer teachers something better – something that would resonate with them and be useful to them.

If you have read any of the posts I have published lately, you know that I am a BIG fan of Kate and Maggie Roberts’ DIY Literacy book.  So when I was recently told that I would need to present on writing to intermediate teachers, I knew exactly what I should do – a make-it, take-it, DIY Literacy-palooza!  For all of you literacy coaches or curriculum people out there, I have included the presentation and a summary of our PD below.  

This session was about 1 ½ hours and I had about 10 teachers, grades 3-5.   Each teacher received Sketchbooks, post-its and markers as they came in.  


We started off the session by brainstorming the things that we all know our kids would struggle with in writing-issues that come up every year.  We did this so we could focus the tools we create on those topics. Teachers wrote the skills they knew they would need to focus on post-it notes and we organized them by topic.  Major topics that came up were structure, endings, adding details, stamina in reading and spelling and conventions.


We then went started talking about the first tool, the Demonstration Notebooks from the DIY Literacy book.  We watched a short video from Kate and Maggie’s blog, Indent, and walked through the steps of how to create a Demonstration notebook page.  The teachers worked together to create their own notebook pages on conventions – a topic taken from the post-it notes that we discussed in the beginning.  Some of them then went on to create a page for organization of writing.  Teachers worked together, talked together and shared what they created.  



After creating a few demonstration pages, we learned about and created some micro-progressions. (See slideshow below for more information on those tools)  Together, we created a micro-progression on writing better endings.  We used the Writing Pathways book, created by the staff at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, to help us.  I forgot to take a picture of it, but here is what the teachers came up with:



We ended the session by going over some strategies on elaboration from Rozlyn Linder’s Big Book of Details.  We talked about different ways we could share those strategies with students – demonstration notebook page, anchor chart, etc.  We had just enough time to quickly go through 5 strategies from this book. If I had to do this session again, I think I would have saved the elaboration strategies for another time.  An hour and a half isn’t long enough for all we wanted to cover and we really didn’t do the strategies in this book justice!  And because of the time crunch, I reverted back to the sit and get method for this part, which is what I was trying to avoid!

What I have learned from this experience is to remember that there are other ways to engage teachers in Professional Development.  I need to keep thinking about how I could make PD more meaningful to our staff.  Sit and get isn’t the only, or the best, way!  My goal this year is to continue to work on this.

Please let me know in the comment section below how you structure PD in your District.  What do you find most helpful?  What successful sessions have you organized/attended?  I would love to learn from you and your staff!

Here is a copy of the slideshow we used.


It’s Monday! What are you Reading?


August 1, 2016

On the first Monday of every month, I will share some of the great titles I have read over the previous month.   Here are some books I loved that I read over this summer.   To see all of my #IMWAYR posts, you can click here.  

Children’s Lit


Kate DiCamillo has always been a favorite author of mine, and Raymie Nightingale is another example of why!   It is a sad story in that each of the characters has her own set of family troubles.   But the way that Kate DiCamillo tells the stories of these girls leaves you feeling hopeful,  and the escapades of these three friends leave you laughing out loud!

One of the themes in this book is the importance of friendship.  Raymie’s mother is devastated that her husband left the family and so she isn’t much support for Raymie, who is also feeling the stress of her father leaving.  Raymie decides to take things into her own hands and win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, thinking that the publicity will bring her father back.  But she needs a skill in order to enter the contest, so she decides to learn to twirl a baton.  It is at these lessons, that she meets her two new friends, Louisiana and Beverly.  There are low points in this new friendship, where Raymie learns about the struggles of her friends and continues to deal with her own struggles.  In these times, she describes her soul as “shriveling up.”  But there are other times, when the loyalty, bravery and optimism of her new friends cause her soul to “expand and fill her up.”  She ends up realizing that winning the contest isn’t so important anymore – it’s her friends that matter.

This is a great book for upper elementary and middle school students.  They will fall in love with these three girls and learn valuable lessons in the process!

Professional Read

Whos Doing the Work

Did you ever leave work at the end of day exhausted, but notice the kids at dismissal time are revved up and ready to go?  If you have, then this book is for you!

“Whoever is doing the work is doing the learning.”  That is the premise of this book.  Good intentions often leave teachers trying to help or scaffold too much.  Students learn they can sit back and wait for the answer to be given by another student, or even the teacher.  Who’s Doing the Work, gives practical advice on how to give the work back to the students so that they can be doing the learning!  The authors give teachers prompts to use with students for every piece of reading workshop:  Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Independent Reading and Guided Reading, The chapter that spoke to me personally was the chapter on Guided Reading.  In my past guided reading lessons, I took all of the challenge out of the instructional read by scaffolding every problem kids might encounter.  Authors Burkins and Yaris suggest gentle prompting to get the students to think about what they already know that will help them navigate through the text independently.  Click here for more about that.

This is a book that I will return to.  It was definitely worth the read.

Fun Read


Earlier this year, I read Ruth Ware’s first novel, In a Dark, Dark Wood.  I loved it and was so excited to hear that she had this book coming out in July.  The Woman in Cabin 10 did not disappoint me!

I love thrillers and mysteries so this book was right up my alley.  It is about Lo Blacklock, a travel writer, who gets to go on a luxury cruise in the North Sea.  While on this cruise, she sees someone being thrown overboard and is convinced that her neighbor in Cabin 10 has gone missing.  But no one was booked to stay in Cabin 10 and all guests are accounted for.  

This book started a little slow but quickly picked up when the cruise started.  I could not put it down wondering what exactly Lo saw.  Was there someone in Cabin 10?  Did Lo really see someone thrown overboard?  Would anyone ever believe her?  If you like mysteries, I would definitely check this book out!

Join Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers to share the reading you have done. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR community has read – it’s a great way to discover what to read next!

Keeping Kids Accountable During Independent Reading – Part 2


My last post discussed a challenge  common problem in workshop classrooms – how to keep every child reading during independent reading time.  In this second post, I will look at another challenging aspect of reading time – keeping kids accountable for the thinking work.

When you are first instituting reading workshop, the scariest part is just letting kids read.  In our minds, we feel that we are letting them down in some way. What are they learning?  How can I tell?  And although we know reading is good for them, we still feel that they should be practicing strategies that would make them even better readers – and they should.  But that practice doesn’t have to be in the form of worksheets.  It can be more authentic by having kids keep track of their thinking on post its.

When I first started using post-its with my class during independent reading time, it was a free for all.  Post its were everywhere!  Kids loved using them!  They had them on almost every page and usually all over their desks.  The problem was not if they could use them, but rather that the quality was not fourth grade work.  I would have expected the same kind of thinking from a second grader with examples like…  “I predict she will win the game,”  or “This reminds me of my grandpa.”  

If we want kids to practice deep and important thinking during independent reading time, then we have to teach them how to do that.  A huge lightbulb moment for me was when I read DIY Literacy by Kate and Maggie Roberts.  (Click here to read my post on Chaps 3-4)  They talk about using micro-progressions so that students know what the expectations are for the work they are doing.  Micro-progressions give kids concrete examples on how to lift the level of their work.  

So, if you were asking students to think about how a character changes, you could show them these 3 examples from the book, Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate.


The next step would be to ask the students what differences they notice about each level of thinking.  What kind of work does each of the post its display?  


You could then ask students to compare their post-its to the micro-progression.  Working in pairs, students can set goals on how they could improve the level of their work and look for evidence of that in their future post-its.

Another way to give the students an opportunity to practice the thinking work that goes along with reading is by having them write “long and strong” about one of their post-its.  The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project have long recommended students do this to expand their thinking and get used to writing about their reading.  Students choose one post-it from the week that they feel they could write more about and then take 15-20 minutes to write as much as they can on it.  Here is an example of what that could look like.

As with anything you would ask kids to do on their own, you first need to model, model, model!  Read aloud is a great time to do this work so that you have a text all students are familiar with.  After writing like this in front of them, (click here for an example of how this lesson could look) ask them to tell you what they saw you do or what they heard you do in your think alouds.  What does good writing about character change look like?  These thoughts can go on an Anchor Chart that can then be posted for students to refer to when they do this kind of writing.

This is just one way that the anchor chart can look.  You could organize it any way you want, with whatever information you are looking for.  You could make it more general, not just about writing about character changes, or you could add in visuals for every section or paragraph.  In their book, Kate and Maggie suggest that you use illustrations and/or icons to enhance your anchor charts.  I am not there yet!  I still need to work on “embracing my inner Picasso!”  It will be my goal for 2016-2017.

There are a number of ways that you can raise the level of thinking work that students do during independent reading.  This post described only two.  The important thing about this kind of work is that it is authentic work that students do with a book of their choice and at their level.  If your students are completing thinking work like this during independent reading time, you can rest easy that it is time well spent!  

Click here to see Part I of this series on Keeping Kids Accountable during Workshop – Keep Them Reading!


Cyber PD – Week 3


Thanks to Cathy Mere, Laura Komos and Michelle Nero for this great PD opportunity!  

Reflections on DIY Literacy Chapters 5-6

Chapter 5 Big Idea:  Differentiation

This chapter is all about differentiation, and the authors are right when they say that teachers need a sustainable way to do this.  It is one of things teachers struggle with the most – and rightly so!  It is very hard to meet the needs of all learners in your classroom.  However, the tools described in these chapters could be a sustainable way for teachers to move in this direction.  

Anchor Charts:  Anchor charts can be a great way for you to give students the steps they can take to accomplish their task; it can outline strategies students can use; it can give students next steps to take.  Anchor charts can be used to support readers and writers at all levels!

Bookmarks:  Bookmarks differentiate naturally as students create their own based on the goals they have set for themselves!  Choice is powerful, and allowing students to set their own goals makes those goals more meaningful and helps ensure that students will work on them independently.

Micro-Progressions:  I think this quote sums it up: “Micro-progressions help differentiate the work of a unit because no matter where a child is on the micro-progression of that skill, they can find themselves within the range of levels and take their next step.”  (p.83)

Another important part of this chapter talked about assessment, and how to know when your students need tools like this to help them.  The authors suggest a number of things, polling your class to ask them, looking for growth in work, and looking for moments of struggle.  But I think one of the most powerful suggestions is to look for engagement.  We don’t always think of this.  If students aren’t reading or writing when they are supposed to, why is that?  What about the work is causing the student to struggle?  To space out?  To disrupt?  Is it too hard?  Too easy?  Is it the subject matter?  Do students not know how to begin?  Or do they not know next steps?  The tools described above can help students achieve, and because of that, it will naturally help the management of our workshop as well.  

Chapter 6 Big Idea:  Keeping Tools Engaging

Tools are only as effective as students use them.  If they just take up wall space, they will not help us help our students.  Kate and Maggie give suggestions on how to get kids to use the tools we create.

  • Use pop culture to your advantage:  The book quoted a statistic that an average 6th grader spent more than 7.5 hours PER DAY consuming media – songs, games, shows, social platforms.  That’s a lot of time.  Needless to say, if they are spending that much time with it, they must be interested in it!  Staying on top of social trends can be difficult because things change all the time.  But talking to our students can give us a wealth of information on what they are interested in!  Use that!  The book describes how one teacher hung a picture of Harry Styles from One Direction next to a chart with a dialogue bubble that said,”Harry says…”  Another teacher created a chart that compared revision to gaming.  (See picture below) Those kinds of charts can be meaningful to kids and can help ensure students will use the tools they need.
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  • Watch out for clutter!:  When we first moved to a workshop approach, teachers often complained about the need for more wall space.  They felt that there were too many charts and that things were getting cluttered.  Kate and Maggie had suggestions on how to help
    • Cluster the same subject charts togetherThis helps kids know where to look for help
    • Keep current unit’s charts up – make other charts accessible in other ways (small copies in folders, table charts, etc)
    • Quiz your kids on the layout – Ask students “Where would you look for a tool to help with writing?  Reading”  “What tool can help you figure out what to do when you are done?”  If kids can’t answer these, we need to re-think our organization system!
  • Allow your inner Picasso to come out!:  Tools should be visually engaging so that students will use them.  Just like your library has to showcase books, your chart has to draw the eyes of your students.  But you don’t have to be an artist to do this.  Neat handwriting, use of color and icons can help.  If you can’t draw the icons, print them out and attach them to charts later!  But don’t let your lack of artistic talent stop you!  It’s the information on the charts that is the most important.

This was a perfect book choice for summer reading!  Thanks so much #CyberPD for choosing it!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading?


Go to www.teachmentortexts or for the Its Monday! What are you Reading? Roundup!

One of the reasons I love summertime is because I equate it with time for reading!!  The school year gets so busy, and while I do find time to read, it isn’t in the large, uninterrupted chunks of time that summer gives.  My summer reading goals are to read children’s lit, to get caught up on my professional book stack and to also do some fun reading.  So here is my take on a book from each of those categories!  

Children’s Lit


This wonderful book is about  middle school student, Charlie Brennan, who starts to ice fish to earn money for the Irish dance costume of her dreams.  As she stands on the ice, she catches a magic fish who grants her a wish for releasing him back into the water.  Charlie returns to this ice hole throughout the book to help solve her and her friends problems, but finds that those solutions cause more trouble!  Charlie’s college bound sister, Abby, has problems of her own as she heads off to the University of Vermont.  She becomes addicted to heroin and that throws her family into chaos as they learn to deal with Abby’s addiction and struggle to find ways to help her overcome it.

This book is a powerful read for middle school students – I even gave it to my college bound daughter to read!  It’s a great example of how looking outside of yourself for the answers to your problems isn’t the best way to solve them.  And that good friends and a loving family are the only things that matter.  



This book hooked me during the introduction when she stated that her definition of essay was quite different from the “mechanized literacy” of the 5 paragraph essay, designed to satisfy computer scorers!  That kind of writing, says Bomer, fails to allow students to discover they can love writing and that writing can engage readers.  Instead, she thinks of essay as “a non-fiction prose piece whose author unveils a central idea, and invites readers to watch him or her think about that idea for a few pages.” It is much more open-ended, thinking while you are writing, kind of work.  

The whole book is centered around real essay writers and how those essays are constructed.  She talks about how to read those essays, and how to begin to write in that way.  It does seem to have more of a middle school / high school focus than elementary, although she did have  special guests compose essays for upper elementary to study!  Special guests included her husband, Ray Bomer, Katie Wood Ray, Vicki Vinton Georgia Heard and others!  

This was a great book worth the read.  I will be returning to this one throughout the year!



This book is about a dysfunctional New York family who struggle when Leo, the oldest sibling and arguably most dysfunctional, blows most of the family’s trust fund to cover up a scandal.  Each of the other Plumb siblings have had troubles of their own and were counting on “the nest” to help them out of their predicaments.  The family comes together for the first time in years to try and get the money back from Leo, and in the end, become closer for it.  

It was an entertaining read, but you never really get to like any of the characters.  Overall, they are a sad family who have made a series of bad decisions and have to look within themselves to find a way out.  It was a quick, fun read, but not anything I’d probably ever pick up again.  

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR community has read. It’s the best way to discover what to read next.


Keeping Kids Accountable During Independent Reading – Part I


One of the most challenging aspects of reading workshop is making sure that every child is reading and to make sure they all are accountable for the thinking work (Part 2) that goes along with that reading.  This post is the first of a two part series on keeping your students accountable- making sure every child reads!

There is nothing more defeating than looking up from your guided reading lesson and seeing students staring out the window, playing with things on their desks, or worst of all disrupting other readers instead of reading themselves. So what do we do? We assign a worksheet, a reading log, or journal giving us confidence that we’re holding kids accountable and no one’s time is being wasted.

The problem is that in order for our students to become better readers, we know they need to read.  And they need to read A LOT.  Richard Allington’s team found that more effective teachers had students reading and writing for 50% of their day while least effective teachers had students reading as little as 10-15 mins during a 90 minute ELA block!

But what about those students who don’t read during independent reading time?  Here are 5 ways you can scaffold your most reluctant readers to keep them engaged during workshop.

Low Level Scaffolding:

  1. Stay Current on Children’s Lit –  Matching books to readers is one of the most difficult, yet most effective ways to get kids to want to read.  Students have a wide range of interests and reading levels, and it’s sometimes hard to find just the right book at just the right level.  Wide reading of current children’s literature can help.  Read the newest and most popular children’s books.  Read past award winners.  Read fiction and nonfiction.  Read everything you can get your hands on that your students might be interested in!  Your local children’s librarian is a good person to get to know.  She will have great suggestions for you.  Hooking kids on a book or series will make it easy for them to stay engaged and reading during workshop time.  Here are a couple great children’s lit blogs that highlight the best reads!  Watch, Connect, Read;   There’s a Book for That; Teach Mentor Texts (IMWAYR)
  2. Classroom Library – Reading a lot won’t help if the books aren’t available to kids!  Make sure to keep your classroom library stocked and current.  There are many ways to do that without breaking the bank.  Many schools will have funds for teachers to buy materials.  Talk to your principal to see what is available.  Or talk to your school librarian!  They are always looking for suggestions from teachers on which books to purchase.  Grant writing is also an option.  Many organizations will give teachers money to buy books, such as Donor’s Choose or The Book Love Foundation.   Book clubs, warehouse sales and garage sales are also great ways to grow your library.  

Moderate Level Scaffolding:

3.  Teach to Build Stamina – Some students just can’t sustain attention long enough during a silent reading block.  They start off well, but soon get distracted.  Students may need explicit instruction on how to stay on track for longer periods of time.  (Sample anchor chart)  Asking students to set increasing longer goals for themselves is also an effective way to increase stamina.  Allow students to chart progress to see their growth!  Here is an example of a class chart which could also be modified and used for individual charts.
reading stamina

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4.  Use Partner Reading – Partner reading is something that primary teachers use to get students to read for longer periods of time.  But it can be an effective scaffold in the older grades too.  Have students read independently for a period of time and then, to increase reading time, introduce partner reading.  Partners are assigned based on students’ reading levels so that they can read the same book.  Students should decide together if they want to read together chorally, take turns reading each page, or even each paragraph. Students should be encouraged to read on their own as long as they can.  This scaffolding should be lifted as students become more and more proficient.

partner reading

High Level Scaffolding:

5.  Audio Books:  Some students may require audiobooks to stay engaged during workshop time.  This is the highest level of scaffolding and should be used exclusively only if students truly can’t read on their own.  Ideally, students should be reading at their level for as long as they can.  When they can no longer sustain their reading, audiobooks can be used.  Audiobooks still expose students to vocabulary, language and complex ideas of books at their grade level, which may or may not be at their independent level!  Students can still do the thinking work around their book and participate in class and partner discussions.  

Getting students to read is so important.  There is a direct link between the number of words that they read and reading achievement!  Using the scaffolds above may help students on their way to engaged reading.

Click here for Part 2 – Keeping students accountable for the thinking work!


Allington, R.  The 6 Ts of Effective Elementary Reading Instruction.

#CyberPD – (Week 2)



Thanks to Cathy Mere, Laura Komos and Michelle Nero for this great PD opportunity!  

Reflections on Chapters 3-4 of DIY Literacy by Kate and Maggie Roberts


I have to say that I LOVE this book.  It is one of the best PD books that I have read in awhile.  I think that the thing that most appeals to me is the problem-solving nature of the teaching.  Teaching reading is a problem-solving activity!  We know where we want students to be, and we can figure out where students are.  The rest of the work is problem-solving how to get there.  The hard part is that journey might be different for every student because each one is an individual with their own strengths and weaknesses; their own interests and habits.  Luckily for us, Kate and Maggie have given us universal tools that we can use to help us move students down that literacy continuum!

Chapter 3:

I loved how Kate followed a student in her graduate studies and heard what we have all heard (and even said), “I taught this already,”  “You should know this by now.”  It is so frustrating when students aren’t implementing what we taught them!  But she is exactly right when she says that “if we had really taught it, then the kids would be able to do it.”

When students aren’t incorporating the strategies that we taught them, it’s important that we problem solve why that is.  Is it because they aren’t sure of the expectations?  Is it because there are so many strategies that they forget?  Is it the whole class not implementing?  A few  of the students?   Those are questions that teachers can ask themselves to figure out how to address the gaps in learning.  Are students unsure of expectations?  Micro-progressions can help!  They can show students the end goal for their reading and give them the steps to get there.  Are students forgetting strategies?  An anchor chart can help!  Is this a whole class problem that can be solved in a mini lesson?  Or do just a few students need support?  Bookmarks can help those students remember which strategies they should focus on.  Whatever the problem, teachers can use the tools in this chapter to help students retain and use important literacy strategies.

Chapter 4:  

This chapter deals with rigor and what that really means.  The authors think of rigor as a behavior rather than a task.  That is so important.  Giving kids harder books or harder work won’t create better readers or kids that will want to read.  But teaching kids to work harder, and building internal motivation will increase their performance and their achievement.  

My favorite part of this chapter talked about how to build that intrinsic motivation.  The authors listed 5 ways to cultivate it.

  1. Challenge – students need a challenge that is attainable.  The book compares this to video games.  Students need to see that levels will get increasingly harder, but they will be able to do it with practice!
  2. Curiosity – Creating visually stimulating and engaging tools can help pique student interest.  
  3. Control – Students need to feel some control over what they are reading, writing, working on, in order to the feel intrinsic motivation to work hard.
  4. Cooperation and Competition – Students love to work together.  Learning is a social activity!  Allowing students to work in partnerships and small groups will keep their motivation higher.
  5. Recognition – Flattery will get you everywhere!  Praise students for their hard work and their improvement.  They want to please!

I love this opportunity to reflect on my reading!  Thanks again #cyberPD creators and all of the contributors!  I have enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts and learning along with you!