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Today I attended a brief training session on the Comprehension Toolkit.  I don’t think that a week’s training could cover the whole thing; one day was obviously just an overview.  It looks like it’s going to be good.

I’m happy to say that it fits in with all the ideas I’ve been reading about this summer: working with primarily non-fiction texts, short passages, and plenty of student interaction with the group.  I’m looking forward to using it.


On Saturday afternoon I attended a presentation by Lester Laminack. Wow.

(As I’ve said in my previous posts on the conference, these notes are from my notebook–no apparent order on their own. These notes are not necessarily quotes; sometimes I had to paraphrase. Some are even my own thoughts as they occurred.)


Before I go into the afternoon session, I want to write about what I heard on Saturday morning during the tail-end of Lester Laminack’s morning presentation. I didn’t get to hear all of the presentation, but I’m glad I made it for the end.

The gist of the presentation (as well as its title) was Reading and Writing and Teaching and Learning: What Happened to Common Sense? To listen to this man expound on that idea was incredible. He didn’t necessarily denigrate the current educational environment (teaching and testing programs) but he seemed to ask, “Why do we need them?” He developed a powerful metaphor using a doctor’s procedure to treat an illness. Here is how I remember it:

Imagine yourself going to the doctor with an unspecified ailment. As you meet with the doctor, she is going to do a number of things to “cure” you of your ailment. She’ll gather information through questioning and physical interaction with you (poking, prodding, etc.). She might run a simple (or not so simple) series of tests to gather more information. It’s possible that she’ll consult with colleagues or reference materials to sharpen her focus. Finally, and most importantly, she’ll draw upon her education and experiences with similar ailments to narrow her diagnosis to just a few possibilities. She’ll most likely write a prescription, and will then send you on your way. It didn’t work? You’re still not better? She’ll look back at that short list of possibilities and try what comes next on the list. Is she guessing? No, she’s methodically working through a process that will eventually heal you.

Teaching is oftentimes the same way: we have students with “ailments” and we use a similar process to enact a “cure.” I couldn’t begin to adequately represent the power of Lester’s words, but he did, of course, speak of the “bedside manner” that a teacher would have (I don’t think he used that idea, but it seems to work for me). I left his presentation with an overwhelming awareness of the fact that we are working with people–not numbers.

He also spoke of where teaching seems to be going (though, of course, not at “your school”). To continue with the metaphor above, he said that teachers are becoming pharmacists. Despite their education, they don’t diagnose, they simply dispense a cure. They take a program, read a script, and watch (and hope) for a cure. (To try to be completely fair in my recollection, Lester was clear that he understands that not all teachers are free to work as they wish; his goal was to encourage, not chasten.)


On to the afternoon presentation…

– When we think of craft, we often think of two areas. The first is word level craft (or wordsmithing) which is choosing and editing our words to come up with what we want to say. The second is structural craft which is how the text is organized. Lester put forward two new lenses: audible and visual craft. Audible craft is just that–what the reader hears in his mind. Visual craft, however, is not plainly evident to the ear–it is how the text is physically arranged on the paper.

– “Add more detail” is an admonition too often given. There is a difference between relevant and irrelevant detail.

– The purpose of a conference is to help the writer identify what he wants to say through questioning, not directing.

– Writers intend; readers interpret. Intention is different than meaning. Narrow your writing to limit interpretation (work to ensure your reader understands what you’re saying).

– Get children to speak and write in specifics. Better writers come from better speakers.


– Elegance is achieved through simplicity

– When you notice the craft and not the meaning, you’ve gone over the line and the effect is lost.

– Why craft? Crafting the writing impacts the reader.

– The first reading of a book should be a concert.

– Never overanalyze a book.

– Use literature do model craft

– Love your children


On Saturday morning I attended a presentation by Sharon Taberski.  She recently retired from the Manhattan New School.  Her presentation was entitled Bringing the Reading-Writing Connection Full Circle.  It was great.

 As I said in my previous post (part 1), these notes are from my notebook–no apparent order on their own.  These notes are not necessarily quotes; sometimes I had to paraphrase.  Some are even my own thoughts as they occurred.

– Use scale drawings to demonstrate size.  She showed a whale shark with a school bus to show that they are both the same size.

– Use pictures to ensure/assist student understanding.

– Simplify!

 – Great quote to shed light on why writing is important for reading comprehension: “When children write, they’re writing text for others to comprehend.”  Nell Duke and J. David Pearson.  Her point is that as students understand how text is assembled, they gain insight on how do dis-assemble, or decode, it.

 – She compared goals for the reading and writing process:

R: acquire word and comprehension strategies.

W: acquire word skills and strategies for writing texts for others to understand.


R: to become more skilled reading a variety of genres.

W: to become more skilled writing a variety of genres.


NOTE: She says that in the third grade and up students should be reading non-fiction 60% of the time.


R: to use writing and talk to make more sense of what you read.

W: (paraphrase) to use reading (modeled writing) and talk to compose work (writing) that makes sense to the reader.


R: to love to read

W: to love to write

Groundwork needs to be laid to prepare for writing/reading conferences:

– Build background knowledge through the use of reading, experts, videos, and other sources of information.

– Model/expose students to the voice you want/hope for them to write with.  (Ensure you develop their understanding of what voice is.)

– Experiences

– Develop your students’ sense of audience.

– Teach an understanding that writing takes time and requires hard work.

– Again, this relates to reading because the reader (writer) understands what a writer puts into his or her work.

 – Our job as teachers is to be aware of the reading-writing connection and to develop that awareness in our students.

 – The daily reading and writing workshops should have a roughly parallel structure.  Sharon had a great slide showing the structures, but I wasn’t able to write it down.

 – Learn about writers and share your knowledge with your students.  This helps the students understand that the books they read were written by real people.  Help your students understand how their own work can be related to those authors as they learn from their models.

 – Recommended book: Boy on Fairfield Street   It is about Theodore Geisel.

 – Sharon calls the writer’s notebook an idea book.  It is similar to the writer’s notebooks I’ve read about except it is more visual.  It has a lot of pictures and artifacts pasted in it.

 – Writing workshop topics: habits of good writing, gathering ideas, organization, qualities of good writing, and conventions.

 – Why teach conventions?  They assist the reader.

 – When using an editing checklist, hold your students accountable for what they can do–not the entire checklist.

 – Reading and writing similarities

 R: you bring background knowledge to bear

W: you bring background knowledge to bear


R: you visualize

W: you create a picture for the reader


R: you think about the text structure

W: you organize your text structure


R: you read with a purpose

W: you consider your purpose


R: you summarize

W: you develop your key ideas


R: you ask questions

W: you develop your work to provide information


** Final thoughts and ideas

– Make a “table of contents” for a paper

– Write sentences individually, then cut and paste them to organize

– Publish, then write about the process of the entire work

– When children are aware of the elements of story in their writing, this will cross over to their reading

– Big question: “Is a writer’s work satisfying for the reader?”

– Make a “Meet the Author” board for students to post their autobiography along with their stories.

A child’s school day should make sense.  Myrtle Simpson

A teacher’s school day should make sense.  My own thought (I think)

The 2007 MidSouth Reading and Writing Institute was this past weekend (June 22-23) in Birmingham. It was good, overall. A bit crowded; I suspect they’ve outgrown using UAB’s campus for a venue.

These notes are from my notebook and are in no thematic order; I suppose they’re in chronological order. These notes are not necessarily quotes; sometimes I had to paraphrase. Some are even my own thoughts as they occurred.

** Peter Johnston started things off on Friday morning.

– When you make a mistake, it doesn’t reflect on who you are. Say, “I spilled the nails and I need to clean them up” instead of “I’m so clumsy.”

– Remember that the language of the classroom will show up in the students’ language.

– Concerning the teaching of convention: What is more important, making meaning or ensuring conventions are adhered to? Are they equally important? What comes first?

– If you asked your students, “How many different types of readers are in your class,” what would they say? Hopefully, they would not answer in terms of good, bad, fast, slow, advanced, etc. A more desirable response would be, “He likes fiction, she likes to read about dogs, she likes …”

– “Children grow into the intellectual life around them.” Lev Vygotsky

– Help children build their identity as writers by asking questions such as, “What are you doing as a writer today?”

– “yet.” That’s what you should tack onto the end of a statement like, “I’m not good at that.”

– As a teacher, work to ensure your students want to (expect to) change.



** Debbie Diller was up first in the big room.  She drew an incredible crowd; probably half of the group from the opening ceremony stayed to listen to her.  Her first presentation was on using stations in the classroom.

 Debbie Diller Website and Blog (The blog hasn’t gotten too far yet)

Her first theme was, “Deep, not Wide.”

– A station is only as strong as the whole group instruction that provides its foundation.

– Teach until the students are familiar with the material before you put it into stations.

– Language development is the key to self-directed practice.

– Ensure the stations have a sufficient number of supports built in.

– Differentiate.

Her second theme was, “Less is More.”

– Variety, but not too much.

– Put your material into baskets or bins with labels to make them easier to use.

Her third theme was, “Slow Down to Speed Up.”

– Teach routines first; after school starts, wait 4-6 weeks before you introduce stations.

– Set up the first stations, teach the students how to use them, and then begin to release control.

– Get a physical signal to say, “Do Not Disturb,” to use while you’re teaching in a small group.  She uses a hat.

– Use a timer during small group instruction.  Don’t allow your instruction to take too long at the expense of other planned activities.

Her final theme was, “Just Ask.”

– Communicate your needs and questions to colleagues, your principal, the lit coach, the librarian, the tech specialist, and to your students.  Don’t flounder alone.


Other thoughts:

– Put objects at a station for students to use as subjects for their writing.

– Develop a sharing board.

– Instead of a show and tell time, develop a show and tell museum in which students can display things with a brief narrative explaining them.


Later that afternoon, Debbie Diller conducted another session on small groups.

 – She talked about “depth charging,” or making sure your material goes deep into a subject.

 – She talked about the importance of focusing on a subject.  Her illustration was a spotlight; it should shine on the topic at hand.

 – She had a great quote, but I didn’t get all of it.  Here is the gist of it: In the absence of defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing acts of trivia.  In my opinion, there’s a powerful truth in those words.  I think it could also say, In the absence of a better idea…

 – Quality versus quantity!

 – Listen twice as much as you speak while in a small group.

 – On organizing: “Don’t even think about organizing your time if your space isn’t under control.” – Julie Morgenstern, Organizing From the Inside Out

 – Form a group based on assessment, both formal and informal.  Group kids with similar needs.

 – She had a really cool folder in which each section had two parts.  One part was held into the folder with Velcro and listed objectives and goals; another part was a place for sticky notes with student names written on them.

 – Choose a focus.  The focus should be data driven, and it should answer the question, “What does this group need to accelerate the students’ reading?”

 – The key idea in material selection: Short text.

– Write specific lesson plans for each small group meeting.  Short cuts (check lists, etc.) are OK, but be specific about what is being taught.



I’ve started a new page for poetry links. I started with Billy Collins’ site as well as the Poetry Foundation. Good stuff.

I know the ISS is up there, but when can I see it? Now I can know!

I’m looking for ideas for a timeline. I want a big one–it will take up most of a wall (25 feet or so). I think that it’s difficult for adults to comprehend the passage of time; it’s even more difficult for a third grade student.

I’ve posted a fantastic resource on the Social Studies resources page: My timeline will be similar to the one that they’ve got posted. I haven’t decided on the different categories, but I’m leaning toward Government (with a subcategory for presidents), Technology, Culture, and Education. We’ll see.

I applied for a HATS Stedtrain technology grant back in May. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities: I’ve requested money to “digitize” the outdoor classroom with a digital weather station, a video camera, an audio recorder, and a motion-activated still camera (for birds). In a nutshell, my goal is to facilitate student projects using technology. The sky is the limit!

I received the CC of an email that was sent to my principal today. It was requesting that she verify her approval of the HATS grant that I submitted. I apparently misunderstood the requirement for her hard copy approval, but it looks as if everything is still on track.

Lesson learned: even if you don’t think a hard copy is required, send it anyway!

The notification date is July 6th; as I said, I’m a little bit excited!

I brought some tree seedlings home for the summer so they didn’t cook in the heat. I knew what most of them were when I brought them home, but there was one I wasn’t sure about. Actually, I didn’t have a clue. Any ideas?

Mystery Plant?

The answer? Sunflowers! K threw a bunch of sunflower seeds into a pot as she was wrapping up some transplanting. I brought them home a few weeks later–just a little confused! Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re doing so well. They’re still under a foot tall…maybe they’re a dwarf variety.

Wow, what a great poem by David McCord


Books Fall Open

Books fall open,

you fall in,

delighted where

you’ve never been;

Hear voices not once

heard before,

reach world on world

through door on door;

Find unexpected

keys to things

locked up beyond


What might you be,

perhaps become,

because one book

is somewhere? Some

wise delver into

wisdom, wit,

and wherewithal

has written it.

True books will venture,

dare you out,

whisper secrets,

maybe shout

across the gloom to

you in need,

who hanker for

a book to read.

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