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.