#cyberPD: DIY Literacy, Chapters 3 and 4

Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts’ book DIY Literacy gets to the meat of teaching in chapters 3 and 4: reminding and motivating with tools that support students to higher levels of competencySkitch-2012-06-10 11_22_09 +0000.

Thank you, Cathy Mere, Michelle Nero and Laura Komos for organizing #cyberPD. What a great “tool” you have created for teachers to learn and grow together.

Chapter 3: Remembering This: When we teach and reteach and don’t find evidence of the work in student thinking it is easy to lose faith. Chapter 3 tells us that forgetting is normal and to be expected. When we ask students to apply new ideas to their work, we need to give them tools to help them remember, to process and to do.

Bottom line: the teach, model, active engagement, now do this whenever you need to do isn’t enough. Learning and making that learning a part of your repertoire takes lots of practice and reminders of when, how and why.

Chapter 4: You Can Do It:  Kate and Maggie differentiate between the two components of rigor: one, meaning the level of difficulty and two, meaning the effort put forth. I appreciate their focus on the later. Working hard is something we want from our students. And it’s a struggle. Motivating and supporting students is what Chapter 4 is all about. The students who push themselves no matter what are few and far between. It isn’t typical.  Why students don’t struggle to reach higher levels of work could be because they don’t believe they can or because they don’t understand how. Students need tools that build confidence. That say, yes you can. And, they need tools to show how.

The Tools: 
I love how the tools work alongside the gradual release of responsibility. Supporting all the way to independence.  Students aren’t there yet, but we are planning for them to get there.  I’ve listed them below from high to low teacher support.

Demonstration Notebooks:
Reminding students what to do is often not enough because students don’t remember how to or their understanding is weak. Demonstration notebooks are perfect for those strategy groups that provide the extra, explicit teach. Students don’t push to what we think they can because they aren’t sure how. The notebooks provide for students who need the tool and the teacher together to reach for more.

One of the big ahas  I had reading DIY Literacy was how to build a progression based on and inspired by students. At the bottom of the progression is what all students can do and at the top is what the most proficient can do with adult coaching. The sequence of next steps becomes a coach to students. Creating these with students from beginning to end creates accessibility: all students can find themselves and their next step. Microprogressions should say: this is where you are, this is your next step. Go for it!

Student-Made Bookmarks:
“Rigor is relative… the journey of rigor comes in all sorts of paces…there are times we need to empower students with their individual plan for how to work rigorously and at what pace. Bookmarks can help.”

I can’t wait to create these with my students. Giving time to reflect and create their tool based on the classroom tools promotes self-assessment and goal setting. How a student uses charts and microprogressions to collect their list of reminders and examples tell the student a lot about where they are in the learning. This personalized tool is a call to action and an artifact to use and recreate as throughout the year.

Reminder Charts:
Being a fifth-grade teacher, my students come to me with so much teaching.  Still, they often don’t do. I’m sure I’m not alone in that problem.

The co-constructed chart of “things we know” can be the tool that reminds students of all they have learned but need to be nudged to do. That chart paired with verbal reminders, mid-workshop interruptions, and quick coaching tips to notice and use a strategy from the chart can up the students’ game without reteaching. We remind. Then reassess. Notice growth and celebrate! Kate and Maggie see charts as “cheerleaders” for hard work. They are reminders for students on their way to independence, the last step in the gradual release of tools.

Removing the Tools:
We want to promote ownership and agency.  We want it to be automatic. Our goal isn’t mastering the use of tools; it’s using tools to foster independence.

Kate and Maggie offered natural ways to remove or test out the removal of tools.
1. Do  it at specific times in a unit
2. Challenge students to try work without tools
3. Poll students as to what charts they no longer need

I am grateful for the time to read, reflect and write about my new tool, DIY Literacy. Thank you, Kate and Maggie. And thank you to the #cyberPD community, who contribute to the thinking around this book.



SOL: Splashing Around to Learn  

There is nothing like watching a toddler explore. Today I got that gift.


Laughter and joy bubble up at every turn. The desire to reach out and test limits is a toddler’s natural state of being. Loving hands, who know this child, anticipate trouble before it happens and gently guide him away from negative possibilities and toward accessible adventures.

It’s marvelous to watch the world through the eyes of a toddler. One can’t help but smile and follow along.

When I had little ones to watch over, each step was documented and cheered. I saw them as their mom.

Today, I watched through teacher’s eyes.


Desire to learn is apparent indicated by swift movement toward the tank. Scaffolded by his mother’s boost and support enabling him to reach the water without falling in he tentatively touched the water after demonstration.  Guided learning was followed by independent practice made possible by access to a spot with a lower wall. He approximated the work by splashing in the water. Practice was done in proximity of other learners. After watching proficient touch tank behavior, he returned to independent practice splashing water. Had stamina. Upset when invited to move on to another activity.

Next steps:  more hands on activities with ample opportunites to practice with other learners

What a toddler can do is visible. Frustration and joy are apparent.  We know what they can do. We show the next step. We do it together, sometimes with a guiding hand. Models of how to are everywhere. The desire to assist and take in learning is as natural as breathing.

When a child enters school, they are there to learn, but how they engage can shift from demonstration-experience towards one with limits.  The space to explore diminishes. Choice shrinks. Things become departmentalized. The conditions that promoted learning are compromised.

Tomorrow, I get on a plane to Boston to participate in Jan Burkins’ and Kim Yaris’ ILA pre-conference session that celebrates their new book Who’s Doing the Work. Reading this book and preparing for the seminar has been an incredible study in what teaching reading can look like when we offer up more opportunities for kids to do the work of reading with ample agency and choice.

Here’s to getting wet, splashing around and learning joyfully.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A place to share our lives and our learning. Read more slices here.



#cyberPD: DIY Literacy

I bought Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie-Roberts’ book DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence when it first ca me out. I watched the videos and set the book in one of my to-be-read baskets. I was planning and excited to get to it. Right after…and, then time slipped by.Skitch-2012-06-10 11_22_09 +0000

Yesterday, I was reminded of the #cyberPD community around the book. Thank you to Cathy Mere, Laura Komos and Michelle Nero, for creating this community, and Tara Smith for reminding me of it. It takes great books and a village to nurture teachers.

Kate and Maggie are funny and practical teachers of teachers. Their book, DIY Literacy, takes me where I am as a teacher and leads me to make my next step, in effect to make my learning progression.

Chapter One, Extending Our Reach speaks to how to offer doable and accessible solutions.

This chapter nails fundamental problems I see in my fifth-grade learners.

  1. Memory: Students can’t remember it all the teaching
  2. Rigor: Students aren’t doing enough of the work
  3. Differentiation: Teacher nudging and supporting appropriately toward agentive work

We need tools that show students how to work hard. Tools that can demonstrate their growth, so they can find joy in their accomplishments.
The underlying goal — Tools to help “our kids feel more like DIY warriors of their learning.”
Big My Aha: The visual nature of tools helps make learning stick. It helps us remember, see where we are on our road, and make abstract ideas concrete. Tools guide practice and making tools add to understanding.

Chapter Two, An Introduction to Teaching Tools explores the tools I love and thought I knew: the chart, the demonstration notebook, the micro-progression chart of skills and the bookmark.

• Charts: The Repertoire and the Process. Charts need to push into a skill, the what and then the how with clear, memorable moves; meaning icons and simple language. If it is too wordy, kids won’t remember. If there are too many steps, kids will get lost. Charts are memory aids to help the DIY work of students.
My Big Aha: Simplify and break it down to emphasize memory.

• Demonstration Notebooks: The How. I’ve always thought of these as the up close and personal chart, the tool for small group or conferring work. They break down what students need and allows space for me to show or to collaborate with students on the how.
My Big Aha: Start with an approximation of beginning student work, next name the skill to be improved, then demonstrate how to develop the idea with specific prompts. This progression gets closer to showing students how the magic happens.

• Micro-progressions of Skills. I first was exposed to this great thinking with Lucy Calkins’ and TCRWP’s work with reading and writing progressions. These taught me so much about what I do as a reader and writer. Kate and Maggie take this idea and break it down further. I can and need to make them based on where students are so they can see themselves in the progression.
My Big Aha: It’s all about the micro. Make it as small as the student needs to understand where they are and where their next step is.

• Bookmarks: Creating a Personalized Action Plans. Oh yeah, I’ve done these. Made them, laminated them. Passed them out. Those charts and tips to be carried and used when students need. But, I’ve missed the point.
My Big Aha: Making bookmarks are student work, not mine. Students use the tools, the charts, the progressions, their partners and the teacher to make their bookmarks. In the end, this represents documentation of culmination of the teaching as well as personalized goal setting. A learning tool for students and an assessment tool for teachers.

Bonus Chapter: How Do I Find (and Write) Strategies for Teaching Tools. This section put me to work. It’s all good in theory, but to craft a strategy you need to determine

  • What you want to teach
  • How to teach it
  • Why it should be done

so it is replicable across texts and understandable to kids.

I decided to try it with Pax by Sara Pennypacker. I want to read this with my kiddos at the beginning of the year. It’s a remarkable book and I know it will be a challenge. One skill that many struggled with last year was determining connections between characters and ideas. Getting this skill down will be essential to loving this book.

Following the steps in the bonus chapter, I studied that skill as I read the first chapter of Pax, asking myself what did notice about the relationships between characters? What theories did I have? How would I describe their relationship?

Step two was to step back and notice how I did this work.

Then, I tried to make this a kid-friendly strategy determining the what, the how and the why.

Still, this was too wordy. Time to simplify by boiling it down to a list of three steps that could be used again and again as a chart, in a demonstration notebook or end up on a student’s bookmark. This is what I ended up with:

Readers understand connections between characters by
1. Studying how they treat each other
2. Studying how they react to the other’s emotions
3. Asking, What does this tell me about their relationship

Doing the work is what DIY Literacy is all about. Doing this work gives me the sense that reading Pax with my brand new fifth graders will be a doable and joyful challenge.

Looking forward to more DIY Literacy with all who are participating in #cyberPD 2016.

Celebrate: Still Looking

I’ve been looking all morning for a picture album.
I keep thinking of places it should be.
Places I’ve already looked and need to re-look.
I can picture it.
It should be. Right there. But it isn’t.

There is no reason for it not to be on the shelf where all the other albums sit.
There is no reason to have taken it out of the house.

It’s personal.
It’s of no interest to anyone but me.
It’s a part of me.

My past.  And it’s not gone.

But everywhere I look, the obvious and the ridiculous places, nothing.
It’s here.
Behind something.
Under something.
Behind the books.
Under the bed.

I found other things

that sidetracked me.
Took me down other roads, more recently traveled.
And here it is, afternoon.

notebooks, books, stacks of pictures, really cool scissors,
and my dictionary, given on my 19th birthday.
Random pieces of me.


 Found things and the thing I haven’t
tell a story of recent and distant past.
It’s all here. Somewhere. I just have to find it.

This week I celebrate what I found and knowing the rest will be.

Thank you, Ruth, for a place to share our lives. All the parts. Even the missing pieces. Read more celebrations here.