DigiLit Sunday: Gratitude

I just got a text from a friend that Kathleen Tolan, one of the brilliant stars at TCRWP, had died. Kathleen was one of those educators who left and indelible mark. You knew she was with you every step of the way. She was a gift to children and teachers of literacy; she was someone to admire and emulate.

I have had the privilege to learn from the best. Along with the learning, these passionate people have cultivated my deep and abiding belief in the power of literacy. For this, I am grateful.

Teaching reading and writing is difficult. Many days are fraught with trials and trouble. Because of dear colleagues who share their practice and support, I am sustained. My writing friends, teacher friends, thank you, I am grateful.

Because of inspirational educators like Kathleen, I know there is a way. It’s just a matter of persistence. To those, like Kathleen, who light my teaching path, and to those colleagues who walk alongside me every day, thank you.

Read other gratitude posts on Margaret Simon’s Sunday link up at
Reflections on the Teche.




Celebrating Learning at TCRWP Summer Reading Institute

I’m home, unpacked, and  the laundry is done after a week at Teachers College Reading Writing Project’s Summer Reading Institute. Anyone who has ever attended one of these institutes knows you get more than your money’s worth in learning and inspiration during the five-day experience. Cries of “that is so cool” — “I love this” — “have you read..” — “did you see this….” surround you. It is not only a gift to learn from the TCRWP think tank,  it is a privilege to be with the attendees.

celebrate link up

To celebrate this week on Ruth Ayers link up, I thought I’d share a little what I learned from Kathleen Tolan in her session titled The Intersection of Guided Reading, Strategy Lessons, and Book Clubs. The essence of this session was how the work we do in small groups should be assessment driven, flexible and fluid. The lines for guided reading, strategy group work and book club instruction blur  to meet student needs.

Simply put, we pull students for small group instruction when students aren’t getting what they need from the whole group lesson. When planning these groups we should aim to:

  • Minimize our talk — Nudge don’t give
  • Maximize student’s opportunity to work and work with each other
  • Move students to own their own learning by having them identify what they are doing well and what they are shooting for

Manageable bits of teaching is key. Students can only take in so much and you only have so much time. Keep your time with small groups to 10 minutes.

Use reading tool kits with mentor texts designed to highlight specific skill work and exemplar responses to show how readers might respond to a text. Have artifacts ready to leave with the student to refer to later and for you to reference when you check on their progress. Have cards or charts with character traits and feelings on them.

Use your read aloud in strategy lessons. Students know this text, so it’s a quick way to illustrate your teaching point. This way you minimize the time demonstrating and maximize the time students are working.

The strategy group lesson shifts the paradigm of the mini lesson. When you have a small group in front of you, you give the teaching point quickly and do very little demonstration. You set students up to do the work. As they work, you coach in to what they are doing and nudge them toward the skill. Don’t give it to them.  Students need to do the work, struggle a bit and figure it out.

Put post its in the first half of books for the work you want students to stop and notice. This supports clubs and strategy groups by giving students a clear picture of the kind of work they could do. As students read on past the post its you planted, encourage them to plant their own post its. Their response to your post its and the post its they place show their thinking about the book and their transference of the strategy.

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Let students read aloud a text together. What students hear and picture when reading is not the same. If we allow our kids to read aloud together, particularly when they are struggling for meaning, we are allowing them to read closely, to construct meaning together and teach one another.

Allow students to be mentors for each other. This happens when students talk about their reading and have a very clear idea of their goals. To do this we want to make sure that students have examples of expectations of work they could be doing in text and then allow them to identify their strengths and have conversations about it. Imagine having students going back and naming what they did well in the text. Constructing their own continuum of responses and working to get better and closer to what is expected.  Students need to be teaching each other. Pushing each other on their thinking. They need to be talking back and accumulating information. If we have more kids teaching each other, more kids are digging deeper into the text.

Kathleen said, “Reading skills are like a chain link fence. They all link together.”

This  tweet from Jenn wraps up the session beautifully.

If you want to know more about what happened last week at TCRWP’s institute, check out the twitter feed #tcrwp and Fran McVeigh’s blog here. 








Reading in the Company of Others Matters

The second day of TCRWP’s Summer Reading Institute pushed me to the work I realized I needed to do on day one: raise the level of my reading. In my small group session with Kathleen Tolan we were put into book groups. My group of grade 3-5 teachers are reading Edward’s Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan. The session is aiming to teach teachers how to  teach students in small groups, and to do this Kathleen has put us in our student’s  desks.

Our first evening’s homework was to read the first third of the book and come to group with a part that we wanted to read aloud. We decided  to read with a lens for character and symbolism

Next day, back in class, we sat, facing each other. Kathleen urged us to move in close. We looked at each other. Slowly we edged to talk.  Our thoughts were clearly restrained. No one was bursting with thoughts. Man! I thought. This is tough. If I were a student I’d be wanting to abandon this book.

Our responses boiled down to lots of confusion and a discomfort.

Something wasn’t right. Hmm.

Gradually we started to talk around this and bit by bit, little pieces cropped up. PIeces that gave hints at what might be.

Bottom line we six teachers were struggling with our interpretations. Finally we read aloud parts that confused us.

“This part with the tides in and out and references to sea water is intriguing,’ offered one reader.

Yeah that part was important, I thought, but  what could I say about it.

The structure of the text also threw us. Some parts were in italics. The purpose of the italics wasn’t clear. We were clearly put out with this. We didn’t get it,. This was important, we knew this as readers and we knew it was our job to make sense of it.

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Then, thankfully, Kathleen stopped us and asked  us to attempt to identify what level the book was  based on descriptors of text band complexity. We all thought the work required a higher level of work than what it turned out to be. (Edward’s Eyes is a level S.) We then looked closer at the descriptors for this text band, and it did in fact fit with what we were experiencing: “Readers are not suppose to get entirely what is going on.” Yep that was it! Reading on in the description lead to what we needed to do: “…read on expecting things will become clear in the end.”

Our “be like as student” homework assignment for the day fit perfectly. I read on, and yes, it was getting clearer.  Now for my “be a teacher” homework. I want my readers to hold on and read on  Thinking back to what Kathleen was saying the day before,

  • There should be struggle in small groups.
  • The role as a teacher is to find out what readers assigned themselves and help them with their struggles.

Kathleen’s assignment for teachers was to write a book introduction keeping in mind the challenges the reader is facing and what the work requires. This is what I came up with last night:

Readers, you have come so far in your reading work I think you are ready for this next step.

At this level, sometimes books are tricky. And I’ll be honest with you, you might get frustrated trying to puzzle out this story out. You might have trouble figuring out when things are happening because the writer moves back and forth in time. . There will be times when you say huh? And I’m here to tell you, that’s ok. That is what the author is expecting you to feel. And she expects you to hang in there looking for clues, because she’s put them there for you to  find and put together. She trusts you will read on knowing things will become clearer as you read on.

Don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Read on.

Now I’m off to class. Reading in the company of others matters