#IMWAYR: Not reading…but making #cyberPD plans to!


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

During these last weeks of school, I simply stop reading anything but student work – there is just so much of it to process!  But, I can look ahead and make plans for summer reading and that is what I am up to today.

Each summer, the #cyberPD community gathers to read a book together, and share what we’ve learned and how we plan to apply this new learning. You can learn more about #cyberPD at Cathy Mere’s blog, where she describes the process better than I can.

Our first task is to share our book stacks – here’s what I have packed up in my “summer to-reads” box already:


#cyberpd: DIY Literacy – Week 3

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 11.24.24 PM

Chapters 5 and 6 were just what I needed to answer two questions that the first four chapters had posed: how to create and use teaching tools for individual student use, and how to make teaching tools that actually work for kids (i.e. tools my kids will want to reach for and use).

Chapter 5:

Teaching tools help us see the learning possibilities for all types of students.  They meet kids where they are, guiding them to greater heights.  Not only can tools give students something tangible to hold on to as they navigate their way through the curriculum, but they also give kids personalized learning footholds to find their next step along the way. (pg. 73)

I loved the way Kate and Maggie explained how to create these “personalized learning footholds” through the use of the demonstration notebooks, micro progressions, charts, and bookmarks.  As always, it is useful to hear and see what work like this looks like before attempting to it with students. I loved the way this kind of teaching honors the work our kids are doing, and nudges them forward to attempt deeper and more layered efforts.  I found the guide to “ways you can assess in real time whether or not your teaching tools are hitting the mark” on page 79 to be so helpful, too.  After all, I want to make sure that I am being both effective as well as responsive in suggesting specific teaching tools for the specific needs of my students.

The “Quick Tip for Going Digital” was a great feature.  We use Google Classroom in our school, and I have already begun planning for ways in which my kids can access their teaching tools through a digital system.

Chapter 6: 

I am so grateful that this nuts and bolts chapter was included!  Students need to find these teaching tools both informative as well as relatable, so it was helpful to learn about how to incorporate kid friendly language and pop culture references.  I loved this reminder:

To do this work yourself, take a step back from literacy and think a bit about what you are trying to teach your students.  Literacy skills are often life skills, after all.  (pg. 90)

And I loved this message to bring my students into the process of creating the learning tools they need:

Teaching tools that are created or co-created by students are almost always more accessible, engaging, and memorable than any you present fully formed.  As your students decide what to put on the teaching tool, they engage with the material on a much deeper level than if they were simply listening or watching. (pg. 93)

Each of the suggestions Kate and Maggie provided are elements that I need to figure out and practice a bit before launching this work in September.


As a prelude to this book, Kate and Maggie had created a video series demonstrating these teaching ideas in action.  I followed each of them, taking copious notes and doing my best to imagine what all of this would look like next year, after I’d spent the summer reading the book.  But, the tangled issue of figuring out the themes of our book club books forced my hand.  Here’s a link to Episode 8, and here’s what that learning looked like in my class:


Learning from Kate & Maggie before school begins.


Trying this work out in our mini lesson time.


Students working in their books groups.

Our work was a bit raw, and definitely needs fine tuning in the new school year.  Now that I’ve had the chance to read (and reread!) DIY Literacy, I can spend the next few weeks of summer practicing creating a few teaching tools, and  creating the first few I am sure to need when the year begins.


#cyberpd: DIY Literacy – Week 2

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 11.24.24 PM

The thing that stood out to me the most in these two chapters was how student centric Kate and Maggie were both in the way they suggest we make assessments as to what we need to teach and how, as well as in the way we think about rigor and its purpose in our classrooms.  I am also in the middle of reading Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris’ Who’s Doing The Work? and re-reading Gravity Goldberg’s Mindsets and Moves and am discovering so many interesting parallels between these three books.  Adding to this mix of learning are the Tweets shared from ILA 16, these in particular:

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 4.48.10 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-11 at 4.50.21 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-11 at 4.50.30 PM

All in all, this summer’s PD is leading me to rethink some of my teaching assumptions, and reexamine the dynamics of my classroom life.

Chapters 3 and 4 were especially thought provoking; here are some of the places where I stopped, jotted notes, and am still thinking through:

Chapter 3:

Often when students write or read, they default to what feels most comfortable.  They rely on a strategy they found success with at one point in their schooling, or they grab onto whatever first comes to mind, especially when working independently.

This was something I have long suspected, but needed validation from Kate and Maggie to feel its truth.  I’m sorry to have to admit this, but I am rarely inclined to give my kids the repetition of instruction the authors feel our kids need for information to stick.  This book has me reflecting upon this tendency and figuring out how I can build a habit of constant reflection so that there are authentic opportunities for repetition – the “how to do this” on page 43 is a wonderful model upon which to build this practice.  I love the way Kate and Maggie demonstrated how to create tools for this specific purpose.

*book marks: “Having students make bookmarks-personalized lists of things that will help them to remember past teaching-will allow your class to decide which lessons, which tips and strategies and ideas, they most want to remember.”   My students keep our minilessons and strategies at the back of their reading and writing notebooks, but this sort of personalized quick reference will be used far more consistently (and effectively).

*microprogressions: “If we treat each new lesson or skill as equally important as all the others, it is difficult for students to prioritize what is being taught and what to remember. Instead, we can help students hold onto our teaching by deciding which reading or writing skills in each unit are the most essential for students to learn.”  Creating microprogressions for these skills, as described in this chapter, will help my kids immensely.

*demonstration notebooks: “Following a lesson using a demonstration notebook…writers leave with tangible reminders of the lesson, as well as a written intention of future practice.” Once again, the idea is to remind kids of what they know and lead them to make it stick with practice.

Chapter 4:

I thought that reframing the meaning and teaching intent behind the word rigor was powerful:

…we focus on …rigor as a description of a behavior rather than a description of a task. Rigor is performative – it is a stance, an action, a state of being that is taken to move through the world, tackle tasks, or work toward a goal.

…we can focus on how to teach and support kids in their quest to nurture their inner confidence and become harder workers.  That is, we can create a learning climate where students see the steps needed to tackle the tasks in front of them rigorously and believe that they can have success along the way – a learning climate that clearly shows what is gained by putting in the hard work to tackle something challenging and achieve something great.

To truly support students in working harder, we will have to offer them a clear vision for what that rigorous work looks like, each step of the way.

I loved the way this chapter honored students – I know that the kids I have taught have always risen to every challenge when I have given them the support they needed, when they needed it, and how they needed it.  They were happy to work hard (well, mostly happy and that was at the end of the task!) if the task was worth their while and meaningful.  If it was worth all that hard work.

I found the “Fostering a Culture of Rigor” section on pages 61 and 62 so helpful – this is such a powerful and positive way in which to approach the idea of trying to help build intrinsic motivation in our kids – a gift that will keep giving long after they have left our classrooms.




#cyberpd: DIY Literacy – Week 1

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 11.24.24 PM

I had the good fortune to see Kate Roberts’ presentation on  DIY Literacy at the TCRWP Saturday Reunion in March, and saw an in-the-moment demonstration of how to create a demonstration notebook page to teach a concept (generated by ideas from the teachers in the audience).  Kate, of course, made the whole process seem easy and intuitively sound – but, I knew that I would need to read the book and chew on its ideas during the  summer before I could venture out and do the same in my own classroom with my own students.

Chapter 1:

Of the three problems Kate and Maggie identify (memory, rigor, differentiation) I know that my sixth graders struggle with memory most – knowing how to “remember and recycle what they’ve learned”.   The idea of “a concrete, practical, visual tool” which helps students “hold onto our teaching”, is a powerful one for me.  I LOVE idea underpinning these visual tools: “I see you. I see your next steps. Let me help you. Here is this.”  The message we send our students, when we create these tools in response to their needs, is that we value their thinking and want to empower them to be able to use what they know.

Chapter 2:

I have been questioning the use of anchor charts in my teaching practices and wondering if they serve my kids as much as I would like to believe that they do.  In my writing workshops, for instance, I’ve been experimenting with mini-charts which students can refer to on as as-needed basis.  So this chapter, with its overview of teaching charts, demonstration notebooks, micro progressions, and book marks, was so helpful.  I can see how my students would find support in each of these visual tools, especially because they focused on  small steps, which were distinctly targeted, and clearly presented.

Bonus Chapter:

The do-it-yourself process Kate and Maggie write about on pages 29 – 31 were important reminders to me to study and name what I do as a reader and writer so that I can explain that specific skill (in kid friendly terms) to my students.  I know that as the school year progresses, I tend not to be as deliberate as I should be in this process…I tend to make assumptions and move along too quickly, with predictable results (confusion, time lost in the need to reteach).  The what+the how+the why = my summer work, even as I write and read.  Practicing this every day, even in small ways, will help me become more effective in being able to articulate skills when I am teaching and conferring with my students once the school year begins.


Organizing for summer learning

June is winding down, and its last days find me in between the crazy-busy world of the last days of school and the summer rhythm of leisurely days spent at will: reading, writing, thinking, doing when I want and what I want.  It takes me a week to let go of the old school year; I still hear my students’ voices, I am still thinking about their needs, and I am still worrying about getting it all done.  It is done…but it takes a while for that to sink in, for my teaching brain to let go of the class of 2016 Smithlings.

A week ago, today was my last full teaching day; at this very moment, we were learning about Lee’s surrender to Grant, and comparing that to the message in  Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.  I can still picture my kids’ faces at their desks – I can still remember where each of them sat in our small classroom, and how the morning sun streamed in through the windows, promising a lovely summer-like day.   Writing this, I realize that I am still hanging on to the school year, I am not ready to let it go.

And yet, I am also getting ready for the summer phase of my teaching life: the reading, writing, thinking and living that are hallmarks of how I spend my summers.  A vision of the new school year begins with this summer phase, when new ideas take root and are shared with all the amazing teachers who share and learn with me through my online PLN. Today is about taking out a calendar and plotting out all the summer learning I have signed up for even as the school year was winding down: Teacher’s Write!  #cyberPD!   TheEducatorCollaborative!  Literacy book clubs! Voxer chat groups! Summer writing retreats with friends at the farm!

I think I am ready, at last, to leave the old school year and get ready for the new one.  I am ready for summer.


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #cyberPD and Summer Reading

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA! is hosted by Jen Vincent  @ Teach Mentor Texts & Kellee Moye @ Unleashing Readers
Summer PD would not be the same without #cyberPD, created by Cathy Mere, Laura Komos and Michelle Nero.  These three amazing educators pored over bookstacks submitted by teachers all across the country in order to choose the one we would all read and discuss over the summer.  Two days ago, Cathy shared the post we have all been awaiting, the one with the big real…the #cyberPB selection of 2016, and our discussion calendar.  How exciting to be reading and learning and gathering to share our thoughts about this wonderful new book:
DIY lit
I have been assembling my summer book stack for the past few weeks: just-released books, books I have bought but could not find the time to read during the school year, and books I need to re-read:
As I wrap up the old school year, it’s exciting to think ahead to the new one…so much wisdom to discover, process, and imagine bringing to life with a brand new set of students. Summer is all about slowing down the pace of life, reconnecting with family and friends, and continuing to learn and grow in our teaching lives. I am ready!

Digital Reading: What’s Essential Chapters 6&7 #cyberPD

#CyberPD is an online professional development learning community where teachers read and discuss a common professional development text. Visit Reflect & Refine for more details and links to connect with the group. This year’s book isDigital Reading: What’s Essential in Grades 3-8 by Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass.

digital reading

Chapter 6:

I had two takeaways for this chapter.  First, I need to reformat my first week of school reading survey questions to incorporate digital reading questions as well.  The questions Franki shared on page 87 were comprehensive, and I would only add a question that tries to ascertain what a student’s habits are when it comes to searching digital media for information: it is hit or miss? or has the student already figured out a way to do this and can the student then share his or her techniques with the class (and with me!).  I loved the idea of doing this on Google Forms, so that it can become part of the student’s portfolio for the year.

Second, I need to enlarge my assessment toolbox to include a variety of digital tools.  At the moment, my toolbox is pretty old school – conferring notes, rubrics, xeroxed copies of notebook work, etc.  It would be so much more authentic if I was to create Google Folders for each student which included photographs, video and audio files, as well as student annotations – the ideas presented on page 95.  Our school does not conduct student led conferences, sadly, but I imagine that the idea of creating a Google Presentation to showcase growth at the end of each quarter would give each student an opportunity to evaluate his or growth and progress, as well as set new goals. That would shift the entire assessment dynamic, placing the student in an empowered position and requiring a greater sense of involvement and assessment. The student is not a passive receiver of “this is where you need to go”, but an active participant in shaping “this is where I want to go.”

Chapter 7:

We began having access to Google Classroom and Google Drive half way through the year, so I did not have a chance to present exactly how it was all going to work to my students’ parents on back to school night.  The truth is, I didn’t know how it was all going to work, either – and many lessons were learned from January to June!

I so agree with this:

…technology has opened up the ways in which we not only communicate with parents but actually make them a part of their child’s learning experience.  Digital tools have made the connection between school and home so much more effective because we are no longer confined to the space of the classroom or the time constraints of the school day. Parents can engage in their child’s learning on a daily basis and in a variety of ways. (page 100)

This is exactly what I began to see happening in our classroom last year – the goings on in our classroom were much more visible to parents because everything was accessible online, via our Google Classroom pages, or our work on Google Docs for a variety of purposes.  It is a well-known and well-worn truth that our children rarely communicate about school work beyond: “nothing much”, “I don’t know”, and “I can’t remember”.  It was incredibly helpful for parents to know that they could access resources to see for themselves what and how learning is taking place in their child’s day.  I love the idea of weaving in Google Calendar, too, so parents can be part of the process of teaching kids how to manage their time and prioritize their work.  As a middle school teacher, this is a critical goal – and I know that it is important to have my students’ parents on my team.

I’ve come away from reading this book with concrete goals and ideas for next year; I keep coming back to the word intentional – I think I’ve learned that intentionality in digital literacy comes from practicing it ourselves, learning from the experience, and figuring out how to embed it in all we already do.  We want our kids to have that holistic goal: “we want our students to be active communicators in the complex world they live in.” (page 110).

I’m looking forward to the Twitter chat!