I can honestly say I am a better teacher because I was taught by Kathleen Tolan. She taught me first at the TCRWP 2011 Summer Reading Institute and then MANY more times after that.
She died on December 4, 2016 at the age of 53. If you aren’t familiar with this amazing literacy teacher, the Heinemann Website offers this bio: For more than 20 years, Kathleen Tolan was a Senior Deputy Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She had special responsibility for the Project’s work with reading instruction, organizing instruction for staff developers and the Project’s four summer institutes. She was also instrumental in the creation of the content literacy institutes and coaching institutes. Kathleen provided staff development at schools in the South Bronx, Harlem, Manhattan, and Scarsdale. A coauthor of numerous books in the Units of Study for teaching reading and writing series, she is also featured in many of the TCRWP’s online videos. Throughout her career, Kathleen remained a consummate professional and a champion for kids and for literacy.
I am still in a bit of denial that her name is now followed by “was“. As soon as I heard of her passing, I posted my remembrance HERE. I add my tribute HERE. I donated to her Memorial Fund HERE. And then I started planning an interactive read-aloud using a story she read to me – The Giving Tree.
I invited another class to join me so more kids would experience Kathleen’s brilliant teaching. I invited the librarian, the reading teacher, and the Gifted Resource teacher so they could help and also experience this brilliant teacher.
I dug out my 2010 Units of Study for Teaching Reading, 3-5 kit and found the included DVDs.
On the red CD, in Unit 1-10 is a sixteen minute video of Kathleen reading aloud The Giving Tree. She models so well how to stop and share the thinking she is doing to help students know they are to be reading/listening and thinking, too. She asks the best questions and then says “Turn and Talk” and the students erupt in talk.
My plan – Listen to Kathleen read The Giving Tree and then have a debate: Is the tree strong or weak?
First, the students enjoyed a read-aloud of The Giving Tree by watching the video of Kathleen reading it. When she says, TURN AND TALK, I paused the video and allowed the students in front of me turn and talk. Then I fast forward to skip the kid’s on the video turn and talks and we continued to listen to Kathleen read and ask us to turn and talk.
Then using the Debate Protocol taught to me by TCRWP, I reread the book and asked the students to take notes. We focused on the tree and noticed whether the tree is being strong or being weak.
Personally, I love how this protocol pushes ALL to gather evidence for both sides of an argument. And THEN has you choose a side. I will admit, allowing a group of 40 third graders to freely choose feels a little uncomfortable as the teacher. What happens if most pick one side? I learned at TCRWP that you just say, “Who feels like they could be brave and argue the other side? We need to have an equal amount argue that the tree is strong and that the tree is weak.” To help with this messy sorting part, I had those who thought the tree was weak to stand shoulder to shoulder in the front of the room. Then we counted. And it worked out – one person said he could argue either side so we placed him on the weak side. To help the 3rd graders remember, I made number cards and handed them out.
Then I sent Strong #1-10 with the librarian and Strong #11-20 with the other classroom teacher to caucus out in the hallway. I took Weak #1-10 and the reading teacher took Weak #11-20 and we took our groups to the front and back of the classroom. I also love how this protocol sets up all for success because within a caucus group, you have time to plan out exactly what to say. And if you aren’t sure, your group discussion helps all to brainstorm a collection of ideas. Using sentence stems, the students had this planning sheet:
And they all got busy planning!
Then it was time!!! I had already set the desks in the room to stand alone and I numbered them #1-20. I asked the debaters to go to they numbered desk and meet their opponent. I reminded them how both had an important job to do now. When it was their time to talk, they were to use their notes and be as persuasive as possible to convince their opponent of their position. The listener had a job to do, too. After hearing their opponent, they need to write down the points they heard.
Using the chime, I commanded the STONG group to go and 20 students shared their opinion in a span of one minute.
Then I called time and told the WEAK group to first jot down what they heard. Then the WEAK group had their chance to persuade their opponent. 50 minutes had passed and so much listening, reading, writing, sharing had occurred, all taught with Kathleen Tolan guiding us still!!
Day 2: We got into our caucus groups right away. We planned out our rebuttal.
We followed the same procedure as yesterday – same caucus groups, same opponent, same desk, same fired-up spirit! Then all returned to their own classroom desk and wrote long and strong about this book, The Giving Tree.
I noticed ALL in my room easily putting thoughts to paper. They had thoughts that they had orally rehearsed. First during Kathleen’s strong interactive read-aloud. Then in a caucus group. Then one-on-one with a partner who thought the opposite of them over two days.
I feel so lucky to have been taught by Kathleen Tolan and her colleagues at TCRWP. I will keep having Kathleen teach with me in my classroom. My students will be better readers and critical thinkers and writers because of her teaching with me!
How about YOU? Do you see Kathleen’s literacy spirit in your classroom?