Still Teaching with Kathleen Tolan

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?

Day One
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. Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 9.07.07 AM.png

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?

Books Used to Teach Kindness


It’s November. I’ve watched my 3rd graders not always show the best manners. For instance, they think something and immediately it comes out of their mouth. This doesn’t always work well when they share a room with 22 other impulsive mouths. “One voice at a time,” I’ll remind.

Lately, I was seeing more teasing. They would say, “We were just kidding.” They would say, “We like being silly.” I instead was seeing it as not being kind. I decided to “kill them with kindness” last week. I read an old favorite – Miss Rumphius, a new favorite, Each Kindness and then one shared by a parent, One. Then taking an idea from another blogger, There’s a Book for That by Carrie Gelson, I had the class add a tally next to their favorite.

Each day ended with a read aloud. Then we discussed how the characters acted. I kept asking about kindness. I find 8 year olds fascinating. They are on the verge of being able to see another’s perspective. Yet, they mostly see their actions as just playing. One comment was, “It’s OK to be mean once.”

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful I have the opportunity to help a classroom of friends learn about being kind. I hope they remember Maya in Each Kindness and how they should not waste an opportunity to greet a new friend, no matter how different. And remember how our actions towards others ripples out and we can never get it back. I hope they remember how One stood up to Red to help Blue in One. They too, can be the voice that helps everyone feel counted. I hope they remember Miss Rumphius and work to make the world a more beautiful place.

I hope the message of these three books sticks a bit with my friends. Because, in my opinion, the world needs the next generation to be more kind.

Happy Thanksgiving. I especially am thankful I have Tuesdays to SLICE among this very kind writing community. Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 


Teaching Kindness – my plan

“Do you know the picture book, Miss Rumphius?” I asked and my current art teacher smiled and began to recite the mantra. “I will travel… live by the sea and…do something to make the world more beautiful.”

My eyes welled recalling another art teacher and best friend who loved this book, too. We worked together for many years at a small school. And when I left to teach in another district, she came the week before school started and kindly helped me decorate my bulletin boards. And then she volunteered to come in and read my class Miss Rumphus and helped each to paint their own lupine. That was the fall of 2001. Two months later, she was riding a horse, fell off and died. And now, fifteen years later, I am thinking of her so much.


Because Friday I was able to plan for two hours for our second quarter. And when I returned to my students, again I received reports about my students being unkind. I realized that I need more than just a great plan for teaching math standard 3.4. I need to explicitly teach kindness first. Without a kind environment, no real learning can occur.

So Saturday morning I headed to the library with a list of books I saw on twitter.  24 Great Books that Show Empathy and Kindness.

I decided I’d start with Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson  Maybe even get a bowl and give each student a pebble and make a big deal about the choices we make – good or bad –  and how they ripple out and we can never take it back. We need to choose our actions wisely and choose kindness.

As I walked the stacks in the public library, I remembered Miss Rumphius and my friend. Each year since her passing, I have hung my lupine in my classroom wanting her memory to live with me. When I think of kindness, it is her I think of most. She truly was the kindest person I have ever met.

So on Monday, prepping for my second kindness lesson after Each Kindness, I went to see if my current art teacher knew the story and would help us paint lupines. My eyes welled, missing my friend but realizing her memory lives on in the others who now are in my life. And with a plan, we WILL teach this next generation to be kind.

**If you don’t know Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, listen to it here.

If you have any more tips for teaching kindness, please share! I know I will need more than just 2. I know it will be a year-long focus!

Book Friends are the best!

I just finished reading Some Writer by Melissa Sweet.

Why this book? Because I have friends that are readers and they give me suggestions, tell me about books, and even hand me books.

One place I get suggestions is on my twitter feed. Most people here, I have never met but I do consider them my friends and value their suggestions. So when I saw this tweet by The Nerdy Bookclub, I took note.


Then I saw this post by Catherine Flynn. It was her It’s Monday, What Are You Reading (#IMWAYR) post. CLICK HERE. Both Catherine and I blog and met first through blogging within the TwoWritingTeachers March blog challenge. Then this summer, we met in person as we learned together at the Summer Reading Institute at TCRWP. Her review pushed me to really want to read this book.

Then my friend and our school librarian, John Re,  really made it happen! As I was leaving the school library last Friday, he asked, “Are you a Charlotte’s Web fan?”

“Of course. Great book!”

“Then you might like this biography.” And there it was, in his hand.

“I do want it! It’s on my list to read. Can I check it out?”

“Here, take it.” And I did, smiling that all my friends, those online and in my school help me to keep reading. Then each night after dinner, I read about the life of the writer, E.B. White.

I highly recommend YOU reading this book, too.
Why? Because friends suggest good books to read to other friends!

But what should I read next?
Any suggestions, my friends?!!


My thoughts about Moo by Sharon Creech


Thanks to twitter, I realized Sharon Creech had a new book out. Click here to read more about it from Sharon Creech’s website.)  Yesterday I bought Moo and finished it in one sitting. Today I am still thinking about the characters and all they taught me. Today I am still asking questions about farm life in general and about cows specifically. I want to research Belted Galloway cows and the state of Maine. I want to discuss this book with someone. I want to reread parts and jot down some quotes. I ended this book with so many thoughts.

First, I want to thank Sharon Creech, a masterful writer. Her book, Love That Dog helped me to love poetry, something my high school caused me to hate, much like the boy in Love That Dog. All books by Sharon Creech are amazing in my opinion and Moo does not disappoint!

Second, I want to give credit to two great minds in literacy – Ellin Keene and Lucy Calkins.

Ellin is the one who taught me to spy on myself as a reader and notice exactly what I do to comprehend a text. Because of her, I am an aware reader. I know now that I ask questions, I make connections, I visualize. I read Mosaic of Thought as I was studying to become a Reading Specialist in the early 2000s. Her thoughts from that book stay with me today as I actively read. Thanks Ellin!

Lucy and her amazing staff developers at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project push me, too. As I read Moo, I found myself noticing character traits and how a character was not just one way. I noticed the kind of problem-solver each character was. This summer while learning from Kelly at the Reading Institute, I set a goal to get better at determining theme. Personally, I tend to read for plot and then move to the next book. As I linger with Moo, I feel I might be able to work on my personal reading goal, too. Thank you, Lucy and your amazing TCRWP staff!

I do think Moo teaches the reader how each of us has gifts to offer to others. Sometimes, at first, we may be put off by another. They may seem scary or mean or annoying. We may instead, not want to bother. However, by offering to help another, we can use our gifts to connect to them and in return, all are helped. In Moo, I saw this happen in many places. One place was with the family’s son, Luke. He has a clear gift for drawing. Yet, he also was so scared of the neighbor, Mrs. Falala. Yet, his drawing became the connection between himself and Mrs. Falala. In the end, a strong friendship formed.

I start school tomorrow. It will be, I realize, my 25th first day of school. I have seen my class list. When talking to others about these new friends, they used an assortment of words to describe the students on my class list. Words included a range from helpful, sweet, and hardworking to quirky, distracted, and a handful. As I begin my school year, I am going to remember the characters from Moo. Each is unique. Each use their unique trait to connect and be helpful.

I may feel like Luke did in the beginning when he first met Mrs. Falala. I want to remember all the good that occurred when he found a way to connect with his annoying neighbor. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think my new students will be annoying. However, they are 8 years old and are all still learning how to be kind and helpful and may need extra patience from me as we learn together.  Like the characters in Moo, I am going to be helpful and I know amazing friendships will be formed during our one year together.

And I do think I will read-aloud Moo to my 3rd graders this year!
I recommend for YOU to read it, too!!




My Summer Reading…so far

I posted the below also to my classroom kidblog so it was written with my students as my audience. But now it is Tuesday so I thought I’d post it here, too. 

It’s summer and I have read 4 books so far!!


I recommend them all for these reasons:

1. Gone Fishing, a novel in verse – If you’d like a fun, easy read, you’ll enjoy this story written in poems about one day when the main character goes fishing with his dad and sister. My favorite poem is the Fish Shape poem!

2. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo – If you would enjoy a story written about 3 very interested girls who meet at a baton twirling class in 1975, you’ll like this story. ALL three girls have problems and together, they figure out how to deal with their problems. One reason I liked this book was because it reminded me of when I took baton twirling lessons also in 1975!! Also it is the newest book out by Kate DiCamillo, an author we spent time meeting during the school year!

3.  The Turtles of Oman – you’ll enjoy this story if you can relate to a character who does NOT want to move to another country. This book made me want to read more nonfiction books about the country of Oman and about sea turtles.

4. The War that Saved my Life – You’ll like this story if you’d like to read another book set during WWII, like the book Echo we read together. Warning – the mother of the main character is a very, very, very mean mother. But the main character is very likable and she learns to succeed as she learns how to ride a horse. After reading this novel, I also wanted to reread the picture book, The Little Ships by Louise Borden.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN READING??!!  Happy Summer Reading!!

NOTE about the process of my writing:  By writing this post, I came to understand the importance of audience. I found it SO easy to say something about each book as I tried to “book talk” each because I was picturing my students. I chose to mention what I knew would appeal to them and the words appeared quickly on the screen. Having a audience is powerful! I guess just as powerful as this Tuesday audience is to me, too! Thanks, TwoWritingTeachers for giving me a weekly audience.

#17 – Jarrett!

It’s a great time to be a kid, with so many great children’s authors writing books.

In my classroom, we know some authors so well.
We watched Kate DiCamilla online celebrate Mercy Watson’s birthday.
We celebrated Dot Day by reading all of Peter Reynold’s books.
We laugh along with Elephant and Piggie and the Pigeon as we enjoy all books by Mo.
We cheered when watching the live announcement of the Newbery Honor award for Pam Munos Ryan’s book, Echo.

Then today an author visited my school – Jarrett Krosoczka.
You know his books – The Lunch Lady series – Punk FarmThe Playtpus Police Squad.
(If you don’t, take time to get his books, enjoy them and then share with kids!!)
So far, at age 38, he has written and illustrated 27 books, co-authored 2, illustrated 4 and he has one coming out on May 17th (yes, I’ll be at the bookstore buying it on the 17th – exactly in one month!!)

Favorite quotes from his presentation:
“I published a book in 3rd grade and all the lessons I learned to write that book, I still use today – I brainstorm, draft, revise and edit.”

“I love to use my imagination.”

“Even after LOTS of rejection letters from publishers, I did not give up. I did not quit.”

“It’s a wonderful thing to be bored. It is important to be bored.”

“What I hope you remember from meeting me today is that my career started in school and in my free time, I used it to do what I love – write and draw. I hope you use your free time to create.”

After hearing Jarrett’s story, seeing the process he follows to create books and even watching him effortlessly sketch a few of his characters on the easel, I returned to my classroom with my class. I told them to use their iPad and explore Jarrett’s website.  In minutes, kids were collaborating to create comics and sketching ideas for animal stories. Seeing how engaged they were, I thought about how I had lessons I had planned to teach for the rest for the day but all could be held and taught tomorrow. I decided instead, we needed to be like Jarrett today and have time to “be bored”!

By 3pm, we met in a Closing Circle and shared. One pair had drafted a dog and cat comic. Another a party favor comic. One group was creating an animal school. One was sketching a rock band. All enjoyed time to be “bored” so their imagination could work and they could create!


Literary Gift…for my Architect Husband and Building Contractor!

Two weeks ago, a mother volunteered to read a book to our class and brought The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater. I had a teacher friend who always started her school year using this book but I personally had never actually read it myself. As Ethan’s mom read, connections were made for me!

I was moved by these lines:
First line – “…all the houses were the same.” 

“My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.” (stated AFTER main character changes the appearance of his house).

“..whenever anybody visited Mr. Plumbean’s house, the very next day that person would set about changing his own house to fit his dreams.”

“Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.”

Immediately, I bought two copies of this book to use as Literary Gifts:
1. One for my architect husband who designed a very smart, sustainable, energy-efficient home (which we are moving into TOMORROW!!!!) which does NOT look like all the other houses on the street.
2. One for Galaxy Homes, our building contractor, who welcomed the unconventional design of the house, and worked hard to build it, following Brian’s drawings and making his dream a reality.

I taped these two photos to the last page of the picture book, adding my own THANK YOU note – Thank you for building us a home that is NOT the same as all the others!


Additional Findings:
When I googled this book, I discovered it was picked as #48 in Top 100 Picture Books for Children
by ALA.

By going to Daniel Pinkwater’s website, I learned he have written LOTS of books and that his wife, Jill, is also a writer. Then I discovered I have probably heard him on NPR (He is also an occasional commentator on National Public Radio’s All Thing Considered and appears regularly onWeekend Edition Saturday, where he reviews exceptional kids’ books with host Scott Simon.) I see that for $.99 I can buy many of his novels for my Kindle, something I plan to do! And I thought he was only known for The Big Orange Splot published in 1977 by Scholastic!

Celebration – Getting Lost in a Book!

I snapped these 2 pictures Friday fifteen minutes into a combined writing/reading workshop time.

Due to a school assembly, we had about 50 minutes only for our ELA block. Due to it being a Friday and a day before a much-loved holiday, I forfeited teaching a mini-lesson and gave my 3rd grade class a menu of  choices: write a spooky story for fun, do a math addition color-the-code worksheet, draw scary monsters inspired by Ed Emberly, or read, either a book or an e-book using your ipad. “Off you go…”

The boy in the photo on the left got lost in his book. Through the glass is another boy choosing to read on his ipad and another in the chair listening to a Tumblebooks story using his headphones. The boy pictured on the left, took the window seat and his Big Nate book and got lost quickly in the story.

A few other chose to make scary illustrations. A pair of girls rewrote nursery rhymes inspired by Mary Anne Hoberman’s poems in 2-voices. Instead of Jack and Jill going up the hill, it was a vampire and a werewolf! The math lovers solved the addition problems and colored all the squares. For instance, the problems with the answer of 4, 5, and 6, got colored ORANGE according to the key…soon a pumpkin emerged from the colored squares! Two other girls collaborated, one writing a scary story and her partner being the illustrator.

I celebrate that as October comes to an end, my 3rd graders are readers and writers. They can get lost in their book. They can collaborate to create stories and pictures for others to read and enjoy.

And the best part, when I rang the chime to announce it was time to stop, I heard groans! Music to my ears. the sound that no one wanted our workshop time to end. We truly are readers and writers!!