March 14, 2018

“I need to leave at 10 of to help SCA,” a 6th grader announced.

“Can I go get my gloves and jacket from my locker?” another asked.

“It’s 10am. It’s time,” a 6th grader announced.

We headed out of our Mod 3 Reading 6 class, down the hall and outside to the back field. As we walked, the hallways were crowded but all were walking in the same direction as we were. So we walked four abreast, all heading outside as if it was a fire drill. Once at the field, student council members yelled through their meg-a-phones, “Form a circle. Make the circle bigger. Form a circle.” So I stood amongst 6th, 7th and 8th graders in a large circle, six deep. Some had signs. Some were in orange. Some were handing out orange ribbons to wear. IMG_0873

The air was cold and the wind whipped. I held this list I made this morning:


As I explained the opportunity to join the Walk-out March with my MS during morning homeroom, I explained the opportunity the administration was offering today. We discussed why today (a month after the FL shooting) and why 17 minutes (the number of deaths) and when I showed them my pink paper, I found myself getting choked up as I said “14 students and 3 teachers”.

Around 10:10am, the SCA began telling everyone to kneel down and I was amazed that all followed these student-led directions. Then it got quiet. I looked down at my list and said each name in my head. Then after the moment of silence, a girl I only know as the stage manager for the play that I help with after school, took the mega-phone and began to speak. “We are the generation who has lived through…” and she first named Columbine and stated how 15 died and then went on and on and on, naming places and the number of deaths and more tears filled my eyes. Chants began – “What do we want? Gun laws. When do we want it? Now!”


#3 Wind vs Windbag?

Last year when teaching a nonfiction writing unit, my students loved researching animals and then comparing them. They asked: Who Wins? using the Who Would Win series as a mentor text and then they wrote, using their research notes. Here’s an example of a page (on right) based on the book (on left):

Last night, the wind outside howled. It howled so loudly. It howled causing branches to fall. It howled keeping me awake on and off all night. As it howled, I cringed and pushed away the image of a large tree falling onto my house. The weather forecast stated winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph would happen all day and night. And I listened to the howling all night long.

Also last night, before heading to bed, I listening to the news. On and on, media hosts talked and talked and talked. About current government problems. About the 5-digit amount a government committee was going to pay for furniture for its new government office. About kids and guns in FL. About trade issues.  About kids dying due to bombs in Syria.

Who wins?              Wind…..vs……….windbags?
Who wins?             Nature issues…vs…… issues?

Wind wins, in my opinion. There is no controling Mother Nature.
However, it was hard for me to pick a winner. It feels like my current government and my current world can’t be controlled either at the moment. But I remain hopeful. I write my congressman and Senators and I vote. I keep believing in my fellow man to be upstanders, not bystanders, two terms my 6th grade Social Issues Book Club members are using as they discuss their books and their world. Wind wins!

PS: I hope all out there are safe from the wind and storms and headaches caused by wind and windbags.

Today, Amtrak is taking me to NYC for a day of magical learning with the smartest literacy minds on the planet at TCRWP. I predict that on March 4th, my slice will be all about it!

Free Land!

As I sat eating my lunch in the Faculty room last week, a substitute teacher mentioned there is an island in the Pacific giving away land. Really?! I got to thinking, maybe this is an option! I looked it up. It is called Pitcairin.

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According to Wikipedia, it is a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Pacific Ocean that form the last British Overseas Territory in the South Pacific.” When I read more, I discovered it has internet and a shop opened 3 times a week. And the supplies ordered from New Zealand only take 3 months. The temperature is in the 60s all year long and the island is surrounded by the bluest water! And a big plus for someone like me who doesn’t know other languages, English is spoken by the 50 current residents.

With the recent news, escaping to an island sounds refreshing. I can’t understand the people who think school teachers or administrators should have the right to carry a gun at school. And if this ever becomes a rule where I work, I’ll need an exit strategy. So moving to a remote island where the land is free, might be my option. For now, it is a pretty place to dream about visiting at least for a vacation, if not for my next act.


Grade 3 – TCRWP Unit 3 – Changing the World through speechwriting

Yesterday I started teaching a new Unit of Study with my 3rd graders. Last year, I taught this unit (but only Bend 1 and 2) for the first time. I refreshed my memory by rereading my blog post reflection at the end of that teaching. You can read it HERE.

I recalled that Session 1 has you experience the whole writing process from an idea to reading your flash draft it to your authentic audience, all in one class period. To help make it happen, an idea is given – Our School Needs More Magazines. I taught it last year using that prompt and it worked well. However, lately my class has been “caught” playing this game on their iPad that looks very mindless and noneducational. Plus, they are only to use links posted by me to Google Classroom or apps on their iPad that are approved by the school. This gave me a new idea!

I asked the class to prepare a speech that would persuade me to add more links to Google Classroom or add an app to the school app catalogue or to persuade me that no additional links are needed. Four kids chose the last option. A few wrote about why the Minecraft app should be added. LOTS wrote about, the game I had “caught” many playing before. A few about Discovery Education. And one about Math Playground.

WOW! After guiding them as suggested in the Session One mini-lesson, ALL wrote. All wrote long and strong. Just before the share, I placed the class in 5 groups and asked them to share with their group and pick a spokesperson to share aloud for their group, trying to convince my co-teacher and I that more links should be added to their Google Classroom.

After a 5 minute share, we gathered on the rug in a circle and the spokespersons shared!! So many reasons were stated. So much evidence. Statements included: It’s educational, it helps us be creative and use our imagination, it teaches us about food chains and ecosystems, it is fun.

After the share, I asked how they felt about writing their opinion. Many stated how it was easy because they knew the link they were trying to persuade me to add. Because they knew it so well, they could more easily write lots of reasons and examples. WOW! Their responses reminded me again of the importance of CHOICE when we write!

Last night I crafted this letter back to my class which I will share with them today as we continue on to Session 2 – Gathering Brave, Bold Opinions for Persuasive Writing!

February 7, 2017

Dear Students in Room 212,

Thank you for sharing your opinion in a speech related to adding or not adding some links in Google Classroom. Your speeches were very persuasive.

Cailtin’s bold and brave thesis statement that Math Playground should be added was followed by strong reasons. It will keep our brain working and it has challenging puzzles and it gives practice on 3rd grade skills like multiplication, fractions and money. Because of her strong reasons, we have added Math Playground to the MATH GOOGLE CLASSROOM! Go to the ABOUT page and give it a try to practice your math skills while having fun on your iPad. We just tried The Candy Challenge and recommend it!!

In addition, we were moved by those of you wanting a link to Discovery Education and Education World. You stated many reasons it is valuable to our learning and we are looking into adding it. But first we need to figure out if you need a password. Once we learn the particulars, we will add it, too.

We were very persuaded by the MInecraft argument. I would love to add a link to Minecraft allowing you to be creative, imaginative, and use engineering skills. However, the app and online link both cost money. At this time, I can only add links that are free. Sorry.

We are not totally convinced about the game. We agree that a game that teaches about food chains and ecosystems could be beneficial to 3rd graders. However, we would need to hear a speech where the speech writer has studied the game and can prove that the food eaten by the animals is actually food that that animal would eat in the real world. We further suggest that if it is determined that the game is NOT accurate to the ecosystems, maybe a letter could be written to the game creators asking them to make adjustments so your teachers would approve it. As of now, we are not convinced of its educational value so we won’t be adding it.

We also were moved those of you who felt we have enough to do on our iPad and do not believe we need to add more. Your argument was convincing because you added the actual number of links and apps 3rd graders in Room 212 have available to them to use. Your argument helped persuade us to think you have enough.

Thank you all for writing bold thesis statements that clearly stated your opinion. Thank you for adding reasons and specific evidence related to your reasons. You are a convincing group of speech writers and it is only Day 1 of our Unit.

Look out world! I foresee some writing that will indeed change our world!!

Your teachers,

                                                                                          Mrs. Donnelly and Mrs. Cherry

PS – Special thanks to Lucy Calkins and Kelly Boland Hohne for writing the 3rd grade Opinion Writing Unit – Changing the World. Kelly taught me last summer at the TCRWP Reading Institute. If you ever get the chance to learn from her, DO!!

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?

The Ups and Downs of Bamboo

There was a knock on the door. When I opened it, an elderly lady and her dog stood there. “I see you have bamboo in your yard,” she said. She was pointing to the huge pile of cut bamboo stalks that I had cut and moved to the curb for trash pickup. 

“Actually, my next door neighbor does and I battle to keep it on their side of the fence,” I explained.

She proceeded to give me tips for what I could buy at the hardware store to help and ended by saying, “Bamboo – it doesn’t play nice in a garden.”

I thanked her for her tips and off she went to continue walking her dog.

Bamboo has many good qualities – it offer color and shading and because it grows so tall, privacy protection, too.

But it has a big flaw, too. Its roots constantly shoot out with seemingly no self-control and can quickly overtake the plants on my side of the fence.  

With my gardening persistence and now , tips from my gardening neighbor, I will continue to work to contain the aggressive bamboo roots destroying my backyard plants.  

Why is it that some plants grow and flourish and can stay contained in their place? And others cannot?

I’m starting to see similarities between gardening and people and even elections.

DigiLit Sunday: Curves


This week’s DigiLit topic is CURVES.
Connect to Margaret Simon’s blog Reflections on the Tech to learn more.
To be perfectly honest, when I got a tweet yesterday sharing this word as an invite to join the Sunday conversation, I didn’t think I had anything to say about technology as related to the word CURVES.
In Virginia, there is a woman’s gym called CURVES and as I googled it just now, I see it is a franchise with locations all over. I personally have never been to a Curves gym but one thing I know about it is that you enter, workout in one station, then move to the next station. And once at the end, your workout has targeted all parts of your body.
When I reflected on this gym called CURVES, I do see connections to it and using technology. I personally made it a goal after returning from the Digital and Media Literacy Conference at TCRWP, that I would try ONE technology a week until the end of school. Last week, I tried Todays Meet with my students. This week I asked them to go to KIDDLE to research  science topic. It is a safe visual search engine for kids. Next week, I want to try the GREEN SCREEN at my school. They are going to stand in front of an image of the natural disaster they researched and share as if they are a newscaster on the scene reporting on this “breaking news”. Week by week, as if station by station, I am trying out something in the tech world with my students along for the ride. I guess I am curving my way along a tech path!!
I also think about CURVES as I recall how Colleen Cruz modeled how to teach kids to navigate a website. First, she had us PREVIEW the whole webpage. We saw a video, some text with hyperlinks, ads on the left side. After previewing, she reminded us that now we need to make decisions. Should I read the text first or watch the video? Should I click the hyperlink which takes me to another page to be previewed and then more decisions to be made? She described the inks as like wormholes. Do I click and CURVE my way down to the next page, next page, next page? Does each click help me to understand more about what I set out to learn today OR is the click and curve just a distractor? I’m starting to realize that I need to be an active digital reader who sets a purpose for my reading and then makes a plan to follow a path (sometimes CURVEY!) to reach my goal.
And finally, as I prepare to post my blog reflection as related to CURVES, I will be hitting “SHIFT-2” on my keyboard and a CURVEY a appears —> @ !!
And to think that at first glance, I saw no connection between tech and curves.
Thanks Margaret and the DigiLit community for getting me to think today!!

"Come have fun playing here while your learn."

Today the architects of my new school are visiting. They hope to capture through interviews and just watching, what we think about the space they designed for us.

What do I think? What should I say during my interview?

The building they created is quite unique. Along with just being brand new, it screams “Come have fun playing here while your learn.” This is loudly shouted when you leave my 2nd floor classroom and walk to the center of the 2nd floor and see THE SLIDE!

When I bring friends to see my school, they ask right away, “When do you use it?” And my reply is, “We just do.” The slide is just another way to get from the 2nd to the 1st floor. My class knows that it does take a little more time to wait your turn to go down. So it is a choice. Those that really want to get outside for recess to play tag, usually take the stairs. Others say it is worth the wait. All understand that the slide is just another fun way to move in our very unique building called our school. I have come to realize that the beauty of having this feature as a permanent part of the building is that it isn’t a reward. It just gets used because it screams, “Come have fun playing here while your learn.”

The building also is designed to allow for tons of natural light in the classrooms and the hallways. I’ve worked in other schools where I’ve had no windows at all in my classroom or just a few. Here the outside is brought in throughout the entire building. I can’t quote the science of why this is important but I can anecdotally share that I feel better in this building. I feel better because the building allows me to see the sky regularly as I have fun learning inside.



Finally, the building is designed with lots of open gathering spaces. I will admit that this is still something I am learning to figure out how to use well. As a teacher, I’m used to planning lessons and teaching them WITHIN the four walls given to me called my classroom. But this school is different. Now my students regularly spill-out into the hallway. Since the wall to the hallway of my classroom is glass, I can see them as they learn outside the four walls of my classroom. Fun chairs and stools dot the hallways, providing fun places to sit and work. Other spaces throughout the building provide spots to gather and collaborate. Many spaces, I will admit, I still need to explore with my students. And I will, as my mindset of what “my classroom” is, broadens. Really, my classroom at Discovery Elementary is THE ENTIRE school building, a building designed in my opinion as a place to PLAY while learning.



My new school, Discovery ES, truly screams, “Come have fun playing here while your learn.”
Thank you, VMDO Architects!!

#23 – TIp – Use Elaboration Prompts to Grow Your Big Idea

At the Monday conference in my town, Lucy shares tips for teaching essay. After having us learn the STRUCTURE of essay using her bootcamp strategy to write I love ice cream because…because…and most of all, because …. , she reminded me that to revise essay, elaboration prompts help. I have used elaboration prompts with my writing students and it never fails!! I made this bookmark for my students to hold and use. Feel free to use and/or tweek. The prompts are from the Units of Study for teaching Writing. I vividly remember Kate Roberts teaching me this at a workshop where she bravely had someone in the audience name a big idea and then had the list of prompts projecting from the document camera. She started to write and when she got stuck, we called out a prompt to keep her going. Since seeing that, I have bravely repeated this in my classroom, handing cards with a prompt on it to a handful of kids. And I write in front of them as I jot down the prompts heard and fill in more ideas, elaborating! I can still see a 4th grader I taught 2 years ago smiling at me at the end of the workshop where this was the mini-lesson. “Mrs. Donnelly, I used every prompt on the bookmark,” she said as I looked at her notebook, two pages filled!

Here’s my attempt now to grow a big idea in draft form – Self-contained vs Departmentalized?
(Full disclosure – I am not sure what I’ll be typing here – as I’ve recently taught both and like both for different reasons…)

         As it becomes springtime in a school, teachers start to think about NEXT year. Right now I am teaching all the subjects all day to one group of kids. I call this self-contained. I’m realizing that I like the flexibility. If I want a math lesson to go longer, I can. If I want to squeeze in another read-aloud, I can steal time away from science and make it up tomorrow. An example of this was last Wednesday when we had an author visit. We attended his presentation first thing in the morning. I had math and social studies activities planned. But the author got us excited to read and write. So, I pushed those lessons to the next day and we spent more time reading and writing. I could do this because no one was expecting me to change classes like you do when you departmentalize.  I also only have 23 students and families to know well. I see this being helpful when the parents write me emails asking me questions. With just 23 families, I have easily been able to respond. This is giving me the idea that self-contained is where I should stay. What surprises me about this is that I took a job 2 years ago specifically to be the 5th grade writing teacher. I only had to plan writing and teach it to 4 classes a day. I used to think that only having one subject to worry about as a teacher would be the best. And I did like feeling very prepared in my one subject. But now, I realize some of the cons to being departmentalized. One is you have to teach LOTS of students that one subject and I found it hard to know them all well. To add on, I had to set the timer at the beginning of every class and no matter where we were, when the timer went off, we had to stop. Many people think that being departmentalized sounds easier – only one subject to know so well. But having done it and now also done self-contained, I prefer self-contained. It allows me flexibility with my schedule and time to really know my students. (And I am even getting better at teaching math!)

(Full disclosure – I did not expect to write this much. Proof that these elaboration prompts work!! Once done, I went back and bolded all the prompts I used.)

#13 and DigiLit Sunday – Transitons and emojis


A few weeks ago, I was in the car and heard this NPR EMOJI STORY:

When I’m reporting from my base in Brazil, I have had entire wordless conversations on WhatsApp, the ubiquitous messaging app, which Brazilians also happen to love. For making a date with friends, I choose martini glass, question mark? The response I get — handclapping and then clock, question mark. And on and on it goes. Portuguese is a foreign language for me, so having all these emojis is really useful. I mean, everyone understands the emoji for getting a manicure.

Then days later, my 3rd grade team ( five classes) introduced the tool Kidblog to all the 3rd graders. For the month of March, we are asking the the students to electronically write small moment stories, post it for the others in their classroom to see and then add comments to their classmates. At a team meeting three days after the launch I asked, “How’s it going with Kidblog?” Another teacher commented, “Fine, but I told them they couldn’t use emojis.” Another said, “I told them only at the end of a comment and just one.” I sat and as typical with me, in the moment, I often can’t find the words fast enough to respond and so I said nothing. I get why they were saying no to emojis. As teachers, we expect to see letters strung together to form a story told across many sentences. Adding emojis seems to just be playing and not writing a story. But I kept thinking about writing and emojis. If we are to write and tell our stories and if an image can help with this, why not use emojis whenever and how often we want?

Then this happened the next day in my room (I wrote about it HERE as my SOL#11):

“Look friends. Dr. Russo (our Principal) just asked me a question about blogging and now she is sitting outside our room typing. I think she is going to add her second small moment story to our blog!” 
As we gathered for Morning Meeting, a friend said, “She’s gone.”
“Should we see if she posted?” I asked.
“YES!” was the unanimous reply. 
I touched airplay on my smartphone to show my phone display on the smart panel. Then after logging into Kidblog, we could see it! She HAD published her 2nd piece. I had no idea what she wrote and I started to read this aloud…

As I read the lines, “Trust me, you (referring to the students at Discovery ES) are teaching all of us adults so much” my voice started to crack. Her words are so true and I felt so touched by words.

Next I heard, “Are you OK?”

Another friend said very kindly, “She’s just happy. My mom does that all the time. You should see her.” I chuckled and was glad he gets adults that cry when they are happy!!

Another student said, “You should add a comment that says you really like her writing and add a happy emoji that is crying.” 
“Does that exist?” I asked.  ALL in the room nonchalantly replied in the affirmative. 
That same day, I got this comment to my SOL#11:
Then today the DigiLit Sunday focus is TRANSITIONS. So I began to think: Are writers in the 21st century transitioning to using more than just the 26 letters in the alphabet? Our iPad makes it so easy to add an image, a music link, a video, and even an emoji. I am now, as Anna mentions in her comment to me, wondering about my definition of writing and I see a transition occurring.
This March, I am participating for the 3rd time in The TwoWritingTeachers March Writing Challenge (where I happily interact with Margaret Simon and learned of this Sunday posting!) As I look back, it has been 3 years of transitions for me personally as a writer. First, I was just trying to write and put words on the page for 31 days. Then the next year, I felt more confident and started adding hyperlinks and pictures to make my daily post clearer and more interactive. Now this year I am bringing my students along for the ride and I find myself only halfway into the challenge, and am pondering what is writing? Can’t it be letters strung together AND also just the right visual?
For me, I am transitioning to be the kind of writing teacher who will encourage 3rd graders to use ALL the tools they have at their disposal to tell their story that only they can tell. And I will encourage them to use emojis if it helps to make their writing clearer.
(And now that I have written about it, I feel ready to speak up at my next team meeting, too!)