My Teacher – Mary!

“Students need WARM DEMANDERS – a person who is compassionate, caring but also holds that student accountable. Type in the chat that teacher who was a WARM DEMANDER of you.” These words Tyrone Howard spoke during the closing Keynote of the TCRWP Saturday Reunion.

I immediately typed Mary Ehrenworth. That first summer back in 2009, sitting in the front row of the Columbia Univerisity Auditoium with 500+ teachers behind me, I was a student learning how to write. Mary taught me in a caring manner while masterfully nudging me to do the work and be accountable.

This past Saturday, Mary taught me some more. I am so thankful to be a part of the TCRWP community, learning.

Here are imiages from the slideshow I made to highlight the ideas shared by Mary, along with a former staff developer, Pablo, and a NYC teacher, Marc. They have a book out now called The Civically Engaged Classroom.

Studnet Letter Link

Marc’s students’ work Link

My Teachers

I spent from 7am to 6pm yesterday moving into my new school. Not sure why I have some much to move in and unpack ….actually, I do know why. I teach Reading 6 and therefore have tons of books!! It is also my 28th year as a teacher so I have almost 3 decades of collecting my favorite picture books and novels to share with my students. Plus, the pencils, notebooks, post-it notes, glue sticks, bulletin board boarders, anchor chart paper, whiteboard markers. Lucky for me, I’m in a much bigger classroom with lots of storage. Now, ALL 20+ boxes are emptied and the books and materials have a shelf to call home.

Today, I made these four signs to hang in the back of my room:


They will join these speech-bubble faces I’ve made over the years:

Ellin Keene  – We talk to understand

Lucy Calkins: Writing changes the world

Carl Anderson – How’s it going?

Cornelius Minor – Be a producer, not a consumer of tech

Kathleen Tolan – Build a Reading Life

Jen Serravallo – Teach students how to read at each level

Kelly Boland – Students set and meet goals using the learning progressions

As I teach, these amazing educators will “watch” me and nudge me to be the best teacher I can for my students.

Whose shoulders are YOU standing on this year?

Whose photo would YOU add to your classroom wall as a reminder?

Weekend of Learning

From March 13-16, I was busy learning at both VSRA and TCRWP Saturday Institute. Today I have a little extra time. I plan to review my notes and process them here in writing.

Things to remember from VSRA:

  1. Pernille Ripp – if you don’t know of her, start following her. She is an amazing teacher in Wisconsin and started the Global Read-AloudAnnual Event. She was the VSRA Opening Keynote Speaker. But she also spoke at 8am for 90 minutes about writing. BIG TAKE-AWAY – In Writing Workshop, provide CHOICE!!

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She is concerned that we tell kids about the Writing Process and show the the stages – brainstorm, draft, revise, edit, publish. However, now that she is a published author, she realizes her writing process is messy. She suggests we let kids know this. She highlighted this in her classroom by skyping wih authors (suggested using this list created by Kate Messner). She asks the authors to talk about their process. After multiple skype sessions, her students felt liberated knowing that all writers have a different writing process.

Slide highlights from Pernille’s KEYNOTE SPEECH:

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2. Highlights from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst Conference Talk

  • Increase student volume of reading
    • reading a series – studies show such readers become lifelong readers
    • providing classroom libraries with characters that match students.
      Check out: We Need Diverse Books Website
    • becoming comfortable with an author/character allows the reader to feel fluent.
  • Increase STUDENT TALK in the classroom –
    3 BIG Questions:

    • What surprised me?
    • What did the author think I already knew?
    • What changed/confirmed what I knew?

Things to remember from TCRWP:

1. Keynote by Jason Reynolds. He is the coolest! And he signed my Reading Notebook. I wrote about it here.

2. Workshop by Katy Wischow – Co-author of Investigating Characterization Unit of Study for MS I was excited to learn of this new unit. It arrived yesterday from Heinemann and I plan to try teaching it in April/May.

3. Closing KeynoteMarc BrackettEver since hearing Marc and about his Ruler, I’ve been assessing my color zones. Am I feeling yellow, green, blue, red? Why? Maybe it’s time to get more sleep, to eat, to breathe. Time to get back to yellow! Read more about it HERE

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Thank you, Cindy for teaching me how to add a slideshow to my blog!!

What Color are You Feeling?

I heard Yale professor, Marc Brackett speak on Saturday. He was the closing Keynote at TCRWP Reunion Saturday in Riverside Church.


I knew nothing of his work. Since Saturday, I keep thinking, “What color am I now?” after he introduced me to his Ruler Method – a Mood Meter. The x-axis is a measure of how pleasant one feels. The y-axis is a measure of how much energy one has.

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YELLOW – how I felt after I made my presentation at VSRA.
GREEN – how I felt listening to Marc. I was so tired by Saturday afternoon but loved my day of learning at Teachers College.
RED – how I felt the day after my Fair at school as I read an email complaint and tried to remind myself that you can’t please everyone but I was still annoyed.
BLUE – how I felt standing on my crowded subway car after leaving Riverside Church as a man very, very loudly cursed others blocking his way (the F-word seemed to be his every-other word) and sadly the rest of the subway car felt like me – powerless to move him from his RED rage.

Then another man, probably feeling BLUE, too and holding a jar, asking for spare change spoke to the RED-raged man. Why you need to shout, man? Sure, it is annoying to have the doorway blocked? As I stood frozen by the shouting, the two men continued to converse, one loudly, the other calmly and soon the loud man was laughing. Then in two stops he exited the train and I felt relief and GREEN.

Marc reminded the 2,000 teachers gathered at Riverside church how kids can’t learn when they are afraid. He also spoke to us. As teachers, we can’t teach when we feel exhausted and annoyed. Then he shared how through breathing, eating well, sleeping enough and exercising we can set ourselves up for more YELLOW/GREEN times. And then we can be a role model to our students.

I’m glad the panhandler was a role model for my subway car on Saturday.

Spying on MY reading

This year I am teaching Reading 6 in Middle School so naturally, I am spending my time reading and spying on myself as I read. This was a trick I learned first from Ellin Keene in Mosaic of Thought, Heinemann, 1997 (a life-changing book for me and for the literacy world) and then reinforced by the staff developers at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Armed with the Pathways Reading book and more specifically focused the learning progressions of four skills (character traits, characters’ response to change, predicting, and author’s craft), I spied on myself as a reader Friday night.

Friday during the school day, author Alan Gratz visited my school promoting his newest book, Ban This Book.

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As I was leaving school with an autographed copy of his book, I stopped at the supply table in the back of my classroom and took time to set myself up for reading this book AND recording my thinking about it. I grabbed some post-it notes and added one to the last page of each chapter. Now for  this particular book, some of the chapters were short and the book itself is 243 pages long. And I will admit that many minutes went by as I armed my book with end-of-chapter note-taking space. However, now the book was ready. As soon as I heated up some dinner, I was ready, too, with pen in one hand and book in the other.

Friday night I sat and read the whole book! It IS a page turner and fun school story about one of my favorite things – books! And I found as I got to the end of each chapter, with that blank yellow post-it staring at me, I had a thought about the book at that moment and I jotted it down quickly before beginning the next chapter. I jotted character traits about the main and minor characters. I jotted down my predictions of what would happen next. I jotted that moment when the main character acted out of character. I jotted about times when I felt just like a character. I jotted about moves the author made to keep me reading.

It looked like this:

Then Monday night, I removed all the post-its. As I did, I sorted them into piles. All the ones about Amy Anne in a pile. Another pile for Trey and a third for Trey’s mom. I had a prediction pile and an author-craft pile. I had two favorite scenes, so I put those together. It looked like this:


During my many visits to Institutes at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, the staff developers have encouraged the use of a Reading Notebook. Since the act of reading is so invisible, the notebook is the place to make one’s thinking while reading visible to themselves and others. It is the place to hold onto thoughts, review them, grow them, revise them, and have them close at hand during a book club discussion or in front when a literary essay is being drafted.

As I looked over all the piles on my dining room table, I asked myself, what are the big ideas? I decided I had enough thinking to make two double-pages. One would be devoted to characters, their traits, my connections to them and times they acted out of character. (These are all skills defined in TCRWP Pathways to Reading book.) It ended up looking like this:

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I then took the predictions I made, my author’s craft notes, my two favorite scene and fun things I learned while reading this book and added them to look like this:


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I can’t wait to teach my sixth graders today. My mini-lesson will be a reminder about how, when we read, we think. One way to make our thinking visible is to stop and jot it down. Then I’ll show them how I did it! First, I set myself up for success by having a book of my choice that I was motived to read. (Somehow meeting the author hours before at my school and holding a book, signed by the author is very motivating!). Then I took time to add post-its so I’d be reminded to stop and jot. Using post-its allowed me to sort thinking into piles. It allowed me to them organize my thinking into my notebook. At the end, I added some color for fun.

Now, I am on the lookout for others who read this book thoughtfully. With my notebook in hand, I’m ready for a book club discussion. Or maybe I’ll use these pages to write a literary essay. No matter what, I know I will have fun sharing my spying on my reading with my 6th graders today!

My Reflections – TCRWP Summer Writing Institute

From July 31-August 4, I had the pleasure of learning from Lucy Calkins and her staff developers at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project during their Summer August Writing Institute.

Each day I got to sit and be inspired by a different Keynote Speaker.
Day One – Lucy!!!   I wrote about it HERE.
Day Two – Katherine Paterson; Day Three – Daniel Beaty; Day Four – Carmen Agra Deedy and then a bonus, Kwame Alexander was in NYC relasing his newest book. I wrote about all this HERE.

Each day I spend 2 hours in a small group advance section learning with Mary Ehrenworth who got me to generate LOTS of story ideas and take two of them through the writing process and share one at the publishing party on Friday. I wrote about it HERE.

Each day I also spend 2 hours in a small group advance section learning with Hannah Arlone who got me to understand the power of Mentor Text in writing workshop. I wrote about it HERE.

I feel so grateful to have had this week! I now am reading and rereading my Units of Study kit books, especially the Guide and the Pathways book with fresh eyes, ready to be as strong a cheerleader and coach as ever for my students as Lucy, Mary, and Hannah were for me. I’m motivated to stand on their shoulders and guide my students to be the best readers and writers they can be. Then, they will read and understand how to live and will write to change their world.

Thanks to TCRWP. You helped me make a plan for this upcoming year.
Specifically, I will work on these three things.

1. grow strong partnerships in my classroom, providing them with lots of talk time and helping all to realize that they need to be a strong partner because I can NOT be the only teacher in the room.

2. work to make my classroom library look more like a bookstore, enticing readers to pick books to read and then also use these books to mentor them as writers.

3. use Pathway progressions with students to help them set goals to grow their reading skills.

What are your 2017-18 goals as a teacher?


I’ve been thinking about the kind of problem-solver I am. Teaching reading in 3rd grade and using the Units of Study for Teaching Reading is making me ponder this topic based on their anchor chart:

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I do think at times, I have been each of these kind of problem-solvers. But the first bullet point seems to be one I favor most. I don’t like drama. I don’t like unfairness. I don’t like negativity. When it occurs, I avoid.

I admire the woman I learned about today when I accompanied my class to their Spanish class. She solved problems head on and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her efforts. Her name is Rigoberta Menchu and her story can be read HERE. I was inspired by this woman. I wonder why I didn’t know of her already? In 1992, I was 29 years old and had a newborn and a three year old. I probably never took time to read the newspaper then. (I guess I was dealing with my own problems head on!)

I do find myself asking for help, bullet point #3. I’ll talk to family. I’ll talk to friends. I’ll read books. All will share thoughts on the topic. I seek validation in the way I plan to solve a problem. It feels better if someone else tells me my way of solving “it” is a good idea.

This weekend, a friend offered me advise. My friend said, “Life is like a revolving door. The opening will reveal itself. Just be patient.” I guess that is another way of saying the fourth and final bullet point.

So many ways to address a problem.
Which is your go-to way for solving a problem?

Inspired by PS58

My school’s teaching using the Units of Study for Teaching Reading and Writing for the first time this year. My friend works at PS58 in Brooklyn and they have been using the UoS for years. Today I observed a 2nd and 3rd grade class and chatted with a 5th grade teacher. Now I’m inspired to return to VA. It helps to see that I am going so many things well. It helps to see ways I can grow.


When I saw this sign on my walk back to my hotel, I smiled. I am feeling ready to keep practicing reading and writing workshop, not just talk about it!

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She called me a NERD!

In her post yesterday, my daughter called me a nerd. I LOVE it!!

To add more evidence to support her opinion, I was the first car into the school parking lot yesterday on a 2-hr delay. I still arrived on time so I could complete my sub plans for Friday. Taking a day off from school doesn’t make me a nerd. But, listen to why I’m taking the day off.

I’ll be on the 6:05pm train to NYC tonight so I can have a Nerd Weekend! First, on my Friday, a day I took as a personal day, I arranged to visit PS58, a school where my friend works. Yes, you read it correctly. I’m taking a personal day and still going to a school! Yep, that’s nerdy. This school has taught using the Units of Study for Reading and Writing in all grades for years. I want to be inspired by their work and bring it back to my school. It’s just our 1st year.

Another piece of evidence is where I’ll be on Saturday.  I’ll be getting up by 7am and in my seat at Riverside Church on the Upper Westside of Manhattan by 8am. I can’t wait to be surrounded by hundreds of other nerdy teachers, all gathered to learn from the very best literacy minds on the planet. I’ll spend the whole day learning on a Saturday, yep a Saturday. Each hour between 9-3pm, I’ll attend a different workshop in order to gain tips to teach reading and writing better. All on a Saturday. Yep, that’s nerdy. TCWRP generously offers a day of free workshops each October and March. I’ve attended all, but one  since 2009. I only missed this past October’s making this Saturday ever more precious. It has been a year since I was last at a Reunion.

A final piece of evidence I’ll share is that I also come to TCRWP during the summer. Yep, the summer when as a teacher I am off on vacation. Since 2009, I’ve attended their Summer Institute, a week of learning, all day long, Monday through Friday. During these institutes, they invite authors, my rock stars, to give keynote addresses. Because of this I’ve heard Kevin Henkes, Mo Willems, Kate Di Camillo, Ralph Fletcher,  Katherine Patterson, Sarah Weeks, Carmen Agra Deedy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Seymour Simon, Pam Munos Ryan, Ellin Keene, Stephanie Harvey, Tim Rasinski, Colleen Cruz, Jen Serravallo, Carl Anderson, Kathy Collins, Kylene Bears, Lester Laminack, Jacqueline Woodson, Niki Grimes, Matt de la Pena to name a few. I love authors! I love using their book to understand how to live. My summertime week at TCRWP feels magical to me because I get to meet authors.

Yep, my daughter, Anne, nailed it. I’m a nerd!


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!!