Just a Few More Minutes…

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL19.  Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for sponsoring this wonderful event!

Last August we visited Portland, Maine before traveling to Weld. I knew I would not have Internet access when we arrived at Kawanhee Inn. My cell phone never worked there, and I needed to share the final revisions with Stacey and our editor Bill Varner before I left Portland.

I had promised my husband that we would take a harbor cruise Sunday morning, so I extended our checkout time to three and left for the tour. We had a great time, and even stopped for clam chowder and onion rings at a tiny restaurant on the walk back to our hotel.

Then I was glued to my laptop for the next 90 minutes. Just before three, I asked my husband to take our suitcases and check out. “I’ll be down in about five minutes.”  Fifteen minutes later I heard a knock at the door. No, it wasn’t my husband. It was a member of the hotel staff who wanted to get the room ready for the next guests.

“I am just packing up my laptop.” I chorused while still typing the final sentence.  I shared the document on google with Bill and Stacey, shot another e-mail to Bill to let him know everything was completed and ready for final review, and packed up my laptop. The manuscript for Welcome to Writing Workshop was ready for the copy editors. At 3:20 I met me husband in the lobby and we walked to our car.  “That was really cutting it close,” I said to my husband.

He just rolled his eyes and looked skyward. “We are supposed to be on vacation,” he muttered to no one in particular.



Think Tank!

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL19. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for sponsoring this wonderful event!

What a Meeting with a Professional Learning Community Network Can Accomplish: Follow-up to a Cluster Meeting  (minutes from an elementary school gr 2-5 meeting with key teachers)

  • Having an extended block or reading/writing time
    • This would be ideal. As we have looked at the many demands to fit in lunch and special schedules, blocks for math and other subjects, Title I and inclusion schedules, we have never been able to find a way to block it this way.  We welcome anyone who can see other ways to schedule it so we are able to make more reading-writing connections.
  • No time for spelling
    • We agree that this is a challenge but we are cautious about making a blanket statement that there is no time for spelling. We could find some solutions not to our liking.  We are willing to say that spelling might be a part of reading as well as writing or even an across-the-content area endeavor. Weekly spelling tests are of no real benefit to students, but the parents look for them. We need to find other ways to help students develop good spelling habits. Can we hold all students accountable for using environmental print?
  • Moving narrative cycle so it is not the first cycle
    • Narrative is usually the easiest mode of writing for our students. We usually get the best scores on the narrative cycles.  We wonder if a possible help would be to move the date of the writing prompt back.  We also hope that classes are emphasizing personal narrative and that teachers have been able to find good picture books or scaffolding ideas to help students have strong models. Third through fifth grade classrooms should use realistic fiction as a second cycle for narrative writing.
  • Measuring progress with different types of writing
    • We agree that we cannot compare the different samples for progress over the course of a year. We do not try.  We look to our success in each of the writing types and try to think of ways to meets student needs identified in each sample.
  • Well-formed paragraphs the goal for the end of the year
    • This is a difficult task. Students very often make progress and then have setbacks as they try more challenging writing tasks.  For some students, we would agree that greater structure such as use of the Four-Square might help them better understand expanding the content to support the big ideas. However, we caution against requiring scaffolds all the time. We discourage formulaic writing
  • Ordering more resources for writing
    • We are trying to get together some of our resources and lesson ideas in addition to the Fletcher materials that all teachers should have including A Writer’s Notebook, Live Writing, Poetry Matters, and How Writers Work. We are also ordering more mentor texts to help teachers identify lessons ideas to support needs. Craft Moves by Stacey Shubitz will be ordered for the professional library as well as a copy for each grade level to share.
  • More grammar in the program
    • We’d be happy to structure some sessions to talk about needs and possible interventions. Students do need to understand the grammar of our language.  We do have a roadmap of expectations.  We realize, however, that there is a wide gap between a lesson on a grammar book page and the likelihood that students will use the grammar in everyday writing. This transfer is not great unless students have both explicit and implicit instruction in grammar and conventions, large chunks of time to write independently daily, and significant support in the editing process. We do not think DOL works becuase it involves proofreading, not sentence construction and aims to teach writing with no writing. It is error-based. We have decided to focus on a culture of correctness instead.
  • We start at the top, we should start at the bottom
    • Most writing teachers find that it is important to start with a whole. Of course sometimes that whole piece of writing is short, sometimes more involved.  Sometimes the writing needs more modeling and shared experiences and sometimes the kids are ready to fly with an idea.  Sometimes kids need very strong scaffolds and sometimes they can be given more responsibility for developing an idea.  Long periods of specific skill work on sentences and then paragraphs and then writing ideas has not shown itself to be effective for students. Students need chunks of time to write daily in writing workshop and other content areas.
  • Transition second to third is difficult on parents
    • Let’s talk more about that. We may even want to have a discussion between second and third grade teachers.

A Lovely Scaffold for a Poem

Slice of Life2  I am participating in #SOL19.  Thanks to the twowritingteachersblog team for sponsoring this wonderful event!

I have always loved reading and writing poems. When I was growing up, I was often in trouble and sent to my room to reflect on my behavior. Fortunately, I had my own desk filled with pens and writing paper and a wonderful guitar my grandparents had bought for me as a birthday present. I wrote many poems, sometimes turning them into songs I could play on my beautiful guitar.

This poem was written because of my family’s love for Maine and all of its treasures, my gratitude and friendship with publisher friends at Stenhouse in Portland, and my love for Gerald Stern’s poem, “Saying the First Words.”  My sister and brother-in-law now have a cottage near Farmington, and my husband and I visit in August. We make a quick stop in Portland to visit our friend, Chandra. There, a harbor tour of lighthouses and a stop at a tiny pub where they serve incredible clam chowder. Hopefully, this year we will catch up with Paula Bourque, too. Often, we stay at the Kawanhee Inn in Weld. It has a huge screened-in porch that overlooks the beautiful pine trees and Webb Lake. Dinner is served here, so you can watch the sun spread its colors across the sky and sink behind the mountains. Here are some photos from Portland:

I used Stern’s poem as my mentor text to write.  I first read Stern’s poem in a poetry course offered by the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. The facilitator was Julia Blumenreich.  Please follow this link to see Stern’s wonderful poem:


Imagining a Different Life

I could live like that!
Maine’s majesty of the wild outdoors calls my name:
Inspiring me to rise early to read the entries of my guests in our inn’s journal,
Basking in the freedom of wide-open spaces,
Drawing deep breaths of piney air;
Marveling at my view of the White Mountains.

I would pick blueberries full-to-popping
And stir them into a muffin batter in the purple-early dawn
To serve guests and family members staying at the inn.
My backyard and the lake, an art gallery for everyone to enjoy.
In winter the fireplaces crickles and crackles, inviting storytelling
As guests return from skiing or trekking through fields on snowshoes.

Fall brings a pageantry of brilliant color to the inn!
I would hike in the cool-warm days of September over hill and gully,
Moose, deer, even eagles hidden in the tall grasses and high in the pines.
Returning to freshen up and greet my dinner guests as they prepare for a feast:
Lobster bisque, beef bourguignon, homemade blueberry pie.
And just when you think you’ve taken in all the beauty that Maine has to offer,
The great outdoors of Maine will startle you with another photo op…

Yes, I could live like that!




Keys to Scoring Conventions Well

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL19. Thanks to the twowritingteachersblog team for sponsoring this wonderful event!

When you are reading a student’s written work, try to focus on the writing task and the qualities of writing that include the development of ideas, a sharp focus, a meaningful organization, precise language, voice, and sentence fluency. While grammar and conventions are important, our first read should be about the content – the message being communicated – the inside story that only the writer knows and is now sharing with you.  Place mechanics on the back burner until the second read – unless the writing cannot be understood because punctuation is totally absent and/or sentences are run ons and fragments that make it impossible to read without stumbling badly.

When we score conventions, emphasis should be on readability.

  • Conventions should support and enhance the message.
  • Look beyond spelling. Writers can have other conventional strengths even though they may struggle with spelling.
  • Look for what the student can do – not just what he cannot do.
  • Do not overreact. Two or three mistakes cannot spoil the entire performance.
  • Neatness and handwriting should not be considered when scoring the conventions of your own students. These things are separate issues.
  • Think of yourself as a copyeditor. Ask, “How much work would I need to do to prepare this text for publication? Heavy editing?  Moderate? Very light?

Try not to approach editing skills from a deficit model.  Correcting everything will not help your students. Decide what is most important for students to learn at a given point in time. Remember that too many negatives add up to zero. Nothing is gained. During conferences, give students one suggestion to improve in the area of ideas, organization, or style. Then give one suggestion to help them improve in grammar and conventions. Set a goal with your students that challenges them but is doable for them.

What would you add to this list?  Is there a point(s) you would remove?

Selling Raffle Tickets is Not My Favorite Thing, But…

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL19. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for hosting this wonderful event!

I am big on giving money to charities. I have my favorites – St. Jude’s Research Hospital, CHOP, World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, ASPCA, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, National Parks, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Pearl S. Buck International.

I belong to Eta chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa, an amazing organization that consists of a sisterhood of women educators. Some are retired and some are still in the work force. We work tirelessly to provide scholarships and donate monies to charity. Most of our money is divided between Laurel House, Pearl S. Buck International, Harambee Foundation, and WePAC (an organization that has committed many, many hours to reopening, staffing and operating volunteer-run libraries in Philadelphia public elementary schools).

At the May meeting of Eta chapter, we will listen to second-grade teacher Kelly Gallagher talk about the SuperHero Project she founded. Kelly founded the organization after her twin boys were born prematurely. Kelly and her family spent six months traveling back and forth to the hospital to visit the twins. After doing a lot of personal research, Kelly came up with a great idea to share with the hospital – technology that places cameras into the isolates and would allow parents and families to see the baby even when they are unable to be at their bedside. And so the SuperHero Project was born. Angel Eye Cameras were installed in the Holy Redeemer NICU. The Superhero Project continues to aid families in the NICU and provide assistance and resources to many hospitals in the greater Philadelphia area.

Eta chapter members will listen to Kelly’s story and decide in May if we want to designate part of the monies raised to the SuperHero Project. Read more about it here:  http://superheroprojectinc.org/

Back to the raffles – last night my husband (he gets roped into doing all kinds of things because he said “I do” six years ago), Bobbie (an Eta sister), and I spent three hours selling raffle tickets to everyone who walked in the door of the Texas Roadhouse.  While clapping and line dancing was going on in the background and waiting-to-be-seated diners were shelling peanuts and eating them, we repeated our plea for charitable causes and pointed to the prizes that were displayed. Tuesday was family night at the restaurant (Kids could eat for $1.99!), and it was packed.

While some people walked right by us, and others told us they were from Iowa or Minnesota or somewhere in Europe (who would think Texa Roadhouse would have people from all over the world), others dug in their pockets and purses for change to buy a raffle ticket for a dollar. Some even went back outside to dig in their cars and return with a dollar or two. It actually felt good to see so many people wanting to help.  People were very interested in the Harambee Foundation, an organization that provides professional development and fund raising support for local initiatives in Tanzania, East Africa which address the needs of vulnerable youth, women, and families.

Even though I really hate selling raffle tickets (I really do!), I felt good when we walked out the door. We raised over $400 in one evening, and all that money goes to support good causes. Of course, I have to admit that I bought lots of tickets, too – probably a few too many (my husband rolled his eyes at me as I reached for my pocketbook a third time).  But I didn’t do it to win any prizes – I did it because it felt great to be able to be a small part of all those wonderful organizations. Really, I wish I could do more.

Why Use a Reader Response Journal?

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL19.  Thanks to twowritingteachers  blog team for sponsoring this event.

Use a reader response journal or literature log to lead readers into the literature before reading to:

Activate Prior Knowledge

Build Concepts

Make Predictions

Focus Attention

Arouse Interest


Possibilities for a Literature Notebook  include:



Persona journal entries that make connections with stories you have read

Titles of books to read

Lines that might become poems

Powerful leads



Observations about a character

Discussions with self

Authors to study

Interesting words



Notes from Reading mini-lessons

Lists such as character traits

Answers to questions


Connections with other books or authors

Quotations from authors, people, students

Author heart maps

Quickwrites off a scaffold, line, phrase, or word

Connections to other books or authors

Found Poetry

Opinions – rate the book

Can you add more possibilities to this list?

When a Corgi Loves You

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL19. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for sponsoring this wonderful event.

When I come home from a day at a school, all three Welsh Corgis are at the door ready to greet me. They speak to me and try to jump up (I know I should have trained them not to) and wiggle their behinds (they have no tails) and smile.

Merri Welsh Corgis

Arthur is usually the first to snuggle with me as I sit on the couch and enjoy a cup of hot tea. He is not content to sit beside me. He has to press his body into mine or press his hard head against my cheek, making it quite difficult to enjoy my quiet time and my tea.

Often, he flips over for a belly rub or tummy tickle. If I stop, he takes his paw and swings it at me or tries to place more of his furry, long body on my lap (He is NOT a lap dog – he weighs about 33 pounds!).

Merrill and Rhonda, my old girls, are always ready for a “cookie” and can make the sweetest faces to ask for more. I usually give in and my husband just shakes his head.  Those two can melt my heart!

Our constant companions, the dogs enjoy spring and warm weather as much as we do. Now we will take three or four walks each day instead of sending the trio out into the yard. The walking will do us all some good!



Thoughts About Punctuation: Authors Have Choices!

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL19. Thanks to the twowwritingteachers blog team for hosting this wonderful event!

Studying punctuation with students is rewarding and helpful in many ways. Punctuation knowledge gives students opportunities for choice and voice in their writing.   We have all sorts of things we can use to make our meaning clear when we are speaking: stress, intonation, rhythm, and  pauses. When we write, however, we can’t use most of these devices (except print variation such as italics to emphasize a word) , and the work that they do in speech must be almost entirely handled by punctuation.

When a writer is not thoughtful about the punctuation (s)he uses, the reader may misinterpret the intended meaning or become confused and disinterested in the piece of writing.  The effort a writer puts into punctuation for a piece of writing will be deeply appreciated by the reader. Here is a look at two marks of punctuation worth studying.  Use mentor sentences with your students and ask them to make a theory about why the author chose to use them.

The Dash – Authors put in a dash where they want us to pause before an extra piece of information. The dash lets us know something important is coming. It is a get-ready-for-something-important mark.

Ants are not bugs – they’re insects.

Luckily, there are still miracles in the world – sometimes in the shape of a little cat.

As summer slips into fall, Grandma and Sammy share a rich golden harvest – and their sweet, sweet memory.

Get the bag of flour – the unopened one – from the pantry.

You will have to find a notebook – red, green, or black.


Some examples of semicolon use:

You don’t need to be rich; you just need someone to care about you.

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but that heals; it’s hard to heal a broken heart.

They wouldn’t ride with me; they just rode behind me and whispered things I couldn’t hear.


Authors have choice:

If I ever get chased by a dog again, I will calmly walk away.

If I ever get chased by a dog again (and I hope that never happens), I will calmly walk away.

If I ever get chased by a dog again I will . . . walk away!

There is only one thing to do if you are chased by a dog: walk away, slow


Important Points to Remember When Teaching Punctuation

Teach only one point per lesson and track your initial lessons and revisits.

Model from your writing, a student’s writing (with his permission), or a piece of literature. Try to use all three if possible.

Allow students time to process the information.

Post the information in the room so students can refer to it.

Post the information in a loose-leaf binder for grammar and mechanics focus lessons.

Give students time to try out the idea before they head off to their own drafts.

Encourage students to praise and polish punctuation use in peer conferences.

Encourage students to create in-class videos, want ads, skits, podcasts, recipes, persona poems, and You Tube videos (if they are old enough) involving punctuation points.

Ask students to help you create a rubric for punctuation use – how students use punctuation correctly and how they grow in sophistication and creativity.

Comma: A Persona Poem

I have so many jobs to do:

I list,

I join,

I bracket, too.

Sometimes a gapping comma

Used when words are omitted,

Not repeated.

It’s true!

It’s true!

These are so many jobs I do.

Please! Not any time you pause,

You’ve ben misled.

It must be said!

I separate number and year

When you write dates

And come before while

When followed by a complete thought.

The FANBOYS love me,

I’m their friend.

I come before them

With Period or Exclamation Point

At the compound sentence’s end.

I’m very useful in writing

As you can plainly see,

So try not to forget

Or overuse me.

I’m tired!

Sources for Important Punctuation Points to Remember:
Grammar Matters by Lynne R. Dorfman & Diane Dougherty (2015) & credit to

Lynne and DianeAngelillo punctuation

A Fresh Approach to Teaching Punctuation by Janet Angelillo (Scholastic, 2002)


On Being a Literacy Coach

slice-of-life2I am participating in #SOL19. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for sponsoring this wonderful event!

I have evolved as a teacher over a career that spans 38 years of classroom teaching, facilitation of the K-5 gifted program, staff developer for K-12 writing across the curriculum, reading specialist, and writing coach. My work as a literacy coach is always rewarding.  Perhaps my biggest reason for wanting to be in this role is my commitment to change in instruction that takes place when you put into practice what you’ve learned.

I look back on my experiences with the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, and I know how important it is to “think big, but start small!” – as Michael Fullan suggests. When you begin to understand something new, you try to also figure out how it fits into what you are already doing. As a literacy coach, I need to recognize when a teacher gets it – has this new understanding and is ready to put it into practice. Then I need to think about what resources and supports he/she will need to be successful.  Teachers, like their students, are on a continuum of learning. They face new challenges with each group of new students. It is my wish to be able to offer support and guidance in order to help them move all their students forward as learners.

The quality I rely on the most is my enthusiasm and excitement for learning new things and trying to imagine the possibilities. I think my many years of service and commitment to my own learning through graduate courses and conference attendance has created an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. I believe I can engage in collegial conversations with staff members about instructional practices and how to use assessment to drive instruction.  I am willing to put in the extra time, and I am willing to proceed in small steps in order to reach a worthy destination. I see the purpose of coaching as developing confidence and expertise in teachers so that they are able to meet the needs of the diverse learners in their classroom.  Most of the time, they solve their own problems, coming up with wonderful solutions that work. They need a good listener and a cheerleader – someone who will encourage them to take risks and someone they can trust.

I encourage my colleagues to set reasonable goals for themselves, and I do the same. My ongoing goal at this present point in time are to be faithful to my literacy coaching log, recording activities and conversations in a notebook I can carry around with me, and transferring to my electronic file on Fridays. I am in different schools for different purposes, so my commitment to this log is important to capture those Ah ha! moments and priceless gems – strategies, management techniques, opportunities for reflection – we see in classrooms every day. I will continue to make a commitment to the “we” philosophy – helping teachers solve problems they are unable to solve alone by listening, questioning, and making suggestions to help teachers work through their problems through metacognitive conversations with their colleagues and the literacy coach.

My co-authors have helped me develop the routines and strategies I have used and continue to use in my work with teachers and students. They are all brilliant thinkers, good friends, and educators who are models of lifelong readers, writers, and learners. I thought I would take a moment here to thank Rosie, Diane, and Stacey for the opportunity to collaborate with them and to learn from them. They help me challenge myself to be a better teacher/coach/student tomorrow than I am today!



A Symphony of Talk

Slice of Life2I am participating in #SOL19. Thanks to the the twowritingteachersblog team for sponsoring this wonderful evemt.

Talk is an important part of every classroom. Here are some ideas on how to have a “grand” conversation!

Sit pretzel style in a circle.    

Pens down & notebooks open!

Read notes to prepare for the conversation.

Speak only when no one else is talking.

Allow those who haven’t shared to speak first.

Eyes on the speaker!

 End your thinking with a question that invites reply: 

  • Can anyone say more?
  • Can anyone give another example?
  • Can someone talk back or add to my idea?IMG_1257
  • Does anyone agree with me?
  • Does anyone disagree with me?
  • Are there other ideas about this idea?
  • Does anyone have an “ah ha!” based on the talk?
  • Does anyone have a strong feeling about the idea?

Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About!

Start an after-school book club!

A fall/winter/spring (choose a season) book club for families will highlight some great reads – fiction and nonfiction – for students in grades 3, 4, and 5. (Decide which grade levels to include). The purpose of our group will be to:

*enjoy reading together,
*learn new ways to enjoy reading with our families
*learn some new strategies for book talks and for building a love of words,
*and have a lot of fun!

Here’s how our Book Club could work:

  • Parent/Child Partners will choose a “Just Right” book for reading together (Write a grant to be able to buy enough books and a reading response notebook!)
  • Families will meet on the dates listed on the response form (Choose a day of the week and time – probably after the dinner hour.)
  • At weekly meetings, parents and their children will learn about ways to explore books together and enjoy sharing ideas with others.
  • Everyone will receive a reading response journal for use during book club.
  • Each student many choose one book to take home at the end of book club.

Some requirements you may send home in a note to parents and students:

New this fall!  We are starting a book club for parents and their children to talk about books. We supply the books – fiction, nonfiction, poetry – lots of choices!  If you are interested in joining our Book Club, you must be willing to:

  • Read portions of the book you select at home in preparation for each session.
  • Discuss the book with others.
  • Have a positive attitude.
  • Make a commitment to spending 6 evenings with your literature circle group.

Here is an example of the response form to get your book club started:

Announcing the Fall Book Club

We can only include a limited number of families in this session. If you are interested, please fill out the information of the flip side of this form and return it to your child’s classroom teacher by Wednesday, Oct. 1st.  We will accept families on a first come basis.

 When:  Wednesday Evenings,  October 8, 15, 29 and Nov 5, 12, 19

Time:  7:00 to 8:00 PM

Place:  Our School Library



We are interested in joining the School Book Club this fall.  (Brothers and sisters may attend if they are able to read.)

Name of Student(s):

Grade level:

Parent’s Name  __________________________________

Telephone Number _______________________________