Friday, November 01, 2013

Finding the Value in Writing

By Wendy Sheets
Intermediate/Middle School Trainer

During a recent week of training with our intermediate and middle school literacy coaches, we revisited writing drafts that had been created from seeds planted in writers’ notebooks. Through the process of exploring various aspects of writers’ craft through minilessons and conferring, the coaches had worked on revising their pieces, and were now coming together in small groups to share their work. As I moved among the coaches, my heart swelled with pride as I observed the transformation they had made from teachers to writers. One shared a compelling poem about the last day he had spent with his brother before his passing. Another stirred my emotions with images of her grandmother’s cooking and the cherished times they spent together in her childhood kitchen. As writers, it was obvious they were less tentative about sharing their work. They had learned from wonderful mentors how to consider aspects of craft, trying them out, and producing pieces of themselves to share with others.
Jane Hansen (1996) wrote about the importance of evaluation at the center of writing instruction. This use of the word “evaluation” is in reference to the root: value. As we consider the value within our own writing, we are forced to think about our audience and their reactions. Working with students is no different. They have stories to share too! As we enter into that sacred act of conferring with a young writer, always keeping in mind how fragile writers are, it seems sometimes he holds his breath as he waits to find out what value we find in his writing. When we do, it may come as a surprise because what we value may be different from what the writer valued, or what his peer valued. As a transaction (Rosenblatt, 1994) between the reader and the text, multiple meanings are possible. “The “meaning” does not reside ready-made ‘in’ the text or ‘in’ the reader but happens or comes into being during the transaction between reader and text” (p. 929).

Consider the context of Interactive Read-Aloud and the collective construction of meaning that develops as we look at a published piece of writing together. As we confer with young writers, or as they respond to one another, think about the growth that could occur when “evaluation” takes place on that level (Hansen, 1996). To optimize growth in our writers, we can help them identify what they do well and to set goals for what they plan to do to become better. As our students make choices about their goals, their topics, and the genre that best fits their topics and goals, they learn to use self-evaluation to continue a sense of forward momentum.
Supporting writers through minilessons and conferring, teaching them to value writing and set goals for improvement, and honoring the work they do will enrich our students’ agentive identities within a community of language and literacy learners.

Hansen, J. (1996). Evaluation: The Center of Writing Instruction. In Padak, et al. (Eds.) Distinguished
                educators on reading: Contributions that have shaped effective literacy instruction, 5 (3),
                545-553. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Rosenblatt, L.M. (1994). The Transactional Theory of Reading and Writing. In Rudell, R.B., Rudell,     
                M.R., & Singer, H. Theoretical models and processes of reading  (4th ed., pp. 1057-1092).
                Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

100 Years, 100 Books: How Many Have You Read?

100 Years, 100 Books: How Many Have You Read?
By Pat Scharer, OSU Professor and Literacy Collaborative Trainer

The New York Public Library is celebrating the library’s acclaimed exhibition The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter which is now on view at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building with a new publication of 100 favorite books from the past 100 years. The list was selected by The New York Public Library’s Jeanne Lamb, Coordinator, Youth Collections, and Elizabeth Bird, Supervising Librarian. 
There are picture books, chapter books, folk tales, science fiction and books of all genres! This list is a great way to reflect on your own reading—how many have you read? The list is organized alphabetically by title with boxes for you to check. For those you haven’t yet read…it’s a great way to identify some new books for your reading list. Or, see how many are in your school library. Perhaps there are a few you’d like to add to the library’s acquisition list! How about sending the list to all the parents in your school in hopes they will enjoy reading some wonderful titles to their children? Or, each grade level can challenge the other classes to read as many as they can. Read with your colleagues to decide which grades are most suitable. Most of all, enjoy this wonderful list!
Go to to get started.

Happy reading!

Friday, August 02, 2013

Media Centers Support Literacy Goals

By Marsha Levering, Primary Literacy Collaborative Trainer

As another school year gets under way, teachers often take stock of their resources and consider what they need most in order to teach the children coming into their classrooms. As teachers of readers, having access to a substantial quantity of engaging, informative, and meaningful books is critical for advancing the progress of students.  While many of these texts can be found in a well-stocked classroom library, there is another place where they can also be found: the school library!

The school library, or media center, can be designed in much the same way as the classroom library. Literacy Collaborative classroom libraries are arranged in a variety of ways such as by interest, genre, author, and topic. The school library can be arranged in the same way so that students have even more selections to advance their interests, stimulate inquiry, and add to their knowledge base.  Topic books (animals, rocks, air travel, etc.) can be shelved together, as can author sets and research subjects frequently used by students. These collections span a range of reading levels .Within the reading workshop time, teachers help students learn to identify appropriate reading material close to their achievement level so that when students are in the media center, they are able to find suitable texts for specific purposes—from entertainment and enjoyment to fact-finding and research.

Media centers can be an extension of classroom libraries. Begin to view them as more than ‘that place to do research’ and explore how they can offer daily, meaningful interactions with text that are critical for the reading attainment of our students. As media centers are more frequently becoming part of class rotations, teachers and media specialists can work together to provide a setting that expands upon literacy opportunities for children. Research has shown that reading improvement happens when readers read more! Integrating media centers, reading workshops, and classroom libraries can provide children with strong support for literacy growth.


Friday, July 05, 2013

Summertime: Rest & Relaxation, Reflection & Recommitment

Wendy Sheets, Intermediate Literacy Collaborative Trainer

Summertime…Aaaah! You’ve worked hard all year long and now have time to take a breather. Finding rest and relaxation is important, but we all know that teaching is a way of life. Sure, we may leave the classroom for a time, but summertime is a hiatus that includes reflecting upon the last school year and planning for the next. A new year brings with it a myriad of potential and possibilities. As you enjoy summer vacations, extra time with the family, and catching up on household projects, you might contemplate adding a few of the following suggestions to your list:

Read a Few Novels     Summertime is not all work and no play! Reading novels for pure enjoyment feeds your soul, expands your thinking and your vocabulary, and provides simple satisfaction. I sometimes get so busy that I have to give myself permission to spend time reading a novel. Sound silly? I think so too. You have my permission to indulge. Check the public library, spend an afternoon at the bookstore, or pick up some new finds at yard sales. I’m just finishing “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and am looking forward to beginning the sequels!

Dip Into Old and New Professional Books     I bet your shelves contain numerous professional texts, some of which are your go-to resources. Get them out and peruse the pages with new eyes. I am amazed how my thinking is lifted every time I dig into “Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency,” for example. You can’t go wrong with anything written by Fountas & Pinnell, and there are many other great authors out there as well. Even if you read just one or two new professional texts this summer, your thinking will surely be expanded.

Check Out Educational Blogs     Along with the articles posted on this site (, you’ll find some great ones included on our national website:

Set Goals For the Upcoming School Year    

·         Review plans for establishing Managed Independent Learning (in primary classrooms) or the first 20 days of the Reading Workshop (in intermediate classrooms).

o   What materials will you need to establish independent work?

o   You may dip into “Guiding Readers and Writers” or “Guided Reading” for some great support.

·         Consider your classroom and its physical environment.

o   Do you have areas for whole group, small group, and individualized teaching and learning?

§  Consider materials and resources you may need in each area. An easel with chart paper in the whole-group area will support work during minilessons.

§  A table for guided reading groups will be necessary for meeting the needs of your readers. That same table may be used for pulling occasional guided writing groups. What supplies will you want to have handy?

§  How will you arrange student desks or tables? Be sure to include adequate space for student movement and for easy access to individuals.

o   Is your classroom library organized effectively?

§  Have you provided a wide variety of books in various genres with a balance between fiction and nonfiction?

§  Have you arranged books in baskets with covers facing outward for easy access?

§  Are baskets labeled by genre, author, topic, or series so that students know where to find the books they are seeking?

§  Shop bargain bins, garage sales, library sales, and thrift stores to add to your collection!

·         Think about possibilities for Interactive Read-Aloud

o   Do you have favorite books you will want to read to your students?

o   Expand your repertoire by sharing a wide range of genres, structures, and authors. Choose books that will engage your learners and provide opportunities for constructing meaning.

·         Take an inventory of your systems for organizing your plans.

o   Consider guided reading. Was your organizational system effective? Were you able to document reading behaviors of all of your students in ways that drove further instruction? Did your data include benchmark assessments, running records, and anecdotal information regarding word-solving, fluency, and comprehension?

o   Consider the collection of writing data. Were you able to keep anecdotal records based on observations during writing conferences? How did you use those records?

o   Consider word study. How did you organize developmental spelling assessments and plan for systematic word study?

·         If you are a Literacy Coach, reflect upon your role.

o   How effectively were you able to support teachers through coaching and professional development? What would you like to do differently to increase your effectiveness?

o   How did your data collection support the work you do with teachers?

o   Your Fidelity of Implementation Tool will also be a great guide for you to further examine LC implementation in your building/district.

As you anticipate beginning a new school year, it is my hope that these suggestions have been helpful. Thinking through the possibilities will increase your preparedness for the very important work you do each day as an educator. Enjoy your summer!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dive In, But Don't Drown

Dive in, but don’t drown

by Wendy Vaulton, Senior Researcher

In an era of information overload, figuring out what to do with data can feel a bit like drinking from a fire hydrant. Not only is the volume of data sometimes overwhelming, but information from different sources often seem to conflict with each other. How often have teachers found that state test results don’t mesh with classroom assessment results? The end result can be confusion and paralysis. So, how can you move forward and find meaningful, actionable information in a sea of data? This is the first in a series of posts to help you figure out how to move forward in looking at data without getting overwhelmed.

First, it is imperative to be clear about your questions. When we take information in without a sense of direction or purpose, it is easy to jump to the most obvious and sometimes misleading conclusions. Then, we take premature action and become frustrated with a lack of meaningful change. To avoid this, work with your colleagues to identify the questions that matter most to your school. These questions should be aligned with state and district goals, but should also reflect the concerns and issues that are unique to your school and/or classroom. Once you are clear about the questions that matter most, then you can begin to figure out whether they can be answered with the information you have.

Second, be assured that you don’t need special skills or equipment to dive safely into data. You just need honest curiosity and a willingness to explore (knowing how to use Excel doesn’t hurt, but isn’t critical). Empower yourself to examine one source of data in-depth rather than trying to take in everything at once. For instance, spending time with colleagues examining state ELA test results by item may lead to more actionable results than looking at a stack of different assessments all at once and comparing results. Digging deeply into a single source will allow you to explore which kinds of questions seem to trip up which students. What do these patterns say about student learning? What implications do they have for instruction?


When digging into data, it is much easier to visualize trends using graphics. Pie charts and bar graphs are easy to make in Excel and can convey a world of information that it is impossible to absorb when looking at numbers in a table.
  • Helpful resource #2: If you don’t have a lot of tech capacity, think about using an online resource like where people market their services for five dollars. Just don’t forget about student privacy if you are going to ask someone else to graph your data.
The idea of data driven decision making is not to try to understand everything going on at once. Better to get a real answer to one narrow, but meaningful question than a superficial answer to a dozen. By digging deeply into a single data source, we give ourselves room to think deeply and strategically. Stay tuned for next time when we’ll talk more about the process of digging into data to inform instruction.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Blooming With Book Clubs

Wendy Sheets, Intermediate Literacy Collaborative Trainer

As we anticipate the coming of spring, I look forward to the fresh blossoms of new life springing forth. The dormant seeds buried beneath the snow are surely building in anticipation as well, moving toward their moment of arrival. Perhaps all of nature celebrates their “coming out” with grandiosity. As our students become more independent as readers and thinkers, they too blossom as they take on the act of participation within Book Clubs. In moving toward more independence, there is much that takes place before Book Clubs even begin in a classroom, as it is the instructional context in which the teacher offers the least support.  The best gauge for determining a child’s readiness is his ability to think deeply and converse during the contexts of Interactive Read-Aloud and Guided Reading. When readers have developed the ability to build in-depth discussions that are centered around an engaging text, we see powerful learning take place. 
 Sometimes referred to as Literature Study or Literature Circles, Book Clubs have the potential to expand readers’ understanding of an array of texts while increasing their enjoyment of reading. Opportunities for thinking within, beyond, and about the text while collaborating with others to reflect on, analyze, and be critical expands reading comprehension and the appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of literature. Readers, like freshly blossoming buds, grow to a more sophisticated level of thinking while developing a sense of agency in the intellectual life they share with others. Their ideas are valued, rather than evaluated. Book Clubs are inquiry-based so readers try out tentative ideas and search for information to confirm or refute their thinking (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001). They also build on others’ ideas, using language to “grope towards a meaning” (Barnes, 1992).
If you haven’t engaged your intermediate learners in the practice of Book Clubs, or you’d like more information about this integral component of the Reading Workshop, I encourage you to investigate chapters 17-20 in Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency: Thinking, Talking, and Writing About Reading, K-8 (2006), and/or chapters 15-17 in Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6: Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy (2001), both by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.  Your readers deserve to celebrate authentic, powerful engagement with text with grandiose opportunities for blooming.      


Barnes, D. (1992). From Communication to Curriculum, second edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2001). Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6: Teaching
              Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

 Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2006). Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency: Thinking,  
             Talking, and Writing About Reading, K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Power in Professional Readings

The Power in Professional Readings

Jenny McFerin, K-2 Literacy Collaborative Trainer
I have been doing an extensive amount of reading lately on the topic of developmental spelling.  From journal articles to theoretical texts to pedagogical texts, the readings have been very interesting. My understandings have been deepened, challenged, and revived. This has gotten me thinking about the power of reading a variety of texts on one particular area of interest.

How much time are you spending digging into your professional texts? Are you feeling like you need a boost in professional development? Consider revisiting some old favorites as a way to revive your understandings. Here are some suggestions for breathing life into those familiar readings:

  • Dip into several texts and read about one component of literacy. For example, if you are interested in conferencing in writing workshop, read about conferencing in several different texts by several different authors. What are the similarities? What are the differences? What are your new understandings?
  • Search for professional studies in a particular area and compare the findings with what you have been reading.
  • Create a study group. Have each participant read a different text’s section on the area of study you have chosen. What does each perspective say about the area of study? How does this compare with your current teaching practice? What else do you want to study?
Read!  Have fun!  Discover!