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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Here is a great article on blancing close reading and microstories - shorter. Courtesy of ASCD SmartBrief

Digital microstories engage students in common core lessons
The transition to Common Core State Standards has brought a renewed focus on so-called close reading, and educators Michael Fisher and Danielle Hardt make the case for using "digital microstories" to engage students in literature. Such short stories can be as brief as 140 characters and are designed to engage students and teach them to make connections to words and visualizations "using a teacher- or student-selected web tool," Fisher and Hardt write. MiddleWeb (4/13)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Here are some great articles on digital literacy. Several look at ways to enhance reading and writing using technology. Enjoy! Courtesy of Choice Literacy.

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
April 5, 2014 - Issue #377
Smart Board

Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.
                                                                 Steve Jobs
Last month I visited Woodstock, Vermont, a quaint little town that just landed on the top of Buzzfeed's list of the 24 small New England towns that are "musts" to explore. Tromping through the slush of a late winter snow, I came across this charming listing of community activities right in the center of town.
At a time when most community bulletins are online or at least electronic displays, I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen an outdoor board that was simply chalk on slate. Yet it made sense, and fit the landscape perfectly. Not to mention there were no worries about bulbs to replace, cords to plug in, or software to upgrade.
Teachers and administrators face the hurly-burly of deciding what technology is needed. The pressure is on not just to purchase a smartboard, but the latest, greatest, best smartboard of all the options out there.  Yet I couldn't help but think this little board is pretty darn smart for Woodstock. It's the right tool for the job, and everyone who goes by knows they live in a trusting community just by glancing at it. It isn't vandalized, it's regularly updated, and the technology (with a little help from a sheltering ledge) withstands the worst that winter or summer throws at it.
I thought about that humble chalkboard as I compiled the articles for this week's Big Fresh that focus on digital literacy.  This is the challenge of our time -- to use technology wisely in schools, knowing when the latest software or hardware is essential, and when it's time to ditch the computer, pull out chart paper, and keep it simple so the focus is on the message, not the tool.  There aren't any easy answers, but this issue of the newsletter is full of marvelous possibilities. Enjoy!

Brenda Power
Founder, Choice Literacy

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[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Here are two articles from the Choice Literacy archives to help you foster more digital literacy among students.
Franki Sibberson finds herself updating reading interviews to reflect students' use of technology:
Shared Blogging is the kissing cousin of shared reading and shared writing in Cathy Mere's second-grade classroom, as she discovers the importance of guiding students through the process of creating blog posts:
Greg Whitman details a successful plan he spearheaded in a large high-poverty school district for Taking a District-Wide Approach to Teaching Digital Citizenship:
A Vision of 21st Century Teachers features 18 classroom teachers who "speak out" with scrawled notes on the topic of tech integration and 21st century skills for students in this fun four-minute video:

Will you join us next month for Jennifer Allen's Literacy Coach Jumpstart online course? The class runs May 1 - 12 and includes three on-demand webinars, the Layered Coaching DVD, Jen's book Becoming a Literacy Leader, and personal response from Jen tailored to your needs on the class discussion board. Click on the link below for more details:

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Here is a great opportunity to catch up with the CCSS. Enjoy. Courtesy of ASCD Smart Brief!

Give your teachers the tools they need
to succeed with new standards.

NEW White Paper by Robert J. Marzano and Michael D. Toth
Read More
Join Dr. Robert Marzano and Michael Toth for a first look at the new Marzano Center Essentials for Achieving Rigor

When: Wednesday, March 26, 3 p.m. EST

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Are teachers pedagogically prepared to instruct students in the cognitively complex skills necessary to meet new standards?

Based on nearly 2 million data points analyzed by Learning Sciences Marzano Center, reflecting the strategies teachers are currently using in their classrooms, the majority of teachers are not adequately prepared to make the large instructional shifts necessary for success with college and career readiness standards.

Join us for a webinar with Dr. Robert Marzano and Learning Sciences CEO Michael Toth to discuss our newly released Marzano Center Essentials for Achieving Rigor model. This new model of essential classroom strategies is built to support the complex shifts in teaching needed in an environment where academic rigor is no longer an option, but a requirement for all students.

Many states have already reported significant drops in standardized achievement test scores aligned to new standards. You can help your teachers make the pedagogical shifts they need for success.
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

We all have challenges with vocabulary. Here are some great ideas to help you out. Enjoy! Courtesy of Choice Literacy.

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
March 15, 2014 - Issue #374
Reframing Despair

To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.
                                      Stephen Covey

A budding third-grade scientist was required to record the status of trying to light a lightbulb. Here's what he and his partner recorded:
Status: Can't get it to work . . .
Status: Still can't get it to work yet.
Status: Still trying to get it to work.
Status: This stinks.
Status: It just did a spark.
Status: This stinks.
Status: We did it! Yay!
Special thanks to Choice Literacy contributor Michelle Kelly and her colleague Alicia for this gift in my inbox.
The young scientists' status report is an accurate paraphrase of my own coaching, parenting, or teaching notes. In the second observation, I love how the word yet is included and then dropped after that point. By the fourth status report, things have started stinking, and despair that they'll never succeed sets in. Then there's a spark! Ah, but the spark dies quickly and it seems that all is forlorn. Of course, that's when the bulb lights up. Yay!
Reframing despair as a "positive sign" instead of the "shape of things to come" is not only comforting, but true. When I'm working with teachers, I've learned to say "Good!" when they wail, "I can't do this anymore!" Then I follow up with, "If you've made it to this place of despair, you are already on your way out and you just don't know it yet." Each time they've looked at me like I was a little crazy, but I subscribe to musical artist Seal's belief that "We're never gonna survive unless we are a little crazy." When my crazy statement becomes sane reality over the course of weeks or months I hear back from them, "You know what? That was my breaking point. I had to get to despair so I could be here." And so another light ignites.
This week we look at vocabulary instruction. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Heather Rader
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Heather Rader is an instructional coach in Washington State. Her Choice Literacy publications include the book Side by Side: Short Takes on Best Practice for Teachers & Literacy Leaders and the DVD On the Same Page. You can find her Coach to Coach blog at

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[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Here are two features from the archives on vocabulary instruction.
Katie Doherty describes how she implemented a student-selected vocabulary program in her middle school classroom:
Andrea Smith uses the Living Words activity to integrate word study, technology, and content literacy with her fourth graders:
In a new podcast, Katie DiCesare talks about the word study program in her first-grade classroom:
Pernille Ripp shares some lessons from her favorite mentors:
Franki Sibberson's new online course Text Complexity in Grades 3-5: Minilessons, Nonfiction Text Sets, and Independent Reading runs April 2 - 13. The course includes three webcasts, personal response from Franki, a DVD, Franki's newest book, and many print and video resources. For details on registering, click on the link below:

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Here is some great information on mini-lessons in literacy. They are powerful if used correctly. Enjoy. Courtesy of ASCD Smart Brief

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
March 8, 2014 - Issue #373
Reading Dogs

Animals are such agreeable friends -- they ask no questions, and they pass no criticisms.
                                                   George Eliot
Last summer, a friend told me about a program in which therapy dogs are used to support struggling readers in libraries and schools. The dogs are specially trained to work with young students -- to be quiet, patient, still, and "follow along" with the text as the child reads aloud.  The idea intrigued me, and I thought it would be an interesting thing to pilot in our school. So we reached out to a local organization of therapy dog owners -- people who are willing to come into schools with their dogs every week to read with students. One of our first grade teachers, Mrs. McNeal, was eager to support the idea, so we started with her classroom. 
Since then, the gentle and loving Zuri has come to our school with her owner every Wednesday afternoon to sit with first graders as they read. The students love it. They count the days in anticipation of their turn to read with her. When their time comes, they eagerly grab their book baskets, brimming with texts they've selected and practiced beforehand. They go to a quiet area outside the classroom and sit on a snuggly blanket with Zuri at their side. They read aloud to her for fifteen minutes, never needing prompting or redirection. 
The students visibly relax as they read with the dog. They love the feeling of reading to a pet rather than a person. They enjoy "checking in" to make sure Zuri really is listening. They like the sweet, reassuring look she gives back to them. They swear to Mrs. McNeal that when they read books about dogs, Zuri puts her nose right into the book and gives it a big sniff.
Zuri has been such a success that I began to imagine how wonderful it would be to have a dog at school full-time. I imagined that I would own the dog personally, keep him at home at night, and bring him with me to work each day. I'd have him hang out in classrooms or in the library during school hours. I begged my husband to consider it, but sadly, the conversation didn't go very well. My husband simply doesn't want a dog. Rats. Maybe someday I'll convince him? 

In the meantime, we'll continue to welcome Zuri into our school to work with our happy young readers. In her quiet way, she is helping us all to teach, learn, and grow.

This week we look at minilesson possibilities. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Jennifer Schwanke
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits at

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[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Here are two features from the archives on designing minilessons.
Franki Sibberson presents 10 Principles for Planning Reading Minilessons:
The previous essay is an excerpt from Franki's book The Joy of Planning, on designing short series or "cycles" of minilessons:
Shari Frost writes about the importance of Putting the "Mini" Back in Minilessons:
This video from Sarah Brown Wessling at the Teaching Channel shows the revision process when a lesson plan fails
Franki Sibberson's new online course Text Complexity in Grades 3-5: Minilessons, Nonfiction Text Sets, and Independent Reading runs April 2 - 13. The course includes three webcasts, personal response from Franki, a DVD, Franki's book The Joy of Planning, and many print and video resources. For details on registering, click on the link below:
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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The use of series in the classroom has been reduced as we have moved to the CCSS. Here are some great ideas on how to embed them in your literacy instruction. Enjoy! Courtesy of ASCD Smart Brief

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
February 15, 2014 - Issue #370
Fancy Foods

First we eat. Then we do everything else.

                                                                 M. F. K. Fisher
When I was a child and went with my family to the grocery store, we generally filled our cart with more or less the same items. All food groups were covered. There were bananas, apples, and oranges for our fruits. Vegetables were iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and onions. In the meat aisle, we chose ground beef, pork chops, and cut-up chicken fryers. Dairy included whole milk, Kraft American cheese, and a couple tubs of Dannon yogurt. Grains were covered with Kellogg's corn flakes, Honey-Krust bread, and a few bags of snacks -- usually Tostitos or Lay's classic chips. Zesta saltines had a standing reservation, and the occasional box of Wheat Thins, Triscuits, or Oreos made an appearance. A few cans of Campbell's soup completed the grocery trip.   
Our purchases were simple, predictable, and brand-loyal, and my siblings and I liked it that way.  It wasn't until I left home and met friends who challenged me to try new things, or traveled to places that introduced me to exotic cuisine, that I appreciated the immensely exciting, wide range of dining choices out there in the world. 
My children are exactly the same as we were back then. When we shop, we buy pretty much the same things -- we cover all food groups, we make mostly healthy choices, and we don't waver much from a rotation of simple meals. When we go out to eat, my kids always insist upon one of just three places -- a local burger joint, a nearby deli, or the ever-popular Panera. When I challenge my children to try something different, they resist. They are not ready. They prefer safety and predictability at mealtime. 
It is the same reason young readers are attracted to books in a series.  Series books guarantee a basic, understandable formula of beginning, middle, and end. They offer predictable characters. Young readers like knowing that things will turn out okay in the end. I can appreciate how comforting this is. As a child, I read every single The Babysitters' Club; I read all C.W. Anderson's horse stories; I read each Little House book from Little House in the Big Woods to The First Four Years, over and over again until the edges came off the spines of the books. I did it for same reason I didn't want anything more fancy than meatloaf or baked chicken on the dinner table. I wasn't ready to be adventurous in my reading. Yet. 
So when children check out their 25th Magic Treehouse book, or work their way through each Scientists in the Field, it's okay. It's more than okay, actually. They are still reading and loving it. In fiction texts, they are still learning about character, plot, conflict, and resolution.   Nonfiction texts are still teaching them how the world works from the eyes of a scientist or historian. Most important, as they master a book series, young readers are growing confident in their ability to work their way through a text and understand it. Later, when they grow older and are ready and more courageous, they'll delve into different genres and writing styles.They will marvel at all the things out there to read and figure out. They will sit at a friend's dinner table and fill their plates with wonderful food -- and it will be delicious.
This week we take a closer look at series and chapter books. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Jennifer Schwanke
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits at

Free for All

[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Here are two features from the archives on series and chapter books. 
Katie DiCesare shares some series books to model thinking that she uses with her second graders:
What are the best chapter books to read aloud to very young learners? Shari Frost has suggestions of favorites, as well as criteria for selecting chapter books that can hold the attention of early primary students:
We've compiled a new Pinterest board of series for intermediate students who devour the Magic Treehouse and A-Z Mysteries and may be ready for something a little more sophisticated:

If you're trying to foster a culture of gratitude and optimism in your classroom or school, you'll love this three-minute video from Bert Jacobs, the founder of the company that makes the "Life Is Good" t-shirts. Jacobs explains why the language shift from "have to" to "get to" can transform thinking:
Katie DiCesare's online course Designing Primary Writing Units with the Common Core in Mind begins on March 1. The ten-day course includes three webcasts, personal response from Katie, a DVD, and many print and video resources. For details on registering, click on the link below:

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Many teachers are looking for ways to develop opinion and/or argumentative writing in their classrooms. Here are some excellent ideas. Courtesy of Choice Literacy. Enjoy!

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
February 22, 2014 - Issue #371
Making Opinions Matter

Our opinions do not really blossom into fruition until we have expressed them to someone else.
                                                                 Mark Twain

On a recent Saturday I spent the afternoon with some teachers who constantly push my thinking and make me laugh: the perfect combination. After enjoying some ice cream in near zero degree weather, we headed to one of our favorite spots, the Cover to Cover Bookstore. We sort of take over the bookstore when we arrive, meandering into section after section of picture books to discover new treasures.
There was much talk about opinion writing. "Does anyone have a good picture book for teaching opinion writing?" was asked in one of the aisles. A long discussion ensued. What does opinion writing look like in young writers? When do we use it? What's the goal of an opinion piece? Are there strong mentors available for young writers? 
It wasn't long until I sat down to try to whittle my stack of seven picture books to three. I had assured myself I would only purchase three titles, but it wasn't going well. About that time, one of my friends asked, "What do you love about this one?" as she looked at the newest book by Jacqueline Woodson, This is a Rope. I looked at the book which had caught my attention because of its bright yellow cover, the idea that a rope might be significant enough to create a story, and the author. I glanced from the book to her and replied, "It's a great story." 
You really can't give an answer like that to a teacher, so I knew it wasn't enough. She was still looking at me and waiting. "Why?  What do you really like about it?" she persisted. I had picked it up and loved it, but I was having difficulty being specific enough. I knew she wanted to know more. She wanted me to reach deeper for a better, stronger response. Mostly, she wanted to know if I had seen something that she hadn't when I read it. 
Later that evening and still into the next day, her question stayed with me, "What do you really like about it?" The sincere interest made me move beyond my superficial response. I knew I loved Woodson's book as soon as I opened it and read the line, "This is the rope my grandmother skipped under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine."  Additionally, I was fascinated by the way the rope pulled story after story of her family into one narrative cord, tying generations together.  Despite all of these things, at the moment she asked I hadn't been able to sufficiently respond. 
It took me back to the opinion conversation we'd had in the stacks of our favorite bookstore. I wondered if kids sometimes felt like this when we were asking them to write their opinions. I realized mentor texts and examples of writing matter, but what matters most is writing about something that is genuinely important to us, to someone who genuinely cares about our opinion. The question was simple, but the expectation for response was not. These are the conversations I hope to have each day with the learners in my first-grade classroom. 
This week we look at opinion and argument writing. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Cathy Mere
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Cathy Mere is currently teaching first grade in Hilliard (Ohio) City Schools. She is the author of  More Than Guided Reading. A trained literacy coach and former Reading Recovery teacher, Cathy leads professional development workshops and presents at state and national conferences. She blogs at Refine and Reflect.

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[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Shari Frost describes how shared writing can build argument skills, especially for students who are struggling:
The previous essay is a excerpt from Shari's new book, Rethinking Intervention: Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers in Grades 3-6:
Heather Rader writes about the power of Touchy Topics for Opinion/Argumentative Writing:
We share some of our favorite texts for teaching opinion writing on this Pinterest board:
A unit on opinion writing is one of the topics covered in Katie DiCesare's online course Designing Primary Writing Units with the Common Core in Mind which begins on March 1. The ten-day course includes three webcasts, personal response from Katie, a DVD, and many print and video resources. For details on registering, click on the link below:
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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Moving towards integration of contents into literacy is often challenging. Here are some good ideas. Coutesy of ASCD SmartBrief.

Students create illustrated children's books about geometry
Some students at a high school in New Jersey are creating illustrated children's books about geometry concepts. The school has been using the project to teach geometry for the past decade, and in recent years began sharing the stories with younger students. This year, one group of students created a book titled "Goldi-blocks and the Three Little Pigs." Tri-Town News (Freehold, N.J.) (1/23)Bookmark and Share

Monday, January 27, 2014

With all of the focus on non-fiction, many teachers are reverting back to some of the older practices used with textbooks. Here is a great entry on how to use skimming for close reading. Courtesy of ASCD Smart Brief

Skimming: The Overlooked Close Reading Skill

Sarah Tantillo picBy Sarah Tantillo
Although it might seem as though skimming is the opposite of close reading (and in a way, it is), it is also a crucial skill for pulling information out of a text.
One day when I was sitting in a seventh-grade classroom, the teacher asked her students to describe Ponyboy in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. A boy named Julio raised his hand and said that Ponyboy was “frustrated.”

“Frustrated? OK. How do you know?” the teacher said.

Julio stared at her helplessly for a moment, then shrugged and said, “I just know.”

“Where in this chapter—what in this chapter—gave you the idea that he was frustrated, Julio?” She added, “Look in your book. Everybody, look in your book in this chapter. Where in the chapter can you find evidence that Ponyboy was frustrated? Find me some evidence. I’ll give you three minutes.”
I watched the students. They dutifully opened their books and bowed their heads as though directed to pray. Indeed, from the furtive glances that several students cast at Julio, it seemed that they were praying he would find the answer quickly. A few others seemed to be boring holes into the pages with their eyes, trying to read every word in the chapter.

Aha, I thought. They do not know how to skim.

I asked the teacher if I could call timeout and ask the students a question. She nodded.
“When you’re looking for evidence about a character in the text,” I said, “what strategy or strategies are you using?”

One girl answered, “We’re re-reading.”

“OK,” I said, “but this chapter is twelve pages long and you only have three minutes. I’m a very fast reader, but even I couldn’t read every word!” I paused, and I could see the students nodding with relief (no doubt thinking, See, she thinks our teacher is crazy, too.  Nobody can re-read a whole chapter in three minutes!). Then I asked, “So what do you do?”

“You look for key words,” Julio offered.

“OK, good idea. But how do you know which words are ‘key’? Let’s think about this. We’re detectives, and we’re looking for clues that Ponyboy is frustrated. We can’t read every word, so we have to skim. So, number one, obviously, we’re looking for his name, right? Then what do we look for?”

A girl raised her hand and said hesitantly, “D.DAT?”  She was referring to something her teacher had taught recently: an acronym which stands for “direct Description and indirect characterization through Dialogue, Action, and Thought” (see below).

“Exactly! Please explain.”

“We could try to see if Ponyboy was described as frustrated or if he said something, did something, or thought something that made it seem like he was.”

“Terrific! So let’s try this strategy….”

Characterization Methods: “D.DAT” D.DAT is a simple mnemonic device to help readers remember how writers develop characters.DIRECT characterization: Description:
Example: He had a great sense of humor.  (No inference is required.)
INDIRECT characterization:
Example: “I want to save the whales,” she explained. (We can infer that she cares about animals and maybe that she is idealistic.)
Example: The young man studied every night and earned straight A’s in high school. (We can infer that he is hardworking and perseverant.)
Example: The girl wondered if the boy would ask her to dance.  (We can infer that she has a crush on him.)
NOTE: This table is excerpted from a handout called “Characterization Methods: DDAT,” which appears on the TLC “Analyzing Literature” page.

skimmingOther types of skimming

The students in this case used D.DAT and found some evidence to support Julio’s argument. Going forward, depending on the genre of the text and the nature of the question they wanted to answer, they would need to use different approaches to skimming. For example, if they were reading a persuasive passage and were asked, “What are the writer’s main arguments?” then they would need to know how to scan for the thesis and topic sentences.

This episode clarified three points for me:
1) We need to teach students how to skim! Ironically, we often overlook this skill.
2) Skimming is not easy if you don’t have any strategies for how to do it.
3) Students can be taught specific skimming strategies, but they also need to practice figuring out which strategies are most appropriate to use in any given situation.
9781118839058.pdfThis post is an excerpt from Sarah Tantillo’s forthcoming book, Literacy and the Common Core: Recipes for Action (Jossey-Bass, June 2014).
Sarah Tantillo is a literacy consultant who taught secondary school English and Humanities in both suburban and urban public schools for fourteen years, including seven years at the high-performing North Star Academy Charter School of Newark. She’s the author of The Literacy Cookbook and offers professional development help at her blog of the same name.
MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades. You'll find articles highlighting great 4-8 resources, plus original interviews, book reviews, and guest posts by teachers, school leaders, experts in professional learning, and others who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.
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