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Writer’s Workshop and Author’s Chair

5 Dec

I have been teaching writing using the writer’s workshop model for years now.  The Lucy Calkins Units of Study have been my go-to in terms of solid, curriculum-based writing lessons.  Even though I read the research and I understood the reasoning behind it, I was still hesitant to devote a good amount of classroom time to student sharing.  Shouldn’t the time be spent actually writing?  Or, wouldn’t the time be better spent learning a new editing technique?

It seemed like the occasional times I tried to have Author’s Chair, it fell flat.  They didn’t seem interested in listening to each other’s writing and didn’t know how to listen and respond appropriately.  Research says this is an essential part of writer’s workshop.  What could I be doing wrong?

This year I committed to making time for Author’s Chair twice a week.  What a difference it made!   I believe the reason Author’s Chair wasn’t working is precisely because we weren’t doing it enough!

Now that we are well into the second quarter of the school year, the students have their routines and they love it!  They ask for Author’s Chair.  My favorite result of this is that the students have become fans of each other’s writing.  The students must learn and practice certain types of writing throughout the year (personal narrative, how-to, poetry, etc.).  However, once a week the students have a free choice of writing for homework followed by sharing the next day in Author’s Chair.

What a joy to hear the students say to each other, “Did you write another Ninja Baby story?”  “I want to know what happened to Humperdink next!”  Even better, we have characters cross over into each other’s stories!  We have created a community of writers.

The children are getting a taste of what it’s like for authors who have fans waiting for the next installment in a series to come out.  (Of course, on a much smaller scale.)

Why is this important from an educational standpoint?

  1. It gets pencil to paper.  The only way to become a better writer is to write!
  2. The students learn to write for an audience.  Other than journals and diaries, the purpose of writing is communication with others.
  3. They learn to be good listeners.  As they listen to stories, they look for characters, action, and much more.

To any teacher who has been hesitating to find the time for Author’s Chair, I strongly recommend it!



22 Oct

One of the biggest challenges in teaching young students to write is to teach them both the importance of correct spelling and conventions while not letting them get bogged down during the drafting process.

Every writing teacher in my district takes the three-week Abydos writing training. (Formerly known as The New Jersey Writing Project in Texas.). I learned about ratiocination during this training.

We deliberately teach each step in the picture below separately. Then, as students are getting close to publishing, they have very specific steps to follow to improve the conventions in their writing.


One aspect of this that I find valuable is that the students have work to do even if the conventions are correct. No more, “Yes, I looked at it. Everything is correct.” I can tell at a glance by the colors if the work has been done. Students notice that after every red mark for punctuation, there should be a green mark for an upper case letter. As they circle the word I thirteen times, they notice that they may want to vary the word choice.  The blue marks tell me that they are aware of spelling mistakes even if they are unsure of the correct spelling.

I find this to be a great strategy that helps students to work independently. In addition, it helps me to assess the writing process!

A Great Big Thank You!

1 Oct

I’ve been a little shy about posting this online, but I have been thinking about how I could adequately thank Park Cities Volkswagen for a month now.  I’m afraid a simple blog post will fall short, but I couldn’t let another day pass without expressing my thanks.  

I was honored as Armstrong Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year for 2012-2013.  My school and my colleagues are wonderful.  I’m just so thankful to be able to come to school at Armstrong each school day.

An extra-special treat came from Park Cities Volkswagen.  This great car dealership offers each HPISD Teacher of the Year use of a Volkswagen for a month!  Lucky me, September was my month.  What a great time I had!  

They asked what model of car I wanted to drive, and I chose the Beetle.  It was better than I could have imagined!   It was so much fun to drive.

Tomorrow I will return the Beetle with my biggest thanks.  This was such a thoughtful way to give teachers a special treat.  Thank you Park Cities Volkswagen!Image

Race for a Quarter

26 Sep

It goes by many names, but I find the math game “Race for a Quarter” to be one of the best beginning of the year math games. I first learned this game when we had an Everyday Math adoption and a similar game is included in our Investigations Units.

This game is about so much more than counting money! On the simplest level, it can be used to assess one-to-one correspondence, counting, and coin identification. At the higher level, it reinforces equivalencies as children trade their five pennies for a nickel, two nickels for a dime, and so on. Also, they are constantly practicing their addition to keep track of their totals and practicing their subtraction as they see how far they are from 25 cents.

For a classroom, it couldn’t be simpler. A couple of dice and a handful of change is all you need!


Parents in my class, I’m happy to pass along the instructions for practice at home!

A Freebie from Allison!

23 Sep

Many teachers were interested in my portable word walls.  The document was created by my teammate, Allison.  For any teachers who are interested, Allison is sharing her awesome work!  Click here for her word wall document!


17 Sep

I include a great game, Bananagrams , as an opportunity for word study. It was introduced to me by a colleague several years ago, and I love it! In my last post I mentioned my reasons for using math games in the classroom. Many of the same reasons apply in this area as well.

First, and most importantly is student engagement. One of my favorite features of Bananagrams is that the students are working on their own “crossword puzzle” the entire time. There is no waiting for the other students to take a turn. Students are working with their own letter tiles putting together and taking apart words.


In addition to the rules of the game lending themselves to engagement, it also provides differentiation. One child can be forming words with regular spelling patterns while another is working on more tricky words!

Also, we’ve learned how important instant feedback is to children when they are working. While the students are hard at work, I am monitoring and providing corrections when needed. If I look at the example below, I see some great work.  I also know to work with the student on ck digraphs and long a sounds.


Bananagrams isn’t an every day activity, but it is valuable and lots of fun!

Math Games

13 Sep

My first few years of teaching, I rarely let my students play games in the classroom. This was serious business, they were here to learn, not play!

Today, math games are a daily occurrence! Each day, students are engaged in math games as I teach small groups at my teacher table.

Math games greatly increase the level of student engagement in a task. Not only are the children keeping track of their own turn, they are watching their classmates too! As with any skill, repeated practice is very important. Give a child some number cards or dice, they will add, subtract, or manipulate those numbers for as long as you will let them.

I also use math games because they differentiate so well for different levels of learners. Some of my early learners may simply be figuring sums and keeping score. They are developing the very important early number sense. Those students who have these skills mastered are noticing the patterns and strategizing.

We know that teaching a skill to someone else requires a deeper level of understanding. Those games give strong math students the ability to teach their classmates. As they work to find ways to accurately communicate their math thinking, they are actually deepening thinking of their own!

I love Marilyn Burns games as well as the games that are included in our Investigations units.

I’d love to hear any other thoughts on math games!