2019 Goals: Writing

In this last of my 2019 goals series, I’m focusing on writing. Hence the blog! I figure if I’m going to help teachers and students write, then I need to be in the process myself. There is actually a record of me saying I hate teaching writing on Facebook, back in 2009 when posting answers to 25 questions about yourself was trending. Shortly thereafter, I came to discover that I actually loved teaching writing. It was through a professional development series that was actually based in technology that I grew to love the writing process. It’s funny how things can work out that way. Take something I love (technology) and then embed something I’m not interested in (writing) and a spark ignites. I’d like to think that same thing happens for our students as well.

So how did I go from hating writing to loving writing? The process was based in helping my students navigate their brand new laptops (our grade level had been given a laptop cart to share). While they were writing letters to pen pals, I started to realize that I couldn’t try to correct everything possible in their writing. It would sound unnatural – not like a 4th grader. I also learned that there would be many, many questions in this process, and I couldn’t spend 10 minutes with each child. Writing conferences became more like writing drive through’s, where I would know of one or two items in the student’s writing that s/he was working on, and I would focus my brief attention there. I never focused on spelling during these writing stages – I’d file that information away for a lesson to be done shortly thereafter. Plus, I made sure they were aware of how to use spell check! The whole world of writing opened up to me – I realized the power of a mini lesson and the power of meeting students where they were at. Now, Google docs (through the use of Google Classroom) really makes the writing process a fun one for teachers and students. Click here for a short overview of what I love about Google Docs.

I’m super excited to take a group of teachers to see Carol Jago at the end of January, as she presents on opinion writing. I love that she is not only talking about the process, but also how to provide feedback and manage the paper load that teaching writing creates.

One of my biggest interests is in the area of mathematical writing, and will likely be the focus of many future blog posts. Currently, I’m working with many teachers on a set of lessons based out of Think It, Show It Mathematics.

This was suggested to me after attending a workshop from a professor at UC Davis, where she had shared lessons they had created from this book. So, we have worked with them and tweaked them for the needs of our teachers. At this point, we’ve had rave reviews on our PD. Teachers who have really focused on mathematical writing are finding that by having a rubric by which to evaluate the work, along with language for the writing itself, has helped their students’ explanations soar. Here are a couple of examples of fourth graders’ recent math writing. Note the use of transition words and a clear statement of the answer.

Clear statement of the answer. What might be your next steps with this student?
What understandings does this student have?

I just happened to grab a couple of snapshots as I was in the room for another purpose – to observe their collaboration as partners! But, I was so struck by the fact that after collaborating with partners, there weren’t any questions of “How do I explain this?” It was fascinating to not only observe their conversations, but then see them explain their thought process so clearly on paper.

I’m looking forward to doing even more investigation into mathematical writing with my teachers, through a few different lenses. First, there’s work from UConn including the original recommendations from the Elementary Mathematical Writing Task Force. Linked there, but I think also important to link here is the article, “Why Should Students Write in Math Class?” from Educational Leadership (2017). Last, is a piece that I found on Twitter a week ago called 17 Prompts For Writing in Mathematics. See a glimpse below:

So that’s it – my three big goals this year are to investigate Intervention, Listening & Speaking, and Writing. Keep in mind though – all of these investigations will also come through the lens of coaching and support, so I certainly intend to blog about coaching as well. What are your goals this year?

2019 Goals – Speaking & Listening

Another goal for 2019 is to locate and develop resources strategies around our Speaking and Listening standards. This is urgent for three main reasons. First and foremost, we know that speaking and listening are key literacy and life pieces. To produce the citizens of tomorrow, it is imperative that we teach them to be effective speakers and active listeners. In looking at the 2020 Top 10 Job Skills prediction, it would seem that consistent instruction and application of listening and speaking would greatly benefit our students.

Second, our new report card includes a grade area for listening and speaking. So, our teachers are actively seeking support and professional development to help them assess these standards.

Last, our test scores indicate that there is a need for better understanding about the listening standards. While I feel the need to make it clear – summative test scores are a snapshot and absolutely do not solely define the child – I do think they are valuable to use in making programmatic decisions. It would be unfortunate for our students to have low scores simply because we didn’t analyze the situation and identify causal factors.

As a result, a group of coaches and I are planning an optional, introductory PD to these standards. Although the idea of listening and speaking is not new – consider our EL supports and PD over the past several years – we recognize the need give sharper focus to these standards. After a solid brainstorming session today we realize that even two hours doesn’t seem like enough. How do we include information about SBAC, ELPAC, the CCSS, prior ELD strategies that could be brought back, resources that are available, resources that we have created, our new report card, and of course the classroom management challenges that speaking and listening can bring?

We are particularly inspired by three Teaching Channel videos:

  • Listening & Speaking: Formative Assessment – in this video, the teacher uses a checklist during an academic conversation in order to record who is meeting the learning targets of the conversation. Simple, low prep activity with high engagement, that is rooted in the standards.
  • Evidence Based Academic Discussion – this is the “prequel” to the prior video, showing how the teacher set up the conversation so that students came to the circle prepared for discussion. In the “exit ticket” there is space at the bottom for students to reflect after the conversation – a great way to look for evidence of listening (since a look on the face can be deceiving!)
  • Formative Assessment: Collaborative Discussions – we were hooked in this video by the use of the poster to help students organize their thinking during their discussions.

We continue to look for formative assessment ideas around the speaking and listening standards that are easy to use and provide good feedback for next steps in instruction. Any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

2019 Goals – Intervention


I’m not sure this blog post is appropriately titled! These may still be wishes at this point, or maybe better termed focus areas for 2019. The plan is in process.

Response to Intervention

I started to title this “Intervention” but I can’t make that a focus. Because high quality first instruction is so critical, that I can’t think about intervention without making sure that I’m supporting high quality first instruction. Any time intervention comes up, I need to remind myself and others that first we teach and teach well.

So with that said, assuming excellent high quality first instruction, we can reasonably expect RTI to look like this pyramid. I like this one because it looks at academic and behavioral instruction, even though the focus of my work is generally academic. The MTSS model as explained in PBIS.org.

We cannot throw around interventions like spaghetti, hoping they stick to the wall. So my plan for 2019 is to investigate assessments that will best target our goals. In the DuFour PLC model, this would revolve around the question, “How will we know if they’ve learned it?”

Assessments we currently have in place universally in our district for K-6 ELA include:

  • Spelling Inventory
  • Fluency
  • K1 Phonemic Awareness
  • K1 Phonics

We also have a decision making tree to help decide what other assessments might help us target need. The plan for 2019 is to continue to guide thinking around these assessments, and coach teachers in understanding the results of these assessments, as well as planning for intervention based on the results.

Assessments we have in place universally in our district for K-6 Math include:

  • <This space intentionally left blank.>

So there is clearly a need to understand math assessment and intervention. The plan for 2019 then is to understand the first two PLC questions, “What do we want them to learn?” and “How do we know if they’ve learned it?” My first step in understanding is to look at two common statements I hear from teachers – “They don’t know their math facts.” and “They can’t do our work because they are low.”

For the first question, we want them to know their facts, but we don’t know if they’ve learned them. So I’m going to investigate Math Running Records in more depth, with a couple of specific classes. We will do running records for the entire class, and look at trends as well as possible interventions.

For the second question, I’m curious about how we define “low” as well as how we can have student access grade level math despite any areas of need. One of the projects I’m looking into was something Graham Fletcher brought up last summer at the Virtual Math Institute called the Georgia Numeracy Project. I’m going to adopt a couple of classes with this as well, to see how we might use the materials to specifically identify areas of intervention and thus maximize our intervention results.

Phew…and I’m just getting started on 2019 Goals. 🙂 It’s going to be a great year! Any advice on high quality first instruction or targeted intervention is welcomed in the comments!

2018: Year in Review

This year I tried to understand the role of the instructional coach in more depth. Here are the top 10 things I’ve learned:

10. Intense PD doesn’t happen during statewide testing. Edutopia

9. PD needs to be interactive. Gone are the days of the sit and get PD! Do the fire drill, don’t just glance at the map. Robert Kaplinsky

8. The instructional coach and administrator relationship is critically important. Balanced Reading

7. You can’t easily measure your impact as a coach. Learn to live with ambiguity while we study the role in depth. Barkley

6. Teachers are partners in learning. The instructional coach is not an expert in the field – but a coach should be able to help guide thinking and keep the learning moving forward. Instructional Coaching Group

5. Twitter is an incredible source of knowledge and inspiration! Follow me on Twitter!

4. Coaches need coaching too. Start a Mastermind of coaches. Cult of Pedagogy

3. Your role as a coach requires you to be present in the moment. You are released from the classroom to release you from those every day stresses so that you can help shoulder the incredible weight of the teachers you serve. Self care is critical. EdWeek

2. You can’t be all things to all people. Offer coaching to all and feed the hungry. ASCD

1. Develop your vision and mission. ASCD

And So It Begins…

My 2019 goal was to start a blog. And I’ve started! Goal is complete already and I haven’t even left 2018! I have to admit that this blank space is somewhat intimidating. What if I have absolutely nothing to say?

Since school is out for a few more days, it’s time for some reflecting and planning. Tomorrow I’ll reflect on the successes of 2018, and then on Tuesday I’ll start planning for 2019. Today, I’ll rest after the fun of decorating the page. Let me know your thoughts on the design in the comments.