sol17 DoodleaDay 5 DigiLit Sunday

FullSizeRender 45 doodleaday_nature.jpg

Today is Sunday. It’s great for two reasons: Margaret Gibson’s DigiLit Sunday and it’s the best day of the week for me. And today’s DigiLit Sunday is about Slice of Life, a March writing challenge by the The Two Writing Teachers that asks us to write every day in March about a slice of our lives, a moment in time.

So today I ask you to join in the writing, to write, because it is “hard fun,” as Donald Murray shares, and because writing clears and clarifies the mind. And in these challenging times, we need that. Won’t you join?

I love Sundays. For most of our Sundays together, my husband and I enjoy the light of day shining through the window as we sip our coffee, his black and mine with cream. We spend hours reading and conversing on any topic: news, politics, history, nature, discoveries old and new, how things work, philosophy. It’s relaxing and freeing to have no hurry pushing us.


Not only does Scott brew the coffee, he also makes breakfast: eggs, many ways. So the day is extra special for me.

In years past, we had hopped in the car to visit grandkids two hours away — but they do grow up 🙂 so we do that less.

Many times, during the school year, I would spend the afternoon and evening on planning for my next week as middle school teacher. But now, I’m retired. Note to teachers: take the day off; your time is precious. [Not that I regret it– I loved it, but teachers shouldn’t have to work so many hours.]

Most of the time we take a walk or hike around town or around the hills of our little rural town.


Mule Deer in the credit union field

coulee art.JPG

Coulee Art [and yes, we probably know who did this]

Many of my nature photos come from these walks [which we now take almost daily]. This Sunday, these fall leftovers still shared their colors:


Oregon Grape


Oak Leaf [not native to our area, but planted in the park]

Other times we hop in the car for that traditional pastime from both our childhoods: the Sunday drive. Today we drove along Banks Lake, which is still mostly frozen over from the cold winter.


Banks Lake in the Grand Coulee [an irrigation reservoir with year round fishing]


Steamboat  Rock [history]

Banks Lake is surrounded by the Grand Coulee walls. [See Glacial Lake Missoula history]


Moon over Coulee Wall

Following the highway we turned off at Dry Falls, the largest ever waterfall, but created during the Ice Ages.


Dry Falls State Park [part of Glacial Lake Missoula history]

That lake is 350 ft below viewing area!

There we turned around and headed the long way home around through the plateau wheat fields around Hartline, Almira, and Wilbur. We detoured to Govan to take this picture of what’s left of a one-room school house:


Govan School House at Sunset

Sundays are a Slice of Life each week. My walks are a Slice of Life each day. In these days of darkness with a totalitarian leaning president, be sure to take care of yourself. In everyone’s life, to celebrate and to reflect, write your moments, your Slice of Life. Be with your family; enjoy nature, whether you walk the cement jungle or the rural trail. And share your moments and their relief; let the doing, writing and sharing renew your spirit and connect you with others.

As a teacher, my students loved Slice of Life; I’ve written about it here and here. For strategies for writers to revise their slice moments, see the work of Ralph Fletcher and Steve Peha. They both provide for strategies for writers workshop and the six  traits of writing. Through Slice of Life and writing strategies, students learn what Donald Murray expressed, “Writing is hard fun.”  So often over the years, students have said during writing class after sharing, “You’re right, Ms Edwards, writing is hard fun.”

So, for reflection and learning, for hope in good and hard times, write for some hard fun.


Thunder rumbling

Angry words

Daily insults

Inhumane turmoil

Get up

Stand up

Walk out





People laughing

Welcomed smiles

Daily kindness

Community cares

Lift up

Stand up

Walk in

Shake hands




Reflect inward

Connect thoughts

Write down moments

Humanity grows.



Coffee Photo: Sheri Edwards, AttributionNoncommercialShare AlikeFlickr

Deer Photo, by Scott Hunter, used with permission

Nature and Drive photos, Sheri Edwards [Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Doodle by Sheri Edwards


This post is:

Part of Slice of Life 2017 by The Two Writing Teachers

Part of DoodleaDay by Royan Lee— today:  Make a stain with a drink; Doodle it into something.

Doodling Song: It’s a Beautiful Morning by The Rascals


Part of Margaret Gibson’s DigiLit Sunday


DigiLit Sunday Balance

Balancing Goals and Needs

The sun rises, sometimes behind the fog and clouds, but it is always there, shining for us.


We rise, and focus on this day’s agenda. Our agenda, our focus for each day is but one part of our bigger dreams and goals. Each day is a journey whose purpose reflects personal and career goals, with specific individual and work goals.

The path of these goals that we envision is often not linear, not smooth; our needs for living, safety, loving, belonging, and community intersect with the needs, and the goals, of others. This is our human journey.

We have learned to cooperate, collaborate, and compromise so we grow as communities in respect and acceptance of our differences, in order to help all of us move forward in our pursuit of happiness, that dream that always shines for us, that hope that keeps us going despite roadblocks, missteps, and obstacles.

Balance comes from our respect for the rights and needs of others, as well as standing firm in our own needs and rights. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s wise words in the Lincoln-Douglas debates:

I believe each person is naturally entitled to do as he pleases so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man’s rights.  ~ Abraham Lincoln

So for balance, we enjoy and learn from our journey, including learning from and accepting others. We meet our own needs, and connect with others in meeting theirs. There are twists and turns, missteps, and respites. But we take the time and action to join in our journeys as time moves us forward, as the sun, hidden or brightly shining, keeps us focused on goals that change and move with our journey’s reflections and insights.

In our personal lives, we daily are interrupted with life’s challenges, which affect our goals and needs. So when one opportunity closes, we turn to find another. The opportunity could be a job, a grant, a friend, but life situations could change– a job closing or elimination, a grant unfilled, a perspective changed, our health changed, a death. Because, as John Lennon, reminded us:

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

But the important thing is the full verse:

Before you cross the street take my hand.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

John Lennon: Beautiful Boy

It is our connections, our communion of fellowship with each other, that keeps us balanced and able to continue, and help others continue, in the journey.

In the classroom, that means we teach the whole child: interests, passions, needs. We take time to express and understand and care to each other’s ideas and feelings, because we are connected, we are a community of learners. Our conversations and connections help us deal with life’s challenges and ideas so we can decide how to move forward.

Without that balance of working together, we become inert in our ventures or ideologues of rigidness, unable to see the beauty of our human uniquenesses and unable to connect with our fellow travelers in our human journey. As Marie Curie said:

You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.

Marie Curie

Goals, yes; yet with those goals, our needs draw us together as a community so each of our journeys can succeed. In the journey of life as we follow our dreams and goals, take each other by the hand, share and connect, and help each other. That is balance.








Part of DigiLit Sunday

Margaret Gibson

DigiLit Sunday

Thanks to Margaret Simon’s DigiLit Sunday Challenge, I have a way to meet my new blogging goals, as I’ve explained here. Margaret also writes for Kidblog, and in her post, “Author’s Comments offer Fame to Students,” she shared some of her reasons for starting to blog:

“When I started writing on a blog, I wanted to share my writing with a wider audience. I wanted to feel like an expert. I was probably looking for fame. I admit it. But as I began connecting with other bloggers, mostly teachers, I actually received much more than fame. I received a connection. These connections fed my confidence more than superficial fame could.”

Writing does build our confidence, and when shared with others who reciprocate with their ideas on similar topics, we all gain confidence and expertise. I remember when I started blogging, it was not because I was an expert, but because I could share how strategies in education, which others had shared, worked for me and those may help others, thereby extending the reach of those ideas. I was but a part of a larger idea.

Margaret’s experiences shared on her blog help other teachers and students learn. The same blog post explains how her students’ blogs about their reading and when tweeted to authors brought them comments and therefore connections to the authors and their stories. Talk about confidence building! And the experience of learning from and becoming experts on their topics. Please read her post about this and other posts to see how blogging with students enhances learning that will live on throughout a student’s life.

Blogging, because it’s writing, has served to guide me when I was a teacher, and now continues to guide my thoughts and ideas as I slip into the elder years in my life. This blog will now serve for many kinds of thoughts: from cooking to art to politics to education. I’m moving on from a focus on education after two sad moments in my life. My son passed on suddenly and I miss him as do his children. And of course the loss of a great country, which once accepted diversity and supported liberty for all. Those things still exist, and part of my role in these senior years will be to support those ideals. The blogging challenges will help me get started. That’s my plan: to be inspired by those challenges to meet the challenges I need to overcome and support. Not as an expert, but as one with experience and knowledge, which together, when shared, can build those ideals again. It’s like the veteran in The Postman, “I know stuff.” I don’t know everything, but I do know stuff, or have the wherewithal to find out. 

And bloggers connect with each other. Like Margaret says in her post, “Cherishing Celebrations,”

In this daily struggle to understand what the hell we are doing here, my online community holds me together, grounds me, helps me to see what is truly important.

The tweets and blogging newsletters brought me back to keep going, grounded me in what is important. Margaret’s blog led me to Julianne’s “Celebrating: My Social Media Bubble.” Her words express exactly how I feel about those I follow and connect with on Twitter, in blogs, on Google Plus: they uplift the world.  Julianne says, 

Social media can be many things. Perhaps it’s a function of where you look. I’ve managed, unwittingly, to craft a social media bubble around people who nurture. Around those who celebrate simple things, who notice and wonder; around poets and teachers; around readers and writers. Around people who spend their energies engaged in lifting up the world, looking closely, and caring. And because of this we continue and grow, even in the darkest times. My wish for 2017 is that we hold tight to each other and our beliefs through the storms and joys.

So you can see why these are “dark times.” When the entire country and the newly elected government has so many examples of the opposite of nurturing and lifting of opportunities, then Julianne is right, we must “hold tight to each other and our beliefs.” We’ve got to share them.

But the ideas must be both online and face2face. We’ve got to have conversations. We’ve got to listen.  Michael Buist in his post “Have you #Eduheard” suggests that in education, we should

Let’s start our own movement. A movement of listening, of truly hearing and reflecting on what happens around us every day.

I think we need to do this for the ideas that matter to us — share yours, share those of others and how you understand them. Get a conversation started to lift us towards acceptance and understanding of our human condition, of our dreams and hopes. For education, it’s #eduheard.  For America, it’s #usaheard. I’m really not suggesting a hashtag, because these ideas are bigger than that. The educational ideas of anti-bullying, of opportunity, of equity, of tolerance and acceptance– these are ideas of the great America. So, for me, I’ve got to talk about them, and understand them in my neighbor’s terms, whether that neighbor is next door or on the next blog or tweet. One connection at a time; one share, one conversation. It’s a way to keep the ideas and ideals alive.

Drew Frank, who started BlogaMonth, wrote a post “Good Trouble” about a presentation from his family friend, Congressman John Lewis, who said in his presentation at Drew’s school:

  1. We all have an obligation to leave this little piece of real estate a little cleaner, a little greener and a little more peaceful!
  2. Get into trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble!

That’s what is important. That’s a plan. For my grandchildren, it’s a necessary plan. I hope to see you in the conversation for the great America that strives for those  ideals. 

Are you in the conversation


Image: Thanks to Margaret Simon’s DigiLit Sunday Challenge

Reflection #immooc #digilitsunday



Today’s DigiLitSunday topic is reflection. That’s an amazing word. I see my reflection in the mirror. I see my work reflects my efforts. I see my mistakes reflect I tried. I see my successes reflect I learned well from others. I see my students’ [staff or kids] failures reflect my chance to find another way. I see my students’ [staff or kids] successes reflect my adaption that supported their needs.

I have successes and failures. I feel I did not do enough for my staff; I never gave up on my students. But always, I strove to understand and meet the needs of those under my care, to allow each the opportunity to find their path to success and understanding. It’s not easy to teach open, in ways that allow all learners to meet their goals, but it’s a choice that had to be made. I had to change to do something amazing, even when the amazing didn’t always happen.

Reflection had to happen before I even started a lesson or professional development session. I had to know who I was teaching and what was needed — by each participant. I had to know the vision I had, and know that that vision may change according to what we eventually did together.

If we were learning imagery, the vision was a piece of work that exemplified a sensory description. And once we, my students and I, started on that journey, an audience or audiences were chosen and students chose the way to share: an Animoto, slides, document, comic. And what was shared? a poem , story, a song, an annotation. And in each, imagery.

And although imagery was the target, the learning was so much more, depending on the personalized needs of each student and the content, context, and product they chose, sometimes in collaboration with others, and always with feedback from myself and their peers.

Reflection occurred during — this is what I’m trying to do.  Even I would sometimes start a lesson with that. Feedback acknowledged the parts done well and suggestions for ways to improve. We grew together, one student helping another.

Reflection occurred after — this is what I learned. And the learning was more than imagery: it was collaboration, critique, helpful feedback, a tool, a way to create, etc.

That was the plan, and for some it worked well. Others needed models, and their peers helped. Time prevented some from final reflections in writing, but we found time to talk.

We couldn’t follow the process every time, and I do believe we need to slow down, and spend more time in the process on bigger projects where students design an organized project, in whatever grouping they choose [individual, team, partner].

For the past two years, I’ve focused on essential questions and a few larger projects:

  • How do researchers investigate successfully?
  • What strategies and processes do collaborators need for success?
  • How do readers and writers determine and develop relevant, accurate, and complete topics?
  • How do publishers design and organize content for their audience and purpose?
  • Why and how do editors and speakers use
    and edit with the rules for standard English grammar and language ?

Each year, I provided a better focus on those questions in our work. If I were teaching this year, I would start each week with a conversation based on what each student was doing. I’d slow down the process just enough for this reflection, building on what we learned each week to develop our authorship, and providing voice to the developing authors and publishers and researchers as they acknowledged their new skills, tools, and processes. I love how Esther Wojcicki shapes her journalism classes, giving power and agency to her students. This was my goal, and it was growing towards it.

For my staff, I had not the opportunities to create such a learning environment, although I tried to model it in the format of the sessions, with choices rather than mandates. For some, that provided the autonomy to thrive, for others it brought uncertainty. Change is not everyone’s strength.

And although I tried share-out documents in sessions, and over the years taught blogging, modeled Twitter’s PLN building, encouraged collaboration in Google Apps, and suggested small ways to share out the classroom stories, I found a small group with whom to share and collaborate, encouraging their access and inclusion of collaborative tools. However, I alone could not move all staff forward.

I think now, though, I have an idea that may help.  More on that later.

In the introduction of the Innovator’s Mindset book by George Couros, I enjoyed and agreed with so many ideas, such as building on the strengths of our students and staff, and encouraging curiosity, rather than extinguishing it with traditional worksheet / workbook / online skill learning. George reminds us of our responsibility, “spark a curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.” I think this is the key responsibility as teachers and learners, and is why I chose those Essential Questions for my Language Arts classroom: it created an authentic focus with real-content context and projects for students to be authors and publishers, designing with their content and analysis publications for their audiences.

With the focus more on feedback than on grades and specific skills, it allowed students agency and voice to be authors. It was a choice, a change in small ways with the help of Google Apps for Education and other tools that allowed for ease in our communication, research, feedback, revision, and publication. We weren’t perfect or prolific, but the students became owners — and evaluators — of their own work. And our student-led conferences engaged families in their learning, excited that their students were learning skills they wanted to learn, or that they themselves were using in their work and education.

George Couros says:


And a small step by each of us begins that journey to amazing.

That’s the idea: I think now, though, I have an idea that may help engage staff members, especially for you who are in the Innovator’s Mindset Mooc, course in Innovation by George Couros [#IMMOOC].

So I would share the Change poster, and ask of my staff, “Are your students learning on their own? engaged in each of our classrooms?” and “What will I — and you — and we– change to do something amazing, to empower student engagement and learning on their own?”


What are examples of small changes?


One simple counselor strategy by Susan Spellman Conn:

Or a teacher who uses SnapChat for Book Chats with her PLC Book Studies — Tara Martin:


And, join the #immooc:

Sign up for the Innovators Mindset — the IMMOOC here.

Join the #immooc Google Plus Community by Kevin Hodgson @dogtrax  for posts and conversation. Read his recent reflection and learn his “change” with feedback and modeling revision [great video there].

Follow the Twitter hashtag #immooc

Join the Voxer group by Emily Clare  — how to here.


I have more to change and more to learn.

What will you change?


Margaret Simon hosts


This week’s post topic: reflection








#DigiLitSunday #Blogamonth 9/11


So many tragedies and controversies occur and then opinions are blasted in small blurbs in tweets, on Facebook, and supposed news bites. How do we help the children cope with the incidents and resulting burst of opinions?

Kevin Hodgson suggests this in his post “#DigiLitSunday: Filters, Floodgates, and Us“:

“The best we can do with our children and our students is try to be one of the trusted adults they can talk to, and ask questions of, and to be the ones whom they can turn to when the world turns upside down on them — in small ways and in larger ways.” ~Kevin Hodgson

We can listen and ask about their feelings. We can share our own. We must emphasize that the world goes on, and we strive to make the world better.

Sometimes our own words need support. Here are some resources for 9/11:

The Fred Rogers Company, Mr. Rogers: Tragic Events

Common Sense Media book suggestions

Common Sense Media books suggestions for teaching empathy

Commons Sense Media “Explaining News to Kids” This post talks about what Kevin suggests, that we filter the news as much as possible for the youngest children.

Teachers First: Age-rated and reviewed resources for teaching 9/11

Center for Civic Education: 9/11 Lessons

Scholastic Lessons

PBS Parents: Talking With Kids About News

“Learn how to calm kids’ fears, stimulate their minds, and encourage them to think about their place in today’s world.” ~PBS Parents

American School Counselor Association: Helping Kids During Crisis:

• Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
• Limit exposure to television and the news.
• Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
• Listen to kids’ fears and concerns.
• Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things.
• Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
• Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships.

~American School Counselor Association

As teachers, parents, loved ones, we help our children “look for the helpers.”

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This blog post is part of

DigiLit Sunday sponsored by

Margaret Simon

This blog post is part of

Blogamonth sponsored by

Drew Frank


#DigiLitSunday Motivation



It’s pretty simple: we like to do want we want to do when we want to do it because we have a reason and we know we can do it.

If you have read any of Daniel Pink’s work, you will recognize his research shining through that statement:

“The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”

“the three elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose”

Mastery means that you know you can do the task; you might struggle, but you know how to get there.

In writing class, help students see they can master the aspects of writing that is required of them. Do this by providing feedback first for what they are doing well. Find the strong verb and let them know. Point out the transition word that helps the reader. Indicate the specific nouns that paint the precise image in the reader’s mind. Whenever a student writes, there is something they are doing well. Acknowledge that first.

The second part of mastery is knowing you can get to the expectation. Feedback includes that acknowledgement of what was done well, and then a nudge of one or two things that would improve the writing. Ask a question about “How…” to get at the hidden action that needs to be clear.  Ask a question about what the character was thinking or feeling so the writer can build his character.  Their answers let them know what to add; and they know they can then.

Autonomy means choice– choice of which to improve, choice of tool, choice of genre, choice of topic.

Much of school requires nonfiction and essay writing, yet good nonfiction writing often includes narratives. Since everybody likes to share their stories, use narrative as the first genre to acknowledge good writing and strategies to improve it.

Students are constantly telling stories. As students enter a classroom, they are buzzing with stories from the moment in the hall or from the game last night.Time to write those stories is not an extra–it’s the starting point that they know how to do so they know they can master whatever goals they need.

Give them choices. Entry tasks, blogging options,  free writing, power writing, choice time.

Create project choices: Tuesday +Slice of Life, DigiWriMo [all year], Writing Menus.

Provide language prompts: Language is a Virus Prompts  New York Times Learning Network

It’s the play to begin. Let them choose paper or typing. Play with words and phrases. Play collaboratively as students each write the story from their perspective, then collaborate to improve. But most importantly, it’s what they know and can do. Peer and teacher feedback then indicate what was done well and one or two areas of question to improve. Shared Google Docs or Slides allow peers and teacher to add those feedback comments.

If students draft on paper first, do a “Gallery Walk.” Leave writing on the desk with a lined paper beside it. Students walk around silently, commenting on the blank paper to identify what they liked as good writing with the example and a question about an area of the writing piece.

Depending on the needs of the students, the tool used to write could be a choice; the genre [script, story, lyrics, poetry] could be a choice.

Finally, purpose. Finalize stories by taking out the personal information, tweaking the content for public viewing, and make those narratives part of the school culture of learning and sharing with the world.

Have a category on student blogs as “Slices of Our Lives” which can be searched and linked to for sharing in a kiosk during any event, added to parent newsletters, sent out in Remind or other parent notification platform. Encourage parent comments.

Connect with quad-bloggers or connect with your own PLN classes to share, comment, and perhaps collaborate on stories. Or join in with Youth Voices Live for sharing and prompt ideas.

Let students know that their work betters the world; that sharing their stories helps others learn and grow.

Setting up a the writing classroom with time for narrative writing with the purpose of sharing short stories, anecdotes, lyrics, poetry to better the world provides students and teachers with the confidence to learn writing skills transferable to required essays and the choice to write about what matters. It develops a community of writers and that’s motivation with authenticity, purpose, and mastery. Celebrate that each week with live “Storytelling” from their own stories.

How have you found narrative writing as motivation?

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This post is part of #DigiLitSunday

A challenge by Margaret Simon




#DigiLit Sunday Part 2 The Numbers

Beginnings, Part 2


Over thirty-one years of teaching, I didn’t have any “numbers” to support the strategies I chose, but I did continuously reflect on the impact my choices in tasks, groupings, and follow through had on student learning and behavior. I built a toolbox of strategies and activities that frequently worked for students from my own experience and through researched strategies in National Council of Teachers of English [NCTE], International Reading Association [now the International Literacy Association], ASCD [formerly Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development], and others according to the content areas I was teaching. I’ve built an extended professional learning network on Google Plus and on Twitter to share and discuss the issues and goals in order to be better for my students.

And why did I do this?  I want to be the best for my students and myself, and the professors in my courses in teaching at Eastern Washington University expected active learners and researchers who found real students to work with and reflect on that work, searching in the professional organization journals for solutions to student dilemmas. I had practiced reflective teaching before I was awarded my teacher credentials. I’m not sure all teachers had that experience.

reciprocal teaching dylan william hattie.002

Poster by Sheri Edwards; Images public domain from

Always though, the focus is on the learning of the person — not the standards or covering the curriculum — the focus is who we are and how we help each other as learners by building a learning community with positive relationships with each other.

One of the key lessons of Visible Learning by John Hattie (2009) is that those strategies that make learning visible provide teachers a repertoire of choices to enable students to become their own teachers  in the classroom and throughout their lives. One trait of excellent teachers is that they intervene with just the right strategy or task at just the right time for just the right student based on the impact of their previous teaching with feedback for how to stay moving on the student’s learning goal. With a wealth of strategies for instruction, teachers extend that imperative of being on the learning path to release the student as his/her own teacher to learn and improve as engaged learners in their own passions or interests wherever they are. The goal is lifelong learners, not test-takers or re-tellers of information.

In Visible Learning for Literacy by Fisher, Frey, Hattie, (2016), the authors suggest that, since the goal of our instruction is for students to become their own teachers, then teachers must “become learners of their own teaching,” (page 4, Kindle). We must reflect on the impact of our teaching on the learning. A reflective teacher asks and gathers information on these questions:

  • How effective was today’s lesson?
  • What was learned?
  • Who learned it?
  • Who did not learn it?
  • Who missed something?
  • Who learned something else, and why?

And students want to know: What? So What? Now What?


Over one hundred years ago, John Dewey, a founding philosopher of education, grounded us in this truth: that learning is doing. Today, educators access a wealth of research that guides them in answering the reflective questions that result in the feedback and interventions to guide the learners in their care.

And students want to be doing, not watch the teacher do.

Michael Toth, CEO of Learning Sciences International, says that “It takes the concept of deliberate practice if you want to be the best in the field,” to which Robert Marzano, Executive Director of LSI adds, “Even small improvements in teacher effectiveness can have a positive impact on student achievement. (Becoming a Reflective Teacher webinar).

Indeed, it is the small  things we do as teachers every minute of every class that does impact student learning. It is this knowledge and reflective thinking — to be a “learner of my teaching” — to make  small improvements that guides me in better instruction, and in really knowing my students.

In Beginnings, Part 1, I shared a series of lesson actions to explain the flow and purpose of the beginning of my school year. As I read the books by Hattie and others, I can now add the research numbers behind the instruction. View the numbers here [I chose the Learning for Teachers in green since I am a teacher].  I’m not much of a numbers person — I lean to the “doing,” but it is my “doing” those numbers seem to support. It’s important, though, to also read the information about the strategies, to understand the “why” of the data numbers.  Take problem based learning at 0.21, a very low impact. However, in digging into the data Hattie explains that most of those studies about problem/project based learning dove right into critical thinking, instead of first building a knowledge base with students from which problems can be understood. Good problem/project based learning includes that, and Hattie suggests that would then have a higher success factor (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2016, p. 37).

So, let’s examine the “doing.”


  • Determine and practice expectations of a learning community

  • Discuss and learn protocols for entering, leaving, independent work, group work, discussions, turning in work, computer use, agreements, disagreements

  • Accomplish and celebrate learning / work together

Reaching towards a target goal has an effect size of 0.50 — I have them in mind and the students have theirs: Collaborative Grouping / Working together / Learning Community guidelines. More on this later.

This building of relationships according to Hattie’s research has a .72 effect size — an effect size means it has the potential to have a great effect on student learning; the closer to “1,” the greater the effect. And guess what? In building that relationship, in being fair, trustworthy, and caring, teachers build their credibility with students and that effect size is .90.

  • Invitational greeting at the door from teacher

  • Setting the first goal: a collaborative activity on screen [idea from Joy Kirr and Sandy Merz]

  • Students collaborate on seating from the directions

    • I observe, waiting until absolutely necessary to intervene

    • I may ask a question about the prompt to a student

    • I may encourage a student to speak up, or others to listen

So, to start the year greeting the young people who smile [or not] as they enter the room is an important first thoughtful beginning. And the choices made over the minutes in class each of the first days determine teacher credibility and student tone and attitude for the rest of the year.

Did you know that cooperative vs competitive learning has an effect size of 0.54, and that cooperative vs individual learning has an effect size of 0.59? So building a collaborative learning community, where students are helping each other learn in conversation, debate, dialogue, and products pushes forward any goals we have! It is most useful for deeper learning. During this activity, students are moving from learning about collaboration to doing collaboration in a safe and easy activity using ideas they already can talk about. And peer tutoring has an effect size of 0.55, so if someone doesn’t know a topic about which they are sorting themselves, a peer will explain so they meet the criteria. That’s the beauty of these introductory activities: the surface knowledge is already within their understanding – or one of their peer’s understanding, so that success is achievable and the thinking about HOW they solved the seating activity can also be discovered in reflection and conversation with their group.

I’m always standing, wandering, listening, encouraging during any lessons. I look for the confusion, the struggle, and the successes. When students can’t solve their own confusion, I figure out the best way to intervene: a question to them so they can clarify, another strategy, organizer, or review to set the students in just the right place to move on; or, if needed, stopping the whole class for questions or a quick tip.  That’s scaffolding instruction for two things: 1) so the student knows they will receive help [not answers or solutions] so they can succeed, and 2) to provide the vehicle for success.  Scaffolding has an effect size of 0.53.

  • Celebrate in class discussion

    • Refer to the goal: form groups

    • Acknowledge  and accept the events of participation – confusion, perseverance, and success

  • Give students a scrap of paper —

    • ask each to think of one event that started the success or ended a confusion

    • Ask them to write what worked and what didn’t

  • Ask them to share in their groups and to create lists on poster paper of What Worked to Succeed and What Did Not Work

In this sequence, I’m asking students to think about what they’ve done — think about their doing and thinking and reflect on what worked and what didn’t work. We’re reviewing our goal, and focusing on how to achieve it. We’re setting the guidelines for what we would expect if we expect success.  This metacognition has an effect size of 0.69. Notice I ask them to write about what worked or not as individuals first, then to discuss with the group, during which time students begin to learn to listen to opposing ideas and to agree or not in positive ways. Writing focuses one’s thinking, pulling the ideas together, both for individuals and as groups. These are key to both metacognition and to literacy learning  (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2016, p. 76). And because we are building guidelines, we move towards class cohesion, with an effect size of 0.53. I’m also guiding them in a problem to solve — what works for success in our group tasks. Problem-solving is 0.61. They need this guided activity more than once [which will occur over the next few days] in order to learn the techniques they need for self-generated problems  (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2016, p. 26). I’m not telling them how to behave, we’re figuring it out together based on the activities – what we will expect- back to goals for ourselves as learners.

  • Pull the class together and ask for a few quick responses from each list, without repeating

  • Listen for the key point and ask a clarifying question each time, to get at a specific example from their perspective; it’s my chance to be truly interested in their ideas

  • Ask students to go back and revise their lists to be more specific

  • Hang up the posters and give students dots to place by the most important “What Worked” strategies

  • Ask students to get or go to a computer to the class home page to link to a document “Learning Community Guidelines” with a table for “Our Guidelines”  Ask students to add things that we all should do based on the posters and experience to be successful at projects [students choose a row to add as many guidelines as they can]. If using paper, students each write their own but by discussing in groups to create their paper versions in their own notebook.

This is one of the most important parts of the lesson. It’s focused on the goals and also on the people, our community. Relationships develop when people know you care. I’m a pretty strict teacher in the sense that I’m diligent, and I expect the students to be diligent as well, and some kids don’t like to work that hard. But I know my students listen because days later, they’ll repeat or suggest some expectation or strategy I had mentioned as an alternative, in case the one I’m teaching doesn’t work for them. And they know that no matter what occurs — if there’s a bad day for either of us — they know I care that they succeed so the next day is good again. So this truly listening to their perspective and idea, and asking them to build on it is a key part of building that trust. And it serves literacy because we need that evidence and elaboration to prove our points. Here the expectation is set listen, to elaborate, to revise, to agree, speak up, disagree agreeably, and to help each other. We are learning and modeling and practicing the protocols that will guide us through the year together. This is also a formative assessment; I’m listening and acknowledging the ideas and providing feedback in the form of a question so the student can build their idea. I am communicating my expectation for elaboration, example, and details. Feedback’s effect size is .075. Feedback is specific, not praise – it’s a key strategy for improved learning (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2016, p. 17).

Another important aspect of this activity is the concept map created first by individuals and then as groups and finally as a class — What Works / What doesn’t. Students are analyzing and sorting ideas, a thinking strategy needed for deeper understanding. But it’s not the organizer that makes the thinking deeper — it’s what students do with the organizer that deepens learning. In this case, students discuss with the notes, elaborate and revise the notes, choose the most important, and then write from them.  This activity introduces them to a simple T-chart, one of many organizers that help think through complex ideas. Again, it sets the stage for what’s ahead. And it’s the using the notes that brings the deeper thinking  and deeper learning. The effect size for this use of concept maps is 0.60 (Fisher, Frey, Hattie, 2016, p. 80).

Another important point about class and group discussions is to encourage student to student conversations to clarify and carry the ideas further without the teacher as arbitrator of the conversation. At any time I can begin that journey by directing students to share together on a point, so we have just increased the impact on student learning. True classroom discussions like that has an effect size of 0.82! So step back whenever possible.

Students now have the knowledge to begin writing the guidelines for the community.

  • If guidelines are on the computer, randomly pick one group to edit to take out the duplicates; If guidelines are on paper, ask one student to type up each group’s list, editing for duplicates. The rest move on to the next task. For this task, choose a fast typer 🙂

  • Ask each student to make two lists of what we’ve done in the classroom so far:

    • A list of what the students did

    • A list of what the teacher did

  • Ask student groups to share make a list on poster paper of what we’ve done so far in the classroom

    • A list of what students did

    • A list of what teacher did

  • Put the edited learning community guidelines up and ask students if they are complete [teacher may add too]

  • Are they agreeable? Ask the students to type their name below the guidelines

  • Hang up  the  “What We Did” posters

  • Review the Community Guidelines with students but in the context of expectations for classroom protocol, which may include [we’ll review this over the week, so it doesn’t need to take long or be this complete on this day]:

    • Enter the room [tomorrow students will have their own copy of the Guidelines and a notebook to store in the room — which they need daily as part of entry]

      • Student

        • Be prepared — pens, pencils, papers, class notebooks, library books, all ready to go

        • Look for and complete entry task

        • If no entry task, read or write [on projects]

      • Teacher

        • Entry task ready

        • Reading  / Writing ready

        • Greets students / reviews work

    • Individual Work [student and teacher]

      • Quiet

      • On own

      • In own area

      • Distraction free

      • Teacher conferences

    • Group Work

      • Student

        • All participate

        • Listen

        • Discuss

        • Positive voices

        • Agree to disagree

        • Support with evidence

        • Invite all to participate

        • Roles [to be expanded on later [leader, timekeeper, statistician, recorder, morale officer]

      • Teacher

        • Monitors groups

        • Confers with groups

        • Feedback

      • Closing

          • Ask students what we will probably need to do to close our class:

            • Exit Thoughts

            • Clean areas

            • Computer protocol

            • Turn in

            • Class work away in own area

            • My rule: Stand by desks for dismissal

            • Last class: Stacks chairs and stands by desk

In this activity, we learn that the whole class will not always be working on the same activity — here we have two activities occurring that will help complete the project. And we review another organizer [teacher and student participation] based on the concept of classroom protocol expectations for both teacher and students. This will be another continuous conversation as different aspects of class needs occur [fire drills, phone calls, visitors, online safety, computer use, etc.]. It doesn’t happen in one day. We learn that we are flexible, and always learning — and that is an important understanding of a learning community. Because we learn these and add to the charts over several days, we begin to refer to them, revise them, and make them ours over time. Did you know that spaced practice as opposed to mass practice has an effect size of 0.71? That’s why we practice, not all at once, not in one day.

  • Exit Thoughts: What confuses you? What’s the most important thing you learned about being successful in this class? This can be on paper or in a Share Out document.  Students practice closing protocol.

Finally, the exit ticket, the formative assessment that tells me what the students know or not, another model for what we’ll be doing throughout the year, and most important, not for the students, but for me, the teacher. I will know the true impact of this day’s lessons, and know what to do tomorrow to make sure that for each student, I’m leading him or her on the path towards a successful year of learning. Formative assessment has an effect size of 0.90, but only if I use this information to inform my instruction. Of course, throughout the day, I’ve been conducting formative assessments while presenting information and getting feedback, while listening to groups, while managing discussions, and while interacting with individuals. I’ve been adapting the timing, the process, and the product of each step on the spot based on what students need. Perhaps a role-play was added to show how to have a discussion in groups or how to point out an error politely. Perhaps paper over computers, or vice versa. But the goal and the flow move forward to live these questions:

  • How do researchers investigate successfully?

  • What strategies and processes do collaborators need for success?

  • How do readers and writers determine and develop relevant, accurate, and complete topics?

  • How do publishers design and organize content for their audience and purpose?

  • Why and how do editors and speakers use and edit with the rules for standard English grammar and language ?

I’m in a dance with students, listening to their beat, and adjusting the learning path for their success. It’s a dance, not numbers, because it is what we do that matters; it is our community of learners that makes a difference in life. It’s a dance along a string I lay out, so students may discover their own steps and beat along it.

So, keep dancing and laying out that string — and think about how your strategies “by the numbers” and by your experience provide a pace that fits each student because you too know what works for your kids! And all the while, both you and your students grow and learn and improve together.

reciprocal teaching chomsky

Choose 2 Matter



Chomsky, Noam Review of The Young Socratics. Retrieved from Website, August, 2016.

Chomsky, Noam (1995). Excerpted from Class Warfare, 1995, pp. 19-23, 27-31 retrieved from website August, 2016.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan, p181

Fisher, Douglas, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie. Visible Learning for Literacy, Grades K-12: Implementing the Practices That Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning.2016. Kindle

Marzano, R. and Toth, Michael. “Becoming a Reflective Teacher” Learning Sciences International Webinar, Retrieved 8.24.16

Hattie, J. Corrections in VL2.pdf. Ingham Intermediate School District Wiki Web, retrieved 8.24.16
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. Kindle

Hattie, John. Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. London: Routledge, 2012. Kindle

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