Tag Archives: education

An Intervention Change Up and a Plug for Summer Learning


Photo by Brady Cook on Unsplash

I bet I am more ready for summer than you. No, really. I am SO ready.

It’s not that I don’t like my job. It’s not that I am not having tons of great learning experiences with my students — they are doing beautiful things. It’s not that all things testing come crushing in this time of year (TELPAS, STAAR, AP) and make me daydream of working at a spa folding towels. It’s really none of that. It’s not even that I need a vacation — although I do. Did we already have Spring Break? (Oh, yeah, we did.)

It’s this:  Last summer I had one of the most amazing, awe-inspiring experiences of my teaching life. And I get a do over this summer.

Last summer I got to work with a powerhouse group of ELAR teachers in Clear Creek ISD with my friend and collaborator, Billy Eastman. I met Coach Moore who now writes on this blog and many other true blue educators dedicated to doing the work of workshop instruction and determined to do right by their readers and writers.

I could go on and on and on. But I won’t because Billy and I already did.

We wrote about our planning and implementation of that summer learning in this article “An Intervention Change Up: Investing in Teacher Expertise to Transform Student Learning,” recently published in English Journal.

I hope you’ll read it. Think about the intervention routines on your campus. Are they good for all students? Will they increase confidence in the hearts and minds of your readers and writers? Will they help students gain skills — or reinforce their lack of them?

And what about teachers? What’s in that work for you?

I’d love to know your thoughts. And if we can help, please let us know that, too.

Amy Rasmussen teaches English IV and AP English Language and Composition at a large senior high school in North TX. She is grateful to the North Star of TX Writing Project and Penny Kittle for showing her the benefits of choice and challenge; otherwise, she would probably still be dragging students through Dickens’ novels and pulling her hair our over plagiarized essays. Thank God she learned a better way. Follow Amy @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk. And please join the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page if you haven’t already. Join the conversation and share the good news of your workshop classroom.

The Gift From One Teacher to Another

33cef1aI had one minute to complete the “holey card,” a card riddled with rows of holes in which I filled in the answers to multiplication facts. One minute. And then time was up. Only half of my card was completed; I had failed. The embarrassment and discouragement welled in my eyes and for the first time in my elementary school career, I cried in front of the entire class. That’s when it all began.

Fast forward through high school geometry and calculus, extra help sessions with teachers, and math team meets so I could simply accrue extra credit. I never did poorly in my classes but I always felt like I just got by without fully understanding the concepts, scraping out As and Bs in a subject I knew so little about.

Needless to say, my math education has culminated in my hating, loathing, despising numbers. So when I enrolled in a graduate level statistics course last semester, I had high anxiety and low expectations. I could do this, I told myself; I was no longer an intimidated high schooler or struggling college student. Until two weeks into the course when the textbook and my professor began speaking a foreign language.

In my frantic search for help, I found Kevin, a baseball coach and AP Statistics teacher who worked at the opposite end of the high school. On that first day Kevin assuaged my fears, told me he could help me easily and opened his schedule to meet with me after school. I am not crier, but in that moment, I almost shed tears over math for the second time in my life. Kevin gave me hope that somehow I would make it through statistics, somehow I, the queen of number avoidance, would do well.

Kevin made me feel valued. When I first arrived in his classroom I was overwhelmed and uncomfortable. I felt bad asking for extra help from a teacher who already had a full course load and plenty of students to attend to, but Kevin never made me feel like a nuisance. He welcomed me into his classroom and told me I was helping him prepare for his future units of study. These afternoon minilessons, he told me, were helping him develop his second semester lessons. I’m not sure whether or not that was true, but he convinced me that somehow my presence was valuable.

Kevin made himself available. Every day Kevin would stay after school to help his students on their math. I remember one time distinctly when I arrived fifteen minutes after school to find him excitedly reviewing concepts with two of his students. I sat at the back of the room and waited my turn in line. There were no time restrictions and Kevin always cast aside whatever he was working on to pull up a chair alongside me. One week he spent two hours sitting with me on a Friday afternoon, long after the janitor swept circles around our desk.

Kevin made me feel like an equal. Walking into his classroom for the first time felt exposing; I was acknowledging to another teacher just how much math baffled me. Yet Kevin openly admitted his perplexity with English. He told me how mentors and friends had helped him throughout his life in areas he had struggled with, and that because of their guidance, he was able to succeed. I told him that I would edit or write anything he needed—I’d pay him back with my pen. Somehow this trading of trades made me feel less weak and more empowered as both an educator and student.

Finally, Kevin acknowledged my hard work and determination. Too often we grade based on whether an answer is right or wrong. I got my fair share of answers wrong, but Kevin praised my work. He actually saw the countless hours I committed to my assignments and study instead of discrediting me for being slow. He praised the fact that I was balancing a job and class; he was understanding of my determination to succeed both as a teacher and a student.

Ultimately, Kevin’s compassion and kindness brought me to reflect on my own classroom and the students who arrived at my door, terrified of reading, loathing writing, shutting down simply because they too had a scarring moment or incidence that defined their disgust for my subject. I learned more than math from Kevin this semester. I learned that to lead students into our subject, we must make them feel valued within our community. We must work to acknowledge their strengths and show them that we are all equals when it comes to developing as readers and writers. We must praise their hard work and determination far more than their failures, and we must make ourselves available both in and outside of class to have meaningful conversations and connections. In the end, we are never too old to change our outlook and education. After all, one teacher can make the difference.

Landscape of Workshop: We have arrived!

Nine years in. I know what certain murmuring really means. We all do. The murmuring of students when they are conferring about their writing. The kind that surfaces when boredom is creeping into our classrooms. The murmuring of confusion and frustration. The one that starts to get louder and louder as passion starts taking shape. Today, is that kind of murmuring day.

Christian: Why? No, really. Why? Why is it that all we do is read and write in here allllll day, Ms. Bogdany? Ev-er-y-day. (Yes, with that level of emphasis.)

Swallowing my smirk, I calmly start explaining the reasons, rationales, and importance again to Christian. Yes, we’ve had this conversation many–a-time. And clearly others’ patience with this subject has become depleted.

Norris: Man, why are you even asking that? We’re in English! It’s what we do!

Christian: No, but I mean seriously. It’s all we do. In my previous high school we used to watch movies and relax. This is crazy.

Norris: That’s why you’re not there anymore! You chose to be educated here. We’re at a transfer school. Here it’s more focused and we’re learning.

Deja: Oh, listen to you, Norris. Telling Christian all about what’s right…you always think you’re better than everyone!  We breathe the same air you breathe!

Hakeem: Norris, you haven’t walked in my shoes! You don’t know! Last period, you were the one that lied and got caught! Now you’re acting like Christian’s father.

Here, in my Writer's Notebook, I capture voices speaking their truth.

Here, in my Writer’s Notebook, I capture voices speaking their truth.

Here is where I sit back and start listening; very intently. I am becoming quieter and quieter as the room gets more and more animated. (I was hoping to become invisible, truth be told.) Because, this is what happens when students are invested. They challenge each other. They hold each other accountable. They start discussing their level of comfort or lack there of.   They express their inner feelings. They question motives. And yes, sometimes their word choices can be a bit crass, but isn’t that authenticity at its best?

They give me exactly what I need as their educator.

I need to understand who they are, what fuels their fire, how they feel about injustice. How safe are they feeling in our learning community? Well, I can’t always answer all of the questions swirling around in my mind, but today I was able to answer this one confidently: students are feeling wildly comfortable in our shared space. Because when students are brave enough to confront their peers (those that are their roughest critics) I know we’ve arrived. We’ve arrived as an evolving community of learners; as a team not willing to silence our voices when they need to be heard; and we are most definitely letting our guards down as we are emerging ourselves even more deeply in the work of the Reading Writing Workshop (RWW).

I also know that while Christian is literally shifting around in his seat, stretching all of his 5 feet 9 inches; he is moving – physically and as a writer. He doesn’t necessarily see or appreciate it just yet, but it’s there. I see it. I know. And, just like the murmuring that propelled this dialogue in room 382, Christian is pushing boundaries and uncomfortable. Yet, I believe Christian is more resilient than he even recognizes. And that resiliency pushes me to continually find ways to engage Christian in this work. Even, if it means having the same conversation again — because it will resurface.

As I head down to the nation’s capitol to be reunited with my PLN – my nationwide pedagogical lifeline – I take this experience with me. Regardless of how much traffic I may encounter on the trip from Brooklyn, this tipping point (as Malcolm Gladwell would argue) is buckled tightly in my back seat and promising to remind me what I am bringing with me to #NCTE14 – the moments that the RWW affords us when we listen to our learners, their needs, and previously dormant desires.

I cannot wait to further this conversation on Saturday at J.44 starting at 2:45pm. I hope you join us for an hour full of deep thinking, classroom anecdotals, and the energy that attendees from across the country bring to the conversation. See you there!

Stop Preparing Kids for College

I’d kindly like to request that if you are currently preparing kids for college you stop. STOP NOW! 

campus-arielFrom the time I was born I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would be attending Texas Tech University for college. There were no discussion of other options, no thoughts of possibly going somewhere else. I simply knew that I would call the sprawling acreage in the middle of West Texas my home for the four years after high school. I was so certain of this decision that in sixth grade I insisted my parents have a  conference with my teacher when she refused to allow me to do my college research project on Texas Tech. She wanted me to, “broaden my horizons.” I told her you could actually see the horizon in Lubbock and it didn’t need broadening.


Of course, my senior year I proudly accepted an offer to become a Red Raider!

For me, the problem wasn’t about going to college. The problem was about what to do once I got there. I vividly remember being more than shocked that I would have to pick a major and degree plan during freshman orientation. I was just beginning to orient myself  to the idea of being five hours from my family that the thought of deciding what I was going to do FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE hadn’t even crossed my mind! It may sound ridiculous but I honestly had no clue I was going to have to make so many decisions so soon in my college career.

Looking back on my experience, and the experience of others, I’m wondering if “preparing kids for college” is really enough. When we perpetually talk about college, paying little regard to what happens before, during, or after college, are we really stopping short? There is an entire world outside of school life. As educators, we must equip our learners to be successful in a vast array of environments – both now and in their future. Might college be one of paths our learners take, yes – absolutely YES! But we can not continue to send a message that college is the end of the road when in reality it is just one pit stop on the journey.

I know my story isn’t unique. We know that, “as many as one in three first-year students doesn’t make it back for sophomore year,” (US News). Maybe we should exert our energy helping prepare kids for life and in doing so they in turn would be even more capable of being successful in college.

Needless to say, I ended up picking the major and degree plan with the shortest registration line, but that’s a story for another day.

The 21st Century Sandlot

This has to be one of my all time favorite movies. If you haven’t seen it, well you should question your cultural literacy!

smore2What does this have anything to do with my tech tip you ask? Well, aside from the name (Smore), not much. While browsing the interwebs the other day I stumbled upon an awesome newsletter that my sweet teacher friends at Cannon Elementary School sent out to their families (seen here: https://smore.com/yds4). Immediately I’m struck by the bright colors and awesome pictures of their learners engaged and excited about learning. I also loved their concise way they shared important information with their families. I don’t know about you, but I have little attention span for a lengthy email where you have to labor over every word just to decipher the point of the entire email. For me, the Smore flyer was awesome. I was able to get a brief glimpse into their classroom and if I were a parent I would know how to help my learner at home. — LOVE IT!!  And just in case you think it might be hard to use, it is not – I tried it! I literally spent ten minutes making an awesome flyer that I can now easily share with anyone!

Let me put it this way,
classroom newsletters will never be the same!


Go ahead – try it!
Then, let me know how you used it in your classroom!

ok, @heathercato and @amyrass, now talk to me….

Ok, so how do you use Twitter in education? Everyone is all a-buzz about how it can be a valuable part of education. The networking I get – the rest? What do you do? How do you use it? What kinds of projects in PBL would align with the use of Twitter? And how does it enhance literacy/writing/etc?

Do tell. With all due haste.

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