Tag Archives: guest post

Add Your Drop in the Ocean

I am a big proponent of teachers walking the talk of writing. If we teach it, shouldn’t we know the struggles our students face as they apply our teaching? Shouldn’t we experience similar struggles so we have ideas on how to help our kids? This seems like such a simple thing, yet so many teachers surprise me when they do not claim the title of writer.

I am a writer. And I have become an evangelist for teachers as writers.

My co-writers here at Three Teachers Talk and I extend the invitation again:  please write with us. We’d love to publish the experiences you’re having with your readers and writers. Share your successes and your struggles. Share a student-made list of their favorite authors or poems or books. Share student work. Share your reflections.

Just share.

teamwork quote

To write a guest post, please complete this simple form. We’ll get back to you ASAP.



A Lot of Dancing, Please — Guest Post by Billy Eastman

My beautiful and vivacious and pernicious six-year-old daughter frequents a Kindergarten class. She pretends her way through life these days; it’s a problem. But, a problem I refuse to address. Because, one day, that problem with vault her to success in something.

Violet uses a wheelchair. She doesn’t use it all the time. Most of the time, she traverses time and space with arm crutches — but at school, she uses her wheelchair so she doesn’t become fatigued from chasing other small people around.

The other day, an adult at Violet’s school admitted something to me:  she caused Violet to school hallwaytip over in her wheelchair in the hallway (Don’t worry, no daughters were harmed in the making of this short narrative). Really, Violet wasn’t hurt, but the big person was distraught.

I thanked her. For tipping my daughter’s wheelchair over in the hallway. You see, they were dancing. An educator was dancing with Violet in her wheelchair. They were spinning and twirling and tipping and falling. I prefer that.

So, this is what we should prefer in our classrooms as well:  possibilities, no limitations, risk and reward, fear and excitement, falling down, getting up and saying “I’m OK, and some dancing (at least on the page). A lot of dancing, please.

Random undiscernibly identifiable adult:  please continue to dance with Violet in the hallways.

Teachers:  dancing is better than walking in straight lines with bubbles in your mouth.

And, this clearly applies to reading, writing, and thinking—which is what I was writing about this whole time.

Billy Eastman is a curriculum coordinator for English Language Arts and World Languages and Culture in League City, TX. He enjoys talking with folks and finding ways to make smart ideas happen. Follow Billy on Twitter @thebillyeastman


The Importance of Summer Reading by Sarah Krajewkski

guest post iconIt’s that time of year again when the beauty of our classrooms begin to disappear. Posters and signs that inspired students vanish from walls and doors. Classroom supplies get dumped into storage bins and closets. Those smiling cherubs are no longer waiting for us to greet them. It’s summer.

Summertime doesn’t mean that reading has to stop, but too often it does for our students. For many students in low-income areas, the moment they leave school on the last day is the last time a book enters their hands until the following school year. Reading is not a priority over the summer for these students, and it should be. Study after study proves what Richard Allington has been saying for decades: the achievement gap between high and low income children continues to widen. Allington states that as they enter public school, children go “from less than a year’s difference upon entering Kindergarten to almost 3 years’ difference by the end of 6th grade” (Allington and McGill-Franzen 4-5). Summer reading loss is a huge part of the problem, for students who do not pick up a single book in those 10 weeks of summer are 10 weeks further behind in the fall. My district has a high poverty rate, so this concerns me. Each school year, I aim to do more to promote the importance of independent reading in my district. I also do all I can to show students that reading can provide them with as much entertainment as their iPhones can. Now, I am revising my goal to include summer vacation.


One of the front whiteboards in my classroom


Five of the 12 bookshelves in my classroom library


It all starts with falling in love with reading during the school year. If students aren’t reading consistently from September to June, they won’t read on their own over the summer. So, starting that very first week, I gave all of my students time to read in class EVERY DAY. It became a habit. After those 15 minutes, I always “book talked” an intriguing new title I read myself or heard about from a trusted source. I really had to know my books, as well as the various genres my students enjoyed. I made sure my classroom library was visible. I surrounded my students in a sea of books. “Book passes” got students into new titles they didn’t know about. (Think speed dating with books.) We used Goodreads to reflect and share our reading experiences with peers, which created a reading community outside of our classroom. We Skyped with some of their favorite authors. I showed them all the important reading statistics I could find. Most importantly, I never gave up on those students that said they “just hated reading” or “couldn’t find a good book.” By the end of the year, my 94 9th graders read over 366,000 pages, and all but three read at least 1,000 pages. ALL of them said they found books that they enjoyed. They are readers, and I want them to stay readers, so I began thinking about encouraging summer reading.


My 6th period English 9 class shares how proud they are of all that they read


Throughout the last few weeks of school, I began the prep work. I started promoting my all-important “summer library hours” during the daily announcements so students knew when their trusted reading sanctuary would be available to them. Almost every Tuesday and Wednesday they will be able to check out a few books, preview new titles, or even just stay and read quietly for a few hours. (Soon weekly emails will be sent out to parents with reminders about these summer hours, as well as “reading tips” to get their children reading, and a link to my blog that contains the Class of 2019’s favorite books of the year.) Next, I began book talking titles that would be coming out over the summer to lure my students into my classroom library. At the beginning of June, I encouraged my students to help me promote the Little Free Libraries our district would be getting at the end of August. These libraries will serve as an additional reading reminder, for students will be coming into my classroom to paint and stock them. I also told them I will be attempting Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday challenge. Many students were shocked by this, but I told them some of the books would be picture books I’d be reading with my own young children. I mentioned that I am still aiming to read at least 30 YA titles, and some students are challenging themselves to read even more than that!

As of today, many districts are already a few weeks into their summer vacation, but in my Western New York district, final exams are just wrapping up. I only have a few days left to take care of some paperwork and get my classroom in order. I hope that, starting next week, some familiar faces pop in to see what new titles I have awaiting them. I can only wait and hope that reading has become its own incentive.

How do you encourage summer reading?  Please share in the comments!

Sarah Krajewski is a 9th grade English teacher at Cleveland Hill High School in Cheektowaga, New York.  She is just finishing her 14th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. She is anxiously awaiting another trip to the NCTE Annual Convention to expand her literacy knowledge. At school, she is known for her dedication to her students and for being a devoted reader who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three avid readers.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.

Allington, Richard L., and Anne McGill-Franzen. Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Reading
Achievement Gap. New York, NY: Teachers College, 2013. 4-5. Print.

Applying Essential Questions in Workshop by Cyndi Faircloth

guest post iconAfter almost twenty years of teaching, I’m starting to think I might be getting the hang of it. I’ve used essential questions over the past few years, but they weren’t producing the deep discussion and analysis that I’d hoped for. It wasn’t enough to use the EQ to help us approach whatever we were reading together. I needed to do more with it.

This past year, after reading “Text Dependent Questions” by Fisher and Frey, and What’s the Big Idea by Jim Burke, something clicked. Now, the EQ has driven pretty much everything in my planning –my selection of informative texts, some of the prompts for their Writer’s Notebook, even some of the vocabulary that I select. (Though I am also having a lot of success with student choice in vocabulary, thanks to a November post on 3TT!) Now, my students are leaving class and discussing the essential question and issues from our text in other classes. A colleague mentioned (complained?) last month that he had trouble starting his class, after students leaving my class were continuing our class discussion into his room.

They are struggling with real-world questions and topics and thinking about how they really want to approach them.

Here is what that looks like in my current English class:

Kite_runnerWe are reading The Kite Runner together. Our EQ has been “When is forgiveness important?” Their final assignment will be writing about their own answer to that question.

Along the way, we are reading news articles about Afghanistan, which include the idea of someone being wronged. Students respond to guiding questions (and generate their own questions) about the articles, and they struggle with those questions in their Writer’s notebooks. We’ve read about forgiveness from people betrayed by their families, by the government, and by strangers. [To find these, I used my subscriptions to the NY Times and Washington Post and searched “forgiveness” and “family”. Sadly, a wealth of resources came up…]

One really rich pair of stories I found for them to consider centers around the shootings in South Carolina in 2015. One article highlights the teenaged children of one of the victims having expressed forgiveness toward the shooter. The other is an opinion piece that says the children forgave too quickly because “the almost reflexive demand of forgiveness, especially for those dealing with death by racism, is about protecting whiteness, and America as a whole.” The author points out that there has been no rush to forgive after any of the ISIL beheadings or 9/11. Students really dug into that idea and explored it.

In their Writer’s Notebooks, students have been responding to the idea of betrayal and forgiveness in a number of ways. They chose a quote from a list and responded to it. They reread parts of the book and considered how ‘betrayal’ or ‘forgiveness’ played a role (Thank you Fisher and Frey). They used words from their vocabulary list and wrote a poem about betrayal.

While they haven’t written their final products yet, I expect the students will have differing answers to the essential question. I believe that their writing will express the wrestling match they’ve had with the ideas. Thank goodness Burke’s book helped me see how I can use more aspects of my class to help students explore a “big idea”, and give them examples and smaller pieces of writing that they can draw from in writing an answer to the essential question. I believe my students are developing the skills to wrestle with the big questions that life has thrown (and will continue to throw) at them. They will look for more than one point-of-view, consider the source, and question the message so that they can form their own opinion based on more than something they read on Facebook.

Cyndi Faircloth teaches English, Social Studies, Art, and Journalism at Paradise Creek Regional High School in Moscow, Idaho. The school is small – with only two full-time teachers – so it’s easier to say that she teaches everything that isn’t math and science. As an interdisciplinary teacher, she works to incorporate writing in all of her classes and is learning to incorporate the writing workshop into her classes. Cyndi is a National Board Certified Teacher in English Language Arts – Adolescence and Young Adulthood.

Guest Post: Technology Transforms a Writing Workshop

In response to this post I wrote about walking the talk in our content areas, another teacher has responded to my invitation to write. She says of herself:  “Karen Clancy-Cribby loves learning, especially from adolescents. She’s a teacher, writer, and Writer’s Workshop is her life. Literally.” Find Karen on Twitter @kcribby.

My husband and I live in the country on land that is expansive, scrub oak, tall grasses.  Every time I go to the kitchen sink, my first look is up at the hill, across the valley, and I scan the hillside before my gaze settles to the immediate foreground.  I do this probably twenty times a day.

It hit me today, as I thought about this blog, that how I look out and around, before settling into the immediate, is how I think about everything.

I’m a big picture person, and when I was given the great honor of being offered the opportunity to guest blog about technology and Writer’s Workshop with this amazing group of teachers, I jumped at the chance.

Then I realized I’d signed up to write about a lesson.  Well, therein lies the rub.  To describe a traditional lesson is just not what resonates with the organic nature of the classroom we’ve been so fortunate to run with Writer’s Workshop.  The “we” in that sentence refers to my language arts colleague (and former student, and former student teacher) who I team with daily.

I’ve embraced Writer’s and Reader’s Workshop since I first read Nancie Atwell’s “In the Middle” back in 1990.  I’ve read Fletcher and Calkins and others since, but I’ve mostly just been diving in.

So, back to the whole lesson idea.  Lessons in WW can, and should, of course, be planned, but to speak of them outside the daily dynamic of the classroom doesn’t make sense to me.  Sure, plan for different activities, plan with the end in mind, know and plan for what students should know (even that is a stretch, but that’s another blog), but the ebb and flow of class has to be more dynamic and a response to what happens with students.  So, WW has been an ideal.  Set aside time for mini-lessons, reading and writing time, feedback and closure.

Now, with technology in the mix, well, wow.  So, instead of blogging a WW lesson with technology, I’m going to give you a day in the life of WW with technology.  I need to thank my language arts cohort and daily teaching partner, Emily, who suffered through all of these pages of drafts for this idea for a focus.

Here is our day:

Student working on writing in the winter pulled up a fire for cozy atmosphere.

We have our daily agenda and objectives on a Google Document shared with our students, who walk into class oftentimes having already pulled this document up on their Ipads or phones.  Every day, we ask students to answer a question as they come into class.  Thanks to another colleague, Kris, we call these “Fire-Ups,” given that warm-up seemed too tepid to describe the first lesson of the day which should be big.  So, students pull up the agenda on their iPads and log into their Google Doc on the Chromebooks.  Sometimes they need to look up a few things to answer the question, sometimes they need to just think, and sometimes they need to read and re-read to answer the question, which, ideally takes no more than ten minutes for everyone to feel okay to discuss the question.

Within ten minutes of class, we will ask them how much time they need.  It’s usually no more than a few minutes, but oftentimes, our questions are bigger than we planned.

So, our agenda is a work in progress, and we adapt, as all teachers do,  as the class goes along. Sometimes, all students need a nudge in a certain direction, and we extend the lesson.  This often looks like one of us “saging on the stage,” while the other uploads examples or research hints and tools.

Other times, and I’d hazard to say most times, they all just need to fly.  Then, we have the luxury of sitting down at our desks, reading over their virtual shoulders and giving them individual feedback in person or on their Google Docs.

Writer’s Workshop has been my educator dream ideal since I was in college, and now the ideal is…well, I hate to sound absolute, but it’s possible, truly possible.

Technology allows all of that to happen immediately and in real time.  I am fortunate (understatement) to teach with someone who not only embraces the workshop pedagogy as passionately as I do, but she is a whiz with technology.  Four years ago, when she was my student teacher, we had netbooks, and we started using Google Docs, and I’ll never forget those opening days of my brain exploding.  We had our agenda on the overhead screen, shining from her computer.  The agenda was made in Google Docs.  I had a few students who preferred to access their writing from their phones.  If I didn’t read literally over their cyber-shoulder, I would not have believed how fast they could write using their phones.  As more and more students used their phones alongside the netbooks (we are so lucky to now have Chromebooks!), I started thinking about so many possibilities of all the access they had to information.  Then, there were whispers of our district going 1:1 with iPads.  I’ll never forget standing in the front of the room with Emily, my student teacher, and I looked at her and said, “we can have the agenda online for them to have access to,” and she looked at me and said, “they can write their responses on a Google Doc too.”  That was four long (or short?) years ago.

Now, we’re all online, and I feel as though the newbie teacher dreams of a perfect Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop are now a reality.  Well, perfect is an oversell, but all of those years where I would say, “read and write whatever you want” have been transformed.

Students walk into the classroom, open up their Chromebooks and their iPads. Most students pull up the agenda on their iPad and then start answering their fire-up question on their running Fire-Up Google Doc.   The question is related to where we have been and where we are going.  We try to stretch the question, make it something they need to think about.  Sometimes there is a background/research portion, and then the question.  Sometimes it’s a piece of literature they need to explore for techniques; sometimes it’s a revision piece they need to evaluate.  These Fire-Up questions are very often taken from my own personal writing.  Writer’s Workshop isn’t WW without the teacher as writer.  The beauty of the Fire-Up being taken from my writing is that I am starting most classes with modeling myself as writer.  I can then keep going back to my writing, allowing everyone to critique it.  I have noticed that students are at their best when they are critiquing my writing.  With peers, they sometimes become too gentle, or the reverse, too harsh.  With my writing, they are quick to get to the heart of what needs improvement or what things work and why.

I get to do the think-alouds about my own writing; things I like, things I want to make even better, my purpose, etc.  This leads to them then taking that mini-lesson and my modeling metacognition, and then they look at their own writing, and other’s writing.

My teaching cohort Emily and I were talking the other day about how she needs to do some writing. We have an easy balance together, but she’s right.  She needs to write.  The best way we show ourselves is at our in-progress stage of writing, discussing what we want to do for purpose, topic, and audience.  We should not show ourselves ever thinking we’re “done.”

Back to how technology transforms this all.   Sharing is more immediate; there are multiple modalities for discussion (Edmodo for responding, Padlet for throwing out fire up responses, sharing of Google Docs for commenting).  The transformation, for me, having taught using this model for so long, is that if I ask a student to explore an interest, they can do it, right then, right there.

They can find and access a kazillion mentor texts.  ‘Nough said.

Student finishing up an online literature circle discussion using Edmodo.

Student finishing up an online literature circle discussion using Edmodo.

Here is another snapshot of this transformation.  As we were moving into the second quarter of language arts, Emily asked me how we should frame our lessons as we continued.  It hit me that though we were using the workshop model, it had transformed to such overwhelming possibilities.  It felt like grooming a rock star who had hit the charts.  I have no idea why that analogy came to me, but it’s so hard to describe the little monsters we’d created with so much room for them to stretch, reach, and grow with Writer’s Workshop.  I answered her with a gleeful, big, let’s see-where-this-will go shrug and said, “well, nothing has changed, let’s keep the workshop going, but maybe we need to call it something more expansive, like, “Learning on your own.”

The next day, when LOYO was on our agenda, and many students knew what the acronym was, well, wow.  The teacher learner in me talked about how their learning was officially limitless, and I was excited to sit down and visit with them and see where they were going.
I’m excited to see where I’m going.  I get to do this.  Every day.

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