What I Know for Sure....

Professional Book Review:
Learning from Classmates: Using Students’ Writing as Mentor Texts
by Lisa Eickholdt  
June 29, 2015

In Learning from Classmates, Lisa Eickholdt has developed an outstanding new resource for writing instruction that is focused on using student writing as mentor texts to use in Writing Workshop minilessons and student conferences. 

Lisa’s ideas, techniques and practices on using student work as mentor texts are brilliant—and her ideas are easily applicable to everyday teaching.

Lisa is a ‘teacher’s teacher’. She obviously knows that instruction in a ‘workshop model’ classroom can be tremendously rewarding for teachers yet requires a tremendous amount of dedication and hard work. And she seems to sense how overwhelming it is for a teacher to try to incorporate something new into his/her teaching practice. 

Because of this, Lisa’s writing is articulate and succinct.  She knows what she is talking about and gives clear example after example of practices she has done herself in the classroom. She expresses  these ideas effectively. Her own writer’s voice is clear, to-the-point and easy to follow.

I found this very appealing…and refreshing…for a professional book. Lisa’s book will definitely become a regular ‘go-to’ resource for me.

Lisa has divided her book into four chapters—1) Immersion 2) Assessment 3) Conferences  4) Lessons.  In each chapter, Lisa takes the teacher through steps she recommends for working with students on the chapter topic during writing workshop. She gives solid advice on how to  develop a lens to look through for student work to use as mentor texts for future lessons. She also discusses how to determine what those writing mini-lessons could be.

Added to each chapter are examples of student exemplars that Lisa has used successfully as mentor texts.

As an extra bonus, Lisa has included examples of her recording, assessments, lesson planning, writing goals sheets—with permission for teachers to use!  Thank you, Lisa!  

Finally, to finish each chapter, Lisa had developed a great graphic of “What to Keep in Mind”—important points for teaching Writing Workshop and developing that list of Student Mentor Text  for each chapter.  She overlays the “What to Keep” list for each chapter next to each other—ending with a great and handy go-to graphic for teachers to easily refer to once they have finished the book.

Dedicated teachers have needed a relevant, powerful, yet easy-to-follow professional book about writing instruction for a long time.Thank you, Stephanie Harvey for encouraging Lisa to develop and write this book.

If I were an administrator(and I am not)—but if I were—I would buy a copy for each of my teachers and lead a professional book study next school year! 

Thank you, Lisa, for your ideas in this book!  Well, well done! 

Introducing My Students to The Other Side 
by Jacqueline Woodson
June 3, 2015

I teach at an international school in the Middle East..in Saudi Arabia. In the past 23 years, my husband and I have taught in six different international schools in six different countries.  Typically at an international school, there will be anywhere between 25-45 different countries represented in the student body, teaching faculty and support staff. At my current school, we have 40 nationalities, from all continents (except Antarctica!). One unique aspect of an international school is the immediate feeling of tolerance—no rather—acceptance—by the students of other students who are from different cultural and religious backgrounds, who speak English with different accents, who’s color of skin comes in all different colors--from black to cream and all shades in between. ‘White’ is not the majority skin color whatsoever.  As a staff, we openly celebrate each other’s holidays: at Dewali, the Indian staff brings all kinds of scrumptious Indian food; at the end of Ramadan/ Eid, the Saudi and Pakistani ladies dress up beautifully and bring amazing food; at Christmas, we have a decorated tree in the staff room and a week of ‘Secret Santa’ giving where everyone participates. This Friday, the French teachers (we have a French school ‘within’ our school) are bringing French treats for Aloha Friday Treat Day (yes—somehow Hawaii gets into the mix, too!). Lunchtime chatter in the faculty lounge is often filled with conversations and planning about where to go on the next school break: Tanzania? Istanbul? The Maldives? Portugal? Bali? Paris? Our staff travels broadly and often will mix with the locals as much as possible when traveling to learn about, enjoy and appreciate the new culture.

The 'acceptance' attitude is contagious throughout our school and it is an understated expectation of our students and families that we accept all and embrace each other’s cultures. It’s always exciting to get new students in our classes to find out where they are from. We all love the PTO Spring Spectacular-when the various countries have their food booths. The cultural dancing entertainment that day is amazing! The student body, with our varied cultural backgrounds, seems to create a wonderful human tapestry of beautiful colors.

One day recently, I decided that my 5th grade library classes needed to be read to a bit more. I chose to share with them the incredible, rich vernacular and writing voice of Jacqueline Woodson. The 5th graders had been doing a writing Unit of Study on memoir, so I thought that The Other Side would be a good example of what a memoir could be.

And even though some students were vaguely aware of the Civil Rights movement in the US, most were not. Their reaction to the actions and the attitudes presented in the story was incredibly and beautifully innocent and almost naive.  

One student, a boy whose parents are Palestinian, yet had just moved to Saudi from the US state of Virginia, actually stated that he felt the story presented a very ‘extreme’ example of how people could be intolerant of differences. The students who were aware the racial tension that existed (exists) in the US at the time of the story, are so far removed from racial tension (or anything like it ) themselves, that understanding the attitudes of the time was difficult for them.  When I went on to explain  to them that although progress has been made in acceptance of differences in others in the US , there is still a long,  long way to go until….. 
until the attitudes are similar to the acceptance that is beautifully evident in our school and that we almost take for granted.

Since then, I  have found myself thinking about their reaction to the story—that it seemed so extreme to them that kids would treat each other in such a way simply because of the color of their skin. I find myself wishing I could bottle up their beautiful, again, almost naive, attitudes and sprinkle them around the world. 

If only we would listen more to children. … the world might be better, more culturally ‘blind’. Here’s to hoping, wishing and working towards always setting that example.

My Favorite Irene Fountas Story
June 2, 2015

I had the privilege and honor to attend the Genre Study Institute at Lesley University in July 2013 led by Irene Fountas. This was the second Lesley institute I had attended.  (I attended the School Literacy Leaders Institute in 2012.)  I want to encourage anyone who has the opportunity to hear Irene speak or attend a literacy institute at Lesley, to do so.  In my humble opinion, she is, and they are, the literacy ‘icing on the cake’!

As one would expect, Irene Fountas, literacy champion / visionary, gave a very inspirational keynote.

As part of her address, she told us a story about an event that had recently happened to her. She had been giving a talk to a group of young educators. She made a statement that was literacy related (I can’t remember what it was-and what it was is not important to this story.)  A young man in the audience stood up and questioned her. He said that her statement that she had just made was in contrast to what she and Gay Sue Pinnell had written in the breakthrough 1996 book Guided Reading-Good First Teaching for All Children.

I remember that Irene then told us that she said to the young man, (and I am paraphrasing):
“In 1996, what I wrote in the book…..was my best thinking at the time.
In the 17 years since then, I have learned more, have conducted more classroom research with students and teachers, I have done more reading on brain research and educational research.  
And now…this is my best thinking.  In five years, when I continue to learn more, my best thinking may change and be different."

WOW! POWERFUL! I was stunned and had goosebumps!  As simple as this story was, I found it extremely inspirational and it filled me with self-efficacy!

Irene Fountas was saying to me/us that she, too, is constantly learning and changing her thinking and that is (more than) okay and is what we all should be doing!

I think that Irene was telling us that she, too, has a ZPD, and her zone of proximal development is constantly growing and moving as she learns more!

And, this is how we need to view ourselves as professional learners, too.  We need to recognize our own ZPD.

This experience still resonates with me.  All the time. I have heard many of the ‘big names’  in current literacy circles speak and I have read many professional books by other ‘big names’ in literacy.  

But no statement or story from the others pulsates in me or with me, like this ‘Irene story’. 

Which makes me ask to anyone ‘out there’ reading this post: Why don’t we, as professionals, ever talk about our professional growth in terms of our own ZPD?  

I do, and I do with our staff. Irene’s story has changed the way I approach Literacy Coaching and giving professional development workshops. Since listening to her, I have tried to use this story to inspire others: our faculty and others in the district, others at conferences and institutes with whom I meet and interact. 

I encourage my faculty to talk openly about their professional ZPD and we are cognizant of that as we nudge forward in new thinkings and understandings about literacy practices.  
I think—no, I know—Irene’s openness about her own constant learning, i.e.-her own ZPD, has served as an influential model and is what has made our ‘forward movement’ as a staff, positive and successful.

Thank you, Irene! 

I hope this 'Irene story' will be inspirational for you, too.  

I hope everyone and anyone reading this post will start talking about your own ZPD. You will see how your own development and movement in your professional thinking makes sense.

Please let me know what you think!

Slice of Life Tuesday-May 19, 2015

They lean in.  My 4 year old / KG1 library classes do.  During our library lessons when I tell a story—or read a story—or use the felt board for a story—they lean in.  

To get closer to me—the storyteller.

They lean in and help me huff and puff and blow the house down.  Even though they know what is going to happen next in the story—they still lean in and huff and puff with me.  Their eyes shine with delight as the little pig gets away and runs to the next pig’s house.

Today, Tuesday, the book was Caps for Sale.  None of them had heard the story before. (Unbelievable, I know, but I teach at an international school in Saudi Arabia and many of the students are from cultures that don’t read a lot to their children. Again, unbelievable, I know, and all the more reason to expose them to story/ language as much as we can!)

When the monkeys stole the caps, the kids edged closer.  They helped  me shake one, then two fingers.  They gleefully made the monkey sounds.  Then they stomped one, then two feet.  Again, the monkey sounds.  We finally all threw our hats down….and of course, so did the monkeys.  Then we all helped the peddler walk back to town calling, “Caps! Caps for Sale!  50 cents a cap!”

I love the KG1 classes.(Recently, my administrator took me out of the library and returned me to the role of Literacy Coach. But I asked to keep the KG1 library classes.) The language development, their sheer delight in story and song.  The shiny eyes and the stories they tell me

The emotional engagement that clearly appears on their faces as the story seeps into their understanding.  The 'leaning in' that they physically do, as if to say that they want to be part of the story, too. Sometimes, I can’t believe I actually get paid for telling/sharing stories with these little ones!!!

Lately, however,  in an effort to be ‘with-it’, I have to admit to myself (and the world), that I strayed from what I know as ‘right and good”. A colleague recently told me about "research she had read”. This research stated that students become more engaged in stories when the stories are presented through technology on a whiteboard or on a TV screen.

So I tried it with my little ones. Over and over, I tried it—I wanted to be ’21 Century”,of course!  I had them listen to the Screen Actor Guild folks read stories to them.  We found stories on youtube.  We sat and watched the screen.  And their faces were flat. No emotions at all. 

No leaning in. Eyes were not shining. Language was not being delightfully repeated or spoken at all.

I tried…until I listened to my teacher heart and soul. 

I’m back to reading eye-to-eye, face-to-face,and  heart-to-heart. I'm back to doing my own daily classroom "research".....
And today, reading Caps for Sale, I saw that beautiful emotional engagement again. And...best of all.... they are leaning in again, too!

Thank goodness!

My Literacy Influences....April 29,2015

Someone asked me the other day, "Who has had the most influence on you in terms of your literacy thinking?"

I had to pause...but only for a second..and then there was a rush of names: Richard Allington, Irene Fountas, Gay Su Pinnell, Marie Clay, Nancy Atwell, Regie Routman, Tim Razinski, Lucy Calkins, Ralph Fletcher....to name a few (big ones).

Richard Allington pops up right away.  The way he can firmly articulate with  just the right way of thinking amazes me. He is a brilliant literacy visionary. 

I love Irene.  I have had the privilege and honor to have attended two different summer institutes at Lesley University  two different years and I will never tire of listening to Irene. Her passion for literacy oozes from her and is contagious. She has such a presence. Everyone wants to be near her hoping that some of her knowledge and brilliance will just rub off!!

I have a favorite 'Irene story" that I will save for another day, another posting.  I think that she is a brilliant literacy visionary.

Marie Clay, Nancy Atwell, Regie Routman--have all carved out niches in the literacy history and in the literacy community because of their in-depth, deeply revealing and meaningful research projects that they have all done that has been so helpful in influencing beliefs and practices all over the world.

Tim Razinski is forever carrying the 'Fluency Banner'....again, with passion that is contagious.

Lucy Calkins, Ralph Fletcher, Matt Glover--all from TCRWP and all brilliant.

I would recommend any article, book, institute or training with any of these amazing contributors to the world of literacy.

I'll leave you today with a tidbit of brilliance from Richard Allington...something that teachers should always keep in front of them...right in front of them when they are planning, thinking and talking about their literacy program:

The Six Elements of Reading for Every Child from "Every Child, Every Day" by Richard Allington, published in ASCD's Educational Leadership, March 2012, Volume 69, Number 6, Reading: The Core Skill Pages 10-15

1. Every child reads something he or she chooses.
2. Every child reads accurately.
3. Every child reads something he or she understands.
4. Every child writes something personally meaningful.
5. Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.
6. Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.

Oh! I hear a picture book calling!  Off to read!  Until next time.......;-D  Patty


  1. The storyteller will always need to be a human talking to a human is what I believe. I am so glad you illustrated that in your post. Tell us more about your experiences living in Saudi Arabia. Can't wait to hear more from you in the future.

    1. Thanks so much for your input, Bernadette! Great minds think alike! ;-D Thanks, also, for encouraging me to write more about living in Saudi. The Middle East is a fascinating region and unfortunately, most people's view is influenced by the the bad news that is always shown on the news. There are wonderful people here, of course, and we have enjoyed living here and learning about different cultures.

  2. Ahhh, I know well the leaning in you are describing. I see it in my own daughters who are practically glued to my body to get closer to the storyteller. Stick to your guns - you know what is right in your heart.

    1. Hi Dana--I love the visual I get of your girls snuggling closer as you tell/ read them a story! Thank for your feedback and encouragement!

  3. Read alouds are the best, no matter what the age. You know they need to hear a real voice, in front of them, acting it out, and truly engaging them. Keep going.

    1. I love that you emphasized---'no matter what age'. Totally agree! Thanks so much for your comment and feedback! Really appreciate it!

  4. I would love to know what research states that 'students would be more engaged listening to a story on the whiteboard' rather than an actual human reading in front of them; showing the actions, the animations, and the different tones, voices, and facial expressions the readers can see. I love when I see my students engaged and enjoying read alouds and participating with me as i read to them. Keep on reading and following your heart.

    1. Hey Kristen--you know how they say a person can find research to support their argument--not matter what side they take!! Anyway--I appreciate you thoughts, comments and encouragement! Keep working your magic in your classroom!