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Source material.

We have had a firehose of information provided us for the SBA writing tasks. I am doing my best to make sense of it.

This is the near-final version of the Prezi: but I’m at the point where I can’t edit any further. Its intended audience is the staff right before school starts, to help all staff members to feel supported with writing across the curriculum.

If you see something wonky, needs fixing, big ‘ol “huh?” please let me know. Thank you!

The link for resources is here:



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CCSS + Writing Instruction Reflection

If you read one article this summer, my mentor Holly might suggest this one:

Are modern standards breeding a decline in cultural literacy?

I highly recommend it, too.

Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath

This post is getting messy. Filled with bits of type and text, like overcooked alphabet soup. Consider it a link festival, full of rabbit holes and mad hatter tea parties. The question presented is now that CCSS is established in many states, what have we lost or gained?

Reminder to read and understand how to move forward with CCSS in ELA/SS:


Back in 2013, Dr. Gentry published an article, “Will Common Core Wreck Writing in Schools?”

First, I am wondering if we even have a sense of what is ‘teaching writing?’ It doesn’t seem to exist. There is the editorial/grammatical end to the whole language approach of ‘any mark is a good mark on the page’.

Some of the fears:

How Common Core Might Not Support Real Writing

The worry among good teachers of writing is that if interpreted and implemented incorrectly, Common Core Standards might put an end to many of the practices espoused by Graves and in effect, destroy real writing in schools. Here are some of the concerns and quotes teachers share with me:

Writing is shifting back to a product approach.

Students aren’t given choice of topics.

Children are forced to write from rubrics or templates that stifle creativity.

Ownership for children is out the window.

Common Core says every teacher is a writing teacher but we haven’t been trained to teach writing.

Teachers neither have the time nor the training for teaching the writing process.

Too much test prep and testing take time away from time for writing in school.

Our state writing test is based on strict rubrics and products—creativity doesn’t count.

Our state writing tests are scored by computers—add more sentences and the score goes up.

Teachers no longer teach conventions like spelling and handwriting.

One teacher told me, “It’s hard to see the ‘vibrancy of life’ in children’s writing when all we care about is the score on the state writing test. That’s a product.”

Most of these fear seem to be the opposite outcome from Common Core. I’m not quite sure what the rumors were, or where the fears came from. But the testing part does seem to have some merit at first glance. Later this weekend I’ll be completing a Prezi that contains the brief write rubrics for Common Core writing assessments, and they are valuable for any content area. 

Some of these fears are truly odd: since when have standards given students specific topics? And since when have standards ‘taught teachers how to teach writing?’ 

And on what metric is creativity? I’m not sure. I’m still a bit baffled. 

Contrasting to Gentry’s article, the Atlantic published an article about how the CCSS revitalized and revolutionized writing in schools by Peg Tyre: 

New Dorp’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students—especially low performers—are taught in high school. The program challenged long-held assumptions about the students and bitterly divided the staff. It also yielded extraordinary results. By the time they were sophomores, the students who had begun receiving the writing instruction as freshmen were already scoring higher on exams than any previous New Dorp class. Pass rates for the English Regents, for example, bounced from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011; for the global-­history exam, pass rates rose from 64 to 75 percent. The school reduced its Regents-repeater classes—cram courses designed to help struggling students collect a graduation requirement—from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20 students.

The critical difference between pre-CCSS and emerging CCSS is writing argumentative and explanatory pieces.

In the coming months, the conversation about the importance of formal writing instruction and its place in a public-school curriculum—­the conversation that was central to changing the culture at New Dorp—will spread throughout the nation. Over the next two school years, 46 states will align themselves with the Common Core State Standards. For the first time, elementary-­school students—­who today mostly learn writing by constructing personal narratives, memoirs, and small works of fiction—will be required to write informative and persuasive essays. By high school, students will be expected to produce mature and thoughtful essays, not just in English class but in history and science classes as well.

The NCTE provides their take, which correlates to the analytical approach, and appears more inclusive instruction.

Writing grows out of many purposes

Writing is not just one practice or activity. A note to a cousin is not like a business report, which is different again from a poem. The processes and ways of thinking that lead to these varied kinds of texts can also vary widely, from the quick email to a friend to the careful drafting and redrafting of a legal contract. The different purposes and genres both grow out of and create varied relationships between the writers and the readers, and existing relationships are reflected in degrees of formality in language, as well as assumptions about what knowledge and experience are already shared, and what needs to be explained. Writing with certain purposes in mind, the writer focuses attention on what the audience is thinking or believing; other times, the writer focuses more on the information she or he is organizing, or on her or his own emergent thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the thinking, procedures, and physical format in writing are shaped in accord with the author’s purpose(s), the needs of the audience, and the conventions of the genre.

And the NWP weighs in with their suggestions for ‘teaching writing.’ I’ve labeled each suggestion to make sense of what skill it may be adressing.

NWP: 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing

Table of Contents: 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing

  1. Use the shared events of students’ lives to inspire writing. brainstorming/ideas
  2. Establish an email dialogue between students from different schools who are reading the same book. literary connections
  3. Use writing to improve relations among students. audience/purpose
  4. Help student writers draw rich chunks of writing from endless sprawl. organization
  5. Work with words relevant to students’ lives to help them build vocabulary. vocabulary/word choice
  6. Help students analyze text by asking them to imagine dialogue between authors. RAFTS (role, audience, form, topic, strong verbs)
  7. Spotlight language and use group brainstorming to help students create poetry. revising/craft
  8. Ask students to reflect on and write about their writing. self-assessment
  9. Ease into writing workshops by presenting yourself as a model. craft
  10. Get students to focus on their writing by holding off on grading. self-assessment
  11. Use casual talk about students’ lives to generate writing.  brainstorming/ideas
  12. Give students a chance to write to an audience for real purpose.
  13. Practice and play with revision techniques.   grammar/revision/editing –conventions/mechanics
  14. Pair students with adult reading/writing buddies. workshop/mentor
  15. Teach “tension” to move students beyond fluency. craft
  16. Encourage descriptive writing by focusing on the sounds of words.
  17. Require written response to peers’ writing. workshop/craft/revising
  18. Make writing reflection tangible. annotating, self-assessment
  19. Make grammar instruction dynamic. grammar/revision/editing –conventions/mechanics
  20. Ask students to experiment with sentence length.
  21. Help students ask questions about their writing. self-assessment
  22. Challenge students to find active verbs. RAFTS (role, audience, form, topic, strong verbs)
  23. Require students to make a persuasive written argument in support of a final grade. audience/purpose
  24. Ground writing in social issues important to students. audience/purpose
  25. Encourage the “framing device” as an aid to cohesion in writing. structure/craft
  26. Use real world examples to reinforce writing conventions.
  27. Think like a football coach. RAFTS (role, audience, form, topic, strong verbs)/mentor texts
  28. Allow classroom writing to take a page from yearbook writing. mentor texts
  29. Use home language on the road to Standard English. word choice/sentence fluency
  30. Introduce multi-genre writing in the context of community service. audience/purpose

Evolving from the fears of the CCSS writing standards to the present, what changes do you think have been most effective, and where are some areas educators are still confused? What is most beneficial to students, or is an understanding that writing is complex, and approach with patience and grace the most important thing?

old scholar

Scholarly articles if you’re really bored this summer:

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As the girls grow…

As the crow flies

My three Colorado amigas, the ladies I’ve known since middle school astound me. If I could present a tableau of the three of them, and show my middle school students, all genders, what the possibilities are for them outside of the testing and the tardy slips, beyond the perceived limitations, oh what a powerful message that would be. So much discussion about ‘career and college ready,’ and the decline of cultural literacy, and here three of my dearest friends who’ve created lives based on things that will never be on a standardized test.

One of my greatest frustrations is trying to figure out how to show children that though the path may not have all the lights on, we educators will show you how to brighten the path.

Pay attention, please.


Lisa has always had grit and determination. I realize the word ‘grit’ is borderline abusive for children of poverty, but in this instance, she exemplifies all the best of that word. She put herself through college. She made sure she could support herself. She has fought for women’s health rights. And now she is a liaison between disenfranchised neighborhoods and city planners to make sure needs are met, communicated, and sustainable. She is the real deal. She understands access to facilities, and how in pockets of even large urban areas, communities are often shut out and marginalized. She gives them space and voice. Lisa truly levels the playing field. Literally.

And yes, Lisa, I hope that bridge over the railroad tracks gets built immediately. Now I’m going to look at that terrible intersection by our school. You made me want to demand better lights and traffic control.

How can I get teachers to stop saying girls are bossy, outspoken, etc. and reframe those traits as what they are? Leadership, strength, determination, and forces for change?



Kristin is pure joy and happiness, even if the face of the most challenging of circumstances. She is currently a kindergarten teacher, and if my boys were tiny again, I would move mountains to have her be their teacher. She embodies sunshine. Wicked smart, funny, and amazingly physically strong. She bikes over mountains. MOUNTAINS! For years, she has also planned gardens and landscaping projects. I wish I had thought to take a picture of her sketchbook and her resources about southwestern plants. She knows the names of trees and flowers. She sees what is painful to the silent, animals, plants, and sometimes people, and also gives them the nurturing they need.

And yes, Kristin, I wish I could fly you out here to cast your spells on my trashy backyard.

How can I tell people to stop looking at professions like teaching, landscaping, and gardening like it’s a hobby? To take the student who loves being on the GreenTeam or at our new Mill Creek garden to turn that into a valuable and sustainable future for themselves? Hey, people of planet earth, we need this rock we’re spinning on!



Tammy is a film festival producer, shaker, maker, creator, planner, presenter, and supporter of film, the arts, women in film, and great storytelling facilitation. She’s thoughtful, methodical, and intuitive.

And yes, Tammy, I wish I could go to every one of the film festivals you share. You understand my love of stories.

How do I tell students that story they’re writing, that movie they’re making, that podcast they’re trying might just speak to someone else who needs to hear they’re not alone? And, guess what…it might actually help you make a living creating?


I’ll keep this post handy for next year. I may start the Royal Queens Club again with this additional information to help students, girls in particular if they need, to see that they are in control of their paths, but it need not be terrifying. I can’t wait to see what we all do for the second half.


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Adjusted for awesome.


The paycheck has come and gone. There is food in the fridge. The repo man is held at bay for another 30 days, and all is well. For now. To me, July 1 is my official first day of summer break, where I am under no contractual time to do or think for anyone but myself and my family. It takes me awhile to settle into the new routines and freedom. But having time to write and drink coffee –what a gift. And teaching is a life ‘gift,’ no question.

My dear friend gave me a lot to think about as we were pulling up to the Denver airport yesterday, and we continued to talk  long past our time at the drop-off curb. (I was sharing with students a few months ago that she and I would talk for hours on the phone, and I couldn’t remember what we talked about. Now I know; anything and everything.)

Let me see if I can frame this correctly, her pondering– and in no way is this question meant to put any educator on the defensive or start to link Taylor Mali videos about What Do Teachers Make.  (There, see, I did it for you.) The essence of the question is what is a reasonable salary for teachers? And, truth, I couldn’t answer that simply. Not sure I’ll be able to here, either, but the thinking is what’s important because effecting policy change feels impossible. It’s not my question to answer: there are too many factors that affect a teacher’s salary, and the waters are intractably muddy.

However, similar to musing what I would do if I won the lottery, asking ‘what would be a comfortable salary for me’ is a fun exercise.

Some perimeters to the game:

  • Cost of living –adjust for lifestyle and long-term goals
  • Assume a master’s degree and five years of experience
  • Assume the discrepancy between the highest paid employee in a district and the lowest teacher salary are within range of similar benefits packages, PTO, and contractual responsibilities. (In other words, let’s pretend we’re Ben & Jerry’s or Costco.)
  •  There is such a wide discrepancy around the globe it’s difficult to gauge or have some kind of real ‘teacher currency exchange rate’ understanding.

And these numbers are based on if I were single and childless. All working persons deserve to earn a salary compensate with education, ambition, and to save for a retirement that allows for comfort and protections. We have a minimum of those protections and social services in our nation now because that’s not our culture or our values. We shout down those who try to make those changes with a lot of excuses.

But let’s pretend.

Say I wanted to live in the house I live in now, and though my current mortgage payment is not this, if I was buying my house today, this is what it would be.

  • Mortgage: $2500
  • Car: $650
  • Food/Gas $700
  • Clothing: $150
  • Student Loan: $450 (to be paid off when I’m 82)
  • Credit Cards/Debt: $300
  • Utilities/cell: $1000

So far we’re at $5,750. That doesn’t include professional development costs, the occasional soft-serve yogurt, or retirement savings or emergencies. That doesn’t include my two sons. (Sorry kids!)

I would need to make $69,000 net. That would be simplistically $86,250 gross. I don’t make that, even with my Board’s stipend (which, incidentally, also varies state to state and school to school.)

All right.

Now I know some would argue that I don’t deserve to live in a house. Therefore, with my Masters +90 level education, that means I am removed from any equity that home would offer. Remember, I didn’t budget in savings, retirement savings, or investments. Some would say I should use public transportation. Sure: but there is none between my house and my job. So there’s that. And, get rid of my cell phone. Sure. You do that too: let’s all pitch them into the metaphorical sea.

Her other question or wondering came in the form of how teachers should work — I’m not saying this right — let me try again: if teachers were salaried employees and worked 12 months out of the year, instead of the contracted ten months, what would that look like? Well, as we all know, our bills and rent don’t get summer breaks, so let’s continue with the legitimate demands of 12 months of bills/expenses, but also be realistic. Teachers are under contract. In Washington State, it’s an 180, plus in-service days, 7.5 hours per day. No teacher worth his salt works those contract hours solely. (Teacher geek alert! Salt gave us the word ‘salary’.) According to US News, 2014 numbers come in at a high of $68,400 to low of $43,470.

Almost two years ago I wrote a post about teacher pay, Show Me the Money, so this is something sitting on my mind for a while. But my friend made me think about it differently. If I didn’t pursue other avenues for income, what would be acceptable and reasonable for a teacher to make as a public service employee? We don’t produce or manufacture anything tangible; we are in essence a social service. We provide education and knowledge-building skills for our children. We produce ideas. We create. Our metrics and rewards come back in the form of former students who, when they can, tell us how important we were and are to them. Another dear friend recently posted an encounter with a former student, now a high school graduate, both apologizing for his 8th-grade behavior and thanking her for all she did for him. She also tagged other teachers and me, because he mentioned us, too. You’re welcome, young squire.

And I LOVE these stories. But damn my practical side–they don’t tip the milkman. If you want to discuss pure, hard numbers, EducationWeek posted, (very timely, thank you very much!) this article by Walt Gardner, The Truth About Teacher Pay.

My apologies for posting the entire article, but I think some folks don’t have access to this publication.

With schools closed for the summer, the debate about teachers’ salaries always arises.  Critics argue that no other field provides so many weeks of vacation for so much pay.  There is some truth to that claim, but I believe that a better way of addressing the issue is by comparing teacher salaries in the U.S. with those in the countries we compete with (“Teacher pay around the world,” Brookings, Jun. 20).  That’s because tests of international competition are closely watched as evidence of teacher effectiveness.

Other developed countries that we compete against pay their teachers much higher salaries than we do. The size of the gap depends on which countries we look at.  Finland is the usual benchmark because of the quality of its schools.  According to Brookings, we would have to give a 10 percent raise to our elementary school teachers, an 18 percent raise to lower secondary teachers, and a 28 percent raise to upper secondary teachers to be even minimally competitive.

I know the argument against boosting salaries. Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine are among the most vociferous in claiming that public school teachers are actually overpaid (“Public School Teachers Aren’t Underpaid,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 8, 2011).  “In short, combining salaries, fringe benefits and job security, we have concluded that public school teachers receive around 52 percent more in average compensation than they could earn in the private sector.”  The only caveat, they stress, is that this premium is stated in terms of averages.  The best teachers in science and math are likely underpaid compared to their counterparts in the private sector.

Since the entire argument is stated in economic terms, I’d like to ask Biggs and Richwine a question:  If public school teachers’ salaries already contain a premium for the weeks worked, then why isn’t there a flood of college graduates making public school teaching a lifelong career?  After all, economists always cite the law of supply and demand.  Why doesn’t it apply to public school teachers?  The fact is that teaching today is far harder than they can possibly understand.  I maintain that if salaries were to rise even 20 percent, there would still be too few college graduates opting for a career in the classroom.  Yes, higher salaries might be enough to recruit them, but higher salaries would not be enough to retain them.

So rather than envy teachers for having most of the summer off, let’s admit that they deserve every day to recuperate.  I urge skeptics to try teaching for a semester to understand why.


Clearly, Biggs and Richwine are no friends of teachers. As my mother says, “they don’t buy me any ice cream.” Not even Ben & Jerry’s. Heck, ESPECIALLY not Ben & Jerry’s!

It does seem uniquely American to pay teachers for martyrdom and nobility of character versus a middle-class income. And I mean a real middle-class income (see my bullet points above). This would take a wholesale restructuring of district budgets, demanding an accounting of administrative versus teacher salaries, and wading in that murky, murky mess of suits v. laborers we can’t seem to let go of. I do have a lot of ideas of how teachers can earn the salaries they need if they wish. Yes, I used “need” and “wish” in the same sentence. If a teacher wishes to work a contract day, is not interested in further out of pocket professional development, or other credentials that result in stipends, so be it. But access to those opportunities should be plentiful and available. Biggs and Richwine strike me as unimaginative kumquats. And good teachers have imagination and problem-solving skills in abundance. Let’s talk, and see what we can come up with.

PS And dang, doesn’t “Biggs and Richwine” sound like some evil Dickensian characters?