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No rest for the wicked.


This weekend after spending nearly a full work day on lessons from outside sources, editing, and refining to suit my students’ instructional path and understandings, I then turned my attention to creating a OneNote Unit class notebook based on my ‘fear’ unit. My growth and love are curriculum and method planning and delivery: my student teacher noticed and said I would be a great methods instructor at her university.  Maybe someday. But in the meantime, I’m still honing my craft by reading, reflecting, sharing, and altering. (If you want me to share this OneNote file send me an email:

But after dealing with some anxiety since September about how things are going to work, I’m trying to balance outside directions, incorporate, and make sure my work is supportive and supported. 

No small task.  In fact, it’s kind of terrifying.


My passion is creating units: curating the choicest resources (texts, media, discussion topics) is enjoyable for me.

I realize Heinemann is a publishing company and wants to sell books. Does that preclude that the resources are somehow less credible because they’re sold? Well, you can be the judge of that. I found this article useful, especially since I’m learning about instructional coaching and some of the pitfalls and potholes one can step into. Maybe it’s my confirmation bias speaking, but I found that the “better” column included many of the practices I do all the time, and the “not good” column stems from mandated or top-down practices.

How One Classroom Teacher Improved Her Planning

Instructional Coach Jaclyn Karabinas on how to get started using her techniques

Not good:

Here, teachers’ time is spent:


One invites students to be literate, constructive, and empathetic members of the world, intellectually prepared to encounter the nonstandard, moving targets that come with it. This model depicts a learning structure where student questions are used as entry points into standards and content, masterfully guided by the teacher. It is a learning environment rooted in Dewey and Vygotsky and the experiences of master teachers everywhere. Each individual brings his or her own background and preferences as they walk through the door, yet everyone thrives on socially constructed meaning and active learning. It is a classroom where students critically read challenging text or joyfully engage with literature because they know how to define a purpose for reading. It is a place where learning is not focused solely on student individual success but also the rhythms and flow of working and functioning in society.

In this model, a teacher’s time is spent:

The article continues to quote John Hattie, a resource I will be forever grateful to my new admin for introducing me to:

John Hattie’s Visible Learning research focuses on not just what works in schools but what works best. Hattie reminds educators to base instructional decisions on the evidence from their unique classroom situations, to “see learning through the eyes of their students” and create a learning environment where “students see themselves as their own teachers” (Hattie, Masters, Birch 2016). This type of approach suggests that making a true impact on student learning requires teachers and leaders to spend time talking about what they actually see happening in their classrooms, to ask why, and to deeply consider the impact on student learning — not coverage. To plan based on real student needs, not a theoretical scope and sequence.

So, while planning, I’ll continue to ask myself these questions–it’s what I do.

Start with your district’s curricular goals: Before you move into your next, planned curricular unit, carefully reread the goals presented at the start of the chapter or in your district’s standard’s document.

  • As you work with students, make notes on not only on how close they already are to meeting a goal but also specific attitudes, thinking, and behaviors they show in relation to it.

Gather more information: When you sit down to plan the launch of the next unit, talk with a colleague about how the current unit connects to the goals of the upcoming unit

  • Launch the next unit using images or video, collaborative problem solving, listing, quick writing, or drawing so students can activate and share prior knowledge; make notes about the information that students already come to class with —yes!
  • Add this information to your prior notes and conversations, noting which goals will be important for each student (a checklist will do this quickly!)

Make it relevant for students: Work with your students to understand the broader goals you’ll be teaching toward and help them to personalize goals for themselves. Relevance is crucial for rigorous learning because, as Kylene Beers and Bob Probst say, “Rigor without relevance is just hard.”

  • Make goals visible (Serravallo 2015) for the class as a whole and as individuals; classroom charts and other learning tools like those suggested by Kate and Maggie Roberts can help (Roberts and Roberts 2016)

Provide time for student reflection: As you design each day, include chances for student reflection. This is an opportunity for learning to sink in and become sticky.

  • You might still move through the teacher’s guide lesson by lesson as you learn this method — that’s OK! Keep student learning goals in mind, and you will be on the right track.*

*I’ve never had a teacher’s guide for any lesson, and I look forward to my district’s frameworks when those are completed. 

No, this is no small task, but important…very important. All of my credentials (National Boards, NWP/PSWP work, summers of workshops and additional professional development on my time/dime, reading, reading and more reading) don’t mean squat if I’m not putting it into practice. I can’t wait to work with a coach from the district on a teacher-action research project I began years ago, and thank goodness my admin saw that the work needed to continue, and thought of me. These moments I’m so grateful for, because working in a vacuum was sucking the air out of me. 

And that’s scary.


But not as scary as not being the best teacher I can is.

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The Power of Storytelling

Science is an art.
Science is an art.

Someday, maybe, I’ll work on my Doctorate, and I am fairly certain what my focus will be the power of storytelling. It’s been a subject I’ve researched for years. We are all narrative learners. I struggle with putting things in tidy boxes of informational versus narrative. I could make a case that all learning is information, or all learning is narrative. But it’s both.

And what makes us human, to me, is our need for a story. Perhaps elephants, dolphins, and whales tell their babies stories, and I know experience is certainly passed down. Unless of course, you’re an octopus–incredibly intelligent, but have no means of passing it along to the next generation. “Their knowledge dies with them.”

In Newkirk’s book, Minds Made for Stories, he explores the question of how knowledge is developed. It’s a fantastic read and supports my own instincts about the power of storytelling when it comes to any content area.

But why is this–in the vernacular of our times–even a thing? I detect a bias here, and  ‘us versus them’ in the content area arenas.

Recently Wells Fargo caused outrage because of this ad campaign:

wells fargo

Because of public outcry, artists and actors protested and the ad campaign has been pulled.  (Why can’t we do that to a certain presidential nominee?) Clearly, Wells Fargo jumped on the STEM bandwagon and forgot to add the rogue branch of the acronym, “A” — for Arts. This push toward only mathematics and science is dangerous, but I don’t think it’s a cause for outrage necessarily. But it is a place for a conversation: what do we value? What do we support — financially, socially, and emotionally? And what do we want to be when we grow up? Is there a bias of brains? Why do we constantly misdirect the topic, continually focused on the myth of left versus right brains? These fallacious and hollow debates about skills versus content, lecture versus ‘guide on the side.’ Enough. This is not the conversation to focus on, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

From Knowing Stuff is Inseparable from Literacy: 

This simple fact — that knowing stuff is inseparable from being able to read stuff — is why great teaching will always be concerned with both skills and content. Sadly, since the majority of educators who implemented the Common Core State Standards did not read and reflect upon their introductory matter, it became popular (and fallacious) to declare that content isn’t what counts — skills are. In the CCSS era, there are no distinctions between science and social studies and English teachers anymore; we’re all reading teachers, right? And thus was won a great victory by champions of literacy everywhere!

Skills are important. But they are only one side of the story.

Here is the other side:

All we do as humans is based on a story we must tell. An adventure we seek, a problem to solve, our heart is breaking and we want to fix it. Someone is lost and we want to find them. Something or someone attacks our humanity and we want to slay the monster.

As you’re planning units, I urge you to look at your content through the lens of storytelling: what motivated the person to learn? What motivates you? What are your burning questions? 

Remember this is not a zero-sum game. We can be ballerina scientists and athletic botanists. If you want to talk more about ideas you have or thinking about doing something amazing with stories and science/math, I’m here.

14 Books That Connect Students With Valuable Scientists’ Struggles


A Model for Teacher Development: A Precursor for Change — Jackie Gernstein


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Write-It-Right Wednesday

Anything, and I mean anything, can be a writing prompt. While waiting for a friend the other day, this Pokestop popped up on my screen. What other amazing things/places are out there in the world I never saw before?

We are writers.

Writing serves my creative mania. In my classroom, historically, we write more than we read. Do I love books? Of course! Am I passionate and excited about passages, excerpts, themes, patterns, characters, and juicy plots? Naturally! But in my experience, if you truly want to a student, a person– to engage, spill their guts, bare their soul and express themselves, writing is it.

Write-It-Right Wednesdays are mini-lesson moments and writing workshop days. Mini lessons are those quick, here is a “thing you need to know” thing. Writing Workshop is a very different animal, and all I’ve learned is from my mentors Holly Stein and Kim Norton through the PSWP (part of the National Writing Project). The Puget Sound Writing Project is no longer, unfortunately, but Holly and Kim began a new venture, PSW Consortium.

Here is Writing Workshop:

  1. You write.
  2. Your students write.
  3. What do you write about? Whatever is on folks’ minds, part of the content, etc. Or what my friend Holly calls “Rule #10: write what you want.”
  4. Use images, news stories, personal anecdotes, objects, postcards, whatever.
  5. Writing is sacred time.
  6. If someone comes in the room to observe during this, they are asked to write, too.
  7. In small groups, each person takes a turn to read their writing. Nothing is in the listeners’ hands. Nothing.
  8. Second read: the listeners give feedback. Never, ever hand your writing over to someone else to read. Yes, it can get noisy. This is not about spelling or editing.
  9. The listeners take a few minutes to verbally give feedback, and hand over the feedback slips to the writer.
  10. The writer says “thank you.” That’s it. They can choose to take the listeners’ advice or not. This is important to teach in terms of preparing writers for criticism and to understand their own craft.


This is Holly’s Power Point. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it.

Writing Partner Feedback Sheet I have a format in Publisher where I put these two up on a page, and double-side photocopy. This document contains the essential information.

Two Writing Teachers


For the grammar lessons, I may try to use Grammarly in the classroom.

Here is an example from a student from a memoir unit:

7 feedback
This was from a modeling portion where I wrote the story, and students acted as my writing partner for feedback.

And for heaven’s sake, start a writing blog for your students:

Update: Two Writing Teachers wrote a great piece on Writing Workshop. Read and keep.

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Metacognition Monday

Made with Repix (

In the 8 Days a Week post, I touched on some of the alliterative devices used to help frame a week. Frameworks help me focus: inviting students into my brain requires some house rules, ya know.

During my cohort’s masters program, our primary mentor and educational goddess, Dr. Schulhauser, introduced us to this word, ‘metacognition.’ She eased us into with masterful prestidigitation, a pedagogical slight of hand, we didn’t even realize we were deeply engaged in a lesson until she showed us what lay behind the curtain: we were thinking about our thinking.

But like all masters, understanding metacognition is deceptively simple. Though I’ve tried ‘Metacognition Mondays’ for a few years (except last year), I’ve been doing it slightly askew. The year before last, the wheels came off the bus. I told students that Mondays would be for reading, and then on Tuesdays we’d talk about it. Right. Nope. Of course I did all the tricks of the trade, but for obvious reasons to everyone else but me, reading time on a Monday was meant with resentment and oftentimes outright hostilities. I wonder now if I had strong guiding questions, or allowances for confusion? Was my classroom culture safe enough? Or were they just too tired and sleep hungover from the weekend to think at all?

My standard anecdote when introducing metacognition is to first explain the parts of the word:

meta: (overarching, bigger), self-referential

cognition: thinking

lost found

I bring them back to a time/place when they became lost from a parent. This is nearly a universal experience. What tends to happen is when conjuring this memory many students become engrossed in their story that the conversation becomes a bird-walking exercise. (You may want to caution students before using this metaphor, or allow for time for them to write first.) The point of the story is all of us move confidently through the world, and then WHAM we are lost. And we know it. And then finding our way un-lost is the trick.

unknown unknowns hell

Regardless of Monday morning morning-ness, metacognition is the key that unlocks all other discussions and learning. It’s that important. Every instance of close reading, writing, graphic organizers, student self-assessment, reflection, formative assessment is structured by metacognition. All learners must know when they’re confused or lost in order to grow. That confusion may come in the form of a misunderstanding, a mistake, or even reluctance. Perhaps even defiance. If a student feels too lost, the desire to simply give up can be overwhelming. Be clear with one and all: not everything is going to be an easy path, and it’s different for every learner.


One of the most comprehensive articles is Metacognition by Nancy Chick for Center for Teaching.  Stop reading this, and go read that.

And then read this to see why it’s important if I haven’t convinced you.

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Been giving a lot of thought lately into what are the responsibilities of districts to provide curriculum, scope/sequence, and planning tools. Many years ago, the Bellevue School District went on strike because of the extremes in their ‘lock step’ approach. Some districts/schools don’t provide enough support for new and veteran teachers, and flounder. Striking the right balance between what’s expected, necessary, and valuable is challenging for the most skilled of educators. Consultants are often called in, and depending on their cultural connection to an environment, either their messages are valued and heard, or not. In other words, if the consultant’s advice doesn’t resonate with some staff members, it’s hard to create meaningful instructional shifts. Fortunately, three consultants I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with have been true mentors and patient providers; however, not all fit this. It’s not them, it’s us.

It’s a dodgy and dangerous to attempt to “tell” teachers what they should and should not be teaching–you can’t make everyone happy, and teachers may bristle. I liken this to when I was getting my BFA; I wanted the guidance and critique of the master artists/professors, and with permission and safety they would ask if they could pick up my brush and ‘show me’ a suggestion. Those moments were rare and beautifully balanced: if they had bullied their way and said ‘this is how it’s done’ they would have lost and angered me. Showing suggestions and giving reasons why is always better. Sound familiar? Isn’t this what we do for our students, too?

Leaders have different styles, too. I’ve been reflecting on the years when I was a Curriculum Leader, and what I got right, and what I could have done better. It’s moot now, because I’m not in that position any longer, but do need to mind my own path. But what I got right was right for me–not sure anyone else valued it. I needed calendars and assessment windows. I needed organization and concrete, global time constructs of scope/sequence. I needed to communicate and be the liaison between the district and the ELA staff. For the most part, I believe I was successful. I know one colleague believed I wasn’t “collaborative” which is laughable because that’s almost all I am. But that’s okay–I heard her words (though she didn’t confront me directly) and took it to heart, and reflected on how I was delivering the messages from the district to make it easier. Other colleagues understood the concept of “don’t shoot the messenger.” What this really says is how powerless and lacking in autonomy when there’s a ‘top down’ approach or mandate. My colleague was feeling powerless, and at that moment in history perhaps unable to articulate it. We all were.

“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
– Dale Carnegie

It’s important to recognize when emotions are running high where the frustration comes from. And my big question is, in this day and age of shared resources and PLNs (professional learning networks), what value does mandated curriculum have? How do the ones in power balance the needs of the many with local, artisan needs of the micro-community of a single classroom? I may always rely on my own approach in planning via big calendars and researching others skilled sources.

Getting Results with Curriculum Mapping

Look over other districts’ curriculum maps, and see what might work: Rockford Public Schools

If you need personal resources:

Teachers Pay Teachers

TpT is a great resource if you not only don’t want to reinvent wheels but add rims and caps, too. For $10, you can download an entire unit on writing research papers. I’ve gotten some valuable lessons from Laura Randazzo –some are kind of thin, but I’ve altered them to suit my students’ needs.


Much is made fun of about Pinterest and teachers/teaching, but I don’t think that’s quite fair. Yes, you can fall down that rabbit hole, but curating your own and others’ share lesson ideas feels productive, too.


Find images, writing ideas, science, math, and all things gif-fy and awesome.


Need a question asked for the good of the group? Search for #edchat, #pln, and other teachers/educators and you will not be disappointed.

I’m @mrskellylove . Don’t mind the gamer friends, too.

And always go back to the tried and true. Seek out Kelly Gallagher. Kylene Beers. And spend time in your own mental ‘studio’– never forget teaching is an art, and you are not an apprentice.