The Power of Performance Assessments in Reading

The Purpose of the Performance Assessment

While the running record assesses the reading comprehension of a child through snapshots that indicate a just right reading zone, performance assessments assess an independent ability to think. Often times teachers will say to me that all of their students comprehend far below grade level, and I will look at the running record data and find a majority are actually reading on or above grade level. The students don’t necessarily need reading comprehension strategies or lower level texts; they need support to strengthen their thinking about reading. Those are a completely different set of skills.

I have heard many times that pre assessments are a waste of time. However, the purpose of the performance assessment is to guide decisions about small group instruction, additional minilessons, and even read aloud choices.

Using the Learning Progressions to Differentiate

A performance assessment will focus on a small number of specific skills like inferring about character. By matching the thinking to the learning progressions, teachers can determine at what level individuals are thinking about reading for 2-4 skills at a time and use that information to determine what strategies students need to grow their thinking.

We might also find through the performance assessment that a student’s thinking level is higher than their independent reading level. It is just as crucial to take this into account when meeting needs. That’s where read alouds and guided practice come in. These readers can still be given opportunities for thinking about reading and practicing these skills with a text they may not have been able to access independently, and they need these opportunities.

When we look only at independent reading comprehension or at independent thinking without also looking at the other, and we do not provide the differentiated instruction and opportunities to meet readers where they are, we are doing a huge disservice to them.

That is why using performance assessments to inform instruction is a powerful tool. One note of warning, however. Learners need a space for approximation. Don’t feel the need to assess and grade everything. Practicing skills can be clumsy, but we want kids to know that it’s okay to not have perfect notebook entries every day as they practice skills. Feedback not evaluation is important for growth.

Taking Ownership of Growth

One strategy to help learners take ownership of their growth is to invite them into the process. If they are writing about character, for example, use the learning progressions to show the good, better and best and determine where their current thinking sits and what they need to do to grow their thinking.

Bottom Line

When you understand the purpose of any assessment and how it can work for you and your students, it becomes more valuable. Performance assessments provide us with very clear data that shows us exactly where kids are in their thinking and what they need next. While we want our students to be strong readers, we also need them to be strong readers who can think.

Running Records: What’s the Point?

Take Note of Behaviors and Look For Patterns

In order for any assessment to be of value, it’s important to know what you are looking for and make sure the tool and protocol match. The approach is meant to be from a place of inquiry not inquisition. It’s a time to get to know readers and their reading behaviors.

If a fourth grade student, for example, is retelling and summarizes by telling about every single event and detail from beginning to end, teachers can make note that this is a student who could benefit from some small group or conferring work using a strategy that focuses on characters, setting, what’s most important in the beginning, then the middle, and the end.

Using the Narrative Reading Learning Progressions from the RUOS and resources like The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo.

By noticing reading behaviors and matching them with the Learning Progressions, teachers can map out a plan for individuals and small groups in order to differentiate instruction. Once the student is able to show growth using this strategy then look for what’s next in terms of complexity to teach.

Using the Narrative Reading Learning Progressions from the RUOS and resources like The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo.

In the above case, the next teaching point will add problem, solution, and lesson learned. I might use this strategy and tweak it to add a component for what the character learned from the problem or the solution before moving into the next teaching point found in the learning progressions.

Using the Narrative Reading Learning Progressions from the RUOS and resources like The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo.

Above we see the next step emphasizes retelling using a cause and effect or problem and solution structure with more nuanced work in theme. At this point I might also refer to the Learning Progressions for theme.

While studying the reader during the running record, you might notice a pattern in the types of words that are mispronounced or a struggle. Maybe you notice a pattern of stumbling over multi syllable words. That can then be a note for what this student needs next to be successful and look for a strategy to use to support this reader.

Using resources like The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo.

Behaviors during a running record can provide so much information. It might indicate what could be getting in the way of comprehension. Maybe the student can only remember that last part read and focuses on that as the retelling. While making training videos for running records several years ago, I found that my own child went back and reread the first sentence in each paragraph to retell. Somewhere along the way he learned the first sentence makes the main point for a paragraph, but does that work outside of informational texts? This was a behavior worth noting to determine what he needed for a narrative text.

Take Note of What’s Next to Prepare and Support Readers

If we give running records in order to merely check a box that we have completed them each testing period, then it’s possible we don’t see their value.

Running records provide a snapshot into a student’s approximate reading comprehension and the the information we gather from it informs us of the work required in their just right reading zone as well as into a more complex reading zone, what comes next.

A student who is reading within a band of O/P/Q who is ready or soon to be ready for R may need some support with something like keeping track of long strings of unassigned dialogue and being able to infer story action in these parts.

F & P Text Gradient Levels

A student who is reading within a band of S/T/U who is ready or soon to be ready for V may need some different supports including switching settings, flashbacks, and words used figuratively that could pose a challenge.

F & P Text Gradient Levels

With that said, students may choose to read a text that is considered outside of their just right reading zone because maybe, for example, it’s historical fiction and they love to read historical fiction and have a lot of background knowledge in the time period and events of the the setting. It’s okay to read within a band of text complexity or even stretch themselves with a book outside their just right zone, but knowing where they are in their most recent snapshot to determine the kind of support they may need, maybe support with multiple plot lines or quick perspective changes, would be a valuable tool.

Bottom Line

It’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of stop, drop, and test–checking off a box 5 times a year. However, using running records to examine reading behaviors and inform teaching practices in order to differentiate instruction and meet individual and small group needs is the point of running records. And that information, approached from a place of inquiry, can provide the most valuable data that can grow readers.

5 Common Mistakes When Teaching Writing

One of the mini sessions I attended at this year’s TCRWP Saturday Reunion was titled, “5 Common Mistakes Teachers Make in Writing Instruction and How to Quit Making Them” presented by Colleen Cruz.

First she summarized the four types of mistakes we can make as educators.

classification of mistakes
Taken from
  1. Aha-Moment – A mistake that you didn’t know. Maybe something like being observed and discovering you provide limited wait time after asking a question of students.
  2. Stretch Mistake – We make these all the time. Every time we try something new and reflect on what did not go well to make changes for the next time.
  3. Sloppy Mistakes – Mistakes that don’t really hurt anyone else. Leaving my tea in the office when I make copies would be an example.
  4. High-Stakes Mistakes – We don’t realize we are making it, but it has the biggest effect if not corrected.

The 5 common mistakes made when teaching writing are high-stakes mistakes that have the potential to have a negative effect on students. But the great thing about mistakes is when you know better, you do better.

Mistake #5

Remember those rules we used to make up while playing tag outside. The ones that we made up along the way to fit whatever needs we had. We do that in teaching too. For example, all those rules about numbers in writing are backyard rules. Teachers often use numbers to increase volume but they can cause more harm. Numbers in writing is just wrong! There are many strategies to increase volume while promoting quality not quantity.

  • Every essay must be 5 paragraphs
  • Every paragraph must have at least 5 sentences
  • Every sentence must have 5-7 words

The rules below are often used in an attempt to improve vocabulary, but sometimes the simpler word is just right.

  • “Said is dead”
  • “Put nice on ice”

We even try to keep writing formal and create these rules, but what we really need to teach students is purpose and audience.

  • Never use I
  • Never use you

Some others that come to mind include never start a sentence with the word because or and.

Look at some mentor texts and compare those published pieces to the backyard rules.

Mistake #4

Sometimes when a unit is challenging for us or students, we tend to take longer. However, the advice from TCRWP is that any unit should not extend past 4-5 weeks. They caution that it’s not useful to linger in what you don’t know. According to Lucy, “The less you know, the faster you should go.” Making this mistakes creates an environment where everyone is just over it. In any unit that is challenging, choose the must knows from that unit and really teach them. Another reminder that we aren’t teaching everything but the kitchen sink!

Mistake #3

Sometimes as teachers we over scaffold and sometimes those steps we create to manage students is done with the purest of intentions–providing student support. So we put steps in place including some of the following:

  • Every time you revise, use a different color.
  • You must do step 1 before step 2.
  • You must have three drafts before you can write a final copy.
  • You must check in with me before starting the next step.

If you have too many scaffolds in place, you might actually be creating obstacles that prevent students from being independent and productive.

nervous sweating

Oops…completely guilty of this mistake!

Mistake #2

Often times we will give lots and lots of feedback on final products. The problem with that, besides the fact that it takes up a whole lot of teacher time on weekends, is that evaluative feedback does not encourage growth. By the time students get it, they are already finished and have checked out.

The best feedback is given along the way. It focuses on what’s most important right now for this student, again not everything but the kitchen sink!

Mistake #1

When we teach the writing not the writer we are not meeting individuals where they are nor are we providing them with the tools to develop their writing outside of that one piece. For example, we might be so focused on the writing that when they struggle to determine a topic, we give them a list of topics or suggestions based on what we know about them. What we need to do instead is teach students strategies to generate ideas that they can use in the future.

We might also focus on some of those backyard rules of a certain type of writing instead of using mentor texts to help writers determine their own goals and the techniques they want to use to meet them.

  • Are you teaching that every persuasive essay has a thesis statement as the last sentence of the introduction?
  • Are you teaching that there must be three reasons to support the claim?
  • Is that what all writers do?

What if instead we teach kids to study author purpose, audience, and the craft moves they made and how those moves had an impact on the reader?

What if we taught writers to set their own goals and purpose, determine their own audience and the craft moves that will help them achieve what they set out to do with the writing?

Moving Forward

When I sat in that session, I definitely sighed a few times remembering when I too made that mistake. I certainly never claim to be perfect, but what I have always tried to do in all of my years teaching is to reflect on my work and adjust. I earned my teaching certificate 24 years ago, and I still read as much as possible, participate in as much professional development as I can, and talk to educators every day. I am still learning and growing, and I know many of you are doing the same. So when we discover we are making a mistake, we all need to do better when we know better no matter how many years we have been in this business.

Speaking of Grammar…

Recently I have been working with teachers on using mentor sentences to look closely at conventions and style in writing, and some teachers want to teach the parts of speech. Is teaching the parts of speech wrong? Well, that depends on how you look at it.

My experience with the parts of speech included the little grammar book that I remember as a student and later as a teacher. What I noticed, as both a student and a teacher, was that learning and teaching the parts of speech was like throwing a bunch of paper balls at a student and hoping something stuck. But it didn’t. So does that mean it’s completely useless to teach? Not at all, but it depends on how you teach it.

It never seemed to stick!

If you are using that little grammar book of lessons and practice, assigning worksheets, or even digital slides that are essentially worksheets, you may not be getting much to stick. That is because drilling out of context has been proven to ineffective. However, if you are using mentor texts and examining how the parts of speech impact writing and allowing students the time to go into their own writing, you are teaching grammar in context and you may find more success.

What Does This Look Like?

First, introduce a student-friendly definition. In this case, we are thinking about adjectives. Then allow students time to brainstorm. Whether they are in person or remote they can pick something in the classroom or in their home to describe coming up with as many examples as possible in a specified period of time.

They can also play tennis with the item they are describing. In person, name back and forth until the first person can no longer leaving it up to the other partner to keep going unit they can no longer think of any as well. In a hybrid classroom, breakout rooms can be used to partner up students.

Step one is quick…few minutes at most!

Find a mentor text to read to students and then examine just a piece of it looking closely for adjectives–words that describe people, places, or things.

Then remove the adjectives. Again this is just within a few minutes.

Ask students what effect the adjectives had on the text. Why did the author use the adjectives?

In informational text adjectives add precision and clarity to help readers understand

After studying this wrecked version of an informational text, we are showing not telling our students that adjectives provide precision and clarity in order to help readers understand. This would then lead to an invitation to revise.

If we are teaching the parts of speech in a way that teaches writers then we are more likely to improve writing, and isn’t that really the goal? Being able to name and identify parts of speech is not a life long goal; however, becoming a writer is. The research forever has proven that teaching grammar in isolation does not have positive effects on writing growth. In fact, it can cause more harm. Not only does it not stick, but the time wasted takes away from valuable writing time. Teaching grammar and the parts of speech in context of writing and using it as a means to transfer to student writing is a more effective approach.

Where Do I Start?

Think about the genre you are in. What are the parts of speech and conventions that will be important to learn and apply? The work is meant to transfer right into the current writing. For example, opinion and informational texts that need that precision and clarity will lend itself nicely to adjectives while strong verbs and strong nouns are necessary in narrative pieces. It might be useful to examine a mentor text for the genre and type of writing you are working in to determine what kids need. Studying realistic fiction, for example, might show me that strong nouns, strong verbs, paragraphing dialogue, and punctuating dialogue will be a helpful start. Think to yourself, what do they need now that they can go in and write or revise today.

Writing Workshop: Focusing on What’s Really Important

*Note this same work can be done with the spiral unit book as well as the viewer’s guide within the virtual units.


Use the Viewer’s Guide in the Virtual Units of Study. It is such a powerful tool get yourself grounded in what is most important.

The Viewer’s Guide can be found in the introduction of the virtual unit.

When you open the Viewer’s Guide, you will get a session by session glance of what the teacher is teaching and what the students are doing.

The first three sessions of sixth grade personal narrative

By reading through what teachers will be teaching and what students will be doing, you will see a clear roadmap of where students are headed as well as patterns for what is most important.

Here’s a road map of what I noticed in the sixth grade personal narrative unit.

Prior to beginning any unit, it’s helpful to use the Viewer’s Guide to create your own roadmap to ground yourself in what’s ahead and to find the patterns that are most important because we can’t teach everything but the kitchen sink and hope it’s going to all stick.

I noticed when creating the roadmap for this unit that what was truly at the heart was craft and elaboration.


It would also be helpful to study student writing from past years or from the online resources for your units.

This unit, as many do, offers examples of student writing. By reading these examples, you might get a better picture of what to expect. It would also help to share these student samples with students. Let them know you are about to begin an exciting unit exploring personal narrative, for example, and share what previous students have written.

The start of one student sample

Ask them, “What do you notice about personal narrative?” and for each example, “What do you notice this particular student did when writing his/her personal narrative?” Let students make discoveries and have opportunities to discuss them. Then share the road map of the unit with them. This will help them to see what they are doing and why along the way.


You will also need to fold in some additional work based on what you notice students need based on their pre-assessment writing.

Determine the additional work you will be adding in based on what you notice in student writing that will serve as critical areas in conventions that need to be developed. This may become a secondary road map for you and students.

This work is blended in using mentor sentences. We want to develop their skills of paying attention to what writers do, why they do it, and the effect it has on the writing. Read more about that here in “Where Does Grammar Fit Into the Workshop?” We want to use our mentor sentences and what students notice to create anchor charts and use that work to revisit their own writing pieces and revise with this work in mind.


Keep what’s most important front and center. In almost every writing unit I have looked through I’ve noticed that what is at the heart of each unit is being a writer.

Each unit, no matter the type of writing, focuses on writers who set goals and make plans to achieve those goals; studying a great deal of mentor texts to notice craft moves and determining which moves to try out and use within their own writing; reflecting on goals, plans, craft choices, and growth as a writer; and determining new goals and new plans.

The idea is to teach the writer more so than the type of writing. That is not to say that the type of writing is not important, but it is secondary to teaching writers to become independent. Teaching them to set goals, create plans, use resources, and reflect. If you are able to foster that independence, then your writers will be able to succeed in anything they need or want to write.

Digital Notebooks: How Do I Grade Them?

Digital notebooks are amazing tools, especially now with the Slip In Slide add-on which allows you to incorporate different tools like anchor charts. This same add-on can allow teachers to also slip in checklists and scoring guides as well.

One of the biggest questions I’ve received since sharing more about digital notebooks and using the Slip In Slide add-on is, how do we grade digital notebooks?

First, let’s revisit the purpose of the reader’s and writer’s notebooks.


The notebook, whether it’s digital or an old-school composition book, is a playground for student thinking and writing. As they are exposed to strategies, they decide what they will practice using their independent reading or writing. Depending on where they are in a novel or writing piece or how comfortable they feel with any given strategy, for example, will determine their work. What they focus on each day is just as much a choice as what they are reading or writing.

Anchor charts provide options

Because the notebook is a playground, they will messy and even a bit chaotic.

Formative Assessment

Since the reader’s and writer’s notebooks are used daily, they are a continuous record of growth and provide valuable information for teachers in order to meet the goals of individuals, small groups, large groups, and to differentiate based on those needs.

Individual Differentiation

Teachers can look at notebooks and notice patterns with an individual notebook and provide specific strategies within conferring. What does this student need next?

Small Group Differentiation

Teachers can look at notebooks and notice patterns that will separate students into small groups in order to provide specific strategies and meet each group where they are. What does this group need next?

Large Group

Teachers may also see something across the board that is an indication that the class might benefit from scaffolding or additional modeling before moving on.

Summative Assessment

When it comes to the reader’s and writer’s notebook, it is important to note that if you are trying to grade every single entry they write every single day, then you are grading formative assessments that are not meant to be summative. Not to mention, you have got to be super overwhelmed with such a task! And if you are able to easily grade everything they write every single day, then they are not writing enough. However, every few days or so, teachers should provide options for a summative assessment. An entire writing piece (for example, the entire personal narrative) does not have to be read and scored. Students can choose what they want to showcase for a grade based on the work that they have been doing using the current anchor charts.

Choice, Checklists, and Scoring Guides

Whenever something is going to be graded, students should continue to choose the work they want to showcase. Remember, the notebook is a playground and not all entries will be worthy of being showcased, and we want students to feel comfortable to take risks and be okay with stumbling through their practice until they grow.

Students should know in advance what specifically a teacher is looking for when grading. Checklist and scoring guides are a part of preparing students. Teachers can Slip In Slides using the add-on for checklists too!

Teach Students to Determine What Is Graded

In the classroom, it was simple. We would give the kids a certain post it and have them mark the entry that was to be graded. Or take an entry of their choosing to write the “long write”. In the digital world, you could add a star to the page you slide in with the checklist and scoring guide (see image above). Students can copy and paste that star onto the page they want scored (see image below).

Another way to get students more involved in the grading is to have them highlight each part you are looking for (determined in the scoring guide) in a a different color. If they are unable to highlight a part, that’s an indication that it is missing. Or if they highlight something that does not match the expectation, that is a teaching point.

The teacher would have the scoring guide to copy and paste into the identified page and would use it to score. See the example below.

Finally, and this part is crucial, feedback can be added to support the student and to provide a record or expectations for the future.

Looks like a lot of work, right? Actually think about the feedback you provide. How often is it the same comment over and over? You can do the work on the front end and have a page of common comments already prepared (see below). You can even color code them to what students highlighted to keep yourself focused. When you copy and paste a prepared comment in, you can customize it if you choose. Notice how the comments added to the notebook page above were customized to provide a bit more feedback compared to the generic one created in advance below.

This work continues to allow for choice and puts the ownership on the student. It also provides specific feedback that would need to be applied in the future.

Student chooses this page to showcase the work on elaboration
Teacher pastes in scoring guide and feedback

If you have any questions, feel free to email. Common questions determine future posts!

Where Does Grammar Fit Into the Workshop?

The best way to teach and learn grammar, mechanics, conventions, style, rules, or whatever you want to call it, is to study and practice it in context. In our district, we support writers with the works of Jeff Anderson, Jennifer Serravallo, and the lessons found in the Units of Study, particularly in the If…Then…Curriculum of the Writing Units. While doing this work, we can pull mentor sentences from our read alouds, independent reading, and any other example of great writing.

What can we learn from great writing and great writers?

While reading the first chapter of Jason Reynolds’ Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, I was blown away by some of the great mentor sentences I could pull that reflect not only the elaborate style of “show not tell” but also the use of punctuation. Just look at this incredible example right on page one!

There are so many lessons that can be pulled from here, but sometimes it’s best to keep it simple. For example, look at the mentor sentence below.

By presenting a sentence and asking what they notice, it invites students to look at not just what authors do but also why they do it? What impact does the comma have on this sentence? What about the hyphens? Can we create rules for these or start an anchor chart? This is done best when students can talk it out with one another. In a remote setting it may be a slow discussion in Schoology or Google Classroom if not live.

Building an anchor chart over time

How about the comma in the mentor sentence below ? What do we notice? What impact does this comma have on the sentence? Can we continue to add to the anchor chart?

Not only are we focusing on the rules of punctuation, but we are examining beautifully written sentences that emphasize the magic of elaboration and “show don’t tell”.

Now how about this one? There are multiple commas. What do you notice about the commas? What impact does each have on the sentence? Can we add another rule to the anchor chart?

Jason Reynolds is my hero!

Look at more of the beauties I found just in chapter 1, focusing on similes, sensory details, commas, hyphens, dashes, italics, contractions, possessive nouns, types of sentences, dialogue, quotations, ellipses, and so much more!

Sentence stalking

Once you have students noticing and examining what authors do and how the writing is impacted, you can invite students to imitate and look into their own writing to use or correct.

You can also encourage students to pay attention to their own independent reading books for mentor sentences they can collect or even share with moves they can try to use within their own writing. Here’s one I found last night while reading.

What about grammar exercises?

There are many who learned grammar the traditional way with grammar textbooks, worksheets, and sentences to diagram or those who look to sites that are the modern version of those same things, but the research behind the effectiveness of that approach is very telling.

Teaching grammar will not make writing errors go away. Students make errors in the process of learning, and as they learn about writing, they often make new errors, not necessarily fewer ones. But knowing basic grammatical terminology does provide students with a tool for thinking about and discussing sentences. And lots of discussion of language, along with lots of reading and lots of writing, are the three ingredients for helping students write in accordance with the conventions of standard English*.

NCTE National Council of Teachers of English

For more on this, here is a short podcast/blog post “How to Deal with Student Grammar Errors” from The Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzales.

How do I know what to teach?

The best places to look include:

  1. The Writing Progressions for each genre found in the Units of Study online resources under the title Writing Pathways.
  2. Student Writing for patterns and needs based on pre assessments, post assessments, and entries in the writer’s notebook.
  3. The Eligible Content found in the PA Standards.
  4. The Scope and Sequence recommended by PATTAN (click here). Look to see when skills should be introduced, reinforced, and mastered. The development of a skill and the need for reinforcement is generally spread out over several grade levels.
any questions

Remote Workshop: Gradual Release of Responsibility

Recently I have been collaborating with an incredible group of ELA supervisors and coordinators from across the county regarding the professional development needs as a result of school closures and the subsequent shift to online instruction. Even though curriculum throughout the county may be different, while discussing best practice, we could all agree that a gradual release model was essential in any classroom, but especially in a virtual setting.

No one knows what school will look like come fall, but for the rest of this year and being proactive for next year, this is the best place to start to reflect on the instruction we have been releasing to students and focus our efforts on strengthening best practice.

The Model

Step One: Learning Objective

Learning objectives can come straight from the anchor charts we are using to guide instruction. In this example, I am focusing on examining character speech to determine themes.

In this writing example, however, the focus is on the ways to generate story ideas starting with thinking about moments of trouble.

Step Two: I Do – Modeling

Once the learning objective is determined and communicated, the second step is to model the strategy or content. This is where the students watch you do this work with a mentor text. I chose to use a video. I created a mini unit recently that maps out all the ways readers can determine theme by examining character. I then went on a hunt looking for video clips and short films, and as I watched each one, I made notes about the possible lenses (from the anchor chart) that could be modeled and practiced using them. This is a nice way to use a nontraditional text in order to focus on the strategy and help level the playing field for student access. Not to mention, a nontraditional text is also often shorter and keeps the modeling down to a small chunk of time.

In this video, I share the learning objective and model using the strategy with a mentor text.

Step Three: We Do – Guided Practice

Something that may be missing from our instruction is the guided practice, and this is such a critical piece! In the classroom we have students turn and talk and practice the strategy together step by step. This is when we eavesdrop and coach in. This is the real teaching and students need that time to collaborate and construct meaning together while receiving support and feedback.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Guided Practice


In an asynchronous environment guided practice could extend over the course of a couple days. It is slow! It could be a guided practice video like the one below followed by a discussion question on the learning platform (Schoology or Google Classroom)

Guided Practice with a Common Text

Students are also invited to read the responses of others and comment on at least three ideas using the following prompts:

  1. What confirmed your thinking?
  2. What challenged your thinking?
  3. What changed your thinking?

These discussions in the learning platform are a great way to formatively assess and provide feedback. You might even pull some and share “Shout Outs” for high quality thinking! Similar to the the eavesdropping and sharing we do in face to face instruction.


While we want to be sure that all students have access, it is possible to have some live opportunities using a tool such as Zoom. This may be ideal for the kids who are struggling with navigating the materials independently or who need additional support.

I’ve been working with some middle school students in an after school program using synchronous instruction. I invite them to the Zoom and do the same kind of work but live. I share my screen so they can see the slides and the video and I walk them through the strategy. I switch the chat settings so they can only send chat messages to me, the host. At different points, I ask them guiding questions and they type their ideas in the chat. I take the best ideas, along with some of my own and add them live to the slide. For example, I may ask what pattern they noticed and will label buckets in my slide using their ideas. Then continue to guide them with questions and sharing in this way.

This method is great for providing instructional feedback in the moment. If I ask what can readers learn, for example, and I get something about what the characters learn, I can guide them to restate it in a way that is bigger than the character.

The students I work with are getting very used to this model, and I am now starting to give them some more space by putting them in and out of breakout rooms to “turn and talk” and come up with combined thinking to share with everyone else.

While synchronous instruction like this cannot be the only mode of instruction, it is a great idea for conferring, small groups, and WIN time.

Step Four: You Do – Independent Practice (Formative Assessment)

Students are using their independent reading to practice using the strategy by adding post-its to their reader’s notebook or are completing an assignment using the practice from their independent reading on the learning platform. This is formatively assessed to see who needs more support or more maybe more guided practice in a Zoom session. This is the work that lets us know when they are ready for the last step and demonstrate learning.

Step Five: Demonstration of Learning (Summative Assessment)

This is when students use the strategies to show what they have learned. Many teachers are worried about cheating, but the summative assessments should be much higher on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge and require students to produce.

One of the reasons I love reading along side kids is because it provides me with so many ideas and connections. This week we saw videos with Will Smith’s speech shifting from negative to positive patterns. While reading my book, I too was seeing a lot of shifting. This is showing how characters are complicated! I also read in my book, right around the same time, an essay my character wrote in class about how Nicki Minaj is misunderstood just like I noticed Will Smith is misunderstood. I then had students look back at the patterns they were noticing in their independent reading when examining character speech and think about how their character is complicated and also misunderstood and what the reader can learn (theme) when examining the character this way. I even wrote my own based off the character Xiomara in my book, The Poet X. This serves as a model, but it also can act as a way to sell this book as a future choice for students.

Let’s Reflect

Take some time to look back at your ELA Reading and Writing lessons. Are you following the model for best practice? Which steps are you a shining star, and which steps do you need to rethink?

One more think to keep in mind. All 5 steps are not expected in one day. Since online class times in our district are shorter than the 50-60+ minutes allotted to a face to face setting, the I Do, We Do, You Do may take place over the course of a week. How you roll out the week may look different from class to class; however, the model should still follow the same steps.

Remote Workshop: Staying True to the Model

While learning a whole new way to deliver instruction during the quarantine, it is possible to accidentally take a wrong turn and shift the focus away from the fundamentals of the workshop model. So now that we’ve had some time to make the shift to remote learning, let’s take some time to reflect and evaluate our instructional practice.

Fundamental #1 – Modeling

We need to remember that we must model and do the work in front of students. The tool you choose to capture that modeling is the vehicle. Now you can get the fanciest vehicle in the showroom using all kinds of fancy tools and add ons, but without modeling, we can easily lose our way. So with every lesson ask yourself, “Am I using a mentor text and doing the thinking and writing work myself?”

Fundamental #2 – A Clear Focus

Just like in the brick and mortar classroom, the online classroom needs a focus. What is the skill you are teaching, and what strategies are you modeling to develop that skill?

Recently with a group of seventh and eighth graders I have been focusing on the basic yet very challenging skill of active reading. I determined in advance each strategy I would model.

Here is a video of one such lesson. Today I am teaching active readers to examine how characters react. The strategy follows the basic model for analysis. What do I notice? What patterns am I seeing? What do these patterns show? You will see today’s focus and you will watch me model using a mentor text.

Fundamental #3 – Active and Authentic

It is so easy with the introduction of all of these flashy online tools and resources to start assigning. But ASSIGNING is not one of the A words we should be holding dear.

We want kids to be active in their reading and writing. And we want the work to be authentic. Just as the modeling is authentic, we want to send them off to do the thinking work in their actual book or writer’s notebook. It’s easy to be attracted to cool looking assignments, but are they anything more than glorified worksheets and packets?

Ask yourself, “Am I sending my kids off to think in the book or text they chose? Am I sending them off to create? Am I sending them off to do real things in the real world?” If not, what can you do to move closer to supporting ACTIVE and AUTHENTIC readers and writers?

Fundamental #4 – Choice

Notice when I send students off to read, I am sending them off to their independent book. And even though I modeled being an active reader who examines character reactions today, when I send them off, they can choose to practice any of the four strategies I’ve modeled so far.

Fundamental #5 – Growth

When we are focusing on the fundamentals of the workshop, we are keeping in mind that every product is a formative assessment that shows us where kids are and what kids need. This information is used to drive our instruction. While I already have a focus of the skill and strategies I plan to teach, model, and expect students to practice within their own reading and writing, I want to use their products to gauge what other strategies they may need.

At the very end of my minilesson, I tucked in something I was noticing from recent responses. Sometimes those lessons, like reminders to use specific evidence, can be tucked into a planned minilesson, and sometimes we need to pause and present an additional strategy lesson because we don’t have the conferring and small group time that we do in the brick and mortar school. But this work comes from what we notice within their authentic work.

So I encourage you to reflect on and evaluate your online ELA instruction. Are you staying true to the workshop model and the fundamentals of the workshop? Are you using the online tools and add ons as a vehicle to drive your workshop instruction, or are you accidentally veering off onto the wrong road of assigning?

I am here to help with whatever your needs are in this new remote learning while holding onto best practice.

The Adventures of TDA: The Final Chapter

This adventure began with concerns from one sixth grade cohort at the elementary level. An unplanned extended leave of absence with a rotation of guest teachers created a challenge. While I firmly believe in embedding this work into what we already do with the Units of Study, the extenuating circumstances led us to create a short mini unit that wrapped up in time for the return of the teacher who is now continuing the work within the units.

After minilessons with modeling and time for independent practice with embedded conferring and small group lessons based on need, we wrapped up our writing pieces. What made this mini unit so successful was student engagement. Based on my observations, I would attribute the high engagement to the following:

  1. Choice – Students read and did the thinking work for several stories, but they chose the one that they wanted to take through the writing process.
  2. Partnerships – Students had very strong partnerships throughout the entire process which provided support and investment.
  3. High Interest Text – It’s so much easier to do something really hard with something that is intriguing.
  4. Gradual Release of Responsibility – They watched a teacher do some heavy lifting, then they practiced with their partner with support, and when they felt confident, they were able to do the heavy lifting too.

The independent writing wasn’t perfect, but students grew and developed as they learned and applied their learning to their writing and it was worlds better than the preassessment. Below is a slide show of a selection from the independent writing.

Since we began with a preassessment, we ended with a post assessment as well. Students were actually excited to show how much they could now do. The confidence they felt was incredible to experience. We looked at the evidence of their close reading, their planning before writing, and their writing and compared the data from the preassessment to the post assessment. We also were able to determine who still needed guided practice in small group as well as other needs. Overall, the post assessment showed that 61% of the sixth graders in the morning class and 70% of the sixth graders in the afternoon class wrote analytically using at least two lenses and looking for patterns in order to come to new understandings. That is compared to 4 students overall who attempted but did not use at least two lenses in the preassessment. The exact data can be found at the very end of the post.

Below are some samples from the preassessment compared to the post assessment. The first example shows a student who understands the idea of examining the author’s craft; however, she only uses one lens in the prassessment and focuses more on the beginning, middle, and end of the story than on determining patterns. In the post assessment she was a super star! She was very grateful for all of the feedback she received throughout the entire process.

This student wrote a summary of the story in the preassessment which was very typical of the group as a whole. In the post assessment, you can see she made huge strides!

This student was one of my favorites. He struggled a great deal. He needed a lot of support and was one of a few who I conferred with every day and pulled into small group regularly. He was not nearly as confident, but he was persistent. He even chose to spend the time for independent writing at the small group table even when he wasn’t in small group so support was nearby. I was most curious about his post assessment because he relied so heavily on me that I worried I had done him a disservice. He asked to sit completely away from everyone during the post assessment because he knows he can get easily distracted. He received zero guidance and support on the on-demand post assessment. For the preassessment his writing was very neat and even in cursive, but he only wrote a summary of the story. He killed it on the post assessment. Clearly his concern was not on his handwriting because he put all of his time, energy, and focus into his thinking. I. Was. Blown. Away! Is it written perfectly? No, but the thinking has to come before the writing every time! Who cares if it’s beautifully written if there is no thinking…no content…no analysis!

Below is another student who struggles, and he is an English language learner as well. He wrote a summary on the preassessment. He was unable to finish in the time given as the post assessment was an on-demand timed assessment, but if you look at his annotations and his graphic organizer, you can clearly see he is on the right track. Fortunately, in state testing he will have the extra time he needs. Again I was so proud.

Something I have always believed that was proven to me time and time again is our kids CAN! Don’t discount any one of your students as kids who can’t because with the right support, they certainly can and will be successful!

One thing I see often in my travels are graphic organizers and worksheets created for kids by teachers. All I ever did was give kids blank paper. Kids need to learn and have the experience to create their own graphic organizers that make sense for them. Below are some samples of the graphic organizers students created for their post-assessment. They chose the lenses to determine how the author revealed a theme, and they chose how to organize their thinking before writing. They need to be in the driver seat more because they will not always have those crutches that when used too often can actually hold them back.

The sixth grade teachers are planning to continue this work while embedding it into the units of study they already use. As promised the data from the pre and post assessment can be found below.