Monthly Archives: July 2014

Try “Say Something” for Comprehension in Any Subject

One of the problems I’ve noticed when working with adolescent readers is that many of them do not monitor comprehension. I often ask them if they have had the experience of BMS (Blank Mind Syndrome) after they have read a paragraph, page, or chapter of a text. Almost universally, they all say they have. I have too. Oftentimes, this can stem from a lack of monitoring.

Monitoring comprehension is simply “checking in with yourself” as you read. Readers who monitor well generally stop periodically to ask themselves questions about what they have read, make connections to their experiences, or realize when they experience Blank Mind Syndrome and try re-reading. Those that check in often can realize they are confused after a few paragraphs rather than a few chapters. What a time-saver!

Many students learned about these monitoring comprehension strategies as elementary students. However, I’ve noticed that, as secondary students, several do not actively use them when reading becomes difficult. This phenomenon is as true for striving readers as it is for Advanced Placement students. If the text is simple for the individual student, he or she cruises along happily because he or she is seemingly involuntarily monitoring. It’s just what we all do when texts are easier. But, once students encounter more complex texts, it is essential that they monitor comprehension intentionally. Many don’t. This leads to reading without comprehending or simply stopping the reading process.

One of my favorite strategies for having students practice monitoring comprehension is Say Something. I first learned about Say Something in Kylene Beers’ awesome book When Kids Can’t Read — What Teachers Can Do: A Guide for Teachers 6-12. If you have never read the book, it is a resource I turn to frequently — even several years after reading it the first time. You must check it out some time.

Here is the gist of Say Something.

Essentially, students read text with a partner, stopping periodically to make predictions, clarify unclear information, ask questions, make comments, and make connections. Students enjoy the social aspect of the strategy, and most report that they “actually understood it” when they use it. When they cannot do one of the five things I mentioned when they stop, they must re-read, focusing on trying to use one of the strategies intentionally. Once they begin using the strategy, I have noticed students utilize their background knowledge in these conversations with one another to better understand the text, explicitly making connections and points that I would never think to suggest. It is truly powerful. It is imperative, though, to explicitly link the conversation students have during Say Something, to the internal conversations they should be having when they read independently. This can best be done through giving students opportunities to use the question stems from Say Something while they read independently. They can share their thinking in this way through short annotations.

One of the latest ways I’ve been experimenting with Say Something is adapting it based upon disciplinary literacies. Different from general content-area reading strategies, disciplinary literacies are ways of thinking that must be utilized to become proficient in different fields. So, as I am reading a social studies text, I may need to monitor differently (perhaps thinking about the context of time period when reading a primary document) from when I read a science text (reading to understand complex multi-step procedures).  If you would like to learn more about disciplinary literacies, check out

Through a collaboration with a math teacher, I have developed a Mathematics-Focused Say Something for students to use as they are reading the investigations in their math textbooks. It is still in the development phase, so please feel free to offer input.

In addition, I would like to develop subject-specific Say Somethings for as many areas as possible, so I welcome your explanations of the type of thinking students need for reading in your discipline in the comments area.

The Day I Became an ASCD Emerging Leader

It was Friday, May 16th.

That day, I was demonstrating close reading strategies I learned from the professional book Falling in Love with Close Reading. The teacher and I specifically created lessons on how to read closely for word choice. We introduced the lesson using a popular 2013 Super Bowl commercial and an article about the Nigerian girls who had recently been kidnapped. Overall, the lesson went well, but we struggled with keeping all of the students engaged. It was “Prom Day” — anyone who has taught high school knows exactly what that energy is like. After reflecting on the lesson together, I went back to to the media center (my “office” at each of my schools), debriefed with the media specialist on the Tech Bytes training we offered on the previous day, and I began checking my e-mail.

I saw an e-mail from ASCD.

Here is the funny part. You know how you sometimes just skim an e-mail when you are rushing through things. That is exactly what I did (bad literacy coach, I know!). I thought it said that I wasn’t chosen. I had applied the year before, and I did not get selected then. I closed the e-mail (but, thankfully, did not delete it.)

Later on, I re-opened it to get a better sense of its contents. That is when I saw the word Congratulations! I literally jumped out of my seat. I hugged my friend, the media specialist, and when, she asked me why, I told her that I had just received fantastic news (ASCD asked us to keep our selections confidential until the official ASCD press release). If you are unfamiliar with the ASCD Emerging Leaders program, you can learn more about it here.

It all happened on a normal day.

For the next several minutes I thought about what a great opportunity was ahead of me. I will be attending the ASCD L2L (Leader to Leader) conference later this month. I am most excited about the opportunities I will have to network with ASCD leaders, including the 2014 Class of ASCD Emerging Leaders. Already several former and new ASCD Emerging Leaders have contacted me. In my mind, I keep envisioning a “Community of 45.” Lately, I’ve been listening to the ASCD Whole Child Podcast, and I have heard frequent host Sean Slade discussing the concept of the classroom as a “Community of 30,” meaning that all students have a voice and important role in the learning in the community. I hope that each member of our 2014 Emerging Leaders group will share his or her voice, knowledge, and skills to contribute to the enhancement of our group as whole. I believe that together we are better.

So, back to the day that I became an ASCD Emerging Leader.

Did I go into the next class even better, knowing that I was an “ASCD Emerging Leader”? Well, let’s just say the last class of the day on “Prom Day” is no one’s shining moment. However, lots of learning occurred. My colleague and I probably learned more than that particular group of students.  But, we planned together for how to move learning forward on Monday.  We implemented new strategies  to foster student accountability, and we selected new engaging narrative texts based upon students’ feedback.

You see, I believe collaboration is the key to getting better, and I can’t wait to collaborate with the team of Emerging Leaders when I get to ASCD L2L.

Five “A-Ha’s” from ISTE 2014


“Just go with the flow.”

That was the advice that one of the digital learning facilitators gave me when she learned that I would be attending the ISTE conference for the first time. And, wow, she was right. No one could have prepared me for ISTE. Over 14,000 educators descended onto the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, GA, to learn from one another, and enhance the learning of students. I was only able to attend ISTE on Saturday and Sunday (because of some other awesome opportunities I plan blog about later), but my quick dip in the ISTE stream yielded some new insights and resources. Inspired by Angela Watson’s (@Angela_Watson) 10 Big Take-aways post, I thought I would share my five ISTE “A-Ha’s”.

1. Augmented Reality (AR) is appearing in more classrooms.

My first experience with AR was the fun ColAR App I blogged about in March. AR was a recurring theme at ISTE. I finally downloaded Aurasma after having an enthusiastic ISTE AR Network educator demonstrate how the app allows the user to connect a 3D overlay of an picture or video onto a “trigger image.” The app hold much promise for student’s creating their own “auras” as well as activities created by the teacher. In addition, I learned about the Smithsonian’s X 3D website, which allows you to examine 3D representations of artifacts from your device. You can even download the images and print them on a 3D printer. It’s pretty amazing.

2. ISTE educators are even more passionate about relationships than technology.

ISTE really is a community. I identify myself as an “ed tech dabbler,” so an event like ISTE interests me, but it also intimidates me. I was amazed at how helpful and friendly most people were. It seemed that even the most tech-savvy educators cared less about what a person knew than just being excited that he or she was on the journey. From the conversations I had,I realized that many people looked forward to ISTE for networking with other educators even more than learning about technology integration. Caring and concern for students were also at the heart of conversations. I was happy to finally meet Lora Cain (@CainLora) who works with Follett Community, which I joined recently. I was introduced to Lora by my good friend and colleague John Parker (@TheSlamGuy). A few weeks ago Lora asked me to do an interview for the Follett Community site, and then when she learned I would be at ISTE, we met each other in person. Lora was so nice to have me do a video interview for their site at ISTE, too. It was a lot of fun! She is awesome, and we became fast friends.



3. Even the most experienced and tech-savvy teachers still have technology problems.

I felt so bad for the presenter of one of the sessions. Her presentation station had technical problems just before the start time of her presentation. When it began working, the projector would not focus correctly, and there was a big green vertical bar on the screen throughout her entire presentation. And, she just rolled with it. I did too. I acquired some awesome resources from her presentation. More than one person mentioned the glitches that occur when we walk toward the future in regards to technology integration. There were stories of malfunctions, unexpected filters, resistant administrators and colleagues, and terrible wi-fi. But the overarching message was: we keep reaching toward classrooms that reflect our modern world and prepare kids for their futures.

4. Technology enhances literacy skills and learning; it doesn’t replace them.

I actually already knew this, but it makes me happy to be reminded. Oftentimes, I have to remind my colleagues that, as a literacy coach, I actively want to integrate technology into the classroom too. Technology supports a broad range of literacies. Whether it was children’s books created in traditional PowerPoint software, infographics to represent student research findings, strategies to “read” film, or data literacy sets from, literacy and technology are inextricably interwoven in 21st century texts.

5. Being a turtle is OK.

During the Genius Hour panel, Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) said one of my favorite things at ISTE: “Innovate like a turtle.” She went on to say that when you attend an event like ISTE, you hear about so many ideas that you can become paralyzed. Her advice was to take one or two ideas and begin moving on them. Later on, you can pick up one or two more ideas. So, in honor of innovating like a turtle, I am going to spend time learning more about how to integrate Augmented Reality into the classroom, and leave some of my other ideas and resources in my bookmarks and notes until I’me moved “a few more inches.”


Sad News for World Book Night

Some of you may have read my recent blog post about participating in World Book Night for the first time. I was able to obtain copies of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for some young adults in a special culinary program near my home.  World Book Night gave people the opportunity to receive free copies of books to distribute to light readers and non-readers on April 23rd of each year, William Shakespeare’s birthday.

News came in on July 2nd that as of right now World Book Night for the U.S. has ended. According to the executive director, Carl Lennertz, in this Los Angeles Times story:

“The expenses of running World Book Night U.S., even given the significant financial and time commitment from publishers, writers, booksellers, librarians, printers, distributors, and shippers, are too high to sustain without additional outside funding.”

It looks at though the originating World Book Day and World Book Night UK will go on.

I sure hope that some companies or other funding sources will contact World Book Night US to get the program moving again. It is such an amazing way to spread the love of literacy and build community.

Establishing Partnerships as an Instructional Coach

So you may be excited to begin your first position as an instructional coach, or you may be an experienced coach moving to a new school. Heck, you may be going back to the same school. Regardless of your situation, many instructional coaches have a similar, persistent, and, often, silent fear: “What if nobody will work with me?”

We’ve all been there. Here are a few tips for how you can build partnerships with educators in your school as the year begins.

1. Understand and Practice Partnership Principles

Before the school year begins familiarize yourself with Jim Knight’s partnership principles: equality, choice, voice, reflection, dialogue, and praxis. These principles communicate that instructional coaching is about two knowledgeable and competent professionals working together to improve student learning. The coach’s role is to leverage partnerships to enhance professional culture, adult learning, and student learning. It is not the coach’s role to “fix” people. When coaching is viewed as something for weaker teachers, it is never successful. Often coaches work with the strongest teachers in the school, the ones who are most driven, open, reflective, and dedicated to students. The impact of the coach’s work with these teacher leaders affects the professional actions of their colleagues as well.  As a literacy coach, I understand that I have skills and knowledge in the areas of literacy, instructional practice, and assessment. However, the classroom teachers I work with are experts in their curriculum, their students, and the disciplinary literacies of their content areas. Partnership brings the best of each professional’s skills and knowledge together to impact student learning. Take every opportunity to show that you deeply respect the work of classroom teachers.

2. Teach People Your Job, or They Will Make it Up for You

I learned this from a professional development I attended a few years ago. As an instructional coach, you may be the only person with your job in the school building (or in several buildings based on the number of schools you serve!). Many misperceptions may exist about your role, so you must proactively describe your role. I often help define my role by explaining what I am not. I am not an evaluator. I am not an administrator. I am not a substitute teacher. What am I then?!?! I am a teacher in a lateral position whose job is to enhance adult learning and professional culture within the school to impact student learning. It is just as important that you explain your role to administrators as it is to teachers. In addition, be clear and precise about what work you do. If your work is not defined, you will be asked to do all sorts of activities that do not ultimately impact culture, professional learning, or student learning. I know this is easier said than done, because I still find myself involved in activities that don’t work toward my goals from time to time.

3. Create an Easy, Expeditious Way for Teachers to Contact You

I have found that contact must be easy and timely for teachers who want to work with a coach. This can be complicated when you are serving multiple schools. I have found one of the most useful tools I have is a coaching menu. This form teaches people my job (see #2), and it provides options for types and areas of collaboration. I find the a digital form created in Google Drive has been really successful. I am able to schedule by earliest responses and teacher availability. In addition, a digital menu sent to teachers at the beginning of the school year often elicits many responses because teachers have reflected over the summer and come into the school year with defined goals. Also, if the school’s culture has not fully embraced coaching, individual teachers who want to participate will more likely respond to an electronic survey in private than turn in a paper form in a room full of colleagues.

4. Begin with the Willing

Seriously, begin with any teacher who has expressed the desire to work with you. These early partnerships establish you as a colleague. If no one in the school has observed you as a teacher, find any opportunity to work with students. Teachers will view you completely differently once they have seen you work with students. Listen carefully and ask reflective questions to determine how you can best support them, and the results will likely be positive for their students. I am amazed at how openly and emphatically teachers will advertise my services once they have seen results from our work with their students. That advertising cannot be bought, and it will steadily increase the number of instructional coaching requests you will receive.