Posted in Writing

Changing the formula.


Scaffolds and formulaic writing carry an enormous responsibility: the responsibility to go away. Be gone! BANISHED! They must serve their purpose, and then skedaddle. But how do we teachers help students know when to take off the training wells? The paradox of scaffolding helps them get started but also sends the message that they are not capable of thinking on their own. We’ve been using the same scaffold for two years now in my building and I’ve lost my own ability to take off the training wheels and ride freely, and show students how to do so.

Recognizing this while giving feedback to students this morning, my mission became clear: to find ways to dismantle scaffolds.


Well, heck. When I research this, most of the sites advise how to scaffold with students, not to what to do to tear them down so students can do this independently. And after twelve years of teaching middle school students, they will push back when you want them to grow and become more independent. That push-back is a strong indicator of progress and growth.

What I am going to try this morning when I confer with this student and others who may need this help, is to be straight-forward and have them do the tried-and-true method of reading it out loud, see what sounds boring and formulaic to them, and what are they really, truly trying to say: what is the “so what?” of their thinking/learning. The “So What?” was one of my eureka moments years ago, and like all good insight, turns out it’s shared by many. I came across this document (So What/Now What) and in journalism why it matters.

Stay tuned.



Posted in Big Questions, Story Telling

Series: Elements of Structure Part I: Effect


As we weave in the CCSS into our instruction, create engaging work, etc. it’s my nature to dive deeply into the subject area–to me, that’s what great teachers do, even if they know a subject intimately. It’s the artist in me: there’s always more to observe and try. With that in mind, I am writing a series on structure, craft, and style.

The first idea I want to share comes courtesy of my intelligent and wonderful colleague, Tami Gores. She and I are both working with coaches, and also have a common ground understanding of my friend and mentor, Holly Stein. (I mention this because it’s refreshing to work with someone who understands me, and I hope she feels the same. In this world, having any shared history with a colleague is a gift.)

She is the Queen of Co-Constructed Anchor Charts. The first ah-ha moment she provided me was the idea of how structure influences effect:

Courtesy of Tami Gores
Courtesy of Tami Gores


We ELA teachers understand the rudimentary plot diagram:

From Chalkboxtales.blogspot
From Chalkboxtales.blogspot

But structure is so, so much more than this. This is the little engine that could, and while important to teach, it’s a place to start. This series will explore these ideas. With Tami’s help, and working with other ELA folks in my building, I’m sure we’ll come up with wonderful shared instruction for our students that’s relevant and empowering.

To me — there are few things more empowering that understanding another’s story. Stay tuned.