Evaluating Writing Curricula

One of the most time-consuming elements of my position is evaluating curricula to bring to our Instructional Planning Committee. Thanks to the new Common Core State Standards, there’s blood in the water – schools are rushing to snatch up Common Core-aligned curriculum.

But how do you know if a program is truly Common Core, or if those words are simply stamped on the front? How will you know whether the program has been written to support the learning required by the Common Core, or whether they’ve simply swapped out your state standards for CCSS standards in the latest edition?

We’ve recognized that asking students to perform well on CC-aligned assessments is unfair and nearly impossible with instruction based in outdated, poorly-written curriculum, so we’re in the market to replace in nearly all subjects. I have looked at 5-7 programs in each subject area and narrowed it down to three that are sufficiently Common Core aligned and suited to our learners. The summaries provided in this document are taken from my time reading samples, reading websites and research support, speaking with sales representatives, professional development coordinators and reading blogs of teachers who have used the product. The analysis represents my own synthesis of this information as applied to our teachers and learners. 

Note: I have not edited this document, so it does include purchasing quotes. Please contact your local sales representative for a more accurate number. Ours was based on 11 classrooms K-5 and 3 classrooms 6-8 with approximately 25 students in each classroom.

For permission to share or adapt this product, please contact me directly.

Stay tuned for my next post:

Curriculum that Empowers – What I’ve learned from looking at 30+ publishers.


Guided Reading v. Close Reading

I recently came across this article written by Timothy Shannahan on the use of Guided Reading v. Close Reading in regard to text complexity. Here is an excerpt:

Close Reading or Guided Reading
Recently, I’ve been fielding questions about guided reading (à la Fountas and Pinnell) and the common core; mainly about the differences in how they place students in texts. Before going there, let me point out that there is a lot of common ground between guided reading and common core, including high quality text, the connections between reading and writing, the emphasis on high level questions and discussion, the idea that students learn from reading, and so on. Nary a hint of conflict between the two approaches on any of those issues.
Not so with student-book placements; on that there is a substantial divide. Guided reading says go easy, and common core says challenge them. Easy, according to F&P, means placing kids in books that they can read with better than 90% accuracy and with high reading comprehension (and they make no distinction between beginners and more adept readers in this regard). For common core, making it challenging means placing students, second grade up, in books that would be frustration range according to F&P; books that students would read with markedly lower fluency and comprehension on a first read.

Several months prior to reading this article, I was introduced to the notion that Guided Reading did not offer text complexity because instruction was tailored to the student’s reading level. I disagree, but am realizing that some teachers may organize their guided reading instruction differently. I would like to clarify three points about Guided Reading instruction based on my personal experiences.

1. The purpose of comprehensive reading assessments (such as Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System), is to find a student’s frustrational level of text. The level that they were able to pass independently is their independent reading level. The majority of time students spend reading by themselves should be from selections at this level.

2. The results from this assessment provide the teacher with a clear picture of what the student is struggling with in decoding, fluency and/or comprehension. The teacher then selects texts for Guided Reading that are 1-2 levels above the student’s independent level. These texts are usually the level that the student should be reading independently by the next assessment. Since Guided Reading offers scaffolded instruction, there is no reason why a student should be reading at their independent level at the table. The guided reading table is a safe space for students to experience frustration with text. Instructing at the student’s independent reading level would indeed miss the target for text complexity.

3. Guided Reading is always part of a balanced literacy framework that includes whole group instruction with a on-level or above-level text. It can certainly be true that though Guided Reading instruction is focused above the student’s current independent reading level, that frustrational level may still be several levels below grade level. For this reason, guided reading alone is not a solution for teaching reading, lest students never be exposed to adequately complex texts.

In my own practice, I love bringing close reading to the guided reading table and do not feel that they are mutually exclusive. It keeps my students on their toes and is particularly good for breaking up a longer novel study.

How do you use your students’ reading assessment data to inform your instruction? Do you feel that Guided Reading and close reading can cohabitate?

Classroom Management

During my interim position as a Kindergarten Teacher, one of the main struggles I had with behavior was that there was not a clear-cut system of consequences and rewards. Stickers and time-outs seemed to have been doled out randomly… and the effects were clear: the students’  behavior was as erratic as the consequences.

This year, I want my students to know the result of their behavior (positive or negative) from the get-go. In spite of the leanings of my current school site, you should know that I am particularly allergic to extrinsic, tangible rewards. Here is the system and thinkery form I created to help them succeed and feel safe in my classroom. Click on the link to go to the form on Google Doc. For an editable version, please contact me directly. 🙂


Classroom Management and ThinkeryClassroom ThinkeryOur school uses DTR as a school-wide philosophy of behavior management. What are your methods for managing behavior? What texts have influenced your practice?

Big News… I’m moving on up!

As the school year draws to a close, I have been waiting on pins and needles for confirmation that I will be rejoining this amazing staff again next year. Since we are a relatively new school, they add two new teachers each year as we grow, so I was aware that there were at least two new positions opening in 5th grade.

My principal scheduled a meeting with me and began by asking me what grade level I saw myself teaching… so I launched into poorly-articulated “fond memories” of my student teaching experience with 5th graders (which was anything but hey, a girls gotta eat – so let’s be flexible) She smiled in that enigmatic way that she does and explained that she very much intended to keep me on next year, that my performance as a long-term substitute had been noted by several as a job well done.

And… what would I think about teaching 3rd grade?

It’s a challenging year, she said. Our first year that students participate in state standardized testing, and a big leap from 2nd to 4th in independence level that all changes in the momentous 3rd grade year.

“I would like to see how you bloom with more independent learners,” she says.

And of course, this all sounds great to me! I don’t have much of a frame-of-reference for 3rd graders, but I am looking forward to working with the other 3rd grade teacher (a 10 yr. veteran and NBCT). I will miss the hugs and silly things that my littles say… and even more, my amazing teaching partner in Kinder.

So that’s the news! I’m movin’ on up to 3rd grade. Get ready for some intermediate teaching resources, gang!

Author Studies

This was my first experience teaching with Author Studies, and I am hooked! There is so much opportunity for rich discussion of texts, not to mention it’s like hanging out with your favorite authors for a week or so!

We covered four authors during our month of Author Studies: Mo Willems, Seymour Simon, Donald Crews and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.


Mo Willems was an obvious choice, as our students adore Knufflebunny and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. I took a trip to the library to grab some of his lesser-known works and set up a text set in our library. We read one book by the author per day and compared and contrasted his characters and his illustrations.

ImageGood point, Mateo! Mo Willems actually shows students how to draw his famous pigeon in this .pdf – perfect for a whole-class shared drawing activity. His website has lots of great resources for kids and teachers! Our students explored the use of speech bubbles in their writing center. The week culminated in a “buddy read” with our 2nd grade friends (who just happen to adore Willem’s Elephant and Piggie early chapter books!) Check out these adorable hats that my teaching partner thought up! We made them using construction paper and sentence strips. It made everything so festive!

ImageIn an effort to weave some nonfiction into our unit, I chose Seymour Simon as our next author. His detailed photographs and broad topics made selecting books for the text set a snap. However, I can’t say that his books are especially primed for a read-aloud (read: loooong), especially running on a five year old attention span. 🙂 Gail Gibbons was also highly recommended, but I was pulled to Seymour Simon because of his real-life illustrations. In the end, I would recommend Simon for upper-grade author studies and stick with Gibbons for primary.


The transition from Mo Willems to Seymour Simon did open up the perfect opportunity for discussing Author’s Purpose a bit (this doesn’t happen a bunch in kinder)…



Donald Crews was also a fantastic choice for a primary author study. We had read his text Shortcut during our Personal Narrative writing unit, so the students were familiar with his style. This week we zoned in on what made Crews’ books unique and tried using similar features in our own writing.


Our last Author Study came about in an unexpected way. A student in my partner’s class brought in several books from a family friend, including some original author’s manuscripts. I was delighted to discover that it was none other than, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, whose book Little Pea I had fallen in love with during my time teaching preschool. Apparently, she had brought them over to test-read to the children to see if they laughed when she expected. Amazing! I could go on and on about her illustrations, her witty little stories, ect. Let’s just say it was fate.


Her stories lend themselves perfectly to a character comparison chart:


At the end of the week, we took a vote and created a graph of which family we would like to move in with: Little Pea’s family, where they serve sweets for dinner; Little Oink’s family, where they keep things messy; or Little Hoot’s family, where you stay up late. I was surprised to see that the Hoot’s got the most votes. Good thing summer vacation is just around the corner. 🙂

What experiences have you had with Author Studies?

Poetry in Primary

Poetry is much more suited to primary than you might initially think (i.e. Mother Goose). The rhyming and alliteration found in many poems is great for building phonemic awareness, but interpretation? Theme? In Kindergarten?

Why not?


When gearing up for our 2 week poetry unit, I came across this text, Poetry Speaks to Children, which features a number of illustrated poems for children with a CD of readings by the poet. Between this and a bit of Shel Silverstein, I was ready to plan!

Reading Poetry

  • Show a poem on the smart board and invite students up to highlight rhyming words or repeated beginning letter sounds
  • Choral read
  • Memorize a poem – We did this with “Boa Constrictor” by Shel Silverstein. My kinders learned it in a snap and I would invite one students up at a time to act out the poem while we recited it. Bursting into giggles together… now that’s what I call learning.ImageWriting Poetry
  • Write poems together in a Shared Writing activity. This is a great way to tie writing into other genres, such as science or social studies. Students learn that any topic can be poem-worthy.
  • Create a few charts with common word endings and have a “Rhyme Time” gallery walk. Students can rotate between charts, adding rhyming words as they go.


  • Using a mentor poem, like “The Reason I Like Chocolate” by Nikki Giovanni (in Poetry Speaks), emphasize that poetry does not need to rhyme, but it does need to capture an emotion or feeling.


  • Include children’s sunglasses (lenses popped out) and fancy pens at your writing center, to help your students look at the world around them with a “poet’s eye”.
  • Place some sensory objects in your writing center as well, such as feathers or photos, to promote poetic thought.

I adore poetry and the freedom I feel when I read and write it, so it was rewarding to see my littles enjoying the rhymes, silliness, and snapshots of emotion in the words we studied. Do you have any ideas on incorporating poetry into primary classrooms?

Early Childhood Etiquette

I have learned some excellent strategies for maximizing behavior and attention in early childhood learners. I thought I would write a brief post to share them with you.

As with all youth, students in early childhood have a deep and poignant notion of fairness. In terms of behavior, there are 3 principals I stick to:

1. Make the desired behaviors clear from the beginning. Whether you begin the school year with these students or are only there for the day as a substitute or guest, outline 2-3 behaviors and model what they look like. Review these expectations during whole group meetings regularly (at least 2-3 times/week for E.C.)

2. Have immediate, tangible consequences for behavior. Most teachers use the color system (green, yellow, red) to manage behavior. The most important element of this system is that students are NOT on yellow or red for the rest of the day. Their subsequent behavior causes them to move from yellow back to green or yellow to red, ect. In other words, the students understand that if they change their behavior (for better or worse), it will be reflected on the behavior management chart. (We all appreciate second chances right? And when you’re 5, I think you should get 3rd and 4th and 5th…)

3. Be at the child’s level to communicate about his or her behavior. It is incredibly important to squat down and discuss the behavior eye-to-eye with the student. This signifies that you believe he is capable of understanding you and that you expect him to respond. Here is a sample conversation:

“Billy, I sent you to yellow because I noticed that you were coloring on another student’s sheet. Tony was working hard on his project. How do you think he felt when you colored on it?”


“It is important that we are kind and respectful to our classmates. How can you be more respectful at your next center?”

“Keeping my hands to myself.”

“Wonderful, Billy. I will be watching you at your next center and if I see that you are focusing on your work and keeping your hands to yourself, I will move you back to green. Ok?”

Most teachers have been exposed to the notion of proximity in terms of managing behavior. If a student is misbehaving, simply walk over and stand next to that student, place your hand on their shoulder, or mention their name in your discussion. Unfortunately, I have been surprised to see so many early childhood teachers placing their wiggliest worms on the back of the carpet, or grouping their most off-task students into one center group. Yikes!

In my classroom, and in other successful E.C. classrooms I have seen, the student who is most likely to resemble spaghetti at carpet time is seated practically under the teacher’s feet. The students who struggle with independent behaviors are sprinkled into groups where students are successfully meeting expectations with focus and behavior. While I understand that these students distract the teacher and other students, they are MUCH more likely to succeed in the proximity of successful students, right?!

Finally, in terms of attention, there has been nothing more revolutionary in maximizing productivity in young minds since centers and mini-lessons. In the last 10-15 years, we have steered away from loooong, whole-group instruction where the teacher talk talk talks and the students zone out. Try limiting your whole-group teaching to 20 minutes maximum. Make sure you are involving students through use of technology, checks for understanding (“touch your nose if you know the answer”), and turn-and-talk discussion with “elbow partners”.

The longer I spend in Kinder, the more fascinated I am with strategies for maximizing learning. Do you have any tried and true tips to share?