5 Education Reflection Questions

I love questions. I love to ask them of others and to reflect on them in my own writing and mind. I have a question collections from reading and also from podcasts. The end of the year is a great time to think about which questions I want to ask more regularly.

Here are 5 Questions I am pondering lately:

  1. What gives me life at work?
  2. What wears me out at work?
  3. Is there anything I can do to eliminate or diminish the effects of #2?
  4. What do I truly want to change?
  5. What do I miss from my teaching life?

Number 5 is the one that is popping out to me the most lately. Being a coach I am often just outside the teaching. I co-teach with others and model lessons but there is something different about having students that are my own day to day.

Student action and reactions to what I plan is exciting to me. I truly look forward to the discussions I have with students.

One thing I did recently was to make the notecatcher for students look like sketchnotes. My model on the large chart paper looks like the student version.

I want my 7th graders to be motivated and I was thinking about how I would like notes to be more fun.

In my own classroom I used to take risks and ask kids in my class all the time to evaluate our practices and reflect. My goal was always to give them strategies they would use forever, not just for the next assignment or test.

I miss the day to day schedule and the micro movements to change students behavior and academic action. I miss family meeting time, the group written chart story and mini-lesson, the independent writing time and conferencing. I miss the many real alouds a day and writing practice time.

I need to incorporate a time blocking schedule to my coaching life. The schedule between 3 offices gets tiresome some weeks. I need to dedicate certain days to certain tasks to keep myself on track and get more focused work completed.

Questions 1, 2, and 3 had me thinking about my first teaching job and a life-changing conversation. A good friend and I in the first building I ever worked in, had a discussion about what I missed about college. She asked me specifically what I missed with the idea that I could incorporate those missed experiences into my life now. The idea was to take the essence of the actions and make it real again. I took that to heart and made some changes that were wonderful.

Question #4 had both a small and large impact on my thinking today. The small impact is a self-editing idea that I learned in high school. A teacher advised reading my piece one sentence at a time, starting at the end. Taking the sentence out of context allowed me to focus on the sentence itself without the content of the story surrounding it. I would be less likely to skip over important details this way.

I would love to be able to work from home a couple days a month but not sure that is possible with the new schedule.

I am always trying to improve my practice!

Please read this piece here.

How to Increase Intentional Student Talk with Protocols

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Protocols are systems used to engage students in intentional talk. The person who is talking is the one who is learning. Using protocols also increases the levels of engagement for every student.

Join me in a workshop to learn how to use protocols with your students.

What is the book that you keep coming back to? What is the text you use in your classroom over and over again no matter what level you teach because it resonates with you and your students?

If you teach a class that isn’t reading or language arts based is there a text that you refer to because it’s just one you love?

I have a friend who loved a book in third grade so much she stole it from her library. She still has it — in fact she ran to her classroom excitedly to come show me the book after workshop at one time.

If you were attending my workshop in real life after you signed in and picked up your workshop point page you would write this text on an index card. We will be using it in just a few minutes.

The secret for some of these actions to work is you must do something with them. Students are more likely to participate and engage if they know their efforts are not wasted.

I’m just not having you arbitrarily write down a book because I want to add it to my Amazon list. We are going to talk about it and make connections.

Now let’s come to the back of the room and form a circle — it may be more of an oval because of how the class is arranged. Please bring your index card with you. We are going to do something called CrewWe are all crew, not passengers. Everyone has a job. We stand in a circle because everyone is equal, there are no sides, and everyone can see each other.

We will introduce ourselves and tell everyone where we teach and then the rest of the group will greet us by name. When you do this with students it is important to use names. There are several students I am sure you can think of that never hear their names in a positive tone throughout the day. Crew builds the culture and the shared accountability in the classroom. It’s important for them to hear their name in a loving supportive way from the teacher and from their fellow crew members..


Crew is made up of three parts — greeting, reading, and closing. Now we are ready for the reading part.

Can someone please give voice to the quote on the screen —

“Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” — Jim Rohn

Can someone else please give voice to the quote?

For our crew today everyone brought their index card with them which is your Admit Ticket. Now I’m going to have you combine your work from the Admit Ticket protocol with a protocol called Back-to-Back Face-to-Face.

You’re going to share what you wrote on your card and make a connection to the quote we just read about reading.

Back-to-Back Face-to-Face is a protocol where two students find a partner and stand back-to-back. This allows students to have thinking time for what they’re going to say when it is time to share with their partner. Teachers can have students put a thumb up on their chest when they are done thinking so the teacher has a visual clue that everyone is ready. Then the teacher says “face-to-face” and students turn and share. This can be a one-time share or you can have students find another partner and go back to back and face to face and share again to get another perspective.


Tea Party

The next protocol we’re going to move to is called Tea Party. This protocol was created by Kylene Beers. It takes a little more preparation than the protocols we have practiced so far.

I selected an article for you to read. It was cut apart in an intentional way.

Each student gets a piece of the article and independently reads it. On the back of their excerpt or on a separate piece of paper the student writes a prediction of what they think the article is about in a complete sentence.

Then students get in groups. Today I chose groups of three. Within the group share and compare text and predictions.

Then each student receives a copy of the article and reads it independently. Here annotation can be helpful.

Now each individual student finishes the sentence stem of

I used to think ….now I know….

using their first written predictions and their new information learned from the reading.

Back to the same groups and share these statement and formulate a group statement using the same sentence stem. Share out will be the group statement of predictions and new learning.

I particularly like the tea party protocol because it allows students to practice the idea of predicting and then changing their prediction based on new information.

It also allows for individual accountability for the reading and then a group accountability because the group works on writing their own statement


Boxing

The next protocol we’re going to use as one of my new favorites. You will receive a large poster paper for each group. Please draw the boxes to prepare.

You will read the first page only of the article you just received. As a group please log your thoughts about what you already know about the topic and what you want to learn.


Now as a group decide how you want to read the rest of the article — everyone reads it all, or you may chunk it up. After reading, log quotes and new learning in the middle box on your poster.


After your new learning then log a summary within the center box. It can be a picture, a phrase or just one word.

This protocol is one where there’s lots of room for variation for digging in deeper to a worthy text. You can use it for poetry analysis where each group does a chunk of the poetry and digs in deeper to each stanza.

A gallery walk can then be done where each group moves from poster to poster reading their classmates work to learn of everyone’s insights.

Closing

Let’s circle up again in the back of the room. We are going to go around one last time. I would like you to share one word from today that sums up how you are feeling, what you learned, or maybe what your next action is.

Thanks for attending the workshop today!

Tammy L. Breitweiser is a curriculum coach in Northwest Indiana where she is currently dedicated to impacting student achievement in grades 3–6. With more than 24 years of experience, she is a reading advocate who believes reading is the gateway. She is working on a collection of short stories. You can connect with Tammy on Twitter (@tlbreit)or You can sign up for her newsletter here.

An Education Opportunity – A Mastermind Connection

An Opportunity for Connection

I wrote this morning about my #oneword and how important this process has been to me. This year’s word was connection and it has made a huge difference in my writing community.

I have another community – my education community. I connect with other educators through the Twowritingteachers blog and Teachers on Fire podcast and Medium publication.

But I want MORE.

I want to have some real life discussions about things that matter to us.

I want us to share the sparkle and sprinkles of the day and the things that didn’t go so great and what we learned.

As a coach, I get to have conversations with teachers every day. I want to extend my reach and nurture some deeper connections before the end of the year.

Let’s Connect and a Do A Challenge

I love a challenge. We are looking at the last couple of weeks and we have influence on children before the end of the decade – let’s go out with a bang!

Sign up here for a 2 week reflection and sharing challenge. I will send you an email every day during the time frame of December 4-18th.

Each day I will ask you to record

-one energizing and impactful thing for students no matter how small

-one thing that didn’t go well that day

-something you learned about yourself, your teaching, or your students.

Three sentences – that is all!

You can share it on your own blog, email me, or join the Slack channel to share with other educators.

Click here and sign up!

I cannot wait to get to know some of you better!

10 On Tuesday #SOL19

A writing prompt and a routine memory:

When I had my own classroom I provided a journal prompt on Tuesdays called 10 on Tuesday. I would provide a topic and the students would write a list of 10 things that fit.

I had an option in my room if students were compelled to write something they could “chuck” the topic — they just needed to let me know.

Some students would write a list of 10 words, some would write a list of sentences. Some would take an item from their list and write more about it or simply tell the whole story.

It was a change in format which met the needs of all of my writers.

Now on Tuesdays, I listen to Laura Tremaine’s “10 Things to Tell You” podcast. Listening this morning reminded me of this past activity. My writing prompt this morning was also a list so this post seemed appropriate!

I was going to write 10 Things I am Grateful For but decided instead to take a spin from Laura’s “What are your intentions?” topic.

My 10 on Tuesday:

I intend to live my day with fire today.

I intend to do at least one yoga pose.

I intend to write.

I intend to have meaningful, life giving conversations with teachers today.

I will intentionally listen to what needs my teachers are telling me through conversations.

I intend to pay attention to my surroundings today.

I intend to write down 5–10 experiences from my day.

I intend to write down a random memory.

I intend to smile and say hello to as many students today to celebrate Llama Tuesday!

I intend to enjoy a beverage when I get home from work.

What are your intentions today?

You can read this post on Medium here.

A Beginner’s Guide to Starting Fresh

Advice for starting with a new batch of coworkers

Starting work with new people can be intimidating but relationships matter. Here are some actions I kept in mind this past week as I started fresh with two new groups of colleagues.

  1. Go to the lunch you are invited to even if you are an introvert and usually do not eat lunch.
  2. Listen more than you talk.
  3. Smile
  4. Offer to help even if it is something small
  5. Ask questions — people like to talk about themselves and their roles
  6. Visit their environment but keep it low key.
  7. Don’t try to change anything…yet.

As I made the rounds yesterday in one of the new schools I now work in, I had quick conversations. The question I had at the ready was, “What is your favorite thing to teach?” Most of the teachers said math which was surprising to me. One showed off her wall of vocabulary.

I got even was gifted a loaf of fresh bread.

I heard from a reading teacher that a 10 minute number activity was something that changed her teaching. I always love hearing stories like this one. I was thrilled she shared it with me.

One teacher told me she was afraid of writing so we are working on it together this first trimester.

All week there was lots of peopling but I think it is going to be worth it. I am encouraged and excited for this year!

Storytime Club or the #SSC

Tuesday was the meeting of the Short Story Club of 7th graders.

Naming Ceremony

The first topic of discussion was the naming. They went to abbreviations and one student said it wrong and liked STC (we still don’t know what that stand might for) . The Anti Writers’ Block club was also thrown out. They decided on StoryTime Club for now. It makes me think of preschool time at the library. We can revisit the name but I think the kids will stick with STORYTIME.

Text Set Expansion

I gave them each a copy of Billy Collin’s On Turning Ten that is part of the text set we are creating with the short story Eleven. I had forgotten about it until an old copy with my notes fell out of the book I was copying a different poem from. It was Horoscopes for the Dead – talk about serendipity!

Discussion of Chuck Wendig’s story

  • What makes a good story?
  • What we learned from the first page?
  • Personal connections to the concept of “Shadow People”
  • Unusual elements
  • how the setting confined the story to one building – then wonderings about what was beyond the building
  • vocabulary
  • the author’s use of numbers and how this changed the pacing and suspense of the story
  • why big tables and glowing briefcases were used in the story

7 Minute Freewrite

The work here and after was great. Several students read aloud. There was one story that was supposed to be scary but ended up sounding like a cryptic description of the dysfunction of the hallway! It was worth a laugh – or 7.

Moving Forward

I have to do some nuts and bolts instruction on how to have a discussion. They were so excited they kept talking over each other to the point no one could hear or understand anyone’s words. I taught first graders to do it, I can do it for 7th too! In May…there is humor here…

No specific assignment was given for next week’s meeting. I met this morning with the teachers to work out the schedule and we are meeting Monday during their IMPACT time. I will also talk to them again about storyaday May and share some prompts.

3+ Ideas about Hope

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The word hope has come up several times this week. I have learned that if a concept keeps showing itself in different venues then I need to pay attention.

Yesterday was my last session with Jim Knight for instructional coaching training and the topic was being a Better Leader. One of the main concepts was …you guessed it…HOPE.

Shane J. Lopez is a psychologist who has written about hope extensively. His definition is “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

Part of Knight’s training session yesterday was asking the question: How are you living your life? Are you spending time on the things you are passionate about? This idea is how we keep hope alive and partly how we teach ourselves to be hopeful.

At this time of the school year it is easy to dip into the valley of despair and lose hope. I have to keep reminding myself I do the work I do to provide an environment of inspiration and learning for what is best for kids. When you are worried about schedules, state testing, and getting through the day sometimes you forget.

Part of this process is to do the next right thing. If you know where you are going, this isn’t as hard as it seems. Action is what needs to happen.

Knight asked us to think of someone who we thought of as a hope mentor. A person that emanates hope who we can learn from. Having a hope mentor is partly how we can teach ourselves to be hopeful. My person is Maya Angelou. She was open, intelligent, overcame obstacles, and can command a room. She was an amazing woman and I am thankful I was able to hear her speak before she passed away.

What are you most excited about?

Hope is doing more of what makes you happy.

Hope is allowing other people to teach you being hopeful.

Hope is having a hope mentor.

Three Things about Hope

Having hope means you have a preferred future vision. You can visualize it. You have goals.

Having hope means you have the belief you can get here. There is magic here.

Having hope means you have multiple pathways to get to that preferred future.

Some questions to consider and reflect on today:

What gives you energy and therefore hope?

What is your purpose? How do you make a difference?

Am I doing what I really want to do with my time?

What is working and what do I need to modify?

What is your next right thing?

This past week was busy for me. My sleep suffered and I was starting to crash. I was not taking care of myself.

Part of what helped me was 12 hours of sleep and the life giving conversation I had yesterday with my fellow coaches. We made plans to support each other in our hope. These questions are still with me today. I will do some more journaling and thinking as the day moves forward.

I would love to hear your thoughts on HOPE! Comment below…

Short Story Club

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Yesterday I hosted the introductory meeting of the Short Story Club for my 7th graders. It is a small group that is focusing on deep conversation about stories and time to write in response to them. After listening to Daniel Bauer’s School Leadership Series podcast I may have them name themselves. I would be curious where their minds would go as a label.

I handed out a copy of the Eleven by Sandra Cisneros. Sandra is an interesting author who attended the Iowa Writers Workshop, but did not have a pleasant experience. She also sometimes calls her stories, “buttons”.

Many of the students had read this story previously so this was a revisit. I asked them to read it through the lens of a writer. I wanted them to pay attention and notice particular things for them to purposefully use later.

  • What pops out to you in feelings from reading this selection?
  • What lines do you notice that you like or wish you had written?
  • What craft moves is the author using that you would like to try?
  • What aspects of your own life does the story remind you of?

I allowed them to annotate on their copy, and I followed suit with mine.

The discussion then followed after reading time, focusing on the above questions.

Noticings from students:

  • The details. It was noticed and remarked that the story has the structure of being taken apart and then put together again with added details.
  • The metaphors. There were trite metaphors used referring to onions and rings inside a tree trunk in paragraph 3. These examples caused quite strong opinions. There were mixed feelings about using familiar metaphors as opposed to new ones. The unfamiliar seemed to unsettle several writers. They said a mix of familiar and unfamiliar was the perfect mix for them as readers. They also remarked that unsettling new metaphors were best in stories where you were trying to conjure those feelings – like in a scary story.
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I also asked them to share what they would write (if we had time). If they were to give themselves a prompt based on the story. What did it inspire them to write?

The responses were a mix of expected and not. Milestone ages were one topic for several students but not traditional in my eyes. One student talked about being old enough to ride his moped to school (15 1/2 years old). Quinceaneras at 15 were also discussed.

Not feeling the age you are was a common writing topic as well.

For next time I gave them a longer piece to read and mark with the same noticings: The Doormakers Will Make No Doors .

I also gave them the poem, Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye.

We will use these pieces to write the next time we meet. A companion poem I like to use with the Eleven story is Billy Collin’s On Turning Ten poem.

I am always looking for great short stories! Is there a suggestion you have for me? Leave the title in the comments and I would appreciate it.

Stay #SOL19

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It’s Tuesday and I’m joining the writing community over at Two Writing Teachers with a weekly Slice of Life Story.

Today’s Emily P. Freeman word is STAY.

STAY today refers to being in the present moment. You can only be in one place at a time. I suppose this is mostly true. As a writer, I am physically only in one place at a time, but mentally I am usually somewhere else. This is sometimes in one of my own story creations. Sometimes I am in a memory mining it for details that will add panache to the story I am working on.

When I am reading I am in the character’s head feeling and thinking what they are, often trying to anticipate their next move. Or I am trying to figure out the craft moves the writer made to have me feel the way I do about a character, setting, or story line so I can use it later.

I find it difficult to be in the moment. I am working on it. I know I should do one thing at a time but there is so much to learn. Everyone I meet has something I don’t know.

I have been tired lately. More tired than I should be. Last night I watched the movie The Professor and the Madman which my husband and I had been looking forward to. It did not disappoint. It is the story of how the Oxford dictionary came to be. It took extraordinary dedication and focus to have this book come to fruition. 70 years from the first conception in fact. Dr. Minor was meticulous in his mad state about the history and definition of words. He was in the moment for sure – for long stretches of time. I kept thinking of how much energy was put into this project and how many obstacles everyone had to overcome.

I am trying to find the right ratio of input vs output without driving myself mad. I love input of all sorts – deep conversation, reading, podcasts, etc. Outputs are likely interactions and writing lately. I know I have not found the right ratio when I am angry or overly tired.

Reflection and slowing down are both critical attributes for this process. I am glad that today I can breathe and think about it.

Mentor Text Monday

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Today’s Mentor Text is a picture book from Jacqueline Woodson.

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This is the summary from Google Books:
The story of one family’s journey north during the great Migration starts with a little girl in South Carolina who finds a rope under a tree one summer. She has no idea the rope will become part of her family’s history. But for three generations, that rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto the car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother.

After I use this book for interactive read aloud the discussion leads to sharing about items in our lives that are important to us. These items have stories attached to them. The book centers around one item. This is also a good time to talk about focusing on one idea for a story if your students are trying to squeeze too much into one piece.

One of the coaching questions I am starting to use is “Which 3 stories are ones only you can tell?” Stories are important to our lives and items can be touchstones to tell those stories. I love this book to illustrate the idea of an item being a souvenir for a chapter of our own lives.

After the group discussion I have students write 3 items that are important to them on a post it note or in their writing notebook. Then the students star one item that are willing to share. I will tell the students that starring and sharing does not lock them in to writing about that one during creation time.

Then we share out. I tell students that they may add or modify their list based on the discussion. Often when writers talk new ideas spring forth. We get reminded of something important. We need to teach students to take advantage of these sunny writing moments. The shared items are written on a chart so it is accessible to students during writing time.

We also talk about what they notice about the structure of how Woodson chose to write the book. We also talk about why she chose to use the repeated phrase. Noticing author moves is important to the writing process but we also have to make sure as the teacher we lead them to make the connections back to their own writing. To understand why an author chose to use a certain craft device also eliminates the need for students to throw everything they know about craft moves into one piece. It is much more effective for them to know WHY as the author they are choosing the way to write it. Connectons to other books we have read that have repeated phrasing is good to add here as well.

Woodson uses the repeated sentence stem: This is the rope at the beginning of almost every paragraph throughout the book, which is a great structure to start with especially with reluctant writers.

Writing Springboards from this book:

  1. Use a repeated sentence stem: This is the __________ (insert important item for each student)
  2. Brainstorm stories which go along with the 3 items the student has chosen.
  3. Write a poem or their own children’s book about their most important item.

Companion book: Another book that follows a repeated pattern is The Important Book. It is written in poem form and is a good mentor text as well.

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