My One Little Word for 2017 –Stretch


As I welcomed in 2017, I reflected back on my One Little Word for 2016 – gratitude. It was the perfect word for 2016 and although I will choose a new One Little Word for 2017 I will still carry around my 2016 word, gratitude.  This is a word I cherished through the year and still feel the need to keep close. It has become part of me and so I will keep gratitude and add One Little Word for 2017 – stretch.  I begin this year with a stretch both literally and figuratively. I am committing to stretch myself in order to grow.

A stretch will present some discomfort, but I know this is necessary for growth. The discomfort includes some fear; fear of the unknown and fear of making mistakes or failing altogether. So I will stretch both professionally and personally for 2017 as I take on some new challenges as an educator and in the practice of yoga. With each stretch in yoga and each stretch in my professional growth I will embrace the discomfort that comes with the stretch as I know ultimately it will lead to a better and stronger version of me.



A Grandmother’s Advice on Word Choice


“Hate is a very strong word Amy, make a better choice. Try this —I strongly dislike that.”  My grandmother often said this to me when I was young and I passed judgment on things that I did not like.  Choosing to use the word hate, the word so many adolescents use carelessly, that was my preference at that young age.  I know better now.  I know now that my grandmother was teaching me something about carefully considering the impact of a word.

As I look back now, especially when I think about the context of teaching writing, I realize my grandmother was teaching me the importance of word choice.  It is interesting how I still use this skill, so many years later.  Almost each time I consider a word I can hear my grandmother’s voice.

Choice is a basic tenet in writing workshop, students choose their topics and students choose their words.  Word choice is a skill we practice with students to improve the overall quality of writing.  In the story of my grandmother, she was really teaching me about gradients in word meaning and the impact of words.  Both are very important when communicating in speaking or writing.

In this age of everything being “awesome” and “great” both of which I am guilty of over using and using when perhaps something doesn’t really reach those levels, this is complicated.  Students aren’t really hearing, using and understanding the gradients of words and their meanings.  Precision in choosing words has the ability to raise the level of writing, yet it can be challenging to make these choices especially when students have not really spent time living in the meaning of words and their various connotations.

There are many ways to explore gradients of words with students, it could be depicted as a gradient as this image below. 20151227_113333

To help students think about word choice, gradients like the one above can be helpful, this provides a visual in seeing how that word compares to other words in the gradient.  Growing vocabulary knowledge results here because we are able to use known words as the “velcro” for students to attach the new words.  Word walls, word thermometers, word sandwichs and paint chips are often used in classrooms to help students learn and choose words to use writing.

paint chips wordsIMG_20160408_232400592word sandwich







If you are looking for something new to try with your class that engages both the brain and the body you might like activity.  I learned this from Erin Sloan while I was at the Institute in American History & Content Literacy: A Collaboration Between the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.   Last summer I shared it with a group of teachers during professional development.  This is a favorite of mine because it engages the mind, integrates gross motor movements and it creates smiles and laughter.  All of which are contribute to learning that lasts.

1) Divide a group into two and line them up, facing each other.

2) Stand in the middle, at the front of the two rows, ask them to face each other. Tell the participants on your left that they are “partner a” and tell the participants on your right that they are”partner b”.

3) Walk over to each partner a and say a word to each partner a.

4) Partner a and b walk towards each other and partner a has to say the word hello with the tone and expression that the word would hold.

5) Partner b has to guess what the word is based on the way the person said hello and the manner in which they walked by.

6) Check to see if the word they said was correct, if so talk about why and if not, talk about the word meaning and how the word would sound.

6) Repeat steps 1-6 with partner b receiving and acting out the word

keri and jen final




Choice Words, Opening Minds- Peter Johnston Spoke to Me

The Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Challenge ended a few days ago, I am reserving my reflection on that amazing learning experience until I complete this series that I started to reflect on several days of professional learning.

This post is part of the series I planned and explained here in a prior post:

  1. Professional Development with Maggie Beattie Roberts from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project 
  2. Comsewogue School District Google Leadership Symposium
  3. Peter Johnston Conference
  4. Long Island Connected Educators’ Summit #CELI

Peter Johnston Conference

This was the second time I saw Peter Johnston present, the venues were very different.  When he presented at TCRWP it was in a larger, auditorium style room and this time at ES-Boces the room was small, the setting was more personal.  Even better I was with my two closest school friends and favorite reading specialists, Danielle Jacobs and Barbara Marsicano. They were with me when Peter Johnston spoke to me.

His talk related mostly to his more recent book, Opening Minds.  I already read this book but you should know this book, just like his book Choice Words it begs to be read and reread and reread.

Choice Words is a book that changed my life.  This book connects to my life not only as an educator, but also to my life as a mother and wife.  This book gave me time to pause and think about the words I choose when I talk.  I suppose that is just a little obvious from the title Peter Johnston chose for his book, Choice Words.  Funny thing about this though is that it requires constant practice to change my words and make purposeful choices in my words. It requires constant reflection and then thoughtful practice until the words become natural.  I am still working on this each and everyday, especially as a literacy coach—I think about what I will say before a meeting, and I reflect on what I said after the interaction.  Sometimes it works well and other times—I am still learning.

Peter Johnston began his discussion talking about four fundamental needs for humans.  I love how he looks at this as needs for humans, not just mentioning students.  I often think this way in learning, it is not just about how kids learn, it is about how humans learn.  This makes sense to me and although there may be slight differences in adult learners and children learners, essentially we are all human and it turns out our brains work mostly the same—so the generalization works.

Four Fundamental Needs for Humans

  1. A sense of autonomy
  2. A sense of belonging
  3. A sense of competence
  4. A sense of meaningfulness

Of course children and adults need these four fundamental things, it is a great place to begin when thinking about how we establish our reading and writing workshops in our classrooms and how we structure our professional development.

Meeting the Four Needs in Reading and Writing Workshop

1. Students have choice, voice and time in reading and writing workshop.  Students are in control of their own learning and we encourage agency and independence (autonomy).

2. In a reading and writing workshop we establish a community (belonging) where students feel safe to take risks

3. Teachers believe that students are readers and writers (competence).

4.  Students read and write for meaning (meaningfulness), there is a sense of purpose and significance to the way students engage in both reading and writing workshop.


During the day Johnston referred to several quotes from Lev Vygotsky, and when I think about these quotes it makes me realize how critical it is that we are not just good educators, we are called to something greater, we have to be great.  These two quotes are the quotes that I have always carried with me, but seem to weigh heavier on me now, as I heard them spoke by Peter Johnston and as I read them on his slides.  He held these quotes from Vygotsky up and through his words I know it is not enough to just be good, that is not enough when you truly consider the gravity of these quotes.  I know I will always have to do more, more to reflect and move from good to great.

As I plan upcoming professional development in my building, in classrooms, in our professional learning community and with our staff developer I will hold these four fundamental needs for humans close in my mind.  I will have to move from just good in this area to something more.  Peter Johnston has spoke to me on this day.  The call is greater and I need to be greater.  If children grow into the intellectual life around them, as Vygotsky claims, then children are at the heart of it all and it is for them I must answer this call to be better.  I believe we all must answer this call to be better.

labsite with 106 Vygotsky quote

I am grateful to have others around me who can help me become myself, only better.  I am grateful for the work with my friend and staff developer Maggie Beattie Roberts, my friend and colleague Jeanne-Marie Mazzaferro and my friend and colleague Jenn Hayhurst and so many others who are part of my PLN.  It is through all these other people that I can become myself, only better.  Mostly in moving from good to great, I lean on Dr. Mary Howard, she is a leader in this domain.  Check out her book, Good to Great Teaching, you will see her passion,reflection and her support for teachers and students.

If you want to join me on this quest to move from good to great, answering Peter Johnston’s call and following Dr. Mary Howard’s lead there is a place for you. Jenn Hayhurst and I gather on Twitter to move from Good to Great with amazing educators who week after week show us how to move from good to great. Dr. Mary Howard joins in the chat and has been an amazing resource for all of us, always guiding us on this path.

Check out the #G2Great chat on Thursday nights where I co-moderate with @Hayhurst3 and @Dr.MaryHoward at 8:30 EST.

March 31, 2015 Day 31 Slice of Life Challenge

“God will put you in situations that make you stretch, make you grow, and make you spread your wings. You have too much potential, too much talent, too much more in you to get stuck where you are.” – Joel Osteen.


As I write this last post from the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge, I find myself reflecting on several ideas. I came across this quote yesterday and it seemed to appear to me at just the right time.  This month long challenge has made me stretch, grow and spread my wings.  Thank you toTara, Stacey, Dana, Betsy, Beth, Anna and all my fellow slicers for reading and commenting on my posts over the last month.  Additionally, there are many family members, friends and colleagues who read my posts as I worked toward this challenge and spread my wings over the last month.  Thank you, just hearing “I read your post…” that made so many of my days and helped to push me along on this challenge.

In addition to this learning experience there were several professional development opportunities I was involved in last week that have also made me stretch grow and spread my wings.  I do believe it is important to give credit and a blog post to each event, because each one elevated my skills and thinking in different ways. I listed out these events in my day 29 post and I plan to write about each one beyond the March Challenge after which I will move to a weekly blogging practice.

I attended the Google Leadership Symposium at Comsewogue School District.  This school implemented one to one devices (Chromebooks) for all high school students in the previous school year.  In this school year they began using Google Classroom, this is being used in various ways from grade 3-12.  The day was organized especially well, it began with a keynote featuring Superintendent Dr. Rella, building administrators and district administrators, teachers and a Google representative, but the most amazing presenters were the students who were involved in the collaborative work around this initiative.  The collaborative nature that was built on trust and ownership was evident throughout the day. Everyone was a learner, and everyone was a teacher.  The collaborative nature of learning was evident, as was the safe learning environment that was established by the trust and the space that was made for practice for students, teachers and administrators.

In the opening keynote, a student shared this “Everyone you will ever meet will know something that you will not.”  The weight of this statement speaks to the learning experiences that I am reflecting on both as a learner and as a facilitator of learning.  This is a quite humbling statement and one that we all should keep in our minds.  We can learn something from everyone, when we open our minds to learning and growth.

We rotated through three different areas, each with different stations and learned from students and teachers as they showed us how they are using chrome books and GAFE (Google Apps for Education).  Students from grades 5-12 demonstrated for us ways that they are learning and using GAFE.  Below are some examples of the stations that we explored and learned from:

  • 5th grade students presented how they use Google classroom for writing while the other half of the class used Google Hang Outs on Air to answer our questions
  • 6th grade students demonstrated to us how they were learning to code Java Script on their Chromebooks
  • Middle School English language learners share how their Chromebooks assist them in their English language learning in an ESL class as well as content area classrooms
  • High School students demonstrated several more examples of how this initiative included collaboration
  • Student Help Desk
  • Workshops for the board/public
  • Technology roadshow
  • Clubs (Chromebook repairs- 7 Chromebooks repaired in 7 minutes)
  • Digital literacy
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Coding
  • Computer Science

Check out the website that the students created along with their teacher to provide support as well as create their own digital footprint and portfolios.  Students, teachers, administrator as well as anyone else can choose topics from the help desk to learn.  Here a student has created a You Tube Video to demonstrate how to organize Google Drive folders.

These students and educators truly inspired me with their collaborative nature and quest for learning.

Student Centered Classroom

March 30, 2015 Day 30 Slice of Life Challenge


Making Choice and Time a Priority 

Last week our building hosted our staff developer, Maggie Beattie Roberts from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.  As a TCRWP affiliate school, my building has been very fortunate to work and learn from Maggie for several years.  As a literacy coach I have learned so much from her over these years, she continues to push my thinking and supports my professional development as a coach.  After Maggie’s previous visit we reflected and brainstormed a bit and came up with a plan for these two days she would be with us. This plan provided for choice and time for teachers, similar to the choice and time we believe is essential to running successful reading and writing workshops.

Consistency has been critical in our literacy development as a building and along with consistency that Maggie and I bring to the building is also responsiveness to the building administrator and the teachers. Challenges we face are the size of the building and the number of teachers on a grade level, because it is a building where all the district’s 5th and 6th graders attend. Staff development involves around 18 teachers because we include special education, ESL and reading specialists in our training.  This most recent visit was an extra special treat because we had two days back to back scheduled.  We have been trying to think outside of the box and thought of ways to provide choice and time for teachers in a more individualized manner, meeting the teachers just where they were as we do for students.

This makes total sense of course.  We look at students, we consider their zone of proximal development, then give choice and time in order to develop literacy skills. In working in the same way with teachers we can set up important components that will best support their work as learners in their professional development.  I created a Google form based around topics that Maggie and I thought would meet the building, teacher and student needs.  Teachers received the link for the survey in their email and responded.  Google magic provided me with a response form that I used to create a schedule of study groups and labsites.  The schedule was a bit trickier than usual, but it worked out nicely and everyone received their 1st or 2nd choice.

Groups were set up around the following topics:

  • Test Prep: High Leverage Last Minute Strategies
  • Small Group Work in Writing: Revision in Informational Writing
  • Poetry Anthologies (5th) and The Sounds, Images and Ideas of Poetry (6th)
  • Planning Read-Aloud

Both days were successful and I received a lot of positive feedback from the teachers. So moving ahead I am following up with a new Google form and will plan my follow up work around the building.

This week in our professional learning communities we began our discussions sharing out work from the different groups.  Today two teachers who were part of the planning team around Poetry Anthologies (5th) and The Sounds, Images and Ideas of Poetry (6th) were in our PLC and shared the planning around the upcoming units.  During the planning session with Maggie we worked across the two different grades and curricular calendars.  Planning out an immersion bend for the unit was a great beginning.  We split into partnerships and planned out a poetry shop, a performance day and some centers and curated materials to share.  During PLC today we extended the work that we started with Maggie and teachers  are excited to begin this new upcoming unit.  Today teachers volunteered as the point person for certain responsibilities around the planning, implementation and celebration of this unit.  I am looking forward to watching this unit unfold and to the literacy celebration at the end.

Tomorrow in PLC I am looking forward bridging this work but also sharing out work from the small group sessions since some members of tomorrow’s PLC were in other groups.  For now, I will get that Google form sent out.  Solicit more feedback from teachers in ways that I can extend this work and also plan for the next two days we have Maggie back with us in May!

Time and choice need to be a priority for both students and teachers as we move forward in our teaching and literacy learning.  Forging ahead I will continue to push myself to ensure that teachers have the time and choice that will best support their professional learning and also their students’ literacy learning.

AmyandMaggielabsite 101

March 29, 2015 Day 29 Slice of Life Challenge

Awesome Owen Teaches Me


Tonight I treated my nephew Owen to ice cream, his 1st grade report card and his informational book about baseball were the reasons to celebrate.  Tonight he shared his science fair project with us, of course it was amazing.  I am resisting sharing photos right now because he will be bringing it into school and I cannot reveal it prematurely.  But trust me it was awesome!

Owen is the youngest cousin in the family and I am his godmother and so I always get to brag and gush over Owen.  My brother Rick and his wife Eileen told us early on the pediatrician diagnosed him with PBS (perfect baby syndrome).  As you can imagine Owen receives (and deserves) much attention from all of us.  He is an awesome 1st grader!

Owen taught me something really important about myself when he was about three.  I told you he has PBS so it is highly likely he would be educating his aunt who is an educator.

One night, after we had dinner together at my house  I heard Owen’s footsteps coming down the hallway.  My husband and I were in the living room talking with Eileen and Rick, we looked up as Owen ran into the room.  His eyes were lit up and he had the most excited 3 year old grin on his face.  He was holding something in his hands.

“Look what I did!”  Owen announced proudly.

“Let me see,” I replied.  He walked over and showed me this “thing” that he broke into to two.

“Look, two!” He shouted raising his hands up higher than his head.

I cannot remember what this thing was, but I know it was mine and I know he actually broke it.  I only remember that because I remember Rick and Eileen apologizing (briefly because you know their son has PBS).  I can’t remember what it was and I did not even care that he broke whatever object this was that belonged to me.  What he showed me that day was that the one thing I truly am passionate about, the one thing that makes my heart sing and that is learning.  I can watch learning happen, I can be learning, I can be talking or sharing about learning, I can be guiding the process of learning, but in all ways this is what brings me complete and total joy.

Owen in this one small action and reaction made me realize what made my heart sing and what I was truly passionate about—learning.

Fortunately, I am in education and every day I am lucky to watch learning happen.  I watch students and adults learning around me everyday.  Even more, I get to learn everyday and reflect on that learning as I stretch myself a bit further than the day before.  Learning, all parts of the process, all the messy parts then the glory when the learning is realized and then the messy part again as we reflect and learn more.  Always learning.

This passion I am so grateful for because not only it is present in education where I work, but it is present in my everyday life.  It is woven throughout my existence no matter where I am or what I am doing there is always opportunity to experience learning in some way.

This story about Owen leads me to reflection of this week.  I was involved in so many learning experiences professionally that I could not conceptualize a way to share all I learned in one post.  I think Owen’s story leads me to the place where I can allow myself to reflect on each of the experiences individually, rather than all at once.  Giving each experience the space and reflection it deserves.  This blog post is the beginning of a series on learning experiences from this week that should finish off my Slice of Life Challenge and then lead to a more weekly commitment of blogging.

In a way of a challenge to myself I will continue to work on posts to reflect on the above professional development experiences I participated in this past week.

Thank you Owen for teaching me and showing me what makes my heart sing.  I also have to thank my brother who reads my daily posts and gives me feedback each day.  Tonight he gave me some feedback about the last two days and suggested that because I was writing everyday that maybe my writing was not at the same level because I was valuing quantity over quality in my writing.  I explained that it was not really about that, it was more about making the commitment to just write and make time for it in my life each day.  Creating time for it everyday is how I developed the “habit” and while he may like some posts better than others it still developing me as a writer.  I am learning, in the mess of it and working out the rough edges taking risks and trying some more.  I do know that no matter what I wrote here it is awesome because Owen taught me about my passion. Perhaps I am also ensuring positive feedback from my brother since this entire post is about his son, Owen teaching me. Crafty, yes?  Either way, I learn lessons in literacy and lessons in life and always they are woven together.


March 28, 2015 Day 28 Slice of Life Challenge

Gathering Thoughts and Reflecting

I am almost at the end of this Slice of Life Challenge.  As it is just about midnight, I realize I should really have been just a day ahead.  Early on I had some drafts, they have been used, reworked and used or just never developed beyond the idea I generated.

Today I would have really liked to reflect on my day of learning.  I wish I had my laptop out with me while I was out unexpectedly for the last 3 hours.  My completed Slice of Life would be published.

Tomorrow, I will reflect on my day of learning, and give it the space and thought it deserves.

Tonight, I will publish this.