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Posts from the ‘September Snapshot’ Category

September Snapshot: Learning Stations for Everyone!

After a robust & interactive summer experience at the writing project, I knew I didn’t want to start day one of the fall semester with a typical ‘read the syllabus day’; I just didn’t know what I actually wanted to do.  After reading an article on edutopia about Learning Stations, I thought that the strategies presented could work at the university level. I let the ideas marinate in my mind for a few days and decided that I would give it a try.

As a teacher educator, I try to model best practices whenever possible so my students can experience activities and lessons as learners first, then reflect on their own (future) practice. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen, but I thought even modeling that vulnerability for my students would prove to be a good thing.

I started with making the ‘Station Markers’ on Canva and have linked a copy of them here. Once I settled on the template, and made the first one, it was easy to copy and edit the following. After that, I just needed to gather supplies and come up with a strategy to get everything to the classroom. (This is probably just an issue for us in higher ed or for teachers who have to share classrooms. You will most likely just set up your room for the stations and not have to transport everything.)

Going back to the original article, here’s how I modified her suggestions for my ENG 390: Teaching English in the Secondary Schools course:

Station 1: The Syllabus

This particular class is one of the final methods courses that students take before student teaching; I intentionally left space at this station for students to reflect on what they already know and what they want to learn this semester to best prepare themselves for student teaching. There was an excellent discussion that ranged from theoretical to practical components of the course. After the class was over, I categorized the post it notes into the following categories: Choice, Motivation, and Innovation. Those seemed like fantastic categories to use when framing the course.

I was really proud of my students for being so transparent on the first day of class; to be fair, most of these students already know me from previous courses or their involvement with the NCTE Student Affiliate on campus. This might be why they felt comfortable jumping right into activities like this. Other students might need more community and trust building before being asked such questions.

Station 2: : Poetry Station

Even though these students know one another, I wanted to include some sort of writing that would help them learn even more about one another. I thought a short piece would work for this type of classroom set up. I started with the original “Where I’m From” poem by George Ella Lyons and included a template for the students to use to write their own poems, along with some examples of other student work. Most students used their time at this station to chat and brainstorm then jump into writing. I thought they’d need more time to polish these, so they were actually due at the next class meeting.

Station 3: Reading Identities

This station had two parts really. Thanks to the generosity of Scholastic I had a box of newly released books for middle and high school classrooms. Students were to ‘judge a book by its cover’ and select one to read this semester FOR FUN. I was very clear that this was not an additional assignment, that they need to hold themselves accountable as readers.

Once they selected the text, I asked them to snap the QR code on the chart and share a little about themselves as readers. Those responses can be seen here on Flipgrid. I think this activity was important for several reasons – one, teachers of English need to see themselves as readers if they hope to inspire young people to be/become lifelong readers. Two, by sharing their response on Flipgrid, they could see how diverse the readers in our class were…again, thinking ahead to future classrooms with a wide variety of interests to manage. Three, I also shared my current reading with them to show that I, too, am a reader.

Station 4: Name Tent Construction

While this is pretty standard practice, I take it just a bit further…I ask them to not only write their names, but to identify other factors as well.

  1. Hometown
  2. Book you wish you wrote
  3. Guilty pleasure
  4. Favorite food.

If I’m not mistaken, I got this idea from Brenda Krupp and Mary Buckelew, when I took the PAWLP Summer Institute.

I leave my own name tent out so they can see it as a mentor text; we brainstorm what else you might ask students to reveal a little of their personality at the beginning of class. Since there are only a few students at the station, it’s easier to share that – perhaps – than it would be if you had to share with the whole class.

What I learned…

Students can surprise you with how open they are to new things. I mentioned that most of these students already knew me, but some didn’t. And, none of my WRT120 students knew me, but they did a modified version of this too and none of them dropped the course!

Their reflective feedback also informed my practice. Some students, even in teacher preparation programs, are introverted. The usual ‘go-around-the-room-and-introduce-yourself-to-the-whole-class’ activity can be utterly terrifying for some folks. This approach allowed them the intimacy of small spaces and then we could grow our community over the first few weeks of class. And through a variety of other activities, we did that.

I also learned that this type of activity really set the expectations for the course. We are all in this together. We are all here to learn and experiment. I shared that this was the first time I was trying it…I think they appreciated that vulnerability from a veteran educator and were willing to share constructive feedback that I will definitely implement next time!

September Snapshot: Shared Reading to Build Community

As many elementary teachers know, a shared read aloud can be an effective way to set a positive and welcoming tone in the beginning of the school year. For many years, the first shared read aloud in my class was the course syllabus. I would pass out the copies of the syllabus and highlight the most important points, often to a room of blank or confused expressions staring back at me. This did little to set a positive and welcoming tone.

While it’s no doubt important to establish expectations for the course, building a sense of community—finding ways to communicate to students that they are seen and valued—is perhaps the most important thing and, really, the only thing we need to do in those opening days. Reading off a list of rules on the opening day also sends students the message about whose voice is valued (the teacher’s) and establishes a power dynamic that prioritizes what a teacher wants versus what students need. Consider the difference between a teacher reading a syllabus and teachers and students unpacking a shared reading: the former tells students, I will tell you what we will do while the latter communicates, Let’s read and learn about something together.

Two shared texts that I’ve found particularly useful in my classroom are Clint Smith’s TED Talk, “The Danger of Silence” and Dr. Margaret Wheatley’s essay, “Willing to be Disturbed.” Because we will likely discuss some contentious or controversial issues over the year, I begin the with both of these texts as a way to remind students to keep an open mind when engaging critically in issues with multiple perspectives.

The Danger of Silence


In Smith’s TED Talk, he outlines four core principles for students that he believes are necessary in today’s world:

  1. Read critically.
  2. Write consciously.
  3. Speak clearly.
  4. Tell your truth.

We watch the TED Talk in class and then discuss these principles. I ask students to write individually about what they think each of these principles mean. We then compile our ideas using sticky notes and large poster paper for each principle (Figure 3.8). After a gallery walk to view the posters, students return to their seats to write again; this time, I ask them to reflect on what they’ve read and to write a personal commitment to themselves about how they might abide by these principles. I also post these four principles on the wall in my classroom so that we can return to them throughout the year.

“Willing to be Disturbed”

In this essay, Dr. Wheatley argues that in order to foster a more civil discourse in our society, we need to start from the position of being open to being disturbed — in other words, to listen to the opinions of others with whom we disagree, even profoundly.

Before we read the essay, I first ask students to consider the denotations and connotations of the word disturbed. We brainstorm synonyms, and as you might expect, most students conclude that the word is negative, especially in the contexts that are most familiar to them such as “disturbing the peace” or “mentally disturbed.” We discuss how each of these instances prioritizes maintaining the status quo or what is considered “normal.” I then ask students to consider contexts or situations that might need to be disturbed: When might the status quo be harmful? When is disturbing the peace necessary? Why?

We then read aloud Dr. Wheatley’s essay as a class, with every student reading one sentence at a time. This shared experience not only allows all student voices to be heard, but my hope is that reading the words aloud, students may begin to internalize some of its key points. Students read it a second time quietly to themselves, this time marking the text for the lines that stood out to them as particularly powerful. Each student shares one line they found powerful so that we are able to hear what has resonated.

Here are just a few of the lines that students often choose:

Curiosity is what we need.

We do need to acknowledge that their way of interpreting the world might be essential to our survival.

When so many interpretations are available, I can’t understand why we would be satisfied with superficial conversations where we pretend to agree with one another.

But when I notice what surprises me, I’m able to see my own views more dearly, including my beliefs and assumptions.

When I hear myself saying, “How could anyone believe something like that?” a light comes on for me to see my own beliefs.

But the greatest benefit of all is that listening moves us closer.

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused.

The beauty of using a shared text like “Willing to be Disturbed” and “The Danger of Silence” is that they become touchstones that we can return to throughout the year. When we begin our formal study on argument or when I know that we’ll be discussing an issue that is particularly contentious, I remind students of these texts and our shared understanding that we need to be “willing to be disturbed” if we are to “read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, and tell our truth.”

What other types of read aloud can middle and high school teachers use? Consider the type of community you want to build in your classroom and the issues or content you’ll discuss. What attitudes or dispositions will be necessary for students to be prepared to engage in those conversations? Is there a line of inquiry or essential question that drives the course you’re teaching? Then find a brief text—something that can be unpacked during a single class period or two—that invites students to think about these ideas and their application to learning.

September Snapshot: For the Love of Literacy

by Eileen Hutchinson

To instill a spark for wondrous words and lifelong learning, I READ.

To seek the truth and secrets that swim my in the pool of my soul, I WRITE.

To learning something new every day, I LIVE.

      As a passionate (K-5) reading specialist at East Bradford Elementary in the West Chester Area School District, I service all grade levels including English Language Learners and Title 1 students. After weeks of assessments and data meetings, groups are created based upon strengths and needs. My ultimate goal is for all my readers to make increased gains based on working their personal BEST. Mindful learning practices, with positive mantras, goal setting, brain breaks, or focus breathing are assimilated into lessons for productivity. 

     As I launch my groups in late September, I really work hard to build trust and community by fostering reading identity. For each grade level, I carefully select poems, songs, mentor texts, and quick writes to reflect on literacy attitudes and habits. For some groups, bi-lingual poems and twin texts are utilized to honor and celebrate diverse languages. Interactive read alouds, word play maps, poem chants, and meaningful text discussions facilitated by me are integrated to stem quality thinking for varied literacy purposes. Listed below are the mentor texts and prompts I employ at each grade level.  Below is the reading motto/mantra I post in my classroom.                          

Today I will:

Be an active reader with a great learning attitude

Do my personal BEST as a mindful thinker and problem solver!

Read to Succeed!!

Grade Text Quick Write/Writing Prompt
     KHedgie Loves to Read  
Douglas Wood
Chicka, Chicka, Boom! Boom!                                           Bill Martin, Jr.
This is ME
Self portrait/
Name Writing
     1Yes, I Can!  
Sam Mc Bratney
Bucket Filler poem
Yes, I Can….
I  fill a  bucket when I
     2I am the Book
Lee Bennett Hopkins     
I love _______books that…..                 Readers can….
     3Wild About Books
Judy Sierra
Hey, World Here I Am  
Jean Little
When I read a book,                      Today I will….
Peter Catalanotto
What is a book? (poem)
Book is…
Come, Come Reader….
     5 Song-This Is Me 
*The Greatest ShowmanSong
I Live– One Republic
I AM (Bio poem)       Reasons Why I Read/
Why I Write

**Stay tune for student pieces-I will gladly post in a few weeks, once I complete these literacy launch prompts!!

September Snapshot: Bye Bye Teacher Desk

Lauren Heimlich Foley

Last year, I found myself traveling between three different rooms after nine years of having my own classroom. With increased enrollment and a school too small to handle one classroom per teacher, I braced myself for the challenge and welcomed the change.

What I experienced shocked me: I loved moving around the building. I got to see more people, tried out different flexible seating arrangements, and learned the importance of traveling light. Most days I only moved with a backpack that held my laptop, water bottles, snack, YA novels, and clipboard. Our district’s one-to-one laptop initiative and wireless projection boards helped make this nomadic teaching style work.

Even more shocking: I realized that I no longer used a teacher desk. I carved out space in my apartment for my professional books and left a container in my car with school supplies. In each classroom, I had closet space for necessary materials and a shelf for a class library. On my prep and after school, I did my work at a student desk, in the library, or in our traveling teacher office.

This year, I am sharing a classroom with another teacher. We worked together over the summer to set up our flexible seating, bringing in a small kitchen table, a donated library table, two rugs, a handful of pillows, a high-top table and stools, short stools, and wobbly stools. It is a menagerie of furniture. We love the room, and our students are enjoying the seating.

The layout would never have been possible if we kept the two teacher desks we found waiting for us. Although we immediately got rid of one, I suggested getting rid of the second. Once we realized that the flexible seating would not all fit if we kept even one teacher desk, we decided to have both removed.

Since starting the year, I have not missed the teacher desk once. Not only was it an eyesore in the past with papers and books piled high, but it took up so much space. I never sat at my desk during class, so I am not looking for it during instruction. Whole-class directions and mini-lessons are taught from any open seat in the room, and I do have a stool that I like to use for conferencing. At the end of the day, I sit in my favorite spot in our classroom: a desk that overlooks our courtyard. It has a great view of a tree, waterfall, and pond.

Getting rid of the two teacher desks in our classroom was the best decision of September! Our room is more student centered and feels larger. I enjoy facilitating the learning that happens there. Moreover, our classroom reflects the fact that we are all readers and writers within our workshop.

Opportunities Abound

Consider seven surprises from the start of the year:

  1. A 6th-grade girl dancing and leaping like Isadora Duncan all by herself. Easily 100 yards away from everyone out in the fields by our school–a happy little pink speck twirling and flickering across the grass.
  2. An 8th-grade boy handed me a knitted blue heart on his way out of class and said “there’s a really interesting project going on with these”: The Peyton Heart Project.
  3. I saw $25 dollars in cash outside. I’m “used to” seeing kids’ smartphones left unattended outdoors, but we’re doing cash now?
  4. The student who said: “I. Am. SO. Going. To. Raid. Your. Bookcase.” 
  5. And then there is the email titled “Writing” from a student on Sept. 3rd.
  6. And the boy who wore a full Spiderman costume to Picture Day and the rest of the kids didn’t blink.
  7. And the magic that happens when we provide kids colored chalk, an asphalt surface, and time.

Educator’s curate and plan. Administrators curate and plan. The top-down model of “doing business” is real. Yet, so much of our vocation is steeped in holistic responses–the “intimate and inexplicable connections”–generated within our small communities.

The seven surprises shared above may seem unconnected but that isn’t true. They all have something in common.


I was there.

And each act of creativity, sincerity, or folly can be impacted by my responsiveness…or silence.

I haven’t shared if or how I may have responded, but I know I can be better. I am reminded that, even after twenty-five years in the classroom, we have so much to learn…and give.

Opportunities to give emerge in unexpected ways every day.

September Snapshot – Classroom Scavenger Hunt

Happy September and welcome back to school! In an effort to tap into the wealth of knowledge our PAWLP team has to offer, we are running a regular feature focused on sharing ideas about how we start the school year. Please check in daily to enjoy our September snapshots. If you are interested in contributing one yourself, please contact us!

The Classroom Scavenger Hunt

For years I, like many teachers, spent time early in the school year telling students about the various resources available to them around the classroom. I wanted them to feel comfortable and orientated right from the first week. However, for years, I had students asking where to find the bathroom hall pass in October, or how to sign a book out of the classroom library in November, or where they could sharpen their pencils in December.

So, a few years back I designed a classroom scavenger hunt. As you can see from the image, the hunt invites students to study a map of the classroom, move around the space themselves, and discover through investigation where and what resources are available to them.

scavenger hunt.PNG

I gamified this activity by borrowing an idea Read more