Three R’s of Summer: Reading, Researching, and Reflecting

Notes from the Classroom

Today I was at the library with a stack of books when I saw a little one from our elementary school. She recognized me, and her face lit up as she said hello. Then her eyes grew big.

“That’s a lot of chapter books,” she said, as she noticed my pile of books.

“Yes, it is,” I said, smiling. “I love reading.”

“I do too!” she exclaimed as her mother proceeded to check out at least 30 picture books for her and her brother.


My summer = lots of reading. I am always on the lookout for great reads. I have a list on my phone that I am always adding to when I get recommendations from friends. I also look at blogs, Twitter feeds, and summer reading lists that are published from a variety of sources. I try to balance this with professional reading: technology articles, trauma informed, social justice . . . just a few of the things we are working on in our district.

My personal favorite is reading books that I can recommend to students. Nothing is as powerful as putting a book in the hands of a child and saying, “I read this and I think you’ll love it. Read it and then we’ll talk.”


As I do my professional reading, it invariably leads me to research. After all, the more you know, the more you want to know.

In addition, I tutor students over the summer and am constantly seeking new information that might help me understand my students’ struggles and find ways to help them. Summer is a great time to follow link after link . . . to fall down the rabbit hole because you actually have the time to do so.


One of the luxuries of summer is having time to reflect on my professional practice. While we do this throughout the year, summer is a great time to look back and really take time to reflect and revise for next year.

I love to get together with other teachers and make informed decisions about changes going forward. Even more, I will often find myself taking notes on my phone when I’m riding in the car (not driving!) on summer trips. It’s as though my brain finally can relax and my creative thoughts can really flow.

Whatever it is that renews you this summer, do it. Teaching takes so much out of you–even though we all say it’s worth it. Maybe your three R’s are relax, rest, and recharge. (Mine will be for a few weeks at least!) Enjoy your time–you deserve it!

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

I Almost Left Teaching. Here’s How Teacher Research Saved My Career.

Notes from the Classroom

About 17 percent of new teachers will leave the profession in their first five years, research shows. I never thought I’d be one of those teachers, but I felt doubt bubble up around year six, when I had my most challenging group of students to date. On top of that, I was a new mom and finishing up my graduate degree.

Yet, luckily for me, my graduate capstone seminar cracked open a whole new world of thinking that inspired me to become a teacher-researcher.

Teacher research is a systematic, careful, and strategic way to collect contextualized data on teaching and learning. While quantitative data is helpful to understand a student, teacher research goes a step beyond and provides the story behind the data. Here’s how teacher research revolutionized my practice and saved me from leaving.

Teacher research helped me notice why some students didn’t want to write.

All teacher research starts with a question. The question often evolves over time in response to data trends.

When I started my research, I wanted to know more about how to narrow the achievement gap through writing instruction. My class included many students who were underperforming as writers.

When I began to examine my data with my classmates and professor, a significant trend emerged: my students’ resistance to writing had more to do with their lack of opportunities to express their authentic voice than it had to do with not wanting to write.  What started as a broad question became more specific, as I explored how multigenre writing changed how my students viewed themselves as writers, and moreover how it helped them to improve their writing skill set.

Teacher research helped me see students’ strengths, not just their weaknesses.

Teacher research views student artifacts as among the most valuable pieces of data to understand a student.

Many of my students in this class were resistant and underperforming writers. When I sat down to grade their papers, I found myself comparing their writing to some of the more proficient and advanced writers who I had in another class. In doing so, I was assessing what wasn’t there instead of what was there.

When I shared several artifacts with my grad-school classmates, we focused instead on what the student was able to do in their writing–not just what was absent. Instead of noticing how one writer had multiple run-on sentences and weak transitions between ideas, I began noticing how she had multiple ideas and was in the process of developing and expressing her content knowledge. Adopting a growth mindset toward my students helped me to move beyond this deficit model of teaching.

Teacher research gave me empathy for frustrating students.

One of the key tenets of teacher research is that running records and field notes need to be written in a neutral voice, focused on what the student is doing—not how the teacher feels about it. When I was able to remove my own bias and frustration about students, I suddenly began to view my students with a newfound empathy.

As teachers, it is so easy to take personally the behavior of challenging students. But what happens if we don’t respond personally to student behavior, but instead simply observe it? This shift empowered me to make decisions that redirected behavior rather than punishing it. Instead of viewing one student as defiant, I began to look for outlets for his anger–via his own writing.

Here’s the Takeaway.

Looking back, I realize that these challenges could have broken me. But thanks to teacher research, these experiences trained me for my work today as a literacy interventionist and academic support coach. By embracing observation and removing my bias, this challenging group transformed my pedagogy and practice.

Lauren Nizol (@CoachNizol) is an MTSS Student Support Coach and Interventionist at Novi High School. She has eleven years of classroom experience, teaching English, IB Theory of Knowledge and English Lab. Lauren completed her undergraduate degree in History, English and Secondary Education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and her Masters in English Education from Eastern Michigan University. She is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant with the Eastern Michigan Writing Project and an advocate for underperforming students and literacy interventions.  When she’s not teaching, Lauren often runs for the woods with her husband and their three sons/Jedi in training and posts many stylized pictures of trees on Instagram.

Research & Data

Find an overview of the AARI intervention framework, elements for successful implementation, and professional learning supports HERE.
The AARI framework is built on a strong foundation of literacy and classroom culture research. Access the AARI 2.0 bibliography HERE.

Power of Play

Notes from the Classroom

1Back in January an article came out that had the teachers in my building thinking, We’ve been saying that forever and finally someone is acting on it! The article was titled Turns Out Monkey Bars And Kickball Might Be Good For The Brain, by Christopher Connely.

The article focuses on Eagle Mountain Elementary School, in Fort Worth, Texas. The school has started a project where the kindergarten- and first-grade school day is modeled after that of a Finnish school day, where students have recess more often: four times a day, for 15 minutes each time. What a dream!

The Texas project was designed by Debbie Rhea, a kinesiologist from Texas Christian University. Rhea had visited Finland, which scores in the top or near the top in international education rankings, to see the differences in their education system, compared to the U.S.’s. She realized the largest difference was that the students had more recess.

The teachers at Eagle Mountain, using this Finnish model, are noticing that students are focusing more and are happier. And even with the extra breaks, teachers aren’t having trouble fitting in the entire curriculum. In fact, halfway through the year they were ahead of schedule.

How We’re Creating Extra Recess

Feeling more empowered by this article, several teachers at Loon Lake Elementary, including myself, started implementing regular breaks into their day. “Brain Breaks,” or just a break in the curriculum action, are something we had been doing for a while but hadn’t made as regular or well known.

When you have been conditioned to believe that you never have enough time to get through all of the curriculum, even small changes feel wrong. But our breaks are often as simple as a dance break, usually from Go Noodle, a yoga break from Cosmic Kids Yoga, playtime, or yes, even extra recess when timing allows.

We are trying to work in structured and unstructured breaks to reap the most benefits. The teachers in my building, like those at Eagle Mountain, have seen that after these breaks the students come back more focused and ready to go. We are also noticing that the gross and fine motor skills of these students are improving.

Beyond Kindergarten

3I am fortunate that in my district, when we started the all-day, every-day kindergarten program in 2008, the district stressed the importance of play in the classroom. I am also fortunate that my building principal supports this. We have free-choice play in my classroom every day; this is something that never changes and I hope never will.

I wish the importance of play extended beyond the kindergarten year, though. We as teachers know it is important, but is often pushed aside, with the implication that it isn’t as important, even though it enhances gross and fine motor skills. Play even helps children with their communication and problem solving skills.

Bob Murray, an Ohio State University pediatrician, is quoted in the article above as saying: “If you want a child to be attentive and stay on task, and also if you want them to encode the information you’re giving them in their memory, you’ve got to give them regular breaks.” So yes, play also helps with the learning process itself.

Mrs. Tisdall, a first grade teacher at my school, was excited to share a story about an extra recess with her students. Her students came running up excitedly with some white pebbles. They were in a debate about what they were: “Are they insect eggs?” “Are they rocks?” “What kind of insect could have laid them?”

The questions and debate kept going. Mrs. Tisdall just stood back and listened. She didn’t have to intervene; through the power of play and exploration, the students were teaching themselves. Then they ran off and started searching for more signs of insects.

I hope that people continue to research and share the importance of play and not just at the lower-elementary level. An even bigger hope is that educators themselves continue to recognize the importance of breaks and play, and give it a shot.

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team. She recently won a technology grant from the Walled Lake Foundation for Excellence. She is in her tenth year of teaching, with eight in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

Dr. Nell Duke – Literacy Webinar

Not Like Pulling Teeth: Revision in a Project-Based Context

Thursday, February 11, 2016   7-9pm EST (optional discussion 8-9pm)

insideinformationResearch suggests that students write better when they have an audience beyond the teacher and revise more when they have a specified purpose for writing. Project-based approaches provide a framework for engaging students in writing for authentic purposes and audiences, thus more deeply motivating their revision. In this webinar, Duke will describe how to situate revision in a project-based context and share techniques for structuring students’ revision and editing processes within that context.

Recommended Reading: Inside Information: Developing Powerful Readers and Writers of Informational Text Through Project-Based Instruction


NellKDukePhoto copy

Nell K. Duke is a professor of literacy, language, and culture and a faculty affiliate in the combined program in education and psychology at the University of Michigan and a member of the International Literacy Association Literacy Research Panel. Duke’s work focuses on early literacy development, particularly among children living in poverty. She has received a number of awards for her research including, most recently, the P. David Pearson Scholarly Influence Award from the Literacy Research Association. She serves as editor of The Research-Informed Classroom book series and co-editor of the Not This, But That book series. She is also author and co-author of numerous journal articles and book chapters. Her most recent book is Inside Information: Developing Powerful Readers and Writers of Informational Text through Project-based Instruction.


Review of Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts & Minds with Inquiry

Book Reviews Oakland Writing Project

9780325053592Anyone who knows me knows that I am a voracious reader (comes with the English teacher territory, right?).  Anyone who knows me really well knows that I’m not just reading books for pleasure, but that I’m a voracious reader of professional books.  Case in point: I read five books about grading last summer. Riveting stuff.

A few months back, a colleague from the MiELA Network conference suggested I read the book Upstanders because it might help with my conference session this summer.  The title and back cover information intrigued me, so I immediately ordered the book and awaited its arrival.  My reading rate during the school year is definitely much slower than during the summer because there is so much else I have to do, but by any standard, I devoured Upstanders.

Of all of the professional books I have read, this is the first that felt as if it were written directly for me and the type of teacher I am.  I could see myself as a teacher in the pages, but more than that, I could see a better version of my teacher self in the pages.  I felt like I had a model of the type of teacher I want to be that wasn’t a huge leap from where I already am.  Many times when I’m reading a professional book, I’ll want to do something the way the authors do, but I’ll know that that isn’t me or that the change seems too overwhelming, which leads me to not change at all.  I was so enamored with this book that I tweeted at and sent emails to the authors–and they responded!

HarveyDanielsUpstanders is written as a collaboration between Daniels and Ahmed and offers a glimpse into the workings of Ahmed’s classroom, since she is still a practicing teacher.  As the title would suggest, inquiry is a hallmark of Ahmed’s classroom, so I decided to try out some of her and Daniels’ ideas.  To get her students engaged in inquiry work consistently, she has them involved in “mini-inquiries,” which are “quick exercise[s] in honoring our curiosity and finding out information about things that puzzle us in the world” (106).  Mini-inquiries can take anywhere from a few minutes to a class period to complete, as they are supposed to be what the name suggests: mini.  Sometimes Ahmed’s students are looking into a topic she suggested or a topic that grew out of a class discussion.  Other times, students are researching something they are interested in finding out more about.  I really liked this idea and wanted to incorporate it into my practice, but I worried about taking time away from our already packed curriculum.  As the authors suggested, though, a great way to try a mini-inquiry is on one of those days right before a break where you’ve finished a unit but don’t want to start another one. So the day before mid-winter break, I found myself with the perfect opportunity to try a mini-inquiry.

That day, I began the lesson by talking with my kids about how we were going to try something new, and that we would research the random things we’ve always wanted to know. They kind of looked at me funny, so as an example, I told them a story about how whenever I walk by this particular building in the winter, I see that the water has frozen in motion as it came out of the gutter.  I always thought that I wanted to be there at the exact moment the water went from a liquid to a solid since the ice looks like a frozen waterfall.  I then went on to explain that if I wanted to make this a researchable question (which we had talked about in the argument paragraph unit we had just finished), I might say, “How does moving water freeze?”  I then asked students to brainstorm the things that they had always wondered but never bothered to look up or learn about.  After students had talked with a partner, we created a class list of wonderings to keep up throughout the year (see the image below).  Some of the wonderings are very profound and some of them are less serious, which was OK for that day’s purpose.

Whole class generated list of our wonderings

Whole class generated list of our wonderings

 Once students turned their topics into research questions and I briefly modelled how I might go about looking for information related to my question, they took out their Chromebooks and began researching.  After just a few minutes, hands started popping up:

“Mrs. Taylor, come LOOK at this!”

“You have to see this!”

“Can you believe this is true?!”

“That is not what I expected to find out!”

As students began finding information that related to their questions, I urged them to post it on our Google Classroom wall under the thread I had begun with my question and an article about it.

Google Classroom wall

Google Classroom wall

As the hour ended, many students had found some kind of answer to their question and shared with the whole class, many of them fascinated by each other’s findings.  I had not anticipated this, but as I was wrapping up the hour and talking through what students had done, I noticed that within one hour, students had truly gone through the entire research process in an abbreviated form that we had spent many weeks going through with the argument paragraph.  Students brainstormed topics they were interested in learning more about, created research questions, sorted through various sources on the Internet to choose good ones, and shared their learning with others.

As I envision future research projects, both this year and in the future, I can see how engaging students in mini-inquires will help pique their interest and allow them to continue to hone their research skills.  This could be a great way to start a unit or allow students to learn about different topics within a unit.  In fact, the Common Core asks that students be involved in short research projects throughout the year that focus specifically on creating research questions and finding information to support them (  Mini-inquiries could be a great way to achieve this in addition to all of their other benefits.

Daniels, Harvey, and Sara K. Ahmed. Upstanders: How to Engage Middle School Hearts and Minds with Inquiry. New York: Heineman, 2014.

JScreenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMianna Taylor is an ELA and Title 1 teacher at Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield.  She is a member of the AVID Site Team and Continuous School Improvement Team at her school, among other things.  She is also a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine Library Media Connection.

Webinar – Small Bites: Research in the 6-12 Classroom

Facilitator: Delia DeCourcy, Secondary Literacy Consultant, Oakland Schools ISD
Wednesday, November 19  7-8pm EST (optional follow up discussion from 8-9pm)
recording    slides    Google Doc for session collaboration    resources

The Common Core says: engage students in short, focused research experiences across the year.  So how do we do this?  In this interactive session, we’ll consider how to scaffold for increasing student independence during the research writing process, discuss the key skills our students need to be successful in research, and explore how all this can fit into your existing curriculum.  We’ll also talk about tech tools students can use to improve and display their research and research writing skills.

Delia DeCourcy is an education literacy consultant with Oakland Schools, an ISD serving 28 districts in Oakland County, Michigan.  In this role, she creates and facilitates professional learning opportunities for ELA teachers, focusing on best practices in the teaching of reading and writing and effective technology integration.  Delia is the co-author of Teaching Romeo & Juliet: A Differentiated Approach published by NCTE and has delivered workshops on a wide range of writing, literature, new media, and ed tech topics.  Previously, she was a faculty member at the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan, where she earned an MFA in creative writing in 2008.  In the first sixteen years of her career, Delia taught public and private school students in California, Kentucky, North Carolina and Michigan at the middle, high school and college levels.  She has facilitated online courses for middle and high school students in the Duke Talent Identification Program and also written three online curriculums for their independent learning program.  

Twitter ID: @delia_decourcy


Webinar – Small Bites: Research in the K-5 Classroom

Facilitator: Professor Kristin Fontichiaro, University of Michigan School of Information
Thursday, October 16, 2014  7-8pm EST (optional follow up discussion from 8-9pm)
recording     resources     webinar slides

The Common Core asks that students engage in small, focused research experiences across the year.  For many teachers, this is a curricular design shift.  In this interactive session, we will consider this important shift in a variety of ways: explore a continuum for varying levels of student independence in the research process; investigate the multiple and key skills we need to develop in our student researchers; and learn about tech tools that can help facilitate and support effective instruction for research and research writing.

Kristin Fontichiaro is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, where she coordinates the school library media program and teaches courses in library and information science. Kristin is interested in teaching and learning and the emerging roles of librarians. She speaks internationally on inquiry, information and digital literacy, and makerspaces. She coordinates the Michigan Makers service and action research project on maker learning. Kristin is the author of numerous books on technology, education, and inquiry learning including Podcasting 101 and Know What to Ask: Forming Great Research Questions and Navigating the Information Tsunami: Engaging Research Projects that Meet the Common Core State Standards, K-5.

Twitter ID: @activelearning

Re-thinking Our Kids as Readers…

Consultants' Corner Research & Theory

imsis591-033Kids in schools today get tested, evaluated, assessed, analyzed, and then tested some more.   In this process, students often end up with a wide range of scores attached to their names, from MEAP scores to NWEA scores to grade level equivalency scores to recommended lexile levels for reading.  We may be, as the saying goes, “data rich and information poor.”  We have lots of statistics and other data, but we’re not really sure how to use it all.  This is particularly true when it comes to reading.  I often hear teachers describe their students as readers by assigning grade levels for their reading abilities, as in “she’s in the 9th grade but she reads at the fourth grade level.”  This grade level labeling, for lack of a better term, is especially common in our talk about young people who are not meeting the academic expectations placed on them at school.  Statements like, “half of my students are reading two grades below level,” are pretty common in my conversations with teachers concerned about their students’ reading skills.

So what did his “fourth grade reading level” score really mean, was it at all useful, and what was getting lost in the process of using this score to describe him as a reader?  The fourth grade reading level meant that on one particular day, he answered most of the multiple choice questions right about a text that a testing company like ETS or Pearson decided was something that most fourth graders should be able to read with little difficulty. When presented with questions about more complex texts, he probably began to get lots more questions wrong.  That is what his 4th grade level reading score meant.

Don’t get me wrong though – this score does have some use as a general screening tool.  A very low score on a generic reading test lets us know that we need to pay attention to how this student reads a wide range of different texts, and it lets us know that he likely needs additional support for reading.  It does NOT tell us, however, that he can’t read any text above a fourth grade level, and it does not tell us that he is incapable of thinking deeply about a wide range of texts.  It tells us only that he struggled with the texts on this test.  This is important to remember because not all texts, and not all reading activities, are the same. Thus, when properly motivated, and when armed with in-depth prior knowledge, this kid can likely read far above his assigned level.

I88748677 (1)s this important to know?  Of course it is, because if we can find ways to motivate him and build prior knowledge before reading, we can help him move far beyond his test score.  However, if we think he can’t read more advanced texts, we might never ask him to him read, or we might just give him low-level texts when we can find them.  We might never challenge him to use the resources he already has to become a better reader, and we might allow him to move into learned helplessness and believe that he doesn’t have the potential to read advanced texts well.

The big picture is that reading is a complex process… there are many factors involved in reading comprehension, and when we reduce a kids’s reading to one single score, we may be missing pieces of their reading puzzle.  So what’s the solution?  Some initial steps are outlined below:

  • Engage kids in conversations about reading and find out what their interests are.
  • Learn more about when, where, and what they read.  Most kids read more than their teachers might expect, but they don’t always consider it “reading,” especially if they are not reading school books or novels.
  • Talk about reading in your classroom and encourage your students to read outside of school for their own purposes.
  • In the classroom, rely more on diagnostic and formative assessments to learn about your students as readers.
  • Use metacognitive strategies (e.g. Talk the Text),  talk moves (e.g. “Tell me more…)” and Visible Thinking routines (e.g. “What makes you say that…”; to learn more about how your students think while they read.
  • Consider your students to be dynamic, changing readers instead of good or poor readers.  Challenge all of them by learning about their strengths and pushing them to get even better, no matter where they are starting.  If we believe they can make progress, hopefully they will too!
  • If you’re interested in learning more about these issues, the research articles below are great places to start!

Alvermann, D.E. (2001). Reading adolescents‘ reading identities: Looking back to see ahead. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy 44: 676-690.

Dutro, E., Selland, M., & Bien, A (2013).  Revealing Writing, Concealing Writers:  High-  Stakes Assessment in an Urban Elementary Classroom Journal of Literacy Research 45(2):99

Franzak, J. (2006). Zoom: A review of the literature on marginalized adolescent readers, literacy theory, and policy implications. In B. M. Gordon & J. E. King (Eds.), Review of Educational Research (Vol. 76, pp. 209-248). Washington DC:    American Educational Research Association.

Moje, E.B., Overby, M., Tysvaer, N., & Morris, K. (2008). The complex world of adolescent literacy: Myths, motivations, and mysteries. Harvard Educational Review 78(1): 107-154.

O‘Brien, D. (2006). ―Struggling adolescents engagement in multimediating: Countering institutional construction of incompetence. In D.E. Alvermann, K.A.  Hinchman, D.A. Moore, S.F. Phelps, & D.R. Waff (Eds.), Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives (pp. 147-160). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Stockdill, D.& Moje, E. B.  (2013).  Adolescents as readers of social studies:   Examining the relationship between youth’s everyday and social studies  literacies and learning.  Berkley Review of Education 4(1):  35-68.