Posted on

Minilessons- Where the Magic Happens

Last week I shared many of the struggles I’m currently experiencing in Readers Workshop.     Anytime I have problems to solve in my teaching, one of the first things I do is consult the “masters”/aka Go to My Bookshelf.   I have amassed a collection of education volumes that I use as resources time and again.     (Future blog post:  bookshelf pictures and a list of my favorite go-to titles, if you’re interested)

One of the first books I pulled off the shelf was The Art of Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins.  Typically, I get lost in the chapters of this book because there’s so much wisdom in its pages.  But this time, I went straight for the minilessons section (Chapter 5) because I was on a hunt for a list of mini-lesson topics I could include in my grade level plans.     I’m searching for decoding mini-lessons that would be relevant for readers of all levels, so that they could apply the learning into their word work and guided reading activities during center time.   I’m looking for what I’ll call “umbrella topics”, ones that fit all my readers needs, even with their broad range of word solving abilities.  Did I find such a list in that chapter?    No.     But what I DID find was even more valuable—–perspective and a new way to think about mini-lessons.

Here are some of the gem quotes and insights I got from my reading:

"Whether we realize it or not, each of us, in our classrooms, authors a world and a story....The important thing to realize is that in our classrooms, as in any story, trouble can galvanize us to set off on a journey.  ~Lucy Calkins"

MLs are the best forum teachers have for pulling the class community together to take on a prob. ~L. Calkins Click To Tweet

"Minilessons may not be as powerful as Peter's magic sword and shield, or as potent as Lucy's vial of healing liquid, but they may be the best forum teachers have for pulling the classroom community together to take on a problem.    They are a gift of sorts, a resource to draw on.   With careful attention to the architecture of our lessons and an assertive responsiveness to our children's needs and goals, minilessons can turn classrooms into places where magic happens."   ~Lucy Calkins

Here are my takeaways from that section/those quotes.   Lucy Calkins, one of the leading literacy experts, actually gives us PERMISSION to screw up and have troubles within our workshops.  She says that she usually dismisses teachers from trainings, saying “When you go back to your classrooms to try out these ideas, they won’t work.  There will be trouble.”

Yay!   It’s so refreshing to hear acknowledgment that we’ll have trouble as we implement and that it’s okay and expected to not get it right the first time.      In this age of electronic evaluations and high teacher accountability, it feels like we’ve got to be perfect in our instruction 100% of the time and that if something doesn’t go smoothly, then that means we’re not good teachers.

What she’s making clear is that it’s our role as teachers to carefully observe our students and guide them on their literacy journeys.     When we notice they’re having trouble decoding, or choosing the correct books, or finishing a book, or understanding what they read, then we gather them together and provide short mini-lessons to give them strategies and tools to use in their real life reading experiences.    Mini-lessons aren’t meant to be long teacher-driven demonstrations or explanations about activity directions (Here’s How to Complete a Venn Diagram).    Rather, our mini-lesson time on the carpet is when we gather as a class community to identify and tackle problems in our reading lives.  This shows the students we care about their reading.   This is responsive teaching.  This is dynamic teaching.  This is relevant learning.    This….is magic.

Posted on

I made a video!

I made my first video last week. Here it is:

I made the video using a site called PowToon. It took me about four hours to make it-half of that time was spent learning how to customize and edit using their tools. I think the next videos I make will take about half that time (2 hours) or less, now that I know how to navigate PowToon better. Overall, I enjoyed the process and using PowToon. They have a lot of tutorials for beginner video makers like myself, and their graphics and music are fun and easy to customize.

Have you made videos? Have your students? Eventually, it’s something I want to try with students, as another output vehicle for them to show what they’ve learned. I realized during the video creation process that you must be quite clear on the message/knowledge you’re sharing when you make a movie. The important information must be distilled in just a few minutes through an engaging visual medium. This is at the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy: Create. My creative brain was firing on all cylinders as I worked on the video, trying to share reading knowledge in a format different than a typical lesson.

Another movie-making sites I plan to try are: Wideo, GoAnimate, and Moovly. I’ll post more later as I continue on this video-making journey. Is it time to join the Directors Guild of America yet? 😉

Posted on

Balancing Act (The Struggle is Real)


I’ve got 21 students all at VERY different reading levels, the majority of which are below.     I must teach my grade level standards while also catching them up and meeting all of their literacy needs (and do all this with limited time during reading).  How do I manage it all?   How do I balance the reading period to get all of it in with maximum effectiveness?!?


Anyone else dealing with this struggle?   Do you have an answer to balancing it all?


I’m going to be figuring it out in real time this year.      I’m a reading intervention specialist.     When the students get into the small group at the kidney table with me, I know exactly what to do to unlock literacy for them and finally get them reading (all wisdom I’ll be sharing on this site in the future).    That’s the easy part for me, because my teaching experience was concentrated in that area.     As a reading group teacher, I could go into a class, pull my groups, and then move on to the next class.   I didn’t have to do what the classroom teacher does which is manage ALL the groups simultaneously, choosing differentiated activities appropriate for each group while also controlling the behaviors and noise level within the room.

Here are some of the problems I’m currently trying to solve in my Readers Workshop:

  • Where do I fit the grade level lessons and activities in my plans?
  • How do I provide support to those grade level activities so even my lowest readers can be successful?
  • Should I give a grade level specific phonics mini-lesson, even when it’s beyond 75% of my students’ instructional levels?    If not, then how do I choose the best mini-lesson that will be relevant to the various differentiated tasks the students will do in their groups?
  • What’s the best way to manage the noise level and behaviors of the room during groups/center time?
  • How do I train the students to stop interrupting my group?
  • What are some of the best literacy activities for my students at each of their reading development stages?     What should my emergent students be doing?   What should my early readers work on?  What work can I give my on-level students that they could do independently?    How do I best challenge my advanced readers?  (Keep in mind, I have VERY VERY VERY limited printing and copying resources at my school.   So most of these activities must be paper-free.    That resource issue is contributing to the struggle)
  • What scope and sequence do I set up for all my groups so that they can all catch up and be on-grade level readers by the end of the year?  How do I accomplish that huge task when I can only meet with them 2-3 times per week?    (That’s why the activities I choose above must be of the highest quality.   Students must be learning and advancing in reading, even when they’re not at the kidney table with me.   Centers can’t just be “busy work”.)
  • How I type all of this into a managed plan so that my grade level can understand and use these resources with their struggling students as well?

The answers to all these questions will be future blog posts topics.   You’ll be learning with me this year as I apply all of my reading development knowledge to the unique challenges that classroom teachers face.  The struggle is real, y’all.





Do you share this same struggle?    Have you figured out how to balance it all?    Share your concerns as well as success tips and strategies below in the comments.  I’d love to hear from other reading teachers in the same boat.

Happy Reading!


Posted on

Cups and Ice


Have you ever had a decision made for you that was out of your control?     How did you feel about it?

This has happened to me recently, and the experience is making me stretch and grow in unexpected ways.    I was told by my boss that I had to change jobs very last minute before the start of the school year.  I was upset at the suddenness of the decision.   I was frustrated  with my lack of control.

I’m a reading specialist who suddenly finds herself back in the classroom.      So what do I do about it?  How do I handle this challenge/opportunity?


I was speaking about it with a friend from church, and he suggested that I watch this Ted talk by Josh Levs and the accompanying Friends clip.  In the Friends episode, Monica and Phoebe are throwing a party. Typically, Monica takes control of everything and will only allow Phoebe to help with the cups and the ice at the event.     Cups and ice aren’t the fun parts of party planning, and Phoebe knows she’s been given some low level tasks.       It’s the way that she handles her role that’s amazing.      She decides to SHINE in the realm of Cups and Ice and, spoiler alert, those end up being the coolest and best things at the party.

Takeaway from both clips?    Bloom where you’re planted.     Shine within the task/role you’ve been given, even when it’s not your ideal.

Or, as my friend put it, “You’ve got to cups and ice the s**t out of your job.”


TED Talk: