the Internet home of Leah Mermelstein.
Leah is an internationally recognized literacy consultant who specializes in K-5 Reading and Writing Workshop. She is the President and CEO of Read-Write-Connect, INC. She is also the author of Reading/Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom, (Allyn & Bacon), Don’t Forget to Share (Heinemann) and the co-author of Launching the Writing Workshop (with Lucy Calkins) (Heinemann).
Quality Writing Instruction
This brand new DVD will assist teachers with high quality writing instruction.
Don’t Forget to Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop
This brand new book will show you how to make your share sessions more instructional.
Reading/Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom: Find the Clarity and Then Blur the Lines
This book demonstrates how through careful, explicit assessing, planning, and teaching every student can understand and use the reading/writing connection to become stronger readers and writers at the same time.
Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum: Launching the Writing Workshop
This book shows teachers how to launch a joyful and rigorous Writing Workshop in their classrooms.
In today’s post, I want to share some of the work I did with the 3rd teachers at PS 230 in Brooklyn, New York. When I met with this group of teachers we decided that we needed to do a lesson on helping kids know what to do when they were finished. Below I will share the thinking/conversations that we had before the lesson to create teaching/learning that helped kids to become more self-directed.
What would this lesson have looked like in the past? This is one of those lessons I have done in the past with my eyes practically closed. I would simply tell the kids that when they were done, they had just begun and I would either show them things they could do when they were finished or ask them what they thought they could do. The problem I found with this type of lesson is that either kids would still say the same the famous words: I’m finished or if they did continue working they were not doing quality work
What we ended up doing instead…. As the third grade teachers and I spoke about the lesson, we knew that we wanted the kids to understand a few things: First, we wanted the kids to realize that it was not a new topic as most of the kids had been in a Writing Workshop since Kindergarten. It was important for us to relay that to them because in the past we found that kids acted as thought it was a brand new topic. Prior to the lesson, we also consulted with the K-2 teachers to make sure we were specific with the kids about what they already knew about what to do when they were finished. We also wanted the kids to realize that this lesson wasn’t about just keeping themselves busy during this time, but it was about doing quality work.
These ideas led us to revise our typical lesson. Here is what we did instead….
First, we let the kids know that this was not a new topic for them. We then put them into groups and gave them 2 post its. We said that as a group they should talk about the kinds of things they could do when they were finished. We also asked to think /talk about how those things would help them not just stay busy, but improve both their products and their processes. We then said that after they spoke for awhile to write the two most important ideas on the post its and be prepared to share.
How did this help? We realized that by involving the kids in the process it made them much more engaged. Furthermore, it was huge that they understood that the purpose was to improve their products/processes, not to simply stay busy. It was also helpful for them to think about how their different ideas would help them as writers.
What would our next steps be? After we did the lesson, we noticed that kids were super focused on editing as what they could do when they were finished because they had just finished an editing units. We decided that we would revisit this chart at the end of every unit of study and ask: Now that you have learned new things in this unit what else can you do when you think you are finished?
In my book, Self Directed Writers: The Third Essential Element in the Writing Workshop I talk about how getting kids to be self-directed is a yearlong process, not a September process. Ironically, in the past I tended to do a lesson on what to do when you’re finished in September and then almost never revisited the lesson (and then wondered why they weren’t good at it)
I can’t wait to hear what happens in these classrooms when they do revisit this lesson at the end of every unit of study.
I wan to end by just reminding all of you of how important getting your kids to be self-directed is….Teaching kids to be self-directed is not something extra to do if you have extra time or something to do with just your top students.
Some people say that with all of the new standards there is just not time to do this kind of ‘fluffy’ work. This is JUST NOT TRUE!!!! If you want kids to reach standards and be joyful engaged learners, then keeping them self-directed should be your priority for all of your students. .
I would love to hear your thoughts on this as well as other things you are trying in your classroom in order to get your kids to become more self-directed!
Unit next time,
I hope everybody has had a great start to their school year.
I am planning on using my blog for the next few months as a vehicle for people to share the ways in which they are helping their kids become more self-directed.
Of course, I am hoping you’ll read my book: Self Directed Writers: The Third Essential Element in the Writing Workshop and try some of the ideas I wrote about and/or create your own.
To start the conversation I will share two thoughts/ideas I have had about self-directed learners since the year has started.
In my book, I talk about different words that describe self-directed learners. One of the words I use is a self-starter. Both of the examples below show you ways to help your kids become self-starters.
Create an environment that allows kids to be self-starters:
Recently my daughter, Ariana, learned to crawl. It wasn’t long after she learned to crawl that she realized that crawling allowed her to leave a room and go exploring independently.
It’s been so much fun for me to watch her and although this new skill makes my life harder in some ways, in most ways my life is now easier.
The reason for this is because crawling has allowed her to become more self-directed. She is less reliant on me for all of her adventures.
I wasn’t intentionally trying to nurture her into becoming more self-directed, but watching her make choices about what she wanted to play with in our home made me realize I had: Watch her right here: Ariana being self-directed
In my new book, I designate one whole chapter to creating environments that nurture kids into becoming more self-directed.
It shouldn’t be surprising that I can help Ariana become more self-directed just by being thoughtful about my home environment. I believe that teachers can do the same thing in their classrooms.
I would love to hear what you have done or want to do with your classroom environment to support kids in becoming more self-directed.
Give kids options so that they can become self-starters
Recently I worked with a group of second grade teachers at PS 230 in Brooklyn, New York. A word that seemed to keep coming up during our meeting was the word options. We knew that if we wanted kids to be self-directed then we needed to make sure there were always options for them. If we always told them what to do every moment of writing workshop, they would never be in a position to make a decision and therefore would not become more self-directed.
We knew that we wanted to give kids options during the work time in writing workshop. The second grade teachers wanted to create a chart that named these options. They wanted these options to not only build upon what the kids had learned in first grade, but also be able to be used across the year in different units of study.. Here is the list that they came up with:
2. Add, change or take out
3. Start a new piece
4. Write a connected piece
5. Make a plan for a new piece
This list built upon what the teachers in grade 1 had done in a variety of ways. The first grade teachers had taught their kids that they could add to or change their pieces but second grade was going to also help kids understand how taking out a part of their writing was a way to revise as well.
The first grade teachers had taught their kids that they could start a new piece but writing a connected piece or making a plan were both new options for them.
All of this would help kids not only keep busy during writing workshop, but also do high quality work.
The second grade teacher also knew that this list with some explanation could be used in all of their writing units of study.
I would love to hear from you!
Any questions or concerns about my book?
What have you tried in your classroom around the idea of self-directed learning?
Until next time,
Happy New Year! I’m excited to announce that my new book is out! This book will help you create self-directed writers while still upholding a standards based classroom.
I sincerely hope that my book can help you create writers who are excited, persistent, engaged and many other great words.
For more information on my book and to see a sample chapter you can go to: http://www.heinemann.com/products/E04800.aspx. You can also order it at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Self-Directed-Writers-Essential-Element-Workshop/dp/0325048002 or at Barnes and Nobles at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/self-directed-writers-leah-mermelstein/1116075331?ean=9780325048000
I’m hoping to use my blog this year as a place for people to share what discover while trying to get their students to become more self-directed. In the next few weeks, I will share some ideas and I hope to hear some of yours. Until then have a great start to the year and I hope that my book helps you do that.
I plan on taking a break from blogging this summer to enjoy my sweet little girl! I hope all of you have a wonderful summer filled with rest, relaxation and/or fun!
I will however let you know when my book comes out (mid to end of August).
If you haven’t seen the cover yet, here it is! 9780325048000-1
My final blog for this school year is a list of what I have learned in my first 6 months of parenting. Being a new parent, I know that I am at the start of this journey and will learn so much more as time goes on (and will probably revise what I presently think).
I share these lessons because they are good reminders for our teaching as well.
As always, I hope you will comment and/or add what you have learned this year to the list.
1. Work as a team: I want to be Ariana’s everything, but the reality is different people can bring different things to her life. I rarely make her laugh like this Ariana laughing! Isn’t that the same in teaching? You don’t have to be everything to your students. Find the teachers and the resources (books included) that can help!
2. Be in the moment: Being a mom has helped me to stop thinking and worrying about what is ahead. I just don’t have time!. Yesterday for example, I took Ariana to a friend’s baby shower. Before Ariana was born, I would have worried about bringing a baby with me, but again I had no time to worry: I had a little girl to interact with all day. As a matter of fact, the party started at 12:30 and by that point Ariana and I had already gone to the park two times, played in her bedroom and taken a nap (Well, she did and I didn’t!) It’s important also to be in the moment with your students and not think ahead too much.
3. On the other hand planning ahead is key as well! You might be thinking that I just previously said be in the moment and now I am saying the exact opposite of that. In my opinion, anything meaningful is not as simple as one way or the other. I often struggle with taking a stance on a topic (for example, Common Core Standards) because I can see the pros and cons and never think it’s as simple as: I love this or hate this. So, yes, be in the moment and plan ahead at the same time )))
4. Don’t just assess surface understanding: Go deeper! Ariana has recently become scared of strangers or at least that’s what my initial assessment was. As I went deeper, I could see that she usually loves children, especially girls in the 2-5 year range…go figure. She also likes adults, as long as I am holding her. When I went even deeper, I saw that if I walk out of the room even for a second these days, she goes into panic mode. So I have revised what I think. It’s not that she is scared of strangers. She is scared of me leaving. In teaching, we also need to go beyond our initial assessments and keep studying our students until we reach a more in-depth and more accurate assessment.
5. Look at everything as an adventure. For awhile I was trying to make Ariana laugh, funny faces, silly noises, tickling everything but she just wouldn’t. And I think I’m a pretty funny person!!!! She finally laughed a great belly laugh in Dunkin Donuts during a break on the long trip home from Boston. I was so tired and wished I could just keep driving, but I had to stop and feed her. The stop and her laughter reminded me that I need to slow down and revel in the small stuff, just like she does! A stop at Dunkin Donuts in a middle of a long trip doesn’t have to a bad thing…it can be a hilarious adventure. What is fun for our kids in school depends largely on what we think of it and how we present it to them.
6. Read Aloud is Key: I started reading aloud to Ariana at 6 weeks: Read Aloud Looking at that video now, I can see just how much Ariana has changed as a reader now that she is 6 months. She is much more focused and clearly lets me know which books she likes and which ones she doesn’t like. These days, she turns the pages and clearly lets me know when she comes to a favorite page. No matter what happens in our schools, we can’t forget the power that Read Aloud has in helping readers of all ages grow.
7. Routine is Key: I have watched Ariana strive on routine. We have a nighttime routine that she can count on and it helps her to feel safe and happy. Our students feel happy and safe when we give them routines that they can count on.
8. Oh the other hand getting out of routine can lead to huge growth as well. We just returned from a trip to Boston where almost all of Ariana’s routines were impossible to keep. I was able to see that she was just fine. As a matter of fact, she became more comfortable when I wasn’t around and fell even more in love with her cousins. As a teacher don’t hang onto routines so much that you miss the growth that happens when you do something completely out of routine!
9. ……..I would love to hear your thoughts on what you have learned this year. Have a wonderful summer and I will let you know when my book is out!
Until next time,
I am thrilled to share the cover of my upcoming book! 9780325048000-1
This book, which is due to come out this August, looks at how to create self-directed learners in the Writing Workshop: As the publication date gets closer, I’ll send along more information.
For now, I want to share one aspect of the book and how it helped me to parent Ariana in a way that hopefully will help her to become more and more self-directed.
One of the words I use in the book to describe self-directed learners is persistent. Throughout the book, I share many concrete ways to help kids become more persistent.
For the purpose of this blog I’ll give you a ‘sneak peak’ at one of these ways, but first a story about Ariana….
Ariana has learned to turn over from her back to her belly and of course now practices it about 2,341 times a day. Watch her here: VIDEO0005-0
The problem was that when she first learned how to roll over she wasn’t great at it and that caused her some frustration.
After she turned over and was on her belly, she couldn’t get her hands out from under her body and to make matters worse although she loved her new trick of rolling over, she wasn’t particularly comfortable on her stomach.
You can imagine that there was a lot of crying and frustrated grunts on the first day of this new learning.
As her mom, it was hard to watch her frustration and it was tempting to just pull her out of the situation and have her play in ways that would avoid her rolling over.
After much reflection and (googling ‘baby frustration’) I realized that a little bit of frustration was good as it would help her become more persistent in figuring out how to solve the problem herself.
I purposely say a little bit of frustration because I know that too much frustration would not help her become more persistent but rather a weepy mess who couldn’t couldn’t focus on anything. I started to try and manage her frustration.
I watched from afar for a few minutes to see how and if she could problem solve and lo and behold she began to be able to get her hands out from under her body and actually began to enjoy being on her belly.
Of course, there were times when I could tell she was going to become too frustrated and that’s when I intervened and helped as lightly as I could.
But there were just as many times when I didn’t intervene and let her problem solve on her own.
My hope is that by holding off and only helping when I could see that the frustration was too high Ariana would become more persistent in solving problems both now and in the future.
How does this story impact the classroom?
Well, for starters in my new book I emphasize that not only do we want to teach reading and writing, but we also want to teach persistence. I want kids to understand that the harder you work the more likely you’ll be able to figure something out.
A little bit of frustration is a natural part of learning. And when you get on the other side of frustration and figure something out, I think it does help with teaching persistence in both parenting and teaching.
I want to end with a simple technique that I talk about in my book to teach persistence. Interestingly, it is exactly what I did with Ariana without realizing it.
I do not speak to the kids for the first three minutes of Writing Workshop. During that time rather than talking to kids, I am watching them problem solve. When I see a child struggling rather than jump in immediately, I watch to see if and how they solve the problem. After those three minutes if I think a child is too frustrated I will intervene just as I did with Ariana.
My hope is that just like Ariana saw the pay off of working hard at rolling over, my students will see the pay off of working hard to solve problems during Writing Workshop.
I would love to hear your thoughts on teaching persistence in both teaching and parenting.
I am sharing the two pictures above because both show big risks I have recently taken in my parenting.
Both times, taking this risk, although nerve wracking, brought my parenting to a new level.
The first picture is of Ariana sleeping without a swaddle.
Initially, I was scared to take this step with Ariana because she was already sleeping so well.
“Why ruin something that is already so good,” I thought to myself.
Interesting I have heard these very same words in schools when I have introduced a new idea to teachers.
My response always is, “Take a risk. Try something new! You could surprise yourself and it could even be better!
It was time for me to take my own advice!
I took the risk and unswaddled my daughter .
She actually slept better that night and stopped making groaning sounds throughout the entire night.
I realized that those sounds were her fighting to get our of the swaddle and now that she was out she could relax more.
Taking this kind of risk wasn’t perfect.
That are still nights that she needs to go to sleep with a swaddle and then I unswaddle her later.
Some nights she sleeps beautifully, while others she is more unsettled.
One thing is for sure: When I took a risk in my parenting Ariana moved to a new place–a more comfortable place.
The second picture is from a trip I recently took to Boston. I drove to Boston and then back home again alone with Ariana.
We stayed in two different homes and Ariana met a lot of new people in a short amount of time.
I was really nervous about this trip and actually considered not going.
Ariana had such a great little life in Hoboken, why ruin a good thing……she loved her crib, her walks through town and her calm peaceful schedule.
As I thought about this trip, all I could think were the hard parts of traveling alone with her…packing the car…feeding her while traveling,, changing her diaper in a rest stop…
Again, I thought, “Why mess up something so good?”
The reason…once again because the unknown could be even better!!!!
So we went..was it hard?
Ariana did get a bit stressed out not being in her routine but she met her cousins and as you can see from the picture above it was love at first sight!!!!!
Everything hard about the visit was worth it as she now has these wonderful relationships with her cousins in Boston!
What do I learn from both of these experiences?
Taking risks can be scary and messy but they always have pay off in some way.
The same goes for our teaching! Taking risks can be scary but always pay off in the end.
I try hard in my teaching to be someone who is always willing to take a risk, to try on a new idea, to take on a new perspective.
I think it’s what keeps me growing as an educator.
Sometimes I wonder, especially with all of the uproar around The Common Core Standards, if we could move quicker towards best practices if everyone (both proponents of the Common Core and folks apposed to it ) took a risk and tried to understand what the other side was saying… ..who knows maybe both would be surprised by what they learned and understood.
I hope this post helps you to embrace risk in your teaching.
Try out that new idea you’ve been wondering about…. Try to understand a colleague who thinks differently than you.
And if you find yourself saying what I said, “Why ruin something that is already so good?” remember by taking a risk you could you could surprise yourself and find that the new idea or perspective helps you teach or parent better than you could have imagined.
As always, I can’t wait to hear what you think.
Ariana has learned how to sleep in her crib for 12 straight hours!!!! She is so very proud of herself and I am enjoying the sleep!!!
I want to share the story of how it happened because it pertains to both parenting and teaching.
For the last four weeks, I have been putting Ariana to bed in her car seat and later when she’s fast asleep transporting her to the crib.
I did this because when I put her in the crib in the early evening, she would wake up crying every half hour or so. Clearly she was not comfortable sleeping in her crib.
She ended up not getting solid sleep and neither did I!!!!!
When I put her in the car seat, she slept better and if she did wake up, I just had to rock the car seat a bit and she went back to sleep.
When I told people I was doing this, I got all kinds of well meaning comments: Don’t rock her so much….she will come to expect it…you are setting up bad habits by putting her in the car seat….the list goes on and on.
Their comments stressed me out because I knew that my goal was for her to eventually sleep in her crib.
I got so stressed out by this goal and the well-meaning comments that I decided to force the teaching upon her.
I decided that the very next night she was going to learn to sleep in her crib.
In my gut, I knew that it wouldn’t work but I went ahead and tried to teach it anyway..
Sure enough, she woke up crying numerous times and back in the car seat she went.
Even though I tried to teach her how to sleep in her crib, it didn’t work because she wasn’t ready for it yet. And because she wasn’t ready Ariana had a difficult night as did I ..no learning (or sleeping) took place!
About five days later, when I went to transport her to the crib, she was wide awake.
She wasn’t crying but she was wide awake.
This was a VERY different behavior because normally at this time in the night, she was sound asleep. Because it was so different, I took note of it.
I wasn’t sure what to do.
So I put her in the crib ( I kept the lights on as my plan was to only leave her room for a minute) and went to my room to think about my plan of action.
I fell asleep and woke up an hour later in a panic…first of many guilty mom moments!!!!
I ran to the crib and there she was awake and still not crying. I wasn’t sure what else to to so I turned off the lights and she slept peacefully for the rest of the night.
Once again, I took note of this new behavior.
Based upon my observations, I knew I had a teachable moment…I realized that she had changed..she had grown into a little girl who felt comfortable in her crib. Now was the right time to teach her to sleep in her crib for the entire night.
Sure enough the next night I put her directly into the crib and she is now sleeping twelve hours a night….I hate to say it aloud as I’m scared I will jinx it!!!
What did this teach me? When I tried to force her into learning to sleep in the crib it didn’t work. I forced her because of outside influences and goals I had for her.
What I had to do (which was harder) was to never forget the end goal of sleeping in the crib but to listen and watch her behaviors so that I would know when she was ready to learn it.
When I taught it at the wrong time, she did not learn it!!!!
The perfect teaching opportunity wasn’t years away ..it was days away and what a difference it made to wait just a few days to teach her to sleep in the crib.
I still met the goal pretty quickly but I met it by watching her carefully and teaching it at just the right moment.
What this mean for teaching?
Quite simply: You can force learning and at times we waste a lot of precious teaching time teaching kids things they cannot learn.
Our job is much harder than that!
We can’t forget the end goals that we and others place upon our kids but just like I had to watch Ariana’s behavior so I knew when she was ready to learn, we have to watch our students so that we know when they are ready to learn.
Keep in mind that a few days might make all the difference just like it did for me with Ariana.
Like always, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and comments.
Until next time,
I’m always imagining all the ‘big stuff’ of Ariana’s life. I can’t wait for her to start talking, walking, singing, –I was so excited for her first smile! As you can see, it is quite beautiful.
But because I am so excited for the big stuff I almost forget to notice the seemingly small stuff.
Last week, Ariana discovered her tongue!!
She figured out that she can keep her tongue in her mouth or if she wants she can put her tongue out of her mouth. What power she has and the look on her face while she does it is priceless.
She even noticed that she can do something (I’m not quite sure what she is doing) that will make her tongue make a funny sound.
Watch it here: IMG_0194
What I’ve realized is that discovering her tongue is not a small thing but a big thing for my little girl!
Because I realized that, I made a bigger deal out of it with her–talking to her about how much fun it must be to have figured out all kinds of fun things to do with her tongue.
It’s a good reminder for both both parents and teachers to revel in all that kids do and notice not just the big things, but the small as well.
In the end what seems small probably isn’t and probably will have a bigger impact on the child.
Just ask Ariana..she looks pretty proud to have discovered her tongue and I have a feeling it’s the start of a lot of other things.
I would love your thoughts on how paying attention to the seemingly small details in both teaching and parents have yielded great results.
And by the way, Ariana laughed out loud today…She did it while watching me dance. I think she already had discovered that I have two left feet and finds it funny:)
Until next time,
My friends and colleagues at Parenting Smarts, Ellen Dillon and Norman Stiles, Parenting Smarts Productions recently posted a wonderful article by Mojo Lisa A. McCrohan that was about the three things you should say to your child or children every day.
To sum up her wonderful article these were the three things that she believes children should hear from your mouth and learn from your actions everyday.
1. I see you…..
2. You matter…..
3. I love to watch you…
As a new parent, I have been thinking about this wonderful article how and if I was doing that for Ariana.
It’s amazing even at 7 weeks Ariana can tell when my attention is elsewhere. Just yesterday, I was hanging out with Ariana. My phone rang and without any warning to Ariana I took my attention elsewhere and started gabbing with a friend of mine. Within a minute or so, Ariana started to cry. It was as if she was saying to me: Don’t forget about me. I matter and if you’re going to talk to your friend at least let me know:)
She is right and I told her so.
I talk to Ariana all day long.
We talk about where she goes, what she does and what she likes and dislikes. Even though she doesn’t understand everything I am saying, she does know that I am talking to her.
Hopefully this ongoing conversation, helps her understand that she matters and that I see her.
My friend (the same one I was gabbing on the phone with) recently noted that I speak with Ariana in a conversational mode as if she is going to respond (which she really does even at 7 weeks in her own way).
Again our ongoing conversations will help her know that I see her and that she matters.
I LOVE watching Ariana play. In the past week,, she has been napping a bit less and playing a bit more. I especially love watching her watch herself in a mirror. The moment her eyes catch her own image in the mirror is simply priceless.
I also love how engaged she is with tummy time. Watch her IMG_0188
Now that i am thinking about these three ideas in my parenting, I can’t help but think about these same ideas in my teaching.
No matter what we are teaching or how we are teaching it, if we want kids to learn they must know that we see them, and that they matter.
It certainly won’t hurt either if we tell them on a regular basis what we love watching them do.
Sometime people will say to me, “Yes that is all good but The Common Core Standards changes all of that.”
I don’t think so.
Although The Common Core Standards are not perfect, most most of it is simply good teaching.
The biggest problem is not the Common Core Standards, but how people react to them.
I believe that if we keep the three ideas above in our mind while teaching, we have a better chance of kids actually learning.
I would love to hear your thoughts on these three 3 ideas (and others of course) and what they mean to both your teaching and to our parenting!
Until next time,
Just a quick post today! Since being home with Ariana, I have been reminded of the importance of both Read Aloud and oral language.
Throughout the day, two of Ariana’s favorite activities are reading books and listening to me talk.
I often read books to Ariana before she naps and if she was fussy beforehand the second we start reading books she calms down.
Of course I know that she doesn’t understand the words yet, but she is attuned to both the the sound of language and the pictures.
Here is a video of us reading together! Isn’t she cute??
Her other favorite activity is to walk up and down the hallway of my condo and listen to me talk about all of the things that are there.
It’s like our little field trip ( I actually call it our little adventure!) ..we look and talk about strollers, lights, boots, and elevators and once again the second I start talking and naming all that we are seeing, her fussiness ceases.
I know both of these activities will have huge impacts on her.
This reminds me of the importance of both Read Aloud and language in the classroom.
I would love your thoughts and ideas on both Read Aloud and language and ways they fit into both your teaching and/your parenting!
Until next time,
Copyright © 2013 Best Writing Consultant