Lessons Learned

777669af68dbccabc30c3b6bcaa818253On Friday, I presented a professional development session for some incredible Seattle public school teachers. During the course of my session, I modeled the “look, say, name, cover, writer, check” strategy that was originally introduced by Diane Snowball and Faye Bolton in their book, Spelling K-8: Planning and Teaching (Stenhouse, 1999).

In a nutshell, this strategy invites students to create a mental image of an unfamiliar word (or parts of it if it’s a long word) in their minds. This strategy uses the following steps, as reflected on page 214 of Spelling K-8:

  1. “Look at the word, perhaps noticing words within the word, looking at the parts of the word, or underlining known parts.
  2. Say the word.
  3. Name the letters of the word.
  4. Cover the word and picture it in your mind.
  5. Write the word from the picture in your mind.
  6. Check to see that you have all of the letters in the word, and in the correct order.”

Whenever I introduce a new strategy to teachers, I try to provide an authentic learning experience for them as adult writers. So when I modeled the “look, say, name, cover, write, check” strategy, I chose an adult-level word to learn (as opposed to words like “can” or “because”). I selected the word “pneumonia.”

While the teachers enjoyed learning this new strategy, I made a rather noticeable error: I failed to clearly articulate the purpose of the strategy. This became obvious when a teacher responded, “I don’t think children should be learning words like ‘pneumonia.'” While this strategy could be used to learn any unfamiliar word, I clarified that “look, say, name, cover, write, check” was an ideal way to teach high-frequency words, words that are frequently used in reading and writing.

As a literacy coach, I need to remember that teachers and students learn in similar ways. If they don’t understand the purpose of a strategy, they may miss the learning entirely.


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Coming to Seattle: Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond

20081205_linda2On April 9, my colleagues and I at the Center for Educational Leadership have the privilege of welcoming Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond to Seattle for a presentation in our District Leaders Seminar Series. As many of you know, Dr. Darling-Hammond is one of the leading voices in our country on school restructuring, teacher education and educational equity.

She recently served as the chief education advisor to President Obama’s election campaign, and she continues to have significant influence on national education policy. Given the deep interest in Dr. Darling-Hammond’s work, we are opening single-session registration for this presentation, which will be held in Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus. The cost for attending this event is $175, and includes dinner. To register, call 206-221-6881. Spaces are limited. Please join us for a great time of learning and networking!

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Special Guest Blogger: Penny Plavala

Through my work with the Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), I’ve had the pleasure to meet extraordinary literacy coaches from across the country. One of those individuals is Penny Plavala, who serves as a School Improvement Specialist for the Multnomah Education Service District in Portland, Oregon. With eleven years of classroom teaching experience in English, speech and drama, Penny provides statewide professional development training in literacy instruction and assessment. She has agreed to be a guest blogger and share her experience from our recent Coaching Institute:

In January, I had the pleasure of attending CEL’s Promise of Coaching Institute, spending two rich days with literacy coach and author, Katherine Casey.  In company with literacy coaches from across the country, I followed Katherine on a journey to discover the art of purposeful coaching.

I came away with numerous valuable “take away” concepts from the institute that I have immediately applied to my coaching work. Here are just a few:

To build leadership capacity, have two or three other teachers in the classroom whenever you are coaching or modeling a lesson. Teachers can join you during their prep period and will greatly benefit from sharing information and expertise.

• To scaffold teacher learning, demonstrate lessons in one teacher’s classroom three days in a row, rather than one day a week over three weeks.  This model strategically builds teachers’ knowledge.

• Whenever you demonstrate a lesson, find ways to actively engage teachers who are observing. They should stay close beside you in order to script your teaching, and when appropriate, navigate the room and check in with students.

Another benefit of this conference was the time given to process key concepts: individually, with a partner, and with my table group.  The time to reflect allowed for deeper thinking and future planning. I came away with fresh ideas and strategies I can use right away, as well as clearly established coaching goals. CEL is offering an expanded, 4-day Coaching Institute this summer in Seattle, and I highly recommend that you attend!

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Writing Workshop: Where Instruction and Leadership Meet

met leaders pd 83.jpgIn recent months, I had the privilege of providing literacy staff development for educators from across the state of Wyoming. With vast, snow-blanketed prairie land as our backdrop, I guided teachers, coaches, and principals on an exciting expedition through the writing process as a means of studying elementary writing instruction. Outfitted with notebooks and pens, we embarked upon the same writing journey we ask of our students—we set out to collect and nurture our ideas, which over a period of days were developed into drafts, edited and revised, and finally, honed to become final pieces of work.

I must commend my Wyoming colleagues, as such an endeavor is far from easy. Good writing requires considerable thought, vulnerability and risk. As participants began to confront their own insecurities as adult writers, I invited them to consider both the task set before their students, as well as the writing instruction they received as children. We concluded that the majority of us were assigned the task of writing, but were rarely taught how to write.

I believe that great writers are made, not born. Grounded in the core belief that every student has the potential to achieve when provided high quality instruction, my colleagues and I examined the pedagogical and day-to-day practices that ensure it is our students’ strengths and needs that drive instruction.

Our journey, however, did not end there. We engaged in an equally important conversation: that every teacher is responsible for providing high quality instruction, and possesses the potential to do so when leaders at every level share a common vision and language. While this may sound idealistic, our dialogue about instructional leadership was grounded in practical ways in which writing instruction might be supported by teacher colleagues, coaches, principals, and central office administrators.

The week in Wyoming culminated in a “Writers’ Celebration,” where participants were invited to share their final or “published” piece of writing. Educators who had never considered themselves as writers read with passion, humor, even tears.  Although our journey together had come to an end, we left with renewed hope in our work and in ourselves as instructional leaders.  We left knowing how to intentionally support and nurture the capacity of each and every child we teach.  What could be more important?


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Summer Coaching Institute, Seattle: July 7-10, 2009

Greetings from Portland, where I am hosting the Promise of Coaching Institute, which is presented by nationally-acclaimed coach Katherine Casey, author of Literacy Coaching: The Essentials (Heinemann, 2006).

Many people have asked me if we will be offering a Coaching Institute this summer and the answer is “Yes, we will!”

Join nationally-acclaimed author and coach, Katherine Casey, in an interactive session designed to address key issues relevant to the work of content-focused coaching. The 4-day Institute is open to practitioners from all grade levels.

Through extensive use of video, conversation, role-playing, individual and collaborative planning, participants will engage in a variety of learning experiences to build knowledge and skills for instructional coaching:

Observe and analyze instruction to identify leverage points for coaching work
Analyze videos of coaching in action
Consider a range of coaching strategies in relation to identified purpose(s)
Craft coaching schedules for maximum effect
Develop a rationale for coaching based on articulated values and beliefs
Embed specific learning outcomes and accountability into professional development practice
Deepen understanding of the important principal-coach relationship and the skills necessary for collaboration
Design powerful professional development experiences focused on student learning

Click Here to register!

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Coaching Institute with Katherine Casey

In my work with the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington, I am privileged to coordinate the Promise of Coaching Institute, which is presented by nationally-acclaimed coach Katherine Casey, author of Literacy Coaching: The Essentials (Heinemann, 2006).

Portland: January 29-30, 2009

This two-day interactive session is designed to deepen literacy coaches’ understanding about what coaches need to know and be able to do and how to set up coaching work for success. The Institute is open to practitioners from all grade levels.

While not all authors of literacy books are great speakers, Katherine is exceptional!  She is a practitioner at heart, and incorporates videos of her own coaching throughout her sessions.  This is an event you won’t want to miss!



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A Mentor Text for Persuasive Writing

As I plan for the coaching work I will be doing with intermediate teachers next month, I think about my favorite mentor texts that help me introduce specific genres.  Whether I am teaching students or teachers, immersing writers with captivating mentor texts (or touchstone texts) is crucial in helping them understand and appreciate a new writing genre.

One of my favorite mentor texts for persuasive writing is Should There Be Zoos?, which is a brilliant collection of student essays written by fourth graders who were guided by Tony Stead.  Too often, we limit persuasive writing to shallow topics such as “why I should get a certain toy for Christmas” because we as educators are uncomfortable with controversial topics.  And while certain topics are limited to more mature audiences, we know that children have plenty to say about social justice and environmental issues.

Persuasive writing provides us new opportunties to open the world to students, and invite them to take a stand on issues that matter to them and others.


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