Reflections on Balanced Literacy

“It always seems impossible, until it is done.” — Nelson Mandela

I found it appropriate for my two year anniversary for blogging that today’s post would be my first guest bloggers post by Jessica Mize-Wilson. (@jmizewilson)

Recently, I joined a new learning community, The Teacher’s Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP). I had the privilege of attending a TCRWP Homegrown Institute this summer and loved all the “Ah!” moments! It was affirming and satisfying knowing we were teaching readers and writers strategies to master skills that are so broad they can be applied to any type of reading. We are moving from a hybrid basel/reader’s workshop model reading program to full implementation balanced literacy. Balanced literacy, as defined by Cowen, states “A balanced reading approach is research-based, assessment-based, comprehensive, integrated, and dynamic, in that it empowers teachers and specialists to respond to the individual assessed literacy needs of children as they relate to their appropriate instructional and developmental levels of decoding, vocabulary, reading comprehension, motivation, and sociocultural acquisition, with the purpose of learning to read for meaning, understanding, and joy.” Teachers cannot implement balanced literacy alone, in silos! We must share and collaborate! Teaching teams will be most excited about the “instructional synergy” coming into the classroom. Teachers will see how each piece builds on one another and a community of learners (both teachers and students) begin to work together, feeding on each other and a “buzz” about our learning develops!

When I read the units, I begin to see each teaching point build on one another (something I always felt highs and lows with in my hybrid model of reader’s workshop.) I begin to hear and see opportunities for shared reading, interactive writing, word study, conferring, strategy groups and guided reading groups….oh my! Now I am overwhelmed! Not really, but it is easy to do because balanced literacy is about responsive teaching. A lot of decisions cannot be made until the students walk in the door! This fall, as a Literacy Facilitator, I will be coaching teachers in implementing balanced literacy and thought there were a few Ah! Ha! moments to share. So, here goes…

1. The components of balanced reading! Balanced literacy is a complex, dynamic teaching approach. If we want students to become risk takers, we must also take risk. Set your own goal! Choose one component to focus on and get really good at it first. Seeing the big picture and knowing the components of reader’s workshop will help you choose your goal! All of the components work together and offer a balance for students to transfer learning to all areas of their lives.




2. The mini lesson! Can it really be a mini and not a “maxi”? Yes! The TCRWP shared the architecture of a mini lesson and several conversational moves to keep the lesson at a brisk pace. Using the architecture of a mini lesson accomplishes three goals: planning becomes easier, teaching becomes more efficient and students come to know what to expect so they can better focus on what we’re teaching (builds trust in us!) Sending a message of, “We’ve got this!” load and clear. The mini-lesson is a invitation to try a strategy and the architecture of a mini lesson clearly defines what and how students can become successful readers.

3. Conferring! What am I suppose to talk about that will move students along their current text band and propel them forward to the next text band? It is going to take a lot of balance between mini-lesson instruction, strategy work, guided reading groups, partner work and conferring! Conferring catches a student at the cutting edge of their learning, at the cutting edge of greatness! A lot of times teachers think it is easy to confer with students, until you start! The key to conferring is not talking but listening! Coaching into the greatness is the hard part and it takes a lot of practice. The architecture of a reading conference helps move the conversation along.



Other Ah! Ha! Moments…
1. Reading Toolkit — teaching into readers needs!
2. #tcrwp chats on Twitter
3. The different types of small group work!

Using Bitsboard App for Assessment

“Every thought we think is creating our future.” by Louise L. Hay


Bitsboard is a FREE App I learned about recently. It is a great app to use with any grade level, with any curriculum for informal assessments. This App is available for IOS devices and Androids. Once you download Bitsboard they give you some boards that are already created. You can also look through their catalog and download any Bitsboard you like. With Bitsboard you can learn almost anything from site words, to time, to foreign languages. Bitsboard has several assessments you can choose from which allows you to switch up the assessment but still concentrate on the same content. There are assessments such as flashcards, matching, spelling and true or false to name just a few.


Two of my favorite features I like about Bitsboard is, one that you as the teacher can tell the student which assessment they need to work on or you can allow them to choose. Each assessment also progress monitors the content so you can track your students learning. My second favorite feature is that you can create your own boards or students can. It is easy to create a board, all you need to do is tap new board and decide on the content you want the assessment to be.

When I was working with some fourth grade students, they made their own Bitsboard on the topic Rocks and Minerals (4.P.2). Not only could the others students use it to learn but the students who made the board showed their mastery of their knowledge as well. I also worked with some students with disabilities using this app as well. We used it to teach the students emotions, social skills and vocabulary.

In the top right there is a gear that you can tap and it will allow you to follow a quick guide or a getting started manual.This is also where you can edit your boards and share them. I hope you enjoy Bitsboard in the classroom as much as I do and I would love to hear how you use it in the classroom as well.

Creating Games with the Tiny Tap App Based on Common Core

“Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, deserves to be. ” By David Thornburg

Tiny Tap

Tiny Tap is an app that I came across when I was waiting to get my oil changed in my car. I was sitting next to this little girl who was in Kindergarten and she was playing on the app. I asked her to tell me about it and she was showing me all the games she could play on the app and then the game she created on the app herself. Of course I had to also test out this new app and see how I could apply it to the classroom curriculum.

Tiny Tap is s a free iPad app that allows you to create simple games based on pictures that you take, find or ones you draw. The app is very user friendly, even a Kindergarten could make a game. 🙂 It is easy for teachers to use for differentiated instruction because students can play a game that is based on their needs. Within 10 mins I made a game that connected with the Math Common Core standard K.CC.7.

Here are the steps on how to create a game:

1. Click on create a game and add the title of your game.

2. Tap on the add photo and either upload pictures, take new pictures, find picture on the web or draw a picture based on your Common Core curriculum standard you want to address.

3. To create your question press the record button and start talking.

4. When you have finished recording, select the portion of your picture that is your answer by circling it.

5. Click on done and it will appear on your shelf.

If you want to go back and edit any of the games you created, you can at any time, by clicking on the edit button in the top right corner.  There is also a TinyTap Market where you can see what other people have created, some are free and some are paid. You can also edit others games once it is downloaded into your shelf.

The best part is students who have shown mastery can make games for students that still need to practice certain curriculum skills. This allows students to use their 21st century skills by allowing them to critically think, communicate and create.

I hope you enjoy this app as much as I have!

RTI and Math

“If the child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns” – Rita Dunn

Over the past few weeks I have been working on making our Response to Intervention (RTI- except in NC – RTI refers to Responsiveness to Instruction) process smoother for Math. In reading, there are many researched based baselines, progress monitoring tools and interventions we use often in classroom such as Fountas and Pinnell but there is not as much for Math.

Our biggest obstacle was getting teachers to breakdown where the student was going wrong in their math. Many times they would say problem solving. Before we can say it is problem solving we need to make sure it is not other target skills that are hindering the child such as computation. Many times when we went back and analyzed the students work, there was a different target skill the student really needed such as number sense or reading comprehension.

I decided we needed a graphic organizer to help us with the RTI process in Math. I took the idea from Jennifer Jones Blog, Hello Literacy, RTI “If, Then Menu” she did for reading.

Here is our “If, Then Menu” for math. If_Then_Intevention_menu_JV_WASHAM_Math

Below are books and websites we have used for baselines, progress monitoring and interventions that are all research based.



 Math in Plain English (Literacy Strategies for the Mathematics Classroom) Amy Benjamin

My Kids Can-Making Math Accessible to All Learners

Number Sense Routines by Jessica Shumway

Kathy Richardson Books

I would love to know any resources you have found helpful for RTI and Math to help make our resource guide even better.

Creating and Using Infographics in the Elementary Classroom

“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” By Edward de Bono

I am an a self acclaimed advocate for 21st Century Teaching and Learning. I truly believe that students need to be learning through creating, collaborating, critical thinking and communicating (4 C’s); that is why I am a fan of using infographics in the classroom. Infographics are a way to show visual representation of information. When making an infographics students have to use all 4c’s in order to complete one.

Infographics can be a great way for students to present data to the class on a research project they are doing or an arguments such as books verses ebooks. Infograohics align with many of the Common Core and Essential Standards objectives.Remember the data used for infographics could be data just from your classroom, school or community as long as that is stated.

Examples of how each subject can create infographics:

Science: If a student is studying the Great Garbage Patch during their ecosystem unit they can inform the class about it through an info graphic. For example how much trash there is and how many animals it has hurt.

Math: Students can do any topic they want because infographics are all about math data and graphs.

Literacy: Students can compare and contrast any two books. The students can also chose a hot topic they are writing about, For example, if schools should be year round or if schools should have uniforms or not.

Social Studies: Students can create an infographic on any time period such as the Civil War by making a timeline infographic.

P.E.: Students can make an infographic on nutrition or benefits of exercise and how it correlates with grades.

How do the 4c’s apply:

Collaboration: If students are working together on making these infographics they are collaborating ideas.

Critical Thinking: Students are critical thinking about what information should go in the infographic and why.

Communication: Students are communicating with each other and also communicating information.

Creating: Students are creating an info graphic product.

Step by Step process on how can you make them in your classroom:

1. Have the students start with a topic/idea and research to gain more information. I would also recommend the students create a rough draft on paper as a basic outline.

2. Create the infographic using Pages (or see below for other sites). I like Pages best because it is simple and user-friendly. You can also keep changing the page size to make it longer for infographics. (Inspector, page set up and then paper size scroll to custom) you can also create your own graphs using Pages. Remember too…

  • Keep it simple and pleasing to the eye.
  • Decide on a color scheme
  • Reference your facts in the infographic (Sources)
  • Look at others to gain ideas how you want yours set up.
  • Make them interactive by adding QR codes or videos

3. Once you are finished, export it into a picture – j.peg, so you can embed them into a wiki or the students can post them on their blog etc. Here is one I created using Pages with a friend Doug Thompson- that’s right we collaborated! (We also did add some graphics using Photoshop but you don’t have too)

Other Sites students can use to make infographics easily and free!


Popplet (Limits you)

Kathy Schrock has great resources for classroom teachers on infographics too.

Please let me know how you have used infographics or created them in your classroom so we can learn from each other!

Students Using Data to Drive Their Own Learning

“A good teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” Thomas Carruthers

My last three posts have all been about using data to drive instruction. I believe that not only should the teachers use data to drive instruction but that students should use data to gage their learning as well. I consider one of the most important things a teacher can teach a student is to take control of their own learning.

How do you let students use data to drive their own learning? You teach them to track their own data and have conversations about it through mini-lessons and conferences.

The mini-lessons should be about goal setting and why it is important. I taught the students how to make SMART goals.  I also taught the students how to use the teacher objective boxes to guide them. (For more info about objective boxes see Using Data to Dive Instruction: Part 1) If the student did not master an objective on the assessment, the student’s goal that week was to work on the objective through homework or contracts in workshop. Everything I used had objectives on it so the students were well aware what the objective numbers meant. For example, if a student did Not Master (NM) objective 2.05 then the student’s responsibility was to work on objective 2.05. If they were working on a reading response, I had at least 3 question prompts per objective that they could use for a response that matched the objective they needed to work on using their own novel. I also had objectives on individual contracts. I did this for math and science as well. If the student needed to work on a certain objective skill, they would pick up the contract for workshop or do the homework assigned to the objective skill they needed to practice. The students were all engaged which made workshop run like clockwork. This style also helped with my differentiation because all the students were working on what they needed as individuals.

Many teachers have conference data logs for writing, where the teacher writes down where the student is in their writing process and what their next steps are going to be etc. I kept conference notebooks for every subject, for every student. When the student and I conferenced, they knew I was keeping notes on them and they helped me write the notes in them. It was no secret and shouldn’t.

What went into these conference notes? The conversations the student and I had along with their goal! I would first model goal setting the first quarter by looking at the student’s data and discussing with them what goal I thought they should work on and why. The second quarter, we would discuss the data and choose the goal together. By the third and fourth quarter, the students would come to me ready for their conference with their goal. I did this for every subject, every week.

The next question most of you are probably asking right now is HOW?

I would set up a schedule of 7 students a day (I had 32 students in my class) and during workshop I would meet with them. It took me about 20 mins, as each conference was only a few minutes, which still left me time to pull my small reteach groups; as my workshop was typically 40-45 minutes long. The students loved having these conferences (and so did I) because it also gave me time to really get to know them as individual learners. The students like having a say in what they are learning and want to learn plus it teaches them responsibility.

Many teachers often say to me, ‘This is all such a great idea and I am glad it worked for you but it wouldn’t work in my classroom.’ I often respond with; why? The first thing usually they say is I don’t have time. My answer to this is make time as it saves time in the long run. This is what learning is all about, you will literally watch your students begin to love learning because they are apart of it. Start small and work on goal setting in one subject and then move into others. I didn’t keep these long professional notes in my conference binders. I wrote the date and a few sentences about what we discussed and the student’s goal and I did all this during the conference which took no extra time.

The second excuse I get is, ‘My student’s are too young.’ I have seen Kindergarten teachers do goal setting. Yes, maybe it is not as detailed as above but you can tier this style to make it work for the grade level you teach. Every grade can at least do individual conferences and I believe grades 3 and up can handle understand what skills they need to work on.

Students using data to drive their own learning is a 21st century skill student’s need. It teaches them to be responsibly for themselves and gives them confidence in their learning. It also teaches the students that each learner is not the same and that is okay. Try it in your classroom, let the students take educational ownership and watch what unfolds!

Please share in the comment section if you, as an educator, have other ways that you have students using data to drive their own learning. I love learning from others!