Feb. ’18 Elementary Literacy Show – Vocabulary

Interview: Dr. James Erekson, University of Northern Colorado Professor of Literacy

In Practice: Ellen Mackey, G2 Teacher, Red Hawk Elementary School

Teacher Panel: Courtney Groskin (G4), Kris DeBuse (K), and Jennifer Merideth (G2) from Mountain View Elementary School

Reflection Questions:

  • What is the importance of teaching vocabulary and why do we teach vocabulary?
  • How do we intentionally plan for vocabulary?
  • How do you integrate vocabulary into other contents of the curriculum.
  • How might you integrate technology with vocabulary?


The resources mentioned and shared by Dr. Erekson can be found here.

Nov. ’17 Elementary Literacy Show – Backward Planning & PBAs

Panel: Lisa Petersen (G2), Stephen King (G4), Dr. Shirley Jirik (Principal)

Taped Segment: Cathy Digsby (K)

Reflection Questions:

  • What did you learn?
  • How did the content of the episode shift or support your understanding of backward planning?
  • How will you know the students are learning? What are your desired results for reading or writing in the upcoming module?
  • What materials and resources would be best suited to accomplish these desired results?


Elementary Literacy Rubrics – FEEDBACK REQUESTED

One of the most consistent questions regarding the shift in our elementary literacy practices this year has been around rubrics and assessing student writing. Given the number of resources at teachers’ disposal, it is understandable to have questions. This post is designed to help delineate the materials available as well as seek your input on how we fill the gaps.

Rubrics in Grades 3-5


  • Performance-based assessment rubrics. The can be found within each unit’s Teacher’s Guide.
  • End-of-Unit Assessments. For the short- and constructed-response items, you can find task-specific rubrics in your Assessment Book Teacher’s Manual.
  • Reader Response Questions. The rubrics for the Reader Response tasks can be found here and listed in the “Rubrics” section of the unit plans.


  • PARCC ELA/Literacy Scoring Rubrics are recommended as baseline templates for teacher-created tasks. A teacher can then take that basic rubric and add details and areas of focus specific to the writing task students are completing.

Rubrics in K-2


  • Performance-based assessment rubrics. The can be found within each unit’s Teacher’s Guide.
  • End-of-Unit Assessments. For the short- and constructed-response items, you can find task-specific rubrics in your Assessment Book Teacher’s Manual.
  • Reader Response Questions. The rubrics for the Reader Response tasks can be found here and listed in the “Rubrics” section of the unit plans.


Finally, all of this work will be added to a new “Rubrics” section within the grade-level unit plans for easy access.

Annual Longmont Rotary Club Compassion Essay Contest – DEADLINE (EXTENDED) APRIL 17

In partnership with the Longmont Rotary Club, St. Vrain Valley School District schools are invited to participate in our annual “Compassion Awards” contest. We are seeking entries from students who define one of the five elements of compassion:

    • Love
    • Empathy
    • Understanding
    • Gratitude of all things
    • Giving selflessly for the happiness of all beings

Entries can include stories, essays, or poems related to a compassionate topic and must be submitted by individuals. Past winners have written about people or personal experiences that touched them in a special way such as: a person who made a positive impact on your life; caring for an elderly neighbor; helping a terminally ill person; family changes; being sensitive to a non-English speaking student; losing a cherished pet or helping a hungry or homeless person in the community.These entries fall under several Reading and Writing standards including:

    • Standard 1: Students read and understand a variety of materials.
    • Standard 2: Students write and speak for a variety of purposes and audiences.
    • Standard 3: Students write and speak using conventional grammar, usage, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.
    • Standard 4: Students apply thinking skills to their reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing.

These entries can also fall under the following Civic standard:

Students understand how citizens exercise the roles, rights, and responsibilities of participation in civic life at all levels- local, state and national.

Please note the following:

    • There will be 3 bands of competition, with one winner selected from each: grades 3-5; grades 6-8, and
      grades 9-12;
    • Submissions must be typed or handwritten (no videos or drawings) and are limited to two pages in length;
    • Writings may be submitted in another language, but an English translation must be attached; and
    • Teachers will collect and judge the entries of their students and submit no more than two entries from each class, accompanied by the attached cover memo.

Please return the essays to Zachary Chase via internal school district mail or email no later than Friday, April 14. Late entries will not be accepted. Please remember that this is an important event for your students! The students’ work will not be returned; therefore, you may either send the students’ original works or a good quality copy. There will be a winner at each of the grade levels of competition. Students will receive $50.00 from the Longmont Rotary Club and have an additional $50.00 donated in their names to a non-profit of their choice (must be a qualified non-profit organization under Section 401(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code). Teachers of the winning students will receive $50.00 for the purchase of classroom materials. Winning students, their guests, submitting teachers, and school principals will be guests of honor at a luncheon sponsored by the Longmont Rotary Club on Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

This is an exciting and wonderful contest…we look forward to your participation. Thank you!

Download Details below:

Making the Most of Essential Questions and Exit Tickets


Most any time I’m visiting a classroom, I’m having a conversation with the students I meet. The first few questions are pretty expected –  “What are you learning about?” and “What are you doing?”

The last two questions I routinely bring to the table working with students are less expected – “Why is that important?” and “What questions do you have?”

I know those last two are less expected because they are met with silence and stares from students – no matter the grade level. For me, it raises the questions of why are students are doing what they are doing and whether they have been asked to consider the deeper implications of a text. Whether it’s a third-grade student reading The Year of Miss Agnes or a ninth-grader wrestling with Regine’s Book, our expectation must be that students can consider key ideas, themes, styles, etc. outside of the pages of what they’re reading.

Much work has been done on the transfer of knowledge and skills, and there are certainly some thoughtful, complex projects students can embark upon to show those abilities. For the purposes of this post, though, I want to focus on two activities that can build students’ understandings of their learning and thinking while helping teachers understand areas of growth and need.

Essential Question journals can help students track their thinking about essential questions within lessons or units of study. For each of the curriculum modules within our elementary curriculum resources, for instance, students are asked to consider essential questions as they read, write, and speak their way through complex texts. Journaling around those essential questions can be easy.

  • Make routine time (5-10 min) once or twice each week for students to journal their answers to the essential questions within a unit of study. As they journal, have them consider what they wrote in their previous entries and focus on what they know or understand now that they didn’t before. Ask students to share/compare their journals with their peers and then engage in whole-class conversations about reading and writing.

Standing exit tickets help your students focus on a stationary target for thinking about their learning while giving you some quick formative information on what they think they are learning and wondering.

  • Have students fill out slips of paper with their names on them at the end of each class or lesson. Have them respond to the same prompts each time – “What can you do now that you couldn’t do at the beginning of class?” and “What is one question you have as a result of your learning?” If technology is available, have students respond via a google form. Imagine being able to conference with students with not only numbers and summative assessment results, but a portfolio of their own statements of learning and inquiry as well.

Not matter their age, all learners improve their abilities and skills if they have consistent, dedicated time to reflect on their learning. By including time to journal on essential questions and checking in at the end of a class, we make that time for our learners and provide ourselves with new windows into how we can alter our instructional practice to meet students’ needs.

Profile in Courage High School Essay Contest


We know the more students have practice reading and writing, then the more they are prepared for whatever heads their way following secondary school, the essay contest below makes that connection much more concrete.

John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest
Celebrate the JFK Centennial by entering the 2017 Profile in Courage Contest. This essay contest for high school students is sponsored by The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. This year celebrates JFK’s centennial of his birth in 1917. In his book, “Profiles in Courage,” John F. Kennedy told the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers to do what was right for the nation. This essay contest asks students to write an original and creative essay that demonstrates an understanding of political courage.

Deadline: January 4, 2017

Eligibility: U.S. students in grades 9-12 in public, private, parochial, or home schools; U.S. students under age 20 enrolled in a high school correspondence/GED program; U.S. citizens attending schools overseas.

Funds: For this year only: the first-place prize will be doubled from $10,000 to $20,000 and cash prizes will be awarded to the top 25 students

Website: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Education/Profile-in-Courage-Essay-Contest.aspx

Family and Community Literacy: Write Letters


The Gist:

Writing summaries has been shown to improve memory, comprehension and reading in general. Writing letters, postcards, emails with your child can be a great way to help them write with a real audience in mind while also practicing their summarization skills.

The Whole Story:

Few experiences hold the same joy as going to the mailbox to find a letter, note, or postcard waiting for you. From a literacy standpoint, few practices bring the same kind of comprehension and retention as writing summaries. With these two ideas in mind, this week’s family literacy recommendation is to sit with your child and write letters on a regular basis.

By asking your child to write a letter to a friend or family member about their day, their week, or an important event in their life, you’re asking them to practice the skill of summarizing – a skill research has repeatedly show to aid in comprehension and memory.

Possible Approaches:

  • Brainstorm with your child a list of possible letter recipients. These could be friends or family (near or far). As you’re brainstorming, think about prioritizing those recipients who are most likely to reply to your child’s letter. Part of the fun of sending mail is the prospect of receiving mail in return.
  • Build a tradition of letter writing into family trips and events. If you head to the park to play, discuss the trip with your child on the way home and write a letter together describing the trip to friends or family. Keep up the same thing for major school events, family vacations, etc.
  • Write to your child if you’re traveling for work or even having a good day, writing a letter to your child can help to model the practice and shows them you were thinking of them.
  • Make it hyper-local. Set up your own inside mailbox in your home. Make a habit of writing letters to other immediate family members. Ask your child if they’ll design family stamps, decorate family envelopes. Especially in busy households, an in-house mailbox can be a way to keep people connected.
  • Go electronic. While handwritten letters are enjoyable, typing emails to friends and family can be a way for your child to communicate with many recipients in a short period of time. For younger writers, ask who they’d like to email and then help them to find the appropriate keys or offer to type for them as they dictate. As you type, put down their thoughts verbatim and then read what they’ve said back to your child, asking them if there are things they notice and would like to change.

More Resources:

  • For those working with older students, researcher Robert Marzano has this helpful article about approaching the task of summary writing.
  • The Real Life at Home blog has this thoughtful post about the importance of summarizing and how parents of younger readers and writers can build the practice into family routines.
  • For more research on the importance and approach of summarizing, see this article from Valerie Anderson and Suzanne Hidi.

Quick Write Your Way Into Family Literacy


The Gist

Similar to Word Walls, Quick Writes are just what they sound like. They include taking a few minutes, wherever you and your family are to – stop, think, write, and share. For an added challenge, consider incorporating your child’s most recent vocabulary words into each family member’s quick write.

The Whole Story

Now that you’ve got your family Word Wall up in the kitchen, dining room, or other shared family space; the question is what to do with those words and how to help your child start using and building their vocabulary. One easy answer is putting Quick Writes into your family routine. According to the West Virginia Department of Education:

A Quick Write is a literacy strategy which can be used in any content area to develop writing fluency, to build the habit of reflection into a learning experience, and to informally assess student thinking. The strategy asks learners to respond in 2–10 minutes to an open-ended question or prompt…For example, students are asked to write about what they learned, problems they encountered, what they liked (or did not like) about [an activity], questions they may have and about how well they understood the concepts…[T]he integration of reading and writing reinforces meaning construction as both activities use similar processing skills.

While longer, edited writing is important to help your child develop literacy skills, Quick Writes, too, can bolster ability and confidence. Here are some tips and suggestions for how you can use Quick Writes to support family literacy:

  1. Keep them fun and the pressure off. Come up with family Quick Write challenges with goals like using only words that start with certain letters or Quick Writes that describe something in the room without naming it.
  2. Build it in. Find a place in your day or week as a family where a Quick Write might make sense. If you find yourself constantly asking your child what they did or learned in school each day only to receive “nothing” or “stuff” as the reply, make time as a family to write down the highlights of each of your days and then share what you wrote.
  3. Pull in vocabulary. Perhaps using your family word wall or most recent vocabulary from class, ask your child to explain a few key words from the list and then complete a Quick Write as a family attempting to use each of those words correctly. When done, ask your child to help you decide whether each person used the words properly.
  4. Go beyond writing. Part of complete literacy instruction is helping students attach pictures and images to their understandings of words. Pick a word as a family and then have everyone try to write two sentences using that word, and draw a picture that explains the word.
  5. Assign a Quick Write captain. If you’re having a day together, out to dinner, or running errands; assign one family member the Quick Write Captain and give them the power to announce a Quick Write up to 2-3 times over the course of the event.

For children who think writing is only a onerous task to be completed for school work, Family Quick Writes can be a way to show writing can happen anywhere. By participating as a family, you’re also modeling for your child that everyone is a writer.

Additional Resources:

Assessment Aided by ReadyGen

The Obligation to Write

The Gist:

ReadyGen combines reading and writing assessment. The teacher’s assessment guide outlines some options for administration of assessments. These assessments include the District’s traditional writing samples.

The Whole Story:

In the same way we know the more authentic opportunities students have to read and write, the better they are at reading and writing, we know the more information teachers have about their students’ learning, the better they are at implementing quality instructional practice.

This is why one of the exciting features of the new ReadyGen curricular resources is an increased opportunity for teachers to collect student writing samples. While the District has provided three writing sample prompts for teachers to use in the past, ReadyGen includes writing sample prompts as part of each unit assessment – including the beginning-of-the-year baseline assessment.

What’s more, these writing samples are connected to the reading assessments students are completing, providing context to the writing they are being asked to do. Rather than a random sample from an isolated prompt, students will draft writing that is connected with the vocabulary and comprehension tasks they’ve already worked through.

Another important shift to reduce scoring confusion is the inclusion of a single rubric across grade levels. Teachers can use the rubrics provided (aligned to PARCC expectations) to assess student writing in a common language. This can become a common language we use to help students think as writers, simplifying expectations and creating a shared culture for students and teachers and across grade levels.

Where to Start The best place for a school to start planning their reading and writing assessments is with the Baseline Assessments provided as part of ReadyGen. Teachers can find several administration options outlined in their grade-level Teacher’s Manual Assessment Book either in print or online. I’ve included relevant page numbers below.

Grade Page
K T19
1 T35
2 T35
3 T35
4 T37
5 T37

How to Help One of the best aspects of learning and teaching in a district the size of ours is the brain power available to help improve everyone’s instructional practice. As you and your colleagues consider writing instruction and samples throughout the year, please share your ideas with me so we can connect them to the Unit Plans where they align and share our practices.

Connection to iReady Since the iReady Diagnostic assesses grade specific reading domains and standards, teachers and school leaders can use data regarding foundational skills, vocabulary, and comprehension of both informational and literary text from iReady to make instructional decisions. Teachers and school leaders can determine which elements of the ReadyGen suite of assessments complement iReady data to support learning and teaching through progress monitoring, interventions, and enrichment.