The Story of I Wish You More by Tom Lichtenheld

This post made me a little teary-eyed, and I won’t lie–Lillian has a new book headed to her shelf via Amazon two-day shipping.

But the bigger idea here is what we can communicate to our kids about the joys and pains of writing. One, that writing is not a linear process. Two, that everything you put into it may not be there in the end, and that’s okay. And finally, the power of seeing stories in everyday, ordinary moments. A girl with mismatched buttons inspired this beautiful text. Amazing!

Nerdy Book Club

Many years ago, I worked in advertising –  making TV commercials, magazine ads and the like. While casting kids for a tv commercial, this little girl showed up with her sweater mis-buttoned, so I said, “she has more buttons than holes.” Then, of course, I did a doodle…

Wish1 Wish2

Which made me wonder if it could become a book…


which made me do more doodles…



My initial idea was that the book would be a collection of “more this than that” situations.

At the same time, I was experimenting with watercolors and created this random image by sprinkling salt onto wet, blue paint, which was clearly meant to be a snow-filled sky.


I liked many of the situations but there wasn’t much holding them together – no Big Idea to give them context. I had about 20 drawings, which I showed to my very smart friend Amy Krouse Rosenthal, asking…

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Developing Authentic Audiences for Reading Work

I’ve been in a lot of conversations lately regarding what it looks like to create authentic and engaging reading experiences for students in terms of a summative assessment.  We often think about an authentic audience and experiences in writing by thinking about how to get our pieces into the public eye to share our stories and make a difference.  But this is a much more difficult thing to think about with reading, and our answers to it usually fall short–book reports, program quizzes, or a project of some sort that is fun, but often does embody what we do as real readers in real life. So, we continue to return to the question:

“How do I build lifelong readers through authentic work that reaches a larger, more meaningful audience?”

Recently I have come across of couple of resources that have stood out to me, and I wanted to share them with you.  They would tie in perfectly to two texts I used in my classroom during our Following Characters unit at the beginning of the year.  Those texts are  Chains and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson.  In my classroom, I always read Chains as my read aloud and upon finishing it Forge never stayed on the shelf.  Kids just had to read it to find out what happened to Curzon and Isabel, two African American slave children who share their journey of life during the American Revolution.  At this time we were also learning about the American Revolution in Social Studies as well, so theme and perspective were two two components of reading I was able to address in a meaningful and thoughtful way because the viewpoints in the history books are in stark contrast to those in this text series.


Like many teachers, we would have these great, rich discussions throughout unit, including a role playing activity where students took on the role of a Loyalist, Patriot, slave, or town citizen to re-enact and debate their role and point-of-view of the war.  There was always great energy around this activity, but as with all great energy there came a great crash, too.  The reading unit would end as would the Social Studies topic, and on we would go to the next thing because time demanded us to do so.  Every year I was left feeling like their was something more I should have done on the reading end.  I felt that’s where it was falling short.  We had read this incredible text, thought about it from a variety of lenses, had intense and meaningful conversation while doing so, and then it was done.   Just kind of a yeah, that was cool, but so what? feeling.  I didn’t like it.

Recently, my “so what?” got answered.  I came across this article in the Washington Post about Maurice Barboza’s struggle and fight to get a memorial for the African American Revolutionary War soldiers on the Mall at Capitol Hill.  His mission to get this accomplished has not been an easy one, as the article documents.  You could have a whole series of lessons on legislation and governmental procedures with your class after reading it if that fits your curriculum.  But, what I love about it is that his struggle can easily be related to the themes we address in our study of the American Revolution.  Not only that, but it provides an outlet for readers to get involved as there is still much work to do to bring this to reality.  There is a page dedicated to finding land to build the memorial as well as funding issues still facing the project.  The link to the memorial’s site is provided in the article.  In there you can see the different land options being surveyed as well as the other factors impacting the project.  Students and classrooms can easily find ways to get involved whether it be through raising money to fund the project, writing to legislators to help get the land secured, or finding ways to promote the project to raise more awareness about it.

This is what I had been looking for.  A way for their learning and voices to reach beyond the four walls of the classroom in a way that addresses these issues in our world in a real way.

Additionally, I came across an interactive museum of Nelson Mandela’s time in prison.  This resource pulls in primary source documents and outlines the story of Nelson Mandela’s time in prison.  Using this resource helps students see that what happened during the American Revolution still happens today, it just isn’t happening in America right now.  It is an outlet to make present something that students often think is no longer an issue because the specific topic they are learning about happened in the past.  From this work students could then choose an issue that needs a voice in our world in order to bring awareness to their cause.  The interactive nature of it would allow it to be shared easily in social media and other technological outlets, therefore also moving beyond the classroom walls.

To me, these felt like the pieces that had been missing.  I loved how easily it would be to pull fiction and nonfiction together for the final work, just as we had done throughout the unit.  I know this is just one example for one unit, but I want to continue seeking out these outlets and thinking about how students can take their reading work out into the world to make positive change, just like they do with their writing.

Third Grade: Fairy Tale Adaptations Writing Unit


I just finished working in third grade classroom for a coaching cycle and the unit we chose to tackle was the Unit 4: Fairy Tales, from Lucy Calkins’ Writing Units of Study.  I have made it my goal, that as we (I) finish these coaching cycles, to share with you what we learned along the way as well as any modifications we made.  Currently, I am in the process of two cycles–one in Reader’s Workshop and one in Writer’s Workshop.  These are being conducted in our Literacy Studio Classrooms that are preparing to open in the fall.   I know with the limited amount of professional development we have been able to offer in conjunction with the immense amount of information provided in the units, it has been a struggle to feel these have been strongly implemented.  Part of sharing this journey with you is to let you know I get it.  I am right here beside you, trying to make it all work and struggling just as much as you.  Therefore, I find it critically necessary to share in the struggles and triumphs in order for us to expand our thinking, learn and brainstorm with each other, and be transparent in what is working and not working.  I will tell you up front that in neither of the coaching cycles I am in right now have we gone verbatim, day-to-day through her units.  It just hasn’t been possible.  While they provide a nice, linear path to learning (as do all resources) we know our students do not always learn in that way or at that pace.  Calkins knows this, too.  So, the bigger piece behind this is to communicate with you that when we did not follow her outline, what did we do and why did we choose to do that?  How did we know?  The answer to those questions lie in the heart of our pretest data.  So, let’s start there.

1) Narrative On-Demand

In the front matter of the Fairy Tale unit Calkins suggests to simply give the same narrative on-demand that was given to students at the beginning of the year.  Her justification was that when students were asked to include fairy tale elements they often got lost in them, and then you were not able to see their true writing abilities.  Additionally, it would allow you to see growth the students had made across the year with narrative writing.  We toyed with this idea because initially we were going to give a fairy tale on-demand.  Ultimately, we decided to go with our gut.  The reason being that we felt it was important to see who did get lost in the elements of a fairy tale because this would be critical to guiding them as writers of one during this unit.  We changed the wording of our on-demand to read as follows:

“I’m really eager to understand what you can do as writers of fairy tales today, so will you please write the best fairy tale, the best Small Moment story, that you can write?   Make this be the story of fantastical characters, magical moments, and scary action.  Think about all the elements of a fairy tale, and decide which ones best fit the story you want to tell.  You might focus on just a scene or two.  You’ll have only forty-five minutes to write this fairy tale, so you’ll need to plan, draft, revise, and edit in one sitting.  Write in a way that shows off all you know about fairy tale writing.”

As you can see, we kept most of the language the same from the narrative on-demand, making only a few small modifications to tailor it to fairy tale writing.  In general, our results fell under one of three categories:

  • students wrote a traditional fairy tale with no changes
  • students wrote the fairy tale they wrote at the end of second grade
  • students created an original fairy tale of their own (this was about half of the class, and of those only about 4-5 students got lost in the storytelling elements of a fairy tale.  By this, I mean jumping from one element to the next without appropriate elaboration or transitioning.  The teacher noted these particular students do this in all their writing, so it was not specific to the fairy tale).

After looking at the pieces holistically, we began to look for specific areas of need.  Craft and elaboration were two areas that nearly the entire class fell into.  This was not surprising as this is the crux of any piece of writing.  This led us to our next modification.

2) Minilessons

Rather than starting with the first lesson of the unit where students immediately begin adapting, we stayed in the traditional fairy tales one more day to focus on author craft moves that move a story forward.  We developed the anchor charts below to begin talking about this work.

We worked with the traditional version of Cinderella to determine where these craft moves took place in the story.  Since this is pretty complex work to open the unit, we also provided them question stems to help them think about each of these.  We modeled this in the minilesson, showing students our own thinking and helping them recognize that all these craft moves weren’t happening throughout the story all the time.  Additionally, we wanted them to know there were more than just the four we initially had them thinking about.  You can see that two more were added from our work that day–character motivation and repetition.


3) Writing Tools

The blank four-page booklet that Calkins refers to in her first lesson (which became our second), completely lost our students.  I’m not sure if it was the teaching of it or old habits we have not broken yet, but students wanted to write their entire story, not just the summary of each part, in that booklet.  It was felt like due to fact that the tool was a booklet itself they felt it should be filled with an entire story.  So, we switched our tool to a story mountain, creating on anchor paper and providing them a copy as well, and gave them post-its to plan their scenes on.  This worked much better as students were familiar both of these tools, making the process much more efficient.

These are the three main changes we made in launching the unit through the first bend.  I am sure there are more to come as we move into the publishing phase, but I wanted you all to see some critical points where we made changes.  Remember, this was all based of pretest data as well.  So, if this is something you have not traditionally spent a lot of time on I would suggest thinking about how to make time for that.  When our students aren’t getting a concept or idea, it’s much easier to modify along the way when we have data to look at because we can see clearly what it is that they are needing and provide the appropriate scaffolds for that.  Therefore, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the before and after on-demand.  It aids in goal-setting, growth, assessment data, and in-time teaching that directly meets students needs.  You get a lot of bang for your “teaching” buck with them!


Conferring Toolkit Blog Series


Exciting news!  The Two Writing Teachers blog is hosting another blog series, this time on conferring toolkits. Topics in this series include how to build one and helpful resources to include in yours.  For an outline of each day see below:

Monday, May 4th:  using class stories and shared writing in your toolkit

Tuesday, May 5th:  supplies to include

Wednesday, May 6th: “cheat sheets” for conferring

Thursday, May 7th: the power of visuals when conferring

Friday, May 8th: record-keeping tools

Saturday, May 9th: using mentor-texts and student writing in a toolkit

Sunday, May 10th: weekly recap with added bonuses

Monday, May 11th: Twitter chat from 8:30-9:30 with #TWTBlog

You’ll remember in February I learned of their “Aim Higher” series around goal-setting and learned so much!  I’m excited to be on the front end of this one and get experience it throughout the week.  While it focuses on writing, much can be adapted to work for reading as well.  I know we are at the time of year where we are already thinking about next.  I hope you’ll join in the fun, gathering and sharing ideas to get yours built for this fall!

Below are the links to the first two entries of the blog series:

Introduction and Overview:

Using shared and class-created texts: