“Read it Again!” – The Joy of Shared Reading

“Read it Again!” – The Joy of Shared Reading

“Read it again! Read it again!”

The cheers of the children ring out as we finish reading the last page of Mrs. Wishy Washy. They cannot wait to hear the book again. There is joy, engagement and excitement for every student. Shared reading is a daily part of our literacy instruction in our kindergarten classroom, and one of the most important pieces of our day. I believe that shared reading has a place in all elementary classrooms, as it speaks to the power of learning with an “expert other” through a low risk, enjoyable experience.

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Don Holdaway introduced shared reading, an interactive reading experience, as a way to imitate the typical bedtime story. It’s a joyful time for all students to access a text, experience what it feels like to be a proficient reader and get caught up in the pleasure and engagement of reading. It’s also a time for teachers to support children in building an effective reading process system and model what it looks like when a proficient reader is using his or her system.

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Shared reading texts can be a variety of formats – as long as children can see the text clearly. You can use big books, large charts, or projected text. Big books are still my favorites. I love the excitement that a new big book evokes as it sits on my easel waiting to be read, and I love how children can return to the book over and over again on their own. I also use poems, songs and chants on large, homemade charts. These allow me to customize my shared reading texts for the students in my class, responding to interests and needs.

Enjoyment, reading for meaning and talk is always at the heart of the work we do with every shared reading text. I typically plan for one big book and 2-3 charts each week. We revisit these texts every day for a week. Carefully choosing your texts is important. Highly engaging characters like Mrs. Wishy Washy, high interest topics like monarch butterflies, dinosaurs, Superheroes (or whatever your class is interested in), and charts that have children’s names or connections to shared experiences keep the excitement high as you revisit the texts during the week.

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The following is a list of possible teaching points for shared reading lessons. It is not all-inclusive, nor is it listed in any particular order. These teaching points evolve as the year goes on and as you observe your students and what they might need. This is your opportunity to make the thinking you do as a proficient reader visible to your students – and to encourage them to share the reading work with you. I am always amazed at just how much can be taught in shared reading lessons!

  • Word by word matching
  • Looking at text
  • Where to start reading
  • Left to right (page and sentence)
  • Return sweep
  • Parts of a book: cover, author, illustrator
  • Using illustrations to help comprehension
  • Letter vs. word
  • Noticing punctuation and what it means for the reader
  • Spaces between words
  • Making predictions
  • Rhyming words
  • Vocabulary
  • Using meaning, structure and visual sources of information to solve words and comprehend  (Is that word right? Does that make sense? How do we know? Let’s check it!)
  • Searching and gathering information to support word solving or comprehension
  • Fluency
  • Word solving (Cover words to look at first letter or letters  or use oral cloze: “what might this word be?”)
  • Comprehension strategies (visualizing, questioning, activating schema, inferring, making connections, predicting on the word or text level, monitoring, cross-checking)
  • Nonfiction text features
  • Genre study
  • Character study
  • Readers talk about books

Every shared reading lesson starts with reading the text for enjoyment. There is always the opportunity for talk, initiated by the children, about what they are thinking, noticing or wondering. Much of my teaching is implicit and embedded into the conversation every time we read a text. For example, at the beginning of the year in kindergarten, I am verbalizing book handling and pointing out the cover, the title, the author and dedication. I may talk about how readers think about what they are reading. I then focus explicitly on one or two specific teaching points for each lesson, as we reread and interact with the text, such as word-by-word matching or checking the pictures. I have a general plan for the week, focusing on a different area each day. For example, I might focus on reading the pictures, predicting and word solving on Monday, monitoring and cross-checking Tuesday, print conventions on Wednesday, fluency on Thursday and orchestration on Friday. As always, I follow the children’s lead and adapt as I listen to the conversation and respond to what the class or small group might need.

Screen Shot 2018-09-25 at 10.10.09 AMAt the end of the week, our shared reading texts go in the children’s Shared Reading Binder. This is a 3-ring binder where children keep copies of all the poems, songs and mini-books we read each week. I take a photo of the charts and put them in the binder to go home for the weekend. We stress the importance of bringing these binders back to school on Monday, where they are kept in the children’s individual book boxes and are available for children to read independently during our readers’ workshop. The home/school connection is very important, and these binders provide another opportunity for children to share what they are learning at school.

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Revisiting shared reading texts is yet another great teaching and learning opportunity. The large charts and big books are available to children to read throughout the day, in addition to being in their binders. I also have an invitation at the end of every week for children to engage further with the text. Some possibilities might be; a puppet to make, toys to act out the book or art materials available to create art inspired from the text. Children that choose to linger even longer with a text are encouraged to do so. This is a choice during our Explore time after we’ve finished with a shared reading text.

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Shared reading is a part of our daily schedule for whole class and small group lessons that I couldn’t do without. The powerful learning and enjoyment that children have during and beyond shared reading lessons makes this time extremely valuable. There are so many possibilities for all grade levels! How do you see shared reading fitting into your day?

Katie Keier has been teaching and learning with children, as a classroom teacher and literacy specialist, in grades K-8, for twenty-six years. She is currently a kindergarten teacher in an urban, Title I school. She is the co-author of Catching Readers Before They Fall with Pat Johnson, from Stenhouse Publishers. Katie is an adjunct faculty member for American University, a national presenter and conducts staff development workshops and interactive webinars. She is currently in training for Reading Recovery for classroom teachers. You can follow her @bluskyz on Instagram and Twitter, and her kindergarten class @KinderUnicorns .

Being “Inspired” to Hold on to New Learning

Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, 2019 CCIRA Featured Speakers

We are always looking for ways to push our thinking and outgrow our best ideas and we find attending powerful and inspiring conferences such as CCIRA to be transformational. Connecting with others dedicated to sound literacy education and soaking up the positive energy of the event buoys us, however, sometimes it is a challenge for us to hold onto this energy once we are back home facing long to-do lists or on the road for extended engagements.

If you’re like us, we imagine that you might struggle with this, too, which leaves us all wondering how we can translate the energy and force of an inspiring conference into our daily lives. How do we maintain the momentum and energy of learning alongside so many intelligent, creative, and dedicated educators when the stove just broke, our son has a school project due, and the dog just ate a Lego?

Making substantive, long term change can be challenging but, if you are intentional, you can succeed. We have six strategies to help you (and us) maintain your CCIRA conference energy and focus, once you travel home with plans to apply your most important learning.

  1.  Write about what you learn.

Whether you blog or reflect in a paper journal, writing about what you have learned will bring you clarity. Thinking on paper will help you gain insight into your new learning and show you your next steps along a path to translating this learning into habituated practice.

     2.   Set up a “tripwire”.

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Sometimes the trickiest part of adopting or adapting new ideas is simply remembering to do them. In our busiest moments, our muscle memory kicks in and we tend to do what is automatic for us. Until new practices become habituated, it takes conscious attention to include them in our instruction. So, if you want to remember to make some particular change in your practice, give yourself a “tripwire”–a physical reminder to do something differently. For example, if you want to remember to prompt differently during guided reading, put stickers, sticky notes, or a even tattoo within the range of your vision to remind you to use the new language during the business of guided reading.

    3.   Find a partner.



Whether you are changing your diet, your reading habits, or your instructional practice, a journey of change and growth is always more enjoyable (and successful) with a travel companion. Find someone who is interested in your instructional destination, get connected, and develop a plan together. In today’s digital world, your learning buddy doesn’t even have to live near you–he or she could live anywhere in the world. Make a point during CCIRA to not only discover new ideas, but to find learning collaborators who can share your commitment to change.

    4. Video or audio tape yourself.



This is not a strategy for the faint-of-heart, but once you discover the ways that recording your instruction provides you powerful insights for transforming your work, you will adopt this self-reflecting tool as a regular part of your professional development. It is easier than you think, so no need to overcomplicate things! Your classroom doesn’t have to be perfect; you don’t need a fancy camera, and you don’t need to wait until the schedule is perfect. Your subconscious will always give you a reason (excuse) not to record yourself. Tell your subconscious, “Thank you for sharing; this is going to be fine” and then get your camera out and start rolling. Seriously.

    5.  Find a coach.



Finding a critical friend can elevate your practice in powerful ways! It is common to miss the obvious when we look at ourselves. Oftentimes, substantive change requires a colleague looking at our practice and giving us feedback to help us shift. We challenge you to invite a coach or colleague to watch you implement your new learning and offer you insights into what might make your efforts even more successful.

CCIRA will offer you a wealth of connections and new insights, but these require your commitment to sustaining them. As Cornelius Minor so wisely states, “When you gain new insight, it is really important to change your life to match your new understanding. To choose not to change is to embrace ignorance.” So, once we know the change we want to adopt, we are obligated to ourselves (and to our students) to be intentional about being true to ourselves.

We can’t wait to see you in Colorado to share in your insight and enjoy your energy!

About the Authors

Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris are the writers and thinkers behind Burkins & Yaris—Think Tank for 21st Century Literacy, where their blog and their instructional resources have drawn a national audience and made them thought leaders in the field of literacy instruction.

In their role as literacy consultants, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris work closely with schools and districts, facilitating staff development, conducting in-class demonstrations, and developing curriculum. Kim Yaris is the founder of Literacy Builders and spends more than 100 days per year consulting in schools. Jan Burkins, founder of Literacyhead,  has authored and co-authored several books, including IRA’s bestseller, Preventing Misguided Reading.

Jan and Kim’s first book together, Reading Wellness (Stenhouse, 2014), shares field-tested, practical lessons designed to meet the rigorous demands of the Common Core while increasing joy in classrooms. With more than 40 combined years of experience in school districts, Jan and Kim’s work is steeped in literacy research but both have the heart of a practitioner.  They truly understand what teachers need to know in order to improve literacy instruction.


Mentor Texts to Engage and Empower Our Students

by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli

Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli are featured presenters at the 2019 CCIRA Conference on Literacy. 

In Painting the Windby Patricia and Emily MacLachlan, we follow a young boy’s journey as he studies the artists who visit his island. Each one is a mentor who teaches the boy some new technique. In our classrooms, mentor texts do the same thing for our student writers. They provide opportunities to take risks and try new things. Mentor texts serve as snapshots into the future, helping students envision the kind of writer they can become. A writer needs to try new things in order to write differently tomorrow than he writes today.

Studying mentor texts with a teacher or partner, or examining a favorite mentor text independently, can move a community of writers forward. When a teacher carefully chooses a set of mentor texts and returns to them frequently, there is a commonality that students bring to discussions, share sessions, and conferences. Mentor texts serve to sustain the writing community. With the help of mentor texts, students build writing muscles to help them tackle longer pieces of writing in new genres and formats.

Sometimes a mentor text can provide a seed of an idea before a student starts to write. Other times, a student may need to return to a mentor text to help him problem solve when he is stuck. He may return to examine a structure, investigate how an author uses dialogue, or discover new strategies to create a satisfying ending. Even after many drafts, a student may go back to a mentor text to study punctuation, perhaps finding new ways to use a comma, colon, or ellipsis in his piece of writing before the final edit.

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Choosing mentor texts for your classroom is a personal matter. We believe you must connect to the books you choose – even love them. When you know your students well, you will understand what they will connect with, as well as what they need to help them move forward as writers. It is important for teachers to know mentor texts inside and out to be able to pull that “just-right” book that inspires a student to say “I can do this, too.” While we find picture books to be extremely useful, it is important to have a balance created by different genres, fiction and nonfiction, and a variety of authors. Occasionally you may decide to use magazine articles, graphic novels, chapter books, poems, or song lyrics as mentor texts. Eventually, we hope students will have the knowledge and confidence to choose their own mentor texts when they need to do so.

At the end of Painting the Wind,the young artist finally reaches his goal, but he needed his mentor to point that out to him.

I look at the painting of Meatball running from the wave, his ears flying.

“You have painted the wind,” I say to the landscape painter.

He points to my painting hung next to his, my painting of bent trees.

“You have, too,” he says.

 We do the same thing as teachers, using mentor texts to help young writers discover more about themselves and empower them to move forward with greater confidence. In other words, mentor texts help students continually reinvent themselves as writers.

MacLachlan, Patricia and Emily MacLachlan. 2006. Painting the Wind. New York: HarperCollins.

Lynn Dorfman and Rose Capelli are literacy consultants working with teachers nationwide to support writing workshop.  Their popular book is now in it’s second edition: Mentor Texts, 2nd edition: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 Lynn and Rose also authored Nonfiction Mentor Texts:  Teaching Informational Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-8. Follow Lynn and Rose on Twitter.

An Inquiry into Inquiry

By Jessie Meeks

For quite awhile now, I’ve been heartbroken by research that finds that students ask fewer questions the longer they spend in school (Engel, 2013). One of my own students proved this to be true when she said, “We’re so used to answering questions that it might be hard to ask any of our own.” Sadly, schools seem to be squelching our students’ innate curiosity into nonexistence!

As it turns out, though, curiosity makes a huge difference to students’ retention of learning and motivation to learn. As Wendy L. Ostroff pointed out in Cultivating Curiosity in K-12 Classrooms (2016), when we’re curious about something, we not only remember the information about which we’re curious, but we also remember unrelated information that we simultaneously encounter. It’s no wonder that curious students score higher on standardized tests (Goodwin, 2014). And question asking actually makes students more motivated to learn. When faced with curiosity, we feel a drive “to answer the questions tickling our mind” (Harvey & Daniels, 2015, p. 11), which provides us with “espresso shots of intrinsic motivation to learn” (Goodwin, 2014, pg. 73). Inspired by the power of curiosity and question asking, I undertook an action research project into student inquiry. The work my third grade students did with me last year led to five important shifts in my classroom that help honor students’ questions.

Shift 1: A question rich environment

To develop a more “question rich” environment, I started by placing a Wonder Wall (Daniels, 2017) in our room and gave students a chance to explore their wonders for a half hour every day. On a Wonder Wall, students can post any questions that they have about the world (Why are pigs pink?) or about our content (How old are metamorphic rocks?) From these wonders, students might choose a question they would like to explore more in depth, such as the student who decided to answer the question she had posted about what skin is. And, boy, did the opportunity to answer their own interesting questions give the kids that espresso shot of motivation! I had a waiting list for presentations that went on for weeks, and every Wednesday I inwardly celebrated how excited kids were to share and to view research presentations on everything from the closest relatives to dinosaurs to what blacksmiths do.

Having structures in our classroom that honored students’ questions felt like a great starting place. I knew I wanted to take that work further, though. Student inquiry seems almost natural in a subject like science, but what if you could do inquiry in a subject like reading? Then you would be able to do inquiry anywhere! So my students’ curiosity became a driving force in our Reading Workshop and led to some more dramatic shifts.


Shift 2: Student questions drive the Reading Workshop

We began each reading unit with a session for students to ask questions about the unit’s driving idea. My coach and I crafted these questions based on the unit’s essential learnings. We started our first unit of the year with the question “What’s my role as a member of our reading community?”

There are several research-based ways for structuring question-generating sessions for students. After some trial and error, which included trying the Question Formulation Technique out of Harvard’s School of Education, I landed on a procedure adapted from John Barell’s Developing More Curious Minds (2005). He suggests starting an inquiry with a KWHLAQ chart like the one shown below.

In addition to the pieces of your typical KWL chart, our class discussed how kids would find the answers, how they would apply the learning, and what lingering questions they had (not shown on the example above). These last three pieces created the third and fourth shifts that happened in our classroom.

Shift 3: Authentically demonstrating the learning

Knowing that their learning was going to be shared and would matter to someone else helped my students generate enthusiasm for the work that we did together. Throughout the year they chose many interesting ways to demonstrate their learning. By October they had already written and performed plays for the second graders about how to be a productive member of a reading community. They made websites to recommend similar-themed books and advertised the websites to other students through the use of QR codes. And to share what they knew about literary theories and to continue to explore how others think and write about literature, they crafted and sent an email to Peter H. Reynolds (to which he kindly replied within 12 hours!).

Shift 4: Students drive the content of mini lessons

As the year started, I was a bit terrified when my students said they wanted to find the answers to their questions in ways that went beyond the thoroughly planned Lucy Calkins mini lessons I normally taught. Pushing my worries aside, we researched videos, discussed answers to students’ interview questions for adult readers, traded strategies with fourth grade readers, and researched ourselves as readers.


Each time I used student suggestions for our lessons, I connected the work to the questions the kids had asked and the suggestions they had given. For example, when students needed a lesson about adding craft to nonfiction writing, I made sure they knew we were answering E.G.’s question. When we watched a video to investigate how nonfiction reading should sound in our head and, therefore, how we should write it, I let K.H. know her idea inspired the lesson. Soon, modifying the Units of Study in response to my students’ ideas would go to a whole new level.

Shift 5: Problem-based lessons

My stance toward lessons was evolving. This evolution started simply, with my language. I stopped introducing my teaching point with “Today I want to teach you…;” instead, I introduced our learning goal with “Today, let’s investigate…”

Then, using inspiration from Vicki Vinton’s Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading (2017), I began to flip some typical I-Do-We-Do-You-Do mini lessons on their head. Instead, during the lessons kids discovered which reading strategies worked best, and I noticed and named what they were doing. For a couple of lessons, I even tried out a math-inspired, problem-based approach (Sussman, 2017). Groups of students worked to answer the question: Where do mystery authors hide clues? Each group presented their answers so that we could build a collaborative understanding of how hidden clues work in the mystery genre. The best part? These groups were able to name all of the key understandings that I would have taught them, but they did it collaboratively and in a way that tapped into their sense of curiosity.

Curious About the Outcome

To progress monitor my students’ growth as curious people, I developed a curiosity assessment and learning progression. Using a See Think Wonder format, students looked at a picture from National Geographic and wrote about what they observed, what ideas they had about the unfamiliar image, and what questions they had related to it. I then scored their work using the progression (see below). By the end of the year, every single student either stayed at the higher levels or had gone up to the next level on the progression. Incredibly, only one student in one area (Brainstorm ideas & solutions) stayed at the Not Really Curious level!


The “soft” data felt even more satisfying. Parents shared with me that their kids were excited about their work at school and were asking interesting questions at home (Why do people speak different languages? Who made up words?). I saw the same in class. Many, many days brought joyful celebrations of the powerful work and deep thinking kids were doing. But above all, I had a sense that more students owned their learning, and the blank stare no longer had a place in our room.

Jessie Meeks is a third-grade teacher at Maple Grove Elementary in Golden, Colorado. She has a board member of JCIRA and a member of the 2019 CCIRA Conference Committee. Jessie started teaching while she was earning her Masters of Arts in English at the University of Maine. She started working at Maple Grove in 2007, while going to school to earn a Masters in Elementary Education. Teaching literacy is one of her passions.

Barell, J. (2005). Developing more curious minds. Heatherton, Vic.: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Daniels, H. (2017). The curious classroom: 10 structures for teaching with student-directed inquiry. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Engel, S. (2013). The case for curiosity. Educational Leadership,70(5), 36-40.

Goodwin, B. (2014). Research says curiosity is fleeting, but teachable. Educational Leadership,72(1), 73-74.1

Harvey, S., & Daniels, H. (2015). Comprehension & collaboration: Inquiry circles for curiosity, engagement, and understanding. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Ostroff, W. L. (2016). Cultivating curiosity in K-12 classrooms. ASCD.

Sussman, D. (2017). Reading, writing,… and arithmetic? Educational Leadership,75(2), 76-80.

Vinton, V. (2017). Dynamic teaching for deeper reading: Shifting to a problem-based approach. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.




A Well-Balanced Diet

By Shawna Coppola, 2019 CCIRA Featured Speaker

I am often asked by colleagues how to help their students break out of comfortable habits as readers and writers in order to facilitate new discoveries, provide greater challenge, and broaden their horizons. As someone who enjoys the security and steadfastness of reading the same kinds of texts (memoir, true crime, YA) and writing within a limited pool of forms and genres (memoir, essays, comics), I understand both students’ desire to stick with what’s “working” for them as well as teachers’ desire–and often, the outside pressure–to nudge students toward a more “well-rounded” reading and writing identity.

It is important to tread lightly when doing this work. Many of the literacy giants whose shoulders we continue to stand on have made a rock-hard case for providing students with lots of choice around their reading and writing (Guthrie & Humenick, 2014, Kittle, 2013; Krashen, 2011; Graves, 1985), which, many have argued, leads to both greater motivation to read and write as well as greater gains in reading and writing “achievement.” (I put the word “achievement” in quotes because I find that many of our collective ideas around what constitutes literacy achievement are problematic, but that’s another discussion for another time.) However, it is also important to note that many readers, in particular, may not fully comprehend what they are “missing” when they stick to a small number of forms, topics, and genres. For example, in my almost two decades of being a literacy educator, I have noticed that many readers who identify as male read very few texts in which the main character is female, just as few readers who identify as White tend to self-choose texts that feature a protagonist of color. In addition, many of my colleagues have reported–and I myself have witnessed–that when given choice about what to write, a great number of students stick with the same old “tried and true” topics, forms, and genres, whether we’re talking about kindergartners writing picture books about families and other relationships or third graders writing Minecraft comics (soooo many Minecraft comics).

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So what do we do? How can we continue to honor student choice while also nudging students toward choices that will significantly broaden their literacy horizons?

One suggestion is to consider student choices around reading and writing using a reflective or inquiry lens. Encourage students to ask questions about their choices as a reader and a writer–questions like, “What genres do I tend to read? What topics do I tend to write about? Do I notice any patterns in my literacy practices? Where are there gaps in my practice?” This form, which my colleagues and I used with third and fourth grade students last Spring, is just one of many, many ways that you might invite students to reflect on their choices.

Another suggestion is to use identity as a driving lens through which to consider the kinds of reading and writing choices students make. Two big questions that teachers and students can use all year long are, “Who am I as a reader? Who am I as a writer?” Understanding that our identities are fluid and dynamic, we can use these reflections to create goals that can help us develop our identities as readers and writers over the course of a semester or school year.

Finally, we can use the metaphor of a “well-balanced diet” to help us more effectively balance our reading and writing lives. In this post I wrote for my blog, My So-Called Literacy Life, I encourage educators to “milk the food analogy” by comparing the nutritional benefits of eating a wide variety of foods to the cognitive benefits of reading different text types/modalities–and I would add, by reading a wide variety of topics representing a wide variety of lives and experiences. We can do this with writing as well, using play as a driving reason to “try out” different kinds of topics, genres, craft moves, and forms in our writers’ notebooks (Buckner, 2004).

We can do both–we can honor students’ choices around their literacy practices while also nudging them toward a wider, more balanced set of experiences as readers and writers. In doing so, however, let’s remember that our role as educators is not just to attempt to justify the benefits of this kind of nudging, but–ultimately–to model it ourselves.


Shawna Coppola is a literacy specialist with almost two decades of public school teaching experience. She has worked as a K-6 literacy specialist/coach, a language arts teachers for students in grades 6-8, and a children’s librarian. Coppola is a national speaker, a member of The Educator Collaborative, and the author of RENEW! Become a Better–and More Authentic–Writing Teacher from Stenhouse Publishers, which you can preview here. Her next book for Stenhouse is due out in the fall of 2019–yay!


The Co-Teaching Kaleidoscope

By Anne Beninghof, Featured Speaker at the 2019 CCIRA Conference

Kaleidoscopes are the perfect metaphor for co-teaching. A kaleidoscope is a tube of mirrors that contains loose beads or small objects that can vary in color and size. By turning the tube, an unlimited number of combinations occur to create unique designs. The colors and shapes shift easily to produce a new picture, a new blending of ingredients. The possibilities are endless. So it is with co-teaching. When two adults work closely together to teach a heterogeneous group of students, the classroom portrait will be unique and ever-changing, based on the students, the curriculum and the strengths each person contributes to the picture. Partnerships might form between the classroom teacher and a literacy specialist, a special educator, an ELL specialist, a technology teacher or even two general education teachers. The arrangements are almost endless.

Whatever your partnership, designing the best possible picture requires intentional discussions between you. The following Top 12 questions guide this conversation.

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  1. How will we introduce ourselves to our students? To parents? How do we explain co-teaching?
  2. What format will we use for lesson planning?
  3. When and where will we meet for co-planning and reflection?
  4. What formative and summative assessment data will we collect? Where will we keep this information?
  5. Will there be a designated space (desk, storage) in the room for the second teacher?
  6. How will we arrange the room?
  7. How will sub plans reflect our co-teaching relationship?
  8. What classroom routines do we want to establish (restroom breaks, students late to class, missing assignments, attendance, pencil sharpening)?
  9. What behavior management practices will we have in place? How will we respond to inappropriate behavior?
  10. Which methods of communication will work best for us (email, text, wikis, phone, face-to-face, online)?
  11. How will we handle correspondence: parents, newsletters, emails, report cards?
  12. What pet peeves do we each have?

Successful co-teaching requires effective communication. As the year progresses, you may need to have courageous conversations. Perhaps a pet peeve has arisen that you didn’t think to talk about and it is starting to really annoy you. Perhaps a student’s behavior plan is not being implemented with fidelity, causing a lack of success. Perhaps you recognize a significant difference in your literacy practices. Open, honest, professional discussions are necessary to become a highly effective co-teaching team. Return to these Top 12 questions a few times throughout the year to reflect on your practices and adjust where necessary. Just as a kaleidoscope image changes with a new twist, so will your co-teaching arrangements.

Anne M. Beninghof, an internationally recognized consultant and trainer, has more than thirty 35 years of experience working with students and teachers. In her teaching, presenting and writing, Anne focuses on creative, practical solutions for more effectively including students with diverse learning needs in general education classrooms. You can follow Anne’s blog @ www.ideasforeducators.com, on Facebook @ Ideas for Educators, or on Twitter @annebeninghof.



Go Slow to Go Fast

By Shelly Schuckers

Starting the school year off always presents a challenge of priorities.  Whether you are a brand new teacher wanting to have the perfect bulletin boards while scavenging the “free tables” for supplies, the veteran teacher wanting to be the first to get their copies made, or the veteran new-hire wanting to figure out their role in their new team,  the need for more time is the first bond that brings you together. Everything feels rushed until you are sitting in the annual staff meeting going over the handbook of procedures…then time seems to stop as you contemplate the best place to go to lunch. Good times.

Take a deep breath.  Inhale the scent of freshly sharpened pencils and recycled air.  The year isn’t made or lost in the first few days…however, how you start will impact your sanity.  Give yourself permission to take your time. Those of us that spent part of the summer drooling over the Food Network might understand this better as the “mise en place” which simply means having everything ready before your start.  Get to know your people…your curriculum…your building. Dig through and unpack your shelves. Organize yourself now because once those kids show up, there will not be time. This is the time to prep more than your lessons…you need to prep your life.

There are two important segments to your school year prep…the “before student” and “just kids” contract hours.  I am offering a few suggestions that will assist you in your literacy success as well as the general fluidity of your school year.  I am well aware that this list is not all-inclusive, however, it is my sincere hope that it helps you and your team. The “before student” (I will refer to this time as BS) time is probably the most crucial for anyone using a new literacy curriculum or philosophy. This is what our building did this year under the guidance of our school designer and administrator.  I did tweak some of the curriculum specific items but overall this is the process our grade level teams used to reflect on our curriculum.


  • How well do you and your team understand your curriculum?


      • Does each team member have the materials they need?
      • Can each teammate access the resources from last year?
      • Does each team member have a basic understanding of the materials?
      • What supports do new teachers need from returning staff?


  • How does the literacy curriculum fit in with the rest of your day?


      • Can the literacy be flexible to other content (science, social studies, math…)
      • Are there any pieces/parts to the unit(s) that we are NOT going to teach?


  • What do your assessments look like?


      • Is everyone clear on student outcomes?
      • How is the data used? How is it collected?
      • What outside assessments are there? (DIBELS, NWEA, iReady, etc)
    • How is your team going to maintain consistency?
      • Projects
      • Short Assignments
      • Rubrics
      • Criteria lists


  • How can you design your instruction for the best outcomes(backwards design)?
  • Are we all clear on where we are going with this unit? (grading, outcomes, planning, etc)


    • How are we going to differentiate? (ELL, SPED, Gifted, etc)


Reference:  Beginning of year agenda from our principal and school designer at Bea Underwood Elementary 2018.

Now, once all the BS is in place it is crucial that students are also given time to become familiar with your expectations.  This is the “just kids” (referred to as JK) part of your preparations. Most students are new to you and you are new to them.  All they know of you is your name and maybe the gossip from some former students. All you know of them is their names and maybe the gossip from former teachers.  Just like your curriculum, your need to figure each other out. Before quality literacy (really any learning) can happen you need to turn those 24 individuals into a crew that work under that same flag. It is truly just about the kids.

There are two excellent resources that I have used to help this become a sanity-saving Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 11.23.10 PMreality.  The first is called Teach To’s by Rick Dahlgren.  It is filled with basic behavior expectations from the mundane (how to line up) to the critical (fire drills).  No matter how wonderful your lesson plans are, if students don’t know the fundamental routines within and outside of your classroom, you will find yourself doing damage control in the form of discipline and lesson interruptions.  Taking the JK time to go ov

er and practice these simple routines will free up the rest of your year to quality, uninterrupted instruction.

The second resource is specific to your literacy block.  I lived by this book when I was in the classroom. It showed me that it is not how quickly you get to small groups and instruction but how e

ffective it can be when the students know what they are supposed to do.  This book is The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy in the Elementary Grades by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser  The “sisters” simply introduce each independen


t activity with purpose and rigor.  Students are expected to build stamina and celebrated when they succeed. Like the Teach To‘s book, the expectations are laid out with the students so that they not only understand the teacher’s expectations but they also have ownership of their learning.  Even if you do not use the “daily five” within your literacy 


Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 11.23.15 PM

block the idea of laying out the steps and expectations for your students will all but guarantee successful literacy lessons, especially when the students are doing independent work.  

There are several blogs and resources on the “go slow to go fast” philosophy.  If you would like to dig deeper into this way of thinking one book is Go Slow to Go Fast by Damian Pitts.  There are also several blogs that advise of the benefits of slowing down in the beginning.  

So, this year, my wish for you and your team is that you can “go slow to go fast.”  Give yourselves permission to take the time to perfect the small things. Build relationships with your colleagues and students.  Enjoy each other. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the year.
Shelly Schuckers, president of Tall Timbers,  has been working for Bea Underwood Elementary for 21 years in a variety of positions including kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, ½ multiage, ⅔ multiage, 4th grade, art teacher, literacy coach, reading interventionist and ELL interventionist.  Currently she is the art teacher as well as assisting with reading/ELL intervention. Shelly and her husband are busy adapting to their new roles of Army parents/empty nesters in Parachute, Colorado with their pack of dogs.