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Why Workshop and Balanced Literacy?

We have all heard about the pendulum of literacy instruction that forever seems to swing back and forth between isolated phonics instruction and/or diving right into immersing children in reading and writing experiences. Another way of looking at the possibilities for literacy instruction is a more balanced approach that incorporates benefits from both sides of the Whole Language vs Phonics debate. If we use a balanced literacy approach for our literacy instruction, students can benefit from explicit, direct instruction in Phonics as well as engage in authentic reading and writing experiences. Reading and Writing Workshop are integral to a balanced literacy approach in addition to other foundational practices such as: shared reading, interactive writing, guided reading and Phonics or word work, just to name a few. 
For the purposes of this post, reading and writing workshop are defined as structures that have the following components: daily, succinct mini-lessons for the whole class th…
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Equity Vs Equality

What is the difference between treating students “fairly” and treating them “equally”? What are some examples of how that looks in the classroom?

The following is an example of what equity looks like in a continuation high school in Hollister, CA. As the understanding of the difference between equity and equality is so important for all educators to understand, we hope you find the following illustration helpful. 

There are important differences between equal and fair. Many times, it depends on the classroom environment and the locale. I am using these definitions as guidelines for my responses: Equal is having the ability and or resources to meet a challenge. Fair denotes something being free of favoritism and free of judgment. (Oxford Dictionary)

I worked in a small, rural agricultural community. Ninety-seven percent of my students were Mexican-American or Mexican. We were a Continuation High School. Our main comprehensive High School has a population of approximately 3000 students. Th…

Teacher Self-Care

Self-care!  It's the latest fad.  Take yourself out to lunch, get a pedicure, do some yoga... These things are great, but are they really self-care?  I often find that when I'm feeling exhausted and ready for a melt-down, self care ends up as another item on my to -do list.  Or, if I do indulge, the entire time I'm getting my pedicure, I'm thinking about all the things I SHOULD be doing, checking email and responding to texts,  totally out of the moment of the experience The bottom line is that if this kind of self-care helped us feel more confident and empowered, we would easily build in the spa days and dinners out.  Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a board-certified psychiatrist and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine is passionate about women's health. She defines self-care as "the internal hard work of making tough decisions for yourself and by yourself.  It starts with recognizing that you have l…

Transforming Our Classrooms

Are we ready to transform our classes?
There are a plethora of discussions regarding Social Justice in the classroom. Are we doing all we can as teachers to open the doors to discussions about race, culture, identity and ethnicity amongst ourselves? What do we see when we see our students? I have heard some teachers state that “all students are the same, I do not see color”. I am so envious of their state of colorblindness!
Or, rather, are we missing out on the opportunity to learn from our students and open our thoughts regarding microaggression, implicit bias,and microinsults that are sometimes levelled to students by us?
One of the definitions that I have heard regarding “implicit bias” is that it can be the stereotypes and or attitudes that affect our perceptions of others. The power of these biases is in their subconscious nature. We can start to take away their power when we make a conscious effort to uncover them. Few stereotypes and negative perceptions stand up to critical scrutiny.…

Emergent Writers' Workshop

Emergent Writers’ Workshop
Writers’ Workshop is a wonderful approach to writing instruction because it gives students many choices and lots of time to practice. Generally, the teacher chooses the genre and the students are allowed to pick their own topic within that genre.
A typical workshop lesson would contain the following pieces: Mini-lesson (short, 5-15 minutes) Independent writing time and conferring with teacher (usually about 30 minutes) Sharing Time (5-10 minutes)
These elements may look a little different in a classroom of emerging writers, especially at first as the students are building up their stamina.
There are specific things you want to look for in the work of emerging writers. These are the students we typically find in our Transitional Kindergarten, Kindergarten and First Grade classrooms. Are they primarily expressing themselves through pictures? If so, is there meaning in the pictures? Can they “read” their writing to you? Are they using what they know about letters to t…
So, what are some components of informal leadership and what does it look and sound like?

Acknowledgement and Praise

“You have such great ideas. I love to come into your room to see what  you have done with….” “AWESOME”
“Thank you so much for putting together that lesson and sharing your ideas with me. I had some ideas, however, your approach made the lesson come alive.”
A coworker’s  praise of a job well done builds self esteem and a willingness to step to the plate again (Kenyon 2008).

“Let’s work together on the next unit. It will give us a chance to share what we know and what has worked in the past.”
Teacher collegiality provides opportunities for leadership. A strong sense of collective responsibility can develop when teachers problem solve together discussing, inquiring, and reflecting on common goals. Teachers tend to support each other as leaders when they know everyone  in their group will back them up. (Lambert 2006)


Whether you are a new teacher, right out of college, or an experienced teacher with several years under your belt, you consider your classroom as your own domain. Either as a new teacher who has studied the latest methodologies, or an experienced teacher who instinctively knows what works, you are equipped to inspire your students. However, you are not completely in control. Schools are hierarchical, and teachers are required to implement specific curriculum and standardized testing. Within this framework, are planning sessions for each grade level where test score are analyzed, and  remedial follow up mapped out. In reality, teaching is a team effort.
Effective teachers realize the importance of  teamwork and having a relationship with their colleagues.  Highly effective teachers have developed skills in leadership that not only promote a good working relationship with their colleagues, but also enhances student learning.  The question is, how doe…