Author: Guest Author

Why Poetry? David L. Harrison



We posed a question to David Harrison, why poetry?

Ask a poet, “Why poetry?” the response may be a surprised look, the sort you’d expect if you’d asked, “Why do you breathe?” Perhaps it’s better to ask, “Why poets?” Who are these passionately dedicated people who throw themselves into the slow, tedious business of making poems? Good poetry is hard to write, selling poetry is next to impossible, and poets rarely make much money. So why poetry, why poets, and why should you care?
I can’t speak for other poets (although I bet they’d all answer in much the same way), but I love the challenge of beginning with an idea and facing all those decisions that must be made before I wind up with a finished poem. In music, the same notes in different combinations produce jazz, Dixieland, blues, marches, and symphonic works. In poetry, the same words in different combinations produce a marvelous variety of verse. Most days I work twelve hours, much of it writing poetry. I’m a freelance writer. No one is going to pay me if I don’t produce. Few would care or notice if I stopped. I work alone. If I spend hours trying to decide between one rhyme or another, struggling with a stubborn meter, seeking a stronger noun, searching desperately for just the right simile – who cares? Well, first of all, I care. No poet worth his salt is ever going to stop working on a poem until he reads it aloud one more time and loves what he hears.
Ask a teacher who has learned that poetry is one of the best tools in the toolbox for teaching fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and love of language, “Why poetry?” You might hear, “Couldn’t do without it!” At least I hope that’s what you hear! Teachers who routinely use poetry in their classrooms know that the rhymes and cadences of structured language make it easier to remember than prose and more fun to read repeatedly. Teachers who invite their students to write poems of their own know that children’s poetry offers a wonderful opportunity to share the rich diversity of our people.
But someone else cares too. Ask a third grader who has had positive experiences with poetry at home and/or school, “Why poetry?” You might hear, “I like poems. Sometimes they’re funny and they make me laugh.” What that third grader or first grader or fifth grader doesn’t realize is that poetry’s nuances, metaphors, echoing sounds, song-like qualities, rhymes, and cadences are providing much more than entertainment. Young readers have no idea how hard the poet worked to make them laugh or think or see something in a new light or provide them with examples of language used beautifully. Why should they? It’s their right to read good poems.
Why poetry? Ask a poet or a teacher if you want to. I’m going with the third grader.

© David L. Harrison

David L.

David’s Blog

Three Stages of Planning: Dr. Tony Sinanis

Enjoy this guest blog by Tony Sinanis!  Tony shares some expert ideas on planning, unit planning, backward design and how in combination they can positively impact teaching and learning!

Over the last couple of days, I have read a bunch of wonderfully written #OneWord posts. I often found myself nodding my head in agreement, especially in the case of this powerful post about empathy by my friend Bill. Although I couldn’t necessarily pick just one word, recently I have been thinking a lot about planning and how that impacts teaching and learning in our school each day. Much of my thinking has been anchored in the monthly literacy check-in conversations we have had at Cantiague where we have been discussing the integration of the new TC Units of Study and how these resources are impacting planning for literacy instruction and actual implementation.

Planning: A Personal Journey

This notion of “planning” is one I have struggled with my entire career as an educator… I could never quite plan far enough ahead yet I always over planned to make sure every minute was accounted for in my classroom. I have run the spectrum of planning… planning week to week using a plan book; planning an entire unit of study in advance using a template, and planning day to day on sheets of loose-leaf paper based on what I actually got accomplished on any given day with my students. The following graphic accurately captures what the “planning” experience looked like for me as a classroom teacher and even sometimes as a principal (be honest – how many of you can relate??)…

Fortunately, with almost 20 years experience as an educator I can confidently say that although I may have yet to master the whole planning situation, I have come to understand how important it really is to plan for learning and teaching within our classrooms. Regardless of what style or approach or format an educator uses, the bottom line is that we must plan in advance to have some sort of trajectory for the learning we hope to see unfold in our classrooms. Some of the questions I am constantly reflecting on include… What do we want our learners to master during a course of inquiry? What are the essential questions for this unit? What are the skills and strategies we want to expose our learners to during this lesson or unit? How are we going to ensure that the learning is student centered and student driven? Having reflected on questions like these (and dozens more), I have come to some personal understandings about planning. The way I see it, there are three stages of planning we could be engaging in that could have a positive impact on our students.
Stage 1: Unit Design
The first stage of planning and the one that I think is most effective and beneficial to maximizing the learning and teaching experience is unit planning. What do I mean by unit planning? I don’t mean picking up the new TC Units of Study (reading or writing) and necessarily following them verbatim (although that may work for many educators). No, I mean thinking about a unit of study that would be most beneficial to students… YOUR students. Think about what you want your students to have accomplished at the end of the unit of study. What are the essential (big & overarching) questions they should be able to answer? What knowledge and skills should students have acquired at the end of a unit? Could the TC Units of Study be the resource an educator uses as the anchor for a unit? Yes! But, the end goals should be established for the current group of students… TC Units of Study are a resource – they are not the curriculum.
After identifying the essential questions and specific knowledge and skills, now take a few steps back and think about what evidence could be “collected” during a unit to show what children have learned. This is the time to think about how the learning during a unit of study will be assessed because starting with the assessment in mind and planning backward from that point only increases the chances of academic success for learners. The final step in unit planning is thinking about the day to day learning experiences and the instruction that need to take place in order for the children to be able to answer the essential questions at the end of the unit.
A resource that is often used to facilitate this type of unit planning is the Understanding By Design model. The graphic below provides a great visual for the thinking that goes into this type of planning. What we know about systems thinking is that we plan ahead for our end goal – basically planning for our ideal situation – and working back from there.

Stage 2: Logistics, Schedules & Priorities

The second stage of planning considers all the logistics… scheduling, units of study across the different content areas and possibilities for interdisciplinary learning experiences. This is where the week to week planning gets refined and executed. If a teacher knows four students will be out of the classroom at reading at 9:30 am twice during the week, they will plan around that to ensure that the children don’t miss any new content. The second stage of planning will also consider what was accomplished the week before and what the goal is for the following week. This stage of planning drills deeper than what might be considered when planning the entire unit of study. This is where an educator considers the daily learning experiences and how they might unfold in the classroom using mini-lessons, direct instruction, guided practice, small group work and independent practice.

Stage 3: Day To Day

The third stage of planning is based on the data we collect from our students on a daily basis and this impacts the day to day instruction that unfolds in our classrooms. Yes, we may have planned a six-week unit of study in writing workshop that focuses on poetry but if we notice that the majority of our students are struggling with a strategy or skill on any given day, then that should impact, and even dictate, the next day’s mini-lesson. It might throw the unit of study slightly off course but ultimately, we must use data to guide and plan our daily instruction so that we are meeting the needs of our students and helping them work towards mastery of specific skills. The learning and teaching that unfolds in a classroom each day should not be solely based on a unit that was planned weeks in advance – it needs to be shaped and impacted by our students and their needs.

You Decide

Although there is not one size fits all approach to planning, I do believe these three stages of planning will ultimately have the most positive impact on the teaching and learning that unfolds in our classrooms each day. I hope that the readers of this post will join me in reflecting on their individual planning styles and how we can collaborate, as a PLN, to enhance our skills in this area!

Dr. Tony Sinanis is Assistant Superintendent for Learning & Instruction at Plainedge School District, NY
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonySinanis


Enjoy this great blog from guest author, the amazing Dr. Mary Howard! Also, check out all the great articles and information at Valinda Kimmel- Collaborate. Innovate. Create.

On December 26, 2016, Val Kimmel wrote a remarkable post titled: Response to Intervention: We Know the Models, But where’s the Magic? Val’s question has lingered in my mind for days because it reflects the deep-rooted fear I’ve been unable to shake since RTI became widespread in 2004. Like Val, I worry:

What I worry about is that in the process of intervening for readers, we extinguish or at the very least, postpone the absolute sheer delight that comes with reading great texts.


Since “literacy consultant” is THAT THING I DO, I’d like to reflect on my hopes and dreams for RTI. I still believe that tremendous potential could reside in the RTI framework. Yet the concerns I described in 2009 in my book, RTI from All Sides: What Every Teacher Needs to Know, continue to plague us and thwart our efforts to create a model worthy of our children.

As I travel across the country, I find the words ‘teaching with heart’ have become inseparably intertwined in my discussions about RTI. I’ve watched as our HEART has dissipated from view in too many schools and I know we will only achieve the RTI promise if we can reawaken our HEART with a model we can all be proud of.

So in that spirit, I suggest five ‘heart goals” that could breathe new life into RTI. (WARNING: I’m going to be blatantly honest so proceed at your own risk)

Classrooms with HEART

Heart begins from the moment we open our doors until we close them at the end of the day and is elevated by all we do in between. We have a professional responsibility to model by our every action that we are richer because we’re blessed to have each child in our presence. We greet them with gratitude when they enter our room, send them on their way with a smile, and commit to being present in every learning moment in the middle. HEART will never exist at a teacher’s table where paperwork is deemed more important than actively engaging in “kidwatching”, dialogue and support. We have unlimited opportunities to offer words of support and encouragement in brief interactions that lead to monumental possibilities. HEART happens when we treat children with the same respect we ask of them because respect is two-way street. We strive to make every child feel that they are the most important person in the room because they are! Never lose sight that we may be the only place a child is celebrated. That thought alone should inspire us to celebrate from the HEART.

Practices with HEART

Everything in the RTI structure pales in comparison to our first line of defense – the classroom teacher of tier 1. I am convinced that we will only bring our HEART to RTI if we focus first on the bulk of the day because 30 minutes can never make up for what happens the other five hours of the day. Time is a precious gift and we shut down our HEART each time we waste even one minute. In our misguided RTI enthusiasm, the most critical features of teaching with HEART occur in tier 1 but are sadly the first to go. Some things must be carved into instructional stone with a place of honor in the daily schedule where nothing can stand in the way. Daily HEART MUSTS include read-aloud, independent reading, and one-to-one conferring. I’m not talking about basalized anthology read-aloud accompanied by scripted low level questions, independent reading that denies children of books that could make their hearts sing simply because it does not fit our identified ‘label’ or reducing reading to computer screens riddled with heartless questions and activities. I’m talking about daily access to exquisite books with choice and conversations that revolve around those books. We can never be so busy that we ignore the spirit of RTI with HEART.

Interventions with HEART

We are really missing this RTI HEART and in the process breaking the very hearts of children who can least afford it. If our interventions reflect one-size-fits-all small groups with another teacher who has no vested interest for or knowledge about that child (also known as the ultimate heartless bluebirds and redbirds ‘walk to intervention model’) – we have failed. If our interventions are more akin to barking at print or laboring through too hard or boring books children care nothing about – we have failed. If our interventions insult children with stacks of time-wasting fill-in-the-blank sheets, coloring for the sake of coloring or a myriad of trivial activities – we have failed. I can’t think of a better way to suck the very life from RTI than joyless interventions with joyless books in joyless conversations within joyless teaching. Interventions with HEART are the polar opposite, rising from thoughtfully responsive experiences with books that inspire engaging conversations enriched by teachers who let their HEART lead the way

Data with HEART

I’m not even sure where to begin with what has the greatest potential to kill our RTI HEART than the heartless ways I see data used. Of course data is a crucial aspect of any high quality instructional approach and central to our interventions. But the minute we reduce children to spreadsheets, we lose the child in a heartless process. Too many children end up in interventions who do not belong there or are subjected to heartless interventions because we allow data to blind us to the child in front of us. Until we stop talking about children as numbers and start talking about them as learners based on our knowledge of those children with daily formative data at the center, RTI is forever doomed. Nothing will ever replace HEART DATA that comes from teachers who are present in the learning moments that inform our efforts to ensure accelerated progress that moves children from where they are to where they need to be. Teachers who use data with HEART know that a number devoid of a child is empty at best. We must stop using numbers to define children and start using the child’s name and our knowledge of that child based on real life learning day-to-day experiences.

Schools with HEART

I have been very vocal in my belief that no human should be allowed to spend one penny on any program, initiative, approach or assessment unless that person has a strong background in literacy and knowledge of the children those things can impact for better or worse (and only following in-depth schoolwide conversations about how it will benefit children). Schools don’t need more scripts and yet programs are at an all time high. What we do need is more professional decision-making and I happen to know that teachers are hungry for knowledge that leads to powerful decisions that take place in the learning day. Until ongoing professional learning with HEART is a priority, we will continue to spit into the RTI wind and little we do is ever likely to matter. WHAT (things) have become far too important in our schools at a time when it is our WHY (beliefs) and HOW (practices guided by those beliefs) that matter. What we buy are only ‘things’ until a knowledgeable teacher breathes life into them in the best interest of children. HEART comes from professional responsibility to children, not compliance. Fidelity to programs without fidelity to children will forever keep our RTI HEART in a dormant state.


I’d like to close by emphasizing that teaching with HEART is the professional responsibility of every educator and nothing – not RTI, Common Core or anything else most surely lurking around the next corner – should ever be allowed to silence our instructional HEARTBEAT. Heartless teaching will mar every effort to meet the promise of RTI and disrespect the unlucky recipients of those models. Our children are the markers upon which we measure HEART and that happens only when we can honestly say that children leave a learning experience better than they were when that experience began. HEART is measured by the level of instructional JOY we are each willing to bring to the learning table. How can we ask children to bring their HEART to the experience if we can’t bring ours?

So let’s reawaken our RTI HEART in 2017. Our children are depending on us!


–Dr. Mary Howard