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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

The Writing Teacher: Editing Strategies


Editing can be a challenge for teachers.  Who is best to do the editing?  Laure was very clear to me, the students.  But the process needs to be guided by the teacher. I asked Laura to share some thoughts and strategies on how to effectively engage students in editing.

Teachers tend to edit for writing conventions by correcting students’ writing because that’s what their teachers did to their work. Two things happen if we continue this editing practice:

  1. Teachers, not students, become better at editing for writing conventions.
  2. Students don’t learn from their editing errors. Instead, they recopy the teacher’s edits and make minimal progress


How to Change This Picture

Help students understand that they need to edit their writing by narrowing the scope of what they do.  First, negotiate with students the writing conventions to include in a rubric—these are the conventions you will teach and review. Then, have students use the rubric to edit for one convention at a time. This means that students will have to read through their writing to check for each convention because students have more success when editing for one convention at a time.


Fifth Grade Example

The rubric that fifth-grade students used to edit their book reviews included these writing conventions:

  • Paragraphing
  • Complete sentences.
  • Commas in a series
  • Underline title of the book

Students self-edited only for the four conventions listed and then had their writing partners edit book reviews.  Using feedback from self and peer editing, students composed a second draft that also included content revisions.

If students made other writing convention errors, the teacher noted these as she read students’ second drafts: Commas between compound sentences; active verbs; commas at end of introductory subordinate phrases.  You can think aloud and show students how you edit following a rubric. Then, create a list of what you did to help students as they edit their work.


Tips That Support Students

  • Have students read their piece out loud to listen for and test conventions listed in their rubric.
  • Think aloud and model how asking questions helps with the editing process. Create an anchor chart with questions like those that follow:


Some Writing Conventions Questions

  • Did I paragraph when I changed time, place, and topic?
  • Did I paragraph dialogue correctly?
  • Did I test sentences that go on for 3 or more lines to see if they are run-ons?
  • Did I rewrite run-ons so I have clear sentences?’
  • Did I start a few to several sentences the same way?
  • Did I rewrite to vary sentence openings?
  • Can I combine two short sentences?
  • Are there missing commas, quotation marks, or end-of-sentence punctuation?
  • Have I circled words I think I’ve misspelled?
  • Have I asked my writing partner to check my edits?


Closing Thoughts

Editing for conventions takes time. Sure, it’s easier for the teacher to do the work, but remember, we teach for independence. To help students achieve independence, they need to do the editing. It’s easy to slide back to how we learned and what we are used to doing. Feel tempted to do the editing? Sit on your hands and read, making mental notes of possible mini-lessons and places students need to revisit.  Jot feedback for students on a sticky note, and list ideas for future mini-lessons on writing conventions. It will take more time, but it’s the students who will progress by practicing a complex process.


To learn much more about teaching editing, check out these resources by Laura Robb: Teaching Middle School Writers (Heinemann, 2010) and SMART WRITING (Heinemann, 2012).


Leadership: Class Walkthroughs

Walkthroughs can be an effective way to observe instruction and to provide feedback to staff. In this blog, I will share some thoughts on what needs to be in place to launch an effective walk through program and seven mistakes to be aware of.


Relationships Matter

Walkthroughs work best when there is a good professional relationship between administrators and teachers. So, let’s assume that you have positive relationships with your teachers and other administrators.  What are some key elements that make for great walk through experiences for all staff?  


Collaborate With Staff

Administrators should work with staff to create key focus areas for walkthrough observations because focus areas bring clarity to walk through visits for administration and teachers. I am a proponent of establishing focus areas with faculty VS telling staff this is what we will do.  To start the process of creating focus areas staff can look at data from the previous year, read articles and books on best practice in education to find focus points for the year ahead.  The key is to not create too many; I suggest three to six focus points for the year.  These focus points will be the topics of meetings, book study, article study, peer discussion, and class walk through.


Some Focus Areas

  • As an example here are four focus areas my staff worked on:
  • Engagement vs Compliance
  • Learning Targets
  • Higher Level Oral Questioning
  • Effective Exit Passes

When I do walkthroughs staff know I will be focusing on the look for’s that we established as a learning community.  I no longer have a veil of mystery of why I am in a class or what I am looking for.  



My goal is to improve teaching and learning. Walkthroughs allow me to provide same day feedback to staff. This can be either a brief conversation or email to discuss what went well, what might be changed, who the lesson worked for, and who it did not.  


Positives & Pitfalls

Walk through observations done with clarity of purpose and all understanding why they are done have the potential to build trust and create opportunities for feedback, conversation, and growth.  They can improve teaching and learning.  But done wrong, walkthroughs can also hurt efforts to improve teaching and learning. What follows are seven ways to ruin your walkthroughs efforts.


Derailing Walkthroughs

  • Avoiding building trust between teachers and administrators; a guarantee that walkthroughs will not work.
  • Completing walkthroughs when staff has no clue why the administration is doing them results in developing a divisive, gotcha school culture.
  • Never letting staff know when walkthrough observations will occur.
  • Inviting others to do walkthroughs who no one on your staff knows.
  • Giving no feedback to teachers after completing walkthroughs.
  • Making a walkthrough visit evaluative.
  • Huddling in the corner with other administrators outside a class where you just did a walk through and looking very serious or angry.


Find Success

Good planning, communication, professionalism and a commitment to building trust while improving are critical to launching effective classroom walkthrough observations.  Invest time in doing them right and you have an additional strategy to improve instruction and learning. Do them wrong, and you will hurt your leadership and put a wedge between you and staff.

Make the right choice!

The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

The Writing Teacher – Revision Strategies

Revision is hard to teach.  I asked Laura to share some tips on how to teach great revision strategies.

“I don’t know what to revise or how to revise.”  Too many students feel this way when teachers ask them to revise their writing for content and word choice.  It is important for students to revise their own work and then have a peer writing partner offer revision suggestions. The big question is, How can teachers help students revise their work?

What follows are seven tips that move revision out of your hands and into your students’ hands.

Tip 1. Have students use the rubric or content criteria you negotiated and their writing plans to check their first drafts.

Tip 2. Model this checking process using the first draft of a student no longer at your school. Think out loud to show students how you compare the rubric and writing plan to the first draft. Then, make a list of areas that require revision. For example:

Shorten the title

Need to add dialogue and punctuate

Make nouns like things and stuff specific

Sentence openings in 2 paragraphs all the same–need to vary them.

Tip 3. Have students make a list of what they need to revise.

Tip 4.  Model revision strategies.

To revise one or a few sentences or add sentences place a number next to the sentence that needs elaborating. On separate paper, have the student write the same number and complete the revision.

To generate specific nouns have students write in the margin a list of 2 to 3 possibilities, reread the sentence inserting each new and select the choice that works.

To vary sentence openings, students can combine two related sentences, open some sentences with a prepositional phrase or open with one of these words (called subordinating conjunctions): when, since, until, because, if, as soon as, although, unless, whenever.

Tip 5. Have the student invite his/her writing partner to make revision suggestions. Partners use a plan, rubric or criteria, and the first draft to create a feedback list.

Tip 6. Invite students to review all feedback, decide what they’ll include in their revisions, then write their revisions following suggestions in Tip 4.

Tip: 7: Ask students to compose a second draft that includes their revisions.


Now, teachers read improved second drafts and students learn how to use their plans and the rubric or criteria to figure out what to revise.  Of course, there will be errors not addressed in the rubric or criteria. Make a list of errors as you read second drafts. These become topics for future mini-lessons and student conferences.

Feedback on Second Drafts

Use students’ revision lists and rewrites to offer feedback. Look at the process from finding topics, brainstorming, negotiating a rubric or criteria, writing plan, first draft, revisions, and second draft. On a sticky-note, list a few things the student improved and/or did well using the rubric/criteria as your guide for responding. Then, take a few minutes to reflect on priorities–what you’d like the student to ponder and improve. Choose one or two needs and put these in the form of questions. Questions should be kind and encourage students to reflect. If necessary, let students have another shot at revising using your questions.

The point is to offer students a strategy, opportunity, and choice for improving their writing. When students feel confident doing the work of revision, you are teaching for independence!

Follow Laura @LRobbPrincipal

Check out this great book! Read Talk Write