Coaching the Core

I am in the beginning stages of a coaching cycle with a junior high literacy teacher.  She specifically asked for help with the Common Core State Standard #9 for reading literature.  For 7th grade, this standard states that students will be able to

compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.


She also wants to incorporate the work she has been doing with reader’s notebooks, encouraging kids to respond to their reading in a variety of ways.

Our first meeting was to determine what, exactly, our student goals were.  So, we dove into that standard and tried to write more specific learning objectives from it.  Kids will need to:

  • be able to compare and contrast a fictional portrayal to a historical account.  (They could probably do this with a Venn diagram or through an essay.)
  • be able to identify how authors use factual information in their fictional writing.  (Close reading will come in handy here.)
  • be able to explain why authors of fiction use or alter history.  (Possible responses to this might be to invoke empathy, to give us a new perspective, to provide more information.)

Our second step was to gather resources.  So far, we know we are going to use Poetry Pairings by The New York Times.  We are also building text sets.  For our demo lessons, we will use Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, along with an article, some photos, and a video about the L.A. Riots.    For the kids, we are building text sets around immigration (How Many Days to America by Eve Bunting, Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone) and the Japanese Internment Camps (Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki).

My role as the literacy coach differs according to teacher knowledge and skill level.  This teacher is masterful; she is one of the most thoughtful and reflective teachers I’ve known.  So, I will teach alongside her.  I will help her look at student work so we can decide our next steps.  I will help her stay focused on our learning goals and possibly refine them along the way.  I will be a sounding board, a teaching partner.   I will offer my knowledge about the Common Core and about reader’s response.  I will help gather resources.

I see the important work we’ve already done together just by simply sitting down and talking through the standard.

Everyone should work with a coach – even the best of the best.


PD for the Potty

This week’s bathroom poster:


Just giving the staff something to think about while they… sit.

Study Groups

Our PLC model has undergone some shifts in recent years.  About five years ago, we had no cohesive model.  Then, we adopted a Lab Teacher Program for a couple of years.  While that model did have its successes, there were some obstacles to its implementation.  Last year, that Lab Teacher Program sort of morphed into Study Groups, where small teams of teachers met periodically to learn more about a topic.  For example, one group studied a couple of the Common Core State Standards and another group studied conferring with young readers.  The best part of these groups was that after we did some learning around the topic, we went into the classrooms to see a lesson or a conference in action.  The best way to learn is to get your feet wet, right?

This year, we are keeping the Study Group format (small groups of teachers, classroom practice in action), but we are adding a professional text to guide the learning component.  The idea is that we will read the book, discuss the major concepts, and then get into some classrooms and try it out.  This might mean we plan a lesson together and watch a colleague teach it, or maybe do some one-on-one conferences using the fishbowl method, or maybe watch a demo lesson done by the literacy coach.

To generate some interest, I hung mysterious signs in the bathrooms last week:

Study Groups

At Monday’s staff meeting, I will book talk each of the chosen books.  Teachers will choose one of the study groups to participate in, or they may choose the sixth “opt out” option.  I find that having the teachers make their decision before leaving the staff meeting usually increases participation.  This way, nobody forgets to sign up or loses the sign-up sheet in a sea of ungraded papers.

I hand-picked our professional texts off of my bookshelf, picking five of my favorite books for teachers.  Our options for this year are:

Hows It Going

Talking to Writers (3-8)

This study group will work to improve our one-on-one writing conferences.  Conferring with young writers is an art that takes practice and time to develop.  Let’s get our feet wet together!  We will learn a format for conducting a writing conference, and we will learn how to teach students their role in a writing conference.  We will use the book How’s It Going?: A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson as our guide.


About_the_AuthorsWriting Workshop for the Youngest Children (K-2)

This study group will examine the intricacies of writing workshop in the primary grades.  The focus will be on making books, and we will take a detailed look at routines, minilessons, and assessment in K-2 classrooms.  We will also look at some specific units of study and some excellent mentor texts we can use in our classrooms!  We will use About the Authors by Katie Wood Ray to guide our learning.



IgnitingA Love of Books (3-8)

This study group will learn how to create a culture of literacy and a love for reading in your classroom.  If you’ve always wanted the kind of classroom where kids are excited about reading and books, this study group is for you! We will learn how to give great book chats and how to really get to know the readers in our classrooms.   Our learning will center on Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven L. Layne.



What Readers Really DoAuthentic Readers

This study group will learn how to meet some of the Common Core State Standards, while keeping authentic reading experiences at the heart of their classrooms.  We will learn how readers infer, develop notions about theme, and work their way out of confusion.  We will practice some of these reading experiences ourselves and then go into the classrooms to teach kids how to be real readers.  We will use What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton as our guide.


Celebrating WritersLet’s Celebrate!

This study group will work to make our writing workshops places of joy and celebration.  We will discover ways to build a true community of writers.  We will learn about celebrating not only finished pieces of writing, but also learn how to find and celebrate all the successes along the way.  If you are looking to put fun and excitement in your workshop, this book is for you.  Let’s look at student work through a lense of celebration!  We will learn from Celebrating Writers by Ruth Ayres.


I am feeling really good about these selections and the current PLC model.  Stay tuned for updates throughout the year…



Coaching Non-Negotiables

We have been working hard in our district to develop a coaching model for the 4 literacy coaches in my district.  We have experimented with several different models, and I think we are close to a consensus on what will work best for our teachers and students.

We have decided on the following non-negotiables about coaching cycles:

  • Coaching cycles must be long term (3-6 weeks).
  • The coach must work directly with the teacher in the classroom at least 3 days per week.
  • There must be a method to measure impact (student work, formal assessments, teacher reflection, etc.)
  • There must be demonstration teaching, including a pre-brief and a debrief.  There might also be co-teaching and observing.
  • There must be a specified goal for the coaching cycle.  It could be either a student-centered or a teacher-centered goal.

Using these non-negotiables as a starting point, we will work to develop a coaching model for our district.

Do you have any non-negotiables as a coach?


Blog at