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Organizing for Professional Learning

I have just arrived in Baltimore for the Expeditionary Learning National Conference.  I can’t wait!  During this three-day conference I’ll be participating in a mix of interactive master classes and a variety of structured discussion groups.

To ensure I maximized this professional learning experience, I did some essential pre-planning and organizing.

Before leaving I made sure my mind was free and clear of any mental clutter.  I whipped up a travel planning printable to help me with this.  Now I won’t have to worry about whether I forgot to pack anything or if any loose ends were left untied at school.  Ahhh…

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Click Here to Download

During the conference, there is going to be so much great information to record.  My notes won’t mean much though unless they are aligned to specific next actions…now that I know this, what does this mean for me?  What can I share with others?  To support me with this, I created a note catcher for the conference.

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Thanks to Behance Products for inspiring this note catcher.

Click Here to Download

You’ll see at the bottom I included a “Contacts” and “Backburner” session.  At the conference I may meet other educators with great ideas who I want to connect with in the future and I want to make sure I get their contact information.  Additionally, thoughts may come up that aren’t necessarily next actions, but may lead to important next steps in the future.  I’ll plan to record this thinking under “Backburner.”

I hope you can also use these printables to help you plan and prepare for professional learning experiences of your own now or in the future!

Thanks for reading,


8 Strategies for Scaffolding Instruction

With the advent of the common-core standards, our thinking about how to support second language learners has become super important. Our current focus for supportive instruction may be on grammar and vocabulary or we may be modifying the texts English Language Learners (ELLs) work with during a lesson so they’re at a more “appropriate level.”  Under the standards developed through the Common Core State Standards Initiative, however, instruction for ELLs will have to move beyond modifying lesson materials and teaching fundamental components of language.  Educators now have to ensure that we are teaching ALL kids, no matter their language background or where they are academically, how to grapple with complex, grade level information and texts.

So how do we do this?  Well, a piece of it is thinking more carefully about what supports or scaffolds we can add to our instruction.

Through my experience working as a classroom teacher in an urban school with a large number of second language learners, along with two years experience as our school’s English Language Acquisition Teacher Leader, I have identified eight “scaffolding strategies” that I believe should always be considered when planning instruction for second language learners:

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Click Here for the 8 Scaffolding Strategies Printable

When I set out to plan a lesson, I always consider how to use any or all of these eight scaffolding strategies to support comprehension and language development.

1. Visuals and Realia

Whenever I can I include realia, or real life, tangible objects in my lessons.  I have found that realia is super supportive for vocabulary development and engagement.  For example, I recently selected a text about coral reefs for a close read lesson.  I wasn’t sure students would know what “coral” was, so I brought in an actual piece of coral to pass around.  If you don’t have realia available for a lesson, use visuals or images!  You can frequently find me on Google images, looking for that just right visual to support my lesson.

2. Modeling/Gestures

If you were to observe me teaching a lesson, you would likely see me making all kinds of funny looking gestures.  Funny looking maybe, but supportive definitely!  When all you do is talk/lecture to students who don’t speak English as their first language, most of what you say will probably fly right over their head.  Modeling and gestures help bring your words to life.  Couple this with the use of supportive visuals and say hello to comprehension!

3. Connect to Background Knowledge

When planning for the “hook” or introduction in a lesson, I consider what background knowledge students might have that I can connect to.  For example, I might show them a picture of something related to our lesson and ask them a question about it.  Connecting previous knowledge/learning to new learning is always a great support for ELLs.

4. Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers may not be an appropriate scaffold for every lesson, but they are for many!  You can create your own or use one of the many free ones to be found on the www.  Graphic organizers can be used as a tool to help students organize their thinking when responding to a text.  They key is not to make them too complicated or they may end up being exactly the opposite of a useful thinking support.

5. Sentence Structures/Starters

Sentence structures can be a great support for English Language Learners.  I often use them during the close of a lesson in the debrief or share.  You can also slightly differentiate graphic organizers or recording sheets you provide students by adding sentence structures.

6. Read Aloud

Reading a grade level, complex text aloud to students at the start of the lesson can serve three important purposes:  support engagement, support fluency, and give ELLs some access to the text they’ll be working with.  When reading a text aloud to students, it’s important that it is displayed in a way that all students can easily see it.

7. Intentional Small Group/Partner Work

To support students during independent work time, you can consider small group or partner work.  I say “intentional” small group/partner work because it’s important to consider how and why you’re pairing certain students.  Pairing two students just because one is a “high” reader and the other is a less sophisticated reader can quickly backfire if you haven’t considered how their personalities/work styles might pair up.  Additionally, if you have chosen to provide a small group of students with additional support, just be aware of how much support you’re providing…hopefully not too much!  We don’t want to take away all the challenges that a text/lesson presents.

8. Use of First Language

If a student’s first language is available to you, then by all means make use of it as a scaffold.  I’m not implying that the whole lesson should be translated.  However if you can translate important vocabulary words, make connections between concepts presented, or translate specific instructions then go for it!

As a final note, even if you do not work with ELLs, try to keep in mind that good instruction for second language learners is great instruction for all kids!

Thanks for reading, and download your Scaffolding Strategies Printable for free.


Professional Learning Binder

For the past few weeks I’ve been pondering how to support teachers in documenting, organizing, and reflecting on their work and learning done in coaching cycles, particularly the use of evidence and data in supporting student achievement.  I wanted teachers to have a lasting, tangible product to walk away with after the completion of coaching to support their future work.  After a conversation with my principal during which she suggested creating “Professional Learning Binders” with teachers, I thought this could be a great solution to my dilemma!

I envisioned teachers being able to use their Professional Learning Binders in a variety of ways.  First, as a model for how to organize other classroom assessments and data.  Well analyzed and organized data is so important in instruction, but many teachers struggle with the organization piece.  Using the Analyzing Assessments tool, the featured Monitoring Grid and a few labeled dividers can all help with this.  Additionally, teachers can use collected work in the Professional Learning Binders as part of a larger teacher portfolio.  Like other professionals, teachers need evidence of their growth and achievement over time.

Now with all that said, let’s have a look!

Binder Cover

***If you would like a personalized binder cover in the design featured here, send me an email and I will make one for you free of charge!

Front of Binder

Binder Spine

The first two tabs are labeled “Planning” and “Assessment.”  The Planning section includes documents that helped guide our identified coaching goal such as our school Work Plan and Expedition planning documents.   I also included a copy of our “Goals and Planning” page which outlines our student learning goal and if applicable, teacher learning goal.

The Assessment section features collected assessments for each student divided by name labels.  There is also a Monitoring Grid included for each student.  You can use mailing labels to collect information on each student tied to identified learning targets.  Then at the end of the week, just peel and stick!

Click to Download a PDF of the Monitoring Grid

At the front of the assessment section is the Analyzing Assessments tool we used to organize assessment information into a data set to support us with planning.

Click to Download Analyzing Assessments Tool

The last three tabs are labeled “Instruction,” “Results,” and “Reference.”  In the Instruction section I plan to collect a few example lessons that I observe and give feedback on during the coaching cycle.  After a post-assessment is given at the completion of the coaching cycle and we have data to show what progress was made, this will be included in the Results section.  Additionally, I plan to ask teachers to write a short reflection on their work done in coaching and their learning as a result which will also be included.  In the Reference section, I have included a few professional articles tied to our coaching goal as an additional resource.

This is a GREAT article by the way if you’ve been learning about Close Reading!  You can download it here.

I hope this post sparked your thinking for how you can support teachers in organizing and reflecting on important information tied to your coaching work.  If you are a teacher, hopefully this post gave you some ideas for how to begin a professional learning binder/portfolio of your own!

Thanks for reading,

Coaching Data Tracker

One of my New Year’s resolutions as an instructional coach is to keep better track of the work I do with teachers.  I have a variety of “coaching tools” that I use with individual teachers throughout coaching cycles­ to document and organize our work, however nothing that provides a collective big picture.  In comes the “Coaching Data Tracker!”

Click to Download

I think this is an important document to create and maintain for a couple of reasons.  First, it can be passed on to your principal for the purpose of making sure that you’re both “on the same page.”  While I do have coaching check-ins with my principal, I knew she would just love to have a single go-to document that shows the complete coaching story at Tollgate.

Second, creating this Coaching Data Tracker is seriously great for your own reflection!  For example, in the process of creating mine it was rewarding to see the student and teacher growth I contributed to in my coaching cycles.  Additionally, it pushed me to think harder about how to achieve even better results in future coaching.

Reflecting on what we are doing well and how we can improve is an important part of our work as instructional coaches.  I hope this Coaching Data Tracker supports you in the process.

Student Engaged Assessment

Are you looking for a way to motivate your students, get them excited about learning, and support their progress?  Then student-engaged assessment is for you!  If you have never heard of this assessment strategy or don’t know how to make it happen in your classroom don’t worry, you’re not alone and I can help.

I first learned about student-engaged assessment when our school adopted the Expeditionary Learning model.  Expeditionary Learning embraces this assessment practice in building student ownership of learning and driving achievement.  Even after learning about what student-engaged assessment was, it took me awhile to really get it and begin to put it in place in my own classroom.   When I did, my understandings clicked into place and I never looked at assessment the same way again.

Student-engaged assessment teaches students to continually track, reflect on, and share their progress towards learning targets or goals they have set for themselves.  Using assessment in such a way is motivating and fun for students!  Who’d have thought?

A key piece in the success of student-engaged assessment is maintaining the belief that everyone is capable of high achievement and that learning comes as a result of effort.  This goes for both students and teachers!

I encourage you to give it a try.  To get you started, I have included a few “Tracking Progress” printables below.

Click to Download

This first document can be used in any subject area.  I used it frequently during our “expeditions” or long-term units of study.  Fill in your long term learning targets or objectives at the bottom and provide a copy for each student.  Then introduce your students to the different proficiency descriptors and teach them what they mean.  One of the most important pieces in teaching students to track their progress is to stress the importance of honesty.  Students are often hesitant to assess themselves as “Beginning”, but let them know that this is totally okay!  When they’re clear about where they are, where they need to go, and how they’re going to get there they will build the confidence and motivation to work their way up to “Proficient” or “Advanced.”

You can ask students to track their progress against a target being worked on once or twice a week.  Students can mark a dot to show where they think they are and record the date alongside it so that they can see  their growth over time.

As you work through your unit, help students analyze their progress charts and why they are or are not making growth.

In addition to the individual tracking progress sheets, you can create a whole class tracking progress chart.  These are really fun and supportive because you can see where everyone is in relation to the targets.  Student’s competitive instinct tends to kick in and they enjoy putting forth a bit more effort to ensure they don’t fall behind their peers.

Click to Download

This second document was created specifically to help students track their progress as readers.  Both a fourth and fifth grade teacher I have been working with are using this form with their students and tell me that their kids really dig it.  They now clearly know where they stand, what level they’re working towards, and the specific goals to focus on to help them get there (you can record these goals with students in the section on the right of the document).  This progress tracker can be adjusted to better reflect the reading levels appropriate for your grade level.  Another idea is to leave it as is and include it in end of the year information to be passed up to the student’s next year teacher.  Students can then continue tracking their progress as readers in their new grade level.

Developing the skills of data collection, inquiry, and analysis in achieving goals is a great skill to teach students in the elementary grades.  It will surely set them up for success in the future.

Thanks for reading,

Running Records: Why We Should Be Doing Them

I’ve just started a new coaching cycle with a Kindergarten teacher who is interested in building his understandings of guided reading.  We’ve planned to work with a group of A/B level readers and will be using running records throughout the next six weeks to ensure that our work is supporting students progress as readers.

During my first few years in the classroom I rarely, if ever, gave running records outside of the required district reading assessments.  With everything else I was trying to keep up with, these just seemed like one more thing “to do.”  However, now after having done countless running records, I can confidently say that they provide reliable, relevant data.

Running records are an assessment given to guide teaching, assess text difficulty, and capture progress.  The procedure is simple and straightforward.  When analyzing what is recorded, you’re really challenged to think with greater clarity about the progress of your beginning or struggling readers.  As a result, you adjust your instruction as needed and then guess what…your readers get moving!  Running records make sense and are well worth your time.

To support my coachee with giving and analyzing these assessments, I created a running record form and progress tracker to use alongside of it.  The running record form is user friendly with a space on the bottom for recording notes on student’s comprehension of a text.  You can either type your notes directly into the document or record as you go on a blank form.  The progress tracker form will help you visually capture a student’s progress over a period of time.  The one featured below reflects the K-5 Fountas and Pinnell Levels.  You can easily delete any unnecessary rows for the particular grade level you are working with.  I have also included an example of what a completed progress tracker form might look like.

Download Running Record Form Here

Download Progress Tracker Here

If you’d like to know about running records in more detail, Marie Clay’s book “Running Records for Classroom Teachers” is a great resource.

I’m also happy to answer any questions.  Just send them my way!

Visual Agendas

Sharing learning targets and the agenda with staff is always a first step in our Thursday PD sessions.  I used to post the agenda in a standard list format on a piece of chart paper. As I wrote in my last post on infographics, I’m a big fan of using visuals to enhance a message.  So rather than posting PD agendas in a boring old list, I’m now creating visual agendas.  One benefit of creating visual agendas is that the experience provides me with a clear picture of where I intend to lead teachers.  Additionally, this process helps me storyboard the entire professional development session.  As I plan I am able to see possible gaps or misunderstandings prior to PD which allows me to sharpen the agenda and subsequently the teacher’s take-aways.

As a teacher attending professional development I appreciate when my interest is sparked and the learning is clear.  Visual agendas help with this.

I’ve shared a few examples below.  You can create them electronically or with good old butcher paper.  Hopefully they will inspire you to use more visuals to enhance your instruction.

Thanks for reading!


Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge



The Story of Guided Reading

Guided reading is an approach to literacy instruction that teachers at our school have been working hard to understand and implement in their classrooms.  We did a ton of work and thinking with this strategy last year in PD and continue to build on and refine our understandings this year.

Below is an infographic I created to summarize the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of guided reading in a visually friendly way.  As an educator I’m all about using visuals to help make sense of tricky topics or ideas.  Infographics allow you to “tell a story” with graphics and information.  This happens to be my first one and I have to say it was super fun to make!  I hope it helps you make sense of guided reading.

Below the infographic I have included a video of a guided reading lesson, accompanying lesson plan, and guided reading planning template.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!


Guided Reading Infographic

This is a video we used as a model of quality guided reading instruction during a recent PD.  Thanks Becky for letting us learn from you!

Here is a link to Becky’s lesson plan if you would like to give it a go (Becky’s Lesson Plan)!  This lesson is suited for J level readers.

Click Here to Download Planning Template 



PD Pad Set-Up

Last year I had my first go at setting up a professional development room for teachers.  It turned out to be an enjoyable space for teachers to work and learn in and has since been lovingly named the PD Pad.  Given a new fire code put in place by the district (only 20% of walls are allowed to be covered with paper), I had to get creative with how to set-up the space this year.  I used sheet metal, clipboards, chalkboards, and creatively arranged fabric to bring color and style into the room while still keeping the fire marshal happy.   Check it out!

View from the back of the room

View from the front of the room

I used a piece of sheet metal from Home Depot ($15 and fireproof!) and chalkboard paint to create the background for this documentation panel and the one below.

Our Work Plan targets for the year

I used small chalks boards and bistro chalk from Hobby Lobby to display our school's Habits of Work and Learning.

I covered plain clipboards with decorative paper, attached our design principles, and spread them out a bit when hanging to create the illusion of a larger display space without having to use paper.

It's amazing what a few fabric scraps and fabric glue can do for a bare window!

I added a few colored flowers (turned into pens) to the pencil holders on the center of each table for a pop of functional color.

I laminated our five "Habits" and adhered them to the front of each table's pencil bin.

Books for guided reading are available for teachers to check-out.

I asked our principal for subscriptions to a few different educational magazines. These as well as professional books (to the left) are available for teachers to look through or check-out.

A comfy space for teachers to sit and peruse through the latest read-alouds.

A few parts of the room which haven’t changed include our “Cafe” area, “All About Me” teacher cards, and teacher magnets to check-in with at the start of PD.



Mantra From Heaven

Last week I met with a group of fellow instructional coaches. This “mantra from heaven” was passed on to us by our facilitator and it really stuck with me. I’ve put it front and center in my coaching notebook and it has also earned a prominent spot near my desk.

What mantras or words of wisdom keep you focused and going strong? Please share!

Mantra surrounded by the coaching goals of teachers I'm working with.