Small Group Learning

Learning is Doing

Doing Reading and Writing

Teacher’s College at Columbia has espoused the Learning is Doing tenet since its inception almost 30 years ago. But- when most of us are faced with up to 36 learners (or more)  in a group, setting the stage for learners to practice reading and writing, or listening and speaking independently is a daunting management task. And this goes for facilitating a group of learners practicing anything.

Full Picture Planning with clear learning outcomes is a must. The real killer is finding, creating, setting up, and managing many activities for learners to practice the target skill.  So, think like a sports coach or a band director.

Teacher as Coach

Last week in an Institute on Small Group Instruction and Conferring at TCRW, Cornelius Minor used the sports coach metaphor to emphasize how students must do the skill begin taught or required for at least 60% of most class periods. Coaches require players to run, pass, shoot, and block in specific ways at practice because players never learn to play just by listening and reading about techniques.

We teachers need to be coaches for reading and writing, along with listening and speaking.  Learners need to be set up to do what they are practicing. Lots of planning and setting up appropriate practice tasks is vital: Readers read, writers write, second language learners speak, and second language learners listen.

But- all learners need to be given specific techniques and tasks to rehearse the target skill repetitively. No soccer player improves if the coach only shouts, “Play!”  (Thank you Cornelius) Teachers of all sorts are faced with the work of breaking down skill techniques and creating tasks that are engaging and effective for learners. Not easy.

So, what do your learners need to practice for 60% of a class period? This is the Target Skill. Examples: Reading for details of the setting, Writing a thesis statement with a claim supported by evidence-categories, speaking about a thematic vocabulary set in a 2nd language, solving a type of equation.

What are some activities that rehearse the target skill? Examples. Readers create a map of a specific setting, then they write about it, Writers use thesis trees about their books, language learners work in partners on specific speaking tasks, math students practice equations with partners.

What are the techniques you will teach to learners? You are the expert! And- you can provide groups of learners with your tips on videos or in slideshows they can view independently. This allows you to circulate constantly to teach small groups and individuals.

The idea is for learners to Do the skills while you constantly circulate and conference with small groups and individuals. Check out Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop on Small Groups.   Check out Cornelius Minor too.

Small Group Learning

Small Groups: Collateral Learning

My time at Teacher’s College at Columbia University is beyond valuable. Although the institutes there are targeted to teachers and students in schools, teaching and learning are vital processes in all fields and organizations. I love bringing what I learn to friends and family in other industries, and they love it too.

Small Group Learning

This just in from a Conferring and Small Group Institute in Reading at the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Workshop: Students learn the most from one-on-one conferences with a teacher. The next most effective classroom experience is student learning in a small group.

Makes sense; individual instruction is the most intense, direct, and memorable. And most learners prefer learning with, and from other peers. They are more engaged than when they passively view (or ignore)  a  talking-head. But- how do you confer with tons of learners and orchestrate and manage small groups that stay on task?  Cornelius Minor, the Rockstar of Teacher’s College and New York City middle schools, showed us the way.

Top 5 Take Aways for Conferring and Small Group Instruction

Speed is your friend while learners are practicing in small groups. The teacher zooms around the room spending an average of 7 minutes with the designated conferences of that day. If you’re not moving for more than 7-8 minutes, step it up.

Research. Observe your learners using the skill, or the skills, you are introducing or targeting. Set up an activity ,or have students do a learner-friendly version of the old school Pre Assessment.  Take notes. What exactly do they need to work on?  Choose one to a few skills that most in the whole group need.

Horizontal Communication. Talking down- physically or conversationally just never works. Eye to eye, shoulder to shoulder.  Get on the same physical level; use a stool. Use social conversation. Ask the learner to tell you about his or her practice. Then invite the learner to try the skill out in a welcoming way. Barking out orders went the way of Sargeant Carter.

Short and Sweet. Compliment the learner, then quickly and simply invite him or her to watch you use the skill. The learner then tries it with you.

A teacher-student conference has collateral benefits.  There is always an audience of learners for a teacher working with a student.  Most of them will listen, watch, do, and learn too. It’s a 3, 4, or 5-or-more-for-one-deal.

Give the learner a specific task to practice the skill with the possibility of recording it. The practice the learner does at the end of your conference is ripe for your data picking.  Think informal, formative assessment. Photo or record it, or come back later for it.

Dying to meet Cornelius Minor? You can find him at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College Reading and Writing Workshop.

Small Group Learning

Teacher’s College Writer’s Workshop Institute: Writing Volume

Volume of Writing

How many baskets does Steph Curry shoot in a week? What about Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals?  The volume of their shots in a week far exceeds the volume of their shots in official games. We are well aware that Curry, Ronaldo, and all top athletes need that volume of practice and repetition to perform. So let’s transfer this to writing.  A book, short story, article, or a poem is a professionally edited version of a huge volume of its drafts. This is not a  new comparison or idea;  analogies of writers to athletes, musicians, dancers, and skateboarders have been around for a few decades. But when Emily Strang-Campbell and Mary Ehrenworth of the Teacher’s College  Reading and Writing Project reiterated them last week at the Teacher’s College Summer Writing Institute, it was a helpful, clear reminder. As Mary says, a student’s volume of writing during class writing time is paramount; students learn to write and practice writing by writing in a non-threatening, practice-field environment.

I am applying everything below to myself; I have already written more, and with more focus and clarity.

How to get writers to write?

I am still shocked when students tell me that they don’t write for an extended, designated time of 20 minutes per class in English or humanities classes.  And my blank notebook is a whining reminder of the writing I haven’t done. But I remember how hard it can be to write without accountability.

  • Mandate and designate a specific amount of writing time.
  • Put a timer on
  • Require a heads-down, dancing-pencil act of writing
  • Monitor and redirect lazy pencils
  • Have some strategies for those reluctant writers who will stand you down (more on that in another post)
  • Dole out quick stamps or magic check marks for students when they finish the required writing volume

Where to Write? 

I’ve strayed from the writer’s notebook into my keyboard, but The Writing Institute set me straight. I’m back to eliciting ideas and focusing on evidence in my notebook with some drafting too. And it is so much better! Here is why:

  1. I can generate more ideas and remember more evidence when I create webs or maps
  2. I can organize the thoughts in my web
  3. The claims I write are clearer
  4. I chart out the paragraphs of a piece

We should plan, generate, and organize a piece in their notebooks.  Drafting takes place on notebook paper or on a keyboard. Here is my web on literary devices used in “Angel and Aly” by Ron Koertge.

Pre Writing Web


What to Assess?

  • Assess for writing volume. It is the writer’s obligation to write the three full pages that you designated.   Grammar, syntax, and mechanics do not need to be assessed or edited on webs, maps, and lists for generating a piece. John Grisham’s editors don’t see his plans or his drafts, so they don’t (and wouldn’t think of) correcting grammar, syntax, and mechanics.
  • Assess for staying on topic for the most part. We all have tangential ideas, and that is OK.
  • Assess for genuine effort.
  • Assess for focused, engaged writing behavior.

And this is my first draft on a theme and literary devices in “Angel and Aly.”

Draft in notebook

Creating a writer’s workshop environment takes time, trial and error, and lots of energy. Setting up your writer’s practice field will be so worth it when you and your students see not only how much has been written, but at the end of the process, how well. Check out the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project and  Heinemann for materials and how-to’s.






Small Group Learning

Right On Reading and Writing!

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Right On Reading and Writing

Kids tend to lose reading and writing skills during the summer. So keep reading and writing going in a fun, relaxed way with Right On Reading and Right On Writing.

Literacy skills are like riding a bike or swimming; the more practice and repetition, the better reading and writing become. And, learners need lots of positive reinforcements to keep it all up. Choose a program that best suits your child. All programs are customized and personalized to the learners so that materials and motivators fit the student’s needs and interests.

Right on Reading!

A reading workshop format that your child will love! Readers will have a choice of reading materials that will incorporate age appropriate books, websites, magazines, newspapers, and controlled readings specific to reading proficiency. A mixture of voluntary, independent reading, reading with partners, and teacher read-alouds will be used along with guided reading and comprehension strategies. And, plenty of fun games, activities, and rewards too!

Right on Writing!

A writer’s workshop format that your child will love! Writers will write a variety of engaging products from creative selections to How To pieces that appeal to kids. In addition to writing fluency and vocabulary enhancement, sentence structure and grammar will be presented in fun activities and games. Participants will choose a final writing project to present to you and the class on the last day.

Right on Reading and Writing!

They go hand in hand! The combination of reading and writing is vital for academic and life skills. Reading is the best teacher of vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar.  Participants will read different age-appropriate selections and create a piece of writing in response to them that incorporates elements from the readings. Fun, engaging activities and games will be incorporated too.

Small Group Learning

Online Tutoring

Direct Connect Tutoring

School Year 2016-17 starts in a few weeks! Are you and your student(s) ready? A major component of School Year Prep is scheduling activities, lessons, practices, games, and competitions in small, finite time-blocks. One student’s schedule can be like a Rubik’s cube.

Online Tutoring

So get ahead and schedule academic activities and support now. My new Online Tutoring services provide students with their skill and content needs via SKYPE and virtual white-board software.  All that a student needs is a computer or a mobile device, and we can connect face-to-face, screen-to-screen via the Internet. Students who engage in online, or virtual tutoring, give it rave reviews for convenience, privacy, and focus.

  • No carpooling or transit time to tutoring sessions
  • Easier on the family schedule
  • More opportunities for the busy student to get tutoring sessions

I provide tutoring services for critical reading, writing, language arts and English content, Spanish,  and study skills for all ages. Given my wide range of teaching experiences in several different types of schools, I can customize a program exactly to a student’s needs.

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Small Group Learning

Summer Skills Practice

CF tutoring 1 card

Here are my favorite Apps and video tutorials for subjects that require memorization, retention, and linear skill building. Our digi-kids love apps, but at times there is no better drill and practice material than a good, old fashioned note-card or a folded sheet of paper. The key is interacting with content and skills, and then tons of repetitions.

Flash Card Apps

I’m a fan if the student CREATES HIS OR HER OWN FLASH-CARDS. Lots of students think that the secret to academic success is using the pre-made flash-card sets of other student-users; I’ve seen too many kids fall in to this trap.

Quizlet. The now old stand bye. Electronic flashcards and automatically generated tests. The tests are the most effective feature so make sure your student uses them.
Study Blue. Beautiful e-flashcards that can include photos and images.
GFlashPro. Interfaces with Google Apps and Google Docs. Most students use these at school so this is an easy add-on.


Khan Academy. So perfect for grades 8-12. Great reviews of hard-core academic subjects with crystal clear explanations and visual supports. College entrance test prep too.

Spanish Grammar Tutorial Videos. Grades 7-12. The Sr. Jordan videos are short with lots of visual supports.

Foreign Language Practice

Conjuguemos. Grades 7-12. Verb conjugation practice for SEVERAL LANGUAGES.

Small Group Learning

Summer Reading and Tutoring Tips

Summer Reading

Even though I crave a summer afternoon of reading, I’m well aware that most kids just do not. I choose my books and wait for them with an anticipation like that of awaiting a midnight ice cream cone. Students generally don’t choose exactly what they are to read for the summer; they are assigned it, or they are tasked with choosing a school-sanctioned book from a categorized list. It just doesn’t hold the same appeal to them. So, I’m still trying to make school-assigned summer reading enticing to my own high-schooler. And the summer books need to be read, understood, and analyzed enough for students to do well on a book-test or project lying in wait in August.

Bottom Line: Reading is now looking at a page. Comprehension and Analysis requires engaged interaction with the reading selection. Read as: summarizing, taking notes, making vocabulary lists, brief analyses, plot lines, and time-lines.

Reading- Setting a Scene

My reader battles sudden, deep drowsiness when he lies on his bed to read. So a student could read best in a

  • quiet, comfortable place at home where he or she doesn’t spend a lot of time
  • At the kitchen table while dinner is begin prepared; noise tolerance a must
  • A home office desk

Remembering and Keeping Track of the Reading

Reluctant writersVoice Memos on a smart-phone. After each page, chapter, or reading session the reading records what he or she remembers or thinks is important. This can then be emailed. And from the emails- the reader can copy and paste it all in to a Word Document.

Techie Readers

  • Write summaries of reading sessions in to a Google Doc
  • Write summaries of reading sessions in the Notability App for ipads.
  • Create a slide-show or a simple slide-show-movie. After each reading selection, the reader types a summary in to Power Point or Explain Everything. The reader then narrates the writing selection in to the slide show’s voice-recorder. Readers can also create visual slides of images and pictures that have his or her narration of what happened in a reading selection.
  • Create a podcast of the readers’ narrated summaries in Garage Band or Audacity.

Notes- the Basics

  • Interactive Notebook. Readers keep one composition book only for the summer reading books. Summaries, Time Lines, and Plot Diagrams can be done and kept in one place.
  • Stickies App or Program for Apple. Readers jot down a summary and important points of a selection in a sticky. They can then be copied and pasted in to a Word Document.
  • Notes App for i phones. Same as above.

Readers Love Company

  1. Google Hangout for a reading group to write/discuss the book.
  2. Group Text. See above.
  3. Reading Buddies Q and A. Two readers with the same book take turns asking and answering comprehension and analytical questions about the book.
  4. Edmodo Chat about the book if the school uses Edmodo.


Small Group Learning

Nos Vamos a Mexico * Let’s Go to Mexico

I’m so thrilled to start using Nos Vamos a México with my KidSpanish I and II classes this spring semester. Teaching with a culturally rich and visually beautiful book is my favorite!  We’ll be learning about  Mexican geography, The coast or las costas, the Mayan and Teotihuacano pyramids, or las pirámides, and so much more about my very favorite country- México, el Encanto. Click on the book above to see where you can get it, or contact me.