Slice of Life: Opening Doors


I spent the day yesterday at the Rhode Island Convention Center where The Teaching Studio at The Learning Community, a public charter school in Central Falls, Rhode Island, held their 2nd Annual Educators’ Institute. Hundreds of teachers spent the day with noted educators Vicki Vinton, Cornelius Minor, and Sharon Taberski, learning new ways to improve their practice.

Opening doors to new possibilities was a thread that wove its way through all of the wisdom shared by Vicki, Cornelius, and Sharon. I’m excited to return to school tomorrow and talk with my colleagues about some of these ideas. Today, I want to share a peek inside those doors that were opened for me.

Vicki Vinton shared her latest work, which centers around three strands of meaning making: comprehension, understanding, and evaluation. Vicki talked about how we can help kids “make their thinking visible through a handful of simple charts,” and she urged us to share books that are accessible and “get kids involved doing the thinking right from the get go.” For those of you who don’t know Vicki, she is co-author with Dorothy Barnhouse of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making and shares her brilliance regularly on her blog, To Make a Prairie.

During lunch, Cornelius Minor, a staff developer at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, talked about empowering kids to be the superhero of their own lives. He urged us to get rid of the idea of “my kids can’t…” because “we are the people who say the awesome things that help kids be awesome.” We have to respect kids and find ways to give them “a chance to live in text that is compelling and sustaining.” He cautioned us to be patient with this process, that learning is messy, and that kids will not get it right the first time. But through a cycle of doing, feedback, and encouragement, they will accomplish great things.

In the day’s final keynote, Sharon Taberski, author of On Solid Ground and Comprehension from the Ground Up, shared “Five Ways to Grow Critical, Engaged Thinkers.” Sharon urged us to “embrace the workshop model and its abundant opportunities for both balance and differentiation.”  She reminded us that brain research shows that both explicit instruction and time to practice are critical if students are to master the skills they need to be independent readers, writers, and thinkers. Sharon also emphasized the need to “let the students do the heavy lifting” and to teach kids to be “purposeful and strategic.” Finally, she talked about aligning our “belief systems about teaching and learning” with our goals for student learning and to design our classrooms in ways that are physical manifestations of what we value.

Each of these keynotes and the breakout sessions presented by Vicki, Cornelius, and Sharon deserve their own post. But each opened a door in my mind, and I’ll be thinking and writing more about these ideas in the weeks to come.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each day during the month of March and on Tuesdays throughout the year. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

8 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Opening Doors

  1. I’m always thinking about how to balance explicit teaching and practice. I don’t see enough practice in the classrooms around me. I see teach-assess-repeat. That practice part is so critical to using the explicit lessons in personal context. Thanks for the reminder.


  2. Sounds like a marvelous day of learning and thinking, Catherine. Thanks for sharing these highlights. Love that part about ‘learning is messy’-absolutely. Sometimes I wish it weren’t, but actually believe that my students like it that way, too. More than anything, listen to the students!


  3. What a great day of learning with three brilliant literacy rock stars!!! And so purposefully crafted for purposeful workshop learning for teachers and ultimately students! Learning . . . reading, writing, speaking, listening, AND THINKING! We need so much more evidence of all of these together!


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