Tag Archives: NCTE

NCTE 14: The Story of a First-Timer

So, I did it! I finally went to NCTE, and it. was. amazing. My kids survived without me for two days. The house was still standing when I returned home. And I would say that my first trip away from my family in thirteen years went off without any major hitches.

Well, that’s if you don’t count me leaving my Ipad at home, my phone dying first thing in the morning, and oh, wait…leaving my charger behind as well. So, some small hitches I guess. I felt a little disconnected, not being able to tweet during sessions or use the convention app with my intricately planned itinerary.  But, none of that really mattered, because I MET:



The wonderful Rules author, Cynthia Lord


National Book Award winner, Jacqueline Woodson


GRA 14 author, Lynda Mullaly Hunt


It’s Kylene Beers! Kylene Beers, people!


Author of Rump, The True Story of Rumplestiltskin, Liesl Shurtliff


Crazy Mac Barnett (and Twitter friend, Jamie Palmer)



And… Book Whisperer author, the lovely Donalyn Miller. But, sadly I have crazy fan eyes in that picture, and I can’t post it.

Incidently, a friend of mine was poking fun of my photos on Facebook, saying I looked so excited…like I was meeting movie stars. Well, umm…yes. Actually, much better. And, I’m pretty sure that Tom Cruise could have walked into the exhibit hall, and NO ONE would have moved an inch from their spot in line to meet Jackie Woodson. That’s just how we book nerds roll.

Speaking of book nerds, it was so fun to see lots of Nerdy Book Club members over the weekend.  More than anything, it was surreal to pass all the faces of people I “know” from Twitter in the hallway.  Everyone was incredibly warm and welcoming, and it didn’t matter that we hadn’t met before, because our love of books, and teaching, and students provided all the common ground we needed to jump into conversation after conversation.

Ok, so, there is no way that I can post about every session and every bit of genius that came from all of the presenters this weekend.  I’m thinking one sentence summaries for just a few of my workshops, but many many future posts are brewing as I reflect on NCTE 14.

Revising the Story: Reluctant Readers Overcoming Shame

Teachers: our words and actions have unbelievable power in the stories of our students’ lives.

Thanks to Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Liesl Shurtliff for sharing their stories of shame and the teachers who gave them hope. 

The Nerdy Book Club: Shaping Reading Identity through Community, Story, and Choice

Had to go. They were preaching to the choir here. Nerdies unite. Awesome Sauce.

(PS: Jonathan Auxier is TALL)

It’s Not Just for the Kids: Stories of What Can Happen When Teachers Embrace Curiousity, Openess, Creativity, and Wonder in the Teaching of Reading

Vicki Vinton chaired a wonderful panel of educators who shared some of their journeys as educators. I have to say more than one sentence here. I was happy I got to see this session, because a Twitter friend of mine, Julieanne Harmatz was part of the panel. She shared her ongoing wondering about the role of read aloud with her students. I always feel like she and I are following the same threads in our classrooms, and read aloud is something that I have been devoting a lot of thought to as well.  I love that she has devoted so much time to interviewing her students on the subject, which will really ground her teaching decisions in authentic student data.

Stories of Reading: Rethinking Instruction in a Digital Age

As teachers, we need to understand what it means to be a reader in today’s digital world, and then teach into that reality, helping our students encounter, evaluate, and engage with success.

Apps I’m looking into this month:

Pixie, Flipboard, and Pocket

Engagement: Taking an Active Stance with Informational Text

“Engagement: The need to know is so deep, they can’t help themselves.”  ~ Ellin Keene (Please rush to her next workshop)

Book I now need to read:


Minds Made for Stories by Tom Newkirk


So many more great sessions with smart, smart people.

Oh, and, this kind of happened along the way…


What? You still want to see my Donalyn Miller picture? Really? Ok, well… who doesn’t have crazy fan eyes when they meet Donalyn for the first time?


And really, she had the perfect words to sum it all up with this tweet:

Thanks NCTE 14 for an unforgettable experience!



Filed under Uncategorized

Formative Assessment that Truly Informs Instruction


 Guest Blogger: Taylor Meredith

A few months ago my students and I were reading The One and Only Ivan. On page 216, we reached the line, “It was the difference between looking and truly looking.” We spent a lot of time discussing the implication of Katherine Applegate’s words.  Since that moment, those words have become more powerful than ever, and Jen’s post, The Proof is in the Pudding, Right?, pushed me to consider their importance in the context of the National Council of Teachers of English position statement.

 Item nine on the list of ten essential elements found in the NCTE position statement is:

 Includes feedback that is non-evaluative, specific, timely, and related to the learning goals, and that provides opportunities for the student to revise and improve work products and deepen understandings.

What is so important about feedback?

Not only does feedback provide us with formative data to guide our instruction, feedback is one of the key elements in allowing students to take ownership of their own work.  Feedback is the difference between fix and revise. Feedback is the difference between looking and truly looking.


Effective feedback is non-evaluative. Formative feedback is not the corrected exit ticket returned a few days later or the final comments on a writing rubric. Effective feedback allows for growth and improvement. It is recognition of where you’ve been and where you can go next (for both student AND teacher). After receiving feedback, students should revise or improve.  There is no finality in feedback, only opportunity. When non-evaluative feedback is a cultural norm in a classroom students can give themselves and one another feedback. Through watching playback of a book clubs discussion, partner work in Writing Workshop or meeting with a Professional Learning Network, students can own it!


                                                        This or That?

                                            Good job.

You located a lot of evidence supporting your idea that Ivan is lonely.

                                       Add more details.

Add more sensory details to your description of the first time you saw a gorilla at the zoo.

                                        Nice discussion.

Your group referenced the text to dig deeper into the text and grow new thinking when you discussed how Stella felt during Ruby’s arrival.

                                           Try again.

Consider the cause-and-effect structure of this paragraph and why the author might use this when explaining why Ivan dislikes humans.


I think Susan Brookhart and Connie Moss explain timely feedback best, “Students should get feedback while they are still mindful of the learning target and while there is still time for them to act on it.” (Brookhart & Moss, 2009) They call this student time the Golden Second Opportunity and without this, there is really no reason to give feedback. Without the opportunity to change or revise right away, why give any feedback at all? (Brookhart & Moss, 2012) Students need time to revise their work and we need time to evaluate our instruction.

This also supports the notion that effective feedback is almost always face-to-face. When is the best time for a student to look again at the words chosen by the author? Now. When is the best time for a student to revise an original answer after reading an “Aha” moment? Now.

Related to the learning goals

The best analogy I can think of is a recent trip to the dermatologist. I went to the dermatologist last week with the specific purpose of treating a scar on my arm. I showed her the scar, and then she offered me a sample of facial moisturizer, gave some advice on how to treat dry winter skin and then offered to write a prescription for a fine line and wrinkle cream (!?!). As I moved to leave I realized she never told me what to do about my scar. I got no feedback about my scar. I was given several other treatments and fixes but nothing related to the purpose of the visit. Without that feedback, my scar would not change or improve. When we give feedback for everything, nothing really improves. If we want information about our instruction, we need to look at the process or product based on the goal of the day. It is our responsibility to model this by narrowing our focus.  Even if you are looking at a page with multiple errors, resist the urge to comment on more than one thing.

 In The One and Only Ivan, when Julia truly looks at Ivan’s work, her thinking changes. She revises her original idea, thinks critically and creates something incredible. We look at student work everyday, but when we truly look the result is different.  Students are not only empowered to revise, improve work and deepen understandings but it models and fosters metacognition. When teacher and student think critically within this feedback loop the opportunities for learning are truly incredible.


Taylor Meredith teaches fifth grade in the Chicago area. She is a former New York City school teacher who believes in the power of exploration.

Follow Taylor on Twitter @ForFeedback


Filed under Uncategorized

The Proof is in the Pudding, Right?


Data.  As teachers we seem to be eating, breathing, and sleeping data. There is certainly more data in my file folders, filing cabinets, and online collection system than I know what to do with. Pre-tests, post-tests, performance tasks, and mock state testing data. I’m breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about all of the numbers I should be crunching right now.  My professional reading tells me that data is good. Data is needed. Yet, there is always something in me that cheers whenever another teacher shakes her head and says, ” I don’t need data to tell me that this student gets it, and this one doesn’t.”  That feels so true, doesn’t it?

And there it is. The single biggest mistake that I have made over and over again.

There are a couple of reasons why that statement isn’t ringing true with me anymore, but before we delve into the many errors that I have made over the years, I want to distinguish between good data and useless data.


Teachers can spot useless data collection a mile away. It’s the premade test that you as the teacher had no hand in. It’s something that started in an office somewhere by people who have never seen the inside of the classroom. It’s the latest and greatest  “assessment kit” that will rock your world for the bargain price of $69.99. Never personal. Never useful. Never. Never. Never.

Also, let’s distinguish between summative and formative. This post will focus on the latter. Summative assessment at the end of a unit or a project is incredibly useful and necessary. The problem comes when we as teachers use that as our primary source of data.  The end result can give us important information, but there is a lot that it can’t tell us.

Maybe you’ve seen that post going around Pinterest that has about a dozen chocolate chip cookies all lined up.  They are all different consistencies, shapes, even colors.  Each is labeled with a reason why they look different. A what went wrong list, if you will. Too much flour. Baking soda instead of baking powder. Oil, not butter.  Just looking at each cookie I could tell that something was wrong. But, it is very unlikely that without those labels, I would have been able to diagnose how they got that way.

And that’s where formative assessment comes in.  Yes, the end product can tell us that the student did or didn’t “get it.”  But, what’s really important is the why, the how,  and the mistakes and successes along the way.

So, back to the mistake I keep making. I assume. I assume that I know when my class is with me and when they’re not. I assume that because I hear good talk about reading happening on the carpet, that will translate to good writing about reading later on. I admit that sometimes I pat myself on the back when the loudest voices in the conversation are saying all the right things.  I tell myself that the student who is off-task is a behavior issue.  The kid at table three who hasn’t picked up his pencil lacks motivation.  These are the false assumptions that have me scratching my head in surprise and disappointment when students don’t do as well as I’d hope on an end of unit task. These are the false assumptions that could use a little formative assessment to set them straight.


Exit tickets, checklists, post its…any quick way to see who “has it” at the end of the lesson and who doesn’t.   This is typically what we think of when we hear formative assessment.  But, just like the mounds of data sitting in my file folders right now, some of it turns out to be pretty useless.  One of the reasons for this may be that we do nothing with it.  Good data can help us quickly form strategy groups for the next day, set the agenda for a conference, and plan next steps in instruction.  Exit tickets that sit on my desk for a week, well…not so much.       Another way that I don’t realize data’s full potential is by leaving my students out of the process. Many times, I am the only one involved in the collection and interpretation.  True formative assessment demands to be student centered and driven.  The National Council of Teachers of English have released a position statement on formative assessment.  You can read the full document here, but let’s take a look at a section of page three that lists ten essential elements.

“Formative assessment:

1. Requires students to take responsibility for their own learning.

2. Communicates clear, specific learning goals.

3. Focuses on goals that represent valuable educational outcomes with applicability beyond the learning context.

4. Identifies the student’s current knowledge/skills and the necessary steps for reaching the desired goals.

5. Requires development of plans for attaining the desired goals.

6. Encourages students to self-monitor progress toward the learning goals.

7. Provides examples of learning goals including, when relevant, the specific grading criteria or rubrics that will be used to

evaluate the student’s work.

8. Provides frequent assessment, including peer and student self-assessment and assessment embedded within learning


9. Includes feedback that is non-evaluative, specific, timely, and related to the learning goals, and that provides

opportunities for the student to revise and improve work products and deepen understandings.

10. Promotes metacognition and reflection by students on their work.”

(NCTE, 2013)

So much of formative assessment needs to come back into the hands of the student. It isn’t just about my next steps as the teacher; it’s about my student understanding his next steps as the learner.  It’s about the process, the journey, and  all of the starts and stops along the way.

It would be possible to look at each of these ten elements and tell you how I’ve done it wrong in the past and what I plan to do from now on.  I’m pretty sure I can summarize everything pretty simply, though.  I haven’t been collecting nearly enough of the right type of data, and I haven’t been doing the right things with it.  I’m planning on changing that, and I know that I have a lot of patient mentors and thoughtful colleagues who will hash all of this out with me.

The proof is in the pudding is a pretty common adage.  And it’s partly true. Looking at the end result will definitely signal success or failure.  But, if we want that pudding to ever turn out differently, we’re going to need to be there from start to finish.  Assuming nothing. Taking notes. Giving feedback.  Demonstrating. And, eventually, putting it in the hands of the one who’s making it in the first place.

~ J Brittin


Filed under Uncategorized