Hi Everyone!

Just a quick note that this content is now living a new and improved life at

You will find all the posts there, as well as a resources page, information about upcoming PD and links to books. Hope you find the new page easier to navigate and more helpful all around!

New posts coming soon!

How to (Re)Integrate Your Beliefs Into Your Curriculum

Now is the time of the year when the daydreams of August turn into the real work of teaching. What were your hopes and dreams before school started? Have they gotten buried under a heap of paperwork, assessments, and things not going the way you hoped? Let’s dust them off and bring them back! My co-author and all around favorite human, Christine Hertz, and I are working on a blog series about integrating your beliefs into your curriculum, with (hopefully) some handy tips along the way.

Belief: Kids need to play

Reality strikes: The time to play keeps getting cut out our day because we have to get to all the writing (math, reading) lessons to make sure we keep pace/the work looks like the other classrooms.

This is a common bump in the road. We cut choice time or multiple recesses out because it seems to subtract from the work we think we need kids to be doing. We think more time doing the “thing” always helps the thing be better. But learning is not so neat and clean always. Putting kids first means that we have to shift our focus from what we are teaching to what our students are learning. And yes, there is a difference between thinking about what to teach, and thinking about what kids have learned.

Think for a moment about the skills that make up any one of the content areas (I will stick with writing) The list is huge:

  • Story language/book language
  • Story structure/book structure
  • Visual memory (to make a letter, write a sight word, or draw a person)
  • Gross motor
  • Fine motor
  • Letter-sound relationships
  • Organization
  • Executive functioning
  • Physical stamina
  • Memory
  • Sequencing

Sometimes when we get really caught up in the teaching side of things, we try to plan the perfect minilesson or small groups to address these ideas- but for a moment let’s look at it from the learning side. It can be difficult to build up the muscles in these categories from a perfect minilesson, mostly what learners need are experiences and time to practice.

Basically when we ask kids to build these skills by writing more, it is like asking a basketball player to get better at basketball by only playing basketball games. As a former basketball player (an illustrious career that lasted exactly one year) I know that the game is a chance for you to show the skills you have built, but not always the place to build them.

To become better, more well rounded players we did more than just show up at the game. We had shooting drills, we ran laps, we went to the weight room to build our legs so we could jump higher, we had scrimmages with coaching as we played, we dribbled around cones, we spent time off the court talking about plays. Basically we gave time to developing each skill without the stress of the game looming over us. Then when the game came, we were stronger all around.

Now, before this gets too far I want to say loud and clear: KIDS SHOULD BE WRITING IN WRITING WORKSHOP EVERY DAY. The orchestration work they do there is monumental and amazing. But then I would also like to say loud and clear BUT THEY ALSO NEED TO HAVE A BALANCED DIET OF LEARNING TO BUILD ALL THE MUSCLES.

What makes you a great writer (reader, mathematician, thinker) is not the perfect lesson, its having the space and time to grow the muscles you need, so you can use them as a writer, and that is going to happen all across the day.

Let’s go back to that list, and start first with what we see kids struggling with and then let’s add in the things that help kids build these skills so they have stronger muscles the next time they go to write:


My kids struggle with… My kids might need to build… So we want to make sure they have ample time to…
Elaboration,structure, plot or generating ideas
  • Story language/book language
  • Story structure/book structure
  • Listen to read alouds
  • Engage in fantasy play
  • Storytell as a community
  • Share events from their life
  • Dramatize events and books
Representational drawing, writing letters correctly, recalling visual details to add into their writing
  • Visual processing (to make a letter, write a sight word, or draw a person)
  • Make puzzles
  • Trace and draw
  • Play memory
  • Play matching games
Getting tired, their writing is hard to read or all over the place. They say they are tired or their hands hurt.
  • Gross motor
  • Fine motor
  • Play in places where they can run and play and build core strength
  • Play with legos, play doh and kinetic sand to build the small muscles that support grip
  • Go outside and engage in heavy lifting, pushing, running, and hanging
Working those fine motor muscles while building a fortress in choice time

Noticing a pattern? The things that help these muscles grow are traditionally thought of as “play” not “work”.

Fantasy play supports oral language and understanding of story

Yet, when I play spiderman with my friends I am using story language and adhering to plot structures I have internalized. As I run around, my gross motor is developing and helping me build the stamina to hold my core upright as I write. When I pause to pick up some small and interesting stones on the playground and start to stack them, I am developing those small muscles that help me with my grip. When I put puzzles together or trace, my eyes and the visual processing portions of my brain are working on picture completion.

Bouncing my way to a stronger core

So what does that mean? Don’t cut out choice time and recess to do more writing (or reading or math). Work hard to keep your day well rounded and full of opportunities to engage in play. Switch out your lens from what you need to teach off your lesson plans, to what your kids need to learn to be successful. Keep a diagnostic eye on your learners and know that the best learning opportunities may not look traditionally academic. It may even help to name specifically the skills your readers, writers, thinkers, mathematicians are work on and generate the myriad of ways they can practice across the day.


A belief in play and the reality that kids need to meet benchmarks are not mutually exclusive. Play is how we learn and where critical skills develop. The more well rounded our classrooms, the more we try to put kids first, the more successful they’ll be- in all they do.

Communicating Capability

This blog is rapidly transitioning from one of purely teaching thoughts to free therapy for my life as a new parent. Having said that, for me, having a child has rapidly crystallized and underscored ideas about teaching in a new and dynamic way. That’s not to say (at ALL) you need to have a child to teach, but for me the budding mother side is having constant conversations with the seasoned teacher side and both are coming away with food for thought.

Take crying for example. (and then we will talk about school, I promise)

How one perceives crying has great deal to do with (perhaps) hidden ideas that we have about our child. In one of my many sleepless nights I read that caregivers who believe their child capable of independent sleep tend to have better sleepers. (I have searched in vain for where I read this- as soon as I find it I will post it) I think this has something to do with how those caregivers are reacting to crying at night.

The scenario is inherently neutral: baby cries at night. 

Caregiver A (thinking): “Baby must be hungry, diaper must be dirty, baby must be upset.”

Caregiver A (action): Go in and feed/change diaper/rock

Caregiver B (thinking): “Hmm baby is making some noise. Let’s see where this goes.”

Caregiver B (action): Wait and see

Here is what would happen to me: Harry cries. I wake up like Caregiver A- nurturing guns a-blazin’ I run in there to fix, fix, fix. But sometimes all my fixing would leave him more upset then he was when I got in there. My partner and I had a talk and we decided to try and give him 5 minutes before we reacted. (Note: 5 minutes crying baby time is roughly equivalent to 90,000 hours normal time) I was SHOCKED to find that a fair percentage of the time he would fall back to sleep within that time. SHOCKED. It turns out that he is kind of a grumbler when he is shifting sleep positions and when I would go in there to “fix” problems I was actually just giving him problems- he didn’t want to be jostled and have a diaper changed.

Yet, every time I hear the opening note of a cry, my first thought is FIX FIX FIX FIX. I think more than anything else this presents a clear picture of my parenting mindset: he cannot. Cannot what? In my mind… anything. I have to be there to do everything: get the toy, soothe him to sleep, make the (perceived) hurt go away. And not because I don’t love him/want the best for him. I am jumping to fix things FOR that reason, but also hidden in there was that negative mindset. Now of course, he needs me for things, duh. But even at this age, he deserves to be thought of as capable and my mindset as “he can”. And that my job is to support, to wait, to watch and not always to fix.

In believing he is capable, my actions support his development of capability. But if I never think he can, he won’t, because I won’t give him the space and time necessary.

Okay, now the teaching stuff

Every small decision sends a message of capability or incapability to children. To ape the thing I read, I believe teachers who believe children are capable tend to have more capable students because they give them the time and the space and the tools.

  Neutral Scenario: A child needs to add a page to his or her writing book

Teacher A:  Let me staple this for you

Teacher B: The tape and stapler are over there, let me know if you get stuck.


Neutral Scenario: Its time to sit on the rug

Teacher A:  Let me tell you your rug spot

Teacher B: Find a spot that feels like it will help you focus


Neutral Scenario: A child wants to read a book that is outside his or her reading level

Teacher A:  Please shop only from your just right bin

Teacher B: That book has some tricky parts, what strategies might you use if it gets hard?

Over time, Teacher A, who might (like parenting me) love her students to pieces, could slowly erode the feelings of capability in her students, or at the very least not build them.

Our teaching (And parenting) lives are never just once decision. They are a series of small ones that communicate (whether we know it or not) a shape and a space for children to inhabit. When we focus on control, order, and prevention we run the risk of teaching children they are incapable. Giving time and space is terrifying, but within that time and space is where children find their capability.

From getting materials to finding rug spots, to looking at books out of the (gasp) just right level, when we do less telling and fixing, we give kids the chance to find their true capabilities as decision makers, problem solvers, and thinkers.

One last note– it is always harder for us, the adults, then for kids. Kids can figure out how to find a seat on the rug on their own (and just about everything else), I promise you, but it will feel hard for some teachers to let that messiness make its way to clarity. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Don’t blame the kids for our own control/fear issues- name it and move on. I am afraid every time Harry cries at night it is because he feels abandoned, but I’ve learned to say, “My fear is that he feels abandoned but I know he is really just working through something noisily”.  You may think, “Unassigned spots at tables will make chaos” but in reality it is, “My fear is unassigned table spots will be chaos, but I know it will just feel chaotic until kids get more practice at it.”

Here’s to cultivating capability (and a full nights sleep)!




Wobbling Practice

Not too long ago I tweeted out an article about how when kids appear aggressive, it might actual be a motor planning issue. One of the conclusions drawn was that in the absence of big body chores (like hauling logs and digging holes) and big body play (like wrestling and play fighting) kids haven’t really developed the receptors to realize they might be hitting too hard. (Worth a read, check it out here )

As the new mom of Very Active Child, one who is bound to want to play fight and jump off high things, I went on the hunt for articles about how to support his motor development so he can do all these things with confidence and kindness. And in doing so I wandered into this blog post about sitting. (Stay with me here, this isn’t going to be about sitting for long). The author argues against going straight for supported sitting (like the Bumbo Chair) and instead letting your child wobble. She calls it “wobbling practice”. Here is what she has to say (I swear I am about to wrap up the sitting part):

What most parents hope for when their baby begins to work on sitting is a steady sitter, but as a pediatric Occupational Therapist what I hope to see is a baby who spends some time wobbling, wobbling, wobbling! The constant loop of sensory information coming in and postural adjustments going out of the brain is developmentally rich; it isn’t a step in the progression toward sitting to be skipped over or rushed through.

Here is the gist: you don’t learn to sit by being propped up in a chair, you learn to sit by wobbling and falling over (and having a soft place to land), and if that isn’t the perfect analogy for our goals as teachers than I don’t know what is.

Let’s reframe mistakes and missteps for kids (and ourselves) as wobbling practice. Let’s see it as a constant loop of information that can’t be skipped or rushed through. From inventive spelling to a child’s attempts to solve problems without hitting, its the wobbling that make us steadier and better, provided we have a soft place to land, and an adult that sees the value of wobbling practice.

It’s not that a child is struggling, it is that he or she is wobbling, and just like a baby learning to sit, propping him or her up robs them of the chance to find their own steady place in the world.

Here’s to a year of wobbling, soft landings, and the space and clarity to see the real work in struggle.

Been Thinkin’

My colleague at the EdCollab, Dana, wrote a blog post about being genderqueer and a teacher and in it she called out educators with privilege to take a more proactive and active stance in supporting marginalized people and marginalized bodies. As I read it, I was provoked to really think about myself in the world. (Go read it before you read the rest of this, if you haven’t already)

First, I had to understand I have power and privilege if I am one or more of the following: white, male, middle class, heterosexual, typically identify as male or female (cisgender), and have a body that fits the norms of our society. This is hard to do. Why? Because at first glance it can feel like it devalues the work I have done, or negates the fact that I don’t feel that way most of the time. But in listening to someone who is not those things I realized that what I call status quo, is what my white skin and middle class upbringng have granted me. 

Here are some examples of my power and privilege in the last few weeks:

I assume the police will help me, I do not worry about getting pulled out of line by TSA,

I don’t think twice before I go to the bathroom,

I reach into my glove compartment for my registration if I get pulled over and I don’t announce what I am doing,

I approach a stranger for directions and they give them to me,

I walk unnoticed and without fear through my day to day,

I shop easily at stores and find my size clothing,


The one example I can pull up that might even be close to a lack of power is a certain discomfort walking through a shortcut in the park after dark, which I attribute to being female and therefore vulnerable to attack.


Here was my revelation: there is not one thing in my life that has not been aided by the fact I am a white woman, married to a man, who identifies as female. Power and privilege as others in my shoes experience is not so much the presence of something you can name, but the absence of something more explicit: fear, uncertainty, shame, harassment.


Here is  the second step I had to own: in being ignorant of my own power and privilege, I am the problem. It’s like I thought I was in a race where we were all at the same starting line. But no, the fact I can walk around in a hooded sweatshirt, go into the women’s bathroom without fear, and kiss my husband in public puts me in a different position then a lot of our country. The privilege and power to do all of these things means I started the race a good ¾ of the way to finish line. I think running that ¼ mile means I worked hard, and I did- sort of, but not nearly as hard as every other runner that our society doesn’t see, name or value.


So what should we, the privileged and the powerful, do?


  1. Don’t get all caught up in feeling ashamed or embarrassed, or even defensive. We all started the race closer to the finish line. That is just the way it is. Maybe we didn’t know because we didn’t look around. Once I cut in front of a line of twenty people in a coffee shop because I didn’t realize the line swooped around. That was humiliating and I wanted to spend a lot of time explaining myself, but instead I got in the back of the line. Now, I ask everyone “Are you in the line?” This is a beyond dumb comparison, but you get the point. The line is not where you thought it was- spend more time looking around and then get in the back.


  1. Assume that people do not have the same experiences as you. Ask questions. You can’t take another person’s perspective if you don’t know it exists. I didn’t know genderqueer existed till I met Dana, and then I asked questions and looked things up and tried to understand her perspective from her point of view. Stop assuming everyone can go to the bathroom or shop in a store without fear. Realize that you can, and that is privilege.


  1. Be open. Many of the teachers I know never stop learning to be better teachers. Apply that mentality to being a human. You will never know all the ways people move through the world, so know that and own that. Never stop learning to be a better human.


  1. Get out of the way. There are people doing amazing work whose voices will never be heard because they have not had the privilege and the power of (metaphorical) you and I. Don’t volunteer for every job and raise your hand with every answer, remember you are already at the front of the pack. Volunteer and promote the people who are doing the work but haven’t been given the front row seat. BE SUPPORTIVE. Retweet, follow, promote, share, ask.

Go at it in the comments, I know I have more work to do.

Nope. Impossible

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

For those of you that follow me on twitter, you already know that this blog has been quiet for two big reasons. Christine Hertz and I are working on a Really Awesome new project together (we are on the home stretch!), and I’m also now a new mother, Working on the book with Christine has taken most of my writing time, but occasionally an idea comes up that needs its own home. This is one of them.

At the risk of sounding like a cliche, literally NOTHING could have prepared me for the joys and challenges of pregnancy, birth, and the first two weeks with a newborn. Never in my life have I felt like things were more impossible, and then did them anyway.

There was a definite point in labor when I thought, “Nope. Impossible.”

But there was no choice, so I had to do it anyway.

There was a point the first night home, screaming baby, crashing hormones, dead of night, when I thought, “Nope. Impossible.”

But there was no choice, and we made it through anyway.

The sleep deprivation: nope, impossible. But there was no choice, and it happened anyway.

If nothing else, this experience (so far) has made me realize that “impossible” is a relative thing. As a matter of fact, I think I often confuse the words “hard” and “impossible”. The limits of what is actually possible is far greater and bigger and wider than I ever dreamed.

So as I sit and stare at this little guy, who is finally asleep (I know, I should be too, but its not in the cards right now) and I think about the kids I have taught and all the impossible things they have already accomplished before they come to school, I question the way I have perceived and reacted to things like challenging behaviors, benchmarks, changing bias and school culture, and I wonder, “was it really impossible or just outside the spectrum of hard that I am comfortable with? What id I stopped thinking of impossible as a choice?”

I think we have to really start with the premise that nothing is impossible in the classroom and for kids. Things can be hard, really hard, so hard they feel impossible, but that doesn’t mean it is. It can feel impossible and still get done anyway.

Now I am wary of “kumbaya” teaching, by which I mean, bite size, t-shirt ready slogans about the power of positive thinking. We can all sit around and say, “Nothing is impossible!” and then act as though certain things are beyond our ability to change- the lack of diverse books, the elimination of play in schools, the overly heavy emphasis on academic over social emotional skills. Saying you can overcome difficulty, is not the same is overcoming difficulty.. We all need strategies and practical supports. So what is the strategy for overcoming the “its impossible” feeling?  Maybe it goes something like this:

  1. Admit it feels hard, almost impossible- don’t shortchange the struggle, but don’t let hard stop you
  2. Take any step in any direction, if its the wrong direction, you will have at least eliminated one possibility
  3. Find a support group: online, on twitter, in your school community and problem solve, don’t go at it alone
  4. Cry as needed (this one is just for me, right now, but you can adopt it for yourself as well)
  5. Take another step/action/attempt

Making change in the world can feel like a “nope. Impossible” moment, but we can still go ahead and do it anyway. Every day we overcome an impossible and realize it was just merely harder than we thought it could be,

As for our book, it will have loads more on making powerful change in classrooms and school cultures. As for me, I look forward to doing as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast (showering being one of them).

And to the makers of the perineal ice pack, good job.



Let’s Talk About Purposeful Play

I am so excited to share that in a week or so my new book (with Alison Porcelli and Cheryl Tyler- play gurus and authors of this handy book on choice time) about PLAY will descend upon this fine earth!!!! Now, listen, there is nothing I like to do more in advance of a new book coming out then have imaginary conversations of excitement and anxiety in my head. As a matter of fact, if you wake up at 3 AM to go to the bathroom, please rest assured that I am staring at my ceiling trying to execute everything I learned while writing A Mindset for Learning.

So, in the hopes of getting the word out about the book, and also maybe stop communing with my ceiling in the wee hours of the morning, I thought it might be nice to put out a post that conquers some of the big questions I imagine you might have about the book:

Let’s Start From The Top, The Title:

What is purposeful play, you might ask? Is some play purposeful and some play, well, not? Wait does that mean there is good play and bad play? Is this book about that?????!?!?!?! Okay, well, no. We talked long and hard about this title and here is the big idea we hope to communicate with this title: ALL PLAY IS PURPOSEFUL even, brace yourself, the play that looks purposeless to us as adults. Because, it is not about us, it is about what play does for children and ALL play has a purpose for children. My husband, who plays in bands, spends hours strumming in a seemingly mindless way on his guitar. To the casual observer this may look purposeless, but in fact, it is the way he stumbles upon the riffs that then become songs, which is in fact, his job.

Fig 3.15

Likewise, the child who might be stacking blocks meticulously, or playing a game of superheroes on the playground, or even crumpling paper and uncrumpling it to see what it feels like is doing SOMETHING. Each of those acts has a purpose and value to the child. We have to change the narrative of play from something “fun” or “cute” or “for when work is done” to one of play (all play) being purposeful and meaningful for the joyful intellectual and social development for children. In the book you will see pictures of children goofing off, building. pretending to be knights and we know that each of those things has a deep purpose in the classroom, and makes all teaching and learning more powerful. That is one of the main reasons we open with research and keep it embedded throughout the book. There are biological and sociological reasons that play exists in the world, that it is IMPERATIVE that we support it in our schools and in our society. Play is deeply purposeful, it is purposeful play.

Fig 3.12

For us, it was about choosing a title that is also a lens, once you name something as purposeful, you start to see its value. Alison shares this anecdote:

 “I remember hearing a comment from an acquaintance when Preston (her son) was 6 months old. They had a 6 month old too and talked about how their 6 month old doesn’t do anything.. He just bats at his activity gym, and they just leave him alone to do it. And I remember thinking.. How differently we view these things!! (Of course we were writing a book on this topic so my mind was geared up)  I remember watching Preston “bat” at his activity gym and marveling at how he was really figuring out cause and effect.. “When I hit this it makes a noise!” Once we are aware of the purposes we react differently.  While they left their child alone…Tom and I narrated what was happening and then introduced other toys on the gym that made different noises or moved in different ways.”

Our goal of this book is that every teacher in every school see that play is purposeful and necessary and seek to provide ample time for it for every child. (and by the way, we don’t say play is just purposeful for 5 year olds- this book is for the teachers of older kids as well!)

Okay, so Play is Purposeful, but Why Do I Need a Book About it?

If you are new to open-ended play, this book will help you get on your feet, but that’s not all. Maybe you already honor and encourage open ended non-scripted play in your classroom and school, and you know lots of research about it, but maybe (like me) you are not always so sure what to do besides just watch, or maybe you feel like you are running around solving problems. Or maybe you don’t know how to respond when kids say they are bored, or you have two children who just stare at each other. It is a fallacy to think that kids come to school knowing how to play collaboratively. Many do, but also some don’t. It’s also a fallacy to think that we teachers always know the best ways to support kids emotional development. Its not something always covered in teacher education.

Fig 4.4

Its true that some kids don’t come to school with well developed social emotional skills, or their behavior is at odds with working in a community. We would never look at a struggling reader and punish them. Rather we design thoughtful instruction to support them. So how come we punish kids struggling with social skills of being in school? We can design thoughtful instruction in play to help kids learn to negotiate, problem solve, build empathy, develop a growth mindset. And play is where kids learn how to be with others best. Research has shown social emotional skills to be a better predictor of long term success than academic skills– and (good news!) they can be taught, and (better news!) play is the best place to develop those skills. Our second section deals with all of these topics.

Wait, Did You Say “Thoughtful Instruction?” Should I Really be Teaching Into Play?

Ah, good question 3 AM brain. What does it mean to teach into play? So here is what it is not: telling kids how/what to play. We offer teaching sessions in the book that are NOT a program, but rather an if/then. For example, if your children are coming to you to resolve problems, then you might want to teach this problem solving routine. Or, if your kids are melting down when the blocks fall, then you might want to teach these reflection questions.

Fig 6.5

My classroom community runs smoothly because we used play as an opportunity to teach big ideas like sharing and turn taking that we need as a SOCIETY, but also in school. (Personal aside, maybe Donald Trump didn’t have many chances to play?)In addition, we also show some classrooms where play is happening and teachers are supporting it to help you get a sense of what it might sound like when you use storytelling or inquiry to teach big ideas about play and community. We call these parts “Peek Inside A Classroom.”

Fig 4.10

Alright so, reasons for play, setting up an environment for play, using play to teach social emotional learning, what else is in this book?

This brings us to our last section- the play in work. So, Stuart Brown, who wrote Play, talks about how play is a mindset, not an action. Its why when people encounter tricky things they might say “oh, I have to play around with it for a bit.” If we can help work feel like play, then children will bring their free-est, most resilient, most joyful self to the work. I have a kindergartener who approached a small group that was writing and asked, “Can I play too?” It is not just gimmicks that make this happen (though those can help when needed) but rather infusing all parts of the day with a celebration of joyful interest, kid created materials, and a sense of inquiry.

If you are curious and want to get a better sense of the book, you can read the first chapter here. You can also join us for a twitter chat on 4/6 (#tcrwp) and 4/14 (#g2great). We’ve also got an informational webinar through Heinemann on 4/21. In short, we’ll be everywhere talking about PLAY!

And if you are interested, I have some books to give away. Leave a comment and I will randomly choose 2 names to send a book to!

I Got Very Excited About What I Learned Yesterday

My  husband is not just a talented comedy writer, but he is also a gifted musician. Because music is one of his great loves, our apartment is filled to the brim with records (Actual Vinyl), various musical instruments, and all sorts of technical looking equipment for listening to and making music. One of his most beloved pastimes is fiddling with said equipment to get the sound “just right” a tweak of one knob, a push on one slide, his head tilted to the side listening, listening for that perfect tone.

Now, a bit of transition, but we will get back to the music, I promise.

I have the immense pleasure of working with a staff developer named Kristen GoldMansour in my role as a special ed kindergarten teacher. She is a brilliant staff developer who works specifically with us around building the most inclusive classrooms for our children with special needs. She is one of those people that marries a close and careful study of children with years of experience and a vast knowledge about teaching children. Basically I want her to stand next to me at all times and tell me things. Anyway, we were talking about writing goals and building conditions for success and she drew something that look liked this:


Kristen talked about how there are so many conditions that allow a child to be successful or unsuccessful, and like a sound mixer (Aha! there is the connection!) we have to mix the perfect set of conditions for each child. She listed things like preferred v. non-preferred, familiar v. novel, length of time, group size etc.

Now some of you out there may have known and manipulated these conditions for years, but for me, this brought something into sharp relief. For Silas, who loves trains and is working on beginning reading behaviors and focus, I may have to move the dial closer to preferred texts to ensure success. Why make him work in non-train books if that means he will be unable to practice the work he is learning?  For another child to achieve success, I might have to move the dial closer to “shorter time”. Why keep a child unsuccessful in a 30 minute workshop, if she can be successful in a 10 minute interval?

Sometimes we ask children to be successful when we have moved all the dials to “11” (if you get that joke, high five, if not, I just mean we turn everything to its highest/hardest setting) We say “You have to do this for a long time, in a non-preferred seat, with a novel text in the large group” and we wonder why some kids struggle.

True individualization resides in me being able to craft the perfect mix for each child and slowly raising the dials in the area the child is working on. Perhaps the key is realizing that our goal is that children realize that a thoughtful strategic process can result in success, that a just right risk has its own reward of growth- not that everyone can do it the same way with the dial on 11. If a child can be successful socially in a familiar situation with preferred friends, why are we surprised when that success erodes in novel situations with non-preferred friends, if we haven’t identified and helped ease that transition?

Key takeaway? There is a lot to consider when we design a just right challenge for children, beyond the pure academic or social work. Being aware of all the conditions we can manipulate can make a huge impact in how successful we are in supporting our children.

Click on Kristen’s name to learn more about her- she is amazing.

Watch spinal tap to get the “11” joke.

And follow @ggarlock if you want to see some jokes and references to obscure music from the above mentioned husband 🙂

One Small Step for A Classroom, One Big Step to A Better World

So, I’ve been thinking a lot, and if you’ve seen me talk recently, you’ve heard me ask this question:

If the world became your classroom, would you want to live there?

I sit with this question every single day, and it has pushed me harder than any other question I have asked myself. I want kindness, creativity, equity, joy, I want difference embraced and celebrated, I want critical engaged thinkers, I want advocates for social justice. I want an end to poverty, discrimination, gun violence. What do you want? Do you want the world we have today, or do you dream of something different?

I want a revolution. And I think many of you do too.

But how on earth are we going to start a revolution if we do things the same way we always have in our schools? When I saw Jo Boaler at the Learning and The Brain Conference, she said something like “We can’t tell kids mistakes are great, and then grade them down for making them.”  This tension between what we want and what we do is very real and very complicated to navigate.

So what to do?

Well to start, I have been looking at my classroom against a vision of a better world and seeing the choices I make that propagate the status quo, and ask myself, “how can I do this differently?” Sometimes this means taking risks that feel scary and sometimes we shut ourselves down before we start by invoking the mighty “they”.

It’s tempting to blame “they”? As in “they say we can’t ______” But too often “they” is an idea, and not a reality. The idea of “they” can work like a scarecrow in a field, an illusion that prohibits risk and change. And if “they” is an actual person, that means we can lobby and work to change minds, and its our responsibility to work and lobby to change minds.

This is not easy.

But okay, back to looking critically at my classroom. So, one thing I want in the world for people to feel joyful and curious, like they have the power to create change in their lives, and they have the initiative to do so. I have struggled with how that is built in a traditional classroom structure where kids are (intellectually) shuttled from schedule item to schedule item. It has always felt very passive to me, from the child’s position. Yes, they can take charge of their own learning in each schedule area but the structure has been handed to them.

Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong, in their book Tools of the Mind talk about children setting up learning plans and play plans. I’ve also been deeply inspired by what I have been learning from teachers across the globe on twitter about other ways of teaching- Reggio, outdoor schools, and others. So, I decided to hand over the creation of the schedule to the kids for the morning.

The Plan:

Have kids select their AM schedule from 9-11 with each item lasting for 30 minutes,

Behind the Scenes:

I teach in the co-teaching classroom, which means there are multiple adults in the room. If you teach solo, I have some ideas for you to try this at the end of the post. I managed the writing area, my co-teacher managed the reading area and some areas were independent and our group para managed the “running break”.

The Set-up:

We talked about how we, as teachers, set up the schedule every day, thinking about what might best help the kiddos brains grow, but that we realized, they knew even better than us how to make their own brains grow, and so we were going to give them the job of planning their morning. The afternoon is dedicated to choice time so that was already set. They each got this paper.


Cut just means “cut this side”.

Read means independent reading from book baggies(my co-teacher planned to confer at this time)

Write means working on writing projects a la writing workshop style (I planned to confer during this time)

Words means word study and was a variety of games.

Run means a movement break.

Art means using the art materials in the classroom for whatever your heart desires.



It took about 5-7 minutes (most of that was cutting time) for the kiddos to build their own schedules. We ran interference to make sure we did not have 72 kids in one thing at a time by suggesting taking a running break or an art break at a different time. And then we were off!!



A Few Things That You Might Need To Know in No Particular Order:

  • These are WELL KNOWN routines. We have writing, reading, art, movement, and word study every single day. They have specific areas of the room in which they do each of these things so those routines were WELL established.
  • We had more choices than time- we decided we were fine if a child did not do one of the things (including reading or writing) but we would keep an eye to see if it became a pattern. Since they would have to choose reading OR writing, and both work towards many of the same skills, we felt like as long as they were in one, we could help them grow.
  • We have 25 kids so with 5 options and our benign interference, we were able to keep groups around 4-6 for each thing.
  • We met back on the big rug every 30 minutes for kids to track what they had done and figure out where they had to go next.


The Results:

It was GREAT. Some of the issues I had been anticipating did not happen, for example, I worried about the kids who took movement breaks first that they would feel tired by the end or want another movement break- it didn’t happen.

I worried that the independent stations would get silly, but they didn’t, they took their jobs seriously.

I worried that it would be chaotic, but it wasn’t. The kids had tons of great feedback (remember these are FIVE year olds). Many of them said that they felt like they had a made a good plan and would maybe try the same one tomorrow. Some said that they wanted to make their break a little later because they felt tired (break meaning art or running). Almost all said something about feeling proud or grown up or that it was fun.

For me, I felt more like I was approximating the world I am hoping for. I trusted the kiddos would take it and run with it and they did. They brought energy and independence and confidence. They chose their schedule wisely and reflected on it with care. I worked as a facilitator but not as a dictator. They worked purposefully because they were in charge.

Friday was day 3, and we had to cut off the last 30 minutes because we ran out of time, and almost every child begged to extend it after lunch- which SHOCKED me because after lunch is choice time and that is like THE BEST PART OF EVERYONE’S DAY EVER.

Some Thoughts on Doing This if You are a Solo Teacher:

First of all, the kiddos need to know the routines very very clearly, so I would not recommend introducing a movement break on the first day of trying this, so work with what kids know intimately.

Less might be more? Have 3 slots and 4 choices. Or 2 slots and 3 choices Maybe reading, writing, math games, and art or movement? Movement in the classroom is easy enough if you have access to go noodle and the children can use it independently, if not movement breaks might be hard to do as an independent center.

I see a couple options for teaching:

  1. Don’t always plan on doing mini lessons, just plan on conferring and pulling small groups in whatever topic the kids are in. So, for example, you might pull a guided reading group, and then walk away from that and confer with another child in writing, walk away from that and confer with another reader, and then coach into a math game in the first 30 minutes. Then in the second 30 minutes, you might have another guided reading group, then do a writing small group, and then work with some mathematicians. Etc, etc
  2. You might plan to do a mini lesson with one subject (everyone gets a reading lesson, for example, which means you do a reading lesson 3 or 4 times) but you confer with kiddos in the other areas
  3. You use a “teacher choice” option where you have a group of kids all in reading at the same time because you want to teach something very specific and then you have other kids in writing at a specific time because you wanted to do a mini lesson with them on something
  4. plan to be all about one thing one day, and the other things on other days

Okay, this is turning into an epic blog post that is going to take 3 hours to read, so I am wrapping this up.

Final Thoughts:

So for me, this more closely approximates how I think the world should work and so I am helping kids gain the tools to be successful, reflective, independent learners. But for you, it doesn’t have to be this. Taking a risk to change things in your classroom is how we are going to change things in the world. If you have stuck with the blog towards the end, I think you are the type of person who is working for more empathy, more joy, more curiosity, and more independence in the world. Share how you changed your classroom to grow it in the comments below!