Introducing! A Hierarchy of Writing Goals

Posted by on Jan 25, 2017 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Introducing! A Hierarchy of Writing Goals

Introducing! A Hierarchy of Writing Goals

It’s crucial to spend time making sure you’re choosing the right goal to focus on for each writer in your classroom. Choosing an appropriate goal requires that you have a deep knowledge of your students, developed through assessments and by talking to your students and getting to know them as people. You’ll likely plan to spend time observing them as they write and meeting with them in conferences to learn about their interests and hopes for their writing. You’ll also likely do more formal assessments such as asking them to write “on demand” (completing a piece of writing in one sitting) and looking at those pieces for qualities of writing that you hope to teach.

The ten goal categories I use are: Composing with Pictures, Engagement, Generating Ideas, Focus, Structure/Organization, Elaboration, Word Choice, Conventions: Spelling, Conventions: Punctuation & Grammar, and Partnerships & Clubs. I have arranged these ten goals into a hierarchy to help me prioritize when I discover a student could use support with more than one goal (see image at top left). Think of it not as a hierarchy of most important to least, or from simplest to most sophisticated. Instead, this is a hierarchy of action. For example, if I notice a child could use support in two areas—say, structure and elaboration—I’m inclined to start with the one that’s closest to the top (structure) and work my way down (elaboration). Think of that example. Why teach a child to fill her page with details if the details are disorganized and it will make the writing difficult to follow?

The first goal is composing with pictures. It’s a goal centered around teaching children to use sketches and illustrations to tell stories, teach, and/or persuade. The idea behind this first goal is that even before children are able to write conventionally with words, they can compose pieces of work using what they can do— draw pictures. Also, as children get older, using pictures as way to practice qualities of good writing, and as a way to plan their writing, has lots of value.

Engagement comes next because unless students see themselves as writers, have the stamina to sit and write, and want to write, it’ll be hard to focus on qualities. They’ve got to practice to improve.

Generating ideas is a goal that’s close to the top of the list because it’s crucial to help children come up with their own topics and ideas for their writing. An inability to do so could also be a root cause of disengagement with writing. Independent writers need a never-ending bank of things to write about.

Focus is the next goal category because when a writer sets out to write a piece, there should be something that helps it to be cohesive. It could be an idea, it could be a thesis statement, it could be a focus on a period of time (as is sometimes the case with some stories). But it can’t be wandering all over the place. Without focus, it’s hard to know what details to add and what to take away, and it’s hard to have a purpose or meaning behind the writing.

Next: structure. A piece needs to be organized so that a reader is able to follow the story, the argument, or the categories of what’s being taught. Having a clear structure, and having solid parts within that structure (lead, middle, ending, for example), helps a writer to know how to use detail effectively.

The next two goals—elaboration and word choice—appear side-by-side on the hierarchy. Each goal will help writers fill out the structure they’ve created. Elaboration is about helping children to add the right amount and the right types of details to connect to the meaning, genre, and structure of their piece. Word choice is about the careful decisions a writer makes on the word level.

The next two goals are about conventions—one on spelling and one on grammar. These live side by side in the hierarchy as well. They are toward the bottom of the hierarchy not because I think they are less important, but because I’m more apt to help a student with one of the other goals before these if the others aren’t solid. Students will have more energy for editing their spelling, or considering their punctuation choices, or looking over their piece to correct dangling modifiers if they care about what they wrote and there are sufficient, well-organized details included in the piece.

The final goal focuses on partnerships and writing clubs. This is one that you’ll likely weave throughout your whole year for every student. There may also be some students who would benefit from a particular, personalized focus on how to collaborate within a group.

Just as I feel sure enough that this hierarchy is largely what drives my decision making when I work with student writers, I’d be lying if I said there aren’t exceptions. Perhaps, for instance, the reason a student’s writing volume is low is because she doesn’t have any ideas. Well, in that case, I’d start with the goal on generating strategies. Or maybe a student needs help with structuring his writing, but there are so few details that there isn’t much to put a structure around. In that case, I might help him brainstorm what else he could say, and then we could go back to organize it.

Some of you may wondering: what about voice and craft? I didn’t make either a goal on its own because I believe writer’s voice is communicated through many aspects of writing including syntax deSerravallo_WritingStrategies_FullCover_Fin.inddcisions (which would fall under the punctuation and grammar goal) and the vocabulary she chooses to use (which falls under the word choice goal). A writer makes craft decisions at many points of the process and in many aspects of the piece, including the details she chooses to include (elaboration) and how the piece flows (organization and structure). In a way, to me it seems like writing well is all about craft and voice.

These 10 goals are the chapters for my soon-to-be-released Writing Strategies Book. Each chapter has anywhere from 20-45 strategies that will help writers work toward the goal, with a total of 300 strategies across the book. For more information, visit here.


Reading Teacher Priority One: Getting to Know Your Students as Readers

Posted by on Aug 19, 2016 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Reading Teacher Priority One: Getting to Know Your Students as Readers

Reading Teacher Priority One: Getting to Know Your Students as Readers

The first couple of weeks back to school can feel hectic. There’s routine-establishing, environment-orienting, and community building to be done! As a teacher who wants to instill in all my students a love of reading and the skills to do it well, I want also to make sure that getting to know my readers is also at the very top of my list. To help teachers fit this effort into an already busy time, what follows are some of my favorite ways to make this a do-able part of the first days back.

Continue reading “Reading Teacher Priority One: Getting to Know Your Students as Readers” »


Posted by on Nov 25, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Updates to THE READING STRATEGIES BOOK


Hello Reading Strategies Book Users!

I just got my newest printing of the Reading Strategies Book in the mail. Thank you all so much for your readership! Thanks to feedback from some of the many teachers who are using the book, I have made a few changes to the interior that I wanted to share with all of you. All of the changes were meant to help to make intentions clearer and navigation even easier. Here they are, in pictures and words:

Continue reading “Updates to THE READING STRATEGIES BOOK” »

The Reader, the Text, the Task: Considering Variables When Using Leveled Books

Posted by on Jan 21, 2015 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Reader, the Text, the Task: Considering Variables When Using Leveled Books

The Reader, the Text, the Task: Considering Variables When Using Leveled Books

Lately, as I’ve been trying to help teachers whose states mandate moving kids through reading levels — called “SGO” or “SLO” or something else depending on where I am — I’ve been finding myself talking about the interplay between reader, task, and text.

Just how significant are the “reader” and “task” dimensions when matching books and readers?

Think of one reader in your class and consider how you’d answer each of the following questions:

  • At what level can the student read a short 100 word passage out loud with fluency and accuracy when not being asked comprehension questions?
  • At what level can the student read an entire chapter book with stamina, appropriate pacing, and deep comprehension?
  • At what level can a child understand a text on a first read?
  • How high could the level go if the student were allowed to re-read the text several times?
  • At what level can a child read if you are sitting right next to him or her as he or she reads?
  • At what level can the student answer questions with lots of prompting and support from the teacher?
  • At what level can the reader write about his reading to show complex thinking and deep comprehension?

Continue reading “The Reader, the Text, the Task: Considering Variables When Using Leveled Books” »

Twitter Chat Monday June 9th @ 8pm

Posted by on May 15, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Twitter Chat Monday June 9th @ 8pm

Twitter Chat Monday June 9th @ 8pm

Please join me on Twitter for a discussion of how we can “Find the Joy in Rigorous Reading.”

We’ll follow a Q1/A1 format, with new questions every 10 minutes. Follow #readingjoy.

Here are the questions:

1. What are the conditions in your classroom where the most joyful reading happens?
2. What interferes with the joy?
3. Is there a way to balance higher expectations (dare I say “rigor”?) and the joy we know matters?
4. How important is comprehension in our quest for joy?
5. Can we assess joy? If so, what are we looking for? What tools do we use?
6. Can we plan for joy? What “new year’s resolutions” do you have as you reflect on this year and consider changes for the upcoming one?

Upcoming #litlead Chat May 8, 2014

Posted by on May 5, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Upcoming #litlead Chat May 8, 2014

On May 8 at 8:30PM EST I’m honored to be leading a #litlead Twitter chat to discuss formative assessment. I hope this chat serves as part trouble-shooting, part inspiration, and part practical advice for future planning.

Chances are good many of us hear “assessment” and think of mandates that take away from teaching time, and offer us little help with what to do next. It’s a shame, because good assessment is at the heart of effective classroom instruction It helps teachers to create goals for students, 5d6ec6dba1e0d0fa4ec621d4039699efgive effective feedback, and measure progress over time.

In this chat, we’ll attempt to reclaim the word assessment to mean the types of classroom-embedded practices that support instruction and learning. Together, we’ll reconsider what “data” is the most helpful, what assessment practices in the classroom help us teach better, and how to use the information from assessments to set goals with students.

I look forward to hearing some of your thoughts on some of the following questions:

• What are some examples of assessments you can’t do without – but that nobody is making you give?
• How do we keep in-class formative assessment relevant in the time of CCSS?
• What practices do you find helpful when evaluating formative assessments?
• How do you involve students in self-reflecting on assessments?
• How do you use assessments to set individual goals?
• How do you manage individual goals and unit goals?

I’ll look forward to “meeting” you online soon!

Assessment: What’s in a Name?

Posted by on Feb 17, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Assessment: What’s in a Name?

Assessment: What’s in a Name?

What a joy to participate in a fast-paced, passion-filled Twitter chat hosted by Franki Sibberson (@frankisibberson) and Antero Garcia (@anterobot) on Sunday evening. Educators were on fire! The #nctechat hastag was trending! The topic? Hold onto your seats: formative assessment. (cue: WONH wonh waaaooooonnnhhh). Is it just me or do you feel lately that when you utter the word “assessment” people immediately change the subject? I’ve been puzzling about this trend and here’s why I think this is so:

1. When we hear the word assessment, we think about capital-A Assessment – stuff created by psychomatricians that is being improperly used to evaluate teachers. Continue reading “Assessment: What’s in a Name?” »

Let’s (Tweet) Chat about IRA: Fiction and Nonfiction

Posted by on Dec 2, 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Let’s (Tweet) Chat about IRA: Fiction and Nonfiction

Let’s (Tweet) Chat about IRA: Fiction and Nonfiction

On December 12th at 8PM EST I’ll be hosting a tweet chat about independent reading, text complexity, differentiated instruction, comprehension, assessment of students’ reading of whole books…in essence, I’ll be talking about my Independent Reading Assessment  for fiction and nonfiction.

If you’d like to join in, you can follow along using the hashtag #ScholasticExperts. I hope you lurk, RT, and/or join in the conversation.

If you don’t currently have the Independent Reading Assessment for your school, but you’d like to give it a try, you can download the forms you’ll need  here. At that same link you’ll also find rubrics and other materials to learn more about it. When you’re ready to give it a try, here are a few tips:

Continue reading “Let’s (Tweet) Chat about IRA: Fiction and Nonfiction” »

A Close Reading of Kids: Teaching Reading Like a Scientist

Posted by on Oct 10, 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on A Close Reading of Kids: Teaching Reading Like a Scientist

A Close Reading of Kids: Teaching Reading Like a Scientist

Some of you might not know this about me, but I grew up in a science family. I’m the daughter of an analytical chemist. As kids, we spent weekends playing with toy microscopes and doing science experiments. A hike was not complete without a lecture on the role of moss in the forest ecosystem and when my dad wanted the salt passed to him at the dinner table, he’d say, “please pass the sodium chloride?”

So it seems an interest in science was inevitable. It clearly rubbed off on my sister, whose chosen career is in medicine, but my path to teaching may be, at first glance, less obviously connected to science. A teacher? Of reading? Continue reading “A Close Reading of Kids: Teaching Reading Like a Scientist” »

Confessions of a Struggling (E-) Reader

Posted by on Sep 30, 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Confessions of a Struggling (E-) Reader

My Kindle is so old that it has a keyboard on the bottom and the screen doesn’t light up. When I first got it, it was love at first read. Dozens of books all at my fingertips? Great for long trips. Super lightweight? I can read in bed without my arms getting tired. Hover my cursor over a word? Get the definition instantly. So many benefits. I’ve read dozens and dozens of all kinds of books on my Kindle, and have been telling anyone who will listen how great Kindle reading is. Continue reading “Confessions of a Struggling (E-) Reader” »