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How do we best prepare? by Josh Guddat

How do we best prepare?

The end of summer is approaching – at least for teachers and students.  It is a good time to reflect on prepping for classes.  I know many teachers who work all summer prepping classes.  I am not that teacher.  In fact, I don’t even think it is best for students.  What do I think is best for students?  Well, in my opinion, prepping classes after you get to know the students and as you work through the year is better for students.  Every class is different and they learn at different paces, etc.  If a teacher comes and proudly tells me they have their lesson plans all laid out for the month, semester, year, etc. I automatically know they are more about teaching material than teaching students.  Now, that is not to say you can’t have proven lessons ready to roll (although when and how you use them might be different each year), but there always needs to be adaptation and flexibility.  So… does that mean I don’t prep during the summer at all?  Well, not exactly.

I think the best “prep” is two-fold.  First, I look at my unit plans.  I get a general feel for the content that I am expected to teach.  I don’t do anything extensive – I just get a basic familiarity especially on the beginning couple of units.  Then, throughout the summer, things start coming to me.  I will do and see things that give me ideas for lessons, topics, and stories that I will use throughout the year.  Knowing your unit plans will help you make these connections.

The other thing I do is READ!  First, I do read about general strategies of best practice teaching.  These usually come from conferences or trainings.  I don’t do a lot of this because I find it boring.  I would much rather collaborate with other teachers to improve my teaching.  That said, I have a subscription to The WeekThe Atlantic MonthlyThe EconomistThe Denver Post, and The China Daily (since I’m going to be teaching in China – but do what makes sense for your situation).  I actually get all of these on my Kindle and have it at my fingertips all summer.  (If subscriptions are cost prohibitive for you, spend time in your public library or ask your school librarian if you can pick up summer copies.)  I believe we as teachers must keep up on current events.  I believe this no matter what subject you teach (yes shop teachers this includes you) or what grade level you teach (yes kindergarten teachers this includes you).  My content is Social Studies so it is especially important for me to keep up on world events; however, if we are trying to make our content relevant so students can see connections to “the real world,” then we all need to know what is going on to help them make those connections.  Most of my best lessons are enhanced by things that I’ve recently read (I make it a point to keep reading during the school year as well).   Bringing in articles or sprinkling in tidbits through daily warm-ups, examples of concepts, and discussion topics are some simple ways to quickly connect content to current events.  It is powerful when a student makes a comment or asks a question and a teacher can readily support the student’s statement or provide an example by drawing on a wide range of real-world readings generic viagra for sale.

I guess ultimately what I am advocating is simply living life with an eye toward your content.  It will make us better teachers.

(Josh Guddat is a social studies teacher with experience in secondary teaching from Advanced Placement to at-risk alternative education.  He is embarking on a multi-year teaching assignment in China.  Watch for more blogs from Josh as he shares his learning and experiences there.)

Facing the Waves

Facing the Waves

I have tried ocean kayaking three times, and experienced both success and failure each time. The biggest challenge with the sea kayak is facing the waves head-on. Although the waves seem calm when I am standing on shore, they become terrifyingly large when seated in a kayak, looking into their frothing faces. As the waves approach the instinct to turn away and paddle back to shore is overwhelming. On my first attempt, I succumbed to the impulse – only to be ripped from the kayak, beaten by its hard shell, and tumbled through the unforgiving sand. The pain of the failure was intense. This first beating helped me stay strong when pointing the nose of the kayak toward future incoming waves. I have yet to determine if the rush is worth the effort. Time will tell. But it does remind me of a similar “can I do this?” rush felt on my first day of teaching and over and over throughout my career as an educator.

I remember the pain when I failed a student, faced an angry parent, or received unforgiving (but much deserved) critical feedback. I remember when I first tasted the salty sting of educational cynicism. I remember when I became “at risk” of looking back more often than forward. I remember when I thought that I was “good enough.” I remember when I realized that the waves ahead of me looked infuriatingly like those I had already faced. Most importantly, I remember that every time I put my energies into facing a new wave with optimism, I have come out alive:  smarter, braver, and happier than had I stayed watching on the shore. My roles as teacher, instructional coach, professional developer, principal and educational consultant have immersed me in the seas of both happiness and humility. I have experienced beatings as merciless in education as the sea ever offered, but like the waves and the kayak, the pain that comes with self-reflection has been key to gaining the needed knowledge and strength for future success.kayak-14759__180

My husband and son, who have watched me from the waves beyond on their surf boards, would tell a different story – probably the story of Mom, who isn’t “ready” to try surfing, briefly bobbing on a kayak at the edge of the shore and then heading back to the comfort of her beach chair and novel. It looks so simple to those already far out there. But learning to face a new challenge is not easy. It is terrifying. And it is exciting. I know what I learned. . . . I know what I next need to learn. The next step is my choice. The waves are equally daunting, but facing them will lead to the joy of discovery and improvement hop over to these guys.

We become so competent at standing on the sand and watching while the waves lap our toes and splash our thighs. The joy and accomplishment in this act is real. Yet I have learned to walk further into the water and dive under the oncoming waves in order to reach the deeper, pulsing swells beyond. I have learned how to relax and “go with the flow” those few times I failed to pay attention and got hit by the rogue wave, waiting it out, holding my breath calmly, until the wave let me go and I could come out on top again.

So must we educators learn to use the new tools that might help us go further into the depths of successful student learning! Might we fail as we learn and get a bit beaten? Of course. But when the ultimate learning takes us further than we can swim alone, it is worth the risk.  We must not be afraid to step off the sand into the waves. Do we tire of the waves? Wish the tide to stop its pull? No. Every time we ride a wave, we gain skills and attitudes and understandings that will help us face and conquer the next one. Keep it coming. We educators love conquering our fears, riding the waves, and swimming in the sea of learning. We will face the challenges before us, and we will become stronger, smarter, and more confident as we do so.

Writing Workshop, the Writing Process, and Best-Practice Writing Instruction by Crystal J. Sabatke-Smith

Crystal Sabatke-Smith, a 6th grade teacher in Montrose, Colo., is one of those teachers whose classroom inspires students and colleagues. She agreed to allow me to publish the following:  

I love writing. I have a degree in English, have worked as an editor, and have been published in books, magazines, and newspapers. I love teaching writing even more. I love watching students experiment, play, and marvel at the power of the written voice. Each year, I have one goal for my middle-school students: I want them to love writing too, because with a love of writing, comes fluency, stamina, and commitment. A love of writing means a love of learning, and after ten years of teaching students to write, I have learned that a workshop format with an emphasis on risk, experimentation, and publication, makes for the most authentic learning. The Colorado Writing Project, combined with the mentorship of renowned writing experts, Atwell (1998), Calkins (2012), Fletcher (2001), and Kittle (2008) has been paramount in the development of my instructional philosophy.

The Colorado Writing Project

After my first year of teaching, I enrolled in the Colorado Writing Project’s (CWP) introductory course. Disenfranchised with a classroom focus on conventions, rather than the writing process or comprehensive inclusion of the 6+1 Traits, I fell in love with the natural development of writing endorsed by CWP.   Through the two-week course, teachers live the writing process and learn how to “implement current research and best practices in teaching and writing” (Hartman & Crawford, n.d.). The next year, I implemented writer’s notebooks, mini-lessons, conferencing, and the writing process with fidelity. Rather than the glazed faces I had tolerated the prior year, I noted an almost immediate improvement in my students’ writing and their desire to compose best generic viagra. Subsequently, over the next five years, I enrolled in the second and third courses offered through CWP in order to better hone my instructional practices. Through independent study, I was able to complete research on narrative writing and assessment, ultimately allowing me to develop a standards-based, portfolio system to showcase students’ growth and achievement.

Nancie Atwell

Through a focus on differentiation through a natural learning progression for both students and teachers, Atwell (1998) encourages the establishment of classroom routines that support quality student work. From her, I developed an appreciation for targeted, responsive mini-lessons that “help students make sense of their world through reading, writing, and sound thinking” (Atwell, p. ix). More importantly, however, I learned that I must commit to “writ[ing] and read[ing] with students” (Atwell, p. ix). My students’ learning is driven by my own growth as a writer and teacher of writing.

Lucy Calkins

From Calkins (2012), I learned, that as a writing teacher, I must elevate my expectations for students. No longer are excuses about background or a lack of past writing instruction acceptable. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), an emphasis on high-level comprehension has “refocus[ed] the nation on students’ proficiency as writers” (Calkins, p.102). Not only is writing treated as an equal to reading, but it is in fact, “the vehicle through which a great deal of the reading work and reading assessments will occur” (Calkins, p. 102). Whereas the mandates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) placed heavy emphasis on phonics and grammar rather than composition, the CCSS return writing to its rightful place as a foundation for learning.

Ralph Fletcher

In 2009, I had the honor of being selected by the Colorado Department of Education as one of 25 educators to serve on the sub-committee for the revision of the Colorado Model Content Standards, eventually resulting in the adoption of the CCSS aligned Colorado Academic Standards. Through this process, I worked with like-minded educators determined to focus writing instruction on the recursive writing process and a range of writing types. My belief in the writing workshop and writing process as a way to grow strong writers is based heavily on the research and work of Fletcher (2001). Writing workshop allows for a naturally differentiated classroom centered on student ownership and responsibility. In a workshop, students are allowed freedom of choice and liberty to err. The structure of writing workshop allows students to develop skills, “along with the fluency, confidence, and desire to see themselves as writers” (Fletcher, p. 1). By the end of the year, I find even my most fearful, hesitant writers engaged and assured by the enthusiasm of one another and the energy of writing workshop.

Penny Kittle

Kittle (2008) is one of the few writing experts who specifically emphasizes writing workshop in the high-school classroom. Although I am a middle school teacher, Kittle’s “focus on the process of writing [to] help students discover its power to improve their work” (p. 3) transcends grade levels. It is only through modeling of the writing process that teachers can truly meet the needs of student writers. Not only do I maintain my own writer’s notebook, I also participate in genre studies with students, using my own writing to emphasize the hard work of drafting and revision. Kittle (2008) also stresses the importance of giving regular feedback through conferences, which I have found to be the most effective means of growing student writers. Like Kittle (2008), I believe that “writing depends on talk” (p. 86). Workshop must be rooted in the writing process, and students must be given frequent, differentiated response through conferencing with both teacher and peers.


Our students are writing more than ever. From essays, to texting, to e-mail, writing consumes the lives of 21st century learners, and the Common Core State Standards support extensive writing across the curriculum. Through Colorado Writing Project trainings as well as research of best-practice pedagogy supported by Atwell (1998), Calkins (2012), Fletcher (2001), and Kittle (2008) I have learned that high-quality, rigorous writing instruction is rooted in a process-based approach supported by writing workshop. Ultimately, writing workshop provides students with an expansive window of self-expression, reflection, and critical thinking, culminating in the power of learning and a love of writing. 


Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: New understandings about writing, reading, and learning (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Calkins, L., Ehrenworth, M., & Lehman, C. (2012). Pathways to the common core: Accelerating achievement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fletcher, R. J., & Portalupi, J. (2001). Writing workshop: The essential guide. Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Hartman, K., & Crawford, K. (n.d.). Colorado Writing Project. Retrieved October 11, 2014, from http://www.coloradowritingproject.org/index.html

Kittle, P. (2008). Write beside them: Risk, voice, and clarity in high school writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.