From the Desk of Kelly Harmon

March 2018 Newsletter

Dear Educators,

It is almost Spring....Break that is! This month we are bringing you ideas for authentic reading and math that require critical thinking. We also have ideas for expository writing and information to give parents who are wanting to start preparing their incoming kindergarten student! Also, be sure to check out our spring seminar offerings!

Happy Teaching!

-Kelly Harmon & Randi Anderson

Using Passages to Get Kids THINKING!

As state assessment time approaches, I see lots of test practice passages being utilized in classrooms. While I'm not a fan of these passages, I do understand the need for students to read short texts and practice reading strategies needed for success on the test. Here are some ideas for using passages in authentic ways.

Inquiry Circles

Inquiry circles are structured similarly to our literacy circles. During inquiry circles, students gather in small groups to discuss the text selection.

To begin, students choose a text selection. Intrinsically, it's important that they get a choice. We engage in what we find relevant. Consider looking for short articles that are interesting to the students. provides a daily dose of kid wonderings, complete with brief articles and videos.

Students need to read the text independently or listen to a recording of the text and follow along. To prepare for the discussion they will need to annotate, write questioning (wonderings), illustrate, and/or summarize the text.

Then students gather together to discuss the text, much like a book club. Students will discuss the text meaning, use of author's craft, author's perspective, reader's perspective and any questions they may have. This is a great way to take the intimidation factor of passages down and allow students to discuss what they are reading. They need to hear how others have interpreted the text information.

Students should have simple roles such as discussion director, reporter, connector, etc. This ensures that everyone has a job and participates in the discussion.

Provide guiding questions to get students to move to deeper levels of text understanding. For example,

  • What did the text say?
  • What is the author trying to explain?
  • How does the author feel about the topic?
  • What does the author want the reader to think about the topic?
  • What information has the author left out?

Activate Background Knowledge

Have students scan the text to discuss what they "See, Think, and Wonder." Then hold discussions in teams to talk about their prior knowledge and predictions. Encourage students to record some predictions and questions about the text using genre knowledge.

  • What do you see?
  • What do you think?
  • What do you wonder?

ERT (Everybody Read To...)

Being intentional with our instruction is a must in this line of work! ERT is great for planning intentional instruction. Guide students to important parts of the text using "Everybody Read To..."

  • Find key details
  • To determine the reason the author wrote the selection
  • Locate evidence to support an inference
  • and much more!

Author's Craft Investigation

Student have to be able to draw conclusions about the entire selection. Thinking about the author's use of craft helps them deepen their understanding of the author's message. Have students examine the author's intention (purpose) and discuss in groups. This will allow students to see the text as a whole.

How Many Guinea Pigs Fit On a Plane?

Have you shared a Bedtime Math story lately? We love and you should too! Laura Overdeck's latest book is one of the best children's book of 2017. Each page provides a question that gives children a good excuse to stay up late! If you haven't explored the website, app, and children's books, you are missing out. This is a great way to help your students and their families apply math to real world situations.
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Expository Writing Scoring

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The goal of student writing is to communicate a message to the reader in an authentic and thoughtful way!

To be authentic, writing cannot be boring or formulaic (first, second, third). All writing has a beginning, middle, and end that consists of an organizational structure (description, problem/solution, cause & effect, compare & contrast, sequence). Students must be able to make a decision as to which structure best helps them to explain the central idea of an expository text. Students must understand structures and how authors decide which structure works best.

Writers demonstrate thoughtfulness when they present interesting or unique ideas that evoke an emotion in the reader. Voice is an element that can make a big difference in writing. The writer should be talking to the reader. What would you say in a conversation with someone about your topic? How would you get your partners attention? What interesting ideas would you want to share? Students need to participate in discussion sessions with their peers to practice voice. They also need to see lots of mentor texts and demonstrations that show how voice is developed and conveyed to the reader.

Here are some teaching points for mini lessons for writing!

Teaching Points for Writing

  • Voice-How excited or passionate are you about your topic? What do you find interesting or important that you want to communicate in your essay?
  • Authors make choices about how to organize their ideas-What is the best way to present my ideas to the reader?
  • Precise and concise word choice adds to the voice and vision the author is trying to convey about the topic.

Preparing Students for Success in Kindergarten

As a member of several mom groups, I get questions about what to do to get students ready for kindergarten. We all want to prepare our kiddos for success and send them into their education career well prepared (or ahead). Here are some ideas for what to do to prepare the brains of your little learner.

Read Aloud

Read A LOT to your child. Read aloud many kinds of books. As you read, stop and model what you are thinking about the characters or topic. Ask your child questions about what is happening. Get their minds thinking about the story.

Read the Pictures

A beginning reader may not be able to read all the words and that's ok! Instead model for your student what it looks like to read the pictures. Discuss what you see going on and make up a storyline. Encourage your child to read the pictures to you.


Give your child experiences that will build their little brains. Take them places and have them experience different settings, foods, or traditions. They will learn so much from their surroundings and things they have done. This will make them better able to connect to new learning at school and share about experiences where they learned something. Vacations (staycations), field trips, story time at the library, music classes, zoo trips, etc are all great experiences.


Routine is important for little ones. Getting enough rest and consistency can really make a child feel ready to learn. Before heading to kinder, have your child follow a schedule for bedtime, lunch, snack, etc. Even have them pick out clothes the night before big events or preschool. This will help them to better adjust to the tiring schedule of kindergarten.