Collaborating to Strengthen Literacy Instruction

Posted by Monica Crowley on 6/3/2019 7:00:00 AM

Collaborating to Strengthen Literacy Instruction in grades K-2

Guest Blogger:  Literacy Coach, Jill Dempsey

During the month of May, teachers in Kindergarten through Grade 2 participated in writing professional development “mini lab site” sessions. Each grade level came together and planned one writing lesson from the Lucy Calking Opinion Writing Unit.  The lesson structure consists of three parts: a mini lesson (what you want students to learn about a specific aspect of writing); independent work time (individual writing conferences and/or small group instruction that moves student writing forward); and a lesson wrap up (reinforces or expands on what was taught in the mini lesson).  After planning together, teachers went into one classroom, at their grade level, to deliver the instruction. Each teacher volunteered to teach part of the lesson and received on-the-spot coaching from the K-2 Literacy coach.  During the independent work time, teachers worked in pairs to conference with one student to improve his or her writing, but also to refine teachers’ practice by giving one another advice and feedback. They were able to experiment with new teaching moves such as using “tool kits”.  Overall, this was an extremely powerful model for teachers---as it is a rare opportunity for colleagues to be able to go into one another’s classroom, see one another teach, and focus on craft. Here’s what the participants had to say about the experience.


"I liked having other teachers along side of me as I was teaching and conferencing with whom to reflect and share ideas. I saw strengths and needs in my students that I might have otherwise missed. " 

 -Liz Exton

(Host classroom/Taught a small group)

"Two things that stood out to me were having a "tool kit"  (copies of charts, my own sample pieces of writing, rubrics, etc.) of resources that I could share with students.  I am also thinking about working with students in small groups and how I can reach more students this way.

-Nora Carpenter

(Taught mini lesson/Conducted conferences)

"I appreciated seeing students use the writing tools (word walls, reference sheets) in their folders and around the room. It was a great experience conducting my first conference with a kindergarten too!" 

-Peter Chipperone

(Conducted conferences)

"I was struck by the power of reinforcing again and again the statement about what is be learned during the mini lesson helps make the learning clear for students." 

--Dominique Ferdinand

(Taught a small group/Conducted Conferences)

"Something I was impressed with was how students really used the tools in the classroom. I also noticed how a thoughtful, strategic classroom environment could be very supportive to student writers.  It will be important to think about tools for students--which ones and how many would be helpful in the classroom. "

-Meigan Risse

(Taught the Wrap Up/Conducted Conferences)

"I was incredibly impressed with the way this group learned together--sharing ideas and insights with one another, out growing old ideas and growing into new ones.  Several days later I also witness teacher's learning in action! Small group instruction was happening and teacher created tools were being shared to support student and teacher learning " 

                                                                         -Jill Demsey 


Grade 1

"It was exciting to hear students using all the language from previous writing lessons when being taught by other teachers. It was also exciting to step back and see the writing moves they were implementing during conferences. " 

 -Joanna Lieberman

(Host classroom/Taught a small group)

"The demonstration of small group instruction was so eye-opening. It was clear and direct. Students knew exactly what they were working on.   It was also powerful to watch the kids listen in on individual writing conferences that were happening at their tables and see how they used what they had over heard.  

-Suzanne Currle

(Taught mini lesson/Conducted conferences)

"It was wonderful to see different teaching styles and approaches as support for reflection on our own practice.”

-Jonathan Norwood

(Conducted conferences)

"It was powerful to have time working with students I did not know so that I could focus on what teaching moves would lift students writing.  It was also enlightening to see that complex ideas (mini lessons) CAN be concise and taught in about ten minutes. Finally, the power of reiterating the teaching point through out the ten minutes of teaching had a significant impact on students’ learning." 

--Kris Frye

(Taught a small group/Conducted Conferences)


"I loved seeing 1L hard at work on the last lesson of the unit. Their effort and learning was excellent. Second grade teachers will be so impressed with what they are able to do. Suzanne did a great job with a concise, engaging mini lesson.  "

-Pam Tully

(Taught the Wrap Up/Conducted Conferences)


"It was wonderful watching colleges support on another during individual conferences, providing different ways to move writer’s.  It was also impressive how reflective this group of teachers were on their practice and what they will work to implement in their classrooms tomorrow! " 

                                                                         -Jill Demsey 


Grade 2

"Usually, it is hard to think about pulling small groups, but this helped show me that it is not only doable, but an amazing tool to use so that student can share what they are learning with others" 

 -Elizabeth Fowler 

(Host Classroom/Conducted Conferences)

"I was nervous thinking about teaching someone else's class, but it was actually very helpful because I wasn't worried about how they were behaving, I was more focused on the teaching."  

 -Lauren Azzollini 

(Taught mini lesson/Conducted Conferences)

"The teachers! Their willingness to take safe learning risks (hosting, teaching a mini lesson in front of colleagues, conference with students they are unfamiliar with and run a small group) and model for our students--teachers are always learning." 

-Monica Crowley 

(Conducted Conferences)

"The power of small groups and moving on! This is often where I get stuck, and this feels manageable. Also, thinking about the idea of what will push their writing forward the most was an important shift in my thinking." 

-Jillian Starr 

(Taught a small group/Conducted Conferences)

"The mini lab helped me see the power of explicit teaching and how that can shift students as writers. This was especially evident when the teaching is threaded from the mini lesson through the independent work time and revisited during the share. The anchor charts also it was made it easier to know what you could go back and conference with students on." 

-Lily Chase 

(Taught the Wrap Up/Conducted Conferences)

"By creating this type of learning lab our conversations were focused on our practice and elevating our teaching.   It was incredibly powerful to see teachers collaborating with one another around student work and making teaching decisions in the moment." 

                                                                         -Jill Demsey (Facilitator)