My interview at Two Writing Teachers

I’m excited to share my interview at Two Writing Teachers: “An Interview with Educator and Author Chris Lehman.”

I was interviewed by TWTs’ Beth Moore, my friend, former colleague at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and TWT regular contributor.

We talked my passion-ish for writing and reading, tips for helping reluctant student writers, standards, heroes and so much more.  It was a blast to do and I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed having it!

Here’s the post. Thanks #TWTblog!


SmartBlog on Education Guest Post – Testing: Are Percentage of Students Crying Valuable Data?

by albertogp123 used under Creative Commons lic

In my second SmartBrief SmartBlog on Education guest post this week, I share the experience of one educator in New York State as s/he reflects on a day with the state’s new CCSS “aligned” testing program. The reflection is not a lone experience and is instead one of a large and disturbing pattern across schools in this state.

The response from the NYS Department of Education has largely been one of believing this new test is very much aligned to the new standards and is largely appropriate (see Peter Dewitt‘s EdWeek article on NYS Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch’s recent comments).

You can find the post here.

I hope you read the post and then add your voice to this critical conversation.

You can also find my related SmartBrief guest post from Wednesday, “Fairytales of Data,” on the tale we are told about US performance versus other countries (and how the data just doesn’t add up).



Christopher Lehman blog sticker-01Follow Chris on Twitter and his Blog. Learn how to have him work with your school or organization.

SmartBlog on Education Guest Post: Fairytales of Data

by DavidGardinerGarcia used under Creative Commons lic

We all know education in the United States has been pummeled recently and a large portion of the attack has been attributed to how this country performs on the global stage.  It’s a tale we have been told to argue for a whole slew of mandates.

In my guest post today on SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Education I suggest that international and national testing data may not be telling the bad news some claim it does.

You can find the post here.

I wrote a related post last October “Education’s Own 47%.”

There is much to do in education, we all continue to work to impact the lives of every child–in the US and internationally–but I suggest the way we grow is by working in collaboration, not in competition.

It’s time to tell your story, our collective story, to change the fairytale into fact.



Christopher Lehman blog sticker-01Follow Chris on Twitter and his Blog. Learn how to have him work with your school or organization.

Nerdy Book Club Guest Post: Reading is Dumb. There, I Said It.

Colby Sharp and Cindy Minnich  invited me to guest post on the Nerdy Book Club, one of the web’s go-to communities for all things book love: recommendations, author posts, reader posts, inspiration, even their own awards.

So in honor of the whole Nerdy Crew being in my virtual PLN (and I in theirs), their dedication to books and getting books into kids hands, and their rapidly growing book loving community I thought I’d write them a guest post entitled “Reading is Dumb.  There, I Said It.”

And you are welcome, people.

Photo by shutterhacks. I took some liberties...
Photo by shutterhacks. I took some liberties…

Love books too? Want to guest post with Nerdy?  Just go to their page and click the big-ol-button on their sidebar to share your interest.


Classroom Q&A Guest Post: Best Ways to Prepare Our Students for CCSS in Language Arts

Larry Ferlazzo hosts the EdWeek blog “Classroom Q&A with Larry Ferlazzo” in which he takes questions from educators and then invites answers from other educators, experts, authors, and blog readers.

His multi-part series have recently included questions and answers about ed-tech in classrooms, teaching students with special needs, grading systems, tapping creativity in the classroom, and many more.  The archives are a compendium of all of our everyday questions and many thoughtful responses.  (While you are at it, subscribe to Larry’s other popular blog “Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day.”)

“Q” and My “A”

I was honored to be asked by Larry to provide my own answer to the question “How can we best prepare our students for the Common Core in Language Arts?”.  You will find my response and that of other educators in his two part series of responses.  Part one is found here in which I write about remembering our students are at the core of any initiative.

Hope you enjoy the responses and will post your own comments.

SmartBlog on Education Guest Post: Feeling ill: common cold or the Common Core?

The original version of this post can be found here on SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Education.

Like seemingly everyone I know, I have been struck with the oddest seasonal cold I have ever had. Now well into it’s second week of existence, the virus has been a roller coaster of feeling 100% okay one hour and then sweating, coughing, body aching my way through a read aloud with sixth-graders the next. It was so terrible the school’s assistant principal agreed I should go home with the sincere direction: “go get better.” It’s been a leaving work early, nightstand full of tissues, muscles on fire, kind of a cold.

Not knowing how you will feel from minute to minute, roller-coaster from aches to calm and back again, piles of stuff next to your bedside seem to be the symptoms of another national outbreak: Common Corefluenza.

Understanding the outbreak: Standards vs. initiatives

First, separate the symptoms from the cause. This is true of cold viruses, we all present symptoms differently. The same holds true for the standards.

Let me define this virus for a moment. It is not the standards themselves. Just as a cold virus is not cold weather, though related. Common Corefluenza is the deluge of “the standards DEFINITELY say you MUST teach like this” and “these modules are EXACTLY how you MUST organize your instruction” and nearly anything with the term “EXEMPLAR.”

I wrote about this Common Corefluenza for SmartBlog (before hatching that snappy name) in a July 2012 post, which described how the CCSS document states clearly, and I think rather progressively, what the standards do and do not say. Tim Shanahan (whose point of view I appreciate, though don’t always agree with) takes up a similar beat in a recent Educational Leadership article.

Home remedies

I am quite literally writing this with a humidifier running, rapidly cooling ginger tea, a pile of cough drops and, yes, Kleenex shoved in my nose. We are all friends here.Often times the best ways to fix what ails you begin at home. The same holds true for helping yourself deal with making sense out of all of the options swirling around.

1) Ask, “The standards or you?” An important first step is asking: “Do the standards say that or do you [person telling me what I am supposed to be doing] just believe that?” Every educator needs to be scholars of the actual text of the standards. Separate the text-evidence of the standards from the argument of the speaker. Do so for me as well.

2) Ask “Can you show me?” Whoever is telling you how to teach should also be willing to respond to questions like: “Could we set up a time where you could demonstrate this approach with my kids, in my school? Or could I come see this at another school like mine?” By nature there is always a line between idea-making and hands-dirty-practice. How many times have you brainstormed something in a faculty meeting only later to have it flop with students? Flops are essential learning, so make sure any approach has had its share of them as well as reflection and revision. This “show me” can weed out the still-in-infancy ideas while providing great PD when things do go well.

3) Speak up. The Common Corefluenza may be an outbreak, but it is also one that has already had some remedy. It is important that, just as the standards expect students to, we look at things critically and speak back with clear, supported, arguments. That Educational Leadership article I cited earlier describes one example of educators talking back to “you MUST”s from two of the lead architects of the standards:

Although there was a lot of shaky information in the publisher’s criteria documents, the most immediate turmoil raged around claims that it was inappropriate to discuss student background knowledge, have students make predictions about what they would read, or provide purposes….Coleman and Pimentel viewed the increasingly divisive, frustrated, and angry responses from teachers and researchers with dismay, and they quickly retreated. In April 2012, they issued a startling revision of the publisher’s criteria in English language arts and literacy for grades 3–12 that stripped away, among other things, the admonitions against prereading (Coleman & Pimentel, 2012; Gewertz, 2012).

This is one example. And there are many others. Take independent reading. It was being harshly criticized by many as the standards first came out, now in the last week alone people who have spoken out against it are now saying things like students should read a broad diet, have opportunities with texts they can read easily without a teacher nearby, and that balance matters. It’s been refreshing. It is happening because educators who work with students every day continue to speak up.

4) Be innovative and reflective. None of this should be read as suggesting that we fight to keep things the same for the sake of keeping them the same, just as we shouldn’t change everything just because it sounds like a good idea. We do have a long way to go to educating every child, and that road is paved with thoughtfulness and reflection. Take the CCSS as an invitation to experiment with new approaches and be certain your criteria for success is not if you met someone’s expectation for an initiative, but if it led your students to new thinking and more developed independent practice.

Wash your hands regularly: Don’t spread germs

Cover your mouth when you cough. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. If a questionable “MUST” initiative doesn’t sound right, don’t spread it around.


Two Writing Teachers Guest Post: Informational Writing Can Be Informational Learning

I am honored to be guest posting today at Two Writing Teachers, a fantastic education blog–or perhaps a better description is an education community–led by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz. Two writing teachers, “Teaching Kids. Catching Minds. 565 Miles Apart,” as they say.

Not so long ago they celebrated their 2 millionth hit. Yes, 2 with a millionth after it.

Their blog posts range from the writing lives of classrooms, teaching ideas, guest bloggers, great new mentor texts, reflections on conferences, and a really cool weekly “Slice of Life” invitation in which they are readers to link back to their slice of life writing from their own personal blogs! It invites all of us to keep writing and really brings together the Two Writing Teachers community. Just search their blog for this logo (click this one to go to one of their Tuesday invites):

Here is the link to my guest post. It is on helping students learn to teach through their informational writing–both through their development and structure.


#eddies12 Edublog Awards: My Kardashians+Reading Guest Post was Nominated (Because Why Not)

Well that’s a nice surprise.  My guest post on reading guru Donalyn Miller‘s Edweek blog, “The Book Whisperer” was nominated for a 2012 Edublog Awards in the category “Influential Post.”

While I don’t know that Influential Post is true or not, or if the post is more or less influential than any of the others, it still is awfully nice to be nominated.

Being newer to the blog-o-great-learning-o-time-sucking-up-sphere I only just learned about what the Edublog Awards even are, and I am a fan of their mission.  Head on over to them to learn more about the history and mission of the awards.

Get To Know Some Great Posts

Having this and other categories means there are lots of curated posts, twitter handles, and more to explore.  Click here for the list of shortlisted “Influential Post” nominees and read their posts.

My guest post, “What the Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction (No, For Real)” can be be found by clicking the link to Donalyn’s EdWeek blog either on the Edublog list or here.

And you can vote by clicking here or the Voting Open image right over there.

Yay education!

SmartBlog on Education Guest Post: Bullying Prevention is More About Listening Than Talking

Today’s guest post on SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Education is a personal one. Full of my own struggles and my deepest hopes.

Find it here.

Then continue the conversation.

Thanks for all you do for children.

Burkins and Yaris Guest Post: Common Core Instruction, Like All Good Instruction, Is Not About Fish Tossing

Educators and writers Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris are the double duo of “Burkins and Yaris” – a popular blog and twitter handle. They have largely made it their mission to dig into deeply reading the Common Core State Standards (and many of its tangential documents) and then share their thoughtful, sometimes quirky, often spot-on analyses.

I was delighted to be invited to guest post with them. So, I wrote about throwing fish. The Common Core and throwing fish. Oh, and teaching and learning.

Part One is here, and Part Two is here.

Thanks to Jan and Kim!

The Book Whisperer Guest Post: What The Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction (No, For Real)

Reading guru Donalyn Miller invited me to post anything I’d like to on her fantastic Edweek blog, “The Book Whisperer.” So I wrote about the Kardashians. Well, reading. Reading and the Kardashians.

Read it here.

And if you haven’t already, get a copy of her book by the same name: The Book Whisperer, which I think is one of the best written odes to teaching reading I may have ever read.

…and I’m not just saying that because I put Kardashians on her highly respected blog. I’d mean that sans Kardashians.

SmartBlog on Education Guest Post: Standardized Testing the Video Game: Coming to a student near you.

Originally appeared as a guest post for SmartBlog on Education: here.

Place an image in your mind of this: Standardized testing. Depending on where you stand your blood might boil with rage or a sense of accountability may rise up like a patriotic anthem, in either case you most likely picture students in rows, staring at pages of multiple-choice bubbles, attempting to avoid “distractors.” The two groups developing the assessments that align with the Common Core State Standards,SMARTER Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, aim to dramatically overhaul that vision of testing.

Like all things common core, there are loads of questions swirling around the development of these tests. My aim in this post is specifically to make sure you are aware of what is ahead, and more importantly, to suggest that you help your school keep an eye on what matters most — your students’ learning.  It is a time ripe for jumping headlong into every widget, gadget, and clicker on the market and spending hours upon hours in computer labs, but that would be missing the whole point.

First, let’s begin with that new image of standardized testing.

“Technology-enhanced items,” as the consortia refer to them, are not new. In fact, research in the field of “computer-based assessment” has been going on for years, and a few states have already dabbled in it. Picture a student you know — maybe even your own child — sitting down on the day of the test and instead of holding paper and pencil, they sit in front of acomputer, laptop, or tablet. Next, visit this website, This grid, from the University of Oregon, displays a broad range of types of computer-based assessment prompts and ranks the challenge of each type. Move from more simple tasks at the top and left to more complex ones down and right. Click in any box, and you can interact a bit with how that type of item may work. It’s a far cry from A, B, C or D (I’m particularly intrigued by the spinning controls of 4C “The Wall Shadow” and realize how little Science I have retained with 5D “Protein Table”).

Other examples of computer-based assessments abound:

  • The 2009 NAEP Science assessment included a variety of “interactive computer tasks.”
  • SMARTER Balanced has released examples, though a bit hard to find. Scroll to “Technology Enhanced Item Supporting Materials (ZIP)” on this page to download movie files.
  • The Oregon University grid is referenced here in a much longer and more testing consortia-specific webinar on test development.

The consortia describe the purposes for these technology enhancements with much fanfareand promise. To be frank, if their wishes are delivered upon, they would lead to some improvement, some slight silver lining to our current obsession with testing, namely a more refined view of where students are beyond the mutually obscure “below grade level” or “above grade level.” They highlight the ability to assess students’ use of technology, such as Writing Standard 8’s expectation that students can gather information “from print and digital” and faster turn-around time for reporting, as short as two weeks.

Now, to the more essential point — our students’ learning.

I ended a previous SmartBlog post  with this caution: “Remember that the day of any test, students work alone. Without us. They employ not what we have ‘taught’ but what they have ‘learned.’” In regards to computer-based testing, this is even more true.

Consider one fourth-grade example found in that SMARTER Balanced Zip file. In it a student is asked to read a bit of a story that contains only descriptions with no dialogue. The prompt states: “This is the beginning of a story written by a student who wants to add dialogue. Decide where the three pieces of dialogue should be placed. Click on them and move them into the correct order.” Then, the child must do just that. Instead of simply selecting from four multiple choices, a fourth-grader interacting with that prompt, drags several sentences containing dialogue around and around until they believe they are in the correct order. In another example, listed as eighth grade, a student is presented with a passage, then this prompt: “‘Joy Hakim, the author of this passage, admires Sojourner Truth. How can you tell that the above statement is true? Click on a sentence in the passage that could be used as evidence to support this statement.’”  Then, again, instead of selecting one of four choices, a student could click on any sentence in the entire passage to back up that claim.

Yes, having some familiarity with technology can help. However, in order to answer these questions well, time spent in a computer lab is second to a deep internalization of skills. To answer that first prompt well, a student needs to have gained independence with the many aspects of dialogue — what it is, how it is written, its purposes in a narrative and how it moves plot ahead. A student who has written dialogue, read it in a number of texts, and reflected on its uses will certainly perform better with that prompt. The same holds true for the second, a student who both writes and reads informational texts and is mindful of how details are used to develop point of view will find this an extension of already familiar work. Learning to point and click well is only a small percentage of the rigor of those tasks.

In essence, these tests — whatever your view of them — are attempting to move away from months of mind numbing, isolated, test preparation drills and more to supporting students developing skills, meaning, we must watch that all of our teaching is leading to independence, not co-dependence. Students who read, really read — not just listen to adults talk to them about reading — and students who write, really write, will be strides ahead. As the assessments become more and more technology driven, a smart response should be more and more reading and writing.

Christopher Lehman (@iChrisLehman) is an author, a speaker and a lead staff developer with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. Check out his newest book, “Energize Research Reading and Writing.”

Chartchums Guest Post: Charting a Course to Deeper Learning

Visit my friends over at Chartchums, and while you’re at it check out my guest post from July 2012:

SmartBlog on Education Guest Post: The ELA Common Core: A grand opportunity for grand misconceptions

Originally appeared as a guest post for SmartBlog on Education: here.

Adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative opens the door for ideas, not necessarily because of the content of standards — the Brown Center on Education Policypointed out that standards reform alone means diddly squat to outcomes — but because educators have another opportunity to network ideas. There is no time as potentially transformative as the present.

That open door, however, can welcome a slew of agendas being pushed and uncertainty-driven decisions being made. My point in this post is not to defend or disparage the CCSS — that decision is yours — but instead give you tools to avoid being swept into any one of many currents of “alignment” rushing downstream. In idea making, everyone has a right to present an approach. It is up to educators to make smart decisions about which ones to employ.

There is a granddaddy CCSS myth that goes something like this: The CCSS define how we are supposed to teach. Major shifts in instruction are required by standards adoption. This is the patriarch from which all other CCSS myths draw their lineage.

  • Myth: English teachers have to stop teaching narrative and shift to almost solely nonfiction.
  • Myth: We must use complex texts all of the time.
  • Myth: Content-area teachers must stop teaching content.
  • Myth: Students can write only from sources, not their experience.

Simply put, these myths and others are untrue because poor ol’ Granddaddy CCSS myth is untrue. Yes, we should always aim to improve our practice. But be clear, there are no “requirements” for particular methodologies attached to the adoption of the CCSS. Really.

Open up your copy of the CCSS. This is what your state adopted. Turn to Page 6: “What is not covered by the Standards.” Here’s an excerpt (emphasis added).

  1. “The Standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.”
  2. “They do not describe all that can or should be taught. A great deal is left to the discretion of teachers and curriculum developers.”
  3. “The Standards do not define the nature of advanced work …”
  4. “The Standards … do not define the intervention methods or materials necessary to support students …”

And so on.

Which means, Granddaddy: No one can tell us how to “teach the Common Core” because these standards are expectations — not curriculum, not lesson plans, not methods.

Turn to Page 5, where two itty-bitty footnotes clarify one of the largest misconceptions about the balance of types of reading and writing required under the CCSS. Specifically, many educators think the CCSS require literature to be removed from the classroom. Here’s an example of this myth in the wild from a tweet by @thereadingzone.

The Page 5 footnotes clarify this misconception. “The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings. Teachers of senior English classes, for example, are not required to devote 70 percent of reading to informational texts. Rather, 70 percent of student reading across the grade should be informational.” Note that 70 percent issuggested for high-school seniors.

As with reading, percentages in the table reflect the sum of student writing, not writing only in ELA settings.

This is all well and good, you might be thinking, but my students still need to take a test. Yes. Here’s the thing: The two consortia creating tests aim to assess the entire standards document — not only parts, as Granddaddy has led you to believe.

Take one of the groups, Smarter Balanced. It has four claims driving item development. Notice that every part of the standards is represented. Here’s a quick look (emphasis added).

  1. “Students can read closely and analytically to comprehend a range of increasingly complex literary and informational texts.”
  2. “Students can produce effective and well-grounded writing for a range of purposes and audiences.”
  3. “Students can employ effective speaking and listening skills for a range of purposes and audiences.”
  4. “Students can engage in research/inquiry to investigate topics, and to analyze, integrate, and present information.”

The other group, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, sums this up in one of its six priorities: “Assess the full range of the Common Core Standards, including standards that are difficult to measure.”

So, yes, your students need to be able to read literary texts, even poetry and drama (Page 8) and informational texts, employ speaking and listening skills, engage in research and inquiry, and write in all three types (Pages 39 to 66). “Even narratives?” Granddaddy Myth asked. “Yes, even narrative writing.”

Where does this leave us? In a very powerful position. Your school is in control of decision making. No CCSS entity has yet to require teachers to teach in any way that they think is not in the best interest of students.

This also means that you have a tremendous responsibility to learn. Studying the standards cannot be replaced. They are here, however you feel about them, so empower your team. Many efforts, generally well intended, exist to say what you could do but not must do. Do not rely solely on those various “shifts” lists floating all over creation. Are they your shifts? Are they enough shifts? Are they your best first shifts?

Do not accept methods or curriculum because someone thinks you’re supposed to — even PARCC states that its Model Content Frameworks are “voluntary resources.” (I would not use them. But you could love them. It’s our choice.) Let your study decide what to do with my views, too. Do not take any CliffsNotes detour past a deep study of the full text of the standards.

More critically, do not skip a deep study of your students. Remember that the day of any test, students work alone. Without us. They employ not what we have “taught” but what they have “learned.” This is what they carry with them when the school year ends. The methods you and your colleagues choose must lead to students being able to apply skills independently — hopefully joyfully. Debunk the Granddaddy Myth, study the standards, study your students — then, make your decisions.

Christopher Lehman (@iChrisLehman) is an author, a speaker and a lead staff developer with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. His newest book, “Energize Research Reading and Writing,” will be available in August.