Tweets and Slides from WRSA “Write to the Core: #EnergizeResearch”

Yesterday was an awesome day with the Wisconsin State Reading Association who hosted my 1-day Institute “Write to the Core: Energize Research Reading and Writing” in Wausau, WI, based on my book Energize Research Reading and Writing.

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A large group of dedicated educators filled the room to capacity despite the heat wave(!) and talked, tweeted, wrote, shared, and considered ways of re-imagining research instruction to support engagement,  learning, and student independence.

Energize Research Reading and Writing

Here are my slides from the day.

And Storified tweets from participants.

Thanks everyone for all you do for learners–adult and child alike!

Just Announced! One-Day Workshops: Fall In Love With Close Reading, WI and NY

In honor of my upcoming book, coauthored with Kate Roberts, titled “Falling in Love with Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts–And Life” (due out Fall 2013) I will be leading Heinemann One-Day Workshops this Winter!  I’m so excited to bring our classroom study, research, and a little analysis of Justin Bieber (yes, I did say that) to these two locations for a full day workshop:

Here is the description from Heinemann’s website, links are live and go directly to Heinemann’s page for registration. Looking forward to working with you to Fall in Love with Close Reading!

by used under Creative Commons lic
by used under Creative Commons lic

One-Day Workshop: Fall In Love With Close Reading


Close reading is more than text-dependent questions! Spend an engaging and thought-provoking day with Christopher Lehman who will support you with practical methods for teaching the skills of deep analytical reading in ways that enchant students and transfer to their independent work. You will study methods of facilitating thoughtful conversations about texts that make student learning visible and provide ongoing opportunities for using this authentic assessment in your reading instruction. Chris will help you think practically about the role of text-complexity in your classroom and parse out reading achievement fact from fiction. You will learn structures that lead to independent close reading habits and avoid the common classroom pitfall of students superficially reading and rereading. Ultimately, you will consider ways of broadening this study beyond texts, seeing how reading anything closely – from popular music to conversations with friends – can be eye-opening and empowering. Author and coauthor of several popular Heinemann titles, this workshop will draw on research and classroom practice from his newest book, coauthored with Kate Roberts, Falling In Love With Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts – And Life (Fall 2013). His fun, witty, and interactive teaching style will leave you feeling confident to support students as they develop big ideas about narratives, nonfiction texts, and media.  


  • Understand what close reading is and is not. Understand the role of close reading historically, what the Common Core State Standards say (and don’t say) about the practice, and what this means for your instruction.
  • Learn methods for close reading that transfer across narratives, informational and argumentative texts, poetry, media and life. Discover ways of structuring your teaching so students develop habits they can carry across the variety of texts they read.
  • Study close reading fundamentals and ways to build to more sophisticated work. Chris will share student work and close reading practices used in upper elementary through high school and help you imagine a progression of development that match the needs of your students.
  • Take opportunities to assess student growth and make instructional decisions. Studying student talk and writing about reading, you will see ways to take quick accounting of your students and decide upon next steps.
  • Plan how close reading will fit into your reading instruction. You will take with you suggestions for weaving close reading into your instruction in ways that support student growth while still balancing the richness of your curriculum.



Christopher Lehman is an international speaker, education consultant and author/coauthor of several popular books including Pathways to the Common Core with Lucy Calkins and Mary Ehrenworth;Energize Research Reading and Writing; A Quick Guide to Reviving Disengaged Writers; and his newest book, coauthored with Kate Roberts, Falling In Love With Close Reading: Lessons for Analyzing Texts – And Life. His background includes teaching middle school, high school, serving as a literacy coach, and supporting grades 3-8 as a Senior Staff Developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. His articles have appeared in many publications and popular blogs includingVoices in the MiddleSmartBrief, and EdWeek. Chris consults in elementary and secondary schools, supporting educators, coaches, and administrators in developing rigorous and passionate literacy instruction across content areas. His unwavering belief that every child can succeed drives his practical, research-driven and engaging work in schools throughout the world. Chris is a popular Heinemann PD provider and delivers expert professional development through live webinars, workshops, and on-site consulting.  


This workshop is designed for classroom teachers of grades 4-12, administrators, curriculum coordinators, literacy specialists, and staff developers.  


8:30 A.M.-3:00 P.M.  


The cost of this workshop is $219.00 per person. If you register 3 or more participants at the same time the cost is $209.00 per person. Early Bird Special! Register by September 13, 2013 and save!

  • Individual…………………………………………..$199.00
  • 3 or more…………………………………………..$189.00



12/06/2013 – Brookfield, WI 12/09/2013 – Amherst, NY Click here to download a Printable Registration Form.



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

Upcoming Event: “Write to the Core: Energize Research Reading and Writing” Wisconsin

I’m pleased to be speaking at a one-day institute this summer, hosted by the Wisconsin State Reading Association. Click for the full WSRA Flyer. Registration is available here.

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I’m looking forward to a fun day!

Upcoming Event: “All Write!!! Summer Institute” Indiana

I’m looking forward to speaking at the All Write!!! Institute in Warsaw, Indiana. I’ve heard rave reviews about this one and look forward to presenting,  listening in on the other amazing presenters, and the great conversation with fellow edu-literacy-friends.

Click for the full flyer, which includes registration information.

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#IRA2013 and not-horrible Close Reading

I’m looking forward to attending the International Reading Association Annual Convention this weekend in San Antonio!  Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or blue about the pressures bearing down on our great profession, I find gatherings like these to be uplifting, energizing, and empowering.  It is always a gift to be amongst thoughtful and engaged minds pouring their time and hearts into making the world better for our students.

I plan to tweet my heart out and look forward to following the action of the convention using #ira2013.

Planning and Cloning

I always go into these things with big plans and an overbooked schedule.  Here are a few sessions I want to attend (and full well know most of these all take place at the same time (if anyone has a cloning device please send ASAP):

I miss amazing pre-institutes on Friday (no direct flight #boo! Chicago airport, we will be seeing a lot of each other.)

Saturday (an incomplete list that is nevertheless impossible to get to and yet I will continue to pretend I can get to all of them and more)

  • 10:30AM The IRA Literacy Research Panel: Big Ideas, Literacy Needs, and National Priorities – Chaired by P. David Person
  • 11AM Scaffolding Students’ Independence and Teachers’ Professional Development through Authentic Reading Communities – Teri Lesesne, Donalyn Miller, Terry Thompson
  • 1PM Reading and Writing WORDshop: Academic Vocabulary and Word Choice – Jeff Anderson and Charles Fuhken
  • 2:30 RESEARCH INTO PRACTICE: Meeting the Challenges of the Changing Demographics: Assessment and Instruction That Makes a Positive Difference in ELs’ Success
  • 2:30 – Gay Su Pinnell and Irene Fountas!  As live really real people talking to me… well and everyone else packed into the room!

(3 PM. Ugh. Too much to see!)

  • 3PM Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children’s Writing–Recovered Archival Footage of a Turning Point in Literacy Education – Penny Kittle and Thomas Newkirk
  • 3PM Comprehension at the Core: Enhancing Elementary Literacy Instruction with Technology – Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis, Kati Muhtaris, Kristin Ziemke
  • 3PM Secondary Reading: Teaching the Reading and Composing of Texts to Meet and Exceed the CCSS – Kelly Gallagher, Julie Meltzer, Jeffrey Wilhelm
  • 4:45 – How Do I Fit It All In? The Common Core and Your Literacy Block: Learn a Practical Strategy for Considering the “Big Picture” of Instruction, Considering Balance and the C0mmon Core State Standards – Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris
  • 4:45 – Pages, Pixels, and Promise: Teaching Real Readers With Digital Tools – Sara Kajder

Presenting on Sunday – Close Reading

Sunday at 11AM Kate Roberts (@teachkate) and I will be talking Close Reading (not in the horrible sense, but in the engaging, life affirming, Justin Biebering, teaching towards independence sense) in Lone Star Ballroom A.  Our session “Not Just the Books They Read, But Lives They Lead: Rethink Close Reading as More Than Just Analyzing Words and See it as a Student’s Tool For Leading a More Engaged Life” stems from the research and classroom practice we have been doing while writing our forthcoming Heinemann publication on this topic.

Instead of seeing close reading as a long list of text-dependent, teacher-dependent questions, we find that if you plan with students at the center of your instruction they can take on these challenging skills with power.

Here’s to a great weekend of learning and connecting!

#Educon Session Archive on Close Reading Text, Media, Lives

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend Educon 2.5 at Science Leadership Academy.

First. Let’s clarify. There are indeed two Chris Lehman(n)s:

On Left – TWO Ns, principal of SLA, great educator, writer, speaker, blogger.

On Right – Me. One N.

In our hands: Pastries. Yummy, yummy pastries.


(It may disturb you too much to know there are many, many more. I’ll keep that a secret.)

It was a great conference.  Even greater, is all the session are archived!  You can watch them all from the Educon 2.5 website.

Here is my session with Kate Roberts (@teachkate, her blog), where we share the hows, whats, whys, and how do we engage students in close reading, from our ongoing research and classroom practice on the subject. 

All of our work is leading to a new book out from Heinemann (expected in summer 2013).

 (Sorry for the trouble seeing the board, it was best with the set-up.)


Happy reading, thinking, teaching, being.

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.


Let’s Study Together: Webinar series

UPDATE: I LOVED working together with teachers from around the world during this webinar series in February 2013!  Look for new dates announced in the Fall.


I’m looking forward to my new webinar series with Heinemann beginning in February 2013 titled “Energize Your Classroom: Informational Reading, Writing and Research are way more interesting than you think!”

The webinar will be four, live, interactive sessions and is built on work from my book Energize Research Reading and Writing (samples chapters here, and a related blog post here).  I’ll be live with you from 6-7:15PM EST on alternating Wednesday evenings to reflect, plan, and share approaches to instruction that bring energy and independence to these important skills.

Here is the link to register and below is the description from Heinemann’s website.  Please share with anyone interested in digging into information reading, writing and research and rethinking the way they unfold in our classrooms.  Looking forward to studying together!

All below text and links from click for original webinar page:


Presented By Christopher Lehman

Register Now


Four, 75 minute webinar sessions from 6:00pm–7:15pm Eastern Standard Time.

  • Wednesday, February 13, 2013
  • Wednesday, February 27, 2013
  • Wednesday, March 6, 2013
  • Thursday, March 20, 2013

Please note that these webinars are all scheduled on Eastern Standard Time. If you are in a different time zone, please plan your schedule accordingly.


Based on the bookEnergize Research Reading and Writing and his experiences from classrooms around the world, Chris will support you in better understanding the role of informational reading, informational writing, and research in your classroom. In the age of the Common Core State Standards, when we sometimes feel overwhelmed by initiatives, Chris’ humor, care and practical strategies will support you in making the most of these big expectations and do so with energy and joy. This webinar series will not only aim to shift your guiding philosophies about these topics, but will also help you in developing your own practical lessons, unit plans, and even an example mini-research project to use with your students.The following is a description of the learning objectives to be met within each session of this series

Session 1: Who Said Research Instruction Needs to Be Incredibly Boring?: Essential Shifts that Can Energize Teaching AND Learning Right Away

In this first session, we will debunk the myth that informational reading, informational writing, and research need to be yawn-inducing by first studying all the ways we constantly research in our daily lives. Chris will then share essential shifts that came to light in his own study and writing of Energize Research Reading and Writing. You will leave the session with a new vision for instruction and practical steps to take in your classroom. You will also leave beginning your own mini-research project bringing back some links or texts to the next sessions..

Session 2:Session 2: Informational Reading and Note-taking: Common Core versus the Photocopier-Student

In the second session, Chris will draw on his knowledge of the Common Core State Standards from his work writingPathways to the Common Core with Lucy Calkins and Mary Ehrenworth and Energize Research Reading and Writing, to help you explore the expectations of the CCSS for informational reading and research. He will share strategies for teaching students to take-notes on learning – not just copy books – and help you see the standards as habits of mind towards these goals. You will practice these strategies for your own mini-research project, creating hands-on exemplars you could use with students..

Session 3: Regurgitated Paragraphs Are So Last Season: Informational Writing Practices that Help Students Learn (and Help Teachers Stay Awake While Grading)

In the third session, Chris will share proven methods from Energize Research Reading and Writing for helping your students not just shove facts into paragraphs, but truly write to teach others (and in so doing to better teach themselves). He highlights the fact that the CCSS for informational writing expect students to be independent – not co-dependent – writers of information and help you develop practices for doing so in your classroom. Chris will also take on the ever-frustrating challenge of citing sources, providing a new take on a time honored skill. You will also practice these strategies to draft some of your own mini-research project, one you could use with your students.

Session 4: Planning Short and Long Research Studies that Match the Needs in Your Classroom

In the final session, we will reflect on the work of the webinar series by sharing highlights from our mini-research projects, have a final conversation about Energize Research Reading and Writing, and put our experiences together to develop plans for our instruction. Chris will help you think about approaches to CCSS Writing Standard 7, which expects students to undertake long and short research projects. He will help you see this as both the work of your classroom and the shared work of the school community, with the aim being to energize inquisitive minds and empower students with informational reading, informational writing, and research skills.


Christopher Lehman, author of Energize Research Reading and Writing, A Quick Guide to Reviving Disengaged Writers, and coauthor of Pathways to the Common Core (with Lucy Calkins and Mary Ehrenworth) is a Senior Staff Developer with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. Chris teaches and coaches alongside educators across the country and internationally in elementary and secondary classrooms throughout the year, supporting teachers and administrators in developing rigorous and passionate literacy instruction across content areas. In addition to connecting with educators on his popular blog ( and twitter handle (@iChrisLehman) he has written articles for NCTE’s Voices from the Middle, SmartBrief’s SmartBlog, Edweek’s The Book Whisperer, among other education blogs. He presents regularly at Reading and Writing Project events, writes curricular materials, leads institutes sections, and has presented at national convention. Prior to joining the RWP Chris taught both middle and high school and was a literacy coach.


Teachers grades 3-12, literacy coaches, principals, curriculum and instructional leaders.


The cost of this Webinar Series is $219.00 per person. If you register a group of 3 or more at the same time there is a discounted rate of $209.00 per person. This includes a certificate of attendance for .5 CEU credits equivalent to 5 class participation hours. Tuition also includes access to the recorded webinar sessions for up to 90 days after the conclusion of the webinar series.


There is no book requirment, however, you are encouraged to purchase Energize Research Reading and Writing (Heinemann 2012). If you do not own a copy you can purchase a copy on our website here.


Participants will receive a series of email correspondence from Heinemann. The first email confirmation will serve as your receipt for the webinar series along with some general instructions on how to prepare your computer for the webinar. The second email confirmation will be sent approximately 2 days prior to each webinar date with a link to the platform WebEx directing you to the webinar class and giving you instructions on how to log in.

We highly recommend you test your computer readiness by clicking on this link.

If your computer needs any software upgrades WebEx will walk you through the updates. We will also be showing video clips so we recommend you also update your Quicktime. You can do so by clicking this link.

Note: Multi-person discount rates will be reflected in your confirmation email from Heinemann.

Listen!: My Education Talk Radio Interview

I just finished my appearance on Education Talk Radio with Larry Jacobs which aired live today at 11AM EST on Blog Talk Radio.

I will admit at about 10:48 I was reeeeally nervous. Way more nervous than I am used to. I present frequently and honestly love to talk (as those who know me know all too well). But 12 minutes before the show my stomach was in knots. The first great help was tweets and messages of love and support coming from so many of you. THANK YOU. The other great support was that Larry was a terrific host – funny and thoughtful.

Here is the link to the archived interview:

We talk about my book Energize Research Reading and Writing, why I love Library/Media Specialists, the Chris Lehmann/Chris Lehman confusion (with a shout out to Kate Roberts), seeing the CCSS as habits not check-boxes, with a backdrop of laughter throughout the show.

If you don’t follow Education Talk Radio’s blog, you really should. No really. Larry has AWESOME guests. Wait, that wasn’t big enough…


Here are just a few podcasted shows with people you love:

Thanks for listening! Happy researching!

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!

Research Instruction: Who Decided It Should Be A Tremendous Bore?

Please transport me back to the exact moment and exact person who thought, “I know, let’s make teaching research skills the most awful experience possible.” I’d like to give that person a piece of my mind.

What are we doing? Research is incredible. Look around yourself right now: every single thing you own, are wearing, are eating, are talking on or tapping on, came from someone or some group of someones researching, studying, communicating new findings with one another, and developing all of it. All. Of. It.

Research is tremendously empowering. Don’t like the price of that used car the salesperson is offering you? Research. Wondering if there are other ways of dealing with a disease? Research! Baby on the way? Research. iPhone-this or Galaxy-that? Research. Where to eat, where to go, how do I unclog this drain, what song is on this commercial, what do mosquitoes do anyway, what good book should I read next, flipped classrooms are what exactly, how do I help my readers,… Research!

So why, then, is the first image that pops into many people’s minds (and I have asked a lot of people): students, or themselves as students, recopying book information onto little cards (e.g. photocopying) and then recopying the information from those little cards onto paper and doing so in the approximate shape of paragraphs (e.g. photocopying), ending in a horrific inferno of last minute final draft making, that–when all is said and done–results in the answer, “I dunno,” to the question, “so what have you learned about this topic?”

We are better than this, people. Rise up teachers. Rise up.

I undertook this mission, to rescue research, and began in an obvious (and Dr. Suess-ian) way: by researching research to rescue research by teaching kids researching in the way we all research. This resulted in my new book: Energize Research Reading and Writing. In researching for, and during the process of, writing the book I came to some new understandings of what we are mostly doing now in the name of research and what changes we can make (or some are making) that can dramatically transform both how we teach and students’ relationship to these skills. I would like to share three essential moves in this post:

1. Stop Handing Out So Much Stuff

The Common Core has devoted an entire strand of the Writing standards to research (7, 8, 9):

© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

and the tests that are chugging on down the track toward us aim to make research skills a big portion of how students are assessed (PARCC-one of the three performance tasks and SMARTER Balanced-see page 17-18). Meaning, students will be expected to be independent with these skills, not co-dependent. Not expecting us to dole out each bit.

So one place to start is actually to stop. To stop assigning specific topics or ways those topics should specifically unfold (“on page three describe the state bird and draw a picture of it, on page four write three facts about the state’s agriculture…”). Also, stop handing out the sources students should use. Instead teach them the very habits you use when you think, “We’re having a baby… now what??”:

  • You start broad, let your possible topic guide you to possible sources.
  • Then let those sources guide you to a more specific focus.
  • Repeat as necessary.

The start of research is like dating: you really only know what you are looking for after you have been looking for awhile.

Chapter 2 of my book describes this in way more detail and is a free read here.

2. Take Notes On Your Mind, Not Your Book

We need to cure the I am pretending to take notes but actually I am just copying everything disease or its related strain I am mostly just writing down numbers I come across but I don’t know why virus.

A way to do this is to shift students’ perceptions away from taking notes on books to taking notes on our minds. More specifically:

  • First, read and focus on what you are learning
  • Then, stop and look away from the text
  • Next, take notes on your learning, ideally without looking at the book at all
  • Finally, perhaps, look briefly back to see if there is something really essential you missed such as “domain specific language” you could use in place of other words – a la Common Core.

It takes a bit of practice, even sometimes an overly exaggerated policing-coaching, “nope, nooooo notes now, just read.” or “now before you write any notes, teach me about your topic, tell me what you just learned….. …great! now right that down in the same way.” I call this strategy Read, Cover and Jot, Reread. It’s cousin is Read, Cover and Sketch, Reread for students that just won’t stop copying: if they are reading text, take notes in sketches and labels; if looking at a diagram, take notes in words.

3. Add a New Process Step: Teach-Through-Writing

Lastly, to counteract dry, dull or I didn’t really learn anything even though I wrote 8 pages research writing, I argue that we need to add a new step in the research writing process.

  • What Happens now: students tend to jot notes [from books], then write a draft.
  • Instead: we need to jot notes [from our mind], then experiment with a variety ways of teaching those ideas and facts through writing, ONLY THEN draft–drawing on the best experiments.

One example is you have a fact or few – say “cuttlefish subdue their prey by making their skin flash” – you can experiment with how you will teach that fact:

  • try making surprising comparisons: “If you have ever been around a strobe light, perhaps in a haunted house or at a school dance, you know how they can both mesmerize and disorient you. Cuttlefish use a similar technique to make their prey freeze long enough to be caught. They actually make their skin pulsate a lot like those lights.”
  • try teaching instead by creating a story: “A cuttlefish swims slowly through the ocean, a small crustacean crawls into view. Lunch! The cuttlefish approaches slowly, but cannot let the fast moving crustacean escape. So, he extends two large tentacles and starts flashing. The small prey looks up and is instantly so confused it freezes in place. Just long enough for the cuttlefish to SNAP! Catch it.”

These are just two examples of this type of teaching-through-writing. In working with students, I was amazed at how this shift in the process not only lead to students doing better and more interesting writing, it also helps them continue to learn about their topic because they continue to manipulate it in a variety of ways–all with their readers in mind.

Let’s Talk More About Rescuing Research

On Monday, Oct 1st at 7PM EST I guest moderated #Engchat (YAY!) with the topic “Teach Students to Research, Not Regurgitate.” The archive (and a funny story) is at my post: “I Broke Twitter. And It Was Worth It.”

My book on this topic, Energize Research Reading and Writing, is available at book sellers like Heinemann, Amazon, and Barnes&Noble.

As always, leave comments or tweet me, I’d love to hear ways you are helping students have the excitement and deep learning that real research provides.

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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.”

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.