Tag Archives: curriculum

The Heinemann Fellows: Amy Greenbaum Clark On Teaching Poetry

Amy Greenbaum Clark is a Heinemann Fellow with the 2014–2016 class, and has been an educator for 15 years. In today's post, Amy recalls writing her first poems and how they shaped her approach to other forms of writing.

by Amy Greenbaum Clark

Presented with the opportunity to conduct action research in my classroom as a Heinemann Fellow, I knew immediately where my heart would lead me. Poetry has been my passion since junior high when I started writing poems. They were poems of seventh-grade melodrama and an angsty twelve-year-old’s desire to be independent—and not very good. It didn’t matter.

I wrote poems. No one had to tell me I could. I had read poetry for as long as I could remember. I also equated song lyrics with poetry. Certain songs felt to me as if the songwriter had lived my experience, peeked inside my heart and stolen its secrets. I wanted to create a similar kind of “music.”

I felt relief when the words were no longer within. I was sharing myself in a form that invited me in, that didn’t restrict or tell me I was wrong. It was a liberating and very personal playground. I reveled in this quiet space, respected the art of it, and worked diligently to improve my craft. During my senior year my twentieth-century-literature teacher discovered that I liked to write poetry and asked to read my work. Turning my notebook over to her was terrifying but at the same time freeing. She didn’t edit the poems I’d written but talked with me about them and about the craft of writing. Suddenly I was writing more—and striving to write better. Not just better poems, but better essays as well.

I am a high school teacher now, and poetry has become a critical part of my practice, a core from which everything else emanates. Recently, I’ve had the magnificent opportunity to teach the same group of students over a period of years, thus witnessing a growth in their writing I’d not been able to see during just one year with them. I taught these students the required English courses but also designed a poetry elective for those who were interested. What I found was that my students learned to appreciate the free space that poetry offered and soon became more eager to write in all forms.

Writing is subjective: We can’t ignore the ethos of teaching poetry—as if the various forms of writing don’t inform one another!

I began to wonder. Why do so many of us hesitate to teach poetry? Why do we question the validity of asking students to work in this form simply because it often feels too subjective to evaluate? How might the study and composition of poetry affect student writing in all genres? How might I implement a curriculum that meets mandates without ignoring the importance of poetry?

Writing is subjective: We can’t ignore the ethos of teaching poetry—as if the various forms of writing don’t inform one another!

Sure, most of my students won’t become professional poets. But what if exploring the freedom and sparseness offered by the form provides the means to better understand writing well in any mode?

I am therefore seeking to discover how the study and composition of poetry impacts student writing in other forms, particularly the academic essay. I’ll investigate focus, movement, word choice/diction, imagery, evidence, sentence structure/variety, and using the form itself to create meaning. I believe that in the process these writers will develop a clear and unique voice.

I’m excited to discover more about teaching writing and eager to understand more deeply the role poetry can play in simply teaching writing well.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Amy Greenbaum Clark is an English teacher at Christ Episcopal School in Covington, LA. Her action research focuses on the ways study and composition of poetry impact other modes of student writing, particularly narrative and scholarly essay writing.

Please visit the Heinemann Fellows page to learn more.

Core Instructional Routines: Why Literacy Routines?

Routines are the backbone of a well-run classroom. They give kids just enough structure to count on and grow from. Authors Judy Dodge and Andrea Honigsfeld’s new instructional guidebook, Core Instructional Routines, offers ideas that give every student practice with reading, writing, speaking, and listening – and opens up numerous opportunities for differentiated instruction. In today’s blog, Dodge and Honigsfeld answer the question, why literacy routines?

Why Literacy Routines?
Written by Andrea Honigsfeld and Judy Dodge

The education landscape is changing rapidly. New standards, new curricula, new assessments, new policy, new technology, whose head is not spinning? Teachers we work with seem overwhelmed by the never-seizing waves of reform efforts.

Amidst all the changes, all the new initiatives, shifts in educational practices and priorities, routines serve a unique purpose: They ground teachers. They offer stable foundations on which you can more confidently build new constructions. In our latest book, Core Instructional Routines, we share ideas for establishing routines in the four literacy domains (reading, writing, listening and speaking) as well for developing background knowledge and academic language.

We call routines the deliberate procedures that teachers establish in their classroom to develop community and offer structure to their learners. Routines are individual and shared habits within a classroom community. Students come to know that this is the way we do things around here.  Your students can count on certain structures to take place regularly and can expect them to be part of business as usual here.  So what are some daily routines that will help your students’ literacy development?

To support reading instruction, try the Socratic Circle routine: students listen and speak to each other in a more formal, academic way in order to make sense of the reading. The first thing you do when using this routine is to have your students create a large circle with chairs (and/or desks) around the room.  Ask each student to make a name card on a tented index card or piece of folded construction paper.  The name cards will add to the formality of the routine, evoking a sense of responsibility to respond to one’s peers, rather than just to the teacher.  Your students should be encouraged to direct their comments to one another, always using the name of the person to whom they are speaking.  For example, one student might say, “I understand what Jason is saying, and I would like to add __________ because on page 3 the author says that _________.”  Display anchor charts with precise academic language and sentence frames for discussion so that students can refer to them when participating in this reading routine.

Following the Socratic Circle, have your students write a brief summary or complete an “I learned…” statement. This way they can also write to reflect on what they have learned through the Socratic Seminar routine.

To ensure meaningful daily writing tasks, have your students keep a log, or journal. On routine we suggest is the Personal Opinion Log, which is a regular marble notebook (decorated and personalized) and specifically designated for stating opinions. Other options include: using loose-leaf pages, index cards on a book ring, or electronic media, such as the Notebook app on the i-Pad, or Notes on a computer. Have your students can keep track of their opinions on a variety of content-based, literacy-related, and authentic, real-world topics. What will your students gain from keeping an Opinion Log?
•    Learn to state preferences
•    Formulate opinions using suggested sentence frames or words/phrases
•    Develop ownership of opinions by putting them in writing
•    Make choices and justify them
•    Make connections to content area learning
•    Express their opinions in a more structured format
•    Reflect on and reevaluate opinions held previously (since they remain available in the log)
•    Notice how opinions change over time

There are many more routines to choose from: students may learn that upon entering this classroom, they will regularly complete an “Entrance Card” or write in their Academic Journal to summarize yesterday’s lesson or last night’s homework. They understand that if an interesting question comes up in this classroom during discussion, they can post their question on a bulletin board or the Question Kiosk; they learn to count on getting the time for independent research and they look forward to the opportunities to discover the answer to their own questions or to further explore the question.

They also discover that in your class working and talking with a partner is a regular part of each lesson. The expectations are clear for Rotation Stations or choices that they will have on their Choice Boards. The routines in your class do not only keep your class running smoothly and organized fashion while supporting literacy development, they will also be internalized by your students.

Routines as we define them are far from dull, repetitive, unimaginative, scripted ways of teaching. We believe that routines will not only lay the framework for predictable structures, instructional consistency, and skill-building, but will also provide plenty of opportunity for teacher autonomy, creative expression, and nurturing the desire to learn in each child.

Click here for a sample chapter of Core Instructional Routines  and to learn more about the book. 


Discussions with small school districts . . .

Grant Funding Success

Carissa O’Gara has worked at the Moultonborough, New Hampshire school district since 1986 as a learning disabilities and reading specialist; she is currently the Title I project manager. She is passionate about reading and writing and, when not teaching, she loves to be outdoors hiking, biking, kayaking, and skiing.

I asked Carissa how her district transformed their reading program.

“We were using a basal reader, and we wanted to move away from that canned program and move kids into reading more authentic kinds of literature. So we formed a study group around Fountas & Pinnell’s Guiding Readers and Writers: Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy. Every Wednesday, the teachers got together and discussed what we needed to do to unfold a whole new way of thinking about teaching. This yearlong starting point has led to a completely different approach toward meeting the diverse needs of all of our students.”

Carissa also told me how excited she is about Fountas & Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention System:

“I cannot say enough positive about the impact of this program: it’s a little like magic. It’s very comprehensive, embedding reading, writing, word study, and vocabulary instruction, and addresses all the areas in which you want students to become proficient—comprehension, communicating ideas, fluency, vocabulary, all the components of high-quality reading instruction. The kids (and their parents) love the materials. The leveled books are so well written. You can tell there’s been a lot of care put into the details. It’s a really good fit for our students. It’s been a very exciting step.

Leveled Literacy Intervention is an especially good fit for a small school because professional development is built in. It’s not often I can travel to offsite workshops. With the resources on the Heinemann website and the CDs that accompany the teacher manual and resource guide, I have what I need to do the kind of teaching that’s going to help my students move forward.”

Is your district considering moving away from a basal program? Authors Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell have already helped hundreds of thousands of K–3 teachers engage, inform, and inspire early readers and writers. Now, with Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3–6), Fountas and Pinnell support teachers on the next leg of the literacy journey, addressing the unique challenges of teaching upper elementary students.

View Fountas & Pinnell’s Language and Literacy framework here.

Fountas & Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) is small-group supplementary literacy intervention designed for students who find reading and writing difficult. Through systematically designed lessons and original, engaging leveled books, LLI supports learning in both reading and writing and helps students expand their knowledge of language and words and how they work. The goal of LLI is to bring students to grade-level achievement in reading.

Click here to Download a digital sampler.

About the author: Pamela is a Resource Support Representative at Heinemann. She has ten years of publishing industry experience. Pamela is pleased to work with our customers in the Upper Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. 

Imagine it Better: Visions of What School Might Be

Author Luke Reynolds has taught middle and secondary English in public high schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Luke’s new book “Imagine It Better: Visions of What School Might Be” features 18 provocative invitations from some of the most brilliant and creative minds in education today, including Tony Wagner, Andy Hargreaves, Noam Chomsky, and Linda Darling-Hammond. The book focuses on the present tense of school reform: what you can do to improve the instruction in your classroom and school today.  Each essay tells a story of what can be—with the heartbeat of imagination and a fresh vision of possibilities.

In his introduction, Luke writes how his hope for transformative action led to Imagine it Better.

Introduction written by Luke Reynolds 

It's day eleven of the government shutdown. I drive through a national park to go to work each morning, so I don't have to check the news to see whether the government is up and running yet. I just look out my car window and see the orange cones still blocking the entrances to the parking lots. The shutdown is akin to a potent virus for which we've yet to find a vaccine. We stop imagining what could happen and start judging one another for what hasn't happened. We're quick to point our collective finger at everyone else rather than ask what we might be able to do together.

In education, we see some of the same paralysis that comes from intense judgment and evaluation. As soon as we think one person, one school, one professor, one business leader, one billionaire, one researcher, or one organization has "the answer,"we all too quickly begin criticizing and critiquing everyone else. We see scarcity, failure, and strife instead of possibilities for transformation.

Shutting down is the exact opposite of our goal as educators. We walk into our classrooms each morning hoping that openings will occur. We hope that our students' minds will open to new possibilities, views, ideas, opportunities, skills, and challenges. We hope that our own hearts will be more open to caring, investing, believing -again- that what seemed impossible yesterday will be obtainable today. We hope that our schools will flourish as places of joy and creativity and challenge and – yes – imagination.

Lewis Hyde, in his poignant and remarkable book The Gift (2007), provides a scathing critique of a society that builds itself on principles of shutting down, of scarcity and insufficiency. He writes, "The market-industrial system institutesscarcity, in a manner completely unparalleled and to a degree nowhere else approximated. Where production and distribution are arranged through the behavior of prices, and all livelihoods depend on getting and spending, insufficiency of material means becomes the specific, calculable starting point of all economic activity" (28).

We need to think seriously about the purpose of our schools in this context. Is public education also built on the ideals of a market-industrial system, complete with economic justifications? Or are its intentions deeper, more complex, more fulfilling to both the self and to society? By narrowing conversations of educational purpose to pathways of progress via test scores and standardization alone, we move toward production and distribution. We quantify inputs and outputs and try to increase the rates of these inputs and outputs as if human connection and growth can be reduced to an equation.

The writers of the essays in this book reject simple equations and productdistribution mindsets. Instead, they are re-envisioning possibilities. They are not interested in profits – in "getting and spending" – but rather are empowered by the goal of improving the lives of students, teachers, and society at large. What if instead of beginning with a scarcity mindset that causes students, teachers, parents, administrators, and others invested in education to shut down, we start with an imaginative mindset? What if we imagine education as we want it to be, remembering that education is, at its core, about people and relationships, not about "getting and spending"?

Diane Ravitch (2010) powerfully warns that "the schools will surely be failures if students graduate knowing how to choose the right option from four bubbles on a multiple-choice test, but unprepared to lead fulfilling lives, to be responsible citizens, and to make good choices for themselves, their families, and our society" (224). If we always begin with blame over test scores and chastisement about what our tax dollars are "getting" us as a society, we will be lost in a perpetual cycle of scarcity. We may enable students to score better on bubble tests, but the goal of guiding them to lead fulfilling lives and creating a responsible, just society will recede farther in our rear-view mirror. We need to return to the elemental questions, imagine how school could be – what we want school to create and what we believe it should do – and propose the most inspired and inspiring ways to achieve these possibilities.

This goal recognizes the structural inequalities inherent in a system of education that is based on "getting and spending," one that views success as correct answers rather than authentic growth, social equality, and transformation. Asking one another to re-envision what we expect of schools is not easy, and there is a layer of privilege in even having the time and resources to pose these kinds of questions. Yet there is a great responsibility to do so, lest our privilege march onward toward profit and even oppression. If we take seriously the call to educate students, we need to imagine how knowledge can be viewed differently, how we can create it differently, how we hear it, explain it, share it, and – especially – how we count it.

Poet Mary Oliver (1998) asks a hard question that deserves an honest response from educators, administrators, and policymakers: Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life? We can blame and criticize one another, point fingers, and advocate for a thousand mini-shutdowns throughout our educational system. Or we can start imagining other possibilities and share those possibilities in ways that empower and inspire. We can work toward re-envisioning what counts as knowledge and forge new paths rather than walk those dictated by market-industrialism.

Just as one rain shower will not grow a field of flowers, one person or group will not devise a plan that transforms our educational system perfectly. But if we can learn to offer ideas grounded in imagination, grown with hope, and empowered by action and belief, we will be well on our way toward creating something new. As Hyde tells us, The passage into mystery always refreshes. If, when we work, we can look once a day upon the face of mystery, then our labor satisfies" (25). It is time for us to be refreshed by diving into what could be, and in order to do so we must tell Scarcity and Status Quo that their time at the table of education is through. We need to invite Imagination to sit with us, knowing full well that while things might get messy, these ideas will lend strength to our hands and freshness to our ideas: our labor will deeply satisfy.

Out of this hope for and commitment to transformative action comes the book you hold in your hands. From Sonia Nieto's poignant and insightful assignment asking her students to explore what makes an ideal school to Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Rebecca Stern's exploration of inquiry as a remarkable and eye-popping way to gaze on the world, our students, and ourselves to Samantha Bennett's humorous andprofound exploration of collaboration and coaching throughout a school district, each essay is a story about what could be and each story has the heartbeat of imagination. The authors here are seeking to go beyond describing the past or repeating the present; they are willing to look deeply into Hyde's mystery to describe something we can't quite yet see and sometimes we can't believe could ever exist.

What is required of us in this moment is to open up, not shut down. We need to look honestly and reflectively at ourselves, our public education system, and our means. Instead of viewing each with a scarcity mindset bent on highlighting failures and worshipping bubble tests, we need to focus on the overwhelming surplus that is – right now – part of public education. In what specific ways do authentic human connections lead students and teachers to incredible growth? How do empowering, justice-oriented teaching methods transform classrooms? In what ways can – and do – classrooms create new cultures and possibilities rather than recapitulate old ones? And how do we close our ears to the numbing refrain of criticism and fear so we can see with fresh vision the incredible human capacity for transformation before us?

The essays in this book do just that.


Hyde, Lewis. 2007. The Gift. New York: Random House.

Oliver, Mary. 1998. West Wind: Prose and Prose Poems. New York: Mariner Books.

Ravitch, Diane. 2010. The Death and Life of the Great American School System. New York: Basic Books.

Imagine it Better is out today. To read a sample chapter for Imagine it Better click here: http://hubs.ly/y04vnW0 

Discussions with small school districts

Written by Pamela Taylor Foley
Heinemann Resource Support Representative

Tracy Donich is the curriculum director for the Trevor-Wilmot School District, in Wisconsin. Before joining Trevor-Wilmot, Mrs. Donich was a Robinwood Elementary classroom teacher (thirteen years), Franklin Public Schools’ programming coordinator for gifted and talented students (five years), and curriculum director for the Beloit School District. Her goal is “to facilitate a safe school environment that provides rigorous and responsive education to meet the needs of each student.”

When I asked Tracy what her favorite Heinemann resource was, she responded:

“My favorite resource as a curriculum director is Best Practice. It provides a wonderful picture of what good instruction and classroom management looks like, breaking it down by content area so everyone can own these practices—look at and reflect on what they’re doing in their classroom and how they can personalize their instruction for their students to make it very powerful.

“Last year our school conducted a formal study of the book in which we thought about the many things teachers have to do and work for with their students and how we can put the powerful practices that others have researched into play instead of redesigning the wheel. The book helped us see what is and is not acceptable in our classrooms and how we can make the biggest difference in the time we have with our students.”

Could Best Practice be the focus of your next book study? The 4th edition is the ultimate guide to teaching excellence. Its framework of seven best practice structures implemented via cutting-edge classroom strategies has proved successful in all grades and subject areas. BP4 creates common ground for teachers, leaders, and principals by recommending practices drawn from the latest scientific research, professional consensus, and the innovative classrooms of exemplary teachers. This new educational era demands highly effective, high-quality instruction that makes a difference for students. Fortunately, with Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde’s help, every educator can be a world-class, life-changing teacher—a Best Practice teacher.

Read a sample chapter here.

About the author: Pamela is a Resource Support Representative at Heinemann. She has ten years of publishing industry experience. Pamela is pleased to work with our customers in the upper Midwest out to the Pacific Northwest. 

Contact her here: Pamela.Foley@Heinemann.com