2017 October TCRWP Saturday Reunion

I attended this amazing TCRWP Saturday Reunion October 21st for the first time as a 6th grade reading teacher. My lens for the day was how to support my 6th graders during Reading Workshop. Of course, ALL my needs were met and then some because I got to spend the day with the smartest literacy leaders on the planet! Here are some of my take-aways.

Workshop #1 and #2 – Mary Ehrenhart
(I stalked her and learned from her over 2-hours!)
* MS may have been the time a teacher taught a book a quarter. Instead of teaching a book, plan to teach students as they read many books. Give them choice in what they read and teach them how to read this genre. Use “the book” as you model the teaching points.
* Have accurate expectations of the students. Don’t dumb it down for the new 6th graders to a 6-7-8 Middle School. Instead, take time to find out how they were taught in 5th grade (visit feeder ES in June) and keep expectations high.
* Tell them WHY they are in RW – by being a strong reader, all other subjects will be easier and their stamina to read for long periods of time with grow, allowing them to handle longer state/national test. Also, people who read are different – more empathetic and tolerant and open-minded so read to be a better person!
* Suggested having students pick a Course of Study to keep them reading lots, by picking a genre and series within that genre and reading LOTS and then another and another, studying within this course.
* Have an inviting classroom library with books arranged more like bookstores! Take time to Book Talk books and share book trailers.
* Bands of Complexity is something to study and teach into. Explain the characteristics of Bands of Complexity and  help readers move from one band to the next.

* This was an example of how a RN page might look as you are working on RST character work. By using the removable post-it notes, the reader can move the character traits to rank them or change them in different parts of the book. I liked the way she shared this flexible way to share one’s thinking.img_0046.jpg

*Mary reminded me that as I do my read-alouds, I need to also be adding to my notebook! Duh! But something I haven’t been taking the time to do…YET! I needed Mary’s nudge.

Workshop #3 – Laurie – Raising the Level of RN – Move from Reacting to Analysis

Predictable Problems

  • too much time is spent writing, taking time away from reading which does more harm than good. The RN is the place to practice skills, get feedback and always have the choice as how to place thinking on the page of the NB. Model the TIME so reading time stays strong!
  • Not having a book to think about in their RN – Use Course of Study to get them into a favorite genre or help them find a series at their level or allow a struggler to read the book I am also reading to the class or put students in Book CLubs to have the support of their club.
  • Kids not excited about books – do book talks, have authors visit, make my library look more like a Book Store’s display, do book swaps, hang laminated book covers and then kids can write on it their name that they read it or their review of it, use padlet to share book ideas.
  • Kids don’t know what to put in notebook – show and model LOTS of ways RN pages can look / gallery walks to get more ideas.Charts, sketches, color, poems (give the character a poem!), #jots – lay them all out and ask SO WHY these hashtags and write about that.
  • GIve them a Menu to choose what to write about. This is a blurry photo but the idea is to offer choose and the last column is a MUST DO – include text evidence!


She ended with having us watch a video, one I hadn’t seen before called SNACK ATTACK.  (Click on title to view it!) I loved the process she had me do to write about the reading of the video. She played the first part where the old women is trying to get the snack from the vending machine. Then she paused it and said, “Write a jot about the woman, but make it your worst jot. So I wrote, The old lady is hungry. She is mad when food gets stuck. Then she said, “Watch to make a better jot.” She played the middle part of the video where old lady is sitting on the bench. Then she paused it and said, “Now write a better jot about her.” I wrote – Old lady is strong willed and assertive when she thinks that something that is hers and when what she worked hard to get is being taken away. Then she played to the end of the video and I added to my jot – In the end, she realizes her mistake and shows she does have a heart and feels remorse. My partner wrote – The old lady is like a villain while appearing like the victim – definitely higher level thinking! I loved this process!!! It helped me to start out simple and it easily pushed me to be more complex. I can’t wait to try this with students!!

Workshop #4 – Hannah – Making the Invisible Visible
Writing About Reading is better if only 10% of the time is spent on it – so if they read for 30 minutes, writing about it is 3 minutes. It helped to have her name just how few minutes get spent on this to ensure reading time doesn’t get hijacked.

Writing About Reading is better when you help push the reader past their 1st thought to a 2nd thought. Ex: Take a jot – now expand on it – this helps the writer go deeper.

Writing About Reading is better when you help them move between the 2 ends of the Ladder of Abstraction, remembering that we don’t write to prove but instead, we write to think! Ex: big ideas –> detail —>  detail —> big idea IMG_0053

BIGGEST TAKE-AWAY – “The RN is not to just be a house for your jots” Instead, model ways to lift the thinking in it to be deeper thinking work.

In the Beginning of the Text –
Consider many different ideas – questions you are asking as the reader, the setting, the characters – make a list of all of them and their traits
Goal – not to prove anything yet. Instead, stay flexible, notice lots, it is the beginning so play around with ideas

In the Middle of the Text –
Decide on lines of thinking worthy of pursuing and set up ways to hold on and track this thinking. As you read on, question ideas in light of new evidence, moving past snap judgments.
Goal – set up a system to gather ideas with this lens so that what you continue to notice can help you grow a theory.img_0055.jpg

In the end – solidify your ideas, draw conclusions, reflect on theme/theory, write with claims and evidence.

  • As a reader, I can take notes as I read. However, the true job of the Reading Notebook is that it is a place to take ideas about your reading and now analyze them and show strong, deep, complex thinking work.
  • I can syudy RN exemplars found on TCRWP website together with your students
  • MODEL!!!! As I read-aloud, model how to write about reading in the beginning, middle and end of the book.
  • Help students create a Daily Work Plan – Where are they in their book? How many chapters/pages today? Will they use a tool? What is the thinking work they are doing? FullSizeRender 3
  • Introduce Thought Prompts and model using them:IMG_0058
  • Use Learning Progressions to help readers set goals. Model how they can go back and revise this work to raise it  – more thinking at this level or move toward next level.

I am so grateful that I could train up to NYC to learn from these amazing educators. I did have to watch the clock as I had to rush out to meet up for a family dinner in CT so I couldn’t hear Lucy’s closing Keynote:(   But on the train to CT, I read tweets posted about it. Two stuck with me – Send 4 gratitude emails a week and Take risks in the company of others).

Thank you Mary, Laurie and Hannah. Thanks to your generous sharing, this VA teacher is energized to help my 116 6th graders do stronger work in Reading Workshop this year and many more kids in the years to come!

What are YOU and YOUR students doing in their Reading Notebook?
Did you read an idea here that YOU might try?
Keep reading…..deeply!


2017 August Writing Institute – highlights of the Keynotes

“Why was this Institute so great?” my family asked. It really did feel like the BEST one I’ve attended and this was my 12th Summer Institute so I have many to compare. After reflecting, I think it was the balance of intense learning in my small group sessions with sheer entertainment at the end of each day. “It was because of the daily ending Keynotes! I ended each day listening to amazing storytellers share and all of them did it humbly out of love for teachers. I felt appreciated and so entertained!!”

Tuesday: Author, Katherine Paterson

FullSizeRender 3Favorite Things She Said:
~ This speech is my thank you to all of you teachers. You do the hardest work without much applause.
~ I write to do what the Secret Garden did for me.
~ Rather than events, my stories are the emotional memory of my childhood.
~ Reading books allowed me to eavesdrop on another’s soul.
~ When I was signing books at a prison where inmates had read Gilly, I asked if any had been in foster care. ALL raised their hands.
~ When signing an inmate’s book, he said, “It’s not for me. It’s for my daughter, Angel.”, I knew now her inspiration for naming the main character in Same Stuff As Stars, Angel!

** I closely read Same Stuff As Stars this summer and worked to understand the characters and their motivations. At the end, I pushed myself to write long about possible themes explored in the book. I so enjoyed Katherine Paterson reading aloud from this book during her keynote. If you haven’t read it, DO. If you haven’t seen the movie, The Great Gilly Hopkins, DO. There is a cameo appearance by Mrs. Paterson and Kathy Bates plays a superb Maime Trotter!

Wednesday – Poet and Playwright, Daniel Beaty

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As I watched Daniel perform, I truly felt like I was watching a genius. He performed the beginning of the one-man play he wrote called Emergency where he plays 43 different characters/voices. It is about a slave ship raises out of the Hudson in present day NYC! I was mesmerized as his voice changed from the news announcer to a 74 yr old grandma to a 14 year old girl and her boyfriend. And through all these characters, a strong message came through! If you ever have the chance to see Daniel perform live, do it! Until then, here are some links:

You can view Part 1 here as performed on YouTube

He also is know for this poem Knock-Knock that was made into a picture book.

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Knock-Knock performance on YouTube

Run Black Man Run performance on YouTube

Dance Mama Dance performance on YouTube

Seeing him live was a treat. Hearing his childhood story was inspiring. “I was saved by my 3rd grade teacher who went above and beyond for me. He clearly is the author of his own story and he inspired me to think the same and to believe we can transform pain to power. To learn more about him, go to his website.

Thursday, Storyteller and Author, Carmen Agra Deedy


My favorite quote from her story came right as she, as a 5th grader, was bullied into pulling the fire alarm as a 5th grade class prank. She said, “The first five minutes of sun is awesome.” !!

This was my fourth time hearing Carmen and it was so entertaining. She really knows how to tell a great story!

My notes from seeing her at the 2011 . National Book Festival

My notes when I first discovered Carmen in the summer of 2011 and the link to her TEDtalk

Not part of the Institute but occurring in NYC:

Thursday, Author Kwame Alexander presented his newest book, Solo at Bank Street Auditorium and I sat in the front row as his guitarist, Randy, his co-writer, Mary Hess and he read aloud with music in the background. It was so excellent to listen to him read the poems that tell his newest story and also get a sense of how his personal life is weaved into this story.

When talking about the music in the book, he said he came to love rock and roll in High School. He admitted that he wasn’t very cool. “But the music helped us feel cool.”

He met Mary, his co-writer, three and a half years ago. She is in his writing group. She suggested writing a book set in Kenya at first. Then it became a book about Ghana. They both wrote and wrote. Then, like a puzzle, they put the pieces together.

Randy is a retired English teacher. He asked to come on the Booked book tour. In the evening, they would sit and write songs together! Click HERE to see the music video that goes with the book. 

Because I was part of his Launch Team (receiving the book before its August 1st release, I was invited to his private party. It was held at the Langston Hughes House in Harlem. By evening, my phone was out of power so I have no pictures. But click HERE to see me the next morning return to the house and recite my favorite Langston Hugh poem.

YouTube video  – Kwame about writing SOLO

Kwame’s website

I’ve always thought that writers are ROCK STARS!! This 2017 August Writing Institute allowed me to experience four rock stars!! NO wonder this felt like the BEST TCRWP Institute yet!


2017 August Writing Institute – Advance Group with Hannah Kolbo

My 2nd Advanced Group at the August Writing Institute was entitled Making, Finding, and Tapping the Power of Mentor Text (3-6) given by Hannah. I knew Hannah already because she is the staff developer who worked with my Arlington, VA school this past year with Reading. At the Institute, I got to spend an additional 5 days with her! Here are some brilliant highlights, all related to using Mentor Text in Writing Workshop.

Why Mentor? We all need someone who inspires us to do better than we know how. We watch a mentor, listen, name what they do and then try to do it. If someone wanted to get better at skateboarding, they would watch youTube videos of better skateboarders and then try it. Learning from a mentor text follows the same steps. Teach it well and remind students that interacting and learning from mentor text is a life-long skill.

When? Find time to teach this routine in introduce a writing unit. As a whole class, work on reading as a writer with a shared mentor text. Then try writing like that writer did. Then push toward independence by show how to find own mentor writing.

How to Choose a Mentor Text
1. Fall in love after reading book like a reader
2. Ask “is this a good fit?”
3. Now fall in love with the craft moves by reading it again
4. Read with writer eyes, noticing and naming out specific craft moves
She modeled these steps using Down the Road by Alice Schertle

Steps to Read Like a Writer
1. Notice someting about the craft of the text
2. Talk about it and make a theory
3. Give it a name – Writers so …by…
4. Think of other text you know where you have seen this move. Writing really isn’t unique – read lots to see craft moves more!
5. Try and envision using this craft move in your own writing.

We ended with a Write Around – she passed out xerox pages from Down the Road. We wrote on the chart paper around the text the craft moves we noticed. We moved from table to table noticing 3 different pages. Then we returned to see what was added to chart we started at. This exercised helped me to better complete this sentence stem:

One way this writer _________ does the craft move called ______ is by _________.

As I get ready to start another school year, I want to keep these questions in my mind so I create a classroom culture of independence.
1. How can I support students to choose mentor text that further their writing?
2. How do I get them to interact more with books so they have more books to choose?
3. What routines need to be in place so kids independently choose mentor texts?

Hannah had us do 2 events to experience books: a book tasting and book speed dating!
For Book Tasting, she placed a handful of books by these authors on each table group: Jane Yolan, Jacqueline Woodson, Cynthia Rylant, Soto, Naomi Nye, Cisneros, Eve Bunting, Patricia Polacco, Kate DiCamillo and Ralph Fletcher, Then we simply went from table to table to “taste” the book. She modeled a way to take notes using 3 columns –> author, title, reflection. Keep this question in mind – Be looking for writing that will improve your own writing. She also placed a biography of the author. I think I’d also add a photo of the author so students know this is a real person and get a sense of their age and gender.

Tips for a good Book Tasting:
1. Include a variety of authors
2. Have choice – move when you are ready to find another book.
3. Provide ways to notetake but make it a choice
Tips for Book Speed Dating:
1. All pick a book to share
2. Sell that book – can use these stems:
The reason I love this book is because ____.
One way this author, ____, pushes me to write ____ is by ____.
If you are the kind of writer who is _____, you might like to check out this text, ___.

Other ways to encourage kids to read books to then try out as a mentor text:
1. feature a spot in the room
2. have a designated mentor text shelf
3. have a padlet where kids can add mentor text they are using
4. kids make iMovie trailers about books and share
5. Mock Caldecott / Newbery
6. March Book Madness book bracket
7. Participate in Global read-aloud
8. Morning Meeting – share a beautifully crafted line from a book
9. Reread a read-aloud as a writer, naming craft moves
10. make experts in the room – kid who writes like an author and hang student writing and mentor writing up on chart paper.

Hannah reminded us that most of my time teaching with Mentor text will happen in a conference or a small group. The units of study only have a specific lessons written in but I need to be ready to teach using mentor text outside of the mini-lesson.

Hannah gave us time to practice using the Writing Pathways Checklist when marking up our mentor text. She suggested using difference colored post-its for different parts of the checklist. EX: pink=structure / blue=development  /  green=convention

As she demonstrated this, I liked her sentence stems:
Watch me as I figure out a craft move.
What is the author doing here?
The author in this piece is ____.
How would it sound in my writing?
I’m writing ___ and will try ____.

Hannah also shared TCRWP Goal and Technique cards for narrative, opinion and nonfiction found in the 6-8 Units of Study. One example of the goal card is found on their website here.

Suggested stem: The author’s goal is to ______. The author does this by ______(name technique). I need to add these to my toolkit and have them ready to use in a conference and small group!

One Day4, Hannah modeled a way to have students be exposed to mentors through centers. Here are the center direction cards:






I can easily see adding center cards like this to Google Classroom so writing partnerships can choose to study mentors. Hannah also suggested that the whole book does not need to be looked at – it could just be a xeroxed page from a book. The goal is to get kids in the habit of having LOTS of exposure to text and to be on the look out for text that they can independently use to raise the level of their writing.

Digital Mentor Text – I had fun watching the nonfiction text and opinion text and naming the craft moves done by the person in the video. All the videos we watched are on this padlet Hannah also created this 2nd padlet for us to add to with more digital links related to teaching with mentor text.

I personally can say that I used many mentor texts while working on my writing with week. And it made, in my opinion, my writing better!! I look forward to using Hannah’s ideas to help my students do the same! Finally, Hannah makes great anchor charts! Here are a few she made and hung in our room as we worked together all week.



2017 August Writing Institute – Advance Group with Mary Erhenworth

Five days learning with other teachers not newbies to Writing Workshop! Five days learning from the best – Mary Ehrenworth! Each day of the TCRWP August Writing Institute, I was part of this advanced group. The title of our section was: Cultivating Skills and Habits that Grow and Connect Across a Year of Writing Workshop (3-8).

As a newbie in 2009, Mary was my large group writing teacher. Back then, she helped me to understand that I am a writer. She modeled with her “Lisa stories” and coached me to try writerly moves. Back then I worked day and into the evenings on my writing story. I still remember my story – making a quilt for Bridgit to take to college and I proudly shared it in my small group (led by Leah) on day 5. I know why I can recall that summer so vividly. I was invited and embraced into the TCRWP community by the best – Mary. Now, eight summers later, Mary is still the best and has so much new stuff to teach as she is always honing her craft. I felt privileged to be in the room with her again Below is a summary of some of what I learned personally as a writer and reader through her brilliant teaching. Ultimately, it is what I plan to now teach to my students, this year with 6th graders. This information feels too valuable to keep all to myself, so share it here.

As I review my notes from the week, here are 5 Big Ideas:

1. Writing Moves – Mary got me to write right off the bat. I was used to using these strategies on the chart to generate a story idea:

a. Generating Ideas: She shared this new strategy by making 3 columns –> trouble/feeling/issue …. people….moment.   Then she started to add a person and a moment and add the issue of this moment and then pushed herself to think of another moment related to the same issue and add it across the 3 columns. Then add another person., etc. Soon, she had a chart filled with story ideas. When I tried it, I got 4 ideas.

She also shared another 3 column strategy –> comment made by someone….your response….emotion felt; Think of the roles: the victim of the remark, the bystander, the perpetrator.  After watching her, I thought of one more story idea.

On Day 2, she shared a great way to ensure that more story ideas were in our notebook before we chose one to draft. I vividly recall the reality of students not having lots of ideas in their notebooks on the day  we picked one to be drafting day. I’ll use this technique the next time on the day before draft day. First, we reviewed the repertoire of writing strategies and made a plan to try out one or two we haven’t used yet (I picked PLACE – Brooklyn Bridge and STRONG EMOTION – election night story). Pick one and write for 5 minutes. Now draw a line, pick other and write it for 5 minutes. Now I have 3 stories tried out. Amazingly, I was just going to work on my Mexico story from Day 1 but now I’m drawn to these stories too. So glad Mary pushed me to do more. I need to do the same for my students!

b. Expand Kinds of Story I share – Mary mentioned she realized she tells mostly trouble stories and never a sports story. She suggested we reflect on the stories we are sharing with our students by thinking about:
* emotional range – trouble as well as “holding onto beauty” stories
* kinds of topics – “don’t be too feminine – include “fart” stories, too”, action, sports,
* representation – who is visible in my story? what is missing? Try to add or include a mentor text that shows differences
This list got me thinking about how I can actively expand my range of stories shared my me in the classroom.

c. Read mentor text of other genres and see how narrative writing is still used – Mary asked our table to “elect a table leader who was quick and efficient” and they got our table 6 mentor text. A memoir with a reflection that included narrative, a lit essay that included a personal narrative, an college essay that revealed info about writer through a narrative. We were to read ours, mark it up by adding narrative craft moves we notice, and be ready to tell table group about ours. On the last day, we did a similar activity. Mary read aloud Little Things are Big by Jesus Colon.

*** Here’s is the text. I also noticed there is a video of this text. I could see sharing this as a choice for students to be inspired to do the same with another piece of text.

2. Partnerships – Mary had us work in partnerships and by living it, I see it’s value. I will NEVER teach without students working in partnerships again.
– “Great partners aren’t born. They are made.”
– She asked us to find a partner, as well as, ensure all in the room have found one. We are a community that doesn’t just look out for ourselves but looks out for all in the room – this is a mantra I also want to use this year as I teach!
– a partner’s job is to encourage and she showed us these sentence stems:



IMG_9535As we left on Day1, Mary told us to exchange phone numbers with partner so we could send a text to encourage our partner to spend 10 minutes writing tonight. After dinner, I looked over my notes and sent mine a text and then wrote so I’d have something to show her. All week long, knowing I had a partner who was encouraging me, made my writing happen and it felt more and better. Such a little thing which reaps BIG rewards!

On Day 2, Mary modeled how to give a tour of my notebook to my partner. Show where we generated ideas and where we tried out a story and where we jotted our goal down. I like the idea of using the notebook to guide our partnership conversations.

A partner can be:
1. a friend – when doing something risky like writing, feel safer doing it with a friend
2. a mentor – ex: can put a strong, organized writer with an unorganized writer and encourage the organized one to check in on the other (her son had this and the partner would call her house in the AM to remind him to bring his notebook to school!)
3. same writing level – high writers together and then give that partnership a different higher-level mentor text
4. same content – ex: two kids writing about divorce
Additional things to consider when making partnerships: She suggested keeping for a unit and then changing if needed. Also notice them in other settings (PE/Recess) to see their social bonds, notice their personality (introverts/extroverts), their language skills and their life outside of school.

3. Teacher Moves – Mary modeled what the teachers can do as the students write.
a.  Notetaking – as I wrote stories during Day 1&2, Mary was going around, writing on small post-its her observations. She researched so she could plan future conferences. She also would look at On-demands, listen in to partner talk, and look at notebook volume. All help her to form partnerships and plan future small group conferences. IMG_9522


b.  Share the Unit Pacing with the students explicitly so they know how long they have for each part of the process. Rehearsing/Generating/Collecting – 4-6 days. Drafting – 1 day, Revising – 5-8 days, Editing – 1-2 days, Publishing (public but not perfect) – 1 day!

c. Mini-lesson tips when using your own writing in the lesson – Mary showed masterfully a 10 minute lesson on adding dialogue to tell about the character speaking. She read us her story. It ended with a beautiful dialogue that was an example of the teaching point. Then she showed us 2 places at the beginning where she did not have dialogue but it could have it. “Turn and tell your partner what that dialogue could sound like”.  Then she added it before ending the ML.


Mary reviewed and gave tips for the Architecture of the Mini-lesson:

  • Connection – 3 kinds:
    1. I’ve been thinking about you and the work you are doing and it seems you are ready for…
    2. Review – We’ve done A and B. Today I want to show you C.
    3. Metaphor Story – EX: Yesterday I had a conversation on the phone that did not go well. Later I wished I could revise that conversation. You can’t do that with a phone call but you can do it with writing.
  • Teaching Point and Demo – show HOW.  Did you see how….
  • Active Engagement – You try it – It’s your turn…
  • Link – Let’s review our choices – you can do A,B,C. Give me a thumbs up if you will try A? B? C? Off you go!

Then Mary gave us 10 minutes to plan a mini-lesson using our own writing in the demo. “You should spend the same amount of time planning as you spend teaching it. No more. Plan quickly!” Amazingly, we did it in 10 minutes!! And it was a good lesson using my Mexico story. We taught that setting can set a tone. Story started calmly with setting of Caribbean Sea and one character sitting on beach. But no extra details added to set a tone. Then it ended with a scarier tone (one character was missing) and the water looked darker, etc. I liked writing my story to teach a ML teaching point. Mary modeled well and now I am ready to do the same!
NOTE: I also realized that 30 minutes is spent by a teacher during WW having conferences and small groups so 30 minutes should be spent planning for this. Having the time as a guideline will help me in the future to spend time proportionally. (Big talk-away for me because I haven’t been spending that time.. YET!!)

d. Storytelling our stories – Mary had us with our partner do the following: Pick another story idea and be ready to tell it to your partner in under a minute. As you tell it, be thinking about the unexpected thing that happened in this moment. Go! I went first and told about the first time I swam backstroke. Then Mary told Partner B to raise the level of this work by thinking about your voice intonation, vary your tone to match the story tone. Use hand gestures – it helps to get story into long-term memory and the motions help ELL learners understand the story. NOW I had another story. I also realized the importance of telling my story well as I teach a unit. Mary suggested practicing oral storytelling in a mirror. Use gestures. Think of it as a performance! Be like Daniel Beaty (our Day3 Keynote – more about him in a future blog post!)  Each unit, I need to be prepared to storytell stories well as I coach my students to generate writing ideas. Mary made me realize the importance of planning this out and practicing it ahead of time so my performance inspires the writers in front of me to write!

4. Tools to help Set Goals:
a. Checklist –
illustrated one and non-illustrated one; Ask What are you doing? What aren’t you doing. Tape it into notebook and write a goal
b, Student writing found in Pathway book –
read it like a mentor text noticing what this writer does. Then be inspired to try to write like this student writer. Tape it into notebook / folder and write a goal.
c. Annotated Writing found in Pathway book –
this let’s students see what it really looks like! Tape it in the notebook/ folder and write a goal.
We look at one of these tools, made post-its noting what I am not doing yet and setting a goal. Then we took a gallery walk to see all the ways these 3 tools were used by all the writers in the room:img_9573.jpgimg_9571.jpg


5. Sharing Expertise to build community – Mary spent the first 10 minutes of our valuable time together to share her expertise of living in NYC. I realized by Day 3 how this not only gave me lots of insider information on this great city, it also build community. One thing we all had in common is that we were in this city for 5 days. Her technique was to click on images in google of a place and tell about it in 30 seconds. I plan to share in this way with my students and then empower them to share with the class. Building community through shared expertise will be a goal I carry into my future classrooms thanks to Mary’s modeling. To view the list I made of her shares, click here.



2017 August Writing Institute – Day 1 Lucy Keynote

34 countries, 42 states, 1,300 teachers and me, lucky enough to be attending this, my 15th Institute!IMG_9518

Sitting in the awe-inspiring space of Riverside church, I heard Lucy command the following (stated below is a humble summary of her inspiring keynote):
* We need to help kids know that their lives are filled with things to write about
* Narrative writing is the foundation of all writing
* It is a big deal to teach students to listen to their life and write it
* It is what we do with our life that matters, not what happens to us
* Sadly we are a nation that struggles to make meaning – addiction and suicide rates are high / 80% of workers are disengaged from work
* Why write? To make sense, writing helps us to author meaning
* Accept how it goes, as writing can be hard. It WILL be hard. Understand that the writing process itself is a story about a character (the writer) who has big motivations (to find something to say) and that the character runs into trouble.
* Writing being hard isn’t a mess-up. Writers are suppose to have trouble. Feeling like I have nothing to write IS part of the writing process.
* Then the writer grows AS she writes and meaning is found as the story is resolved.

As a teacher, be sure to:
1. Create a safe place where students writes.
2. Help students to see that writing affects others.
EX: Kinders holding their writing, parading around school and chanting:
“2-4-6-8- Our pieces are really great; 1-2-3-4- Can’t wait to write some more.”
3. Don’t be afraid to push/nudge students into the land of where there is trouble; push them to do more and
EX: don’t just add one word, push to add 2 pages!

Favorite quotes:
William Faulkner said, “I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.”
Lucy said, “Emptiness is the starting point of writing.”
Martin Luther King said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
Lucy said, “We don’t make the wrongs right but we do make them precious.”

Suggested TedTalks to watch by Lucy:
Andrew Solomon ,   Neal Pasricha  ,    Brene Brown ,   Dan Gilbert

Suggested books to read by Lucy:
Jack Gantos’ newest, Writing Radar
Sheryl Sandbergs, Option B

This is just an overview glimpse of Lucy’s thoughts today as she opened the August Writing Institute. Embracing struggle is a big theme I will reflect on as I continue to learn this week and teach during the school year.

Happily, I also get to learn from Mary Ehrenworth and Hannah Kolbe all week long in my Advance small group sections. Check back (but probably not until the weekend) to read my notes about both of my advance section learning from these amazing staff developers. Now off to write a narrative story. I am ready for it to be hard but meaningful!

March 18, 2017 – TCRWP Saturday Reunion

What a day of learning!! Here are my highlights.

Keynote – given by Drew Dudley, founder of Day One Leadership  which helps individuals and companies to increase their capacity to lead. (We found out at the closing, he was a speaker that Kathleen Tolan wanted). In his very popular  TEDTALK  , Drew tells a “Lollipop story” which becomes a metaphor for moments when a person makes an impact on another’s life, maybe not even being aware of the extent of the impact. He shared how four people: a 7 year old, a man with a 6th grade education, the custodian at his high school and a swimmer are four leaders who he thinks of as great leaders in his life. A leader by his definition doesn’t have anything to do with salary, power, or title. Instead, you are a leader when you live a life that makes people smile when they think of you. He also commanded that we don’t lessen who we are as a leader. Don’t say, “I’m just a teacher”.   Respect your normal. And instead of thinking I have to change the world, think about changing one person in the world. He remined me that my job is to create my own “lollipop moments”. (When at the closing when Lucy mentioned Kathleen wanted Drew to speak, I thought Kathleen truly led according to Drew’s definition of a leader.)

Lindsay Mann – Using Digital Tools to make learning stick – 4 principals:
1. Children Learn Best What They are Ready to Learn – She suggests a way to know where a reader or writer is, to have a recording studio in the classroom. Schedule kids to record what they are able to do. EX: they record themselves reading and the teacher can view and know next steps to teach them.
2. …when they are engagement – Use tools to allow for ongoing self-reflection EX: have partners record how their partner helped them. OR take a photo of writing and use skitch app to annotate writing moves they made.
3. …when Given Physical Representation of learning – it can be the teacher making a video and flipping it or students that are experts on something can make a video to flip
4. ….when given lots of Repetition  – kids need routine and repeated practice

WHERE can you put your recording studio in your classroom? outside in my hallway or since each has an iPad, can’t it just be anywhere! 
HOW will kids share it with me? maybe I create a padlet for videos to be posted to, need to check to see if there is a limit to length that can be uploaded.

She ended by reading us a simple picture book called Wait – a good message to remember in this digital age, where everything goes so fast!

Hannah Kolbe – A birds eye view of 3rd grade Reading Units and Readers
(Discovery ES’s staff developer!!!)
Hannah went through each unit, book by book and shared the major learning progression skills of that unit and then the anchor charts. I found it helpful to see all 5 units shared in one hour, to view the year curriculum and the big ideas of each unit. This summer, I want to review this and think about how the notebook and/or padlets can be used to support each unit, as well as what bookmarks could I make and share with students and how best to display the anchor charts. 

Shana Frazin – No Money for Books / Don’t let that stop you!
She shared 4 minutes of Linda Sue Park’s Tedtalk and asked us to watch it with the lens to listen for words/phrases that resonate with me. WOW!! Seeing this and watching the whole 12 minutes on the train ride home, I am thinking I want to use it as part of a presentation with parents. It is a powerful video that asks, Can a book make a person a better human being? 

She also shared how Gene Luen Yang, our National Ambassador For Young People’s Literature has a great challenge. His platform is called Reading Without Walls and it is explained on his website: As National Ambassador, I issue you a challenge!  I challenge you to read without walls in one of three ways:
1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.
2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about.
3. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. This might be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, a picture book, or a hybrid book.
If you really want to go for the gold star, read a book that fits all three criteria!

Right now, my students are doing the March Book Madness (thanks for sharing this idead with me, Erika!). This can be my next book challenge!! So glad Shana shared this challenge with me!!

Then she booktalked these 12 books, books to have!!
1. I Dissent
2. Stef Soto Taco Queen
3. As Brave as You Are by Jason Reynolds
4. Full of Beans by Jennifer Holms
5. The Seventh Fish by Kate Messner
6. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
7. Pax
8. Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks
9. Two Naomis
10. Pack of Dorks
11. Wild Robots
12. Rollergirl

Colleen Cruz – she has a new book coming out in the Fall! It is 50 paired lessons to teach writing by looking at reading and teach reading by looking at your writing. (Corwin Press). We got to peek at some of the lessons!!

Closing  – Lucy
A heartfelt tribute to Kathleen. 
“First Saturday in 25 years without Kathleen…unimaginable loss for us at the Project and the world.”
“Mentor of all mentors – Teacher with a capitol T”
Her parents mentioned that they knew Kathleen was a good teacher but were floored by all who came to the wake/funeral and all who said,  “I’m the person I am today because of your daughter.” She was described as a titan, a weather storm. She was complicated. She showed great love. She also told you honestly what she thought. She had a belief in sky-high potential. Nothing stood in her way to get the high expectations met. She’d tell a teacher that they taught that like a mist. Next time, do it to leave a mark.She named it and always pushed. 

Then Lucy told us to take a little of Kathleen with us today. Can you think of one thing you can do on Monday? Can you think of something transformational that you can do? DO IT!! What would you say if you only had one year left? What would you do?
If you had just 3 months left, what would you do? What would you teach?
Have the courage to see the unbelievable potential in your students and push them to do even more! 

She also talked about the health of a school and said, “The health of a school equals the number of elephants in the room.” Then she commanded: Have the courage to talk about them. 

I walked out of Riverside church, after a day of learning for 6 hours, a bit on overload. As I walked, I kept hearing Lucy inside my head: What are you waiting for? Be the change!

2016 TCRWP August Reading Institute

Advanced Small Group led by with Kelly Boland
Using Learning Progressions and Performance Assessments to Increase Students’ Skills
and Independence (3-5)

I will admit that before this week, I had not opened the Pathways Reading book. I do use the Writing Pathways book. I have given the Performance Assessment, Abby Takes a Shot. I have used the 3rd grade, Building a Reading Life book a little. Kelly helped me to see in just one week how powerful the Pathways Reading book!  As with everything at TCRWP, this brilliant staff developer had me DO the work that I will eventually have my students do. Because I did it, now I can teach it!

DAY 1:
She started with a read-aloud. She told us we needed 2 post-it notes. Then she matter-of-factly stated, “Teaching is a political act. I chose this book.” And then she began reading One Green Apple by Eve Bunting. (So interesting, I thought, in light of the 2016 Presidential Election issues at the current time to read this book. As I pondered her statement about teaching, I had to agree. So often, I share issues in the public realm at school in order to discuss more. It seems like that is my job as a teacher, too.) After a few pages, she stopped and asked:

“What ideas are you having about the characters so far?” Jot it on one post-it.

She read on. Then she stopped again and asked:

“What life lessons or themes seem to be starting to be important in this story?” Jot it on 2nd post-it note.

Then we were asked to get in groups of 4-6, read each character jot and place them in order from GOOD to BETTER to BEST and be able to name WHY we put them in that order.

This was her introduction to helping us see the mindset of Where am I? and What might my goal be if I am here? This was her introduction to using the Pathway Learning Progressions.

All week with Kelly we spent time reading fiction and immersing ourselves in the Fiction Progressions. To unpack a strand, we did three things:

  1. Study the difference between the levels within a strand.
    1. What is the big shift?
    2. What is the key work of this level?
  2. Put the strand in our own words by pulling out the key words.
  3. Imagine how this would look for a student to do while they write about their reading (or for some strands like Fluency, actually read with teacher listening)

Together as a class, Kelly picked the Character Strand on page 183 and we did the 3 steps.

At Grade 2, the character’s feelings are named.
Farah is sad.

At Grade 3, character traits are named.
Farah is shy. She has no friends.

At Grade 4, characters are complicated, more than one way.
On the one hand, Farah is shy. She has no friends. But on the other hand, Farah is strong because she helps make the apple cider.

At Grade 5, add quotes as evidence
On the one hand, Farah is shy. She has no friends. “I am tight inside myself”. But on the other hand, Farah is strong because she helps make the apple cider.”I am strong. I can help.”

At Grade 6, add other character traits….

Suggestion: She said to show Step #3 with very little change from the prior grade level expectation. This helps! It helped me to see the difference from one grade to the next and I see how clearly it will be for the students, too! I left Day 1 motivated to immerse myself in ALL the progressions and have this guide my reading work this coming school year!

Time for gradual release! To offer strong support, Kelly gave our small group an envelop with a question from the Grade 4 Performance Assessment and the suggested response (this is found in Pathways). First she asked us to decide which was Grade 3, 4, 5, and 6.


Then she modeled how to use these responses to look at our jot from yesterday. Which is mine most like? NOW set a goal. Name what I need to do to move on the learning progression. NOW even try to echo write a revised post-it. I could do this!!

Then as a group, we picked different strands and Kelly gave us anchor chart paper and time to make a learning progression. If we got stuck, she reminded us to use the writing from the prior activity and echo write. My group created this chart related to the strand, Characters Response to Change.


Day 3 – Kelly walked us through a suggested way of giving the Performance Assessment. Give it on Day zero of the Unit. Then give it back to the class on Day 3 either scored already OR if teacher didn’t have time, for them to score with your guidance. But give it back on Day 3 so the students get quick feedback and can set a goal right away based on the reader they are right now.

Kelly modeled by saying:
Today I am giving the scored assessment back to you so you can set a goal. I will show you how I scored it. You will think about why your response got that score. Then you will set a goal. Use these questions:
* Which level does my work match?
* Am I missing any parts?
* What could I have done that I didn’t do?
Write your goal on a Post-it and add it to the Post-It Parking Lot:


Then Kelly emphasized how on Day 4 of the Unit, the teacher can use these goal jots to work with Small Groups for the next few days. (Using the Progressions to guide Small Group work is brilliant!! I can’t wait for school to start! Kelly has helped me plan it out my first unit so purposefully!)

Day 4 – Kelly modeled how to plan Read-alouds with the Learning Progressions in mind. Using a progression lens, her questions sounded so focused on strong reading work:

  • I wonder why the author decided to have Farah tell the story. We only see it from her perspective. Tell your partner what you think about this.
  • I’m learning so much about all the characters, so many details. What are you learning?
  • What does Farah really want? On the one hand….on the other hand…
  • How does this part fit with the other parts of the book? What is the bigger idea? Let’s carry that idea with us as we read on.
  • I know small actions can have a big meaning. What is this small part showing us?

Then after lots of practice, she pushed us to now be the teacher. On the page where they are drinking cider, she asked us to decide on the prompt for the Character Responds to Change. Use your progression chart and write a prompt for Grade 2 and for Grade 5.
Grade 2: How is Farah different here? How has she changed? How do we know?
Grade 5: What do you notice here? A shift seems to be happening inside her? Talk about it.

Kelly had us bring a read-aloud we would be using during the beginning of school and had us read it now using the lens of the Learning Progression to plan out a read-aloud. I loved having time to use what I was just taught! And I’m ready to read-aloud Come On, Rain! to my 3rd graders in September!

Last Day – Kelly asked us to DREAM BIG! If your classroom is ultimately the BEST independent reading classroom, what will you see. Jot down your response. I jotted:
My 3rd graders are lost in a book. Students do take time to respond to text and work with a partner, having strong conversations around the reading goals they have named.

Then Kelly shared lots of examples of reading notebook work and videos of kids talking about their reading work. Then she asked us to reflect on our take-aways. I wrote:
“My take-away is that I will use the performance assessment which will lead me to using the Learning Progressions for the first time with my 3rd graders in Arlington, VA. Together, we will co-author a rich, reading life!”

Thank you Kelly for an amazing week of learning. Truly Transformative!!
I also was glad to tell Kelly in person how wonderful the 3rd grade writing unit, Changing the World that she wrote, is. I shared where I wrote about it HERE with her. So glad I could give her positive feedback on the great unit she wrote!


NOTE: I will be posting my notes on Close-Reading of NF led by Kate Roberts, too as well as the other Keynotes and workshops. What a week!! I am always amazed at how much learning TCRWP can squeeze into one week!!


TCRWP August Reading Institute

DAY #1: Lucy’s Keynote
a 2-kleenex speech for me. Here are some of the quotes I jotted down as I listened:

“We come from 23 countries, 36 states, all 5 boroughs…1,300 participants.”

“This institute is NOT an event. It is a community.”

“What do you need to do to build your RWP back home?”

“The challenges of today are huge (and then Lucy listed problem-after-depressing problem facing our world). With all these challenges, we need to get to work.”

“For years at the project, the focus has been on the curriculum. But we realize we also need to focus on the values of the community. Why? Because when we feel safe in a community, we can do the hard work and grow.”

“Learning to read IS scary. My classroom needs to be a safe place to read – a nest, a kind community.”

“In my classroom, I am the CEO. What will be my motto? What will be my traditions?”

“Invite kids to co-author the classroom so it is the best it can be.”

“Books can build the reader we want to become – books like 100 Dresses, Each Kindness and Raymie Nightingale.”

“On the first day of school, a staff developer read The Big Orange Splot and had kids record their dreams. Then asked ” How will this school be different because you are a part of it?”

“Resume VS Obituary  –> schools teach toward resume building; Instead, we need to live the stories we’d be proud to be written about in our obituary”

Kleenex Story #1: Her description of her 90+ year old parents. “When mom doesn’t want to do the stairs, she will sleep in the day bed. Dad doesn’t want to be far away, so he will lounge in the nearby chair. But he can’t hear too well so he fashions a rope using the dog leashes and they each hold an end.”

Kleenex Story #2: An older man who helped the Project got sick and was in the hospital. Lucy stopped to visit him. Not sure what she could do, she offered to get him a radio as he always played classical music from a radio when at work. “I’d like a little Beethoven,” he replied from his hospital bed. “But then I left and went to work and I got busy. Weeks later we got the call he had died. And all I could think of was how I never got him that radio. As I pass the hospital now, I see it only as a radio.”

Last line of her speech – “May we not forget the radio.”


NOTE: I am in a Small Group with Kelly Boland learning about how to use the Pathway Learning Progressions while reading fiction


I am in a Small Group with Kate Roberts learning about close reading while reading non-fiction


Changing the World – a 3rd grade Opinion Writing Unit

I just finished co-teaching band 1 and 2 of the Changing the World, Grade 3, Unit 3. Due to timing, we didn’t teach band three at this time. We were motivated to teach this unit from April 11 to May 12 because our district, Arlington County Public Schools in Arlington, VA is considering adopting the Unit of Study for Teaching Writing for the 2016-17 school year and our administration encouraged us to try one of the units before the end of the 2015-16 school year. Here are my reflections.

Katie, a 3rd grade teacher next door, and I met the week before starting the unit to make a plan. We wanted to publish on May 12 as May 13th was a fieldtrip day and the next week was our state test. So we decided we had time to teach the first two bends. This became the plan:

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 12.52.43 PM

We decide we would alternate day-by-day who was guiding the mini-lesson to our combined 42 students. We have a classroom space where we can open the wall between our rooms, so we did that each day from 2:20-3:20pm and we used my rug area as the gathering space for both classes of students. We assigned them partners and spots and they knew to come to that spot each day for the mini-lesson. We used Google Slides to show the Teaching Point of the Day and any visuals needed for the mini-lesson for the students to view on the SmartPanel during the lesson. Then they returned to their desk to write. To encourage independence, we both posted anchor charts and writing goals on one wall of each of our classrooms. We stood between the rooms to deliver the Mid-Workshop Interruption. Then around 3:15 each day, the students found their partner and shared.

Click HERE to have access to all our Google Slides.


  1. I loved having a partner to do this work Each session is lots to read but being in change of the deliver every other day did not overwhelm.
  2. We teaching point words worked!! I loved holding my fist high and saying “Bold and Brave” and waving my open hand back and forth when I said “not wishy-washing”.
  3. I was worried that the first day would be too much and was nervous knowing that the Principal was coming at 3:15pm and at 2:15pm, we were just introducing the idea that we should have more magazines in the school library. But is worked so well. In one day, the students wrote and changed their world! It was a perfect “drumroll” to motivate us for this unit.
  4. We went with the examples in the session and started writing about our custodian. I found myself watching what she was doing every time I saw her in the hallways once we started writing about her. Suddenly, I observed and had so much evidence to add to my opinion about a noteworthy person.
  5. As the students picked their topic, I started to think about WHO needed to be at our Publishing Party. One student wanted the PE teacher to have a longer Hockey unit so I realized, I should invite him. Another wrote about an idea for more comic books in the library, so I needed to invite the librarian.
  6. BEST PUBLISHING PARTY ever!! We added round tables to the hallway and ensured that we had 10 gathering spaces with 4 student writers and 2-3 adult listeners at each table. We asked that each read their opinion and then each listener give a specific positive comment. And we strategically placed adults who had the power to make change be at tables with writers who had opinions of interest to the adults. The 10 gathering spots allowed all to read their comments and all to give and receive positive feedback!! SO FUN!!

PICTURES taken during the Publishing Party:


To help give feedback, we created this HANDOUT.

Screen Shot 2016-05-28 at 1.36.07 PM

And what did the kids write about? Their writing can be found HERE.

Problem / Solution

Room 212 should have a class pet.

We need to save sea life.

Notable People

Waiters and Waitress should be appreciated.

Miss Kathy, my swim instructor, is the best.

Notable Places

Disneyland is a great place to visit.

Breckenridge is a great place to visit.

A few more pictures – 

This anchor chart listing our Bold and Brave Thesis Statement as suggested in the unit was a great visual to have in the room:

FullSizeRender 3

One day as my Morning Meeting Message, I asked the students to write a problem and a solution they noticed. I got these ideas jotted down:





2nd Annual Digital and Media Institute at TCRWP

My head is still near explosion and trying to process all I learned while in NYC from Tuesday night through Sunday morning. But I will attempt to share a few take-aways here while it is fresh in my mind. I am sure later as I process it all more, I’ll have more to write.

* I am grateful to know a former colleague who now works at PS158. She invited me to spend time at her school on the day before the Institute. Seeing a project school was so helpful. My big take-away was the reminder that as the teacher in the room, I can make my walls match what the teaching points are. As I toured room by room, I stood in an empty room but knew what reading, writing and math units were being taught due to the anchor charts. Sometimes this has happened in my room but not ALL the time….this is something I can work on doing as a teacher.

* PS158’s hallways were filled with art (as an art festival just occurred) and filled with the process of writing. Artifacts from the whole writing process were placed on the bulletin boards. Also the writing checklists were color-coded and students had highlighted places where they did the thing on the checklist in that color on their writing paper. The 1st grade had added an index card stating: I am most proud of____. I loved seeing this intentional reflection on writing, another thing I can work on doing as a teacher.  

* Colleen Cruz, Lindsay Mann, Cornelius Miner and Kate Roberts led an amazing Institute!!

As few take-aways:
* They model the importance of SPYING on ourselves as a reader of digital text and media. What am I doing as I read an e-book, an internet site, a video? Why did I click or not click the hyperlink? As I read a site, do I know who the author is and what their angle is? What are they telling me and what is being left out? Where else can I go to get more information on this topic?

* Then once I know what I do as a reader / writer of digital text or media, then I need to use this to create my teaching points and teach my students!

ALL this reminded me of how in the 1990s, Ellin Keene was telling us to do the same thing with print in her groundbreaking book, Mosaic of Thought. I still fondly look to that book as the one that taught me to be aware of being an active reader. Now this institute pushed me to be more aware of ALL the ways we communicate now in the 21st century. As a teacher, I need to also spy on how I read and comprehend all the visual, auditory and printed material that is coming at all of us so fast.

I stored my notes HERE (full disclosure…this was my first institute that I took ALL my notes electronically. And I have not had time to return to them to reread and fix spelling! I also in many places typed – add photo – as I took a photo at that moment of the ppt slide and soon I plan to insert all my photos but as of now, still on the To Do List!  –   Also, I am still trying to understand google docs. I think by sharing this link, you can get to the file…if not, let me know.)

* As I teach, ask if there is a way to amplify what is being taught by using a digital or media resource. The idea is never to teach the computer application. The idea is to teach strong reading and writing workshop lessons using the kinds of resources that are at our fingertips now because of our phone and our computers. Amazing staff developer, Lindsay Mann shared an online article about Inky, an Octopus that escaped from the Aquarium. As she read it, we had so many questions about this news item. These questions, our curiosity, led us to find out more and more because we easily can, thanks to the internet! We found videos and an e-book and could start to form a better understanding across multiple texts. A BIG take-away is that I am now a reader that is always on the lookout for another angle to view my topic through!!

* Technology allows me to show my thinking in so many ways. I’m used to having my students do turn and talks and to stop and jot on a post-it note. This institute showed me two new resources to use to show my thinking: TodaysMeet and Padlet. Colleen modeled using TodaysMeet as she read Last Stop on Market Street. Yesterday, I did the same lesson with my 3rd graders!! Click HERE to view our TodaysMeet jots. (Note until May 2nd when the TodaysMeet room closes)

If you view our transcript, be kind and remember – this was our first attempt and some our jots were just being excited to write and post in a community. Also, I guess we need to discuss using emoji as some like it and some are distracted by it! But if you look beyond, I personally loved being able to take this printout home last night and notice how some can name a character trait with evidence and some can name a theme in the book. Seeing their responses helps as I plan the next read-aloud. Because my students all have an iPad in their hand, using TodaysMeet is a free, easy online tool that worked as a way to gather their thinking.

And a student today asked if after Independent Reading Time, if we could write on TodaysMeet about what we are reading!!!! I loved his suggestions so I quickly started a 2nd TodaysMeet session HERE. (I made this session opened for a month, thinking that it can almost be a “Status of the Class” digital check in for me).

I still need to process my notes more and keep trying things in my classroom. This institute was at the perfect time. I can try some things out right away (which can never happen when I attend Summer Institutes at TCRWP) but summer is almost here, giving me more time to process and plan.

My final take-away is that I am glad I volunteered to present an Ignite Session at the Institute’s Closing! I wrote about that HERE