#cyberPD: DIY Literacy

I bought Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie-Roberts’ book DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence when it first ca me out. I watched the videos and set the book in one of my to-be-read baskets. I was planning and excited to get to it. Right after…and, then time slipped by.Skitch-2012-06-10 11_22_09 +0000

Yesterday, I was reminded of the #cyberPD community around the book. Thank you to Cathy Mere, Laura Komos and Michelle Nero, for creating this community, and Tara Smith for reminding me of it. It takes great books and a village to nurture teachers.

Kate and Maggie are funny and practical teachers of teachers. Their book, DIY Literacy, takes me where I am as a teacher and leads me to make my next step, in effect to make my learning progression.

Chapter One, Extending Our Reach speaks to how to offer doable and accessible solutions.

This chapter nails fundamental problems I see in my fifth-grade learners.

  1. Memory: Students can’t remember it all the teaching
  2. Rigor: Students aren’t doing enough of the work
  3. Differentiation: Teacher nudging and supporting appropriately toward agentive work

We need tools that show students how to work hard. Tools that can demonstrate their growth, so they can find joy in their accomplishments.
The underlying goal — Tools to help “our kids feel more like DIY warriors of their learning.”
Big My Aha: The visual nature of tools helps make learning stick. It helps us remember, see where we are on our road, and make abstract ideas concrete. Tools guide practice and making tools add to understanding.

Chapter Two, An Introduction to Teaching Tools explores the tools I love and thought I knew: the chart, the demonstration notebook, the micro-progression chart of skills and the bookmark.

• Charts: The Repertoire and the Process. Charts need to push into a skill, the what and then the how with clear, memorable moves; meaning icons and simple language. If it is too wordy, kids won’t remember. If there are too many steps, kids will get lost. Charts are memory aids to help the DIY work of students.
My Big Aha: Simplify and break it down to emphasize memory.

• Demonstration Notebooks: The How. I’ve always thought of these as the up close and personal chart, the tool for small group or conferring work. They break down what students need and allows space for me to show or to collaborate with students on the how.
My Big Aha: Start with an approximation of beginning student work, next name the skill to be improved, then demonstrate how to develop the idea with specific prompts. This progression gets closer to showing students how the magic happens.

• Micro-progressions of Skills. I first was exposed to this great thinking with Lucy Calkins’ and TCRWP’s work with reading and writing progressions. These taught me so much about what I do as a reader and writer. Kate and Maggie take this idea and break it down further. I can and need to make them based on where students are so they can see themselves in the progression.
My Big Aha: It’s all about the micro. Make it as small as the student needs to understand where they are and where their next step is.

• Bookmarks: Creating a Personalized Action Plans. Oh yeah, I’ve done these. Made them, laminated them. Passed them out. Those charts and tips to be carried and used when students need. But, I’ve missed the point.
My Big Aha: Making bookmarks are student work, not mine. Students use the tools, the charts, the progressions, their partners and the teacher to make their bookmarks. In the end, this represents documentation of culmination of the teaching as well as personalized goal setting. A learning tool for students and an assessment tool for teachers.

Bonus Chapter: How Do I Find (and Write) Strategies for Teaching Tools. This section put me to work. It’s all good in theory, but to craft a strategy you need to determine

  • What you want to teach
  • How to teach it
  • Why it should be done

so it is replicable across texts and understandable to kids.

I decided to try it with Pax by Sara Pennypacker. I want to read this with my kiddos at the beginning of the year. It’s a remarkable book and I know it will be a challenge. One skill that many struggled with last year was determining connections between characters and ideas. Getting this skill down will be essential to loving this book.


Following the steps in the bonus chapter, I studied that skill as I read the first chapter of Pax, asking myself what did notice about the relationships between characters? What theories did I have? How would I describe their relationship?


Step two was to step back and notice how I did this work.


Then, I tried to make this a kid-friendly strategy determining the what, the how and the why.


Still, this was too wordy. Time to simplify by boiling it down to a list of three steps that could be used again and again as a chart, in a demonstration notebook or end up on a student’s bookmark. This is what I ended up with:

Readers understand connections between characters by
1. Studying how they treat each other
2. Studying how they react to the other’s emotions
3. Asking, What does this tell me about their relationship

Doing the work is what DIY Literacy is all about. Doing this work gives me the sense that reading Pax with my brand new fifth graders will be a doable and joyful challenge.

Looking forward to more DIY Literacy with all who are participating in #cyberPD 2016.

11 thoughts on “#cyberPD: DIY Literacy

  1. Love Pax! And…Thanks for the inspiration to “try this at home”. What a terrific way to work through the process.

  2. I love the way you put your new learning to immediate use with Pax. I think that this will be the bulk of my summer work – doing the reading/writing thinking work, and then stepping back to figure out the how in kid friendly terms.

  3. Thanks for sharing the example of how you determined the steps in a skill you want to teach students. I think breaking down skills into small steps and putting them into kid friendly language is a challenge, but with more reflection on my own reading and practice I think it will become easier. I have also created something like bookmarks for my students, but as you said, they were my work. I love the idea of having students decide on the strategies they think are useful and the ones they need to remember to create their own bookmarks. This will definitely give them more ownership and control of their learning process.

  4. I adore Pax and hope your students will too! The work you are doing is going to be so powerful when you read with your students. Thank you for sharing your work with us. The work you did reminds me of the work Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts do in Falling in Love With Close Reading. They ask us to read with a certain lens, look for patterns and then develop new ideas because of the patterns we see.

  5. I love how you capture your “big aha” for each… what a great way to sum things up! Your steps are so simple and perfect for any of the tools!
    Now I need to put Pax in my Amazon cart! I am a fan of Pennypacker’s Clementine series and the first one with my 1st graders. Reading Pax with my 4th (I get students for 2 years) would be a great way to consider 2 texts by the same author! And I’m sure I will be using your steps!

  6. Julieanne,
    I loved how you tried out this out on Pax. This seems like hard work, and it is, but I would guess that it didn’t take that long to do. I think that’s what holds some of us back from doing this kind of preparation work for teaching: time, and confidence. Confidence in our knowledge as readers. Yet, I know that your 5th graders will benefit greatly from this process. I read Pax to my 5th graders this year. They loved it! Although it was definitely challenging for them to understand, their response was very positive. I will be reading Pax with my 5th graders this year for #GRA16.

    • Thanks so much for your input! I think you’re right! Confidence as in our knowledge as readers is a stumbling block. It makes me think of of our students. How must they feel? Looking forward to reading more.

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