Where to go from here?

Angie Harrison (@techieang)

Yesterday afternoon during our PD (Professional Development) Day inservice, we listened to Angie Harrison (@techieang) talk about her writing program. Angie is a Grade 3 teacher in the York Region District School Board, and she agreed to Skype in and talk to a superintendent, a consultant, a principal, and a group of Grade 1 and 2 teachers in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. Through Twitter, I’ve known Angie for a while now, but every time I talk to her, I’m inspired to try something new.

Like Angie, I run a separate Writer’s Workshop time in addition to my daily literacy block. Unlike her though, I assign the activities for the daily literacy work station rotation. I love how she lets students choose where they’re going to go to each day, and in what order they’re going to do the various work stations. She gives them control over planning their time, and after experiences like the one I had on the 100th day of school, I can definitely imagine the tremendous benefit in doing so. How do I make this work then?

I’m thinking of making the change after the March Break. I can then continue to build independence in the next three weeks, and slowly start giving the students more control over their choices of activities. I love how Angie has the students share what they’ve learned after the work station time, so that they are accountable for their learning. This is also a fantastic way to get students to provide descriptive feedback to other students. They can say specifically what they like and offer suggestions of next steps. Since this is a school goal, I definitely see value in doing this.

Now that the students have been exposed to many different types of read to self, read with someone, word work, work on writing, and listening to reading activities, they can certainly choose how they share their learning. I integrate lots of science and social studies into my literacy work stations, so I’m going to need to ensure that students still work with this content at the different work stations. I’m thinking of creating a list of options for each work station. Then students have ideas to guide them in their learning.

How do I help the students manage their time at the individual work stations though? How do I prepare my students with autism for the change in our literacy centre routine? What strategies have you used for students with autism to ensure that you balance both choice and structure? I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Angie, thank you for inspiring me to make this change in my classroom to even better help my students become more independent, self-sufficient learners!


14 thoughts on “Where to go from here?

  1. That’s quite a blog entry, I’m honored but don’t think I can take all the credit. It is you Aviva who is so highly reflective that you mind comments from a conversation and learn from it. The SKYPE call was about writing yet you picked up on how I structure my literacy time and took a piece of that as a next step for growth. You are truly remarkable.

    If you are looking at building in choice, you might want to look at Launching Literacy Work Stations or Practice with Purpose both by Debbie Dillar. These books build in choice and how to manage time with students

    Your students already have a lot of Structure about their work stations. Selecting which one they go to should be easy to implement. Good luck, I look forward to hearing about your success.

    I truly hope the SKYPE call met the needs of some of your colleagues. It’s hard to sense feedback from a group SKYPE call. I miss the nods, smiles or puzzled looks that I get in a small SKYPE call or face to face session.

    I hope you get some down time this weekend.

    • Thank you, Angie! Even though I feel like I’ve already learned so much from you, every time I hear you talk or read one of your blog posts, you have me thinking of something new. Change can be hard, but it’s exciting, and I’m excited to make this change. I think my students are ready for this, and if I can slowly start the change over the next three weeks, and then begin wholeheartedly after the Break, I think it’s doable.

      Thanks for the links too! I read Diller’s Work Stations book, but not the other one. I’m going to look for it when I’m over in the States this weekend. I love Diller’s ideas, so I’m sure this book will help.

      Now, I also got some great writing ideas from you too. I love the idea of the free write book, and how you set it up. I plan on trying this as well. Posting where the students are in the writing process in the classroom is a great idea also. I have this information in a binder, but not up for all to see. This would definitely help when there’s a supply teacher.

      As for my colleagues, I heard lots of positive comments. The consultant made reference to your presentation throughout hers, and the principal couldn’t speak highly enough about what you shared. Teachers seemed really intrigued too. Those that don’t do a Writer’s Workshop, are now looking at how to do so.

      Thanks for taking the time to Skype with us, and thanks for the continued inspiration. You always get me excited about trying something new!


  2. Thanks for the feedback Aviva. I was immersed in a planning session all day with Royan, Colin and others all day yesterday. I stepped out to do the SKYPE call and wasn’t sure if it all came out the way I wanted it to. There was so much to share in a short time. I’m really glad to hear you had others debrief the SKYPE call and leadnthe group after I logged off. That’s a relief. I look forward to hearing more about the writing journeys.

    • Thanks Angie! We definitely did debrief afterwards. I think your examples were perfect illustrations of what the consultant was sharing. Thank you for taking the time out of your meeting yesterday to Skype! I really appreciate it!


  3. Aviva, I love this thinking you’re doing. For me term one was about teaching learning and working expectations through a variety of station approach type activities. I made the choices for them. But at the start of term two I stopped doing that. I had faith that they were wise enough to choose the activities that would best help them learn. Yes, from time to time I need to redirect my students (they are human after all) but more often than not they are on task and engaged quickly.

    As I’ve said before sometimes I think we over structured what our students will be learning. Obviously as teachers it is our job to educate them, or at the very least provide an opportunity for them to educate themselves under our guidance and direction. I’ve let go a lot of my control this year and I can’t be happier with the results I’m seeing. While I have a particularly low bunch of students, they are self motivated learners that continue to surprise me day in a day out.


    • Thanks for sharing what you’ve done, Karen! I’ve definitely seen that my students have the ability to make the choices on their own, but I just want to make sure that they’re learning what they need to learn while relinquishing some control as well. I think that Angie’s approach where she has students share their learning under the document camera after the work stations is a great way to make them accountable for what they’re doing. I’m definitely going to do something like this.

      I’m sure I’ll be blogging about my triumphs (hopefully!!) and tribulations in the coming months. Thanks for all of your support!


      • Oh yes, it is important to regroup and discuss what learning has happened. For me it’s often as simple as a turn and talk with a partner as I over hear, as best as I can, the conversations. You’re already so good at catching your students learning on film so I’d think that piece is already in place in your program. Giving them choice won’t change that.

        Perhaps your students can do more filming, so that you can see their learning even when you’re working with other students? From everything I’ve seen you post your students are learning some amazing things this year. Their learning has inspired my teaching so you must be doing something right! 😉 .


        • Thanks for sharing how you do this, Karen! This is a great idea as well. And yes, I will have my students doing more filming during the centres themselves. I do this a lot during math centres, and it’s a great way to capture the conversations that I’m missing when I’m working with another group. Thanks for reminding me of this! And thank you for the kind words too. You’re always so supportive!


  4. I love how you open up your personal learning and growth as a teacher. Your ability to reflect on your practice as a teacher is such a benefit to your students. Please don’t get discouraged if it takes the students a while to adjust to less structure. They will get it!
    I am always amazed at the variety and differences we all have as teachers. I, too, do an hour of Writers Workshop outside of my 90 minute Readers Workshop. My 1st graders get an opening lesson (10-15 minutes) followed by the work period (40 – 45 minutes) and ends with a share (5-10 minutes) The students have no centers or assigned activities during the work period but to write and keep on working! I am conferencing and occasionally running small strategy groups. It took more than a few weeks at the beginning of the year to get the rituals and routines set up.
    I don’t think it is a black or white situation. Some of your students with autism might need to stay with the structured centers while other students might give them up. I think that is the heart of differentiation – giving the students what they need when they need it.
    Good luck!

    • Thanks so much for the comment, Jill! I know that this is going to be hard, but I think that it will be worth it. Thankfully I have my students making some choices already, so maybe it won’t be as big a transition as I think.

      I really need to figure out what I want to do with my students that have autism. I want to make sure that they’re still successful during literacy work station time. Maybe I’ll work with them each morning to plan their day. Then they can still have control over their choices, but with some help making these choices too. I think this could work.

      For my Writer’s Workshop, students are used to having freedom, so this won’t be a change. It’s really only the Literacy Work Stations that are changing. Thanks for helping me think of some possible solutions!


  5. Aviva, I love to hear that you are moving in this direction. As a second grade teacher for 7 years I had to learn to trust my students over time, it took a lot of letting go for me… But their personal growth reeped benefits in a more student-directed learning environment, as even our young learners can make choices that match their interests, academic needs, and learning styles when provided the opportunity.

    To help students stay focused during independent goal work, we use a timer (Timer Tools) that projects on our screen and also has a chime signal for students who also need the auditory signal. We have students rotate task or goal every 10-20, allowing them to monitor their time and change it up for their brain to maximize learning. (the timer just automatically resets and keeps going- this allows for a little movement in between focused tasks and then they get right down to business again) We use the chime signal more often in math than in literacy. This tool has allowed us to take our mental energy off of worrying about the clock, so we can focus on our small groups and conferencing.

    For autistic students and gifted, this timer is a great resource http://www.timetimer.com/

    Thank you for another thoughtful reflection…

    • Thanks for your comment, Celina! I use a timer now, and with much success, including the TimeTimer that you mentioned here. It’s just that I’ve been the one directing where they go and when, especially for my literacy work stations. I want them to start making the choice now. Maybe using the timer still will help with this, and continue to keep them on track. I have to see if this is a necessity for all students, or if it’s one that I just need to use with a handful of students. That’s why I’m hoping to start this change slowly prior to March Break, so that I can problem solve along the way. I really appreciate your help with this!


  6. For your students who need a little more structure, you can have a menu or bingo board and they need to choose a certain number of activities from each category.

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