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Monday, December 23, 2013

#nerdlution 2014

Hello, folks.  I am very, very behind on my blogging, but I've made a #nerdlution to get back to it once a week (on Mondays, ideally). 

A #nerdlution is a nerdy resolution, as explained by Christopher Lehman in this great post.  Search for that hashtag (#) on Twitter to see what other nerds are up to!

I just finished "The Circle" by Dave Eggers--amazing!  It has been recommended to me for months, and I'm so glad I remembered to read it.  I am fantasizing about writing a senior elective on technology--how it has both improved our lives and changed us forever.  I am shocked by how different my students' minds work than my own.  I'm not that old, but they are totally different in the ways they process information and the ways they execute their engagement. 

I am still spinning from NCTE because I loved it so much but have barely had time to process all I got out of it.  I bought great books, saw friends from the past 12 years of teaching, and embarrassed myself in front of literary celebrities (I met M.T. Anderson!).

I went to a great presentation sponsored by the National Forensics League on using classroom discussion (my Ed. Eval. focus for the year).  One great piece they mentioned was a poem called "Touchscreen" by Marshall Soulful Jones (lyrics and video).  My kids LOVED this poem--they literally cheered. It made for a perfect transition between our technology unit and Poetry Out Loud.

In 2014, I'm going to try swapping conferencing for professional reading (to save money and days out of the classroom).  I own a ton of professional books, but I rarely make the time to read and absorb them.  I have started this spreadsheet to inventory what I have.  The list is about half done, but you get the idea.  If you see something you want to borrow, let me know, and I can get it to you!  I am hoping to convince some colleagues to read a book each and do a sharing afternoon.

Next up on the presentation schedule for me is April 10th at the MRA conference in Quincy.  I'll be presenting with a friend (her blog) on close reading from the elementary (her) and secondary (me) perspective. 

Happy nerdy new year, everyone!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Looking forward to Summer PD (it's really cold in Boston today)

I'm still decompressing from NCTE (heading to an all-day workshop in a few minutes--excited!), but I wanted to pass this along while I remember to.

The NEH (National Endowment for the Humanities) has these summer opportunities for teachers.  I haven't done one yet, but I hope to.  If you can travel over the summer, there are so many cool ideas here.  Deadlines are in March, which will come quickly . . .

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How to find NCTE 2013 materials

Thanks to everyone who attended my presentation with Dr. Liz Gonsalves at NCTE!  We had a terrific time.  If you're new to this blog, welcome!

If you are looking for the materials on the NCTE web site, here's how to find them.  

Visit and search for "Abbey" in the search box.  To find Liz's stuff, search "Gonsalves."  

Of course, if you can't find them, email me at  Thanks again!  This conference has been an excellent weekend for me--lots of reunions with old friends and new strategies to try in the classroom next week (or maybe after Thanksgiving!).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Green Flags/Red Flags for Common Core Implementation

I've been too busy with school, life, and NCTE-prep to do much blogging lately, but I'm trying to get back on track.

Here's a document I find really useful and return to regularly:

It helps me ask myself, "Am I doing this right?"  Using just a few of the strategies is changing my practice and the way I think about my work.

Hopefully I'll run into some of you at NCTE.  Happy conferencing!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Professional Practice Goal

Hello, all.  I have become swamped with all I have going on, so the blog is less than updated right now . . . Anyone else kinda busy this fall?

One cool new resource I recently found was the Convention Planner on NCTE's Web site:  I was able to search the program and make a (giant) list of all the events that would be the best for me!  It's only a few weekends away!

This year, my Professional Practice Goal is to work on Student Led Discussion.  I know I need to get better with discussion practices, procedures, rubrics, and protocols this year, so that's my aim!

If anyone can help me, let me know!  I am looking for

  • books on quality and quantity of participation
  • discussion strategies
  • lesson plans
  • participation rubrics and self-assessments
  • systems you use to promote, track, and assess participation
  • anything else that will help me!

As always, email me at if you have a question or resource for me.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

News ELA

My NCTE-presenting buddy just reminded me of this cool web site:

It's current events for kids, and you can change each article to reflect multiple Lexile levels.  Amazing!  I just registered and haven't used it with my students yet, but I plan to.

I'm continuing to plan for NCTE, but it's getting harder with report cards looming.  Hoping to see many of you there!

Session Code: D.20
Title: (Re)Inventing Non-Fiction in the Secondary ELA Classroom
Sponsored By: New England Association of Teachers of English
Level: Secondary, College
Topic of Interest: 21st-Century Literacy
Add to Planner:  Add Item to Planner
Description: Teachers need to use more non-fiction to meet the Common Core and PARCC, but many are not sure how to use informational text to promote critical thinking. This session will discuss finding more informational texts; teaching rhetorical analysis; writing with non-fiction; and using blogs, Twitter, and infographics to engage students.
  • Speaker: Abbey Dick Massachusetts Dept. of Elem. and Sec. Education - (Re)Inventing Non-Fiction in the Secondary ELA Classroom
  • Speaker: Elizabeth Gonsalves Abington High School / NEATE - (Re)Inventing Non-Fiction in the Secondary ELA Classroom
Location: Sheraton, Sheraton/Beacon E Room, Third Floor
Time: Friday 11/22 2:30 PM - 3:45 PM

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Event in March

A weekend of moose spotting, outlet shopping, and a full day of PD with Kelly Gallagher?  Sounds like fun to me.  I already signed up:

If you need something to look forward to to get through quarter one, this is it!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Red Flags/Green Flags for the Common Core

Hi, all.  Crazy week.  I am starting on Teaching with Poverty in Mind, and I'm already finding it a helpful and enlightening resource.

My professional practice goal this year (my first time in the Ed. Eval. system!) is about student-led discussion.  I really need to expand my skills on teaching discussion.  If you can lead me to sources, let me know!

The following is a link I shared at TeachPlus, but it wasn't in my list of sources:

It was an ASCD document when I originally saw it a few months ago.  It is a T-Chart checklist that gives teachers and administrators some suggestions for what the Common Core should actually look like in ELA classrooms.  I have found it enlightening.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Teach Plus Common Core Conference Links to Resources

More resources from the Teach Plus Conference below.  Please let me know if you have questions!

PARCC Frameworks
PARCC Sample Questions
Appendix B
2011 MA ELA State Frameworks
“What’s In and What’s Out” document new Common Core Lexile Levels
5 Things Every Teacher Should do to Meet the New Standards
“Six Shifts”
New York State 9-12 listing
MCAS Transition Document
Tri-State Rubric
Achieve the Core
Info about how to see the Model Curriculum Units

Teach Plus Conference Materials--More Core in Secondary ELA

I had a terrific crowd at the Teach Plus Common Core Conference at UMass Boston yesterday!

I am posting the materials and resources (in the next post) here.  The formatting is a bit messy, but the left-hand column contains Common Core themes (20 of them I have identified) and the right column is evidence.

Changes (in no particular order)
1.  Using what you read as models (MA standards are quite literary)
Grade 6 RL standard is echoed in the writing
(RL.6.MA.8A and W.6.MA.3.A)
Grade 8 RL standard is echoed in the writing
(RL.8.MA.8A and W.8.MA.3.A)

2.  Pairing texts that are connected—multiple genres on the same topic or theme
PARCC Prototypes
Compare and contrast fiction and history (RL.7.9)
A subject in two mediums (RL.9-10.7)
Multiple interpretations in relation to source text (RL.11-12.7)

3.  Synthesis as a reason for reading and a purpose for writing
PARCC Assessment Prototypes
Compare and contrast fiction and history (RL.7.9)
A subject in two mediums (RL.9-10.7)
Multiple interpretations of source text (RL.11-12.7)
“Six Shifts”

4.  Wait, I’m supposed to do this? (SS texts in ELA)
Analyze seminal US documents (RI.9-10.9)
Seminal US texts (RI.11-12.8)
Foundational US documents (RI.11-12.9)

5.  Rigor for everyone and increased text complexity
Critical lenses (RL.11-12.MA.8a)
“What’s In and What’s Out?”
New Lexile levels
“Six Shifts”
“Five Things Every Teacher Should be Doing”

6.  Fewer texts more deeply
PARCC Quilts and “anchor texts”
Fewer overall standards

7.  Shorter assignments and longer assignments: regular research, writing, and speaking and listening (not just one big project or event)
Short and sustained research projects (W.9-12.7)
Write routinely (W.9-12.10)
Range of discussions (SL)

8.  Different structure for the Standards
When comparing and contrasting the old standards to the new, the emphases are different

9.  More informational text for all
Reading Informational Text standards and 1/5 of the new standards
“Six Shifts”
“What’s In and What’s Out?”

10.  Close reading and rhetorical analysis

11.  Academic language over literary terms
New Marzano book
“What’s In and What’s Out?”
Vocabulary used in Appendix B sample assignments
“Six Shifts”

12.  Shared sense of responsibility for literacy
Standards in reading and writing for teachers of social studies, math, and science
Pathways to the Common Core
“Six Shifts”

13.  More types of writing assessed and more writing expected
MCAS in grades 4 and 7

14.  Spending more time “in text” rather than building background knowledge—emphasis on reading and re-reading over pre-reading (teacher imparts information)

“What’s In and What’s Out?”
“Six Shifts”

15.  Less emphasis on “text-to-self” connections and more “text dependent” questions

“What’s In and What’s Out?”
Pathways to the Common Core (page 25)
16.  Less emphasis on “covering” a period
Appendix B text lists
New York State 9-12 listing
“What’s In and What’s Out?”

17.  Evidence-based thinking
“Six Shifts”
“Five Things Every Teacher Should be Doing”

18.  Assignments with real audiences (not just teacher)
“Five Things Every Teacher Should be Doing”
MA ESE Model Curriculum Unit’s UbD approach

19.  More time spent on independent reading in school

Pathways to the Common Core (page 51, 69-70)
20.  Using content-rich informational text to build knowledge, not teacher lecture

Standards in reading and writing for teachers of social studies, math, and science

“What’s In and What’s Out?”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pairing Informational Text and Literary Works

So, I am too overwhelmed with September to start a new professional book, but Teaching with Poverty in Mind is my next read.  

Getting geared up to present on the Common Core with Teach Plus next weekend.  I'll post some of the ideas here next week.

I've also been preparing for NCTE.  I am presenting with a colleague on the following topic: (Re)Inventing Non-Fiction in the Secondary ELA Classroom.  I'm thinking that the main idea of my talk is the importance of exposing students to non-narrative non-fiction.  

Right now, people teach The Autobiography of Malcolm X (one of my favorites) or In Cold Blood (ditto) and say they are teaching non-fiction.  Of course, they are, and this exposure helps students become college and career ready.

But so much "non-fiction" reads just like fiction, and it doesn't necessarily help students struggle with abstract concepts and organizational strategies (other than chronological order).  

So, I am starting the book Feed with my students this week.  I'm spending some time today finding texts with which to pair it.  I'm reading "Does Google Make Us Stupid?" and selections from other texts.

If you have any ideas, feel free to let me know!  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Going "Paperless"

Here's the last quote I'll share from Donald Graves' new collected works:

"Dishonest writing is not good writing.  How easy it is to teach our students to write dishonestly to fulfill curriculum requirements.  Indeed, a student's entire diet from first grade through high school can be a series of one dishonest piece after another.  Sadly, the student can even graduate without learning that writing is the medium through which our most intimate thoughts and feelings can be expressed" (62).

So sad but so true!  It's hard to see kids going through the motions when nothing they write really engages them.  I guess the key is variety?  Coming up with assignments until you find the ones that really elicit honest responses?

One of my beginning of the year activities is to have kids make a PowerPoint about themselves.  On the first day of school, I present a PowerPoint about myself and my life, complete with an MLA works cited slide for all the pictures I've taken off the Web.  Then all my kids do their own version.

It's a cool activity because I get to see how proficient they are with technology and what facts they choose to share about themselves.

It's also a major pain in the neck, from a grading standpoint.  I don't want to print 120+ PowerPoints nor do I want to save them all, so I just look at them online, but I'm finding it a difficult task to organize.  Between two email addresses, and the fact that everyone names the file "powerpoint," it's hard to score them easily.

Next year, I need to do a lesson on labeling files so that this task runs more smoothly.  I love the activity because I get to learn so much about them!  I am also hoping to become more paperless this year.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Free Common Core Event at UMass Boston

Click on the link above to sign up for a FREE Common Core event for teachers at UMass Boston on September 28.  It should be a fantastic event!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Struggle to Write

"Students can go a lifetime and never see another person write, much less show them how to write.  Yet it would be unheard of for an artist not to show her students how to use oils by painting on her own canvas, or for a ceramist not to demonstrate how to throw clay on a wheel and shape the materials himself.  Writing is a craft.  It needs to be demonstrated to your students in your classroom, which is a studio, from choosing a topic to finishing a final draft.  They need to see you struggle to match your intentions with the words that reach the page" (64).

Above is another great metaphor from Donald Graves.  Writing in front of the students is also something Kelly Gallagher promotes. 

I am always striving to "teach writing," not just "assign writing."  I confess that in the past I haven't done much writing in front of students.  I am not worried about struggling on the topic in front of them; I am nervous about it for a few other reasons.

Classroom management-wise, what are they doing while I'm struggling in front of them?  Sitting quietly watching me?  I'm not sure if they can sustain their attention that long.  Maybe I should do it at the very beginning of class, when their attention is the best it can be?  I am going to make a plan to demonstrate writing at least once this quarter.  I have a projector, so it's a perfect set up, technology-wise.

If you have any suggestions for how you've done this, please feel free to email me at!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Setting up the Conditions for Excellence in Writing Instruction

This is my busiest time of year, as I'm sure it is for all of you, so I'll try to keep it short and sweet.

Here are more thoughts from Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children’s Writing, edited by Thomas Newkirk and Penny Kittle.

Graves wrote, “I didn’t realize until I wrote the introduction to Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle that good writing doesn’t result from any particular methodology.  Rather, the remarkable work of her students was a result of the conditions for learning she created in her classroom” (58, my underlining).

In a later essay in the book, titled “The Enemy is the Orthodoxy” (1984), Graves identifies nine made-up rules teachers create that hold thinking back.  For example, “Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are unimportant” (204).  He argues that when we set arbitrary maxims about writing in stone, we create “substitutes for thinking” that “clog our ears.” 

I love these two quotes because they remind me that there's no silver bullet to excellent writing instruction: there's no one portfolio method, graphic organizer, rubric, or five-paragraph essay that makes it easy to teach writing.  

Rather, we need to create the conditions: lots of good models, a good sense of humor, an abundance of flexibility, clear criteria for excellence, and have students write and write and write until they find their voices and effectively communicate.

Now, back to writing syllabi and preparing for summer reading assessment . . . 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Last “Summer Reading” Book

This book is a collection of Graves’ essays and research (from 1978 to 2001; he passed away in 2010) and includes a DVD.  I heard about the book at the “Write Now!” conference Penny Kittle throws in New Hampshire in March.  Though the book really explores writing in the elementary grades, I connected with my first exposure to Graves.

Over the next few weeks, I will share five quotes from the book.  If you want to borrow the book and/or DVD, let me know!

In the introduction to chapter 3, Tom Newkirk references one of the greats (no pun intended):

“In his essay, ‘The Crack Up,’ F. Scott Fitzgerald describes the test of a ‘first-rate intelligence’ as ‘the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” (39).

I love this quote, and, in our partisan politics, it’s an idea that isn’t shared enough!  Have you ever had an idea you thought was rock solid that was changed by evidence and time?  I love it when I assume my own beliefs and then read a book or an article or watch a documentary that completely changes my mind.  Holding two opposed ideas is so scary for us because we rush to commit immediately to avoid looking ambivalent. 

Since the Common Core emphasizes argument, argument, argument, I find that people are drafting a lot of pro/con assignments.  For example, “Longer school day?  Yes?  No?  Go.”  I find that kids pick the side they assume they should believe (or, more commonly, the side that’s easier/faster/shorter to prove) and have at it with the shallowest thinking.  They are never forced to hold two ideas for more than two minutes.  Synthesis prompts give students a buffet of ideas and let them learn as they read, and the new standards that push us to analyze alternate, opposing, or counter claims help the cause of considering other ideas.

I am hoping that having students argue actually moves them toward more critical thinking, not quick answers.  May we all demonstrate “first-rate intelligence” in our writing!